The cool summer air caressed Alder’s face as if to cleanse his overwhelming guilt. The burden of the past few days melted away into a new found freedom. He stood in front of his apartment building, his backpack heavy with a few necessary accessories of living, pondering his next move.

Well this is it. Should I go right or left? Since his building faced east on a north-south street he felt more drawn to go south than north. Right it is. I’ve made the first decision of my new life. He turned, and with little trepidation, began making his way along the long stretch of concrete city sidewalk.

The lights of an elevated train station attracted him. The stark fluorescent lights contrasted the inky black Chicago sky. A few people milled about waiting for the train. The rush hour was long over and these riders headed downtown for some fun. Alder purchased a ticket from a machine and stood with the others.

The train pulled up to the station and Alder climbed aboard and headed to the back of the car. As the train lurched forward he sat and stared out the window, mind blank, taking in the approaching city lights. The city beckoned him toward it with a powerful inertia of which he had no control.

There was a moment when he instinctively reached for his cell phone to check for messages, but remembered he left it back where his old life ended. An even greater sense of freedom surfaced from within when he realized he was no longer a slave to the endless texts, emails and feeds of his former life.

He exited the train and began heading south. He realized he was inside the Chicago loop as he strolled along staring straight ahead. He soon found himself wandering down a crowded Michigan Avenue. The street was alive with shoppers entering and exiting the selection of high-end department stores and boutiques. Alder focused his attention straight ahead while ignoring the endless stream of nameless and faceless automatons. After passing the Chicago water tower, he glanced at the newspapers lining the shelves of an open newsstand.

Almost every single local and national newspaper displayed bold headlines touting the new artificial intelligence quantum computing brain. Some of the headlines read:

BioTechnical International Announces New AI Brain

Becoming Immortal Now Possible with BTI’s Artificial Brain

New AI Quantum Brain to be Tested Soon

The sight of these made Alder sick to his stomach. I think I need a drink. He composed himself and continued his long trek. The posh and trendy shops gave way to lower class establishments. He felt drawn to a small bar with a tacky name, C’mon Inn, so he swung open the heavy wooden door and entered the darkness.

The small bar was about three-quarters full of an eclectic selection of people. There were some student types along with older blue-collar types with a few downtown business types mixed in. The bar included a selection of worn brown Formica tables scattered about, an old-time jukebox that still accepted quarters and played actual vinyl, and a conglomeration of pictures on the panelled walls ranging from cheap landscape prints to a few velvet masterpieces. Alder took one of the few open seats at the bar and placed a twenty-dollar bill in front of him.

“What are you drinking?” asked the bartender.

“Southern Comfort or Jack Daniels will do, whichever one is easier.” Alder put his backpack at his side.

“Jack it is.” The bartender, a portly man with short blond hair, reached for a bottle on the shelf behind the bar and poured the drink.

“You from the hostel up the street?” The bartender poured Alder’s whiskey.

“Nope, I’m just passing through.”

“Where you headed?” The bartender stood with both arms in front of him leaning forward against his side of the Formica bar.

“To a new life.” Alder swallowed the drink in a couple of gulps. “Another please, keep ’em coming.” The bartender poured another drink and left the bottle on the shelf under the bar near where Alder sat.

“That bad eh? Did you get dumped or lose a job, or find out your wife was screwing around on you?” The bartender poured another drink as Alder pounded his second down.

“Something like that.” Alder already began experiencing the pleasurable pain-numbing effects of the alcohol.

The bartender took the cash and returned with the change. Alder placed another twenty on the bar and continued drinking albeit a bit slower this time. The bartender poured another and left to tend to his other customers.

“Where you headed?” A deep voice from Alder’s right boomed above the ambient noise.

“Excuse me?” Alder turned to see a flannel shirt clad, thin older man about fiftyish wearing a Mack Truck cap. “I’ve seen lots of backpackers in my day and you strike me as someone on an adventure. Jack’s my name, pleased to meet you.”

“Hi, I’m Alder, and yes, I am on kind of an adventure.”

