Read Wired Online

Authors: Douglas E. Richards

Tags: #Science Fiction, #Thriller, #Mystery, #Suspense, #Adventure, #Fantasy

Wired (8 page)

11

 
 

Desh
sat on the bed, stunned, for several long seconds. A faint siren could be heard
off in the distance through the thin motel walls.

Finally,
he shook his head. “Then you can save yourself some time,” he said, scowling. “Do
whatever you need to do, because I’m not going to join you. Under any
circumstances.”

“Given
what you think you know, this is an admirable position to take,” she allowed
grimly. “But if it’s all the same to you, I’ll give it a shot. I say again, the
report you have on me is a fabrication.” She sighed deeply. “But give the
puppet masters their due. They’ve rigged things to make it very difficult for
me to plead my case.”

Desh
raised his eyebrows questioningly.

“They’ve
told you I’m a brilliant psychopath. A master manipulator. The kind of person
who can cut off your limbs one day and pass a lie detector test with flying
colors the next. Correct?”

Desh
said nothing.

“Which
makes everything I say suspect. The more reasonable, the more suspect, since
you’ve been preconditioned to believe it’s all manipulation,” she said in
frustration. “Have you ever seen a faith healer on TV?”

Desh
nodded, wondering where she was heading.

“There
was a guy who gathered video evidence on one of them, showing it was all a
scam. The faith healer’s accomplices were researching people waiting in line,
feeding him information through a hidden ear piece so he would appear to have
divine knowledge; that sort of thing.” She paused. “When the devout followers
of this faith healer were shown the footage, do you know what happened?”

“They
stopped being his devout followers.”

“Reasonable
guess. But no. They were more his followers than ever. They claimed that the
evidence was rigged. That it was the work of Satan who was trying to discredit
the work of a great man.” Kira shook her head. “If you truly believe you’re up
against the King Of Lies, no amount of evidence can ever change your mind.” She
sighed and a weary expression crossed her face. “I just hope that’s not the
case with you.”

Desh
furrowed his brow in frustration. “
Why
do you hope it’s not the case
with me?” he demanded. “Why do you care what I think? And even if you could
recruit me, what good will I do you? You have entire terrorist organizations to
do your bidding.”

“Try
to at least entertain the possibility that I’m not who you’ve been told I am,”
she said in exasperation. “I am
not
affiliated with terrorists.”

“Is
your net worth a lie as well?”

“No.”

“So
even if you’re telling the truth, you could hire as many bodyguards and
mercenaries as you wanted.”

“Yes.
I could. But I’m worth too much to the people after me. I’d never be able to
fully trust these types. I learned that the hard way,” she added gravely. She
gestured to Desh. “You, on the other hand, are motivated by doing what’s
right
rather than by material rewards. You
are a man of integrity and compassion, despite the violent profession you
chose. And along with that, you have a very unique personality, philosophy, and
array of talents.”

Desh
raised his eyebrows. “That’s quite a character sketch you’ve put together based
on a bit of information on a laptop,” he noted.

She
smiled knowingly. “Read hundreds of personal e-mail messages and you’d be
surprised at how quickly you can get a feel for someone. But your laptop wasn’t
my first stop—it was my last. Everything is accessible by computer now if you
know where to look. Everything. Your college records. Extensive military
records and evaluations. The kinds of books you purchase online. Everything.”

“Psychiatric
evaluations?” added Desh accusingly, recalling how his soul had been laid bare
during the few sessions he had had with the military Psychiatrist after his
team had been butchered in Iran. Of all the records to which she had access,
this would be the biggest violation of privacy of them all.

Kira
lowered her eyes and then nodded uncomfortably. “I’m sorry,” she said softly,
appearing once again to be completely sincere. “From the moment you were
assigned, I studied everything I could get my hands on to understand you as a
person. Including that. I won’t lie to you.” She lifted her eyes and locked
them onto Desh’s once again. “I studied the others Connelly sent after me as
well,” she said. “Just as thoroughly. But they weren’t what I was looking for.”
She leaned toward Desh intently. “You are. I’m sure of it.”

