@danielmbase has written a great story with a cyberpunk flair. It would have been so very easy for this to be a run-of-the-mill affair, but @danielmbase’s interpretation of the prompt is as innovative as it is gritty. It unfolds really well, and finishes strong with an ending which makes you ask yourself what might happen next?
STORY NUMBER: 52
PROMPT PROVIDER: @alexwattsesq
TITLE: Occupy My Mind
I swipe the pass-card once more.
ACCESS DENIED. TRY AGAIN?
That’s twice now; once more might set the alarms off. I tighten my rucksack’s left strap to shift its weight. The doors won’t open for me, but my face in their mirrored glass reminds me that the security drones are only disabled for another ten minutes. I try to pull the balaclava lower, although the damn thing is made of wool and is too warm even in these climate-controlled offices. I can still see my chin and beard but I shouldn’t be identifiable.
Her pass got me into the reception area but no further. If I can’t get into the labs, there’s only one place it can go. Sorry, lady, but at least I might make it out of here this way.
Time to wake up, Lottie!
Ugh, piss off.
The time is now 7.30am, Lottie.
Yeah, I know!
Start your day with Shreddies to keep hunger locked up ‘til lunch!
What? I open my eyes. I’m meant to be on the ad-free version! I tear out the BrainShare electrodes and let them drop onto my pillow. My face prickles with warm irritation and my stomach rumbles. Still, there should be time for some Shreddies before work.
Before I can work out how to break the ice, another customer leaves without a kind word. Work is so dull I’d pimp out my spare brainpower when I’m here as well if they’d let me.
Opposite the clinic there are fewer protesters again today, and the fancy tents are all gone; just a handful of bedraggled ones remain. They still wouldn’t look at me when I passed them on the way in – not that I should talk to them anyway. I do like to read their placards, although their jokey tone – Down with this sort of thing! – has given way to something more desperate: It’s nearly too late to repent was new today.
The doors to the labs and offices hiss open; hopefully it’s the scientist who held the door for me this morning – good thing, as I’d forgotten my pass. At least she must have recognised me, albeit without saying a word, and she might be up for a conversation now.
Nope – instead, Karen enters and perches on the corner of my desk, not even looking up from her notes. “Lottie, we’ve had a complaint from a customer – he says you’re looking a little rough today.”
You what? “What’s that to do with him?”
“Your face is the first thing people see, Lottie. When they walk in, you are Youth Decay, and you are looking very tired.”
“Yeah, sorry, I had an unsettled night.”
“Are you sure BrainShare isn’t tiring you out?”
I wouldn’t need to use BrainShare if this place offered me regular hours. “Nah, it’s all these mad dreams I keep having. In fact, I think I dreamed I was here last night. Any chance I can get overtime for that?!” Karen doesn’t even look up. “But yeah, BrainShare doesn’t tire me out at all – it just uses my spare processing power while I sleep.”
“Which project are you helping with? The protein-folding one or the big bang simulator?”
“Ha, no, I use CP-YOU, which just rents out my brain to whichever company will bid most for it that night,” I shrug. “It pays more than the ones that actually, you know, try to further humanity!” I look for a smile but still get nothing.
“Well I need you to make more of an effort, Lottie.” She slides off the desk and marches way, turning back to me as she swipes her access card. “Pull yourself together, yeah?”
That was the first proper conversation I’ve had with anyone for four days.
My whole body tenses as I press the only button on the ramshackle device. It doesn’t explode; red numbers flicker onto the screen – 36:00:00 – and start to silently count down. It works!
There is nothing but her desk in this vast white reception area. I move her chair aside and duct tape the device underneath her desk drawers.
I swipe her pass and exit into the humid night, heading for our camp over the road. I squeeze into my supposedly two-man tent – not that anyone else has ever been inside – for my last night here. Before I plug in my BrainShare wires for the night, I check out the damage to my face in my phone’s front camera. Keith socked me good, the bastard: my right eye is swollen shut. Well, we’ll see who’s the tough guy in a day and a half.
Time to wake up, Lottie!
Yeah, sure. I skip the coffee and Shreddies to spend some time getting my make-up just so, but I don’t look any more alive than yesterday thanks to more mental dreams about bombs in my office.
I get an earlier tram than usual and get off a few stops early for a walk. By the time I get to work I’m sweating heavily, as well as being too haggard to be seen behind a reception desk.
There’s a commotion in the protesters’ camp as two bearded men are dragged away from each other. Ha! This could be worth a closer look …
I sneak over, but one of them laughs and points at me. “Hey, Stu, is that your collateral damage?”
“You’re the receptionist at Youth Decay, yeah?” pants the other. “You might want to take the day off work, lady.”
He – Stu, I suppose – sports a gnarly black eye. It’s him!
The explosion is just a dull thud from the café, breaking the silence that followed hours of talking.
“What now?” I ask Stu.
“I didn’t think I’d still be alive today, but I should probably make myself scarce,” he says, patting his tent. “Do you want to come with me?”
Sirens yelp into life somewhere outside. A few miles away, my tiny flat lies empty and silent as always.
PROMPT: People make ends meet by renting out their brains as computing power for companies while they sleep.