Monday, September 30, 2013

Reanimautomaton (A Short Story)

"You can do what?" Jamie asked, choking back her tears.

"We could potentially bring your husband back," the surgeon replied.

            "How is that even possible?"

            "Through recent advances in brain mapping technology, we have developed an experimental new procedure that could theoretically allow us to re-animate your husband's brain."

            "Is it safe?"

            "Well, we have not tested it on a human subject, but we have had success with a variety of small animals. And frankly ma'am, you've nothing to lose. As you know, your husband has lost all brain function. His heart and lungs are still functioning via life support, but that's only a temporary solution."

            "What exactly would you do to him?"

            "By carefully inserting a series of tiny electrodes into his brain, we would be able to simulate normal brain function. At the very least, we should be able to open his eyes and have him speak."

            Jamie wiped her eyes and said, "I would love to look into his eyes and hear his voice again. Even if only to tell him how much I love him."

“Shall I schedule the procedure then?" replied the surgeon. "Time is of the essence in your husband's case."

Jamie took a belabored breath and nodded, "Yes."

            After twelve hours of intensive surgery, the surgeon returned to the waiting room. Jamie was positioned nervously on the edge of the couch, clutching a cup of cold coffee.

“Well?" she asked.

“The surgeon smiled. "The procedure was successful. Would you like to talk to your husband?" Jamie instantly broke into tears. She took the surgeon's arm and stood up.

            When Jamie entered the room, she could hardly believe what she saw. Her husband was sitting up in the bed, and for the first time in nearly three years, his eyes were open. In a hesitant sounding voice, he said, "Hi Jamie."

Jamie broke into a run and threw her arms around his neck. In between sobbing breaths, Jamie managed to say, "I love you so much."

"I love you too," her husband replied.

            Jamie sat on the edge of the bed and looked in astonishment at her husband. But after a few emotional moments, she began to grow disconcerted. His eyes seemed strangely distant -- locked in a vacant stare. Jamie placed her hands on her husband's face and asked, "Honey, can you see me?"

After an awkward moment of still silence, he hesitantly replied, "No, I cannot." 

            Jamie turned to the surgeon. "Why can't he see me?" she asked in a frustrated tone.

            "The nature of the process does not allow us to simulate vision yet. Because his brain is technically still dead, his eyes are not able to communicate with his brain."

            "What do you mean he is still brain-dead? He is here talking to me."

            "Well, yes, he is able to speak. But his ability to communicate depends on manual stimulation."

            Jamie looked at her husband, who sat silently on the bed. His eyes were still disconcertingly empty. 

“What does that even mean?" she asked increasingly irritated.

            "It means that your husband's ability to speak relies on information that we input through the electrodes in his brain. It is an amazing process really. But we are not yet able to simulate functions that depend upon stimuli external to the brain itself."

            Jamie asked in a terrified whisper: "You're controlling him?"

            "Only in a manner of speaking ma'am. It is still his brain, causing his mouth to move, and his vocal chords generating sound. We are simply helping his brain to do what it would normally have done on its own."

            "It's really me Jamie. I love you," said her husband. 

            Jamie let out a short scream, and simultaneously whirled around and slapped her husband across the face. As soon as she realized what she had done, she started caressing his face and apologizing profusely.

            "Don't worry ma'am. As I just explained, his brain cannot receive external stimulation. He didn't feel a thing," said the surgeon. 

            Jamie's hands were shaking. She stood up and walked toward the surgeon, wiping the tears from her eyes.

            "So you are telling me that he can't see, he can't feel, and, and… how are you controlling him?"

            "Not me ma'am. I simply performed the surgery. The impulses are actually controlled wirelessly. There is a technician in the next room entering the information."

            The surgeon gestured to his right. With that, Jamie stormed out into the hall. She began pounding her fists on the unmarked door.

“Open this door! Now!" she screamed frantically.

No response. Jamie fell to the floor in a heap, covering her face with her hands. The surgeon approached Jamie and tried to console her.

“Ma'am," he said, "I know that this is all very sudden and unusual."

            "That's not my husband!"

            "I assure that it is."

            "You said you could bring him back. You didn't say that you could turn him into a puppet."

            "I think you greatly misunderstand."

            "No, I think you misunderstand," she said quietly, feigning composure.

            Jamie picked herself up and walked back into her husband's room. She sat down on the bed and placed her ear against his chest. She could hear his heart beating.

“I'm sorry that I overreacted," Jamie said. "You are right. I am just emotional because this is all so new and surprising."

            The surgeon relaxed his posture, folding his arms over his clipboard.

Jamie asked, "Do you think I could be alone with him for just a minute?"

The surgeon nodded compassionately and said, "Certainly, ma'am." He quietly closed the door as he left the room.

            Jamie glanced around the bed and spotted the thick black cord coming out of the breathing machine. She reached for the cord with her leg, kissed her husband, and jerked the plug out of the wall.




  1. can this human body still give you glory, even in death?

  2. Evocative, entertaining, and somewhat depressing, read. Well done. The naturalist might call this feat of reanimation a great success. Perhaps he'd suggest rechargeable lithium ion batteries to prolong Jamie's misery indefinitely.