Wednesday, December 06, 2006
I want them out of my head NOW!
I don't know whether I have a loyal friend and advocate in Maggie, or whether the mind-exchange thing is just too fascinating for any self-respecting scientist in the fields of biology or nanotechnology to drop. No matter which is the case, the Feds' gestapo tactics certainly haven't discouraged her co-workers from investigating what the deal is with the mind-switching nano-machines and why they didn't seem to be present in "Amy". I have to admit, the results are kind of disturbing.
We can, at least, put quotes around Amy's name with some certainty - she's not who she appears to be, although we're not exactly much closer to figuring out who she really is. Diego Cablan, one of Maggie's colleagues, finally managed to finagle some time on an electron microscope. The first thing he and Mags showed me was one of my own nanos, blown up large enough for the magnification to require scientific notation. It's an ugly thing, like a squid combined with a remora, made out of what look like ping-pong balls at that level of magnification. He pointed to the things at the end of the shorter octopus tentacles. These little clusters, he said, were what attached to nerve cells, and were relatively well-understood. They're like the protein receptors on pretty much any virus, although these guys are pretty good at not only attacking themselves to brain cells, but the synapse area specifically. That long, tail-like structure - "long", of course, being a relative term - serves as the antenna. Diego thinks that it had a different configuration when it first attached itself to my brain, but receiving the "go" signal had a number of different effects - it reconfigured the antenna into a slightly different configuration and caused the machine to release a chemical payload that causes the neuron it's attached to to fire in a specific way.
I thought I grasped it. "It does a PEEK, right?" Then I had to explain how old versions of BASIC (back when it actually stood for "Beginner's All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code) used the PEEK command to examine a given memory location.
The guy looked impressed - I sometime forget how young I look. Five years isn't a whole lot, but it's the difference between be able to directly screw with your computers memory and having no recourse but to point-and-click. Anyway, that's basically it, and that as soon as it gets a response, it transmits. Then, it maybe reconfigures again, or not, because the computer which is doing the cross-matching retransmits, strong enough for these nano-scale transceivers to capture. Then it somehow pushes what it receives into the synapse - a POKE, so to speak.
Okay, I had the general idea before, although the specific chemistry, which I didn't understand at all, was new. Then they showed me what they'd taken from Amy's bloodstream.
My nanos were more or less intact. Hers were in pieces, bonded to other chemicals, twisted. My first suspicion was that they'd made the nanos better, so that they would break down after being used. But then they showed us some more pictures - these, they said, were my samples, after running a few hundred thousand volts through them. Looked pretty darn similar.
At this point, Amy looks at her hands. "These... these are electrical burns. Do you think they burned me in order to cover their tracks?"
"I don't know - I mean, I'm just a molecular biologist. You really want to ask the FBI that question - they would know the why better. But, I think it may explain something else."
"Yes - it's not something we can test, but maybe you notice how the electricity contorted them. Normally, these things should only be activated by specific frequencies - you say there are people who have three different sets in their brains, and they apparently never interfered with each other - but run enough electricity through it, and the ones still attached to the brain..."
"They erased my memory?"
I looked at her. "No... They probably wouldn't zap you on your hands. This... I mean, it looks like you grabbed something."
"Hmm..." She stared at her hands. "That sounds about right. I'm trying to escape, maybe there's high-tension wire or an electric fence, somehow I'm not electrocuted... Do they know it left me with a clean slate and let me go, or assume I'm dead and now wonder how much I know? Maybe that's why you said the guy was trying to tap my phone..."
Maybe. "So, guys, is there any way she can get her memories back?"
Diego, of course, reminds us that he's a chemist by trade, and Amy really should talk with a neurologist. That's when I realize...
"Oh my god... I've still got these things in my brain, don't I? I get zapped by something, and it's clean slate time for me, isn't it?"
The scientists all look at each other, apparently not having really considered this as something that might happen again, or at least to a specific individual. They get out some calculators and figure out that, assuming a two-year half-life, I've probably only got about 37% as many nanos in my brain as Amy did when she was zapped, so I probably wouldn't be wiped clean...
"So, what, I just maybe forget my mother? My best friend? Maggie? That 'page six' was a good place to put short machine language subroutines when programming an Atari 800? Or maybe my personality just changes a little bit? I already spend enough time worrying about who I am, and now I have to worry about brain damage every time I get a static shock!
Everyone looks a little horrified. Diego, at least, seems interested in helping. It means more blood samples, and he'll only be able to fit this in around the research he gets paid for. I think he's trying to charm me a little by saying it would be a shame if a bit of stray electricity were to change me, but I don't really think of it until Maggie mentions it later. I'm just too freaked out, as is Amy. This girl used to be a man, like me, but she's forgotten all about it. And as much as it drives me crazy, I'd hate to lose that part of who I am.
I'll be realistic; I probably won't ever get these things out of my brain - even if Diego finds a way to do it, I certainly wouldn't try it without testing, and how do you test this? But I suddenly feel a whole lot more vulnerable than I have in a while.