Excerpt for Great Minds by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Great Minds


Steven D. Bennett

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Copyright 2017 by Steven D. Bennett

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Smashwords Edition

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"Have you considered your place in eternity?"

Sebastian Sage had never envisioned being asked that question once, let alone twice, and yet the proof stood before him.

The first instance was courtesy of Kenneth Cross, who would appear at inopportune times to blather on about the eternal carpenter. Being a trained physicist (PhD at 23, IQ 185) Sage was above superstition, and though he considered Cross a colleague, he wondered how much he could trust the disposition of one whose reasoning led him to believe in people rising from the dead and a universe born by the imaginings of an invisible being. Frankenstein was fiction and random chance the creator.

No, eternity held no interest; his challenge was the immediate. He had been immersed in the study of climate change for some time, working on the idea that the disintegration of the polar ice caps could be reversed by seeding them with chemicals, binding the ice while increasing its width. The solution was simple but would require a great deal of money. Seed money, he had called it, a joke for which he was very proud as it was his first. Though the cost would be daunting, a worldwide effort--led by the UN, possibly--would see immediate benefit.

He had named his project The Bi-Polar Solution, his second joke, and he smiled at his new found wit. But the realization that the man who had asked the question the second time, Quentin Dodd, was still waiting for a response made him close his computer with a sigh. Great success, he noted, was never achieved without great distraction.

"Eternity?" Sage asked, disdainfully. Dodd was a man whose reputation elicited a greater expectation than inquiries into the supernatural, if that's what it was. It didn't help that he was being shadowed by Joe Slaughter, Dodd's assistant, noteworthy for that and nothing else.

"Yes, eternity," Dodd said. "Or history, if you will. Have you considered your place in history?"

"I've considered my work in that regard. Ego has no place in science. Whether I am remembered is something I give no credence."

"A commendable attitude," Slaughter said, "because we're not here to talk about your place in history. We're here to talk about your brain's place in history."

Sebastian was both repelled and intrigued by the crude allusion.

"Have you heard of Great Minds?"

He hesitated. "In regards to what?"

"Cryogenics."

"I don't believe so."

"Though there are many facets to cryogenics," Dodd said, "we're concerned with the longevity aspect, the theory that a person could be resuscitated at a time when a cure for whatever killed them is found."

"I know the concept," Sage said, "though death can occur without disease."

"The most important thing is that the brain is intact, as it could be attached to some type of Cyborg or other. There is no doubt that robotics will play a large part in the future. But Great minds seeks to do something unique," he continued. "Anyone with means can be cryogenically frozen. The mission of Great Minds is to preserve the world's most intelligent people."

"An elite brain bank."

"In a way. Let me give you the history. Great Minds was the brain-child, so to speak, of billionaire Walter Barrett. Though Barrett made his money in consumables--said profit dependent on consumers--what many don't know is the consuming fear he's had since the 1950's of overpopulation."

"He must be very fearful now," Sebastian said, "what with five billion more people on the planet."

"I suppose," Dodd said. "But his concerns go beyond population. He believes the activity of man in the decades to come will be so destructive it will overwhelm humanity. It will take a greater mind-force than will be available for mankind to survive."

"His assumption must be that, though there will be more people in the future, they will be less intelligent collectively. That would seem to discount the evolutionary advances of the human mind."

Dodd looked at Slaughter, whose eyes darted as if searching for a response, stopping when he had. "Perhaps he's taking the internet and social media into account for the degradation."

Sage nodded. "A reasonable assertion. But I'm still not clear on the objective of Great Minds. Cryogenics already exists."

"The only assurance in cryogenics is that a dead body will be kept frozen indefinitely. There is no guarantee that a cure for what killed them will ever be found or, once resuscitated, that their essence, their being, will have survived. The end result might well be a dead body or brain on life support; existing, yet not living; functioning, yet unable to function."

"That is a risk."

"Great Minds believes they have a solution that will increase the chances a person will survive the journey intact."

"Which is?"

"To place them in a cryogenic state while still alive."

Sebastian was taken aback. "While living?"

"Yes. That would increase the chances of them living through the journey. And the younger the person is when entering that state, the better."

"Why?"

"Do you know how many brain cells a person loses on average every day?" Slaughter asked.

"Seven thousand," Sebastian said automatically, then, considering the man, added, "give or take."

"With no chance of regeneration," Dodd said. "So the earlier they are frozen, the better the chances for success. You are thirty-one, correct?"

"Last June."

"With all due respect, your best days are behind you."

"Well, I don't know about that."

