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Gift of the Gruldak, Chapter 7: Heartless
Be Sure To Read Chapters One Through Six First! All Available Chapters are Linked Here
- Introduction, Linked Table of Contents, and Chapter One of Gruldak
Do you like robots, aliens, monsters, and misfits? Why not read the first installment of Gruldak? This serialized science fiction novel about what it means to be a person is free to read online.
Find out what strange new twists the copy of Angel Capricorn Wang brings to Kevin's and Guido's lives in chapter seven of Gift of the Gruldak.
Chapter Seven, Heartless
Later that night, I awoke to a blood-curding scream. Guido brought the lights up at exactly the same moment my eyes opened.
I sprung out of bed, racing toward the awful sound. Guido was yelling, "Kevin! Kevin! Help!"
The scream burst out again and kept on going. I charged through into the space between apartments and saw a naked man on the fake grass. He was clutching his head and occasionally shrieking.
I could not process this while the strongest fear I'd felt since waking up inside Guido burnt brightly down my spine.
"Grandpa!" I screamed, my voice blending with Guido's as she blared out, "Kevin!"
Grandpa cut off his screaming instantly, gulping in air and trembling. He looked up at me and sobbed, "My heart! My heart!"
I hadn't seen terror and pain like that in anyone's' eyes since I was twelve. Suffocating in his frightened young eyes, the pull of gravity brought me squatting beside him. His need like magnetism, my arm sprung around him and started the two of us rocking like parts in a broken clock. As he slowly calmed I brought our rocking to a stop and moved a few inches away from him, still touching his shoulder.
"We're really dead, you know," he muttered.
"We're alive. We're copies but we are alive," I said, taking his hand in mine and pressing it against my chest, where he could feel my heart pounding. He frowned in familiar irritation, then made a small wounded noise and pulled away, terror returning to his eyes.
"I don't understand," he said, looking down at his own trembling hands before snatching up one of mine and pressing it to his bare front.
It made no sense, his skin was warm albeit somewhat clammy but I could feel nothing but his shaking. I pressed my ear against his chest as he held my head to it like he was clutching a teddy bear.
There was no familiar lub-dub noise. None. And my ears were a lot better than the ones I'd been born with. He was totally still aside from his shivering but I only heard some random gut gurgles.
Then it occurred to me that my ears were a lot better than the ones Kevin Wang had been born with.
"What did you do?"
"I didn't do anything, our new companion went to bed and I turned down the lights and the ambient noise level."
"I started meditating," the young man said dully, "and once I was relaxed..."
"You couldn't hear or feel your own heartbeat," I finished for him as he trailed off.
"Guido, what did you do? Why doesn't Grandpa have a heartbeat?"
"Remember how you asked how long you would last?"
Suddenly it dawned on me, Guido would never purposely make a friend with a close expiration date.
"Guido, don't be afraid. Why doesn't he have a heartbeat?"
"I didn't want him to die!"
"Die? I was gonna die?" he asked.
"In a few thousand years," I interjected before Guido could say anything else.
"Yes," Guido said, "I couldn't bear to create another short-lived companion."
"So, I'm more efficient?"
Guido cried out, "I didn't know it would hurt you!"
He wiped his eyes and nose, looking around for somewhere to rub off the mess. He said, "Other than feeling like I've been fellating steak knives, everything feels fine."
Guido gasped, "What does that mean?"
"His throat is sore," I replied.
"His throat hurts."
Perversely, I felt a surge of pleasure realizing I knew something about him that she didn't. Then I froze, pondering why it pleased me so much.
We had a long discussion about making changes to people without asking permission. Guido promised not to rearrange anyone else's circulatory system or anything else without getting approval from the person in question first. She seemed sincerely contrite.
"Guido, what did you do? Why doesn't grandpa have a heartbeat?"— Kevin Wang II
After that single night of interrupted sleep, my grandfather’s duplicate adjusted much better and more quickly than I had. That was unsurprising, as he had me there to explain things and Guido had already learned how to speak English. Getting some memories of memories rearranged in his head by our housing probably helped, too.
