The following science-fiction short story was written when I was a high-school senior. The story was published in Futures, our high-school science fiction and fantasy magazine by our same-named club. By this time, I was heavily influenced by the original Star Wars trilogy, original Battlestar Galactica TV series, original Doctor Who TV series, and Isaac Asimov‘s epic Foundation trilogy and Robot series.
“Are you out of your cranium?” yelled Scientor Trand Dallen, the balding big-nosed roboticist of the Academy of Modern Science. “Are you listening to yourself?”
“Quite,” uttered Scientor Ultis Anshoran calmly. The newest and potentially most brilliant member of the Academy leaned back in his thinly-cushioned Conformatic chair and eased his feet upon his desk. “And I am sure you are behaving in a rational manner.”
Sr. Dallen made a little cough and began again, “Look, Ultis, you are a brilliant scientor, but seriously, human beings?”
“Why not? Appy has been successfully tested on our laboratory animals, its pro–”
“W-wait! What the hell is this ‘Appy’?”
“Come on, Trand. Figure it out. It is a derivation of the acronym of my Automatic Physio-monitor Implant.” And pulling his white-sleeved arms from behind his lightly-greyed hair, he continued, his arms now folded upon his chest, “And as I was saying, Appy has been successfully tested on our laboratory animals, its progress has been most satisfactory.”
“But human beings?” Sr. Dallen paced impatiently, his eyebrows knitted and and his left hand fumbling at his beard in thought. “You may not know it, but you may be beginning a trend to mechanize all of humanity, to transform it all into, uh,… ‘robotity.’ Other, perhaps ungentlemanly, scientors may discover a device, similar to your precious Implant, that would replace the brain as regulator of the human body’s mental and physical processes. And then they may create a higher-level device that would–”
“Quite an excess of may’s, Trand. You know, you a-may’s me.” Sr. Anshoran followed with a brief chuckle and pulled out from his coat pocket, his favorite electric hologame.
He resumed, “Trand, realize this. My Appy no more mechanizes than the artificial heart, artificial limbs, artificial et cetera. At times, I wish you had an artificial– well, never mind. What I am attempting to convey is that all these devices do not affect the human mind, the human spirit, and that is what is essential.”
The three-dimensional images of Sr. Anshoran’s hologame, blinking and shifting, the patterns of laser lights and streaking flashes accompanying a myriad of electronic tones and melodies, and the blurring speed of his fingers gliding over the colorful array of touch-sensitive buttons were too much for Sr. Trand Dallen to follow.
How does he do it? Sr. Dallen thought, referring to his colleague’s unique blend of a childlike attitude and a serious brilliance.
Ultis Anshoran again continued his explanation as he continued his hologame. “All my Appy is, is an implant.” Beads of perspiration appeared on his high forehead as the hologame challenges intensified. “You know, Trand, I do not believe in generalizing, however, you roboticists are all alike. You praise the superior logic and strength of robots, and yet when human beings receive mechanical and electronic organs more efficient, durable, and reliable than their original organs, you turn around and preach the discontinued use of such organs. You seem to think the recipients would lose their…” Sr. Anshoran’s fingers ceased in their motions as he hesitated, looked up to his big-nosed colleague, and concluded, “humanity.”
He placed the pocket hologame back within his coat and apologized, “I am sorry, Trand. I should not have–”
“I understand, Ultis.”
“Look, I want to make this clear to you. Appy is an implant, a completely passive implant. Placed surgically underneath the occipital region of the skull, the implant monitors those sections of the brain which control the vital physical processes of the body, and transmits the information to a receiver linked up to a computer, by which the information is collected, analyzed, processed and stored. Nothing interferes with the brain. Appy is a passive but observant bystander and monitor of the brain.”
