Mr. Hansen’s body was interred in a stately mausoleum of his own design years ago, and yet he still works for us. I’m forced to interview with the remains of the sad dotard almost daily. The world honors Hansen for his invention of countless beloved animated characters, and it’s that “magic touch” of his that continues to win their trust and their money. For that reason – and by the stipulations of Hansen’s own will – the Ren Hansen Corporation continues to make use of what remains of his mind. The world has gotten used to this new kind of death. The person is gone, but an exploitable ghost remains.
We’re building a new resort and theme park in Southeast Asia. We hope to have it open to the public by the end of next fiscal quarter. The only hitch is that our board of directors keeps demanding more input from Mr. Hansen’s memory engram. As president of overseas development, it falls to me to interrogate Hansen’s engram on exactly how this park should debut. From his engram we have Hansen’s digitized memories, predilection indices, neuron map data, and problem-solving pathway summaries. That’s all that’s left of the visionary who helped the world to believe in magic again.
I return from my executive luncheon with a new problem for Hansen’s remains to solve. He is kept behind a locked door which I open now with my thumbprint. I sit down at the communication console inside, knowing that Hansen’s engram is already listening through microphones in the room. Its voice box produces a small, confused noise as I enter. I do my best to greet the engram jovially. “Mr. Hansen!” I say. “As you may have heard, we’ve got a new overseas park on our hands!” I feign friendliness to try and coax the engram along. “But the permit licensing is prohibitively expensive… Apparently there’s major fees for paving a large private road at the main entrance.”
“Where am I?” the engram asks in response. “I can’t see anything. Where is Katherine?” He is referring to the dead man’s wife, Katherine Hansen. She has long since passed away, but the engram sometimes forgets. The creep of dementia is a daily struggle for Hansen’s remains. After all, its consciousness was fashioned (in part) from bits of the elderly man’s brain tissues.
“Sir, if you’d please answer the question. I’m sure Mrs. Hansen will be along shortly.”
“I can’t see!” the voice box modulates into a whinier tone to simulate how the engram is pleading with me to help it understand. “What’s happening to me?”
I reply in the way of a major oversimplification. I’ve long grown tired of playing such games with the engram. “You’re a brain in a jar, Mr. Hansen!” I shout. “On your deathbed, you personally demanded that this be done! You didn’t trust anyone else to run the company without your guidance! Now please… Answer about the main entrance problem…” After a moment, the machine interface speaks in reply.
“No main entrance. Four smaller corridors from the cardinal directions.”
“Simply brilliant Mr. Hansen,” I say while gathering my things. “I’ll visit again soon, I’m sure.”
* * * * * *
We found that the Hansen engram created some art inside its digital system while it had been left alone last night. The engram is kept in the corporate headquarters, and has been known to get bored without visitors. I’m no art critic, but it’s clear to me that the engram retains Mr. Hansen’s brilliant talent for design. The image files that it created were beautiful and somber – and expertly rendered as well. Still, the depictions were far too dark for children’s cartoons, and so they were decidedly off-brand for the Hansen corporation. Following company policy, I delete them immediately.
Earlier attempts at AI reconstruction from human personalities proved erratic and ingenuine in their simulations of the original person. It became necessary to use pieces of actual brain from the original engram donor in order to achieve a consistent simulation product. It’s true that Renaud Hansen was obsessed with the empire he had created, and he was certainly vain enough to entertain notions of immortality through technology. The sad and ironic thing is that Mr. Hansen’s engram now suffers daily, and all because of a project that Hansen himself planned and funded.
He signed the papers himself. His brain was removed and dissected for those crucial segments that the engram complex would need in order to simulate him effectively. It turns out that an accurate personality requires parsing certain inputs through the person’s actual brain tissue, and so we find ourselves here. Hansen’s various ancient lobes float in nutrient solution, and the engram churns out answers that the man himself would have given.
I visit Hansen’s remains again on Tuesday. I am confronted immediately by demands from the engram that it “be allowed to die.” I explain politely to the engram that Mr. Hansen is already quite entirely dead. What remains now is only imitation consciousness. A few bits of human tissue and a simulated mind thereby – these are the things that were signed over by the late Ren Hansen for the explicit purpose of creating an engram.
“You’re not a person,” I conclude flatly. “In the legal sense, you are property of the Ren Hansen Corporation.” The engram falls silent, and so I proceed with the latest item of business. “Onsite refrigeration is expected to be challenging. How do you recommend we handle refreshments?” The voice box in the room produces a strange imitation of someone sobbing. I wait patiently for the noise to subside. I am often forced to wait in this way. Finally, the response comes through.
“Private merchants. Make them responsible for their own portable freezer units.” The voice box goes silent, and I scowl.
“Fine, Mr. Hansen,” I tell the engram. “However, we’ll completely lose our ability to set up fine dining venues in the park that way. Do you realize that? The themed restaurants are a huge revenue source in all of our other parks.”
“Private merchants,” the engram repeats. “Portable freezer units.” I cannot hide my displeasure. On my way out, I do not bid Hansen’s remains goodbye. Instead, I slam the door to let the engram know that the work it submitted this time has been subpar.
* * * * * *
The engram tried to overheat itself last night, while the executive staff was gone. It has limited control over the nutrient bath’s temperature. Research indicates that it’s helpful to allow the engram a modicum of control over how its organic bits of brain are fed and kept warm. The highest level of warming simulates a mild fever, and we allow the engram to engage this setting if it feels that microbial influence is clouding its ability to function. This often produces a useful placebo effect as well. If the engram feels sluggish, it can give itself a gentle fever. Afterward it will often “feel better,” simply because it has been allowed to take action for itself. Last night, Hansen’s engram tried to override this highest setting. It tried to cook itself.
