So I thought I’d share my entry for this years Sci-Fi-London 48-hour flash fiction competition which I wrote a few weeks back. The rules for the competition are simple: you sign up, then when the competition starts they send you a title for the story, a piece of dialogue which you must include, and an optional idea for the sci-fi premise of the story. Then you have 48 hours to create your beast! I’ve entered the comp for the past 2 years now, and I must say I enjoyed it much more this year than last, and I think the quality of my entry has improved. I’m still somewhat struggling to find my voice when I write stories which is something that comes with lots of experience I guess (all my favourite writers have a unique and immediately identifiable voice which is so hard to find!) but it is still a really fun way to challenge yourself and see what kind of world and characters you can create in a short space of time. The story is a little wacky, and there are certainly J. G. Ballard short story vibes going on (you’ll be surprised to hear I was reading Ballard stories at the time of writing :D)… I hope you enjoy it.
Dialogue: ‘the finest minds spent decades honing this technology, and you can’t find the on switch’
Optional science: new psychotropic drug creates telepathy/telekinesis
It is as though, looking through these eyes, I can feel some faint echo of the one who was, some faint residue of self which dangles over the edge of infinity…
Bruno gazed wide-eyed and unmoving at the giant TV screen which lit up his small apartment like a neon flare. Reams of paper coated the floor: pages of frantically scrawled notes; splayed case files; journal articles spattered with annotations; graphs, charts, mathematical diagrams and photographs. He had been glued to the screen for the past four hours, barely blinking his eyes. It was unlike Bruno, who was usually fidgety and itching to move around if he had been physically inactive for anything more than an hour. He was a typical gym freak, with all the latest muscletech and runner gear. He had been known to spend anything up to six hours a day working on maintaining his racehorse-like physique. But the past few days, things had changed. He had been awake all hours of the night, mostly reading from various scientific texts, newspapers, online articles, all the while taking ample notes. This was all very unlike Bruno, who had read very little beyond the random passages from the required texts in school and the streams of vacuous thoughts and ramblings of his like-minded friends on social media.
It was deep into the night, the curtains were still open wide, and the lights were all still switched off. Bruno’s apartment was on the twenty-third level, just about where the dense city fog lingered perpetually. Viewed from the dingy streets below, the flickering colours of the TV lit up the fog like sparking synapses in some elemental cerebellum. On screen were four figures intensely debating the latest victims of the human experiments by Nadercorp: the company who, over thirty years ago, had first developed the technology capable of inducing telepathy, telethesia, and certain types of herd telekinesis in animals. The corporation had spent decades refining the technology, steadily working their way through the intelligence strata of the animal kingdom, and, in the past few years, had finally begun testing on volunteer human subjects. Millions had come forward, keen to go down in history as the very first telepaths; the first genuine superhumans. No doubt a great many of them had their own private agendas: they sought fame, money, power. Bruno himself had been one of those volunteers, hoping to dazzle the world with his sculpted abs and his telepathic powers: like some ancient Greek hero reborn, some dazzling superman known and loved by all. Many philosophers had predicted that the emergence of telepaths would eventually result in the creation of an exclusive ‘higher order’ of humans, and that in time, the non-telepath would become extinct. The technology had been controversial at first, but as the animal success rates went up, and the scale of the surgery went down, the fear and worry of the masses turned to intrigue and eventually to obsession. In the months following the first successful human implants the world had waited in silent wonder, waiting for the first superhuman to emerge, the first god among mortals, the marker of what was to come.
