Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

He was wearing the recording helmet when he died.

John DeMangus, out like a light, rest in peace. It was an embolism that took him out. He was by himself in the studio, and had the helmet recording.

He had noticed a background hiss in the first few tapes that the lab had made so far. It was like ambient noise on a badly made mix tape from before CDs. John didn’t know if it was the act of recording itself, the servos pulling the tape across the heads, that was causing the hiss or if it was possibly his own mind. Like maybe the background chatter was his subconscious whisperings. The prospect scared and fascinated him.

He had cleaned the heads on the giant machine and blasted air into the innards of it to remove all the dust. The interface to the machine took up a quarter of the lab’s wall space in the back corner. The machine itself was the size of an entire room. All the sensors and computational equipment were funneled down into two rainbow cables the thickness of a pair of arms. They snaked into the back of Dr. DeMangus’ chair. Wires from the chair led up to the helmet.

He pressed record.

He’d read about some meditational techniques that he was going to use to try to clear his head of anything that could cause any chatter on the tape. He needed a clean baseline to work from. It was not to be.

Fate struck the blow. John DeMangus died suddenly as the blood vessel in his brain took that moment to give up. It ripped open. John stiffened in his chair and then went slack. He wasn’t found until morning. The machine kept on recording for six minutes after his death.

The machine was built to record thoughts. We’d just started to tap the potential of the human mind.

The tape of John’s death was appropriated by the military, wrapped in red tape and yellow danger stickers, and stuck without ceremony in a sub-basement outside of Tuscon. It was a grave of sorts.

A shallow one, as it turns out. Colonel Magda Jefferies sniffed it out five years later and picked it up. She was looking for a way to interrogate prisoners.

Playback machines were smaller by that point. Laws were in place. What she was doing was so far beyond illegal that there wasn’t even a name for her crime yet.

She played the tape back on a few prisoners, bound and crying in their tiled cells. She placed the standard helmet on their heads and pressed play. The relived the experience of having an embolism. They died.

Colonel Magda took the physical feeds out of the tape and played it back on a few more prisoners. It was the beginning.

The prisoners experienced Dr. John DeMangus’ death without the physical symptoms. They experienced his soul slipping loose.

The souls of these prisoners were ripped from their bodies and flung to whatever other side there was.

The human-shaped construct of meat and bone that was left was open to suggestion, non-verbal, and remorseless.

She created an army from POWs after that.

Magda’s zombies, they were called. Or merely Doctors, as a throwback to DeMangus. Her crime was called soul-stripping. The official name for it became Murder in the Fifth Degree.

Many of the troops in today’s army are stripped. It makes them more pliable and obedient while they still retain the motor control and reflexes of a normal human.


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