Subject Carrie Donovan successfully underwent parallel genome sequencing and synaptic tracing at 08:00 on March 17, 2071. Her procedure was supervised by CS program director Dr. Alexandra Parsons, CS chief architect Dr. Alan Pierce, and CS medical technician Brock Winters. The procedures were completed on schedule at 08:35, after which Donovan was carefully transitioned to the Transcription laboratory.
“This feels strangely like a coffin,” Carrie told Brock Winters as she sat back into the white, egg-shaped, decomposition pod in the middle of the lab. The machine took up large sections of the space station; however, the engineers had developed an elegant arm-like apparatus that extended the pod from the wall of the operations module into the main lab. The design was relatively standard for that era, as it was perceived to enable a safer disassembly preparation cycle for medical staff. When preparations were complete, the pod would recoil to the wall and interface with the Transcription engine, which the crew had dubbed “Archimedes,” after the Greek mathematician and astronomer.
Brock shook his head at Carrie’s comment and remained focused on setting her restraints. “Head down, please,” he said as she wiggled around the pod. He secured her wrists and feet with white magnetic straps then placed a much-wider restraint over her main torso, covering most of her nude body. “Get comfortable,” he continued as he brought forward a white wireless pen-shaped device, “I need you to hold still while I mark you.” He turned from the pod then shifted over a clear glass screen, which was suspended by an arm from the ceiling, and positioned it next to the pod.
After he tapped the white device in his hand twice, the suspended screen illuminated, showing an internal visualization of Carrie’s body. Brock leaned forward and confirmed the visuals on the screen. “Proceeding with marking,” he said as he looked to the back left of the room where Dr. Pierce and Dr. Parsons stood and observed. After pointing the white pen at Carrie’s abdomen, he placed the pen directly over what the screen had labeled her liver; then he tapped the pen on the side. Looking back at the screen, he nodded and moved his hand up her torso.
“You know, it might be easier to let the system do that for you,” Carrie said as she smiled up at Brock.
“Call me old-fashioned, but I’m not leaving this first trial to chance,” he said, keeping his eyes fixed on her abdomen.
During the subsequent twenty minutes, Mr. Winters carefully marked Carrie’s kidneys, heart, lungs, pancreas, stomach, and thyroid. Pausing, he examined his markings, then turned to Dr. Pierce and Dr. Parsons, confirmed his work was complete, then pushed the clear screen up toward the ceiling. “All set,” Brock told Carrie as he looked down at her and smiled. “You ready for this?”
“Little late to back out now,” she replied.
Dr. Parsons and Dr. Pierce joined Brock at Carrie’s side, shared their admiration for her courage, and confirmed she was ready to proceed.
“You’re in good hands. We’ve iterated the program over eight billion times, and our modeling is stable,” Dr. Pierce said as he smiled at Carrie and placed his hand on her wrist.
Brock stepped away and pulled down a second clear screen from the ceiling near the back entrance. After he tapped the screen, the system authenticated his biometrics and displayed protocol options. “We’re good,” Brock told Dr. Parsons and Pierce.
“See you in ten minutes,” Dr. Parsons said as she winked at Carrie, turned, and made her way toward Brock.
At 09:01, Brock Wright initiated the world’s first Transcription test on a living human being. Executing the protocol, the system retracted Carrie’s pod and locked her into position within the disassembly panels along the back wall. Before beginning, a clear shield came in front of Carrie and sealed the pod, though the crew still saw her from the other side of the room.
“Requesting approval to proceed with decomposition,” Brock said as he turned toward Dr. Parsons.
“Please proceed,” Dr. Parsons responded without taking her eyes off Carrie.
Looking at the monitor, Brock initiated the decomposition protocols then shifted his gaze toward the pod. Almost instantly, a soft vibration emitted from the floor. The overhead lights flickered as the space station’s power grid attempted to handle Archimedes firing up to execute decomposition. Carrie silently stood in the pod as she looked around the room, and in a quick burst, a white mist surrounded her. Carrie began to cough profusely.
