A Quality of Grace: Part Six

A Quality of Grace Part 6

By Vasilis Adams A.

If you have yet to read the beginning of this story then click here to read part 1, click here to read part 2, or click here to read part 3, or click here to read part 4, or click here to read part 5.

Part 6

"Gentlemen," he had begun, "I suggest we go a step further. Instead of the mites operating to repair this ragged body, an operation that boasts a mere fifty percent success--and temporary at that--why not salvage from it."

A critical murmur of whispering had risen and fallen from the conference as Lovesigh paused to rest. Nobody laughed. A score and a half of blank faces looked back at him. Several 'angels of mercy' among them.

Dr. Lovesigh chortled. To those attending outside his new abode, it sounded like something between a soft creak and a loud squeal. As his transplanted brain was cleansed from the drugs his awareness heightened.

While he waited he could not help but bring to mind Fingle's reaction, plus the giraffes', and the Citizen Protectors' automatic apprehension and alarm to his proposal two-and-a-half months ago.

Ripples of murmurs had rolled over the committee congregating in his study.

Fingle had waited for quiet. "Can you be more explicit, Dr. Lovesigh?"

"Yes, Mr. Fingle. Last night I was looking out that window," he gestured with his head. "I was drawn by the stars' glimmer in the crisp clearness of the firmament. And I thought, we don't physically bring the stars to us, the planets, the moon--we go to them. We have the means to do one thing, but not the other."

Lovesigh had felt extremely tired and worn, and rubbed his aching temples.

Twenty years' work and hope, his thoughts had been that day, so dangerously close to being lost due to his consumed body.

The anomaly of the fringe, the prima materia of the Universe, was a singularity in reverse: A measureless invisible fleece that enclosed the Cosmos, and which purveyed information bounteously. A macrocosmic contortion in the hiatus of the universe, the intangible fabric whose every point fused to all others through this twisted rent of space-time. All this coupled with millions of man-hours, sweat and diligence, all flushed down a fathomless pitch-dark toilet called death.

He raked through the tufts of his graying gold hair.

Fingle and Chickbrow grimaced, waiting.

It was hurt.

They were hurting. He winced with their pain, and his.

It wasn't the fringe's enormous budget, or the big black 'X' that comes with failure, or that an old eccentric crank had bungled it, or the lay-offs. They could all live with those.

It was their faith being betrayed.

This whole undertaking was an act of faith. Trust in the synergy of man without the dismal, disheartening cloud of autocrats and overlords. He wanted to believed that a cooperative humanity of separate agencies and independent dispositions, predilections and origins, heritage and history, and with a sense--lots of it--of good-natured humor and easy friendliness, could have a far greater total effect than the sum of the effects taken individually or by collectives of anarchists, of communists, or self-seeking dictators religious or otherwise or by opportunist money-grubbers.

It was to be a showing of what peace and hard honest work can do. It was to be a ceremony of proof that despots, tyrants and oppressors were redundant where a marriage of mankind was taking place. This was to be a harmonious and peaceful, long-awaited interface with a free Universe; a communion of an unfettered mankind and the 'great beyond', with the unconfined and infinite rolling pastures of the Cosmos. The liberation of Earth from humankind's abrasive sway. "Ahh," Lovesigh suspired somewhere all by himself, "and a way to Alope."


Lovesigh returned, a daze in his eyes.

Resolutely as he could manage Lovesigh went on.

"We're not deities, Mr. Fingle." The words came slowly, thoughtfully slow. "Only children playing gods."

Now, after the initial exhilaration of actually confronting his resolution had worn off, Lovesigh sounded drawn and spent. Rest. His eyes craved to close for ever.

No, not yet. He spurred himself.

He turned his head.

"Michael, please patch your terminal output to the upper monitor," he said. "Let's take a look at the computer's specifications."

Michael engaged a set of electronic links from the main memory banks. A whirring syncopated with a humming somewhere along the metallic frames encompassing them. Patters of buffered crackling and popping overspilled their enclosures to carry over to the staring team.

Overhead a square three-by-three meter screen erupted to life. Initially, glittering specks of brisk, brilliant lights swelled upon it.

