erosion (ballardian dystopia flash fic)

Bruno gazed into the wall-sized TV screen. 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, and graphs, and charts, and mathematical diagrams and photographs. He had been glued to the screen for the past four hours, barely blinking. It was unlike Bruno, who, being a typical gym freak, was fidgety and itching to move around if he had been physically inactive for anything more than an hour. There were times when he spent six hours straight working out on his virtual home gymnasium, fearing any slight deviation from his racehorse-like physique. But these past few days, things had changed. Awake all hours of night, mostly reading and taking notes. Before this, Bruno tended to read little beyond the vacuous thoughts of his like-minded friends online. now it was deep into the night, the curtains were still open wide, and the lights were all still switched off. Bruno’s apartment was on the twenty-third level, just about where the dense city fog lingered perpetually. Viewed from the dingy streets below, the flickering colours of the TV lit up the fog like sparking synapses in some great cerebellum. On screen were four figures intensely debating the latest victims of  experiments by Nadercorp, the company who, over thirty years ago, had first developed the technology capable of inducing mild telepathy, telethesia, and certain types of herd telekinesis in animals. The corporation had spent decades refining the technology, steadily working their way through the intelligence strata of the animal kingdom, and, in the past few years, had finally begun testing on volunteer human subjects. Millions had come forward, keen to go down in history as the very first telepaths; the first genuine superhumans. No doubt a great many of them had their own private agendas: they sought fame, money, power. Bruno himself had been one of these volunteers, hoping to dazzle the world with his sculpted abs and telepathic powers, like some ancient Greek hero reborn, a dazzling superman known and loved by all. many philosophers had predicted that the emergence of telepaths would eventually result in the creation of an exclusive ‘higher order’ of humans, and that in time, the non-telepath would become extinct. The technology had been controversial at first, but as animal success rates went up, and the scale of the surgery went down, fear and worry of the masses turned to intrigue and soon 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, and the marker of what was to come… 

The inferior frontal cortex is the part of the brain responsible for instinct. All animals have instinct to a greater or lesser degree, including humans. Back in 2020, two maverick scientists, Higson Nader and Eugene Laing, competitive and prodigious close friends and colleagues, discovered the potential to alter and reprogram instinct using a microscopic technology which manipulates electrical currents. Instinct is on a level beyond the 5 senses, and a universality among species. a vast prehistoric cache of unconscious knowledge which, if consciously tapped, can give the animal astounding capabilities. For the most part, humans have naively clung to the belief that to master instinct is to bury it. But to keep these primitive, animal urges in captivity is to suppress an intrinsic part of that which makes us human. Consider this, what if man were to gain complete control over these embedded animal instincts? To master fear, to obliterate greed, frustration, anxiety, the desire for revenge, to gain complete control over libidinal urges, to modulate adrenaline.. in short, to utterly dislocate oneself from the herd? with animals, It soon became apparent that this mastery over instinct gave rise to an obsequiousness among others of their species: implanted birds were able to control entire flocks from afar, implanted great apes were able to bend the will of the members of their troop with little more than a glance, forcing them to give up food, even perform sexual favours on a whim; one case led to thousands of inuits fleeing what had been their home for generations, after an implanted polar bear, normally solitary hunters, gathered the beasts in enormous numbers and began leading them south, to areas more fertile with prey.

Of course human beings are a great deal more complex than any other animal, and as such there was no telling how the implants might affect them. It was commonplace knowledge that one of the founders of Nadercorp, Professor Laing, had attempted to implant the technology on himself years before the trials even on the greater apes, a move which led to his breakdown and eventual institutionalisation. now, almost 2 years after the first human trials, after 2 years of waiting, of symptomless disappointment, as well as the hundreds of billions pumped into funding Nadercorp, and the countless hours dedicated by the world’s leading biologists, psychologists, neuroscientists, neurosurgeons, parapsychologists, you name it, the human test subjects were slowly but surely, losing their minds.. Of the 25 ‘lottery winners’ who had been selected, 12 were showing signs of acute mental disorder: experiencing delusions, hallucinations and withdrawal. It would seem that, much like the great Professor Laing, in coming into contact with this world of pure instinct they had began to lose touch with the real world around them.

Bruno, still entranced by the screen, watched an interviewer talking to two nondescript scientists, a nervous man and a stern, sharp-featured young woman:

‘the implants were installed successfully, the operations were a roaring success on that front, and the recovery rates were even more rapid than we’d anticipated, it is only the adjustment process that seems to be causing certain unforeseen… complications in the patients’ the male scientist argued shakily,

‘complications you say?! how many more test subjects do you plan to send mad whilst working around these complications then?’ returned the interviewer

‘what my colleague is trying to say is that we’re moving into vastly new territory here. The complexity of the human mind exceeds any structure in the known universe, we know more of the events which occured billions of years ago than we know of our own inner worlds for heavens sake.. as such, there has to be a much more complex assimilation process before the biotechnology can take proper effect’ said the woman

‘Are you then saying, that it may be the case that temporary insanity is a necessary step forward??’asked the interviewer

‘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 effects the biotech is having, and formulate logical deductions. We know that other animals are still in touch with their instincts, still heavily reliant upon them, and so it makes sense that they are more easily able to tap them. Whereas humans of the modern civilised world are so used to burying instinct, suppressing it, that 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’ she replied

‘yes’ the man cut in, clearly feeling somewhat overshadowed, ‘what we are seeing now is the next stage in human evolution, we cant expect it to be easy. This is the ‘cognitive erosion’ stage- where the mind chips away the concrete walls of civilised society, and reverts back to an early 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 the silt deposits at riverside. He headed round the corner to the alley where he parked his old rust-crusted mustang. it woke unwillingly and its engine coughed like an old smoker. He drove out 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: COOMBESMEAD 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 – Professor Eugene Laing. Laing was expressionless, totally at ease. he radiated authority. Then, deep in the echochamber of Bruno’s mind, and the mind of all those others gathered round, Laing’s voice spoke to them with godly authority: the next stage has come my children… and we have much work to do..


NB: cover image is ‘Streets’ by Sanchiko on deviantart


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