"Asylum" is a story that takes place in the future, in an augmented reality (which means that the real world is enhanced with technology to the point that it's hard to tell if something is real or computer-generated). This is made possible through a chip embedded into the brain upon birth. This story explores the life of a man whose chip has malfunctioned, preventing him from fully being a part of society. It can be seen as a metaphor for someone living with a mental disability and struggling to fit in. It explores the problems arising from the pervasiveness of technology, the flawed assumptions we may have about others who are different, and the search for self-identity.
They keep me trapped here. Trapped behind invisible walls, in a gray, heartless world of stoned businessmen bustling around in their office buildings, stoned schoolchildren sitting in their classrooms. Living a lie. Bustling about, oblivious, uncaring.
I can't see half the crap everyone claims they can see. There sure ain't any "red warning markers" above some of the doors... those doors don't open when you put your hand on the access panel, but there is nothing indicative of them being locked until you try.
They say I once tried flying a skycar up, up, up, past the roofs of the buildings, past the edge of the city. Stopped by an invisible wall. I crashed the sucker into a fence, split open the anti-grav, somehow fried half of my fucking brain in the process. "Electromagnetic radiation", they said.
Cold, alone. Stuck here in this world, where everyone just goes about their business, oblivious.
I don't have any memories of that, except a tiny inkling in my brain that I see at night. Maybe that's why. Maybe that's why they say I once was a young, spirited skycar pilot. Now I'm just an old geezer. Nah, how can I be an old geezer? I'm not even 50 years old, and my 107-year-old father is somewhere in another city, and nobody refers to him as an "old geezer."
I spend my time designing, thinking. Trying to devise new ways of getting around this maze of a world. I do see markers on some things, but not on others. Some peoples' names float above their heads... others are a big jumble of gibberish with no pronunciation information attached. How the hell do they expect me to pronounce their name?
Sometimes, I feel like there's something that's inside my head, trying to control me. Trying to tell me what I can and can't do. Numerous times, I've tried walking up to some door and some unseen force within my head tried to stop me. Sometimes I saw flashes of red, other times flashes of blue. At one point my entire vision blanked out and I fell to the ground... all because I tried walking up to a freaking unlabeled door.
What is this world coming to?
I don't remember my childhood, but they say I was a perfectly normal kid. They say I went to school just like everybody else, then dreamed of being a commercial skycar pilot. Got my license. Started flying one of them. I don't remember any of that crap, as I've probably said before.
I lie awake at night, thinking. Thinking about others. Thinking about how they seem to always know what to do, while I'm just stuck here dazed and confused. Not like anyone cares or notices. They're polite, they always say "hi" as I'm walking down the street or into a store... well, not always. Once I went to a food place and the cashier opened his mouth and all I saw was his whole head turning to gray fuzz, then his body turning translucent, and then I dropped like a tree.
Seriously, what is wrong with me?
They released me from the hospital that day, and told me "no more food places, no more library, no more automated storage units, no more...", and listed off a bunch of things I couldn't do. Yeah, makes sense, since every time I tried doing one of those things, I would black out or at least get a whole shitload of fuzz in front of my vision.
I'm not stupid. My intelligence level is "above average". Well, at least that's what the test told me, until it went all fuzzy on me and didn't go away until I stared intently at the ground beneath my shoes.
Can you even imagine how hard it is to live without this newfangled "wakeup signal" that everyone keeps raving about? Never late for work, never tired. I can barely get up on time to make myself this foul drink they call "coffee." And then they tease me because apparently it's the stuff my great-grandpa's generation drank. But if I don't drink it, I just can't focus half the time.
I don't remember drinking coffee as a kid. Then again, I don't remember much about my childhood.
So here I was, walking along the gray street through the unmarked houses, trying to ignore the blips of purple, pink, red, white, blue, and green light floating through my vision. The colors would change depending on my location and depending what I looked at. I've gotten pretty good at ignoring them.
Well, anyways, I was walking down the street and into an alley and I tripped over this black box. Bam! Face down on the ground. People don't even trip in Movies any more unless they are running really fast and someone shoves something into their path.
I keep losing track... darn... but anyways, black box. It was a shiny black box, with a big crack down the front of it. About a foot on each side, maybe four inches high. Looked like a cool thing, but all I could see in front of me was "Micr?$$ Ffrmin>___+".
But after flipping it over and concentrating really hard, I could read "Micrologix Ultra X220 Terminal" on the bottom. How did you look things up again, if going to the library had a risk of putting you in the hospital? Calling this "control" thing, looking for some newfangled analysis engine called Analysis or something... worked maybe once or twice. Worth a shot.
"Control: open Analysis."
Streaks of light flying through my head. "No matches found, do you mean 'Ana: ANalytical Application'"?
"Ana is online. Please enter your requeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee_E_)0)$)0". The sky turned purple for an instant, then black, the ground blinked red, and then all returned to normal. I noticed that I was on my knees for some reason.
