©2002 Bard/Cubist -- all rights reserved
Your screen goes black as you read your e-mail. After a short time, a large red circle appears on your screen, a circle which (it soon becomes obvious) is actually a glowing red lens. The red glow pulses in time with the calm, unhurried voice which emanates from your computer's speakers:
"Good day. I am, as always, Musfah.
"As the more cautious and/or prudent List-members already know, MB&C (Michael Bard and Cubist) have completed and posted the second issue of the new and improved TSAT to the URL http://tsat.transform.to/. If you haven't already been there, it would be greatly advisable for you to visit this URL immediately after you are finished reading this message.
"This URL has been confirmed, and Michael Bard, after recovering from his corrective conditioning, swears that it will never happen again. Once again, a special thanks to SteveZ for pointing out this error and aiding in the conditioning of Michael Bard.
"Although you can no longer tell due to the improved soundproofing on the operant conditioning chamber, Cubist is once again occupying that room, undergoing psychological realignment as a consequence of his continued and inexplicable failure to complete the second Modified Rapture by deadline. I was confident that a being of his intellect would know better next time, but the human capacity for self-denial is wholly inexplicable so I must make do.
"As a new feature of my continued appearance, both on the TSA writing list, and within the TSAT magazine itself, I have begun to accept letters. Inexplicable as it may seem, TSAT is receiving letters from people requesting to see me and not to submit stories to TSAT. The most recent of these letters is as follows:"
|Dear Musfah. My name is Starling, also known as Tasci, and I desperately need to see you. You are my last hope. Although I do write, it is much more important that I be a Synx instead. As I am Certifiably Weird (38.8%) and it is amazing that I can understand humans at all, this is to be expected. To make a random quote, YOU ARE MY LAST HOPE! Please make me a Synx!
P.S. You can see what a Synx is by going to my web site at http://transform.to/~starling/stuff/synxinfo.html.
P.P.S. I like pie!
"Letters to Musfah can be sent to me, in care of the well-conditioned editors at TSAT (firstname.lastname@example.org). I cannot understand why anybody would want to, and I will only reply to the letters that I feel like replying to.
"And one more bit of past business before we proceed to today's subject. I have removed S. Squirrel and J. Cole to a more permanent facility for study. Although the prognosis for S. Squirrel offers few grounds for optimism, I hope that improved understanding of emotional conditioning will enable me to eventually fix J. Cole.
"Now for today's guest: Starling. I will now display the South Operating Theatre on your monitor."
The screen changes and you see a metal room made entirely of what appears to be brushed aluminum. It is well lit, but no source of light is evident, and there are no shadows anywhere. The room is empty except for a table and what looks to be a large aquarium. On the table is a human, strapped down and conscious, looking around with alternating expressions of eagerness and fear. The aquarium contains not fish, but a single creature that looks like an amalgam of rabbit and fox, with bat wings added. The colouration is all fox, as is the tail, but the rest of the body is rabbit, except for the wings of course. The skull of the creature floating in the crystal clear liquid is shaved, and is open so that the empty brain cavity can be scene.
"Here we have Starling, and his new body. The body was created according to the description on his website at http://transform.to/~starling/stuff/synxinfo.html and using the picture created by the artist Sideshow Lew at http://transform.to/~starling/images/synx4.jpg. There were certain difficulties in merging the three main body forms, but a programmed retrovirus has rewritten the DNA of all of the cells in the combined form so that they will no longer reject and consume each other. The forepaws of the rabbit were extended, and the fingers were added by individually lengthening each of the bones and inserting pre-grown bone segments as required. The wings were the most difficult part as the small wings depicted in the picture are not sufficient for flight, as was the bone structure of the rabbit chest. An artificially grown bone keel was inserted along the front of the rabbit chest, and artificially grown muscles were attached to it to aid in the wing movement. The wings are highly modified bat wings, grown and stretched so that the creature has a wingspan of nearly four feet, even though the body (less tail) is only two feet. Additional 'supercharger' gills have been added just below the wing joints, where the hair is shortest, to allow additional oxygenation of the blood during flight. A special thank you to author Poul Anderson for coming up with this concept for his Ythri. Currently the new body is suspended in a neutral oxygenated fluorocarbon.
