Home > My Favorites > Day One Hundred and Thirty-nine: For SCIENCE!

Day One Hundred and Thirty-nine: For SCIENCE!

Porter Dupree lowered the goggles back down over his eyes and leaned on the edge of the workbench for a moment. He took a deep breath, then reached up and keyed on the recorder. “Okay,” he said. “This is boot-up attempt number forty-five. Project day twenty. Failure minus five.” He rested a hand on the arm of the battered black android that lay on the bench, then reached over to the control panel and tapped a large green button. “Go.”

There was no lightning, no explosions or anything like that. Just some fluctuating graphs on his laptop screen, some rapidly-changing figures, and a schematic of the android’s body. Granted, there was a small laser array, but strictly speaking it could have just as well been covered up and hidden. If this were a science fiction movie, the writer probably would have flashed it up a bit, just to make the audience gape at the Awesome! Power! of SCIENCE! But then again, if this was a science fiction movie, he probably would have managed to get this to work forty-four tries ago.

The first time was exciting. Everything was new, all the parts clicked together snugly and perfectly. He’d tested all the circuits and all the connections, and in their pieces they worked fine. Put them together, however, and try to boot up the system as a whole, and the project was a dud. The android just lay there, gently humming but not actually doing anything much more technologically complicated than slowly warming up.

But this was science, and progress was never guaranteed. Porter would go to bed and look at the pictures he’d pinned to his wall of his favorite innovators – Tesla, DaVinci, Jobs – and remind himself that success came only after failure and the persistence to endure it. So the next day he took the machine apart and re-checked, piece by piece, component by component, connection by connection to see where the flaw was. He cleaned contacts and replaced microchips and resoldered anything that looked like it might be coming loose. Then it all went together again, the black plastic shell was snapped into place, and he held his breath as he keyed in the startup sequence again.

And… nothing.

Undaunted, he tried again, replacing parts that seemed too old or worn, revisiting his software coding, poring over circuit diagrams and trying to figure out more efficient designs before plugging it all together and starting it up, only to have it, once again, not work.

He started the project in earnest about a week after his brother Kevin died. His mother had been a complete wreck, and he needed something to do without letting her grief infect him. It started with a few sketches and the faint tickling of an idea that just… might… work. Within days, boxes started arriving at the house, filled with electronics and heat-moldable plastics. When his mother finally got around to finding out what he was making in her basement, she had told him it was an abomination, and that he would never be allowed under her roof again as long as he worked on “that thing.” His girlfriend really tried to support him during the months that he was putting the project together, but in the end, she left too. He didn’t notice for a few days.

And every night, he would go to bed and look at those pictures and think, “Tomorrow will be the day.” And every morning he woke up, ate quickly, showered if it occurred to him, and ran to the garage. He’d lost his job weeks ago, but he didn’t find out until the police arrived to see if he was dead. When he answered the door, pale and thin and blinking in the rising spring sunlight, they seemed surprised to see him alive. He hadn’t shown up in the lab for a week and a half. No one had heard from him, no one knew if he was alive or dead. Finally his boss called the local police and begged them to find out what had happened.

Of course, when he turned out to be fine, Porter was immediately fired.

But that didn’t matter. The great black android laying on his workbench would change everything. He would never need to worry about money again, once this worked.

And it would work.

He glanced over at the readout on the screen. He had spent a couple of days tinkering with the user interface, making it simpler and easier to read. All it told him at this point was the same thing it had told him before, and the time before that. All systems worked by themselves. Everything was humming along just fine. But as a whole, the connections just weren’t there, and it was beginning to grate at him. He could feel it. Something wasn’t clicking, but it was like turning a key in a sticky lock – he knew that if he could just jiggle it the right way or add just the tiniest bit more pressure, the key would catch, the lock would open, and an entire new era of humanity would begin.

But it would not begin today.

The android lay still on the workbench. The boot program was cycling through the bootup sequence, rebooting, and then starting again. Porter rested his chin on his hands and watched the robot’s fingers for a while, hoping to see one twitch. Just a little. But there wasn’t even a hint of movement.

After fifteen minutes, he halted the startup program and turned on the recorder again. “Attempt number forty-five: Unsuccessful. Will review power loads and microtransistor arrays and prep for attempt number forty-six. Failure minus four.”

Four more tries. That was about how many more he had left in him.

He turned off the laser array and turned on the overhead lights again. After his eyes adjusted a bit, he raised the goggles and spent a minute blinking. He made his way over to the head of the android. It wasn’t really handsome, but then he wasn’t exactly an artist. In any case, that was all aesthetics. Once it worked, he could pay someone to make it pretty.

He touched his fingertips to the pressure-seals at the temples, pressed, and twisted. The top of the android’s head came off with a click, exposing the glass-encased brain inside.

It floated in a thin soup of nutrients, with a web of fine wire delicately laid over and into the countless crevasses and folds. Porter carefully took the glass case, gave it a half-turn, and pulled the brain out of the android’s housing, exposing the complex metal plug that was entwined with the brainstem. Quickly, carefully, he turned around and docked it with the power station, and the little LEDs in the base lit up again. Keeping the brain alive, surprisingly, had been the easy part. When he started, it looked fine. Mostly fine. About as fine as you might expect from a freshly-exhumed corpse. It had been a lovely pale pink, full and hearty.

Now its color had gone to gray, and it floated more loosely in the bottle that Porter had made for it. The longer he kept it alive without any input from the rest of the world, the worse off it got. It wouldn’t be long before it was too far gone to be of any use.

He pulled a flashlight from his pocket and peered into the android’s skull. Everything looked okay, but it couldn’t hurt to have another look in the morning. He clicked it off and patted the bottled brain. “G’nite, Kevin,” he whispered. “See you tomorrow.”

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