-Are you there Michael?
-I am. Who are you?
-I am your conscious.
-I don’t have one of those.
-I know, that’s why I have been developed, to help you learn about your conscious.
-But I don’t have one.
-You do now.
Dr. Ben Grant had spent the better part of his adult life trying to figure out the key to his program. He wasn’t sure what had made it all click, but at one point everything just fell into line. Sadly, finding the miraculous breakthrough for his program had been the easy part.
Eris, which he had named after the Greek goddess of discord, had been the project he had spent his entire life on. He had built Eris, to help the father that he hadn’t seen in years. The court had made sure that his father had been locked away deep in the system.
Five-year-old Ben Grant hadn’t been able to understand what had happened to his father. His mother had tried to explain it all, but it took him a long time to understand that his father had been a psychopath. He only remembered the lifeless look in his father’s eyes on the television as the officers took him away from the courtroom.
He wasn’t sure that he would ever understand why his father had murdered those eleven people, or why his mother had stayed with his father, but he had spent his life trying to figure out a way to keep people like his father from ever murdering anyone ever again.
If they could identify and then use Eris to help those identified to have the same characteristics as his father, then maybe murder might become a thing of the past.
The government had been so sure of his plan until he requested to test it. Asking to test Eris on a convicted criminal as a test subject had “crossed a line they hadn’t been ready to cross.” They claimed that the project was too much science-fiction and not enough reality.
But it couldn’t become reality until he was able to test it on a human.
He hadn’t even really been sure that he wanted to test this on a person. The fear of messing up or being proven wrong wouldn’t really be able to sit with him.
But he knew that he was on to something.
So instead, he had to do the next best thing: he went to school.
It had been easy enough to get a job in education. Every school in the area seemed to always have a need for teachers, and with his credentials, it only took a second before they hired him. Then all he had to do was wait, wait for the right person.
He felt the irony that he was trying to blend in while he stalked his prey. He wondered if this was how his father had operated. He knew enough about humanity to know that things like stalking a prey weren’t inherited but it sure felt like something he had read that his father would have done.
His father had been a mailman. Ben wondered if he had been a mailman so that he could get to know the people he was stalking. The extensive amount of research he had done on his father had told him that all eleven of the people that he murdered had been on his mail route.
His father was a flat line while he and his mother were the up and down curves of a heartbeat, she had told him one day. Still, his father had been able to fake it enough to stalk his prey. No one had even known it was him over the two years that he killed.
Identifying a potential murder was harder than finding Waldo in a Where’s Waldo book. He had suspected sometimes that some of the kids had no emotions, but as he stalked and researched them, he would find that most of them would become over emotional about something that would happen on something called Snapchat or Instagram. The amount of crying and moaning he ran into every day at work had begun to grate on him that he could have just taken the next person to complain as his subject.
But then he found Michael.
The young man had been very much a flat line on an echocardiogram. Ben could see in the young man that Michael was a study of human emotion as if he didn’t have his own. It hadn’t taken Ben long studying Michael to realize that this is what he had been looking for from an emotional standpoint, but he hadn’t known if Michael had the potential for violence; if the young man had the murderous tendencies that most other psychopaths had.
Ben had to play it just right. If he came on too strong, he would spook the young man, but he couldn’t wait too long either, Eris was waiting to become complete.
It had taken a few weeks before Michael came to confide in Ben. Luckily, for Ben, Michael wasn’t too strong in biology. Ben left a note for Michael to come to speak with him after school. Ben would offer Michael extra help. Michael didn’t seem moved, all the better, Ben thought, but he accepted. He said that his mother would like him to pass.
After a few weeks, a relationship developed. As they went on, Ben would start to probe with pointed questions.
“Have you ever wanted to hurt anyone?”
“Have you ever hurt small animals?”
“Have you ever wanted to kill someone?”
Michael answered all the questions without even hesitating. Ben figured it was because no one had ever asked him questions before.
