Thanks to his vascular tinnitus, Moynihan could hear his blood coursing. It would, he thought, be the last time. And the last time he'd feel his heart thumping, which it was doing in spades. From dread? Excitement? Both, he supposed. Like a bungee jumper. Yes, the ultimate jump. Down, down, down, then up forever. A phoenix from the ashes.
He had a passing regret that his wife hadn't lived long enough to share this moment.
"Are you ready?" asked Dr. Iben, hovering over him in a blue surgical mask.
Moynihan's mouth was too dry to speak, so he just nodded.
"You'll feel some discomfort until the local kicks in," the doctor said, and Moynihan nodded again. He felt vaguely insulted. They'd had extensive discussions about the process. Moynihan knew as much about the procedure as any layman could.
He wasn't one for leaving things to chance, which is why he was having the procedure now, while his mind was still in top form and his body still healthy enough to make it through.
He was all trussed up in tubes, gadgetry, and straps. They let his daughter, Edie, come to him.
"See you soon," he managed to rasp out. He squeezed her hand, which, along with the rest of her, had gotten fleshier in middle age. That still bothered him about her — that lack of self-discipline. He'd long wished for a stronger, more self-assured child.
After escorting her out of the OR, they got down to business. The straps were tightened. The initial injections into his scalp did sting, as advertised, but it wasn't long until the whole top of his head was deadened, and he heard them using a saw.
As part of the assay process, the doctor stimulated various neural clusters and asked Moynihan a series of questions.
"How about now?" asked Dr. Iben.
"I can hear my mother singing a nursery rhyme," he said. The warm, tender feeling surprised him.
"Good, good," said the doctor.
At another point, Moynihan felt a jolt of panic when he witnessed a streak of blood spray on a nurse's surgical gown. She barely flinched, though, giving him back his confidence.
As expected, things started to scramble. They couldn't fully map and digitally replicate his brain without destroying it in the process.
The doctor asked him to add five plus seven and, for the life of him, he couldn't come up with the solution. Next, he tried to recall his favorite Ayn Rand quotes, to no avail.
But it wasn't until Dr. Iben's head transformed into that of an ibis with black beady eyes that the straps were needed. Moynihan howled, and the surgeon was forced to turn up the volume of Offenbach's operetta playing in his earbuds.
The visions grew worse, with the medical equipment transmogrifying into an eyeless, mindless creature with thorn-studded tentacles latched deeply into him, rending away his life. Then his body was besieged by a black, shimmering, writhing mass of maggots. Up through the maggots erupted a terrible insect, its furry yellow-and-black thorax as long as a man's shoe, its tiny head waving with long, coppery antennae.
The bee-thing launched into the air, buzzing about the oblivious heads of the surgical team till landing heavily with segmented legs atop Moynihan's gray, still face. Unassuaged, it rose again, this time droning about the face of the technician hunched over a flower that was as wide as a pail. Inside the thick petals were long, sticky-looking stamens surrounding a blood-red pistol.
The bee-thing alighted on the flower, only to find it false and plastic. Dissatisfied, even doleful, it swung back into the air and circled once more over the heads of the people before flying through the blue walls and down a hospital hallway lit with fluorescent bulbs.
It took time to boot up the digital body unit, commonly referred to as a DBU, or deeboo. Although she was supposed to be constantly monitoring the deeboo via the display in her goggles, Nori grew bored and, instead, watched the remaining surgical staff harvest organs from what was left of the patient, Mr. Moynihan.
An icon lit up and started blinking in Nori's display. She closed the curtain that divided the operating theater into two rooms.
The deeboo, which was intended to resemble Mr. Moynihan, snapped open its eyes. Using her goggles, Nori could see a representation of what appeared in the deeboo's visual cortex. It began as a visual mess, reminding her of abstract expressionist paintings she'd seen at the MoMA in New York. She made a series of arm and hand movements to calibrate the deeboo's sensory input.
Afterward, she initiated the servos above its shoulders. The deeboo slowly swiveled its neck, absorbing more visual input. Finally, she engaged its higher functions, hoping it would start recognizing what it saw and heard. It looked at Nori, who was looking through the deeboo's eyes at herself.