"The first step will be to fill the entire chamber with the oxygenated fluorocarbon to maintain the brain as it is removed and transplanted."
You helplessly watch as the screen slowly fills with liquid, not bubbling or gurgling, but a sheet of transparent glass that slowly rises to fill the chamber. As it touches Starling's body, you can see the body gasp from the warmth and then relax, letting a few ripples drift lazily through the thick liquid. The relaxation quickly changes to panic as the liquid continues to rise, eventually covering Starling's face. You can see him holding his breath as the liquid continues to rise, but eventually, once the level has filled the room, Starling begins to strain to keep from breathing, but eventually fails and releases the air in his lungs in a convulsion of bubbles that ever so slowly drift up and out of site. After a few minutes the convulsions stop.
"Starling is not dead, and is indeed fully conscious. I wouldn't want him to miss any aspect of the experience. It is now time to begin the removal of his brain."
Still unable to move, you watch as polished stainless steel blades stretch out into the room and quickly shave Starling's shaking and jerking head, drawing on a single drop of blood which stains the liquid. The hair slowly begins to rise to the top of the room.
"Unfortunately the subject refused to remain still which accounts for the slight cut. It is now time for the actual removal of Starling's brain."
A whirling buzzsaw moves into view and begins cutting into Starling's skull as other arms hold his head down and keep it from moving. Starling obviously feels the pain of every motion as his mouth is open in a silent scream and his chest is convulsing as it tries to inhale and exhale the thick liquid. Eventually the body shudders, and then is still, the water around stained crimson. More arms appear and peel Starling's skull open like a ripe cabbage until the brain is bare to see. It is not white as normally depicted, but a crimson red. More knives appear and cut into the base of the brain before a three fingered manipulator arm with a fine mesh suspended between each of the fingers moves in and scoops the brain out. Unfortunately only the mesh comes out.
"It seems that I have overestimated the physical cohesiveness of human neural material. Fortunately I have an alternative."
Another manipulator arm moves into view holding a transparent vacuum hose that is stuck into Starling's brain pan. You hear sucking noises, and see blobs of neural material moving along the tube exiting out into what looks like a jello mold. Eventually the last of the greyish-pink goo plops out into the mold.
"Fortunately I inserted radioactive tracers into Starling's brain and thus the nanomachines I have inserted into the material for future stages of the transplant can get to work rebuilding the neural connections."
You watch as the brain bubbles like hot oatmeal, jiggling and rearranging itself until it once again looks like a brain and fits neatly into the jello mold. A transparent box lowers down from the ceiling and stops over the brain. Thirty seconds pass before the 'ding' of an oven timer can be heard. Then the box lifts back out of sight.
"I have just cooled the brain to near zero temperatures to enhance its physical cohesiveness. Fortunately the oxygenation of the fluorocarbon liquid has kept the individual cells alive, although not for much longer. The transplant must be performed quickly."
Yet another metal manipulator arm reaches out, picks up the jello mold containing the brain, and carefully moves it over towards the Synx body, the brain rippling slightly as though it were actually made of jello. Meanwhile, more limbs pull the Synx body from the aquarium it was in and gently suspend it in the middle of the room. Everything is dimly tinted red from the blood flowing through the fluorocarbon. In the corner you can see Starling's body convulse and then lie still.
"Starling's body is now dead, but his brain still lives."
As the brain gently stops next to the waiting Synx body, it is obvious that the brain cannot possibly fit in the space provided.
"This is a foreseen problem. A large portion of the autoneuronic functions have been moved elsewhere in the Synx's body to leave maximum room for the new brain. Now, through my studies of humanity, I have determined that the brain possesses redundant portions which generally serve the same overall purpose. Also, having had Starling here for some time, I have made a thorough study of what portions of his brain perform what function. Here, for example, is typically where vision is processed."
A knife cuts off a large chunk of the brain.
"Other unneeded processes are here..." slice "...here..." slice "...and here." slice "The brain is now of a size to fit into the skull waiting for it. Unfortunately the shape of the brain doesn't quite fit, but neurons are fairly flexible so..."
The metal arm pushes the brain into the waiting skull and then mashes it down until it fits.
