Bad Samaritan #3

Mind

Where will we be two millennia from now? Will we be looking at the world through our own eyes or staring into the minds of others?

-A sequel to The Visitor-

Streaming from consciousness to subconscious, breaking down the mental barriers of countless millennia of evolution. It was a lot like hiking in the mountains.

When I dropped into the tank of nano-enhanced fluid, my mind was set to a closed frequency. It was like moving along an avenue of trees. My consciousness set a gentle, easy pace. There was time to stop and inspect each flower. I could have counted every stone on the gravel path if I had wanted to.

Then the sub-atomic pincers clamped onto my spinal column and I was flying.

I shot out into a broad valley, racing forwards with the world passing by as little more than a blur. Grass, rocks, streams. A constant deluge of information flooded my senses.

Things slowed down and I was creeping towards the summit. Everything was laid out below me and on all sides. I could see for miles. Valleys, mountains, forests.

My mind was open, turned inside out. It could reach down and touch a tree twenty miles away. I could see every creeping tectonic shift in the landscape.

But I was blind. My mind groped through the tangled strands and broken webs of human thought which reached out through the derelict city.

Something snagged. It was a stray idea, a thought which spelled danger, secrecy and mistrust. I followed the spider’s trailing silk and took care not to pull too hard.

“We have to do it tonight.” she said.

Her mind was rigid with certainty and I could follow her thoughts like the flight of an arrow. Their conclusion was vivid in her imagination, giving the speaker a thrill of satisfaction. Explosion, fire, destruction.

“Are you sure it has to be tonight?” a man asked.

“I’m certain. It’s now or never.”

A cracking sound rose sharp to her ears, but did not startle her. She had primed the weapon in her hands. It was a long chrome tube with a trigger at one end. I felt the heavy rectangular stock in her hands, the mechanism which would send a precision bolt of radioactive energy shooting out faster than the speed of light.

I felt a lurch in my gut. Something was wrong. The barrier between our thoughts was crumbling away and I could feel her consciousness probing mine.

“We’re not alone.” she said. “They’re listening to us. It has to be now.”

My body lurched out over the side of the thought tank and the connection was broken. I was shaking from head to toe. The urge to vomit was overpowering.

Was that how it felt? Did they know the same sickening sense of violation every time we crept inside their minds?

If you enjoyed this short story, you might like The Visitor and Lights Out.

Bad Samaritan #2

Mind

Where will we be two millennia from now? Will we be looking at the world through our own eyes or staring into the minds of others?

-A sequel to The Visitor-

It was hard to be a regulator, let alone an interceptor, without thinking about Max Beatus. My mind wandered to him as I went down the staircase of decaying concrete, flaking chrome-nanosteel railings.

He had been a prophet in a way. His work had allowed mankind the opportunity to bridge the gap between conscious and subconscious thought, allowing the leap to be made between one person’s consciousness and another’s. That was why we were there, in those grime-streaked corridors.

I reached the sign on the wall, a cracked micro-glaze square which had once been illuminated with the floor number. A black figure 26 remained, burnt onto the polished surface from the moment the fuses blew. That would have been centuries ago. It was an overwhelming thought.

Scratch marks remained where the figure 1 had been filed off. My predecessors did that when they took over the building. The first hundred floors were warped, walls bulging inwards so that they almost touched in places. We had no use for them, so we etched them out.

Level 26 was like any other, except that a cold sense of fear pinched my spine whenever I reached it on the descent. A dozen steps below I would find Level 25. I was terrified.

I was late that day, so I decided to run and get it over with as fast as possible. The steps sped past under my feet, walls streaking past in a grey and brown blur. Then the world suddenly opened up on my left where the perpendicular arm of the tower, a skyscraper jutting out at a right angle, had been torn away.

Wind, muddy fog and the vast expanse of the city stretched away at my side. It was a yawning cavity of shattered nanosteel and crumbled concrete which beckoned me out towards the thousand-foot drop on the other side.

It wasn’t until I reached Level 21 that I realised I was bending double, having almost crawled the last four flights of stairs. My supervisor, Axil, was waiting for me at the door to our work quarters.

“You’re late, Rex.” she said, furrowing her brows as I wheezed and leaned against the wall to catch my breath.

I nodded and pushed past her. There was no sense in hanging around to explain myself if I was already late. She would just have to understand.

