"Kate's on her way up," said Dr. Nick Rivers.
"Oh great, just what I need now. Jerry again?"
"I don't know. Probably."
"She's developing too close of an attachment to that specimen. I'm thinking about destroying it - it's clouding her judgment."
"Hey, rhesuses are a dime a dozen. She'll remember that eventually."
"She'd better, Nick. Her job depends on it. I'll see you later this afternoon."
Dr. Samuel Hibbert, the CEO of Neuratech Enterprises, hung up the phone.
Neuratech made its name in 2006, when it successfully developed a nanotechnology based system to repair damaged spinal cords. The technology allowed doctors to implant a small computer at the base of the remaining healthy section of the patient's spinal cord, and then simply inject millions of nanorobots into the patient, which would assemble themselves, creating an artificial spinal cord. The implanted computer would guide these robots, telling them how to go about the reconstruction. Thanks to Neuratech, spinal cord injuries were a concern of the past.
Now the company was ready to take the next step - mind control. A brain could theoretically be controlled and modified, if they could figure out exactly which neurons in the brain did what. Neuratech was going full speed ahead researching the rhesus monkey brain, using the same nanotechnology that made Neuratech one of the largest medical forces on the planet. Once they unlocked the mysteries of the brain, the sky was the limit. As far as the press was concerned, Neuratech was going to use this technology to help people with brain damage regain certain abilities. But several high-ranking officials at the Pentagon had already given him a call, and one in particular, had given him a substantial grant. Dr. Hibbert fully intended to make good on that grant and to keep the good general posted on any potential military applications of the technology.
Dr. Kate Simpson was getting really sick of Neuratech. She joined the company as the head psychologist two years before, highly impressed by the company's incredible medical accomplishments, ready to change the world. Her grandfather had suffered a stroke when she was a child, and she had been devastated by what he had become. He could barely speak, and he needed a nurse around twenty-four hours a day. It was even more horrifying to her that he understood exactly what had happened to him. Neuratech was a company that could help him, and people like him. If only Neuratech had similar ideals.
Kate was getting increasingly concerned that her boss, Dr. Hibbert, was losing focus on the psychological aspect of the technology. He seemed to have developed a ruthless direction, going for complete control of the specimens at the expense of their psychological well-being. The point wasn't that the animals were unhappy with the procedure - they were going berserk. They would injure themselves and other animals, and attempt to injure the lab staff. They wouldn't eat or drink, and they would constantly screech, driving everyone else crazy as well. Usually, they would die unceremoniously within a day or two. But none of this seemed to bother Hibbert, because he could use the computer to make their arms move. Great.
There were a few exceptions. Three monkeys survived the procedure, were put in "control mode" (which is what the computer people called it), and still remained sane. The first was Tom-Tom, who was unfortunately killed by a different rampaging monkey (they learned their lesson after that - all "stable" monkeys were subsequently separated for observation). The second, alive and well, was Maxine, who seemed perfectly normal in all respects.
The third, and most intriguing, was Jerry. Jerry was, by monkey standards, a genius. He had escaped several times already, and was now in the equivalent of maximum security prison, a large glass enclosure with a computer controlled lock. No amount of picking would get Jerry out (he had certainly tried). He had demonstrated remarkable mathematical ability when Kate tested him, prompting her to ask even more complex problems. He solved those too. She was working full time trying to come up with better ways to determine the extent of his ability. But most disturbingly, he seemed to understand what she was saying. When she told one of the lab technicians one day that she was leaving early to go to the movies, Jerry seemed to understand and became very upset. She ended up staying with him after all.
Jerry was Kate's only reason to continue working at Neuratech, although she had to admit the pay was nice. She spent several hours every day diagnosing screeching, psychotic monkeys, trying to figure out what part of their brains were damaged during the procedure (it seemed to differ monkey to monkey). Then she would leave for Dr. Nick's team, who would run tests on each monkey, trying to see which neurons served what function. She knew that these tests were sometimes painful on their subjects, and always disorienting. Jerry in particular would always get agitated when Nick showed up, for good reason. Part of Kate's job was to make sure he didn't get more than just agitated. She felt she was an effective calming presence, and personally, she wanted to help him get through the tests as painlessly as possible. He definitely needed the help - he and Maxine got tested far more often than the other monkeys. Sometimes she had a strange feeling that he knew it.
