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Davis, Jerry - Wall Of Delusion

By Herman Carpenter,2014-06-11 23:23
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Davis, Jerry - Wall Of Delusion

     Wall of Delusion

     ?2000 by Jerry J. Davis

     Scott Hague couldn't feel the microscopic nanobots tunneling

     through his brain, but he noticed their effect. Every once in a

     while it was like a flashbulb had gone off in his small cell. He

     would jump, startled. The brightness would fade, leaving the

     gray-blue walls, wires, and medical equipment. Sometimes he could

     hear noises that he knew were not there. Voices from the past. His

     mother, his father, an occasional old friend, and ... his dead

     wife. One sound that happened over and over, torturing him, was

     his wife's laugh. It was right in his ear --- he could even feel

     her breath. He would give an involuntary start, and turn to see

     only the unblinking eyes of the monitoring equipment.

     The way Dr. Kline explained the nanobots and what they were

     doing, they sounded like happy little Disney creatures --- like

     microscopic dwarves singing "Whistle While you Work" as they

     tunneled their way though his brain, leaving sparking trails of

     connections. They were building a spider's web network so Dr.

     Kline could plug him in and peer into his memories. After they

     were finished they would die, or go away --- Scott didn't know,

     that part hadn't been explained to him. All he knew was that his

     brain would become compatible with Dr. Kline's computer network,

     and Scott would be reduced to a peripheral.

     Of its own violation, his arms or legs would suddenly give a

     jerk. Out of nowhere, Scott would give a single hiccup. Once his

     vision froze, like his mind had taken a snapshot picture and

     that's all he could see. Before he could worry about it the

     picture was gone, replaced by normal vision. It was annoying, but

     Scott always tried to look on the bright side. There was a good

     30% chance this would kill him. That would be such a relief. Scott

     felt he was the living dead anyway, he had ended his life as he

     knew it just a little over two years before. He had needed three

     shotgun shells, but fate had only given him two.

     #

     The clues that something was wrong kept appearing, sad

     little warning signs that Scott had tried to ignore but never

     forgot. A broken shoelace on the bedroom floor that did not belong

     to one of his shoes. A blue bandanna between the bed and the wall

     --- where did that come from? Terri washing the sheets when she'd

     just washed them the day before. Why? Checking under the bed

     because he couldn't find his shoes, discovering a disgusting,

     dried up used condom. They hadn't used condoms since he'd had his

     vasectomy. Could it have been there that long?

     Terri worked nights. Scott worked days. They had four hours

     a day together plus weekends. Scott never saw a problem with it

     until the sad little clues started chipping away at his

     willingness to ignore them. He didn't consciously admit to himself

     the reason why he took a day off from work and didn't tell Terri

     about it. He got up that day and prepped as usual, ate breakfast

     with Terri (it was her dinner), kissed her goodbye and left. Scott

     drove five blocks, parked, and walked back. There was an old

     1950's car parked in his driveway, shiny and lovingly maintained,

     and Scott knew exactly whom it belonged to. It was an intern that

     worked with Terri at the trauma center, a cocky jerk named John

     Wahler. That quick? Scott thought. John must have been sitting in

     his car waiting for me to leave!

     He crept into the house feeling like he was floating,

     feeling light and full of air. Like he was dreaming. He was

     detached, calculating, suspended in utter disbelief. Terri was

     cheating on him? Terri? A side of her he didn't know, his own wife

     ... they shared everything with each other, they told each other

     everything. He loved her with a conscious single-mindedness that

     he felt was pure and joyous. It had never occurred to him to

     mistrust her, to be jealous of her ex-boyfriends --- Scott simply

     accepted and loved her. She was it, his woman, his wife, and his

     life partner. How could it be otherwise with her?

     The bedroom door was open a crack and he peeked in. He heard

     noises, and expected to see him on top of her. It was a shock to

     see them side by side and upside down to each other, pleasing each

     other orally. All he saw was Terri's black hair and John's hairy

     legs.

     It was like a dark mask was pulled down over his face. The

     light seemed to go dim and his vision pulsed and flickered, the

     scene lit by flames. His chest hurt. Scott spun on his heal and

     rushed with terrible purpose to the hall closet, yanked open the

     door, and pulled out a long gun case. The sound of the zipper

     ripping open filled his whole head. He pulled the long, heavy gun

     out and then fumbled with his free hand for the box of shells on

     the top shelf. It rattled as he picked it up. There were only two

     shells. He didn't think about it, he just chambered them with a

     reflexive motion and walked back down the hall.

