“Your midterm grades should have come out by now. Why haven’t we received them?”

James opened the door to his residence hall. Regardless of his already impressive credit count, the university refused to let him upgrade his living arrangements because he was still a minor.

He halted in the stairwell. “Because I asked registrar not to release them to you.”


“Because I just want it that way. Relax, I’ll show you the numbers at the end of the year.”

“You can’t do that.”

“But I did, Dad,” James said. “My grades are fine. I’m trying to take accountability for myself. I thought you’d appreciate that.”

“Your performance will slip without oversight.”

“That’s what I have professors for.”

“Is the registrar office still open?”

“Dad, I won’t slip.”

“You need to go straight over there and change this.”

James steeled himself. “No. I want it this way.”

“If you remove your mother and I from your academics, we’ll withdraw your financial support. Good luck getting loans at your age.”
James stiffened. “You wouldn’t do that!” Another student came down the stairwell and James avoided his gaze. James started up the stairs, readjusting his grip on his phone.“Dad, you can’t do that.”

“I’m heading out to the bank right now.”

“I’ll get another job, then!” 

“With your major?”
“I can do it.” He was already tutoring ten hours a week, but that wasn’t enough to fully support himself.

“You’re willing to compromise the quality of your education for an upstart bit of pride? You’ll exhaust yourself. You won’t go to graduate school like we’d all hoped, and you’ll be forced into a menial line of work and waste your talents for years at best.”

“That won’t happen.” James said, his conviction forced.

James thought he heard the sound of the elevator of the apartment building where his parents lived, and he froze just as he entered the hallway of his own residential floor.

“It’ll be a nice load off our shoulders, I guess,” Jonathan sighed. James couldn’t speak. In that moment, wary dislike of his father gave way to full blown hatred.

“Last chance, James.”

“Fine!” James spun around and tore the door open again. His voice cracked, “I’ll go down there. You win.”


Erika didn’t sleep most of the night. Morning came and the dimmed artificial lights of her cell brightened to normal strength. She watched the clock, hungry, bored, and cross. 

A meal never arrived. 

She was beginning to consider figuring out how to summon Yeun when guards arrived and took her down the hall to some kind of examination room. The guard told her to sit down on the examination table, so she did. The door closed and he positioned himself in front of it, arms folded across his chest, waiting.

The silence was deafening. She’d been drowning in silence since she got here.

Finally, Yeun arrived, slipping into the room with a quiet greeting.

“Got a busy day for you,” he said. “Ready to extract some stem cells.” 

Erika stared at the floor, her brow tight. “For what?” 

“For culturing,” he said.


He opened up the cabinet under a small sink in the corner, pulling out a hospital gown and a shower cap, both a depressing shade of light blue. He placed them on the counter. “Change into these. It’s a simple bone marrow extraction. We’ll put you under, and have you in and out before you know it.” 

Erika looked up at him. He was already on his way out.

“I’ll give you some privacy,” he said. He beckoned to the guard to follow, and they left Erika alone. 

Her attention went immediately to the sink, wondering if it held anything of use, knowing he wouldn’t have left her unsupervised if that were the case. She glanced up at the security camera in the ceiling.

What would she have found that would have been useful enough, anyway? A scalpel? Empetrum guards had tranquilizers. She’d seen enough guards in the last few days to start recognizing the rectangular infuser strapped to the back of their belts, near the handgun. 

Maybe Yeun was testing her. Better to keep playing along for now. Either way, she didn’t want to go under anesthesia right after making Yeun angry.

She still had time.

Slowly, she stood up, wrinkled her nose at the gown and shower cap, and turned her back on the camera to get dressed.


James’ cell phone buzzed fitfully from the coffee table.

Grudgingly, he extricated himself from a sea of open moving boxes and picked his way across the apartment to access the device. He froze when he read the caller ID.

“What do you want?” he muttered. He stared at the screen until the vibrating ceased.

If they really wanted to make contact, they could leave a message. They could communicate on his terms.

His phone began to vibrate again, and again the familiar name and number glared from the screen.

He groaned, tapped the answer button and brought it to his ear. “Hello?”

“Hello, James?” a woman’s voice sounded formally from the other line.


“It’s been a while.”