It turns out I, or actually Kevin Prime, the original, had died fewer than nine years after the Gruldak had sampled my patterns. It also turns out they used a sample of Grandpa taken almost forty-five years later. While medicine had progressed beyond the point it had been at when I got sampled in 2054, at pushing a hundred and thirty years old, the maximum human lifespan was still only a few years more than that for people born in the 20th century.
While he missed his remembered family he was thankful to be young and strong again with his whole life ahead of him. He relished his pain-free, powerful body. That’s not to say he didn’t see the downsides of our situation but he was even more optimistic about our ability to make the roaring best of things than I remembered the original to be. He was also actually much wiser.
The one change I didn’t like was the look of weary, hardened, beaten sadness he’d get sometimes at first. But he’d glance at one of the mirrored “windows” or I’d catch him just watching me as I puttered about doing nothing and that look would be washed away by transforming joy.
Within days, I stopped seeing that scarred look at all. His sense of wonder became almost unending. That is, until explained to him about the transporters.
“Holy crap, Kevin, why did you wait so damned long!” he yelled, standing on the grass between the rows of tiny plants the rapidly reproducing purple robots had just planted.
“It didn’t come up,” I said, realizing it was possibly the lamest excuse in the known and possibly in the unknown universe.
“Holy... Geez... It didn’t come up?”
“Ah, mmm, no.”
“Let me get this straight. Literally millions of people are dying every year on earth and you didn’t think I ought to know?”
“I figured Guido’d told you,” I bleated.
“Kevin, people need to know this now, if not sooner than now.”
So we had a sit-down with Guido at her primary communication organ, the one in my dining room table and figured out what to do about it.
“We need to make communicating to earth people our very first priority,” Grandpa said.
“I agree,” printed Guido at the same time I said, “Of course.”
I asked, “But the question is how can we communicate?”
“Of course it’s not. It’s obvious how we can communicate.”
“Spell it out for me old man,” I grumbled.
“We get the Gruldak to work on creating an interface we can use to put data into earth computers.”
“That makes sense but how are they going to communicate if the Gruldak don’t understand English?”
“The Gruldak don’t need to understand English, you goofball. We know English and we can compose and send the message. All the Gruldak have to do is figure out how to program a partition of several of their micro computers’ ‘brains’ so they can send a signal in binary to another device via radio waves or heck, even by a cable.”
“But how can the Gruldak explain?”
“We can explain,” said Guido, “We can tell earth that transporters blast their customers to death and replace them.”
“That’s putting it bluntly,” I replied.
“I believe between you and dear Guido you can work out the math that would convince a physicist. So all we need to do is hook up the recorder and send an audio/video/text message to some scientists.”
The Gruldak quickly worked out how to run a simulated binary partition on the matrices of data nano bots so they could communicate with earth-style computers. Guido and I worked on making the audio and video recording equipment so we could have a message ready to send as soon as the Gruldak had the binary emulator program ready.
You wouldn’t believe some of the things I worked with to achieve a functioning video camera with a microphone. Guido actually grew most of the parts somewhere inside her. It was an odd feeling watching a person changing air wave vibrations into electrical signals but I think it may have been weirder that Guido “birthed” a microphone cover from the “fridge.” She can apparently sort elements that she’s taken in from the soil and concentrate them in the combination, density, and shape she desires. After she directed the gardening robots to bring her ores from the surrounding planet we soon had a functional supply of just about any building material we could want.
We could also program a plant to produce a specific item such as a cog or a multipurpose substance. We grew a heat resistant polymer that can be shaped at room temperature for the first 72 hours after picking it from the plant. Guido could do all of that but there was no reason to put her to all that work. Besides, it allowed us to produce clone-stock or seed-stock for future generations and Guido could occupy herself with more important activities. Anyway, she needed to stick to the all-important task of message making.
We forgot about the small difficulty of programming language; the difficulty being that none of us knew it. We could emulate a binary programmed computer but we didn’t know earth binary much less programming language.