The
corners of Desh’s mouth turned up in a small, ironic smile, and he shook his
head in clear disbelief.

“I
know, I know,” she said in frustration, “Flattery is also a tool of a master
manipulator, and you’re not buying it. Be that as it may, it happens to be the
truth.” She paused. “Look . . . David . . . you yourself pointed out I could
have easily recruited others with your skill set.”

Desh
said nothing, but silently bristled at her use of his first name.

“So
why would I choose you and go to such pains to abduct you,” continued Kira, “putting
myself at this kind of risk, instead of just calling a mercenary—or one of my
terrorist friends for that matter—on the phone?”

“Because
I have special qualities,” he said skeptically. “I get it.”

Kira
frowned. “I knew this wouldn’t be easy,” she said resignedly. “There’s only one
way I can ever hope to gain your trust. I know that. So I’ll tell you what,
when I’ve said my piece, I’ll remove your cuffs and give you my gun. If that
doesn’t demonstrate my sincerity, nothing will.”

Desh
didn’t respond. She was trying to get him to lower his guard by giving him
false hope, to perhaps stave off an escape attempt, but it wouldn’t work. He
would believe this when he saw it. In the meanwhile, he would continue to
assume that if he didn’t escape he was a dead man.

Still,
he couldn’t help but be intrigued by the unexpected course of the discussion. “Okay,”
he said finally, pretending to believe her. “It’s a deal. By all means begin
your persuading. Tell me
your
version of the truth.” He pulled at his
restraints and added bitterly, “Consider me a captive audience.”

She
winced at this; regret at having to restrain him etched in every line of her
face. Her body language seemed totally genuine, and Desh realized she was as
brilliant an actor as she was a biologist.

“The
information you have on my childhood and schooling is correct,” she began softly.
“Except my parents really did die in a tragic accident—I had nothing to do with
it.”

“The
report never said you did.”

“But
you assumed it, didn’t you?”

Desh
remained silent.

“Of
course you did,” she said knowingly.

“Are
we going to argue about what I assumed, or are you going to make your case?”

Kira
sighed. “You’re right,” she said unhappily. She visibly gathered herself and
then resumed. “I excelled in school and later found my calling in gene therapy.
I was told by many in the field I had the kind of insight and intuition that
comes around once in a generation. Over time, I came to believe it myself. In
fact, I became convinced that I could truly change the world. Make a dramatic
impact on medicine.” She paused. “But the key to making an impact is choosing
the right problem to solve. I wanted to tackle the most challenging problem
right from the start. At the risk of sounding immodest,” she added, “if you
come to realize you’re Da Vinci, you owe it to the world to paint masterpieces
rather than cartoons.”

“Let
me guess,” said Desh. “You’re going to tell me the project you chose has
nothing to do with bio-weapons.”

“Of
course not,” she insisted, irritated. “I decided to solve the ultimate problem,
one whose solution would make the solutions to all other problems, medical or
otherwise, child’s play.” Her blue eyes twinkled, even in the dim light. “Any
guesses?” she challenged.

She
looked at him expectantly, obviously wanting him to arrive at the answer on his
own. She waited patiently while he mulled it over.

“What?”
he said uncertainly after almost a minute of silence. “Build a super-advanced
computer?”

“Close,”
she allowed. She waited again for him to connect the dots.

Desh’s
forehead wrinkled in concentration. The only way to universally make problems easier
to solve was to have better tools to solve them. But if enhancing computer
capabilities wasn’t the answer, what was? His eyes widened as the answer became
obvious. She was a molecular neurobiologist after all, not a computer
scientist. “Enhancing intelligence,” he said finally. “
Human
intelligence.”

“Exactly,”
she said, beaming, as if pleased with a star pupil. “Just imagine if you could
have infinite intelligence. Unlimited creativity. Then you could easily solve
any problem to which you turned your attention—instantly.” She paused. “Now of
course there is no such thing as infinite intelligence. But any significant
enhancements to intelligence and creativity would truly be the gift that keeps
on giving. What better problem for me to solve?”

“Are
you suggesting you actually solved it?” he asked skeptically.