“Yes it has.”

“How have you been?”

“I’m fine, Mom. Everything’s good.”

“Your father and I haven’t heard from you in a long time.”

There was a reason for that. “Yeah, I’ve been busy with work.”

“Oh yes, your all-consuming secret occupation.”

James narrowed his eyes at the wall. Nothing had changed in a year.

She sighed. “Look, don’t worry about lining up your excuses, I just wanted to fill you in on what’s happened.”

Foreboding prickled on the back of James’ neck. “What’s happened?”

“Well, your dad hasn’t been feeling well for a while, so we went in to the doctor to check it out.” Her voice snapped, almost angry. “He has pancreatic cancer.”

James’ face went cold. “Cancer?”

“It’s not responding well to treatment,” her tone wavered slightly before she curbed it.

James swallowed, his throat dry. “How long have you known?”

“Several months.”

Several months?”he demanded. “Why on earth didn’t you say anything sooner?”

“Why did you cut us off for an entire year?” she demanded back.

James winced. He waited for the sting of her words to subside before speaking again, “That was the purpose of the delay?” They still had his cell phone number. They could have called him earlier. Why did they wait a whole year without leaving so much as a message, and then give him grief as if it was all his fault?

“No,” she admitted after a pause. “We didn’t think it worth calling your attention from the clandestine matters of your life. We were dealing with it.”

James thought he heard his father say something about leaving him alone about his job.

“I would have wanted to know immediately, Mom,” James said. “Even if you were dealing with it.”

“Could you come home?” the question came abruptly, uttered in a formal, business-like tone, as if she were requesting a report, and not something much greater. “Just to visit?” This was as close to pleading as she came.

“No, I—I can’t right now,” James struggled. He sat down on the floor. “My job just relocated me and I’ve only just arrived. There’s still a lot of work to be done. I don’t know if I can step away right now…”

“When you can, then. Soon?”

“Yeah, but we’ll have to see. Sorry, Mom.” He was technically much closer than he had been for the last year. But he had only just escaped from his domineering parents. He didn’t know if he could bring himself to come back. Even for this.

“Do you want to talk to your father?”

James opened his mouth to refuse, but thought better of it. Talking to his father only brought trouble—but it could be the last time he heard his voice. If James had any sort of heart, he could tolerate it, at least.

“Yes,” he said finally, bracing himself for the worst.

“Okay,” came the soft reply. The phone switched hands.

“Hello, James,” Jonathan Siles’ voice, normally crisp and direct, sounded haggard.

“Hi, Dad,” James said quietly. “How are you holding up?”

“Fine. Don’t worry about me, okay? I want you to concentrate on your work. You’ve worked hard for this, and I don’t want to get in the way.” He paused. “I know you usually refuse to talk about it, but are you happy there?”

“Yes.” James fidgeted. “I am.”

“Good. So, James—” his father hesitated, as if the words he was about to utter pained him. “I don’t know how much longer I have, so I think it’s appropriate to tell you now. All this time in the hospital has given me time to reflect. To, um, to come to terms with some things.” Again, he faltered. Very unlike him. “And I just want to get this off my chest. I wished you could have been here these harrowing months. I know I’m to blame for your absence.”

They should have called earlier.

“I just wanted the best for you. I went too far. I’m sorry.”

James’ eyes widened. An apology? Jonathan Siles was apologizing?

“I admit it was tough—” James said uncertainly. “But the challenge was good for me.”

James surprised himself for defending what his parents had put him through, but he couldn’t suppress the compulsion as he fought to make sense of what had just met his ears. His father always had a highly practical reason for everything. Yes, maybe he was apologizing, but not just from the goodness of his heart. This was a goodbye. 

“I drove you away,” his father said. “This distance between us is my fault. I’ve understood this for a long time, but I was too proud to admit it. Or to do anything about it. I’m so sorry, James.” His voice wavered, and James felt his body begin to tremble. “Don’t feel obligated to let me back into your life. I just wanted to let you know I finally understand.”

“Jonathan,” James heard his mother say. “You don’t mean that.”

James swallowed with difficulty. “That means a lot to me, Dad,” he managed, hoarsely.

“So, like I said, don’t worry about me,” Jonathan went on, resolute. “Work hard instead, as you always have—as we taught you to.”

