Thursday 3 June 2021

A Pebble in the Amazon

by Menderes Dogan

double espresso

     Taptaptap tap tap tap taptaptap

     There he was in front of the nursing station, listening to a handover given by a nurse. Again. But, this time he was on the graveyard shift and as every night his mind was busy with that same question. This question is like a relative you don’t like but keeps visiting you, like a dog mess on the beach keeps catching your eyes. ‘Is this my life? Is there more or is this it? What is the meaning of it.’ I am sure asking this question is part of the standard procedure when you get into your 40s along with many other things like buying a sports car. Luke didn’t buy a sports car. The latest expensive thing he bought was a new laptop computer for his daughter Sandy.

     The middle-aged healthcare assistant went to check the patients on the east wing as instructed. Sleeping Ronald’s tapping finger was unmissable for him. Poor Ronald had dementia and ate some of the frankincense beads from a rosary that his daughter bought for him. Ronald’s finger was tapping in the same sequence over and over again. It would have looked like a muscle twitch or a sign of a condition for an uneducated eye, but not for Luke. He played enough Morse code board games with his daughter and his wife to know the difference. ‘Taptaptap tap tap tap taptaptap.’ Three quick taps, three slow taps and three quick taps meant SOS.

     Luke checked all of the other patients. Everybody was asleep like Ronald. He checked Ronald’s file to find out if this poor fella was an armed forces veteran or worked for anywhere that he could learn and use Morse code. No, he was a builder, he likes gardening and he supports Arsenal. He likes to talk about his grandchildren and his dogs, according to his ‘This Is Me’ booklet prepared by the care home where he stayed. Luke sat down next to Ronald’s bed and looked at the tapping finger for a while. Strange enough that Luke has never noticed this old gunner’s tapping finger before. All he remembered about him was that he was a confused, noisy and an aggressive old fella. He tried to wake him up so he could ask about his SOS signal, but he couldn’t. Ronald was given sedatives to counter his disruptive and aggressive behaviour. A strange thought hit his mind like a ship hit the ground. He looked around to make sure nobody’s watching then he whispered to Ronald’s ear. ‘Ronald can you hear me? If you can, tell me why you’re sending SOS signals with your finger.’ Ronald’s finger stopped suddenly and then started to tap again. But this time it wasn’t saying SOS. Quick taps and slow taps were all mixed together.

     Luke remembered the Morse code decoding application on his smartphone he used it for cheating for the board game. ‘Ronald, this is Luke, I will put a device under your finger. Tap and tell me why do you need help,’ he said quietly to Ronald’s ear. The message started to appear on his phone’s screen that was propped with a pillow, wedged under Ronald’s hand. ‘Hi Luke, this is Red, help me!’ He felt the same chills as when he had a mental breakdown a year ago. He asked and the tapping finger answered his questions through his smart phone’s screen.

     The guy, who was talking to him, told him that his name was Fred, as everybody calls him Red. He told him that he was a prisoner from 2060, from the future. Luke’s chills were getting worse but he carried on reading. Red wanted Luke to find ten year old little Fred, his younger self, and tell him something important. He said he was a human rights activist who was falsely sentenced. He was a member of Justice Now! That is most commonly known as new communists, new-coms, or outright commies. No wonder they called him Red, Luke thought. Red knew Morse code because his organisation was using it to communicate in order to avoid government surveillance as dots and dashes language was almost extinct. Red said, his friend Elroy and he went to ‘search funds’ for their organisation. In the future money is mostly digitized, so they were after some goods so that they  could swap those goods with some money. They went to a retail depot but Elroy killed a security guard. Elroy was a bit nasty, power-hungry comrade who had so much hate in himself against society. Because Red was there, he has been accused as an accomplice. He was sentenced to 10 years. Elroy had 30 years.

     Sentences spent a little differently than today in future. A woman, Cassie something, invented a way to transfer a copy of human consciousness to the computer using a coded language with a quomputer, which is the name of quantum computers. This method is used in many businesses in the future. Ever growing crime rehabilitation industry wasn’t exempt from it. Inmates no longer had to stay ten years behind bars. Their consciousness copied and coded while they were put to sleep. Their consciousness sent in somebody’s brain that lived and died in the past. Nobody actually knows how this was done. Those people, who have been chosen as a nest, are called receivers. Thanks to impeccable computerized medical record-keeping and loosened regulations regarding dead people’s data. Prisoners have no control over the receiver's body. They have to stay there, watch and hear all the time.  Red got Ronald as a receiver, an old guy with dementia. Imagine the torture of feeling somebody else’s pain and frustration as yours, waking up swimming in your excrement, sometimes even some faeces in your fingers and nails. Elroy probably went to somebody’s brain that was sectioned because of mental illness. That’s what usually a murderer gets.

