PATH OF A BUTTERFLY
by Benjamin DeHaan
FAVIAN RESTS Dr. Galian’s head between the sweating psychwave coils, but his pupils shift down, signalling that the doctor’s hypnotic state has been compromised.
Swinging his hand to the emergency shut down lever, Favian cranks down the glass cylinder to the floor, and the plastic ovals containing the coils retract from his patient’s temples.
Maria will be gone soon. Favian, you will lose your daughter if you don’t get a green light on the Full Life program. You are the only psychoanalyst on the planet that has a chance of bringing her back.
Gripping the control module display Favian smashes his knuckles across the mood adjustment sync failure screen.
He can see the doubt in his undergrad’s eyes that peer into his university lab from behind the glass. Although he knows the hardware is up to date, he doesn’t trust his design full enough to allow them near the Full Life prototype.
It will be hours before he has the unit back online to reinitiate the psychoanalysis of this rock bottom critical stage 8 doctor.
Favian waves off the graduate students. Nothing more to see here. They herd down the hallway, muttering to themselves and shaking their heads. This is more important than their little projects.
The monitor rains data until the Data Extraction Complete window pops up on the bottom right of the screen.
He scrolls up quickly through the mass of debug data as the doctor will regain consciousness at any moment. The HypFoc Algorithm generates contrasting, overlapping images based on prehistory trauma facts to heighten self-awareness and concentration. Once the patient is propped and ready, the cognitive mag analysis data stores the negative emotions in a side patch that can be released back to the patient if the VR images bring about a sort of Utopia overload and knocks the patient out of the hypnosis state.
It’s all about balance.
The behavioural re-education algorithm, Origin, conjures experiences that are similar in nature physically to the actions taken place during trauma but induce positive emotions. For example, in Dr. Galian’s case, instead of a failed heart transplant which led to the death of his patient, Full Life generated the transplant of a newborn from its mother’s womb to an incubator. Instead of taking life, he is essentially protecting it and nurturing it. Furthermore, the thousands of piezo nubs peppered around his FL sim suit ensure a full augmented experience as well, and only heighten the sense of integration and immersion.
Through repetition of this Viraug stimulation and a PsychWave mood adjustment by magnetic wave intervention, in theory, the patients should come to store away negative emotions, accept themselves, and see the silver lining in things naturally.
‘Favian,’ the doctor says and slowly leans forward like the dead rising from a grave. Favian is shocked. He should still be semi unconscious. ‘I heard your daughter is going to be graduating soon. I hope my daughter can get a few tips from her in regards to the entrance exam. Oh, how lovely it would be!’
The lovely in his sentence doesn’t match the pale expressionless mask that he wears. His eyes dart back and forth as if he tries to knock out an answer from Favian with his eyeballs.
Favian brings the chair up to a sitting position and Dr. Galian’s gaze is still fixed on him when he stands up.
‘Yes, I think I can get some old study guide data from Maria the next time I talk to her.’
Dr. Galian grabs Favian’s shoulder. ‘A true friend.’
‘I’ll always help as much as I can.’ Except, he thinks, with anything to do with the Full Life program. He’s getting his ass kicked.
Dr. Galian takes his coat from the wall hanger, salutes, and makes his way out the door and down the hallway.
Footsteps make their way back. The doctor’s expressionless face slowly appears into the view of the lab entrance. ‘Well. How did I do? Am I going to be fine? Will I remember all my failures as some utopian paradise wonderland when I wake up tomorrow?
The sarcasm surprises and hurts Favian, but he keeps his mouth shut. Any word that this mishap gets out and surely the project’s funding would be at risk. Investors, therapists, scientists, teachers, mothers, fathers, they are all expecting Full Life to save lives.
He’ll run the analysis again all night and see where the Doctor’s hypnotic state was disrupted and everything went south from there. It’s not just about them. It’s about Maria too.
‘You’ll be fine.’
The doctor winks save a pairing smile to go with it and leaves.
‘Stay with counsellor Madala tonight,’ Favian yells but there is no answer, only the sound of the door swivelling in its frame.
The debug analysis kickstart tracer whines to life and begins its scan. He wants to stay in the lab close to the new data findings but he also wants to see his daughter.
Just show up. The three words of all successful people according to millions of motivational posters. Maybe if he makes an appearance at the Journey explanatory meeting, he would bump into her. Perhaps there was a chance that she may change her mind if she saw her father there.
