Language of the Gods
Professor Quincy raised his glass high. "Here's to hoping consciousness dies with the brain.”
We clinked our whiskey glasses and drank.
"You're lucky I'll drink to anything cause that was a weird fucking toast," I said, wiping the remnant whiskey from my lips.
The professor took another long gulp. "Goddamn it burns," he said, wincing.
It wasn't uncommon for us to have drunken nights like these, usually at a critical juncture before publishing a paper. Professor Quincy thought the alcohol helped our brains get past barriers known only to the sober mind, he would say.
He shuffled papers and trinkets around his cluttered desk until he found an old-fashioned shoe box. “There the blasted thing is,” he said and slid its cover open.
“Now there’s a relic,” I said, taking another drink.
Professor Quincy pulled a series of wires from the box. "But in case consciousness does outlive the brain, my CDK-002 should tell you," he said.
"A CDK zero zero what?" I said.
He paused and looked at me, almost puzzled I wasn't following along. He did this a lot.
"Consciousness Detection Kit. CDK-002," he said. "I shared that Google Drive folder with you like six months ago."
"Right," I said, not knowing which of our six hundred shared Google Drive folders he was referring to.
He plugged one end of the wire into his laptop and the other into a makeshift EEG headset. He slipped it over his head.
"How do I look?" he said, shrugging his shoulders.
"I'm sorry, what are we doing here?" I said. "And why are you putting that on your head?"
"At this point, you're probably wondering what happened to CDK-001," he said, now clicking on his laptop.
"No, what I'm really wondering is why we're—"
"Well, basically CDK-001 was a total flop," he said. "I think it's because I used it on my mother after she had already died."
"My mother died from a stroke a few months ago. You knew that, right?" Professor Quincy said.
"She died in her living room about twenty minutes before I stopped by with groceries.”
"Yes, you did tell me that you found her dead."
"As fate would have it, however, I had just finished the prototype for my Consciousness Detection Kit and had it along with my laptop in my car."
“What exactly is the Consciousness Detection thing? I think I missed that Google Drive link.”
“Right, right. It’s a simple computer program that hooks up to brain sensors like this. My first CDK was very simple—if the program interface lit up white, it meant consciousness was detected.”
“Not just brain activity?”
“No, no, no. I mean, kind of. You know, consciousness can be detected based on a very specific pattern of EEG and SEG readings. That’s the theory, anyway. What this program does is filter out any brain activity not related to consciousness and sees what we’re left with.”
“In other words…”
“In other words, my mother had just died. Certainly, she’d have some semblance of lingering brain activity. However, would her brain continue emitting the patterns of activity that signal consciousness? That’s what I was after.”
I thought about questioning him further on the ethics of running one of his bizarre metaphysical experiments on his freshly dead mother, but I knew the conversation wouldn't go anywhere, so I ignored it.
"I plugged the CDK in, put the receiver on her head, fired up the computer and... nothing happened. Not for the first couple minutes anyway. I just got the ‘no signal’ screen. But then, just as I was about to give up, the screen flashed white for a split second.”
“Nope, I swear on my life.”
“So, your mom’s consciousness—”
“Was still with her. Even after her heart stopped beating,” Professor Quincy said. “I mean, there’s a good chance it was a glitch. The device was rudimentary, to say the least.”
“Assuming it was a clean reading, shouldn’t it have been solid white?”
“Good question, Sir Lewis. First of all, there was no continuity, meaning I didn’t start the scan until she was twenty minutes dead. Ideally, I would’ve established a baseline consciousness before death.”
He poured both of us more whiskey and I took another drink.
“Meaning,” Professor Quincy continued, “we need sensors on someone while they die to confirm my hypothesis.” He adjusted his headband slightly and took another long drink of whiskey. The room started spinning a little bit as the alcohol took effect.
"Look at this,” he said, pointing to his laptop.
I pulled my chair around to his side of the desk. His screen was bright red.
"Red?" I said.
"Am I missing something here?"
"Right, I'm sorry. It's red because I'm thinking of the color red."