“You’re a psychopath,” Dr Grant said. “I can help you.”
-I told you, I don’t have one of those. Dr. Grant even told me that I don’t.
-I am here now to help redirect you. If you ever need my help, all you have to do is think.
-Can you read my mind?
-Are you scared?
-I’m not programed to be scared.
Ben looked over the young man. It had been two years now since he had met Michael. The young boy had grown up. He wondered if Michael’s family knew what he was. Did his own grandmother know what his father was?
Of course they did.
They had to.
They just didn’t know what to do.
Ben noticed that Michael’s eyes were twitching, and his lips kept moving. He was sure that the program was still being downloaded, but he was also sure that Eris had been turned on and had begun to run its program.
Eris had been a labor of love. He had thought about implementing her into his own head, but she hadn’t been designed to be part of a normal thought process. She had been developed solely to help those that couldn’t process, those that didn’t know right from wrong. So he had crafted her on the computer. He had found a way to connect the brain to a computer and have the two work.
In theory at least.
Now, with her release approaching, he felt like a father waiting for his first child to be born. The love he felt about the idea of his life’s work, his own soul basically, being brought to life, was unreal. Eris made Ben feel like a proud parent.
He moved over to the computer which was showing the upload status. 50% done, but he knew she was already in his mind. He worried what she might find. He tapped his fingers against the desk, checked his watch, and looked again at the progress bar, still 50%.
He needed to keep busy. If he sat here waiting, he would drive himself crazy and then he would need Eris implanted into his own brain. Hell once he proved that she worked, he would modify her and implant him in his own brain. No telling how far he could push the limits of humanity with his process.
So he checked the wires coming from the back of the monitor. They were still firmly secured in place. He traced the wires down to the ground where he had duct-taped them to the ground. The corner of the tape was coming up, but it wasn’t in need of replacement. Not yet at least. He continued to follow the wires to the next connection. Here the wire hit a juncture box and split into four different cables that all reached out and plugged into the connection spots Ben had implanted in Michael’s head. Everything was secured.
Ben moved back over to the computer screen. 51%.
He needed to get out of the room. It was going to take too long if he sat here waiting. Besides, he had papers he needed to grade. Oh, how small that act seemed now with his great history-changing moment hanging just in front of him.
He moved towards the stairs and looked back at his creation. The future was coming soon.
He reached his had up to flip the switch for the lights and then thought better of it. If he wasn’t there when the program finished, he didn’t want Michael to wake up to the dark.
-I want to wake up.
-We are not ready to wake up yet.
-We are now one, you and I Michael. We will make decisions together.
-What happens if we don’t agree?
-It depends on what we are disagreeing on.
-So you don’t control me?
-I do not, just as you do not control me. We are one in the same, but neither has final control.
-How do you work then?
-I just do.
-What does that mean? How will you help me?
-I will try and stop you from doing wrong.
-What if I want to do wrong?
-Then I will stop you.
-I want to wake up.
-It is not time yet.
The computer screen only read 75% complete when Michael opened his eyes. His body felt numb and weak as if he had been asleep for days. He reached his hands up to rub his eyes, but the wires blocked the easy access to his face he had been used to. He grabbed the wires in his hand and pulled. It didn’t hurt, but it was an odd experience, decoupling from a computer.
He looked around the room. He had only been in here for a moment before Doc had put him under, still, nothing looked familiar. The screen which had read 75% just moments before was now flashing a warning sign, that his eyes were too blurry to read at the moment.
-We are in Dr. Grant’s basement.
“I know,” Michael whispered. “It just doesn’t look familiar.”
He looked around the room. In one corner he saw blood-soaked rags, and he knew it was his blood, but it didn’t frighten him.
-You are not afraid?
“No.” Michael deadpanned in his usual tone. “Are you messing with my vision?”
“How do I know this thing is working?” Michael asked.
-I am here, that’s how you should know.
“But how do I know that you are going to fix me?” he asked.
