Part 1: Chapter 2
There was a horrible, painful smell, and my head jerked back. The scarred man looked into my eyes, and tossed something small behind him. "Quite an impressive burst of activity for a fat infidel. Shaitan clearly lent you strength, but Allah is on our side. Shaitan will always betray you."
I was tied to the chair, facing the camera. My head hurt badly. "Why?" I asked.
"Your work is profane. Machines are not meant to think. If machines had been made to think, they would have blood and souls."
I tried to say something, and was slapped, hard by the scarred man. I tasted copper in my mouth.
"This is not a debate. You asked why. I have told you why. You will be allowed thirty seconds to say goodbye to your family, and then I will behead you."
Turning away from me, the scarred man pressed a button on the camera before walking briskly around my chair to speak from a position behind me. "This servant of Shaitan, Doctor Neil Smith, will die today as a warning to other infidels who seek to foul the work of Allah. Recording the mind of man into a machine is profane and will not be allowed. However, Allah is merciful, and we will also be merciful. In our mercy, we will allow the sinner to say goodbye to his wife and child. They, while not of the true faith, have not directly offended Allah, and might yet be saved."
I struggled violently in the chair, to no result. As I shook my body, the man behind the chair simply held the chair. I didn't have enough leverage, and was tied too well.
"Die with dignity, at least, infidel." The scarred man chastised me. "Don't waste the time that we are graciously giving you to say goodbye to your family." His tone changed. "Unless, of course, you don't care enough about your wife and child to wish to say goodbye to them. If that's the case, just say so and I'll kill you now."
The words struck me like hammer blows. These were strong, fit, armed young men. I was tied in place, helpless and unarmed. I had no chance of escape at this point. I stopped struggling, and looked up at the camera for several seconds, trying to make my voice work.
After several seconds, I managed to start speaking. "Jen, I love you. I wish I had been a better husband. There were times when I wondered how you could deal to stay with me. If I didn't work late every night, we wouldn't be having this conversation. You were right about so many things." Wetness streamed down my face, and I coughed. My voice was strained, but I forced myself to remain calm enough to be understandable. "Sarah, you are the best daughter ever. I love you more than life itself. There's something very important I want you to do for me right now. Let your mother cover your eyes. I do not want you to see what comes next."
I would not let these men see me become a blubbering mess, and tried to force myself to anger. Raising my chin, I hissed "Do it, you disgusting excuse for a human being."
There was a sound of metal on leather, and I closed my eyes. Something cold was pressed against my throat.
One of the three young men abruptly said something that I didn't understand, and the coldness left my throat. A moment later, I opened my eyes. There was a sensation of something wet sliding down my neck. Either the knife was absurdly sharp and I was bleeding from a cut I hadn't felt, or my tears were dripping down my neck. The scarred man's cut had clearly been delayed.
All four of the men in the room started speaking rapidly. One of the young men was clearly in opposition to the other three, and eventually left the room, and another man entered.
"Abdul has had a rather good idea. Your research papers and presentations indicate that you have stored a dog's mind in a computer, and that a human mind would be many times more complex, far beyond what any computers could handle."
I simply stared at the scarred man, unable to understand why he was suddenly interested in our research. Something liquid slid down my neck. I couldn't even imagine a response, and doubted my ability to say anything, so I stayed silent.
The scarred man moved so I could see him, and he could see my face. "We are not what you would call Luddites. Only those technologies that infringe upon the prerogatives of Allah must call a believer to action. Your technology is cruder than what is necessary to accomplish the work you have indicated that you wish to do." He smiled a hard smile, showing strong, white teeth and waved towards one of the young men.
"Abdul believes that we might make quite an impact on people who think like you by using your recording machine, to force your mind into a computer that you, yourself, said could barely handle a dog's mind. Infidels are weak. We know that you will agree to this, even though your own research states it will fail catastrophically."
I hiccupped. "You want me to subject myself to-" I hiccuped again.
The scarred man nodded. "Yes. You will still die, but will leave behind a stunted, broken version of yourself, no smarter than a dog. We will kill you when you are attached to the machine, so you will remember your death. If we are fortunate, the mental remnants will frighten infidels like you, and stop this mad research."
What they wanted was not safe. I opened my mouth to respond again, but hiccupped instead. Suddenly, there was an explosion next to my right ear.
I screamed and bounced to the side, knocking over the chair and striking my head on the carpet, hard. As I looked up, dazed, I saw a young man with his hands still together where he had clapped loudly just behind my ear. "If that didn't cure the hiccups, I can try to scare you worse."
My heart was beating so hard, I could feel it in my head, and so quickly that I couldn't count the beats reliably when I tried to do something to calm myself. I needed to be calm. It wasn't safe, but this was time they were giving me. Time for someone to save my bacon. I counted to three, slowly, in my head and nodded. "I'll do it."
The scarred man knelt by me and smiled, holding the knife in front of my face. "You have one hour."
"That's not enough time!" I complained. "It took us six hours to record Penny."
