This story is by Joshua D Kendrick and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
As she was lowered into the cold, honey-like texture of the amino protein and oxygen rich liquid in the quantum computing tank, a hopeful Lena became easily distracted from the pain and tremors that usually wracked her body. This was her last chance, her only hope for any kind of a future not confined to a wheelchair drooling on herself, her brain completely functional but unable to control the husk that her body was becoming.
NDS, commonly called ends, was an aggressive neuro-degenerative disease that quickly burned out almost all connectivity between the brain and body, leaving its victims prisoners in their own bodies, or dead. None of the previous victims had access to the resources she would employ today.
“C…c…c…cold,” escaped her lips as she looked up at the tech punching away on his tablet verifying connectivity on all electrodes and connections. Lena smiled as she tilted her head back, knowing the next step was to provide the rebreather before fully submerging and connecting to the quantum net.
The tech mounted the rebreather, and before he could ask her if she was comfortable, he watched as Lena curled into a ball beneath the surface of the fluid. Lena pressed the button on the key deck strapped to her hand, closing the tank. Lena was anxious to start the biohack, anxious to prove that it could be done and to return to her normal life. The tremors sent waves of pain through her body. The nerves in her legs and back were on fire, crying out to be saved. She closed her eyes and pressed the button that would dock her consciousness with the quantum computer named JANIS.
All pain, all revolt of her body against her mind was gone. Well, really it was just muted through the buffer of JANIS, but it was the first time that she’d felt like herself in almost 3 months.
“Lena, your in,” came the disembodied voice of the tech over the loudspeaker of the virtual world. “Green lights across the board, and the tank is primed with the maximum amount of oxygen allowable, so you’ve got just over an hour to start setting up your connections for next week’s session.”
She called up her emerald grid construct containing building floors and walls, and the biohack interface that she’d been coding from the day she was diagnosed with NDS. This was the moment of truth. She typed in the command line, watched the cursor blink a few times, verified that she hadn’t missed any of the key plug-in’s, and then hit ‘enter’.
First everything lurched as the code skewed, the grid flickered, and the virtual walls disappeared. Lifting the interface to see what had gone wrong, she felt the room spin like a carousel, the interface acting as the center axis and building speed.
Just as her grip was about to fail, she considered logging out. She took a long, pained, breath as the buffer faltered, and she wished it would all just stop.
It did. It all stopped. The virtual room wasn’t spinning anymore. The code glitches had resolved themselves and were solid once again. The pain buffer had kicked back in. But most importantly, the biohack terminal had taken a duplicate form of her body at the center of the room.
The image was of Lena 3 months ago: no weakness, no tremors, and no pain. She had known even then that the disease had taken hold and was rapidly moving through her body, convincing her body to revolt against the NDS.
“You okay Lena?” asked the tech. “All the lights flickered out here, and I see DEMITER and SERIPIS spinning up so I’m going to go check what’s going on. Do you want me to pull you out in case of more serious power failure?”
“NO!! I mean, uh, no,” responded Lena as she continued to punch in code.
“Okay, I’ll have my earpiece on in case you need me,” and the click of the terminal static told Lena that the tech had moved on to investigate her distraction.
Have to move quickly, she thought to herself as she started stripping away the code on her doppelganger that represented the few remaining healthy parts of her body. What was left behind was a rapidly growing virus moving quickly around her lymph and nervous systems. It was overwhelming to look at.
Deep breath. Inhale. Exhale.
Determined and driven, fingers began moving across the virtual interfaces that had sprung up around the doppelganger. The added quantum services of DEMITER and SERIPIS were tasked with formulating a body response that would attempt to overwrite the ailing parts with the healthy biometric imprints from before the disease, while she and JANIS formulated an antivirus code to render the disease inert.
50 minutes had passed. The biometric imprints were ready to be plugged in, and the pain buffer was beginning to falter. Five separate attempts at an antivirus code had failed, and the disease responded by speeding up and aggressively attacking.
Pushing the doppelganger to the virtual floor, Lena stormed out of the room and pulled her consciousness to the edge of the quantum space allotted to JANIS.
She started crying, if one could really cry in virtual space, and she crumpled to the virtual floor.
“5 minutes of oxygen left,” came the voice of the tech, startling Lena.
Anger welled up inside her gut, washing away the self pity and humiliation that was warring for her attention at her core. Quantum computing was at her fingertips, and she was sulking and acting the part of a broken bird.
With the thought virtual room centered on her again, she set JANIS to analyzing the code of the NDS and its interaction with her body. Partitioning DEMITER and SERIPIS, Lena set them to figuring out a way to make the amino protein rich liquid reconstitute oxygen so she could extend her session. She got an answer mere moments later.
“8 minutes of oxygen left…,” said the bewildered tech, “…and climbing. Something is wrong, Lena, I think we need to pull you out of there.”
“No!” She yelled, “I found a bypass and can enrich the fill while I’m still in the tank. Please don’t disconnect me! You pull me out of here, I will die. Look at the biometrics!”
DEMITER and SERIPIS had bought her time, but now she and JANIS needed to find a path forward. A minute later, having completed a calculation that would have taken a standard computer years to calculate, she was presented with a startling answer.
JANIS showed her the computer code to hack her own body. It had adapted the evolution of the NDS into an algorithm that could mimic a carrier for anything she could imagine, as far as her body was concerned. Her mind would stay hers, no matter the changes she chose to implement, or at least that was how she was reading the code.
Nanoseconds later, all live sectors of NDS in her body were shut down for good. She set to rewriting the muscle, bones, nerves, and cells of her damaged body, resetting her body back to how it was when she last remembered being healthy.
JANIS’s analysis of the code being generated by Lena began to cascade and grow exponentially. It found markers for cancer and eliminated them. Mere seconds later all markers for aging and degradation were slowed to a point that it would extend Lena’s viable years as a healthy living woman to well over 200 years.
Lena began to see the underlying code, began to understand the truth of what she was looking at and what it meant for the human race.
“Eternal youth,” she spoke aloud.
JANIS, reacting to her perceived command, began rewriting her stem cells and other systems in her body. Lena didn’t catch the errant code until her body was rocked by the experience of puberty in reverse, and she quickly slammed on the brakes in the code, insulating herself from any errant commands.
Looking at the original biometric imprints in the partitions of DEMITER and SERIPIS, Lena saw her myriad selves. They had taken the imprints as testers for all possible options that could be cycled on or off in the genetic code she’d provided them.
There were old versions, young versions, even a subset of alien-like versions where DNA combinations from generations past had been brought to the front and enhanced. The sight of them was both awe inspiring and terrifying.
The stone had been struck to the steel. The spark of inspiration had been lit, the possibility of the myriad codes unlocked, and the options were endless.
The tech peered down through the transparent lid of the tank to find that Lena had succumbed to rapid onset NDS and oxygen deprivation. The code had spoofed the diagnostics and lulled the tech into a false sense of safety.
Lena had passed into the archives of the quantum computer named JANIS.