Fiction Science Fiction

A warm auburn glow beneath the skin of her eyelids slowly welcomed Tess to the new day. There was a comforting pressure weighing down on her chest, warm, woolly, ever so slightly moving with the rhythm of breath. Slowly, she opened her right eye, daring to steal a glance at her overlord. This, of course, was what we will call a bad idea. Two vertical pupil slits swam atop topaz spheres in front of her. They were alert, and they were locked onto her before her vision was even able to focus. Snapping her eye shut at once, her body stiffened, hoping to pass for someone who is still very much asleep, yet maybe recently suffered an involuntary twitch of the eyelid. One painstaking moment had passed when she felt the sandpaper pad of one outstretched paw tap her on the lower corner of her left jaw. Any continued shenanigans from this point forward would quickly see the cat’s feigned patience wear thin, ending more often than not with a swipe across the face.

“Mmmph, fine,” she grumbled, pulling at the unkempt curl that tangled with her fluttering eyelashes. As she threw her blankets to the side, the cat soundlessly sprang to his feet, disappearing down the hallway as he pranced to where the promise of food was eminent. “It is really much too early for a Saturday,” she grumbled under her breath. It was 6:47 when Tess made note of the clock on her bedside. She donned herself in an oversized sweatshirt she spotted in a knot by her feet. As she stumbled out of the bedroom, she noticed the collection of animal hair pressed into the fibers of her comforter and tried not to calculate how long it had been since she’d washed her sheets...2 months..3?

A small detour to the coffee maker later, and she was sitting cross legged on her living room floor, laptop open as she logged onto her NeuroRep account. The morning light reflected off of suspended particles of dust, illuminating the merlot stain atop her hand me down plaid couch. The lull of car horns and chatter from the Tribeca streets below was a never ceasing white noise that soothed Tess as she organized her scattered thoughts. She smacked the side of her computer as it sat frozen on the loading page, flashing her the company logo: “Empowering the World to Reimagine Themselves”. The nutty smell of her morning brew hit her nose just as her computer magically decided to do what all good computers should do, work. 

A scratchy “meooowr” came from the corner of the room, the sassy Siamese becoming more agitated with each food-free passing moment. 

“Okay, yes, sorry,” Tess replied as she collected her brunette locks into a messy knot atop her head. She skimmed through the debriefing notice for the day. “Your name’s Presley?” With the mention of his name, Presley sat a few inches taller, tilting his head as he awaited instructions. Tess began typing as she recited her key observations aloud. “Responds to name... check. Wakes up at ungodly hours of the morning...check.” Tess leaned over to grab the stack of colored flash cards which sat waiting on her end table, slowly following her predetermined orders as she laid down a blue, green and then black card in front of her shins. “Well, come here,” she said impatiently, motioning for Presley to approach her. “Which one?”

Presley sauntered over to Tess, stopping briefly to glance down at the cards before lifting his front leg and placing his paw atop the center harlequin green. He looked up at Tess for approval whose fingers were already dancing away at her keyboard, “First one correct, good job, dude. Follow me.”

The pair left their supplies spread across the hardwood floor, and Tess opened an outdated wooden cabinet, skimming over the array of pet food stacked before her and opting for the cat variety. “You only get a scoop now, and more after the next round.” She often found herself talking to the subjects as if they could understand her. She had been in New York for five months now, and aside from serving sugar saturated coffees to credulous university students, she didn’t get much human interaction. She didn’t even like cats. A particularly ornery tabby attacked her ankles once at a sleepover. Her reaction at the time was to dash in the opposite direction, leading her face to collide with the side of her friend’s bureau and resulting in a permanent chip to her front right tooth and a slightly bruised self-image. She hated that chipped tooth more than anything and promised herself that when she made a decent living she would start saving to get it repaired. Really, she was only passing time until a certain amount of “research experience” categorized her resume as suitable for a position without the prelude of “intern” in the title. At least in this job she didn’t have to wear a visor.

She was absentmindedly staring through the cracked window frame above her stack of fermenting dishes, holding a chipped mug of black coffee as it cooled in her hands. If Tess were honest with herself, this was not the job she thought she was taking when she was recruited to work for NeuroRep. The flyer peering out from the glass window of a Sbarro advertised a chance to impact the world, to create a better future and blah, blah pandering baloney. The technicalities of how NeuroRep operated was kept under lock and key, and as the intern for animal behavior, Tess’s knowledge was limited to a need to know basis. Apparently, all she needed to know was how to scoop a litter box. From what Tess understood, emerging neuroimaging technology was now able to isolate the precise neural activity of memory recall. With this information available, electrical stimulation of these pathways could erase memories, alter existing ones, or even form new ones. The process clearly worked, first on mice, then on rabbits, and now on an endless cycle of cats which she would pick up from the NeuroRep headquarters after her shift of caffeinating what felt like New York’s entire adult population.

Tess was the lucky tribute tasked with the crushing responsibility of reporting each cat's ability to perform tasks which they were taught through the magic which was the NeuroRep intellectual property. It was only a matter of time before it was used in humans, the company boasting its applications to heal from trauma or PTSD for the few who could actually afford the procedure. But a growing thorn of worry had started growing in the back of Tess’s mind, becoming harder to ignore as it poked around in her cortex. The prospect of someone being able to tamper with your mind, your history, was profoundly disturbing. Would you even know if…

She was suddenly dropped back in her kitchen as Presley circled her ankles, ready for his second task of the morning. “Right,” Tess responded. Within moments, a second set of cards was displayed in front of Presley, and with his paw pressed to the correct answer, he was awarded with another spoonful of food. “I’ll be right back, I just need to brush my teeth.”

She puttered toward the closet off the main hallway which was generously described by the landlord to be a full bath. She kept the door open behind her as she used the toilet - closing it required an acrobatic dance which involved standing on top of the toilet seat. Presley would simply be the newest member of the NeuroRep animal house of cats that have watched Tess pee. As she finished, turning to stand in front of the mirror, she took note of how much her time in the city had changed her. A few more grey hairs peppered the loose strands, framing her face as they fell from her bun. One new wrinkle was forming across her forehead, no doubt a souvenir from every angry assistant storming back into the coffee house, complaining that their boss likes their coffee 5 degrees hotter than what it was served at. Dolloping out a healthy portion of bargain brand toothpaste, she raised her toothbrush to her mouth catching a glimpse of what immediately struck her as a set of peculiarly perfect, startlingly straight set of teeth.

Tess hardly noticed when the toothbrush fell from her hand, clattering against the edge of the sink. She didn’t sense the stare of Presley as he tiptoed around her feet, wondering when his next task would present itself. Her unmoving stare pierced between her lips, the corners of her vision turning dark, her limbs unfeeling and boneless, a ringing in her ears drowning out the sounds of the city. She thought it ironic, as everything went black, that no one had told the behavior intern that human trials had begun.

February 24, 2021 20:51

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Leo Hall
23:26 Jul 06, 2021

This is so underrated-


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22:37 Mar 03, 2021

Really enjoyed reading how she was working with the cat, and then the realization that the human trials had started. Interesting. Well done.


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