When they heard her laughing, they thought she might actually be hurt. It didn’t sound like real laughter. More like one of those novelty store laugh bags, mechanical laughing, maniacal laughing.
Mikiko hadn’t owned her life for the past three years, ever since the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, the one that had nearly killed her. Well, maybe it did kill her. Mikiko Jahn was dead. Who she was now was someone else.
Because she didn’t own her life, the door to her rooms wasn’t locked. Reintegration Team members Tashiro Momoru and Brigit Monroe rushed through almost side-by-side. Mikiko was in her living room, the only light coming from the television. She turned to see the pair run in and still laughing her strange, mechanical laugh, she pointed at the show being played and said. “Oh, hi. Glad you’re here. You’ve got to see this. It’s hysterical.”
She turned back and continued to watch the two men in the old American TV show battle each other to spectacularly ridiculous sound effects meant to convey the use of “bionic powers” in their electronic arms and legs.
Mikiko thought that sound, and the over forty-year old archaic clothing styles (oh the ridiculous reliance on polyester) were the funniest things in the world.
Tashiro stood there properly chagrined as Brigit turned to him and frowned. “I thought you were only going to show her the pilot episode, which by the way isn’t half this stupid-looking. You said it would give an approximate idea of how a human turned cyborg could begin to adapt.”
“Sorry. She wanted to see more and after all, it’s a classic.”
“Your definition of classic has a lot of room for improvement, Tashiro.”
Up until that moment, everyone had been speaking Japanese, but when she became particularly angry, the Irish psychologist lapsed into her native tongue. Fortunately, for Tashiro, apart from her strong accent, it was his native language as well, though not Mikiko’s.
The television show was in English but with Japanese subtitles. This was another way for Mikiko to work on her English since she could verify that she understood what the people in the broadcast were saying.
Mikiko was wearing only a bathrobe. Her hair still needed work. It looked something like a first attempt by a 3D graphics designer at producing a head of hair on a CGI character. One of the problems with Mikiko’s speech was the orientation of the jaw. Dr. Hunt said that in a week or so, the alignment should firm up and her enunciation would markedly improve.
Gross motor movements still had their glitches as well, which was why Mikiko preferred to stay in her quarters unless absolutely summoned out of them by the Reintegration or Medical Teams or, of course, by Dr. Hunt himself.
The Medical Team’s role had retreated into the regular and routine and most of Mikiko’s day-to-day training was relegated to the Reintegration Team. They were the ones responsible for putting the fine and finishing touches on the new synthetic woman.
“Good, good. She laughed and we didn’t have anything do to with it, or rather her neural regulatory system didn’t have anything to do with it.”
Later that afternoon, Dr. Daniel Hunt, the man most directly responsible for restoring Mikiko Jahn from a helpless and useless collection of scar tissue to the increasingly functional woman she was becoming sat to one side of the conference table addressing the Reintegration Team. In addition to Tashiro and Brigit who respectively were Mikiko’s physiobiologist and psychologist, biostructural engineer Leslie Bryce, and synthetic neurobiologist Xavier Solomon were present. Solomon, Bryce, and Momoru chose to sit on the side of the table opposite Hunt, while Monroe sat on the same side, but two seats away from the project’s Director.
“Her regulatory system did have something to do with it Dr. Hunt, it just wasn’t the one you installed for her.”
Briget had gotten her undergraduate degree from Trinity College in Dublin and her doctorate from the University of St. Andrews. Hunt had personally selected her to do her post-graduate work at Synthecon Technologies. He knew someday he’d need someone to help reconstruct the mental and emotional state of a person transitioning from the biological to the synthetic.
“Well that is what we’re shooting for, eh Briget, uh…Dr. Monroe?
Briget hated for him to refer to her by her first name. She was only twenty-seven, unmarried, unattached, the youngest and most inexperienced person ever to merit a grant to train at Synthecon and everyone, at least at first, assumed she was sleeping with “the great man.” She was reasonably attractive, strawberry blonde wavy hair, blue eyes, light skin but thankfully much fewer freckles than Hunt had been blessed with by inheritance. Some men thought her most outstanding feature were her breasts, which only made matters worse, and she did everything in her power to dress in oversized tops to minimize the effect, often without much success.
