You are invited to read Marcus of Abderus and the Inn at the Edge of the World, a fantasy adventure novel available at Barnes and Noble Online.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Mind Bug

The Mind Bug

A short story by Michael R. Lockridge

My name is Waldo Zimmermann. Lieutenant Hinson, of the Winston City Police Department, has instructed me to put down in my own words just how I killed Professor James Downey.

I am sure that Officer Hinson thinks I am a genuine crackpot. He told me that he had investigated the scene of Downey’s death, and though the final ruling has not come in, it was a very clear case of suicide. I admit that it is quite true that Downey put the gun to his own head, and equally true that he pulled the trigger. He painted the wall of his study with his brains, and I can’t imagine a better use for them.

I must, however, insist that it was I who killed him.

Please forgive me for the considerable self-analysis on my part. It will be pertinent to this confession. I must prove that I had the motive, the ability, and the opportunity to kill the recently departed Professor. To do so I will necessarily have to delve into the state of my own mind. Indeed, the state of my mind is quite critical.

I am a professor of physics in our own dear Winston State College. I have been a lifelong academician, and am first to admit that my whole life has been limited to school campuses. I am, and always will be, an egghead. An instructor of eggheads in an egghead community.

Let me be honest in assessing myself. I am a short, fat, and balding middle-aged man. I think the outward person simply developed to reflect what I was on the inside. As such, I have never known a woman’s touch. Excluding, of course, one rather traumatic experience at a faculty party some years ago.

I have never been successful with women. I learned to content myself with experiencing them from a distance. I have had to rely on my imagination, with little hope for any reality. In a few words, I have always been sexually repressed.

To be quite honest, I had not really considered this a problem until two years ago. That was when James Downey came to our campus. We ended up sharing a rather small office, and I knew it would be a rather rough relationship from the very beginning.

Where should I begin? Downey had a far too athletic build for a professor of modern literature and creative writing. And what was a professor from the school of the humanities doing sharing an office with me, anyway?

He played a mean game of tennis. Much too physical for me, at any age. He was three years older than myself! And he could play chess! He hardly ever played, but the few times we did I learned that my title on campus was in danger.

Added to all of this was that perpetual tan of his. Artificial? Of course, but still he glowed like some kind of Greek god. Contrasted with his billowing white hair, never out of place, he looked glorious!

His voice was deep and authoritative. He always had the right words to say. Whether addressing a first year student or the loftiest assembly of dignitaries, he always had the right words. Perfect presentation. Everyone loved to listen to him. I loved to listen to him, and I hated him from the very beginning.

Clothes! Whatever I tried to wear, I looked like a walk-on player in a second rate local theater production. He was always properly attired, in the best clothes available in our humble community. How a man living on his salary could afford to dress like he did I shall never know.

Too bad the casket had to be closed. Everyone at the funeral would have been impressed by how well he was dressed!

I could have forgiven the man all of this, but for one thing. Samantha Downey, his wife.

I may have always been sexually repressed, but that does not mean that I never noticed women. I have always liked women. I just could never find my stride with them. Tongue-tied and two left feet. No skills. None.

Samantha. Never before had I experienced the presence of such a woman! She seemed to have been sculpted from the most sensual of flesh. She was full of the fire of life, filled with passions I could not even imagine. Her sensuality was essential. It was her nature. It may never have been innocent, but it was honest.

I felt a fire deep inside myself the first time I met her. It grew every time I saw her. I learned her schedule, just so that I could chance to meet her once in a while. My own schedule shifted to insure I would see her at least several times a week. I felt I would die if I did not get at least a glimpse now and then.

Obsessed. I knew it, and I didn’t care. I had to have her!

But how? I knew that I had no chance of winning her. Impossible! What to do?

I capitalized on my strengths. Months I thought and worked and theorized and experimented. Nanotechnology was my answer. Sub-microscopic robots.

Great wealth could have been mine with the nanobots I created. I sought a greater prize. If I could not have Samantha directly, I would tap the memories and experiences of the man who had her. The nanobots were just a means to that end.

I introduced the nanobots into my associate’s body through his coffee. Several doses of the right proteins, along with a chemical programming code. They came together inside his body and assembled themselves. They then reproduced, and began assembling what I called “The Mind Bug.”

My own nanobots I injected into myself. No need for subterfuge. Since I was going through a similar experience, I could gauge what was going on in his body. If I felt cravings for particular foods, I made sure they were available for him, as well. The cravings indicated minerals being depleted by the nanobots scavenging components from our bodies.

His being an athlete did work to my advantage in this. A real danger was an imbalance in electrolytes. Athletes consume fluids designed to meet this particular need. By stocking our office with these beverages, I insured that both of us would survive the process of assembling the Mind Bugs.

Downey and I became ill around the same time. We weren’t able to come to work for a couple of days. It did not seem peculiar, since we shared an office. We obviously had been exposed to the same “bug.” Yes, a bad pun, but applicable.

Once I was over the worst of the illness, I tested my connection with my computer. I had built up the system to handle a network with two human minds. As it was, I had to come up with a few tricks. Any one of those would make me wealthy, even without the technology of the Mind Bug. Again, that was not my goal.

By the time we were back in the office I had a constant link to my computer’s Mind Bug network. It took some time to learn to navigate another man’s mind, I must say. Minds are nothing like I thought they were, before I started this experiment.

Eventually I was able to tap into the memories and experiences I had longed for. Oh, Samantha! She was more glorious than I had ever imagined! I won’t spoil my experience by relating details. The experience was very satisfying, and worth the effort.

Those were the early experiences, when the two were really in love. However, the narcissism of Professor Downey poisoned a beautiful relationship. She couldn’t love him as he loved himself! He grew dissatisfied, and abusive.

That self-involved man was beating my precious Samantha! There seemed nothing I could do.

Then I recalled that our minds were connected through the Mind Bug! Could I do it? Could I use it to drive him mad? I had to try!

I resolved to destroy his sleep. I used the computer to insure that his sleep would never be deep enough for his mind to recharge and regenerate. I separated myself from this part of the loop, since I did not wish to go mad along with him. I had acquired the memories of my dear Samantha, and more. I now knew her well enough that I experienced some vague hope that I could win her.

After Professor Downey killed himself due to an intense depressive episode, I intended to befriend his widow, and win her!

It seemed so workable.

Downey spiraled down into the depths of depression. He experienced delusions. Twice he hallucinated. I know, for I monitored his decline with maniacal attention. I was in his mind when he was home, alone. I was in his mind when he got out that old revolver he had prized for so many years. I was in his mind when he placed it to his head!

Alas, I was also in his mind when Samantha walked in on him. He was not alone, as he had thought. As I had thought.

There was no hesitation. No shouting, no arguments. He just leveled the gun and shot my dear Samantha! A bullet now broke the heart he had broken. Then another followed. And yet another. Then one for himself.

So, Lieutenant Hinson, I killed James Downey. With his hand, I also killed the only woman I had ever loved.

My fate is in your hands, Lieutenant. Can you make this case? Will you? I don’t really care. I have my memories, even though I had to steal them. If you want me, I will be at home. At home, endlessly strolling down memory lane.

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