Maddox Ray Orson lives in a society where being a cyborg is normal. Yet his brain and the hardware implanted in him are just barely compatible. One day the technology will evolve to a point his brain can't handle and when that happens things will go horribly wrong. Because of this he keeps everyone at arms length, not letting anyone in, not even his family. But when he meets an odd girl with no implants he might not have to worry about that anymore.
Creaking as it opens I push aside the door to reveal the familiar view. The narrow staircase leads to the unfinished basement of the old house. The one I grew up in, the house where I first had this dream. I know that I’m dreaming because I’ve had this exact same dream hundreds of times before. I’ve been having this dream since I was 6 or 7 years old, ever since I’ve had my ANI.
Augmented Neural Implants are what everyone gets when they’re a child. Old enough for your brain to be developed yet young enough to be malleable and accepting of the hardware that allows you to access the internet and all public databases with the blink of an eye. It allows people to see better, think faster and remember more. It basically enhances you like what people used to call cyborgs back in the day.
If I was awake right now and not having a semi-lucid dream I would look up the name of the developmental stage that children can legally become implanted. Some old school psychologist that started with a P I think. I don’t really remember because that sort of thing is covered in the eleventh grade curriculum and I’m starting eleventh grade today or tomorrow. I can’t check what time it is either.
I can just watch this dream play out like a movie in my mind. It’s the only dream I can ever remember having and although I’m conscious of what’s happening in it I can’t ever change what happens. I watch helplessly as I descend down the stairs. I have the sense that I’m much larger than I actually am. Try as I might I can never look at my own face. I can only look ahead, at where I’m travelling. I see my shadow huge and hulking, nothing like my own tall skeletal frame. The skinny limbs that I’ll reassuringly rub when I finally wake from this nightmare have been replaced by something thicker.
In my dream the monstrous shadow looms over two huddled figures. They are shaking and crying. Every aspect of their body language screams terror. They are horrified of what’s coming towards them. They are terrified of me. It’s hard to tell until I get closer but I already know who the two crouching figures in my childhood basement are. They’re my parents.
My father pleads with me. I can never remember the actual words he says. Even now as I’m reliving it I don’t catch the exact phrasing. Yet I know what he’s saying. He’s telling me to stop, he’s asking me to spare him and my mother, begging me not to do it. I try and divert the creature’s attention, my attention, in the dream. I try to look over at the paint stain over on the cement floor that I know is there because I spilled the primer there when I was 5 as I attempted to ‘help’ my father paint the walls.
It’s no use. I can’t stop myself from what I’m about to do, what I’ve done a hundred times before. Turning my neck isn’t even within my power. As always I descend upon my parents sobbing, pleading forms. Even in my dreams I’m filled with remorse as I do it. It hasn’t happened yet but if the dreams aloud to run its course I will eat them. I’ll tear their limbs from their bodies and devour every last scrap of their flesh. I feel terrible for doing it but I can’t help myself. I’ve been trying to for ten years.
The guilt follows me down the stairs towards my parents just as it has followed me around for most of my life. I’ve never told anyone about this dream, not even when I was a kid because I’m ashamed of it. I’m destined to ruin my parents’ lives. I don’t want anyone to know about this destiny I’ve been fated for ever since I was seven years old. When my ANI was implanted I remember the hushed whispers and concerned looks that followed me everywhere. I had been cleared for the procedure. My brain chemicals were at normal levels and my cognitive development was right on schedule.
Nothing should have gone wrong; they do this all the time. There hadn’t been any problems with ANI since the third generation implants that my parents have. Any problems or glitches are quickly fixed with software patches and their designed to develop in tandem with children’s brains for the least invasive mental transition from being an organic person to an enhanced person. Or what we call normal.
The doctors quelled my parent’s fears, they said this happens sometimes. The ANI firmware doesn’t always ‘communicate’ properly with certain organic neural networks. In other words brains like mine. They made adjustments, I saw a lot of doctors and eventually things were fine. I was deemed safe and normal. I just have to check in with my neuroscientist whenever a large tech upgrade happens or if anything seems out of the ordinary. And things have seemed fine so far aside from these nightmares I frequently have.
But I know I’m fated to turn into a monster just like in my dream. One day technology will reach a point my brain just can’t handle. My ANI won’t be able to handle the changes and it will change me into something different, something horrible. I won’t be myself and I will be dangerous. I’ll be a danger to others and there’s nothing I can do about it. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try.
One more time I inwardly cringe as I approach my parents in the dream. I crouch down shrouding them in my hulking shadow. I try one more time to stop what I’m about to do. Concentrating on my father’s pleas and my mother’s saddened eyes as she looks at the thing I have become. I move my heart towards pity. Moving my heart unfortunately doesn’t move my clawed hands. Do monsters have hearts?
I reach down for my father and grasp his limbs. It’s always the same, first my father and then my mother. I rip them apart and then gobble down their bleeding lifeless pieces. I gnash them with what I imagine are black jagged, pointed teeth in numerous rows like a shark. I can never taste them or smell their blood. But after I’ve consumed them and it all fades to black my arms feel tired, exhausted from the exertion of tensing up my muscles in a futile effort to stop myself from doing what I’m about to do.
