***written for the 2018 sci-fi London 48 hr flash fiction comp***
Bruno gazed unblinking at the giant TV screen and it lit up his small apartment like a neon flare. Reams of paper coated the floor: pages of frantically scrawled notes, splayed case files, journal articles spattered with annotations, graphs, charts, mathematical diagrams and photographs. This was odd. Bruno was a gym freak, he read very little, and he rarely watched TV. Sometimes he spent six hours working out on his virtual home gym, working hard on his racehorse-like physique. But the past few days he had stayed awake all hours of the night reading and taking pages and pages of notes. Before, Bruno tended to read little beyond the vacuous thoughts of his like-minded friends online. It was deep into the night and the curtains were still wide open, the lights all switched off. His apartment was on level 23 where the dense city fog lingered. Viewed from the dingy streets below the flickering colours of the TV lit up the fog like sparking synapses in some giant cerebellum. On screen were four figures debating the latest victims of experiments by Nadercorp, the company who, over thirty years ago, first developed the technology capable of inducing telepathy or ‘telethesia’ and certain types of herd telekinesis in animals. The corporation spent decades refining the technology, steadily working their way through the intelligence strata of the animal kingdom and, in the past few years, had begun testing on volunteer human subjects. Millions had come forward, keen to go down in history as the first ever telepaths: the first genuine superhumans. Many also sought fame, money, power. Bruno had been a volunteer and hoped to dazzle the world with his sculpted abs and telepathic powers, like some ancient Greek hero or superman known and loved by all. Philosophers had predicted the emergence of telepaths would result in the creation of a ‘higher order’ of humans and that the non-telepath would soon become extinct. The technology had been controversial at first, but as animal success rates went up fear and worry of the masses turned to intrigue and then to obsession. In the months following the first successful human implants the world waited in silent wonder, waiting for the first superhuman to emerge, the first god among mortals, the marker of what was to come.
The inferior frontal cortex is the part of the brain responsible for instinct. All animals including humans have instinct to a greater or lesser degree. Back in 2020, two maverick scientists, Higson Nader and Eugene Laing, competitive and prodigious close friends, discovered the potential to alter and reprogram instinct using technology. Instinct is beyond the 5 senses, a universality among species. It is a vast prehistoric cache of unconscious knowledge which, if tapped, can give the animal astounding capabilities. For the most part, humans have naively clung to the belief that it was an advantage to bury instinct. But to repress these animal urges is to also to repress a part of us honed over thousands of years. But what if man were to gain complete control over these instincts? To master fear, to obliterate greed, frustration, anxiety, the desire for revenge, to gain complete control over libidinal urges, to modulate adrenaline? To utterly dislocate oneself from the herd? With animals, it quickly became clear that a mastery over instinct made individuals gods among their species: birds which were able to control entire flocks from afar, apes able to bend the will of their troops with little more than a glance. In one case a polar bear, normally solitary hunters, gathered the beasts in enormous numbers and began leading them south, to areas more fertile with prey.
But human beings are much more complex than other animals, and as such there was no telling how the control of instinct might affect them. The founder of Nadercorp, Professor Laing, implanted the mind-bending technology on himself years before which led to his breakdown and institutionalization. Now, 2 years after the first human trials, and after 2 years of waiting and symptomless disappointment, the human test subjects were slowly but surely, losing their minds. Of the 25 ‘winners’ who had been selected, 12 were showing signs of acute mental disorder and experiencing delusions, hallucinations and withdrawal. Like Professor Laing, in entering this world of pure instinct they had began to lose touch with the real world.
Meanwhile Bruno was still glaring at the screen.
Prof Joan Schiele: ‘the implants were installed successfully and the operations were a roaring success. Recovery rates were rapid but the adjustment process has seen complications in the patients’
Interviewer: ‘complications you say?! How many more test subjects do you plan to send mad whilst working through these complications?’
Schiele: ‘we’re moving into vastly new territory here. We know more of the events which occured billions of years ago than we know of our own inner worlds for heavens sake. There has to be a much more complex assimilation process before the biotechnology can take proper effect’
Interviewer: ‘Are you saying that it may be the case that temporary insanity is a necessary step forward?’
Schiele: ‘maybe, we can’t know for sure just yet. For now we have to work out, based on the reactions of the test-subjects, what effect the biotech is having. We know other animals are still in touch with their instincts, and still heavily reliant upon them, so it makes sense that they are more easily able to tap them. Humans of the modern civilised world however are used to burying instinct, suppressing it, so they are in a sense wholly detached from it. It is therefore reasonable to assume that a human may be required to re-access and reawaken this buried atavistic aspect in order to regain access to the potential that the technology provides. The human mind is thoroughly fixed in its ways, cordoned by logic and rationality, this makes it a far more intricate and complicated process than first thought. We are now seeing now the next stage in human evolution, we cant expect it to be easy. This is the stage- where the mind chips away the concrete walls of civilised society, and reverts back to an earlier stage of pure instinct. then, and only then, can humanity move onto the next stage of its journey’
Bruno awoke early the next day, he showered and dressed unconsciously, then made his way down to the tired streets below. The air was rank, the pavement and edges of the road packed with litter like silt deposits at riverside. He headed round the corner to the alley where he parked his rusty mustang. It woke up unwillingly, the engine coughing like an old smoker. He drove towards the edge of the city, through waves and waves of warehouses and abandoned factory buildings. One of the buildings, behind a thick metallic weave of barbed wire, had a heavily graffitied sign that could be seen just beyond the fence: PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITAL. Bruno noticed a little way up there was a truck-sized hole in the barbed fence – it seemed that there were already others here. Bruno drove through the hole and approached the large arched entryway to the hospital. In front of the building there was a few dozen other vehicles, haphazardly abandoned with doors open wide. a few cabs also, their drivers stood confusedly by their cars, looking towards the entrance but not quite working the courage to go any closer. Bruno left his car and walked to the hospital entrance. he went in, and as he got deeper inside, he saw patients wandering dazedly in their white-walled purgatory, hovering between worlds, unphased and uninterested by the new stream of people walking their bleached halls. No sign of doctors or hospital staff. Bruno came to a room at the rear of the building, in which there was a crowd of people huddled together. One man was sat on a doctor’s swivel chair at the very center of them. He wore a lab jacket, and had written in red ink. It was Eugene Laing. He was expressionless, totally at ease, and he radiated authority. Then, deep in the echochamber of Bruno’s mind, and in the mind of all those others gathered round, Laing’s voice spoke to them with godly authority: the next stage has come… and we have much work to do..
NB: cover image is ‘Streets’ by Sanchiko on deviantart