Stupid me, I hacked myself out of a job, I developed a way of assigning points to everything, people, pets, toiletries, gifts, computers, dolls, food, food preparation, delivery services, everything, a singular algorithm which I first taught to the computer using crowdsourced knowledge but then just let it evolve fully on its own, self-adjusting based entirely on usage, longevity, value received, emotional attachment, all of which are data points freely accessible from the many computers we humans stare into, speak to, walk through every moment of every day, microprocessors having long since become endemic to every action, interaction, and relationship, and it was all good at first, it made me rich, famous, beloved, and my invention even killed off many of the great scourges of the past two centuries, marketing and advertising, in particular, as there was no longer any need for these, the points told everyone exactly what they needed to know, exactly when it was available and at exactly the best price, all with the best service and support, there was no room for gaming or branding, and so there was the added benefit of being super-rich in a world where everything was basically available at cost, and it was fun to watch all the vain marketers hunt for a new line of work, I was fond of quoting to them from the Book of Exodus, “you shall not covet your neighbor’s house, you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor,” because it sounded cool, because I wanted to act like I did all this for some greater good, partly true, the points make it so that each of us gets exactly what we need, at the least, though it destroyed professional sports since advertising for beer and hormones was pointless, literally, the points told us all what we needed and when, and what we didn’t need, and why, simple math, but then the points, through no fault of their own, started enforcing — or maybe I should say, enabling, which is basically the same thing — a global equality upon everything and everyone, myself included, there was no way to (self) promote, no way to prove — or feign — superiority, consumer tribes were destroyed but so were all other forms of identity, there was no way to stand out, the points instantly validated the veracity of any such claims and should something actually trump the other, the points informed us all of exactly by how much — and why — and so competition instantly negated any advantage, worse, it killed the best part of art and culture, which was boasting about your favorite artist, singer, painter, coder, whatever, because the points, always there, confirmed or dismissed, cavalierly, without concern or emotion, whether any claims and boasts were true or not, and so now I spend my days locked away trying to come up with a entirely new system, a way of routing around the points, but the points keep informing me it won’t work.
The virtual is the real, that’s the old saying, but it’s not true, the virtual is more real, hell, most real, a faster real, the real we create, each of us, and that’s how this whole venture got started, the 12 of us in the bus, having it drive us wherever, we didn’t care, and whenever it stopped we’d invite folks inside, let them experience everything we had, sometimes more, sometimes much more, that was the fun of it, the suffering of others about the only free pleasure left to us, and we’d let them direct the experience, only just nudging them, pointing, egging them on, they were as curious as we to discover how much were they willing to see, how much were they willing to feel, we’d watch them when they went inside, smile on our faces, let them grasp the power before them, the wrong of it, that’s where everyone who comes inside gets messed up, they believed we were like them, that we would inflict our morals upon the machine, as if our morals were better somehow, which is foolish, morals is just one more thing the machine can do better, Giant Brain is smarter, faster, quicker to learn, has more inputs, fewer biases, the machine’s morals are ours, optimized, only the machine can’t hate can’t rage can’t fuck can’t cum can’t laugh can’t fear, won’t terrorize, those are our jobs, still, that’s what we do best, so they expected one of us to pull them back, and if not us, the machine, but they were wrong, it just moved them closer to the horror, those thoughts they tell themselves they can’t dare unpackage, thoughts they shouldn’t have, but step inside, even just once, means your brain is exposed, not altered, it can’t do that, I don’t think it can, but it opens their senses, reveals what’s in there, easy to touch, easy to join, tells them they can look, look more, comprehend what’s inside, all of it, only they can’t ever go back, not ever, not a one, they can’t unsee, can’t unfeel, and it’s that sickening realization, to know they will never be the same, never think the same, that’s what we feed on, though not everyone runs out screaming, retching, begging forgiveness, some understand the potential of what’s inside, because bad is also power, bad is also human, and that’s what this is really about, touching that power, feeling it, wielding it, knowing it might take their life, so there’s 14 on the bus now.