“Well son, I’ve been driving truck for something like thirty years and I know an adventurer when I see one. Picked up quite a few too. They all got something in common. All running from something.” Alder found Jack just intriguing enough to deter his depressing thoughts. Jack stared straight at Alder, his piercing blue eyes magnified by glasses and sunken in a leathery skinned ruddy face and said, “Are you running from something?”

“I really don’t know. My life has gone to total crap and I don’t know what kind of adventure is next.” Alder had to focus on pronouncing the word ‘adventure’ since the alcohol had taken affect.

Alder found Jack a refreshing change from the geeky science types he usually spent time with. Jack told Alder about his divorce and the daughter he missed. He conjectured that out of all his less than desirable behaviours, his travelling probably contributed the most to his divorce.

“I was on a bad path. A road to hell.” Jack proceeded to tell Alder all about the life of a trucker including the endless lonely miles and the sense of freedom. He also told Alder about some of the pitfalls, including Lot Lizards – prostitutes who worked certain truck stops. He also confessed his surrender to temptation on several occasions, which didn’t help his marriage.

Jack, divorced for about eight years, continued to keep in touch with his adult daughter, now married with no children and living in California. He occasionally came up on rotation for the cross country route from Minneapolis to San Diego where she lived. These trips occurred about four times per year and he relished them, even taking a precious vacation day or two to spend time with her.

Alder lost track of his numerous drinks but concluded it must have been substantial with his present tunnel vision. He struggled to maintain his balance when he visited the men’s room on several occasions. It was nearing closing time when Alder said, “Jack, would you mind if I tagged along with you to St. Louis tomorrow?”

Jack replied with a grin; “I thought you’d never ask. Always hate to travel alone and could use the company. Where are you staying tonight?”

Alder began to laugh, “I have no idea.”

The bartender overheard and interjected, “You should go out of the door, turn right and walk about two blocks. There’s a youth hostel there that will take you in. You might have to bang on the door but someone should let you in. Tell them Al from C’mon Inn sent you.” Jack laughed as well.

“There you go Alder; I will see you tomorrow at 7:00 am. Like to get an early start. Oh, keep an eyeball out for the big black semi.”

Jack walked Alder to the door and pointed him in the right direction and nudged him on his way. Alder’s walk took on a dreamlike quality. It seemed as though his legs moved but his upper body floated along for the ride. His backpack seemed weightless and he experienced no perception of temperature. He looked up and saw the streetlights pass by one by one like shooting stars moving ever so slowly.

Alder arrived at the hostel. A note pinned on the door instructed him to ring a bell and wait for service after 9:00 pm. He rang the bell and waited. A few moments later an older man appeared wearing a bathrobe. The man opened the door. “Can I help you?”

“I need a room,” said Alder as he tried to hide his obvious intoxication.

“Need to sleep it off, eh?” The man was familiar with this sort of situation. “That will be twenty dollars. Cash.”

Alder reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of bills. He peeled off a twenty-dollar bill and handed it to the man who instructed him to go upstairs and take a bed in the male dorm. Alder floated up the stairs and chose one of several vacant bunks. He laid down, clothes and all, and passed out.

A series of short dreams filled his night. Each had no real plot but consisted of sporadic images of the BTI lab and Samantha. The last dream stood out from the others. It took place in the main AI lab at BTI where he led the algorithm development team. The algorithm was in the early stages of development, before it was to be loaded into the brain hardware for transplant into human subjects. Located inside a powerful computer, the brain algorithm needed to pass a Turing test. A group of scientists had gathered in a conference room with nothing more than a microphone and speaker interface with the computer.

The test consisted of a question and answer session between the scientists and the computer. The software would pass the test if the scientists could not tell they were talking with a computer. Alder, Samantha and the team watched the test on closed circuit TV.

One scientist decided to test the algorithm with a joke.

“Do you like jokes?” said the scientist.

“I like some jokes, but not those that most people find offensive,” said the computer.

“Here is a quantum mechanics joke,” said the scientist.

“A man walks into a bar…and then he doesn’t.”

A slight pause followed by a brief chuckle emerged from the speaker. “I find the juxtaposition of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle against the context of a typical bar joke very amusing.”