     "Scott?" It was his wife's voice. It sounded scared and

     startled. "Is that you?"

     He heard scrambling sounds and rustling cloth as he pushed

     the door open. John Wahler was hopping on one foot, trying to get

     into his pants. "Was it worth it?" Scott said to him. He let go

     the first shell, a shocking explosion in a small room. Fire

     blossomed out the muzzle of the long barrel, and skin and blood

     sprayed apart from John's hairy chest. It slammed him into the

     wall, his eyes bulging. Scott didn't see him fall. He turned the

     gun on his wife, who was on the other side of the room, naked, her

     mouth wide open. She was trying to scream but couldn't get enough

     air into her lungs.

     "Was it worth it?" Scott had to shout to hear his voice

     through the loud ringing in his ears. "Was it worth it?" He put

     the barrel right into her pretty face.

     A few seconds after he pulled the trigger, the horror of

     what he'd done wiped away the rage of her betrayal. He turned and

     became violently ill across the gore-spattered bed sheets. Lying

     there, shaking, finding it hard to breathe in the smoky room, he

     bitterly cursed fate for only giving him two shotgun shells.

     #

     Scott pleaded guilty and asked for the death penalty. The

     judge called it a crime of passion and gave him 20 years. For the

     first few months in prison all he could think about was how to

     kill himself. Having all that time on his hands and a single

     thought going through his head was worse than death. I deserve

     this, he thought.

     None of the guards or his fellow inmates ever gave him

     trouble. Everyone knew why he was there. It was as if the local

     gang leaders and the warden herself felt badly for him. It was the

     warden who approached him about the medical experiments. When it

     was explained to Scott that there was a possibility the procedure

     would leave him lobotomized or dead, Scott agreed to do it. The

     warden nodded to herself, as if it confirmed what she'd been

     thinking.

     #

     The FMA Center in Livermore was a long, four-story glass and

     brick building built in a semicircle, curved around a park with a

     fountain. From his cell window Scott could see the fountain; it

     was usually surrounded by medical personnel standing around in

     small groups, smoking their cigarettes. FMA, Scott learned, stood

     for "Federal Medical Authority." From what he could tell, the sole

     purpose of the FMA Center was for performing mandatory

     sterilization and abortions, and for conducting medical research

     using convicted felons. It was high security with auto-locking

     doors, metal detectors, and video cameras everywhere he looked.

     Scott never came in contact with any of the other prisoners. He

     only saw Dr. Louis Kline and armed guards --- and there were

     always armed guards around Dr. Kline.

     Dr. Kline ran him though a series of medical, psychological,

     and intelligence tests. Scott enjoyed the intelligence tests, as

     they were all trick questions and it appealed to his sense of

     humor. He thought they were funny. He gave a little laugh as he

     answered them, which made Dr. Kline frown. Scott couldn't tell if

     Dr. Kline was mad that he was laughing or because he wasn't

     falling for the tricks in the questions. "I'm going to tell you

     the truth," he said to Scott. "I don't like you."

     "I don't like me either."

     "I know." Kline, who was a small balding man with a gnarled,

     graying beard --- actually more hair on his chin than on his head,

     so that his face looked upside-down --- he looked over the top of

     his glasses at Scott, peering at him with owlish eyes. "I have

     strong reservations using someone with a death wish as a test

     subject. I prefer someone who hopes the experiments succeed."

     "If they do, they do. If not, then---?" Scott shrugged.

     #

     The nanobots finished their job. Scott knew before Dr.

     Kline told him, as the annoying flashes, spasms, and images grew

     less frequent then stopped completely. The fruit of their labors

     was a cerebral interface that allowed Dr. Kline to connect Scott's

     brain to a computer network. The idea didn't please him, but he

     was resigned to it. Kline used the interface to load very special

     software into Scott's brain that would give Scott --- and Dr.

     Kline --- complete control and access to Scott's memories. Dr.

     Kline called it a "memory browser."

