About Recode: T.G.C.A.
After being taken prisoner and brutally murdered, Staff Sergeant Grayson Cole reawakens in a Virginia hospital bearing no outward signs of the torture — or the fatal blow — he so vividly remembers receiving.
Over the course of his recovery, his caretaker reveals the incredible details of his rescue and the secret military experiment to digitize and transplant his memories with the intent to recover vital intel. But after he learns that the experiment has failed — not just once, but repeatedly — and that decades have elapsed since his identity was first coded, how can he even trust his own memories or his perception of the world around him to inform his actions and feelings?
With time running out on the experiment, he's got one last chance to uncover the truth about who he is and unravel the nature of his existence.
What you'll find below is only one of the 4 endings for Recode: T.G.C.A. To read the full story and the other 3 endings, check the ebook vendor of your preference.
And thank you for for your interest in The alt end Project.
* alt end
* @version 1.4
Is it live, or is it Memorex?
Doctor Bloch doesn’t visit me the next morning. It doesn’t surprise me. He’s already written me off, already focused on the next version of me. I’m dead to him, just as the other twenty-six are before me.
I watch him from my spot in the alcove. I hurry down the hall when he leaves, and I catch the door before it latches shut. Suddenly the strange little scratch in the door’s cracked and peeling paint makes perfect sense to me. It’s an apple, a warning left for me by one of my previous selves. I didn’t get the message in time, but it’s not too late for twenty-eight.
I slip inside the room and hurry over to his table. The screen reads sixteen percent. At this rate, it will take almost a week to complete the download. I wonder if Bloch will wait to destroy me then or do it sooner.
I find myself growing angry. How could he do this to me? I’m still me! So I don’t like apples anymore. It doesn’t mean I’m not me.
That night I lie awake and wonder, will I be aware of myself in my next body? Will I remember this one? I have no sense of having been in any of the others, so I think maybe not.
Five days after finding the note, I slip back into the room for the final time. The clipboard is exactly where I left it the other day. There are no new notations. It appears that he’s just coming in to check on the download progress.
It’s at ninety-four percent.
I reach over and touch the skin of twenty-eight’s face. My face, perfect and unmarred by life and experiences. By self-awareness. By guilt and remorse and hope and laughter. Will I remember?
Will I remember?
I can’t just allow myself to be destroyed. I won’t.
When Bloch shows up at the door of my room the next evening, I’m expecting him. Even so, knowing and waiting for what’s about to happen doesn’t stanch the tide of terror rising up inside of me. He gives me a sad look when he walks in, so he must see it in my eyes. He must know that I know what he’s going to do.
“Do you have anything you want to say, Grayson?” He gestures toward the window, as if whatever message I might utter will somehow find its way past these walls and into the wider world. My eyes instinctively follow. The sky is a deep purple with strands of dark brown interwoven with the orange of sunset. But I have nothing to say.
“Nothing? You’ll feel better if you do. Time is running out.”
I don’t know what he expects. The question feels a little like an accusation. It takes me back to that bloodstained concrete cell where I died so many years before. And then, yes, I do have something to say:
“My name is Grayson Allen Cole,” I murmur. My voice grows in strength as I watch him ready the syringe and insert the needle into the vein at the crook of my elbow. “I am from Albany, New York. My parents are dead. My brother and my sister are dead. But I’ll live forever.”
He presses on the plunger and in goes the fluid, into my bloodstream, swirling and mixing with it, lulling me into that deep darkness which waits for me. I no longer wonder if I’ll remember anything on the other side of this veil. I now know the answer to that question.
Doctor Bloch eyes me over his glasses, his lips set in a grim line. My vision starts to waver, my heart begins to flutter. Wait! Wait!
“I AM GRAYSON ALLEN COLE!” I scream, the words loud and clear in my head. I’m no longer sure if I’ve actually spoken them.
I don’t want to die.
He pulls the needle out and a single droplet of blood follows, bright red. It trembles for a moment, a delicate orb, before collapsing over the side of my arm. It starts to soak into the bed sheet. The whiteness crowds in around me. I am!
Begins to fade.
Soon, there is only black.
* * *
Doctor Henrik Bloch leans back on his wooden stool and closes his eyes for a moment. This has always been the hardest part of his job. As many times as he’s had to put a prisoner down, it never gets any easier.
He pulls a kerchief from a pocket inside his coat, flaps it open and dabs at the perspiration on his forehead, inspects it, then carefully refolds and replaces it. The temperature of the room is supposed to be a cool sixty-four degrees, but the A/C in the building has never worked properly. Not once can he remember it working properly. The lights flicker from all the static in the air and buzz loudly.
There’s a thunderstorm brewing. He knows this, despite there being only one window in the room and it opens not outside, but onto a viewing area. He can feel the rumble of thunder through his feet.
He drops the needle onto the tray beside the table where it lands with a clatter among the detritus of this day’s loathsome agenda: a smaller syringe with a tinier needle for delivering the anesthetic (he hadn’t used it), a rubber tourniquet, his stethoscope, extra pads for the cardiac and brain monitors. Several of the foam pads flutter to the floor; he ignores them.