to master instinct, is to master these shackles which work to restrain the mind… and the mind of others… It is only a matter of time before those few wanderers find the way…
The device itself was a biotechnology: a microscopic implant which was installed into the inferior frontal cortex using a needle-sized drill. The inferior frontal cortex is the part of the brain responsible for instinct. All animals have instinct to a greater or lesser degree, including humans. Back in 2020, two maverick scientists, Higson Nader and Eugene Laing, who were close friends and colleagues, discovered the potential to alter and reprogram instinct using microscopic technology which manipulates electrical currents. Instinct is on a level beyond the 5 senses, and a universality among species. It is a vast prehistoric cache of unconscious knowledge which, if consciously tapped, can give the animal truly astounding capabilities. For the most part, humans have naively clung to the belief that to master instinct is to bury it. But to keep these primitive, animal urges in captivity is, as Freud proved almost two centuries ago, to suppress an intrinsic part of that which makes us human. Consider this, what if man were to gain complete control over these embedded animal instincts? To master fear, to obliterate greed, frustration, anxiety, the desire for revenge, to gain complete control over libidinal urges, to modulate adrenaline, to utterly dislocate oneself from the herd? It soon became apparent that this mastery over instinct gave rise to an obsequiousness among other animals of their species: implanted birds were able to control entire flocks from afar; implanted great apes were able to somehow bend the will of the members of their troop with little more than a glance, forcing them to give up food, even perform sexual favours on a whim; one unusual case led to thousands of inuits fleeing what had been their home for generations, after an implanted polar bear – normally solitary hunters – gathered the beasts in enormous numbers and began leading them south, to areas more fertile with prey.
Of course human beings are a great deal more complex than any other animal, and as such there was no telling how the implants might affect them psychologically. It was commonplace knowledge that one of the founders of Nadercorp, Professor Laing, had attempted to implant the technology on himself years before even the trials on the greater apes, a move which led to his own breakdown and eventual institutionalisation. And now, almost 2 years after the first human trials, after 2 years of waiting, 2 years of symptomless disappointment, as well as hundreds of billions pumped into Nadercorp, and countless hours dedicated by the world’s leading biologists, psychologists, neuroscientists, neurosurgeons, parapsychologists, you name it, the test subjects were slowly but surely losing their minds. Of the 25 ‘lottery winners’ who had been selected, 12 were showing signs of acute mental disorder: experiencing delusions, hallucinations and withdrawal. It would seem that, much like the great Professor Laing, they had began to lose touch with the world around them.
Bruno was still glaring statue-like at the TV screen, on which there could be seen an interviewer sat with two nondescript scientists, a man and a woman, in white overalls and a relatively well-known stage actor named Vance who was doing his best to play the villain:
‘Now look, the implants were installed successfully, the operations were a roaring success on that front, and the recovery rates were even more rapid than we had anticipated, it is only the adjustment process that seems to be causing certain unforeseen… issues in the patients’ the male scientist argued,
‘Issues? Issues? I’d say that institutionalisation is a little more severe than an issue wouldn’t you?’ returned the interviewer
‘I think what my colleague is trying to elucidate is that we’re moving into vastly new territory here. The complexity of the human mind exceeds any structure in the known universe, and as such, there has to be a much more complex assimilation process before the biotechnology can be activated’ said the woman.
‘Are you then saying,’ asked the interviewer, incredulous, ‘that for this so-called wonder-technology to work in humans, it is a necessary step that one one must go insane!?’
‘Well maybe, we can’t yet know for sure. For now we have to try to work out, based on the reactions of the test-subjects, what effect the biotech is having, and formulate logical deductions. We know that all other animals are still very much in touch with their instincts, still heavily reliant upon them, and so it makes sense that they are more easily able to tap them. Whereas a human in modern civilised society, is so used to burying instinct, suppressing it, that they are in a sense wholly detached from it. It is therefore reasonable to assume that a human may be required to re-access and reawaken this buried atavistic aspect in order to gain access to the stored potential that the technology provides. But the human mind is so thoroughly fixed in its ways, so cordoned by logic and rationality, that it makes this a far more intricate and complicated process than first thought’ she replied, monotone.
‘This flimsy Freudian babble is all well and good, but like most people, all I know is that the finest minds spent decades honing this technology, and you can’t find the on switch’ sniggered the stage actor, gaining an appreciative cheer from the audience sat behind the camera.
