As the alarm went off, the algorithms that directed Trevor to sit up, grab his glasses, sip his water and eventually slide his feet in his slippers, began running their day-long process. A false line of code led to a small discomfort on his forehead. Other lines filled in and instructed his arm to rise and his fingers to lightly scrape along the now discolored spot of skin. He stood and moved across the room to the kitchen, placing his glass in the sink. He looked out the window, noticing the small bird floating perfectly in the white wooden frame. The image stirred a memory recall function and thoughts of his childhood tree fort rushed through his visual cortex. Warmth and ease released through his spine and without noticing he was doing so, turned on the morning’s coffee and radio interview.
The soothing voices entered his eardrums and vibrated in such ways to inspire memory, thought, question and insight. He felt himself growing smarter, more informed, more well rounded as the visions of his nine-step tree fort still lingered in the background. He felt his cheeks tighten and rise, though no direct code had been implemented to cause such response.
“Better get on the roads early, because traffic out there is a bear…” He laughed after saying it and some sound effects were added to better emphasize the joke. While meant to be funny, Trevor stood, ready to heed the radio instruction. He began his six-minute shower four minutes early. He skipped his customary second conditioning and opted instead to dry off at the three-minute mark, placing him seven minutes ahead of schedule for the morning. He had given a moment’s pause to skipping the second softening of his hair; worried it may somehow affect his progress that day. But, his reason was to save time and more time spent contemplating the decision to save time was doing exactly the opposite.
By the time he was dressed and tying his shoes, he was twelve minutes ahead of schedule, which meant if he took the lake drive instead of I-70, he could be at his desk when he usually left for work. Again, his cheeks tightened and rose. And for a moment, his mind again recalled his tree fort. A thought he quickly abandoned to focus on driving – even though he was quite confused as to what this recurring code may mean. And he hoped it in no way deterred or slowed his day’s progress.
Trevor’s desk featured two pictures and forsythia. All three were gifts. The first picture was from childhood and as he sat and his eye glanced across it, again, he thought of the tree fort. Why?
In pursuit of it not causing any disruption to his focus at later moments, he agreed to spend one of the seventeen minutes he’d saved that morning figuring out why this image, why this moment continued to resurface.
The day was very bright and Trevor’s father had surprised him by adding a makeshift ladder to the large maple in the backyard of the two-story townhouse outside the western suburbs of Detroit. Trevor raced up the tree and stood atop the layered sheets of plywood and linoleum. He envisioned building walls and windows with white wooden frames, as his kitchen features now. He would set a beanbag in one corner and a table for serious discussions in the other. He’d invite his friends over and hold court over the ups and downs of their week. He’d spend the night in there and listen to the spiders spin their webs.
None of that happened, of course. Walls were never built and days were never spent amidst the branches of the dying maple. As he climbed down, a smile from cheek to cheek, bursting with laughter, the untied shoelace of his throwback sneaker slid between his foot and the wooden ladder step. His balance gave way and his hands couldn’t grasp the soft bark. His shoulder bounced and his vision went dark.
Over the next six weeks, doctors explained to Trevor’s parents, usually while standing over the hospital bed, sometimes next to it, that the likelihood of Trevor ever waking up was not good. Echoes of his mother’s cries and prayers floated through his open mind. Honest confessions of guilt and regret, quiet and raspy, his father whispered into Trevor’s ear.
Second opinions were requested and heard. Third opinions. Homeopathic options. Candles were lit. Rituals performed. Books were read. Specialists consulted.
Through all of this, Trevor wandered in the darkness. His mind was free, without restraint from physical time. He watched his shoelace slide under the soul of his worn-down play-shoes. He watched himself standing in the kitchen sipping his morning coffee. He was everywhere. He was always. He was free.
Until one day, he wasn’t.
It was different from hearing something or seeing something. The information was deliberate and forcefully delivered. As though his brain was commanding not leading. His eyes opened and his muscles tensed to allow him to sit.
His mother screamed and his father cried. They hugged him and he felt commands urging him to reply and return the affection. But somehow, behind that, he was trapped.
The specialist looked deep into his eyes and ears. She took samples and tested his reflexes. She explained how the mind-chip operates and while Trevor didn’t understand, his mind commanded him to do so and with that, the information was registered, logged and saved. And somehow Trevor understood how to retrieve it when need be.
