"What're you doing with that?" Anwar asked Cutter. The two of them stood over the alien lizard laid out on the surgical table in the chop-shop. Intravenous tubes extended from both its arms. Electrodes had been stuck by suction pads across its body -several variously across its torso and a dozen on its skull. Metal wires and tubes protruded from freshly drilled holes in the creature's head.
Cutter leaned in close to the alien, holding a large needle that penetrated its reptilian skull. "I'm taking a sample." He slowly pulled back the plunger on the needle, and its clear inner chamber filled with a thin stream of grey-pinkish liquid, no thicker than a hair.
"Of its brain?" Anwar's face crumpled in disgust.
"Yeah." Cutter withdrew the needle and walked around the table.
"Won't that injure it?"
"A little." Cutter bent down towards a large, square device on the floor. He stuck the needle into a hole on the machine and pressed down the plunger, squirting the contents inside. "But we'll fix 'em right up."
"What is that thing?" Anwar nodded to the device that occupied Cutter.
"Bio-Cellular Replicator." Cutter hit a few buttons on the machine. "We're gonna build him some new brain cells." The machine whirred.
"I don't feel good about this." Anwar stood over the alien lizard, its scaly green body sprawled out across the surgical table. "You sure this is right?"
"You mean morally?" Cutter sat down into a chair that faced a computer monitor. A wire extending from the computer was plugged through a hole in the lizard's skull.
"Yeah. Should we be doing this?"
"You're in the wrong business, bud'."
"You don't feel bad about this?" Anwar waved his hand over the lizard, splayed out with tubes and wires inserted into its body and brain.
Cutter looked to the lizard for a moment, then back at the neurological data streaming into his computer. "You know, people pay a lot of money for this operation."
"Yea, but he didn't. He doesn't want this."
"How do you know? You don't think you'd like to wake up one day and be able to speak a thousand languages?"
"I don't know. But it doesn't matter what I want. What about what we he wants?"
"Too bad we can't ask him." Cutter grinned. "We'll have to wait 'til we're done here before we can."
"Assuming this works."
"I heard what you said to Wojtek -you don't even know what its brain looks like."
"Well I do now. Take a look." Cutter motioned to the monitor. It showed a detailed map of the alien's brain. A stream of data ran alongside the image. "A brain is a brain. Wetware information processor -input, processing, output. It's a machine. We just need to find out where all the parts are."
Anwar peered at the monitor. The screen flickered as it updated with additional data from the creature's brain.
"We're mapping it." Cutter said. "Some of it's easy. Basic motor functioning near the neuro-column, higher order functioning near the edges. Visual data comes in through its eyes, and it's processed there." Cutter pointed. "Same thing for sound, smell. That's the basic hardware -sensory organs and sensory processing. Once we know that then we can simulate an environment."
"That's what you're doing now?"
"Yep. Neural mapping cycles with virtual stimuli. We pump in known data, see how his brain responds, and the computer figures out what it's doing."
Anwar leaned over the lizard, staring at its closed eyes. "Does it hurt?"
Cutter shook his head. "It shouldn't. He's dreaming, more or less. The input is directed by the learning algorithm -fully automated."
"Have you gone through this?" Anwar looked up from the lizard.
Anwar nodded. "Yeah, personally."
"No, I don't operate on myself." Cutter laughed. "If you want to know what it's like, ask one of the crew -Zahra, Lujain, Wojtek. I got detailed maps on all of them. They've been in mapping sims for probably fifty hours apiece."
The computer beeped and displayed a prominent message: 'MAPPING PROGRAM COMPLETE'.
"Alright. Here we go." Cutter swiveled his chair, turning to a small device on the floor beside the computer. He reached into a tubular extension on the apparatus and pulled out a small metal object. It hung from his fingers like the chain of thin and delicate silver necklace. Along its length were tiny metallic prongs, like insect legs, and on each of these there was a fine metallic fur.