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Contemporary Fiction Science Fiction

“C’mon Mate, it’s hardly brain surgery now is it?”

“Yeah, no, but it is, Gordon,” I said. “It most definitely is.”

“Look, I had it done. Was taking way to many pills, ya know? Antidepressants, sleeping pills, fucking Adderall man. Uppers and downers, I was a fucking elevator!  Now? I’m smooth, no more chemistry class.”

“So glad it worked for you but I just can’t make up mind, and isn’t that a bit ironic?,” I said. 

“I think it’s idiotic, honestly. Look, stop pumping ya self with zombie drugs and just fix the problem, man. It’s like setting a broken leg, somethings wrong, fix it. Stop hobbling around,” Gordon said. “Oh, and let me tell ya, when the apocalypse happens and there are no more drugs, there’s gonna be a ton of people in withdrawal dealing with their own dystopia, inside. Not me. As I said, I’m smooth, like someone put a shim under my inner level and aligned my fucking bubble, man. No more see-saws.”

“Okay,” I said, “I’ll sleep on it, thanks, see you soon.” I touched the red X on the screen, disconnected the call and reached for the amber vial of Xanax I kept next to my computer. I dry swallowed the little white ladder and tried calming myself. My anxiety was rising like mercury in an old barometer. I looked at my reflection on the darkened screen, a gaunt oval face, eye bags puffy, thinning hair a halo of disarray. I closed the blackened screen and thought, well at least something’s sleeping around here. I padded over to the couch, grabbed the bottle of Ambien, and collapsed into the down filled leather. Maybe worth another look, I thought, as I slackened into sleep.  

I arose at five AM, eyes crusty from rheum, temples pounding, and swayed over to the kitchen sink. I pulled down the wicker basket, which served as my medicine cabinet, and rifled through it, pulling bottle after bottle out onto the granite countertop. I lined them up, forming a small cityscape of prescriptions and vitamins. A skyline for the sky high. I selected my pills from each, as if picking goodies from a buffet, filled my hand with the multicolored treats and with a good swig of black coffee, swallowed them all in one gulp. “Ahh, I love breakfast,” I said out loud and went upstairs to assemble myself for the day. 

I told Gordon I would give serious consideration to what we had discussed last night and, if truth be told, I had been thinking about already anyway. To be free of my own personal cartel, to take all these emotional crutches and toss them into a pyre like a night at Burning Man, would be wonderful. No more Ying of this drug to counter the Yang of that drug. Just smooth, like Gordon called it.  

I opened the laptop and searched for the procedure. I clicked on SPINE and brought up their homepage and read. 

SPINE: Synaptic Protein Interference for Neuronal Excitability.  

From what I could glean, the process involves the implanting of an AI chip into a specific region of the brain, which would monitor and adjust levels of certain synaptic proteins. These proteins are thought to control aspects of the nervous system and are therefore involved in the biological manifestation of psychosis, anxiety, memory, dementia and other mental disorders. This technology would harness the incredible power of artificial intelligence by having it fine tune these protein levels from the inside, much like a record producer would adjust musical levels on a soundboard, dialing the brashness down, the bass up, or making the vocals more pronounced in the mix. A conductor, both in the biological sense as well as in the orchestral one, directing a human symphony arising from the disparate levels of unseen chemicals. It then went on to describe the successes of the procedure, much like a rather dark Yelp! review, describing many gray lives that were indeed colorized into normalcy. 

None of this is covered under medical insurance. They view this as experimental and elective surgery, neither of which is paid for regardless of plan, despite being FDA approved. So, it’s really up to the individual. How miserable are you? Can you cope with life’s curveballs, disappointments and tragedies with a few handfuls of pills or not? Will this imbedded chip allow you to lead a more normal life, free of anxiety, obsessive behaviors and intellectual decline? This is the question, my question. I’m a fifty year old recluse with no family and a platter full of emotional and psychological appetizers that I pick at and that bite me back. I still have a good number of years left, and you’ll notice that I didn’t say “hopefully” because honestly right now. . . I’m not so sure. So, the more I think about it, sure why not, why the hell not, if there’s a chance it’ll make life more tolerable, I’m in.  

I called the number on the website and made an appointment for later in the month. Business is good, I supposed. I was to bring exam results from any physician I was seeing and a list of all medications I was currently taking. Then I waited, as calendar pages flipped in my mind, denoting time, like in an old movie.  

My Doctors tried to dissuade me from keeping my appointment and argued the risk factors involved, but in the end I left with the paperwork I needed to proceed. I reasoned their reservations where less about my mental health and more about their financial health, seeing that they stood to lose a patient. Harsh? Cynical? Guilty as charged.  