"What is this Micrologix Ultra X220 Terminal"?
Fuzz right in front of my vision. But then a disembodied voice seemed to speak to me: "Terminal... program... calculate... do... see... SmartPower... ancient 2300s... no... incompatible... interop... holographic projeeeeeeeeee...". Then I blacked out again.
I came to, still clutching that black box. My right temple was throbbing. Gotta get this thing home, see what it's all about.
People couldn't talk to me half the time. I mean, they didn't hear me right. I could hear them just fine as long as their mouths opened – sometimes their mouths didn't open and they'd bombard me with a bunch of blue-green flashes. Sometimes I instantly understood them, other times all I got was blue and green. Then when I spoke, they told me to repeat myself, constantly.
Once I saw a kid plugging a black box like the one I found into the wall, and for an instant, I could hear him just fine, better than ever, and he could hear me. Then it all stopped as soon as he quit talking to it. Maybe the black box holds some kind of secret?
Memories escape me sometimes, and then they come flooding back. Up until the last instant, I had no idea what this black box was. Then I remembered myself helping that kid plug the thing into the wall. SmartPower auto-sensing sockets were an ancient technology but they were still used quite a bit. Just don't stick your finger in one, because it's not so smart about detecting the difference between a finger and a power cord. I knew a chap who blew all of his brain out with one of those, because its safety cover was broken.
So I'm at home, plugging this black box into the wall via its power cable. I suddenly felt like I knew exactly what to do. "Terminal: start." I said it with my mouth, there. And the thing lit up a nice cube with "Welcome to Micrologix" written on it. Something real that I could see for once.
Out popped a little plastic card. Hmm. Man, can't think, there are so many pinpricks of light, squeals of sound, flowing through my brain at random. They're still there when I close my eyes.
I spent weeks and weeks in front of that black cube, whenever my poor head would let me. I'm feeling all the worse, day by day. Can't remember much of what the box actually did though.
Then one night, I thought to myself, "Why don't I get the hell out of this place?"
I'm an ex-skycar pilot after all.
That childhood memory everyone told me about. Me flying a skycar way over the city. How it hit some invisible wall.
It hit the invisible wall of this asylum.
It was a skycar. Skycars have built-in navigators.
Navigators have a limited field of communication.
I was getting out of this field, crashing the navigator's software.
That's where I plummeted like a rock. That's why there was a fence there. That stupid fence split open the anti-grav module and the radiation from it fried my brain.
So here I am, in a junkyard that I got into by climbing over a short fence. Come on. If they want these things secured, can't they at least put red flashing signs on them and prevent people from climbing up the wire gate set in a cement wall? Or are these things all here, with me being the only person who can't see them?
Scrapped skycars, transport modules, and all sorts of junk was piled here. A big crane stood in a corner, rusting. I climbed inside, moved the levers until it roared to life. A real sound. A real, deep, throaty roar of an ancient engine lying dormant here all these years. I moved the levers and the great arm moved in sync, letting me pick things up.
I picked up an older skycar – the kind my dad used to ride in when he was a kid. Back when they had these huge anti-grav modules that extended past the bottom.
I tossed it on the ground and it floated. That's a good sign. I climbed inside, noticed the open control panel door. A whole crapload of wires and pop-out modules.
There was one labeled "NAVIGATOR", and I pulled it out. Out popped a cable with a star-shaped plug on the end. It used to be plugged into the star-shaped hole on the back of the navigator unit. My black box also had one of these.
Time to go home and get it.
I got into the pilot seat of the module. 15% fuel. But there were old storage cells in the corner of the yard. I moved the globe and the car shakily obliged and got me where I wanted. I climbed out, attached its fuel cable to the cell, loaded the cell into the rear storage compartment, and within minutes the car was holding 78% and wouldn't go higher. That will do.
Then I tried flying the thing but it wouldn't budge, said "navigator missing." So I plugged the navigator back in and was able to maneuver the skycar over the fence and down the alley. I hoped it wouldn't look too conspicuous, bringing it onto the roof of my building where I would usually go to get some air. The fuzz and flying colors weren't as bad up here.
I had one neighbor in the whole building, but he lived on the first floor. I lived on the thirty-eighth, third floor to the top. The building had been evacuated a long time ago because people liked the newer buildings in the next city and would just come here in skycar loads. I know how this works, I used to pilot those skycars and pick up people for their daily commute.
So I grabbed my black box and brought it into the skycar, and then I plugged the star-shaped plug hanging out of the control panel into my black box and plugged its power cable into the SmartPower socket on the wall.
And I got an interface to the skycar. Just a long list of options telling it what to do. I told it to enable the "manual override" option and "navigator debug mode" option, and was pleasantly surprised when the car allowed me to pilot it normally.
