“Artificial”

Hey all, happy middle-of-the-week.

Growing up, in the war between Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, also known as the ‘Great Conflict of Sci-Fi Nerds and Fantasy Nerds of Forever,’ I always had my flag pitched pretty firmly in the camp for Fantasy Nerds. That’s right, you science nerds can suck it with your “lasers,” and your “spaceships,” and “anti-gravity-whateverthehell,” I’m over here with dragons, immortality, ethereal curses, and all the rest.

And even now at twenty-seven, I still do kind of hold that stance, but am waaaay more of a mercenary now than married to either side. My heart will always be with the art of High Fantasy, but I’ve come to see the love for science fiction a great deal and have really become a sucker for things like the cyberpunk genre (R.I.P. CD Projekt Red). Movies like Upgrade, Blade Runner 2049, Ex Machina, Ghost in the Shell, and to a lesser degree of genre, Arrival, Inception, and Tenet.

As it turns out, Sci-Fi is awesome.

Alright, I was writing something out, but then I began to notice all I was doing was spoiling the story here today, so I bumped it to the bottom. Without further adieu….

“Artificial”

April 6, 2034

This day…just…keeps coming back to me.

You’d just died maybe two months before, and I’m standing at your grave. The headstone your family got for you is nice, nobody seems to go out for real marble anymore. Others have been by and left flowers too, I guess. But you didn’t tell too many people you liked sunflowers best, natural ones. The synthetic daises under your name smell right, the petals even bruise if you press them, but they never wilt. And they don’t bob in the same way when the rain drops hit them either.

I want to stand in the rain because with you gone at least it would feel like I have someone to cry with. But of course Lucille’s right there with the umbrella.

“Are you cold?” she asks me.

“No,” I tell her.

“Are you sad?” she asks after a pause.

I almost laugh, but there doesn’t seem to be a point in it. “Yes. Of course.”

“Barry,” she says again. “May I ask you a personal question?”

“Shoot.”

“Are you afraid?”

It’s hard to say what it was, but the question stopped me. I had to swallow a lump in my throat before I found I could answer. “Of what?”

“Dying,” she says.

All I did was watch the rain break against the marble and run along the letters of your name. She’d struck a chord.

I want to tell her I am, but am also not. After all, you’d done it, so had everyone in history, so it can’t be that bad. I think of all sorts of reasons to be or not to be, but in the end all I say is, “I don’t know. Maybe.”

“May I ask you another personal question, Barry?”

I don’t say anything, but just nod.

“Are you afraid of me?”

This time I look at her, and she looks at me. It’s tough to say what it is – at first I think it might be because she looks like you – but I think instead it’s the way she looks at me. I look into her eyes and every second longer I do, I see something else. Her eyes aren’t steadfast, they flutter subtly, searchingly, minutely quivering like yours or mine. Her lips flex so slightly, the way they do when your teeth don’t touch and your jaw is uneasy, so subtle you wouldn’t notice if you weren’t locked in such an intimate moment with someone.

“It isn’t fair,” I say.

“What isn’t fair, Barry?” she asks.

“To be so unsure.”

And why shouldn’t I be? The small signals in her eyes, her face, her hands. The soft cues of inner feelings we all use, all wrestle with. Our emotional responses have outward signs, just because she’s different doesn’t mean they can’t come from the same place. And how is she so different, anyway? Because she has a production date? I have a birthday. She has a serial number? I’ve got a social. Because of her programming? I’m a creature of habit and education too, but that doesn’t mean I’m not a person beneath it all. And that “unique cipher” DigitalBio is so proud of each of their products having…

I look down at my hands and think of the countless times since androids were first announced that I’ve done that. The runic layout of our fingerprints, the ridges of those tiny lines, the creases in the palm – it’s hard to see how that’s really any different.

I look back at her and she looks at me. Just like you she’s beautiful. The way her hair rests on her shoulder, the way the blue of her eyes contrasts against the gray background, she reminds me of you a lot.

Two men walk past and I catch their sneers. “They let you bring that thing onto the grounds?” they mutter. Of course she hears them, I’m sure, but she won’t move.