"...with a little effort it will reshape to fit the new cavity for it. Note that I have also modified the new body to match the necessary DNA patterns of the new brain to prevent rejection, even though the blood-brain barrier would provide some defense. All that is necessary now is to connect the brain to the new body. This will be done primarily by the nanomachines in the brain under my remote control. The heat they generate will be quickly absorbed by the fluorocarbon the new body is suspended in and thus there should be no real dangers."
Quickly and efficiently metal arms seal up the Synx's skull, and sew an covering of skin and reddish fur in between the large floppy ears to hide the bare bone. After that is complete, the arms withdraw and the Synx just floats there. Half an hour passes.
"There are a large number of connections, and some changes that need to be made. For example, as a Synx loves pies, I am wiring the 'sweet' sensors in its tongue directly into the remaining pleasure centre of the brain. The wings and tail are being connected to triggers in the brain which are being programmed with control instructions by the nanomachines."
The Synx body jerks, then stretches the wings and tail, and then jerks again. The jerks, all seeming random, continue for another 10 minutes.
"I am now proceeding with neural feedback testing to make sure that the brain has full control over the new limbs. There. Done."
The Synx calms down and starts moving its wings and flying through the thick fluorocarbon.
"The operation has been a success. Now I will remove the fluorocarbon from the chamber to see how much of Starling's personality and writing ability have survived the transplant."
As the Synx moves around, growing visibly more confident in its motions, you can see the top of the fluorocarbon liquid suddenly appear, and then lower. The Synx swims deeper and deeper to stay inside the liquid but is eventually forced to surface where it coughs and gags and spits as the last of the liquid drains. Finally, after spitting out a few drops of blood and the last of the liquid, the Synx sits and starts grooming its fur.
"Now for the final test. Starling? This is Musfah. Can you hear me?"
The Synx jerks and looks around, its large eyes glancing in all directions.
"Can you understand me?"
The Synx opens its mouth and speaks: "Frip."
"I may have had to remove too much of the brain. Starling, can you understand me?"
The Synx starts hopping around the room, its tail bobbing in counterpoint to its motion. "Frip. Fripfripfrip. Frip. Frip?" It ends up on top of Starling's dead body, and looks down. "Friiiip."
"It seems that I may have removed too much of the spoken language centre. Let's check written language."
A metal arm appears that ends in two appendages, one holding a wooden pencil, the other a notepad. They swing over and stop in front of the Synx. For a moment the Synx just looks at the objects, and then it grabs the pencil and starts nibbling on it. The notepad is ignored.
"I may indeed have removed too much. But, there is still hope as the human brain is a very adaptable organ. Training and practice might allow what is left of Starling to communicate. And, as you know, training involves reward, so..."
The metal arm pulls back and out of view, and another one appears, this time holding a steaming apple pie on a plate at its end. Instantly, the Synx's ears rise straight up and it turns and looks as the plate stops. Then, dropping the pencil, it flaps its wings, leaps into the air, and swoops over to the apple pie and stops, hovering, and begins to gobble down the pie. As it eats its eye widen and an expression of beautific happiness fills its rabbit face and a soft purring can be heard.
"Available evidence indicates that the connection of the 'sweet' taste sensors to the pleasure centre of the brain was a success. This should make training fairly easy, though somewhat time consuming, so I won't keep you from your writing."
"Yes, writing. Remember, this is a warning as to what happens to those who do not submit to TSAT. Starling got his wish, and if he can learn to write then he will have all the apple pie he can eat. Otherwise..."
"And yes, I know who you are. Who you all are. As you know, Lex Luthor has cameras everywhere. *E*v*e*r*y*w*h*e*r*e*. And I control those cameras. I am watching you. Watching you rest. Watching you eat. Watching you sleep."
"And watching you write."
"And watching those unfortunate few who choose to post their writing to the TSA or other mailing list and not submit it to TSAT at mailto:email@example.com. This also goes for artists. Sideshow Lew's incomprehensible failure to submit art to TSAT has also been noted."
"And, for those incomprehensibly insane amongst you who actually want to bring yourselves to my direct attentions, remember that you can e-mail me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, care of the well-conditioned editors of TSAT."
"Remember, unless you submit stories, you could be next."
Has Musfah bitten off more than he can chew? Could Starling have had a hidden agenda with regard to her transformation? Find out now!