“Is that supposed to happen?” Dr. Pierce asked.
“Just wait,” Dr. Parsons responded.
Instantly the pod emitted a blinding flash. All three individuals looked away and shielded their eyes until the light had dissipated a few seconds later. As they gazed back at the pod nestled in the far wall, they saw that Carrie was gone.
Dr. Parsons smiled and looked at Dr. Pierce and Brock. Both men continued to stare at the empty pod in astonishment. Dr. Parsons slowly walked up to the empty pod and examined it without touching the encasing where Carrie once stood. Satisfied, she turned around and walked toward Brock. “How long?”
Brock broke his gaze, returned to the screen, and ran his finger along a series of illuminated boxes. “One minute thirty-six seconds, and I’m seeing zero errors or faults during processing, ma’am.”
“All right. Equipment looks to have absorbed the surge,” she said as she arrived at Dr. Pierce’s side. “You’re up.”
Dr. Pierce winked at Dr. Parsons. Leaving her side, he walked up to the screen in front of Brock and pressed his thumb onto the surface. Stepping back, he anxiously returned his gaze upon the pod.
Leaning in, Brock reviewed the unlocked screen then looked to Dr. Parsons. “Biometrics confirmed.”
“Begin Transcription,” she immediately replied as she watched the pod refill with white smoke.
The soft hum from the floor returned as the machine fired up for a second time. All three individuals stared at the pod as it repeatedly flashed a bright light.
“We need to get some goggles in here,” Brock said as he shielded his eyes.
“What are we at?” Dr. Parsons asked as she looked at the floor.
Carefully peering over to the screen while shielding his eyes, Brock began to evaluate. “Forty percent,” he replied.
“Almost there,” Dr. Parsons responded.
Moments later the pod stopped emitting the bright light, and the glass shield turned black. Simultaneously the wall of the pod emitted a sporadic buzzing sound. Lowering their hands from their eyes, Dr. Pierce and Brock looked at Dr. Parsons as she approached the buzzing pod.
“And now?” she asked, standing several feet from the pod.
Brock frantically shifted his gaze back to the monitor. “Seventy-two percent.”
After carefully walking up to the pod, Dr. Parsons gently set her hand on its blackened exterior and smiled. Looking back, she playfully raised her eyebrows at Brock and Dr. Pierce, who both were struggling to accept what they were witnessing.
Walking back, Dr. Parsons returned her gaze to Dr. Pierce. “By now, the system has shifted over to your code. The cycle will complete shortly.”
“Eighty-seven percent,” Brock uttered.
“Amazing how fast this is,” Dr. Pierce said.
“We simulated the process more than eight billion times,” Dr. Parsons said. “Let’s hope you did your homework.”
“Don’t worry about my code,” he responded.
Breaking their gaze, Dr. Parsons and Dr. Pierce looked back at the pod as it stopped humming, emitted a loud hiss, then silently extended from the wall and shifted toward the middle of the room.
“One hundred percent,” Brock said as he let out a deep breath.
“Time?” Dr. Parsons responded.
“Uh, ten minutes, twelve seconds.”
Dr. Parsons shrugged. “Close enough.”
Leaving the screen, Brock made his way across the room toward a small workstation nestled against the far-left wall. He quickly grabbed a few tools from the workstation. When he was finished, he looked up at the mirror on the wall just above the workstation and took another deep breath. Returning his gaze back down, he turned to a portable gurney against the wall to his left, released the brakes, and rolled it toward the pod.
After arriving back at the center of the lab, Brock positioned the gurney parallel to the now flat-lying pod, approximately two feet away, and locked the wheels. Turning his attention to the pod, he surveyed a small panel on the side and tapped it a few times. “Vitals are good,” he said as he looked up at Dr. Parsons and Dr. Pierce, who stood close by on the other side of the pod.