1’s and 0’s. Plastic, carbon fiber, and alloys. A machine of intelligent design is what we’re supposed to see. Programmed responses, algorithms, protocols, functions, and nothing else. But why is it foolish to see more than that? Once upon a time, the animal kingdom was thoughtless and bereft of conscious intelligence, but look a little further and gorillas take up sign language, whales and dolphins speak, crows remember faces, elephants lament and mourn their dead – all just like we do. Hell, even mushrooms communicate with each other. It only took a small amount of respect to see humans aren’t as alone as we pride ourselves.

So why am I so unsure when I look at her? I’m standing there, in a city cemetery, and she just stands there looking back at me. I feel the first tears burn down the side of my face and I know exactly why: because I don’t know whether or not to feel alone there.

“Do you,” I say still wiping my face, “do you ever get that way?”

It would have stuck with me no matter what, but what really got me was that she didn’t answer straight away.

After a few seconds of silence, I look at her again and her eyes are in the grass. I see her squeeze the grip on the umbrella, barely, hardly perceptible but it’s there.

“Yes,” she says.

Arthur C. Clarke had this great quote once upon a time where he said, “Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe, or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.” He’d meant E.T.’s, I think, but here I was confronted by a one-word answer that scared me, relieved me, excited me, lifted an enormous weight off my shoulders, and settled a new one on them all at once. I’d never felt those words more heavily than I did in that moment. The rain began to pick up again and drum against the umbrella’s hood.

“Come on,” I say.

“Where are we going?”

“Let’s go get a coffee for starters. This talk should take a while.”

Maybe she’s more like you than I thought.

Funny thing since you named her, eh?

END

I’ve harped on it at length before, but the game Detroit: Become Human may have faults here and there, but I ultimately found it to be an incredible ride in narrative. The piece below (now above) started, I’m pretty sure, was born of inspiration from playing that game. It was a Mental Movie that featured a man and a woman in a hospital room, at first. The man would be older and sort of plain, looking sort of like Paul Giamatti, and the woman would be young, fair, and beautiful. She would be in the hospital bed, and he would be standing beside her, and all that would take place is a conversation about humanity. Slowly, it would unfold that one of them was an android while the other was human, and I felt the natural assumption would be that the woman would be the manufactured android, giving how beautiful she was, but in reality it would be the man – I don’t know, an attempt to show the separations of what we value, humanity, and how those things influence our assumptions while at the same time being intrinsically linked. Then, one morning, I sat down, slapped some keys, and we got the above little piece.

Anyway, something to think about, maybe.

Til next time.

Station 36: The Cutest Space Tale on the Market Today

Hey all, happy Thursday!

First things first, did you know that a) there’s an actual, real-life Topgun school (yes, like the Tom Cruise movie), and b) in said school, the staff can be fined $5 for referencing or quoting the movie? And here we all thought it was a men’s volleyball club (#CORNYJOKE).

Anyhoo! With that out of the way, we’re going to keep this week rolling with the original mission statement of this thang and make like an Autobot with an old piece, this particular one being near and dear to my heart (a liiiiittle unlike yesterday’s).

I think I’ve mentioned before that after taking part in one of NYC Midnight’s Short Fiction contests, I adopted a bastardized version of their system to form a short-lived writers’ club I called ‘Soapbox Writers’ (I know I went over it more in-depth in an interview with NightLight pod’s Tonia Thompson – if ya in tha mood). The gist is that you’re given a random genre, character, and object, and a 2,500-word limit. So I drafted up some lists and we gave ourselves some assignments as a sort of workshop.

Today’s is one of those.

Up at the top, the parameters for this little gem were as follows:
-Genre: Science Fiction
-Character: Floor Sweeper
-Featured Object: A Magician’s Wand

I think we did alright. But, without further adieu…

Station 36

“Gah!” shouted Mr. Lin, another gout of flame erupting beside him. The flames licked the sides of his jumpsuit and their heat singed his ears. He ducked below the spouting fire to the sound of more shrill cries behind him. The Specimen was getting close. He rounded a corner sharply and ran down the wide hallway to the Departure Bay, frantically checking the sides for any escape pod that hadn’t yet left. Amid all the blaring red lights, there was one still flashing green and so the custodian dove headlong into it, the door sealing closed moments before the Specimen came crashing against the glass. It was large and formless, an amoebic mass of green gelatin already littered with the polished bones of the other members of the station, and this was only part of it.

