In which a baby is implanted with a tiny, steadily beeping device only it can hear. Then one day, it turns off.
The trances were what bothered him most; long moments of undefined time. That morning, the day had started off beautiful: the sky an invigorating, if brisk, blue, and the woods behind his home a natural aviary. Nuno had noticed, in particular, a species of woodpecker that he had not seen before. Where most of the woodpeckers he saw had darker, maroon hoods, this one bird had a crimson hood. It stood out brightly amongst the naked gray branches of winter. It’s pecking had enticed him. But then his gaze had just drifted and settled on a pair of branches that had been trimmed short so that they formed a tuning fork against the sky. He “awoke” from staring at them with the same disorienting feeling that he had been having for several days now, having absolutely no sense of how long he had been absorbed in the little scene. Had it been seconds, fractions of seconds? He didn’t know anymore and it was discomforting. The pace of even empty thinking—of quantified meditation—was gone. An eerie amorphous quiet had taken its place.
He’d known quiet before the beeping had stopped, even though he had a hard time convincing his friends that it was so. They would say things to him like, “Really quiet, Nuno, like silence, no noise—you don’t know what that’s like.” He would explain that, yes he did, as much as they did anyway, in the sense that they didn’t know true silence either. Surely they could hear the air move in a breeze, or their own breathing or their heart beat. Did anyone really perceive silence? The beeping had never been a sound outside his head, it was in his mind. So to him, he knew what quiet was; it was just a demarcated quiet, a quiet built out of patches of quiet, discretely bundled quiet that was nicely packaged in time. When he used to stare at things, there was always a comforting knowledge of the length of time. There was a cycle: 6 beeps. 1 then 2 then 3 then 4 then 5 then 6 then it started over. It was six seconds to most people he knew, but he felt something different. When he began to discover that others didn’t have a pace in their head, he would watch clocks. But six seconds on a clock felt rigid. A cycle, to him, in his mind, was a kind of music. There were ten cycles in a minute. A shower was almost always 120 cycles. A meal was 180 cycles and he almost never finished before anyone else and spoke very little while eating. He had always wondered why his friends and family would at times seem frantic and rushed and gush about things like, “Where did the time go?” He always knew where it had gone and exactly how much of it had gone, since even when there was nothing to measure, even when sitting and staring in silence, the moments still came and went like a song. Now, as of six days ago, Nuno’s universe had become messy, or at least less discrete.
Nuno was known to people as a very precise man. He wasn’t type-A or particularly clean. Just precise. Cleaning itself could be quite a droll activity, because when one has an innate sense of time slipping by there is an inherent need to make actions count for something. But when things got messy enough and he needed to clean, he wasn’t particular about it like others, it was just another kind of dance. Cleaning the desk off? 100 cycles. Doing the dishes? 200 cycles. He never stopped to wonder why, regardless of the state of the desk or how many dirty dishes there were, the dance remained the same. It just did. And in that sense, he always caught buses, was never late, or might interject a helpful point when a friend was droning on about something for a little too long—in that sense, he had come to be known as “precise.” He spoke with a very measured tone and chose his words carefully. Others he had conversations with always seemed to be bumbling about in their own heads, searching for words, or losing track of what they were saying, or losing the thread of the topic. Words tended to line up in his head and be released through a gate in an orderly fashion. He had a repertoire of small, rehearsed speeches. When he met someone new who wanted to know who he was and what he did, it took 30 cycles for him to tell them, and that particular speech ended with, “and I have a neural implant that beeps once a second.” The last sentence was two cycles, and he often wondered why he didn’t just say that, because once it was spoken it was like nothing else had been said at all.
Neural implants come with a shelf-life though. His first implant had lasted until he was 16; 502,654,824 seconds or as he preferred, 83,775,804 cycles (give or take). When it had began to fade, he got clumsy. His mother had blamed the clumsiness on his growth spurts but when he cut himself with a knife while carving, she’d taken him to the hospital and it was the doctors who reckoned that the implant needed to be replaced. He was in surgery the next day and within a day after that his coordination returned completely intact. Now, having lost the signal form the implant entirely, he wished he’d had the wherewithal as a sixteen-year-old to pay attention to what the pace had been doing. He didn’t think it was ever gone entirely, but truth be told, he simply couldn’t remember now, at least in part because he hadn’t paid much attention, didn’t know to pay attention. He knew, at sixteen, that he had the implant, he knew why. But even then, it was ethereal, as obvious as your hand. He paid it no mind.
The next implant, with improvements in materials and all, would likely last until his death, but this time he told the doctors, “Let it fail.” The doctors weren’t sure if the implant had actually done its job anyway. The supposed genetic neuronal aberration that it was meant stave off had not seemingly occurred. The doctors didn’t like the idea—they were a risk-averse bunch—but what harm could a few days do? He told them, “Let it fail. I want to see—hear—what it’s like.” That was 14,400 cycles ago, except that there were no cycles at all. In place of cycles were six odd, off-putting, sluggish and then super fast days filled with restlessness and nights of poor sleep. Each day brought a new sense of time lost and pressed and smashed and pulled apart and the disorientation of being lost staring at some branches that looked like a tuning fork. So far, the experiment was unpleasant, and he already felt it likely that he would get the upgrade.
Read the whole thread: Incunabula