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Piece of Mind
He had been working on the project nonstop for nearly ten years. Hundreds of breakthroughs and miserable failures had finally rewarded him, or so he believed. It had taken him the last three years to finally isolate all the superfluous nucleotides in his strain of influenza virus B, allowing him to finally implant the genes needed to permit his project to succeed. His computer simulations showed his retrovirus would effectively complete his wishes, but for it to be proven, he would have to perform a field test.
He walked across his expansive lab, not bothering to avoid the many holographic displays scattered across the room. His laboratory was custom built under the ruins of an old hydro-electric plant that was constructed nearly a century ago. Powered by its own arc-proton generator, the lab was completely independent from the outside world.
'May I be of assistance, Dr. Charles?' a metallic voice echoed throughout the lab. 'Perhaps a bottle of 2023 champagne to celebrate your achievements?'
'No thank you, Willson, nothing to celebrate yet,' he said aloud in no particular direction. Willson was the artificial intelligence integrated into the lab. 'Besides, you know I detest that 93-year-old beverage. I much prefer something from the current era'' He continued to travel the length of the room. 'Willson, prepare for me 300 milligrams of group 47.93 A.'
Across the room there was a bright flash of light, illuminating the entire vicinity of the lab. He approached the column of light and grasped a pencil-sized tube of platinum suspended within it. Without hesitation, he raised the tube to his left arm and pressed it to his skin, triggering it to fire the 300 milligrams of his retrovirus directly into his blood stream. It caused him no pain and he smiled, knowing that in a few hours' time he would prove every scientist that had ever doubted him to be completely and utterly wrong. He would demonstrate to them the fruits of his life's work: the creation of a virus that would allow him to read minds.
Ten hours later, after obtaining some much needed sleep, he was once again in the lab. He stood near the main computer, surrounded by multitudes of brightly colored holographic data screens. Many of them displayed advanced images of his brain, zooming in on areas where his retrovirus had taken effect. His creation was the product of biological engineering: a stripped down influenza virus with DNA from a great white shark's electroreceptor. He knew the newly created virus was harmless, as all of its influenza-related traits had been removed. In place of them he grafted in the nucleotides from an electroreceptor. When exposed to human brain tissue, his retrovirus would inject its own DNA into that of the host cell, altering the cell and giving it the ability to sense minute electrical charges. Since the human brain uses electrical charges to transmit information by way of neurons, a person with his retrovirus would be able to sense and interpret the thoughts of another human being.
He examined his brain cells with the help of Willson. From recent brain scans, he could see his creation was working perfectly. Almost 10% of his brain cells were altered by the virus--the exact number he had desired. He had chosen this specific strain of influenza because it only affected humans and seals, and because it was unlikely to rapidly mutate. Since he was the only human being in about three miles, in order to find out if his retrovirus worked, he would have to leave his laboratory.
Very seldom did he leave his lab, usually only to purchase rations and chemicals for his experiments. The closest settlement was West Jupiter, about ten miles away. The lively metropolis was highly important to the scientific community of Florida, since it was near many marine ecosystems. The easiest way to get around the state was to fly, but he didn't own a jetcar. He much preferred the obsolete method of land travel. He got in his retrofitted 2020 Chevy Volt, an innovative yet primeval hybrid car from the 21st century. In twelve minutes he neared the outskirts of West Jupiter, passing the many disintegrating brick buildings of a bygone era as he entered the metropolis.
The city was full of activity. All matter of transports flew through the sky, narrowly missing the many scientific buildings and museums. It was a haven for scientists from all over the world. He wanted to test his project with a large crowd, so he naturally chose the renowned Museum of Florida Marine Life. Stepping into the main exhibit hall, he found himself shoulder-to-shoulder in a massive crowd.
Immediately he began to feel the buzzing of two hundred people surrounding him. It wasn't a physical buzzing, but more of a mental knowledge; he could feel each individual person's brain sending out varying electrical pulses as they processed information faster than any computer ever created. He attempted to focus on the signals from a young man beside him, but he was unable. 'I must be near too many people,' he thought. Moving to an adjacent room, he tried again on an older woman. This time there were fewer people nearby, thus less interference, and immediately he could feel each individual neuron firing in the woman's brain. Having studied the process of thought all his life, he knew exactly what she was thinking and seeing. 'She's considering how to program her robotic shark so it appears more realistic to the other organisms in the tank.'
Elated at finally having evidence to prove his theory, he asked the woman what she was thinking. The woman, surprised, seemed to contemplate the question for a few seconds. But he knew what she was really thinking. She had taken half a second to examine his face, allowing him to see the precise representation as her brain relayed all the information to different locations. He was amazed at the image, clearer than any photograph feasible, and the many instantaneous assumptions the woman made of him. Not even waiting for a reply, he walked out of the room.
For the rest of the week, he returned each morning to varying regions of the metropolis, using his newly acquired ability on unsuspecting individuals. Many times he would casually enlighten people of their exact thoughts, and the thoughts preceding their surprise of him doing so. He was attempting to fine tune his ability to sense the thoughts of one person at a time, even in a vast crowd, but was unsuccessful at doing so. As he focused on one such thought, another would simply overshadow his, forcing him to switch to it.