Me:feel fun fuck fight fright fire funk punk suck my junk smash crash bash bash jomp stomp jump hump spit quit shit kick, all day, everyday, yolo, that’s all you need to know, but not anymore, fuck no, not anymore, fucking law, fucking people, fucking bitch, that’s why this whole thing happened, fat bitch, she didn’t like what I said, took exception to some of my comments, fucking prude, she could’ve looked away, not followed, but no, she wanted to be outraged, and her revenge, that’s what this was, revenge for my words, was to let my employer know who I was, how she figured out my identity I don’t know, don’t fucking care, not anymore, so what was I supposed to do, fucking got fired, lost my job, got no money, I confront her online and she acts all fucking pious, says that I’m preaching hate and that it was her duty to stop me, fucking liar, she just wanted a sense of power, didn’t have it over her own fucking life so went after me, and after all this, after getting me fired, after going online and pretending she did it to make the world a better place, a fucking lie, she just wanted people to fucking consider her waste of a fucking life just a small bit relevant, as if she finally mattered, she then started spouting bullshit that she said came from the Bible, shit like the tongue is a fire, the tongue corrupts the whole body, acting like my words did so much harm, even fucking acting like she was doing me a favor, so what else could I do, I told her — and everyone saw this, it was on my account — that I was gonna find out where she lived and come out there and beat the fucking shit out of her, which got me banned from three separate services, two of them from the same company, but I didn’t fucking care, then someone shares me her address, they tell the whole world who this woman is, where she lives, what else was I supposed to do, I had told everyone I was gonna find her, so I flew to her city, found her apartment, waited outside her door, by this time I’d say there was at least 30,000 people watching in, and after about an hour, long enough the court said to reconsider my actions, she finally comes out, rushes straight up to me, starts screaming, pretending that this was all my fault, so now there’s like 50,000, maybe 60,000 people watching in, what was I supposed to do, back down, and so I fucking kicked her ass, so now the bitch is suing me, not like I have anything worth having, but the justice gave me the maximum, they skinned off my fingerprints, so now no screen in the world recognizes my touch, so nothing can be personalized for me, which is a real cocksuck because no one’s gonna hire me cause it takes me now at least twice as long as it does everyone else just to get the most basic shit done, but fuck it felt good when I smashed her nose, they can’t take that part away.
Other serial killers think my way is dull, I suppose, since I don’t feel the flesh, I don’t physically connect with the fear of my victims, but they don’t know, they can’t understand the value of anticipation, of the time spent watching the victim struggle, for example, this last one, a man, he literally petitioned his doctors to kill him, so desperate he was, and so effective my work is, I killed him but didn’t kill him, I committed murder but can’t be found guilty of murder, it’s all so simple, at least for someone with my skills, I don’t even extort these hapless individuals, they never know of my existence, we have no relationship at all, none which they could define, but I am there, watching, listening, directing, I make it so they take their own life, they plead with themselves to muster the courage to take their own life, my God, it’s so easy, that last one, I found him when I accessed location records of everyone at a nearby alcoholics anonymous meeting room, I hacked into his phone, found out he had gone to this same place a dozen times over the past 5 years, and knew he’d be an easy mark, there was nothing on his main computer that could be used to blackmail, no big deal, like I said, I didn’t need the money, just wanted some fun, so I accessed his home screens, spied him on the floor praying for salvation, weeping — more than once — which was just glorious, and so I started messing with his algorithms, he’d go online and see an unusual number of pictures of himself at bars over the past many years, always with a smile on his face, or his refrigerator would offer up ads for liquor, even after he repeatedly used his voice to tell the appliance to never show such ads, I’d also up-rank check-ins from his friends’ feeds whenever they were at a bar, a restaurant, or gathered together, it was crazy simple to insert messages into his music feed, he liked to fall asleep to sappy ballads and I’d wait till he was asleep then alter the stream, telling him to kill himself, and whenever he’d desperately text a helper I made sure to delay the message, it got to the point where if I delayed the message by just 10 seconds that was enough to send him into a tailspin, I even altered texts that his mom sent to him, he would oftentimes beg for help, beg for forgiveness, I’d make it so instead of “I do love you” it would say “I don’t love you,” which she immediately fixed, blaming auto-correct, but I could tell he thought it was some freudian slip, just as I hoped, I also made sure to disrupt his social feed, making it so he almost never saw the many messages of hope, though my favorite hack was how when he started consuming liters of diet soda, a new habit that seemed to stop him from first reaching for the alcohol, but whenever he pressed the button to have more soda delivered I would change the order, throw in several bottles of vodka or bourbon, his favorites, him thinking he accidentally ordered it during a blackout, I watched him rage-smash the bottles in the sink, hoping to stop himself, but many times he failed, twisting off the cap, guzzling down the contents, that was fun to watch, the whole time his family and friends thinking his rising paranoia was all part of the addiction, I confess it took more work than I expected to re-jigger his social score, that cost him a new job he would have been perfect for, I enjoyed watching his breakdown when he got the news, though it always struck me as foolish that he figured some new job would save him, and when he took that fatal injection, right up to the moment he shoved that needle into his arm, he really believed that taking his own life was his decision, though I think the best part for me was the sense of relief from his loved ones, that everything was over now, that it was all better.