Their screams echo off the un-insulated walls painted the beige primer color that my father never got around to painting a top coat over before we moved. I want to cover my ears as the cries of pain and confusion grow louder. They take on a digital, repetitive clang. My guilt turns to annoyance. Why are they making that horrid noise? This isn’t how things usually play out. I search for a way to stop the noise. It takes a few groggy seconds to realize I’m awake.
There’s corrugated metal on the walls instead of the unfinished beige from the old basement. I’m in my room. The alarm is going off. It’s my first day of school and parricidal monster or no, I have to get ready to go. I’m only a little less frustrated at the fact that I have no say in going to school than I have no control over my dream.
Shaking the stringy shrouds of sleep from my head I can’t help but be in a bit of a mopey mood after that dream. Involuntarily killing your parents would put even the angstiest of teens in a sour mood. I pull on a pair of pants without looking at them. All my pants are pretty much the same, so if my mother deems them clean enough to get sent back up to my room from the laundry than I don’t feel the need to question them.
I adjust the sleeve of my grey fitted shirt. It just happened to be at the top of the drawer. It hangs off of my broad bony shoulders and clings over the abrupt protrusions of my ribs. I hate how the shirt broadcasts to anyone with eyes that I’m a scrawny guy but it’s what’s in style right now and I can’t be bothered to shop for clothes. At least the pants fit more loosely and create the illusion that I have normal sized legs and not the chicken thin calves and thighs I actually possess.
At least I’m tall I remind myself as I fly down the stairs taking three steps at a time down into the kitchen. My brow is knit with the general unpleasant mood my dream put me in but I feel a small sort of triumph at getting ready quickly as I pull an apple from the fridge. If I linger in bed too long my dad will come in and do this awful sing and dance routine that ends with him ripping the sheets off my bed. I consider it a good day if I don’t have to start it off with an off key rendition of ‘Oh What a Beautiful Morning’. Moving onto the cupboard I grab a handful of energy bars and other snacks to stuff in my pack. I’ll be hungry again by the time I’ve gotten to school.
I manually adjust my facial features into what I hope is a more neutral looking attitude. I don’t want to look happy about going back to school, that would be too obviously fake. Yet if I was in a bad mood my mom would notice. She can always tell if I’m in a bad mood and then I’ll have to go through the whole rigmarole of convincing her I’m fine. I see her short curly dark hair before I hear her voice.
My mother is usually out the door before me and is always super busy with work so I try and make the time I have with her pleasant. “Hey honey.” She greets. She isn’t looking at me because she’s too busy making sure she has everything she needs in her purse. I can tell she’s going through her mental checklist by the way her pupils bounce rhythmically up and down like a cartoon character reading without really looking at anything.
“Ready to get back to school?” Her list completed she moves in for a hug. “As ready as I’m gonna be.” I linger just a moment to get a whiff of her subtle perfume. She’s worn it since I was a kid and I find it kind of calming. Like the air after a rain it just smells really clean with just a hint of some flowers or something nice and girly.
“Anything you need honey?”
“Nope I’m good.”
“Alright well I’m off. Oh tell your brother I’m sorry I missed him and make sure he remembers that permission slip.” My little brother Mason must have slept in. He was probably getting my dad’s wake up routine as we spoke. “It’s on the counter. Oh and I almost forgot Maddox, there’s a new patch, make sure you update.”
My aggravated sigh gave my intention to blow off the upgrade away. “Maddox Ray Orson, update. You don’t want to start your first day of school behind; everyone else will be up-to-date already. You have plenty of time; I did it this morning only took a few minutes. If your brother isn’t ready in time he’ll have to do it at school.” I wasn’t trying to be a brat I just got nervous every time there was a patch. Who knows when the next big update could trigger my ANI to go haywire and I’ll turn into some sort of crazy killing machine.
“Yeah don’t worry I’ll do it.” I lie turning in search for my pack so I can shove my fist full of snacks into it. “Do it now Maddox. Get it started before I leave.” She puts her hands on her hips and taps her foot impatiently for me to start the update process. Knowing that the patch is a small one means it probably isn’t that revolutionary. Beads of sweat start to form on my forehead as I acquiesce to my mother’s wishes.
The blinking red light at the corner of my left eye lets her now I’ve given mental permission for the pending patch to start updating my ANI. “Thank you honey, I promise it’s a quick one. Love you, gotta go.” She straightens the hem of her skirt before disappearing out to the garage leaving me alone to face what could be my impending doom. Maybe it’s better that way.
The percentage of completion ticks up as my ANI gives me a message as if it were my own thought; I may perform other functions while the update is in progress. I can’t think of anything else other than the fact that this progress bar may be counting up the time to the end of all life as I know it though. So I just stand there in the middle of the kitchen. I tense up all my muscles crushing the more delicate packaged snacks in my fist. A bead of perspiration trickles from my temple down past my ear and waits a principled second as if out of sheer will on my pointed chin before relinquishing all restraint and releasing itself onto the neck of my shirt where it’s promptly absorbed.
I wait for a sign that it’s finally happening, the thing that will turn me into a monster. If something were to go wrong I have no idea what it would look like. Would I even know? Perhaps things would be totally normal until they weren’t. Or maybe I would slowly get worse and worse until I was that thing from my dream. The progress bar reaches full and blinks 100% in my peripheral vision before disappearing out of sight. I guess I’ll just have to wait and find out.