Writing - Fiction - Stories - Self-Published - Inner Control

'I know my rights, lieutenant, but there is no point in beating about the bush. I killed my brother and no lawyer is going to change that.'

The stocky man across the table pulled loose the tie and unbuttoned his collar before pressing the start button of the recorder.

'I registered my first patent in 2012. It was the small device that monitored the brain waves of a person and sounded an alarm if the person began falling asleep. As you probably remember, it made the first page of the newspapers all over the world. Suddenly, I was famous, and all TV stations fought hard to have me on their talk shows. Money started flowing in as royalties, grants, venture capital, and what have you. In fact, everybody wanted to rub shoulders with me. Even the Royal Automobile Club gave me a prize. Soon my backyard operation swelled to 100 scientists and engineers.'

Birnbaum took a small sip of water before continuing.

'The next gadget was DrinkSafe, the implant that measured the level of alcohol and other intoxicants and radioed the values to an external device, so that the person could be alerted. That's when governments of several countries took notice of Braintek. Those of Switzerland, Sweden, and Finland even made DrikSafe compulsory for all professional pilots and drivers.'

'Was your brother already working with you at that time?'

'Paul joined about then. Not that I had much need for advertising experts. We had no significant competitors and our customers were mainly governments. Still, it felt good to have him on board. He was family. I didn't need to worry that he could stab me on the back or run away with the till. At least,' he added arching his eyebrows, 'I thought so then.'

'What was his function?'

'Oh well, I invented for him the title of VP for industrial relations but, as I said, there weren't many industrial relations to speak of. He attended conferences, talked to the press, and was for me the best sounding board I could imagine.'

Lieutenant Logan placed both elbows on the table and kept his eyes expectantly focussed on the other man.

'"Implants are going to revolutionise the way we live", I kept saying. And I was right. In 2015, the federal parliament passed a law to replace the smart ID cards with personal transponders containing all personal data. Cards had been swapped and forged, while implanted transponders remained where they were supposed to be. When, a year later, all major car manufacturers introduced anti-theft systems that recognized ID transponders, we came up at once with a new model of DrinkSafe that prevented people from driving while intoxicated. That's when Paul finally had serious work to do and raised to the challenge. He struck deals with all major aircraft and car manufacturers both in the US and in Europe.'

'When did you come up with the preference sensor?'

'I had been toying with the idea for years, but the time had not been ripe. Not yet. People were still reluctant to open up their feelings to strangers, although everybody knew that every move they made was recorded and analysed by somebody and acted upon. It was only after the introduction of transponders that people finally gave up the last hope for privacy they had clutched on.'

'Can you tell me in a few words how the sensor worked?'

'It was easy, really. We had already developed the technology to measure several body parameters. We only needed to feed them into the transponder and encrypt them. Any company could acquire from us the licence to interrogate the data and then buy from the hosts their decryption keys. It was a simple way of obtaining raw information on people's reactions to all sorts of products.'

'And many agreed to do it?'

'Of course. They were paid an implantation fee plus a premium for each sampling hit. Some even managed to make a living out of it, even though most companies only paid once a week for each product sampled.'

He brought again the glass to his lips, his eyes fixed on a thin crack of the wall.

'When did you become hostile to your brother?'

Birnbaum's head snapped towards the lieutenant, the white of his eyes visible all around his gray irises that had the color of forged steel.

'Hostile?' He burst showing his teeth. 'I loved my brother. Why don't you just shut up and listen?'

Logan felt his blood race away from his face and found it very easy to comply. The two men remained quiet for at least a full minute, until Birnbaum resumed his confession.

'Braintek was coming up with so many new products and we were all so hectic. Transponder technology was fast becoming ubiquitous, like the computer chip some decades before. New uses were discovered every day. Suddenly, everybody wanted all sorts of things to happen by simply entering a room or waving a hand.'

One more pause. One more sip of water.

'Our next product marked a turning point. It was the first time that such an implant was used as an active agent. There had been devices to supply drugs, but this one acted directly on the nervous system. It took everybody by surprise and the world by storm.'

'Was it the urge suppressor?'

'No. That came later. I am talking about the sleep controller. It made possible to trigger and suppress sleep by electrically stimulating the right centres in the brain. Obviously, we had to build into the device powerful safety blocks, to prevent people from staying awake for days and driving themselves to death. In any case, blocks or not, the controller was an instant hit. The market was ready for it and, except for a few minority groups, everybody acclaimed it as one of the major developments of the century. It brought humanity one step further towards being in control of their lives. Finally, one could plan the whole day. People discovered that they could systematically sleep on public transports. To help commuters, the transit authorities began generating encoded radio signals along the rail lines, so that the sleep controllers could switch to wake mode a couple of minutes before reaching the right station.'

