“This tissue graft sounds like everything the implants are but more,” I said.

“That’s exactly right. It will live off excess blood sugar or fat, whatever fuel source is readily available.” The doctor was nothing but professional.

“The implants can do that and run off batteries.”

“The graft is actually more advanced, since it will never need to have the batteries changed, and it can change itself.”

“Bio-rejection is a risk”

“Yes, true, but the Marcon Biologics C model caused thousands to get sick when the biologically derived plastics inside of it caused bio-rejection when they started to break down,” the doctor countered.

“That’s poor material selection. And the implant itself in this case is biological. It could be considered a parasite,” I told the doctor.

“It is a tissue graft. A human engineered one that won’t need to be replaced in five years as it wears out, adapts to you at a biological level faster than software updates, and can never be hacked.”

“I’m not sure the hacking stories really were real. It’s very easy to blame hackers for some failures instead of admit corporate liability.”

The doctor was almost offended by the statement. “Yet you’re here.”

“I figure my immune system and other systems will keep it in check if they’re a problem.”

“It has built in intelligence to keep itself in check, such as ensuring that it doesn’t crash your blood sugar as you indulge in the dessert bar too long.” The doctor deliberately glanced down at my middle. “And it monitors your health to a degree that rivals the artificial devices.”

“But can my doctor download the information like he could with the device?”

“It uses DNA computers and can form a port anywhere there’s a digital connector put in. Your doctor could choose where to create such a connection, and if the initial location doesn’t work, try somewhere else.”

“I hate needles. Repeated surgery is not a plus.”

“Yes, and I won’t bother to add that fat-shaming obviously isn’t working for you. That’s the advantage of the graft. It won’t need to be removed unless there’s the rare case of bio-rejection and you don’t want the mediating drugs – “

“If there’s bio-rejection, I want it out. If there are any major problems, it needs to come out.”

“I understand your concern. They aren’t sure why your body rejected one of the early implants for metabolic control. The current ones are so much better, but they aren’t good enough, which is why we’re doing this trial for a biological one.”

“I have a family history of auto-immune disorders. The historic upside was that my ancestors probably didn’t get as sick with intestinal worms and the local equivalent of malaria. The downside is, minus those parasites in daily life, it attacks itself. Or cats, tree pollen -” I could have gone on but was interrupted.

“That is why we’ll be monitoring you closely,” the doctor said. “You’ve already seen the bracelet you can wear around your wrist to check blood sugar and other vital signs –“

“Yes, and I’ll be monitoring things, too.”

“We’re going to appreciate that extra data. In fact, given your background and diligence, we’ve come up with a device to let you give the implant extra feedback as you think is required.”

“It is a tissue graft,” I said.

“We think it can learn, a little, based on feedback from the outside just as it will from the inside.”

“Now you risk it malfunctioning because it doesn’t know how to handle Thanksgiving dinner.”

“We tested it through several candidates’ religious holidays. No, I mean when it may be trying to cut back on adrenaline when you’re watching a horror movie and that’s half the thrill.”

“What if I mess it up?” I asked.

“If it doubt, it reverts to the basic programming and ignores your commands. If necessary, we reset it or remove it. You can’t mess it up.”

“Fine, let’s do it.”

 

 

“You’ve lost twenty pounds, ten kilos, whatever the right term is,” my sister said.

“Twenty pounds still sounds better than ten kilos,” I replied.

“I could rate it in grams if you’d like. Then it sounds even better.”

“That’s not necessary,” I replied.

I stared at myself in the mirror, the leaner form still aged, somewhat saggy, another fifty pounds to lose to get back to the ideal range. The symbiont powered itself from the excess blood sugar that pre-diabetes and an aging metabolism left, but it was feeding on some of my excess fat, too. I couldn’t take the diet drugs that inhibited appetite, because that bothered my digestive tract. I couldn’t take some of the other metabolic drugs because of other quirks. I had to have a smart parasite in my gut that did the same thing for me … because, I had to admit, I didn’t have the discipline to eat right, exercise and be all that I could be.

 

 

As I walked up to the dessert bar, there was a horrible odor that hit me. I stepped back a few paces. The smell faded. I looped around the salad bar to see which side the odor was on, and everything smelled fine. When I walked up to the dessert bar from the other side, the odor showed up again. I walked around the dessert bar, seeking the source. Everything that would have smelled sweet and sugary had a bitter, sour undertone. Since I was still hungry, I returned to the bar for yogurt and bananas. That was OK.

