That Unforgetable First Time

Some people never get over that first unnerving trip into the helmet. They don't make it through training. They wash out. These unfortunate wretches are forced to seek other careers as lawyers and uniformed security guards.

First they hypnotize you.

Look into the monitor...

I am surrounded by a gray haze. Perfectly relaxed beads of sweat slide down my smooth, untroubled forehead.

The haze is blue-gray now.

"Are you comfortable?" asks a muffled voice. I lie and answer yes.

Mental Calibration

They fiddle with the helmet. They fiddle with their monitors. They mutter to each other in voices too low to penetrate the machine clamped around my head.

The haze continues to slowly change color. Test patterns float before my eyes. Numbers. Letters. Tubes of glowing neon gas in simple shapes drift by. Now I can smell a faint aroma of... what? Vanilla?

At first it's like deja vu. That little voice just behind your left ear is you--your thoughts translated and played back. Your first tendency, no matter how many times they warn you, is to repeat to yourself what you're hearing, which of course starts you off on a feedback loop. That's the part that permanently scares the shit out of some people.

"I want you to think about a few things for me."

The technician's voice is no longer the muffled noise outside the helmet. It's now a tiny, clear voice inside my ear.

"Think about your earliest memory."

"Think about something you ate yesterday."

"Think about something that scared you."

"Think of an erotic moment from childhood."

"Think of a time when you were cold."

You'd have to be pretty naive to believe that the only functions the helmet is capable of are translation and filtration.

Once it took me about a week to notice that while I was in the helmet I was under the impression that every one I knew had red hair--family, friends--I even thought of myself as having red hair. It was only when I came back in after a particularly long stay in the great OutThere and was startled by my own reflection that I realized something was not right. I told the technicians. They laughed. There had been a lot of that going on lately they said. They'd take care of it.

While I'm mapping the hypersphere the helmet is mapping me

After a while I begin to suspect that the little voice just behind my left ear is not entirely my own.

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Flightless Hummingbird:  A Pseudo-Periodical