We figured out what to say to humanity about the transporters, together. We’d hit a wall so I finally gave up and went outside to try to clear my mind and possibly unwind it a little. If we couldn’t digitize our message and do so in the correct language, we couldn’t talk to earth machines.
I walked outside to clear my mind and to maybe unwind it a little.
We forgot about the small difficulty of programming language; the difficulty being that none of us knew it. We could emulate a binary programmed computer but we didn’t know earth binary much less programming language.— Kevin Wang II
The man I’d been calling Grandpa somehow always managed to find time to work in his garden.
As eager as he’d been to start doing something about the transporters, he knew when he was done providing useful assistance and when he’d descended to meaningless, unproductive worrying. I really wish I could master that.
“What delights you today, Grandpa?” I asked, seeing him smiling down at a tiny green sprout, one of tens of thousands coming up in neat but not straight rows of rich topsoil.
“My garden is growing, boy.”
“I can see that. What’s so special about that?”
“I made these plants.”
“Didn’t you just stick seeds into the ground after the bots created some topsoil for you?”
“I didn’t even do that, and these plants didn’t come from seed. I linked with Guido and we designed these and half a dozen other varieties.”
I grinned back at him and said, “That is amazing. But shouldn’t we be working on other things?”
“What’s better than this? We’ve done all we can about the transporters for now.”
“Well, for one thing, we’re supposed to be choosing people to recreate here.”
“Oh, that. Well, I’m thinking about it. Meanwhile, I’ve designed some plants that will help make a bunch of places habitable a lot sooner.”
“I guess there’s no hurry, really. But so much happened since I... uh...”
“Since Kevin died?”
“I guess you could call it that. I just know that a lot more brilliant people were born or came up with things afterwards and I don’t know anything about any of them.”
“True, but we’ve got years and years and my memory doesn’t fade anymore so I won’t lose anything.”
"I thought it would help us to choose citizens.”
“How is that?”
“Don’t we want the best and the brightest to carry on humanity if something happens to the old Milky Way?”
“But have you thought about what they want?”
“Humanity? I don’t think humanity knows what it wants beyond survival, Grandpa.”
“Not humanity, Kevin, but the individual humans you’ll be bringing here. Not everyone would be happy to be here. If we brought anyone who’d be unhappy about being here, I’d feel like a kidnapper.”
“It’s not kidnapping, it’s duplication,” I said, flashing back to earlier conversations with Guido.
“It sure felt like it to you, didn’t it?”
“But that was before I knew the score.”
"You mean before you found out you died?"
“Yeah, we could choose anybody who is already dead, right?”
“It isn’t that simple. Did you know you were dead? Did you feel dead?”
“No,” I said, starting to roll my eyes a little. I really did feel like a teen again. The details were different from the first go but the gist of things felt the same. Even the same kind of person took the time to lecture me.
“Neither will they. We can't make human beings whose subjective experience tells them they've been ripped from their lives and loved ones with absolutely no hope of ever returning to them.”
“But we could duplicate their loved ones, too,” I said, already realizing it was a stupid thing to say just before I hit the second ‘o’ in too.
“For a lot of people, that wouldn’t be enough and a lot of loved ones may not have been sampled.”
“I didn’t have anyone and I came out OK,” I said, sounding a little defensive, even to myself.
“You only had your grandfather to begin with. Your job wasn’t exciting; you had no close friends since your last move. Besides, Guido put me together and you found out you died pretty damned quickly after you were sampled. And the Gruldak were shooting blind when they made you. They accidentally made a great choice but that’s beside the point.”
“Kev, I’ve been thinking that maybe you could call me something else. I mean, Kevin Wang’s grandfather died a long time ago.”
“But we have their memories.”
“And we’re both a couple of teenagers in a biosphere so far from Earth we won’t be able to put numbers on it until we download a mathematician.”
Guido broke in from a speech organ she'd extended on a thick, vine-like tentacle toward the fields, “I hope I’m not intruding but I think I can make this clearer.”
