Chapter One

by Michael Gold

A man decides that he’d be better off separating his head from the rest of his body.

D I S C U S S I O N  F O R U M  |  R E T U R N  T O  S T  O N L I N E

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When my head got cut off and attached to my client’s computer, I actually wasn’t that upset.

Dr. Chertov attached the nerve endings from the top of my spine into the CPU, which gave off a little electrical sting. The codeine/morphine/Valium cocktail helped keep the pain mild.

Then the doctor grafted a large swatch of flesh from my buttocks to close off my neck to exposure to air. Finally, the CPU, of which I was now an integral part, was placed on a table under air-conditioned glass to keep out bacteria and to keep the computer running under optimal cool temperatures.

My new job would be to augment the CPU in searching for and soliciting new projects for Dr. Chertov. He was very frustrated with the capabilities of his computer—“It’s not smart enough to get a hunch,” he told me as he was attaching the wires to my neck. “You have that intuition I need.”

After protein and saline injections into my bloodstream, Dr. Chertov said, “In a few days, you’ll get to work. I want you to find somebody who can sell me six dozen mice and 10,000 cockroaches.”

That’s how it started, innocently.

I had gotten tired of my body. I didn’t expect that Dr. Chertov would cut my head off, but honestly, in a way, it was a blessing. I suffered from too many ailments for a 35-year-old man.

My back was a mess. Months before, one of the disks in the spine, at the belt line, spurted out of its allotted place while I was sitting at my desk doing my work for Dr. Chertov (which I loved), and jammed into a major nerve. The sensation was like that of being suddenly attached to the electrical grid on the Vegas Strip without any warning.

My sinuses started acting up too. It felt like a liquid tarantula was crawling around inside my nasal cavities.

And then, women! God, I was sick of them. They were always distracting me from my work. I had a girlfriend, Amy from Arizona. She was always doing her nails, or her hair. She prattled endlessly on about her body. Were her brown roots showing? Should she go blonder? Was her butt too big? Didn’t I like her long neck? Wasn’t it kind of elegant?

That wasn’t all. Amy wanted us to move in together. I should get out my Brooklyn rat hole and live with her on the Upper West Side. We could save on rent. And I wouldn’t have to worry about anything. She would pay to redecorate. Oh, we could buy a new couch, which would be long enough for me to nap on. She could get new carpets, which would match the couch. She’d ditch her bed and buy something new. She would pay for everything, oh that wasn’t a problem, but could I go shopping with her to decide what she should buy?

I tried to get through these conversations with as little dialogue from me as possible, limiting my responses to “yes,” “no,” “maybe,” and “I don’t know.” I tried to keep my temper. The shopping trips were so boring that I considered throwing myself in the river when they had ended. I looked at all the enormous beds, the blue fabric couches, the Ottomans (Why are they called that?) and thought about Amy’s values even as my spinal column was raving about the insults the disk was exacting on it.

I would rather be working for Dr. Chertov, or reading, rather than go on these trivial, ridiculous excursions. Why didn’t Amy want to read? Didn’t she care about global warming? There’s dengue fever in Mexico! Poison ivy is spreading like YouTube videos of Sarah Palin! Why wasn’t my girlfriend thinking about the country’s enormous debt to the Chinese and Japanese? Wasn’t she concerned about the budget deficit? Why was I involved with such a shallow woman? Maybe they’re all like this. I think I came to that conclusion. And it burned in my brain.

The only reason I could come up with for staying with Amy was yet another burdensome bodily function. She had a certain way about her. I am a discreet head, so I want to be careful with what I say. Amy was very physical. She craved touching. Her Caribbean blue eyes took me in with hunger. It’s not like I was some sculpted rock of a man with classic tough good looks. I was called reasonably attractive by a business associate who is a woman, but I never thought of myself as handsome. I’m OK to look at, I guess. So I could not account for why Amy ached to drag me into bed when I came over.

I know what you’re going to say. How could I possibly complain about that? Maybe I shouldn’t, but the frequency of our couplings started to get to me. Didn’t Amy want to talk first? Questions like, “How was your week?” or “Can you believe what happened to me?” just seemed like a normal part of a relationship. Instead, I knocked on her second-story walkup, the chain came off the door and I got yanked inside. OK, maybe I’m exaggerating a little. But not by much.

I think what bothered me was just the sheer animal nature of the joining together of two human beings. I had built myself up to be as intellectual as possible. At work I wanted to be a machine. I wanted to be able to do as much as I could. Work for me started at 7:30 in the morning and I kept at it until 7:30 that night. When I wasn’t working, I read. I lived to read. I wanted to know as much as I could. An actor, who I usually don’t respect, once said, “The more you read, the smarter you get. It’s that simple.” I agreed with that. I wanted to be smarter. I ached to be smarter. I wanted to know more.

