By Jeffrey Gong

He named himself Rorschach.

He did not know why he decided to name himself thusly. He could have figured out why. There were free deep psychoanalysis stations everywhere. Just walk in, sit down, sleep for a couple minutes, then an artificial intelligence with an pleasant voice tells you exactly how your brain works and recommends measures to fix all of its problems. Snip off a couple synapses there, dedicate a little more space to the amygdala, add an extra lecture hall to the hippocampus. It was all very routine, all very cheap, all very deeply corrupt.

Rorschach thought that everyone at least, at one point intuitively understood why the psychoanalysis stations were free. The Corporation harvested all of the data and used it to build a psychological profile of every human being alive. Profiles that were used to control people and sell ever more brain enhancements, personality cores and memory injections to people, preying on their fear, on their boredom, on their every last insecurity.

It was a disturbing thought, which was probably why most people didn’t think about it. It was easy to lead an absolutely contented life nowadays. All one had to do was buy an Emotion Protector, go to the nearest augmentery, have the cheerful surgical robots implant it in your head (without the need for anesthetic funny how evolution stuck so many pain receptors in the big toe and zero in the cerebrum) and tada! You would never be sad, mad or bothered by anything ever again.

Rorschach had been taught to call those people the “Stapled.” They had chosen to live a life of a single color, the color that they favored most, and had discarded the rest. Rorschach lived with people that the Corporation usually labeled as Luddites, people who rejected neurological editing in every way, shape and form, who condemned those that did with language like the “Stapled” and the “Dreamers.”

And yet, sometimes, when Rorschach was in the city and saw how the common people lived, he had to wonder if they didn’t have the better deal.

He was in the vacuum tube train, heading into the interior of the city. The vactube was sparsely populated by people, mostly Dreamers. You could figure out who were the Dreamers and who were the Stapled by looking at their eyes. Both carried blank expressions on their face, but Dreamers’ eyes were always moving, darting about like the dragonflies they had recently revived from amber, while the eyes of the Stapled were perpetually still and in a constant state of dilation.

One of the Dreamers’ minders a magleved little sphere with a couple of grasper arms whirred past Rorschach’s seat, carrying a little cupful of water. Gently, it pulled open the mouth of its client, someone who apparently had chosen to present herself as a thirty-year old woman, and slowly poured the water down her throat.

Rorschach’s eyes drifted to the vidscreens adorning the walls, which alternated between advertisements loudly proclaiming the superiority of the Altered path and views of the passing cityscape, with its crystal skyscrapers and vertical forests. Rorschach experimented with his eyes, moving them to and fro, and confirmed what he already knew. Clearly, the screens were rigged to read the irises who whoever looked at them and change what they showed based on that. Detecting a dirty Luddite like himself, they would dispense Corporation propaganda, hoping to make another convert.

Rorschach sighed and tapped twice on his wrist. Immediately, the cells in his irises realigned themselves, and just as immediately, the vidscreen changed to a view of the massive C on the Corporation’s main office.

Perhaps, Rorschach reflected, it was a reminder that one could never really escape the Corporation. His companions had always spoken of the Corporation in tones of fear and disgust. Everywhere one went one was reminded of the power of the Corporation, from the personalized ads littering the sides of every object in every city to the hallucinatory agents in the air itself that fed the subconscious whispers in everyone’s minds to obey the Government and to work hard for the Corporation.

“Uh, sir, hello? Can you hear me?”

He looked up to see a person who presented themself as a young man with utterly unremarkable features. The supposedly-young man grinned at him, his eyes wide and alert.

“Who are you?” Rorschach said cautiously. The Corporation had employed spies before spies that didn’t even know they were spies, and yet spied anyway. For all Rorschach knew, this young man could be one of them.

Actually, for all Rorschach knew, Rorschach was one of them, but that was a possibility that wasn’t worth thinking about. On that road laid only the madness of second-guessing one’s very own thoughts.

“Uh… that’s the thing,” the young man said, grinning. “I have no clue.”

“Excuse me?” Rorschach said.

“It’s true!” the man said. “I just… woke up on this damn train. I don’t know how I got here, or who I am… and everyone else on this train is, like, asleep or something, so they’re not helpful at all. You’re the only person that can tell me what the hell’s going on!”
Rorschach stared at the young man. Then he laughed.

“Looks like you’ve been reset, my friend,” Rorschach said.

“Reset?” The man looked confused.

“It used to be pretty popular,” Rorschach explained. “People who got tired of being who they were went to the Corporation to wipe their memories and scramble their personalities around a bit, keeping their old brain pattern on file to reload later. Of course, it went out of fashion when they figured out how to keep people happy for good.”

“You serious?” The bewildered look on the man’s face was priceless. Or it would have been if it wasn’t for the fact that literally every life experience in existence was on file in some Corporation computer. “Then where do I go to get my old brain pattern back?”

Rorschach laughed again. “Even if you went there, you couldn’t get it back. Your old mind almost certainly signed a agreement with the Corporation to lock down the old brain pattern forever. They had problems before with the newly born minds immediately going back and asking to be restored, so…”

The man gaped at Rorschach. “Surely there’s some sort of way that I can… “

“Look, it’s impossible,” Rorschach said. “The Corporation knows what it’s doing. And besides, why do you want to be restored anyway?”

“What do you mean?” the man cried. “I’ve got no clue… about anything! Do you know how awful that feels?”

Rorschach shook his head. “I don’t. But think about it. Whoever you used to be didn’t even want to be themselves anymore. They wanted a clean slate, to restart from scratch. How must they have felt when they made that decision? Is it better than what you’re feeling now?”

The man visibly deflated.

“Then… what if I just end it! Get out and stand in front of this train and–”

“Impossible,” Rorschach said, shaking his head. “No one dies anymore. The Corporation won’t allow it.”

“Then what the hell am I supposed to do? Where am I supposed to go now?”

“Anything and anywhere you want, my friend,” Rorschach said. “That’s what’s great about this world.”

He pointed to the Dreamers and Stapled all around them. “See those people? ‘Bout half of them are Stapled: living in eternal bliss, caring for nothing, wanting for nothing, fed, watered, and led ‘round by the nose by robot spheres. The other half, the Dreamers live in a fantasy world, factory made by the Corporation to be the most satisfying lives the human mind can think up. Go to the nearest Corporation outlet, and you’ll be just like one of them in a few hours.”

The man went silent. Slowly, the train came to a stop.

“Okay then,” he said, looking down. “But… if that’s so great… why don’t you get it done to yourself?”

Rorschach smiled as he stood for his own stop.

“Who knows?” Rorschach said. “I’ve never let anyone poke around in my head.”
The man shook his head. “How do you know that?”

“What do you mean?” Rorschach asked.

“How do you know someone hasn’t been poking around in your head? How do you know if you’re not one of those… Dreamers?”

Rorschach smiled.

“I think I’m not one of the Dreamers. I think the world around me is real. There’s no proof for that, but that’s the way I see my life.”

“But how can you think that? You don’t know if it’s true!”

“Does it have to be?”

With that, Rorschach disembarked from the train, leaving the blinking Reset man gaping.

For some reason, he felt good about himself.

He could go figure out why.

But he didn’t want to do that.

Why didn’t he want to do that?

He could go figure out why.

But he didn’t want to do that.

Why didn’t he want to do that?

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