Then I was flying above the buildings, flying at 90% speed because I knew that 100% speed was only marginally faster but used up twice as much energy. I flew and flew and flew, up into the clouds, ignoring the beeping warning from the altimeter. I've never felt so free before. I got very few blips of light flying over my vision, and the colors didn't bother me as much.
And then I saw it.
I saw a tall fence.
I saw bits garbage flying on the ground below. Three old hobos, staring and pointing.
I lifted up on the globe. The skycar shuddered, something fell off and hit the ground. I didn't care. I got the thing out of a junkyard, for cryin' out loud.
My black box was beeping, blinking furiously.
My dashboard was blinking furiously as well. "Unable to find 4$#_)+++_))____". Stupid fuzz.
But I was over the fence, flying across a barren plain pock-marked with tiny dots. Well, at least they looked like tiny dots.
Then there was a big wall, impermeable. Not a single hole. But I was flying up and over it. It rose up 40 feet at its shortest, then sloped upwards. It was covered in sharp, jagged spikes. I pity the poor soul who would try landing their skycar on these spikes.
I flew on and on, until I was more or less stopped by another wall, on top of the spiked one. A big mesh wall, stretching up, up, up. Way up high.
I could see through it. I had heard of this once. It was supposed to protect us from something-or-other. Maybe this fairy-tale disaster called a "hurricane."
The skycar was going up, up, up, and I broke through the clouds. Saw a glimpse sunshine for the first time in my life, probably the only time. It was always cloudy in this gray, heartless world. Skycars weren't designed to go this high – their navigators would usually prevent this. The only other thing I could see was a tall structure way in the distance, soaking up the sun's energy, and the mesh wall approaching me.
But there was a dip in it. I flew through the dip.
I don't know what happened next, but I was going down. The spiked surface was beneath me. And I flew on, trying to gain altitude, but my skycar was running low on fuel.
It's in moments like this one that a man sees his real worth.
I'm a fool. A damn fool.
I'll hit the spikes and kill myself.
But then I noticed something very strange. I couldn't see any more flashes of light.
I remembered one day, as a child, when I went on a trip with my class to see a Movie. The people moving in front of us, seemingly real. But they weren't really there, they were just fake images piped into our heads. Then the Movie ended, and the people were no more.
Well, that's basically the opposite of what happened to me. I suddenly grasped my identity.
That's my name. Nick0a14.
How the hell did I live my whole life without even once remembering my name?
And then the windshield of my skycar burst into a billion shards. I flew, head over heels, caught by the crash safety mechanism of the skycar, packed into a big white ball that bounced through the emergency escape hatch and flew through the air.
Then I blacked out. A good, healthy blackout. Not one of those painful, nasty ones preceded by fuzz, squeals, strings of gibberish, and seemingly random colors. But a good, healthy, natural blackout caused by hitting something very hard.
I am Nick0a14. I lived to tell the story.
I now live in a really, really ancient building. It's like something out of a history book. It has these big door frames in the front that used to contain glass I think, and a long series of steps going up to the rooms. No air shaft. I don't get any light in here after the sky turns dark, but I'm working on it.
And the best part is, I don't get any flashes of light any more. I don't get that constant hiss in the background. I can think without interruption. It's a silent world, but if you listen closely, you can feel it breathing, alive with the memories of the souls that had lived here many years ago.
My black box survived the crash too. It ended up becoming lodged into my escape ball, and even took a dunking as the ball floated through the water reservoir. I'll work on finding a working SmartPower socket around here, because there are a whole ton of them in this building but none of them work.
There are actually quite a few of these black boxes lying around. So even if mine got ruined, I'd still have many more to choose from.
I gaze up into the black sky at night, and think of the people I left behind. Left behind in the Asylum. For that's what it is, that's where I came from. But now I'm free. I'm a free man. Free of the invisible walls that crash skycars into fences. Free of the blinking lights that drive me crazy.
And maybe I didn't fry half of my brain after all. Maybe I just fried the little chip that interfaced with this thing they call "Project Immerse." I've seen old bits of paper floating around this building, all talking about this "Project Immerse." It's like everyone just up and left, plugging themselves into an invisible network. Apparently everyone now has a chip in their brain that they use to interact with stuff.
It's all coming to me now. But I am tired. So very tired after my excursions. I need to sleep.
As I drift off to sleep, all that floats through my head is this one thought: "I gotta get everyone else out of the Asylum too."
This document is a copyrighted work. Permission is hereby given to copy, redistribute, publish, broadcast, and convert unmodified forms of this document provided that such actions are not for monetary gain and this notice remains in its entirety. All other rights reserved, unless you obtain written permission from the author.
This story is a work of fiction. Any resemblances of names, locations, or persons (living or deceased) is purely coincidental. Additionally, the beliefs held by any of the characters in this story do not necessarily reflect those of the author, Lyosha Blinnikov.
Copyright © Lyosha Blinnikov (Nookkin).