Heads turned to it.

The room lighting dimmed.

The huge, veritable definition projector fully burst on with a snap.

Fingle looked up. Gasped. An unfamiliar falling sensation emptied his lungs, like dropping in deep space. Into eternity. He peered into the firmament: countless stars and clusters of stars and a quarter of the Milky Way--an amethyst of dazzle that waned all else in the room.

"Sixty seconds..." Michael's voice dithered. Harmony and chaos, creation unlimited, gloried before them. He had swiveled around to face the screen too. Michael upped his head, and cringed. He had confronted the gigantic hanging screen only once, too long before.

"What are we looking for?" Fingle asked, riddled. He looked up, his mouth half-open.


Just then a score and a half sets of brows pranced.

"Excuse my Laconic vain," the voice held a remnant of intensity, "but it is sometimes wise to cater to the paradox."

The astral plane rushed away leaving a tangled weave of tracers. A blurred blitz quickly stabilized, bloomed, and began a lethargic rotation.

Now on the screen scrolled passages of technical data with scattered symbols and diagrams.

They speed-read.

Chickbrow nodded to himself.

"I'm with you so far," he said.

"Good. Because here's the magic..."

Fingle tried to scan each spec sheet a second time. His eye straining and caught in the text.

"...Gentlemen, Mr. Fingle, Mr. Chickbrow," Lovesigh said, his voice slightly less subdued now. "Mohammed will go to the mountain. For, to bring back to me my health is to bring a star to Earth, or the mountain to the Prophet. Just as well, it will only be a postponement of the inevitable--my eventual lapse to an incurable disease again and irreparable decay. But to install my brain into the OMEGA and have the 'mites do their handiwork, interface the surface synopses to it--would it not solve most all of our problems?"

Fingle's left eye began to twitch hysterically. Discreetly he placed one hand over it and slowly turned to Chickbrow.

"...And allow me--right there, inside its guts--to reckon with the last bit of flack the machine has been ladling out."

Chickbrow made a steeple with his hands. "Conceivable," he mumbled mostly to himself.

"Mr. Chickbrow, do you have a precedence along these lines?" Fingle snorted. There was a flushed spot, getting redder, between his glistening temples.

"No, not to this degree. But 'mites have been programmed to splice neurons before. In theory--"

"--Not theory, human brain tissue, sir!" Fingle's other eye was about to set off.

"Champ for one--"

"Champ is a chimp, Mr. Chickbrow, and whatever else might survive, the human brain might not, and--"

"--and it had a ninety-nine point naught-naught-two-five success," Chickbrow related composed. "Mr. Fingle," he continued with disarming lacquer, "we are more than reasonably near to zero-risk here. We will not synthesize the synopses only interface them. This presents no departure, in the slightest, from the chimpanzee procedure. It would of course involve an extended brain microscan, a spot-melding map of several billion axons of the cerebral hemispheres--"

"Is it feasible?"

For the first time there was emotion discernible in Chickbrow's eyes. He seemed to show somewhat wounded. "It is."

"The figures, give me figures, Mr. Chickbrow."

"Given time--fail-safe."

"How much time?" Fingle's eyes were shut.

Chickbrow gave him a good looking over. "Fifty days to two full months to do the scans, program the ant-mites, modify the computer to support a life sustaining system, and manufacture the monomolecular filament clusters--sixty days is more likely."

Fingle then only had ventured to open both eyes. He looked, glared rather, with straining open lids at Dr. Lovesigh and had made his pronouncement.

"Time-wise it's acceptable."

Past the initial amusement, that night of two-and-a-half months ago, Dr. Lovesigh had gazed again outside his study's window. The memories of her remained powerful for him. Their glow of hope and assurance in faith lighted an otherwise drained face. Queerly, his sapphire eyes seemed to blend quite markedly with the feebly stirring sparks above the panes of glass.

He had listened as the stars, the galaxies, the nebulas called to him once again. He had taken a deep breath and steadied himself. And had replied. An infirm mumbling at first. Then, more solidly.

"I'm coming, Alope Lovesigh, either way, I'm coming."

