My Short Sci-Fi Story – “Strawberry”

I recently saw a competition to write a short story as part of the SciFi London 2017 Event and although I’m not a writer I thought I’d have a go at it. They received 418 entries, including mine, but alas I didn’t get short listed. Therefore I’m putting my story up here so that others can have a read. The competition set the entrants a title to use, a phrase that had to be incorporated into their story and a maximum word count of 2000 words. Additionally they suggested an optional theme.

I really enjoyed this challenge – spending the Saturday thinking through ideas and Sunday writing the story.

 

STRAWBERRY

A short story for the Sci-Fi London 2017 48-Hour Flash Fiction Competition

by Rodders

10th April 2017

Required Dialogue:

I love waking up to the sound of hammering on pipes, but doesn’t anyone ?

Optional Theme:

3D printed human body parts are possible – muscle, veins, bone. They don’t HAVE to be ‘conventional’

Day One

The man lying unconscious in the hospital bed had obviously undergone surgery to his head – the left side of his head was shaved and a neat line of stitches was visible under a clear dressing. Apart from a multitude of high tech medical equipment around the head of the bed there was also a large gathering of medical staff; approximately twelve in total.

One of the medical staff pushed a syringe like device against the patient’s neck; the plunger delivered its payload.

As the patient’s eyes opened he looked startled by his surroundings and those faces starring back at him. To the medical staff it was not an uncommon look, especially for those who had worked in Accident and Emergency Departments.

The patient tried to speak but his dry throat only gave a quiet rasp and obviously caused him discomfort. He swallowed to try and wet it before trying again as a whisper. “What is going on?” he asked, frowning and shaking his head slightly.

A doctor with rounded gold rimmed glasses leant forward in a caring way. “Steve, you are safe and well at the Great Theo Hospital in London. You’ve had quite a trip with us although you probably don’t remember much. Just try and relax.”

The doctor looked to his peers who gave reassuring smiles or nods.

“Have I been in an accident? I remember podding to work” Steve said. [People travelled in autonomous pods and the verb podding now replaced the verb driving].

“Steve”. The Doctor said placing his hand on the patients shoulder in a reassuring way, “That was three years ago. You’ve been with us since then. You’ve been quite the friend to all of us with your daily conversations and good humour. Tending the patients’ garden and quite the exemplar at Cooking Club I’ve been told !”.

Steve’s frown returned deeper as he didn’t comprehend what he was being told.

“Three years? Garden? Cooking Club? I don’t remember any of that.” And after a slight pause he added angrily “You’ve lying”.

The Doctor looked to a lady stood nearby who was wearing a smart grey suit. She discretely nodded her head twice.

The Doctor pulled up a chair to Steve’s bedside. “Steve, this is the absolute truth over what happened”.

“I’m Doctor Scott Wylie and am the Senior Neuro-Surgeon here at Great Theo’s. You were in a freak podding accident three years ago…..”

Dr Wylie went on to explain that Steve’s Hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for storing short-term memories, was badly damaged in the podding accident and that since then he couldn’t recall daily events. Everything prior to the accident was stored in the Cortex area of Steve’s brain and worked as normal. As shown, Steve’s old gardening skills and cooking skills could be recalled and utilised. He enjoyed seeing his close friend and family on visits. But the saddest thing was that Steve would not recall those conversations the next day.

The Doctor digressed slightly in his efforts to brief Steve on his missing years. He mentioned all the good work that had been undertaken around the globe by research centres of excellence to address various medical conditions. Indeed whist people in the early 21st Century used 3D printers to make plastic items, mechanisms, repair items, novelty food items and finally metallic items including electronics this technology had swiftly moved on. Steve acknowledged he knew that as, before the accident, he liked to read about such advancements in many of the scientific journals and social media feeds. However, whilst the medical research institutes wanted to use such technologies to solve issues afflicting the general population they were always lured by the promise of large funding grants offered by massive consumer corporations.

Initially there were basic 3D printed inorganic body parts such as replacement bone parts that were printed with designs that promoted native body tissues to graft better or custom printed sections for skull repairs.

But it didn’t take long before the work of 3D printed inorganic parts and stem cell research crossed. At this point some research teams started to focus on improving body parts. Matrixes of donor stem cells being 3D printed with selected inorganic impurities to make biological hybrid materials, called Bio-Hybrid-Elements or just BHE. Early research limited these to lab petri dishes and subsequent dissection and analysis. The commercial companies started to push and very soon a range of products started to appear using variations of these BHE parts. Clinical trials started in many hospitals – mainly focussing on repairing damage to body parts caused by trauma or invasive cancer surgery. All these BHE parts had several things in common – they needed time to be grown, they were not rejected by the patient and they were improved over the natural host’s body part.

The range of applications of BHE to organ transplant and reconstructive surgery was vast. Joints that were stronger than bone but which also absorbed more shock, lungs that coped with increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, heart valves that could sustain 200+ beats per minute for hours, an artificial liver that broke down environmental pollutants to harmless waste products; to name a few. These BHE replacements relied on one other thing – the damaged part had to be removed prior to replacement. For this reason the brain was one area that still didn’t have BHE parts available.