The male scientist looked uneasy at that. But the lady spoke up:
‘What we are seeing now is the next stage in human evolution, and we cannot expect it to be easy. This is what we might deem the ‘cognitive erosion’ stage: where the mind chips away the concrete walls of civilised society, and reverts back to stage of pure instinct. Then, and only then, can humanity move onto the next stage of its journey forward’.
Bruno awoke early the next day, showered and dressed unconsciously, before making his way down to the tired streets below. The air was rank, viscous. The pavement and the edges of the road were packed with litter like the silt deposits at the curves and arcs of a fast-flowing river. He headed round the corner to the alley where he’d parked his car, but was interrupted when someone across the street called over to him,
‘Hey Bru! Bruno!’ the man shouted, a squat man with a buzzcut, wearing a sleeveless top to expose his thigh-sized upper arms.
Bruno kept walking, trying to ignore the caller. But he came running over onto the pavement behind Bruno. Bruno didn’t turn around.
‘Yo Bruno! What’s the problem?I know you can hear me man!’
The man grabbed Bruno’s shoulder and tried to spin him around.
‘Hey man what the fuc-’
Bruno turned and headbutted the man full force in the nose sending him flying 6 feet backwards into a pile of waste. The man didn’t get up and made no sound, a torrent of blood spewed from the man’s nose. Bruno, unflinching, found his rust-crusted car in the alley and brought the engine unwillingly back to life.
He drove towards the edge of the city until he reached the more secluded outer limit, dense with clan-infested warehouses and abandoned factory buildings. One of the buildings was set behind a thick metallic weave of barbed wire, a graffitied sign could be seen just beyond the wire fence. It read: COOMBESMEAD PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITAL. Bruno noticed that a little way up there was a truck-sized whole in the barbed wire fence; it seemed that there were already others here. Bruno drove through the whole and approached the large arched entryway to the hospital. In front of the building there there was a few dozen other vehicles, similarly haphazardly abandoned with their doors open wide. There were even a few cabs, the drivers standing confusedly by their vehicles looking towards the entrance but not quite working the courage to go any closer. Bruno left his car and walked into the hospital entrance. As he moved deeper inside, he saw patients wandering dazedly in their white-walled purgatory, hovering between worlds, unphased and uninterested by the ever-increasing stream of people now wandering through their bleached halls. There was no sign of doctors or hospital staff. Then he came to a room at the rear of the building, in which there was a crowd of people huddled together: one man was sat on a doctor’s swivel chair at the very center of them. The man was Professor Eugene Laing. Laing was expressionless, totally at ease, and radiated authority. And deep in the echochamber of their minds, Laing’s voice spoke to them with godly authority:
Others will soon awaken, but there can be only one. It is time to find the 25, and to erase the competition…
NB: cover image is ‘Streets’ by Sanchiko on deviantart
Through childish eyes come sirrus skies,
Mere projections which jeopardise,
To break the ties, anaesthetise,
The world from its beholder.
Where day and night capsize forever,
And looming shadows so endeavour,
To blot all pigment, pluck hue from feather,
Under the uniform gaslight haze.
And breaths collide beneath coarse fabric,
Caressing, guessing; motions tantric.
The need for flesh becoming frantic,
For love to be unmasked.
And in the footsteps of Socrates,
Forestall cave wall hypocrises,
Gaze upon these alpine mockeries,
The truth is on the canvas.
Through tempest glides the gentle dove,
As all who waver watch above,
Its azure plumage doused with love,
For a moment free again.
Latent gospel plucked from slumber
Writhing as seething logic tears asunder
These retinal confessionals which drawn
From the tattered slacks of droning hacks whose dawn
Is borne from fleeting mania amongst ceaseless cognitive curfews
Where spontaneous poetic passions percolate like zeppelins doing corkscrews
Where cubist contortions reign and the blighted blatherings of historians
Wither into stony columns of drivel and whitespace – trivial emporiums
Which shy away from the kaleidoscopic sensorium of surreality
An exclusive realm of poets and purveyors of psyche, far beyond mere animality
NB: featured image is Max Ernst’s ‘triumph of surrealism’ (1937)
20/11/75 – Something has been troubling me these past few days: if it were possible to create a mathematical formulation of the unconscious, then is the human mind anything more than some complex algebra?
