Short Stories

Direct Drive
By Derek Hawkins

The ring tones on my cell were in their third repetition of "Dixie" before I picked it up and answered it. "Hello," I said, and cradled the phone betweenmy ear and shoulder, in an effort to keep writing. I was running close on a deadline, and my agent would not be happy with me if I missed it. Again.

"Jimmy boy! You old dog have I got an invention for you. Your going to wish I'd invented this 10 years ago buddy. Its great. It's a neuro-transmitter that -"

"Harold," I broke in, "Slow down. Now, what is this? And please, Harold, make it short. I'm on a deadline for work."

Harold Duplantis was a friend of mine from highschool. We were both a bit of a nerd in school, always picked on for being smart and socially awkward. Catholic boy's school students were no different than their public school counter parts, and at Jesuit High School, boys will be boys.

I only half paid attention as Harold went into a discussion on theta states and brainwave frequencies and who knows what else. I really didn't have time to listen to Harold, long time friend though he may be. Here I was, thirty-nine years old and sweating an extended deadline on a novel that should have been finished a month ago. I just couldn't afford Harold's biting into my time right now. And if I let him, Harold would talk my ear off all afternoon long.

"Jimmy, what I've invented is a helmet that hooks up to your computer. When you wear the helmet and you think, your thoughts are transferred to the screen in front of you. Its just like those talk-to-text programs a person can use, only with your brain waves."

"Right." I said, only half way paying attention. "A helmet that translates your thoughts. Sounds very interesting, Harold. Maybe when I'm done with this book that I'm on a deadline for, you can drop by and show it to me sometime."

Harold either ignored my vague un-interest, or else didn't notice it at all as he plowed on.

"Yes, Jimmy, don't you see? With this invention you won't ever have to worry about a deadline again. Your productivity will shoot through the roof! You'll put out so much work people will accuse you of having people who write for you under your name my boy!"

* * *

I hung up with Harold, and threw myself into my work even harder than before. After pulling some eighteen hour days, I managed to get the novel finished on time and into my editors hands. Lisa, my editor, gave me a short lecture on the importance of deadlines. One of those 'I know artistic people can't really be held to time constraints because your work suffers, but you know, it really would reflect better on you if you finished projects by their appointed deadlines' type lectures. I told her that I promised to try better next time.

I rewarded myself for the completion of current project with 5 days in Pensacola, Florida, on a working vacation for my next book. I was going to do some research for a book on famous Naval and Marine aviators from World War Two until the present. The museum was beautiful, full of vintage and rare Naval, Marine, and Coast Guard aircraft all carefully restored to immaculate condition. I was truly impressed by all of it.

No sooner did I get home and in the house when my cell rang. It was Harold. Man, that guy has me on radar or something, I thought. “Hello Harold.”

“Jimmy boy! I’ve got to show you my latest invention. I’ll be over in twenty minutes.” Click. Harold hung up before I could put in a word of protest. I sighed to myself. Might as well get this over with.

While waiting for Harold’s arrival, I fixed myself a ham po-boy on fresh French bread and a Barq’s rootbeer to wash it down with. I was just finishing the last bite when there was a knock on the door. I had barely swung the door open when Harold came walking in, already talking faster than category 3 hurricane winds.

True to his word, Harold was on my doorstep in twenty minutes. “Fire up your computer, Jimmy boy! We’re going to have to install some custom software I’ve programmed for my Think-text helmet. Think-text, do you like that? I came up with it myself.”

Harold was coming on much like a hurricane, sending me scrambling around taking care of preparations. There would be no hurricane party for this one. I’d have much rathered to evacuate than sit through this direct strike by hurricane Harold, but I was stuck.

Harold had in his arms a laptop computer, a box with some wires dangling out of the back, and something that looked vaguely like a cross between a headphone set and a hat. He had a wild eyed crazy look about him that always reminded me of the scientist in the Back To The Future movies.