     Scott closed his eyes and pictured something in his head,

     and there the image was on the computer screen. But also, Scott

     could picture the image of a three-dimensional spring, thick and

     red, looking like it was made out of shiny plastic. It was the

     control for the software. If he willed the spring to spin

     counter-clockwise it would take him back through his memories, and

     spinning it clockwise would bring him forward again. There was a

     numeric counter that had no real relevance except as a reference

     point for Dr. Kline's notes. When the spring was red, Scott saw

     the memories as still images, pictures from his past. Scott could

     will the color to change to green, and then the memories came

     alive.

     He saw Terri when she was twenty. Amazing how vivid the

     vision was --- it was like he was there, he was completely

     reliving the memory. They were at a friend's house, and she was

     being silly and childlike, rolling around on the floor and

     giggling, a bright-eyed, free-spirited dark haired girl. He was

     sitting at the living room table, talking to his friend's father,

     and she was there on the floor at his feet. Looking down at her

     smiling face, he slipped off his sandal and placed his foot on her

     bare midriff. She reached up and took hold of his leg, smiling at

     him, still giggling. It was the moment he fell in love with her.

     Dr. Kline took control; the spring turned red and then spun

     counter-clockwise. Memories were dim, then bright, blurry then

     sharp. Scott's mind had recorded every moment of his life, but the

     quality of the memory was only good when there was some importance

     attached to it. The next bright memory was from a day or so

     earlier. Scott was sitting with Terri and their friend Leo at a

     white metal table beside a swimming pool. The image of the spring

     stopped turning, and changed to green.

     Leo was a small guy, blond and skinny and always smiling. He

     was the one who'd introduced Terri to Scott. They were all dressed

     in tee shirts and shorts, a weekend during spring break. Scott had

     brought them all home to his parent's house from college.

     Another one of their friends, a redheaded guy named Kelly,

     was over in a corner of the yard beside a birdbath. He'd had too

     much to drink and was now on his hands and knees, puking. Scott

     was drunk himself --- as were they all --- he lurched to his feet,

     walking unsteadily along the swimming pool, and knelt by his

     redheaded friend. "You're going to be okay, Kel," he said. Leaning

     over, he put his arm around Kelly's stomach and hugged, supporting

     the stomach muscles as they contracted. He held on, lending

     support, trying to ignore the disgusting sounds and smells.

     Through the waves of alcohol, he heard Leo saying to Terri,

     "I could never do that. He's really strong to do that."

     "He cares," Terri said.

     "He's a good friend."

     Scott felt lifted by the words. Proud. Barfing was a hard

     thing --- he didn't want Kelly to go through it alone. Besides,

     Scott had bought the tequila that was making Kelly barf. It was

     partially his fault.

     The memory froze to an image, and receded away from Scott.

     It was no longer immediate and live. Again he perceived the

     phantom image of the spring, unmoving and red. He opened his eyes

     and saw Dr. Kline across the room tapping at a workstation

     keyboard. One of the two ever-present armed guards was giving

     Scott a strange look.

     "What was the significance of this memory?" the doctor asked

     him. "It's very vivid."

     "Oh…" Scott felt his face flushing. "My wife told me it was

     the moment she fell in love with me."

     "The wife that you killed?" Dr. Kline said. "Interesting."

     Scott opened his mouth to tell him he'd only had one wife,

     just one, just one damn wife. One. But he let out his breath. Why

     be mad at Kline? Kline didn't kill Terri. He swallowed his anger

     and turned it inward, self-hate like needles in his heart.

     #

     Alone at night, Scott lay on the cot in his cell and

     mentally fiddled with the software hoping he'd crash it and give

     himself a lobotomy. He would go back five minutes, then back five

     more minutes, then forward five minutes, then back again until he

     got completely lost in his short-term memory, not knowing if he

     was reliving a memory or in the present. The clue, the giveaway,

     was if he willed the spring clockwise until it stopped and

     wouldn't go any further --- that was the present.

     He found he was reliving memories of reliving memories, and

     so on, and so on again, and he kept it up all night, hoping it

     would foul the programming code. Jam it up. Freeze his thoughts

     into some horrible hellish spiral. It didn't work, though. His

     memories of remembering --- no matter how compounded --- were just

     more memories. A guard had told Scott that this was how one of the

     other test subjects had died, going into a catastrophic seizure

     and expiring of heart failure. Unfortunately Dr. Kline must have

     fixed this bug, or the nanobots had done a better job in Scott's

     brain than they did in the other poor bastard's.