“I think it’s doing wonderfully,” said Samantha.

“Fortunately, the subject for this iteration was a scientist,” said Alder. “Uploading a different neural net into the AI program probably would have resulted in confusion or silence.”

“Yes, the integration of the search algorithm with the subject’s human contextual information appears seamless,” said Samantha.

As Alder drifted back into consciousness he became aware of a sense of irritation. He awoke to the sound of other travellers walking about on the creaky wooden floor.

The early morning sun shone through the bare windows and lit up the room in a golden glow. His watch read: 6:30 am. His disorientation disintegrated as he pieced together the events of the previous night. Despite the destructive behaviour of drinking copious amounts of alcohol, which resulted in his present headache and cotton mouth, he felt positive about the day ahead. He wondered if Jack would show up.

Just as Alder managed to get himself together he heard a loud horn blast from the street below. He ran to the window facing the street and peered down to see a large black eighteen-wheeler semi with Jack sitting in the driver’s seat. Alder grabbed his backpack, swinging it over his shoulder in mid-stride while rushing down the stairs. He struggled to climb into the behemoth truck but managed after a couple of attempts and plopped down in the passenger’s seat.

“Good morning Alder, how’s your head?” Jack was in a jovial mood. “Ready for an adventure?”

Jack pulled the immense rig away from the kerb and into the morning traffic. “We’re getting on fifty-five South to St. Louie, where I gotta switch loads and layover, then KC the next day and west to Colorado Springs before hitting San Diego. You are welcomed to join me for the whole shebang if you want.” Alder was still groggy and hung over from the previous night.

“I would appreciate it. Any chance of stopping for coffee?”

“Want to get outta town then we can stop at a truck stop I know off fifty-five,” said an energetic Jack.

Jack wound through the gears as the rig pulled onto the freeway. Alder felt a sense of power as he sat above the road watching the cars pass by. The city began to fade into the distance and along with it his feelings of guilt and despair. At least for the time being, he was at peace.

Coffee and conversation filled the four-hour trip to St. Louis. Besides his chattiness, Jack was an excellent driver. Alder revelled in Jack’s ability to anticipate traffic situations while holding two simultaneous conversations, one with Alder and the other with his CB radio. Alder thought CB radios were a fad of the 1970s, but Jack assured him they were alive and well among truckers.

As they approached the St. Louis city limits Jack changed the subject of the conversation. “So, what do you want to do? Are you going to join me tomorrow, or should I leave you off somewhere?” In his comfortable state watching the world go by, Alder forgot he needed to decide what to do next.

“You can leave me at a motel and I will be grateful if I could join you tomorrow.”

“Motel it is. There’s one near my terminal. Not fancy, but clean and it’s got a lot of character. You’ll see. I can drop you off there. Wish I could join you tonight for some drinkin’ but gotta see the ex while I’m in town.”

The truck exited the freeway and chortled down a few side streets toward Jack’s terminal. He needed to drop Alder off before pulling in since company policy forbade passengers. Plus, he needed to switch loads. Jack pulled into an old blue-collar suburb full of classic bungalows and small makeshift storefront businesses long past their prime. These storefronts once held grocery stores, small restaurants, clothing shops and everything needed for the middle class life. Now they contained cigarette stores, pawn shops and paycheck loan centers.

Jack pointed to one larger corner bar. “There it is, real convenient, hotel upstairs, bar downstairs. I told you it had a lot of character! I’ve had some fun there myself back when the ex kicked me out a few times. It’ll do, cheap, clean, a bit noisy though but hey, just drink more and you won’t care.” Alder climbed out of the truck and thanked Jack. “See you tomorrow.” The big rig pulled away as gravel crunched beneath its giant tires.

The afternoon sun shone through the bar room windows illuminating the decrepit nature of the place. The front desk was curiously absent so Alder approached the cash register. A bleach-blond forty-something woman dressed in too tight jeans for her ass and a t-shirt, with leathery arms poking out to match her leathery face, came over.

“I’d like a room for tonight.” Alder continued looking over the place.