Intermittent soft whirs first caught his attention, then a burst of awareness almost drowned him. An awareness so ubiquitous, profound and agile that for an instant he thought he had given up the spirit.

Can it be true?

Vast expanses of space were at a hand's reach, time in discrete degrees of lapsing undulated by him like surging waves of contraction and dilatation. Dr. Lovesigh saw rainbows of forces charge through electronic gates and ions veer over cascading tiers of conductances and fluctuate in electromagnetic glow as they entered and exited circuit components.


An increment farther, clusters of stars and galaxies hung suspended, motionless, and scintillated like clear and brilliant iced bursts of pyrotechnics on a pristine noel night. While a part of him marveled at the whirlpool bustling all around him, another spoke of his perception participated in a cyclone of directed activity.

There was a long silence.

Somewhere in this convolution, he thought recovering, is the little fellow's port of entry. Not that I know what I'm looking for.

They hadn't given him a whole lot of time to familiarize himself with all the controlling maneuvers. "Use your sense of will," they had said simply, "and the signals generated by electrochemical convections will trigger the interface implants."

The place is tremendous, he monologued in his mind, and nothing is intact.

"Here goes," he gruffed as if speaking out loud. He braced and willed himself to the machines input ports.

He reeled and swirled while he flashed through what must have been multitudes of ICs and miles of conductor. He felt a desperate need to shrink for cover.

I'm going to retch.

He willed his nonexistent eyes to close--but by that time the vertigo ebbed. He was, or an extension of him, before unending rows of contacts, bright, shiny, gold pins inside their female counterparts.

Ganga O. Din! It's working. As an afterthought, I wonder if I'd sound silly asking for sea-sickness medication to be injected into those life supports? Then, I can't retch. That's all behind me. He brushed the idea aside.

Upon closer examination of himself he saw that indeed he was not all there. What was, didn't amount to much. Traces of spoke-like, quasi-real, energy threads were the sole continuation of his awareness at where he was. Behind him lingering 'contrails' of charged ions shimmered briefly, then dwindle into nothingness.

Anxiety suddenly latched on to him again as the ethereal trail ceased to show the way back through the labyrinth of printed circuit boards. His stomach went sour.

There's no stomach, he reminded, and not enough of me here to be abandoned. Besides, his backup had that purpose, to reconstitute any small part of him lost or damaged. They had assured him of that much--or had they?

When his apprehensions abated he turned his efforts to the job at hand: on the ports for the chimp's entry.


"There's a--some technical difficulty," Chickbrow's voice intruded amid the darkness of distance.

"What is it?"

"I don't know exactly how this could be." Chickbrow seemed to gag on his own words. "Dr. Lovesigh, a band of ant-mites have been detected; left behind inside the mainframe."

Lovesigh's nonexistent stomach now displaced his missing Adam's apple. The old urge to heave-ho was intolerably demanding just then. But his old man's pride was like a young lad's arrogance, neither conceded to reason. So he suppressed it as though it was capable of really taking place. And coolly asked, "What's it mean, Chickbrow?"

"The fields in the computer--they've all gone haywire. They're reversing the 'mites' programming."

"Get to the point, man." The manifest aloofness was slowly foundering.

"The 'mites are disconnecting you. You are...in a way...being rejected by the OMEGA."


"I don't know how else to explain it. The 'mites cannot program themselves and we didn't do it, so it leaves only the computer." Chickbrow's voice choked with restrained anxiety.

Lovesigh chilled all over. "Why?"

"Non-compatibility. It's all I can think of."

Lovesigh's thoughts fled back to when his body and brain were intact and an incident like this would have occurred only in the worst of nightmares.

"Can't you stop them!" he called out. But the speakers outside placed no hue of undue urgency in his appeal.

"Yes. We can pass a somewhat higher current through the interfaces to your synapses, and electrocute them...but, Dr. Lovesigh, this will have the same effect on you. It will burn all your existing connections with the OMEGA and --"

"--and I'll be stranded, isolated. A brain with no extensions. Can't the backup repair the damages?"

He caught a sound akin to a weighty sigh.