Breathless, Lin whispered a bit of thanks to the powers that be and pulled the escape pod’s manual release. He heard the thruster-mechanism whir and the cockpit shunted hard yet remained in place. “No, no, no,” Lin disparaged, but an encouraging beeping tone came in response from his shoulder. “What? Ah, Archie, no. I couldn’t ask you to do that.” The tone melodically beeped again and Lin sighed. “Thank you, buddy. This means…well, everything to me. Just find the command console in Maintenance, clear the jam, and get back here quick, alright?”

Archie gave a happy, affirmative beep.

*

The Automated Robotic Characterized Helper with Integrated Essentials, or Archie-unit for short. Resembling a metallic horseshoe crab with scrubbers, Archie was outfitted with an array of cleaning solutions and compounds, mobility scrubbers and stain-removal treads, a class C problem-solving matrix, as well as many other utilities to assist in his duties. Archie was Mr. Lin’s assistant and long time companion. He had known the Zora Railway-Station 36 as his only home since his manufacturing date in 2393.

The facility served many purposes. It’s position within Jupiter’s orbit made it a central stop for travelers and corporations of all walks and was thus suited to service every need from research accommodations to communications relay to munitions storage. Until recently, it had been a most fit facility to service, in Archie’s opinion. He puttered along the dark, half-collapsed passageways in search of the facility’s Maintenance command console, leaving a light trail of bubbles in his wake. The destruction of the station had been quite extensive, leaving Archie a bit at a navigational loss. That was when he heard the voice of Wand speak to him.

“Up ahead, facility diagnostics show a break in a nitrogen-duct line suitable for your traversal,” spoke Wand. The Wireless Archie-unit Navigational Device, Wand was Mr. Lin’s voice when he was not near or otherwise indisposed. Archie happily beeped, found the crevice Wand spoke of, and squeezed his way through. He made his way down the sloping duct and on the other side his audio sensors detected something. It was a sound like machinery under strain, understandable given the station’s current predicament, but Archie was drawn to it nonetheless. He exited the duct and found a WART-unit – a Warehouse Automotan and Regulation Transporter – with its left arm firmly crushed up to the shoulder in a mobile compactor.

The Wart-unit looked to Archie and the red lens of its optical sensor turned an expressive, pleading blue as it spoke. “Um, would you mind lending a hand? I seem to have gotten myself in a pickle.” Archie beeped joyfully in response, roved up onto the side of the compactor and began greasing Wart’s arm at the shoulder. “Oh, I wouldn’t worry about lubrication, it’s quite thoroughly crushed. Might you simply hit the safety nodes and give the release tab a good pull? My design never did put flexibility as a foremost concern I’m afraid, else I’d have done it myself.” Archie bubbled an acquiescent tone and, extending two rubber-tipped grappling prongs, did as he was asked. A moment later, Wart’s arm came free with only a slight crunching sound.

“Ah, that’s much better,” said Wart with an electronic sigh of relief. “Thank you for your help.”

Archie gave a jubilant beep and proceeded to explain his quest.

“Hmm, your dialect is strange. Are you an 0W-1 model?”

Archie affirmed with a series of tones.

“Hmm,” nodded Wart. “Well, that all sounds…problematic. Do you think you could use a little help?”

Archie’s ocular receptors displayed expressions of joyful acceptance as he bubbled down the passageway with Wart following closely behind him.

Wand directed the two down an old transport tunnel, normally reserved for shuttling Masters of the station between departments. The shuttle currently lied on its side, quite inoperable, and the two traversed the railway with measured caution. Archie would relay instructions and the counsel of Wand, and Wart would use his remaining good arm to clear wreckage as needed. This continued until they came to a collapsed portion of tunnel that Wart couldn’t clear and Wand advised use of a side access passage. The two did so and exited into a portion of the station designated to arcology research and development.

