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The Chip (Winning Entry, Short Fiction Contest 2019)

“I think it’s broken...” Jin began, “I mean, not working properly.” 

He sat in a too-clean office across from a doctor who barely looked human with her many bio-enhancements protruding gracefully from her silken flesh, which itself seemed too perfect to be natural. He sat there feeling out of place, as though he must appear disheveled amongst the polished plaques and gleaming medical apparatus that signified the doctor as a distinguished individual, even amidst the many notable figures who took residence in the downtown MHT clinic.

“Nearly everyone says that in the first couple weeks, especially young people. Young people are so full of doubts.” The doctor’s eyes pointed towards Jin, but he did not feel she looked at him, but rather looked through him, or more likely, her eyes were subtly enhanced and all manner of data flashed before her optic lens, unseen by the crude figure before her.

“They said I wouldn’t know it was there, but I feel it. Sometimes I hear it, too.” Jin was trying to keep a pleading tone from his voice, but he felt desperation clawing at him none-the-less.

“Hm,” said the doctor, who had yet to introduce herself. “I see that you spoke with our on-site psychiatrist about auditory hallucinations being a factor in your wish to be implanted. Could it be-”

“I’m not psychotic!” Jin felt the sting of irony at his outburst even as the words left his lips, but it was too late. Anything he said now was merely damage control. “What I mean is that I know when I’m hallucinating. I can tell reality from...whatever...I know when I’m hallucinating.”

The nameless medical professional swiveled in her chair to face a large holo-screen and with a wave of her hand cleared the image of a serene grotto that had lingered there. With another swift motion she brought to the screen an image of Jin, eyes closed, as if asleep. Although the image was very lifelike, Jin could pick out subtle indications that it was, in fact, a 3D rendering created from assessment scans. With tiny, precise flicks of her digits the doctor dissected the model’s head and removed the brain, pulling from it a tiny chip that to Jin resembled the SIM card from his first phone, back before holding a phone in one’s hand became too bothersome for most of humanity.

“You see,” began the anonymous doctor, continuing to rotate and further dissect Jin’s brain with vicious little finger-cuts, “the MHT-1X Sanitation Chip is implanted in a region of the brain with access only to emotional triggers, not language or motor functions. It would be impossible for it to operate in the way you’ve suggested.”

“But it doesn’t sound anything like a hallucination. Those voices will say my name like someone is right behind me or make me think there’s a conversation happening outside my window when there’s no one there, but the other day I saw this cat who reminded me of my old pet, Mo. It made me sad thinking about him and then there’s this jolt, like a little shock, inside my head, and this voice says ‘Your cat is dead, move on, Patient.’”

At the word ‘Patient’ Doctor No-Name’s eyes flitted up and for a moment it seemed as if she was actually fully aware of the human-ball-of-tension sitting before her immaculate desk. Jin could swear that a look of panic crossed her face before she regained her composure. 

“Hm,” she began as her fingers worked in lightning bursts on her holo-projection keyboard, visible only to the registered user of the computer console, “Well, if you’re certain that you’d like to have the procedure reversed, you’re entitled to do so. Just sign this revised copy of your contract releasing MHT from any legal liabilities.”

The doctor gestured as if passing something invisible across the desk. A blue holo-projection contract appeared, floating inches above the arm of the chair in which Jin sat, a thin ribbon of light encircling the place where he was to place his thumb for confirmation. Unused to the technology, Jin unceremoniously jammed his digit through the document, which replied with a flash of red and a grating sound. Embarrassed, he backed his thumb out to sit level with the print-scanner. After a moment the document responded with a flash of green and a gentle ‘ping!’ before dissipating back into its fiber optic nest.

No sooner had the contract disappeared than a pair of white-clad nurses entered, towing a high-tech gurney, which they gestured for Jin to mount. Jin tried to force a smile to Doesn’t-Give-Her-Name, MD, but she had already returned to her work and, seemingly, forgotten about him.

Jin climbed aboard and, as he lay there being wheeled into the hallway, he realized that he had not mentioned having the procedure reversed. The company must be aware of a defect in the chip already and were trying to avoid a lawsuit. 

Jin felt a small pinch on the back of his arm where an injection of anesthetic had been made, the needle carrying a loading dose for the coming procedure tipped with a fast-acting painkiller that numbed the shock of the injection.

Then there was a familiar jolt in his head.

“You’re making a big mistake, Patient! It’s you who is broken”

As the harsh words of the defective chip were lost in a soft, grey anesthetic fog, Jin smiled. Perhaps he would have laughed aloud if his muscles weren’t already soft and numb. 

That chip didn’t know if he was healthy, and neither did The Unknown Doctor. Everything would be all right. By this small loss he would be made whole again. He didn’t need technology to make him okay. He already was. He wasn’t weak because of his illness; he was strong because he stood against it. Let the voices say what they will. Let the bouts of depression come. He could take it. He always had.

Then everything went black.