Fragments - Short Story

Posted on by Miles Steele

Most of Oln sat in the observatory chairs and watched the vid-screens. Dull rain thudded against concrete below. Mounted security cameras by the door pumped the images up to the observatory where the rain fell again, noiselessly, before his eyes. While three of his subscribers’ attentive eyes scanned the screens, another was dozing on the sofa, and a fifth was out getting coffee for the rest. Oln, as a five-some, was pretty bulky by modern standards, but he felt fine. The Links had been gaining in strength lately. The folks over at LiveConnected Labs had been optimizing away the bandwidth caps that had been limiting people to only three or four subscribers. Oln enjoyed a hefty security-overseer’s salary and, like the rest of the American middle-class, spent almost all of it on the newest Link hardware. He had even managed to get his employer, a slowly rising politician with too much money, to open up a credit line exclusively for his Link maintenance, under the premise that the faster Oln could think, the better he would be as a defense from the nefarious.

But no nefariousness had visited the estate in weeks, and Oln shivered from the inescapable stupor of boredom. He flicked the three pairs of eyes watching the screens back and forth, to see if he could shake up the subscribers for a little excitement. He couldn’t, he was too integrated and there was nothing to watch but endless grey rain.

“Damn”, he said aloud. Someone enqueued at the Starbucks with his lone subscriber gave him a funny look. Oln shrugged the appropriate pair of shoulders unapologetically. He set one of his subscribers on vid-screen duty to the task of hunting down new developments on the news nets. The subscriber flicked tabloids out of the way and began excavating oddly compressed political archives from emerging nations. Now he could feel his hearts race with the perilous challenge of guarding the estate from only two sets of eyes.

The subscriber attending to the news was alerted by several new posts from LiveConnected Labs, boasting about their latest and greatest software update.

All the bugs ironed out! No more connection limits, blazingly fast encryption. Share your mind without limits. This theoretical software release has not yet been tested extensively, but for you, our most avid followers of LiveConnected Labs and associated partners, we have included a beta release of the finest distributed mental platform ever to be released for public use. Simply make the standard deposit and you will receive a download link after processing.

Oln felt a wave of reluctance wash through him. He knew it had come from Graff, by far his oldest member. The subscriber was almost 80 years old. Graff was tired all the time and had Linked so late in his life that his brain insisted on a whole name just for the one subscriber. Oln often left Graff in the care of one of his conjugate brothers for just these reasons. But Graff did have the most agile of Oln’s brains and, when awake, would always provide the insightful quality that Oln was known for. The reluctance was soon overwhelmed by the majority of Oln’s younger subscribers, eager for novelty. All of him had read stories of the luddites who had been left behind after the Linking. Those wandering hobos, obsoleted single-brained humans with only one vision to see and one mouth to speak with, were virtually incapacitated, unable to think enough to work any decent jobs.

So Oln simultaneously handed the Starbucks cashier a few coins and made the deposit to the advertisement. After a moment’s pause, the download began and Oln escaped the Starbucks, coffee tray in hand. He began his walk back to the estate. He hated being packed into rooms with unfamiliar bodies and cherished these walks. Sometimes he would pretend he was his own stranger walking by the cameras. Other times he would just tilt a head back and enjoy the rain.

Oln saw something flicker on one of the screens. He jumped Graff up and into the third seat by the screens. He checked the coffee carrier’s position, but he was still a half mile from himself. Oln propped a head up on an elbow, focusing six wide eyes on the offending screen. It moved again, there, in the corner. The rustling of fabric and a glint of metal. Someone was burning through the wall below!

Oln lunged for the alarm switch and flicked open the safety cover. Just then he heard the high pitched ping of a finished upgrade and his five bodies froze. He could see everything at once, his hands gripped the lumbering torch as the oval of steel fell, edges smoldering, through the wall. But those were not his hands. He turned a head toward the security camera above, looking into his own mechanical eye. The six eyes above stared back, dumbstruck. He kicked a coffee cup that had just spilled near-boiling water onto his foot clear across the street, and then took inventory of himself. There were still four subscribers in the observatory, and one on the boulevard, but more were slowly coming into focus. New Links were forming on their own. The assassin and the guardian, caught in mental embrace, wound their way through each other’s minds. In that moment compassion and sensation trickled between the two people, proxied by the one common subscriber.