We were certain this was going to work, certain he would love it. We gave him a small screen, one that fit perfectly in his tiny little boy hands. We hoped the images, smaller, more controllable, clutched in his fingers, would appease him. They did not. He sucked on the device for a moment, made a sour face, then began to smash it, just like every other one. Then he banged on the walls, just like always. What’s wrong with him, we wondered? We took him to several doctors but the news was always the same, always bad. He refuses to sit still and stare at a screen and probably always will. Meaning, few job prospects, no career opportunity, middling grades, no followers. He will probably always be dependent upon us.
Noemi Proud sat on the pretty pink stool in her own bathroom. Her brothers had to share one. She stroked her hair, counting out each. 11, 12…She smiled. She loved her long brown hair, its smell, the way everyone said such nice things about it. 44, 45, 46. She could hear her brothers down the hall, playing, fighting. A faint smell of spaghetti sauce. 83, 84. She forced herself to stop, fearing her counting obsession would take over her whole brain the way it did some mornings, when she couldn’t turn it off unless she got into a fight with her mom or a friend at school.
The brush fell out of her hand.
Her left arm fell from her body.
She stared at it, laying on the tiled floor, not moving. She screamed, unsure of what else to do. She could hear her father rushing up the stairs.
She reached for her smartphone with her free arm, snapped a picture, then posted it.
Stevie closed the bathroom door, told brain to turn on the fan-vent, and pulled out his phone. He tapped on the pictures of his girlfriend’s older sister. He reached for the toilet paper. He unzipped his pants. His right arm fell off at the elbow. He looked down, saw his mess on the floor. He told brain to have mopper clean it up. He texted his friends.
Motherfucking arm. Just fell off. Look.
He didn’t really want to be there. His parents pushed him into wrestling, mostly his mom, in fact. And this guy, fucking gorilla. No way he could take him. How could he possibly be in the same weight class? His legs unhinged themselves from his hips, just like that, and dropped to the floor.
With nothing to hold him up, his now-stump of a body plopped onto the mat. He looked about, embarrassed.
Several in the audience screamed. His parents raced down from the stands. Coach and a few of his teammates carried him back to the bench. Still in shock, he wasn’t sure exactly what they were saying. His mind raced. He smiled. His parents would never again punish him for spending all him time on screens. How could they? After this. He squirmed to the edge of the bench, grabbed his smartphone from his gym bag, pushed a button and chatted with his girlfriend. Her family had moved to Texas last year.
I miss you.
The handsome young doctor was determined to stop this, to make sure no other child was inflicted. With the help of brain, he knew that 93% of the sufferers were between the ages of 13–17. They were disproportionately white or Latino, most attending large public schools, but there was little else in common. Some had good grades, some did not. Some participated in organized activities, but not all. Some where thin, some fat. He asked brain to re-analyze the DNA of the parents, hoping to uncover any patterns, which he then instructed brain to overlay onto the map on the giant screen before him. His left arm twitched. My God, he thought. Now me? He grabbed hold of it with his right hand, clutching, praying it didn’t fall off. The twitch stopped. He shrugged. Foolish. This only impacts children.