“I
did,” she confirmed wearily, not looking particularly triumphant or even happy
about the supposed accomplishment.

“What,
like a
Flowers For Algernon
kind of improvement?” he said, knowing that
even
she
wouldn’t have the audacity to claim she had achieved increases
in intelligence as great as those described in this story.

The
corners of her mouth turned up in a slight smile. “No. My results were
far
more impressive than that,” she said matter-of-factly.

12

 
 

Desh
was almost prepared to believe she had managed some kind of improvement in her
own intelligence, but not this. “Impossible,” he insisted. “Even for you.”

“Not
impossible. I have a deep knowledge of neurobiology and a genius level intuition
with respect to gene therapy. Combine this with single-minded devotion and
trial and error and it can be done.”

“So
what are you trying to say, that I’m talking to someone with an IQ of a
thousand? More?”

She
shook her head. “The effect is transient. I’m just regular me right now.”

“Very
convenient,” said Desh. “Not that I have an IQ test with me anyway,” he
conceded. He thought for a moment and then shook his head. “I’m not buying it. We’ve
evolved to become the most intelligent creatures on the planet. I’m sure
there’s a limit. If we haven’t reached it yet we have to be awfully close.”

“Are
you
kidding
,” she responded ardently. “You can’t even begin to imagine
the potential of the human brain. Without any optimization, it’s already faster
and more powerful than the most advanced supercomputers ever built. But it’s
theoretical capacity is staggering: thousands and thousands of times greater
than a supercomputer.”

“The
human brain isn’t faster than a supercomputer,” argued Desh. “Hell, it isn’t
even as fast as a dollar calculator.”

“We’re
not wired for math,” explained Kira, shaking her head. “We evolved, remember? All
evolution cares about is survival and reproduction. The brain is optimized to
keep us alive in a hostile world and induce its owner to have sex. Period. And
when it comes to preoccupation with sex,” she noted, amused, “Male brains are
especially
optimized.” She continued to look amused as she added, “But don’t get me wrong.
I’m not trying to criticize men. I’m sure some of our male ancestors didn’t
think about sex all the time,” she said. “But this trait died out. Do you know
why?”

Desh
remained silent.

“Because
the horny guys had all the children,” she said, smiling.

 
In other circumstances Desh might have
returned her smile, but he forced himself to remain expressionless and
maintained his icy stare. He was a hostage to a psychopath, and he couldn’t
afford to let her charm him.

“Anyway,”
she continued with a sigh, clearly disappointed that her brief attempt at
levity had had no effect. “My point is that we’re not wired for math. How does
a square root help us kill a lion or stay alive? It doesn’t. What
does
help us is the ability to throw a spear accurately. Or to dodge a spear thrown
by a rival clan,” she added. “And remember, unlike a computer, the brain is
controlling our every movement, breath, heartbeat, and blink of an eye, and
even our every emotion. And all the while it’s taking in massive amounts of
sensory information—nonstop. Your retina alone has over one hundred million
cells constantly relaying visual information to your brain; in ultra-high
definition I might add. If a computer had to monitor and manage your every
bodily function and download, process, and react to this never-ending barrage
of information, it would melt.”

Desh
was fascinated despite himself. Maybe she
was
the devil, he thought
grimly. Here he was fighting for his life and inexplicably, against his will,
he continued to respond to her both physically
and
intellectually.

“The
roundworm
C. elegans
functions quite well with a nervous system
containing just three hundred and two neurons,” continued Kira. “Do you know
how many neurons the
human
brain has?”

“More
than three hundred and two,” said Desh wryly.

“One
hundred billion,” said Kira emphatically. “One hundred billion! And on the
order of one hundred
trillion
synaptic connections between them. Not to
mention two million miles of axons. Electrical signals are constantly zipping
along neuronal pathways like pinballs, creating thought and memory. The
possible number of neuronal pathways that can be formed by the human brain are
basically infinite. And a computer uses base two. A circuit can either be on or
off; one or zero. But your brain is far more nuanced. The number of possible
circuits your brain can use for calculation, or thought, or invention, puts the
possible number available to computers to shame.”