“Just yourself?” She said after clearing a considerable amount of phlegm from her throat and with a voice full of rasp from many years of smoke. She reached under the bar and pulled out a large ledger. “Sign here, that’ll be thirty eight dollars.” Alder paid her in cash.

“Do you serve food?”

“Here’s the key. Number four upstairs.” She pointed to the large wooden staircase at the end of a short hall next to the bar. “Do you want a menu?” Alder took the large laminated menu and took a seat at the bar placing his backpack on the stool beside him.

After a filling lunch of a greasy burger, fries, and some neon yellow chicken noodle soup, Alder headed up the worn carpeted stairs to his room. The 1970’s panelled hallway yielded to doorways with large dark brown doors on each side.

Some of the doors displayed signs of violence as if kicked in during a fit of drunken rage or stupidity and then patched with a new lock that worked but didn’t quite fit. Each door contained a crooked copper coloured number reminding Alder of the kind you’d find in a hardware store with a peel off backing. The brown shag carpet had seen better days and contained a well-worn traffic area speckled with numerous cigarette burns and who knows what living inside its stringy nap. Alder swore he saw puffs of dust appear with every step. He wondered if it oozed the musty smell permeating the place. Perhaps deep in the root of its shag resided a thriving colony of mould spores. “One–two–three–four,” Alder counted off the rooms as he shuffled down the hall.

A turn of the key revealed a small but clean room. A double bed covered with a dirt-brown coloured bedspread occupied the centre of the room with a small dresser across from it. “It’s not so bad…it’s only for one night,” he muttered.

He lay down on the bed and began to succumb to his exhaustion. This new life of his required a lot of energy. His thoughts drifted to Samantha and what her reaction will be when she reads his letter. He thought about his team back at BTI and began to feel guilty for leaving them without notice. They won’t worry about me. At some point unknown to Alder his thoughts melted into dreams.

He was again back at the BTI lab. This time the project was further along with the new algorithm ready for upload into the silicon brain.

“She’s fantastic,” said Alder caressing the smooth surface of the oval shaped piece of pure silicon.

“It’s like one monster-sized chip,” said a scientist. “A little smaller than the real thing but capable of holding just as many connections…which is something on the order of ten trillion.”

“A real engineering marvel,” said Alder. “Look at the nervous system interfaces. This material is almost identical to human nerves.”

“The interface team is very proud of that,” said the scientist. “I think we are good to go for the first transplant tomorrow.”

Samantha entered the room wearing her obligatory white lab coat with the BTI logo. Her brunette hair flowed around her large glasses and draped over her shoulders. She stood next to him, her side touching his. She admired the glass-like texture of the artificial brain.

“Can I hold it?” she said.

“Of course, my dear,” said Alder. “But put on some gloves first and make sure you attach a grounding strap. The internal structure consists of adapting connections and is very sensitive to even the smallest electrical signals. The electricity from the neurons and muscles in your hands could cause a change in the internal configuration. It’s like a blank slate waiting to write itself. The software will provide much of the initial configuration, but once connected to the subject’s body the sensor input will finish the job.”

Samantha picked up the brain from its holding frame. “It’s quite heavy,” she remarked.

“About four pounds,” said Alder. “About a pound more than the real thing. It’s smaller but denser due to the silicon.”

Samantha held the brain and admired it for a moment before placing it back in its frame. “It’s not every day you get to hold the most significant advancement in human technology in your hands,” she said.

The dream faded into a series of random images just before Alder woke to a red flashing pattern on the wall next to the bed. He laid still listening to the cacophony of sounds. He recognized the sounds of numerous footsteps and opening and closing doors in the outside halls. He wondered if these had something to do with the lot lizards Jack mentioned.

It was 9:30 pm. Alder had slept for almost eight hours. He decided to get up and join the party downstairs. The red flashing from the neon sign in the parking lot disappeared as he drew the dark brown curtains that almost met at the middle.