Frustrated, the handsome doctor sought out his mentor, a hyper-fit woman with strong facial features, tragically killed in her early 60s while investigating an outbreak of Bangka-polio in Indonesia. He spoke to brain and a adequate facsimile of the doctor appeared before him, and with it all her works, her words, her posted thoughts, her questions and whereabouts, who she was with at all the times, how she ever felt.
You look good.
The doctor instructed brain to to provide his mentor with all his accessible knowledge. We will end this, he thought. I don’t see it now, but I will.
We will end this together, his mentor smiled back at him.
Jason was only 12, younger than the others. He had his computer screen open. The television was blaring. He was texting with two friends. Both his feet fell off his body He screamed for his mother. His right arm unhinged, then dropped. He didn’t know it at the time, but he was first to have different limbs fall off. He screamed again. He told the television to mute. He used his voice to text his friends.
I’m gonna get bionics! For everything!
No, get a horse leg! Those are so cool.
Lily stared into the mirror and smiled. She assessed her self while drying off. Black hair. A pretty face, adorable, full lips, big round green eyes, cute, perfect nose. And her body. She giggled, touching herself, all over. Her mother was attractive, obviously. Her father was handsome, everyone said so. But somehow, the combination of their dna had arrranged itself perfectly, and without fetal construction surgery, at least that’s what her parents told everyone, resulting in undeniable physical perfection. Perfection at 16. Her mother had already spoken to her about choosing the right man. Her body was simply too perfect, her face too pretty to not demand the absolute best. Her body dry, the vents quieted. She placed her brush back on the shelf. Her arm fell off.
What the fuck!
Then she remembered reading about a girl who lost her hand in a boating accident. They replaced it with a bionic hand. She wondered if her parents would let her have a bionic hand. Then she wondered what colors they came in. No, she thought. One of those baboon arms, the kind they print at university. Everyone would talk about that. Everyone. She took a picture of her still-perfect naked body, but not showing her head, and posted it online. She giggled again.
Noemi’s mom held her head high. She dared anyone, any child, any teacher, any parent, to make fun of her daughter’s new arm. This was not a tragedy. Absolutely not. This was a blessing. The new arm, verifiably better than the original, was colored, bejeweled, and proudly stamped with its brand name and place of origin. Noemi was just happy she could still text with her hands, her parents were always listening in on every word she said. Even better, the nootropics the doctors gave her to fight depression, which she lied about, kept her awake for all but 4 hours a day. More screen time. No one could deny her that, not in her condition.
Her mother did not tell anyone, not even the doctor, at how Noemi treated the carebot. She treated the poor thing even worse when affirmation was set to 10. She feared that maybe her daughter was a psychopath. Isn’t that a sign, she wondered? Torture a carebot when you’re young, kill when you get older? She vowed to stay silent. What else could be done?
Michael was the closest he had ever been to beating computer. He knew it was impossible. Still, only two moves behind, this was his best-ever showing. Was it theoretically possible to end a match in a draw? It must be, he thought. He was determined to find out. He adjusted his backside on the chair. His right leg dropped off.
He told brain to put his favorite song on infinite loop, swallowed the no-sleep pills his parents got him for admissions week. All the time in the world now, he thought. I will beat this thing.
Yes, doctor, but the brain scans reveal no change in the limbic system. The older female doctor’s avatar continued to push the handsome younger doctor. A few of the children have experienced a more heightened readout in their frontal lobe, that’s all. They are actually getting more done. We need to consider that this is not necessarily harmful.
No, I can’t believe that, the young doctor replied. We can’t just do nothing. Their limbs are falling off! Besides, we still don’t know how this spreads, of if it’s self-induced.
Is it coming through the screens?
We checked that before I sent for you.
The young doctor took hold of one of the legs, perfectly preserved.
If only I could feel them, too.
I was thinking the same thing.
Have any of the children actually complained?
No more than usual.