     Strange, though. He was lying there, deep in his repetitive

     memory review, and he suddenly got tired and annoyed and he sat up

     and said "Shit!" He got up and walked across the room and then

     back. But he realized this was a memory. He was in a memory. But

     he didn't remember … remembering it. He willed the spring to turn

     clockwise but it wouldn't budge. He was in the present. It was

     like he'd broken out of the memory into the present without

     transition. He was disoriented for a moment, but it quickly faded.

     He brought the memory back so he could review it, experience the

     transition, but there was nothing strange about it … it wasn't

     disorienting in retrospect. Except, oddly, the reference number

     readout jumped several numbers the moment he sat up.

     Scott wondered what that meant.

     #

     It was early morning but it was already hot, because this

     was the desert and the sun --- even the morning sun --- was harsh.

     Scott didn't really notice. He was used to it. To a young boy who

     had only known harsh sunlight and dry heat, this was just like any

     other day: he and a friend out in the desert beyond the small

     Tucson suburb where he lived. They were looking for horny toads

     but found a jackrabbit instead. It was trapped under a board, and

     his friend was laying on top the board, pinning the rabbit down.

     It was brown with soft fur. Scott couldn't believe they caught it,

     and he reached under the board and grabbed it by one of its back

     legs and pulled it out, and it kicked like mad and scratched the

     hell out of his arm before he could drop it. He barely saw the

     rabbit run off --- he was staring at the long ragged scratches and

     the blood running down his skin.

     His vision paled, receded. Scott became aware of the red

     spring and the index number. "How old were you here?" Dr. Kline

     asked him.

     "About seven."

     Dr. Kline tapped on his keyboard. He paused, peering long

     and hard at his workstation screen. Scott asked, "What do the

     reference numbers mean?"

     "They're just reference numbers. The lower the number, the

     further back into your memories we are."

     "How did you correlate a number to the age of my memories?"

     Dr. Kline paused, then pushed himself back away from his

     workstation, swiveling around in his chair to face him. "That was

     a very astute question." His eyes narrowed. "Who told you to ask

     me that?"

     "I was just wondering."

     "You were just wondering." Dr. Kline sounded doubtful.

     "Well, yeah," Scott said, "I mean … memories don't seem to

     be sequential things. They seem to be haphazardly stored. And,

     well, it seems unlikely that they're stored with any kind of date

     encoded in them."

     "No, they don't have any kind of encoding at all," Dr. Kline

     said. His voice was dry and deadpan. Suspicious. "What did you do,

     before you murdered your wife? You said you worked in a

     warehouse?"

     "I ran an automated warehouse system."

     "System?"

     "Yeah, I lived and breathed FIFO --- you know. First in,

     first out. My job was to store things and keep track of the date

     they were stored, so that the oldest was pulled first and

     shipped."

     "So, in your mind, you're trying to figure out the human

     brain and memories in the same terms you would storing packages in

     your warehouse?"

     "Well, not exactly, but----"

     "I see where you're coming from now. Okay. This research I'm

     doing, it's rather … delicate. Even though you're the person being

     experimented upon I can't tell you much about what I'm doing and

     what I'm looking for. But I can give you an answer to this… The

     software in your brain is not accessing your memories directly

     though the hippocampus, like other researchers are doing. It's

     going through your temporal perception."

     "My, uh … what's that?"

     "There's a section of your brain that controls your sense of

     time. I can manipulate this time sense to retrieve memories that

     were stored at a specific time."

     "So even though time data isn't recorded with my memories, I

     have a section of my brain that … indexes the memories in a, um …

     sequential log of some sort?"

     Dr. Kline was shaking his head. "That's what I'm trying to

     find out," he said. "It must be … it's working. But part of my

     research is to understand how it's working."

     "That's interesting," Scott said. He wondered if he should

     tell Dr. Kline about the way he was able to cause the reference

     index to skip numbers. "Um…"

     "Let's try going back even further," Dr. Kline said. Before

     Scott could interrupt him, the image of the spring brightened in

     his mind and began spinning counter-clockwise.

     #

     Scott's dinner tray always came with a little half-can of

     Coca-Cola. It was never enough, and he figured it was part of his

     punishment. He couldn't have a whole can, only a half-can. And

     they wouldn't give him more.