Work carried out back in the early 21st century by the Riken-MIT Centre for Neural Circuit Generics, and published in Science Magazine on 7th April 2017, shed new light on brain functionality. Specifically how the mechanisms of the Hippocampus and Cortex work in order to give humans short and long term memory. However, the excellent work of Riken-MIT in understanding these mechanisms was subsequently utilised by other corporations in their desire to make money.

Steve was the first person to undergo a Hippocampus replacement – it had been grown during his time at the hospital and he had just been brought around post- surgery. His new Hippocampus wasn’t just a cloned biological part it was a BHE part.

The enhancements available using BHE were not necessary to help Steve but something the research funders has insisted on – after all if it worked on Steve they would make a huge profit from rich people wanting the same. That was because the BHE part contained electronics at a molecular level; homogenous to the cell structure.  The circuitry would iteratively cycle sensory information from the Hippocampus to the longer term Cortex: People had known for a long time that they could remember things better if they went over them a few times; revising for an exam, looking at items on a tray. But people don’t always have time to think something through long enough to get that really good long term memory as other stimuli often come along first. The item then sits in the short term memory and then eventually fades. Steve’s new BHE Hippocampus did the iterative cycling of information to the Cortex automatically. A photographic memory if you like.

Read it, taste it, see it, hear it or touch it….every sensory input would be cycled into the long term memory bank and could be vividly recalled instantly.

Regarding the suited lady: She was the marketing manager for the company that had provided enormous amounts of research funding….and she was eager to see a return.

Day Two

Doctor Wylie walked into the private ward room along with the group of medical staff. Steve looked up from his breakfast tray. “Morning Doctor Wylie.” he said. “Was all that stuff you told me about yesterday actually true or have I just had a horrible dream?”

A small smile grew across the Doctor’s face. “No it was all true” he said. The Doctor was already pleased as he could already see that Steve’s Hippocampus was at least working as it should in a normal person. Over the next days he planned to evaluate how much better it was.

“And my family and friends? Can I see them today ? Have they changed?” Steve spurted out anxiously.

“They are coming in today. We’ll give you plenty of private time …to fill in those missing years…and they are all well and healthy” the Doctor added successively.

“First though we have some tests to run, just to check you are OK and all our work was correct. Do you mind if we do some tests Steve?” asked the Doctor. “My colleagues will just talk to you. Nothing painful I promise.” he added with a reassuring friendly smile.

“OK. And I’ll see my family today. Later today?” he asked.

“Absolutely” replied the Doctor. “They are coming in at 2pm”

 A man in a red polo shirt introduced himself as Mike. Mike was the senior psychologist and cognitive specialist at Great Theo’s. Mike spoke calmly to Steve. “Steve. You’ve already done really well without knowing it. You have recalled all the events from yesterday which is fantastic news”.

Mike went on to say “Today we have some random sentences than we’d like you to read out aloud. Just the once. The sentences seem quite odd but we’ve written them specifically. They are to test if you can recall specific points” Mike then produced an electronic tablet. “Just say next when you are done” he added handing Steve the tablet.

Steve looked at the screen for a few seconds and then said “Strawberries and Blackberries sound like they should go together, but in reality don’t.” He glanced at Mike with a look that acknowledged the randomness of the sentence. “Next”.

After a few seconds Steve spoke again “I love waking up to the sound of hammering on pipes, but doesn’t anyone ?” he paused again “Next”.

“I felt the warm wind in my face, as would an eagle soaring over a hot Nevada plain. Next”

“The cool Autumnal day carried the unmistakable smell of freshly cut grass intermixed with a faint sweet burning smell from a distant bonfire. Next”

And so the next few hours carried on with random sentences crafted by the psychologist to evaluate their new work.

After a morning slog Steve got a well-deserved period of rest, some lunch and, as promised, his long ‘lost’ family visit from 2pm onwards.

Day Three

Steve was a radiant person after his family reunion, if a little overwhelmed still. The medical team walked in shortly after he had finished breakfast. The tests and evaluation continued at a steady but relaxed pace and focused on testing Steve’s ability to store other sensory triggers such as smells, sights and feelings. Trays of mixed items were brought in and he was asked to memorize them. Boxes were brought into the room into which artificial smells had been sprayed. Steve was asked what he thought they were.

Steve’s progress brought smiles all around the team including Steve. The suited lady was more reserved but a gentle nodding of her head at each success revealed her true satisfaction.

Day Four

At 07:12 the medical-emergency alarm sounded in the post-surgical ward summoning all available staff to help; it had been set off by the duty nurse.

Doctor Wylie entered Steve’s ward room to find him over by the open window, curtains billowing in the wind. Steve was holding a plastic water pitcher in his hand and was slamming it repeatedly against the pipes of the heating system.

“Steve” the Doctor said with a questioning intonation, “What are you doing?”

“I….I don’t know” Steve stuttered in reply. “I thought you might like the sound, just like I do” he added, deadly serious.

Mike, the psychologist, moved around past Doctor Wylie. “Why not sit down and wait for your breakfast?”

“I’ve never liked the combination of Strawberry and Blackberry.” Steve shouted back.

The strange word combination sent a shiver through Mike as he instantly recognized they were part of day two evaluation. “Steve? What are you thinking about right now?” he asked calmly.

“Did you know I can fly” Steve replied chillingly.