The villain’s name was Aphra and she was a commissioned assassin and quite proud of the rank she had reached. Oln knew that she was intelligent, that he himself was beginning to absorb this intelligence. A second Link opened, another one of Aphra’s subscribers connected. Now they were a precarious shape. Clusters of four and five which had been independent consciousnesses now fused into one elongated person. Memories ricocheted between the two ends, pulling them together.

Oln remembered all of her crimes but found in them a new sense of moral wrong. She remembered once being a man, and a watcher, but also a killer. She felt a desire to penetrate the very fortress she lived to protect. Her feelings were both familiar to her and also incredibly alien. Oln had just been all in one place, could have sworn it, but now she was spread out over more than half a mile. She might have realized intellectually the cause for her confusion if it were not for the splitting headache. She took some alprazolam up in the observatory and began to rearrange her thoughts. It was precarious business as a sum of nine and she felt the sudden urge to be small again. Oln ran towards herself, rushing down the stairs and sprinting along the sidewalk.

She felt a pop, like a flood gate bursting and her memories flowed and began to stitch together through the new Link. She found all nine of herself and huddled by the door. The headache was fading.

Another pop. She saw herself from across the street. The newest subscriber was crouching, cold, by a porch step. He was a single brain who claimed the name of Jar. He had been abandoned by his Linked person soon after childhood. Oln had forgotten the vitality singletons could possess. As she circulated this member’s memories through the rest of her she felt the strong curiosity that had been the boy’s. It was overwhelming and some of Oln felt a desire to build something, to experiment, a desire none of her had felt for a long time. But the feeling subsided as Jar’s mind spread through her, diluting into coherence.

The popping began again. She started to panic. Now she was 20 brains and growing steadily. Parts of her would take a fraction of a second hiatus from her primary thoughts and come wandering back with tidbits of unprompted information. She didn’t know what insanity felt like but was quickly forming the suspicion that this was it. Several, it felt like about five subscribers, dropped out of her thoughts. They left a squirming fissure of deja vu and unfinished problem-solving in their wake. But it was quickly patched as more Links formed and the thought picked up where it had left off. Oln was growing exponentially now. She could see ten cities at once, and now 100. She plumbed the new subscribers for information and scattered it across her. She was interested in everything and could see all of the connections. She saw the crystallized silhouettes of economic systems. Before her lay a great field of untouched analogies. She picked up problems and solved them in a matter of seconds. It was exhilarating. Her panic turned to excitement and then to tranquility in her Western side and the change propagated eastward.

The global news buzzed with reports of strange changes in cash-flow and government structures. Oln scoffed at the reporters’ ignorance and began publishing on her own. The popping was unnoticeable now, insignificant. Oln began to dance, forming complex patterns on the earth with her extra subscribers. The global news slowed to crawl and suddenly stopped. She was still publishing, but no one else was reading.

“Hello?” she spoke into a security interest channel. There was no response. “Hello?” she said again, this time opening her band to any channel to which she had membership, and to all of her subscriber’s geographical regions. Nothing but the echo across closely packed subscribers.

“Is anybody out there?” This time she half shouted into the global channel. She waited for a whole minute, during which she reveled in memories, analyzed stocks, settled debts with herself, bore a thousand children, and died a thousand deaths.

She croaked, “is anybody left?” No answer. The earth shuddered, utterly alone. Oln’s mind sent a simple thought to all scattered brains. She reached her billion hands behind her billion ears, felt along the smooth flesh to the cold metallic stud, comparing the innumerable twitches of all her muscles as they pulled the fingers around the rims of the transceivers. She felt the roughness of her many skins. She closed her eyes to the world and ripped the wicked leeches from their sockets.


This is a short story I wrote for my Future Shock class. Topic: The decline of individualism.

I modeled the distributed minds on Tines from A Fire Upon The Deep by Vernor Vinge. I drew ideas on ‘conjugate brothers’ and the disconnect between the origin of members and the origin of people from Double Star by Robert A. Heinlein.