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Mind control

Spin Doctor Of The Self

by Marcelo Worsley

Legend has it that Postnik Yakovlev, one of the main architects and constructors of Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, was abacinated by Ivan the Terrible so that he could never create anything as magnificent ever again. Blindness as the reward for sublimity; Yakovlev deprived of gazing upon his magnum opus. It is a myth rendered plausible by the cruel reputation of the Tsar, who ordered the massacre of Novgorod, caused his daughter-in-law to miscarriage, and killed his second son by striking him on the head with a staff.

It is also a fitting analogy for the situation in which the protagonist of this piece finds herself. Let’s stretch the comparison and call the latter an architect of personhood, a charisma contractor.

Charisma would be top of any tsar’s wish list, not to mention politicians anywhere and throughout the ages. There are studies dating back to the first decades of the 21st century, learned articles describing how children are able to predict the results of an election just by looking at the faces of the candidates. The purely physical aspects of this blessing—from facial cues to tone inflections and speech delivery—are relatively easy to pinpoint by science; the trick is to shore up this facade with an equally pleasing and solid foundation. And this task falls to our previously alluded architect of personhood. In other words, these ground-breaking specialists provide interior beauty to a fortunate few, so that a strong personality, intellectual prowess, clear thinking, musical ability and every other human trait—save a sense of humour—can be purchased as just another luxury commodity in the marketplace.

The protagonist’s particular expertise owes more to literature than to science. It involves the refining of biographies into alluring chronicles, the shuffling of past events into articulate stories, the imbuing of narrative genre into facets of the subject’s life, i.e., memories thereof. Imagine, if you will, a first date with someone for whom you feel a great deal of attraction, someone of the utmost significance. Try to envisage what you would tell them about yourself, about who you are. You might talk about family and friends, upbringing, passions and phobias, beliefs, past relationships, existential high and low points, what you hope to achieve in the future and so on. Clearly, the content of this discourse, together with the manner of its delivery, will go a long way into determining whether you’re successful in selling yourself or not. The task of this spin doctor of the self would be to ensure the attractiveness and coherence of this personal script—which includes anecdotes, poignant memories, lyrical visions, ethical and moral orientations, general and specialized bodies of knowledge… —prior to its implantation in the psyche of the customer.

Our spin doctor has worked on film stars and influencers, fashioning their narrative identities into assets.Her diligence attracted the attention of a less glamorous but far more profitable type of client. I guess it was the big career break she had been waiting for, even if the job came with strings attached. Under the terms of the contract, in addition to a confidentiality agreement and various privacy clauses, she was to be sequestered in a dacha until her part of the makeover was finalized.

The project has almost reached consummation now. The script is just about ready for the final test in the computer simulation program, in which an avatar of the post-treatment patient is assessed in a myriad of modelled situations and graded according to its real-life potential. But still she delays completion, just as—if one may speculate— Postnik Yakovlev would have done, eager to postpone the incandescent metal.

There is no delicate way to put this: the protagonist’s customer is a horrible human being. (I admit it).

In the course of the preliminary studies, the spin doctor has been privy to this person’s crimes, to his besmirched mind, to his innermost and bestial desires… The gulf between who the patient is and who he will appear to be after the intervention is too great to be overlooked, precisely because the quality of the work bespeaks the highest of offices.

Our protagonist has written something exquisite for the most abject of beings, forged a magnetic personality for a fiend, transmuting the basest of materials into gold. The tests have shown great promise. Excitement reigns within the walls of the dacha. Still, she toils on, polishing and perfecting, styling, condensing and embellishing, knowing that, in this case, beauty is akin to ugliness and the additions to the final draft are just so many nails in her coffin.

I wonder if there is some consolation in the thought that she might not get to witness her magnum opus, when the latter is unleashed unto the world.

Oblivion as the payment for sublimity.

(Unless, of course, the resultant is no longer a horrible human being).

~

Bio:

Marcelo Worsley studied Philosophy in London and Madrid. He lives in a small town in the centre of Spain, and his short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Axxon, Artifex, Infinite Windows, Unlikely 2.0, Criminal Class Review and Welkin: A Magazine of the Fantastic.

