At this point, I feel hopelessly lost. How could all of this stuff be going on without me hearing about it on the news or something? “They can make brain cells that fire when you shine light on them?”
“Yes, this is the fundamental technology behind the optogenetic interface. The fiber optics provide an input into the brain, and EEG can be used as an output.
I know about EEG. It stands for electroencephalogram, and it’s what a lot of the video game console makers are working on. Basically it’s where you put sensors all around your head to measure the slight electrical impulses your brain gives off. The EEG reads your thoughts and the character does what you want it to. It’s the latest thing, but it’s still a little slow. “How do you deal with the lag?”
“The lag? I am guessing you mean the lag you experience in video games that use EEG? The version we use is more invasive. The electrodes have almost direct contact with the brain. They are also more sensitive than what is commercially available. This significantly reduces the lag we experience.”
Jazz has exited off the highway and we are now on road going through the woods. When we pass by a visitor’s center I realize we must be in a national park. Jazz drives into an empty cove for RV enthusiasts that has a fire pit in the center. “Are you okay?” I ask Janis.
“I am better. I am not yet ideal though.” Janis takes a few deep breaths. “I should be able to walk.”
Jazz gets out of the car and invites us to follow him. “I hope you have made a decision by now. We really do not have much time.” Janis and I both get out of the car and lean against the door.
“I haven’t even had a chance to think about it, yet! Just give me five minutes okay?”
“I will comply, but I would prefer to keep moving.”
I try to go over everything in my mind while Jazz and Janet are silent. Here I have two highly trained cyborg assassins sitting here waiting for me to give them an order and all I can do is make them wait! What is my problem exactly?
“I do not understand why I am so upset,” Janis says suddenly. “My prosthetic cortex affects my speech and decision making, but my memories and emotions are completely biological. Can you explain my feelings to me, Ethan?”
The purple irises of her eyes pull me in as she asks this. Something about the way she says my name makes me want to hold her. I swallow. “I don’t know. Usually I just know what I’m feeling without really thinking about it. Do you have any clues?”
Janis looks down. “Images keep playing through my mind. I see my father in the moments after the accident, when he is trying to get me out of the car, just before I black out. I see my mother saying goodbye to me after visiting me here. I see the two secret service operatives just before the explosion from the grenade I threw. I do not know what these images have in common, but when they cycle through my mind like this it is worse than confronting any one image by itself.”
“What happened when your mother came to visit, Janis?”
“I do not kn…I…I do not know!”
I think the exclamation startles Janis as much as it does me. She blinks slowly and the fans on her prosthetic cortex whirr loudly for a second.
“Mr. Yates,” Jazz says, “It has been five minutes. We can deal with Janis’s malfunctioning later if we must.”
“I am n…I..am not malfunctioning!” Janis takes a few short breaths. New tears come from her eyes. “I am not a robot, and neither are you, Jazz. Our guardian told us we should train ourselves not to rely on the prosthetic cortex.”
“Dr. Eklund is an optimist. Realistically, there is no way we can regain what we have lost. We should learn to work synergistically with our optogenetic interface. We should adapt to what we are.”
I hold my hand up. “Let her speak.”
“Very well. I will comply.” Jazz crosses his arms. I notice the fans of his prosthetic cortex whirr a little more than usual.
“It was my mother who signed over her guardianship of me to Dr. Eklund so he could give me the prosthetic cortex. A year after I awoke with the prosthesis, he invited her to visit me. He told her not to expect too much. I greeted her politely. When she asked me questions I answered them truthfully. But she started crying. I started having problems with my prosthesis about that time, but I managed to maintain equanimity. It was when she said goodbye that I had the worst reaction.”
I’m beginning to get a picture of things, but I’m not sure how much of it I’m making up. Filling in the spaces. “Janis,” I ask, “have you ever killed anyone before today?”