The building where they're doing the brain scans isn't that far from campus, so it's not hard for Margaret to show up a few minutes early. She brought some homework to work on if they're not ready for her yet, but it turns out she's too excited (and maybe also nervous) to focus on Engineering Systems Design right now. She double checks the room number in the recruitment email and knocks.
Okay, time to lean against the wall and try to do the assigned reading and look both ways down the hallway every thirty seconds. Hopefully they're not going to reschedule and make her drink the tracer fluid again; it isn't going to win any culinary awards.
Eventually she tries the door, just in case it's unlocked and she's supposed to go in and find someone, even though generally people don't want anyone wandering around their labs unaccompanied.
The door opens freely. Inside, the waiting room reception desk is covered with a myriad of notebooks, textbooks, papers in binders, and a takeout bag from what Margaret recognizes as a local sushi place. Another door, this one already propped open, leads deeper into the lab's office spaces. Someplace down the hall, the shadows from the brighter lights shift slightly with motion.
Well, probably they do want her to go find them then. She heads into the office spaces.
The hallway leads past a room with a sever cluster humming away and a work station, before back to the source of the primary labs, where an vaguely Indian-looking man is fiddling with controls in a room full of yet more servers. Pushing door startles him. He looks up confused for a moment. "Margaret Peregrine? Our 3:00?"
"Yeah, that's me."
"Excellent! Paul said he was surprised to get such an enthusiastic response to our study so quickly, PACE is letting us borrow some of their space and we're just getting set up. We're really excited about what we can do with modeling neural activity and opportunity to promote self-healing once we can reliably get a complete scan but...ah," he finally takes a breath and pauses. "You probably got that whole lecture at Paul's presentation."
Nod nod. "Say, uh, do you think I could get a copy of the scan afterwards? I know I don't have the software to do anything with it, I just think it would be neat."
"Oh yeah, sure!" Munshi says. "I, uh...might need you to pay for a couple spare hard-drives. Oh! Release forms--sorry, I got so busy getting the scanner booted up I lost track of time. Thanks for coming in on a weekend, I appreciate it."
He grabs a stack of forms off a rolling cart with a laptop on it, plugged into the server racks. There's the usual medical stuff--name, biographical details, emergency contacts, allergies, plus what looks like a boiler-plate discussion of data usage protecting the right of the PACE team to make use of data resulting from the study.
Vital statistics, mom's name and phone number, not allergic to anything, and she reads over the data usage document carefully to see if it looks like they're planning anything weird. Probably they just want to do normal science and not, what would they even do, decode her memories and steal her bank account password? Figure out how to run it and act out the plot of The Matrix?
Yeah, you see a lot of these when some of your friends are psychology majors and they're all off a standard template. She signs everything that needs signing and hands them all back.
"OK....great," Munshi says, looking quickly over the forms checking signature boxes. He gestures are a chair, surrounded by the assembly of server racks, looking like a dentist's chair and with a...helmet-like thing hanging over it. "If you want to sit down, we can get started. Shouldn't take too long at all, it's all warmed up."
She takes a seat. It's a lot like waiting for her hair to dry at the hairdresser's except presumably it won't make the fan noise.
It actually looks like it might--the inside of the helmet as it drops down has a big screen across the front, and various fans and speaker grills, like the inside of a fancy VR rig. "All right, here we go," Munshi says, typing away on the laptop. "Baseline reference neurograph, version 5. Data pipeline's in order, scanner's all good." Over his shoulder, he says, "This shouldn't hurt a bit, just like having your picture taken." He types a few more things. "All right, say cheese!" There's a hum from someplace behind the server racks, and a hair-standing-on-end feeling, and then it's like there's a bright light coming from the screen, from the sides of the helmet, light everywhere, like a flashlight in her eyes, like it's seeping up her optic nerve and flowing into her head, and she can't move, all sense of time wrong as it ramps up in what feel like seconds but happens all at once...and then everything goes black.
Is there any sensory input to be had around here? (Did they mess up the scanner so badly it gave her a seizure?)
For an indefinitely infinite moment, the blackness is everything, a complete absence of qualia and then it becomes more just...darkness. Her vision is blurred, but clearing, and as her brain adjusts she recognizes there's a dim light seeping up the bottom of the helmet. The fan in the helmet is audible again, and then it shuts off, and the helmet retracts with a click, leaving behind darkness lit vaguely with a single red emergency light.
Bleeh. She feels vaguely awful and whatever went wrong with the scan is apparently either a cause or an effect of a power outage. "What just happened?" She asks, standing up and running a hand through her hair.
She thought she had seen the helmet folding back up? She tries to push it off again, but no, it's built into the suit covering the rest of her. She examines her hands and arms and legs, mostly by prodding but a bit by vision as her eyes start adjusting to the dark. She's super disoriented, like those moments in the middle of falling asleep where her brain starts losing track of her body and it feels like her legs go on forever or something.
The helmet's definitely part of the suit on further inspection. As her eyes adjust to the dimness of the emergency lighting, she can see that the chair she was sitting in isn't quite the same as the one she was in a moment ago. The single red light lighting the room seems like it's not a bulb, more like...the glow from something with a light inside it. It's some kind of panel, leaning open, across the room.
Oooookay this is not what she thought was happening. She couldn't have instantly ended up in a big suit like this in a different place, so either she's been unconscious for a while or, more likely, someone figured out how to run the brain scan and she's in some kind of virtual environment. It's a really good one, too; she's got proprioception and everything . . . okay, not everything. She isn't breathing. She doesn't have the option of breathing; it's like that muscle just isn't there. That's so weird. Now she's expecting to feel like she needs to breathe and being surprised that she doesn't. Which, for something that's sort of the biological opposite of a panic attack, is pretty disturbing.
She needs to stop worrying about that and figure out what sort of situation she's in and why. If it's become possible to run her brain it could be any amount of time in the future and pretty much anything could be happening. There could be whole cities of virtual people. She could be being run by another instance of herself. She could be the five hundredth one of her in this exact situation and someone somewhere could be complaining about how Margarets always take so long to boot up. It's the embarrassment of that last thought that finally gets her to walk over to the glowing panel and investigate it.
A few steps...a few steps that feel slightly wrong, and echo with a rustle and a dull metal-on-metal clunk....a few steps bring her to the panel. The red light is a few LEDs glowing dimly inside a panel set into an array of wires running along the wall. The cover hanging off exposes a big, plastic-covered switch. It's not labeled, at least not anywhere Margaret can see, but it looks like a safety shut-off switch.