Excerpt from “The Bower of Bliss”

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Carl Asher, dressed in a white silk suit with satin pants, leaned back languidly in a wrought iron chair brought to him by Dr. James Aura. Doctor Aura, a wiry individual with a graying ponytail and ruddy features across his face, was a neuroscientist as well as a shaman, and one of the things he offered that Asher felt it was priceless for the ability of the mind to transcend its biological limitations. Aura’s research spread from evolution, to neuroscience, neuroplasticity, and neurogenesis, the latter methods by which new brain cells could grow.

“Are you taking your nutritional supplements as directed,” James asked.

Asher nodded. “I’ve been doing exactly what you asked and what I’ve paid for. I’ve been scoffing down cocoa leaves and loading myself up with B-complexes, essential fatty acid, and neurotransmitter precursors for months now.”

Doctor James Aura nodded as a waitress came by to take their order. The moon shone like a megastar in the vault of the heavens, as though Asher and Aura’s clandestine meeting were still observable by an omniscient force. “I’ll have a lobster bisque with a heavy dose of GMO crackers, please,” he said. Evidently, James was not a practitioner of what he preached. The new research findings in neuroscience since James graduated medical school more than twenty years earlier were exponential in scope, and some had even embraced spiritual enlightenment through the lionized successes of Miami celebrities who swore by his own clinics and research.

Except Carl Asher, who studied the waitress in the manner of somebody ceaseless in their libidinous energy. The waitress blushed a bit, for she knew who Carl Asher was and what he was rumored to partake in when the sun set. Finally, he said, “I’ll have what the shrink wants.”

“Lobster bisque?”

“Did I stutter?”

“No, of course not, sir.”

“Do me a favor. When you come back with my meal, write down your number on my business card. I have a job for you.”

The waitress took Asher’s business card, the placard of which had a reflective seal of his front company, ‘Omega Control Systems,’ a cybernetic research company specializing in exoskeletons for disabled men, women, and children across the globe.

“You’re quite the personality here, Asher,” James said, tipping back a glass of red wine, nearly spilling some on his beige colored polo shirt and tan slacks. “But your enterprise is hellish to say the least. I don’t know if I want to partake of it anymore after the news of Sandra Cummings’ untimely murder.”

Asher bit his lip and drew blood. “I hired the wrong fucking man for the job.”

“The MMPF also have released a statement that they’ve already arrested and charged a suspect. Franco Pinero?”

Asher nodded, but his face grew glum. “Listen to me, James, I’m here for one reason and one reason only, I want that cavernous little shitbird brain of yours to mine more information on neural networks. If you can do that for me, and I can apply your biological methods to my mechanical inventions, then I’d be able to take this city for all it has left.”

“I’ve already given you everything I know, for God’s sake, Asher,” James said, exasperated. But he knew Asher was not a man easily satiated. “The main problem I’m facing right now is that you’re forty-two, Carl. Our brains eliminate over eighty percent of the interconnections between neurons in a process called synaptic pruning after childhood. It’s an evolutionary gift we have that allows us to retain certain, more critical information than hold onto something silly from our childhood. Or worse, something traumatic…”

Asher, adopting the manner of a serene, tranquil diplomat, gingerly placed his palms facedown on the red velvet tablecloth. “There’s a line from an old, obscure move I can barely remember the title of. Oh, yes, now I remember. Help me help you, James. The movie was Jerry McGuire. My father showed it to me before his auto-cruiser malfunctioned in the middle of Liberty City at night and he was shot to shit by a few gangbangers. I never forgot about that line, though, because it’s simply the way I do business. Quid Pro Quo, as they say.”

Doctor Aura sighed, for the memory of Asher’s father’s murder was always reverberating in his head. He remembered it during his time in medical school. It was a murder that shocked the city. The killers were never found, but somewhere out there, Aura held onto a premonition that Asher had exacted revenge in similar fashion.

“Double my funding then, and you’ll find what you seek,” James said.

An assemblage of thoughts rushed over Asher. The Miami night air was chilly, and the convoluted research papers daily emailed to him hard to understand, even if James was setting him up with neuroscientific pathways to a vaunted spiritual enlightenment. Asher was usually a complaisant person; one who acquiesced to the will of others, but it was all for show. Behind closed doors, Asher was a smug, proud, vainglorious effigy of a person. Nobody dared to truly challenge his business acumen.

Except right now; except when Doctor James Aura had the audacity to ask Carl to double his funding.

“So, you’d like me to double the money, then?” Asher asked with a wry grin. “Then, in no more than a minute. Explain to me what you can offer.”

“Right now?”