"Or are you thinking of red because the screen is red?" I said, drunk.
He stared at me blankly for a moment, his eyes glazed.
The screen turned blue. His eyes softened.
"Let me guess, you thought of the color blue?" I said.
"Take your hands off the keyboard," I said.
"Now think of the color yellow."
"As you wish," he said.
The screen turned yellow.
"Now you believe me?" he said.
"Can I get some more of that whiskey?"
He filled my glass half full and I drank it down.
"I still think there’s a 50% chance this is an elaborate party trick, but it's pretty cool nonetheless. What else does your CPK do?"
He cleared his throat. "C-D-K."
"That's about it," he said. "I mean, that's it for the live-bodied consciousness detection."
"What happens if you think of a shape or something. Like, I don't know, think of a tennis ball."
Professor Quincy closed his eyes and the screen turned a vibrant green.
“Alright, so it is just colors,” I said. “Maybe we’ll see shapes in CDK-003?”
“Maybe. But that’ll be up to you.”
Professor Quincy shifted a few more papers around until he located a blue sticky note. “Here,” he said, handing it over. “This is a color guide. First of all, if you see any color—any color at all—it means I still have consciousness—confirming the findings of CDK-001.”
“You’ve lost me again. What do you mean ‘still have consciousness’?”
“I’ll think of a color based on what the other side is like. So, if you see a white screen—meaning I'm thinking of the color white—then it means that heaven is real. You know, the traditional pearly gates, infinite love, Christian heaven. If it’s red, it means I’ve gone to hell. If it’s black, it means I’m floating in the cosmos. If it’s green, it means I’ve been reincarnated—would that even work? I don’t know. Then, of course, if the screen says ‘no-signal’, it means that consciousness does, in fact, die with the brain, which would be the most ideal outcome, in my opinion. It would also confirm that CDK-001 was a glitch, but that’s fine.”
“Oh yeah, and if the screen is pink, that means something else entirely has happened. Something I didn’t see coming. Got it?”
“Can you slow down? Why are you telling me all this?”
“There’s a lot you can do with the CDK. Between the EEG and CEG, it picks up all sorts of signals—a lot more than what’s reflected in the simple color test. Play around with the user interface, I’m sure you’ll uncover more than you could ever imagine,” he said.
He took one more long drink of whiskey and raised his glass, then threw it hard against the ground, shattering it in a hundred different pieces.
“Well that was out of character—” I started.
He pulled a pistol out of his desk drawer, pushed it against his chest, and pulled the trigger.
His body slumped back in his chair while the crack of the gunshot reverberated through the room.
My ears were ringing.
Blood was splattered along the back wall.
“Prof—pr—” I muttered under my breath. “Are you okay?”
I looked around the room slowly and stood up.
My heart was beating in my throat.
I reached for my phone with shaky hands, but before I could unlock it, something caught my attention. It was the color guide on the blue sticky note. I picked it up.
Professor Quincy groaned and shifted slightly in his chair.
He wasn’t dead yet.
“Professor, can you hear me?” I said.
He stopped moving.
I drunkenly stumbled to the door and pushed it open. “HELP!” I yelled into the empty hallway. I heard footsteps from somewhere down the hall, but my vision was beyond blurry at that point. “Anyone!” I yelled.
I looked down at the note. If Professor Quincy was going to die for science, I wasn’t going to let my emotions get in the way of the results.
Black, floating in space.
Pink, something else entirely.
No signal, consciousness is dead.
“Lewis, what’s going on?” A woman’s voice called from down the hall.
“Profess—Quincy—he shot himself. Please, can you get help?” I slurred. I had almost half a bottle of whiskey in me, mind you.
“Okay, hang tight, I’ll call 911,” she said.
I stumbled back into the room and looked around, half the office floor was covered in blood, Professor Quincy was still slumped back, a gaping hole in the middle of his chest. I felt his pulse, he was dead.
I glanced at the screen. It said No Signal.
Consciousness does indeed die with the brain after all.
I breathed a sigh of relief, then felt a wave of intense nausea pass over me. The room was spinning.
My world turned black and I hit the floor.
