A Stellar Flare of Young Adult Writing and Visual Art
BY YUQING KARA LIU
Her lifeless stare bore a hole in me. My mother was gone, destroyed by the man-made creation that I thought was supposed to bring her back to life from her disorder of despair.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, the doctors called it. As I sat by my mother’s bedside at the Regent Hospital after she tried to hang herself yet again, I murmured,” PTSD. PTSD. PTSD…” She blamed herself for my father’s death, and I have never dared to ask why. After the Robo police came to notify us about my father’s sudden death while working at the ReAnima Company, my mother became depressed, not wanting to eat, sleep, or get out of bed. I became the sole provider for my family of five, but work was hard to find these days. Robos, as we called them, were already functioning as waiters, babysitters, and in many other jobs. I eventually had to settle for pizza delivery at the nearby Italian restaurant because that was the only place that had not adopted machine-driven staff.
Upon arriving at the hospital that day to visit my mother, the Robo nurse came clanking in to lead me to room #A37289 where my mother had been a routine patient for the past three years. Seeing her in such a frail state, I grimaced and hesitated to walk past the door stop. Go on. Your mother needs you. A voice in my head urged, and I hesitantly stepped forward. My mother raised her head slightly to face the door and squinted her sunken eyes to see who the visitor was. Upon realizing that it was her daughter, she managed to lift her translucent arm,the syringes wobbling as the tubes shifted in a slight wave. I had not realized I was crying until a tear droplet rolled down my cheek. I managed to brush it away and strolled forward, reassuring my mother that “everything will be alright.” I sat down on a wobbly chair next to her bedside, watching her drooping eyelids flutter and gradually close. Her face became peaceful, and my heart yearned for my childhood when I thought my mama was invincible.
My wishful thinking was shattered by a hasty knock on the iron door. I turned on the computerized monitor in the room, and I saw that it was a lanky man dressed in a metallic suit with a red handkerchief grasped tightly in his left hand. The doctor, I thought. Nowadays, all the doctors dressed in this fashion. Dr. Peacock strutted into the room and shoved a crinkled sheet of paper into my hands: “How to prepare for ReAnima Surgery.” My eyes widened, and my lips moved apart into an “o.”
“What does this mean?” I managed to stammer.
“Under the regulations of the UnitedRobotCare policy, your mother must undergo ReAnima surgery. She is a threat to herself and the people around her. Surgery is scheduled in 2 hours.” He croaked.
I quickly skimmed through the brochure.
The brain chip, called ReAnima, is supposed to alter the patient’s brain waves after its implantation in the white matter of the brain. The doctor will drill two holes into my mother’s skull and implant two electrodes into the dense bundle of fibers within her brain’s internal capsule. The axons here carry signals to many of the brain’s circuits that have been linked to PTSD. Those electrodes will then be connected to two wires that run behind her ears and under her skin to her clavicle, where two battery packs just slightly larger than a matchbox are then implanted to power them. When turned on, the hope was that the electrical signals emitted by my mother’s new implants would in effect rewire the circuits in her brain that were causing her to continually relive my father’s tragic death.
“Just sign right here.” Dr. Peacock interrupted.
I thought that the ReAnima brain chip would cure my mama, so without a second thought, I grabbed the pen on the desk beside her and quickly scribbled my name on the dotted line.
“Thank you. Please step outside while I prepare your mother for the surgery.”
“How long will it take?”
“Depends on how many chips are needed to link the broken neurological connections in her brain.”
Seeing the alarmed look on my face, he coolly added, “Don’t worry. Everything will be alright.”
I took comfort in those words because as a child, my mama would always say them to me, and I believed her. I swiftly stood up, kissed my mother’s papery cheek, and walked out of the room, thinking that my life would return to normal again. As I sat on the bench outside the waiting room, I kept thinking about how much this surgery could change both my mother’s life and mine. I imagined her returning to work and me returning to school. I imagined her making her famous Thanksgiving pumpkin pie. I imagined her wrapping her arms around me every day before school, telling me that everything would be all right.
My eyes eventually closed.
“Wake up. Your mother’s surgery is complete.”
I groggily woke up from my uncomfortable position on the hospital bench.
“Everything will be alright. Your mother is as cheerful as ever. Her PTSD has completely disappeared.”
Eyes wide, I whispered, “Where is she?”
Mrs. Robo robotically lifted her metallic arm and said in a mechanical voice, “Room #B385934.” My legs bolted as I scampered up the flights of stairs until I finally arrived at my mama’s door. Expecting to find her asleep, I was shocked to see her sitting on the white sheets of the hospital bed, watching “How I Met Your Robot.” Seeing me, she screamed and threw the remote control in my direction, barely missing my face.
The doctor and several Robo nurses rushed in, yelling,” SOS #19284: Chip Malfunction.” I was pushed aside as the iron door slammed behind me.
Four hours passed as I squatted nervously by the door, listening to the whirring of electric drills and the occasional mutter of the surgeon. As the door slid open, I nearly face-planted into the room. My mother stared at me blankly as I cautiously stood up. I tried to smile, “We can be the family that we once were.” She looked at me strangely and stoically nodded. I took her hands, trying to comfort her and myself, and that’s when I noticed her fingers were bare. She had taken off her ring, the only thing that had mattered to her since my father died. At that moment, I knew that I was looking at a stranger.
I looked into her eyes…
…her lifeless stare bore a hole in me. My mother was gone, destroyed by the man-made creation that I thought was supposed to bring her back to life.
Her chip was controlled by a remote control like the television in our home. Without it, she had no emotions. When I was accepted into Stanford, my brother pressed the tiny green button, inducing the euphoria hormones that caused her to giggle uncontrollably at my acceptance. When I got into a fight at my school, my principal pressed the red button, turning my mother into a raging monster that whipped me until I fell to the ground. When my grandmother passed away, my grandfather pushed the blue button, making my mother cry hysterically for several months. I wanted to believe that my mother was still there. However, as the time passed, I realized that she had turned into a machine, and machines do not have emotions.
The ReAnima brain chip had become even more popular in the United States. The chip now included rechargeable batteries that were implanted on the back of the skull. With 116 points of contact on the brain, it was said to cure the most serious of mental disorders.
However, I knew that ReAnima only kept the body alive. The person inside disappears. Even
though my mama was present during my college graduation, my marriage, and my job promotion, I always felt uncomfortable in her presence because I knew that she was already gone.
Kneeling to set the snowdrop garland on her tombstone, I could almost imagine my mama still fighting against the chip implanted in her head. It was supposed to have cured her PTSD, yet, she was killed by it. I could hear her reassuring me, “My love, don’t worry about me. Everything will be alright.” But for the first time in my life, I heard myself murmuring, “No, mama, everything will not be all right.” At that instant, my whole life flashed before me. ReAnima, the brain chip that was supposed to be the breakthrough of the century, killed my father and turned my mother into a cyborg. Tears uncontrollably rolled down my face as I slowly turned around to face Robot City, keeping my eyes fixed toward the uncertain future ahead.
Yuqing Kara Liu is a 17 year-old writer and photographer from Sugar Land, Texas. She attends the Texas Academy of Math and Science. She writes in order to unleash her feelings on paper and to share them with others.