At this point, Sr. Dallen had calmed down considerably. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe your, uh, Appy can save lives. Ultis, I apologize for my behavior earlier; I have always been insecure about prosthetic inventions. Ever since–”
“Apology accepted, Sr. Trand Dallen.” Sr. Anshoran lifted himself out of the Conformatic and walked over to the door. “Trand, the soon-to-be first human recipient of my Appy, that Mrs. Foria Onsul, will be arriving in less than three decidays. Meanwhile, I will be taking a little nap at home, so would you mind minding the laboratory?”
“Not at all. I might even consider it an honor.”
The younger scientor let out his familiar chuckle as he walked out the door saying, “Thank you, Trand. Good day.”
* * *
As soon as Sr. Anshoran closed the door, the roboticist let out an audible sigh and wiped the perspiration off his smooth forehead, chubby cheeks, and famous nose with his crinkled light-green handkerchief. He reached shakily for the holophone, laid it upon his lap, and punched in the ten digits of the secret code to the Spirit of Humanity organization headquarters.
Slowly the hazy ball hovering centimeters above the projective aperture of the holographic telephone became brighter and clearer. Finally, the decimeter-high image of the handsomely-aged head appeared. It was the head of the Leader of the Spirit of Humanity, Starener SaQuett.
“For the purity of humanity,” recited Sr. Dallen, “may longevity uphold the Leader.”
“Yes, yes, you may proceed, Sr. Dallen,” Starener SaQuett said, continuing to scribble upon a piece of paper. “It is perfectly safe. The holophone transmission is electro-shielded.”
“Leader SaQuett, everything is proceeding as planned.” The roboticist began twiddling his thumbs nervously. “Sr. Anshoran does not suspect the micro-explosive duplicate replacement for his Appy.”
“Splendid, Sr. Dallen, now–” the Leader paused confusedly, his left hand retreating to the curling of his fiery-red mustache. “Appy? Sr. Dallen, may I inquire as to what– no, forget the matter.” He thought, This roboticist has been playing with his robots too long.
The Leader coolly continued, “Thank you. Report back at the next scheduled time.”
“Affirmative. For the purity of humanity–”
“Yes, yes, for the puri–” And Leader SaQuett cut the transmission sharply. The floating, bodyless image blurred, darkened and disappeared as Sr. Dallen again pulled out his wrinkled handkerchief and again dried off his round face.
* * *
At his headquarters, Leader SaQuett ceased his aimless scribbling and slipped his sleek silver pen into the pocket of his plasto-material shirt. Pressing his palms together, he placed his elbows upon the black glossy surface of his compu-desk and touched his fingertips to thin lips.
“In less than three deciday’s time,” he mumbled incoherently, “the brilliant Ultis Anshoran will implant his poor recipient with a micro-explosive.” He suddenly burst into hysterical laughter, “Her head will disintegrate as soon as the Council of Modern Scientors examines Sr. Anshoran’s inhumane device. He will be hurled from the Academy and his career in the Scientific Community will be destroyed. Ha! Ha! Ha! And yet another attempt to dehumanize humanity will be unsuccessful! For the purity of humanity!!”
* * *
Ultis Anshoran never planned to go home, let alone take a nap. Something troubled him; some seemingly small thing obstructed the smooth flow of things. It is odd, he thought, that Trand seemed to change his mind so quickly. First, he explodes upon my mentioning of my upcoming Appy operation on Mrs. Onsul, unbelieving and protesting. Next, in a matter of millidays, he composes himself, accepting and agreeing, as if he caught himself off guard and attempted as best as he could to rectify the situation, no doubt for his own purposes. This might explain his soothing, reassuring voice as I left, contradicting his face full of perspiration. Hmmm.
And after overhearing the supposedly secret conversation between Sr. Dallen and Leader SaQuett through the door, the “cerebro-engineer” as Sr. Anshoran liked to call his scientific profession was glad he remained to confirm his suspicions.
So, he thought, a micro-explosive duplicate implant. Quite ingenious… if it had worked.
And as he left the door, he began planning his strategy. And he chuckled.
* * *
Early the next day, Mrs. Foria Onsul arrived at the Academy’s main complex. A middle-aged widow, she appeared rather young, and behaved rather jitterily. It was expected, normal.
