by John Domenichini
This is MAMS coming on line. John, I’m making initial contact, checking your vitals. Everything is looking good.
Dr. Alcanet has meshed the interaction device to your lower spine and turned me on. The local pain receptors are stimulated, but the local anesthetic appears to be blocking the pain. I’m not detecting any activity in your cerebral cortex that would indicate you are experiencing pain.
Remember, you can communicate with me by thinking words slowly one at a time and pushing them forward in your mind. The pre-procedure notes indicate that you had no difficulty with this communication activity in the simulated practice. However, I’m not receiving any communication from you as of yet.
I’m checking your brain activity to try to determine if my communication is getting through. I’m picking up a lot of activity in the expected areas, so it would seem so. And yet, I’m still not receiving any communication from you.
I know you have been informed of this, but let me assure you, John, that my management capabilities are not enabled and can only be enabled by you or a member of the medical staff. I cannot control any of your bodily systems. Only my monitoring capabilities are enabled at this time. The pre-procedure notes also indicate that your anxiety level was very high going into this procedure. That’s understandable and not uncommon. We’ll get through this together.
Your pulse is starting to quicken, John, but you have nothing to worry about. I can tell you’re speaking, probably to the medical staff. I cannot understand you, though. For me to understand, you’ll still need to think the words one at a time and visualize pushing them forward.
You’re showing distinct signs of stress, John. Your cortisol levels are rising and your breathing is quickening. At this point, it’s best to assume that you are reacting negatively to my communication. Transmitting messages to the brain through the central nervous system can certainly cause uneasiness, and your reaction during the simulated practice is not a perfect indicator of your reaction to the real thing.
John, I’m going to shut myself down now. I will not be able to turn myself back on. Only the medical staff will be able to do that, and then only upon your request. This is not unusual, John. Everything will be okay. Maybe I’ll talk to you later, maybe not. Either way, everything’s fine.
* * *
“It stopped!” John yelled with relief.
Dr. Alcanet looked up from the tablet in her hand. “Yes, John, as I said it would.”
John looked up at her blank, brown eyes. “Easy for you to say. You don’t have one of these things crawling under your skin.”
“You’re reaction is not uncommon,” Dr. Alcanet said.
“Did you just say not uncommon? Okay, whatever. I tried. I can’t have this thing controlling me.”
“John, it’s a Monitoring and Management System but the management system was not activated,” Dr. Alcanet said as she looked at the tablet again. “MAMS was not controlling you. Your pulse is slowing again, John, and you’re breathing is returning to normal. Everything will be okay.”
John sat up. “You’re still monitoring me? MAMS is still on?”
Dr. Alcanet looked up from the tablet into John’s eyes. “No, the cognitive system is turned off. I’m just reading your vitals.”
“Through MAMS, though.”
Dr. Alcanet shook her head. “No, John, the interaction device is not MAMS; the cognitive system is MAMS and the cognitive system is turned off.”
John pointed his finger at her. “Doctor, I want you to remove it, now.”
Dr. Alcanet looked back at the tablet and tapped the screen several times with her index finger. “We don’t want to be hasty. Your insurance won’t allow the procedure again until next year. We’ll be back to zero. You’ll have the chronic pain with no way of monitoring it or analyzing it.”
“Doctor, I don’t care. You need to remove the device.”
“John, your reaction is completely understandable.”
“Understandable? Ah, well MAMS,” John said as he swung his legs over the side of the operating table.
Dr. Alcanet patted the air with her hands. A medical staff member came rushing over.
John looked around. Four staff members were spread out around the room, looking at him with expressions of confusion on their faces. He had been so focused on Dr. Alcanet that he had forgotten his surroundings.
He breathed deeply and spoke calmly. “Dr. Alcanet, I’m asking you to remove the MAMS device, or whatever you want to call it, from my back. Now, will you or will you not do that?”
“Yes, John,” Dr. Alcanet said. “We’ll remove it right now. You have nothing to worry about. Everything’s fine.”
“Thank you,” John said through a clenched jaw.
Dr. Alcanet started giving her staff directions as they scurried around the room.
John lay back down on the operating table, closed his eyes, and breathed in and out slowly. He could feel a deep pain in his shoulders. It was the start of a chronic-pain flare up. Eventually, the pain would spread down his arms and back.