“Only if you pull through this,” James said. “Don’t go passing away before I can get there, okay?” This would not be a goodbye. Not if James could help it.

“I can’t make any promises…” 

“How long do the doctors think?”

“Six months maybe.”

“I see.”

Silence closed in on both lines. James couldn’t bring himself to say anything else. A single phone call couldn’t wipe away the scars, but his parents’ impossible stubbornness had been breached. There might finally be hope of repair.

But he might not have the opportunity with his father.

“Well…I guess that’s all. I should let you go now,” Jonathan said finally.

“Okay,” James said, his voice very quiet. “Take care, Dad.”

“Take care. I’m really proud of you.”

“Thanks.” James had always ached to hear his father say that. Growing up, everything James did was to earn his parents’ approval. And here his father had uttered it. That phrase. Finally. The supposed culmination of everything James had ever strived for, the highest honor he could ever earn. And James should have been happy, relieved.

But he felt cold, thwarted, void. Like the bar had simply been lowered because time had run out.

James let his father hang up, then slowly returned his cellphone to the table. He got to his feet. 

James had finally managed to smother the past in his work. He’d started to think he wouldn’t have to worry about his parents anymore. He hadn’t considered what would happen if he actually lost them. He had foolishly assumed everything would hold true until he was ready to return on his own terms, measured in decades rather than months.

He raked a shaking hand through his hair as he began to pace.

And it had only been a year. James just wanted to explore life separate from his frigid, controlling parents, but his father had found a way to get back to him in a way James couldn’t ignore. Of course, his father’s cancer wasn’t a ploy to regain influence over his life, but it certainly felt plausible.

Time limit or not, James wasn’t prepared to associate with them. If he tried now, he would make matters worse. But he couldn’t bear to lose the chance.

He felt sick. There had to be something he could do, but he was an engineer, not an oncologist.

And six months was only an estimate.

With a growl of exasperation, James leaned his forehead against the wall.

It was impossible, but he couldn’t accept impossible. That’s what his parents had drilled into him. Brilliance wasn’t allowed to be at a loss. He just had to think. Identify the problem and string together a solution with the options at hand. It had always worked for him in the past.

The issue: His father was dying—or rather, his father’s body was dying.

So, then the objective would be to slow it down or reverse it. Keep it from dying. Keep Jonathan from leaving.

He tapped his forehead a few times on the wall, scanning through his knowledge of anything remotely useful. He paused and straightened up as his search suddenly landed on an idea. He skirted the wall to his office, grabbing a stray piece of printer paper from the mass on his desk. With the first writing utensil his hand contacted, he began a crude diagram, more of the concept than how it would actually work.

What if he could get his father out of the failing body, into one that wasn’t dying? A sloppy fix, James supposed, but sturdy.

Full body replacement was simply a step up from prosthetics. He didn’t know if an organic-to-mechanical swap was even possible. He would have to do quite a bit of research to gauge its feasibility, but in his mind, it was more a matter of how.

It helped to have an extensive background in the biological sciences at his disposal. How appropriate that Jonathan Siles’ incessant focus on neuroscience in James’ studies would one day save his life. James would have laughed at the irony, if he didn’t have such a lump in his throat.

James would show his father he deserved his acceptance. Not because Jonathan was dying, but because James would prove once and for all that he had lived up to everything his parents had obsessively pushed him to be. Objectively. Undeniably. He could simultaneously save a life and change the world.

In fervent inspiration, James scrawled two words over the disjointed sketches:

Organorobotic Transference.



A towering fence herded the original Larkspur facility into a restricted unit. Despite the barrier plastered with forbidding signs, the construct beyond seemed friendly enough.

The cracked asphalt of the parking lot stood mostly empty, its generous size in stark contrast with James’ memory of the modest slab of concrete and steel barn that had graced the former facility. As he parked in a space along the front of the weathered building next to Richard’s car, an unexpected wave of nerves cramped in his stomach.

It was eerie, to have returned to Larkspur’s birthplace. As James got out of his car, contemplating the front entrance stripped of all identification, it felt as if the building itself had tried to forget.