The low level rumble of conversation amid a thumping bass line to some unknown tune grew louder as Alder descended the stairs. He spotted the bar and found his eyes drawn to the young ladies tending it. He could see why this place was so popular among truckers, or any males for that matter. Tight short electric blue shorts and tight light blue low cut t-shirts emblazoned with the words T-Bones Bar and Grill in neon orange were the apparent uniforms.

The well-endowed ladies were busy serving drinks and bar food to the predominately male clientele. Alder admired their skill at servicing so many customers while balancing and navigating the treacherous wet floor behind the bar on high-heels. He also spotted two large muscular men dressed in jeans and black t-shirts. One took his post at the register and the other at the door. The implied message was you could enjoy the view all you wanted, but don’t even think of touching.

The lack of even a single vacant bar stool did not surprise Alder for a Saturday night. The place took on a magical glow with neon beer signs casting a mix of colourful hues against the overall darkness of the room. Jack Daniels made the time pass until a stool finally opened up. He ordered another burger and fries to go with his whiskey and found it satisfied the hunger gnawing at his abdomen. He sat, blissfully full, watching the menagerie of tavern folk.

By midnight the bar began to clear out as many men returned home to their wives. One of the bartenders left for home leaving two to tend to the remaining customers. The dwindling customers left several open spots at the bar as well as a few vacant tables. The ambient noise diminished to a conversation level and the lights further dimmed.

Alder motioned for another refill and one of the ladies responded. An attractive brunette in her mid-twenties, she displayed an ample cleavage he struggled to resist staring at. He spied a nametag displaying ‘Tammy’ in scripted letters. After sitting for several hours with no one speaking to him, Alder was surprised when she broke the silence.

“You don’t look like the usual trucker we see here, so what’s your story?” Alder lifted his head to meet her eyes.

“Sorry, I don’t mean to stare at you…ah…Tammy…and…um…You’re right, I’m not a trucker but I did catch a ride with one on the way in.”

“Which one?” She leaned forward. “I know most of them that come in here.”

“Okay…ah…his name is Jack Porter…drives a big black rig.”

Shyness came over Alder as he attempted to sober up. Tammy continued. “Oh, I know Jack, he comes in here whenever he comes through town. Been coming in here for years. Great guy, a bit hyper, but has a good heart. How do you know Jack?” She walked a couple of steps sideways and began washing glasses beneath the bar while facing Alder.

“Well, I just met him yesterday…in Chicago…he offered me a ride. I figured maybe I’d go to Colorado with him.” Tammy continued washing glasses, her hands moving at a breakneck pace while never breaking eye contact with Alder.

“So you are from Chicago?”

“Yup” he replied. She finished her chore, wiped her hands on a towel and moved closer to Alder. “Oh. Sorry…are you running a tab?” she asked as she picked up a little white paper in a glass in front of Alder. Alder reached into his pocket, pulled out his wallet, picked out a credit card and handed it over to her.

“Here, put it on this.” She took the card and headed over to the register which was a few feet away. “Hey, it says on your card that you’re a doctor. Dr Alder Braeburn.” Tammy said in a loud voice. The man sitting next to Alder chimed in.

“You’re a doctor? Hey, can you take a look at my back. It’s killing me.” Alder turned to see an obese thirtyish man with thick chubby cheeks and bushy hair.

“I’m not that kind of doctor. I have a PhD in biomedical engineering. So that and a few bucks will get you a beer.”

“Hey Tammy, got a smart one here…Eh?” The obese man chuckled.

“I’m in college too,” said Tammy. “I’ll be finishing my Associates degree in accounting next year. Oh, Alder meet Hal, he’s a regular.” Alder turned and shook hands with Hal and exchanged the usual introduction pleasantries. “Hal comes in here about once a month.”

“That’s right,” said Hal. “I’m in sales…pharmaceuticals. St. Louis is in my territory.”

“What company do you work for?”

“Scrib Pharmaceuticals” replied Hal. “Makers of a complete line of male enhancement drugs…you know…if you’re having trouble getting it up or getting old and flabby. We have a solution. Lots and lots of male hormone clinics opening up in my territory and we supply ’em.”

“That’s great,” Alder lifted his whiskey to take a sip.