Why did I read so much? It sounds corny, but I wanted to find out the secrets of the universe. I had a lot of questions. Why are we here? What is the purpose of all this life? Does all this activity have a point?

I read books on the history of God. I read deeply about Judaism, Christianity and Islam, genes and evolution, philosophy, politics, war. I also read plenty of books on the origin of the universe, our solar system, the different planets, and the natural history of the Earth. I liked a book about the moons of the planets. Titan, one of the bigger moons, had great views of Saturn and its rings. I imagined myself walking alone on Titan, seeing the rings rise over the horizon. Another book I read was called Man’s Search For Meaning, about a man who had been a prisoner in a Nazi death camp and became a psychologist after the war, which was perfect for me.

Amy didn’t care much about any of this stuff. She watched the TV news shows on politics on Sundays, but that’s as deep as she wanted to get. She especially liked The McLaughlin Report, which struck me as just a bunch of hyper liberals and conservatives shouting at each other. Amy liked the fighting. I guess it was entertaining, in a way.

But this bothered me. These people couldn’t talk about politics without flying off the handle. They couldn’t talk like cool intellectuals trying to reason out a problem.

As far as reading, Amy liked In Touch, People and The National Enquirer. She liked to keep up with Hollywood people. She was jealous of Paris Hilton. I found this odious, but I put up with it. Amy also liked to buy coffee at Starbucks and spend time there! This was another place I let myself get dragged to. Another hobby for her was to grab me and run into Tiffany’s to look at the expensive jewelry. Amy loves jewelry. If there is anything more unpleasant for a man to do, I can’t think of it.

Have I made her as repellent as possible in your mind? Like I said, her physicality kept me in place. Those baby blue eyes could be hypnotic. Her hips had a wave-like curve. Understandably, she had a great sense of fashion, with wonderful long skirts to match her legs and exceptionally tasteful underwear. I found myself admiring her like she was a runway model. Then I got disgusted with myself for mucking myself up with animal thoughts.

On the parental front, her mother and father were like more extreme versions of Amy. Her dad was a real estate developer and her mother sold real estate. They had deep tans, their skin starting to go all leather from the sun. They liked to play golf for God’s sake! I could imagine them hitting the long drives on the courses of Scottsdale, the Camelback mountains and desert behind them, using scarce, precious water to keep the fairways a bright and healthy green.

How did I ever hook up with such a creature? We met at work, of course. Public relations agencies are great incubators of relationships. Women generally make up 70 percent of the employee roster at a public relations agency. They’re young, ambitious, and hungry. With men in the minority, it’s relatively easy to find a girlfriend

I was an account executive in the technology division of the firm. We handled computer hardware, software, business re-engineering and scientific research companies, doing their publicity. That meant writing promotional articles about our clients’ products, customer case histories, press releases and talking to reporters from trade magazines to get our clients mentioned in the press.

Dr. Chertov was the CEO and sole owner of the Union Simplex Corporation, an Upper East Side-based company that did research and re-engineering projects for other companies. Dr. Chertov was so important to the agency that he was my only client. I had worked with him for almost two years. He gave us half a million dollars a year for our retainer, which is a lot of money for a public relations agency. I had gotten him press coverage in Industry Week and Business Week the same month, which made my reputation with him. It’s very hard to get publicity in Business Week. Everybody wants to get in there.

Amy worked in the consumer products division, naturally. She promoted cosmetics and beauty products companies.

There was a bunch of us, we were all the same age and we had all arrived at the company at about the same time. Around 7 o’clock, or 7:30 in the evening, there would usually be some guy who would round everybody up and say let’s go get something to eat.

I found this guy annoying. His name was Alan. I wanted to stay and work. But Alan was from Ohio State, and he had this gung-ho, we’re all in this together, cheerleader way about him. He would stare at me. I would look at my computer screen with longing for a few moments. There was a Union Simplex press release I was just aching to finish. He would stare again. I would sigh. So I allowed myself to be shanghaied out of there.

Inevitably we would end up at the Old Town, a bar on 18th Street, around the corner from the agency’s office, which served oily hamburgers, fat fries and generous amounts of beer.

After dinner, we often drank. I didn’t like to drink, but I would often sip a beer to be polite. The hostess would seat the 20 of us at a long table in a room on the second floor of the place. The tin ceiling was at least 80 years old and interesting to look at for its intricacy. We took thinly-cushioned chairs, with uneven wooden legs scraping to find stability on the white and green tiled floor. If there were a hospital for fixing chairs, these should be headed for the emergency room.

The table was lively with talk of clients and their unreasonable requests. I am a quiet man, so I listened and constantly checked the level of my beer to make sure I wasn’t drinking too fast or too much.

One night there was Amy sitting next to me in the long line of account executives stacked up at the long Old Town table. She smiled. I strained to smile back. While I try not to talk to anybody I don’t need to, I found myself looking into her blue eyes and trying to actually respond to her questions and listen to her chatter on about her clients. She asked me out for dinner. I went.