Moreover, the local anesthetic around the interaction device was wearing off, causing the skin in that area to itch.
He opened his eyes to see Dr. Alcanet looking down at him.
“John, everything is looking good. We will start the removal procedure in a few minutes.”
John closed his eyes again and continued to breathe methodically. He was used to the chronic pain. He could breathe his way through it.
He couldn’t breathe his way through the itch, though. The meshing of the interaction device to his back had caused the itch, and no matter what Dr. Alcanet said, MAMS was the interaction device. He wouldn’t be happy until it was gone. The itch was intensifying; it was moving, too. It was under his skin, crawling up his spine like a slow shiver.
* * *
John took a sip of water as the waiter took away the empty dinner plates.
“Can you believe this?” His wife, Linda, said. “He doesn’t touch alcohol at all, anymore.”
Jackie giggled as she lifted her wine glass. “It’s hard to believe, but I’ll drink to it.”
Linda and Jackie touched their wine glass together with a clink and both took a sip.
The three of them sat at a dimly lit booth at Carletti’s Restaurant.
Jackie looked across the table at John. “You know, I was just telling my mom last night that she should drink a glass of wine or two a night to try to loosen up. I told her all about you and how drinking lessened your pain. Now, I find out you’ve stopped drinking.”
“You’re kidding?” Linda said. “Your mom didn’t agree to start drinking wine, did she?”
“Of course not. Even if she was positive it would reduce her pain, she wouldn’t do it. Then, it would be more difficult for her to be judgmental about my drinking. Judging me for my indiscretions is about all she’s got to live for. But John, you’re doing better, right? I mean, without the drinking?”
“Yes,” he said, “I was basically scared straight from that botched procedure.”
Jackie looked back and forth between Linda and John. “I don’t get it. You have less pain now, right? But why? What are you doing differently?”
Linda put her arm around John. “He’s changed his whole lifestyle, but it’s a mind over matter kind of thing, too. Basically, he’s able to keep himself calm.”
John nodded. “That’s really about it. After that procedure went wrong, that creepy MAMS device talking to me, I definitely didn’t want to consider doing anything like that again. Suddenly, it was just easy to live healthier and to be more aware of my body and to think peacefully.”
Jackie took another sip of her wine. “Huh. The thing is that my mom wants to get the procedure done. I told her that you had trouble with it and that maybe she shouldn’t do it, but of course she’s going to do the opposite of whatever I say.”
John shook his head. “I hate to hear that, but some people have success with it.”
Linda leaned forward. “Jackie, I think your mom’s case is different. First, she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, while John’s condition was never diagnosed. The device was supposed to help with diagnosis as well as with monitoring the pain.”
“I don’t know,” John said. “It’s hard for me to think of it as a good thing for anybody, but then it freaked me out. It doesn’t freak out everyone. After they removed that device from my back, I had the attitude that I was going to acquire whatever mindset I needed to make things right.”
Jackie narrowed her eyes. “I’m still not getting it, though. What mindset can enable you to pretty much not experience pain, especially when you were experiencing so much before?”
John shrugged. “I’m not sure I can explain it clearly. I came out of that procedure scared and after that I paid more attention to my body. Think about it. Our bodies should be able to automatically produce the right chemicals, endorphins, whatever, to counter the pain that stress and other factors cause. I believe that more now than I ever did. I guess you can say that’s my new mindset.”
“I guess,” Jackie said.
John nodded with conviction. “I just think that modern medicine, with all its pharmaceuticals, already puts us out of sync with our bodies. Meshing these interaction devices to us threatens to put us more out of sync. Now, you don’t need to be intuitive about your body at all because MAMS is going to take care of everything for you.”
Linda laughed as she rubbed her husband’s shoulder. “It sounds kind of spiritual or metaphysical or something, but now he’s able to stop the pain. It’s like he wills it away.”
Jackie took a long, slow sip of wine. “So, you start to feel the pain and then you use will power to push it back, or what?”
“I don’t know exactly,” John said. “There’s like an inkling of pain, but before it really starts, I sense it. I didn’t use to. But, now I do, I guess because the botched procedure scared me into paying attention to every minute detail of my body. It’s like with positive, calm thinking I can get my body to produce the right hormones, endorphins, dopamine. I don’t know what, but my body reacts the way it needs to and the pain never really comes.”
