The Last Chamber
Emerging Technology, Implications of Nanotechnology and Human Subjects
James checked his watch. Did this have to take the entire day? All the literature about scanning claimed that the process took minutes at most – Just a brief stop on the way to the rest of your life!
But whenever he visited one of the clinics there was a line out the door, and he was forced to stand around for hours and wait for his turn to walk into a claustrophobic box.
Regular scans: for your health, and the greater good! The simplest good deed you’ll do all year!
The clinic posters featured a beautiful, buxom scientist smiling while she made notes on a clipboard. James sighed and leaned against the wall, poster paper crinkling behind his back. The real clinic staff members tended to be ornery, tired of answering the same questions all day and aching for a coffee break.
Of course, who could blame them? Some people, James knew, got scanned every week. That’s why the lines were so long. Nanos record information constantly, his mother told him. Don’t you want to know what’s going on in your own body? But that was the thing. A scan didn’t tell you anything. It put your nanobot – Your own robot! A friend for life! – in touch with the main computers at the Center so they could keep track of you – cell replication, brain chemistry, digestion – and look for anomalies. But unless there was something wrong, the Center never told you what they found.
In college James had heard whispers that the nanos tracked more than chemistry, more than biology. They’re watching your mind. Your thoughts. Your choices. It’s all some big experiment. But James didn’t see the point in worrying about it. The Center required, at minimum, annual scans, so they could keep track of emerging biochemical patterns. And then they left you alone. Big deal.
James perked up and walked towards the front desk, where a clinic worker ticked off the questions from a checklist on the computer in front of him.
“Yearly scan?” he asked James. “A bit late, aren’t you?”
“Better late than never.”
The clinic worker shrugged, and then pointed him through the door to the scanner. James sat down in the small white room – really, it was no more than a pristine closet. With a TV screen. And a lingering scent of plastic and antiseptic spray.
The TV clicked on. A familiar face popped up: the buxom scientist from the clinic posters, now with a warm and comforting tone of voice. Deep, but utterly feminine. James sometimes wondered if the welcome recording differed according to romantic preferences.
“Hello and welcome to your clinical scan. We at the Center for Biological Archival thank you for your participation in the growth and improvement of world knowledge. At the sound of the tone, you will see a white light, which is your indication that data is being downloaded from your nanobot. At the sound of the second tone, you are free to exit the scanner. We appreciate your contribution!”
A digital bell sounded, and James took a deep breath. He didn’t enjoy the light, which always left auras in his vision for hours. But when, after a few seconds, the light still hadn’t appeared, he looked around himself in surprise.
The TV screen flashed back on, and the scientist gave a winning smile.
“Please excuse the short inconvenience. We are experiencing minor technical problems with the scanner. A technician will be with you shortly.”
As the recording blipped off, a series of machine sounds echoed through the scan chamber: buzzing, chewing, clicking. James was about to try the door when a light turned on after all. But instead of the usual white light, this one was blue, and the force of it pushed James back into a seated position. His head seemed to be swelling, the rest of his flesh contracting, as though the air and blood and bones from his body was all traveling up into his skull and inflating it like a balloon.
Flavors washed through his mouth, pinpricks poked along the skin of his cheeks, and a series of colors – not just blue but red and orange and green and all the colors, all the possible undreamed of combinations – flashed before his eyes so quickly that they all seemed to be there at once, or none at all.
Jobs at the Center for Biological Archival were mostly thankless – Jeanine spent most of her days tracking patterns across a screen, fielding calls about buggy equipment, typing reports. But every so often something happened that made the work seem worthwhile.
“Take a look at this,” she said. Stew, who was on shift at the computer bank beside her, swiveled in his chair. Jeanine waved him over. “This guy’s scan totally misfired.” She pulled up a diagnostic of the scan. “No.”
Stew peered over her shoulder. “No way. Could he even live through that?”
Jeanine chewed on her lip as she skimmed the diagnostic report.
“Not a chance. The scanner went in reverse. All the data recorded at that clinic for the past week was sent straight into that guy’s head. It fried him. But look.”
It wasn’t public knowledge that the scan chambers were taped, though many people suspected as much. Jeanine pulled up the video of the misfired scan, the name James Bell and the date and time printed on the bottom of the stream.
James sat in the scanner, head in his hands, as the blue light shone around him. He was reciting something, and when Jeanine turned up the volume they heard him repeat a long genomic sequence, then jump into rhyming verse.
“That sounds like poetry,” Stew said. Though by the time the words were out of his mouth, James had moved on to sports scores, and then finance reports, and then the proper sterile factory conditions for mass production of infant formula.
“Oh my god.” Jeanine flipped back and forth between the video and the diagnostic report. “He actually took it all in. The scans were uploaded into his brain. Everyone’s scans from an entire week.” She looked up at Stew, her eyes shining. “We have to show this to the VP. He’s going to be thrilled. Imagine the implications – a whole series of elite uploads. Once we get the biology stabilized.”
In the scan chamber James slumped over to the side, a trickle of blood leaking from each of his ears. Jeanine tapped his face on the screen.
“I could kiss him,” she said.