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
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
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
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
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
"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
"I ran an automated warehouse 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
"So, in your mind, you're trying to figure out the human
brain and memories in the same terms you would storing packages in
"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
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
"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
"Oh god, no…" John was muttering, holding his hands out as