‘This debug is gonna take a while.’
YOU KNOW MARIA, right? She’s going in on this Journey thing. Journey thing. Journey.
He had remembered sneaking an ear on the conversation at the Seattle Medical Hospital lobby while waiting to pick her up. At first, Favian didn’t want to believe it and thought maybe it was just a different Maria, but then the guy mentioned details about where she was from and how she was great at tennis and knew more about medicine than most the staff.
Rain hammers the pavement and renders his newspaper a sopping ink mess mass. He tosses it into a flooding gutter and rushes into One Blessing Church, one of Seattle’s largest places of worship and a main hub for Journey candidates.
Although Journey was capsulized euthanasia, passed by Federal law, it was decided that only a house of God may preach and educate on the merits of mercy killing.
Priests and supporters alike commonly referred to Journey as a safe and sure way to bring closure to existence. A nirvana like state of existence in the afterworld; no suffering, no needs, no sense of self was just waiting behind the gates.
‘You’ll need confirmation,’ a smiling, robed acolyte waves a long sleeve towards a set of double doors, ‘if you would like to participate.’
‘I don’t need confirmation.’
The young acolyte boy’s Adam’s apple bobs and his face appears to have lost colour.
Favian pings an ID card to him and the colour in his cheeks is washed anew in a light shade of pinky rose. There are no more words.
And the double doors open to a bustling Sanctuary. Hundreds sit in rows staring at an empty stage save a wooden podium, a rectangle box draped in cloth, a life sized sculpture of Christ with his hands out at the night’s visitors, and a piano organ. Everything sparkles in a rainbow of colour as the last evening light shines through painted windows.
There is Maria, in the front row, in front of the box with the cloth, the capsule, hunched over, brown hair swinging back and forth and legs tapping quickly.
He doesn’t know who or what has fixed her mind to this Journey of craziness, but he is going to make sure that his wife, Maria’s mother, will not see her gift gone to waste.
The room darkens and a holoscreen slides up from the podium floor and hovers next to the pulpit where a bearded priest in black and gold robes is going through notes.
Favian can’t watch the video. The repetition of justifications and the escapist nature of it sends unwanted pressure, the beginning of a migraine to his temples.
Later into the presentation, an acolyte lifts the veil from the Journey capsule. All heads in the room fix on the device. It is creamy white, egg shaped to fit the many widths that humans come in, and made from biodegradable PHA polymers to ensure low environmental impact. Favian is unsure why the last part is emphasized. Surely a human erased from the Earth is a sufficient means of lowering impact.
Though many most likely expect a real demonstration, by law it is not allowed to just undertake euthanasia wherever you please. The UCEA, United Church of Euthanasia Association, has formed a network of Journey Gates around the world where people can either choose to end their existence by themselves or with a large group of people.
The lights dim. The priest has finished his speech of enlightenment with a contact page on the holoscreen, for people ready to proceed to the next stage. He holds up his hands.
‘For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted. Amen.’
People begin to leave. But Maria stays seated in the front row.
Favian slides next to her daughter on the pew.
‘This,’ he begins, gripping his knees tight. ‘This is unexpected.’
Maria doesn’t move a micron.
A girl acolyte begins to pack away the Journey capsule. Favian sees the round interior inlets on both sides of the head mount. Just inside there is his contribution to all this death. How stupid he thinks to contribute to the Journey cause by writing A.I. virtual script that persuades the patient that they have taken the right path just before oxygen levels plummet in the capsule and they lose consciousness.
Favian looks at his daughter’s short brown hair and large bloodshot, green eyes. She is a spitting image of her mother.
‘What would your mom think of this?’
Maria’s lips come to life but there is no voice.
‘She died for you, Maria.’ Favian thinks about the hospital room where he lost Tania. He can still remember the storm of emotional perplexity as happiness and misery, life and death took over the that room twenty six years ago. The glassy eyes of his wife, the cries of a newborn.
He has pushed her in all the right directions, towards science and medicine, to explore and wonder and take in the world and live and live.
But here she is now, between worlds.
‘Are you going to do it?’
What was it all for? All this parenting and pushing and guiding. What was the point in sending her to medical school to learn how to save lives? She’s supposed to save people. She’s supposed to be an indispensable human, a doctor of excellence.