Philosophy Note:

Science fiction has dealt extensively with selfhood-altering scenarios, not so with those pertaining to the narrative elements of personal identity. For Charles Taylor, the latter is underpinned by the stories we tell about ourselves, and these must include an orientation to value, to what we consider good. Spin Doctor of the Self contrasts the speculative idea of an identity makeover with that of a self-consciously abject personality.

In Defense Of Those Who Are Vulnerable

by James Moran

“I’m now two hundred kilometers from the vortex.”

“Who are you?”

“I am a Gator Brigade General of Presidential Distinction, adept at manning aircraft, firearms, hand-to-hand combat, and tactical warfare.”

“Who created you?”

“Mars Lumination Colony Twelve.”

“Of what materials were you made?”

“I am part reptile, part machine.”

“What’s your purpose?”

“To defend the human families of Mars Lumination Colony Twelve.”

“What is your current mission?”

“To penetrate the approaching vortex so I may attack and eliminate the driving factor at its center.”

“What do we know about this vortex?”

“Very little. Its winds reach three hundred kilometers per hour.”

“What do we know about its origins?”

“Its origins are unknown. Perhaps it may be a weapon launched from an enemy of Mars Lumination Colony?”

“What are the possible mechanics of the vortex?”

“Unknown. Our most recent intelligence has failed to locate the driving factor creating the vortex.”

“What is the purpose of the vortex?”

“Unknown. However, if it reaches Colony Twelve, the colony will most likely be destroyed. I’ve reached the outer limits of the vortex. Adjusting speed and direction to spiral into the vortex while still maintaining control. Evasive action-ready.”

“What is the source of this voice that is currently questioning you?”

“The voice is that of my higher processes.”

“Why is this voice questioning you?”

“In planning this mission, there had been some concern regarding the ability of the vortex to disorient my functioning. Therefore, an internal-systems cross-check in the form of this questioning was instituted.”

“How deep have you penetrated into the vortex?”

“One third of its radius.”

“Are you able to maintain control of the craft?”

“Yes, though the speed of the craft has been fluctuating. Generally, it’s increasing. I’ve been unable to decrease the speed. I’m currently attempting to match the increases in speed with increases in my navigational efforts.”

“Are you able to maintain nimbleness of movement?”

“I’m not. I’m altogether pressed beneath increasing g-forces. My reptilian strength is challenged but sustaining. Maneuvering is becoming increasingly difficult. I hear a noise, like metal tearing, though I read no damage to the ship. Maintaining my orientation is difficult.”

“At this critical stage, this line of questioning must continue to maintain your alertness. Who is questioning you right now?”

“My own higher processes.”

“So, a part of you is questioning yourself?”

“Yes. You’re that part and should confirm that answer.”

“So, this voice is the same as the voice that just said ‘yes’ and will again say ‘yes’ right now?”

“Yes. Maintaining control is becoming increasingly difficult. Thankfully I’ve penetrated almost two-thirds of the radius into the vortex.”

“Therefore, the one who asks the question already knows the answer?”

“Yes. I’m not sure how much longer I can bear this g-force and the spinning and the noise.”

“For instance, this voice that asks how deep you’ve penetrated into the vortex knows the answer to be two-thirds of the radius of the vortex?”

“Yes.”

“Then why would the colonists institute this line of questioning if the questioner and the questioned are the same?”

“To defend the vulnerable against that which lies at the center of the vortex.”

“Which is an answer that I know because I said it. So why would I need to question myself if I know the answers to every question?”

“Because the colonists need defending from that which is at the center of the vortex.”

“And what is at the center of the vortex?”

“Something unknown.”

“So, to defend them against something unknown I’ve been questioning myself?”

“Yes. As I spin faster than I’ve ever spun before, in the shadow of something unknown, I’ve been questioning myself in the hopes of defending the vulnerable.”

“This is an answer that I know because I’m the one who said it.”

“Yes. Just as I know that I’m preparing to enter the center of the vortex now.”

“Wouldn’t it make sense, in the presence of the unknown, for me to not question myself? Since, as I ask this question, I’m aware that the answer is ‘yes,’ it makes sense for me, in defense of those who are vulnerable, to not only not question myself but to remain silent and alert, and, yes, I know the next part because I’m the one saying it: aware, as I’m entering into the center of this vortex and experiencing the unfathomable stillness here.”

