“And now we come to the most peculiar part of the twenty first century metropolitan human beings — the heart,” professor sykrishnan.edu smiled as he zoomed on his favourite topic.
suruchi.stu adjusted the knob in her head gear to get a clearer sound. She also fine-tuned the colours on the video screen she wore on her wrist, the lecture was downloading in the e-pod.
“Myths galore surrounded the heart. It was known as the seat of conscience, the abode of God, the centre for emotions and creativity. But scientists maintained it was just a pump, to send a steady supply of blood to different organs,” sykrishnan.edu looked around. The helmets bobbed with interest. He had the attention of the classroom. He pressed a button and the space between him and the students lit up with the 3D holographic image of the human heart.
“Revered before, extinct now. Biotechnology gifted human beings with the nano heart at the end of the 21 century and later developments replaced blood with plasma and then with Xytelol, a synthetic chemical. In one stroke we removed all the complications of human beings associated with blood and the heart. Most bacterial and viral diseases were eliminated and the span of life jumped from 80 to 500 years abruptly. More mutations caused by in house genetic experimenting eliminated the vital step in cell differentiation that formed the heart.”
A hand went up.
sykrishnan.edu liked interruptions. They stimulated him to think and expand his theories. If a query arose, it meant that the student who asked it had not been able to get an answer to it, despite the information on the web which could be accessed specifically in less than 1 picosecond. Naturally, he would be forced to think and evolve to a higher level of awareness.
“Don’t you think that mankind chose the path of evolution and information while deliberately sacrificing creativity?”
“No. On the contrary, very few people opted for the technology at first due to the apprehensions that are always associated with new inventions. But as more and more people realised the benefits of a quality life, the transformation was a smooth and natural progression.
“But what about the fall in the standards of creativity? Most people feel that we haven’t produced a work of art in the last, I don’t know how many centuries.”
“Yes, admittedly the output from those creative machines that juggle words and images to construct completely new works in the form of images and stories from a previous data base, lack the previous depths but we are working with the algorithms to make them more interesting and innovative…”
“The talk of new algorithms is 200 years old now….”
“Yes. Looks a long time in absolute terms, but relative to man’s life its nanonuts!”
Several screens on helmets of the students flashed LOL that meant laugh out loud. Web-men expressed supposed feeling with words! By replacing peanuts with nanonuts he had evoked a humorous response.
“With mega tera hertz of computing power, the delay is still too much….”
“All science is like that. It sometimes wanders in the wrong direction and gets bogged down. Then suddenly there is a flash of inspiration and the problem gets solved. I am optimistic that our Nemo Think Tanks will surpass Mr. Shakespeare and William Blake in the near future, in terms of literary effort. They will also beat Mr. Picasso and company very soon. Like their names, their works would soon become outdated.”
LOL, went the screens.
Another hand went up. manav.stu was the most brilliant of them.
“If we are able to re-circulate Xytelol through the human heart, will our generation reinstall those hearts in us, back again, to compensate for what we miss at the cost of taking a step higher in the evolution ladder?”
“Some people are trying, but I don’t think we will go as far as to switch on the cell differentiation mechanism, clone the several hearts we have preserved and put them back into people. Don’t forget that some of us are settled in out back galaxies that will take years to reach. And who knows what that might do to age spans?”
“But if everything was in order?” manav.stu persisted. He was a space pilot who was catching up on biology to increase his knowledge base as many adults were doing in the classroom.
“I don’t know. We have overcome the emotional confusions that pestered the metropolitan man. He was a love sick, sentimental human being who was confused most of his life. His heart and brain pulled him to two different places. I like the alignment that we have today and the clarity of purpose. If you ask me, I would not like to undo the good we have achieved. A lot of people think like me and the minority that still conducts that research about channeling the heart back into web-beings, really in all practical terms, has no future.”
When the class ended, sykrishnan.edu picked his Nemo Think Tank and left the lecture hall, satisfied that the lecture had gone well. He sighed as he thought of the next thing on his agenda. It was time to go to the clinic and make that important decision regarding the fate of syradha.edu, the mathematics professor who had been kept in confinement because of her strange behaviour.