But it was mainly anxiety of a different source that held a tight rein on the edges of his mind. The majority of his attention clung to organorobotic transference, and he had devoted every spare moment to research since conceiving the idea. But while he had dug up a huge volume of data in the last thirty-six hours, he still hadn’t managed to piece together anything decisive, and having to go back to Larkspur and set up the lab felt like so much wasted time.

Even though it wasn’t, he knew. He had already fried his brain many times over reading mountains of peer reviewed material and planning how to move his newest preoccupation forward. Maybe the busywork would be good for him.

The air conditioning gusted him with icy air as he stepped into the lobby. He lingered by the door, letting his gaze wander. Across the room, Addie and Chelo chatted with the security guards as they received their badges. A wide staircase at the right side of the lobby led up to a partially open second level, and wide paneled windows stretched across the whole front of the building. A wan, impressed smile tugged at the edge of his mouth. It would be nice to be above ground.

“Morning Jim!” An arm seized his head, and James uttered a surprised squawk. 

“Morning, Greg,” James grunted, attempting to pry him off with one hand. The other, he hoped, wasn’t spilling his coffee. Greg’s arm held fast, unyielding as a spring clamp.

A door opened across the lobby. “Good morning!” Eve’s cheerful voice boomed. Richard walked beside the former director, coming from the lab beyond. “I feel like I haven’t seen you people in ages. How are you all? Settling in well?”

“Yes ma’am,” Greg beamed. He finally released his squirming colleague. “I’m so ready to start building stuff again.”

“Seconded,” James muttered, attempting to smooth down what forever looked like bedhead, which Greg’s antics had only exacerbated.

“Oh stop, it doesn’t look that different,” Greg said. James shot him a look.

Richard cleared his throat, “I’d like to start today with a short meeting to discuss a few changes to security protocols, but after that, it’s up to you. Today, the main objective is setup, doing whatever we need to do to get ready to start work tomorrow morning.”

“Sounds great,” Chelo said.

“Good.” Richard surveyed his colleagues, relieved to see them in high spirits. “Let’s get to work.”


The engineers spent the majority of the morning exploring the labs, taking inventory, setting up their offices on the top floor, and calibrating the equipment downstairs.

As Richard and Eve systematically imported the digital information from the Bureau’s database onto the computer in the director’s office, Richard asked, “What was Larkspur like before it went underground?”

He adjusted the status bar on the computer screen and reached for his phone, only to realize he had just checked it. Perhaps this wasn’t a conversation he should have started.

But Heather would kill him if he failed to say anything.

“Busy.” Across the room, Eve opened one of several boxes and pulled out hardcovers to populate the bookcase. “There were more of us, covering a wider field of expertise, and the general public could schedule appointments to come visit and see what we were up to.” She breathed a soft sigh. “It was really lively. I wish you could have seen it. You’d have enjoyed it.”

Larkspur had already been operating underground for nearly a decade by the time Richard had entered the scene. Eve had disclosed the basics of what had happened, but not much else. What the other co-founder had done wasn’t relevant after all that time, she had said, and Richard hadn’t thought it appropriate to pry.

“Do you think there’s a chance we can get back to that someday?” Richard asked.

“Maybe.” Eve mused. “My original vision for starting Larkspur was half research, half education.” She paused, staring intently at the book in her hands. “But it just wasn’t meant to be, perhaps.” She pushed the book into place and grabbed another one from the box. “I get fulfillment in that other half elsewhere, Richard. It’s been twenty years.”

Eve had once been the director, but after passing it off to Richard, she split her time back east between Larkspur and the local university in Dunesborough as an adjunct professor. She was over retirement age, but she liked to keep busy.

“Still, I’ve been thinking,” Richard said. “What if we took this opportunity to move toward that direction, as Dhar mentioned?”

Eve hesitated. She stood up with a soft grunt. “I don’t know, Rich. It would be our last chance. If we try it and it doesn’t go well—” She faltered. “There’d be no way to take it back. In light of current events, it might be safer to lie low a bit longer and feel things out.”

“Well, I mean we wouldn’t be launching an advertisement campaign or anything.” Richard offered a smile. “But what if we used our obligatory resurfacing to cautiously begin restoring Larkspur to its former glory?”
Eve didn’t answer.