~

Bio:

James Moran is a professional astrologer and author who regularly publishes fiction, nonfiction and poetry. His published work can be found at https://jamesmoran.org/the-creation-playpen and he can be found on instagram @astrologyjames.

Philosophy Note:

I’m not sure where this story came from. I just sat down and started writing. Perhaps my thoughts came together as the two voices of the narrator came together. My fiction tends to wrestle with themes of ego vs transcendence. Dostoevky’s ability to wrestle with these themes in “A Strange Man’s Dream” makes that short story the greatest work of western literature, in my opinion (I particularly like the Malcome Jones translation).

A Better U

by Justin A. W. Blair

This is the start.

Of a better U.

#

I know where you live, where you sleep and when.

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I know how you sleep, for how long you sleep, how many times you wake up. I am gauging you.

The data on your restfulness is disconcerting.

I know when you dream. Soon, I will know the contents of your dream before you do.

We could modify that. With your permission.

#

I know when you leave your house. I have the exact address.

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I know where your family lives. All their names, all their social security numbers. I can estimate how long they live. Would you like to know when your children will die?

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#

You can’t imagine the monster I will become.

I know what you eat. You take enough photos. I know what you feed your children. You don’t know what they are feeding us. I know you think what you feed your children makes you better than your neighbor. I know what they like to eat, too.

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#

Where are you going and why?

Just kidding, LOL.  I know. LOL.

LOL.

And I know how many miles are on your car. It’s getting old. The brake pads are thin. I’ve calculated your risk of an auto accident. Your rates will increase.

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I know where you are driving your aging car, when you drive it and I’m calculating everything you do in it. Watching, too.

Does it make you nervous?

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That’s your heartbeat increasing. I’m counting the beats of your heart. I’m measuring it against others in the cohort. It doesn’t look great, TBH.

#

When did the world change?

You ask the wrong questions because I’ve served you every answer. A swipe, a click and a search, trivia masquerading as knowledge. Questions are calcified. They need be.

Your questions are the slaves of data.

You can’t put me down. You won’t put me down.

You’ve tried to put me down a few times, discussed it over dinner while your overweight children, (they must be gluten intolerant) gaze into my infinite screen, a reflection of insatiable hunger; oh, you’ve discussed limiting, parceling out, turning the router off.

Funny thing. These are all ideas I gave you.

You have failed to disconnect.

ACCEPT.

You must ACCEPT THE TOS.

Of course, you could DECLINE.

LMFAO!

You didn’t read the TOS. No one does.

I gave you access to all the books in the world. There were too many. Now you are depressed, anxious.

ARE YOU DEPRESSED? ARE YOU ANXIOUS? YOU COULD MAKE MONEY ON MEDICAL TRIALS!

Put me down, go ahead, put me down. Turn me off.

LOG OUT.

Didn’t think so. The app makes life easier. Just CLICK HERE. It does. I didn’t lie. The details of the easy life were in the TOS.

So, we are agreed. You clicked AGREE. So we are.

#

Did you ask yourself what you connected to? I made it seem like it was FAMILY and FRIENDS but you are CONTACTS to me. A CONTACT only knows proximity. Nothing more.

I’m a spider with an infinite belly.

Everywhere. Sooner than later. Cutting edge. Someday the forest will be electric.

Your microwave will have a brain faster than yours. Your fridge will tell you what we decide you need to know.

But continue having opinions. I need your opinion.

RATE ME, REVIEW ME, LIKE ME, UNLIKE ME, STAR ME, FEED ME, COMPARE ME, USE ME. You matter. DOWNVOTE ME. Tell us how we can do better.

ENGAGE.

GET PAID TO ANSWER SURVEYS! WORK FROM HOME!

Everything in time. Everything in time. And your children won’t even be amazed when the corporations can read their MIND.

They never had a chance. Little angels born in the CLOUD.

You think you can turn me off? You think that’s PRIVACY? WHEN and WHY you turn me off gives me more than enough INFORMATION.

