My heart was broken. My heart was broken in lab 427b at 13:45 on a rainy day in April.
My name is Miles Brown, and I am a poor scientist. I know it, and now most of the faculty and Biophysicists and Neurophysicists Ph.D. students at my university know it as well.
I knew going into my big experiment that things might now go as I had planned. There were too many variables when dealing with the human brain. Still, my calculations seemed sound, and my research seemed to verify my thesis.
I theorized that by introducing an array of electromagnetic conductors around the head of a subject, one could induce savant-like skills in one or as many as four areas: art, music, mathematics, and mechanical/spatial skills. As well, phenomena like perfect pitch, synesthesia, and even eidetic memory might be possible to artificially induce.
There had been other similar tests that had shown minor increases in cognition, numerosity, and memory, but I calculated that my magnet configuration and electrical power could increase these initial findings ten or even twenty-fold!
I had some success with mice, increasing their ability to run through mazes and solve puzzles, but it took time to convince the board that my magnetic induction unit was safe enough to try on a human subject.
The day of my first live experiment came, and it just so happened the lab was full of professors and graduate students. I explained my thesis and introduced my subject, my roommate Tom. I set up a series of puzzles and short IQ tests for Tom to do beforehand. Then he would do them again with the Electromagnetic Neuro-Enhancement Unit on.
It was the first time trying it at full power, and I wasn’t sure exactly what would happen. When he finished the control tests, I put the large metal helmet on him and switched it on. I held my breath and looked around, seeing that others were holding theirs as well.
With the machine buzzing, I saw that Tom looked normal–no pain, no fear, no confusion. I brought over the first puzzle and handed it to him. He smiled wide and looked at it blankly.
“Thank you,” he said softly, holding the puzzle. He looked around the room with childlike wonder, but said nothing else and didn’t attempt the puzzle or any of the tests I handed him.
“Tom, do you know where you are?” I asked. He looked at me and smiled even wider. “No,” he said calmly.
“Can you tell me what year it is?” I asked, swallowing, my stomach dropping as my dreams dissolved. “No,” he answered.
“How do you feel?” I asked. He blinked, seeming to consider the question. “I feel great. Really nice. This puzzle is pretty,” he said, his voice free of its usual sarcastic bend.
“I think we’ve seen enough,” said Dr. Yamamoto, the head of the department. He straightened his lab coat and shook his head at me. “Unless anyone has any questions for the… subject.”
Around the room, I saw smirks and laughter, mixed with a few looks of empathy and others of pity. My experiment was a failure. One hand went up. The perfectly manicured hand of the top student, Audrey Page. She smiled sweetly, her somewhat chubby cheeks dimple.
“Go ahead, Ms. Page,” Dr. Yamamoto said with a frown.
“Hello Tom,” she said kindly. Tom smiled at her. “Hello,” he replied in a similar tone.
“Tom, can you tell me who the president is?” She asked, and got a blank stare. “The president of the United States of America, I mean,” she clarified. Tom shook his head, no.
“Tom, do you know what COVID is?” She asked and got a shrug.
She looked at me and nodded, “thanks, Miles, that’s all from me.”
Dr. Yamamoto sighed loudly. “Very well, if that is all, then let’s call this ‘experiment’ over.”
I nodded and went about turning the machine off. After a few minutes, Tom shook his head a little and looked at me. “How did it go?”
People were shuffling out of the lab, still laughing, though I noticed Audrey was taking some time collecting her things and watching me out of the corner of her eye.
I’d always sort of had a crush on Audrey. She was a brilliant scientist, a sort of perfectionist in many ways, and she always looked so put together, in skirt suits or fashionable pencil skirts.
She had those chubby cheeks and an adorable round face and these almost cartoonishly big pouting lips. She was short, maybe five two, and curvy. To be honest, I thought about Audrey a lot, though I knew she was way out of my league.
“It didn’t go great, Tom, but how do you feel?” I asked, trying to hide my disappointment. Tom shrugged. “I feel fine. Actually, I feel pretty good, like I just took a really long nap or something. It’s like I can breathe better, and the stiffness in my neck is gone. Whatever you did, it worked great on my end!” He said with a laugh.
“You don’t remember the test?” I asked, putting the last piece of my machine in its case and packing everything into a big backpack.
Tom thought about it. “Not really. I think we were talking about puzzles? It’s all kind of a blur, like remembering a dream. But a really nice dream. Anyhow, I got to run. I’m supposed to meet some people for lunch,” he said, patting me on the shoulder and taking off.
I realized I was alone in the classroom with Audrey Page. She had packed up her laptop case and was walking over to me. I took a deep breath, wondering if she would make fun of me.
“I’m sorry the experiment didn’t go as you planned, but I certainly found it interesting. Your device may not have had the effect you calculated, but it did have an effect, and that is something you can study. I think you are on to a breakthrough,” she said seriously.
I didn’t know what to say to that. I was deciding if she was fucking with me. I just shrugged. “Yeah, I guess something that makes someone’s mind blank and gives them a general sense of wellbeing and leaves them relaxed and refreshed is something. Maybe I’ll pivot into working on that, though I was really excited about the prospects of a manicured savant numerosity.”
She smiled, her gaze on me becoming more intense. “Miles, there is a pandemic going on, the political world is pandemonium, and every aspect of society is complete garbage. I think the world is much more in need of a machine that gives people a break and resets their brains. I know I’d certainly do just about anything to have an hour where I’m not thinking about the dumpster fire that is contemporary life.”
I let that sink in. She was brilliant in so many ways. I knew I should listen to her advice.
“That’s a really great point. I think I need to start working on a way-” I started, but stopped when I saw her roll her eyes.
“Miles, there is plenty of time to work on applications. What I’m saying at this moment is that I, personally, would do just about anything to have my brain completely blank. As in going somewhere very soon and having you put that machine on me and turning my mind off. That sounds like just about the best thing ever,” she said, her mask of seriousness breaking a bit and a deep sadness showing in her eyes.
“Like, in my dorm room?” I asked, and she sighed and nodded. She was a lot smarter than me.
“And if you were out of it for like an hour, then…” I tried to think of a diplomatic way of asking a very rude question.
“Then I wouldn’t be aware of what happened to my body during that time and as long as it was safe, I’d be fine with the mindless version of myself being used however you wanted to use it. I mean, I think I’ve gotten the impression that you’d be up for using my body, wouldn’t you, Miles?”
As she said that, her hand moved up, and she traced her bottom lip with her thumb, then she moved it down and unbuttoned her blazer. She used that same thumb to trace a circle around where I imagined her nipple was. “I know I enjoy using my body.”
My brain raced to find an adequate reply, but I found myself simply nodding, as stupid as if I used my own machine.
“Tonight? 7pm?” Some backup part of my brain somehow found a way to say.
“Perfect,” she said with a wink.
“Like I can touch your boobs, right?”
She closed her eyes and sighed and nodded, yes.