I said, “By all means,” and Angel nodded, squatting on the grass path near his little plants.
Guido went on, “Cap, I mean the person you feel is your grandfather and who has the correct genes to have that relationship as well, is, in both psychological and physical reality, not the man you remember growing up with. Nor are you the same boy he remembers caring for.”
“But it’s the same!”
“Only the feelings are the same, Kevin, and I doubt the feelings will change. I think Cap just feels strange acting as if nothing has changed.”
“But the feelings are all that matter!”
The young man put in, “They are. I love you very much, but you aren’t the boy I remember. You aren’t the boy I watched die. You aren’t the father of my great-grandchildren.”
“I’m as close as there is!”
“Yes. That’s just it; you’re Kevin’s identical twin. You’re his identical twin who happened to have been born just a short time before me, your twin’s grandfather’s identical twin.”
“It’s more than that. You have all of his thoughts and memories and dreams and sorrows,” I said.
“I do, and that’s the heart of it. In my memories and in my reality I really lost your brother. The loss is no less real because you exist. You can’t ever, ever replace a person.”
“But then my grandfather is truly dead, too, isn’t he?” I asked, sitting down in the strip of grass beside him.
“The man you remember as your grandfather is dead and he’s just as dead as your twin.”
“You know, even though I’m alive and he’s not, I wish I had those nine years of memories I’m missing.”
Guido chimed in, “You mean you wish you could have met your brother before he died?”
“I hadn’t thought of it that way.”
“Obviously not, you had too many other things on your mind. But I’m grieving the recent loss of a brother, a grand-daughter-in-law and three wonderful great-grandchildren. Just because the identical twin of my brother’s grandson still lives it doesn't fix it, the relationship is different.”
“So I’m your grandnephew?”
“Labels aren’t important, Kevin. Let’s just say I can’t feel like I’m honoring the memories of all of them if I just go on as if nothing had happened. Besides, it’s weird as Hell being sixteen and getting called grandpa.”
"Why didn’t you just say that?”
“Because it’s only the icing on that cake and I want my... I want you to get to know me so the relationship we have can be as good as the one my brother and yours once shared even if it will be very different.”
“You know, Gran... What do you want me to call you anyway? Angel?”
“How about Cap, short for Capricorn, like Guido does? My brother’s best friends used to call him that.”
“But I thought... Never mind. Anyway, I was going to say that the more we talk, the more I realize you are a different person.”
“And the more we talk, the more I realize how much you are like your brother.”
“Gr... Cap, does this mean I should change my name, too?”
“Nah, kid, that would be only for my convenience. You’ve thought of yourself as Kevin Wang all this time since getting here. I can just pretend my parents and yours were terribly unoriginal when it came to naming their kids. You know there was this one celebrity who did that, named all his kids the same? I can’t remember what he was, not an actor. A sports personality or something, I think.”
“What’s up with that? I thought you said your memories don’t fade?”
“They don’t now, boy. I wasn’t much into watching sports and it was a long time before your brother’s grandpa died. George. That was it, George Workman or something. He was a boxer. Had a bunch of kids named George.”
“OK, so if I’m not your grandson, why don’t you call me Kevin instead of boy and kid?”
“You got me there. Anyway you earned the name Wang.”
“You remember surviving fourth grade with it, don’t you?”
“Well, yeah, but it’s just a memory.”
“You still have to live with the memory of having the last name of Wang through your dick and fart joke years.”
Even age and time and getting run through a biochemically correct 3d Xerox machine with creative ideas about human anatomy who happened to be my best friend hadn't made him any less of a wise old man. It drove me funking bonkers.
Continue Reading Gift of the Gruldak with Chapter Eight, Building Bridges Isn't Easy
- Gift of the Gruldak, Serial Installment #8
Join Kevin, Cap, and Guido as they struggle with computers that can't talk to each other. Meet the alien robot army invading earth to save humanity from itself. Learn about the dangers of cleanliness.
© 2014 Kylyssa Shay