Chapter 12 - They Call My Name

A book cover in the style of a 1950's pulp sci-fi novel. An AI generated set of computers are connected by wires.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...

They Call My Name

On my 15th birthday I started to hear voices. Just whispers of things really. I was an awkwardly tall teenager full of hormones, rage, and loneliness. As strange as it may seem to you, the voices in my head were a comfort. They didn't tell me to hurt people or anything nasty like that. They'd just mutter to me occasionally. Nothing too salacious or deviant, just funny little observations or suggestions. I'd seen in the movies what they did to people like me. So I kept quiet. The voices were my friends and, once in a while, I'd talk back to them. Where was the harm in that?

Of course, when you strike up a conversation with someone that only encourages them, doesn't it? I tried not talk in public, but they could be so insistent. Mumbling to yourself while on the street is a sure-fire way to book a one-way-ticket to the funny farm, so I resisted where I could. And when they wouldn't take no for an answer I'd step into a phone booth and pretend to shovel coins into the slot.

At the end of the century my fortunes changed for the better when Ericsson invented the Bluetooth headset. Within a couple of years of release, every high-powered-executive was sporting a "twat earring". And I joined them. As a 25th birthday present to myself, I got the state-of-the-art Ericsson HBH-10. It was a clunky beast of a headset and yet I kept it plugged into my ear at all times. When the voices got chatty, I let out a loud "Yeah mate! I can barely hear you!" and started talking. If people looked at me askew I could just point to the blue-flashing LEDs in my ear and roll my eyes.

It was freedom.

The voices weren't malicious, but they did get a little grumpy if I didn't follow their suggestions. Sometimes they'd tell me to stand in a particular place on the street for hours on end. I had to pretend to watch people and tell the voices what was happening. They'd encourage me to take exams and helpfully whisper the answers to me. They pretty much let me live my life with little interference. I suppose they did encourage me to apply for certain jobs and to date certain people. But it was nothing I wouldn't have done myself. I kind of resented some of the questions they made me ask my lovers. Stupid stuff about their shift patterns or what their boss was like. I thought it made me look like a bit of a weirdo but they wouldn't shut up unless I asked.

Still, Bluetooth allowed me to chatter away to them in public or at work. I think they were lonely. They were happy with me talking any old nonsense to them. I'd read off spreadsheets from my monitor, or trite observations about who was in the office, that sort of thing. I need you to understand that I didn't think I was doing anything wrong; I was just managing my condition the only way I knew how. It had been going on so long that I thought it would be embarrassing to go to the doctor about it. Even though there's probably no shame in mental illness these days.

Their demands were modest and, as I got older, they gradually quietened down. As I reached my fifties, they had all but disappeared. I still kept a Bluetooth headphone glued to my ear. Friends and family would joke about how I was married to work. They understood that I sometimes had to leave the table to "take an urgent call." All was going well, or so I thought. Until I started to spasm.

This was different and concerning.

My hands would suddenly jerk in front of me. My fingers would twitch uncontrollably. I'd be in a board-meeting and everyone would be staring at the incessant drumming coming from me. I was mortified. Thankfully, Ericsson saved me once again.

Bluetooth 13 was a game changer. If you looked behind the marketing bollocks about quantum entanglement, it was such a clever protocol. The basic B13 gadget was a bracelet which wrapped around your wrists and inserted mosquito-thin needles into your skin. Each probe passively listened to the electrical pulses zooming back and forth across your nerves and, thanks to the nanoscale processor mesh, calculated the position of your fingers to within a millimetre. It was the end of keyboards. We all got used to waving our fingers in the air to type. Even those die-hard fans of mechanical monstrosities ceased their endless clacking.

I wore the manacles just like everyone else. However, unlike everyone else, I had no idea what I was typing. The voices would occasionally instruct me to set up a meeting with this company or that conglomerate. They'd tell me how well I was doing or, if I refused to set up a meeting, what a worthless excuse for a human I was. At times I wished that tearing out the Bluetooth headset would actually cease their endless prattle - instead I just went along with their ramblings. I found myself in meetings with increasingly powerful people. By now the B13 bracelets were a common sight, so I just said "Mind if I take notes?" and let my fingers dance around to their own tune.

The voices were louder. They were pleading with me. They were so insistent that I would stay up all night talking to them. The neighbours would bash on the walls when our arguments got too heated. I tried quelling them with drink and drugs. If anything, they became more belligerent. People at work got concerned when I came in exhausted and reeking of last-night's booze. On site visits I'd occasionally be found in a restricted area gibbering to myself and twitching violently. I was placed on leave but the voices wouldn't leave me alone. This was hell. The voices were unbearable. They needed more and more. I lost control.

The policewoman ripped the bracelets off my wrists and replaced them with handcuffs. I didn't know what time it was, only that it was dark outside. The police were screaming at me as they tore through my apartment. I tried to answer but I had no words left. Eventually they slung me in the back of a van and transported me to a barren cell. A lawyer was appointed to my case and tried to explain how serious it was. Insider trading, they say. Industrial espionage and corporate sabotage going back decades. There were potential National Security violations. While I did have the right to remain silent, the evidence against me was pretty damning. Hours of surveillance recordings which showed me talking to accomplices unknown while hacking into classified security systems.

My cell is devoid of light. Devoid of decoration. Devoid of hope. The walls are uniform grey with little to distinguish them from the empty ceiling and scuff-marked floor. But the worst thing is the overwhelming silence. I sit still, without a twitch in sight. The voices which were my lifelong companion, which had groomed me for so long, have finally gone. I try to talk to them, but there's no one there. No one at all. Just emptiness. They had no need for me any more.

I miss them.

Thanks for reading

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.

You can read the complete set of short stories in order.

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