     In the silent, stale air of his cell, Scott ate his dinner

     mechanically and downed his half-can of soda --- an act that

     always left him wanting more --- and after he finished it, he

     replayed the memory of drinking it. He hoped that in some way it

     would be like drinking more. It didn't work, though, because the

     feelings of wanting were present in the memory. He went back

     again, remembering drinking it for the first time, then

     remembering the memory of drinking it. Still nothing. He went back

     one more time, and out of frustration he poured the soda onto the

     floor instead of drinking it.

     He stared at the foaming puddle of soda on the concrete as

     it spread, wondering how in the hell he'd done it. The empty can

     was in his hand. He looked at it and at the puddle again. I

     changed my memory? he thought. That was weird. Scott tried to will

     the image of the spring clockwise again, but it wouldn't budge.

     He was in the present.

     #

     "Of course it's possible to edit your memories," Dr. Kline

     told him. "We do it all the time, even without the intrusive

     software. I knew you'd discover this. I'd been expecting it any

     day now. There was a chance you wouldn't, and I was hoping for

     that … that's why I never brought it up. But now that it's on the

     table so to speak, here's the deal." Dr. Kline leaned forward and

     spoke in a low, evenly measured voice. "With this software in your

     brain, you can edit yourself right into an impenetrable wall of

     delusion."

     Scott folded his arms across his chest, frowning. He hadn't

     really figured Kline out as a person, his motives, likes and

     dislikes, his quirks --- they were all a mystery to him. But the

     words the man was saying, the inflection in his voice, the

     expression in his eyes … it didn't ring true. "What do you mean?"

     Scott asked him.

     "If you start going back and editing your memories, you will

     cut yourself off from reality and go into a catatonic state. It

     won't help you or me."

     "How would editing my memories do that?"

     "It will change your inner reality and cut it off from outer

     reality."

     "You mean, I'll be insane?"

     "Yes." Dr. Kline fumbled with his watch. "Delusional

     catatonic. Completely turned inward. It's a really bad idea and

     I'm asking you not to do it."

     It occurred to Scott that not only was Dr. Kline lying, but

     also he was frightened. Frightened for Scott? Frightened for

     himself? Frightened that if he lost one more test subject that his

     funding would be cut off? Scott decided to play it safe and

     appease the man. "Okay," he said. "Becoming a delusional catatonic

     doesn't sound like a good idea to me, either."

     "Good," Dr. Kline said. "Good. Good." He nodded. "Good."

     Throughout the rest of their session, Scott's mind was

     unable to focus on what they were doing. He just gave control over

     to the Doctor while he kept hearing the man saying "Good" over and

     over again. Kline must have been able to see it on his computer

     screen, because he kept giving Scott dirty looks. Something was

     definitely up with this wall of delusion thing. Maybe, Scott

     thought, that's my way out. Maybe it doesn't cause insanity as

     much as it causes some sort of fatal brain seizure.

     He could only hope.

     #

     There was one glaring memory of Scott's that Dr. Kline never

     visited. Until today, Scott had no wish to relive it either. But

     after his session was over and he'd eaten dinner and downed his

     half-can of Coca-Cola, Scott turned off his light and flopped back

     into the cot and stared up at the ceiling. He took a few deep

     breaths, preparing himself for the trip. The image of the spring

     came to mind, and he turned it counter-clockwise.

     He was taking a morning walk through his old neighborhood,

     up to his house. There was the old 1950's car in the driveway.

     John Wahler's car. Scott already felt the deep, black undercurrent

     of fury. It carried him into the house, down the hall, peering

     into the bedroom. His wife and John Wahler deeply involved in

     mutual oral pleasure. It was too disgusting for her to do with

     Scott, her own husband --- why was it okay to do it with this guy?

     That was it, Scott realized. That's what pushed me over the edge.

     His wife's betrayal was deeper than he'd thought possible, harder

     for him to accept. Impossible to accept. Shut it off, his mind

     just wanted to shut it off.

     The dark veil went down over his eyes. He went for the gun,

     the big old heavy shotgun. Pulled it out of the case, loaded it

     up. I was going to stop this, he thought. I can't stop this. It

     has to be done. The moment demanded it be done. Scott burst into

     the bedroom, more outraged than the first time, screaming and

     pointing the gun. "Was it worth it?" he shouted at them. "Was it

     worth it?"

     "Oh god, no…" John was muttering, holding his hands out as

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