"Neuron tissue, as you are aware, cannot be made to regenerate. The backup is only a map; a map of your brain's molecular structure plus your DNA configuration. It's merely a quantitatively duplicate record of your brain. We can't get out of it any more than we put into it. Ineffective with burnt out neurons. It cannot generate living cells..."

Chickbrow contorted his face and shook his head. He looked manifestly ruffled and much inconsonant to his characteristic composed, organized self.

"We are doing all we possibly can, Dr. Lovesigh. I personally do not suggest the electrocution alternative. It will have irreparable damage results. But if you can wait, the isolation will be temporary, we'll send another--"

Lovesigh's audio went dead.

He waited as a montage of images of all of the Apocalypse unfold before him. The last reserves of hope perished with what followed.

"Dr. Lovesigh, a faction of renegade 'mites have started on the life supports--we'll have to burn them out--"

"And leave me here! A thinking blob of gray jelly devoid of any likelihood to ever commune--No thank you!" The metallic voice clipped abruptly.

Then, it came on again just as suddenly with the distinct cocking click of an empty gun. "Mr. Fingle...?"

Quick, sibilant whispers filled the charged atmosphere.

There was a heavy hush after.

"Dr. Lovesigh," Fingle cut into the silence smoothly, "there is a last alternative, as you may have speculated." Fingle's voice revealed uncanny calm, and several heads turned in his direction to witness the cause of it.

"The backup," said Fingle, as though commenting on tomorrow's weather, "can be used--Mr. Chickbrow assures me--to create an animate shell of your brain's morphology, provided it uses living brain tissue. You only then have to will yourself to transfer and occupy the prepared topology."

The quiet now was ponderous.


The screeching garble pierced the skin itself. All those near the speakers jumped back, hands over ears. Except Fingle.

"Sir?" Fingle asked.

"Will I be permitted, Mr. Fingle, to have the prerogative of keeping this solely between the two of us--and the government of course?"

"Not intended otherwise, Professor." Fingle reassured, and looked away from the monitor.

Further down the counters and racks of equipment Champ stopped his jumping and all his snorting in a typically rollicking fashion. A speck of discernment seemed to flicker in response to the situation on the surface of the chimp's deeply embedded eyes. A crown of remote sensors ready and on stand-by glinted on top of its dented forehead. The man now fully cast a look in Champ's direction, what appeared to be a look of gratitude. For the first time, in place of anxiety, a hint of mischief mingled with release of relief glimmered in Fingles round innocent eyes.

Erik Bludrose, tall and strangly, had an old but prominent scar splitting his mustachioed upper lip. He wanted to forget an empty-headed body that breathed and waited for him back at College Federal Hospital. Also, a smart computer full of that body's identity, or, its soft-brain.

To be an inmate in 2053 did not involve prisons. There were no prisons in the civilized world anywhere. People conformed, where shot or used to further medical knowledge. You always had choices. Surprisingly, a few did 'chose' to participate in aiding the sciences. If your body got raped in old fashion prisons, in the modern clinics it was forbidden. However, all the rest that comprises a human being was left at the discretion of the medicos.

Bludrose was drinking nights at The Old Ye Pub hoping to scramble his own gray matter into proper functioning order for the next day's work. It was Monday and the establishment belonged to him and Lou. Or almost.

Lou, the burly custodian, leaned heavily on the counter, gave a dog's yawn and went back to staring through puffy, half-closed lids at the other half of his clientele.

The intruder at the other end of the bar was a stranger that had been nursing his tumbler for the past half hour. He was short, balding, and in his left hand was a folded white handkerchief making frequent trips over a glistening, pinkish forehead.

The wire-rimmed spectacles suited the little fellow like a stethoscope did a doctor, Bludrose considered. He too eyed the stranger.

"My name is Fingle," said the short man, finally, approaching Bludrose. "I--you see, there is a problem..." he wiped his face with the handkerchief, "a man is trapped inside a ghastly thing."

The bartender yawned again, dragged the towel from his bulging shoulder and commenced rubbing the glossy counter.

Bludrose took a long swig from his beer. "With me, it's this heady computer," he said, nodding a headful of straw curls.