In the middle of the cavernous space stood an enormous structure, resembling a great pyramid, though with the intricate weaving aesthetic of a beehive. Archie searched his internal memory banks and recalled what this department had once looked like when he and Mr. Lin were called to clean a spill of synthetic amber dust. It had been as large, but vibrantly green and colorful with floura from Earth. Now, it was bare metal, all organic components of the structure thoroughly stripped by the Specimen. It had seemed to Archie this was the Specimen’s means of replication, through the consumption and conversion of organic material.

Archie relayed this thought process to Wart, who nodded. “My logic-processing matrices are limited,” he said, “but that makes sense to me. Perhaps this is why we may travel the station freely and the Masters either fled or expired.”

“Please proceed to Maintenance command,” informed Wand.

The two proceeded in the given direction, though found the room to be without a constructed exit. After minutes of searching, the droids came across a hole in the structure’s outer barrier. Examining its edges, Archie determined the damage that caused the hole was corrosion, though, according to his internal service-completion data log, nothing kept in the arcology department should be capable of such a thing. He suppressed the urge to erase the residue and informed Wart of his finding, who simply shrugged his good shoulder and said: “Curious.” Passing through the opening, they found themselves on a bridge-like platform in a space between departmental walls. Great structural support beams crisscrossed on either side and a dark void of empty space echoed below them.

Archie beeped a tone of caution and engaged his suction treads. Wart followed closely behind, the magnetic bolts in his feet thudding heavily across the metallic beam. When the two were halfway across, a creaking sound came from the platform and the two were forced to hurry. Archie puttered swiftly along and Wart attempted to run, but it was soon apparent the two wouldn’t make it before the beam broke under Wart’s heavy frame. Wart looked down to the little cleaning droid. “Thank you again for your assistance,” he simply said before picking Archie off the rail and throwing him to the other side, where he clattered to a stop and quickly turned around to see Wart fall into the darkness below.

This time Archie’s ocular receptors displayed expressions of somber blue lines as he puttered in the direction that Wand had indicated.

As Archie explored the new room he’d been thrown into, he found a most curious sight. He’d landed in one of the station’s long-term storage spaces, loaded with crates, barred containers, canisters, and glass housings of all kinds. What he found so curious was more of the corrosion damage about the wall he’d come through as well as along the floor. Archie couldn’t help himself this time. He engaged his scrubbers, set them to [Mode: Abrasive], and began attempting to erase the copper-green residue about the floor. As he did this, he followed the trail back to its source: a rack of plasma-battery munitions. Archie’s odorant-fume detectors noted an improper seal in the battery. The utility bot calculated that the improper seal, combined with the duration of its storage, had led to the leak and thus the damages to the surrounding area. Archie continued his programmed obsessive cleaning subroutine when Wand’s voice broke over the sound of his scrubbing.

“Please continue north to Maintenance command, utilizing Exit 3A.”

Archie did as he was bid, but followed a trail of corrosion and in his inattention bumped into one of the area’s containers. He scanned the label on its side before maneuvering carefully around it: ‘Specimen Beta-F – Io sample’. Archie hummed his way through the indicated Exit3A, pondering the label’s meaning. The voice of Wand came through once more.

“Expedited task completion requested. Specimen incoming: Imminent. Operator expiration: Imminent.”

The little utility bot’s internal engine hummed as he sped down the hall toward Maintenance command. He found his way into the tiny office through the small flap made for him by Mr. Lin some years ago. He puttered up onto the console, accidentally spilling a receptacle of his Master’s caffeinated fuel, reserving to attend to the mess at a later priority level. He inserted his digi-key to the control panel and engaged the Departure Bay’s exhaust thrusters to clear the blockage. A diagnostic message displayed on the panel in return: ‘Error. Remote directive relay damaged. Unable to complete request.’

Archie’s ocular receptors displayed expressions of angry red lines as he bubbled hastily down the way he had come, cursing loudly in binary code.