Kate's latest discovery was that Jerry seemed to have learned to read, at least on a preschool level. She had been reading to him for months now, showing him the words as she spoke. Just last week, she had left one of the books in the cage by accident. When she came back the next day, Jerry had shown her the phrase "open door". She believed that Jerry had simply extended his association of the verbal phrase "open door" to the written representation of the phrase, since she would say the words out loud as she pointed to them on the page. But after subsequent testing, she was convinced that he had a significant vocabulary , beyond what she had read to him. For the moment, she was baffled.
She knew that Hibbert was not interested in any of this. All he cared about was what made Jerry stable. If they could figure out how to keep all of their monkeys stable after treatment, the research would go that much more smoothly. But any time Kate spent testing Jerry's intelligence was time she wasn't spending time figuring out what made him stable. She saw him stifle a groan every time she came to his office with new evidence of Jerry's genius. As far as he was concerned, if the only thing that kept Jerry stable was his unusual intelligence, than Jerry was useless - they couldn't exactly give an entrance exam to incoming test specimen.
Jerry was special, no question about that. But the extent of his intelligence would have startled even Kate. He understood, for example, in a way that few rhesus monkeys do, that he was imprisoned for the purpose of laboratory testing in a place called "Neuratech". He also understood that a "treatment" had been applied to him and was the source of his newfound intelligence. It was probably merciful that he did not know what exactly the treatment was. But he heard the constant screeching of the other monkeys as well, and wondered if he was next.
When Jerry was implanted with the nanocontroller, something unusual happened. Instead of the nanoprocessor acting independently of Jerry's brain, it integrated with it, so that Jerry could control the processor as much as the processor could control Jerry. The first day after he got his operation, he learned that if he was playing with toy blocks, moving one block at a time into a pile, the processor would immediately send a signal to his brain. When he took the block out of the pile, a different signal came to him. If he put two blocks into the pile, another signal came to him. It took Jerry a week to figure out that his brain was activating a counter as he moved the blocks. But once he learned to interpret the signals, he was able to do simple arithmetic in his head instantaneously. Then he realized that he could do not so simple arithmetic as well. He stumbled on multiplication and division when he made two piles of three blocks.
There wasn't much for Jerry to do in his cage. He could play with his blocks and look at Kate's picture books, but most of the time, he just waited for Kate to show up. Seeing Kate was the highlight of his otherwise long and painful day. When he showed her some of what he had learned, her eyes lit up. "I'm so proud of you Jerry!" she had said. Even though he was still groggy from the tests, that was the happiest moment of his life. It seemed that everytime he showed her something new, she got happier, always giving him that wonderful look. He thought that maybe if he really impressed her, she would help him escape from the cage, and they would leave that awful place together.
Eventually, he realized that he could explore how the processor worked, figuring out which instructions were used for addition, and which were used for multiplication, and so on. When he did that, he was able to test all sorts of new processor instructions in his head. Once, he stumbled on the local network traffic, and had to shut out the massive amount of information that flew into his head. That episode left him with a major headache, but also with a sense that there was much more out there than he could have imagined. In his eyes, he got a taste of what it means to be human.
"Come in, Kate."
"Hello, Sam. I have news about Jerry."
"Oh?" asked Dr. Hibbert.
"He can read, Sam. He understands what written words mean on the page."
Hibbert frowned. It would be hard to keep this under wraps for long. "Are you sure?"
"Absolutely! This is mind-blowing - we have to announce it!"
"Now one second, Kate, this is a little premature..."
"WHAT?" With great difficulty, Kate restrained herself from strangling Hibbert.
"Now let me finish! We don't know anything about Jerry, not really. He may be a unique specimen, and it may be that our procedure did this to him, but we just don't know yet, do we?"
"And even if we did do this to him, we can't reproduce it. If we have a press conference showing off Jerry, and the press asks to see some other specimens, we'll look like idiots - all the other specimens went insane, besides Maxine. And Maxine isn't too bright herself. This is an interesting fluke, but that's all. I want you to find out why Jerry is special, Kate. Why he didn't go crazy. That's all I want. And I want you to work with Maxine, too. She's an even better specimen to work with because she's perfectly normal. If Jerry was different to begin with, that doesn't really help us too much. Maxine is our best chance. Do you understand?"
"He can read, Sam! Don't you see how big this is? It's an evolution! It's unprecedented! Where's your sense of discovery?"
"First of all, calm down. I'm a businessman, not a scientist. And maybe this is a genuine evolution, and maybe even more than that, but this company is interested in control, not evolution. Now from now on, I want you to spend more time with Maxine than with Jerry, and I am going to check up on this very carefully. There's a lot riding on finding out what's right with Maxine. If we don't find out in time, we're sunk. You can save the company, Kate. I need you."