Asher raised his left forearm to show off his Patek Philippe watch. “Time is ticking, doctor.”

“Okay, well, where do I begin. People suffer for a wide variety of reasons. You are one whose soul needs to be retrieved. I can sense lost qualities in your soul, such as trust, security, and confidence. Neural networks have plasticity; they change in their energetic and electrical impulse defined construction and if we retain toxic emotions and reinforce them, we only reinforce toxic belief systems and apply them to all experiences. Think of a traumatic feedback circle. First, you have the network, which governs the emotions. Emotions then influence your beliefs and behaviors, but then that will only reinforce the trauma from losing your father to a murderer. More trauma develops, and then the network cycle repeats itself. “

Doctor Aura took a deep breath to steel himself for a riposte. None came. Carl Asher simply waved off Aura’s description of the trauma he had experienced. Aura, though seemingly enlightened by the new frontiers in neuroscience, occasionally suffered from panic and anxiety. As Asher picked out a pack of lucky stripe cigarettes, lit one, took a long drag, and drank from his red wine, Aura thought he would be either fired at any instant, or be signaled out for execution by one of Asher’s mechanics.

Instead, Asher smiled, his teeth as white as bone; the sharpness that of a Mako shark. “Tell me more about neurogenesis,” he said as the waitress carried their lobster bisques to the table, cradling each bowl as though it were a relic from a bygone era and setting each one down respectively. Asher clicked his tongue as the waitress handed back his business card with her number scrawled on it. “Money,” he said. “Don’t you just love it?”

James Aura adjusted his posture, taken aback by Asher’s easygoing manner after he had just blasted him with a cold, calculated, and vicious personality. “Well, about neurogenesis, it can certainly be done. My team can create new neural pathways for you. It is widely accepted amongst neuroscientists that new neurons are born well into your eights. Even the Eight decade of life does not stop one from learning something new and therefore enlarging the neural pathways and networks.

“In every moment of our lives, yours included, our neural stem cells are recurrently replenished, and can then be segregated into brain neurons. Basically, it’s growth, genesis, whatever the fuck you’d like to call it.”

Asher studied James thoughtfully as he scooped a spoonful of the rouge, pinkish bisque into his mouth. “How much longer before the neurogenesis can grow my neural network to control and withstand my neuronal interface with that of what I’m building.”

“The exoskeleton?”

Asher nodded. “The equipment is all there. Ready to rock and roll. But I need a way to control it. Cybernetics is a burgeoning field and I intend to take advantage of it for the betterment of mankind. Is there any problem with that, doctor?”

Doctor Aura, momentarily discomfited, felt that Asher was lying. Aura epitomized the enlightened medical men of the coming singularity epoch, whereby the invention of artificial superintelligence would generate a staggering change in the growth of technological systems. He believed that a computer running ‘software-based artificial general intelligence’ would signal a cascade of cycles for the A.I. whereby pattern recognition would allow it to generate an even more advanced intelligence for itself. A supreme superintelligence would far exceed all human intelligence.

As he sat contemplating Asher’s question, he said, “No. Of course there is no problem. But you must understand that if you don’t follow my regimen for enlightenment, then your Transhuman Synergy movement won’t have a foundation. Remember, Carl, that you yourself are the foundation; the bedrock on which the movement will garner steam and rush forward like a locomotive.

“Tell me what I should do, then, before that pretty young waitress comes back.”

“Let’s start with the basics and call it a night.

Asher nodded.

“The most important thing is to continue your neuromuscular injections of glutathione. You must continue to detoxify your body, or I can’t help you. I measure cellular glutathione levels because it’s an overall indicator of cellular health. It eliminates free radicals, those pernicious molecules that toxify your brain and body. If your body continues to metabolize and produce free radicals, your risk your brain. It is of the upmost important that we don’t do that.”

“Why the focus on free radicals?” Asher asked as the waitress brought them two glasses of Malbec wine.

“Because free radical damage underscores many degenerative conditions. Though many neural interfaces and neuro capsules help to stimulate the mind, too much may lead you to enter a sort of cybernetic psychosis. We want to avoid that as well. Free radical action starts a process called apoptosis, which means that cells basically commit suicide.”

Doctor Aura noticed that Asher had begun to either lose interest or he simply didn’t understand. The waitress was a lovely distraction for Asher as he began to flirt with her. Aura sat back, swigged down some wine, and alighted his gaze on the shimmering waters of Biscayne Bay, his mind skipping from one thought to next as though an inveterate and vague force were pushing his brain and body into a NetherRealm of uneasy dreams and misallocated mental resources.

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