The blockage would need to be removed manually.

As Archie passed back through Arcology, having found an alternate route between departments, his memory banks returned to Wart and the selfless act of utility that had gotten him to the command console. This thought interfaced with his ethics chip and, while it was a Mark I, it was enough for Archie to determine he still felt sad for Wart’s sacrifice. As Archie processed this, a sound gave him pause. His audio receptors detected a sound coming from the service tunnel and observed it to be a mass of Specimen Beta-F blocking his entrance into the tunnel.

“Expedited task completion requested,” came Wand’s voice once more. “Outer Lifeboat Class escape pod membrane at 19%.”

Archie’s problem-solving matrix hummed and clicked. His time was short and could not afford him the opportunity to be polite. He reconfigured his internal cleaning solution compartments and generated a selection of Solution 12-B. He readied his nozzle and sprayed the Specimen blocking his way, which began sizzling immediately. It withdrew into the corner as Archie roved through the mist of solution he’d created. It was then he heard the Specimen shriek wildly. Archie turned to see its form growing aggressively erratic and sped just out of reach as it lashed a whip-like tendril out his way. It was at this moment Archie realized the compound he’d used contained micro-algae: making the solution organic in nature.

Archie raced away as quickly as his scrubbers would carry him. Wand repeated her message and directed him along as he tore through duct after duct, through tiny crevice after tiny crevice, all the while with the Specimen hotly in pursuit. Eventually, Archie came to a section of the tunnel that was completely collapsed and turned to see the Specimen closing in. His problem-solving matrix grew hot as it calculated an exit, but was ultimately fruitless. He was just preparing a farewell message and apology to Wand when a heavy crash sounded in front of him. There in front of Archie, with a compromised right knee joint that sizzled and sparked, stood the heavy frame of Wart.

The automaton collided with the Specimen as it came upon them. The pneumatic pistons in his remaining good arm whined as again and again it struck the creature. The Specimen shrieked, jittered, and lashed out at Wart, damaging his frame and severing one of his fuel pumps. He began to slow greatly as the black oil gushed from a wound in his torso. At that moment, Archie chimed and he frantically beeped an instruction to Wart.

“You want me to what?” exclaimed Wart, a confused pink color adorning his lens.

Archie repeated himself in a wild, static-riddled tone.

“I sure do hope you have a plan, chap. Here goes nothing, I suppose.” With that, Wart redirected his pressure capacitors. Fuel jetted from his chest like hose, covering the specimen entirely. Archie went to work quickly. He used his rubberized prongs to grasp one of the many exposed, sparking cables and dragged it to the ceiling above the battling droid and alien creature. He beeped an apologetic message to Wart before dropping the cable onto the two of them. The mass of Specimen Beta-F erupted into flames and withered away, shrieking and bubbling, eventually growing still.

Wart stood up, his frame creaking and spasming horribly. “That was quick thinking. How did you know we Mk. II’s had a flame retardant coating?”

Archie beeped sheepishly.

“Ah, well I suppose a hunch is good enough. You…look well.”

Archie gave an electronic huff, quickly explained the pressing time, and bubbled away a short distance before turning to see that Wart followed.

“Yes, you’re welcome, of course.”

Together, the two droids made their way back to the Departure Bay, out an exterior airlock, and around to the exhaust port that contained the blocked machinery. From the new angle, Archie could observe directly what it was that was causing the jam: a broken piece of the solar array’s wing had gotten stuck in the pod’s release, like a sliver of steel pinned between links of chain. Archie set to work. He exhausted his oiliest cleaning solutions to grease the sliver and tugged at it with his prongs but it wouldn’t budge.

“Lifeboat pod hull integrity at 7%,” reminded Wand.

Archie pulled and pulled, but his frame was too light and his micro-engine muscle strands were too thin, meant for sweeping dust not hauling debris. Archie beeped pleadingly to Wart. The sturdy warehouse automaton crawled weakly onto the space with Archie. He grasped the end of the sliver, braced his good knee joint, and pulled. The sliver grinded some, but was stuck nonetheless.