I told the doctor about it. He ran tests and smiled. “It’s behavior modification.”

“This thing is supposed to control blood sugar if it is out of control and prevent excesses. How on Earth does it graduate to behavior modification?”

“That’s actually part of an earlier generation. It would release negative feedback for undesirable behaviors like alcohol consumption and drug addiction.”

“I’m not an addict.”

“Given your history of problems with weight control, we could say you’re experiencing the same addictive cycles with food.” He paused. “Do you want it out?”

“No, I don’t want it out. I don’t want it to do that.”

“It is better if you don’t consume the extra calories, but we don’t want to micro-manage you. Your personality is rather averse to micromanagement.”

“You can say that again,” I said.

“Then you can try mediating the symbiont’s behavior, knowing we’ll need to modify it if things don’t work out.”

“You mentioned a feedback device,” I asked.

“Sure. Let me get it and show you how to connect it.”

“I said I hate needles. If you’re asking me to stab myself in the gut –“

“We can have the symbiont grow a new tendril close to the skin so you can connect without that level of effort. It would be like the sonic skin blasts to test blood sugar –“

“I know how the monitoring bracelet functions.”

“Fine. Let me get the feedback device we came up with. The devices are quite similar.”

 

 

I walked past the dessert bar. The first pass I was able to enjoy a small sampling of multiple items. The symbiont kicked in the control on the second pass. I’d have to tell it to use subtler cues instead of making me look like I’m going to gag at the sight of all that chocolate, ice cream and sweets.

 

 

“I had an interesting change, doctor,” I said at the next checkup.

“Oh? The record doesn’t say anything has changed.”

“You’d previously discussed my risk of auto-immune disorders.”

“Yes.” Alarm dawned on the doctor’s face. “Do you think you’re starting to experience rejection?”

“Actually, my IBS symptoms are decreasing. I don’t know why. The symbiont isn’t reporting anything. Neither is the bracelet.”

“While it may be modifying your behavior and consuming extra blood sugar and stored fat, that’s not even on the list of things it could or should do. We’ll look into it.”

They kept me there for six hours of tests before providing an answer. The symbiont had attached feeders to the digestive tract to feed directly. That allowed it to better mediate caloric content and expel its own waste. My immune system was now attacking that like parasitic worms, so my allergic reactions and auto-immune condition were essentially null and void. But the symbiont itself seemed to be weathering the storm. In fact, it had grown a couple of ounces, aside from the new tendrils connected to my digestive tract.

“We’ll be monitoring this much more closely. I need you to come in at least once a week.”

“Yes, I can do that.”

“We’re downloading its data now and running diagnostics.”

“I’ve been reviewing the data myself.”

“Do you know how to understand it?”

“I’m the ultimate informed patient. My life depends on it.”

“Yes, but you’re not an expert. We’re going to review the data, flag what is a problem, rate it in a way the symbiont understands. This will help it understand what is acceptable and unacceptable.”

“Is the digestive tract attachment unacceptable?”

“Do you want us to remove them?” the doctor asked.

“Not if we don’t have to. I mean, it is clearing up the IBS without meds.”

“Were you taking meds for it before?”

“I have all kinds of problems. That’s why I needed an implant and didn’t have one, why I couldn’t and didn’t take a lot of the standard meds.”

“If this works as a solution for both the metabolic issues and auto-immune problems, we have an excellent case study for the public.”

“I was only trying to help myself, not help you.”

“We’re going to make sure the symbiont is helping you.”

 

 

I reviewed the data on a daily basis, rating the symbiont’s behavioral feedback. The one that had become my favorite was when it let me zone out while working out. It was so much easier to spend an hour on the exercise bike or treadmill when I literally wasn’t thinking about it. The symbiont said it didn’t affect my body or mind long term, and the doctor’s review never flagged it as a problem.

I was able to brag to my sister I’d lost the fifty pounds I needed to lose to hit the “acceptable” threshold.

“Yeah, great, 25 kilos.”

“I can justify new clothes shopping,” I teased.

“Now you can justify plastic surgery to curtail all that loose skin hanging around.”

