On April 9th, 2018, Voices published a story about Swarthmore's very first "Sci-Fi for Social Change" event, organized by faculty with the help of the Andrew W. Mellon grant for the arts and humanities. This event included a short story contest with four student winners. The following story won first place.
Ninety years ago, they began chipping the wrists of every man, woman, and child in America. Each metal trinket, only visible by a small blue light below the carpus, tracks thousands of terabytes of data per second: location, speech, actions, accomplishments, emotions. Limitless data on the population, accessible through a virtually limitless base. I can go back and find something my mom said to my dad in graduate school over pasta dinner at Bellini’s, read his pulse, her eye movement, know the number of seconds in every silence.
Nothing is found easily. When they expanded the internet, classification systems couldn’t keep up. It takes a trained mind to even break the surface, a reassurance to the public. Privacy protected by ignorance, the greatest safety net. Few can manipulate the data well enough to cause harm, and most work for the government, law enforcement, hospitals. Crime rates did go down. Through pop-up services, people could access memories of loved ones. Cancer was nearly eradicated, what with the sheer amount of medical data readily available.
When I was seven, both my parents were murdered by a lunatic. They caught him almost instantly, of course. The guilty verdict came in seconds—a shock sent through the chip and he was dead. I spent the next ten years training myself to move massive amounts of data, to sift and classify, to strain the ocean for a single grain of salt. I watched what they watched; I saw through their final eyes. I saw the kitchen blade in my stomach, felt the pain indicators spike. Saw the transcript of my dad’s final moan flashing across the screen. I found the entire life of the man who took theirs, the drug-addicted nobody who somehow still deserved a place in eternal documentation. That’s how the code began.
I wanted to erase him. His life, his death, everything he’d ever done or been. He would have never been to my town, in my home, never touched the kitchen knife, never committed the double homicide or passed the room with the sleeping child untouched. Virtually, my parents would still be alive, and if I delete his data, I delete him. You can’t exist unrecorded.
At seventeen, I began my project. It took twenty-one years to write, another fifteen to work out the glitches. After, I started testing on records from the early years of chipping—animals first, then babies with little recorded life to lose, then minor criminals, druggies, the terminally ill. People who weren’t missed on their first death anyways. I needed to be sure it worked before my intended target.
Then, the live one: an old woman, dementia-stricken and scheduled to be euthanized tomorrow. I misread my calendar this morning—thought it was a Thursday, not a Wednesday. When I saw her profile flash from live to dead, the stream of loading footage cut off, I clicked the final five minutes and watched as she disintegrated right there in the hospital bed, a pile of white dust and a piece of metal all that remained. The nurses were confused for a second—but quickly forgot.
I know they’ll find me. The live are monitored much more carefully than the dead. My arm shakes as I punch the coded text into the screen, dripping blood on the keys from the gouge horizontal across my wrist. The chip pulses and burns the surface of the table next to me. It smells of melted iron. I sign my name, punch the final passphrase one character at a time. There’s a knock at my door. The chip has bored through the wood.
ENTER waits sticky beneath my fingertip.
I press—and the story remains.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Maya Kikuchi '20 (she/her) is an English major and Japanese/Education minor from Kailua, Hawaii. She sings, plays Ultimate Frisbee, drinks milkshakes, and writes.