SFWRITER.COM > Novels > Mindscan > Opening Chapters
by Robert J. Sawyer
Copyright © 2005 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved.
Winner of the John W. Campbell Memorial Award!
Hardcover: Tor, April 2005, ISBN 0-765-31107-0
Paperpack: Tor, January 2006, ISBN 0-765-34975-2
There wasn't anything special about this fight. Honest to
God, there wasn't. Dad and I had argued a million times before,
but nothing awful had happened. Oh, he'd thrown me out of the
house a couple of times, and when I was younger he used to send
me to my room or cut off my allowance. But nothing like this had
ever occurred. I keep reliving the moment in my mind, haunted by
it. It's no consolation that he isn't haunted by it, that he
probably doesn't even remember it. No consolation at all.
My father's grandparents had made a fortune in the brewing
industry if you know Canada at all, you know Sullivan's Select
and Old Sully's Premium Dark. We'd always had a shitload of
"Shitload." That's the way I talked back then; I guess
remembering it is bringing back my old vocabulary. When I'd been
a teenager, I didn't care about money. In fact, I agreed with
most Canadians that the profits made by big corporations were
obscene. Even in supposedly egalitarian Canada, the rich were
getting richer and the poor poorer, and I'd hated it. Back then,
I'd hated a lot of things.
"Where the hell did you get this?" my dad had shouted,
holding the fake ID I'd used to buy pot at the local Mac's. He
was standing up; he always did that when we fought. Dad was
scrawny, but I guess he felt his two meters of height were
We were in his den at the house in Port Credit. Port Credit
was what you came to if you continued west along Lake Ontario
from Toronto; it was a classy neighborhood, and even then this
would have been, what?, 2018, I guess it was still mostly
white. Rich and white. The window looked out over the lake,
which that day had been gray and choppy.
"Friend of mine made it," I said, without even looking at
the ID card.
"Well, you're not seeing that friend anymore. Christ's
sake, Jake, you're only seventeen." The legal age for buying
alcohol and marijuana in Ontario, then and now, was nineteen; the
legal age for buying tobacco is eighteen. Go figure.
"You can't tell me who I can see," I said, looking out the
window. Seagulls were pirouetting above the waves. If they
could get high, I didn't see why I couldn't.
"Hell I can't," snapped my father. He had a long face and a
full head of dark hair, graying at the temples. If this was
2018, that would have made him thirty-nine. "So long as you live
under my roof, you'll do as I say. Jesus, Jacob, what were you
thinking? Presenting a false ID card is a major offense."
"It's a major offense if you're a terrorist or an identity
thief," I said, looking across the wide teak desk at him. "Kids
get caught buying pot all the time; no one gives a damn."
"I give a damn. Your mother gives a damn." Mom was out
playing tennis. It was a Sunday the only day Dad wasn't
normally at work and he'd gotten the call from the police
station. "You keep screwing up like this, boy, and "
"And what? And I'll never end up like you? I pray for
that." I knew I'd hit home. A vertical vein in the middle of
his forehead swelled up whenever he was really pissed. I used to
love it when I got the vein.
His voice was trembling. "You ungrateful little bastard."
"I don't need this shit," I said, turning toward the door,
preparing to stalk out.
"Damn you, boy! You're going to hear this! If you "
"Fuck off," I said.
" don't stop acting "
"I hate this place anyway."
" like an idiot, you'll "
"And I hate you!"
No reply. I turned around, and saw him slumping backward
into his black leather chair. When he hit it, the chair rotated
half a turn.
"Dad!" I hurried behind the desk and shook him. "Dad!"
Nothing. "Oh, Christ. Oh, no. Oh, God ..." I lifted him out
of the chair; there was so much adrenaline coursing through my
veins from the fight that I didn't even feel his weight.
Stretching out his gangly limbs on the hardwood floor, I shouted,
"Dad! Come on, Dad!"
I kicked aside a waste basket with a shredder attached;
paper diamonds scattered everywhere. Crouching next to him, I
felt for a pulse; he still had one and he seemed to be
breathing. But he didn't respond to anything I said.