“I’m sorry, little friend,” panted Wart. “I’m afraid I’ve lost too much fuel. I’m out of gas.”

Archie’s ocular receptors went wide with an idea. He began reconfiguring the last of his cleaning solutions, converting whatever ethanol remained in his system and beeped directly at Wart.

“You are full of ideas aren’t you, little master?” He reached down and grasped Archie and set him on his shoulder. Archie detached Wart’s back panel and fit his solution release directly into Wart’s fuel injector. His pneumatic pistons whirred and hummed and fired brightly. With a mechanical strain, Wart grasped the sliver again and pulled hard, drawing it freely from the pod’s release and holding it aloft to gleam brightly in the light of stars.

Together, they watched the pod detach from the station and float away before its thrusters engaged. Wand’s voice came through, and while the words weren’t coherent through the static, Archie could feel the tone of gratitude and farewell. Slowly, he turned to Wart. The two receded back into the station, now thoroughly abandoned by Mr. Lin and the other Masters, but their mission accomplished. Archie set to repairing Wart with scrap around the station as a long term project, before remembering the coffee spill in Maintenance.

END

The Take: Alright, first off, if you were one of the clever few that caught the ‘Sword in the Stone’ homages, I salute you. For those that didn’t, totally a-okay, because I had to do a lot of homework to think I got it right. But yeah, “Archie” being short for “Archimedes,” “Mr. Lin” as a spelling stand-in for “Merlin,” and “Wart” being Arthur’s nickname, so on and so forth.
Now, you’ll also notice that for Mr. Lin and all the acronyms especially, they really only work when you read them, which is why I’ll now confess I originally made the genius move to include all those elements for what was originally an oral presentation (don’t repeat my mistakes, kids – stay in school).
Overall, I like this one. Came together in a bit of a rush, and ended a bit abruptly (finished it five minutes after that night’s meeting started), but it’s always been a little near and dear to my heart. I find it cute. Tried to make the mystery intriguing enough without bogging it down with unnecessary detail, but really, I guess that’s up to y’all to tell me whether or not that effort succeeded.

Anyway, hope ya enjoyed it, and I’ll catch you fabulous persons Tuesday.

Ciao!

Today’s FableFact source: https://www.amc.com/talk/2011/08/story-notes-trivia-top-gun
(Link may be goofy. It may be my fault. It might be your fault. Could be the work of a masked man not yet befuddled by the Mystery Gang. Can’t say)

Do You Think You Know You?

Happy Thursday everybody!

Did you know that at one point the Vatican offered people time off purgatory for following the Pope on Twitter? Neat.

Today’s piece of buried treasure is a weird one. Rather than introduce it, I think I’m just gonna roll right into it.
I present:

The Stories we Tell Ourselves

-door opens and closes-

-raincoat is set on hanger-

-buzz of lights flickering to life-

“Well, let’s just get right to it, shall we?

“I would call myself a smart man, perhaps even a poetic one; but I’m no genius. Still, I imagine that when someone reaches that point of breaking the genius threshold, it must come with complete, anarchic chaos for them internally for a time. Especially nowadays, most of the genius ideas that draw from simplicity have to have been taken. I mean, we won’t know until someone comes up with the next one, but that’s beside the point. The point here is that nowadays, genius is determined by invention or mechanical or technological innovation. That’s right, my friends, long gone are the days where our brightest minds generated ideas for the betterment of their neighbors. The Enlightenment is over! Now, genius sells for a profit to a crowd of hungry dummies; but again, I digress.

-pacing footsteps-

“When a mind breaks into the realm of greater intelligence, it isn’t a clean break, especially it being their debut for that kind of prestige. No, the universe’s workings are too messy and our proud understanding is too small for things to go off without a hitch. This all brings us to this man, a Dr. Dennis P. Ramchoff, a former head of retentive neuroscience and pharmacology at Terminus Inc. Some of you may know Dr. Ramchoff for his accredited founding of the ‘Hypothetical Yielding of Potential Non-Occurrences’ – or H.Y.P.N.O. A drug that allows its user to, for a time, relive as a conscious experience a personal memory; only, under the drug’s effects allow you to act independently during the experience, altering it however you may with your subconscious adapting it for plausibility’s sake. It’s easy to think of it like lucid dreaming, but with more serious consequences.”