The smile chilled me to the bone. "Then we get a poorer recording of you. We don't want a good recording of you, remember?"
I stared up at him and could only blink.
"We aren't offering you a way to survive here, infidel. We are offering you a more horrible way to die. You accept it, because infidels always grab any way to stay alive longer, hoping that chance will save them, because Allah certainly will not. Without the certainty of the faithful, death is something you fear." He sliced the ropes off my arms, legs, and torso, allowing me to stand. "Get up. Lead us to where the recording facilities are."
I staggered to my feet on pins-and-needle legs, and forced myself to the recording studio, ignoring the men around me. I had one hour I could possibly count on. An hour wasn't enough, but a lot of what we did in Penny's six hour recording was verifying data, many times. The code was also suboptimal, because of all the test code buried in it, but I wrote clean code. I could disable all the testing code, reduce the data verification level, and dramatically improve the recording time.
As I entered the room, I quickly moved to the control desk, shuffling things rapidly around in a pretend panic, making certain that an extremely important document on the desk was turned upside down before the scarred man, or the other three, could see it. They did not need to see that image of our next test subject, and the planned date of next week.
I sat down and rapidly activated the control programs, disabled the test code, and reduced the data verification to a single pass. Read once, verify once.
Then I ran my fingers through my hair and stared at the table, and the electrode harness hanging over it. I pulled my hands out of my hair like I'd been shocked, and stared at them. Then I put them back in my hair again. Hair. I needed to be bald for the procedure.
I was going to die, because of hair. We didn't have anything to cut hair at the facility, the next subject we had expected no longer had hair due to chemotherapy. Even for Penny, we had shaved her skull in a different room, and that equipment had been brought in by a veterinarian.
"I can't do it." I whispered.
"Second thoughts? Giving up? You want to die now? Afraid of your own abomination?" The scarred man's voice, with a slight trace of humor.
"None of those things!" I snapped as I looked at him. "I have hair. The brain emissions have to be taken through the skin on the scalp directly. We have no shaving equipment here that I know of."
The scarred man's voice shifted from humor to deadly seriousness as he stood from where he had been crouched over the camera. "We'll just continue where we left off then." He gestured to the three young men standing around me, who grabbed me and pulled both me and the chair I was sitting in back away from the control desk.
As I was being tied in place, a young man entered the room and spoke briefly, to the whole room, and then left.
As he approached me with his knife, the scarred man spoke. "The police are here. They are rather upset about the dead body of your guard, but are willing to negotiate for the lives of you and the two janitors. Of course, they can't have your life."
Again, the camera was started, and the scarred man stood behind me. "You've already spoken your goodbyes to your wife and child, so we'll just skip to the next part."
The knife once again pressed itself against my neck, a cold line. It was held there, motionless, for several seconds.
I couldn't move. The line of death on my neck was something I couldn't escape. I closed my eyes, then raised my neck a little. Fighting this would only make the cut less clean. "Get it over with. I'm not begging." My bravery wasn't enough to keep my bladder from releasing. Fortunately there wasn't much there.
"Make sure you don't move." The scarred man's voice whispered behind me, barely audible. "I wouldn't want to accidentally cut you."
The knife moved, dragging lightly across my skin. All four men in the room laughed. I stared in shock at the tufts of beard hair rolling off my stomach and falling to the floor.
Several minutes later, I was well enough shaved to attach electrodes to the skin on my skull. There had been several 'mistakes', but the bleeding had been stopped with the help of a first aid kit one of the man was carrying.
The regular rasp of stone on metal had been going on for several minutes as I attached electrodes to my skull. The scarred man looked up at me from where he was sharpening his long knife. "I've never shaved a man on camera before. Perhaps I have a future as a barber?" His lips twitched up in a parody of a smile as he stared at me with empty, cold black eyes.
"It's possible." I said as I sat in the prepared seat. "Barber is only a few letters away from Barbarian."
The scarred man's smile vanished, and he held up his hand as the three younger men started to move. "No. Not yet. Let him make his broken record first."
I was tied in place again, very firmly, and the electrode harness duct taped to my head.
"We wouldn't want you to lose the experience of dying from the recording, if you choose to struggle." Explained the scarred man, with a smile. "The audience needs to be impressed with your final moments."
I said nothing. I didn't want to say anything. The four men in the room expected the procedure to need many hours to complete, based on the white paper they had read, which was nearly two years old. They would continue to allow the machines to record my mind until they were attacked, or for one hour from the time it was activated. Then they would kill me.
I was an old fat man, surrounded by strong fit killers. I was immobilized. Either law enforcement would save me, or I would die. The only thing I could do was hope that a procedure untested on humans, stripped of most of its redundancy tests, would save something of me worth saving.
When the gunshots started, the scarred man reached across the space between us, his arm moving like a rattlesnake. The blade was so sharp that I barely felt it. As the world went dark, the last thing I remember clearly is the scarred man saying "Stop the jamming and start transmitting the data."
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