The skin-covered lump of bones, tendons, muscle and fluids of various smells as well as consistencies lay before Doctor Michalovitch as he put his stethoscope on the area where all the books, and his decades of real life experience, said there was a heart. Despite the advances in science and devolutions in the muscle between the ears that had transpired in the last 60 years of the 21st century in the world around him, the aging but defiantly not-extinct old-fart medical dinosaur who had been practicing medicine still believed that the heart was stronger, and smarter than the mind, or brain. And, so far anyway, that intensity-conferring fluid-pumping organ still lay on the left quadrant of the chest rather than between the legs. The cardiac tissue in this patient, the one he was born with amazingly enough, was still pumping blood to organs that needed them at the rates required for ambulatory life, and then some.
But there was something it was not pumping out of Doc M’s patient’s heart, which was pointed out without hesitation by the soon to be retired 80 year old dinosaur. M, as he preferred to be addressed by his patients, had refused surgical intervention to hide any feature of his real biological age, from the rivers and canyons of wrinkles sinking deeper by the day into his sagging face, to his thinning yet still straggly white hair, to his knobby fingers which were driven to continue working as a healer at lightening speed because as well as despite of the pain they projected back to his brain when he overused them.
“Chi,” the old Physician said to his younger and far more pleasing to look at associate at Interglobal Newer York Hospital regarding the patient whose vital signs all said ‘A OK’ but whose eyes were now more than half way to that realm which still remained a mystery to all of those in the land of the ‘living’. “This man is dying because there’s no chi going through him anymore.”
“Chi, Doctor M?” asked the Resident. Though she had been in service for 20 years at that position, she had not aged a day since her first day of work as a ‘bio-maintenance’ officer. “I know what Chi is,” continued Doctor (and if she had anything to do about it, Professor) Olivia, as she was called by nurses, fellow physicians of her kind, students, patients and friends alike. She searched the data banks on the computer under her lab coat. Professor-Doc Olivia’s big, blue overly eye-lashed eyes squinted to read the print through her long, blonde bangs which framed her perfectly shaped face, which sat atop an even more perfectly shaped body, as it pertained to the aesthetics of any century, including the Dr. M lived in between his ears. “Chi is an ancient medical term describing something manifesting as electrical current, and movement of bio-magnetically elements of yet to be determined identity that directs, regulates and organizes molecules, organelles and cells to….” she read, faster than Doctor M could think as the print became smaller to her seemingly open eyes but closed mind. “…behave,” she concluded, proudly with a regulatory tone and orderly smile.
Frustrated by the sight of such beauty housing a brain that was tragically sterile, and even more frightenly, fast, Dr M grabbed hold of the computer from Olivia. “Chi directs, regulates and organizes biological tissue to become ALIVE!” M screamed back. “That’s the way me and the other old farts wrote this wikapedia page back in—-”
“—A time when medicine was crude, ineffective and technologically underdeveloped,” Doctor M, Olivia calmly reminded her superior in the manner of a superior.
“But a time when it was about people serving other people, using the fire in their belly to figure out how to outsmart and work with Mother Nature at the same time!” the old man belted out to the young resident. “When intuition, instead of logic, ruled! When we promoted life and not just studied it! When we busted a gut to not only get our patients out of their beds, but up on their feet dancing, stomping on grapes or trudging up a mountain they would fall down from again! When we opened our eyes so wide that the fire coming in set fire to the brain, and gave us Promethian answers that made us as insightful as the gods and more effectively compassionate than any Deity we worshipped, prayed to or asked favors of! Do you understand that?!” he concluded, hard earned sweat pouring down his face, and chest.
“Do you require me to as you say, to understand that?” Olivia asked, without a trace of emotion, eminating professional detachment in the manner that was consistent with her position, as well the scientific demeaner training Dr M received at a younger age, but refused to accept.
M took in a deep breath, considering how bes to reach this, his most, according to some anyway, intelligent student. The one who the hospital staff was grooming to take his place when he retired. A retirement which was now mandated by law in six months, or immediately if the authorities saw through the forged birth certificate the old doc snuck through the hospital’s data banks.