“Yes, quite, Dr. Hunt. It seems Tashiro’s enthusiasm for trashy 20th century television paid off this time.”
“Hey, it worked, didn’t it? Be happy.” Tashiro Momoru’s father was Hawaiian and his mother Japanese-American. Born and raised on “the big island,” he was only one of three scholarship students admitted to Oxford’s new physiobiology program which trained their students in not just physiology, but the interactions between human mechanical, physical, and biological systems as they relate to physical activity and structure.
Tashiro was directly responsible for developing a training program that would enable Mikiko to recover all of her human physical and biological functioning using an evolving synthetic body. He was also an enthusiastic optimist who, from Briget’s point of view, was obsessed with mid to late 20th century entertainment and history. Additionally, he had the distinction of being the youngest member of the team, having just turned twenty-five.
“I’ve got another neurological scan scheduled for Mikiko tomorrow morning, Dr. Hunt. Do you think I should move it up to this evening?” The South African was the oldest member of the group. Tashiro called him “Grandpa” behind his back, which he probably would have enjoyed since, as an actual Grandfather, he missed his family terribly. However, when Daniel Hunt offered him a position on the project and told him (under strictest confidence) what would be involved, the opportunity to help integrate human neurology with synthetic circuitry on such a comprehensive scale was too much to pass up.
“Why, Xavier? Because she laughed? As I’m sure Dr. Monroe would agree, it’s a normal human response, not an aberration. I put the neuroregulator circuitry in her brain to assist in her adaptation to her new state, not to turn her into a robot.”
“I agree with Daniel, Xavier. Let’s keep her on a regular schedule. I’ve got her set up for another assessment tomorrow afternoon, right after your tests. I’m a little concerned that the construction team hasn’t made more progress by now. Best guess is that we need to step up the amount of raw material for the process.”
Leslie Bryce was the only member of the team who routinely called Hunt by his first name. There were also rumors about her and Hunt being lovers, but while that was actually true, it was also a decade or more ago. She was Hunt’s senior by five years and probably one of the few people on the planet who wasn’t even remotely intimidated by him.
She was a genius in her own right, though not at Hunt’s level and she had been his first student, helping him renovate the design of what she called “the construction team.” The “team” was made of a collection of tens, sometimes hundreds of thousands of nanoscopic drones coursing through each and every system and structure in both Mikiko’s biological and synthetic body, building and rebuilding them so that in the end, she would be a single, fully integrated synthetic organism, a syntheorg.
“I told you this would happen, Leslie. Remember, I distinctly said the nanodrones would result in her body evolving into increasingly complex systems as she approached full functionality. The new structures and systems replace older, less sophisticated ones, over and over and over again. She’s going to crap out millions of dollars of material she can no longer use as her body adapts and rebuilds.”
“Fortunately it’s not your money, Daniel.”
“Good thing, too, Leslie. Even a billionaire would balk at the cost of the project up to this point.” Hunt dryly chuckled but managed to avoid more than a thin-lipped smile, ironic more than humorous.
The following afternoon, Mikiko was standing in the nanobiology lab having just completed the most recent round of tests that involved her reconstruction. “Dr. Bryce, how long before I’m…finished?”
It was an odd question but then again Mikiko was an odd woman. The tests in this case didn’t involve her completely disrobing, but to allow the scans of her systems down to the microscopic level to be unimpeded, she had to enter the adapted MRI chamber clothed only in a hospital gown. Once she was finished, a lab technician gave her a robe to put on.
“That’s hard to say, Mikiko. You’ve made tremendous progress, but as I told Dr. Hunt yesterday, we will likely need a longer period of rebuilding involving more raw material than originally projected. I’ll know more tomorrow once I have had a chance to go over the test results.”
Leslie struggled with her professional objectivity. Especially as Mikiko continued to look more and more…human, she wanted to mother the poor little girl. However, as Munroe advised. it would create a false sense of intimacy for both of them, one that would eventually have to end bringing a sense of betrayal to her patient.
