Jamaal Miggs couldn’t make sense of it.
Through the years, he had dream-hacked hundreds of speculators, refuges, and work-seekers traveling in suspended animation to extract info he could use or sell to his contacts who would make the most of the exploit.
During most dream hacks, Jamaal would guide the temporarily unsuspended yet still deeply tranqued, traveler to various places during a typical galactic standard day. From transactions at banks during the daylight to secret indulgences under nightfall. He would find what captured their interests and what vices tempted them the most.
But this sleeper—this Jonathan Doughberg—just wouldn’t crack.
Jamaal tried all the prompts he knew to get Doughberg to actually go through his thoughts and all recreations—every single one—started with a battle-worn city. Vehicles riddled with bullet holes, buildings damaged by shellfire. Destruction and discarded furniture lined the side of the road and peppered the sidewalks: rubble, casings, casted off possessions… But the war torn streets were clear.
Hell, Doughberg wasn’t even present. It was Jamaal, alone on the streets. And for some damn reason, he was a kid.
This Doughberg conundrum had vexed him for months. A couple times a week, he hacked into Doughberg’s domicapsule to try again and again only to find himself standing in the same annihilated city.
Fuck, Jamaal actually had a dream of his own where he stood in the same spot; looking at the same shit.
He drummed his fingers on his leg. The Prism Corp neural interceptor that he bought for a hefty sum—and used without incident—weighed lightly on his hair. The Corp’s psychiatric unit used these devices to piggyback onto their deep space crews’ recollections.
Instead of merely being able to observe whatever random thought sleepers had during transport, the mods Jamaal built into the syncpads allowed him to guide the sleeper. To manipulate the sleeper. And–in some cases–even control the sleeper.
And it had always worked.
Until this guy.
“Shit.” Jamaal’s voice came back to him and it sounded weird. It sounded all growed up and he had used a dirty word. “Whoa!”
Jamaal flung the neural interceptor from his head. Its pendulum mount squeaked as it rocked back and forth. He was an adult and he used profanity all the fucking time. He wiped his face. Something about that scene had twisted his thoughts up enough and regressed him so that he actually thought from the point of view of his own youth when shit was the dirtiest word he knew.
He eyed the helmet of thin wires.
There was something new in the dream. He hadn’t noticed it until he ripped out, but there was a red ball. A red ball right as his feet. He was going to pick it up.
Jamaal bolted out of his chair to pace the narrow walkway in front of Doughberg’s domicapsule.
That damn red ball was going to haunt him for days. But there was no way he was going to go back into Doughberg’s sleep. While he hadn’t come across anything like this before, something at the edge of his conscious understanding warned that while he was trying to hack Doughberg; somehow, someone was hacking him.
© Ezekiel James Boston