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