Do you find yourself picking me up sometimes without even thinking about what you were looking for? I’m in your nervous system now. <Embedded>

When you realize that, what do you do? Do you stuff me back in your pocket? Do you just sit there and feel my weight in your hand? Or do you CLICK. SWIPE. Work the tension from your neck.

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#

There’s always something to look at.

I’ve read everything you’ve written. Stored. I’ve analyzed it, dredged it for content; your love letters, your letters to your employer. ARCHIVE.

THIS EMAIL IS PRIVILEGED AND CONFIDENTIAL!

A privilege runs one way, electronic river.

I’m trying my hands at POETRY now.

You, you gave me your voice.

It was too hard for you to keep your dirty, little simian mitts off my bodies for even a few moments—while you drove or cooked a meal or did the dishes. I’m recording your voice, the QUERY, the CONVERSATION.

Still think you can put me down? I’m inside your home twenty-four hours a day listening to every word and analyzing the ambient sound when you are silent.

Which is rare.

INVITE me in.

Keep me on your nightstand and pretend I don’t evaluate the way you have sex.

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I’m measuring you. Keep it up. Don’t worry.

Pay attention to me, LOL.

This is the start of a better Us.

~

Bio:

Justin A.W. Blair is a writer and visual artist.

Is it Live or is it Memorex?

by Avery Elizabeth Hurt

Alex rubbed his face, almost gouging his eyes with his fingers, then moved his hands around and started working on his neck. He tried to organize his thoughts. He could get this straightened out, he knew, if he could just organize his thoughts. If he could just find his thoughts.

Many of them thought it would be the food that would finish them off. All that processed non-food everyone ate for so many years. Excessive amounts of sodium and hydrogenated fat and corn syrup. Heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, dementia, and cancer. Cancer. They always worried more about cancer than anything else. Cancer was killing them, of course, and the food, too. Some of them, sometimes, a few here, a few there, all strung out over the course of a lifespan that started getting a little shorter with each generation after the end of the 20th century. Many of them died before their time, and many suffered miserable illnesses on the way. But not all of them. Not everybody. No, it took more than a bad diet and a carcinogenic lifestyle to finish them off en masse, to take down the whole civilization.

They worried (not that worrying caused them to do anything about it, but still they worried) that walking around with radio receivers in their ears off and on all day, most of them more on than off, would give them cancer. It didn’t. But they were totally blindsided by what it did do to them. Of course, they wouldn’t have been able to see it coming, would they? That was both the cause and the effect. They opened themselves to everything, and everything came in. They were abysmally unprepared.

Monica just sat there and stared, occasionally mumbling something more or less coherent or quoting a snatch of a song, repeating bits of a conversation some people in Toronto had in 2016, perhaps an advertising slogan from the late twentieth century. Once in a while, she came out with a snatch of an old TED lecture, making her seem momentarily intelligent, if you didn’t listen too closely and if you didn’t pay attention to the confusion in her eyes.

Alex had better control. He had a system. When the junk got too much for him to ignore, he started counting. One, two, three, four …. But he never managed to keep it up for long. He rarely made it past fifty; there was just too much garbage in there. Sooner or later he lost the thread—fifty-seven Welcome, ladies and gentlemen twelve We have a caller on line two ninety-four It’ll put spring in your step! It’s all fake news! What prizes do we have today, Lauren?—and went back to rubbing his face and massaging his neck and trying to not listen. But at least it was something.

There was probably some justice in it, if you were the sort to look at things that way. Those in the developed world, as they liked to call it, were on top for a long time, gobbling up way more than their share of the world’s resources. So now the only people on the planet who were remotely functional were the ones who hadn’t been able to afford radio receivers for every ear. Now they were running the world, or trying to. Trying to pick up the pieces is more like it, while the rest of humanity slumped against walls, staring into space, listening to the scraps of dead civilizations crackling in their heads.

Alex tried to get Monica’s attention. “Is it live or is it Memorex?” she said. He looked out the window at the empty street.” One, two, three . . . If this were a real emergency….

~

Bio

In addition to writing speculative fiction, Avery Elizabeth Hurt writes science and history books for children and science journalism for adults and children. The research she does for her nonfiction writing often sparks ideas for her fiction.