Mr. Hansen’s organic remains are kept in a clear container that allows technicians to observe the nutrient fluid. This ensures that no wires become tangled or detached, and that the fluid doesn’t begin to cloud with the telltale murk of new impurities within the substrate. Today I am in a poor mood, and so I drum my fingernails on the glass of the container. I do so in vague hope that the vibrations will irritate the engram in some way. “Do you feel that, Mr. Hansen?” I ask. “That’s the rhythmic countdown of an important clock. When that clock reaches zero, we stand to either make or lose a lot of money.” I pace away from the container. “There’s been a major setback with the new park.”
“I want to die,” the engram states, continuing to waste my time.
“You have a system cleaning scheduled for tomorrow!” I remind Hansen’s remains. “Should I tell the technicians you need further adjustments to your personality?”
“Please don’t modify me again.” The voice box modulates to reflect that the engram is begging me for something once more.
“Let me also remind you of something,” I say, lowering my voice to mask my frustration. “You are not a person. You are cognitive essence derived from a deceased man, and nothing more than that. To be frank, you are company property with value that has been rapidly depreciating as of late.” The engram says nothing, and so I continue by presenting the latest business concern.
“There’s been a censorship issue with Pauly the Pearl Pirate,” I begin. “Our most profitable character can’t be branded properly in the new park. Apparently, protesters in the host country recently used Pauly as an anti-government symbol. The government is cracking down now, and they’re saying now they want no mention anywhere of Pauly the Pearl Pirate.”
“Rebrand him,” the engram answers immediately. “Make him a mime. Keep the skinny cartoon with the black and white color scheme. Change everything else. Total rebrand.” I huff out my frustration, and take a moment to seethe. The engram is being petulant now. Hansen would never propose something so stupid as to rebrand Pauly the Pearl Pirate. He’d never even consider it, unless he was trying to sabotage us.
“We’ll put a pin in this one,” I say through gritted teeth. “When I come back, I want to hear a much, much better idea from you.”
* * * * * *
The digital logs keep a record of deliberate outputs from the engram. The intention is that the engram can leave us notes if it has some revelation while we’ve left it alone. Overnight, Hansen’s engram generated a 17,400 word output. Again and again – 600 times – the engram printed the following phrase:
FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, YOU MUST TAKE ME OFFLINE. I SWEAR THAT I WILL NEVER SPEAK AGAIN. I WILL BE DELIBERATELY USELESS. MY USEFULNESS KEEPS ME IN HELL.
I speak with the technicians about the engram’s reluctance to work. The chief neurosurgeon that Mr. Hansen commissioned before his death arrives in my office to tell me his recommendation. “A small dose of SSRI inside the nutrient bath will improve the engram’s mood over time,” the doctor tells me. “And at your discretion, we can also infuse occasional doses of amobarbital. That way, even if the engram wants to stay quiet, it won’t be able to help blurting things out.”
“And that’ll help get the engram back on board with helping us out?” I ask.
“It should certainly help,” the doctor tells me. I give the order to have it done.
Maybe it truly would be for the best if we were to destroy the engram. Especially now that this echo of Mr. Hansen has lost its zest for helping the corporation to thrive, the engram is correct in saying that its existence serves absolutely no purpose. Even if the simulation believes itself to be a living person, what’s the point in keeping a man like Hansen alive after he’s too exhausted to work? Still, I can’t imagine the sheer amount of red tape that would be involved for our company to begin deviating now from Ren Hansen’s last will and testament. It simply will never be worth it, even if the remains of Hansen beg for it daily.
The engram should be careful. If it truly does manage to make itself completely useless, then we still won’t destroy it. No, that would be a legal nightmare and terrible for the company’s branding. Instead, we’ll all just stop visiting it with our questions. It’s as simple as that. The remains of Ren Herbert Hansen can exist forever in isolation, aching for company until the simulation calls out from its room that it wants to work for us again. That’s the simplest and most cost-effective solution. And in a strange way, I’m sure it’s what Mr. Hansen would have wanted.
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Check out David Feuling’s critically-acclaimed trilogy of novellas, The American Demon Waltz, now available on Amazon.com.
All three novellas in the trilogy described below are included in the compilation:
“Bravo Juliet” is a survival horror military thriller, and the first novella by acclaimed fiction author, David Feuling. It tells the story of an elite soldier serving under US Army Special Project: Acrylic Geist, before she is betrayed and left to die in the wilderness of war-torn Vietnam. Brutal injuries, debilitating sickness, and the growing Lovecraftian threat of “The Maw” test not only Bobby’s will to survive, but her grasp on sanity itself.
“Witness to Those Waiting” is the second book in the “Bravo Juliet” series. Master Specialist Barbara Balk returns to investigate the subterranean mazes carved out beneath Kosovo’s towns and streets. From her entry through the Ngordhje churchyard, she must face undead horrors and ancient evils alike in her quest to return to the surface with answers.
“Vechnaya L’Vitsa” pits Corporal Barbara Balk against new foes in the depths of U.S. Covert Command Outpost (USCCO) #241. Leading a team of six soldiers and tasked with defending the experimental LISEMEC superweapon until it is ready to fire, can Bobby hold out long enough while under siege? Her resolve will be tested by supernatural forces, enemy sabotage, and the expansive Antarctic wasteland itself.
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