Chapter 1


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He was never a lucky man. Many stories begin like this, and this one is no exception. He was born on Friday the 13th. That day, sheets of rain poured down, accompanied by hale. Only this fact hinted that his destiny wouldn’t be an ordinary one.

His mother apparently thought the same.

Typical gutter trash, she became pregnant with a street tough’s baby. They abandoned him on the threshold of a local hospital. They didn’t put him down on it, but instead threw him away, out of the car window, as they drove by. They’d been afraid of being noticed, or something like that.  No wonder he was bedridden literally from birth, able to move only his right hand.

He probably shouldn’t have lived long with a broken backbone and craniocerebral injuries. But he decided to disregard that. He chose to live. He was housed in a special orphanage. He lived there until he was twelve. Always alone, cooped up in a small room. Sometimes, the other wards of the orphanage toyed with him.

They thought they were good at making fun of him. They were amused by how he couldn’t talk, and could just move the only hand weirdly when they played their cruel games.

Needless to say, he never won one of those games.

Except for the children, a nurse came to him twice a day. She washed him, cleaned, changed his clothes, and often cursed. She complained about her life and the fact that she had to take care of a ‘vegetable’. Sometimes, when she was in a foul mood, she used to beat him.

But he was still determined to survive.

In spite of it all, in spite of all of them.

When he was twelve, his life became much better. The delegation of a well-known magnate came to the orphanage. He immediately decided to use the “vegetable” for his own purposes. He placed him in the best hospital, the ward of which exceeded the size of many apartments. He visited him once a month or so, with the press in tow, bringing gifts and probably  avoiding taxes very successfully.

So, his life changed.

He was fed delicious meals, smiling psychologists talked to him and other patients often visited him. Some of them were terminally ill, others had recently lost someone. He was able to listen well, although he wasn’t able to speak.

Nevertheless, music remained his only friend. He listened to it all the time. When he ate, when he read, even while someone was confiding in him yet again.

When he was sixteen, a hi-tech laptop with special software was given to him. Now he could communicate. He would type, and the laptop would talk for him. The visitors began to come less often. Only the tired but smiling orderlies remained.

Then he started writing. Not books. He wrote music. Of course, the magnate did everything possible in order for the paralyzed musician to become a star.

When he was eighteen, a hundred thousand people would download his music every day. He didn’t need the money, and the magnate was all too happy to dispose of it. He said he was using it for charity. But that was unlikely.

Everything changed that fateful day. He was lying in bed, without feeling himself doing so. He turned his own head toward the window with his right hand. The city lights glittered at the foot of the hill in the distance.

“Aren’t you sleeping?” The voice sounded like it was very close.

He turned his head back around. New visitors would always shudder upon seeing that, but not this man. He was forty or maybe older, with a strong chin and clear, bright eyes.

“Who are you?”  A mechanical voice asked. “Who let you to come in?”

He hated when somebody came in without knocking. It made him feel even more helpless.

“Oh, don’t worry, I work here,” the man sat down on the edge of the huge bed. This irritated him even more. “I’m from the seventh floor.”

“The Department of Neurosurgery?”

”And bio-engineering.”

The people working there were called ‘Frankensteins’. He wondered what one of those scientists wanted from a simple cripple, just a little bit more famous than the others.

“I’m a chief physician too,” the snow-white smile didn’t appeal to him either. ”Dr. Paul Kowal.”

Paul held out his hand. He shook it.

“A strong handshake,” the doctor muttered, rubbing his palm slightly.

He smiled inwardly. When you do everything, absolutely everything, with just one hand, it becomes much stronger than other people’s hands. The same as blind people who have particularly sensitive hearing.

“Please, get to the point,” the mechanical voice said. “I’m not a big fan of… small talk.”

He should’ve said that he wasn’t a big fan of people either. A troubled childhood and stuff like that.

“I’m glad to hear it.” The man’s blindingly white smile could compete even with the whiteness of the walls. “I have an offer for you”.

“Sorry, I haven’t thought about marriage yet. Plus, you’re not my type.”

Stupid jokes had always been his defense mechanism. They pushed people away better than anything else. No one liked it when someone made a silly and clumsy joke. However, the doctor just laughed.

