Pages 9-18 of chapter 1 of the riveting science fiction book Nexus by Ramez Naam brought to you by the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. This is the last installment of Chapter 1 to be published on the IEET. You can order Nexus via Amazon by clicking Here
They were coming for him. The Corps. His brothers. He could hear the choppers, hear the small arms fire. They’d found the place he’d been taken to, the place he’d been held, the place where he’d gotten a long clear look into the pits of hell. You never leave a man behind. They were coming for him, and God help anyone who stood in their way.
Watson Cole woke with a start, drenched in sweat, his heart pounding in his chest, a lump in his throat. He was half upright in the bed, one massive dark-skinned arm raised as if to ward off a blow. He was shaking.
Fuck. Just a dream. Just another nightmare.
“Lights,” he said aloud.
The small room lit up around him. The light pushed the terror back. This wasn’t the KZ. This wasn’t that war. This was his apartment in San Francisco.
He let his weight sink back into the mattress. The sheets were soaked in his night sweats.
Breathe. Relax. Breathe.
It had been the rescue, this time. The rescue and the girl. Lunara. He dreamt of all of them. Arman, Nurzhan, Temir. Most of all, Lunara. The ones who’d imprisoned him. The ones who’d used the drug called Nexus to pry open his mind, force themselves and so many others into him. The ones who’d jammed his head full of the hellish memories of the victims of that war. It had been two years, but still he dreamt of them. Still he dreamt their lives.
Why me? Why’d it have to be me?
He’d been at the wrong place at the wrong time. It was as simple as that. If he hadn’t been…
I’d still be out there now. Killing for my country. Murdering. Ignorant. Blind. Happy.
And someone else would have this hell inside them.
Breathe. Relax the body. Breathe.
His heart was slowing now. The tremors were nearly gone. He glanced at the clock beside the bed. Not even midnight. He’d been asleep for just an hour. He looked at the nightstand, considered the bottle of pills in the top drawer. He could medicate himself into dreamless unconsciousness. But it was getting harder every time. The doses were increasing.
He hadn’t asked for this hell, but it had come to him. He hadn’t asked to have his eyes opened, but they had been. He hadn’t asked for a chance at redemption, but it had been offered. Offered in the form of these young, idealistic kids that had made him a part of their family. Offered in the form of their modifications and improvements to Nexus, improvements that made it an even more powerful tool for touching the minds and hearts of others.
Nexus had changed him. It had shown him his actions through others’ eyes. It has shown him the evil that he and all the other men like him had done. It had given him the urge to find a better way, to make a better world. And if it had done that to him, the hardest of men, what could it do for others?
Watson Cole rose and dressed for a run. He would push his superhumanly fit body to exhaustion. He wouldn’t succumb to dependence on the meds. He would keep himself fit and hard. He had things to do before he paid for his crimes.
The drug that had transformed him could transform the world. He would make it happen.
Friday 2040.02.17 : 2355 hours
Damn, Kade thought.Bad time for a bug. He splashed water on his face in the bathroom, tried to collect himself. Time to sneak out of here, see if he could debug the crash he’d run into.
He opened the door from the washroom and into the crowded party. The back door would be the safest way out. He was halfway there, studiously avoiding eye contact, when he heard his name and felt a hand on his shoulder.
“Hey, Kade!” It was Dominique, the hostess. Shit.
“Kade, I want you to meet someone,” Dominique went on. “This is Samara. Sam, meet Kaden Lane. Kade, meet Samara Chavez. Sam was telling me about an article she’d read that reminded me of your work.”
Sam was in her mid to late twenties, with olive skin and straight black hair that fell to her shoulders. She was dressed in stylish black slacks and a clinging grey sweater. There were muscles under that sweater. She had the build of a swimmer.
“Nice to meet you, Kade. Dominique says you’re getting your doctorate in brain-computer communication?”
Kade looked towards the back door. So close… “Yeah. Sanchez Lab at UCSF. What article was this?”
“Two monkeys, with parts of their brains wirelessly linked. One could see out of the other’s eyes.”
Warwick and Michelson. That one got some press.
“Yeah, that was a good paper,” he said. “I work with those guys occasionally. They’re over at Berkeley.”
“Cool,” Sam responded. “Is that what you work on too?”
Dominique made her exit.
Kade shuffled his feet a bit, keenly aware of the stain on the front of his trousers.
“A lot of our grants are for interfaces to control body functions – muscle control and so on.”
Kade had a flash of his hips thrusting out of control at Frances’s face. He hurried on.
“You know, to help paralyzed people move again. My thesis is on higher-level brain functions. Memory, attention, knowledge representation.”
Kade paused, unsure how much she wanted to hear.
Sam picked up the thread. “Interesting. Did you see the one where they taught a mouse the layout of a maze, and other mice could learn it too, just by being wired up to its brain?”
Kade chuckled. “That was my paper. First one I wrote as a grad student. No one thought we could do it.”
Sam raised an eyebrow. “No shit. That was impressive. Where are you going from there? Do you think that…”
Sam turned out to be surprisingly interested in neuroscience. She peppered him with questions on the brain, on his work, on what they planned next. Kade found himself forgetting the fiasco he’d just had and his plans of escape. And along the way he learned a few things about her. She worked in data archeology, helping companies mine old and disorganized systems for missing information. She lived in New York, and she was here in SF on a contract assignment for the next few months. She’d just arrived and was looking to make friends. She was funny, smart, and good looking. She laughed at his jokes. And it turned out that she shared one of his interests.