Now, ten months later, she was making me increasingly nervous. Here’s how one of our last dinners went.

We met outside a Mexican restaurant on University Place just below 14th Street, a five-minute walk from the office. The wind was whipping around on the street, but there were not leaves to move because the street has virtually no trees. This is New York and wildlife, even a tree, is an insult to the ultra-serious business of achieving the towering ambitions of huddled millions.

Amy’s blue eyes looked anguished. I had two thoughts. One, she was objectively beautiful, with her long nose, flared waist and blonde hair, even if it was enhanced with chemicals. Two, there’s a freight train coming my way and she’s the engineer.

“Let’s go in and talk,” she said quietly.

We sat just inside the window, so she could see me and the rest of the room. I could see her and out the window, which was actually a better position, because there is a parade of very odd people walking by, from homeless types to black leather punks and too-skinny artists and would-be novelists.

“Is everything OK? You look upset,” I said.

“We talked about moving in.”

I ordered a Scotch, which was very much unlike me, but I had a feeling I would need it.


She looked at me, her blue eyes bleeding with pain. I thought she was going to cry. It would be a shame to get the tablecloth wet.

“Maybe we shouldn’t.”

“Shouldn’t what?”

“Move in.”


A leather boy backed up a girl with a back-pack right against our window and pressed himself into her. The window made a protest. I diverted my eyes from Amy and looked at the couple. They were really grinding against each other.

Amy turned around, then she looked at me again.

“I’d like to do that to you. I’d like to climb on the table with you right now,” she said, blonde hair falling over her shoulders.

The Scotch came. I took it in one long swallow.


She blew air out of her lips. “You know, you exhaust me.”


“I am totally swept away by you.”


“You just stand there, like a wall.”

It was my turn to sigh. “Well, work’s very important to me.”

“You have big thoughts. But a small heart.”

I ordered another Scotch.

We ate our Mexican dinner and made small talk about work, the press releases she was writing and which client was a bitch. Many of them were. Then we went to her house and made furious, clinching love. She cried buckets of tears afterward. I hid in the bathroom.

Amy didn’t have to say more, but I could feel the pressure of her desires. She wanted me, almost certainly forever. She wanted to own me. I would be her little man, escorting her through stores for the rest of our lives. We never talked about children, but it didn’t matter. The image of me following her around the aisles of Bed, Bath and Beyond or Saks Fifth Avenue was enough to scare the crap out of me.

The image was starting to suffocate my mind. I began to have minor anxiety attacks at work. In addition to my back pain and sinuses, I was experiencing yet another obstacle to my productivity.

This was my mental state when I met Dr. Chertov for lunch one cloudy, chilly day at a restaurant near his office on 57th Street and Second Avenue. I took a cab to meet him, the black seat in the back sinking under my weight. The driver, smelling of three days of sweat, flew off onto Park Avenue going north, then almost immediately screeched on the brakes because of the heavy traffic. I felt like I was being launched into space. My sinuses complained by pounding the inside of my forehead with tiny hammers. My back tried to relocate itself in space and time.

Little atomic rockets fired up and down my spine and through my legs as I got out of the cab. Worried about being late, I lurched inside the glass door of the restaurant and found Dr. Chertov sitting in the back room, drinking water and eating fried scrod. He didn’t like to wait for anybody.

“I’m sorry I’m late.”

He dug into the scrod. Without looking up, he said quietly, but firmly, “Sit down.”


“I ordered for you. Grilled chicken and ziti. Your usual.”

“Sounds good.” I grimaced.

“You’re not well.”

“My back has been bothering me.”

“I know. I wanted to talk to you about that. Your injury has been hurting your work.”

When Dr. Chertov said that, I felt absolute horror. He confirmed my fears about myself. I had been unmasked.

“I’ve been going to physical therapy.”

“What are they doing to you?”

“Electrical stimulation of the nerves, mostly. Some massage.”

Chewing on a torn piece of scrod, he said, “That stuff never works.”

“I’m also doing some exercise. I’ve been swimming and doing some yoga.”

“How’s that working?”

“It doesn’t last. As soon as the workout’s over, the pain comes back.”

Dr. Chertov leaned back in his chair. He had an amazing resemblance to Ronald Reagan. His hair was swept up over his skull like a small rolling hill, with gel to stiffen it and keep it in place. The jowls sank in the same old man Reagan way. His eyes were small, but direct and sincere.

“I have been thinking about your problem, which is also my problem.”


“I’m paying your firm a half-million dollars to do publicity for me. I see a lot of resourcefulness and drive in you. I could give you a 25 percent raise and still pay you much less than I’m paying your firm. Also, we’ll work on expanding your portfolio of skills and get more work out of you.”