“Hey, since you’re a biomedical engineer, I’m sure you’ve heard about that new artificial brain.”

“Yeah, I’d like to forget about it,” said Alder.

“I heard that you can download a man’s entire brain into it and transplant back into his head,” said Hal.

“That is true if you want to live like a lab rat in a tortured state of quasi-reality.”

“Sounds like you know a lot about this brain thing.”

“I guess I should since I worked on it…at least up until yesterday when I quit.”

“You quit? Why in hell would someone quit the greatest technological development of the century?”

“Because it’s not real. It’s not a real life and it’s not right to do what we did to people. It’s just some kind of altered state of reality halfway between humanity and machine. It’s not what they say it is in the papers. You know, in the early stages we transplanted the brain into cancer patients whose cancer had destroyed most of their brains. Almost every subject asked us to kill them. But did we? Of course not; at least not until after we ran test after test and study after study. It was inhuman. It was morally wrong. I couldn’t take it anymore so I just walked out.”

Alder turned to Tammy who had been listening and said, “Tammy, can I get another one?”

“Sure doc” she replied and grabbed the bottle of Jack.

“How long are you here for Hal?” Alder calmed down and tried to change the subject.

“I’m here until Wednesday, then back home to Virginia.”

“So, what’s in Colorado, Alder? New job? Girlfriend?” Tammy asked as she poured Hal another beer.

“I don’t know,” said Alder. “I’m going there because Jack offered to give me a ride. I figured Colorado was as good a place as any to start a new life.”

“So you are going to do some, what was it, bio-something-engineering there?”

“No, actually, I don’t know what I’m going to do next. I was thinking of working as a bartender or something. I did a bit of that when I was in college.”

“Whoahh! Now that’s a one-eighty if I’ve ever seen one,” said Hal as he swivelled to face Alder.

“Hey, it’s a noble profession,” Tammy chimed in. “I can support myself and pay tuition doing this. The tips are good, especially if I show some T and A, and T-Bones lets us strut our stuff.”

Alder, Tammy and Hal passed the remaining hours until closing time with conversation about life, love and what the future may bring. Alder refused to discuss anything about his work at BTI. At 2:00 am, he lumbered upstairs and crashed for the night.

#

The waves of Lake Michigan lapped upon the shore with clocklike regularity and it was a sound Alder found to be relaxing. Samantha was stretched out in the lounge chair next to him, donning sunglasses and covered with coconut-smelling suntan lotion. She flipped through the pages of a trashy magazine, a guilty pleasure of hers she occasionally indulged in. Alder felt the cool lake breeze contrast the radiant heat of the sun on his skin.

“How can you read that celebrity trash?” Alder chided her. She laughed and swatted him lightly on the arm with the magazine.

“Hey, sometimes you’ve got to get away from all the technical stuff,” she said.

“It’s just nice to finally get a day off and spend it with my wonderful girlfriend,” said Alder leaning back in his chair.

“I’m glad you still think I’m wonderful. Some guys would be intimidated by my fabulous intellect,” said Samantha, laughing.

“I find nothing hotter than a smart woman, especially a hot smart woman,” said Alder.

“Awww… you think I’m hot too? Well, you’d better be good to me,” said Samantha as she flipped through more pages of her magazine.

The warmth of the sun on Alder’s body shifted to the warmth of the bed he slept in as his consciousness transported him back to the real world.

A booming knock on the door awoke Alder the next morning. “Alder? Alder? You in there? We gotta get going…KC, remember?” Jack pounded on the door. Alder felt like he rose from the dead as he sat up in bed. His head still spun from the night before and his mouth scratched like sandpaper.

“Be right there Jack,” he shouted through the door as he stuffed his belongings into his backpack and headed to the bathroom. “I’ll be down in a minute,” he shouted.

“Okay, I’ll be in the truck, don’t take too long, we gotta make good time.” Alder cleaned himself up as best he could, given the short notice and headed downstairs.

“Coffee to go please, as large as you got,” said Alder to the waitress who returned in a few moments with a large Styrofoam cup. The cool and misty morning air helped to refresh and sober him as he shuffled across the loose gravel parking lot and climbed into Jack’s truck.

