January 31, 20XX
I apologize for abruptly ending my last letter. I tired and lost the will to keep writing. Of course, I could use the gaslight device to “encourage” myself to write more, but I feel that this takes away from the authenticity. I am ready to continue.
I last ended with how the knowledge of the device came to my attention. You would think that with all of the wonderful things I did with it soon afterward, I must have obtained it quite easily. Not quite. When I resolved to obtain it, I assumed that my professor would have a prototype in her lab. She did not. Despite her deficiencies with computer security, she took physical objects much more seriously. I had to discover through eavesdropping and careful monitoring of email communications that the good old professor also worked in a secret compound provided by her quite nasty associates.
At this point, you’d scoff. How could a lazy, underachieving son infiltrate a heavily guarded facility and steal a top-secret device? Easy enough. I went straight to her associates. Now, you will be laughing in mockery. You’ve always underestimated me, Mother. Of course, it was a calculated risk, one that could have ended me with my body at the bottom of a lake. I made sure to create some insurance for myself.
For you see, my absent-minded professor had also stored detailed blueprints for the device on her computer. I saved them on a cloud service that required two-factor authentication and biometric identification every three days. If I did not, the information would be sent to every news outlet, national security agency, neuroscience publications, and Congressperson in the country. Sure, most would probably not believe me, but the information would be free. Not something the associates want.
I reached the main point of contact for her associated and proposed that we meet in a neutral location. Oh, give me some credit, Mother! I didn’t use my actual identity. That wasn’t needed, anyway, as I’m about to tell you.
We met in the frozen foods section of a local Wal-Mart. Oh, how I wish I could tell you more about the contact! Unfortunately, he’d probably get rid of us both, and that’s the last thing I’d want. Suffice it to say, I liked him immediately. He came in brusquely, and perhaps with a concealed weapon, but I could see in his eyes the same contempt for the wastes of humanity like I had. Or maybe the Wal-Mart crowd pissed him off.
“We’ve been watching you, you little shit,” he said after he refused my offer of a handshake. “Be quick and maybe you’ll live to see tomorrow.”
My smile froze. You’d be delighted to know that I quite feared my continued existence. You, your jaded son, the trite invincible adolescent, wanting his Mommy when encountering the first difficulty in his adult life. I pushed that impulse to the back of my mind.
“Dr. XXXX is an idiot. She has the technical know-how, but not the imagination for your venture,” I said in my best salesman impression.
He grinned, the grin of an orca with its jaws around a hapless seal. “Go on, kid,” he replied.
I launched into my vision for the device. You’d be proud of me, Mother. I had practiced the elevator pitch for hours. I talked about the future, how much more powerful his organization would become. I told him about the flaws in the device that my professor failed to mention in her communiques and I told him how I could fix them. I’d go into more detail, but you were never interested in anything I did, Mother.
“And what if we refuse?” he asked after my spiel.
“I have a number of contingencies—”
“We know about them,” he cut me off. “They’re not going to work.” Something in his tone told me that he wasn’t bluffing. “You watch too many movies. That spy stuff, that ‘in case of my death’ plans, never works.” Before I replied, he rattled off every one of my contingency plans.
“Well, you have me at a loss,” I said weakly.
He smiled, genuinely this time. “You know what? I like you, kid. Our mutual friend has come down with a fatal case of ethics and threatened to leave the project. We have been planning to replace her for some time.
You’d hardly need guess that this was an offer I could not refuse. Whatever my sentiments for my teacher, self-preservation superseded them. So I agreed without hesitation. In fact, I suggested that I use the gaslight device to remove her as a threat.
Whether through my audacity, his wariness about the professor, or pity, he allowed me to proceed. We even left with a handshake.
At the risk of extending this letter beyond its natural limits, I’ll detail the poor fate of Dr. XXXX. What I did to her was not done out of malice. While we were passionate about the same things, she was a competitor. Worse, she was a competitor in a better position than me.