Richard initiated another download and swiveled his chair around so he could fully face his colleague. “The other day, Heather asked me if she could visit Larkspur. What if we let her? What if her involvement could serve as a trial period?”

“Heather wants to visit?” Eve raised her eyebrows, surprised.

Richard nodded. “Very badly. She made sure I didn’t forget about it before I left this morning.”

Eve considered her friend’s words, her expression soft. 

Finally, she smiled, apprehensively, but it was a smile nonetheless. “Why not?”


James brought a thick notebook to the lamplight.

He booted up his desktop computer and accessed the extensive list of online academic databases he had subscriptions to, gearing up for another full night of research and planning.

How could he safely transfer the entire essence of a human being into a different body?

The physical aspect of emotions, memories, and personality resided in the brain. Perhaps he could transform these physical signaling networks into electrical ones, which could then be downloaded into a highly specialized mainframe.

But it wasn’t enough to transfer just the physical.

James flipped to pages he had filled on previous research binges, reviewing what he had gathered and where it had left him.

Where did the spirit reside? Many scientists said it didn’t exist, but its potential could be the deciding factor on whether or not the project could continue. Without every element accounted for—even only a potential element—the transfer would produce nothing more than a copy of the transferee’s identity, and that wasn’t good enough.

It had to be a transplant, not a clone.

James’ father would be irked to learn he was exploring the abstract. Both their cores were rooted in science. Reality was systematic, observable, measurable. If a phenomenon couldn’t be proved by factual evidence, it didn’t exist, or science had yet to advance far enough to offer an explanation. James believed the latter about the supernatural. The science was still in its infancy, but existing empirical data suggested the paranormal had something to do with electromagnetic energy or string theory.

It mattered to him to guarantee that, after the transfer, the consciousness supported by the mechanical replacement was, indeed, his father in body, soul, and spirit.

As yet another night grew long, James burned through pages of information, skimming abstracts before consuming many of the scientific journal articles in more detail, picking through e-books and pilfering their sources. He made notes on whatever seemed interesting, and the integrity level of each study.

The spirit remained within a body as long as the body was alive and functional. Doctors frequently brought people back from death in the emergency room. It only required timely repair or re-stimulation of the failed biological component. 

If the artificial cognitive network closely resembled the organic one, and had a powerful electromagnetic snare, perhaps the metaphysical components could be tricked to accept and integrate with the mechanical body.

Then the question would be where to tether the snare. Was the essential life force restricted to a specific area? The only region James could think of was the brain, whose functionality afforded consciousness, connecting an individual to the rest of the world.

But the whole body was innervated. And every cell possessed a form of life.

He turned his gaze to his hand. Pensively, he closed it into a tight fist, concentrating on the sensation of his muscles straining and contracting before opening it again. Staggering in number, each alive itself, but all somehow linked to form cohesive, cooperative tissues, as if they weren’t really individual at all. Did he need to extract the life from each cell, or could he safely focus on the nervous system alone?

He sighed, resting his head in his hands, his brain muddled from lack of sleep and too much conjecture. He wondered if this would ever make it beyond a mere philosophical exercise.

What if cells had an innate identity, enabling the acceptance of the metaphysical entities, and were moveable across organic hosts like in organ transplants, but not mechanical ones? Would he have to incorporate an organic component to the new body so those elements he wanted to preserve would accept it?

He narrowed his eyes at the screen, greatly disliking the idea of organic transplant. Sustainably preserving functional organic tissue inside an artificial container would be messy. James had a decent amount of experience handling brains and nervous tissue, thanks to his father’s insistence on familiarizing him with his profession. He wanted nothing to do with it.

He straightened up, stretching his shoulders. His back popped, hunched over his desk for too long.

Ideally, organorobotic transference would have to be a clean process, even with an organic body left behind. Mass was itself a form of energy. According to the mass-energy equivalence principle, even a small particle of matter equated to a large amount of energy, as Larkspur had begun successfully employing with their suspended generator protoype.

A slow smile crept over his face as he leaned forward again and began a diagram, jotting down a few equations he knew off the top of his head that might provide a feasible route toward a miniaturized version. The mass of the failed organic body could be converted to energy and used to power the new mechanical one. If that was true, then the individual would likely never have to recharge. That much energy would last an eternity.