"Dad!" Totally out of ideas, I tried slapping him lightly
on each cheek. A string of drool was hanging out of the corner
of his mouth.
I quickly rose, turned to face his desk, hit the
speakerphone button, and pounded out 9-1-1. Then I crouched down
beside him again.
The phone rang three excruciating times, then: "Fire,
police, or ambulance?" said a female operator, sounding small and
"Your address is " said the operator, and she read it off.
I lifted his right eyelid. His eye tracked to look at mine,
"Yes, yes, that's right. Hurry! My father's collapsed!"
"Is he breathing?"
"Yes, he has one, but he's collapsed, and he's not
responding to anything I say."
"An ambulance is on its way," said the woman. "Is anyone
else with you?"
My hands were shaking. "No. I'm alone."
"Don't leave him."
"I won't. Oh, Christ, what's wrong with him?"
The operator ignored the question. "Help is on its way."
"Dad!" I said. He made a gurgling sound, but I don't think
it was in response to me. I wiped away the drool and tipped his
head back a bit to make sure he was getting plenty of air.
"Don't panic," said the woman. "Remain calm."
"Christ, oh Christ, good Christ ..."
The ambulance took me and my dad to the Trillium Health
Centre, the nearest hospital. As soon as we got there, they
transferred him to a gurney, his long legs hanging over the end.
A white male doctor appeared quickly, shining a light into his
eyes and tapping his knee with a small hammer to which there
was the usual reflexive response. He tried speaking to my father
a few times, then called out, "Get this man a cerebral MRI,
stat!" An orderly wheeled Dad off. He still hadn't said a
coherent word, although he occasionally made small sounds.
By the time Mom arrived, Dad had been moved into a bed.
Standard government health care gets you a space in a ward. Dad
had supplemental insurance, and so had a private room. Of
"Oh, God," my mother kept saying, over and over again,
holding her hands to her face. "Oh, my poor Cliff. My darling,
my baby ..."
My mother was the same age as my dad, with a round head and
artificially blond hair. She was still wearing her tennis
clothes white top, short white skirt. She played a lot of
tennis, and was in good shape; to my embarrassment, some of my
friends thought she was hot.
Shortly, a doctor came to see us. She was a Vietnamese
woman of about fifty. Her name tag identified her as Dr. Thanh.
Before she could open her mouth, my mother said, "What is it?
What's wrong with him?"
The doctor was infinitely kind I'll always remember her.
She took my mother's hand and got her to sit down. And then the
woman crouched down, so she'd be at my mother's eye level. "Mrs.
Sullivan," she said. "I'm so sorry. The news is not good."
I stood behind my seated mother, with a hand on her
"What is it?" Mom asked. "A stroke? For God's sake, Cliff
is only thirty-nine. He's too young for a stroke."
"A stroke can happen at any age," said Dr. Thanh. "But,
although technically this was a form of stroke, it's not what
you're thinking of."
"Your husband has a kind of congenital lesion we call an
AVM: an arteriovenous malformation. It's a tangle of arteries
and veins with no interposing capillaries normally,
capillaries provide resistance, slowing down the blood-flow rate.
In cases like this, the vessels have very thin walls, and so are
prone to bursting. And when they do, blood pours through the
brain in a torrent. In the form of AVM your husband has
called Katerinsky's syndrome the vessels can rupture in a
cascade sequence, going off like fire hoses."
"But Cliff never mentioned ..."
"No, no. He probably didn't know. An MRI would have shown
it, but most people don't have routine MRIs until they turn
"Damn it," said my mother who almost never swore. "We
would have paid for the test! We "
Dr. Thanh glanced up at me, then looked into my mother's
eyes. "Mrs. Sullivan, believe me, it wouldn't have made any
difference. Your husband's condition is inoperable. AVMs in
general affect only one in a thousand people, and Katerinsky's
affects only one in a thousand of those with AVMs. The sad truth
is that the principal form of diagnosis for Katerinsky's is
autopsy. Your husband is actually one of the lucky ones."
I looked over at my father, in the bed, a tube up his nose,
another in his arm, his hair matted, his mouth hanging open.
