Heart. Beat.

Story A Week (SAW) 19: May 7th, 2018

By Adam O’Sullivan

It started with my heart. I was never the type to have a strong heart. A strong stomach, sure, but not a strong heart.

The doctor’s tried to let me down easy, but there’s really no easy way to tell someone that their time is running short. The heart I had was betraying me, and without a transplant, I may not live to see my 30’s. I’ll admit, I lost it. I broke down. I almost ended the whole damn thing. I couldn’t imagine going on a waiting list for a heart, hoping someone would have an accident and not need theirs anymore. Seriously, why bother?

My doctors could tell I was a wreck. That’s probably why they told me about the mechanical heart in the first place. The rejection rates were way higher than with a normal transplant. Going for the fully mechanical option was basically a half way point between fighting it out and waiting, or ending it all.

A perfect option for me, someone who couldn’t make up his mind.

Let’s be clear, this wasn’t just a pacemaker. It wouldn’t work with my broken heart, and it would require waiting for a new heart. It was a fully mechanical heart, designed to perform the same function. A robot heart, if you will. People were known to go under the knife for the operation, and never wake up again. If the robot heart gave out, there wasn’t even enough time to put you back under and take it out. That was it. You were dead.

I considered myself the walking dead anyway. Better to be known as the boy who had a robot heart, even if it did end up killing me.

I sold everything that I owned, but it was nowhere near enough. Who knew risky medical procedures could be so expensive? My parents were fans of the safer option, of waiting for a transplant heart. Once they realised how determined I was, they borrowed what they could. My friends had a fundraiser. We pooled all our money together. We had just enough.

We weren’t guaranteed that I would survive. The doctors were good at mitigating risks and hopes and fears – percentage success versus percentage failure. The success rate for the heart was not great. People’s bodies didn’t respond well to the artificial hearts, but it might give me some extra time.

The morning of the operation, I felt numb. I had cried all the night before, my family by my side. I figured I would get enough rest during the operation. I said goodbye to my family, and then I went to sleep.

When I woke up, I felt different. The pains in my chest had gone away, sure, but there was also a feeling of emptiness in my chest. When I touched my skin, I still felt the same on the outside. But by touching the skin of my chest, I could almost feel the metal workings inside. Imagine touching metal, but touching metal inside yourself. I could almost pin point the exact moment that my flesh stopped and the metal began. The doctors were amazed, and continued to be surprised the longer the heart continued to work. There was little to no rejection by my body. My mind had been craving this, not a temporary solution nor waiting around to be helped. This was perfect for me.

Having a machine in the middle of your chest, pumping your blood around your body, was a weird sensation but soon I became used to it. I liked it. I could go for a run again, I could do exercise. I was the healthiest I had ever felt, even before my diagnosis. My heart was perfect, efficient and clean. After a particularly vigorous workout, I would be sweating profusely but my heart beat hardly raised.  I was tested and prodded, sent to conferences around the world. My heart helped to further the science of cybernetic transplants, helped to make the transplants more successful.

I suppose it was only a matter of time before they offered me more.

Next was a robotic liver, a design from China that had just been finished and tested on animals. It had the ability to speed up or slow down the body’s purification of the blood. If you wanted to stay drunk, you could slow it down. Needed to drive home? You could get it to cleanse your body so you’d be sober in 20 minutes. Let’s just say I found those little tidbits out doing my own tests. The doctors wouldn’t have enjoyed hearing that their precious cyborg guinea pig was getting drunk.

Soon most of my internal organs were replaced. There was a small problem with the robotic lungs. I’m told that one inflated faster than the other, and started pressing on my other organs. I had to be kept in a medically induced coma whilst my faulty lung sat outside of my body. They were eventually replaced with a newer, safer model and I was able to be woken up.

Travelling to the medical conferences around the world was how I eventually met Dörte. She wasn’t part of the conferences, had nothing to do with the doctors or robotists. She was an artist, who came out to see me in a shopping centre appearance in Sweden. Her eyes lit up with happiness the first time she met me. She shook my hand but asked if there was any robotic part that she could touch. I told her that nothing on the outside was replaced, but I leant back my head and asked her to place her hand on my neck. She could feel the pulsing of the cables underneath my skin, the metallic oesophagus. She squealed in joy. Soon we were hanging out whenever I was in Europe and could find the time to visit her, and when I was halfway across the world, we would talk online. We chatted every single day, and it never felt like a chore. She told me that men with robotic parts, something that was becoming more popular in those days, fascinated her. She never thought that her fascination would lead her to fall in love with one, and yes, by then we were in love. She had no desire to have any of her parts replaced, and with her being in her late 20’s, that was a conversation that could wait a few more years. I myself was technically pushing 50 years old, and still felt like a 20 year old.

Once the internal organs were replaced, it seemed strange not to start on the outside parts. My efficient internal organs kept the outsides looking great for a man my age, but the slow decay of age was still slipping in, visible to me. The legs, the chest, the hips, the sex organ, all followed shortly after. The head did take some convincing, but when I saw the lines on the old man’s face against the youthful beauty of Dörte, I made my decision. My brain was removed from the human skull and placed in a metal container shaped eerily like my old head. Dörte could sit there for hours, stroking the skin like material stretched over my metal skeleton.

