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'Crowd Control,' part 10: The road to death goes through Delhi

In this installment of CNET's crowdsourced science fiction novel, Rebecca Danish removes the nanobots that keep her young, leaving her with little time left to change the world.

This is "Crowd Control: Heaven Makes a Killing," CNET's crowdsourced science fiction novel written and edited by readers around the world. New to the story? Click here to start. To read other past installments, visit our table of contents.

Chapter 8

Compiled by Escobar MacNamara, curator of the Museum of the Uninstallation, San Jose, State of Jefferson.

Earth EB-2, May 22, 2051

A thick haze hung to the north as Rebecca Danish stepped out of the front entrance of the Okhla Railway Station and looked back toward the sun setting behind New Delhi, lighting the hazy horizon on fire. She felt the burn of fatigue throughout her body as she steeled herself to work her way through a growing crowd at the intersection below. Just beyond the low buildings that surrounded the train station she could see the temple's massive lotus petals beckoning to her, offering serenity if she could only make it a few more blocks on her weakened legs.

It had been almost a month since the always reliable Mrs. Danish had walked out on her instructorship without any notice. There were rumors almost immediately that she had joined the underground of radical Uninstallers suspected of planning a coup against the ruling Transhumanist Party, but ironically she was scarcely aware that such a movement existed when she had decided to walk away from her career. She simply knew that somewhere in her body she felt tired. Even if her nanobiotics insisted otherwise, constantly ensuring that all her cells were functioning at top performance levels and preventing her from actually feeling that old sensation she once knew to be just plain tired, she still knew she was tired...on some sort of existential level.

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The metropolis of the future as envisioned by "Crowd Control" contributor Julia Zimmerman.

Julia Zimmerman Art

The first day she did not teach her class as scheduled, she also did not concern herself with lining up a competent substitute and loading all the required materials into the curriculum system. Instead, she made herself an appointment with a recommended independent technician to begin the process of having her nanobiotics fully uninstalled. The technician, who was known only by the handle "Alice" until the point when contracts had to be signed, required Rebecca to undergo a battery of psychological and physical assessments before even scheduling the main procedures.

The entire process was strangely unemotional for her. She had considered the implications for weeks. Her daughter Khloe had shut her out completely since she informed her of the decision, which was a tragic blow. Rebecca numbed herself to the thought that she could be losing the other member of her family forever. It was strange to force herself into a state of unfeeling, knowing that might be exactly what she needed to finally allow her body to feel the true weight of everything.

After receiving the green light as an ideal candidate for a full uninstall, Rebecca began taking a regimen of anti-nanobiotics -- not the kind prescribed by the nanobiotics corporations, but the real stuff that didn't leave any room for a potential reboot. One component of the drug cocktail attacked and broke down the organic cell walls of the nanobiotics that allowed them to float around the bloodstream and do their duties without being attacked by the body's natural defenses. Once exposed for the foreign intruders they were, another pharmaceutical component served to boost those natural defenses in order to conduct an all-out war on the nanobiotics across the circulatory system.

Feeling inspired as you read? Learn how you can still contribute your visual interpretations.

The effect was similar to fighting any other system-wide infection. It left the patient horribly depleted during the process and during recovery, which took at least two weeks. It was an ordeal the human body could not fully recover from and marked the beginning of a slow but steady decline to a long-deferred end.

Rebecca was unsure how long her body could hold out once it was finally given the permission to catch up to her soul, if there was such a thing. She had booked the flight to New Delhi for the day after the date the technician said she should be able to safely travel without a greatly increased risk of contracting some sort of fatal virus on the journey or of her heart simply failing from having to deal, unassisted, with stress for the first time in years.

The huge old Baha'i Lotus Temple had been one of Charles' favorite places on Earth, along with any beach he ever visited with anyone he ever loved. He made a pilgrimage to the magnificent temple in the shape of a lotus flower several stories high whenever work brought him to the subcontinent. On his final trip through Asia, Rebecca had joined him and been struck by the peacefulness of the place. It had a spiritual feel to it that even she could not deny.

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Sunset at the lotus temple

Public domain

Energized by the memory of her last visit, Rebecca hurried down the railway station steps, across two blocks of traffic congested with electric rickshaws, and through the gate into the temple grounds. She sat on an old concrete bench and gazed across well-manicured gardens and fountains at the remarkable structure set against the dramatic backdrop of the Indian sunset.

"Sometimes they just get things right, don't they?" She heard the words Charles had whispered in her ears the last time she had sat at this spot.

"Yes. Yes, they certainly do," Rebecca said out loud, drawing odd looks from a family passing by.

The nostalgic visit to the temple was merely a brief detour on this trip. She was postponing the rendezvous, uncertain this was the mission she truly wanted to dedicate her remaining time to.

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Click on the book cover to read past installments of "Crowd Control."

Sam Falconer

The process of getting to this point had been a little ridiculous. During one of her uninstallation sessions, she had begun to open up about the disillusionment that had led her to uninstall. The assistant tech had quickly shushed her, pointing to the office screen used for payments and communications, but one they all knew the government (which had been controlled by the Transhumanist Party for the past decade) surely was able to access for surveillance, intelligence and other purposes.

