Akiva woke up, his mind fuzzy from anesthesia. He swiveled his head blearily. Something was wrong. He was still in his medical chair, with a row of patients in identical chairs on either side of him. Apparently he was still in the implant ward. But patients were not supposed to wake up in the implant ward. They were supposed to wake up outside, with no memory of the operation.
He sat upright, struggling to regain focus. A captioned picture frame swam in front of him. Gradually, its words came into detail: “Faith is the basis of faith.”
A door opened and he heard footsteps approaching from the side. A bald man with soft blue eyes and a trim silver beard came briskly into view. What was his name? Berlinsky… Dr. Berlinsky.
“What’s going on?” said Akiva, his mind quickening as he spoke. “Has something gone wrong?”
Dr. Berlinsky bowed his head. “Mr. Schwartz, I am truly sorry. We were unable to perform the operation on you.” He paused. “You see, we discovered in our records that you were already implanted as a toddler with your parents’ Jewish beliefs.”
Akiva stared at him, his heart beginning to beat rapidly. “How is that possible? If I had received the implant, how could I possibly have lost my faith? Doesn’t the implant… set your beliefs? You said – you said to challenge it would be like punching a brick wall.”
Dr. Berlinsky sighed and looked away, his eyes running over the other patients lying motionless in their medical chairs. Akiva glanced at them too. Red and blue wires attached to their skulls and spinal cords were connected to networks of computer chips. The sight made him feel queasy.
“The brain is the ultimate master of its domain,” Dr. Berlinsky murmured, as if to himself. “What can I, a mere tinkerer, do that cannot be reversed by the brain itself?”
His eyes returned to squarely meet Akiva’s, and his tone sharpened slightly. “A person who is determined to question and to reason is always capable, with enough time and effort, of rejecting the beliefs I give to him or her. That being said, most people never reject the implanted faith. For them, it can in fact be described as a brick wall. But not for all.”
Akiva tried to digest what he was hearing. So his parents had long ago given him the implant. He didn’t know how he felt about that; he’d have to deal with the issue later. But, regardless, the doctor was telling him that the implant had eventually failed on him. He eyed Dr. Berlinsky, who stood there patiently before him, solemn and professional, and he renewed his resolve to obtain that which he had come for.
“Do it again,” said Akiva.
“Do it again. The first implant worked for over a decade before it failed, didn’t it? Well, just do it again.”
Dr. Berlinsky grimaced. “I can’t. The mind… develops resistance to an implanted faith it has rejected. There haven’t been too many cases like yours, but the results of the operations that we have done – have not been good. Patients experience excruciating pain in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. Soon enough, they either reject the implanted beliefs or go mad. I am afraid that we simply cannot operate on you.”
A stone was sinking horribly into Akiva’s gut. There was no answer, then. He had saved up a year’s salary to pay for this operation. He had slowly built up the courage to return to his religion by way of literally brainwashing himself, only to waver at the threshold for months, unable to make the decision and commit himself. Then, finally, he had somehow made it to the implant ward, lying surreally in his medical chair next to the eerie line of anesthetized patients as Dr. Berlinsky had methodically explained to him how the implant procedure would work. All, it turned out, for nothing.
“Then I am doomed to believe… what I believe,” Akiva muttered. Could there be a worse fate?
“Yes,” said Dr. Berlinsky, breathing calmly in and out of his nose. “Treatment, unfortunately, is out of the question.”