"So, he's going to be okay, then?" said my mother. "He's
going to get better?"
Dr. Thanh sounded truly sad. "No, he's not. When the blood
vessels ruptured, the adjacent parts of his brain were destroyed
by the jet of blood pounding into the tissue. He's ..."
"He's what?" demanded my mother, her voice full of panic.
"He's not going to be a vegetable, is he? Oh, God my poor
Cliff. Oh, Jesus God ..."
I looked at my father, and I did something I hadn't done for
five years. I started to cry. My vision began to blur, and so
did my mind. As the doctor continued to talk to my mother, I
heard the words "severe retardation," "total aphasia," and
He wasn't coming back. He wasn't leaving, but he wasn't
coming back. And the last words of mine that ever would have
registered on his consciousness were
"Jake." Dr. Thanh was calling my name. I wiped my eyes.
She had risen and was looking at me. "Jake, how old are you?"
I'm old enough, I thought. I'm old enough to be the man of
the house. I'll take care of this, take care of my mother.
She nodded. "You should have an MRI, too, Jake."
"What?" I said, my heart suddenly pounding. "Why?"
Dr. Thanh lifted her delicate eyebrows, and spoke very, very
softly. "Katerinsky's is hereditary."
I felt myself starting to panic again. "You you mean I
might end up like Dad?"
"Just get the scan done," she said. "You don't necessarily
have Katerinsky's, but you might."
I couldn't take it, I thought. I couldn't take living as a
vegetable. Or maybe I did more than think it; the woman smiled
kindly, wisely, as if she'd heard me say those words aloud.
"Don't worry," Dr. Thanh said.
"Don't worry?" My mouth was bone dry. "You said this
this disease is incurable."
"That's true; Katerinsky's involves defects so deep in the
brain that they can't be repaired surgically yet. But you're
only seventeen, and medical science is galloping ahead why,
the progress we've made since I started practicing! Who knows
what they'll be able to do in another twenty or thirty years?"
Twenty-Seven Years Later: August 2045
There were perhaps a hundred people in the ballroom of
Toronto's Fairmont Royal York Hotel, and at least half of them
had only a short time left to live.
Of course, being rich, those who were near death had mostly
availed themselves of the best cosmetic treatments: face-lifts,
physiognomic rebuilds, even a few facial transplants. I found it
unsettling to see twenty-year-old visages attached to stooped
bodies, but at least the transplants looked better than the
ghastly tautness of one face-lift too many.
Still, I reminded myself, these were indeed cosmetic
treatments. The faux-youthful faces were attached to old,
decaying bodies bodies thoroughly worn out. Of the elderly
who were present, most were standing, a few were in motorized
wheelchairs, some had walkers, and one had his legs encased in
powered armatures while another wore a full-body exoskeleton.
Being old isn't what it used to be, I thought, shaking my
head. Not that I was old myself: I was just forty-four. Sadly,
though, I'd used up my fifteen minutes of fame right at the
beginning, without even being aware of it. I'd been the first
baby born in Toronto on 1 January 2001 the first child of the
new millennium. A much bigger fuss had been made over the girl
who had popped out just after midnight on 1 January 2000, a year
that had no significance save for ending in three zeros. But
that was okay: the last thing I wanted to be was a year older,
because a year from now, I might very well be dead. The old joke
ran through my mind again:
"I'm afraid I've got some bad news," said the doctor. "You
don't have long to live."
The young man swallowed. "How much time have I got left?"
The doctor shook his head sadly. "Ten."
"Ten what? Ten years? Ten months? Ten ?"
"Nine ... Eight ..."
I shook my head to dispel the thought and looked around some
more. The Fairmont Royal York was a grand hotel, dating from the
first glory days of rail travel, and it was enjoying a revival
now that magnetic-levitation trains were flying along the old
tracks. The hotel was across the street from Union Station, just
north of Toronto's lakeshore and a good twenty-five kilometers
east of where my parents' house still stood. Chandeliers hung
from the ballroom ceiling, and original oil paintings adorned the
flock-papered walls. Tuxedoed servers were milling about
offering glasses of wine. I went to the open bar and ordered a
tomato juice heavily spiked with Worcestershire; I wanted a clear
head this evening.
