by J. R. Hampton
They suddenly became very quiet.
“What do you mean, you don’t have one?”
Of course, he’d heard it all before.
“How do you live?” they’d say.
Ethan had explained it so many times now that it had developed into a
script which he could just reel off at will. He knew all the responses.
The additional questions. The ridicule.
“Well,” he began, “I just get by without it. I don’t need it.”
What they never understood was that he felt the same way about how they managed to live with
it. He didn’t preach. He didn’t want to change their minds. He was
happy - they were happy. Why couldn’t people just leave it that way?
“But what do you do if you need to get hold of someone?” one said.
“How do you know what everyone else is thinking?” another chirped in.
“What do you do if you need to know something?” said another.
Books. Talking. Pre-arrange stuff. The typical answers. “In fact,” he
added, “It’s quite liberating once you get used to it not being there
He didn’t need one to know what they were thinking. Their dumb faces
said it all. He was a bore. He was old-fashioned. He was a snob.
Harjit took pity on him. “Well, you can be in my team, Ethan. You can
share mine.” she said, whilst patting the empty space next to her on
George set up the game. He sent out the connection code for the teams to enter the gameplay.
“What shall we call ourselves?” Harjit asked enthusiastically.
Ethan didn’t care. He didn’t want to play.
As the game started, Harjit gladly commented to let Ethan know what was going on.
“We’re in a starship of some kind.” “Shall I take the turbo lift up or
go down the corridor?” “I think there’s a light coming from the
George paused the game. “How can we play if Harjit keeps saying everything out loud!” he huffed.
Ethan always felt a chill when he saw people coming out of a game. It
was like seeing someone wake up, except that their eyes were already
open to begin with. You could almost pinpoint the exact moment.
“It’s only a game.” Hannah butted in.
“Yeh, it’s still fun. Don’t get so worked up, George.” Jamal added.
Ethan raised his hand to deflect the sickening goodwill nods of the
others. “You know what?” he said. “I’ll just get myself a drink. I’m
not bothered about playing. Anyone want anything?”
When he returned to the room, he just stood and stared at his
somnambulant friends. He grabbed a stool, being careful not to make a
sound. He didn’t want to disturb them.
He looked around the room. The bare walls leaned in over the dull
functionalist furniture. Everything appeared to be at right angles to
everything else. The windows were blotted out by the tint. There was no
The only movement came from a broken electronic picture frame which was
stuck repetitively on the same flickering image of Hannah’s selfie. It
made her face look like a disjointed jigsaw set.
Above him, a bright fluorescent light hung from the ceiling. It was
from this that his friends made their connection. A part of him wanted
to smash it. Break it. What if it failed? For just one day. What would
his friends do then? How would they communicate?
He’d imagined an asteroid impact, or solar flare. The signal would kick
out. He’d be okay. He had his books. His mind belonged to him only. He
was bored of the games. That’s all anyone did nowadays. The market
competed to make the most ‘realistic’ games. That was the pitch. To
him, that was also the irony.
He’d disconnected his implant four years ago. He hadn’t meant to. An
update had failed. He had waited for three weeks to get a replacement.
Three weeks without hearing other people’s opinions. Three weeks
without advertising slogans bombarding his every turn. Three weeks
without a sound. It was quiet… and he liked it. He got used to it. He
He enjoyed the silence now. His friend’s bodies just lay out on the
sofa. George was rigid. Every now and then, one of his feet would jerk
whilst his fingers fidgeted away at nothing.
Jamal had cracks at the corners of his mouth. Hannah’s head slumped
onto her shoulder. They had no need for their bodies. They could all
talk through their implants. Didn’t even need vocal chords.
He studied Harjit. She was the prettiest. Would she take out her
implant if she could see herself now? he wondered. He liked her hair.
He liked the little freckles on her cheeks. He’d imagined what it would
be like to take her away. Show her the countryside. The seaside. She’d
be happy. Holding his hand. The wind would blow her hair across her
face and she’d be smiling. She’d be happy. They’d be happy.
“When we were playing I saw him staring at her!”
Ethan snapped out of his daydream. All of his friends now had disgusted looks on their faces.
George was leering at him. “What did you say?”
Hannah replied, “When we were playing I saw him staring at her!”
Harjit moved away, covering herself with her arms.
Their heads were now moving back and forth to each other. He could tell
they were talking about him. In their heads. With their implants.
Ethan raised his hand to deflect the accusing stares of the others.
George’s fists were clenching. “What are you thinking, Ethan?”
Ethan looked to Harjit to try to explain but he couldn’t form the words.
“What are you hiding, Ethan?” George demanded.
Ethan caught Jamal’s eye. Jamal took the cue and tried to help out his
friend. “Look. Let him speak. I’m sure he didn’t mean anything.”
Hannah and George looked at one another. George then turned to Ethan.
His shoulders dropped and he held out his palms. “Okay bro. What is up
with you?” he joked, “We weren’t saying you did anything.”
They were all smiling at Ethan now. Trying to make him feel relaxed.
Brushing it off. Ethan couldn’t move. He could feel his knees giving
Hannah made a space on the sofa. Her voice crackled. “Yeh, stop being so weird Ethan!” she teased.
George moved in onto Ethan’s side, tucking his arm around Ethan’s
shoulders. “You know what, bro?” he began, close to Ethan’s ear, “I can
activate it for you. If you want?”
Jamal was now towering over him. “You can turn it back off straight after.” he compromised.
“Yeh, then we’ll all know what you’re thinking, and everything will be fine again.” Hannah added.
Ethan looked to Harjit. He could see that she didn’t want to go along
with this. She was as intimidated by George as the rest were. She
Before Ethan could move, the others moved in synchronicity to hold him down.
“It’ll only take a second.” George’s fidgeting fingers scampered at the nape of his neck.
A sharp electrical zap seemed to snap at the back of Ethan’s skull
before he felt everything fade from his view. He stopped struggling.
When he opened his eyes, he felt a strange sensation similar to that of when he brings his head up from under the sea.
His friend’s faces began to clear around him. Staring at him for an answer.
He heard Harjit first, “So… what do you think?”
He could now hear them all. Clarity. Their mouths weren’t moving but he could hear them. In their heads. With their implants.
Ethan sat up. “Scary!” he said. “That’s the best role-play game I’ve
ever played!” He continued, “For a moment, I really thought that it was
real, that I didn’t have an implant. It was so realistic.”
Harjit laughed, “For a moment. I nearly believed it myself! Can you
imagine what the world was like before this? I wouldn’t want to have
lived back then.”
Ethan nodded his head along with the others.
“Let’s play another!” they thought.
© 2017 J. R. Hampton
Bio: A science-fiction fanatic who resides in Coventry in the
United Kingdom. I like to spend my free time scouring the internet for
old copies of vintage sci-fi magazines. My work has appeared in
Perihelion SF, Mad Scientist Journal, Schlock! Webzine, The Flash
Fiction Press, Tethered by Letters, 365 tomorrows, The Pygmy Giant and
Flash Fiction Magazine. You can say hello on Twitter (@joolshampton).
Email: J. R. Hampton
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