“What are you saying?”

“You can come and work for me.”

Despite the pinging in my back, I smiled. This was a great opportunity.

“I’m very flattered.”

“Don’t be. I need your brain. But the rest of you is falling apart.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Fortunately, I have considered a solution.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s a radical idea. But it might work well.”


“You’ve heard of people who want to download their consciousness, the contents of their brains, into software so they can live forever on the Web?”


“I’m surprised you don’t know about it. You read so much. No matter. We’ve been working on something much better, something more direct and effective, which works now, as opposed to looking forward to technology that hasn’t even been invented yet. I’ve developed the means to separate the brain from the dross of the body and integrate it into computer systems.”

“You’ve done this?”

Dr. Chertov grimaced a little. “I’ve worked out the theory and the schematics, the procedures. We’ve experimented with animals.”

“What kind of animals?”

“White mice. They’re very similar to humans. You interested?”

Here was a chance to work for a man with PhDs in computer science and business from M.I.T., as well a medical degree from Harvard. His knowledge, his ability to teach me were very powerful attracting forces.

“I’m interested. What do we have to do?’

Dr. Chertov leaned in close to me.

“Any further conversation we have comes under my firm’s confidentiality agreement with your company.”

I leaned in too. “OK.”

He drank some water from his tall, thin glass. “Very good. Human beings have body plans that actually don’t work very well. Evolution is not a perfect God. It does what it can with the tools it has at the moment. Walking upright, for instance, was an adaptation that has resulted in weak backs for many. If we still crawled on all fours, your back wouldn’t matter as much. Your legs would provide the support for the body’s weight.”

My grilled chicken came and we both sat back. Dr. Chertov looked ticked off. He didn’t like to be interrupted for something so trivial as chicken and pasta. I admired him for that. It reminded me a little of me.

I dug into the flat slab of chicken. Dr. Chertov looked at it with a certain twist of disgust in his mouth.

“This is another example of what I’m talking about. The body has needs. The brain needs to be fed, so it can direct the rest of the body to do what it has to do to survive. Although, in the case of Sarah Palin, I’m not sure her brain isn’t defective. She seems to have something wrong with her verbal delivery system. That winking thing may be an early symptom of developing Tourette’s Syndrome. Anyway, I’m getting off the subject. The brain is the most impressive development in human evolution. It’s truly an incredible organ. It enabled us to get out of the trees and develop tools and speech and music and so many other incredible things.”

I took a bite of chicken and looked at the doctor expectantly.

“This brings us to the computer. Another impressive human invention. But in many ways, the human brain is far superior. Computers are like oxen. They’ll do what you tell them to do. They’ll carry out your tasks. But the brain can interpret information. So, what if you joined the brain and the computer together? You would have a technological edge, another inflection point in evolution.”

“Kind of like a merger of the two?”

“Kind of, yes.”

“So are you going to download my brain into your computers?”

He looked disgusted again. “You haven’t been listening. I intend to disassemble the unnecessary parts of you and integrate your brain directly with a CPU.”

I understood that Dr. Chertov was deliberately using corporate euphemisms to speak with me. I lived in this world of not directly addressing your subject. For instance, when vice presidents talk about firing someone, they’ll tell you, “I’ve asked Debra to leave.” It’s a neat little trick of verbal avoidance, another admirable invention of the human brain.

I took in what the doctor was saying. I would still be alive, but I would no longer have a body. I would have my precious brain, still have consciousness, and my aching back problem would be solved.

All of a sudden, I had a flash of inspiration. Getting my head cut off would be a great way to break up with Amy!

“So, what do you think, my friend?”

I swallowed what felt like the most delicious piece of grilled chicken ever and smiled. “I think, yes.”

He sat back with satisfaction. “We’ll draw up the papers and send them over to your apartment.”

“I’ll have to take care of some things,” I said. “I need to resign from the agency and deal with a couple of personal matters.”

“Take your time to clean things up, a week or two, if you need. We’ll set the date when you’ve completed those tasks.”

Over the weekend I went over to Amy’s apartment, on 73rd and Columbus. I walked through the long blank white hallway of the building and knocked on her red metal door.

She opened it slowly and didn’t strong-arm me inside.

“Your voice sounded funny on the phone.”


“What do you want to talk about?”

“Let’s go inside, Amy.”

She arranged herself on a new couch, the one she had purchased in anticipation of me moving in with her. I sat in a sofa chair. Sank in is more like it. The fabric seemed to envelop me. I tried to sit up to escape it, but the material kept bubbling up to capture my behind.

“So, what’s doing?”

“I got a job offer from Dr. Chertov.”

“That’s great. So why are you so, I don’t know, flat?”

“The job is going to take me away from you.”

“What do you mean? Another city?”

“Not exactly. I’ll be here in the city, at the corporate headquarters on the Upper East Side.”

