So I subscribed to this podcast Clarkesworld Magazine. Some time ago, I had listened to some stories on this podcast, but since had forgotten about it. I think that when I did subscribe to this podcast, I did so just looking for some short stories to listen to.
So my point is when I came back to this podcast, I knew they were short stories, and they were either fantasy or sci-fi stories, but I still wasn’t quite sure what to expect with the show. This was the first story during my return to this podcast. I’ll just say that the tone for these episodes are somber.
We’re introduced to this guy who seems to have this girlfriend and I guess they’re living a mediocre life. Then, the narrator tells us that he has this subself or his subconscious that takes control and kills the woman. We get a good amount of detail. Moving forward, we learn that he was a formerly trained murderer and he still has that programming in his mind.
I think he was part of a project that instead of undergoing years and years of training, the program overseers could do some type of neurological reprogramming and turn these people into assassins or probably whatever else they want them to be, though these other possibilities were never explored.
Our trained assassin reunites with his sister and family and he has to go through this period of reconnecting with them. His little sister sort of knows about the program, but she never really knew what he had to do. He eventually explained to her that, once, he had to get into a relationship with a woman, but then killed her to use her biometric data to access classified information. Information on a group of kids that were born with that same ability he has. His job was to kill all of them.
The story reminded me of a Black Mirror episode. On one hand, it’s interesting to see the technology or the science fiction used in the story, but the story also makes you think about a broader theme.
The ability to reprogram someone’s mind and implant him with an underlying directive is both fascinating and scary. On the one hand, it’s interesting to think about having the ability in the future to reprogram someone’s mind to do whatever activity that would normally take years and years of training.
This capability, from what I know, isn’t too far off.
It’s still a ways away, although it’s not completely inconceivable. We are increasingly learning more about how the mind works. And we’re discovering and developing new ways to manipulate it. Thus, the premise of this story is not far-fetched, but we’re not quite there.
A broader theme that the story touched on is having to grapple with the unflattering side of ourselves. Our narrator once comments that his subself, his programmed subconscious, the trained murderer is actually more like him than he actually was. It seems like that this is a commentary on how we suppress certain parts of ourselves, parts that we deem ugly, but they are nevertheless a part of us.
We are afraid that if other people are aware of our ugly traits, they might drive other people away. But what if we lived in a world in which all of us acknowledged those unsightly fractions of us?
Thinking through this story made me like it a little bit more. I didn’t dislike it before, but I like it more now.