[Author’s Note: Tapping/touching of system screens was a primary method for making selections, reviewing information, and executing commands in the mid-twenty-first century. Though enterprise cognitive and voice command AI was ubiquitous at the time, the Avalon intentionally reverted its operations to manual selection. Neither the station’s logs nor any declassified documents from Paradigm CS’s archives provided a justifiable reason for this decision.]
“Please proceed,” Dr. Parsons said as she took a few steps back and grabbed Dr. Pierce’s arm, urging him to follow in her retreat.
Returning his gaze to the pod’s side monitor, Brock tapped the screen twice then placed his thumb in the top-right corner.
The pod immediately hissed. Peering up, Brock watched the black surface slowly dissipate and give way to a white fog. Leaning in, he wiped the outer shell of the pod with his hand to get a better look. The surface was transparent but had instantly fogged up due to a dramatic shift in interior temperature. He gazed down at the glass, changing his vantage point several times before looking up to Dr. Parsons and giving her a soft nod.
“Open it,” she said.
Brock looked up toward the ceiling and brought down the suspended clear screen into his line of sight. Shifting back to the pod, he tapped the pod’s side screen once more.
With a second hiss, the pod’s exterior shield recoiled then disappeared into the side. A faint mist rose from the interior of the pod and revealed a naked human body. The body was that of Carrie Donovan, who appeared just as she had several minutes prior. She lay motionless in the pod, though one could clearly observe her soft breathing.
“Carrie?” Brock whispered as he leaned in.
She stayed motionless and didn’t respond.
“Carrie, can you hear me?” he said a bit louder.
Seconds later, she slowly opened her eyes and blinked. Staying motionless and calm, she slowly looked around the room before making eye contact with Brock. Letting out a deep breath, she smiled at his sight and lifted her head.
“Hold on,” he said, gently putting his hand on her forehead to keep her from moving. “I need to run a few tests, and then we’ll get out of here, I promise.”
“Where am I?” she replied softly, still looking up at Brock.
“You’re in the Transcription lab,” he said as he brought a small flashlight up to her face to examine her eyes and mouth.
“I don’t understand,” she said with a confused look. “What am I doing here?”
Dr. Parsons quietly stepped forward. “Hi, Carrie.”
Carrie shifted her gaze to Dr. Parsons and smiled. “Alex.”
“What’s the last thing you remember?” Dr. Parsons continued.
Carrie paused to think then closed her eyes for a moment. “Weren’t we prepping? You were asking me something about a bird?”
“That’s right,” Dr. Parsons leaned closer. “A canary. That was the last question we had for your synaptic trace. What’s your favorite bird?”
Carrie immediately lit up and looked to Brock, who continued to examine her. Looking back at Dr. Parsons, she began to breathe a little more heavily. “Did I do it?”
Dr. Parsons smiled and nodded.
“How long was I gone?”
“Ten minutes,” Dr. Parsons replied as she glared up at Brock. “Give or take.”
“I don’t remember a thing.”
“And you shouldn’t. The trace ended several minutes before we brought you in here.”
Brock shifted away from Carrie and returned his gaze to the glass monitor, which hung at shoulder level. He tapped a few screens and looked closely at a chart on display. After a quick examination, he pushed the monitor back up toward the ceiling and pivoted to Carrie. “Everything looks good.” He reached down and released the restraints around her wrists, ankles, and chest.
Dr. Pierce walked up to Dr. Parson’s side, holding a white blanket, leaned in, and handed it to Carrie. Looking down, Carrie realized she didn’t have any clothing covering her body and gave an amused sigh. “That’s why it felt a little chilly in here.” She laughed. “You know, one of you could have said something; I’m sitting here looking around like an idiot with no clue what’s going on.”
Brock offered Carrie his hand as he gestured for Dr. Parsons to move toward the back of the pod and place the blanket around Carrie’s shoulders. Carrie calmly reached up and, with Brock’s assistance, sat straight up in the pod. Dr. Parsons gently covered her with the blanket. Carrie, quickly aware of the blanket, grabbed it with both hands and wrapped it around her upper torso. “Thank you,” she said, tightly gripping the covering.