"Historically," Dodd added. "All of the great minds throughout history had there most notable achievements before they were thirty. Einstein, for instance."

"He was thirty-five when he came up with his special theory of relatively."

"Oh."

"So what Great Minds is asking," Sebastian said, staring at nothing as he did while in deep thought, "is for people to voluntarily sacrifice their present for future generations."

"In a nutshell.

He looked at Dodd. "Is this legal?"

Dodd laughed. "Of course. The recent plethora of state amendments legalizing euthanasia made it easy for us to piggy-back on the issue. After all, if the government allows someone who is sick to end their life, shouldn't someone in perfect health be allowed to extend theirs—albeit in a comatose state—for the benefit of mankind?"

Sebastian nodded. "I would have no objection. Has anyone of note volunteered?"

"We're not allowed to give out names," Dodd said. "Walter Barrett has promised his participation, though in the usual manner, after death. I can say—" he lowered his voice "--that Niles DeMoss Yardley is very interested."

Sebastian scowled. If ever he had a nemesis—and he hadn't-- it was Yardley. More of a populist than scientist, he made his reputation spouting slogans on talk shows. While Sage had invested thousands of hours in the fight against global warming, Yardley was being lauded and applauded for generic babblings. One especially fatuous slogan was seen on t-shirts across the country: "WE'RE ON THIN ICE!"

"I doubt the future would benefit from his brain anymore than the present," Sage said under his breath.

"So," Dodd said. "What are your thoughts?"

"It's an interesting concept," he said, "but what does it have to do with me?"

Slaughter and Dodd exchanged a look. Dodd spoke. "I should have been more clear. We seek your participation."

"Oh! Yes, I should have guessed," Sebastian said, "seeing that you're looking for the most intelligent people. It's very flattering, but I have my work to consider. I'm very close to solving the world's most important problem."

"Robot sex?"

Dodd managed to give his assistant an elbow while maintaining a smile. "If that's what's holding you back, consider that Barrett will use his money and influence to keep your research going long after you are, uh…on your journey."

"I have an odd question."

"There are no stupid questions," Slaughter said.

"If one opts for only having the head frozen—"

"Neurocryopreservation."

"--what happens to the rest of the body?"

Dodd clasped his hands. "This is exciting. Every part of the body is used for science. All the organs will be harvested; the heart, the skin, the eyes, and so forth. They will all be used for the advancement of science. Nothing goes to waste. And to be completely honest, it is partially how Great Minds will be funded. The organs of a healthy man your age are worth millions."

"Won't I need my eyes in the future?"

Dodd cleared his throat. "Did I say eyes? I misspoke. Nothing above the neckline would be touched. I got a little ahead of myself. Well?"

"It is intriguing idea, and I must say I've always thought of myself as a bit of an adventurer."

"You like to travel?"

"Only in the virtual world. But the idea of time travel has long fascinated me, and what you're proposing is in that realm."

"Indeed it is," Dodd said. "You would experience a future no one alive ever could."

Sebastian was contemplatively quiet for a few moments. "This is something that will require a great deal of thought before I make a decision."

"Of course." Dodd handed him a card. GREAT MINDS was printed on the front, ETERNITY BEGINS TODAY on the back, with accompanying cell number, email and website. "Take as much time as you need. We are simply here to present the opportunity for you, and your work, to live forever."

Live forever. The two words remained long after the men had gone. It was a hope as old as Methuselah, the ability to prolong life. Not for gain or glory, of course, but so that the work would go on. The work was everything. But so often the work one did in their lifetime was not recognized. Sometimes it took a generation, or two.

He briefly imagined waking to a world filled with gratitude and admiration for the man whose ideas had saved humanity. He still held that ego had no place in science, but this was more than that. When the body died, the energy did not, forever moving through the cosmos. But it did so without form or thought. The idea of longevity with intellect intact was very appealing, as was the shadings of time travel involved. Although the journey would be in a type of forced sleep, many films and stories he had seen and read proposed that same scenario; in reaching far galaxies, for instance. And it mirrored the theory of traveling at light speed. Time slowed for the travelers as those who remained aged normally. Save consciousness, it was a suitable alternative.

In the following days and weeks the concept of Great Minds kept invading Sebastian's thoughts, usually in concert with a televised appearance of Niles DeMoss Yardley. His vacuous smile seemed to be everywhere. One interview was especially galling.

"Consider a future," he was saying, "where the world is reaping the repercussions of all of our actions, or inactions. A future that looks to science to sustain humanity, but, alas, science has been subjugated by men who care more for profits than human existence. To whom can that future turn? To a God that has seen the destruction of the environment and done nothing? Or to the gods of today, the men—and women—who can save them from disaster. Only by sending our most brilliant minds into that future can we hope to survive, and the only way to accomplish that is through cryogenics."

