The Scheme

Orchid's Lantern blog C.R. Dudley author

 “Sounds like you need to start selling your petaFLOPS, mate.”
  That is what Dave had said back in the good old days when they drunk in the Queen’s Head. At the time, Geoff had lost his job as an Accountant for one of the big 5 firms and was struggling to adjust to a life of leisure. He’d find himself staring into space for hours at a time, unsure of what to put his brain into next. Once upon a time, a GP might have prescribed him some ‘happy’ pills, but diagnosis of depression and stress was a thing of the past: the symptoms had long been recategorised as ‘misused capacity in the mind’.
 Dave’s suggestion for money-making wasn’t unusual, and the papers said the scheme could even become prevalent in years to come. With six pints swimming around his system, Geoff imagined he might be ahead of the curve; one of the trendsetters that would mark a new and enterprising use for the human brain. And, once the hangover of the next morning had subsided and he swore never to drink again, it still seemed like the only logical thing to do.

  Geoff signed up to have a tiny sub-dermal chip installed in his head that connected him to the worldwide network. It was a simple procedure, done under local anaesthetic, and had a surprisingly fast recovery time: in just two days he was ready to come online. He popped the prescribed pill under his tongue, sat back in his La-z-Boy and selected ‘join game’ on his console.
  And that is how it was, 9-5, Tuesdays through Saturdays. As per the deal, he would do one of two things: play a match-3 game or watch sitcom re-runs on TV. The former gave him enough of a dopamine hit to keep him awake and powered up; the latter allowed him to enjoy taking a passive role while still earning a healthy income. Repetitive, predictable tasks that used only a small proportion of potential brain function were essential, so that the remaining neurones could be isolated by the drug and fired over the network to perform a range of data-crunching tasks.
  Any number of corporations could bid for the use of human processors, which were sold in petaFLOPS. For them, the efficiency in terms of energy usage, space and cost was unparalleled. For Geoff, it was a dream form of employment. He bought Dave’s drinks all night whenever his generous pay packet came in, to thank him for his valuable suggestion.
  “Honestly mate, you can’t tell anything’s going on back there,” he told him one day. “You just sit making rows of colourful sweets all day without a care in the world, and you get paid for it. And another thing: you feel like you’ve done a day’s work. I feel as fulfilled as I ever did being a bean-counter.”
  Dave swigged his drink and wiped away froth from his beard. “Aren’t you ever tempted to – you know, take a peek behind the curtain as it were?”
  “Ah it’s against the rules.”
  “Not even once?”
 “To tell the truth, I wouldn’t even know how. Besides, I’m onto a good thing here, why would I risk throwing it away?”

  But a seed had been planted, and come the next Tuesday morning, Geoff was wondering. What exactly are they using my brain for? By Friday, he had decided to try and find out. He split one of the little pills in two, and put just half under his tongue. He spent the morning building up his puzzle game score as usual, but after lunch during Only Fools and Horses, columns of moving numbers began to overlay his vision. They made no sense at first; they were just vaguely hypnotic. He was elated that his brain could be used for feats he did not understand. To be a cog in a machine that would better the world was enough for him, and he swore to go back to taking the full pill straight away. But then he began to notice patterns in the numbers: it was a code, and it was recording transactions. Geoff grabbed a pen and paper and started scribbling down what he could see.

  On Saturday, his access to the game was prohibited: the agency had locked him out. A message appeared on the screen: Security violation detected. Await instructions. Geoff’s mind worked overtime thinking about what that could mean. It had to be something to do with what happened the day before. Did they think he knew something?
  “I swear,” he said aloud, “I saw nothing but a series of random numbers.”
  “Tut tut Mr O’Brien,” said a voice from behind him. “We can’t have our operators breaking the rules. Our confidentiality has been breached. You must be disconnected now.”
  A big hand grabbed his shoulder and spun him around. Another pushed his head back against the chair, and a third sliced into him with a scalpel, removing the chip amidst Geoff’s screams.
  “I swear!” He cried out in desperation,”I swear I know nothing!”
One of the hands held up the notebook he had used to scribble down the transactions.
  “But I don’t know what it means, it’s just a load of numbers!”
  “It’s all up here,” the man tapped his temple. “And now we have to remove it.”

*****

For more dark imaginings of our future with tech, and fictional explorations of ontology, check out my collection of very short stories: Fragments of Perception.

14 thoughts on “The Scheme

  1. Ouch! I read a story once where native talent was shipped off to seclusion from outside influences to write and paint and make music. One day a sneaky visitor slipped a musician a tape of Bach, that found it’s way into his compositions and the enforcers had to come cut the musician’s hands off for his tainting of uniqueness. But this poor ghuy here? His brain? Ow!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, I’m so pleased you liked it! I’ve written quite a few pieces along the future-tech nightmare vein of late, they’re fun to do ☺

      I’m 2 episodes in to the new series of Black Mirror. What did you think of it?

      Like

  2. Nice, kind of Black Mirror-y. I was half expecting there to be a big reveal; his mind was being used for some overtly shady or nefarious ends or something. The ambiguity and dark ending is awesome too. I really struggle writing short pieces like this, somehow my stuff starts with an intent around 2000-3000 words and ends up twice that, this is a useful example of a very short, effective piece. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve done a fair few pieces like this now – Black Mirror style flash fictions. You can find some under the heading ‘Fragments of Future’ on my blog menu (plus more in my book!) if you’d like to read more. Usually I do go for a twist or reveal, and I originally had another paragraph on the end of this one which was almost exactly as you predicted! I deleted it because that last sentence just seemed like a more natural stopping point.

      I think I have the opposite problem to you – sometimes I want to write something longer and they just come out in these bite-sized pieces.

      Like

      1. Haha, maybe we can learn something from each other! What been your favourite black mirror episode?

        I’d also love to discuss indie publishing with you sometime, its something I know very little about and want to expand my understanding of. You’ve obviously built a decent catalogue of work and grew your facebook page and blog successfully. I’d be interested to get your thoughts and advice.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hmm tricky question but I think San Junipero is probably my favourite, and happens to be about the only one that had a positive spin. How about you? I’m only two episodes into the new season so no spoilers 😉

        As for indie publishing, I’m still at the start of my journey but have done tons of learning on the process – you’re welcome to email me anytime if you want to have a chat about it? orchidslantern@gmail.com

        Liked by 1 person

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