Fingle momentarily turned and stared at the barman. And gulped down the remaining contents of his glass. He looked around as though unsure of where he was.

Bludrose was not too sure either. The All Ye Pub was not to be found on any map. You sort of bumped into it when nothing else worked, and forgot it as soon as you stepped out into fresh New England air. The research facilities of the University made it convenient. They were near enough not to put one entirely out of reach. But tonight Erik Bludrose wanted to place light-years between academia and himself.

"Always a drag Mondays." He grinned comaradiriely at Fingle. "The place starts winding up on Thursdays. By Saturday it's Wonderland."

His beer was getting flat and the reek of souring, spilt liquor of days ago was slowly trespassing into his rosy glow. The man, now two nose-lengths away, had the roundest, most transparent eyes he had ever seen. They reminded him of...yeah, a saw's eyes--

"I need your body," the man quickly whispered to him.

Bludrose leaned forward.

"I know you have one. I want it."

Bludrose slowly placed a long arm around Fingle's hunched shoulders and moseyed to a table in the far corner.

"Your drink?"

"Orange juice."

"Lou, two more.

"Mr. Fingle," Bludrose began, meticulously, "there is protocol, perhaps even a modicum of propriety, to such manner of transaction. I am neither shocked with or against gay, but--"

Fingle gasped. His face immediately turned lavender. "I want your brains out of the Omega--like yesterday!" Fingle bludgeoned each word like a chiding schoolmarm out of a Dickens's tale. "And, you're a pervert!"

"Who are you?" A change now brewed in Bludrose's ash-blue eyes.

"Abe Fingle, Logistics and Programs Planning, Committee Chief. Dr. Bludrose, you have a convict's live body with a scanned, empty brain on stand-by. I demand you relinquish your--the body to me."

Bludrose let his breath out, measuredly. His eyes reclaimed their focus and studied Fingle. He steadied his elbow on the table they had been sitting, made a fist, and pummeled softly but deftly the man from the government on the nose. "It's impolite to demand."

Fingle bound up and pranced, holding his face.

"Lou, be kind enough to give us your towel?"


Middle-aged with a broad bust, silvering hair and bushy stray brows President Reginald Marcus stopped scribbling, squinted and eyed the intruder from behind the posh cherry-wood desk.

"What is the nature of your call, Mr--?"

"Fingle, Abe Fingle. The fringe, Mr. President."

Staring hard now, Reginald Marcus, President of NewStates of NovaAmerica, bit his lip. Last night's partying with the Xenon board pantheon and incidental guests was apparently not punishment enough. And currently they had been the only staple of companionship around. His inflicted isolation lately, he hoped, would not debilitate him, turn him into another--what was it?--ah, Hughes.

The heavy sweet aroma expensive Havana cigars are famous for, mingled with the scent of leather of the choicely Near East quality.

"The fringe?"

"The fringe, sir."

"Yes the fringe."

Reginald Marcus considered having an employer-employee talk with Ms. Atwood, his new, goggle-spectacled, personal secretary. Retirement had absorbed the older, more adept, Mrs. Parsons. Bless you, Mrs. Parsons, he thought, but your understudy dispenses protocol blindly.

"I do hope you remember." Fingle reached into his coat pocket and extricated a small white card. "You had said, `Show this card.'"

A vestige of recollection trundled in Marcus. "Lovesigh, Krell, Chickbrow..?"

"And Bludrose, Mr. President, from the School of Computer Medicine--now doing a sabbatical at College Federal Hospital," said Fingle. "Hadn't explained half of what it's all about. Too busy looking over my shoulder and all last evening."

Then and there, President Marcus denounced Old Cherokee Bourbon and silently apologised to Ms. Atwood.

"You did say the fringe?"

"I did. Now, sir, you'll undoubtedly..."

President Marcus was grateful for the man's garrulity. It gave him time to compose. Looking out the window, that was one of the four walls opposite the luxurious bar, he gazed upon the azaleas flooding onto the terrace, the pointed and cubed tops of looming skyscrapers with their mirroring or black windows, the steel and glass blocks where delegations of thousands of men and women worked like sprightful ants scurrying every which away.

