Chapter 14: Just a Bit Off the Top
Inside Asteroid's subterranean medical facility, a surgical team comprised of three Grays prepared to extract Roy's brain. The chief surgeon called for a rather primitive looking instrument -- a good old-fashioned skull saw -- and proceeded to open Roy's cranium like a can of beans.
They put Roy's brain in a transparent container that was filled with a cloudy broth and set the container inside a sterile chamber. An array of colored lasers projected out of the wall, continuously scanning the disembodied brain and sending real-time data back to computer banks which were monitored by the team. The chief surgeon analyzed a string of numbers that scrolled across his monitor and announced that the brain was alive and stable.
Their objective was to suppress Roy's brain activity without killing him. The Colony's entire future was staked on a lone human, and his little rebellious streak had to be dealt with very delicately. The truth was, The Council was afraid of Roy's abilities. If he wanted to flee, they likely couldn't stop him. And if he became aggressive, they would have little recourse. They perceived him much the same way readers perceive Lennie from Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men; he was a giant with a child's mind -- you had to be careful not to set him off. You had to pacify him instead.
Lindsay returned to the ship, showered, and blow-dried her hair. She put on a form-fitting black dress and applied scarlet red lipstick. She looked at her reflection in a full-sized mirror and nodded approvingly. Lindsay considered how strange it was that even as she was about to cross the threshold into hyper-evolution, into eternity, she still felt compelled to carry out one last act of vanity.
Well, she reasoned, I am a human, albeit a genetically engineered one.
"It is time to assemble so we can begin the ceremony," the telepathic voice of the Council informed her.
"I look forward to the transition," Lindsay communicated back. She checked her image in the mirror one more time, made a few minute adjustments to her hair, and sighed. It's a shame Roy won't be there, she lamented. Oh well. He'll make the transition when he's ready.
There was a twinge of fear that had manifested in her belly, and it would have been nice to have another human there as she left the cocoon, so to speak. It will be fine, she reassured herself. This is your destiny.
So, the procession went on with four souls instead of five. There were Lindsay, two bipedal creatures of the same species who had translucent skin and heads that tapered to a point like string beans, and a scaly quadruped about the size of a Jack Russell Terrier who had a fully developed four-fingered hand attached to the end of its prehensile tail. Each of them had been hand-picked by The Council for their intelligence, ambition, and most especially, for their allegiance to the collective consciousness of the Asteroid Colony.
Pumpkin Head led the four chosen ones up the gradual slope of the highest hill on the Asteroid while a dozen Grays followed close behind. At the top, the hill leveled off into an expansive plateau roughly the size of a baseball field. At the center of this field, a strange blue bonfire seemed to boil rather than burn. The ceremonial party gathered around it in a semicircle.
The curious flames were not flames at all, but were in fact the conscious energy of The Council -- the etheric forms of countless souls seething as a single, unified mind. The voice compelled the chosen ones to walk closer to the blue energy, and they approached without hesitation. The air hummed and crackled as a charge began to build in the atmosphere, and a serpentine lightning bolt arced across the alien sky and struck at the feet of the four beings. Electricity coursed through their bodies, stunning them into a passive state.
The voice beckoned them closer still, and they shuffled forward into the blue fire that flared and hissed as their corporeal husks were carbonized into ash. Out of the dust rose their etheric substances, assimilating into the churning energy and becoming one with the consciousness of The Council.
For the chosen four, the perspective shift was instantaneous and profound. The concept of self evaporated, and the knowledge of thousands of the most brilliant minds collected from across the known universe was suddenly flowing through them with the power of the Amazon River. Like four little raindrops, they had been absorbed into this river. Indistinguishable from all the other drops, they surged ahead to the ultimate goal. The Council wanted immortality.
Of course, to achieve immortality, they needed Roy to cooperate. He was like the secret ingredient in a generations-old spaghetti sauce recipe that was never written down but only whispered among the oldest and wisest Italian women. Without that one secret thing, the sauce was no better than the stuff you could buy off the shelf at any supermarket.
The medical team in charge of overseeing Roy's disembodied brain did their best to keep their secret ingredient placated. A powerful sedative dripped liked clockwork every hour into the life-sustaining broth that bathed Roy's brain. The drug slowed his neural activity down into the theta range -- a range that we associate with R.E.M. sleep. A series of precisely timed lasers flashed across various regions of the floating brain, causing the neurons to fire in a pre-determined pattern. The result was a blissful dream narrative that played in a loop.