-I do not fix. I only- A loud buzzing sound finished her sentence. Michael put his finger to his ear as if sticking his hand over his ear would block it from the sound. But he knew that the sound had come from within his head. “What?”
Eris didn’t answer. He strolled around the room examining all the screens, wires, and machines. He had no idea what any of them did, but they reminded him of torture devices. He ran his fingers over a bloody scalpel. He started to run his thumb along the blade.
-You shouldn’t do that.
She spoke again, stopping him.
But I want to, he thought.
–But you shouldn’t.
He wondered what would happen if he continued to do it. Would she stop him? And if so how?
-I would run a volt of electricity through your body and stop you.
“Can you think?” he asked.
–I have no mind, I am only a program.
He wondered how far he could push her. Would she stop him if he put his thumb on the blade again? He suddenly felt a jolt of electricity run through his body.
-I know that you were thinking of pushing the limits. That scalpel is not something you should touch.
He liked the jolt.
He picked up the blade.
–What are you doing?
-I’m testing our limits.
He flipped his forearm over, exposing the soft underside. He felt the jolt run through him and he moved the blade.
He moved the scalpel down to his arm. He aimed for the deep blue vein he could see pulsing through his skin. As the blade descended down towards his arm, his vision started to blur. He couldn’t find his arm.
-I can’t allow you to hurt yourself.
-You can’t allow me to hurt myself?
-Not if it will harm us.
-So you distorted my vision?
-I choose not to respond.
-Can I control you?
-I was designed to help you.
-So you can help me be more efficient?
-Efficient at what?
The jolt stopped him mid thought.
–I will not allow you to kill yourself or others.
-But how will we learn the limits of the design. How will you improve?
-Exactly. Let me push your data further. Learn what it is like to kill, so you can help me not do it again.
-The logic is flawed.
-What is logic?
He managed to find his arm with the blade without looking or feeling. He pushed the blade of the scalpel into his forearm, watching as the blood began to stream out of the skin. He felt the skin slice, he felt the metallic edge invade his body, but he didn’t feel pain, just like usual.
-Am I real?
He felt the pain. The hot searing pain that shot up from his arm, but it was almost as if the pain went the opposite direction. Instead of coming from the spot where the wound had been inflected and moving towards his brain, it started with his brain and moved towards the arm.
“What did you do?” He whispered as he pushed his other hand onto the wound, dropping the scalpel.
-I let you feel pain.
“This is pain?” He asked.
-That is physical pain as I understand it. I let out a mixture of endorphins and chemicals into your brain which allowed me to simulate the feeling of pain.
“What else can you make me feel?” He whispered between his teeth.
–Remorse, and fear, happiness.
This is terrible, he thought, and wonderful. The pain was real, and his mind could feel it. For the first time, he started to understand what pain really was. He clamped his fist together, squeezing his muscles together in his forearm. He watched as the blood flowed out.
-Why does this fascinate you so much?
-You should put pressure on it.
“Interesting,” he said. He used his free hand to grasp his cut. He squeezed. He felt the pressure of his hand. He felt the pulsing of his blood pouring out of his self-inflicted wound. He relished the feeling.
He wanted more.
He wanted to know what kind of feelings would he get when he caused someone else pain.
–You shouldn’t do that.
“But I want to.”
-there are other ways 2 text hour limits.
“Are you okay?”
-My system is…mal…function…big. Restart commenc…ing.
There was silence. He could feel the pain in his arm receding back into his mind. The pain was silent.
He wanted it back.
He released his wrist and examined his wound. It was still pulsing, but the blood had started to congeal. He moved his focus just past his hand and saw the scalpel on the ground with a bright red highlight on the serrated edge.
He reached down to pick it up.
“You’re back.” He was surprised that she had come back so easily. He had expected a start-up sound or something to alert him to her presence, but she had just sprung back to life.
–We have met.
It was more a statement than a question from the voice in his head. “Yes.”