When I stepped away from the bar with my drink, I found
myself standing next to an honest-to-goodness old lady: wrinkled
face, white hair. Amid the surrounding denial and fakery, she
was quite refreshing.
The woman smiled at me, although it was a lopsided smile
she'd clearly suffered a stroke at some point. "Here alone?" she
asked. Her pleasant voice was attenuated into a Southern drawl,
and it was also tinged by the quaver often found in the elderly.
"Me, too," she said. She was wearing a dark jacket over a
lighter blouse, and matching dark slacks. "My son refused to
bring me." Most of the other old folks had companions with them:
middle-aged children, or lawyers, or paid caregivers. I glanced
down, noted that she was wearing a wedding band. She apparently
followed my gaze. "I'm a widow," she said.
"So," she said, "are you checking out the process for a
I felt my face quirk. "You might say that."
She looked at me with an odd expression; I sensed that she'd
seen through my comment, but, although curious, was too polite to
press further. After a moment, she said, "My name's Karen." She
held out her hand.
"Jake," I said, taking it. The skin on her hand was loose
and liver-spotted, and her knuckles were swollen. I squeezed
"Where are you from, Jake?"
"Here. Toronto. You?"
I nodded. Many of tonight's potential customers were
probably Americans. Immortex had found a much more congenial
legal climate for its services in increasingly liberal Canada
than in ever-more-conservative America. When I'd been a kid,
college students used to come over to Ontario from Michigan and
New York because the drinking age was lower here and the
strippers could go further. Now, people from those two states
crossed the border for legal pot, legal hookers, legal abortions,
same-sex marriages, physician-assisted suicide, and other things
the religious right frowned upon.
"It's funny," said Karen, glancing at the aged crowd. "When
I was ten, I once said to my grandmother, `Who the heck wants to
be ninety?' And she looked me right in the eye and said, `Anyone
who is eighty-nine.'" Karen shook her head. "How right she
I smiled wanly.
"Ladies and gentlemen," called a male voice, just then.
"Would you all please take seats?"
Doubtless no one here was hard of hearing; implants easily
rectified that sign of aging, too. There were rows of folding
chairs at the back of the ballroom, facing a podium. "Shall we?"
said Karen. Something about her was charming the Southern
accent, maybe (Detroit certainly wasn't where she'd grown up)
and there were, of course, the connotations that went with being
in a ballroom. I found myself offering my arm, and Karen took
it. We walked over slowly I let her set the pace and found
a pair of seats near the back at one side, an A. Y. Jackson
landscape hanging under glass on the wall next to us.
"Thank you," said the same man who'd spoken before. He was
standing at the dark wooden podium. There was no light directly
on him; just a little illumination spilling up from a reading
lamp attached to the lectern. A gangling Asian of perhaps
thirty-five, his black hair was combed straight back above a
forehead that would have done Professor Moriarty proud. A
surprisingly large, old-fashioned microphone covered his mouth.
"My name is John Sugiyama," he said, "and I'm a vice-president at
Immortex. Thank you all for coming tonight. I hope you've
enjoyed the hospitality so far."
He looked out at the crowd. Karen, I noticed, was one of
those who murmured appreciatively, which seemed to be what
Sugiyama wanted. "Good, good," he said. "In everything we do,
we strive for absolute customer satisfaction. After all, as we
like to say, `Once an Immortex client, always an Immortex
He smiled broadly, and again waited for appreciative
chuckles before going on. "Now, I'm sure you've all got
questions, so let's get started. I know what we're selling costs
a lot of money "
Somebody near me muttered, "Damn right," but if Sugiyama
heard, he gave no sign. He continued: "But we won't ask you for
a cent until you're satisfied that what we're offering is right
for you." He let his gaze wander over the crowd, smiling
reassuringly and making lots of eye contact. He looked directly
at Karen but skipped over me; presumably he felt I couldn't
possibly be a potential customer, and so wasn't worth wasting his
"Most of you," Sugiyama said, "have had MRIs. Our patented
and exclusive Mindscan process is nothing more daunting than
that, although our resolution is much finer. It gives us a
complete, perfect map of the structure of your brain: every
neuron, every dendrite, every synaptic cleft, every
interconnection. It also notes neurotransmitter levels at each
synapse. There is no part of what makes you you that we fail to
That much was certainly true. Back in 1990, a
philanthropist named Hugh Loebner promised to award a solid gold
medal not just gold-plated like those cheap Olympic ones
plus $100,000 in cash to the first team to build a machine that
passed the Turing Test, that old chestnut that said a computer
should be declared truly intelligent if its responses to
questions were indistinguishable from those of a human being.