“So, what’s the problem?”

“The work will be very demanding.”

“You’re going to work more than you do now?”


“All night? All weekend?”

“Sort of.”

“You’re not telling me the whole story.”

I shifted uncomfortably in the chair and tried to sit on the edge of the seat, but I ended up falling backward and my mid-section got swallowed by the foam innards. I could see that Amy would be merciless in her questioning and I didn’t see any way out but by telling the real story.

“Dr. Chertov is going to cut off my head and use my brain as part of his server computer. It’s a fantastic opportunity.”

Amy looked at me, the blue eyes wrinkling in pain and fear and anger. She collected her thoughts and then said in a quiet, but contemptuous voice:

“I think I saw this type of thing in a movie. If you want to break up with me, you could have come up with something more plausible than a plot point from a movie. You could just tell me the truth.”

“This is the truth. I love you.”

“You don’t.”

“I’m sorry.”

“One thing. Don’t ever ask to come back inside that door again.”

“I won’t.”

I got up and Amy did too.

I walked over to her and kissed her on the lips. She threw her arms around me and gave me a kiss that flooded my whole body with the warmth of a beach in St. Thomas in June. I had a painful thought that maybe I was making a mistake.

Then it ended. “I guess I shouldn’t be kissing you,” Amy said.


She walked me to the door. In the hallway I turned around. I looked at her face. She saw me, hung her blonde hair in sorrow and closed the red door.

I was both relieved and pained at the same time. I walked out of there like a man who has just committed a crime and gotten away with it, but knows he’s guilty as hell—a fugitive from himself.

When I resigned from the agency, my boss, Peter, made a counter-offer, giving me a salary of $9,000 more than I was currently making.

We had all signed contracts restraining us from working for current clients. That’s not really legal, but I still didn’t want to tell Peter where I was going.

“I’m moving to South Dakota.”

He was completely offended. “Why would you go there? It’s just a bunch of wheat.”

“I need a change, Peter.”

“You’re going to be a farmer?”

“Something like that.”

I stayed the requisite two weeks after resigning. Amy’s division was on another floor, but during the business day she and I passed each other in the hallways four or five times. We said nothing, but just stared.

I spent two weeks selling or giving away my books and old furniture, cleaning the apartment and dealing with the landlord, who was only too happy to see me go. He was now free to raise the rent more than 100 percent. The neighborhood had become quite hot from a real estate perspective and a lot of young professionals wanted to move into our building.

My parents lived in Florida. I spoke to them every week. I told them that I got a new job and I would be moving to Manhattan. I figured with the new telecom technology I could just dial them from my workstation at Dr. Chertov’s office so they wouldn’t be alarmed. Of course, if they wanted to visit, I might have to work up some really good lies.

By now it was early December. I had gone through periods of being freaked out and feelings of great elation. Nothing came out straight in my mind. Finally, the day before, I set my will to it. I had signed the papers with Dr. Chertov. It was a fait accompli. This was something I had to force myself to do. I made a commitment to someone else, someone who I held in the highest esteem, and I had to honor it.

The Union Simplex office was at 57th Street and 2nd Avenue. Dr. Chertov’s company took up the second and third floors of the residential apartment tower, but. he didn’t have a lot of employees. I had been on the second floor plenty of times, but never on the third. That day I found out why.

A security guard escorted me to the floor from the elevator. His name plate said Perry Marlboro. He was very tall, about six foot seven, with a bloated stomach. Despite his handsome gold badge, walkie-talkie and company-issue blue jacket and tie, he looked slovenly. Crumbs of food stuck to his mustache. We walked through a pair of glass doors, then about 20 feet through another pair of black glass doors. Inside the doors was a large black room with no windows. A row of computers lined the wall. A table with a computer workstation stood in the middle of the floor, its wires unattached. A large glass, a little larger than my head, sat on the table of the workstation.

Next to the computer was an operating table. It looked like black crystal glass.

Dr. Chertov was busy on the other side of the room, sterilizing his hands. A nurse pulled gloves onto him. He heard us come in.

“Welcome,” he said, from under his surgical mask. "You’ll need to take all off your clothes. Go to the cubicle on the other side of the room. I’ve got a pair of gym shorts for you.”

I couldn’t find the cubicle.

Dr. Chertov, impatient, yelled from across the room and pointed in the opposite direction.

“No! What’s wrong with you! It’s over there.”

When I came out from the cubicle, I was freezing. My skin rippled. The nurse took my shoulder and led me to the operating table. I felt weak. My stomach, empty and aching from lack of food since six o’clock the night before, bubbled with acid and worry. My back sent little electric shocks through me.

The nurse placed a sterile plastic sheet over the table, to collect the blood from the operation. It was glacier-cold, as if it had been left in a meat locker overnight. I instinctively curled up in a fetal position. Dr. Chertov came over. He and the nurse pried my arms and legs away from my midsection and patted my body down on the table like I was a piece of Play-Doh.