"I'm taking the rest of the day off."
Kate was seething. Now she had to make sure she didn't slam the door on her way out. She hated losing her temper, and she was within an inch of doing so. She didn't know it, but she was about to lose her temper anyway.
Dr. Rivers was in a jokey mood on the other side of the door. "Hey Kate, I have to say I agree with Dr. Hibbert on one thing - I need you, too," he said with a slight leer.
"You were eavesdropping?" On any other day, Kate simply wouldn't have believed it.
"C'mon, you're taking the rest of the day off anyway, let's get dinner."
That was it for Kate.
"Look you sleazy eavesdropping brown-noser, I'd rather have sex with Jerry than continue this conversation with you. He's probably a lot smarter, too."
"Yeah I bet you would, you freak." With that, to Kate's relief, he walked off. Nick wasn't used to being talked to that way. As for Kate, she couldn't stop shaking. She definitely needed a vacation.
Jerry did in fact know how to read, at a fourth grade level, in fact, and he was getting better all the time. It took some time, and a lot of help from his handy nanoprocessor, but he did it. Jerry, being a rhesus of above-average intelligence to begin with, was in fact making simple associations between written and spoken words as Kate was reading to him. When she wasn't there, Jerry would explore his secondary brain. One day he made a delightful discovery.
When trained, monkeys can understand simple spoken sentences. Jerry could almost follow a conversation. So when Jerry stumbled on his nanoprocessor's built-in text-to-speech program, he was able to listen to text files being read by the computer (the processor's audio output was connected directly to his temporal lobe). His processor had lots of text files, since the technicians in the lab used his "brain" to send e-mail as a joke. It isn't every day that you can send e-mail from a monkey's brain, after all. So Jerry had access to all their sent mail, which was saved locally in the processor. It would be a short time later when he realized that the e-mail program (that he could sense) was using the same set of instructions that he used to get on the network. In the meantime, Jerry was essentially listening in on the technicians' e-mail conversations. His head perked up and his heartrate increased when he heard the word "Kate", although he did not understand why the technicians would refer to her as "hot". He found her skin to be quite cool. Another word he came across a lot was "monkey". He knew that he was "the monkey", since he always heard expressions like "go feed the monkey" right before his food came. And he definitely understood "feed" for a long time.
Watching a technician actually type up the e-mails was tremendously exciting for Jerry. He could see the letter that the technician typing on the keyboard was the same letter that appeared on the screen, and at the same time, it was being read to him in his head. Jerry was basically reading the message over the technician's shoulder, associating the words on the screen with the words in his head. After about two weeks of "lessons", thanks to the technician's simplistic vocabulary, Jerry could read.
After Kate regained her composure, she felt like running home and crying in her pillow. She rarely lost her temper, and was shocked at her own behavior. After her humiliating encounter with Hibbert, Nick had just pushed her over the edge. She felt really bad about what she said to him, though, especially since she had really wanted to say it to Dr. Hibbert. As soon as she had left Neuratech headquarters, she had already made up her mind to apologize to Nick.
The next day, Kate spent the morning with Maxine instead of with Jerry. She realized that if she wanted to keep working with Jerry, and even to keep him alive, she would have to play along with Hibbert. She was too distracted to get anything accomplished anyway. Maxine seemed to be behaving a little oddly, sitting in her cage listlessly, but Kate didn't really care. Her breakthrough the day before with Jerry was all she cared about, and she couldn't wait until after lunch to see just how extensive his capabilities were.
Jerry was on the Internet. By the time he figured it out, it seemed incredibly simple, and he wondered why he hadn't figured it out sooner. When he was watching the technicians write e-mail on his nanoprocessor, he noticed that when they were finished, they would do something that activated the network module, the one that had given him such a headache. This time there was no headache, just the contents of the e-mail rushing through his brain in electronic format. He was astonished - he had just read the contents of the e-mail on the screen and as they were typing it, and here it was again, rushing onto the network through his brain. His heart raced when the word "Kate" rushed through his head. Maybe he could send Kate a message! It took him over a month of intense concentration to figure out how to get it to work, but he finally did it. The first e-mail he got back said "MAIL DELIVERY SUBS: MAIL UNDELIVERABLE". He had never been so excited. He had written "from jerry open door go out." The second time he wrote "open door Let Jerry out." He got back the same response. Forty-one responses later, he realized that he was doing something wrong. The next time, Jerry went back to read the old e-mails. He saw that one of the addresses was "email@example.com", and he figured it out. The message was going to the address, to Kate! All he had to do was change the address to match Kate's, and he could write to her!