That was, assuming he could design a portable device that could support such overwhelming power, which was a challenge more suited to his expertise. Perhaps a blend of the generator and the energy core for the A.I. project in development at Larkspur could provide a viable solution. He scribbled a note in the corner of the page to review Richard and Greg’s work on that front. At the moment, he and his colleagues were planning something more rechargeable with a focus on longevity, but perhaps he could tweak the design.

Information accommodation was a hurdle as well. The new neural container would have to be able to mimic the capacity of the human brain. The organic brain could make an unlimited amount of new connections and shortcuts and reroutes, operating in chemical gradients and electrical impulses. Reproducing it mechanically came with high risk of processing overload. Perhaps photonics was the way forward there.

As the night marched on toward morning, he browsed the online research databases for modern developments in mechanical and electrical engineering. He located some promising articles about memory function, networking programs, and artificial intelligence. The articles added to the ever-growing collection on his computer.

James hardly noticed as the rising sun slowly diluted the darkness from the sky. He pushed the keyboard aside and spread out his notes, setting to work consolidating the main points and their supporting information. After a week of obsessive sleep deprivation, he was finally getting somewhere. He had yet to straighten out a few hitches in the project, but he had enough information for a proposal, at least. He couldn’t wait any longer.

He lifted the page with the abstract up in front of his face and turned so that the cool light of the early sunrise glowed behind it. Relief and inspiration washed through him as he lay the page down, stood up from his desk, and crossed the room to the window. 

He ran a hand over his tired eyes and smiled down at the busying street below. He’d get a power nap in before work, and then he’d pitch the idea to Richard as soon as he arrived at the facility.

Whatever it took, James resolved to make impossibility reality. And if medical science failed and Jonathan wasn’t willing to accept premature death, his son would be ready with a revolutionary failsafe.



James was wired when he arrived at the facility early, pulling up to the building shortly after Richard.

Heather ventured a polite wave as James got out of his car, and he lifted a hand in return, recalling the brief meeting the day before for the purpose of sanctioning Heather’s visit. He hoped she enjoyed herself, but stayed enough out of his way.

They weren’t in an airplane anymore. James had work to do. 

“Good morning, James.” Richard smiled as he shouldered his bag. “You’re here early.”

“Restless night,” James said was he held the door open for the director and his daughter.

He wished he could present his project immediately, idly insert it into conversation instead of making a frontal assault. The urgency sat like a weight in his chest, but he proposed to tamper with things people typically left alone. He couldn’t take any step in this process lightly.

Not to mention, he wasn’t sure where Richard stood on the subject.

Heather was the embodiment of enthusiasm as her awed gaze swept over the lobby. Her attention landed on the stairs. “Are your offices up there?”

“Yes,” Richard replied. Heather walked with such a spring in her step that James expected her to twirl a few times on her way to the staircase. Richard glanced at him and smiled, a tender, fatherly expression James had seen hints of before, but never with such clarity on the director’s face. 

Richard admired his daughter. For her curiosity and excitement. For learning and exploring. For existing.

James readjusted his grip on his briefcase.

Heather started up the stairs. “Can I make coffee?”

“Sure.” Richard smiled. “Thanks, Heather. Everything should be upstairs to the right.”

At the top of the stairs, she swung around the railing and made for the counter at the other end of the kitchenette. She spun around. “James, do you want a cup too?”

“Yeah, thanks,” James said haltingly. He would soon welcome the caffeine, if it would even help at this point of exhaustion. “Hey, Richard? Can I talk to you for a minute?”

“Of course.” Richard strolled down the hallway, opening his office door to the left. “What’s on your mind?”

James took a steadying breath as he closed the door behind them and ventured toward Richard’s desk. The director’s belongings only sparsely decorated the larger, updated space. There was too much air. James felt exposed.

He set his briefcase up against the desk and pulled out the notes he had consolidated earlier that morning. “I’ve come up with an idea for a new project.”

“Another one?” Richard laid his own bag in an extra chair nearby. Picture frames fringed his desk. He dropped into his chair with an accommodating smile. “Let’s hear it.”