However, what began as casual suggestions became harsh commands. “Just relax, Mrs. Onsul!” Sr. Anshoran reiterated. “Take deep breaths!”
And between his vocal bursts, he paused to ask the universe one little thing. He thought, WHY?
ZEE! he figured would be the answer. “A quite meaningless question,” he would often explain to himself and at times, to others, “deserves an equally meaningless answer.” And this was no exception.
Y? Z! Very clever, he thought. And he chuckled until his next vocal outburst. “Just relax!”
When Mrs. Onsul finally succumbed to the effects of the anesthetic, Ultis Anshoran uttered, “What a monster!” as Trand Dallen mopped the dampness of his countenance yet again with his handkerchief.
“Ready?” inquired the plump roboticist.
“Quite,” came the response of the cerebro-engineer. He then noticed his colleague’s face, his azure eyes, the expression–
Nervous? Anxious? he thought. No, Trand is frightened. Yes, that is it, fearful, almost terrified…
* * *
Under half a deciday later, the operation was successfully completed and Mrs. Foria Onsul was viewing the holo-computer visuo-sphere displaying the three-dimensional graphical representation of her vital body processes in action.
She constantly spewed forth questions and she invariably responded, “Fantastic!” to every stimulating piece of information she heard — stimulating to her, that is, but common, rather dull, to the explaining scientors.
And as was likewise expected, the Council of Modern Scientors requested that Sr. Anshoran provide a formal and exclusive demonstration of his Automatic Physio-monitor Implant.
* * *
“Will you excuse me, Ultis?” asked Sr. Dallen, millidays before the scheduled demonstration. “I will return briefly.”
He did not wait for an answer and the motion of the dry air against his plump face as he strode down the shadowy corridor did not make him any less aware of its worried moistness.
He opened the laboratory door with an abrupt twist of the shiny knob and cautiously glanced down the corridor to his left and to his right before shutting the door behind him.
He went over to Sr. Anshoran’s desk, plopped heavily into the Conformatic, and reached for the holophone. He placed it gently upon his broad lap and swiftly punched in the secret code.
When the floating miniaturized head of the Leader clarified, Sr. Dallen again recited, “For the purity of humanity, may longevity uphold the Leader.”
Leader SaQuett replied hastily, “Yes, yes, proceed.”
“Sr. Anshoran stands, at this moment, in the presence of the Council,” went the roboticist uneasily, “and the implant recipient, Foria Onsul, carries the micro-explosive. All that remains… is the detonating impulse.”
“Splendid, splendid! Thank you, Sr. Dallen. You have accomplished well. Detonation will proceed immediately.” And the Leader ended the shielded transmission, his projected head fading and leaving emptiness behind.
But before Sr. Dallen could replace the holophone onto the desk, he froze, his jaw dropping wide open. For at the corner of the desk’s dull surface where the holophone originally stood, lay the tiny circular form of a micro-electronic plate — the micro-explosive duplicate!!
There was no mistake; he recognized his own work without hesitation. But no matter how much time he saved recognizing it, it was too late to escape or call back; he had just signaled the Leader for detonation. Too late. Or so he thought. For in the time he thought the explosion would occur that very moment, he could have leaped sufficiently far away from it to escape any injury. Instead, he had slammed the holophone onto the micro-explosive as though this was enough to shield the coming explosion. It was not.
Originally designed by Sr. Trand Dallen to reduce the human head into a formless mass of bloody pulp, the micro-explosive implant transformed the holophone into a heap of twisted metal and smoking circuits, and the roboticist’s hands clenching the holographic telephone, into bloody lumps of unstructured bones and shredded flesh.
His paralyzing scream immediately ripped the Council and Sr. Anshoran away from the demonstration, and before long he was rushed to the nearest medical facility.
His bloody handkerchief was left behind in the laboratory.
* * *
Five days later, Mrs. Foria Onsul met Sr. Anshoran for the check-up of her Implant. And inevitably, conversation turned to Sr. Dallen and what became known as the “Holophone Incident.”