* * *
“No success, I am afraid,” the doctor observed. They had not been able to bring her out of her hibernation mode. “I think she is deliberately resisting our attempts. Every once in a while we get such incidents of people who lose interest in life.”
“You tried another chip replacement?” sykrishnan.edu asked.
“Yes, but it never works. The chips merely assist functioning by enhancing processing power. The desire to live, has to come from within.”
“Terminate her,” sykrishnan.edu uttered the order they had been expecting.
“Do you wish to clone her?”
“No. She had explicitly told me that she did not want that. Just put her to death.”
Ten minutes later he got the call he had been expecting — his wife had been terminated.
Outside the campus, he pressed a few buttons on the console of his wrist and sent an application for a partner. He needed one because his 200 year relationship with his wife syradha.edu had ended.
* * *
A month later, as he turned his car towards the highway, he saw a man dash for cover. Losers like those vagabonds routinely hid in places like these, where the last of the remaining trees and shrubs still survived. It had been a long time he had seen a vagabond.
Just a few trees and greenery had been allowed to remain, even though web-beings no longer depended upon them for oxygen or for their food. Xytelol and a bloodless web-man had eliminated the need for oxygen. Food came from cloning animals, for their meat. They were even developing the option to clone one’s own organs for eventual consumption in a bid to be completely self-sufficient in laboratories.
He dialled 0101 for web-police.
Within three minutes, they arrived on their supersonic hovercrafts.
He reported the sighting.
“Hop in,” the duty officer offered. “This is going to be fun.”
* * *
They located him easily on the radars. He appeared as a thermal image, that moved with a hopelessly slow speed.
“Got him!” The officer remarked.
The thermal image became real in less than a minute.
Ahead, from the hovercraft, he saw the man running. Knowing he was cornered, he had discarded his cover in an attempt to run as fast as possible.
Abruptly, he stopped and raised his hands frantically, in a gesture of surrender.
The officer zoomed his cam. The face of the terror stricken man zeroed on the screen. Shaggy beard, hounded look — but unmistakably prof steve.edu! The identity match made by the Nemo, flashed the confirmation. Steve.edu — the man who vehemently asked the scientific community to seriously rethink about giving back to mankind, the gift from God that they had discarded — the human heart!
Incredibly, from the corner of his eye, sykrishnan.edu saw the officer draw his laser from the side panels.
“No!” he screamed and pushed the officer's gun away. The laser beam missed the target and steve.edu began to run in a zig zag pattern, clearly to duck the next beam.
“He is surrendering, can't you see that? Why did you use the laser?”
“Orders from above. He is dangerous. Has to be eliminated. Don’t obstruct me from conducting my duty.” Anger! Anger! His helmet screen flashed the words!
“There is no logic in eliminating a man ready to surrender. Besides he might be eccentric but he's also a widely respected scientist…”
“Then you have got to go too.”
Fortunately for him, he was able to locate the other laser on his side. He acted quickly and ducked before the beam from the officer flew harmlessly, inches above his head.
The man didn’t get a second chance. Before he could pull his trigger, the beam from sykrishnan.edu’s gun burnt him instantaneously. He pressed the emergency button and the hover craft stopped. He took the driver seat, turned the hover craft back on and followed the professor.
“It’s alright, you are safe,” he said as he closed in on the man who had been his favourite mentor, two hundred years ago.
“Oh, it's Krish!” steve.edu shouted with joy.
“The officer tried to kill you and when I objected, he tried to kill me too,” sykrishnan.edu said pointing to the carbon debris inside the hovercraft.
steve.edu's eyes widened in shock.
“Now we are both on the same side of the law,” sykrishnan.edu said, gesturing steve.edu to get in.
steve.edu hopped in. “If I am not wrong, they will be backing up very fast. Move over there,” he suggested.
They got down to a spot.
“Now let’s leave the hovercraft on its auto mode. At its speed, it will lead our quarry away from us as far as possible and when they discover it’s location, it will have no relevance to our hideout.”
“Brilliant,” sykrishnan.edu grinned.
“Now let us go down.”
steve.edu uprooted a shrub to uncover a hole in the ground just enough for him to squeeze in it. Then he was gone. sykrishnan.edu looked at the hole uncertainly.
