Being an author comes with a number of perks. You can do weird things and call it “Book Research” and no one really questions you. You can get away with asking people random personal questions and they think it’s cool. You get to torture people and, sometimes, even kill them off (in the book). On top of that, you get to create things that other people enjoy, which is one of the greatest things one can do in life.
However, there are also some cons. You’re constantly living in a world of half-distraction, thinking about the worlds inside your own mind. It’s harder to read without being extremely analytical. Generally, you have crippling self doubt issues. And, worst of all, sometimes you have great projects and the seeds of ideas that just die. You don’t have the time to work on all the projects all the time. Sometimes you don’t get to write all the things. They die.
Here’s one such project I started back in February last year that just died. It was in response to the FutureScapes Writing Contest prompt for 2016 which requested participants write about how a city of the future would increase community involvement in the political structure of the world. I ended up not entering the contest that year and so this story died. Thankfully, a perk of being a writer is I’m allowed to resurrect things at will (bonus points if you get the irony in that remark).
Anyway, here’s the unfinished, unedited story in all it’s glory.
Dr. Chet Abenthy looked down at the incision at the base of his patient’s neck and gave a small smile of satisfaction beneath his face mask. Though the electrodes and their little wires that would connect the patient to the Neural Net would be implanted by machine, there was no replicating his delicate work. One tiny slip, one minute miscalculation on the depth of the cut, and the patient would be a paraplegic for the rest of their life. They’d still get connected to the Net, but they’d lose their mobility. Not a great loss to the community at large since the patient’s consciousness would still be present in the Net to interact at every important social level. At least that’s how the politicians sold it to the people. It mattered to the patient. It mattered to Chet.
“This one’s ready for Integration,” Chet said, nodding to his assistant, “have them prep the next patient.”
It was nearing election season. They were paying him a lot of money to get as many through the system as they could. He switched gloves and started on the next patient.
David itched at the bandage at the base of his skull, though the action was almost involuntary in and of itself. The Net raced through his mind, searching for the answer the professor had just levelled at the class. It had taken David a solid week of effort to get used to the idea of having access to the Neural Net, the upgraded edition of the internet that had been so integral in his grandparent’s lives, on a constant basis. Terminals still existed where the “non-Integrated” could attach their tablets or laptops to the Net, but the experience paled in comparison, paled by half. Before Integration, surfing the Net was like riding an intertube on the lake behind a rowboat. Now, fully Integrated, it was like catching the surf off Pe’ahi in Hawaii.
“(Insert political answer),” David said, ignoring the hand raising rule. What are we, five?
The professor turned to look at him, though the man’s expression was half glazed for a brief moment. What was his name again? That’s right, Professor Wells.
“That’s correct. However, I should remind students that accessing the Net for answers to questions in class does not count as actual participation. Knowledge learned is better than information gleaned.”
Great. One of those old schoolers. One of the kids in front of David turned and gave him a thumbs up. David grinned back at him.
In truth, David knew he should have expected that. Arizona State was one of the few universities that actually had an in-person element left to their classes. What was the point to having students travel to and from class, mingle with other students, and work in group projects in person when one could simply hop onto the Net and join a virtual classroom discussion in progress. The virtual classrooms blew through material twice as quickly as in person ones. At least, that’s what the Net said anyway.
The rest of class passed in a dull blur. The droning sound of Professor Wells’ voice almost put David into a catatonic state, so he did what most Integrated students did. He played some games on the Net while recording the professor’s lecture for later processing. He’d have a program on the Net convert it to text while he was sleeping. The classroom’s Net interface would record his overt disobedience, he knew, but what were a few participation points really in the grand scheme of things? They could use the Net on their tests, so it all came down to useless posturing on the part of the professor anyway. Besides, his dad was the mayor of Los Angeles and as connected as they came in the political world. When class finally ended, David’s seat emptied faster than anyone else’s.
“Time for the weekend!” David shouted once he was in the hall.
“Weekend? Dude, it’s only Wednesday,” someone from the call said, though David had never learned his name. An almost instantaneous Net search pulled it up. Justin. Seventeen, not yet Integrated. David turn to look at him, a grin plastered across his face.
“That’s when my weekends start, sucka.”
The look of surprise on Justin’s face was priceless. David snapped a couple of images by blinking and instantly uploaded them to the Net with the caption “your face when your weekend doesn’t start on Wednesday.” It had at least a dozen likes and comments on it before David took the remaining two steps to the door leading out to the waiting car and stepped into the pale orange sunlight.
David’s dad used to talk about a time when the sky was blue more often than orange, but David wasn’t sure he believed it. True, the few days a week he spent in Arizona he saw far more days with blue skies than he ever had in LA, but even then, it was about as frequent as having a non-boring lecture.
Justin made it out the door at about the same time that David made it to the open door of the waiting car.
“Hey!” Justin shouted, “just ‘cause you’re rich and Integrated doesn’t mean you can treat the rest of us like dirt.”
David suppressed a small smile. Gerald, the chauffeur, raised a quizzical eyebrow at David, but David ignored it. Justin must have checked his handheld phone. Archaic.
“I’m not treating you like dirt,” David said, “I’m treating you like stupid. There’s a difference. Let’s go, Gerald.”
David made sure to wink at Justin before sliding into his seat and letting Gerald shut the door behind him. Justin’s expression – like that of his cohorts, was just too good to pass up. David snapped a couple more pictures, looked up the names of everyone in the picture in the space it took to draw breath, and uploaded the lot of them to a community discussion board linked with the student body. Let them meme that one to pieces.
“How was class today, sir?” Gerald asked from the front seat. The short, balding man was nothing if not predictable. He asked the same question every day, without fail.
“Fine, Gerald. Just fine.”
David winced slightly as a personal message appeared in his mind’s eye. When Integration took place, the doctor had told him it would hurt for a while when someone tried to get his direct attention – something about how the wires crossed nerve endings that connected to the pain centers of the brain – but had assured him it would fade. It was less painful now than it had been, but still hurt.
The message turned out to be from his father. The school had contacted him about David’s vagrancy in class and the little debacle with Justin afterwards. His father used words like “disappointed”, “bully”, and “vagrant ways.” David promptly deleted the message.
David looked up. He hadn’t realized Gerald had been talking.
“Lost in the Nets, sir?”
David grinned and shrugged. “Dad’s disappointed in me again. What’s new?”
“Oh, sir,” Gerald said, glancing at David through the rear-view mirror, “he just wants what’s best for you.”
David snorted. “He wants what’s best for his career. He’s got eyes on a Senate seat and everyone knows it.”
By this time, they’d made it to the airport terminal. The nice thing about going to ASU was its proximity to one of David’s most favorite places in the world, the way out of Arizona. David couldn’t even begin to quantify his gratitude at not having summer term here. The ninety degree plus temperature in the fall was bad enough.
“Well, thanks for the ride, Gerald,” David said as they pulled up to the curb.
“Do you have your ticket and boarding pass, sir?”
David tapped the side of his head. “Got it right here.”
Gerald shook his head and stepped out of the car to get David’s door. David made a point of transferring some money to Gerald’s account via the Net before grabbing his bags and bidding the man farewell. Gerald nodded at him and gave a rare smile.
“See you on Tuesday, sir.”