My plan did not begin immediately. I had to wait until I could get my hands on the device, the MacGuffin that would move my story towards a happy ending. It came, remarkably enough, in a UPS package stuffed into my mailbox.
When I opened the package, I laughed at the absurdity. You would, too. The device consisted of a pair of goggles and a pair of gloves, like a VR game system. This was how I would become a god, by dressing as a kid in a Nintendo advertisement. Well, I thought, the first thing to do after this task would be to redesign the device into something with more gravitas.
Now, if you expected some grand confrontation with my mentor, a showdown between Sherlock and Moriarty, you’d be sorely disappointed. I was disappointed, too. It was too easy.
The effort began on a normal day. I went to the lab, albeit with an extra duffel bag along with my customary backpack. I waved off a question about it from the postdoc by saying that I had finally committed myself to go to the gym. More worried about the tenuous position of his employment than whatever a stupid undergrad was doing, he accepted my answer.
We had one of those weekly meetings where each of the students presented results from their projects. When I presented mine, I admit that I received a few sharp responses when the professor asked some tedious questions about procedures, so impatient was I to begin my real project. I made a snide remark about her research ability. The tension was palpable. Even I felt awkward at this inadvertent outburst. In the end, after everyone else left, I begged her for a private meeting to apologize. She told me I could meet at her office.
I gathered my belongings and went to her at the appointed time. With the equipment already on, I pounced without warning. You should have seen the look on her face when I opened her door. I must have proved a comical figure, an overgrown kid with oversized goggles and gloves, except for the part when she realized what I planned to do.
What was not comical was what the device revealed to me. I saw, I saw the physical components of her consciousness, thoughts orbiting around her person like the planets around the Sun. Lines, clouds of atoms, a reality that we never knew existed, on where the other half of our dual minds lived.
My wonder only lasted a few microseconds. I reached out and used the device to directly interface with her physical thoughts. She froze, her consciousness going into standby through a simple command I executed. I opened her mind as easily as I opened a text document.
I’m afraid our vocabulary is too limited to describe the experience I felt. Perhaps the closest is like one of those mind-melds from those ancient science fiction shows. Her thoughts became mine. I used them to search for her knowledge of Project Gaslight. I learned of her initial ideas for it, how after she left her abusive husband, she realized how he manipulated her recollection of events. What if instead of lying, one could directly change the thoughts of the other and bypass the problem? I learned of her countless experiments and the long bouts of contemplation. She had been much smarter than I gave her credit for.
I began to delete those memories. Unfortunately, I was not well-versed enough in the device to do the deed smoothly. The process seemed simple enough. I could twist and turn aspects of the memory, like pressing buttons or copying and pasting text. The problem was that I could not predict how those memories would end up. I took the safe route and replaced them with blanks. She would not remember even if she tried. I did not realize that this simple act would have deleterious consequences.
There must have been some compensatory loop in her conscious mind. As I deleted the memories, her body began shaking. She fell and hit her head against the side of her desk, making an unpleasant thud. I remembered being annoyed at this inconvenience. In my haste, I permanently damaged her brain functions.
When I finished, she was still seizing on the floor. I thought about shutting off her nervous impulses, but then a better idea came to my head. Before I turned off the device, I encountered her last thoughts concerning myself. She had been quite proud of me, like the son she knew she would never have. She planned to introduce me to her associates and give me a key part in Project Gaslight. Ironic, I thought. Too bad her associates had other plans. I erased her thoughts of me.
Her body grew still as I called the police. I must say that I acted with such gusto that I almost convinced myself I was sincere. I had put in just enough restrained anxiety that convinced them to come in haste rather than in leisure like the emergency services usually do. I followed their instructions on how to keep her alive. When the medics arrived, I put on my best impression of a college student on the verge of a nervous breakdown. It wasn’t that hard.
As they wheeled her out, I felt a twinge of regret. What a waste of a brilliant mind. Last I heard, she still had trouble with her bowels at that ghastly nursing home.
Your loving son,