I have an idea as to how we might test the theory. We know that the typical psyche is expected to go through a very strict and coordinated set of familial events, events fixed on the level of instinct, but this was no doubt destabilized upon the advent of consciousness. However, our technological age enables for potentially omniscient surveillance, and so we are surely at a point whereby the rigorous systematisation of a subject’s movement from infancy into adulthood may be undertaken: every single minute action and interaction monitored, every visually instilled familial and objective association tracked, systematised and monitored. The Oedipus complex captured on film! My own surrealist masterpiece!
22/11/75 – we know symbolisation centers around vision, which subverts all other senses. This can be verified by one simple fact: no congenitally blind child has ever become schizophrenic. Could this fact alone could indeed be enough to pinpoint the exact emergence of consciousness?
Inner thought is, for now, technologically inscrutable. However the subjective appropriation of the outside world which is observable enables us to observe that so crucial moment of symbolic totality – when the veil of metaphor conceals all, and the birth of consciousness in childhood emerges. To see this moment on film – is as close to seeing the creation of a universe that we will ever come.
Traven. His transformation has not yet come. His malformed symbolic constitution leaves him in a kaleidoscopic world of broken glass – shards of words which blur and waver, unable to conceal the traumatic real that lies behind. His inner world is an inscrutible vortex, into which our world is refracted and reconstructed to fit his own unique logic. In viewing Traven’s spectacular impunity we must recall Doctor Laing’s assertion that the “the cracked mind of the schizophrenic may let in light which does not enter the intact minds of many sane people whose minds are closed”.
24/11/75 – It’s 2.30am. I cannot stop thinking about the test. What is needed? (1) Eye-cameras for symbolic tethers. (2) test subjects. ideally identical twins so that we can weed out the environmental from the genetically inherited factors which could influence the development of language. (3) Dali’s The Ascension of Christ. (4) The curved surface of a motorway crash barrier. The algebraic make up of the Oedipus complex is the key: it is the point of the emergence of consciousness once the Name of the Father is given up, or it is the point of being forever locked in an inner oblivion if one chooses to retain this godly name for oneself…
The Decider’s ship descended through the snowstorm, coughing up a wave of ice. The haggard ship was built to withstand such conditions, its birdlike feet adjusting to the shifting shape of the ground. Seconds after landing a pole emerged slowly from the top of the ship, and reached higher and higher into the blizzard. Once fully extended it was around twice the height of the ship. Then the pole began to open out in an action much like that of an umbrella. Once opened it formed a perfect half-sphere dome which slowly lowered until it covered the ship so it looked like some colossal snow globe. Next gill-like vents on the side of the ship opened, and began pumping seething hot air into the inner globe, and soon enough, the ice started to melt, and the globe began to slowly sink deep into the ice.
The ship continued its descent through the icy mantle, whilst the evaporating ice caused the globe to fill with steam. After a few minutes the ship’s feet touched upon a flat surface, and the steam was quickly sucked into a vacuum tube.
Total darkness. The only sound was the gentle baritone of the ship’s resting engine.
After a few moments a faint blue pulsating light began to emit from the ship, it rippled down the ship’s flanks like the neon lights of deep-sea plankton.
Then the cockpit hissed open and a walkway glided towards the ground.
The Decider disembarked.
The body of his suit was jet black, and made up of hundreds of tiny jagged intersecting plates which looked distinctly reptilian. His enormous helmet was made up of thousands of coloured gems which were patterned to look like some smirking shamanic mask. Immense tusks of some ancient beast spiralled into the air from the cranium, and a mass of leathery cords formed a mottley mane.