“Sir, what is this?” An EMT said, nudging me awake.
He helped me sit up and I rubbed my eyes.
The headband was still on Professor Quincy and the screen still said No Signal. There were five EMTs in the room, assessing the damage.
“It’s a brain reader. Well, it was supposed to be. I don’t know, it all happened so fast,” I said.
“You can remove it,” the EMT said to the other.
If I was sober, maybe I would’ve made more of an effort to salvage the experiment at that point, but I was pretty sure the experiment was a flop at that point.
As the EMT reached over the professor’s body, he hit the keyboard, inadvertently unmuting the computer.
Loud digital distortion played over the laptop speakers.
It sounded like a computer connecting to the internet back in the AOL days, but faster and more layered.
“What the hell is that noise?” one of the EMTs said.
My heart started pounding.
I stood up and walked over to the professor’s body. The digital distortion continued with an inconceivable complexity. It was hypnotizing. It was crippling. It was engrossing.
I looked around the room. Everyone was frozen, staring at the laptop.
“Can someone turn that thing off?” another EMT said, covering his ears.
I pulled the headband off the professor’s head and the sound stopped.
“That was coming from his brain?” an EMT asked.
“I think so,” I whispered, slowly backing away.
Another EMT standing in the back fell against the bookshelf, sending a few books crashing on the floor.
“Paul, you okay?”
Paul nodded and attempted to steady himself.
“Everyone good?” the lead EMT said to the group.
The room was silent.
“Can we get the hell out of here?” an EMT said.
They positioned Professor Quincy on a gurney and four of them hauled him out. The lead EMT instructed Paul to stay behind with me and help me out of the building. I gathered the professor’s laptop and my things and headed for the door. Paul was staring out of the office’s fourth-floor window.
“I think I’m good to go,” I said to him.
He turned to look at me. “Right, okay.”
As I turned the doorknob, Paul put his hand on my shoulder. “What exactly was that noise?” he whispered.
“I’m not entirely sure. That headband was supposed to read brain signals. It was meant for a visual interface, not audio,” I said.
He nodded impatiently. “Okay, okay,” he said. He was sweating.
“Are you good?” I said, still a bit woozy myself.
“Yeah, you go ahead, I’ll get some of this cleaned up,” he said.
I obliged and walked myself out where I found a scene of cop cars and ambulances outside. Professor Quincy was taken away and I stayed behind to give a statement to police.
While I was in the middle of telling the story, I heard a scream, then glass shattering.
“Someone help him!” someone screamed from the ground.
I looked up and saw Paul, the EMT, standing in the broken window frame of Professor Quincy’s office. A cop shined his light on him. Paul’s face was pale and completely emotionless.
“Paul!” someone yelled.
Paul extended his arms out and looked at the sky.
While I watched him, I became entranced. The sound of the digital distortion came back to me. I think it was only in my head, though.
“Sir, don’t jump, someone will come up to help you,” a cop yelled.
Unfazed, Paul leaned forward, falling four stories and landing headfirst on the concrete below with a wet thud.
The cop taking my statement dropped his clipboard. “Oh my god,” he said and looked over at me, pale faced.
The scene broke out in chaos and I felt the nausea come back. I threw up next to the cop car and passed out again.
At the time of this writing, two weeks after the incident and about an hour after Professor Quincy’s burial, three out of the five EMTs that were there that night have died.
First was Paul that jumped from the office window that night.
Second was Randall who died in a head-on collision two days later.
Third was Gina who swallowed a bottle of pills four nights ago.
A fourth EMT has apparently disappeared but isn’t presumed dead yet.
The fifth has been checked into a mental hospital.
Then there’s me.
I’m not dead, but my time is coming. I can feel it. I haven’t slept a wink since that night. Every time I close my eyes, that horrible digital distortion sound engulfs me, nearly driving me insane.
We uncovered something that night.
I can’t prove it but I think we discovered a secret language or code that night—something that bypasses human logic and connects directly to our souls. It wants our souls—it needs our souls. For what, I don’t know, but I can’t hold on much longer.