He wanted Paul to leave the room as soon as possible. He had to finish a set in time for his new release.

“What do you know about neural networks?” Mr. Koval asked him.

“Just what’s written in fiction,” the special emoticon shrugged on the screen. “It’s a kind of neural interface.”

“Only partially,” the doctor nodded. “It’s more like an extra nervous system.”

The emoticon raised its eyebrows on the screen.

“Do you think…”

“That if the surgery is successful, you might be able to walk and talk? Not immediately, you’ll have to go through a long and painful rehabilitation. It may take a few years, but…”

“I agree.”


I agree!” the metallic voice shouted.

Mr Koval looked into the bottomless, determined eyes of a man who hadn’t even been able to turn his head. And there wasn’t a hint of hesitation in his eyes.

“Then, as soon as we‘re done with all the bureaucracy, we can proceed.”

The long and very crowded days he spent waiting felt like an eternity. Various specialists visited him. They covered his head with different sensors and did specific tests, or checked some obscure parameters.

So many tests were done on him that astronauts would have probably sympathized with him. It was absurd they’d taken a piece of his nail. And they’d sent in a special person with laser scissors to do it. This, perhaps, had been the only entertaining event.

Various psychologists also came to talk to him. There were even more of them than the ordinary doctors. They, as always, asked absolutely stupid questions, and each time, he graced them with the same smiling emoticon face. When he really got tired of them, he began to tell inappropriate jokes.

It seemed that he’d even managed to offend one of the graduate students. She’d asked him what he wanted to get out of the neural network in the immediate future. He answered her almost honestly. He wished to have the opportunity to invite her to dinner and then get her laid.

She had, probably, wanted to say something unpleasant in reply, but she stopped herself from doing so and just walked away in silence.

He laughed for a long time. It was funny that the psychologist hadn’t understood that he, someone who’d never felt anything but his hand, had never experienced sexual attraction, even a mental one. He didn’t know what it was.

Then the journalists came to interview him. They interrogated him for a long time, under the greedy supervision of the magnate. He was surely the sponsor of this operation, and had already calculated his future profits. He must’ve been thanking his lucky stars that he’d decided to take the disabled orphan under his wing.

Finally, he was dressed in a special robe, some muck was injected into his veins and he was sent down a long corridor. He was slowly losing consciousness, disappearing into a deep, viscous lake in his mind. For the first time in his life, he wasn’t trying to resist that feeling. On the contrary, he opened his arms to embrace the deep. The last thing he saw was the worried face of the young nurse.

He was dreaming.

He was flying over the vast expanse of a smooth, green sea. Well, he’d thought it was smooth at first, and then, looking closer, he saw the huge mountains propping up the sky that were in the sea. The beautiful cities were so big that they could’ve fit the entire territory of some countries within them.

Strange animals were soaring in the sky.

They looked like dragons.

The green sea turned out to be the endless forests, valleys and meadows. The blue veins were the broad rivers that looked more like elongated oceans. And the seas were the size of a starry sky.

The wind was blowing.

It was a pleasant wind, a wind that promised to grant him his only wish—to be free.

What a stupid dream it was, but so enjoyable.

His old friend, pain, brought him back to reality. He knew it better than he did most people. He was burning up and his body was contorting. A scorching hot metal rod was being attached to his nerves, and molten iron was being poured into every cell of his body.

“The pressure’s increasing!”

“The neural activity is spiking.”

“His pulse is at 250 BPM!”

“We’re losing him!”

He heard all these voices as if from far away. There was also a distant, muffled and almost inaudible cry. That’s how he first heard his own voice. Among the blurry individuals, the unclear outlines of the variety of instruments and mirrors in which his split open head was being reflected, he saw the information window.

Only allowed on

He’d used to see those windows on the screen of his laptop.

[The network is activated. Version 0.17.6. Condition is critical!]

“He’s going into cardiac arrest!”

Everything had faded. There was only one sense left to him, which made him laugh. Someone must’ve opened the door to the operating room and the wind was blowing in, reaching his heels.

He hadn’t known something could be so funny.

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Ty for the chapter!?!



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