John Wilkins and Martha Demming were newlyweds and were taking advantage of Martha’s brother, Al Demming’s, offer to enjoy their honeymoon at his cabin in the mountains. There was an accident, and John’s car went off the road as it rounded a curve and tumbled end over end down two hundred feet of embankment and into a creek.
John was now awake and in incredible pain; it seemed as if every nerve in his body was screaming at the same time for relief. It was dark; he couldn’t see anything. Perhaps, he thought, his eyes had been bandaged; he couldn’t hear anything either. Maybe the nurses had already come and given him the pain medication he requested, and surely they would come back again to check on him. The pain was incessant; it was like nothing he had ever experienced before. He hoped he might slip into unconsciousness to escape the hell he was experiencing. Why didn’t the nurses come back; he yelled as loud as he could and pleaded for them to return and give him more pain medication. He raised his arm to move the bandages away from his eyes, but nothing happened. He wasn’t sure his arm had even risen. He listened for a sound, any sound, but heard nothing.
He was in a hospital, he thought. Somebody had seen the accident and called for help; they must have gotten to him quickly because he wouldn’t have lasted long in the submerged car; he would have drowned.
He was tired and fatigued and tried to sleep, but sleep wouldn’t come. He cried and pleaded for the hospital attendants to come and give him medication so he could sleep, but no one answered his frantic calls for help. Without sleep, he felt he would go crazy.
He could not measure the passage of hours or days, but he felt that many days had passed. The pain seemed to be dying away, but with the lessening of pain came no resurgence of sensation. He lay there, blind, deaf, and unfeeling. He supposed he was being kept alive by intravenous feeding, yet he had no sensation of it.
By his tabulations, five days had passed and he began to notice a change, and the change was that of light. Dim at first, very dim, like the light of a rising moon, but slowly it increased in brightness, and with the passage of time, it grew and swelled until it slowly became an image.
When he saw the image move, it gave him hope that his eyesight was returning, but then the light was cut off, as though a bandage had been placed over his eyes.
The light came back the next day, and this time, he beheld the full image of a man – it was Al Demming, Martha’s brother, who was also chief cyberneticist at General Biotics. Al looked directly at John and John spoke to him, but received no answer. Al moved away and John could see a chalkboard that was filled with chemical formulae. John was a chemist and he understood the writings and the complex biochemical process that they described, for he had developed them.
It was then that John realized that he was not in a hospital, and the terror and the screaming only stopped when John lost consciousness.
After composing himself, the awful realization of his dire situation slowly descended upon him; he was a cybernetic control brain encased in a platinum box no larger than the size of a large football. But cybernetic brains were dead; how could he be living, and if he were living, that meant that the other two-million control brains like his were living also.
Over the centuries, cyberneticists had mapped the brain down to the very last neuron in every cell; every function of every cell was known and with the right probe in the right place, that cell or group of cells, could be stimulated to perform a given function. Brains were kept alive by a constant flow of chemical nutrients fed to the brain by a web of tubes and wires.
Orthocon cells allowed for vision, and when connected to a monitor, the brain, although unable to communicate, had vision.
John notes that Al has come back into the room and places a typewritten note in front of the monitor screen. Al tells John that he knows he’s still alive, and will do all he can to help him. He says he’s going to go before the Board of the Institute – the governing body of the Welfare State, to let them know that the brains are still alive and the program must be discontinued.
Just before Al is to appear before the twenty-six members of the board, he discovers that three years before, all board members had their contracts with General Biotics cancelled, which tells Al that the board members know that the brains are still alive.