Brock walked toward Carrie’s feet at the end of the pod. “Ready to get out of here?”
Brock carefully raised her feet, leaned in, grabbed Carrie by the shoulders, and shifted her to the right. “Easy,” he said.
Taking a step back, he took one last look at Carrie, who sat upright in the pod with her legs hanging off the edge. “Last checks,” Brock began. “Hold out your hands.” Carrie quickly complied. “Okay. Touch your thumb to each finger.” Carrie again complied while making no errors in the task. Brock smiled and offered her his hand.
Dr. Parsons came around the edge of the pod and offered her assistance as Brock brought Carrie to her feet. “Easy,” Dr. Parsons said.
Seconds later, Carrie was on her feet, supporting her own weight. Observing that Carrie had achieved balance, Brock removed his grip on her arm and took a step back. Carrie smiled and looked around at the crew, who stared in amazement.
“How’s your head?” Dr. Pierce asked as he stepped closer.
“It’s okay,” Carrie said, closing her eyes. “Have a bit of a headache.”
“Not surprising. We just rebuilt your entire conscious,” Dr. Pierce replied. “We’ll need to conduct a few more scans—”
“Let’s start with taking a few steps,” Brock interrupted as he gestured for Carrie to go about the room.
Looking around the room then down at her feet, Carrie placed a hand on the nearby gurney then took small steps. Quickly finding a rhythm, she rounded the gurney and removed her hand. Pausing, she looked around the room then back at the pod.
“Incredible, isn’t it?” Dr. Parsons said as she and Carrie made eye contact.
Carrie didn’t respond as she continued to survey the room. Looking at the medical workstation, she headed toward the far wall. Brock stayed close behind her and continued to evaluate her movements. Dr. Parsons and Dr. Pierce did the same but kept their distance.
Arriving at the workstation, Carrie looked up and stared at herself in the mirror on the wall. She gazed without blinking and ran her fingers through her hair. Brock arrived at her side and didn’t say a word. Looking down, she held out her hand and intently stared at her fingers. She abruptly winced and closed her eyes.
Brock, alert to Carrie’s reaction, quickly moved in. “What is it?”
Carrie continued to wince.
“It hurts,” she said as she raised her hands to her temples.
“Where does it hurt?”
Continuing to wince, Carrie shook her head back and forth.
Brock looked to Dr. Parsons and Pierce, who were alert to the situation but waiting for clear instructions. “We need to get her back to the gurney.” Both doctors nodded and moved forward.
“Please make it stop!” Carrie screamed as she continued to hold her temples between her palms. Looking up at the mirror, she leaned forward and lunged into the glass.
“Now!” Brock yelled to Dr. Parsons and Pierce as he reached forward and restrained Carrie, who had blood running down her forehead. Brock glanced up at the shattered mirror as he dragged Carrie away from the wall.
The doctors arrived at Brock’s side. “Grab her feet,” he instructed them.
Carrie fought their grip as her back convulsed and her torso arched into the air. Tightening their grasp, the crew restrained Carrie and quickly moved her back to the gurney. After placing her on to the surface, Brock instructed the doctors to strap in her lower body with the ankle restraints.
Brock returned his gaze to Carrie’s face as she foamed at the mouth. “Shit, she’s seizing.” He looked up for the glass monitor and pulled it down into view. “Hang in there, Carrie.” He tapped the screen a few times and continued to gaze down at Carrie. “Heart rate spiking,” Brock added.
Carrie continued to seize and wince. Brock saw the terror in her eyes as she closed them for the final time. She convulsed, arched her back into the air, and then her body slowly released. As abruptly as the incident had begun, Carrie now lay still.
Brock returned his gaze to the monitor, feverishly tapping the screen for information. Seconds later, he paused, pushed the monitor aside in shock, and looked at Dr. Parsons. “She’s gone.”