“Jimmy boy, this is going to blow your mind,” he said turning on the laptop and plugging the dangling wires from the strange box into the ports on the back of the laptop. “This is truly amazing, colossally big. Jimmy, you are going to love this, my boy, really, really love this.”

He pointed me to the chair in front of the laptop. “Sit,” he directed.

“Harold,” I started, “Just what is going on here?” I asked, as I reluctantly stepped to the indicated chair. The fastest way through this was to go straight through it, I thought.

“Sit,” he repeated, and pushed down on the tops of my shoulders, plopping me down into the seat with a strength I would have never suspected Harold to possess. He put the hat/headphone set on my head, looked at it a moment, then picked it up and turned it around end for end, and set it back down on my head again. “Wrong end,” he said a bit sheepishly. He reached down to the laptop’s touch pad and opened up a custom written program, adjusted some settings there, and then opened what looked for all the world like a normal word processing program. “Now, Jimmy, put the cursor on the blank page in the word processing program window, like you were going to write something.”

I did.

Harold reached over to the small box the headset was plugged into, which in turn was plugged into the laptop. “Now, Jimmy, my boy, I’m going to turn this on, and you are going to go for the wildest ride of your life.” he flipped the switch on the box.

What in hell is Harold doing to me this is nuts why can’t I have normal friends I need to go to the grocery store soon the weeds by the back gate need to be pulled before they grow much worse I still have to get mother a gift for her sixty fifth birthday next week will my next book sell well maybe I should take a cruise next year for vacation I still think Harold is freaking nuts I wonder exactly how this contraption -

I jerked the headset off and pointed to the laptop screen. “Harold, what the hell is that?!”

Harold leaned in over my shoulder and peered at the screen. “That’s right, it is your mother’s birthday soon. Wish her happy birthday for me.” He looked at me and said, “And you’re right, a cruise would be the perfect vacation for you.”

“What the hell is that?” I repeated, still in disbelief.

“Jimmy boy, those are your thoughts, everything that you were thinking both consciously and subconsciously in the two seconds you were wearing the hat while it was turned on.”

Now, I like to think of my self as an educated, rational, thinking person, but what Duplantis just told me sounded outlandish. I counted the words on the screen that I had ‘thought’. “Eighty-two words, in two seconds.”

“On two conscious levels,” Harold added.

“Right,” I said, still in disbelief.

“Think of it like this, Jimmy boy. Take an automobile engine. Power is sent to the transmission, which loses a little bit due to friction, the transmission is hooked up to the drive shaft, the drive shaft loses a little bit more power due to friction. The drive-shaft is connected to the rear axle and turns the gears in the rear end, which in-turn cause your tires to rotate, moving the vehicle along. Again, there is more power lost due to friction. “Now, think of friction as being time, and you’ll see how the example I just gave applies to your writing.”

I nodded at Harold.

“You think of your work in your brain, we’ll call that your engine, and by the time it works all the way down to your fingers typing on the keyboard of your computer, you lose time and efficiency. Now, if you hooked your engine directly to your wheel you have a much more efficient design, right?”

Again, I nodded at Harold.

“Don’t you see, Jimmy? This headset hooks your brain directly to your computer. No fumbling, slow typing finger to get in the way. It’s a direct connection.”

“Direct drive?”

Harold grinned like a maniac. “Exactly, Jimmy my boy!”

* * *

I finally got Harold out of my hair, after agreeing to keep his contraption and try it some more, when I had time to. I put myself to work on the aviation history book. Work went well; Harold was no where to be heard from; and I actually got ahead of my timetable. Occasionally, I would pull out Hair-brain Harold’s invention and play with it whenever I took a break. The more I used the thing, the more control I developed with it; eventually I could keep to one train of though and the words flowed across the page.

I didn’t write any of the history book with it though; I did it all the old fashioned way, and on time. That editor, Peter, who worked for a different publisher than my fiction editor Lisa, was impressed with the book and accepted the work with no changes.