He knows that she respects her. He got her out of trash hippie art circles that did drugs and dreamed of scribbling meaningless lines on pulp. He put an end to male relationships and forged a perfect path for success. All she had to do was walk it. She should know this.
Whatever was in her path, he had wiped out. Your daughter wants to be an artist. Is there something wrong with wanting to pursue something that gives you a reason to live? That cocky bug Brad, Favian thinks. He still wishes he had thrown him from the porch that weekend instead of pushing him back to his car. A big pothole in Maria’s road to success, that’s all he was. And he wouldn’t have his daughter going to some pot head painting hangouts.
‘I don’t know who I am anymore.’
‘Oh, Maria, you are…’
Her head turns slowly as if it takes all the weight of the world to turn her neck.
‘And neither do you.’
THE FULL LIFE senior project manager’s phone call crashes into him head on. His throat hardens to rock.
‘Dr. Galian was found dead last night at his apartment,’ Trin says.
There are five seconds of dead silence.
Favian swallows a lead ball.
There is no need for Trin to explain further.
‘What about counsellor Madala?’
‘He was never at the apartment.’
Nothing makes sense. The doctor was Favian’s fifth patient. The last four Full Life trials were successful beyond measure. Four lives are still hugging Mother Earth thanks to years of cutting edge psychoanalysis technology development.
Bernie, an introvert that was infatuated and deeply in love with Toyo androids.
Still here with us today.
Samantha, a retired librarian that suffered from insomnia and didn’t go to bed unless she had read one thousand pages of fictional prose. Still here.
Tuya, a retired veteran that searched the Californian Pacific coast endlessly for a message in a bottle from a girl he fell in love with during the Vietnam War until passing out from exhaustion. Here now because of Favian.
Melanie, a paralyzed Olympian that believed in exchange for staring directly at the sun and praying, the universe would give back her legs so she could compete in track again.
Here. Every single one of them.
‘How could you falsify information like this?’
Trin’s raspy breathing paints the question in a coating of lingering sting.
Favian’s mind races to try and come up with an excuse to why he had to keep the information disclosed.
‘Just wait… please, Trin. I will run the numbers again on the HypFoc script.’
Maybe he just got lucky with the past four patients. Maybe Full Life wasn’t a factor at all in their successful treatment. It could have been their conscious action of getting help and participating in the program that changed their minds, he thinks at first, but that is all bullshit. There is no such thing as ‘healing by participation’ factors here. There is only technology and engineering and developing, and there will only be that. The only thing that will save the human race is technology. Just ‘being here’ is not enough.
The human mind is weak and can break and shatter like a glass plate if not careful.
Full Life puts the pieces back together.
A slight issue in a god damn script shouldn’t end this. He’ll make a revision proposal letter and submit to the board for approval.
‘There is no need to run the numbers again, Favian. Or do anything else for that matter.’
The air in the room smells like smoking solder.
‘What is that supposed to mean?’
‘It means simply this. The university and investors have cut all funding for the ‘Full Life’ program.’
Favian hears the floor crack under his feet.
It could have very well been the world.
‘THANKS FOR SEEING me,’ Favian says to his daughter. She holds twenty six roses. A rose for each year of her life. ‘Who are those for?’
He keeps quiet. Maria’s head swings from left to right. She places the roses on the middle of the office table. The research lab room is empty except for a student walking down the hall with a stack of binders and a wax bot shining the floor around the Full Life console.
‘It’s set.’ She crosses her arms and her jaws lock tight, muscle fibres rippling across her cheeks. ‘I’m gonna do it.’
Favian can see it in her crying, disappointed eyes.
She’s waiting for him to reject the idea of Journey. When he says that he forbids her from going through this, she is going to walk out.
‘Can we just stay like this?’ He wants to trap the scene in a snow globe, keep them both here in this moment so she can’t get away. ‘Are you sure this is what you want?’
‘I have been on the wrong path my whole life. Mistakes. Regret. But this time, I can make up for it.’ A rose petal falls off one of the buds. She rubs it between her thumb and index finger into a ball and smells her red dyed skin.
Favian doesn’t make the connection but smiles nevertheless. Never mind his nail slowly tearing away from the hyponychium as he drags it down the leg of the table.