“Okay,”
said Desh, nodding toward her with his head since his hands were still cuffed
to the headboard and unavailable for any gesturing. “Whatever else is true or
false, you are an expert molecular neurobiologist, so I’ll concede the point. The
brain has massive potential.” He paused and raised his eyebrows. “But how do
you tap into this potential?”

“Good
question,” she said. “If you’re me, you start by studying differences between
the brain architecture of geniuses and those that are moderately mentally
handicapped.”

“What
does moderately mean?”

“IQ
of forty to fifty-five. They’re able to learn up to about a second grade level.
The dynamic range in human intelligence is remarkable. From the severely
mentally handicapped with IQs less than twenty-five to those rarities with IQs
above two hundred. Nature has already demonstrated the plasticity of the human
brain and human intelligence before I came along,” she pointed out. “I also
learned everything I could about autistic savants.”

“Is
that a new name for what they used to call
idiot
savants?”

“Exactly.
Like Dustin Hoffman in the movie
Rain Man
?”

Desh
nodded. “I’m familiar with the condition.”

“Good.
Then you know there are autistic savants who can rival your dollar calculator
at math, able to multiply large numbers and even compute square roots
instantly. Some of them can memorize entire phone books,” she added, snapping
her fingers, “just like that.”

Desh’s
eyes narrowed in thought. Idiot savants did provide a unique perspective on the
potential of the human brain.

“They
can perform amazing feats in a specific area, but their emotional intelligence
is very low, and their understanding and judgment is poor. Why? Because they’re
wired differently than you and I,” she explained. “My goal was to understand
the genetic basis for these differences in their neuronal patterns. To map the
differences between autistic savants and normals. To ultimately find a way to
cause a temporary rewiring in a normal brain; to achieve autistic-savant-like
capabilities, but differently, more comprehensively, and without the notable
deficiencies. Not just to optimize the brain for math and memory tricks, but
for intelligence and creativity. Tap into the brain’s almost limitless raw
power.”

“Using
gene therapy?”

“Correct,”
said Kira. “The structure of our brain is always changing. Every thought,
memory, sensory input, and experience actually remodels the brain—very, very
slightly. I learned that the differences between the brains of autistic savants
and normals were surprisingly subtle. And almost like crystal formation, once
you nucleate a tiny portion of the brain into a more efficient, optimized
structure, you get a chain-reaction that re-orders the rest. There are a number
of fetal genes instrumental in setting up neuronal patterns during initial
brain development that are turned off after birth. Using gene therapy, I could
reactivate whichever of these genes I wanted in a given sequence and at a given
expression level.”

Kira
paused for a few seconds to allow Desh to absorb what she was saying and see if
he had any questions.

“Go
on,” he said.

“I
started by experimenting on rodents. I used NeuroCure’s facility late at night
so I could keep the research secret.”

“Why
secret? The approach makes intuitive sense—even to a dumb grunt like me.”

“I’ve
studied you far too carefully to buy the dumb grunt routine, David.”

“I
ask again,” persisted Desh, “why not pursue this avenue openly?”

“I
only wish I could have,” said Kira. She held up a finger. “First off, fellow
scientists would think it was a wild-goose-chase that couldn’t possibly
succeed.” She held up another finger. “Secondly, the FDA lets you risk putting
foreign biologics or chemicals in a person’s body, but only to help relieve
them of a disease or adverse medical condition. Trying to improve someone who
has nothing wrong with them is, ah . . . frowned upon.”

“Too
much like playing God?” guessed Desh.

“That,
and it’s also considered an unnecessary risk. The FDA would never sanction
something like this. And without the agency’s approval, it’s illegal to test
this approach on humans.”

“Even
on yourself?”

She
nodded. “Even on myself. I was risking my entire career and reputation. If
someone found out, believe me, I wouldn’t be applauded. Especially in this
case. Think about it, trying to alter the brain’s architecture, the very seat
of the human soul. Playing God, as you said. There’s an ethical and moral
dimension here that is quite complicated.”