     In the beginning, this method has been approved to use for improving empathy. A robber pushes an old guy, snatches his valuables and runs away. When they caught him, they wanted to show him how that old man may have felt. Then things moved on quickly and now all of the inmates spend their sentence with the new method.  After they spend their sentence they return and this new consciousness goes back to the prisoners’ brains. The whole procedure only takes a couple of weeks in clinic like facilities instead of staying behind the bars for years. Think about it, you can spend years in the past but if your consciousness comes back a few seconds after it has been sent. Not so much changed for the people from your original timeline but you are months or years older depending on your sentence.  It is a profitable business for companies but not so good for prisoners. Some of them committed suicide not long after they’ve released. That is why new communists are against this method. They were protesting it on the street and clashing with ‘tins’. That is what they called police robots. Luke watched a science fiction movie or two. He was familiar with ‘the butterfly effect’ and ‘the grandfather paradox’ etc. Red said according to the company that holds the corporate rights of the method, ‘as prisoners have control over the receiver’s body there will never be any problem and he added ‘butterfly effect is like throwing a pebble into the Amazon and expecting it to change its bed.’ Prisoners had no control over receivers' bodies apart from Red. He still couldn’t explain how he could move Ronald’s index finger. That was exactly how Luke felt about his own life. Like a pebble in the Amazon. He couldn’t find the meaning of it or he couldn’t change it to anything meaningful.

     Red talked about many things over the next two days when Ronald was asleep as he could control the finger. He talked about the things that will happen in the next four decades. The detailed stories about pandemics, the Great African War, economic crises, energy shortages were some of them. But, he begged and begged Luke to find ten years old Fred and tell him ‘stay away from Elroy!’

     What if all these are not real, thought Luke? What if his mind was playing games with him, again? Just like last year. He thought he could go and find little Fred if he ever existed, He doesn’t have to do what Red asked him. Maybe this would be the golden opportunity to do something meaningful in his life. He wanted to see everything with his own eyes. Curiosity was getting the better of him.

     Luke was on the way to find little Fred the following day. He drove two hours to the northern city. He found the address Red gave him. It was just like Red described, east bank of the river, red-brick flats, near to a park that drug dealers were on duty 24/7. He found the flat little Fred, his brother and his mum lived in. Fred’s mother’s name was on the doorbell outside of an ugly building where even uglier flats were. He caught little Fred alone on his way to the football training after school, just like Red told him. Little Fred looked older than ten as he was quite tall. He looked skinny but agile. He inherited only one thing from his father who he never met, his olive skin. Luke told the little boy ‘One day you will meet Elroy, stay away from Elroy.’ The little boy was scared and tried to get away from this angry black man. Luke knelt down and held little Fred from his shoulders. He shook him and shouted ‘you will stay away from Elroy! Ok?’ Little Fred shouted, ‘Yes, ok, let me go!’ He ran away with tears. The people who heard shouting were starting to approach while Luke was running to his car. He made it to his car. It was evening when he arrived at the hospital where he worked. He found Ronald sleeping; his finger was not tapping anymore. He whispered in Ronald’s ear. ‘Red, are you there?’ No answer.

     Police traced Luke’s car from the number plate that eyewitnesses provided. He went down with another mental breakdown. He wrote about Red and things he told. His daughter, Sandy, kept everything his father wrote even after he was long gone. Cassandra, as her parents called her Sandy but her physicist husband, who she met at university, liked to call her Cassie invented the method Red mentioned. Although she had a good memory and attention for details she forgot that she scribbled this note to the bottom margin of a page of her father’s manuscript, ‘Check frankincense’s effects on memory and brain.’


About the author 

Menderes Dogan was born in Turkey. He writes short stories in two languages, English and Turkish. He has a story published on a Turkish website.

He works for the NHS, enjoys spending time with his family and watching movies. 



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