Isolde McCarthy, Research assistant, Department of History, Stanford University, CA had been obsessed with Celtic historical fables ever since she was a child. This was compounded further through bedtime stories, often plucked out of their Irish heritage. The tale of ‘Isolde and Tristan’ though, stood uppermost in her mind since it bore considerable significance to her christened name.
Her exploration of the 12thcentury love story eventually turned into a deep obsession. It drew her to a dark room of an antique shop that sold second-hand literature and antiquated items in a flea market at Sacramento. Here, she chanced upon an ancient leather-bound tome that had inscriptions marked on fire pages.
Later in her secluded room, as she lit a candle and held the tome close against the flame, a maze had opened. Isa had gasped and watched transfixed, at the sight that had unfolded within those pages. She was time traveling into the past. Into Arthurian times.
The Woods, 12th century
The unexpected journey landed Isa right into the middle of a fierce skirmish in a dense forest. Fierce looking bandits with sharp spears were engaged with a group of uniformed horse-riding warriors who seemed to be outnumbered. Their leader, however, kept the bandits at bay, raining arrows without pause, and with every release, a bandit fell. Isa looked at the leader’s face and screamed his name out loud. ‘Tristan.’ Just as she caught his attention, she tripped and fell. He rode in her direction while warding off advancing bandits. All she could see through a collapsing maze was the horrified gaze of a soldier fighting to defend her as a spear tore through her breast and ruptured her lung.
Sacramento, 2018, December
Isa struggled to come to terms with the world she had accidentally ventured into. Her focus crept back to the tome. This was a door that took her to a strange world; literally nine centuries behind time. As she read through pages that contained snippets of the life she had just visited, Isa felt a gradual merge with the Isolde of the past.
Holding the tome to her bosom, she evaluated the bizarre events that happened moments ago. She realized that she had time travelled and had been transported to her lineage. Her memory seemed hazy and adding to the predicament was the fact that she had to give up her life to get back to her present self.
When Martin O’Connor, her current boyfriend invited her for a distinguished invite-only party at The Sheraton Grande, Isa gamely agreed. The Chief would be present along with the Vice President. The success of Neuralink’s BMI trials with animals and its subsequent inclusion into the human program was being announced. Initially, the technical details meant nothing to her. Therefore, she decided to enjoy the occasion and the rare moment with Martin who seemed to work more and fuck less, being the typical techno-geek.
2019, 1st January
They woke up together.
“Happy New year to us,” Martin kissed Isa with a gentle smile.
She adored him. This handsome Irishman, from the depth of his eyes to the gentle expressions in his voice. People often remarked on the colour of the eyes, as if that were of importance, though it seemed to be true in his case. Isa began to disrobe and soon Martin felt the pressure of her body on his groin. It was at that instant that the gleam of an idea stirred within her and she moved up to sit on his chest.
“Martin, I want to volunteer for the Neuralink Human trials.”
“Uh, what?” The distraction was too much to handle.
“Do not ask me to explain. My hunch tells me that a memory backup could help … provide accurate contents for my dissertation”
“Honey, do you expect me to believe that? And for God’s sake, Neuralink BMI is not just about memory storage!”
“Whatever! It’s just that I need you to talk to Dr. McCormick about this.” Isa playfully inched forward, higher and squeezed her legs together almost choking him and the geek found himself sucking in his breath and closing his eyes in anticipation.
She reckoned that the invention designed by Martin’s company could assist her as she journeyed to the past. The keys to her ancestry had to be salvaged.
USCF Medical Centre, San Francisco, CA,
2019, August, 7:00 AM
Dr. Neil McCormick MD, MPH, FAANS walked confidently into the Operation Theatre. He was on the cusp of creating history.
Dr. Clara, the anaesthetist was already preparing the patient while his deputy, Dr. Mehta was checking and confirming the documentation containing procedural plans, patient information, etc. Besides Dr. McCormick, Dr. Clara, and the sterile team in the OT, there were two engineers from Neuralink and Mia Malkova, the neurosurgical robot that was christened with the porn star’s name due to its top-heavy structure. Mia would soon receive the command to implant groups of minuscule, flexible electrode “threads” into Isolde’s brain.
Dr. McCormick walked over to the patient.
“Hi, Isa how are you doing today?”
“Perfect Doc, excited.”
“Not exactly, but nervous.”
“Why exactly may I know, did you volunteer?”
“I want to be a part of history Doc.”
“We are creating one, Isa”
“Umm yes. For that matter Tristan is ….” mumbled words drifted away into nothingness as Isa yielded to the anaesthesia.