My final operation was my hands. I was mostly worried that I wouldn’t be able to feel Dörte’s skin, that our connection would be severed. The hand operation was the last one I would have for 70 years. Just a flesh brain in a robotic body. Filled with sadness.

_____________________________

Doctor Strave sat across from me in his office.

“Jesiah, you understand that you have lived longer than any person has. You have lived an impossibly long life.”

“Yes, I understand. But these headaches are getting worse.”

“Where there is still flesh, it can still deteriorate. I’m sorry, but your brain matter is deteriorating, which is resulting in your headaches and memory loss. The human body was never designed to last this long.”

“How long do I have left?” It seems like a lifetime ago since I last asked that question, back when my heart was on the verge of packing up.

“I’m afraid I can’t say. We have made huge leaps in the field of cybernetics, but we have never experienced the life cycle of a cyborg going through brain death.”

“I’m glad I could be your guinea pig.” A silence filled the room. My scanners analysed the doctor. I could tell there was something he wanted to tell me. Could there be another option? “I guess that’s it then.”

“Well, I did want to talk to you about something.” The doctor almost jumped at the opportunity top tell me about the new process. Almost the exact same conversation, separated by 100 years. The first about my heart, and how I could have it replaced with a mechanical version. Now we’re discussing my brain. A super computer processor in between my robotic listening devices.

“They’ve done tests on small to medium sized animals. They’re ready to do a trial on a human. Sorry, a cyborg. They’ll encase your brain in a thin sheen of nano tech. It will initially help to repair the brain functions, to make your mind work better than it ever could on its own. But it will also start to copy and replace your brain matter. Every night, when you charge, you pain receptors will be switched off, and the nano tech will do its thing. Eventually you will be left with a complete duplicate of your brain, but etched out in nano particles. A brain that can never die.”

“Would I still technically be me, if my brain is replaced?”

“You will still be the same person. If you’re asking from a moral point of view, I’m afraid you’ll need to speak to a philosopher.”

“I need some time to think about this.”

“Of course. Feel free to schedule an appointment any time you want to talk more about this. We don’t expect a quick answer, however time is of the essence. The sooner the transfer is to take place, the more of your mind and memories will be retained.”

They say my humanity is determined by my mind, my memories. If that’s the case, then I might be ready to have them wiped away for medical research. I’ve experienced so many wonderful things during my lifetime, but none of them have erased the horror I have seen. That I myself have caused.

I remember the last time I ever saw her. The last time I saw Dörte. She was so beautiful, standing there, looking up at me.

“Do you like what I’ve become?” I asked, and the voice that came out was a robotic version of my natural voice. She nodded coquettishly. I still remember that look. She turned her face from me and blushed. Her neck exposed. Her skin, so soft and beautiful. I brought my hand, my brand new hand, up to touch her. Very carefully. I could feel the power coursing through my cables but I wanted to be soft. I ran my fingers down her neck. She exhaled in pleasure as the cold metal touched her skin.

They say it wasn’t my fault. They say that I was still getting used to the settings on my new body parts. Because of me, they now keep outpatients in physio for longer, before they’re put back into society. Before they can see their loved ones. Before they can hurt their loved ones.

Before they can accidentally kill their loved ones with a simple touch of their fingers against the soft, supple neck. A vulnerable part of the human body.

I heard a quick snap, and her blood splashed against my fingers. The synthetic micro nerves felt its hot stickiness. She looked up at me in shock, her gorgeous lips open in confusion. Apparently I was so strong that I hadn’t felt any resistance from her skin, without thinking about it, my fingers sliced straight through her. I severed her spinal cord and she started to fall to the ground. I reached out and grabbed her up to hold her up, but I mangled just above the elbow and she fell to the floor screaming in pain, crying desperately. Her eyes never left mine, even as I sat beside her. I sent a distress call to emergency services wirelessly but I stayed by her side. I think even as the blood ran from her body, she understood. I still blame myself, but I think she understood.

I met Beth through a support group for cyborgs. She is the only one I’ve told about this, even though I already know her views on the subject. She is completely against having the brain replaced. Everything else about her is pure machine, but she retains that when her mind starts to go, she’s going to reach in and crush it to death herself. Beth lives in a city floating in the clouds. She was born there, and only travels to the planet below, where I live, to have her procedures. We sometimes bicker about which is better, but we’ve been friends since just after her first replacement organ.

“Beth, I’m ready for the final procedure.”

I could feel the feeling of alarm coming from her. I was now able to hold my emotions, so she couldn’t feel what I felt in that moment. “Jesiah, don’t you worry that when nothing of the original person remains, you’ll become less human? That you’ll forget Dörte?” Beth was one of only a handful of living people who knew about Dörte. I thought about her all the time, but was less forthcoming to discuss what had happened.

I feel the nano tech in my head pressing against the brain still left up there. My supposed last piece of ‘humanity’. I’m not just ready for the final procedure. I’ve already had it done.

“That’s alright. I’ve already had her transferred over to my new memory banks. The good times, not the final moments. I won’t forget her. I’ll know her off by heart.”

THE END

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