The second flash fiction author of the week is Amanda Leduc. I'm so glad that she submitted this piece of fiction as it takes an interesting concept and then tells us that not all people are created equal. It's a testimony to life in that we all have different strengths and weaknesses.
Amanda let me know that she was born in Canada, but not only that, she has lived in Ontario, British Columbia, England and Scotland. They are all places I'd love to go to, but will never be, (except for Ontario). The first novel she wrote is called Instructions for an Inexperienced Lover, and it was shortlisted for the 2008 UK Daily Mail First Novel Award, and published in 2009. She also has a second novel, The Raptured, which is currently making submission rounds at publishing houses in both Canada and the US. She has published articles across Canada, the US, and the UK, won 1st runner up in PRISM International's 2008 Short Fiction Contest, and was a third place finalist in Prairie Fire's 2007 Creative Non Fiction Contest. She currently lives in Ontario, Canada, where she is at work on her next novel. To find out more about Amanda Leduc visit her blog at http://amandaleduc.blogspot.com or follow her on Twitter @amandaleduc.
Copyright © 2011 Amanda Leduc
“It’s not about artificial intelligence,” says Ben. He raises his right hand, palm down, and twists it in the air – this is a signal that most of his followers know well. No, it says. You’re not listening. “The ultimate goal of the computer trajectory should not be about giving birth to an intelligence that sits outside of man, but rather about a technology that unlocks all the possibilities of the human mind. Thought-controlled computing, people. This – and not I, Robot – is the wave of the future.”
Sandra watches Ben lecture to the crowd. He’s donned his finest suit for today’s engagement, and his enthusiasm, coupled with his freshly-shaven cheeks, makes him seem almost pre-pubescent. He’s the smart kid at the front of the class, extolling his latest science experiment. He could be the next Bill Gates. He’ll probably, in fact, be bigger than Bill Gates one day. Sometimes, Sandra is sure that his personality is large enough to win over the entire world.
Ben talks a little more about brain waves – this is a lecture hall full of neuroscientists, so everyone knows what he’s saying – and then he calls Sandra onto the stage. This, and not the lecturing, is what everyone really wants to see. She smiles. She would wave to them if it weren’t gimmicky. Three weeks ago, when they were preparing for this show, Ben had jokingly suggested that she sew sequins onto a leotard and introduce herself as the magician’s assistant. They acted the part for five minutes – watch, folks, he’s about to cut her in half! – and then crumpled into laughter in the living room. No, a leotard was just too much.
Instead, Sandra has dressed all in black – this is calm, and professional, and a nice contrast to the white orb chair that sits in the centre of the stage. She smiles at the audience again and takes her place in the orb. Crosses her legs. Rests her hands palms up on her knees. The chair rocks softly on the floor.
“The mind,” says Ben, and as he speaks he bends down and fits a slim computer chip headband over Sandra’s eyes, “is our greatest computer. We have unlocked so many secrets over the course of our collective lifetimes, but the majority of the mind has remained elusive. Until now.”
Until now. Ben steps away and Sandra, immobile in the chair, takes one breath. Then another. She thinks, as she always does, of that Buddhist monk whose brain waves were mapped into nirvana – that still, pulsing spot of blue light on the hospital MRI. She breathes in, and out. Her heart beats long and low into her ears. Slower. Slower.
She can hear, as though from far away, the stifled gasps from the crowd as the chair levitates over the stage. It rises several inches off the ground, and then moves forward until she can feel the upturned awe from spectators sitting directly below her. She does not open her eyes. She could be the sun right now, their own little supernova, for all the attention fixed on her. Hovering over them like God, or some kind of alien life.
She stays immobile over them for a few minutes more – immobile, silent beneath her blindfold – and then guides the chair back to the stage, lets it glide gently down to the floor. The entire room is silent. And then it erupts. Applause. Shouts and yells. Whistles, as though she’s taken her clothes off just for them. The businessmen in the audience are taking their checkbooks out right now. She can feel it.
Ben takes her blindfold off, and she smiles once more for the crowd. They’re standing, now. For her. For Ben. For the chair and the headband and the sudden vista of possibility, right there in the room.
“We can do anything,” Ben says, as the applause quiets down. “I’m here to tell you today, folks – the time has come for technology and the brain to function hand in hand. We can do anything.”
Later that night, Sandra lies awake beside Ben, closes her eyes, and pictures the kitchen. The speckled granite countertops, the soft hum of the fridge. The drawers. The utensils, inert and gleaming in their tidy IKEA compartments. She’s always been good at visualizing. That’s what brought her to Ben. Or maybe that’s what brought Ben to her. She can’t quite remember, now.
When she opens her eyes, the long silver butcher’s knife is floating in the air above their bed. She stares at it until the tip of the knife points downward, over her husband, who sleeps with his arms flung above his head and his mouth open, like a child. She brings the knife lower, until it gleams mere inches from his nose.
Were he awake, they’d be having an entirely different conversation. A discussion of possibility, you might say, and the things that happen when mysteries are unlocked, or unraveled, or brought out from a kitchen drawer into the moonlit calm of a bedroom. A rumination on what happens next, after a computerized headband unlocks so much more than the ability to float in the air.
She won’t do it, of course. Ben himself has sat in the chair for hours on end, and it goes nowhere. When he isn’t bouncing on his toes in front of these crowds, he weeps in their bathroom, alone. He is so much smaller, now, than the man that she married.
She sends the knife back to the kitchen and lets it rest atop the counter. And then she turns, once more, and runs a hand down her husband’s cheek.
“I can do anything,” she says. To him, or to herself. Or maybe to the headband that sits beside her bed, and the computer chip that started everything. It doesn’t matter. “I can do anything.”