“I’m freezing,” I said.

“These are the sins of the body. You’re sensitive to everything. We are really just animals. You won’t need to eat, excrete, or worry about deodorant. In a way, I envy you. I’m here to help you become more than an animal. You’ll be all mind from now on.”

I was a little proud of myself. I realized that I had reduced my carbon footprint and my impact on global warming. No longer would I consume food and other products with plastic packaging, which of course burns lots of oil. I wouldn’t require food to be trucked to my local supermarket from far-away factory farms. Not one more plastic bag would need to be killed on my behalf. I wouldn’t need clothing, the production of which burns carbon dioxide too. I had taken myself out of the carbon dioxide creation and waste stream. I was really helping the planet now!

Dr. Chertov and the nurse made some final preparations with their instruments. A large surgical saw on one of the tables alarmed me.

“I want you to sit up now. I’m going to inject you with a spinal anesthetic. You’ll be out for several hours. When you wake up, there will be some pain, and I’ll have additional pain medication for you.”

The needle fired into my lower back and oh how it burned. The nurse laid me down on the table like I was a baby. After a few minutes, I was feeling much better.

“What’s your name?” I asked her, drowsy.

“Linda Blair.”

I was starting to feel even fuzzier, but even through the fog of the anesthetic, I thought that name was odd.

“She’s an actress. In. The Exorcist movie. She spun. Her head around.”

“I know. I was making a joke.”

I didn’t think it was very funny.

Dr. Chertov looked over me. “How are you doing?”

“Sleepy. OK. Strange. I love you, Dr. Chertov.”

He laughed. “A few more moments and then let’s get going.”

Anesthesia kicks in like a hammer. Fade to black on the plastic sheeting. You don’t dream. You’re not asleep. You don’t feel anything. You’re just unconscious.

I woke up a little early, while Dr. Chertov was attaching nerve endings from my neck into the computer. My head shivered from the pain. I remembered thrashing what was left of my neck muscles against glass.

“Try to remain still,” Dr. Chertov said. “We’ll give you more pain medication.”

He motioned to the nurse and she stuck a needle in the soft part of my head, where it was once attached to the shoulders.

The solution flooded me and I felt like I was bathing in a pleasure dome.

“You’ve got a codeine and morphine solution going now, with Valium too. You should feel better.”

“I do. Thank you,” I said, feeling happy.

The operation took another couple of hours. The doctor and the nurse closed off my neck with butt flesh. The CPU was placed next to me, wires attaching us on a large plastic table. Then the glass came down on both of us. A 32 inch viewing screen and printer attachment were each placed on one side of the glass.

“Meet your new twin brother,” Dr. Chertov said.

I couldn’t quite turn my head, but I could see the computer out of the side of my eye. It was grey metal with a blue “on” light, which looked like a little mouth to me. The CPU had a lot of slots too, for adding additional memory and speed. I tried to smile at it.

“What’s going to happen to my body?”

“We’ll sell it as a medical product. We can sell your organs on eBay and make quite a bit of money. Even though you had a bad back, your kidneys, liver, lungs and heart are in excellent shape. The rest of you can be sold to medical schools or biological research companies. You’re already making money for the company!”


I was proud of myself again.

Dr. Chertov told me to take a few days to get settled in, then work on my first assignment—buying those six dozen mice and 1,000 cockroaches. I looked forward to it. He gave me an injection of liquid protein to feed me, and spent a couple of days making sure the operation had gone well, monitoring my vital signs and all that.

Those first days were pretty boring. The laboratory had track lights set to a low level. There wasn’t much to see from my perch on the table. A pedestal sat under my head, with a hole to provide for the connection of wires from my brain to the CPU. I looked around, straight out, but couldn’t swivel my head. My brain kept telling my arms and legs to move, but there was no one on the other end to obey the command.

I got so bored that I fell asleep for a number of hours at a time. It was like taking one very long wait to see the dentist. Dr. Chertov seemed unfazed by it.

He came into the lab one time when I was just sort of listlessly staring into space. He was wearing a $900 custom tailored suit and $500 Italian shoes. I got excited. Here was some stimulation.

“I’ve absolutely got to go on a business trip for a few days,” the doctor said. “It can’t wait. Maria will look after you if you need anything. She’ll give you protein and saline water injections for your needs.”

Maria must have been the lady who called herself Linda Blair. “Is that the nurse?”


“Why do I need water?”

“You still need some blood to circulate in your brain or the organ will die. And blood needs water and salt."

“When do I get a screen to look at?”

“We need to do a couple of things before you’re ready for a monitor. We take one step at a time. You’re ready for the next step. We’ll see how you do with that. Then we’ll see.”