With a thrill of hope and nerves, James scanned the front page of his notes, deciding which angle to take. He looked up. “I think I’ve devised a potential method to save people with terminal medical conditions. It’s still somewhat theoretical right now, but it’s shaping up to be very promising.”

He handed Richard his notes.

“Something in the medical field? What is this method?” Richard asked quietly, looking over the first page. “‘Organorobotic Transference?’”

“Yes.” James’ neck hurt. He must have slept on it wrong. “I believe there’s a very plausible method of transferring a human being out of their failing body into a replacement one.”

Richard moved the top page to the back. “And this replacement would be…”

“Mechanical, of course.”

“Completely mechanical?” Richard’s careful tone failed to convey the approval James needed. “How?”
“I plan to design an electrical network that will work just like the human brain,” James spoke quickly and talked with his hands, more so than usual. “Including its ability to make unlimited connections. The network will house a program that will basically download an individual’s consciousness, so that everything will be the same as if they were in their old body, but simply in a different medium. I’ve already considered the question of whether or not the whole person could be transferred—that is, their nonphysical self as well as the physical—and I think there’s a way to do it. If the transfer could be performed quickly enough, with a mechanism to pull the electromagnetism-based spirit, and if the electrical neural network has enough of the same signatures as the original organic one, it would be just like temporary death and revival, like resuscitating a flat-lining patient. And the mass from the failing body can be converted to energy to power the replacement.” James took a sorely-needed breath.

“How do you plan to build this electrical network?” Richard said. “And how will the consciousness be transferred, exactly?”
“I haven’t quite worked everything out yet.” James idly kneaded the complaint in his neck. “Like I said, this is still in its early stages.”

“It does seem a little far-fetched,” Richard said carefully.

“I know. But I can find a way to make it work. This could really help people.”

“Have you thought about how this could be abused?”

“I suppose a few could try to use it to immortalize themselves, but anything can be used for the wrong reasons. But certainly, the benefits would outweigh the dangers.”

“If successful, technology like this would introduce a whole new facet to society, with so many possibilities for unintended consequences,” Richard said. “Could it be controlled?”

“I believe it could,” James replied. Richard was just being pessimistic. He barreled on before Richard could stop him. “But we can tackle the political questions later in development, long before societal introduction.” 

Richard studied him for a moment. “Were you hoping for this to take top priority?”

“Well no, not really,” James lied. Of course he wanted to devote all his time and attention to the project, but he needed to accept that his prior obligations with Larkspur took precedence. He had to be willing to be flexible to increase his chances. “It would be more of a personal project, and I could work on it almost exclusively in my free time, if necessary. I understand we have a lot of work here to catch up on.” He cringed inwardly.

What was he saying? With his personal deadlines, that was suicide.

A long silence followed, and James didn’t like the look on Richard’s face.

“I don’t know, James,” Richard said finally. “I’ll admit I’m not very comfortable with something like this. It seems too dangerous. Too much can go wrong…”

“I’ll work out every detail and make sure there are absolutely no problems before ever considering it for clinical trials.”

The doubt didn’t leave Richard’s soft countenance. He narrowed his eyes indecisively as he continued to flip through the papers. “We don’t really know if the nonphysical self, as you said, will transfer to the mechanical body. I don’t think you can apply logical conclusions to this, James. The supernatural is outside science’s grasp. We have no idea, no way to predict anything.”

“Which is why I’m asking you to let me pursue this, to develop and experiment, so we can have an idea. We won’t know until we try,” James insisted. “If it works, think of the benefits this could offer. It won’t have full validity until clinical trials, but for those who have no other fallback and are willing to try, I don’t see anything wrong with it.”

Richard exhaled slowly, considering James’ written notes. “Let’s ask Eve what she thinks about it.”

That wasn’t a no. “Okay,” James said, backing toward the door. “Thank you, Richard. I’ll check if she’s here.”

James felt sick to have to take this up with Eve, whose approval was even less likely. Still, James had to try.

Eve had arrived, but her input was startlingly negative. “James, I can’t promote this.”

Now James could panic. “But it could be invaluable to—”

“Something so drastic,” Eve cut him off. “It really doesn’t sit well with me. Nothing good can come of something like this.”

“Isn’t saving lives good?” James asked, his voice taut.