After the session, the assistant tech secretly passed her a card with a number code and no explanation. Her attempts to decode the message yielded nothing until her next session, when the assistant tech greeted her with a handshake so firm it hurt.

"Did you find what you were looking for at the library?" The technician stared intently into Rebecca's eyes as he nearly crushed her fingers with his grip.

Rebecca understood immediately what the number code referenced. It was from the old Dewey decimal system used in hard-copy libraries that had been converted to archives decades ago.

"You can probably make it after your appointment today. The reference desk is open until 7." The assistant released her and went back to his work without another word.

The following day, Rebecca visited the state archive and handed the reference desk attendant the number code. The attendant looked at the code and then stared at Rebecca for a long, uncomfortable amount of time, clearly evaluating her face for deeper clues.

"Second row to the left. It doesn't leave the cage," the graying attendant said with a cough. He was not the kind of guy you would come across in any nanobiotics marketing campaigns.

She found the volume with an old, ink-printed label with the matching number code on its spine among the thousands of musty books contained within the chain-link room, itself inside a glass enclosure that allowed the collection to remain in permanent climate stasis. The title print on the spine was barely legible in faded gold lettering that had been partially rubbed off, but it seemed to read "Phonograph Repair and Tuning Manual."

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A classic volume held the hidden key to uninstalling for good.

Library of Congress

Rebecca pulled the book off the dusty shelf and flipped through diagrams of ancient phonographs. She flipped to the table of contents and found mostly archaic jargon she was unfamiliar with. She checked the other end, the index. On a hunch, she went through all entries starting with the letter "N." Nothing familiar. She looked through the "U" words and stopped her finger on the word "Uninstalling." It had exactly one entry, on page 128.

Turning to the page, Rebecca found a chapter that most certainly was not about repairing old record players. Instead, it was a lengthy manifesto expounding on the many ways Transhumanism leads to the breakdown of society and the eventual extermination of the human race.

At the end of the chapter was a series of coordinates that led her to another unlikely setting to find revolution brewing, a local antique vinyl record and compact disc store that also served as a meeting place for a covert group of uninstallers.

There, in a basement meeting room of Lawrence Wax and Lasers Ltd. the following evening, Rebecca was introduced to a series of odd people and ideas that all made a counterintuitive sort of sense to her, perhaps because of her weakened condition. Regardless of what made her so susceptible to their notions of reversal and revolution, she was stirred by the potential of the mission -- it felt like a purpose for the pain and constant fatigue she had felt since beginning the process of reverting to her body's natural systems.

Click the screenshot above to take a closer look at an outline of the book through this point that contributors used to organize the rough draft online.

Eric Mack/CNET

Her falling out with Khloe had left her with no remaining guiding light in her life, and she was ready to give the remainder of it, however brief it may be, over to a new cause. She wanted to make the maximum impact possible before going on to join Charles on that eternal beach she didn't believe in. But she still hoped she was wrong about that.

Just a few weeks later, her intentions apparently confirmed to the satisfaction of The Committee, as the revolutionary group called itself, she had boarded a jet for New Delhi to undergo her "messaging training."

"You're not worried about being late, Mrs. Danish?"

Rebecca was startled by the unexpected question from a man in a sharp vintage suit. He was clean-shaven and bald with a thick neck and muscular frame. He took a seat next to her and Rebecca shuffled her body slightly away from him, awkwardly leaving her seated only halfway on the bench.

"Oh, don't worry Rebecca, I'm with The Committee." The man placed his hand softly on her shoulder. "We've been keeping an eye on your movements and were a little disconcerted to see you heading so far south, in the opposite direction of the rendezvous point."

"It's a personal thing...Wait, you've been tracking me? That's a very un-Committee like thing to do. What happened to being completely off the grid? Isn't that why my training is halfway around the world? Who are you?"

"Call me Victrola for now."

He extended his hand toward her as he referred to himself using the code name Rebecca had been told to expect to hear upon her arrival. Rebecca relaxed as she shook his hand.

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The Committee tracked Rebecca Danish's movements across the Indian subcontinent from orbit.

NASA

"Weird, I imagined I'd be meeting a female trainer when they told me the name back home."

"Yes, well, that Victrola is waiting to greet you back at the rendezvous point that you rode a train past about an hour ago. Tell me, Rebecca, is there anything you need to tell me? Cold feet? It's normal, but I just need to know how you're feeling right now."

"I'm fine. Just tired. I thought I'd earned this moment of peace after the insane journey that brought me here. It was only a month ago that I was living indefinitely and without these aches and pains and the fatigue. It's a lot to adjust to, you know."

"Yes. Yes, I know. Now how about we catch the next train back toward Paharganj? The real Victrola is very interested to meet you."

"But how do I know I can trust you? If you're able to track me, it seems a lot more likely that you're with the government than The Committee."

"Yes, well, The Committee is in more places than you might think, including government surveillance. The way I see it, you may as well hope that I'm with The Committee, because whoever I am, I'm obviously able to track you. So how about just taking a train ride with me and hoping it has a happy ending?"

Rebecca recognized that he was right. Either he was who he said he was or she was already screwed.

"Fine. Just one second, I need to go pay my respects," Rebecca said as she stood and moved toward the temple.

Next time, a skeptical scientist arrives in the afterlife.

See our "Crowd Control" contributors list.