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The Ghost In The Machine - Short Story
The Ghost In The Machine

"Like all true terror, it started with the best of intentions".

Smythe looked at the hard yellow letters he had voiced into the terminal. They flickered on the green fluorescence, caught for a moment in electronic permanence. He read them quickly, with an expert eye, before continuing to speak.

"The device was intended to capture the wild, exotic fantasies from deep in the labyrinths of the mind, to intensify them and to project them as holograms into the world. Freud would have been delighted. Confronted by the creatures of their own Id’s, patients would have been cured by the thousands. But it didn't work out that way. Did it ever?"

Smythe stretched back in the specially designed chair, the input cursor pulsing a sharp crimson square, urging his voice to continue. To provide the input which gave the terminal meaning. Soon the mellow, female voice, from deep inside the circuitry would begin its series of reminders.

"User 10030A, have you more to add?"

The interior of the newsroom was almost devoid of people. Another scribe sat in a far corner inputting into an identical machine.

"Funny." Smythe thought. "How the word 'scribe' had remained. No journalist ever uses a pad or pencil these days. The portable voice-activated laptops had seen to that. Yet, the very word 'scribe' had a touch of the mysterious about it that lingered from the time when written words still had importance”.

Smythe shook involuntarily, as if a ghost from deep within his sub-conscious had stirred.

"Too many ghosts!" He muttered. The other scribe glanced up from his distant machine, his face lit by the faint green glow. Smythe hurried on with his work.

"In the beginning the images were seen as novelties". Smythe spoke quietly. Not wishing to be caught and docked a week’s food tokens for illegal usage. Not that the tokens amounted to anything, they were another leftover from before the days of Info-Tech. Now credits and debits were automatically recorded on your individual data file, along with your character profile and other information the State considered important. In the main your account was in the red and the only organisation that benefited was the Giant Euro-Bank.

"People would deliberately create figures to frighten themselves and others. Flash laser etched monsters onto the night sky with brief half-lives measured in seconds. The age of the instant scare had dawned."

In the stillness of the room the letters on the screen held an almost religious significance. Within the temple of glass they blazed in yellow fire.

"Got a light?"

Smythe jumped. Caught by the suddenness of the voice at his elbow. Fear crept into his eyes as he thought of the incriminating words. But the scribe hadn’t noticed. Or hadn’t cared. He was more concerned with the cigarette that hung loosely from his lips. Smythe fumbled in his pockets and produced the lighter. He noticed his finger shake as it pressed the ignition and the pulse of energy burst free. The scribe was oblivious. His eyes seemed glazed over. Perhaps he had smoked too many already.

Smythe watched the scribe shuffle back across the empty office. Row after row of screens sat in darkness. Lacking input they waited in hibernation for the spring voice that would activate them. He spoke softly. Measuring his words against the echoing stillness, almost afraid to disturb the quiet.

"Then came the first of the thought-beasts. Unexpected, they crawled from the mental sewers. Part men, part beasts they roamed the streets and were even more dangerous being half recognised from dreams. Yet, worse was to follow. The unconscious grew clever and aware of this bridge to the other world, a world where flesh and blood was real and not thin with images. Thought-beasts were detectable and their half-lives easily controlled. No one knew when the first deceptives arrived. They were so difficult to distinguish. Yet, within their shell lurked the darkest thoughts of all."

Smythe became aware of a sense of unbearable heat. Sweat broke on his brow and ran in rivers down his parched skin. He felt a stab of fear.

"User 10030A, have you more to add?"

There was a faint hush of pneumatic as the other scribe left the room. He was old Smythe thought, old and slightly hunched. Too weak to be dangerous, but you never knew. The deceptives took many forms. Selected them from the coat hangers of the mind and tried them on for size. You never knew if anyone, or anything, was what it seemed. Only the smell of menace gave you a clue, that rich, indulgent smell that lingered for a moment on the memory and was gone. Time was running short. Smythe knew that, panic gripped him with icy fingers. He felt strangely thinner, less substantial.

"But, the mind is a complex web of opposites held in balance, force and resistance, love and hate, each has its counterpart its own equal." Smythe was rushing now. His skin was rapidly losing colour and the verdant light seemed to shine right through him and to create a luminous sheen within his very body.

"For every movement there is an equal and opposite movement, for every thought an equal and opposite thought. In the past men called these good and evil, in reality they were merely possibilities, ideas that could be enacted upon that 'other stage. But now the thoughts themselves were loose. Free to create their own consequences."

Smythe sensed a sound from beyond the sealed door. Had they come for him? Was there still time? He spoke quickly now, aware of the urgency and need to finish.

"The darker thoughts had created their own reality, twisted shapes that crawled slug-like through the streets, their eyes black and filled with an emptiness that drew everything, including the very light, into the vast nothingness within. Behind they left a destruction that was complete. Not even a ruin remained to remind others of what had been. An empty desert marked only by a trail of green slime and the stench of death. But, there where other thoughts, pure thoughts that lacked the desire to possess and to gain physical reality. These thoughts too had waited and crossed the bridge from possibility to potential. In fact, these thoughts had prompted man to create the bridge in the first place. All had followed their carefully tailored plan."

The white flecks of bone shone through the translucent skin on Smythe’s wrist as he spoke. It was if the green light from the screen was dissolving him as he sat in its glare, as if, through his words, he was shedding his form and entering the very heart of the machine.

"We had planned it all carefully. Man had reached the final stage in his evolutionary path. So, through him, we created the computers that we could inhabit and the device to make the transfer possible. We, who had guided man from the slime of his past to the cities he now occupied, had freed him of the ugly thoughts that lived within and also of ourselves. With us safe within the myriad electronic and biological networks of the computers, and their linked circuits, and his darker thoughts loose on the streets, Man was left an empty husk. Mud we found him and to mud he would return. There was an element of universal justice in that. The justice of pure mathematics and rigorous logic that bind the universe together."

A hiss of air punctured the room as the old scribe returned. He caught faintly the green illusion of shape as the motes of dust shimmered in the air around where Smythe had sat forming the recollection of what had once been a man. Then his eyes cleared and only the yellow words flickering on the screen shared the office with him. He turned once more to his own work, uneasy in his mind. But, before he began the soft, female voice from far behind him muttered almost inaudibly.

"User 10030A, have you more to add?"
I saw the boys of summer in their ruin. Dylan Thomas. 
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