He removed the glass enclosure over my head and put his hands on my ears and looked me over like a worried parent examining his child.

“You look OK. You should be in good shape with Maria. Try to behave. Don’t get into any trouble,” he said, smiling.

“You’re making a joke.”

“Ha! Yes. I’ll see you in a few days.”

Dr. Chertov typed several commands into the workstation I was now joined to like a Siamese twin.

When he walked out of the room, I felt a little cloud come over me. There was really nothing to do. I suddenly wanted to go for a walk and see trees.

The wires attached to the bottom of my head stung me. My head began to fill with numbers—ones and zeroes—the binary code of the computer that was now part of me.

I closed my eyes and tried to figure out what they meant. The ones and zeroes started to run through me, in giant herds, like 19th century buffalo on the Great Plains. I was overwhelmed with the numbers.

It felt like they were looking for something, hunting. Then I realized they were searching out specific places in my brain, parts of my memory, various brain functions. They smashed into my memories of first grade, my first kiss, college graduation, a fight with Jimmy Capuano in seventh grade, my parents. They screamed and thudded into my knowledge cells, colliding with bits of information about politics, reading, writing, movies, Amy. They ran into all the parts of my single remaining organ and it was like getting electric shock. I felt myself burning up with fever.

Despite the air conditioning, a drop of sweat trickled from my hair down my forehead into my eye. I could still do that, but I couldn’t wash the sweat out of my eye. It burned.

It occurred to me that the computer was trying to integrate my brain into its own workings, but the process was not pleasant. I was going from a single, independent entity to just part of a bigger organism. It was interesting if you were able to stand outside the process and watch as an interested observer, but when it’s happening to you, it feels very strange. I felt a little like a worm that is impregnated with wasp eggs. When the eggs hatch, the baby wasps eat the worm. Maybe I’m being a little overdramatic, but I was being invaded by a machine intelligence and there was nothing I could do about it. I had signed up for this.

Maria, the nurse, walked in. I was grateful for any outside distraction. I noticed her looks, grateful for any visual input, even though she wasn’t the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. She had fiery red hair and a pitted face. Acne scars. She walked over to me, lifted the glass briefly and wiped the sweat off my forehead.

“Thank you,” I said.

“You’re sweating. That’s bad for the wiring.” Her voice was condemning and cutting. “I’ll have to turn up the air conditioning.”

She padded out of the room. A few minutes later, the air conditioning was up and I was freezing my head off.

The integration process continued. Little electric shocks went off in my brain as the computer made its connections.

All of a sudden, I couldn’t see. My hair had grown all over my head, both in the front and back. I was being covered with hair. I felt like a brown-haired sheepdog.

Maria walked in again, disgusted. Apparently, she worked at a station to monitor me, which was out of my sight.

“Why is this happening?” I asked through a curtain of hair.

“The computer is taking over your brain functions and doing things super-fast, like a good, efficient machine. It sees that you’re cold and it’s directing your head to grow more hair—the hair is an adaptation to the cold.”

“What do we do now?”

“We give you a haircut.”

Maria draped a sheet around my head and the computer to catch the cuttings. She gave me a bowl cut, with the hairline two inches above the eyebrows.

The hair grew back into my eyes just 15 minutes later.

Maria came back, really ticked off now.

“I’m going to have to shave your head.”

“OK.” What else could I say?

Wearing sterile gloves, the nurse cut my hair as close as possible to the skull. Then she applied shaving cream to my skull and sliced off the nubs of hair sticking close to my skin, using a triple-edged razor. I felt every blade as the razor stumbled over my head.

“Hopefully, it will take a while for the computer to grow back your hair,” she said. She looked very tired as she raised the glass to cover my head again.

My scalp itched like crazy. The hair came back in fast again, but it took three hours to reach my eyes.

Maria walked into the room again, really fired up. Her eyes looked creepy and evil.

“It’s not my fault,” I said, afraid of Maria. She cut my hair as fast as she could and as a result, nicked me with the scissors several times. I could feel little cuts opening all over my skull. She shaved me again, fast, and more cuts came. With the cold air coming in on my shaven head, the cuts felt like little vents into my skull. I was worried that cold air could get into my brain.

“You’re too much trouble for somebody who’s just a head.”

She spoke directly to the computer.

“I surrender! I’ll turn down the air conditioning, so Head here is more comfortable.”

She padded out again. In a few moments the air got a little warmer. I was still bleeding in at least half a dozen spots. I couldn’t believe that Maria didn’t try to stop the cuts from bleeding.

I guess she knew something I didn’t. Clots started to form and scabs came together in just five minutes, then fell off. The computer had healed me. I could feel the itchy new skin around the wounds.

Also, I noticed the burn started again, but at least I wasn’t cold. The computer was attaching me into it. I still couldn’t figure out what was coming into my brain. It was all binary code and meant nothing to me except that it hurt.

