Author: S.R Malone

None were allowed to upset the status quo.

This was the point of the neuro-signalling headsets, to stem the tide of those whose thoughts proved too much for society. Were these dangerous folk? No, not always. In fact, they’re your regular Joes: partners, employees, friends, neighbours.

Tristan Jasinski is one such man. He is the loyal, and for a long time, obedient husband of Mara Jasinski. He is no revolutionary. At least, not yet.

The headset buzzed against his forehead every time it registered too much stimulation. Anger, curiosity— the subject conditioned to change their thought process. The higher powers are near untouchable, and our emotions are policed.

When Mara Jasinski landed a last-minute interview for the position Tristan had been coveting, he was supportive. When she was awarded the position, he was disheartened. Upset, he aired his disappointment, his woe at not breaking free of his role in administration. The next day, Mrs Jasinski had her husband fitted for a headset. Now he doesn’t complain.

One rainy morning in March, I run into Tristan at an auto shop downtown. He had brought his wife’s new car in for an alternate paintjob, and was waiting patiently in the draughty foyer. Our meeting was no accident, much as I would have him think it was.

“My name is Liv,” I extend a hand. Liv wasn’t my real name, not even close.
“Tristan,” he smiles. I tell him my car is having two tyres replaced, and he believes me.

Over the next hour, I warm up to telling him about myself. It was well-rehearsed, but with the mechanics in the back, there was no one to doubt my credibility. Tristan certainly didn’t; his headset wouldn’t allow him to question me. I explain who I work for, my employer being the infamous Desiderata.

Desiderata, dubbed ‘humankind’s pessimistress’, is public enemy number one. She stays hidden behind vidnet screens and a masquerade mask, often as a white rabbit in a silk dress and combat boots. We work for her, cleaning the oppressive rot from society. We upset those in power, and those who have a false sense of it. Like Mara Jasinski.

Tristan tells me how he does not dream anymore, that his mind plays a reel of colours at night, like a kaleidoscope. There and then, I pull the switch. The headset slips from around his head, replaced with a powerless lookalike. It would emit an alarm, but I learned from Des how to suppress this. All I ask of Tristan is an invite to his wife’s soiree this Friday, where her colleagues would be in attendance.

Mara Jasinski works at the local television network, under station manager Ezra Madigan. I’d wager they were having an affair behind her subdued husband’s back. They both ridicule Tristan while he stands before them at the party, drinks tray in hand. I told him previously to grin and bear it, for now. His migraines have cleared, a side effect of my removing the device, and he is fully awake.

I sweet-talk Mara, saying I like her revolting post-future art. I have Tristan ask her into the study, where she viciously berates him for wasting her time. I emerge and slip the headset on her; her malachite eyes go wide as she freezes, understanding the gravity of her situation. Her thoughts of fury are met with burning rebukes from the device.

She submits.

Tristan smiles, his first genuine smile in a long time. Desiderata would love to get her talons into the network, and Mrs Jasinski is just the woman for the job.