Take the 2-minute tour ×
Science Fiction & Fantasy Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for science fiction and fantasy enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I read this story sometime between 1989 and 1991 in a SF&F magazine (Asimov's Science Fiction? The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction? Amazing Stories?) and I've looked for it for years, in archives, online, etc. with no success. Can anyone help, please?

It takes place in the future. A neurosurgeon uses MRI scans to map out a person's neural map. Upon finding cancer or clots, he programs nanobots to enter the body and clean up the disease.

His ex-wife, whom he still loves, comes for treatment. When she leaves, he experiments with showing his photograph to the simulated retina and finds where it lights up in the simulation. Seeing a blocked neuron, he programs the nanobots to destroy her cancer and to re-establish contact to this cluster by reconnecting the block.

After her surgery, she falls back in love with him, but after a while, discovers the manipulation and leaves him. To forget about her, he scans his own neurons, finds her cluster, and programs nanobots to clip the connections, with the unfortunate consequence of also cutting off the neural pathways to breathing, heart regulation, etc.

share|improve this question
7  
Sounds like a good story. Somewhat similar to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. –  Beska Nov 15 '11 at 22:01
    
Concept could be related to G.I.Joe: Rise of the Black Cobra. –  Alexander Mar 16 '12 at 4:14
2  
I think this is not an Asimov story. –  b_jonas Jun 9 '12 at 14:58
2  
@b_jonas : Apologies, I meant "Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine" not that Asimov was the author. I have updated the original question with example SF&F magazines at the time. –  David Hall Jun 15 '12 at 17:15
3  
I remember reading this and since the only magazine I take is F&SF, it was probably in there, if that helps you locate it at all. –  Organic Marble Aug 5 at 1:23

1 Answer 1

up vote 18 down vote accepted
+500

I read this story sometime between 1989 and 1991 in a SF&F magazine (Asimov's Science Fiction? The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction? Amazing Stories?)

The story is "Behind the Barrier" by Stephen Kraus; as far as the ISFDB knows it was never reprinted, but appears only on pp. 141-159 of the December 1990 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

It takes place in the future. A neurosurgeon uses MRI scans to map out a person's neural map. Upon finding cancer or clots, he programs nanobots to enter the body and clean up the disease.

It glided again down the alley, to the dark far end. Another cell. The receptor probed, feeling . . . there, the self-protein again, twisting around and . . .YES!! The antigen molecule!

The receptor fired: a blinding rush of pure white hate. A web of protein fibers extended, drew the target closer. Gross, misshapen cellular morphology -- a cancer cell, thrashing in the T cell's fatal embrace. Enzymes streamed out.

Conrad leaned forward in his chair, his hand clenched inside the glove. "Die," he whispered. "Die."

The cancer cell heaved, then turned inside out, protoplasm spattering. Conrad exhaled, wiping sweat from his face. He pulled his hand out of the glove. The simulator display froze. The T cell was smeared with slime, triumphant, its receptor thrust brutally forward.

Greta was going to live.

Conrad blinked off the monitor, took a deep breath. The rest was routine -- just some molecular assembler programming.

His ex-wife, whom he still loves, comes for treatment.

Ex-lover, not ex-wife:

"Your mother died of leukemia," he said, astonished.

They'd been lovers -- however briefly -- and she had never told him.

When she leaves, he experiments with showing his photograph to the simulated retina and finds where it lights up in the simulation. Seeing a blocked neuron, he programs the nanobots to destroy her cancer and to re-establish contact to this cluster by reconnecting the block.

She stared at him with huge, accusing eyes.

He looked down. "I sent a machine into your central nervous system. One machine the size of a virus. That's all.

She moved to a safe distance. "Go on."

"That's all, really. Your cancer was so simple. I had hours left over before you came back. So I showed your simulation a picture of me. It was just an experiment. I followed the impulses. I found the recognition center right away -- I'd made a strong impression on you, whether you realized it or not. There was a path that led away from it straight into your thalamus: affection, pleasure -- something strong. But there was a clump of inhibitor neurons wrapped around the center, firing full-time."

She looked ill. But she was listening.

"That was abnormal," he said. "Don't you see? It was pathological. Those inhibitors prevented you from feeling anything, prevented you from responding. They've been there for years -- maybe since your mother died -- I don't know. The repair was so easy. My machine bound up the transmitter they were secreting, turned off the inhibition. One machine, that's all."

After her surgery, she falls back in love with him, but after a while, discovers the manipulation and leaves him.

Here's Conrad talking to Greta about his day at work:

Conrad stopped. He was talking too fast. And saying far too much.

Greta's face changed, the intrigued look turning inward. "You can change someone's brain?"

"Well, of course I can," he said, flustered. "I can change anything. I have all the data. All I have to do is edit it."

Her eyes were enormous and vacant. "You can change someone's brain?"

The warm flush that had started on her face when she first saw him drained to a chalky white.

"Greta, are you all right?"

She stood up, suddenly as unsteady as on the day she had first walked into his office. "Is that what happened to me?"

This exchange leads to Conrad's confession in the previous quotation. She leaves him.

To forget about her, he scans his own neurons, finds her cluster, and programs nanobots to clip the connections,

He spent hours tracing the tangled paths. Greta had seeped into every dendrite and synapse. He began to understand the visceral reaction she evoked in him -- his response to her reached deep into his hindbrain and his motor neurons.

The moon rose over the city, arced across the sky, and evaporated in the sunrise. He kept tracing, cataloging, following signals as they dipped into the neural background. The paths grew ephemeral in places; he worked by instinct, taking chances.

By noon he had an approximate map of his response. From within, it was intimidating -- an impenetrable knot of connections. A kelp forest. But when he stepped back, a pattern began to emerge, and with it a strategy for programming his machines.

He was going to forget that Greta ever existed.

with the unfortunate consequence of also cutting off the neural pathways to breathing, heart regulation, etc.

Yep. The last line:

Then he forgot how to breathe.

share|improve this answer
    
Or torrent it. Both are fine choices. –  Richard Sep 14 at 6:07
    
Bounty awarded. Based on OP's description, I fail to see how this couldn't be the correct answer. Very well done. –  Richard Sep 16 at 16:37
    
After three years, finally answered! I would love to know how you found it or if you remembered reading it. Apologies for the delay in rewarding the bounty -- I have not been on. But the cover of the magazine is familiar, the story matches my memory of it, and now I have to go find it. Thank you, user14111! Thank you for solving this! If you're on Reddit, PM me your username for a reward. Thank you again!!!!!! –  David Hall Dec 11 at 14:58
    
You're welcome! How I found it: You said it was from a 1989-1991 magazine, so after @Organic Marble narrowed it down to F&SF, and Richard offered a 500-point bounty, I went down into my basement and leafed through those old issues. –  user14111 Dec 11 at 20:24
    
It will be easy to find. –  user14111 Dec 11 at 23:12

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.