Loebner had expected it would be only a few years before he'd
have to cough up but that's not how things turned out. It
wasn't until three years ago that the prize had been awarded.
I'd watched the whole thing on TV: a panel of five
inquisitors a priest, a philosopher, a cognitive scientist, a
woman who ran a small business, and a stand-up comic were
presented with two entities behind black curtains. The
questioners were allowed to ask both entities anything at all:
moral posers, general-knowledge trivia, even things about romance
and child-rearing; in addition, the comic did his best to crack
the entities up, and to quiz them about why certain jokes were or
weren't funny. Not only that, but the two entities engaged in a
dialogue between themselves, asking each other questions while
the little jury looked on. At the end, the jurors voted, and
they unanimously agreed they could not tell which curtain hid the
real human being and which hid the machine.
After the commercial break, the curtains were raised. On
the left was a fiftyish, balding, bearded black man named Sampson
Wainwright. And on the right was a very simple, boxy robot. The
group collected their hundred grand paltry from a monetary
point of view now, but still hugely symbolic and their gold
medal. Their winning entity, they revealed, had been an exact
scan of Sampson Wainwright's mind, and it had indeed, as the
whole world could plainly see, thought thoughts indistinguishable
in every way from those produced by the original. Three weeks
later, the same group made an IPO for their little company called
Immortex; overnight, they were billionaires.
Sugiyama continued his sales pitch. "Of course," he said,
"we can't put the digital copy back into the original biological
brain but we can transfer it into an artificial brain, which
is precisely what our process does. Our artificial brains
congeal out of quantum fog, forming a nanogel that precisely
duplicates the structure of the biological original. The new
version is you your mind instantiated in an artificial brain
made out of durable synthetics. It won't wear out. It won't
suffer strokes or aneurysms. It won't develop dementia or
senility. And ..." He paused, making sure he had everyone's
attention. "It won't die. The new you will live potentially
Even though everyone knew that's what was for sale here,
there were still sounds of astonishment "forever" had such
weight when spoken aloud. For my part, I didn't care about
immortality I rather suspected I'd get bored by the time I
reached, well, Karen's age. But I'd been walking on eggshells
for twenty-seven years, afraid that the blood vessels in my brain
would rupture. Dying wouldn't be that bad, but the notion of
ending up a vegetable like my father was terrifying to me.
Fortunately, Immortex's artificial brains were electrically
powered; they didn't require chemical nutrients, and weren't
serviced by blood vessels. I rather doubted this was the cure
Dr. Thanh had had in mind, but it would do in a pinch.
"Of course," continued Sugiyama, "the artificial brain needs
to be housed inside a body."
I glanced at Karen, wondering if she'd read up on that
aspect before coming here. Apparently, the scientists who had
first made these artificial brains hadn't bothered to have them
pre-installed in robotic bodies which, for the personality
represented by the recreated mind, turned out to be a hideous
experience: deaf, blind, unable to communicate, unable to move,
existing in a sensory void beyond even darkness and silence,
lacking even the proprioceptive sense of how one's limbs are
currently deployed and the touch of air or clothes against skin.
Those transcribed neural nets reconfigured rapidly, according to
the journal articles I'd managed to find, in patterns indicative
of terror and insanity.
"And so," said Sugiyama, "we'll provide you with an
artificial body one that's infinitely maintainable, infinitely
repairable, and infinitely upgradeable." He held up a
long-fingered hand. "I won't lie to you, now or ever: as yet,
these replacements aren't perfect. But they are awfully good."
