Dr Frank N Stein IT - A Morality Tale
By J C R Harris
Frank looked up from the design pad. Surely six fingers on a hand would be more useful? And that third arm, and eyes in the back of the head? But he supposed he'd be thrown out of yet another university if he suggested it..
The printer whirred.
"Drrrup; click. Drrup; click. Drrup..."
"Hah. Out of muscle ink again! Shrinkflation here too?"
Soon he was watching the hand take shape. The intricate linkings of different functions: muscle to bone, capillaries, nerves - those nerve ends were tricky. Though the trickiest was attaching the hand to the wrist it was custom made for.
The thrill of seeing a patient moving their new hand or arm or leg, and smiling was the most satisfying thing he could imagine. Except if the hand fell off. Well; it was only once. The fuss that was made! One would have thought he was the one that cut the natural hand off in the first place. And he did reduce the price by ten percent, as well as supplying the next hand and operation free.
He'd now made all parts - for different people. Made some improvements in the design software, and even found a way to add more ink cartridges for finer skin, and harder nails. He'd not yet managed to make grown hair, but his follicles did work. Hair did grow later.
Now he needed to try out his new ingredient. This would make it possible for natural tissue to replace the current materials, so children would be able to have hand sizes grow naturally, instead of those refits. It was a bit messy filling those cartridges, but worth it now he'd perfected the materials.
He'd had a few odd mice running around in trials. But, what had his father always said? "Practice makes perfect." Next he needed to test it on humans. But could he get a grant for it? Probably not.
And would anyone feel that adventurous? How could he ask? He eyed his computer as a thought crossed his mind. Yes, he'd built brains - good ones. His first job had been an old man's heart. there wasn't single body part he'd not designed, printed and attached. On or two were on a size-to-order basis.
"A brain and a beating heart." Where had he read that? "That makes a human; or any animal." That's right. No, he hadn't read it. It was the voice of his old professor. The very first lecture in "Beyond the Robot". He'd liked that course. "Pushing the envelope," the prof had said. Hm. Whatever that meant.
Build a whole human from scratch. Why not? Perhaps even print one. "Have you met my uncle? Uncle Print-one. A little unpolished, but fresh off the printer. Shall I gift wrap him?" His mind was racing overtime. How could he do that?
Just then the door opened and three men walked in. He saw at once it was a Rabbi, a Father, and a Reverend. There was silence as he tried to work out what they could possibly want, and the three newcomers looked from one to the other as if in embarrassment.
"Er...," started the Rabbi.
"...We...," continued the Reverend.
"...Have made a mistake," added the nervous Father, fingering his beads.
He turned to leave, but the other two grabbed an arm each.
And all three sighed.
"We learned," began the Reverend in rush, "that you have developed a certain mixture that can be like real tissue."
"How," asked the thoroughly confused Frank, "could you possibly think that?"
"Look at us," said the Father. "We have an impeccable source."
"The return of the Messiah," explained the Reverend. "He is long overdue."
"Return?" questioned the Rabbi. "We don't think he's been."
"Semantics! Semantics" declared the Father, dismissively. Then he turned to Frank, whose mouth had dropped open. "Can you build him for us?"
"Or her," said the Reverend gently.
"Or her," echoed Frank, faintly. And he pinched himself to wake up as he closed his eyes. When he opened them, not only were the three still there, but they were all looking at him expectantly.
Grasping for an excuse, any excuse, he turned to his computer and back.
"It would be very expensive."
The father sighed.
"I think our backer would have the funds..."
"Or print them..."
"I think you are getting confused with Bank Governors.."
"Your reverends, er honours, er ... er ..." Frank could see the argument building. "Please, let's discuss what you came for."
"We need delivery next Easter," said the Father.
"You mean Passover." corrected the Rabbi.
"Let's call it April," suggested the Reverend wearily, looking to Heaven as though seeking release from being the peacemaker.
"And the design?"
"You will be guided," said all three together, turning and almost flowing out of the door.
It was March, and all around Frank were vessels of different shapes and sizes, containing various parts of a body, both well known, and vaguely disturbing in appearance. The heart was beating, in a solution of what looked like honey, and the brain, sitting on top of what looked like treacle, was giving off occasional tiny sparks.
In the far corner a large machine was showing blinking green and red lights, and giving off brief, intermittent hisses. Suddenly it shook fiercely, almost jumping, before settling with a sigh, and changing all its lights to non-blinking orange.
Frank looked to the corner, his face a study of delight, uncertainty and fear. It was done; the impossible. The skin, dermis and epidermis, as one single print. From the top of its head, to the nail of the big toe, from the tip of the left index finger to the tip of the right index finger, from...
But he was at the machine, and lifting the lid before he stopped. He had built the machine himself. Designed the inks. Created very large cartridges; better to call them tanks - each with enough liquid to make a whole body skin. He'd decided against tattoos.
"Cartilage is the very devil," he muttered to himself, jerking to attention for moment as he realised the incongruity of mentioning the bad one.
He carefully laid the skin on the table, wondering whether he should proceed. It seemed taller, bigger than he had designed. Several inches more than the six feet he'd decided on.
As he looked he got cold feet. What was he doing? He'd had no money to pay for things. Not directly, anyway. He had, unexpectedly, won a couple of useful lottery prizes though. Fear gripped him at the thought of what that meant. He turned to leave his private operating theatre.
