Louise went back into the files with her supervisor’s old login, and hunted up the mechanism and metabolic data. Where she found that the Cognizoid molecule physically altered the biomechanisms of Neures-Q in a way that made them not break down the way they normally do. Presumably, that alteration also caused them to do their circuit-and-wireless-connectivity magic. And then what was left of Cog was pissed away via the kidneys, not undergoing any liver metabolism at all.
“Holy shit,” she said after she’d read through the convoluted sentence structure and data twice.
“Mmm?” Penelope said.
“They’re outright lying on their prescribing information,” Louise said.
“Are you really surprised at this point?” Penelope said, not looking up.
“No,” Louise said, chewing her lower lip and staring at the screen. “No, I suppose not. I suppose that warning might be a clunky way to try to get more of the high responders, instead of cluttering the place up with ghosts.”
“So was there another scuffle last night?”
“Yeah,” Louise said, moving through the files to look again at the pathology photos. “Big metallic golden eagle thing. I got my back to a tree and watched the transformation this time.”
“The gold eagle is another symbol I know,” Penelope said, looking up with interest. “Tell me about the transformation.”
Louise related everything, not omitting her observation of the choppy animation of the bird and the apparently-lazy transformation sequence, but forgetting the spear point for the moment. She continued to flip through pathology brain section photos, noting that the artificial circuits did seem to proliferate considerably in higher doses.
“You’re right, sounds lazy,” Penelope said, putting down her tablet and eating a cookie. “Quick way to get the girls naked. There’s no other reason for it—you could just redefine the avatars with your code. Unless…” She paused, and it was a long enough pause to make Louise look at her. Penelope shrugged. “Unless they don’t have the permissions to redefine the avatars themselves because the avatars are only ‘editable’ by the people who generated them.”
Louise scowled. “What does that mean?”
Penelope sighed and said, “Well, look at it this way. You have a swimming pool. The management of the swimming pool can affect all sorts of things about the pool: the temperature of the water and the ropes across the pool and the depth of the water and the chemicals in the water. But when you jump into the water, the management can’t do anything to your body. They can freeze you, or boil you, or even poison you if you willingly drink or snort poisoned water, but they can’t alter your body innately.”
“Ah,” Louise said. “So you’re saying that this means our… avatars?” She glanced at Penelope for confirmation, and Penelope nodded. “Our avatars are something we generate ourselves?”
“Yes,” Penelope said. “Essentially, you’re writing your own code for the object you use to move around in their swimming pool.” Then she stared off into space and added, slowly, “But that means that you… your own brains are either interfacing with some ‘coding space’ that they don’t control or… your brains are your coding space.” She looked at Louise.
Louise said, “You’re suggesting that the alterations aren’t just making us wifi-compatible, but are turning us into walking, talking, dreaming computers.”
“These fuckers have figured out how to translate human brain talk to machine brain talk and back,” Penelope said, finishing her glass of sherry. “This is, like, the Holy Fucking Grail of human interface research. The ability to tap the human brain as a biological CPU.”
“If it makes you feel any better,” Louise said, gesturing at the screen of mechanism and metabolism data, “they actually seem to have no clue how they did it. It was an accident and they’ve never figured out how it works, like half the drugs on the market.”
“I told you I didn’t want to know that about my meds,” Penelope said, wheeling back to refill her glass.
“But, again, it comes down to wondering,” Louise said, ignoring her friend’s protest, “what they’re using us for?”