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That Electric Feel

Steven Fischer is a writer and medical student living in southern Wisconsin. When he's not cracking open a textbook (or a patient's thorax), he can be found exploring the northwoods by bike, boat, or boot. You can read more of his work at stevenbfischer.com.

They told you the surgery would be painless. That you'd feel nothing as they sawed your skull open and wove your white matter full of copper wire. As the bundle of processors that they buried deep in your chest slowly integrated itself into the way you thought, the way you dreamed, the way you were.
They didn't lie. But they didn't tell you that you'd feel nothing afterwards, too.
That you wouldn't feel accomplished or proud as you look down at the glass of hundred-dollar bourbon in your hand. As you survey the posh nightclub you wouldn't have been allowed into only months ago. Or as the phone in your pocket buzzes for your attention--a message from another investor, no doubt.
Worst of all, you don't even feel angry at them for making you so empty.
It's in there somewhere--the emotion you should be feeling--but it's buried under so many layers of calculation and analysis that you hardly recognize it. It sounds more like someone shouting underneath the water than the crisp, clear voice in which your own thoughts used to speak. Instead, something strong, but cold, has replaced it.
Sixty-seven percent of startups fail within the first year. Of the remaining thirty-three percent, only twenty-seven ever turn a profit. Even when a company does everything right, even when their CEO and founder can make countless, accurate calculations in the span of seconds, there will always be an element of chance. Because not even a computer in your brain lets you control consumer behavior.
You knew all this before, of course, but it was easier to forget. That hopeful, naive voice inside your head somehow able to push it away. Thoughts like that used to make you feel nervous, but now you don't feel anything.
Across the room, a woman is dancing alone. There are others on the dance floor, but she's the only one truly moving to the music. She twists and spins in perfect step, despite every error that you hear the swing band make. The trumpet, three hertz flat on four notes in one measure, three milliseconds late to enter on the next. She doesn't hear it, of course. No one else does.
Despite it, she moves gracefully, and you almost forgive the band for their mistakes. Sharp, symmetric facial features. Thin, athletic figure. Long hair, long legs, and a dress cut almost to her hip. She's beautiful, objectively. The kind of woman you would have spent all night pining over before the surgery. Now, you just watch.
As the music comes to a merciful halt, she walks towards the bar and takes the seat beside you. Up close, she seems somehow even more perfect. One of the few true winners of mankind's genetic lottery. One, maybe two folks in a thousand gifted with the features she has.
"I couldn't help but notice you staring," she says, with the slightest of smiles on her lips. But it looks forced, as if the gesture is more for your sake than her own.
Your mind races, neurons and circuits firing in tandem. "I wasn't staring," you mutter, in exactly the tone that is most likely to be received as apologetic and disarming. And you really weren't staring. You'd made certain of it. One glance every fifteen seconds--the ideal interval to avoid the appearance of fixation.
"Fair enough," she replies, then motions to your glass. "Are you at least going to buy me a drink?"
Beautiful and confident. You can only imagine how you would have stumbled over your words if you'd met her months ago. Thankfully, apathy has made you less awkward. "Sure, why not."
She flags down the bartender and orders a whiskey sour. You watch him pour the drink two milliliters short.
She takes it from him and taps her glass against yours. "Thanks. I appreciate it. Even if the bastard poured it light."
"You're a whiskey fan, too?" The reply is out of your mouth before you realize what she actually said. Two milliliters. No one but you could have noticed something so small. You almost pass it off as coincidence until you see that she's smiling again, for real this time.
You watch her eyes move across your face--ten degrees up, five degrees left, eight degrees down--a perfectly normal search pattern. Far too perfect, in fact, to be anything close to normal.
You replay the memory of her dancing in your mind, perfectly preserved thanks to nearly infinite storage, and you notice that she was looking at you, too. You'd missed it at first because it had been so subtle. Only once every few measures. Only once every fifteen seconds.
Her grin widens as you start to frown. "What can I say? Great minds think alike," she says, running her fingers through the hair along the back of her neck. At the gesture, you can almost feel the wires beneath your own skin tingling. "Or at least our programming does." She downs the glass and rises from the barstool, reaching out to take your hand. "Would you like to dance with me?"
The words catch a moment in your throat as a strange feeling spreads through your chest. Wires, or heartbeat, or both, you aren't certain, but you're certain you'd like that very much.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, March 14th, 2018

Author Comments

Sometimes I feel there are two brains inside me. The first thinks in terms of numbers and details and gets bogged down by self-doubt and the silly pursuit of something called "success." My other brain doesn't care about those things. It just wants to be happy and enjoy the music and a glass of whiskey, without worrying about every wrong note. I've learned through the years that I need both my brains, but sometimes it's nice to just dance with the only person I know who can drown them both out.

- Steven Fischer
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