He would lock the door and never return; the religious men had not been in touch. They'd forgotten, he decided. They'd gone. Yes; it was over. He didn't have to do it.
His hand reached out for the door handle; as though by magic the handle started to turn. His knees felt weak. As the door started to open he nearly fainted.
Then in walked the Father, the Reverend and the Rabbi.
"Where is he?" The voice was eager, abrupt, confident.
"Er. In pieces."
"We will watch." The Rabbi was wide eyed. The sea of parts all round the large room seemed to overwhelm him. The brain held his attention, and each spark made him jump.
Beads seem to fly through the father's fingers, as he seemed to be praying. Whether for success, for speed or for forgiveness seemed unclear.
The Reverend seemed to pick up Frank's uncertainly.
"Let's get on shall we?" he asked, but seeming to assume the answer. "Do you need help?"
Frank gulped. "Best not to touch anything, Vicar. It is all pretty delicate at this stage. And it will take some time to connect."
Realising he could not now leave the job unfinished, Frank walked to the skeleton stand, wheeling the noisy collection of bones and cartilage to the table, and started to lift and lower the body's framework into the skin, starting with the feet.
The clerics were in a state of keen anticipation by the time Frank moved to the the brain, pushing the large jar onto a trolley, and wheeling it to the table. The clerics crowded round him, anticipation almost oozing from them.
"Please stand back." He was nervous. Brains were strange things. One little error and... Well, he'd not meant to turn the mouse into a cat chaser; or to create a dancing dog. But then, science advances by its mistakes. Doesn't it?
On top of this, inserting the brain meant leaving the skull flexible for a while. Ah, well, can't delay any longer, he thought. and he opened the tap at the side of the jar to drain out the preserving liquid. From now on, the brain was on its own. He knocked the clip holding the base and top of the jar together, and slowly lifted the top.
The Father had crept up behind him, blocking his arm as he turned to put the jar top beside the brain. Both jumped, and the jar top fell from his hand to the floor, rolling across the room to the feet of the Rabbi.
There was complete silence, as the excitement flooded from the room, being forced out by the sense of fear the accident had caused.
The brain was undamaged, but now everyone was feeling how risky the whole thing was.
Frank reached to the shelf under the brain, using a medicated wipe to clean his hands, before pulling a packet of surgical gloves from the shelf and slowly and deliberately taking each one and pulling them onto his hands. He held out his hands to make sure they were steady. After few moments he turned to the Brain.
It was now sparking both frequently and in multiple places. Frank used his elbow to move a switch beside the brain; "100" showed up on screen above the operating table. It started to count down the seconds. He leaned over to check the tube in the far elbow, and released the clip holding back the blood, which started flowing into the vein.
He gave the visible heart a sharp tap, and they all jumped as it started beating.
Waving the clerics away from him, he first pulled open the top of the skull, turned to the brain, lifting it carefully, and checking the connections to nerves and arterial system, gathered into a neat connector unit, and swiftly lifted the brain from underneath, lowered it gently into place, made the connections, folded the still soft skull over the last part, and started pulling the skin into place round the skull and chest area.
Frank watched in satisfaction as the skin, livened by the blood supply, joined seamlessly together.
All was done. Now to wait for the blood to finish flowing into the body, and for the whole to begin working as a single entity. He led them to the far corner, taking the cloth off the waiting table, laden with packs of sandwiches and cakes and snacks. In the middle was a bottle of Scotch Whisky and four glasses.
They had nearly finished the whisky when a deep voice boomed "Nice work, Frank."
They all jumped out of their skin, almost as literally as Frank had been placing parts inside the printed skin. Suddenly sobered, they looked at the table to see a tall figure, now seeming to be nearly seven feet tall, standing beside the table and swaying slightly.
But no more words came. The clerics just looked in disbelief, self-doubt over their ambition seeming to bite into their souls. Frank viewed the new being with the critical eye of the surgeon checking what needed checking, if from a distance.
The figure walked uncertainly to the table, picking up a wrapped sandwich and starting to eat the whole package. Frank reached up, taking the package and opening it. the creature bit into the sandwich and smiled at Frank.
"Am I?" he asked rhetorically, crumbs spurting from his mouth. "If I am, I am a hundred years early!"
The Rabbi fainted.
"But I come with a message. Thou Shalt Not - I got that from Moses - try to be God." He stopped for moment. "When I say 'I got that from Moses', you understand he put it in Hebrew, not English."
The three still conscious nodded.
"So I am to tell you your punishments. The Rabbi is to sleep for a few decades without ageing, so his children will appear to be older than he - let's see him explain that one. " And the being chuckled.
"Father, you will become Pope in due time. Let's see how you like that kind of politics! As you may know, whatever you will do, someone will always accuse you of getting it wrong." This time the being laughed loudly for several minutes.
"Vicar. People will ask you every day what you think of Brexit. You have my sympathy." And it looked as though the being meant it.
"And you, Frank, you have really got the old man's goat. so he's decided that you will be derided and feared and hunted. We can't have the truth of your achievement getting out, so someone will write a story about you; about how you created a monster and caused havoc. And it will have your name: Frank N Stein. Hmm, that sounds good. Franken Stein; Or one word: Frankenstein."
And with that the being stepped away from the table, started to rise, and the skin slipped to the floor as the rest faded , disappearing completely before touching the ceiling.
"Party pooper," mumbled the Rabbi as he sat up. He looked over to the part of the being still visible.
"Well, at least we still have some skin in the game."