He wanted to cry but no command was given, no code had been written for that. He wanted to scream and fight and go back to the freedom of the vastness. But commands flooded his body, causing him to hug and thank and praise his parents. He laughed at their jokes and smiled at their touch. He devoured the blueberry pie his mother had been saving and told her it was the best he’d ever had. This was not true. The best he’d ever had was six years later. He wanted to explain that to them, but no code existed, so he had to live with a lifetime of memories from moments yet to come, never having the ability to change or explain them.
It had been one minute and Trevor had not found the cause for this recurring memory. He blinked twice and scratched the back of his head. It was time to get to work.
A command was given and received for Trevor to open his network interface and plug in. He closed his eyes for one moment and allowed his mind-chip to connect to the mainframe. He feverishly searched for the false code that had cause the itch and skin discoloration earlier that morning. He also pondered removing his second conditioning all together as his hair seemed to be holding up just fine without it. Were he to remove it all together, he could save two minutes per day. That’s sixty hours after five years.
He searched the code for any reasoning behind the tree fort being so fervently in his thought process that day. Nothing. He ran a diagnostic on the chip to make sure it was functioning properly. It was.
Jerome, another coder, walked by and the two were sent commands to nod and acknowledge the other.
As no traditional diagnostics were working, Trevor decided to take a moment more to think, but did so while plugged into the mainframe this time, assigning a portion of the server farm to monitor his activity.
School was easy after Trevor woke up. The moment he was told to learn something, he had. The moment the chip recognized a formula, Trevor had full understanding of it. This made him incredibly advanced and unshakably unpopular. He graduated with highest honors from his second grad school at fourteen. By seventeen, he was one of the most advanced minds the world had ever known. Or would’ve been had mind-chips not been approved for general use earlier that year.
The specialist who originally implemented Trevor’s chip offered him a job. He accepted graciously. Though he did wonder if that was a function of the chip or a true desire. He’d found a way to hack the chip’s code, at this point, and had instilled a number of algorithms to allow for free thought to occur.
The vision of his tree fort, however, was the first time he was unable to control it. It had been since that day of standing on the plywood that Trevor had experienced true freedom of thought. And he remembered the free place. He remembered this moment. He remembered everything that was going to happen next and he suddenly didn’t want it to. How did this happen? How had he done it without ever being aware he was doing it? Without the chip stopping him?
His fingers began feverishly inputting code. His eyes sharpened and closed as though he was composing a symphony. His body swayed and his hands danced. And when done, before updating, he took one last breath. And hit enter.
He received the command to unplug and stand from his desk. He tried and tried to resist. He tried to stop himself as he walked down the hall.
It was as though he was watching himself do it, no longer in his body but next to it. He looked at himself, wondering how to change this, how to wake up. He’d been slowly working towards this moment since he started recoding his chip, but now, with the end so close, he didn’t want to let go. He didn’t want to risk; he wanted to live.
But he had reprogramed the chip completely. This was the last bit of code he’d secretly and subtly, entered, altering the primary directives.
He stood in front of the mainframe’s server back up. It wasn’t difficult to find his cube. He was, after all, one of the first chips successfully installed.
He crouched down and looked in at the flow of synapses and currents that run his every action and thought.
His foot stepped off the tree fort and onto the top step of the brand new ladder.
He opened the access panel to the cube and reached his hand inside.
He turned back and smiled, laughing, at his dad.
He found, with his index and middle fingers, the main circuit board.
He ran his fingers along the bark, feeling every imperfection and jagged seed.
He took a deep breath, knowing and fearing what came next.
He felt his foot slip out from under him and his chip scrape against the branch.
He disconnected it by snapping it in half.
His body fell, limp and heavy. His head rest against the ground. His arms lie next to it. His lungs breathing and his heart beating. But his mind no longer inhabiting his body. His mind was free.
No algorithms to define the process of life. No commands to make sure it’s done right, as though such a thing exists. No impulses denied or created for the benefit of others. Nothing off-limits. Nothing defined. A mind is a life. And life is free. Free to choose when and where and how its lived. Free to escape and make bad decisions and to change opinions. Free to see and hear and experience. Free to learn and absorb and forget. Free to not understand and to be unknown. Free to live. Free. And now, Trevor is.