The patient, identified by number in Olivia’s chart, eminated a death rattle in his breathing. Though he was only 30 years old, he clearly was on his way to dying. Not because of failed liver, kidney, brain or distribution of chi problems, but because patient 2308YJ3 lacked Purpose. A reason to continue. Dedication to a Cause that was bigger than himself, even though it had nothing to do with reality. Reality that the world as it had become valued anyway.
The brain scan meter showed defects in the patient’s Zapponian-Westfall-Vitalitus nucleus buried deep into the right and left cerebral cortex. Clearly, it was dull out disease. That still unrecognized malfunction of the Soul Mind that makes one lifeless, procedural, simplistic, and boring. And, most of all, a disease that makes one mindlessly happy. And why not? 2308, as his friends called him, had been raised by the most obedient and state of the art servants. A robot to drive him to school, then university, where another mechanical, non-biological mentor provided answers for every test he took, in advance of them being administers. ‘2308’ didn’t have to go to work to earn a living, as he had yet another robot that went to work for him, ‘who’ brought home the money. And an additional robot at home to do the cooking, cleaning and complimenting for all he hadn’t done all day. And a robot to recreate with as a caddy on the golf course and dance with at the bar afterwards. And a synthetic fleshed female andoid to take care of all of his biological functions, ranging from wiping his ass after taking a shit to providing an outlet for ejaculated sperm. But not a robot to do the dying for him. That, ‘2308’ had to do for himself. As well as to make the final decision about how to direct his death, into the two directions which were now available as the 21st century was being streamlined into the next one.
Olivia read out standard lines one gives to a dying patient, providing all of the tactile stimulation to the appropriate places on the patient’s body that provided comfort and relieved stress, according to 2308’s profile. “Everything will be alright”. “Death is another form of Life”. “Your suffering will be over soon.”
“That is IF the treatment we have in mind doesn’t work,” Doc M interjected, pushing aside Olivia with his knarly forearm, discretely trying to make it seem like he was effortlessly slipping into place to 2308, who was now his patient, servant and master. “And if this biological treatment I have in mind doesn’t work, you will be blessed with te wondrous challenge of facing death straight on without desperation or fear. And to beat the reaper, and redeem whatever mistakes you make in life, you will become a channel for the wisdom that is only reached at the time of dying. And you can share those Insights with those of us who are still living, so humanity can keep living and be somehow…Alive, big A!” the old man who had somehow averted the messenger of physical death whispered into the ear of the 30 year old patient whose ‘natural time’ was coming to an end due to natural, or perhaps unnatural causes. Seeing that 2308 was seriously considering the proposition he had never really thought about, or been told about by anyone else, Doc M whipped out a consent form out of his pocket typed by his own hands, with official hospital letterhead of course. “And if this new medication we want to try works, or if it doesn’t and you accept the NATURAL consequences of such, we need your signature,-” he continued, placing a pen into 2308’s shaking hand, pushing the fingers around it.
“But if Doc M’s newest experiment biological treatment fails, like it did for most of the others in this clinic trial,” Olivia interjected, dancing rather than pushing her way between her medical superior and the patient they were both responsible for. “There is a less painful and more sustainable option,” she gently related to 2308 in the manner of a mortal mother with an immortal, assuring maternal smile. She snuck in a contact of 2308’s face, next to Doc M’s offering. “One in which you will be transplanted into a synthetically-fleshed body that doesn’t age. So you can live forever.”
“Without experiencing the gusto of living with an Alive soul rather than a submissive, sedate, lifeless and obedient one,” M interjected, blasting that passion-infused contention into Olivia’s baffled and condescending eyes with a mixture of pity, and terror.
2308’s bloodshot and jaundiced eyes, to the extent that they could assess and process the world in front of rather than behind them, osculated between the two documents, while. Olivia and Doc M engaged in yet another unspoken dialog between them. In a move that surprised both docs, 2308 pulled his back up from the reclining, white bed, experiencing space between that final resting place and his own still vibrant flesh-covered spine.