The morning Jerry successfully sent an e-mail to Kate was the same morning that she started to work extensively with Maxine instead of Jerry. It was the longest morning of Jerry's life. After twenty minutes, Jerry was visibly anxious, if anyone cared to look. His stomach hurt and he couldn't eat anything. For the first time since being transported to Neuratech in the first place, Jerry was getting mad.
Kate decided not to check her e-mail until after she saw Jerry. She didn't expect anything important other than the usual Neuratech junk. She would have found a reminder to upgrade to the company's new expense report software, company picnic Tuesday, a notice that the library was closed from 4PM to 5PM the next Wednesday, and an e-mail from Jerry that read "Jerry loves Kate. Kate and Jerry go out of cage today."
"Hi Jerry!" Seeing Jerry always lifted her spirits. She felt like she was working with kids again, just like in the good old days before Neuratech. But when she came in, Jerry started jumping around the cage screeching. Usually Jerry greeted her with a hug, but she usually came to see him at 10AM sharp. He had sent her an e-mail, and now she had come to visit him four hours late.
Kate was shocked. She was counting on Jerry to cheer her up, not scare the hell out of her. "Jerry, what is it?" He continued to jump around the cage manically for ten minutes, until she finally succeeded in calming him down by getting out his favorite book, Curious George Goes to the Circus, and reading it to him.
After she spent about an hour working with Jerry, Nick walked in. "Hey, Kate." She didn't say anything. She felt a lot like Jerry did at that moment.
"Look," he said, "I was a jerk last night, and I want to apologize."
"No Nick, please don't. I was just under a lot of stress and I took it out on you."
"No, I insist - I hope you accept my humble apology." He bowed ceremoniously.
Kate relaxed a little. She giggled and said "Okay, okay. Cut it out. I accept."
Nick smiled. "So, how's Jerry doing? I hear he can read?"
"Yeah, it's amazing. But Hibbert won't let me pursue it. A miracle of modern science and I can't look into it professionally. Jerry deserves a whole laboratory just for him."
Jerry, who was trying to follow the conversation as best he could, perked up at the sound of Kate saying his name. He was already getting anxious that Kate was spending so much time with the bad man, a human just like her. If they were talking about him, maybe it meant that she was friends with the bad man. He found it hard to believe, but why else would she have come so late the day he sent her an e-mail? Or maybe the e-mail didn't work? Either way, it wasn't good. Jerry's stomach started hurting again.
"...really edgy and hyper today. I have no idea what got into him."
"Maybe it's because you broke your routine, and saw Maxine first?"
Jerry was also intrigued by "Maxine". He had heard the name Maxine several times before, usually with the phrase "the other monkey." At first he had thought that it was another way to refer to him, but he realized eventually that it wasn't. When he learned the word monkey from one of Kate's books, he realized that he was a kind of monkey, and that Maxine must be another kind, maybe just like him! Maybe Kate was leaving him for Maxine!
"Anyway, I'm sorry again."
"I'll see you later." Nick gave Kate a hug and a quick peck on the cheek.
Jerry went beserk. He threw anything he could get a hold of in his cage like his blocks and water bottle. They clattered harmlessly but noisily on the bars. He was screeching continously, and Kate wondered how his vocal cords could handle it. Nick yelled "I better go - good luck!" before making his exit. Kate was glad, obviously Nick was the problem. After about twenty minutes of Jerry's rage, she reluctantly made the decision to tranquilize him. This was not going away. She prayed that this was a behavioral problem, and not a result of the nano-implantation procedure, somehow delayed in Jerry. She was hopeful, since Maxine had the procedure a month before Jerry, and was still perfectly fine, but still... Anyway, she was exhausted, mentally and physically. Since Jerry was out cold anyway, she decided to go back to her office and check her e-mail.
Jerry came to about an hour later, groggy but still angry. He really did love Kate in a strange way, and she was his only hope to get out. For reasons he did not understand, and in ways he did not understand, she betrayed him, either for the human male, or the other monkey Maxine, or both. Either way, he didn't care. All he knew was that he needed to get out of Neuratech, now. While he was out, he would kill the human male and Maxine, if he could find them.
Once a week, on Fridays at 4PM, the cleaning staff would clean out Jerry's cage, with Kate present. She would unlock the door using the special computer next to the cage (and out of Jerry's reach - he was notorious for his escape attempts).