Our office had once been a series of apartments. You could see the faded floor where beds had stood, exposed pipes and wiring in the gutted walls of the kitchen areas. Four walls surrounding the central apartment had been knocked in, ragged holes through which men and women in black overalls passed, ducking out of instinct.

“Another day at the office.” I said, walking over to my station.

“This is going to be my last one.” Axil said, following me.

“Is that right?”

I had reached one of the ten large micro-glaze tanks arranged in the centre of the room. A turquoise liquid filled the tank, sluggish ripples spreading across its surface. Gently, I cut through a tiny wave with one finger.

“I’m killing myself after work today.”

Her words knocked me back a pace, but I forced myself to wait the appropriate amount of time, as prescribed by division policy, before responding. I could still feel Axil’s glare burning through the back of my head. It was the wrong day to have arrived late.

“Nothing to do with me, I hope?”

“No, just early retirement.”

“Congratulations.”

With fingers steadied by practice, I unsealed my overalls until I was standing naked on the bare concrete floor. Nine other pale-skinned figures hung suspended in the tanks around me.

I hopped up onto the edge of my container and lay back, letting the cold liquid prickle over my body. Once fully submerged, I risked taking a breath. It was like drinking in a mouthful of fire. Everything from my throat to my lungs screamed in agony, but I could breathe.

My mind began to relax as the atom-sized machines chemically imprinted on the water molecules began to interact with my nervous system. They spread like an agonising tickle up my spinal column, clamping sub-atomic pincers into my brain stem.

Max Beatus’ implant had been simpler, painless if you believed the historians. But this was far more comprehensive. The last thing I felt before my mind went under was envy.

Why should Axil get to retire before me? I’ll jump off Level 25 as soon as my shift ends. That’ll show her.

If you enjoyed this short story, you might like The Visitor and Lights Out.

Bad Samaritan #1

Bad Samaritan #1

Mind

Where will we be two millennia from now? Will we be looking at the world through our own eyes or staring into the minds of others?

-A sequel to The Visitor-

It was twelve-point after daybreak, time to start my shift.

For some reason, I couldn’t shake myself into gear that morning. The spot-grids were up in the dark haze of the sky around me, criss-cross patterns of infrared beaming up over the city in crimson cones of light.

If I could have changed anything about my life, it would be the moment I decided to move to a city. I would go back in time and fire a rad-beam into my own face. It would serve me right. I was a stupid kid back then, and six years later, I was a stupid young adult.

Looking back, I think I know what I was waiting for that morning. It seems obvious in hindsight, but at the time I didn’t know. In my mind, I was just standing around wondering when something interesting was going to happen.

A throbbing bass sound like two huge metal gears trying to grind down a building ripped out through the near-black air. That was all we got in the city: near-night and true night. Dawn was just a brownish tint in an otherwise charcoal sky.

Four spot-grids converged on one location, while the rest began an erratic dance across the sky. Where the response beams landed, the brown miasma of fog, pollution and ash glowed a deep red. It rippled and distorted as the heat grew, a nuclear explosion slowed down by ten to the power of a thousand.

I watched for what must have been two points. At fourteen-point AD, the air was white hot and a howling gale was whipping out over the city from the epicentre. There was a brief burst of a high-pitched klaxon, like fingernails dragging against my eardrum, and the noise and light show stopped.

What was that about? I wondered, making my way towards the roof exit.

The official line was “Airborne Insurgent Activity”. When asked why nobody had seen an AIA in their lives, the city regulators would say something about spot-grids taking care of them before they became a problem.

That line didn’t sit well in some people’s minds. I wasn’t about to disagree with it. I was one of the bastards.

Alright, you’re wondering which I’m referring to: regulators or AIA. It’s a good question, but one I’m not about to answer straight away. The thing is, it’s complicated. Are you asking what my job was, who was or what I believed in?

I was a regulator. More specifically, an interceptor in the Samaritan Division. That meant I got inside people’s heads, intercepted thoughts and tried to piece together as much as I could. The suicide rate in my division? Somewhere around a hundred, a hundred and ten percent.

I was born out of the city. That’s not saying much. Giving birth in the city was an insurgent activity, accounted for by radiation risks and the fact that newborns don’t cope well without sunlight. Apart from that, I was human. That should tell you all you need to know.

I believed in nothing.

That’s where things started to go wrong.

If you enjoyed this short story, you might like The Visitor and Lights Out.