After a few hours, I fell asleep. My dreams were of ones and zeroes streaming by in big green neon lights, like a stock market ticker. A few of them waved to me as they zipped through the ether of my brain.

I was awakened by a wad of paper hitting my forehead. I opened my eyes, dazed and foggy.


The security threw another piece of paper at my skull.

“So, you’re the Head. You’re not even human anymore. You’re just a Head.”

I couldn’t think of anything else to say. It was true. Nevertheless, I felt that I had to fight back somehow.

“That’s Mr. Head to you.”

He laughed. “Mr. Head. That’s funny, demanding respect.”

“Why’d you take the glass off me? This is a sterile environment.”

“Who cares about that? You’re the boss’s new pet.”

Perry had a backpack. He took a ball out of the backpack and threw it at me, a kid’s ball, thin plastic skin and bright metallic blue. The ball hit me on the nose, but didn’t hurt much. It was very light.

“Did you spend all day thinking that one up?” I snarled at him. “What a genius.”

He looked wounded. “Next time, I’m getting a basketball.”

Then he walked out, without putting the glass dome back on my head. It rested on a table in front of me.

Little feathers tickled my bare head. Dust. No wonder I needed to be kept in a jar. I sneezed. A little something crawled on the back of my neck, up my anterior skull, over the top of my head, down my eyebrows, then the bridge of my nose. It headed down my nose, then kept going, over my lips, then the front of my neck, and into the wires connecting me with the computer. It was some kind of bug, probably a roach. I couldn’t see it that well from my angle.

The environment here was not what I thought it was. I had this image of Dr. Chertov’s lab as a terribly efficient environment, a corporate machine, but his company was just another collection of mediocre human beings working in an office populated by the filth of the outside world, with insects and falling dust. I wondered if there were rodents in the lab too.

A sizzle of pain rose up from the computer and reached into my forehead. It felt like a knife inside the brain. I wondered where it came from. But then another pulse came through. I remembered what Maria had said. I was now integrated with the computer. I felt what it felt and vice versa. The bug was inside it, crawling around. If it was a roach, it might be chewing on the internal wires of the computer.

The fever hit me like a freight train. I was being cooked alive. A roller coaster of ones and zeroes zoomed around in me, writhing and confused. I thrashed my head around and then I did something I didn’t think was possible. I fell over on the table, head, pedestal and wires—all one unit. I tipped onto the metal surface with the top of my skull. It was like hitting your head on concrete. I blacked out.

* * *

“Tottenkopf, you still in there? Hello?”

Two gloved hands lifted me up. Through fevered eyes I saw Dr. Chertov, placing me upright. Maria stood next to him, looking contrite and humbled.

“You’re not in good shape.”

“No,” I croaked out.

“I’m going to inject you with a fever reducer.”

“OK.” I was ready to go to sleep.

“Try to stay awake. When we’ve stabilized your temperature, I’m going to disconnect you from the computer, so we can find out what’s going on in there. You’re linked together, so whatever happens to it, happens to you.”

“A bug.”


“A bug crawled into it. You asked for 10,000 cockroaches. I got you only one.”

“Hell, hell, hell. I’ll have to find it.”

He turned to Maria. “How could you let this happen? You’re his guardian!”

“It must have happened at night, when I was off.”

“You could have checked in with the monitors here from home using your cellphone. You were supposed to do that.”

“I needed a break. I wanted to sleep,” Maria said in a wounded, weak voice.

“This is unacceptable. I’m getting you a bed. You’re moving in here.”

Maria looked at me with vicious eyes, her acne scars blazing with red venom, streams of hatred flowing through her to me. I felt even sicker.

“I’m going to disconnect some of the wires leading into you from the computer. Then I’m going to have to look in the machine’s guts to find the bug, tottenkopf. This could take a few hours.”

I was very sleepy, the way you are when you’re tired from illness and your body just wants to fall into bed and stay there for a few days. But I had to ask.

“What does tottenkopf mean?”

“That’s my nickname for you. It means skull head, in German.”


He said it with affection, yet it seemed somehow not quite right. But it captured a new reality. You couldn’t say that I was still a human being. When you name a pet, you can give it any name you want and the pet isn’t going to understand what it really means. In my case, I understood, but it didn’t change the basic relationship I now had with the world. Perry had been right. I had allowed Dr. Chertov to turn me into his dog.






Copyright © 2009 Michael Gold

A B O U T   T H E   A U T H O R:

Michael Gold: I live in Queens, NY, with my wife and 2 year old daughter. I have worked as a public relations writer for industrial and technology companies, a reporter for small-town newspapers, and a freelance writer. My last published piece was “On The Road Rage” on Silverthought. New influences include Rudy Rucker (“White Light”), Joe Haldeman (“The Accidental Time Machine”) and Robert Forward (“Dragon’s Egg”).

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