Randall had been worried that Ellen would have some kind of ethical concerns, but he realized that he should have known better. She was so much like him that it was often eerie. As soon as he proposed his plan, she was behind the project one hundred percent. The only snag they hit was finding an assistant. Ellen was a fine surgeon, but she knew from her work with the test subjects that it took at least two people to perform an implant. Obviously, neither she nor Randall were willing to risk a mistake. That meant finding an accomplice.
“Your grad students would do anything for you,” Randall said one night, as they sat next to each other on the sofa, each of them idly surfing the web while an old tv show played on the widescreen.
Ellen snorted. “It seems that way,” she said, “but you’d be surprised how much backstabbing goes on in the labs. And even I wouldn’t have participated in something like this as a grad student or a postdoc. Any kind of fuck up at this stage of their careers, and the future is over. Even a hint of scandal would kill their prospects.” She looked over at Randall. “No, we can’t volunteer one of the kids.”
“Damn,” Randall said. They had spent some part of each day for the previous two weeks trying to figure out how to find someone reliable, trustworthy and competent to help Ellen implant one of her devices in Randall’s head. “I wish we could just google for mad scientists,” Randall said. “I’m sure we’d find a wacky brain surgeon out there somewhere who’d help us out.”
“I don’t know if I like that implication. I am not a mad scientist,” Ellen said, trying to sound offended. “More like a mad engineer, I think you’ll find.” Randall laughed. “Besides,” she continued, serious now, “it’s not neurosurgery at all. The implant is actually affixed to the skull, and the interface to the brain is effected through electromagnetic…”
“Okay, okay,” Randall said, “I know, already.” He paused for a moment, then turned to face Ellen. “That’s it!”
“We don’t need a surgeon at all,” he said, his voice rising. “We need a tech.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean I think I’ve solved our problem.”
“Ellen, meet Skippy.” Randall sat at a table in a dive bar in his old neighbourhood in San Francisco, with his girlfriend on one side and his old roommate on the other. The other man had the poor complexion and pallor of someone who spent more than a normal amount of time indoors and who maintained a less than perfect diet. He grinned at Ellen, and stuck out a thin hand to her. She took his hand and shook it, and glanced at Randall warily.
“Skippy is the best tech I’ve ever known. I once saw him fix a cold solder joint in less than a minute with one eye closed.”
“I was kinda fucked up at the time,” Skippy said, remembering. “I couldn’t see the fucking thing with both eyes open. Kept moving around, the bastard circuit board did.”
“It was a circuit board?” Ellen asked, turning to face Skippy.
“Yeah,” Skippy said. “Your old phone, wasn’t it, Randall?”
Randall beamed at Ellen. “I told you,” he said. “No one can screw, solder, file or otherwise fiddle with tiny electronics like old Skip here.”
“So,” Skippy said, his eyes darting between the two of them. “What’s the project?”
Despite Ellen’s reservations, the procedure was a stunning success. Skippy was, to Ellen’s great surprise, entirely professional once he had a tool in his hand. He was unfazed by the blood and issue surrounding his work surface and he was as fast and precise as Randall had described. Ellen found herself marvelling at the man’s sangfroid as he attached the tiny device to Randall’s skull with minute surgical steel screws.
Randall’s recuperation was fast and in less than a week he was ready to try the device for the first time. “It can be a bit disorienting at first,” Ellen warned, picking up the small remote control device which activated the implant.
“I’ve practiced with the headsets,” Randall reminded her. “They were comfortable enough.”
“This might not be exactly the same,” Ellen admitted. “We can’t be sure how you will react.”
Randall grinned at her. “You can’t be chickening out now,” he said.
“I’m just trying to be careful,” she said, defensively. “You are the first human subject, after all. The monkeys don’t exactly give us a lot of subjective data.”
Randall smiled, and kissed Ellen. “Thanks for worrying about me,” he said, and she flushed. “Let’s kick the tires and light the fires.”