“Ok sexy Mia. Let’s now create some history.” Dr. McCormick thus swung into action.
Three hours later, he walked out of the OT, relieved and proud. Neuralink’s engineers signed the document endorsing the successful completion of the procedure triggering a $250,000 transfer into his bank account. He decided to rest awhile before the Press meet later that evening.
Press Briefing: USCF Medical Centre, 7:00 PM
Martin O’Connor enters the conference hall with Dr. Neil McCormick.
Waving the reporters to be seated, Martin takes the stage: Ladies and Gentlemen, on behalf of Neuralink Inc., I, formally endorse NBC’s announcement made a few hours ago, to be true.
Martin continues: Our team at Neuralink has successfully conducted human trials with the Neuralink Brain-Machine Interface implants. This is the first step in the future of superhuman intelligence. On behalf of Neuralink and on behalf of the entire humanity, I thank Dr. Neil McCormick and his extraordinary team at the USCF for this huge leap in AI-based Medical technology.
We will now take questions, please.
Reporter 1: Can the identity of the patient be revealed, Dr. McCormick?
Dr. NM: I am afraid that’s classified. We are not allowed to divulge details that would endanger patient confidentiality, right Martin?
Martin nods: Now, we can say with confidence that the trial has been successfully carried out on a perfectly healthy individual.
Reporter 2: Gentlemen, can you describe what exactly or how does this technology work?
Dr. NM: BMI opens a vast potential in medical technology. With Neuralink BMI, a Paraplegic will be able to perform most of his needs from his wheelchair, simply by just thinking what needs to be done. The brain receives the request and transfers the signals via the neurotransmitters to an App-based device for activities such as switching on the TV, surfing the web, operating a microwave, to name a few. However, the major applications will be in the field of medical research specifically, neurosciences.
Martin: The technology is based on IoT, embedded with tons of data, information to make things happen as required by the target user. The objective however is to use Neuralink BMIs more for the study of human behaviour, neurological disorders, psychiatric treatment, criminal profiling, and so on and it is just not any other storage device, with infinite memory!
Reporter 3: What next, Doctor?
Dr. NM: Well, we shall allow the volunteer to go home after 48 hours of observation.
Martin: The next phase of the trial is the Observation Period, approximately for about 4 months. The Volunteer will continue to perform normal day to day activities. A team of engineers from Neuralink, Neurosurgeons, Dr, Neil’s team along with the designated psychoanalysts will monitor the BMI through an exclusive and secure App.
Reporter 4 (with a sneer): So, the team will technically be snooping on this patient?
Martin: Not a patient, Mister. But a volunteer. And not snooping. The volunteer has given consent for the study. And it is legit.
Thank you. That will be all.
Sacramento, 2019, September
Isa had been busy so far. She spent her time productively on her dissertation. The BMI was tested for information regarding her thesis. Its efficacy was mindboggling.
Tiny blonde hairs remerged on her scalp. Below it, small wires tunnelled to a conductive coil behind the ear. The Cochlear implant appeared like a Bluetooth receiver on her ear.
Isa checked the status on the Neuralink App on her smart watch.
Time: 7,776,000 Seconds,
90 Days to recreate history.
She switched off the lights and held the tome against a glowing candle.
Castlemorris Woods, Ireland, 12th Century.
“I am confounded as to how Her Majesty survived the ambush in the woods. We had perceived you as being grievously injured.”
“Ah warrior Tristan, I am not queen yet. Thou shall address me just as Princess.”
Tristan says nothing. However, certain things puzzle him. Why is the Princess bald? What is the funny looking shell glued inside her ear? What is the purpose of the amulet taped to her right wrist? And how on earth does the Princess know the path to Cornwall if this was her first travel through these dangerous woods?
Isolde keeps mum as well. He wouldn’t understand that she was rehashing events of history, her past, through an information network wired to her brain constantly reading and communicating with her.
Tristan realizes that their horses require rest. It is quite hot for October and they have travelled without hiatus. Isolde wipes her forehead, unable but to admire the sheen of sweat on Tristan’s upper body. She pleads for water. The kegs are almost empty.
“Would thee allow his future queen to die of thirst?” she whines. Thus chastised, Tristan reaches for the flask containing the special liqueur from Her Majesty; Isa’s queen mother. Unaware that it is a love potion meant for consumption during the nuptial night Isa gulps a long draught. Tristan dithers as Isa offers him the contents of the flask. Upon his refusal, she orders him with an imperious, “Drink.”
Isa does not realize that her kilt has fallen to the grass. She is bare, below the waist and her tunic buttons open as they kiss. The soft moss tickles her buttocks as they move in unison. She felt Tristan grunt as he thrust deeper, breaking the shroud to her maidenhood. They lie in peace and content.