“You look like hell!” Jack exclaimed. “Looks like you had some fun last night. What did I tell you? This place is a hoot. I wish I was with you. You gotta tell me all about it.” And so the non-stop Jack chatter began.

“We should be in KC in about four hours. Then I gotta swap loads and hightail it to Colorado Springs. Should be about nine, ten hours driving and figuring an hour or so for the swap should put us into the Springs at around 6:00-7:00 pm or so. I’m laying over there tonight then out to California the next day,” Jack said thinking about the day out loud. “Traffic should be light since its Sunday and all. So, tell me about your night at T-Bones. Did you have fun?”

The miles passed by as Jack chattered about his ex-wife, football, and the world’s problems in general. Alder alternated between humouring him and thinking about Samantha and his team back at BTI. Jack’s incessant talking had done a good job keeping his negative feelings at bay and he became a bit more positive about the unknown ahead.

The faint outline of the Rockies looming as shadowed giants ahead stirred a sense of excitement in Alder. It was late in the afternoon and they finished driving through a winding stretch of road when he first caught sight of them. Alder always held a fascination with mountains and he longed to live near them someday. The mountain giants grew with each mile and soon they entered the Colorado Springs city limits.

The mountains afforded spectacular scenery as the rig pulled into Manitou Springs. Pike’s Peak dominated the mountain range, and the small town appeared to be nestled at its foot. Jack pulled the rig alongside an old motel. A large rectangular two-storied central building dominated the property. A section of smaller family cottages lay just behind it.

Jack stopped the rig and said, “Well, this is it buddy boy. It’s been a real pleasure. Here’s my card, if you ever need anything just give me a call.”

Alder felt a tinge of sadness at saying goodbye to his new friend and hoped someday their paths would cross again. He thanked Jack and turned toward the motel as the big rig dieseled away.

Alder rented a small motel room on the second floor. There was enough money for a couple of weeks but his funds were running low. After freshening up, he decided to follow the main street into the downtown area to do a bit of exploring. He enjoyed the walk on this warm summer evening. The sun began to set behind the great mountains before him, and the lights of the town cast a magical glow upon the street.

After a quick meal and a beer at one of the bars on the street, he decided to head back. He stopped at a convenience store to buy some cheap bourbon to help numb his feelings. Back at the motel he got into bed, switched on the TV and sipped his bourbon until he fell asleep. Tomorrow was a good day to start a new life.

Alder lapsed into REM sleep and entered the dream world. He was back in the main development lab leading his team as usual. This time the subject was a young adult female with brain cancer. They had just downloaded her neural net into the AI brain and had transplanted it into her head.

Her eyes opened and her face morphed into a contortion of confusion and terror. She could not speak since early transplants didn’t contain the sophistication to do so, but Alder knew what she wanted. She wanted to die as she already had done the day before.

Despite her wishes to do so, Alder directed the team to continue testing, keeping the subject alive for another six weeks before her body rejected the brain and descended into uncontrollable seizures. Alder initially felt no remorse for these early subjects and managed to use logic to justify his actions, but now the self-loathing and guilt permeated every cell of his body.

Alder’s dream ended and another began. This time he was with his beloved Samantha. He had awakened in a hospital bed with her at his side. She held his hand and he could barely make out her face, but he knew by her voice and touch that it was her.

“I love you Alder,” she said in a half-whisper. “I’m glad you’re back with us. I missed you so much and don’t ever want to lose you again. Everyone was worried about you. I know how you hate these tests but you know they are necessary. The team says they retrieved some valuable data from the last one and are almost finished, just a couple more iterations and the study will be complete. Then we can be together.”

Samantha’s touch soothed Alder and he descended back into a deep sleep.

The next thing Alder knew he was standing in front of his Chicago apartment. He had no recollection of the previous days or anything beyond the present. Well, this is it. Should I go right or left? Since his building faced east on a north-south street he felt more drawn to go north than south. Left it is. I’ve made the first decision of my new life. He turned and began to walk down the street.