She led him a block down to a squatting home with rattling shingles and flacking paint. With a twist in her hand, the lady (who began to look more as a man each minute) brought out a key and placed it in a garage’s lock before grabbing a loose handle and cracking it open with one hand. With the other, she beckoned David down inside.
The only path illuminated by a white lantern was a hole with deep and wet stairs inside, with a large plywood hunk next to it. Once David hopped down that hard flight, the path opened up to an underground warehouse, stacked with clear boxes of wires and plugs to a ceiling only a foot above David. He could see an endless parade of junk and workbenches ahead, but the thin lady-man marched ahead and turned right. David followed, and brushed up against a line of people in casual black clothing snaking past and walking up towards the garage.
“You are cautious in places of strife, Gunvor,” he said as David swatted away the black smoke and smell trailing from one of the rooms.
“Gunvor means cautious in places of strife, aren’t you?”
The copper and red pipe maze over their heads slanted down, so David and the thin leader had to lower their necks as they approached a heavy door leaning on an angle. After catching a glimpse, however, David turned to face a child with pushed-back shoulders and a tight grip on his dirty door staring up at him. Other children shifted through piles of kid toys and magician boxes, all in pieces, within the room, each one moving with limp, slow arms. The door slammed in David’s face. With a hand on the concrete wall opposite the children’s room, he approached the open portal ahead to a room lit only by the bright computer obscured by a smooth, dark-brown chair in front of it.
“And how is your day today, Mr. Morality?” asked the thin one, the edges of her lips pushed up.
“I’m on my break!”
David could almost hear the cotton balls in the chair man’s voice.
“I brought a new friend for us today, Mr. Morality. Yes I did. He wants to know about your invention.”
There was a dry clump of faint-black hair in the thing that turned his head to the left. “The pamplets’re over there.”
To the left was a desk with several knots in it. The thin one pulled out a thick, flopping piece of paper and handed it to David, who walked to the bare bulb outside the room before looking at it.
MY MORALITY CHIP
By Mr. Morality
Thank you for expressing interest in the product. I will teach, however, a history lesson first.
I began with the concept that applying a Transcranial Magnetic Simulation (TMS) to the right temporoparietal junction (RTPJ) of the brain. My experiment positioned a TMS to volunteers as I presented four situations to them. Each test consisted of Josh firing a gun at Chauncey. In the first case, Josh used real bullets and knew so. In the second, Josh used real bullets, but thought he was using blanks and merely giving fright. In the third, Josh used blanks and knew so. In the fourth, Josh used blanks, but did not think he was.
With the magnets in place by the test subject’s RTPJ, the volunteer judged the third and fourth trial as the only morally acceptable outcomes. TMS, placed correctly, made it difficult to factor in Josh’s intention to kill in fourth test, even though volunteers would include that in decision-making otherwise.
This discovery has led to the creation of my business, the most fascinating one of the twenty-first century. Our capacity has grown in that time. Instead of a metal double lollipop emitting the pulsating magnetic field, we have condensed it down to a gumdrop-sized device that will glue itself to hair. Supplemental technologies have allowed us to move beyond just blocking intention; we can define in the mind what harm is, or even what permissible is, now.
Prices are set depending on the requirements. Thank you for joining this grand experiment.
The thin one snatched the paper from David once his eyes got to ‘experiment.’ Her wet breath came out in short spurts.
“So, is this for me, or-“
“If you like it. It could also be for your friend Pericles,” said the thin one.
David began scratching the side of his leg. “Don’t get me wrong, your product is great. Really changes everything. But I don’t want my friend to stop what he’s doing. Actually, can this thing erase homophobia?”
“Easy. Only challenge would be if he stumbled into the sex itself.”
“Ok, that’s a start. And I want him to give me shorter hours, so, would that increase what he considers harm, or what?”
“We will do the design ourselves.”
“Ok then. I’ll just come back when-“ David had turned around back to the thick, unpainted door that was slammed in his face.
The thin one approached his side. “The price is five-hundred.”
“It’s not,” whispered David. He turned to the lady, “I can’t. I’m sorry, it’s a question of practices.”
“The littles are satisfied with their pay. We took under wings what none wanted.”
David inched away from her, yet he leaned in closer.
“If you don’t want chip, another will take your place. But you know we call ourselves ‘experiment,’ not ‘business.’ All we want, besides seeing your friend react, is enough to keep us going. And if you really want to help Pericles, who else can?”
She stood straight. “We will leave next time you arrive. If you want the chip, however, I’ll wait for you. Always.”
Cicada-Man was rapidly pacing between the buildings once David had returned.
“Are you ready?”
“Yes! Yes.” Cicada-Man covered his mouth after barking out the first answer. “My apologies. It is good to see you, Sir David Tolkien.”
As they began walking towards the city again, David turned to his wrinkled master and asked, “What’s happened?”
“I wish not to discuss it. It does not do well to complain,” averred Cicada-Man as he pulled and straightened his scratchy mask. “It does not concern you, if that helps.”
Once they passed another auto-repair shop, David asked his employer if he could have shorter hours.
“Well, I’m just tired. Younger people need their sleep, and I just haven’t been getting any.”
“David Tolkien, you have taken this calling, for good or ill, as your own. I am saddened that you find it taxing, but to give in now would brand you a weakling and a coward. Do you wish that?”
David brought his elbows tight into his ribs. “No. I suppose I don’t want to be called that.”
By the time they arrived at the glow of the stairway leading to the underground trains, David’s blood was struggling to seep through him. He rubbed his eyes under the stinging fluorescents.
Cicada-Man reached out for another handshake, his other hand patting out beer stains with a dirty paper towel all the while. “We have done well again, Sir David Tolkien. Tomorrow, I will arrive a tad earlier, as we must fit in time for Mass.”
A heard of loud friends brushed into the peeling spray-paint of the vigilante’s costume as he strode out the door. Down the escalator, David rested, not opening his eyes until he put his hands to pockets and felt how empty they were.
Copyright (C) 2013 by Nick Edinger
Copyright (C) 2013 by Nick Edinger