Therefore I Am

I haven’t done a Flash Fiction Challenge in a really long time and wanted to get back in the game. We had to choose a random sentence* from a list and use it in a 1,000 word story.

         I tried to hide the revulsion in my eyes as I wiped the dribble of saliva from his chin. Stubble flecked his cheeks where the Carers had missed. I wondered if he was somewhere else in his mind—somewhere nice. Maybe he relived his greatest successes or humble beginnings. I hoped he was staring into the moment where everything ended, the start of my personal hell.

I.

It was supposed to change the world—the sharing of consciousness. A chip implanted behind your ear translated your thoughts into layers of complex code that could be relayed to others. They marketed it as MindMeld and the first ads read like a science-fiction dating app. But popularity grew and the first inklings of the capabilities rippled through the techsphere. MindMeld became the next “it” thing—opening the doors to other technologies powered by your brain. The iCorp conglomerate pounced and soon you could calibrate your mobile devices to MindMeld. The usual anti-tech groups protested—it was turning us into robots, stealing our thoughts, our souls, our individuality. The programmers ignored them, the marketing campaigns mocked them, and soon even they were silenced.

II.

Caleb convinced me to get ours done together. “It’s the future, Macy!”
I asked him if he was worried about not having any secrets—about the total lack of privacy. He took my hands the way he always did when I was nervous and rubbed his thumbs across my knuckles and said I don’t have any secrets from you. It seemed sweet—the tech at the clinic said it was romantic.

III.

With MindMeld, you could shake someone’s hand at a networking event and they could download your resume and work history. It would be stored in the individual’s ThoughtCloud and could be accessed later. There were more intimate uses for it, too—dating profiles or personal ads. The privacy settings were unmatched, they said. You had to have permission to MindMeld with someone through a series of specially tailored, unique thought commands. When the advertising potential was fully realized, there were certain “public” zones where advertisers had limited access. Times Square was one of the best examples—information from billboards downloaded directly to your cloud. They lauded it as the greatest technology invented; its uses were universal: medical, social, financial.

No one knew that our privacy settings were as sturdy as tissue paper in a hurricane. MindMeld underplayed the extent of the breaches—isolated incidents, insufficient caution on the part of the user. We believed it. We didn’t know how to live without the constant, instant exchange of information, thoughts, feelings. The first hackers took the basics—bank information, nude photos, government secrets. Then came the Miners. They took memories, experiences—your fifth birthday, the way a first kiss felt, the sound of your grandmother’s voice. At first they asked ransoms—how much was your memory worth to you? But, once the door was opened, there was no stopping it. They took weeks, months, and years. They took your power of speech, your sense of smell, the ability to see color, and MindMarket was born. Don’t like your past? Change it. Want to replace bad memories with good? Switch them. Memories themselves became currency.

IV.

Caleb and I updated passwords, paid for extra firewalls, but with the same attitude you put up a “Beware of Dog” sign when you only own a cat. We believed that as long as we took the recommended precautions, it wouldn’t happen to us. We enjoyed the ability to communicate just how much we loved each other without words. He loved me like the sunset we’d watched together in Mikonos. I loved him like the feeling of waking up on a Saturday morning with the sunlight streaming.

Have you ever dreamed that someone you loved had amnesia? That they looked at you with blank eyes and had no memory of the years you spent together? When you wake from your nightmare you shake them until their eyes open and, even blurred with sleep, you can see that they know you. Until it takes them a minute to remember you, then ten, then—nothing. This is what happened when the Miners wormed their way in.

V.

It took a month to reduce Caleb to the wide-eyed, slack mouthed shell of the man I loved. He had been “mined”—everything that made him Caleb was gone, lost forever. We were in agreement about what to do if it happened to either one of us. It was easier than I thought to let his body go. I’d already said goodbye to his mind.

VI.

The man in the chair deserved no such release. The Carers thought I was a doting relative or a good friend—the way I sat by him day after day. I needed to know he was still breathing. I needed to know he was still suffering. The tubes and wires that pumped nutrients into his body did their job well. He had standing orders to keep his body alive no matter the circumstances—waiting for his mind to be restored. He was the inventor of the original MindMeld, which he aptly called HiveMind. He was fully aware of its destructive potential from the very beginning. His fingers twitched on the chair and a nearly inaudible groan escaped his lips.

The upload was a simple one, started at the beginning of my visit when I activated the MindDrive in my purse. Caleb is gone; the memory we used to share is no longer coherent. But the new memories I gave to the man in the chair were clear. I’d searched for the most excruciating sensations for years. I had burned, drowned, been torn to pieces, and suffocated. I had felt every way there was to die and none of them hurt as badly as watching the life fade from Caleb’s eyes. As I left the room, I knew the upload was successful. From the sound of his screams, he was living out the hell I’d created just for him.