“So you’re a brain guy. Have you heard of this drug Nexus?” she asked.
Kade nodded cautiously. “I’ve heard of it.”
“They say it’s some sort of nano-structure, not really just a drug. And that it links brains. Is that possible?”
Kade shrugged. “We can do it with wires and with radios. Why not with something you swallow? As long as it gets into the brain…”
“Yeah, but does it actually work?”
“I’ve heard it does,” Kade replied.
“You’ve never tried it?”
He grinned. “That would be illegal.”
Sam grinned back.
“Have you tried it?” he asked her.
She shook her head. “I had a chance in New York last year, but I missed it. It’s all dried up on the East Coast.”
A first-timer, Kade thought to himself. We could use more first-time females for the study…
He hesitated. “It’s dried up out here too. A lot of busts lately.”
Kade missed whatever she said next. Out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of something. Someone. Frances.
“…total asshole. He was so rude.”
Her back was to him. She hadn’t seen him yet.
“…seizure or something. He needs help. Professional help.”
The back door. He started to edge towards it.
“Kade? Everything OK?”
Sam. He looked at her. “I’ve got to go. Sorry. Hope I see you again.”
He left her there as he hustled out the door.
Samantha Cataranes watched as Kaden Lane fled the party.
Did I spook him? she wondered. Must have.
Her eyes flicked to a readout at the corner of her tactical contact display. It was red. Off the charts red. The sensor on the necklace she wore had picked up clear Nexus transmissions. Whatever Kaden Lane might say, he had not only tried Nexus before, he’d been using it this very night, in quantities beyond any they’d seen in a human before.
How very odd to be using that drug here, when no one else was. What good was Nexus without another Nexus user for it to bridge a connection to?
Time would tell. She would find another way into their little circle. Rangan Shankari, perhaps.
Sam turned and looked for someone else to chat up. Her cover required it.
Kade soared through a three-dimensional maze of neurons and nano-devices. Nano-filament antennae crackled with life as Nexus nodes sent and received data. Vast energies accumulated in neuronal cell bodies, reached critical thresholds, surged down long axons to pulse into thousands more neurons. Code readouts advanced in open windows around him. Parameter values moved as he watched.
After the debacle of the party, debugging the code running in his own brain was bliss. His body lay safely in his bed. His mind exulted inside the Nexus development environment, tracing the events that had led to the fault. Here he was in his element.
He traced the events of the night through the logs, through the pulses of Nexus nodes and neurons in his brain, until he found the place where Nexus OS had faulted. He traced system parameters backwards in time until he understood what had happened. Nexus nodes had fired in response to excited neurons and triggered an uncontrolled cascade. They needed more bounds checking. It was a simple fix. The code opened itself to him, changed in response to his thoughts. He compiled it, tested it, fixed a new bug he’d introduced, repeated until he was done.
Reluctantly, he left the world inside his mind, and came back to the senses of his body. It was then that he remembered the other girl. Samara.
They could still use another first-time female subject for the study tomorrow to test out the changes they’d made to calibration. They had their minimum sample size, but another wouldn’t hurt. Would she fit? Yes. Was that foolish? Perhaps. But they really could use another first-time female…
And she did happen to be smart, funny, and good looking…
He pulled out his slate, projected it onto the wall, and paid a reputation bot to look up everything there was to know about Samara Chavez of New York City.
There she was. Samara A. Chavez. Reputation green.
He drilled into the details. Two degrees of separation from Kade. A Brooklyn address. Thousands of pictures of her online. Mentions of her at various data archeology conferences and online forums. A business license for a private consultancy. No mention on narc sites. No face match against suspected narc photos. The bot summarized her as legit and reputable.
Always use a second source, Wats had said.
He paid for a credit verification service to check her out as well. She came back with an address that matched, a phone number that matched the one she listed online, a decent credit record, no convictions, no gaps in employment and education. Everything was consistent.
Kade yawned and checked the time. It was almost two in the morning. Was there anything else to check? He couldn’t think of anything.
He fired off an invitation to Sam’s public address. Would she like to attend a party Saturday night? A party where she might be able to find a certain something she’d asked about? He couldn’t tell her where, but he’d be happy to pick her up.
Then he stripped off his clothes and collapsed into bed.
Sam kicked, blocked, punched, dodged, kicked again. Imaginary enemies fell.
Across the room, a new message chime sounded. The tone was keyed to Kaden Lane.
Sam ignored the sound and continued her blurringly fast path through the hundred and eight steps of the kata she was practicing, her limbs moving with superhuman grace and precision through a four hundred year-old sequence of strikes, parries, and evasions.
Focus, Nakamura had taught her. Absorb yourself in your task. Leave all the rest aside.
She let the message wait as she completed the kata. Only when she was done and had bowed to the empty room did she turn, limbs trembling slightly, brow beaded with sweat, and ask her slate to show her the message.
It appeared in the air before her. A message to Samara Chavez. An invitation to a party. A party where, he hinted, she could try Nexus.
Guess I didn’t spook him so badly after all, Sam thought to herself.
She waved away the slate’s projection and the image evaporated. She’d respond tomorrow at a reasonable hour.
Samantha Cataranes turned back towards the center of the room, bowed to the air, and began the next kata.
Transhuman– noun –
A human being whose capabilities have been enhanced such that they now exceed normal human maxima in one or more important dimensions.
An incremental step in human evolution.
Posthuman – noun –
A being which has been so radically transformed by technology that it has gone beyond transhuman status and can no longer be considered human at all.
Any member of a species which succeeds humans, whether having originated from humanity or not.