“I see.” Mikiko looked down and then raised her forearms enough so she could look at her hands. She turned them both palm up and slowly articulated her fingers. “I’d like to be able to draw again. So far…”
“I know.” Leslie put her hand on Mikiko’s shoulder. “You are still having a hard time holding something as thin as a pencil for very long.”
She looked up at the doctor and smiled like a scared and needy child. “I’m glad Tashiro put duct tape on the handles of my fork, knife, and spoon. At least I can feed myself.” She paused. “I still tend to dribble, though.”
Leslie remembered when the Reintegration Team was first introduced to Mikiko last year. She could hardly control her arms and could only walk with a great deal of support. She had come a long way in the past twelve months.
“Give it time, Mikiko. You’re doing great. In less than a year you’ll be doing somersaults.”
“Hey, that’s my department,” Tashiro’s voice came out of a wall mounted speaker. He and the rest of the team had been looking through an observation window during the scan and only Mikiko, Bryce, and two technicians were actually in the room with the MRI device.
The chamber had been modified to use a multi-spectral rather than a magnetic resonance scan to be able to examine details much more minute than a traditional MRI. It also was able to examine the current state and activity of the nanoprobes inside of Mikiko. Leslie could use the present scan and compare it to previous ones to see how her patient’s body was continuing to change.
Mikiko turned to the window which was transparent both ways. “You promise to teach me somersaults, Tashiro? I never could do them…” She stopped as a sudden flood of memories assailed her. Her former life, her perfectly human biological life came back to her in a rush. Then the neuroregulatory circuitry system came into play, and the expression of twisted horror that had contorted her face momentarily was again replaced by calm and serenity. She looked back at her trainer again. “Promise?”
“I promise, Mikiko. Only problem is, I’ll have to learn how to do them first.”
His smile was infectious and this time Mikiko smiled and then laughed her strange, little laugh. Just like when she was watching television earlier, the emotion was completely human.
Three years later, Mikiko walked out of the Sushidai restaurant. The Akami Zuke was very good, but it didn’t really live up to her expectations. Like the rest of her body, her sense of taste was enhanced and so everything that passed her tongue seemed so much more intense than she expected…than she remembered. Of course, like her other senses, and many of her other systems, she had the ability to adjust the level of reception, and she was still getting used to how “high” or “low” to set things like “taste.”
She was wearing a long, woolen plaid skirt, a gift from Dr. Monroe, a silk blouse and light jacket. The leather boots came halfway up to her knees but she didn’t think her apparel would get in the way. Remembering how Tashiro had patiently trained her these past few years, she had the impulse to try out something unusual, at least it would be unusual in public. He’d kept his promise. He always did. Of everyone Mikiko had worked with and who had ever worked on her over the past six years of her recovery and reconstruction, he was one of the few who had become a friend.
Crowds of late afternoon shoppers in Toyko’s Ginza district were momentarily distracted when a young woman perfectly executed six somersaults on the sidewalk. To use the vernacular, she “stuck the landing” and then, as if nothing strange had happened at all, started walking again back toward the train station. This time though, she was smiling.
This is the third story in the series about “The Reconstructed Woman.” Here are chapters one and two:
In each chapter, including this one, we see Mikiko as a “finished product,” so to speak, the result of six years of intensive reconstruction, reorganization, and training, so that she appears again to be completely human after suffering from one of the most horrific nuclear accidents ever known. What the world doesn’t suspect is that she is now more than human and yet, not really human at all.
In this chapter, we encounter Mikiko’s Reintegration Team for the first time as well as see her at a later stage in her development. We also see that the effort to return Mikiko to some semblance of human functioning has become a formal project, though I have yet to give it a name.
Hopefully, I’ve brought some more personality to Mikiko and the people in her life and have given her some autonomy. However, just how far does that autonomy go and can it be overridden? Is Mikiko truly independent or, on a fundamental level, is she really a product owned by Dr. Daniel Hunt and the Japanese and British governments?
The next chapter is Woman in the Shadows.