“Tristan! Thou art a Knave and an errant one for thou hast committed adultery with His Majesty’s bride” the voices shriek. Grim looking soldiers surround the naked couple, in a circle.
At the King’s court, King Mark bellows in rage. Heavy iron links hold Tristan and Isolde captive on the ground. Heckles ensue. The King has been humiliated. Gesturing to the commander, he orders, “Gift her to the lepers, right after he is hung on the Big Oak Tree.”
“Tristan, now!” hisses Isa.
Tristan reacts by knocking down his captor. He grabs the gleaming sword and leaps at the commander.
The lovers bolt into the forests. Their freedom is however short-lived for they are betrayed. The Queen Mother, meanwhile, travels for the nuptial ceremony to Cornwall unaware of the escapades of Tristan and her daughter Isolde until she arrives.
Time: 5,184,000 Seconds,
Dragged again to the King’s court where King Mark’s advisors repeatedly endorse to have the pair tried for adultery and the Queen Mother bearing witness to the situation, Isolde pleads and begs pardon for her misdeeds. She blames the accidental imbibing of the love potion that led them to commit the cardinal sin. “Tristan is no sinner. I am,” she confesses. She alone is to be held accountable for the misdemeanour and no other.
Time: 3,456,000 Seconds,
Isa’s crafty argument does the trick and Tristan is spared. He is banished from England. Accordingly, he heads for Brittany and it is heard much later that the warrior Tristan married Isolde of the White Hands, daughter of the Duke. Although the alliance is forged, the poor woman remains his wife only in name. Meanwhile, Isolde prepares to enter into holy matrimony and become King Mark’s wife.
Soon after, clandestine reports swirl…. of Tristan being wounded by a poisoned spear in a skirmish with his enemies. On his deathbed, he sends word for his lover of old – Queen Isolde of Cornwall, for one final meeting.
Time: 1,296,000 Seconds,
Isa overhears the message as it is relayed to the King and begs him to allow her to travel to Brittany. King Mark reluctantly agrees. He has a kind heart and the love he has for his Queen is paramount.
But Isolde loves another. Her longing for Tristan is eternal. She plans to save him and never return to Cornwall. Isa prepares the impending escape in detail.
Status: Termination Phase
Time: 14,400 seconds.
Isa prays, “Four more hours to go. Hold on for me, my love. Just hold on.”
Queen Isolde tears into the brick house pushing her namesake aside as she seeks Tristan.
“Oh, my love, here I am. Nothing will happen unto you” She turns a greatly weakened Tristan over to her side.
Tristan flinches and barely manages to lift the veil of the soiled sheet from his face. His eyes seek the person, the love of his life. She is the sole reason to have given him the strength to keep death at bay. Queen Isolde notices the colour of his eyes. From them shone an honesty, an intensity of purpose.
She knew then what he meant to her. What he would mean forever.
Time: 60 Seconds.
“Martin, my love!” echoes a pain-laced scream from Isa’s throat, as a dagger plunges deep into her lungs from behind. She falls on top of Tristan who has already gone cold.
“Whore.” screams Isolde of the White Hands as she stabs yet again.
USCF Medical Centre, 2019, December
Dr. Neil McCormick had refused to abort the trial without further prognosis. The BMI was working as per protocol, declared Neuralink engineers. She lay stock-still on the sanitized sheets as if in a profound sleep. She was alive, not brain dead. They decided to let the trial complete its course. It was important to analyse the full cycle, they said.
The countdown to abort had started. At the stroke of 0 seconds, a pale looking Isa opened her eyes and whispered, “Martin, my love.”
History is unalterable. We are, but a part of it. If anything, it is the present that needs to be worked upon. And for that, time awaits… silent, still.
USCF Medical Centre: The University of California, San Francisco Medical Center
IoT: Internet of Things refers to scenarios where network connectivity and computing capability extends to objects, sensors and everyday items not normally considered computers, allowing these devices to generate, exchange and consume data with minimal human intervention.
Tristan and Iseult, alternatively known as Tristan and Isolde, is a chivalric romance retold in numerous variations since the 12th century.
This is an entry in ArtoonsInn ArttrA-5 hosted at Writers Room.
This ArttrA is sponsored by Tanima Das Mitra, Claws Club Member – ArtoonsInn, and hosted by the Watchers of ArtoonsInn.
Cover Photo By Tim Cooper
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Team: Left to Write
Prompt: A modern invention from the 21st century gets transported to the 12th century. What happens next? Explore.