The Grays had carefully programmed this dream sequence especially for their sleeping beauty. Roy found himself on a white, sandy beach, lounging in a hammock that was suspended between two palm trees. Nuzzled up next to him was Sarah, who was wearing a skimpy, hot-pink bikini. Her bronze skin glistened with coconut tanning lotion, and heat radiated off of her body and soaked into Roy. She sighed blissfully and said, "Wouldn't it be nice if we stayed here forever? Just you and me?"
An endless promenade of gentle waves dissolved on the shore and an easy wind whispered through the palm leaves while an orange sun glowed in the cerulean sky. It was a place that seemed to be without beginning or end -- a utopian island in the midst of a placid, azure sea that stretched outward in all directions for eternity.
"I'll stay here with you forever," Roy said. "I love you, Sarah."
"I love you, too, Roy."
But the medical team knew it was only a matter of time before the jig was up. Roy's brain scans began to intermittently spike into the beta range -- a range that is more consistent with logical thought processes people exhibit while awake.
And, sooner or later, any logical person would figure out that the fantasy was too good to be true. Sure, the Grays could program in sand fleas and sunburns, and perhaps even a few scattered showers here and there to make things seem more plausible. But there is a limit to how much information a dream program can contain.
It's like that Xbox game where that guy is running around some sprawling metropolis, stealing cars and punching everybody in the face. On the surface it seems like a real city -- there's enough detail and enough cohesiveness to make the illusion work. You've got jaywalking pedestrians, and rush hour traffic jams, obnoxious deejays, and hotheaded cops. There are dive bars, and storefronts, taxicabs, and heart-clogging fast food joints. But if you look too closely at that movie poster, you'll see that the words beneath the headline are just fuzzy pixels. And if you listen too often to the gruff hotdog vendor on the corner, you'll realize that his jocular banter is just a string of roughly one hundred English words looped together.
The medical team was worried about what Roy might do when he finally put two and two together. The best course of action, the head surgeon prescribed, was to expedite the transitional process: throw the brain into the blue fire, burn it to ash, and absorb the human's etheric substance into the collective consciousness before he wizened up. Roy's strong will would certainly be drowned out by the will of The Council.
Well, that was the hope, anyway. The Council could not afford to have a dissident attitude floating around inside its mind. It could be every bit as catastrophic as when the Trojans dragged that big ass wooden horse inside their city gates. Humans were not ideal candidates to begin with. In fact, no natural-born human had ever been selected for incorporation in the collective consciousness, as they were still a rather primitive species by The Council's standards. Human thought processes tended to be muddled with aggression, lust, jealousy, guilt, fear, greed, and any number of prescription or non-prescription drugs. Their species was like a batch of whiskey that needed to mellow in the barrel for quite a while longer.
Of course, Roy was that one special case. The Council knew they would have to either roll the dice or lose their opportunity forever. They reasoned that the electrical output of Roy's mind was roughly equivalent to an old-fashioned light bulb, while The Council's collective consciousness put out more hourly wattage than a hydroelectric dam. How much influence could one small mind have on the will of the most intelligent being in the known universe? The Council concluded that any ill effects that might result from Roy's little rebellious streak would be minimal -- nothing more serious than a bit of indigestion.
Sarah and Roy were walking along the beach ... again. Roy was trying to figure out exactly how many walks they'd taken that day. A gull squawked and made lazy figure eights in the cloudless sky.
"What time is it?" Roy asked.
"I don't know. I don't have my watch," Sarah said.
"Huh ... me neither."
"Who cares about the time as long as we're together?" Sarah said.
"Yeah, you're right."
Roy looked at the big orange sun. It was still high in the sky. "I guess it's around noon," he said.
"Yeah, you're right. It's about noon," Sarah said.
Roy looked back at the footprints they had left in the wet sand. "How far do you think we walked?"
"I don't know. Not too far. I love you, Roy. Let's stay here forever."
"Yeah, sure," he said.
To Roy, it felt like they had already been there forever. He tried to remember a time before he was on the island, but nothing came to him. In fact, his earliest memory seemed to be of him and Sarah lounging in the hammock. There must have been something before that, but he just couldn't think of anything. The gull called out a few times and continued with its lazy figure eights. "Where are we?" he asked.
"On the beach, silly. Isn't it beautiful?"
"Yeah, it's nice," Roy said, "But where is this place? What's it called?"
"You and your questions ... the only thing that matters is that we're together. I love you, Roy."
"Yeah, you said so already."
"Are you angry with me?"
"No, Sarah, I'm not angry. I'm just worried."
"Worried about what?"
"This is paradise, Roy. We're gonna stay here forever. Just you and me."
"How long have we known each other?"
"A long time, Roy. I love you so much."