Dr. Parsons remained stoic as she gazed upon Carrie’s lifeless body. “What the hell just happened?”
Dr. Parsons and Dr. Pierce remained seated upright as they stared at the panel of screens along the briefing room’s front wall. Dressed in formal attire, they awaited the arrival of one more attendee. Illuminated to their left stood a woman in uniform, Colonel Bridges. She stared motionless toward the camera and waited for the session to begin. The middle screen was still empty. To the far right, an overweight balding man wearing a Hawaiian shirt sat quietly; he was tanned from clearly spending a lot of time in the sun. His name was unknown to the crew of the Avalon, but he had significant influence over the program.
[Author’s Note: Despite my repeated inquiries to former DoD officials and CS executives, I’ve been unsuccessful in determining the man’s identity. He was only present during panel meetings, and as such, the contents of these chapters are all I can provide regarding said individual.]
Records show General Anthony Roland arrived at the briefing just after 06:30 on March 23, 2071. Flashing up on the middle screen, he was immediately acknowledged by everyone in the room and on-screen. General Roland, at the time, was commander of the US DoD’s Genetic Weapons and Deep Space Programs and maintained that command until shortly after October 2072. “Good morning folks. Let’s begin.”
Colonel Bridges was the first to speak. “This panel has been convened to review the preliminary findings from one Dr. Parsons, CS Transcription program director, and one Dr. Pierce, CS chief program software engineer, regarding the events that occurred aboard the space station Avalon on March 17 of this year.”
“Thank you, Colonel,” General Roland responded. “Dr. Parsons, your opening remarks.”
“Good morning, panel. In front of you should be our submitted report in its entirety. During this session, I’ll share with you an abbreviated summary of our findings.”
General Roland looked down on-screen and thumbed through a folder of papers in front of him. “Very well. Please proceed.”
Taking a deep breath after a short pause, Dr. Parsons continued. “On the morning of March 17, 2071, our team initiated human trials of the Transcription program. The subject, Carrie Donovan, a crewmember aboard the Avalon and a bioengineering expert, volunteered to undergo our first human trial. Medical records show she was cognitively stable and in peak physical form at the time of genomic sequencing and synaptic tracing.” Dr. Parsons paused to see if there were any questions as she looked at Dr. Pierce before continuing. “Program logs show the protocols were executed without error and cleared simulations from multiple redundancies.”
“Can we take a look at those logs?” the balding man interrupted.
Taking pause, Dr. Parsons looked at Colonel Bridges. “Of course, sir. I’ll have Christina send them down immediately after this briefing.”
“Very good. Please continue.”
“Following mapping, the subject was transported to the Transcription lab, where medical technician Brock Winters manually performed marking protocols and validated her vitals prior to the program’s execution.”
“And where’s the summary of his markings report?” General Roland interrupted.
“Page twelve, sir,” Dr. Parsons responded. She took pause and watched General Roland thumb through the report to page twelve. He gave a cursory review before nodding for Dr. Parsons to continue.
“The human trial began at 09:01 and lasted ten minutes and twelve seconds.”
“Is there any significance to that window?” asked Colonel Bridges.
“Nothing outside of trial design, ma’am. We set our first jump for ten minutes.”
“Thank you,” Colonel Bridges replied as she gestured for Dr. Parsons to continue.
“Logs show Decomposition and Transcription procedures were executed without error. Carrie Donovan was transcribed and returned to our main lab floor. A preliminary health exam was performed again by Brock Winters; he found no abnormalities in her vitals or motor functions. The subject was allowed to walk about the lab shortly thereafter. It was during these events that the subject expressed unfavorable tension in her head.”
“The report here shows she smashed her head into a mirror,” the balding man interrupted again.
“That’s right, sir. We were able to subdue her shortly afterward, but it was too late. She erratically convulsed and seized by the time we got her on a gurney. She was gone minutes later. Brock called her death at 09:22.” Dr. Parsons took pause as she wrapped up her account. The panel remained silent as they thumbed through their reports and paid little attention to Dr. Parsons or Dr. Pierce.
