Author : Jeff Phillips

Grace took her hat off, wiping the beads of sweat from her forehead with the back of her aged hand. She hated the angle of the sun at this time of day, but this was the only place on the grounds where she felt alive. Butterflies lit on the hummingbird bushes that flowed musically from the wind. For just a moment, she saw the faint ghostly image of a cursor blinking to the right of her view. She froze, allowing the image to blink, blink, blink until it disappeared. Grace knew, just like any other institution resident would, that the cursor wasn’t real. It was only misfiring neurons, replaying sensory input from 52 years of computer use.

The institutions–thousands of them across the world–were created for patients like Grace Dawkins. Everyone born after the mandatory integration of the “Internet” into the human brain became a patient, almost without exception. The only individuals who escaped the symptoms of the integration residue were those who lived in all-natural communes in desolate areas, or those with brain damage who never fully integrated to begin with.

Grace grew up in Pittsburg, one of the first ten cities to be integrated with the wireless, government-funded “I-Net” hubs. After a resident received the minor outpatient surgery necessary to link up, the collective consciousness of the world was accessible with a thought. At that time, 33-year-old Dr. Grace Dawkins was the lead bioengineer for the project at the Department of Homeland Security, to which Congress gave the funding. Grace remembered the years of human testing, from low-level brain-machine connections to the first real mind-controlled computer. And she had been in the lab when Dr. Shah became the first human to interact with the original Internet using only his mind. She never would have proposed the project if she had known about the consequences. Elderly people who were connected more than half of their lives began to have intrusive leftover images from the half-brain, half-computer I-Net. Flashes, flutters, ghost images, and withdrawal symptoms started showing up as the integrated population aged. Scientists and doctors from the government’s own agencies began to question the safety of I-Net. Dr. Grace Dawkins and her life’s work eventually became a curse to humankind, sending millions of people to institutions late in their lives in order to disintegrate from I-Net.

A deep-red cardinal landed on the bird feeder and scared the other, smaller birds away in a flutter. Grace’s eyes picked up the action which released shocks of electricity in the vision center of her brain. That’s why she loved this place–so full of action and life. It was the only place at the institution that gave her sensory input that came anywhere close to I-Net. Although the amount of information was miniscule compared to being linked to every computer in the world, this garden reminded her of that feeling. Grace imagined for a moment that she could access data about the cardinal, the weather, the evergreen trees in the background—anything she wanted to know more about. Her mind instinctively tried to link up to I-Net, but then a flash of words entered her mind in a jumbled mess and she felt dizzy, reminding her how profoundly the net had corrupted her brain.

Grace took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and listened to the singing birds.

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows