Welcome to NaNoWriMo, where I - and thousands of other plucky souls - try to write a 50,000 word novel in a month.
You are reading "Tales of the Algorithm". A compendium of near-future sci-fi stories. Each chapter is a stand-alone adventure set a few days from now.
Everything you read is possible - there's no magic, just sufficiently advanced technology. Think of them as technological campfire horror stories.
Your feedback on each story is very much appreciated.
And so, let's crack on with...
I could smell bacon cooking. Why would anyone be frying a pack of rashers so close to an operating theatre? My entire head was immobilised but my nose was free to twitch.
The lovely young nurse wiped away a dribble of saliva from my chin. "Smelling bacon?" he said with a thick English accent. I squeezed his hand - once for yes. "Ah," he said, "You're not going to like this. No one does. That's not bacon, mate. You see, when the high intensity laser hits the fleshy part of your eye..." He trailed off.
Of course. There's a reason they call us "Long Pig".
The procedure took hours. The surgeons cut open my eye with a laser; just enough space to slot in the device. Nurses kept the eye bathed in an antiseptic anaesthetic solution. All I had to do was lie there and wonder why I'd volunteered for this procedure. It wasn't as if I was the editor's first choice for the job, but I was making a rare trip into the main office when I was cornered.
"You like new gadgets, don't you?"
It was a facile question. I was a junior tech reporter at the biggest consumer magazine in the country. A magazine which, against all the odds, still published a paper version. A luxury not afforded to most periodicals these days. My home was a graveyard of kitsch gadgets which had been set to the magazine for review. Typically I'd receive some shonky piece of mass-produced electronics on a Friday. I'd install it on Saturday. Sunday would be spent trying to teach my flatmates that they now needed to install a new app if they wanted the lights to ever work again. On Monday I'd write up my "long-term real-world no-nonsense review". And on Tuesday the manufacturer would tell my boss what changes needed to be made to the article if we ever expected to sell them advertising space again.
"Yes. I like new gadgets. What have you got?"
And so, after signing something that said I'd read a 50,000 word disclaimer and taking the requisite medical exam, I stepped into the room where my eye was about to be upgraded. In retrospect, this may have been a suboptimal decision.
"You might feel a small sting," said the surgeon. We were reaching the 5 hour mark and the livestream viewer numbers had dropped considerably from their peak. "In Five... Four... Three... Two..."
It felt like someone had rammed a cattle-prod into my skull, dialled it up to 11, and let a rabid monkey play with the trigger. Even though my jaw was clamped shut, my scream echoed through the building.
"...One..." concluded the torture-master-in-cheif. The pain abated and was replaced by a tiny green pixel in the centre of my vision. The smell of bacon had faded and was replaced with the unmistakable odour of a human who had soiled themself. One nurse began to clean me up while the others began removing the pins from my eye. I was mortified, humiliated, and in excruciating pain. But, on the plus side, I now had a blinking green caret in my eyeline. So, silver linings and all that.
While the nurses attended to my bodily functions, a company rep entered the theatre to help me calibrate the equipment. He handed me my Android phone and asked me to download and install a couple of apps directly from their Taiwanese servers. My phone flashed up several warnings which, in my haste, I ignored. The pairing process with my eye was pretty simple. I double blinked to go into pairing mode. Then I blinked the Morse code flashes displayed on the phone screen. Then I looked up to confirm. Then I blinked three times to confirm. Of course, I messed it up the first few times and ended up being paired to the rep's phone rather than mine - but it was sorted out pretty quickly.
As I was wheeled into recovery, two nurses started chatting to each other in their native language. I guess English, or some other minority tongue; I'm not so hot with European dialects. I stared at the lips of the first nurse and blinked the complicated pattern taught to me by the rep. After a moment, a tiny stream of green characters began scrolling in my vision. The real-time translation was... well, it was adequate. It was slow, and slightly incomprehensible, but it was there. I could read what she was saying in my language while she was speaking hers. As the Brits say - blimey!
"What this [synonym for fool] be do?" said the text. I didn't dare take my eyes off her, so I didn't see the answer from the other nurse. But this one's reaction said it all.
"Tcha! I no do act deity. Dirty fellow. Chance break high lose eye. Isn't it?"
OK, it wasn't exactly comforting, but I was just impressed it worked at all. They manhandled me into a free bed and, given the trauma of the last few hours, I did the only sensible thing; I fell asleep.
By the time I woke up, the powerful African sun had dipped beyond the edge of the mountains and the hospital was draped in the cloak of darkness. The green dot had vanished. Had the procedure failed? Did my body reject the implant? My pulse raced in worry. What a stupid idea this had been and what a bloody idiot I was for letting some crappy start-up fuck about with my eye. I blushed in shame at what I'd done. The cursor blinked on! A little animation played as the system booted up. Of course! There was no space in my eye for a battery, so the whole thing ran on harvested body heat. When I slept, my body temperature dropped and the device powered down. When I woke, it also woke.
I remember, back when I was a kid, reading a sci-fi book about eye implants. The hero of the story had a persistent clock embedded so that he could always tell the time. This caused two problems. Firstly, the time was about 3 minutes off and had no way to reset itself. Secondly, the clock stayed on when he closed his eyes, meaning he couldn't sleep. No such problems here! My little eye used an ultra-efficient radio codec to communicate with my phone which kept the time synchronised and meant any heavy processing was done outside of my head. I briefly worried about the long-term effects of having a permanent transmitter so close to my brain, but figured they'd probably had it tested in rats or something.
The checkout from the hospital was uneventful. A brief blood pressure test, a basic eye exam, and then I was loaded up with a variety of multicoloured pills. The company rep had disappeared, so I was left on my own to discover the eye-Maxx²'s capabilities. The live subtitles were pretty nifty. Obviously a few kinks to work out, but a most impressive beta. I just hoped they could upgrade it in software without needing to slice open my eye again. I flicked through the phone's settings looking for something else to try. Most of the options were greyed out pending regulatory approval. Some of them were poorly translated - and I didn't feel like clicking on anything I wasn't 100% sure of lest it explode in my face.
Before I explored much further, my phone vibrated with a new message and a line of green text appeared in my vision.
"FROM: BOSS." "SUBJ: QUARTERLY RESULTS". DBLBLNK 2 RD
Whoa! That was impressive. I performed the double blink to read and my boss's message started floating in front of me a few characters at a time. I'll admit, it wasn't the easiest thing in the world to read, but the fact it worked at all was astonishing. I daresay kids will reinvent TXT speak in order to squeeze the most use out of it. Having your manager send a message directly to your eyes was the future we all dreamed about, right? The write-up was going to be so much fun. 10 stars out of 10 would go through major surgery again.
I finished skim reading about the magazine's dwindling circulation figures and decided to put the other functions to the test. Ah! Here was an interesting one - Live Directions. I told my phone that I wanted to walk home from the hospital. Apparently that was a premium option and I didn't much fancy my chances of getting it through work's notoriously slow expenses process. So I pressed the button for the freemium feature.
TURN LEFT. WALK 150M.
Well, off to a good start. I turned and walked. The distance counter slowly dropping as I got closer to the next intersection.
TURN RIGHT. WALK 75M.
Not my usual route home, but it probably knew best. So I carried on strolling. Following its route suggestion. Until, quite without warning, it said:
ENTER MCDONALD'S. 2-4-1 HAPPY MEALS. T&Cs APPLY
This was not my home! Apparently the ad-supported directions included taking you past their sponsors' locations. I turned around and started trudging back home. My eye was suddenly dazzled by a full screen, seizure inducing, flash of text:
✱ TURN ARND. PLS VISIT MCDONALD'S 2 CONTINUE ✱
Fuckers! I literally couldn't see properly until I stepped into the Golden Arches and purchased my underwhelming Happy Meal. The instant my phone touched the pay terminal the distracting vision was replaced with a friendly
I decided to continue my journey solo. I grumpily stomped away from the restaurant and wondered how I could spin this experience into a positive review. I needn't have bothered. As I was unlocking the front door to my apartment, I felt my phone buzz again. I awaited the inevitable prompt.
NEW MSG. URGENT. OUR INCREDIBLE JOURNEY. DBLBLNK 2 RD
Um. This did not bode well. I didn't really want to double blink. I didn't want to know. The message stayed visible - burning itself onto my retina as I spent the next five minutes trying desperately to blink slowly. Eventually, after downing a can of dopamine-enriched cola, I gave in. I blinked twice and the message scrolled across my vision line by line
THANKS FOR ALL YOUR SUPPORT
DUE TO FUNDING ISSUES WE R SHUTTING DOWN
NO FURTHR SOFTWR UPDATES.
U CAN KEEP IMPLANT
And that was that. I never published a review.
Over the last few months, a group of merry hackers have been working on reverse engineering the eye-Maxx²'s protocols. They're promising to release some open-source firmware to unlock it. I wish they'd hurry up. I can't stand living like this.
CONNECTION LOST. PLZ REBOOT
The message stays there from the moment I awake until the moment I fall asleep. An ethereal green glow which can't be ignored, can't be dismissed, and can't be covered up.
I really wish I'd read the fine print.
I'd love your feedback on each chapter. Do you like the style of writing? Was the plot interesting? Did you guess the twist? Please stick a note in the comments to motivate me.