Sleepers: A Near Future Science Fiction Short Story, Part One
The Control Room
This story has been published in five parts, each having about 1000 words. Go to my profile to find the next part. Thank you for reading.
Benjie and Chesa lay on two beds in the control room of Progressive Technologies Incorporated, sleeping while PTI used the children's brains to run the company’s production facilities. Once man discovered that the brain did not need to sleep, indeed, never slept but kept on working while the body rejuvenated itself, it was only a matter of time before someone harnessed and exploited this undeveloped potential.
“Whatcha doin’ over there?” At some point, every day, as they slept from 8 am until 4 pm, Benjie would begin his conversation with Chesa in the same way.
“Trying to sleep,” was Chesa’s usual response.
“What do you like best,” Benjie asked one day.
“Best about what?”
“The stuff we’re building.”
“I don’t know. Some of the cars are cool, I guess.”
“I like the drones.” Benjie sighed. “You can go anyplace with one of those drones and never leave home. Some of them have guns. Did you see that, Chesa?”
“I don’t like guns.”
“I do. I like guns a lot.”
The Manila We Aren't Supposed to See
Time passed, and they spent the best eight hours of each day sleeping and serving the company. The money was extremely good, but it didn’t impress two twelve-year-olds who were missing summer vacation.
“Will we do this the rest of our lives?” Chesa asked.
“When we signed those papers, the guy told us we could leave anytime we wanted.”
“Maybe we should leave.”
“And go where?” Benjie considered his own question. “Back to the landfill?”
Chesa and Benjie had lived their whole lives on the border of a landfill outside Manila. Chesa’s parents were killed when the mountain of garbage on which they scavenged collapsed in a rainstorm. Six months after that tragedy, a 7.5 magnitude earthquake shook the city killing hundreds. Benjie’s parents were among the dead.
The two orphans met a year later when PTI hired them—or abducted them according to government prosecutors. The charges were that PTI was guilty of kidnapping children to use in their production facilities. The company insisted they had hired the children who were indeed paid very well.
During a roundup of children living in and around the massive landfill, all were screened for creativity using a divergent thinking test and a High Resolution Magnetoencephalography Imager. Scientists had discovered that creative minds displayed the most connectivity between three important control centers in the brain. Chesa and Benjie had scored the highest in all of PTI’s searches in the area.
"Smokey Mountain" Landfill, Manila
# [Four years later]
“Isn’t it cool that our birthdays are in the same month?” Chesa let her sixteen year old body sleep while she talked with Benjie.
“I guess, but you’ve had four years to get used to our birthdays.”
“Do you love me, Ben?”
“Of course I love you, Ches. You’re my whole world.”
“Our world isn’t very big, is it? This room, our apartments, walks in the company park.”
“It’ll get better, Ches. Just wait. You’ll see.”
PTI fought court battles regarding their treatment of children, and violations of US immigration laws. Part of the company’s defense was they were not in violation of child labor laws because the children continued their schooling. They had a tougher time defending themselves against the laws that dealt with endangering a child’s health during their employment.
Even as the court heard these cases, Chesa and Benjie were being surgically fitted with Brain-Computer Interfaces, known as BCIs and Brain-Brain Interfaces known as BBIs. The risks of infection and general anesthesia were enough to alarm the court. The legal matters dragged on for years through a series of appeals.
The results of the wire implants were three wireless, external pathways. One fed information into the brains of the children. Another enabled the paired brains to communicate and cooperatively solve problems. The third relayed information back into the facility’s network so that the automated system could build PTI’s advanced electric automobiles. All this occurred as the children slept for eight hours every day. Sleepers, the company called them.
The Brain in Chains
# [Four more years later]
“Hey, Ben. Aren’t you going to ask me what I’m doing over here? You ask me that question every day.”
“I’m tired, Ches. I just want to sleep.”
“What are you so depressed about? You sound like you just lost your best friend, which I hope is still me.”
“Your still my best friend, but it just seems like life is passing us by.”
“I remember you telling me once a few years ago that it would get better. Well, I’m telling you now. Just wait. You’ll see.”
Scientists reported that nearly as many synapses fired during sleep as when the person was awake. The brain, they discovered, oversaw and used the time of sleep to rid itself of toxins and to sift through memories, deciding which to keep and which to discard.
But could the human brain take on more than those fundamental tasks while the body slept or would an additional workload compromise these much needed functions? As it turned out, the brain snatched up the new challenge like a dog digging up its favorite bone. Rather than computers running factories, human brains were performing the functions of microprocessors and programs much faster, even while the bodies slept. Companies researched and tested until they knew the kind of brains that would work best for industry.
And that was the kicker. The prime brains for the task were those with the least amount of prior programming. The ideal profile for a Sleeper was that of a creative minded 12-year-old boy or girl, gender didn’t matter, with little or no schooling. Modern education methods seemed to interfere with the brain’s natural processes. High tech industry didn’t need brains with a lot of stored knowledge; they needed highly connective pathways that led to unusually active brain centers.
# [And finally, four more years later]
“I’ve had it, Ches. This place is killing me. Remember, the man said we could leave whenever we want?”
“You’ve been feeling this way for years, Ben. I’m with you a hundred percent. It’s time for us to go.”
© 2019 Chris Mills