“He’s making progress,” Doc M said to Olivia in early 21st Century Russian, a tongue that he was sure no one in the latter part of the century understood, nor used, as that Slavic tongue had now escalated in directly acquiring of English words so that it fit more easily into the increasingly technological times. “Some temporary progress, Doctor Michalowitch, I’m afraid have to admit,” Olivia added, in an emotionally detached but, somehow, not completely uncaring tone. Doc M allowed her truthful assessment to deflate his hopes in his latest biological ‘miracle cure’, which apparently were seen by 2308.
2308 lost control of his spinal muscular, falling back with a loud, hard and painful thud onto the partially upright mattress, He then slipped over on his right side, where his view of the world was, by human intention or some kind of divine design, confined to Olivia’s contract, losing the capacity for speech, then the ability to mouth inaudible words or grunts with his lips. “An alternative to the journey that, used to be the only option for us,” she said by way of explanation. “If you agree to it that is. With a ‘yes’ nod of your head.”
After careful consideration, so it seemed anyway, 2308 shook his head ‘no’ the her proposal for transplantation into a synthetically-fleshed body, then let his chin rest into the blood and vomit stained pillow underneath him. Doc M seemed happy for, and proud of the young man who would not have the opportunity to become an old one. Olivia was concerned, then, with ultimate reluctance, continued to describe to 2308 what he would experience beyond the veil on the way to the other side of the life-death line, according to the Tibetan book of the Dead, and other texts Doc M made her read. She related a plethora of ‘how to avoid taking a left turn into hell, an off ramp into purgatory, or a detour into the wrong next lifetime’ tips from the ancient manuals in a way that was clear, and, surprisingly more emotionally engaging than M could ever do it..
At that moment, Olivia seemed very human, to both 2308 and Doc M. A technological accomplishment, as she was, biologically anyway, a robot. Yet, a lot more to Doc M, for reasons he dared not admit to himself, or anyone else. But in the meantime, while Doc M was officially her boss, there was common purpose for the not yet forced into retirement old crotchety man and his still eternally young, and beautiful, humanoid machine. ‘2308’ held on to Olivia’s hand as if it were a fellow human’s. And why not?
The pheromones released from Olivia’s nose while she continued to council and comfort 2308 mimicked smells (and apparently images) in 2308’s childhood memories, as fished out of his olfactory cerebral cortex by the latest of M’s ‘dream viewing’ machines. Then her voice changed pitch and tone according to his parental profiles, matching, apparently, 2308’s auditory memories, completing the movie in 2308’s mind he was trying to put into focus. 2308 addressed Olivia with several terms of endearment, never once addressing her as ‘maternal unit’, as was the custom and habit of children in the later part of the 21st century who wanted ‘in’ on the wonders it promised those who embraced technology.
Doc M, recalling that in times of war, most dying men yearned to see their mother rather than a life saving Doctor or a Soul-saving Avatar, watched Olivia send 2308 off into a coma, from which some patients actually did emerge, though most didn’t.
Doc M, who preferred to be merely called M, in the tradition of his favorite 20th century author, Kafka, wanted what was best for 2308 of course, doing whatever he could to ensure that the patient would make his own decision, rather than be cajoled or forced into decisions that even well meaning Doc’s thought best. Above all, for now anyway, M hoped that 2308, the once-Alive big A musician had gone into a past time, when spirits were Alive and robots had not been invented, or used. It was a universe and dream for the future that Doc M held on to as tightly as he could. Even tighter than his determination that he would find the cure for dull out disease, which was killing more humans every day, and which, if he wasn’t careful, would come back to kill him. Particularly if he taught Olivia, the robot who he hoped would maybe become humanized in some way (functionally anyway), too much, too early. She was, after all, perhaps the only hope for humanity to survive the technology that was killing it off, or its primary executioner. For reasons he dared not share with anyone else. Particularly her.
Of course, the most critical decision of all was an ancient one that preceded the invention of electricity, and some say, even the wheel. “To live a short, painful, accomplished and (so those who survive you say) glorious life or to live a long, uneventful, comfortable one.” It was a decision that Doc M, Olivia and perhaps 2308 would have to make very soon.