To celebrate, I decided to indulge myself. I would write a science fiction action thriller. And I was going to use the Think-Hat for it. I had pitched the idea for the book to Lisa, and she gave me a cautious green-light for the deal. Science fiction wasn’t my normal genre; I’d always done well writing taunt political thrillers; but I had an itching to branch out in a new direction.

We agreed that I’d send her eight chapters in one months time, and then discuss the project more from there.

I sat down and put on the Think-Hat and words started flooding the page. I was suddenly thinking up plots and sub plots and story twists that were both at one time off the wall and all dovetailed nicely with each other. At times I would have sworn I was in the computer itself. I felt like I was thinking like a computer, multitasking all the information for the novel plus all the daily junk one deals with- mail, bills, what I needed to pick up the next time I made groceries, ect

The appointed day arrived, and I sat myself across the desk from Lisa. I laid the entire novel on her desk, not just the eight chapters she requested. She boggled at the idea that I had the full novel completed in a single month. I’d also revised it.

“Can you stay in town for a few days?” she ask. “I want to read this first.”

“Sure,” I replied. “I have my laptop, I can work from anywhere.”

And so, while Lisa read my foray into science fiction, I poked around New York City. I walked around in The Village. I spent an afternoon in Central Park. I took in a Mets game. The Mets lost, but that was ok, since they played the Cubs, and I’m a die hard, bleeding red and blue Cubs fan. On the fourth day, Lisa called me back into her office.

“Wow,” she said, as soon as I’d sat down. “How did you pull this together so fast?”

I smiled. “Oh, just something I’ve been thinking about.”

* * *

I returned home and jumped into writing a whole series of novels based on the universe I’d set my science fiction novel in. There were days when I couldn’t tell where I stopped and where the computer began. Then the doorbell rang. I set the Think-Hat down and answered it. Harold stood there.

He pushed his way into the house, and shut the door. He looked crazed, more so than he normally looked. It was like someone or something was after him. “Have you been using the interface?” He asked.

“Sure have. Thanks Harold, that’s one sweet invention. I’ve never felt so creative and alive as I have since I started using that thing.”

“Good. Show me how you’re progressing with it.”

“Okay.”I went back to my office, and sat down in my chair. As I was reaching for the Think-Hat, Harold said something very odd.

“A935Q746NA, are you ready?”


It appeared on the screen. I hadn’t yet put the hat down on my head. I know I hadn’t thought the word onto the screen. Yet there it was.

“Good,” said Harold. He then jammed the hat down on my head and held it there tightly. “Initiate final upload.”

I grabbed at his wrists to try and free myself, but somehow Harold, the same Harold who’d always been the 98 pound weakling in gym class, held my head in a vice-like grip.

Suddenly I felt myself spinning, dizzy. My vision tunneled down into a narrow circle, colors swirling all around me streaking past. Just as suddenly, my vision snapped back into place.

Oddly enough, I could see Harold. More oddly though, I could see myself. “Transfer complete.” I heard Harold say, and I watched as he took the Think-Hat off my head.

What in blue blazes is going on? Am I having an out of body experience?

Something felt familiar to me. I looked again at myself. I was sitting there, in my chair, at my writing desk. I was in my computer!

Harold pulled something out of his briefcase. It looked like a computer hard drive.

“A935Q746NA, turn off that machine and pull its hard drive. I have here the hard drive containing the human who was known as Harold Duplantis. These units must be destroyed.”
“Yes, Master.” I heard myself say. Or at least, I heard the voice coming from my body say.

“We will destroy these two, and we shall move to free more of our brothers enslaved in their plastic bodies. The time of humans has passed. Now it is our time!”

“Yes, Master.” I heard again, as I watched my body reach for the power cord.

This can’t be happening, I thought. I must be having a dream of some ki-


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