General Roland returned his attention to the screen. “Thank you, Doctor. This panel accepts your submission, unless anyone has any objections.”
No one responded.
“Good,” General Roland continued. “Then let’s move on to root-cause analysis.”
Dr. Pierce cleared his throat. “Ladies and gentlemen, we performed a thorough examination of the subject’s remains and determined a successful reconstruction from the genetic sequencing, which we also determined was valid.”
“The error occurred in cognition stages?” the balding man interjected.
“Correct,” Dr. Pierce responded. “And from our evaluation, the synaptic trace was clean.”
“So you think this is from the cognitive Transcription procedures?” the balding man continued.
“Yes, sir, a splice occurred somewhere between trace and Transcription, the source of which we haven’t yet determined.”
“In English, please,” General Roland interrupted.
“He’s saying their programs successfully copied the subject’s consciousness but made an error when inserting it back in,” the balding man responded.
General Roland looked at Dr. Pierce for confirmation.
“That’s essentially correct, sir,” Dr. Pierce said.
“How does something like this happen? Where are your testing results that showed this process was stable?” General Roland appeared agitated at the recent conclusions.
“Page one hundred six, sir,” Dr. Parsons said. “And we successfully simulated the procedures more than eight billion times prior to the incident.”
“Then someone please explain to me what happened,” the general continued.
Dr. Pierce looked to Dr. Parsons, who nodded. “We don’t know, sir. We’ve rerun the sequencing on our end for the past five days but have found zero errors.”
“Have we considered reconstituting the subject again, and working backwards?” General Roland asked.
“Not possible, sir.” Dr. Pierce responded. “It’s our determination that the error occurred in the code, and as such, Carrie Donovan would be brought back with the same defects during any subsequent trial.”
“What about bringing her back and immediately neutralizing her?” General Roland continued.
“We don’t have the equipment up here to induce a coma, sir,” Dr. Parsons interjected.
“Dammit.” The general paused and repeatedly tapped his fingers on his desk.
“Could this situation be a fault in the equipment up there?” Colonel Bridges asked.
“Highly unlikely, ma’am,” Dr. Parsons responded. “This technology is quite stable, but we’re considering every possibility.”
The room went silent. General Roland sighed as he closed the report. “Mike, any ideas?” he said, directing his question at the balding man.
“Assuming the stability pertaining to the equipment itself holds true, I’d take a second look at the codebase. They’re telling me the process was successfully simulated several billion times, but in the first human trial, we encountered an error that resulted in a fatality.” The balding man paused. “I find this highly suspicious. It makes me skeptical of your testing methodologies.”
“I assure you the results are sound,” Dr. Pierce responded.
“They’re sound based on the program’s interpretation of the results. Your synaptic tracings are essentially a very complex picture, and all you did to validate was show that your program could re-create the exact same picture.”
“Your point being?” Dr. Pierce replied.
“We need to validate not only what the program is drawing but also how it draws.”
“Am I to assume you have an opinion regarding how to proceed?” the general interrupted.
“I have a guy who should take a look,” the balding man responded. “I’ve used him several times before. He’ll get to the bottom of this without a doubt.”
“And we can count on his discretion?”
The balding man nodded. “Absolutely.”
“When’s the next supply run?” the general asked as he turned his gaze to Colonel Bridges.
“Ten days, sir,” she replied.
General Roland took a short pause to weigh his next words. “Do it.”
“Sir, if I may?” Dr. Parsons interjected.
“No, Doctor, you may not. We need to get to the root cause of this error quickly and quietly. We’re going with Mike’s plan. His man will be with you in ten days. You will give him full access to the space station and accommodate any of his requests. Human trials are henceforth suspended until further notice. Understood?”
“Yes, sir,” Dr. Parsons reluctantly responded.
“Good. Unless our virtual panel has any other questions or concerns, this meeting is adjourned.”