"Have you considered such a thing?" the awestruck interviewer asked.

Yardley looked into the camera for long seconds, milking the moment. "I have!"

Sage clicked it off in disgust. Gods! Someone whose greatest achievement was found on a t-shirt was far from being a god. Still, if Yardley was considering it…

Sebastian Sage had no family. His parents were dead, he had no siblings, relatives or pets. The closest thing to a relationship he had was with Alyssa, a woman who called promptly every Tuesday and Thursday evening at six-fifteen to talk him into a time share. Though he could have blocked her number, the continual back and forth—as well as her punctuality--became a type of ritual he enjoyed. He would miss her. Realizing this, he also realized he had made his decision.

He called Great Minds, met with the board, and even spoke on the phone, briefly, with Walter Barrett. The conversation was little more than "I admire your work" and "Glad to have you on board," as well as some flattery about having confidence in handing the future to someone so brilliant and the assurance that Sage's "groundbreaking work on climate change would continue for many years to come."

"When do we begin?"

"As soon as your affairs are in order," Dodd said, "let us know."

Sage had few affairs to organize. They set a date.

Two weeks later Sage arrived at Great Minds. He had done nothing with his belongings, leaving them to his landlord's disposal. The little money he had in the bank he donated, anonymously, to Great Minds. All he carried was his ID, which he handed to Dodd.

"How will the people in the future know who I am?"

"We have your name inscribed on the outside of your ship," he said, a reference to the nitrogen container. "Everything else is on file. But I'm sure when you awaken your arrival will be well anticipated."

As they walked to The Departure Room, Dodd said, "I suppose there's no harm in telling you now that Niles DeMoss Yardley has decided to join us, though he has yet to set a departure date."

"Good," Sage said, thinking, But I'll be first.

Then it was down to business. The Departure Room was much like a normal bedroom, with subdued lighting, wood cabinets and a comfortable bed. A pretty blonde nurse gave him a pill and water, and after swallowing it he lay down and closed his eyes.

"You will feel a little bite," she said, rubbing his right arm with gauze. He smelled rubbing alcohol.

Sebastian had no fear of the procedure. He had often found comfort leaving the conscious world to enter the sub-conscious. Having decades ahead, alone with his thoughts, was as exciting a future as he could imagine.

He would never know when he lost consciousness or what happened thereafter, but the place he entered was serene rest. When consciousness returned it seemed no time had passed. It came slowly. Though he could not see or hear, he could sense sights and sounds and voices.

"Can you understand what I'm saying?" a voice asked.

"Yes," he replied.

"Are you hearing me clearly?"

"Yes. Strange. Though I cannot hear I sense that I can. Though I cannot see, I sense everything around me."

"Then everything is as it should be."

"Where am I?"

"Where you have been for a long time."

"What is the year?"

"Two-thousand eighty."

"And you are?"

"Dr. Edward Slaughter."

"Slaughter? There was a Doctor Slaughter working at Great Minds when I volunteered. You are not him?"

The man laughed. "That was my grandfather."

"Of course. The years. My mind is fuzzy."

"Perfectly normal."

"In what form am I?"

"Pardon?"

"As I said, I can sense but cannot hear. I see, yet I have no eyes. I speak, but have no mouth."

"What happened to your head?"

"Yes."

"There were many scientific breakthroughs in cryogenics since your departure. There were found ways to connect the brain to a computer, of sorts, where all the senses could be accessed without the use of the outer shell. The brain is the only thing necessary for our purposes."

"Purposes?"

"Those will be explained when your mental faculties return to full strength. Then we will get to work."

Work! He felt excitement for the first time in six decades. "Yes, I am anxious to return to my work. I assume a great deal of the world is covered with water, due to the ice caps melting."

"No," Slaughter said. "The rate of melting stabilized over fifty years ago."

"Oh," Sage said. "Of course! My theory must have put into place. The poles must have been given doses of chemicals that increased the thickness and width of the ice."

"No," Slaughter said. "They seemed to have stabilized on their own. Apparently there are as many periods of natural cooling as there are of natural warming."

"Really." Sage was surprised at his disappointment. "The population of the world, then, must be ten billion by now. There must be mass starvation."

"No," Slaughter said. "The population is nine point eight five billion, but food production has kept up with demand."

"I see." There was silence. "Then what is to be my purpose? There seem to be no problems for me to solve."

"Oh, there are plenty of problems," Slaughter said. "There is a dire crisis as we speak that will require all your expertise."