“Fantastic!” the implant recipient commented. “Then, you saved my life.”
“Quite.” Sr. Anshoran could not quite restrain a tone of arrogance in his voice, not that he wanted to. “Well, it all began the day I first mentioned your, then, upcoming operation to him, when his behavior appeared odd. Trand openly protested it at first and after I presented a mere few points, he agreed with, almost believed in, my views.”
“Couldn’t you actually have changed his mind?”
“I thought about that. However, it had appeared too quick a change, too quick for him. Anyhow, it was enough to cause me to invent an excuse to leave the laboratory earlier — I said that I would take a nap at home in preparation for your operation — and remain outside the door to eavesdrop on his phone call.”
“You expected him to call?”
“Fantastic!” Mrs. Onsul again commented as she clasped her slender hands together upon her grey-skirted lap.
“Somehow, I knew he would. It always occurs in the movies: The unknowing protagonist leaves the room and the antagonist remains to make a secret phone call. But luckily, I knew.”
She smiled, very impressed.
“Subsequently, I did eavesdrop and discovered that Sr. Dallen was a member of the Spirit of Humanity. It was very ingenious; what is a better specialty to be in, to hide the fact of being a Spirit of Humanity member, than robotics? I also discovered their plan to destroy my scientific career and thus, to add another notch in their ‘Destroyed Dehumanizing Devices’ column with the assistance of their micro-explosive device. Now, that is a dehumanizing device.”
“And then?” Mrs. Onsul prompted.
“And then during the more than two decidays before your operation, I prepared a second Appy.”
Mrs. Onsul knew what Appy stood for but she still smiled when she heard it mentioned.
He continued, “It was already built. However, it was the prototype Appy and a few minor modifications were necessary.
“Thus, centidays before the operation, when I discovered the micro-explosive where my newer Appy should have been, I placed it under the holophone in my laboratory where it could explode without causing anyone harm.
“I even prepared an explanation for its explosion: It was the failed attempt by the Spirit of Humanity to assassinate myself, which in a way is true. Of course the evidence for necessary proof would have been shaky, but the commotion brought out by the accusation alone, I thought, would have stripped sufficient backing and confidence away from the organization, sufficient to dismantle it and keep it dismantled for a long, long while.
“But Sr. Dallen was caught by the explosion. I knew he would have to excuse himself from the demonstration to somehow activate detonation of the micro-explosive. But I had no idea he would, of all places, choose my laboratory, and my desk, and my holophone in order to do so. Poor Trand.”
“But isn’t it better this way?” suggested Mrs. Onsul. “Sr. Dallen confessed all the names of the Spirit members; the organization is destroyed.”
“No!” The cerebro-engineer’s eyes caught fire. “It is not better this way! I mean… there was a better way! Why do you think I did not just, from the very beginning, plant the micro-explosive on his chubby little body and destroy an extremity through this method?” He paused. “Although his intent was to kill you and thus me, professionally, that does not give us the right to cripple, let alone kill, him.” He paused once more, but with the soft shimmer of tears in his eyes.
He went on, “Trand would not have joined the organization of his own accord. And yet it was apparent he believed deeply in its principles… He was quite a complex person.”
“What do you mean ‘was’?” Mrs. Onsul asked softly.
“The idea of the soft, natural warmth of human flesh being replaced by the hard metallic coolness of computerized prosthetic mechanisms overwhelmed him; he could not accept his artificial hands. He rooted himself so deeply in the Spirit principles. He constantly chanted ‘For the purity of humanity’… until early this morning, when he was discovered dead in his hospital bed. Poor Trand had stabbed himself in the heart.”
Mrs. Foria Onsul sat silently, stunned by the news.
And Scientor Ultis Anshoran reached inside his white coat, pulled out, and swept his tears away with, Scientor Trand Dallen’s wrinkled light-green handkerchief.
* * *
The tales of Scientor Ultis Anshoran continue with the short-story sequel One Question.