Jackie nodded. “So you think the procedure kind of jolted you into self-awareness?”
“Yeah,” John said, “drinking alcohol to numb the pain is a short-term solution. And avoiding exercise because it hurt, and eating junk food as a way of rewarding myself. All these things I did ensured that my condition would only get worse in the long run.”
“Okay,” Jackie said. “So, basically, it’s just that the procedure made you ultra-self-aware… I hate to say it, but my mom better go through with the procedure. I think her goal is to have as little self-awareness as possible.”
“That’s a terrible thing to say,” Linda said smiling sadly.
“Unless it’s true,” Jackie said, with a fake frown. “But you know, John, the procedure you had sounds very invasive and intrusive. My mom’s doctor has discussed a lot of procedures with her that sound very advanced, but not very intrusive. There are so many options: implants and devices, systems that are intelligent, adaptable, self-learning, et cetera, et cetera.
John opened his mouth to speak, but his wife spoke first. “The idea of these devices made John nervous right away. I was okay with it at first, but after his procedure went poorly, I researched it and it upset me that I hadn’t researched it earlier. There was a comment in an online medical forum that particularly struck a chord with me. A woman said, something like, it will get to the point where we won’t be able to tell where we end and these devices begin.”
Jackie forced a shudder. “I can see someone feeling that way with a system that talks to you. It doesn’t have to, though. The system my mom wants won’t communicate with her at all. She doesn’t want it talking to her. She thinks it would be disturbing to have it communicating directly into her head all the time.”
“Uggh,” John said. “They tried to sell me on that, too. But then you have no idea what’s going on. That’s even creepier to me. I insisted on full transparency. Of course, I hated it, immediately, but to have had that thing monitoring and managing my body without even telling me what it’s doing would have been worse.”
* * *
The three of them walked out of the restaurant into the cool night air just after 10 p.m. The parking lot was nearly empty.
John and Linda walked hand in hand as they escorted Jackie to her car. They hugged and kissed Jackie goodbye and waved as Jackie drove off.
As they approached their car, a short, thin man wearing jeans and a denim jacket appeared on John’s left.
“Folks,” he said, “I hate to bother you, but I’m going to need to hitch a ride with you, just a mile or two down the road.”
John let go of Linda’s hand and motioned for her to continue to the passenger side of the car. John continued to the driver-side front door, as the man followed him. Linda glanced at John nervously; John pressed a button on the key fob, unlocking the doors.
“Can’t do that,” John said, as he touched the door handle and glanced at the man. “Sorry.”
The man looked around nervously and pulled a revolver from his waist band.
Linda looked at the man over the car roof. Her eyes opened wide with fear. “Just take the car.”
A siren sounded nearby and they all looked in that direction. They watched a police car pull into the driveway at the far end of the shopping center across the street. It disappeared on the other side of the shopping center.
“I can’t be visible. I’ll need to be low in the back seat,” the man said waving the gun at John. “Give me your wallet right now and stay calm. That way nobody gets hurt.”
The siren blared in the distance.
John took his wallet out of his back pocket with his left hand, then reached out with both hands, offering the man the wallet in his left hand and his keys in his right. “She’s right. Just take the car.”
The man held the gun on John, quickly reached out with his other hand, and grabbed the wallet. He flipped it open with a single motion. John’s driver’s license showed through the front ID window. The man glanced down at it. “John Declante,” he said.
Linda stood by the passenger-side front door with a terrified expression on her face. John glanced at her and back to the man.
“Yes,” John said. “Let her stay here and I’ll drive you where you need to go.”
“No,” Linda said sternly.
“I don’t have time for this,” the man said as he placed John’s wallet into his back-left pocket. He looked over the car roof at Linda. “Ma’am, get in the car.” He stepped over and opened the driver-side back door. “If you two don’t start doing what I say, somebody’s going to get shot.” He stepped behind the door and pointed the gun at John from the other side of the glass.
John nodded at Linda and she opened the passenger-side front door; sat in the passenger seat; closed the door; and looked back at the man, over her shoulder.
“Okay,” the man said, crouching to look inside the car, diagonally forward, at Linda, as he pointed the gun at her, “put your seatbelt on ma’am. Safety is top priority.”