President Marcus kept on nodding at Fingle. If only Quasimodo would stop pealing those bells inside his head.

He reached into the pocket of his cashmere jacket. "Want a couple?"

Fingle looked at what President Marcus was offering. Anti acid drops. They came in an etched container, carved out of white gold in the shape of a basket cockle. A modest diamond carapace was set into it. A pistil of blood-red was infused atop it.

"I don't mind if I do." Fingle took two. "I say, we were a slight tipsy last night."

"A might." President Marcus took a deep breath.

"It's a Mont Blane ruby," he said, fingering the blaring red stone.

His tenure just then carried the exaggerated seriousness of Malvolio in Twelfth Night. The container was small in President Marcus's palm, but prodigious, substantial, potent.

"You do have an eye for the arresting, Mr. President," Fingle said, nervous about the course this meeting was taking.

"Now, to our subject, Mr. Fingle."

"Yes, sir." Fingle alternated his legs. "It's the Professor, to make a long story short. It's a somewhat different situation...and...and carries a certain, I might say, intrinsic jeopardy."

"Don't all?" President Marcus tossed four anti acid pills into his mouth. Haziness enclose him and thickened.

"The man is a savage, and a pervert," Fingle said. "The others are civil and approachable. But not this Bludrose--"

A churning built up in President Marcus's stomach, clutched for a time, then loosened. For a moment the upheaval seemed to wane. It was a rough landing, not like ever before.

The whipping in his gut build up again, gripped, expired. The pill holder shone. Its rainbow beams washed over him and nudged him five centimetres into the soft leather of the chair.

"Don't claim to be a pundit, but I am conversant with the subject of computer medicine," President Marcus said, showing a bit ruffled.

Fingle spoke over the wide desk separating them. "May I illustrate further?"

"Never say no to that."

President Marcus tolerated another brisk, vibrantly disorienting pang of nausea. He must look the worse for wear. His onerous, strained breathing patiently slowed down, but still tethered in pain. "The stuff must of been poison," he mumbled, his heart hammering against his chest, keening to break loose from it. But Fingle seemed to no longer be attending him or his predicament.

President Marcus listened to Fingle prattle on about what he considered a monumental disagreement, and rated him arch-ingrate. He thought that he would perish here, imbibed, maligned like an unsuspecting Napoleon amidst his empire; his immortality perhaps mere footsteps away.

"No offence intended but..." continued Fingle. Fingle sank into his chair, relaxed somewhat, and seemed to appraise all that surrounded him as he explained.

The office was huge and pushily furnished and was only a small part of the Presidential penthouse they were in. Low, soft music and singing was piped in that he recognised to be Bolivar, an old opera by French composer Darius Milhaud. Fingle never let on that his minor Degree was in the Arts.

He next upped his head and took in the vista of an expanse of Dallas(Capitol of NewStates of NovaAmerica since 2025) that lay beyond the enormous window and between an Apollo by Scopas and Orcagna's Madonna delle grazie.

"I only wanted to clarify a point," Fingle now continued. "My hard gained discovery, Mr. President, is neither good or bad. It's correctable, if Dr. Bludrose co-operates." He produced from his pocket a black cube the size of a die with a thin pig tail of tiny electrodes running off it. "The convict inmate's soft-brain."

"No offence taken," Marcus returned in his Texas drawl.

The sun, rising behind the forest of buildings, was turning the cinemascope, polarised plate-window to sunset red, and only a massive vermilion ball, jabbed by black angular and sharp-edged protrusions, could now be discerned. The flat land and low granite hills beyond gradually faded into an artificial, maroon dusk.

Numbing out there, President Marcus's thoughts bandied about. The yellows and ambers, the glare of the lapis blue sky, the harsh light of the desert rocks and dust.

"What do you think, Mr President. Shall we confiscate the convict's body." Fingle interrupted the President's fixed look and raised the black die higher. He regarded as President Marcus got deeper absorbed by the shades and moods around him. The hangover had overrun its course and would make things harder. President Marcus looked to him dazed, and his eyes like two red puddles at the bottom of a dry well.

"The body--yes, get the body."

To be continued!