“What kind of consequences, sir?”

“Well memory, to perhaps a greater degree than dreaming, is a strange thing, son.”

“How do you mean?”

“For one, haven’t heard of too many cases in my day where folks get chemically addicted to dreaming. With HYPNO on the other hand, you can usually spot an addict. Hallucinations, delusions, long and short term memory loss, even some accounts of Alzheimer’s disease found in 30-year-old’s have been attributed to overuse.”

“Makes you wonder if it’s worth it.”

“Mmhm, well, when you approach it philosophically, it isn’t hard to see the temptation. Relive any personal memory, truly relive it? We’ve all had daydreams where we think back to a time or event we wish had gone differently, but it’s always still abstract and strangely intangible. Even if just inside the shelter of your own mind, it can become real if you’ve access to the drug. At the same time, similar thinking can illuminate the graver angle to the pill. You much of a reader, son?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You know who Thomas Nagle is?”

“I’m sorry sir, but no I don’t.”

“Quite alright, quite alright. I suggest you read him, but the short version of what you’ll come to understand is that, truly, all you have is the present moment and all you can be sure of is the contents of your own mind.”

“I’m not sure I follow.”

“Believe me that’s fine. You see, what makes the idea of memories so strange when you think about it comes with accepting those two things, and that takes time. It goes something like this: you know the past exists because your memories tell you so and because those memories help to explain the world around you at present, sure, but since your memories don’t exist outside your own mind, you argue yourself in a circle trying to confirm that they exist externally. You know those events happened and exist separately from you because you remember it, but using what’s in your mind to prove what has happened outside your mind, you get nowhere. And if the present moment is all that exists, then your memory is an unprovable record of something that doesn’t exist, but is still relied upon day-to-day. Any better?”

“I think a little, go on.”

“Excellent. Well, that’s where HYPNO comes into play and can make a world of trouble. When you use the drug relive a memory alternatively and create that experience, to the user it still creates a new, valid memory of that experience. All you have is the present to draw connections as to which one is authentic. For example, four years ago you were at a social engagement where you became intimate with the woman who is now your significant other, and without that occurrence, the two of you may never have gotten acquainted on that level. Say that you use HYPNO to relive that event and become intimate with a different individual at that same event, some fantasy you wanted to live out. When the drug wheres off, you now have two valid memories of the same event that have drastically different endings, yet you may be comfortably certain of which occurred in reality when you find yourself still romantically engaged with the first woman and not the second.”

“Even that small example seems dangerously confusing.”

“And that’s just the beginning. If one should generate enough memories through the substance that their mental space gets cluttered it can become extremely difficult, nigh impossible, to separate earthly history from your own because to you it’s all real.”

“Why not keep records? Notes to yourself as to which memories are the real ones?”

“Seems a little obvious, don’t you think? It isn’t that people tried, but simply put: doubt kills it. It can begin simply enough to separate two memories by using notes or physical reminders. But should those reminders be misplaced, lost, destroyed, or, even more sinister, tampered with, what then? Or should the idea enter your mind that the anchor you’ve left yourself was itself a misremembering, suddenly you can’t trust your own evidence. It’s doubly true if the duplicated experience was of an event in the distant past; the alternative remains fresher in your mind than the original, easier to trust as a result. These possibilities are all under the law of the mind-body problem; to attempt proving external reality via internal evidence gets you no traction whatsoever.

-beat-

“You’re being quiet.”

“Yes, I’m sorry. It’s just a lot to consider.”

“Mmmhm, making genius doesn’t give the pleasure of a clean break, as I said. Something always gets overlooked with something this revolutionary and something so inchoate as our understanding of consciousness. Isn’t that right, Dennis?”

“Excuse me?”

“When an addict should create so many alternative experiences that authentic, natural memories are lost, where does identity lie in all of that?”