'And then you made the urge suppressor.'

Birnbaum raised his eyebrows, clearly annoyed at the interruption.

'Yes. Predisposition to addiction had been confirmed to be genetic, but few had the money to correct their children's genes immediately after conception. The urge suppressor was the answer that alcoholics, compulsive eaters, pathological players, and smokers had been waiting for.'

'A great invention.'

'Undoubtedly. And most people recognised it as such. They finally left behind all the concerns that had fuelled so many debates only a few years back. Almost every chemist had a small sterile room where implants could be installed or serviced. People still needed a medical prescription, but the implants had proven themselves to be so safe that many thought they should be sold over the counter. That was the year when I received the Nobel Prize for medicine.'

'It must have been a great satisfaction.'

'It certainly was. We were doing a great service to humanity and it wasn't a matter of money anymore. I had personally so much money that I could have not spent it in ten lives. Like Microsoft a few decades ago, Braintek was in the enviable position of holding a de-facto monopoly of something that everybody wanted. We had just kept a step ahead of every other company in the same field.'

His eyes were shining as he spoke.

'It was magic. Everything we tried worked out better than we had hoped for. There was no way that competing companies could catch up with us, because we were attracting the best brains available. Despite our explosive growth, we still had to turn down 99% of the job applications we received. Braintek was just the sexiest place to work in the early twenties.'

Logan leaned forward on his elbows.

'But doctor, you haven't said yet how and why you murdered your brother.'

Birnbaum's face looked like carved out of a block of volcanic rock. His hands rested flat on the table. This was no man to be pressed into anything. Regardless of who was posing the questions, there could be no doubt on who was in control.

'We had a full team of people working full time on patenting, but four times as many were doing industrial counter-espionage.'

The left corner of his mouth edged up.

'They all had personnel numbers beginning with double-zeroes! Anyhow, despite the tight security we encased ourselves in, illegal devices based on the same principles of hour urge suppressors began appearing on the streets of all major cities. The main difference was that they effectively reversed the way in which they were supposed to act. They acted on the flow of blood in the brain to simulate the effect of alcohol and other major drugs, without side effects or physical dependence.'

'And your brother was behind it?'

Birnbaum nailed his gray eyes into those of his interrogator. The lieutenant leaned back, away from the table, a shiver running down his spine.

For a few seconds that seemed stretching into hours, the only sound in the room was the low whirring of the recorder.

'Within a year, the streets were full of all sorts of gadgets. The implantation still required some technical skills and hygienic precautions, but the process had been perfected to such an extent that it could be performed by almost anybody. In any case, once installed, upgrades could be downloaded without even touching the skin of the host. It was then that one evening, I placed a grabber under Paul's bed.'

He looked at the lieutenant's expression before continuing.

'The grabber is a piece of equipment widely used in Braintek to download implanted code. It operates via the host's transponder without physical contact. Once I had my brother's code it was easy for me to modify the pattern of the stimulus and use the same grabber to upload the updated code back in. I wanted to place Paul in a permanent numbing state of pleasurable oblivion. I didn't think that it would kill him. I must have introduced a bug into the code.'

A drop of sweat rolled down Logan's back, despite the air conditioning running at maximum. He felt other beads form on his forehead and wiped them away with the back of his hand. 'But why?' he shouted while rising to his feet and sending a shower of spittle across the table. 'Why did you do it?'

This time Birnbaum didn't react to the interruption and just kept his eyes on the lieutenant until he was seated back on his chair, albeit with a sneer on his face.

'We couldn't agree on what we called Project Conscience. We would have never agreed and too much was at stake to let it pass. You see, only Paul and I knew that the stimulators could also act on the brain centres responsible for pleasure and pain. Such a technology, together with the pervasive worldnet, could give to a single person total control over the whole human race. A power that Hitler and Stalin could have only dreamed of.'

Logan jumped up again, this time sending his chair tumbling across the room.

'That's why you killed him? To prevent him from enslaving the world? Is that it?'

The recorder kept whirring, only recording silence. Slowly, Logan's hand went to the back of his neck, where a small scar was clearly visible behind his thinning hair. And then he finally understood. Too late he raced his hand towards the revolver. His head exploded in pain as soon as he moved and he slowly crumpled to the floor while losing consciousness. The last thing he heard was the clicking sound of the recorder being switched off.

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