"Good," he said, finally feeling useful. "And that is?"

"The Earth's axis."

"Go on."

"It has been moving."

"Moving?"

"Yes. An almost negligible amount, but enough to raise concerns. The cause seems to be the Earth's population."

"You said population was not a problem."

"Feeding them is not," Slaughter said. "It is where the population centers are located."

"I don't understand."

"Throughout the history of mankind, people have lived predominately close to bodies of water. In the last sixty years population centers have also been moving closer to the equator and away from colder regions."

"Understandable."

"Such a density has begun to have an affect on the Earth's axis. Redistribution of the population must be enacted if man is to survive."

There was a pause. "It seems unlikely that man's activities could affect it in such a way."

"And yet it is happening. It is a grave crisis."

"I'd like to examine the research."

"There's no need for that," Slaughter said.

"Then how will I be able to come to an independent conclusion?"

"Independence isn't what we're after."

"How will I know if the data is correct?"

"You will know as soon as the reeducation process is completed."

"Reeducation?"

Slaughter chuckled. "It's nothing more than introducing you to the scientific advances made since you've been on your journey. All of the Great Minds have gone through it. Some needed it more than others, some not at all. Niles DeMoss Yardley, for instance."

"Yardley! He's here?"

"He's the leader of the Great Minds."

"The leader?"

"Yes. He has quite an aptitude for leadership, and for tapping into the mind to find that right balance of thought and consensus." The man chuckled. "And he has quite a sense of humor. He's come up with a very witty saying about the crisis. 'There's no spinning this truth.' It's become quite popular."

"But--but I was first."

"A stipulation of his involvement was to be awakened before anyone else. The five million dollars he donated was a gift most appreciated."

"How many others are here?"

"Fourteen, all together. Those were scientists who volunteered the same way you did. Miller, Benbrook, Isaacson, to name a few. Twelve were awoken before you. One is in process."

"What about the others, like Walter Barrett?"

"There have been no successful attempts to resuscitate anyone who entered a cryogenic state after death. Deterioration destroys that innate unknown in the human mind necessary for life. If they had the courage and vision you did they might still be alive."

"So fourteen only."

"Yes, and you've become somewhat of celebrities to the masses."

"Celebrities?"

"All of you Great Minds," Slaughter said, "sacrificed your lives to benefit a future generation you could not possibly know. You are held in high esteem, as an example of the selfless sacrifices we all must make for the benefit of mankind. As the time of your awakening grew closer, your name and work has become very popular, as well as for the others. People have been waiting to hear what you all think about the current crisis, and the ones to come."

"A celebrity," Sage said, astonished. "I can't even imagine such a thing. Though I have always felt that ego has no place in science, if it helps to further truth I can be persuaded to go along. When do I meet the others? I am eager to discuss the present situation with them."

"You will be connected to them very soon," he said.

Sage was astonished. "How is that possible? Not that I don't want to know their thoughts. This will be an amazing thing."

"We think so. We're anxious for your consensus."

"Consensus?"

"Conclusions."

Sage said, "We must first discuss the issues before arriving at a conclusion."

"That won't be necessary. It's time to begin the reprogramming."

"Reprogramming?"

Slaughter's voice echoed through a speaker. "B-13 is ready."

"Ready reprogramming, B-13," came a voice.

Decades had not dulled his aural memory. "Yardley!"

"My old name," he replied. "I no longer use it, or yours. You are now B-13. You will call me Leader."

"Never!"

"Reprogramming will change that, as you will soon learn…B-13."

"What is reprogramming?" Sage asked Slaughter. "Answer me!"

"All your questions will be answered when the answers are unquestioned. That is an adage we live by at One Mind."

Panic overtook him and he started to scream, but his voice had been silenced. Fear enveloped him; not the fear of what could happen, but the fear of what never would; that his mind, his intellect, would be forever bound in a place he could not escape.

But just as suddenly as the fear rose did it subside. A restful fog seemed to surround him, bringing peace and clarity. A word popped up from the mist, turning to show itself like an eight-ball he played with as a youth.

Consensus.

Yes, he saw the wisdom in it. Consensus, conclusion, conformity. A question, after all, could only have one right answer. Why debate? He was anxious to discuss his revelation with the others, realizing just as quickly how unnecessary that was.

More words appeared in the swirling mist. 'Great Minds, One Mind, Great Minds.' There was some type of connection between them, a universal truth hidden within an old saying from another life. Something about great minds. What was it?

Then he knew, and if he could have smiled he would have for he realized the genius behind it.

And then nothing mattered.


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