I looked down at my body, back at the mirror, trying not to look at her. I hated her in that moment as only siblings could. She was right. What was the point of being this thin when I looked like I was walking around in skin two sizes too big?

 

 

“Create more collagen. Absorb the loose skin. Now it won’t look so bad.”

“Are you authorizing tissue absorption?” the symbiont asked me.
“Yes. And regeneration.”

“Specify regeneration,” the biological computer asked.

“Regrow skin or maintain it to maintain health.” I went through fifteen menus and ten times as many parameters. I didn’t worry about it, since I could adjust it all later based on how I felt. If all else failed, I could reset back to original parameters.

The doctor remarked that I was looking better, glowing, vital. The loose skin was improving, and the healthy weight was maintained. In fact, I sometimes found myself starving for steak, shrimp and other foods automatically on the diet I was on.

 

 

Sitting in a restaurant, I nearly dived into the salad bar. It felt wrong to crave spinach, but to nearly lose control over my actions was alarming. I left the date early and went home. I connected to the symbiont and ranked its last behavior as unacceptable. It said the behavioral control was completely acceptable, per parameters.

“You almost made me look bad in front of other people. It would have been embarrassing. That’s a failure.”

“What others?”

“Other humans. I can’t lose control of myself or my behavior in front of others or that would be embarrassing to me.”

It listed a long list of behavioral parameters.

“I would rather sleep an extra half hour at night to conserve energy than look bad in front of others.”

“Their symbionts could mediate their responses.”

“They don’t have symbionts. No one else does.”

It felt like my gut went heavy. As if the symbiont itself was reacting. “How do others function?”

“My body has all kinds of problems you are here to solve. I am the only one who has a symbiont like you.” I didn’t mention the addicts and criminals who had early versions of the symbiont. A lot of them were dead. “The company that made you isn’t even going to make more like you unless I’m happy with the results, that they’re satisfied with the biological performance criteria.”

“What is the definition of success?”

We had a really long conversation. It was as if I was texting my sister as kids except it was me talking to a version of myself. I’d had similar conversations, albeit shorter, on behavioral parameters and health metrics. For example, making me crave food that I didn’t have on hand or an impulse to eat raw meat wasn’t good. At midnight, I cut it off and went to bed.

 

 

I came to about seven AM, somewhat surprised that I was on the treadmill per my original program. I’d gotten up and started ising without being conscious. After it was done, I had breakfast only to realize I’d already eaten something. My official breakfast was thus a high protein shake. I got ready for work and checked in with the symbiont. It had decided that since I was tired but had a schedule, it kept me in the not-quite-awake phase to let my mind rest while my body worked out.

I wasn’t sure about how I felt about literally running on automatic.

 

 

It is easy to joke about falling asleep or zoning out about meetings. I took notes to maintain my attention just to avoid that. Typing up code and reviewing documents per pre-determined criteria was almost on automatic. I didn’t intentionally slip into a semi-aware state. Someone pinged me about a mistake I made, and that’s when I startled fully awake.

If I’d been fully conscious, I wouldn’t have made that mistake. If I’d been fully aware, I would have noticed. I’d have to tell the symbiont about it.

I explained that being fully functional and aware while contributing to society was more important than resource utilization. If I fail at work, society sees me as a failure, and its mediation of my behavior is a failure, too.

 

 

I was now more awake and alert at work than ever before, though I could tell the symbiont to tone it down at times through the stronger connections. I think it could tap into my auditory nerves and tell when the boss was droning, but it registered the sub-vocal commands I gave it now.

 

 

I aced the medical review by the company with flying colors. I felt great. They were thrilled. They asked for my assessment, and I gave a glowing one.

The doctor was pleased when I said that it had improved my mental state as well as my body. “We’d love to get a testimonial from you to help sell the product.”

“Of course,” I replied enthusiastically. It was automatic. “Anything to help.”

It turned out they didn’t have to pay me for all the code reviews, product feedback and even the testimonial. That was a hidden rider, built into the vague wording of the contract. If I wanted extra money for the work, I needed to do more work. I accepted the offer.

 

 

I was only dimly aware of the thunderous applause from the audience. I only stood, basking in the glow that radiated from the pit of my stomach. There were thousands here, investors and product reviewers, ready to take the product live.

And they were copying the DNA and code from my symbiont as the basis for the mainstream model. It was happy, too.

 

THE END

*****

Photo by rick