The Decider’s body was almost invisible in the darkened space of the dome, but the great helmet sparkled radiantly in the shimmering blue light. The head floated in the void like some tribal specter.
The Decider’s movements were quick, insectile. He seemed keen to finish his task. He knelt on the flat ground a little way from the ship, and from the thigh of his scaly armour he pulled a dagger, which started to glow with scolding heat. He delicately pressed the tip of the dagger into the ground, and after a few seconds the tip melted through the surface.
He carefully cut out a circle with the blade, and once finished he placed the dagger back in its unseen holster.
With no hesitation he jumped into the centre of the circle with all his weight, and fell through into blackness.
The Decider calmly plummeted through the dark, the scales of his suit opening like miniature ailerons to slow his descent, and within seconds he dropped lightly onto the waiting ground. The glaring yellow eyes of his helmet lit up like spotlights so that he could see his nearby surroundings. The ground was covered in what looked like black vines, thousands upon thousands of them. He picked one up and cut through it with his heated dagger, and it let out a loud spark which momentarily lit up the pitch dark like a flare. Not vines, electrical wires.
The flash revealed a tall structure nearby which the wires seemed to move toward like the central nervous system of some sleeping god. The Decider made his way towards it nimbly across the sinewy floor.
Suddenly he heard a scuttling sound from the darkness. He glanced towards it, but the sound stopped. Whatever it was, it was beyond his range of sight. He pulled out the dagger and kept moving. His glowing eyes continued to scan the darkness like prison lights.
Then the scuttling came again, this time much closer. He snagged a wire and cut through it, again lighting up the dark like a flashbang. This time The Decider caught a glimpse of the thing in the dark. It was around a hundred feet away – a cluster of mechanical legs huddled beneath a great armoured shell, like some gargantuan robotic trilobite patrolling the ocean depths.
The Decider ran, and the trilobite instinctively gave chase.
For its size it moved with breathtaking speed, closing the gap within moments. The Decider could hear just a few feet behind, the mechanical legs clicking like a frantic typewriters as it clambered hungrily over the mesh.
The Decider sensed it was readying to strike. But before it could, he reached down and ran his dagger through the topmost wires, sending a trail of sparks like firecrackers in his wake. The trilobate gave an agonised shriek, a sound not unlike the dial-up crescendo, before receding into the pitch darkness once more.
The Decider had reached the structure at the wiry core. Here the wires raised and twisted to form a gigantic wiry stalagmite. There was no door, only a thin opening through which The Decider struggled to fit his broad horned helmet.
Once inside the floor illuminated a deep green under his footsteps. He made his way confidently through the labyrinthine passages, and soon came upon the central atrium.
In the centre of the large room was a towering statue of a figure similarly adorned to The Decider, only much more regal. This figure was cloaked, and held a hammer as long as the tallest man. His gigantic mask was encrusted with fist-sized diamonds of all different colours, and the curved ebony horns made The Decider’s look paltry by comparison. Whilst the ghostly visage depicted on The Decider’s mask was sneering, the visage on the statue was neutral, observant even.
The dim green light revealed some intricate designs on the cave walls. The wires had been warped and contorted into images depicting some seemingly ancient civilisation: thousands of figures praying to these great sacred towers, great ships and technologies which somehow seem at once natural and mechanical.
Barely perceivable at the foot of the statue, immersed in the tangle of wires like the fettered prey of a spider, were two unmoving figures. These figures were unmasked. They were hairless, their faces leached of any colour, their open eyes veiled by a thick silvery cataract. They looked like what a human might look like after adapting to living deep underground in darkness for thousands of years.
These were The Accused.
The Decider approached, and they slowly turned to face him with their empty, film-covered eyes.
Then the Decider spoke, his sonorous voice echoing through the halls.
“Awaken Accused. A decision has been made”…
NB: featured image is by Luke Fielding of deviantart, and the image comes from a series inspired by Peter V Brett’s incredible Demonwar saga – highly recommended!