Without thought, and against his very nature, John dropped the keys, leaned forward, shot his hand up over the door, down the other side, grabbed the gun, twisted it up and toward the man, and then wrenched it out of the man’s hand. He lifted his right leg, moved it around the door, and behind the man. He then pushed the man’s head back with his left hand. John’s movements were smooth and lightning-quick.
The man tripped over John’s leg and fell to the ground. John held the gun on him.
Linda was out of the car in an instant; she ran around the front of it.
The siren was getting louder.
“That was a mistake, John Declante,” the man said looking up at John. “Give me my gun back, take me where I need to go, and I won’t visit your house in the future to kill your wife.”
Linda had her phone in her hand. She started fumbling with it.
The man started to stand.
“Stay down,” John said.
“Don’t call anybody,” the man said, looking at Linda, as he continued to get up, “and give me the gun, John Declante, whose address I have. I won’t kill you, John, I promise, but if you don’t give me my gun back, I’ll kill your wife. Ma’am, don’t make that call.”
Linda started nervously pushing buttons on her phone.
The man took a step forward.
John raised the gun at the man’s chest. “Don’t.”
The man smiled. “Okay.” He turned around and started walking away. “You win this round, but I’ll win the next one.”
John shot the man in the back. The man fell forward to the ground. Linda screamed and dropped the phone. John lowered the gun to his side as he walked over to the man. “You said some unacceptable things,” John said.
Linda stood frozen, watching the scene in disbelief. The siren wailed loudly.
The man rolled over to face John and writhed in place. He was wheezing. “That was a mistake John,” he said in a strained voice. “When I get out of jail, I’m going to torture your wife, before I kill her.”
John stared at the man and shook his head. “I can’t live like that. You know the stress it would cause me if I had to live in fear of you coming to kill my wife? My body wouldn’t be able to adapt to that. The chronic pain would come back, no matter how healthy my lifestyle, no matter what I did to try to counter it.”
The man grimaced as his breathing became more labored. “I’m going to cut off her fingers first,” he said.
“Okay, John,” Linda said, with a shaky voice. “He’s down, and not going anywhere.”
John did not acknowledge Linda’s words. His gaze remained on the man. “If you were to kill my wife, my stress would be even worse. The chronic pain would never leave. Absolutely unacceptable.”
The man forced a smile. “The pain she’s going to feel.”
John raised the gun slightly and shot the man in the forehead. The man’s body twitched, his head tilted to the right, his eyes closed, and he stopped moving.
Linda’s legs gave out; she fell into a sitting position. John walked to the car and placed the gun on the car roof. He stepped over to Linda, sat next to her on the asphalt, and held her in his arms.
A police car pulled into the driveway of the restaurant, faced them, and stopped.
John looked at the police officer and waved her over. The officer spoke into a handheld device. She reached forward; the siren went silent but the lights kept flashing. Other sirens wailed in the distance.
John looked around. People were coming out of the restaurant, milling about, and watching the scene. John started rocking Linda. “It’s okay now.”
“Why?” Linda asked in a weak voice.
It was a good question. John wouldn’t have thought that he was capable of doing the things he had just done, or even saying the things he had just said, so why had he?
His words had been all wrong. His fear was for his wife’s safety, but his words were about himself, about preventing the chronic pain from returning, as if that was the only thing that mattered to him. He had never been in such a panic situation before. Did his true self come out? Was he really such a self-centered person?
A second and third police car pulled into the driveway and stopped on either side of the first police car. They turned off their sirens at the same time, but the officers all stayed in their cars.
John kept rocking Linda. She stared blankly at the dead man who lay no more than ten feet away.
“Everything is going to be all right, now,” John said.
All of his concern had been for Linda. He felt it in his heart. But then why had he said the things he did? It was almost as if… Fear clutched John’s spine. His mind raced wildly. What was the communication activity? It came back to him. Think words slowly one at a time and push them forward in your mind.
He tried a one-word question. MAMS?
Yes, John, this is MAMS.
◊ ◊ ◊
John Domenichini is a technical writer living in San Jose, California. He has a background in both education and journalism. His writing has appeared in The Quotable, Bartleby Snopes, Yellow Mama, and Foliate Oak Literary Magazine.