He plucks one of Grayson’s wrists from the table, releases the binding. The muscle is slack, the skin already growing clammy. He finds the groove between the flexor carpi radialis and the styloid process of the wrist bone and presses his fingertips gently into the notch, and while he waits, he thinks about Grayson’s request for a final meal, and he shudders, knowing that he failed to change. Despite his attempts, despite the medicines and non-chemical therapies and the less conventional ones — hypnosis, electroshock, aversion therapy — he’d never gotten Cole to crack, to sympathize with his victims. The man had never shown any sign of remorse for what he’d done, no guilt. The man was pure evil, plain and simple; he had no soul.
Finding no pulse there, Bloch places the same two fingertips to one side of his patient’s throat. The quiet there confirms what the EKG already shows, even though the EEG is still registering activity. In his experience, it usually takes a few minutes for everything to completely shut down, the deepest parts of the brain always the last.
Another rumble outside, nearly inaudible. The needle on the encephalograph dances on the paper, making quiet chittering sounds like a mouse eating a crumb. The lightning strike must’ve been fairly close, and he thinks about the drive home in the inevitable downpour. He just wants to get the hell out of this place.
Still, there is protocol. He inserts the ends of the stethoscope into his ears and gently places the cold plastic membrane onto the man’s freshly shaven chest, not bothering to warm it up first like he usually does in the infirmary. It’s strange to see the gooseflesh there, an autonomic reflex caused by the brain. But all is silent and still inside the body. Whatever made Grayson Allen Cole is now gone, fled to whatever spiritual hell Bloch hopes is waiting for him.
He pronounces death at seven-oh-three in the evening on April the twelfth, thus ending a nightmare that began when the murderer drowned his own parents and then shot his younger siblings to death nearly fifty-six years ago to the day. Fifty-six years and twenty-seven appeals. After the murders, Cole had sat and watched the house burn to the ground on the television screen of a local all-night diner. He was eating dessert when the police caught up with him. He’d resisted, had a couple ribs broken, an ear nearly torn off.
The door to the death chamber opens and in comes the coroner wheeling a stainless steel gurney. His assistant trails behind, a dour-looking young man with rat’s nest hair and severe acne. The two old men, friends from days long passed, greet each other wordlessly, exchanging only a familiar quick nod. The assistant stares at the dead man; it’s the freshest corpse he’s seen in the three weeks he’s been working.
They get to work.
Doctor Bloch watches them silently for several minutes. Already the small panel of witnesses — a couple journalists from regional and national papers, the warden, a college coed from the local university getting her bachelor’s degree in criminology; there are no family members left — have filed out.
“He always maintained his innocence,” Doctor Bloch muses. “Always refused to confess what he’d done.”
“Don’t think for a minute he was innocent, Henrik,” his colleague gruffly replies. “Asshole deserved to die. It’s just a shame that it took so long to do it.”
Doctor Bloch shrugs a shoulder. He leans away to give his friend room to maneuver, but he can’t stop staring at the killer’s face.
“Ever wonder what goes through their minds at the very end?” he asks.
Another rumble beneath their feet and the young man utters a sharp cry and jumps back. “Static,” he explains, sheepishly. “Just got a little shock. I- I’m okay.” He bows his head, avoiding their amused looks as he finishes removing the pads from the machines and throwing them onto the tray.
The coroner grunts and winks at his friend. A cardboard tag is affixed to Cole's toe, then the two finish wrapping the death shroud around him and tie the ends off with thin plastic cords. It takes all three men to transfer the body to the gurney. Doctor Bloch’s question never gets answered.
When they’re done and the lights are flicked off, Henrik Bloch makes the long, lonely walk to his car. The walls of the prison echo spookily around him. The air is charged and heavily laden with wetness, though the rain, thankfully, hasn’t yet begun to fall. It will soon, though. He thinks he’ll go grab a bite to eat before heading home. Or maybe just a drink. He could use a stiff one.
In the passenger’s seat of the county van, the coroner is having similar thoughts. He suggests that they stop for dinner before returning to the office. “We’ve got a long night ahead of us.” Besides the quick autopsy on Cole — a formality, given that the cause of death is already known — he has another body to examine.
“I could go for something,” the pimply young man replies. Dessert, he thinks.
He knows he shouldn’t eat so much sugar, since it only makes his skin condition worse, but right now he has a terrible craving. He’d kill for a slice of apple pie.
* * * Author’s Note * * *
(alt end version 1.4)
In this ending, I ask, "What if the soul doesn’t exist? What if our self-identity is simply a consequence of our existence, ending when our bodies — in particular, our brains — cease to function?" This is an existential-centric point of view.
Brain activity can be measured for several minutes following cardiac arrest before it begins to fade. However, functionality can be prolonged artificially for several hours, which poses some very interesting neurological and philosophical — not to mention morally sticky — questions: When do we truly die? Is it when our hearts stop or our brains stop? What is the mind doing in those last moments after we’re “clinically dead?” Are we aware of anything? If so, what?
I’ve long been fascinated by the idea that the mind might actually do some sort of accelerated core dump when we die. I mean, if there’s any truth to the idea that our entire life passes “before our eyes” at the moment of death, then this could explain it. Can the brain, newly released from the constraints of our external sensory organs, the requirements of bodily control, and of our consciousness, be trying one last desperate attempt to reconcile itself? Might we experience in those final moments, as Grayson ponders earlier in the story, an entire lifetime of experiences? An eternity?
Oh, and I couldn’t resist adding that little twist at the end, just to keep things interesting.
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