Originally published March 6, 2014
He hissed as a drop of the hot resin landed painlessly on a cluster of neurons. Connection severed, no longer could he remember his first time with Kim. Was it good? Did the seatbelt buckle dig into his back? Did she make those soft almost mewling sounds that set his every fiber on fire? He could ask, make new connections, but they would not be the same, never the same, and so the memory as he knew it and held it was gone.
But in its place, new connections would form. Tiny motorized hands mirroring the motions of his own average sized and a bit pudgy hands lay another fiber optic line, anchored by the drop of now cooling resin, through one of the valleys of his many-folded cortex. The lines were almost invisible, would be invisible if not for the way they caught and refracted the light like prisms made of spider silk. He could not lay them with his own hands, so he built the machine in which he was now strapped, his head held steady by a number of taught vinyl straps and buckles of rubberized styrene. The contraption left the top of his head exposed, and exposed would be the first thought to run along the neurons of anyone who saw him in such a state. For scalp and skull and membrane had been removed with utmost care to allow the small robot hands access to the pink recursive folds of his cerebrum.
Most would consider Kevin Pollard insane if they saw what he was doing to himself. Upon explanation of what he was trying to do to himself, those who withheld initial judgment would also admit the man was crazy. “Become one with the ‘Net?” they would ask. “Why?” Kevin had never bothered to formulate an explanation. He had no need to. He did this in secret. In a clean lab he built himself with his own money, cash winnings from illegal online gambling and dividends from clever trading of quasi-legal crypto-currencies, he took the principles laid out by the disgraced theorist Harold Maas and applied them to himself. Maas was correct—as disgraced theorists often have an annoying habit of being—the human mind could be ‘wired’ with the use of certain organic resins and compounds to a fiber optic network that would operate as a sort of antenna allowing access to the ark of all human knowledge and experience, the ‘Net.
So when Kevin forgot the way it felt to plunge into Kim that first time in the back seat of a Hyundai hatchback, he simultaneously remembered the Top 40 Charts for every single week between the years of 1927, when they were introduced, and 2019, when Billboard ceased to track the Top 40. He could recall them photographically, but not only the charts. He could recall each song in its entirety, bringing up lyrics and score if necessary, recalling perfectly writers, producers, and performers. He gave up the memory of fumbling passion on a cold October morning for an encyclopedic understanding of American pop music stretching across a century. Many, Kevin Pollard among them, would consider that a fair trade, would consider the recipient of such knowledge to have come out ahead. That wasn’t his only time with Kim. There had been many beyond counting, each better than the last as they learned more about themselves and each other. Many of them in less compromised and uncomfortable locations. He would happily trade more memories of sex with his ex for, say, an encyclopedic knowledge of American films and actors or a complete record of the minutes of every Congressional committee between the post-war years and the dissolution of the Federal Government.
Besides, filmographies and debates didn’t become dreams that awoke him in a cold sweat with a sense of empty loss and longing.
As Kevin Pollard continued his work, establishing more and more connections between his mind and the recorded produce of the minds of others, he came to spend less and less time with his friends, those few he had left after the breakup with Kim. They always liked her more, her chipper attitude and effervescent smile a more winning combination than his snorts and cynical retorts. He suspected many of them wanted her to themselves. And these days, meeting with a few of them at Chucks’ [sic], the sports bar where they watched baseball and he regaled them with a literally encyclopedic knowledge of baseball statistics including obscure Negro league numbers, he could not but help and wonder if some of them had consummated those wants since the breakup. His friends did not question his knowledge. They had more important things to ask: “Are you seeing someone new?” “When are you going to get over Kim?” “Why do you wear that stupid beanie when it is ninety degrees outside?” How could he answer these? How could he explain the process he was undertaking to get over Kim? How could he explain the cuts and the ligatures that held his skullcap in place between sessions in his machine? It was better to point out that no Major League pitcher had ever thrown a perfect game in his first outing of a season, but a Japanese transplant who played for Texas came the closest to doing so. That might awe them. And if it did not, at least it changed the topic.
At night he wondered if the dreams would stop when the melding was done.
Kevin Pollard worked from his home now, rewriting broken codes and debugging programs for a nameless entity whose software was integrated into every facet of late 21st Century life. A shadowy force with powers akin to the governments that had collapsed back in the middle of the century, Kevin Pollard’s employer controlled one of the largest databases of personal, professional, academic, and technical information on the ‘Net. It was while researching this database for information on an organic ion bypass system he was rewriting the code for that Kevin Pollard discovered Dr. Harold Maas and his theories regarding Human/Information Integration. Had he not left Kim the prior week over an argument that then seemed momentous but now, after severing so many connections, felt petty, he may never have had the time to read the files and discover the goal that now dominated every hour he could commandeer for himself.
After a time, it became hard to even remember her name. At first Kevin was delighted. Without a name to dwell on, his thoughts were not distracted. He could focus more closely on laying the lines, soldering in the new connections. His mind grew more encyclopedic. No longer just in memories, but now in conscious thought, as if his mind was an antenna that could be tuned in to the infinite channels of digital communication. For the first few days, it was frightening, and Kevin wondered if he was feeling what those late 20th Century yahoos with the tinfoil hats and late night terrestrial radio programs felt. But after time, he learned how to focus his concentration. Now, when he wanted, he could tune into the text messages sent between an African warlord and his lover or the message board of a local neo-patriot group or the phonecall between two women with oddly familiar voices speaking of their concern for a man who shared his name.
If someone had been there with Kevin Pollard, he or she may have been able to tell him that was Kim and his mother, and they were speaking of him.
But Kevin Pollard had forgotten his own name too. The process was almost complete, and with his connections to the ‘Net nearing completion, his connections to his own self neared obliteration. Soon, there was nothing left but the dreams and the cold sweats they brought, and even those lasted only a fleeting second in the light of consciousness. How could he connect to them? Hold them in the short term? Create a bond between that and the long term? When he woke, he was inundated with box scores and stock tickers, police scanners and social media threads, ones and zeroes. He was connected to the sum total of human expression, but he had severed himself from the humans themselves.
Months after completing his project, Kevin Pollard received a visitor. She knocked on his door early in the morning, a young woman with worried and concerned eyes. “Kevin,” she said with mixed enthusiasm and trepidation, “it’s so good to see you. Your mother and I have been worried sick. Oh, Kevin, I’m sorry for what I said.”
It took Kevin Pollard two long minutes to realize he was Kevin. A search amongst dating profiles identified this woman as one Kim Olive, 27, from North Hampstead, Michigan. He searched for a Kevin Pollard profile and a cross connection, but found none. Why had this woman come to his door?