Fiction : Power Switch

Only fifteen minutes after I woke up, I turned myself On.

I know I am not supposed to do that. The doctors and med techs say that the mind is not ready to be electrically stimulated into the On state until at least an hour after waking, and preferably after a hearty breakfast. But NO COFFEE.

They tell us that every time we check in at Control, as though the urge to drink coffee was some sort of primordial instinct that required constant reinforcement to suppress. But I have always been a green tea gal myself.

Besides, only a genuine mental defective would imbibe anything caffeinated when, with a touch of a button, they can be more awake than any human being has ever been in the history of humanity.

But I’m not addicted. I could stop right now and never miss it. I only turned myself On early because I was working on a very interesting chess calculus puzzle when I timed out and the system turned me Off last night, and I want a chance to finish it before I have to go to work.

As usual, my morning routine seems like it is happening to someone else. While I am On, it is absurdly easy to delegate routine tasks, ones for which you have strong muscle and reflex memories, to a lower, subconscious level of your mental muscle, leaving your conscious mind free to focus on higher level thinking.

So I am my own servant. I only have to tell my body to do something and it does it. Psychologically, the experience is subjectively identical to having someone else do the work. Only the physical sensations of movement and touch differentiate it from the actions of another.

Thus, I can do almost anything routine while keeping my conscious mind in the state of relaxed alertness that is required by the kind of work we of the Electric Lizard program are called upon to do.

I am in my favorite breakfast spot, the Nook, before I have to take any mental CPU time away from my chess calculus calculations. In theory, I could decide upon and order my breakfast from one of their charming waitresses without taking myself off autopilot, but one of the strongest and most inflexible rules of the program is that you never, ever interact with another human being that way. In order to preserve our humanity, we Lizards are trained to make a very specific and concentrated effort to emotionally connect with every human being we interact with.

Agents who forget this rule end up the real Lizards, and lose not only their humanity but a good deal of their sentience as well. It happened to my favorite bunkmate during training. I saw her drifting away from humanity and I regret to this day that I chose loyalty to her over her own wellbeing, and did not report her increasing detachment to the docs until it was far too late, and she was a shrieking, babbling madwoman.

That’s why I never, ever forget. The On state has many wonderful characteristics, but it dampens one’s empathy in the process. And without empathy, we become lost in our own minds.

I am just finishing my meal when a purple-green flash in my peripheral vision tells me that the system that controls my implants thinks it has just turned me On. I smile inwardly at this. It was child’s play to hack the firmware of my implants so that they always told Control what Control wanted to hear and left the actual On and Off switch to me. And they had to have known that we would all figure it out in short order. Yet the charade persists.

The soft, neutral voice of my implants tells me that my assignment today is to monitor a potential hotspot near the edge of the Wentworth neighborhood. Analysis has assigned this area, around six square blocks, a high probability of some kind of flareup, and I am to travel there, assess the situation, and intervene if necessary.

That is too big an area for just one agent, but one of the peculiarities of my kind is that we cannot tolerate one another’s company when On. This necessitates becoming adept at working solo, which tends to suit us just fine.

Oh, and by “my kind” I mean, of course, those of us in the Electric Lizard program. Not that we are a separate species, or anything. We are as human as you are.

After some deliberation, I decide to walk to my assigned area. It will take eleven minutes longer, but the crisis point is not predicted until fifteen minutes from now, so I have time.

And I am not in the mood to interact with a cabbie or bus patrons. The very idea of having to not just put up with their mindless nattering but also to try to connect with them emotionally makes my head ache. People rarely attempt to interact with you when you are walking alone, especially if you do so while looking focused and purposeful.

I love my fellow human beings. I value each and every one of their precious, vulnerable lives. The whole purpose of the program is to keep them safe from harm. They are all valuable and it is neither my job or my right to judge them.

It’s just that sometimes. I find them rather hard to take. But that’s true of all us humans, right?

I swear I’m not drifting off. I’m not. I adore all my little blind sheep. I would never dream of viewing them as anything less than full, valid, worthwhile human beings.

And if, hypothetically, I were to start feeling like they were worthless stumbling disgusting drooling morons who don’t deserve a nanosecond of my time or attention, Control would find out, turn off my implants, and that would be it. I would never be On again. I would spend the rest of my life bleating and excreting in a heavy fog of ignorance and idiocy, just like them.

And that is simply…. unthinkable.

I reach my assigned area and find a bus bench to sit on while I monitor the area near the predicted epicenter of the disturbance. To the outer world, I am just another businesswoman in a business casual suit, staring at her laptop while she waits for a bus.

But I know that I am so much, much more than that. If any of these human cattle start causing trouble, I will know, and apply whatever kind of force is needed to defuse the situation.

I am not drifting off.

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