"This isn't real, Sarah. You're not real."
"Of course I'm real."
"Bullshit. This is just a dream."
"So what if it is? What's wrong with dreams? We could stay here forever and be perfectly happy."
"I have to wake up," Roy said urgently, and he gave himself a few slaps across the face. It didn't work, so he ran into the ocean, but there was no drop-off. Even a hundred yards out, Roy was standing in ankle deep water. It didn't even feel wet.
"You see?" he screamed to Sarah, who was still standing on the beach with her hands on her hips. "This can't be real!"
Sarah started to walk away, and Roy decided to go after her because a dream girlfriend is better than no girlfriend at all. He picked up the pace into a jog, but she seemed to be getting further and further away from him. Even at a full sprint, he couldn't close the distance.
"Sarah," he called out. "Where are you going?"
She stopped walking and turned to look at him. Roy thought she was about to speak, but then Sarah blinked out of existence. He walked to the place she had been, and there were only her footprints in the sand. And then even her footprints began to fade, and soon they were gone too.
The palm trees that lined the island in regular intervals became wavy and blurred, the way things do when you see them through heat radiation coming up off the street on a hot summer day. The soft rustle of the palm leaves ceased, and the trees turned translucent and dematerialized one by one until the beach was barren.
Even the sand evaporated from under Roy's feet, and the color drained from the faux sun, and absolute darkness settled in all around. The lone gull called out once more from somewhere in the void and then fell silent. He was all alone in the emptiness of his own mind.
What Roy didn't know was that on the outside world, he had an army of Roys fighting on his behalf. Well, it was a platoon of Roys, anyway. They were the fifty-eight failed genetic experiments of the alien scientists -- locked away in some subterranean laboratory like the defective toys who were relegated to Misfit Island in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Except these defects weren't gonna put on a little song and dance number to the Johnny Marks classic, The Most Wonderful Day of the Year. No sir. They had been conspiring in the shadows, waiting for that moment to strike at the Gray gods who conjured them out of test tubes, only to cage them like lab rats.
While the Gray scientists perceived the clones as unsuccessful experiments, the fact is, nineteen of the fifty-eight Roys had IQ's that would have registered in the genius range -- at least by human standards. Of those nineteen, six of them possessed augmented psychic capabilities like telepathy and remote viewing. And of those six, one of them exhibited exceptional psychic abilities -- telekinesis and etheric projection that could propagate along electromagnetic waves.
The Grays designated these six augmented Roys as heightened security threats, so they screwed cumbersome-looking halo apparatuses into their skulls. The halos emitted neural disrupting pulses of electricity whenever they detected heightened brainwave activity in a subject. Besides rendering their psychic abilities null and void, the halos also had a tendency to zap them whenever they performed cognitive functions like playing the King's Indian Defense or attempting long division in their heads.
The other thirty-nine genetically engineered Roys exhibited a range of IQs you would expect to see in a cross-section of the general human population. There were thirty-one Roys who were right around the average with a 100 IQ. Some of them, though not geniuses, would have been in all the accelerated college prep classes, others would have been in remedial classes (or just hanging out in the boys' room smoking cigarettes all day), and one mountain of a man who undoubtedly would have taken the short bus to school.
Short Bus, as Number 58 came to be known, was a cruel name the clones had learned from a subversive cartoon that was popular on Earth.
The Grays blocked the cartoon from the clones' list of Council-approved programming options because that type of low-brow humor had no place in their community. Even so, the name stuck, as it was quite fitting for the seven-and-a-half-foot-tall, 400-pound man of chiseled muscle whose IQ registered somewhere around 65.
The extreme hypertrophy exhibited in this subject was the result of an alteration to one of his genes known as MSTN. A normally functioning MSTN gene produces a protein called myostatin that acts as a governor for muscle growth. Mutations that result in diminished amounts of mysostatin will cause abnormal muscle growth, but in Short Bus's case, the amount was diminished to the point where his skeletal muscle grew virtually unchecked.
It's difficult to say what the Grays had in mind when they decided to manipulate the MSTN gene in their subject. They were probably desperate and just guessing by that point. After their 58th attempt resulted in the monstrosity known as Short Bus, the Council put an indefinite moratorium on cloning Roys.
However, the Council elected not to destroy these clones. They thought, perhaps at some point in the future, the coveted ability to manifest etheric energy in gravitational waves would develop in one of them -- like some kind of psychic puberty. The notion wasn't founded in science as much as in wishful thinking, but the Gray scientists deferred to the judgment of The Council. And, like those people who keep exotic animals caged in their backyards, they ended up getting bit.