Author : Douglas Woods
:::Hash total error:::Download failed:::
Panic. The floor sloped away to a dark abyss, rolling me inexorably forward. Oblivion.
Heads around me turned, slow, dumb, cow-like eyes passing over me without recognition. Dull orbs blinked in unison. Arms moved, not towards me, not grasping. Echo of a persistent, hungry drum. Involuntarily my right arm lifted in the first impulse of a complex motion performed–how many times? Turning, I stumbled away from the clanking ribbon of machinery. The..man?..to my right froze in his motion, hand cradling a plastic wedge that suddenly had no orifice to mate with. Insert tab A into slot B. Part of the mechanism was missing.
I had to get out, but had no idea where I was, who I was. Green light, a relic of another time, told me of “Exit”. Exit I understood. Exit before the repairman arrived.
I was outside, the inverse of inside. Blue and white. The black ground reached for me, cracked with green filaments thrusting from the voids. Grass, I suddenly knew. On my hands and knees my stomach heaved, dry and painful. I was empty. I could not remember eating, drinking, sleeping…an empty vessel ready to hold–what?
Later, propped against a tree, rough oatmeal-colored clothing ripped, knees and palms bloodied by the part run, part crawl to cover. How much time before they came? Was I safe? Out of range? Involuntarily my hand covered the small, metal contact behind my right ear. I had a PIP. I had to be out of range before the next Connect. I ran some more, remembered more.
The change had come suddenly. The PIP was only a tool, we were told, a neural interface to the electronic shroud of data and services that clung to the surface of the planet to a depth of thirty-odd miles. Only those who could show need, or could use it productively, or could afford it would be provided one. I was a teacher, so was fitted with the device. In a small way I felt the way God must feel, all knowing, all seeing. I couldn’t recall if it had made me a better teacher. The PIP, I thought (was it my thought?) was the pinnacle of human invention. Then came Dobbs vs. Minnesota, and a Supreme Court ruling that the playing field had to be level. No one should have an “unfair” advantage, at least not one that had not been provided initially by Mother Nature. Everyone was to have a PIP, whether they wanted one or no. It was a short step from that to Universal Mediocrity, where even home and heredity were to be set aside. The human brain, it turned out, was ill equipped to fend off the kind of invasion that soon followed. Dampers were downloaded that spread like a slow smile over the face of the human race. All the same, all happy, made in the image of those who knew what was best for us.
I stopped. There was no flight, no “out of range”. The ground beneath me was asphalt, had been a road. From the overgrowth and lack of upkeep it was obvious there had been no traffic for many years. A hundred yards ahead the course of the road turned to the right, disappearing into the trees and undergrowth. I heard a bird. I smelled the sharp, acidic odor of the brown leaves and petroleum tang of the hot pavement. The sun beat down directly on my head.
:::New hardware found:::
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