“What did you say?”

“Personhood remains as immeasurable as it ever has been, but our past thoughts, decisions, and actions are what help the ego shape it. What should happen to that system if a mind becomes so muddled in a quagmire of fabricated experiences indistinguishable from reality?”

“I’m speaking to you!”

“Near as we can tell, and what the practical man will tell you, as the mind dreams we consciously experience it delving into itself while the body sleeps. Whether this is the case or whether dreams are the self’s recess from a mortal casing is ultimately uncertain. Regardless of which explanation you prefer, it is, in the end, a conscious experience that is only shown perspective up waking.”

“Let me out of here!”

“After years of addictive use, fabricated memories being compiled and compiled atop those of an earthly history but all of them real to the mind in which they reside, attempts at keeping authenticating records having long since failed, allow me to ask: where are you right now?”

“I said for you to let me go.”

“And I asked you a very simple question. I will resort to harsher methods if pushed, Mr. Ramchoff.”

-a drawer opens-

-something heavy is set on the table-

“Where are you right now?”

“Being held in your classroom.”

“Yes, and why is that?”

“I don’t know.”

“Don’t you? What is the date today?”

“I don’t know!”

“Come now, think. I’ll give you a hint: it’s mid-November. Hmm, anything? Anything at all? I asked you a question, Dennis.”

“November eighteenth, two-thousand twenty-five.”

“Mmhm, and what makes that particular day special?”

“It’s the day I got the idea that started HYPNO.”

“Yes. Bright young man striding toward an equally bright future in biochemistry. How, oh, how did you find yourself in an introductory philosophy class?”

“Why are you doing this?”

“We’ve been over this, the subconscious adapts according to the user’s actions. So, tell me, why am I here? Hmm, tell me. Come on, speak up.”

“Because you gave me the idea.”

“Good.”

“I was looking out that window while you lectured about ontology. I wasn’t ignoring you, just listening and thinking.”

“What about?”

“The park across the road.”

“Doesn’t sound like listening.”

“I was remembering a time Fiona and I were at a park that looked a lot like that one. We’d just met a few weeks prior and it was the spot we shared our first kiss.”

“Very sweet.”

“The point was I was remembering it. It may have been your lecture, but I started contemplating the existence of my memory of that moment, most everything you said earlier; how it was something unique to my own mind, something no one else had. The further away in time the moment got, the more the dreams of it faded and the more I wanted to hold onto it.”

“I’ll bet you never imagined what HYPNO would do.”

“It was a selfish design over a selfish want.”

“You open the world to something of that caliber before it’s ready and you sunder it. Political corruption more chaotic than ever it was before, with false memory claims being slung this way and that, seizures and strokes spiking in audiences of all ages of the unprepared, and an almost complete dissolution of the study of history. My boy, when you sever a people’s connection to its past overnight, you stir a typhoon of their present.”

“You’d mentioned once an old religious saying: ‘You can’t step into the same river even once’. Of course going to mean that the river is truly ever-changing, completely fluid, never exactly in one instant is it the same form; and the human experience is no different, right?”

“You’re certainly not the same man you were when you came here. Guilty conscience looking for where you went wrong?”

“It’s odd…startling…to look back and realize it was altogether a different person in that seat. If our selves are defined by our memories, asking who we are is unanswerable. What, then, does that make us? Stories?”

“Now you’re getting it.”

FIN

The Take: This one’s from early 2016 and I guess I was feeling really, really, really philosophical at the time and if I remember right, the title comes straight out of a quote from Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. The result wound up being a pretty dense brick of text with a fun idea attached. While the construction was clunky and the idea of H.Y.P.N.O. was basically just super lucid dreaming in a pill, it was fun to come up with the acronym and think of the consequences stemming from something like it.

Anyway, that was fun. See ya Tuesday!

Interested in more? Like knee-slappers and chin-scratchers? Check out my first published work in the Third Flatiron’s “Hidden Histories” anthology here: 
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07PRN5ZQ1

Today’s FableFact source:
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jul/16/vatican-indulgences-pope-francis-tweets