Close Your Eyes
Ashtar Deza
by Ashtar Deza
6 min read


  • Fiction


  • Dystopian

I sat there, in the waiting room, biting my nails. I hadn’t done that since I was little, but the nerves were getting to me. This deeply alien feeling of being disconnected. A fucking Ludd, except involuntary.

It started earlier today… or no, actually it started last night. I keep forgetting that. Me getting up to piss, hitting my head on the fucking medicine cabinet door. I swore up a blue streak and then went back to bed. Didn’t think much of it at all. Until this afternoon. The museum.

It was time to take the class on their yearly field trip, watching all of the old stuff people used to use. I’d just explained to Jimmy what a phone was, how people used to use those weird contraptions before neural implants became a thing… when the first glitch happened. Fucking scary, I tell you. One minute the museum was as it had always been, all shiny marble and modern glass, the next it was a grey concrete box. I mean, I get it. Why bother making the place look nice when you can just push a theme to everybody’s implants instead? But still, seeing it… it gave me shivers.

I disregarded it, but not 10 minutes later the next one hit me, right as I was taking a piss. Damn near made me soak my shoes. The whole bathroom changed. Goodbye nice white porcelain, hello industrial steel. And the smell… you take for granted how much your implant filters out for you.

Now I was getting freaked out, so that was the moment I decided that I needed to get myself checked out. A glitchy implant can fuck you up pretty good. Luckily, the clinic had a spot for me. But getting here… that was a completely different story.

I’d figured I’d hop on the subway here, no sweat, right? But the moment I went down the escalator I noticed something odd. No ads. Nothing. No jingles in my ears, no women on the posters trying to sell me shaving cream. It was eerie. So quiet… it was unnatural. Then, I get to the turnstile, try to pull up my wallet app to pay and…. nothing. I walked straight into the turnstile, and it hit me in the gut. Damn near had me puking on the ground right there. My wallet app wasn’t responding. No wallet, no payment. No payment meant that turnstile wasn’t budging.

So yeah… I didn’t realise it was even possible, but my implant must have crapped out completely. There I was, in the middle of a crowd in a subway station, and I felt so deeply and desperately alone. Disconnected from the world. They say that in the old days, everybody was disconnected all the time. I have no idea how they survived without going crazy.

So, I decide to hoof it instead. At this point I’m freaking out for real though. Is it even legal to not have a working implant? I remember that there used to be Ludds around in the cities, but I haven’t seen one in years. Didn’t they all move to enclaves? Or was it camps? I don’t remember to be honest.

When I got to the street, that’s when it hit me for real. The sky… it looked… grey. Smog. The streets were filled with garbage, I swear I saw a rat run by. I nearly tripped over a man sitting on the sidewalk. He’d been just staring ahead, but when he saw me looking at him, his face lit up.

“Please sir! I’m a veteran, please can you spare some money? I lost it all in the war.”

That was when I noticed he was missing both legs from the knee down. I was probably the first person to actually see him today. Like most people, I usually had my implant set up to filter out the homeless, but now that it was on the fritz… I was left with the awkwardness of having to pretend I didn’t see him.

I quickly walked on, shaken. That war he’d been going on about. Had there been a new war recently? I’d blocked war reports from my news feed years ago. There wasn’t anything I could do about it anyway, and it just made me feel sad.

My path lead past a little park. The trees looked pretty sad and sparse, but there was a group of people doing gardening work. They didn’t look too great. The grey uniforms they wore looked cheaply made and didn’t fit well. All of them had bulky collars fitted around their necks, and none of them looked like they’d had a decent meal recently.

Two guys in guard uniforms stood by and kept watch. One of them was rolling a cigarette while telling a joke that made the other one groan. I tried to make sense of what I was seeing. Were those prisoners? No, prisoners wore different uniforms, and none of these people had brands.

Wait, maybe they were peons. I vaguely recalled debt peonage being re-instituted a few years back. It had been touted as a way for people to clear their debts through honest labour. A way to contribute to society. It had sounded like a smart idea, so I think I ended up voting for the guy that proposed it. Looking at the scene now made me feel slightly queasy. This wasn’t what I had imagined to happen.

One of the peons had been pushing a wheelbarrow, but he stumbled and fell. By the looks of it, he was at least 70. Lazily the guard who’d been rolling a cigarette walked over and barked at him to get up. When the old man didn’t immediately respond, he received a sharp kick to the ribs. He collapsed coughing. Now both guards were on him, ordering him to get up right now. The old man tried to get to his knees, but fell back down. The guards exchanged a look, and one of them went glassy-eyed for a second, probably accessing an app through his implant.

The light on the old man’s collar turned red, and shocks ran through his body. He convulsed a few times and then went still. The guards called some of the other peons over, and motioned at the body. They loaded it into the wheelbarrow and carted it off.

I’d been standing there gawking like an idiot, and they almost saw me. I suddenly realised how much trouble I could be in if the guards caught me staring. I wasn’t supposed to be able to see any of that. Law-enforcement was only visible if they wanted to be. Their implants automatically interfaced with the implants of people around them, erasing their image from the viewer’s perception. This meant an officer could be watching you at any time. It had always made me feel safe, knowing that I was being watched over. Now, I felt deeply unsettled.

The world… it had changed so much since I got my implant. A little block on my newsfeed here, some environmental filters there… and I’d created my own happy little world. Right until today that is. I hadn’t realised how much had changed, and I didn’t like it at all. A mixture of feelings that I couldn’t quite describe took hold deep in my gut.

My reverie was interrupted by my the assistant calling my name, saying the doctor would see me now. It only took the doctor a minute to check my implant, find it faulty and to schedule me for immediate replacement surgery. As I went under, I told him:

“While you’re at it, please erase the last 24 hours from my memory. I saw some things I wish I hadn’t. I don’t want those memories keeping me up at night.”

When I woke up, I got a clean bill of health. The doctor told me the routine maintenance on my implant had been a success, and I walked home. The sky was blue, the trees were luscious and green and the streets looked picturesque. Life was good.

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