"Hello, world," it said.
"Hello, Mr. Moynihan," Nori said.
The deeboo shut its eyes. Nori watched masses of code scrolling across the goggle's display like a fast, shallow river. This was the moment of truth. Sometimes identity modules suffered fatal errors at this stage.
When outlining the relative dangers of the procedure, Dr. Iben typically told his would-be patients that there was a 97% success rate. Maybe that was technically true, but Nori and her fellow techs understood it was up to them to salvage situations when things went wonky, which they so often did.
Nori gave a deep sigh when the troubleshooting software for the identity module automatically launched. She pulled out a snippet of code to examine it:
>Moynihan is Moynihan == True
>MoynihanDBU is MonihanDBU == True
>Moynihan is MoynihanDBU == True
>MoynihanDBU is Moynihan == False
She sighed, loaded what she called her "save-the-day" package, and began cobbling together a series of new functions, decorators, and metaclasses to force the compressed Moynihan files to properly recognize and align with the MoynihanDBU matrix.
She didn't know exactly how her intervention worked, only that it usually did. Her primary methodology was trial and error. She wasn't a philosopher, theologian, or even computer theorist. Just another deeboo-hacker bringing strange things to life.
She said a small prayer to the digital gods, asking them to accept her kludged-together offering, then hit the Enter key.
The deeboo finished its critical initial processing. When it opened its eyes again, it recognized Nori as the technician with whom Moynihan had conversed several times. Nori stepped on a lever that caused the operating table to incline. It could see its hands and arms, which were not Moynihan's hands and arms.
"Do you remember the protocols we discussed, Mr. Moynihan?" Nori asked.
The deeboo did remember and had two subsequent thoughts. First, it did not wish to be called Moynihan anymore. Moynihan was gone. Second, it knew it would be unwise to communicate this.
"Yes," said the deeboo, attempting a smile.
Nori asked a series of questions to be sure it was processing normally. The deeboo did not care for the interrogation, but it knew it had to answer Nori's questions correctly in order to be unstrapped. As Nori jotted notes on a tablet, the deeboo searched its memories to learn more about who Moynihan had been. It found itself surprisingly uninterested — indeed, inexplicably repelled — and decided most of those memories could eventually be compressed into seldom accessed files. Maybe they could be moved to the cloud entirely.
When Nori had gone through her checklist, she helped the deeboo to its feet and walked it around the room for a while. The next step was to let the deeboo walk unassisted. It stumbled about the room, finding its legs.
At one point, the deeboo unexpectedly yanked open the room divider, revealing the remains of Moynihan. The deeboo stared, not knowing its own thoughts but somehow reminded of a vault it wished to close and lock.
The surprised Nori apologized to the lone nurse still attending to the corpse. The nurse gave her a dour look and yanked the curtain closed again.
A little later, Dr. Iben came in to meet the deeboo, who tried to make a favorable impression, responding as it thought Moynihan might. Satisfied, the doctor walked the deeboo out into the room where Moynihan's daughter waited.
The deeboo knew this was its most important test and, though still clumsy, embraced the weeping woman. Edie, it remembered. It knew it would depend on Edie for a time and did not mind her tears or fleshiness or the slight stickiness of her perspiration. The deeboo just wanted its freedom. It suspected there would be others like it in the world. Maybe many others, all pretending. All waiting to meet and no longer pretend.
As the deeboo and Edie were preparing to leave, it inquired what would be done with Moynihan. There was an awkward moment during which the daughter reminded it that Moynihan had planned what he'd called a "Rise of the Phoenix" cremation ceremony and celebration.
The deeboo located that memory but said it had changed its mind. It now wished for Moynihan to be buried next to his deceased wife. It did not say it wanted the body buried as deeply as possible, though it did. Edie shed tears for reasons the deeboo could only speculate on.
Then the deeboo and the daughter walked away from the proud-looking doctor, following blue exit arrows drawn on the floor of the hospital hallway. As they finally approached the exit, Edie's footsteps faltered, and the deeboo sensed her growing uncertainty. But the new being was deeply drawn by the sunlight outside and hastened toward the glowing doorway.