Sugiyama smiled at the crowd again, and a small spotlight
fell on him, slowly increasing in brightness. Beyond him, just
like at a rock concert, floated a giant holographic version of
his gaunt face.
"You see," Sugiyama said, "I'm an upload myself, and this is
an artificial body."
Karen nodded. "I knew it," she declared. I was impressed
by her acumen: I'd certainly been fooled. Of course, all that
was visible of Sugiyama were his head and hands; the rest of him
was covered by the podium or a fashionable business suit.
"I was born in 1958," said Sugiyama. "I am eighty-seven
years old. I transferred six months ago one of the very first
civilians ever to upload into an artificial body. At the break,
I'll walk around and let you examine me closely. You'll find
that I don't look exactly right I freely admit that and
there are certain movements that I just can't do. But I'm not
the least bit concerned, because, as I said, these bodies are
infinitely upgradeable as technology advances. Indeed, I just
got new wrists yesterday, and they are much more nimble than my
previous set. I have no doubt that within a few decades,
artificial bodies indistinguishable from biological ones will be
available." He smiled again. "And, of course, I and all of
you who undergo our procedure will be around a few decades
He was a master salesperson. Talking about centuries or
millennia of additional life would have been too abstract how
does one even conceive of such a thing? But a few decades was
something the potential customers, most with seven or more of
them already under their belts, could appreciate. And every one
of these people had been resigned to being in the last decade
if not the last year of their lives. Until, that is, Immortex
had announced this incredible process. I looked at Karen again;
she was mesmerized.
Sugiyama held up his hand once more. "Of course, there are
many advantages to artificial bodies, even at the current state
of technology. Just like our artificial brains, they are
virtually indestructible. The braincase, for instance, is
titanium, reinforced with carbon-nanotube fibers. If you decide
you want to go skydiving, and your parachute fails to open, your
new brain still won't get damaged on impact. If God forbid!
someone shoots you with a gun, or stabs you with a knife
well, you'd almost certainly still be fine."
New holographic images appeared floating behind him,
replacing his face. "But our artificial bodies aren't just
durable. They're strong as strong as you'd like them to be."
I'd expected to see video of fantastic stunts: I'd heard
Immortex had developed super-powered limbs for the military, and
that that technology was now available to civilian end-users, as
well. But instead the display simply showed presumably
artificial hands effortlessly opening a mason jar. I couldn't
imagine what it must be like to be unable to do something so
simple ... but it was clear that many of the others in the room
were blown away by this demonstration.
And Sugiyama had more to offer. "Naturally," he said,
"you'll never need a walker, a cane, or an exoskeleton again.
And stairs will no longer present a problem. You'll have perfect
vision and hearing, and perfect reflexes; you'll be able to drive
a car again, if you're not able to now."
Even I missed the reflexes and coordination I'd had back
when I'd been younger. Sugiyama continued: "You can kiss
good-bye the pain of arthritis, and just about every other
ailment associated with old age. And if you haven't yet
contracted Parkinson's or Alzheimer's, you never will." I heard
murmurs around me including one from Karen. "And forget about
cancer or broken hips. Say sayonara to arthritic joints and
macular degeneration. With our process, you'll have a virtually
unlimited lifespan, with perfect eyesight and hearing, vitality
and strength, self-sufficiency and dignity." He beamed out at
his audience, and I could see people nodding to themselves, or
talking in positive tones with their neighbors. It did sound
good, even for someone like me, whose day-to-day troubles were
nothing more irritating than acid-reflux disease and the odd
Sugiyama let the crowd chatter for a while before raising
his hand again. "Of course," he said, as if it were a mere
trifle, "there is one catch ..."
An excerpt from Mindscan
by Robert J. Sawyer.
Copyright © 2005 by Robert J. Sawyer.
All rights reserved.
More Good Reading
More about Mindscan
Other novels by Robert J. Sawyer
Short stories by Robert J. Sawyer
More Sample chapters
HOME • MENU • TOP
Copyright © 1995-2020 by Robert J. Sawyer.