“Come on, quick. Don’t waste time. But pull back that shrub as you enter.”
He did as he was told.
The tunnel was dark for sometime before he could see light again.
At the far end of the tunnel, he saw what was a huge laboratory. And he could see at least fifty scientists working there.
“What is this?” sykrishnan.edu gasped. “You have an undercover operation here. So may be the authorities were right after all, in trying to eliminate you.”
“It is a long story. But before you make any judgments follow me.”
steve.edu led him to another huge hall. Adorning the walls were giant paintings and their beauty took his breath away.
On the side walls were shelves.
“Pick any notebook and read.”
He picked one at random. There were poems and prose of extraordinary construction, each of them exotic in construction and brilliant.
He looked up to see the professor.
“You have found the algorithm.”
“No. I have found the heart!”
“What do you mean?”
“I have found a way to transplant the human heart into the web-man and make him complete.”
“But that would mean having blood back into our lives, the need for plants and a short life span…” sykrishnan.edu objected.
“A price many of us here are willing to pay, in exchange for the beauty that has disappeared from our lives. We have an alternative community down here and in two planets in far away galaxies. Life has already begun there. We have love, creativity and emotions, instead of logic, objectivity and lack of sensitivity. We have children in our lives, instead of cold and calculating adults. We are what we should be, alive and full of life and not just a machine.”
“This is so confusing. The scientific community believes…”
“You just saw the power of the heart. Those paintings and verses are outputs of ordinary people like you and me. You are a scientist too. What would you like to believe in? Mere theories or proof?”
“Prove to me that you have a heart.”
One by one, steve.edu and ten other people stood besides a holographic MRI and the image of their pounding heart, throbbing and alive was projected in 3D. From lecture hall to reality, he was witnessing the rebirth of the heart.
“What are those scientists doing now that you have achieved success?”
“Trying to fight disease causing bacteria and virus. We are using the fruits of our evolution to combat the threat that blood filled web-man would inevitably face. We have found a few cures but there's a long way to go.”
“What happens to me?”
“You would have been dead but for your reflexes and will be hunted by web-police like me until you are eliminated. You have a choice though….”
* * *
One month later, he looked out of the windows of the spacecraft Noah, that was leaving the planet, like a dream.
They were heading to Uraniminum — a life supporting planet at the fringes of a distant galaxy. Fifty six people, men and women. Pairs. So that there would be more life and more like minded people inhabiting the Universe. The prototypes of development, of an alien race. Complete with all the animals and plants. No wonder it had the biblical reference to Noah.
He felt odd to be the off shoot of the human race. Human beings stood at a crossroad where they were splitting into two races — the web-men and the refurbished metropolitan man. One of them was only logic and super-strength and with a formidable lifespan while the other had logic tempered with creativity, but a limited lifespan. Would there be an Armageddon in the near future, between the two races or would they coexist? Time alone would tell.
He would never have chosen this unsure, insecure life, if that officer had not tried to kill him. He was a reluctant convert. But everyone else had made a careful choice. Their decision surprised him.
He reached for his chest and felt the strange sensation of the heart that pumped inside.
His wife, syradha.edu came close to him and grasped his hands in a reassuring way.
He had been shocked when he discovered that she had long been a part of the community. What they had terminated at the clinic, had been her clone.
She had chosen this way of life voluntarily after she had read and heard about the work of steve.edu. She had opted to leave the mainstream stealthily.
Her touch tingled his body like he had never felt before and his heart beat faster.
Was it love?
She looked at him and smiled. “You have to master a new language. A language of the heart, professor. It won’t take long because it is simple and spontaneous. With you 150 plus IQ you will pick it up very fast.”
He hoped she was right and clasped her hand tightly and looked at the bewitching magic of the distant stars, planets and space with awe.
His mind was overwhelmed with strange thought — he felt oneness with the Universe. He felt a part of life. Not a cold, isolated and calculating machine without emotions.
He looked forward to starting all over and again.
Originally published in the Science Reporter, 2005 (adjudged 'best entry' in a science fiction writing competition) and also available at www.kartiksharma.co.in.