So silent the air. Crackles of warming silicone and PCB from the Full Life pod whisper across the room. He tells her how all the funding was cut from the program and how a death derailed it all and how he loved his patient who was now at rest on the other side.
He would give anything to see her in the Full Life unit. He wants to ask but such a face, he thinks, such a content face now, he has only seen once when she was a young girl painting butterflies.
‘If this is what you want, then you should do it.’ The words come out like concrete pushed through a pinhole. ‘But you have to come back here the day before you go. Visit me.’
Her face brightens like a sun going supernova.
In exchange, the black hole vacuum sucking Favian’s heart away strengthens.
Everything for nothing.
Her footsteps fade away from the room.
He stares at the glass table, and before the corroding acidic feeling of disappointment reaches him, the table is already crashing onto the floor. It explodes and shards fly across the room.
Looking closely at the broken glass, he sees the reflection of a thousand failures.
FULL LIFE IS up and running. Psychwave coils besides the headrest have been refitted with a larger four inch dual magnetic coil structure that hasn’t been approved for Full Life’s mood adjustment sync. He spent half the night rewriting the HypFoc algorithm so that the patient falls into a deeper state of hypnosis.
The Origin script has also been reworked so that three times the number of positive emotions is conjured through an increasingly positive chain of VirAug stimulation.
He’ll leave the FL aug suit offline. With the increased power output on the HypFoc augmented piezo nub stimulation won’t be necessary.
The door of the lab opens.
An old lady with boxed shape sunglasses comes into the room. She slows her stride, looking all around as if confused.
Favian puts the Full Life unit into standby. Today. His daughter will be here and he won’t have time for initial startup sequences. He will need to be ready when he has the chance. He needs to practice the conversation again. Run through it, so she doesn’t run on him.
The lady lowers her shades with a pink gloved hand.
‘What are you doing here, mother?’
‘Are you sure you need to ask?’
She stuffs her sunglasses into her purse and sighs an earthquake.
‘I’m busy now, and whatever you’ve heard and think, there is no way anybody is going to stop her.’
‘Except this,’ he continues, stabbing a finger at Full Life. ‘This is the only chance...’
Favian is about to repeat himself. Maybe the old hag hadn’t heard what he said. She used to be a sharp cancer research scientist, but she was slow now as if she had given all the life she had for her patients. She stops in front of him.
A soft wrinkled hand wraps around his neck and in a moment’s time he is a just a young boy hugging his mother. Still the same perfume after all these years. He sees the kitchen in his mind. A scrabble table. Sophisticated fun. He can smell the hallways lined with books; his room lined with books. So much study, so much pressure. It made Favian what he is today; a psychoanalysis pioneer.
Mother pulls his head back. Wet eyeliner veins down her wrinkled cheeks.
‘This isn’t the way to do it.’
‘What do you mean?’
She waves at the Full Life unit.
‘This,’ Favian pokes a finger at the oval psychwave units. ‘This is what is going to bring your granddaughter back to reality.’
‘Have you ever thought it isn’t reality that she wants?’
Favian’s stomach grumbles. He hasn’t had anything to eat for the last forty eight hours. Sleep deprivation has his mind wandering and it is difficult to come to any conclusion on the purpose of this midday interrogation. He only feels invaded and mocked.
‘And what would you ever know what she wants?’
‘She visited me a couple of days ago. She asked me questions about Journey. I have access to the name register and she was on it three days after she left. Before then I asked her if she wanted to see one of my cancer patients and her face became grey and her body stiff. I suggested a quick tour of the Art Museum downtown…’
‘What are you trying to get at?’
There is a brief silence. Favia nods to the Full Life unit. ‘I need to get going. Pre checkup on the new algorithms is going to take me a couple hours yet.’
‘I’m saying your daughter, my granddaughter, came back to life. We talked of art and paintings and living life the way you feel you should in your heart. I saw a dead flower bloom in a garden, meat grow on a skeleton. The brightness of her face could have turned cancer to honey.’
How sweet the analogies, but Favian could do without the artsy talk and feeling good and whatever his mother was trying to get at.
‘She’ll be here soon.’
Mother steps back.
He can’t stand to look at her anymore. If she isn’t going to help him stop his daughter, then she might as well leave.
‘It isn’t an analysis and mind trickery that she needs.’ She moves her hand to her heart.
He points to the door. ‘I think it’s time to leave. Mother, I’m sorry…’
She pats her chest twice.