*”The memory we used to share is no longer coherent”

Sandsnake

doors

         Why have you come? the voice whispered through the hot, desert air.
         It sounded like a sand-snake whipping its body across the tawny waves. I felt the tendrils of a foreign consciousness brush my mind and I slammed my mental walls against them, willing my face to remain impassive. The blue room was filled with sand, twisted in drifts and curls like a frozen ocean. I could feel the grains shift beneath my boots as sweat ran down my back beneath my tunic.
         “I come seeking wisdom, oh Voice of the Desert,” I replied, raising my voice to keep it from shaking.
         Are you now a fool? the voice lashed the air.
         I tried not to bristle at the insult, but my hand strayed to the curved scimitar at my waist. There was a sound like the clatter of hooves on stone that I realized was laughter from the disembodied voice.
         “Would a fool ask for wisdom?” I asked, taking care to pull my fingers away from the hilt of the half-moon blade. “A fool would ask for riches or luck or the pleasures of the flesh.”
         You do not desire wisdom, the air seemed to grow perceptibly colder. You want Truth.
         “I wish to find answers,” I said.
         You ask much, son of slaves.
         “Born of slaves I may be, but I have never felt the shackles nor the lash. I am of the sand, and of the sword,” I felt the walls shudder slightly and broke off, panting.
         I was not to lose my temper. The Ghaiib, the unknown, the Unseen Ones, do not appreciate outbursts of human emotion. I must tread lightly. I waited for the shuddering to stop, for the sliding bits of sand to settle. The sound reminded me of the hourglass in my saddlebag outside, the sand slowly dribbling, unchecked as time passed.
         Haidar you are named, the lion of the sands, the free son of slaves, there was amusement in the voice…in the voices.
         What had originally sounded like one voice to me now broke into different voices, all speaking as one but with different tones and cadences. They were here: the Ghaiib. They named me. My master told me they would, that I could not keep my name hidden.
         “I am,” I said, straightening my shoulders.
         For generations my family’s names had spoken of servitude, desperation, and loss. I was the Lion, I was free. At least, I would be if I kept my mind shut and dd not let my mouth run away with me. I half-smiled as I heard my master’s echoed reprimands, felt the ghostly touch of his wrinkled hand softly cuffing my rebellious head.
         You wish for answers though you twist your words and thoughts to ask for wisdom. We do not give such things lightly. Better had you asked for gold or power, better you asked for revenge.
         “To ask for those is to ask for death. If I asked for gold, who can say whether a band of thieves would set upon me? If I asked for power, who is to say it would not rot me from within? If I asked for revenge, who can say those I wronged would not invoke their same right for vengeance?” I could feel the Ghaiib plucking at my thoughts again, trying to find a crevice in the walls I erected.
         You betray yourself, little sand Lion, the voices became a hiss and I took a step back involuntarily. You are already wise beyond your few years. Your life is but a speck of dust, part of a grain of sand to us, but even so, you already possess that which you claim to seek.
         A shiver ran over my flesh as the blue wall in front of me shimmered like a mirage, shuddering like a spent horse. A doorway opened in the wall and I saw beyond it doorway after doorway—all open, all leading to rooms filled with mounds of sand. This was what my master wanted. I knew without looking that the doorway behind me was shut. I would not be leaving the way I came.
         I had to duck under the lintel in front of me to pass through the door and in that moment I almost felt the weight of the masses of sand pressing down on me. Though a strange light flickered through the rooms, mirroring the moon I knew was rising, I was miles beneath the desert. If the Ghaiib guessed my true purpose, they could send it all crashing down upon me, drowning me in the golden waves. Walking over the mounds of shifting sand made the sweat run down my face; I could almost hear it sizzle as it hit the floor. Above, the sands were cooling, soaking in the silver light of the moon. Here, they grew hotter with every step. I knew it was the Ghaiib’s touch on my mind that made the heat rise, that made the very air seem to scald my body, but I kept walking, climbing through the doorways that opened up before me the further I went.
         I came to a room where the sand was flat and smooth, as though someone had drawn the edge of their knife against it. The thunder of my blood in my ears was the only sound, though I knew they were here. A shimmer at the edge of my vision almost made me turn my head, but I kept my eyes forward in case I was mistaken and another doorway appeared.
         Haidar, the whisper came from all directions.
         It was caressing, like the tone my mother used when I was ill, but their minds battered at mine with the force of an army against fortified city walls.
         What do you wish to know, seeker of answers, searcher of truth? the voices were mocking and rang against the stone walls like the clanging of a giant gong.
         The walls around my mind dropped and I pushed out with everything I had, feeling my consciousness wash over theirs with the force of a flood along a river bank. I sank to my knees in the sand.
         “I would know everything you know,” I said, opening my eyes.
         The cloth that had covered my head lay on the ground, bright white against the sand. I must have ripped it from my head as their minds sought to overwhelm mine. My long, dark hair was in my mouth and several strands of it clung to my fingers. I pushed it back and got to my quaking feet.
         “I am Haidar,” I said to the empty air.
         My parents named me the Lion, a name no woman should rightfully bear. They gave me a man’s name and a man’s strength of will. I kept my true self hidden from the Ghaiib and, as my master taught me, I saw through the veil to the Unseen. I felt something shift in my brain as the stolen knowledge searched for a place to settle. I stilled my thoughts and concentrated on my breathing.
         When at last I felt the captured consciousness meld with mine, I saw the possibilities of a thousand lives and a thousand ages to come.

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