Short Story by Jack Bragen
“In primitive times, people were given injections of a substance called Botox which was a bacterial toxin that would paralyze muscles in the face to give a younger look, devoid of facial expressions. Thank goodness we have evolved beyond such primitive thinking!”
The narrator pauses. A barely discernable “photo” is shown of a woman supposedly from the 21st century. She wore face paint on her lips and had a nose piercing. Her skin was utterly smooth and unblemished.
“Now we offer advanced treatments to make your mind work far better than Mother Nature intended.”
A picture of a human brain is shown, alive, with the entire top dome of skull absent. It pulses, ever so faintly, in rhythm to its owner’s heartbeat.
“What is the enemy? This is. Your brain is your enemy! You’re doing far too much thinking. You’re too smart. You would be far happier without it.”
I’m getting uncomfortable at this point. Is an overactive mind really ruining my life? The scene switches to an image of two different nondescript people, with electrodes on their foreheads, and next to each is an oversized graphic display.
“Just take a look at the happiness meter connected to these two subjects. The woman on the left is free of burdensome thoughts, and as you can see, she has a bit of a smile on her face. Her happiness meter reads 95 percent. Wow! Now, look at the woman on the right. She thinks a lot. She has odd ideas of being an intellectual or something. Her happiness meter is at a mere 45 percent. This poor woman needs help!
“But there’s more. Look at the number at the bottom of these two screens. It shows the annual income of each. The woman on the left performs at her job with ease and effectiveness, and her annual income is above three point five mega-units. The woman on the right is barely making ends meet, and her annual income is only 25 percent as much.”
Now I’m interested. Could I make more money if I gave up a little bit of brainpower?
“Think about this: In ancient times, affluent people had to poison themselves with combustion products from a tobacco leaf, and they had to drink a massive amount of alcohol. Alcohol is a decay byproduct of fruit, also used at the time for motor fuel. People consumed this poisonous substance because their brains were made overactive by the stressors of society.”
A primitive video is shown of people sitting in a room that had rows of potion bottles. People were inhaling from burning cylinders. They drank mixtures of the potions. They appeared to be enjoying this.
“In today’s climate, due to health concerns, people operate at full brain capacity. And what does this cause? Misery — nothing but misery.”
I say, “Okay, whatever your product is, I’m sold. Order me one.”
The narrator responds, “We anticipated as much. That’s why our vehicle is waiting for you, adjacent to your balcony. We offer free transport to and from, to conveniently receive services.”
“And what is the cost?”
“This is a free service. We gain the respect of the community by helping troubled people get free of mental entanglements — at no cost to you.”
“The transport awaits you. You can go now.”
I step out onto my balcony, and hovering just above it is an air car. I climb in, and it takes me across town to the intersection of Grove and Main. The vehicle lands and I disembark.
As I prepare to walk into the front door of the building, a man runs out with an opened-up head. He is screaming at the top of his lungs, and he starts to run down toward Grove Street.
Two robots catch up with the man, grab him, inject him in the shoulder with something, and bring him back toward the building.
A holographic video projection appears and urges me to step inside the building. “This procedure is painless, safe, and will relieve you of unnecessary suffering due to your mind. Go ahead and step within those doors.”
I try to step inside the building; however, my legs freeze up. I try to peer through the glass door, but can’t see very much because of the dark window tinting.
Two more people exit the building. They walk in a shuffle and their downturned faces are void of expression.
“Can you tell me about this procedure?” I ask one of them.
“Don’t do it,” one warns me.
My anxiety worsens. The holograph keeps telling me to walk inside. But, as if of their own volition, my legs pivot and I start in the other direction.
“You should not miss out on this,” the holograph calls to me. “Our free services are only guaranteed for a limited time. That means you could be stuck for months or even years with full operation of your brain. And no one wants to see that.”
I reply, “Please summon the shuttle to take me back home. I have reconsidered.”
“There is a cancellation charge of a hundred units.”
“I’m good for it. I’d like to go now.”
When I get home, I am able to tweak the settings on my entertainment and information unit so that it will not come on automatically upon my wake-up any more.
Then, I do a data search and find someone out of state who is willing to ship me some of the alcohol potion I’d seen in the video.
When I go to work on Monday, I discover that my supervisor and half of the executives in the office have undergone the treatment. On one of the forms I am to review, I see that it was improperly filled out with childlike penmanship. Then I look around the office and I realize that the pre-lunch banter to which I was accustomed is absent. Several employees sit in their chairs with vacant expressions.
At the end of the work day, everyone goes home and next to nothing has been completed in my office. Nothing makes sense, but I don’t dare raise a protest.
I look at the news transmission as my air car drives me home, and I realize that all of the country’s automated systems are in order and functioning. Thus, I am not worried about a breakdown in society. After all, in modern times, do we really need our intelligence?
My mind wanders into speculation of why a “free service” is being offered to help people reduce their mental activity. Something as valuable as this could command a hefty fee. I wonder if perhaps the government, in its benevolence, is subsidizing these procedures. Yet, I am still fond of my mind, and I’ve decided I will keep it.
What did I just say? I’m confused…
*** *** *** *** *** *** ***
The High Crime of Reading
Short Story by Jack Bragen
The BART police officer sat with a computer keyboard taking information from me, while I sat in just my underwear, with both wrists handcuffed to a heavy wooden chair bolted to the floor.
“You’re being charged with provocative actions in a public place. Namely, it incites people’s anger when someone is reading a book in public.”
“I understand that, officer.” I paused. “I never anticipated it could upset people that much.”
“This is not the 20th century, and you should realize that public safety is paramount. You do not have freedom of expression.”
“The First Amendment was struck down six months ago, and I was not aware of what the full implications of it could be,” I said. “My intent was not to provoke those people who reacted by assaulting me.”
“Intent is immaterial. This is not the 20th century,” he said again. The policeman reached into his desk drawer and retrieved a nasal pleasurer, which he sniffed and then put back into his desk. “I don’t suppose you would like a whiff?”
“I wasn’t offering. I just wanted to know if you wanted it.” The officer typed for a long time into the keyboard, and then began blinking as though mentally fatigued. “Could you conceivably have played with your phone instead of reading?” he asked. “I know it is a stretch to sit and do nothing. That would possibly cause too much thinking.”
I replied, “So, if I have to wait at a bus stop, I am supposed to play with my phone to avoid criminal penalties?”
The officer paused. “I know this seems very unfair. But there is a lot of anger toward intellectuals. And if you incite anger in the general public, you become responsible for their violent reactions, if any.”
I took a breath. “Is there a way out of this?”
“You could plea bargain. I promise I’ll suggest leniency, since you have not been in any trouble up until now. I could probably get you off with community service.”
“I’ll probably lose my job.”
“Then you’ll have the time to perform the community service. Nothing is worse than an unemployed or homeless starving person. Do you have savings?” I nodded. “Then you should give half of your savings to me as a gratuity.”
“It is allowed. I’m giving you a chance to go home with no jail time. Someone with your medical conditions might not survive it — it’s rough.”
Finally, I got a chance to put my clothes back on, and I was released. It was about a half mile to my home, and it was nine at night and 85 degrees out. I walked at the best pace I could manage.
I got home, took the permitted ten minutes of shower, and I got in bed. Tomorrow would be court, and then I would probably begin my community service the same day.
I put myself to sleep counting sheep. I would have read myself to sleep. However, the books in my dwelling had been removed, and a note had been left, stuck to my front door, that the books had been confiscated.