Eve was shaking her head. “Better leave things as they are this time.”
“But we’re scientists! Isn’t our whole purpose in life to make things better?” James insisted anxiously. “To not leave things as they are?”

“Yes, but we’re not looking for ways to cheat death, or to play God,” Eve struggled. She paused, collecting her thoughts. “I understand your logic, and I commend your good intentions, but I just don’t think this is possible. Pursuing it could cause a great deal of harm.”

“How so?” James brushed off the stab to his pride. A few lab rats for testing, and then some successful clinical trials. Where was the detriment? “I can make this work.” He looked at Richard for some kind of support, but Richard didn’t say anything. James wouldn’t be able to honor the director’s decision if he didn’t let him pursue this. It meant far too much.

But what was he supposed to do without resources?
“Please,” James pleaded. “At least let me try. Nothing bad will come of it. I promise.”

“It’s a little early to start up new projects, and this one sounds expensive,” Richard said, indecisive. “I want to say yes, James, but I just—I can’t comfortably allocate Larkspur resources for it.”

James fought to calm the distress rising in his chest. “What if you didn’t? What if I just used the equipment here, but used my own resources to acquire supplies? If I can make a miniaturized prototype and prove it’s perfectly safe, would you change your mind?”

Richard hesitated. “I don’t know,” he said, his eyebrows drawing together in concern. “Why the urgency?”

James froze. They wouldn’t understand. “I just thought this has the potential to do a lot of good,” he stammered. “And I wanted to get started as soon as possible.”

Richard narrowed his eyes, unconvinced. “What do you think, Eve?”

Eve sighed. “I’d prefer you forget about this, James. Concentrate on some of your other projects. But, Richard, you’re the director. It’s not my call.”

Richard turned to look out the window. Heavy silence closed in on the room as he thought it over. James fidgeted with his tie, afraid to breathe.

A knock sounded at the door, making everyone jump. Heather stuck her head in. “Hey, coffee’s ready.”

“Thanks, Heather,” Richard said, flashing a grateful half-smile.

Fortunately, Heather detected the tension and didn’t ask any questions before returning Eve’s friendly wave and closing the door.

James’ gaze shifted between them as the director continued to deliberate, and the former director waited for his verdict. Finally, Richard sighed and offered Eve an apologetic expression. “I think I’ll actually allow your proposal, James.” He faced his young colleague, who realized he had been literally holding his breath. “I won’t forbid you from pursuing it on your own time with your own resources, and I’ll even go as far as to grant you access to the equipment here at the facility. If it works as you say it will, then we’ll talk about this again.”

James didn’t dare glance Eve’s direction. “Thank you so much, Richard.” He turned to leave. “Everything will turn out all right. You have nothing to be concerned about—”

A restraining hand landed on his shoulder, surprising him. Pulling back, James twisted around and found himself staring straight through Eve’s glasses into her serious brown eyes.

“Be careful, James,” she ordered softly.

James wasn’t sure what to make of her uncharacteristically grave demeanor. He cracked an uneasy smile. “Don’t worry.”

James detached himself from his colleague as unassumingly as possible and escaped into the hallway. Leaning against the wall, he raised his face to the ceiling and closed his eyes, allowing himself a sigh of relief. His colleagues remained behind the closed door, and James didn’t care to hear what words they would exchange about him.

Out in the kitchenette, Heather handed him a mug without comment. Despite the curiosity burning in her face, she didn’t pry.

“I didn’t know how you like it,” Heather explained, retrieving a small container from the refrigerator. “Here’s some creamer if you want. Does this belong to anyone, or is it kind of fair game? I didn’t find a name on it.”
“Thanks, but it’s fine like this,” James said quietly. He didn’t usually drink his coffee black, but this morning, the bitterness seemed appropriate.

His heart still beat too hard behind his ribcage. James filled his mouth with coffee, focusing on the sharp taste. He had come so close to having to go against Richard. His colleagues didn’t like his project, but James had received permission regardless.

So he would pursue it. He would save his father if it came to that, and he would do it guiltlessly, despite their anxieties. He would show them all how possible, how necessary it was.

Heather studied his demeanor. “Does it taste okay?”

James nodded and took another draught, a thin, relieved smile brightening his features.


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