A week after his inoculation, he began to notice a strange new ability. As he felt the electrical signals emanating from each individual, he also could feel their emotions. Although these required no effort to understand, this wasn't because he knew where they originated from, but because he could literally feel people's emotions taking place of his own. His virus was not meant to mutate, or change at random, for it could lead to unwanted directions. He had specifically chosen this strain of influenza because it was known to be less lethal and less prone to spontaneous mutation. The fact that it had mutated in a week was terrifying.
He was also troubled by what he had discovered in his sole week of practicing. Many times he would come upon someone in deep thought, usually because they were struggling over a very personal issue. Opening up to their thoughts caused a tsunami of emotions to overload his brain, making it almost impossible to feel his own emotions. Apart from being very annoying, it simply felt wrong to know someone else's private thoughts.
By the end of the week, he was becoming less and less confident in the effectiveness of his creation. It was very difficult to focus on anything when he was near another human being: their unwanted thoughts constantly fused with his own. This happened so often that he frequently failed to notice when his own train of thought was suddenly replaced with that of someone else. He was unable to even hear himself think as he sat at the local coffee shop. Agitated, he left for his lab that Monday.
It was about five o'clock in the evening when he got in his retrofitted Chevy Volt. Rush hour traffic congested the ancient roadways out of the city. Once on the highway, he accelerated up to the comfortable speed of 150 miles per hour. His Volt, being 96 years old, would have never been able to reach this speed unless he had removed its antique lithium-ion drive train and replaced it with his own hydrogen-cobalt system. While driving along the roadway, he found it very difficult to keep his mind to himself. The many drivers surrounding him were teeming with thoughts and violent emotions. He tried to phase them out, but to no avail.
His vehicle, being so obsolete, did not posses the now-standard autopilot features of most cars. He drove it manually, like it had been driven in 2020. Although unconventional, he was not the only one on the highway who did so. Ahead of him, a man in a modern hydrogen-powered Corvette drove also, its computerized speakers spewing out decibels of the same sound that the outdated combustion engine used to make. He tried his best to focus on that sound alone, futilely attempting to empty his head.
Unknowingly to him, a thousand feet in the air, a neutrino engine had failed, causing the jetcar it powered to suddenly loose airspeed and altitude. Unable to steer the falling aircraft, the pilot immediately ejected, leaving gravity to finish it off. It continued to plummet, gathering speed each second, destined to crash onto the congested highway.
The people in the vehicles around him acted purely on instinct, many of them screaming in their minds as their vehicles automatically swerved to avoid the jetcar as it collided with the roadway. Unlike the others, the man in the Corvette had to act manually, swerving to narrowly miss colliding with it. In his Volt, he would have been able to do so also, but something had changed. His retrovirus had mutated again; this time not only did he have to fight others thoughts, but also their actions. With the thoughts of a hundred people going through his mind at the same time, he was unable stop his own hands from obeying the electrical signals the man in the Corvette sent to his hands. Differing from the man, however, his maneuvering did not cause him to miss the crash, but rather drive straight into it. Despite the Volt's numerous safety systems, he was thrown out of his car. He skidded down the road strip nearly 50 feet, finally stopping in the nearby grass, unconscious and bloody.
'This patient is awake, Doctor,' he heard a metallic voice say. He slowly opened his eyes, surprised to find himself lying in a hospital unit. 'Ah, thank you Asimo,' he heard a deep voice utter quickly. Looking around, he found himself surrounded by vital-signs monitors, and standing beside him, a robotic nurse. 'Dr. Charles,' a man stated as he hurried into view. 'I'm delighted to see you've recovered. I'm Dr. Hanson, your neurosurgeon.' In his mind he could see his image through Dr. Hanson's eyes. 'I'm extremely disfigured,' was his immediate reaction, but that was the only coherent thought he could get in before a hundred more flooded into his mind. The number of them seemed to keep growing, even as he tried to shut them out. But they just kept coming.
He quickly knew what had happened to himself as he listened to the thoughts. It had been three full days since the crash, and he had been unconscious the entire time. But it wasn't the bits of information about him that shocked him most. He learned in a matter of seconds that his whole world had changed. Thousands of people in the area and entire state of Florida had flocked to hospitals, complaining of hearing 'voices,' raging emotions, and having continuous muscle spasms. Livestock, wild animals, and pets were acting oddly, and many said it was as though they knew what people were thinking exactly.
But he knew what was really happening: his retrovirus had gotten loose. He must have been spreading it unknowingly every time he entered West Jupiter. And it wasn't just people it seemed to affect. It appeared that many species of animals had contracted it, causing statewide panic. People were getting lost in other's thoughts and transportation-related crash rates had increased by nearly 150%.
He tried to halt the incoming thoughts and emotions, for deep down, he knew he was responsible for all of them. But they just continued to rush in, threatening to stamp out any sense he still had. As he tried to resist, the cells in his brain mutated again, heightening his electrical sensing abilities even more. The world was a total landslide now. He could hear not only thoughts, but also the currents emanating from human muscles and even his own brain. It became harder and harder to focus.
'Dr. Charles, can you see me?' he heard a faint voice inquire. He wasn't even sure if he had eyes to see with. He could feel his brain's pulses the most, drowning out all the others. He began to lose sense of everything around him. He was overloading his own mind, just by hearing himself think. With so much information coming in at once, his brain began to shut down all functions. His heart stopped beating, his lungs stopped breathing. One last thought, his very own, was able to faintly overshadow all the others. 'This was destined to happen since the day the human race first discovered how to modify the double helix.'