WHEN MARIA ENTERS the lab, the Full Life program is ready for initiation and Favian’s heart is nearly pumping through his ribs. He has to ask her.
She piles old photos and medical school binders and books on the table.
Favian can’t move his lips.
Baby clothes come next and then high school yearbooks. She dumps out her past life as if it’s her dirty clothes at a coin laundry.
Just ask. That’s all you have to do.
She dumps the last of her contents out onto the table. Brushes and coloured pencils that are in brand new condition. Same as the sketchbooks that tumble out from her backpack. Things he had forbidden after she entered middle school.
‘Maria,’ Favian begins, but he struggles with the words lodged in his throat. What if she leaves right here, right now? The Full Life is ready to take its patient. All she has to do is sit down and everything will be different. He believes in his work and that it will keep her here.
‘Yes?’ she says.
‘Do me a favour… will you?’
She looks at her watch and then the wall clock.
‘Just see what I have been working on.’ He waves a hand at the reclining seat of the Full Life system. The more her eyeballs move across his masterpiece, the more disappointed she looks.
‘Please.’ Favian begins to walk closer to Maria but doesn’t see the condensation by the Full Life’s cooling unit until it’s too late. His feet fly into the air and he shifts his body so that it lands on the reclining seat of the Full Life unit. His back smacks into the cushion.
The HypFoc mag waves lock his head tight to the back of the headrest. His mind is clear, yet sharp, and everything in his life is much more in focus. His eyelids become lead.
Everything goes dark.
Negative emotions; the cancellation of Full Life, his daughter not finishing medical school, and his mom not understanding the importance of the Full Life program, flood his mind but are quickly whisked away to the side patch, a databank for these emotions to be later used to prevent a utopia overdose and break the hypnotic focus state.
The Origin script runs. A tsunami of images of Maria over the years floods his mind. He’s wrapping a watercolour set and a bundle of animal picture books for her birthday. A ten year old Maria blowing out candles. They are holding hands at an art gallery bookshop.
Favian tries to buy an anatomy book in hopes that she will learn science and medicine but the book’s cover blurs and pictures of animal sketches dot it. A how to illustrate book.
He opens the lid on of the dumpster next to their apartment complex. The guitar that Maria bought at a garage sale is not smashed into a mangled mess of wood and metal strings. It is wholesome and full and is the only thing that lies at the bottom. He makes his way slowly up the stairs and into her bedroom, setting the guitar carefully in the corner while she sleeps. He kisses her good night on the forehead.
They are looking for universities. Med schools. The computer screen is washed away, and art classrooms filled with canvases, sculptures, laptops running 3 d images and illustrations blossom across Favian’s vision. The face of his daughter comes back to life like a dead person being revived after a thousand year slumber. Her body shakes with excitement as she writes down the names of the universities and different programs they offer.
Favian just pauses himself and marinates in her happiness. He had thought he knew what would make her happy all these years and came to the conclusion that it was his duty to make sure she was on the right path and that this path would no doubt in his mind lead to a place where Maria could live in success and happiness. Was it his duty, though? As a parent, was his main mission to control his daughter’s fate?
A lightning bolt cracks and he opens his eyes to Maria, holding a half empty plastic container of water. Her chest is puffing. Her hand is pressed down on the red emergency stop button. Favian’s face is soaked.
‘You’re crazy,’ she says with raspy breathing, ‘to think I would ever sit down in that chair and have my brain played with.’
Favian gets up and takes the container of water from Maria’s hand. He opens the metal back console and pours water over the circuitry.
They move to the round table with all of Maria’s dumped out belongings and sit down.
He takes a sketchbook and a thirty six piece prisma coloured pencil set.
The Full Life unit is dead. All the screens and monitors are black. The small whir from the cooling unit has even ceased.
‘It’s not you that needs that,’ he says, grabbing a black and orange colour pencil. ‘It’s not this old man’s place to say what anyone needs for that matter. It never was.’
Maria looks at Favian and then to the sketchbook in front of him.
‘Remember that Monarch Butterfly you always drew when you were a kid?’
Her eyes are glowing.
‘Follow your dreams.’
Favian takes the black coloured pencil and begins outlining the wings.
Maria slides next to her father with the orange colour pencil.
And like two magicians, they conjure life on the white page.