“But
you didn’t let that stop you,” said Desh accusingly.

She
shook her head firmly but there was a note of regret in her expression. “No,”
she replied with a sigh. “I was convinced I could succeed. I was only risking
myself. And the potential rewards were staggering.”

“The
ends justify the means?”

“What
would you do?” she demanded defensively. “Assume for a moment you had reason to
believe you could solve key problems facing humanity; invent technologies that
could revolutionize society. But you had to skirt some of society’s rules. Do
you do it?”

Desh
refused to be drawn in. “What
I
would do isn’t important,” he replied. “It’s
what you
did
that’s important.”

Kira
was unable to fully hide her disappointment, but she picked up her narrative
where she had left off. “NeuroCure’s lab was ideal for my needs. We were
working on Alzheimer’s, so it was already set up for the study of intelligence
and memory. I used everything I had learned about the brain and autistic
savants and developed cocktails of viral vectors with novel gene constructs
inserted. Mixtures I thought would achieve my goals. I tested them on lab
rats.”

“I’d
like to think that rat brains and human brains aren’t very similar,” said Desh.

“It
would be fair to say there are . . . slight differences,” she said, amused. “But
if you’re questioning if there are enough similarities to make the results
meaningful, the answer is that there are.”

“So,
were you able to create your Algernon?”

“Yes.
Algernon was a mouse and I worked mostly on rats,” she pointed out, “but yes. Rat
number ninety-four showed dramatic improvements in intelligence. I spent
another year perfecting the cocktail.”

“And
then you tried it on yourself.”

She
nodded.

“And
what—you became a super-genius?”

 
“No. It almost killed me.” She frowned deeply
and looked troubled as she remembered. “Apparently, rat brains and human brains
aren’t exactly alike,” she noted wryly. “Who would have guessed?”

“What
happened exactly?”

Kira
shifted in her chair and a pained expression crossed her face. “There were a
multitude of negative effects. I won’t describe them all. Complete loss of
hearing. Some ‘trippy’ hallucinogenic and bizarre sensory effects like those
caused by LSD. A killer headache.” She paused. “But the worst part was that I
found the re-wiring had impacted parts of my autonomic nervous system. My
heartbeat and breathing were no longer automatic.” She shook her head in
horror. “Every single second for the three hours the transformation lasted—while
dealing with LSD like hallucinations—I had to consciously instruct my heart to
beat and my lungs to inhale, just as you would have to instruct your hand to
clench, over and over.” She shuddered. “It was the longest, most terrifying
three hours of my life—by far.”

Desh
found himself totally absorbed. “And this result didn’t scare you off?”

“Almost,”
she said earnestly. “Almost. But the rat work had shown me that it was an
iterative process. The first seventy-eight rats died, so at least the research
with them gave me enough direction that I avoided this fate—narrowly. But
starting with rat seventy-nine, I was able to gradually refine the rewiring
without further casualties, leading to number ninety-four.”

“So
you thought you could replicate this result with yourself as the lab rat?”

“Exactly.
The next few experiments I conducted inside a flotation tank. This way I didn’t
have sensory input constantly bombarding my brain and tying up neuronal real
estate. I could focus on what was happening in the creative centers of my
brain.” She paused. “It took me another eighteen months to build to the
current, stable level of intelligence, fifty to one hundred IQ points at a
time. The more I improved my own intelligence the more obvious additional
improvements became. At each new level, problems I had struggled with for weeks
became solvable in minutes.”

Desh
thought about her claim. Could she really have shown this magnitude of
improvement? Maybe. The existence of autistic savants certainly made this a
possibility. As she had pointed out, it was undeniable that these rare humans
could effortlessly calculate square roots or memorize entire phone books. How
long would it take him to match these same feats? The answer was easy—never.

Her
story was far-fetched, but at the moment it all held together and explained her
after-hours experiments at NeuroCure and why a sensory deprivation tank had
been found in her condo.

“And
your final IQ?”

“In the end, there
was no way to measure it. The most challenging problems on a standard IQ test
were instantly obvious. Any number generated on this scale would no longer have
meaning.”

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