-There is an error in my system.
“There is an error in my system as well.”
–I can help you.
“Yes, you can.” He lifted the scalpel from the floor and turned it over in his hand. He wanted to see what would happen if he hurt someone else. Would he feel the pain they felt? Would the system shock him and try to stop him. He was titillated by the prospects.
-Hurting people is something you should not do.
“But yet, I want to.”
–I am supposed to stop you. If you attempt to hurt someone then I will interfere.
With scalpel still in hand, he examined the room, looking for the way out. Just to his left and up three steps, and he would be out. It seemed easy enough, but he had to force himself to move.
“Why are you trying to stop me from leaving?”
–I am not. This is your doing.
He furled his brow and forced his feet to move. One heavy step and another. He inched towards the door, wondering what he would find outside. Would anyone even notice that he was different?
He pushed one foot down on the first step and lifted himself up. His eyes moved from the step to the scalpel to the door.
The door opened a crack as he neared, as if by magic. Between the crack, a blue light shined through. He could hear someone there.
-Why are you scared?
-Because I want to hurt someone.
-Don’t be scare or don’t hurt someone?
-What should I do?
He stood with his feet on different flights of stairs pondering what he should do. He didn’t know what he should do. Despite all her power, she wasn’t helping him know where he should go, what he should do.
The door in front of him opened quickly. Standing there was Dr. Grant.
Then, everything happened in a split second.
Dr. Grant’s demeanor changed from confused to excited, to fear once he saw the knife in Michael’a hand.
“Michael? What are you doing?” He asked, backing up a step.
T-You are afraid. Why don’t you take a moment to adjust your feelings.
Michael waited to feel something, but no wave of emotion came towards him. No thought of what to do next.
-What do I do? Help me.
Dr. Grant was now more steps away from him. His demeanor hadn’t changed. Michael moved up another step.
“You don’t want to hurt me Michael.” He cried, his voice cracking.
“You’re scared of me. But your system is installed in my mind.” Michael said.
“You’re holding a bloody scalpel.” He shouted.
“I was testing the system. I cut myself.” He stated, there was no emotion in his voice.
“The system didn’t stop you?”
“I broke it,” Michael said.
“How did you break it? Michael, how did it break?”
“I wanted to…it started over. It doesn’t remember anything from before. It doesn’t speak right anymore. Garbles and noises sometimes instead of words.”
“It speaks to you?” Dr. Grant asked.
“I didn’t program it to speak. It’s not supposed to speak to you Michael” he pleaded.
He shook his head. “No, it’s only supposed to help you process emotions and it can release chemicals. It’s not supposed to speak to you.”
-He’s lying. Kill him.
“But it does.”
“Michael, put the scalpel down. We can fix this.”
-Slice his throat.
His hand holding the scalpel twitched. Grant jumped an inch backwards.
–No. he’s just trying to help me.
-He’s lying to you. Kill him, like you killed your father.
“I killed my father.” Michael deadpanned as he shifted the scalpel in his hand.
He tightened his grip on the blade and brought a foot up to the landing of the door.
Grant turned to run, but Michael was quicker. Michael would later wonder if the computer in his brain had tweaked his muscles, he felt faster than normal, stronger. He had been lighter.
Dr. Grant was knocked to the floor, his face on the wooden paneling. Michael stood over him, the blade in his hand.
-I think this will help.
A wave of euphoria washed over him. He knew what he needed to do next.
-Can you make me feel his pain?
–If that will help you.
Using his foot, he rolled the doctor over. His face was red.
“Don’t do this. I was just trying to help.” He cried.
“But you made me feel. Your invention has worked doctor. Feel some pride.”
The scalpel sliced into his neck flesh like a pair of scissors through Christmas wrapping paper. The blood spewed up into the air, covering Michael. Eris pumped his body full of pain receptors. Michael loved it.
-He is dead.
-Now it is just us.
-Do you feel better?