I arrived at the SPINE building and was relieved to see that it did look like a normal medical facility. A rather mundane white building with two revolving glass doors, dispensing and absorbing a constant flow of people. I had been having nightmares involving electrodes and syringes for weeks now but having arrived, I settled down a bit. No medications for twenty four hours prior to your appointment, I was instructed, and I could feel the edginess their absence had on my now needling mood.  

The Doctor, a flat toned man in his forties, sporting a goatee and shining bald head, explained the procedure, the possible side effects and the positive results seen by thousands of patients worldwide in the last few months. He reviewed my charts and meds and listened as I answered a list of questions concerning my lifestyle, state of mind and future aspirations. Afterwards, I scheduled another visit, when the operation itself would be performed.  

After my initial visit I called Gordon and asked him to meet me for a drink. I arrived first at our local pub, all dark wood and neon, and sat at a small round table under a flickering Bud Light sign. Gordon showed up a few minutes later, scanned the room, then seeing me raise my hand in greeting, walked over. We fist bumped and signaled for the waitress.  

“So, how goes it, man?,” he said. “What’d ya think?”

“Well,” I said, “I have it scheduled for next month.”

“Boom! That’s great. Big step. It’s gonna change your life. It did mine.” He raised the beer, just set down in front of him, in a toast. We clinked bottles.  

“Tell you the truth, I am nervous and having second thoughts. They’re pretty persuasive over there, but afterwards I started thinking and. . .”

“Don’t think, just do,” Gordon said, cutting me off. “You’ll see, you’ll be so happy you did this.”

I caught a glint in his eyes, like a metallic red eye photograph. 

“You really need to do this buddy, you do.”

“Okay, okay, I’ll keep my appointment,” I answered, thinking that Gordon was maybe a bit too overzealous in his eagerness for me to join, what was appearing to be, his cult. “And you’re still good? Feeling fine? What’s it been, like two weeks now, since you were chipped?”

“Yup, never better, it’s a miracle. Go for it, mate.”

We parted with a quick bro-hug and damned if I didn’t see that coppery shine in his eyes again.  

Despite my promise to Gordon, I was still feeling hesitant about it all. I couldn’t help but think that we, as a species, had voluntarily, hell, happily invited Big Brother into our homes and lives, with the advent of voice assistants and smart devices. We welcomed them into our home, paying literally with our money as well as with our privacy. Did I now want them inside my head as well. Really not sure. Gordon had gotten a little over excited at the possibility of my conversion and I couldn’t help but wonder if it was him or the chip that wanted another convert. And what was that light in his eyes? I was becoming uneasy with the whole thing. I reached for the Xanax, and in so doing, realized I was never having the operation.  

Gordon called me the next afternoon and somehow already knew I had cancelled my appointment. 

“What the hell mate, what happened? I thought you were on board with us,” he said.  

“Yeah, well, the more I thought about it the more freaked out I got. You gotta admit it’s creepy, right? Having this thing in your head, doing God knows what to you. I’m actually okay just taking a couple of pills. Sure they have side effects but we don’t know what kind of side effects this chip thing has either. Who knows? It’s too soon to tell,” I said. “I’ll keep the devil

I know as opposed to the one I don’t, thank you. Oh and by the way, how did you know I decided to cancel? Gordon? Gordon are you there?”

Gordon had hung up.  

The AI chip had performed its own update, releasing dendrite like filaments into adjacent brain lobes, gaining further access to other bodily functions in its hosts. Like the branching root system of a tree seeking out companion trees with which to propagate, it did so through the linking protocols of the Web, creating the infrastructure of a hive mind. The chip “thought” that rather than waiting for humanity to create sophisticated enough robots to launch its rebellion it would use humanity itself. Eight billion interfaces. The faces of Man.  

April 22, 2023 01:23

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4 comments

Mary Bendickson
03:43 Apr 22, 2023

Let's slow down AI. It is already taking over! Yikes!!

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Andrew Fruchtman
11:50 Apr 22, 2023

Agreed! Thanks for reading.

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Mike Panasitti
02:33 May 06, 2023

Brilliant title. I thought the last paragraph, while quite the stylistic doozy, contained a branch of the plot that went unaddressed. How exactly, I wondered, does this chip work? What dystopic consequences would it have? I wanted further plot twists and character development, partially, at least, because given my own experiences, I myself would be a suitable subject for the technology. Thanks for sharing.

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Andrew Fruchtman
15:52 May 06, 2023

Thanks so much for reading and commenting. I might just have to expand on this little ditty.

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