Chuck’s flash fiction challenge for the week is the Random Title Challenge.
I could cut some excuses off the old ham hock of scrubbitude, but I’ll instead choose to focus on the fact that I had a really great idea with this one that I just don’t think I was able to fully realize.
Maybe I can mine this one for some material later.
Comments and critiques are welcome.
Art told his first lie when he was four.
Nobody noticed, of course. Nobody pays much attention to a child’s Verilum until they become ten or so, considering they can’t grasp the consequences or the import of a lie before their brains begin to mature. But whereas the children surrounding Art in class, on the playground, around the neighborhood flashed a colorful ballet of greens, yellows, and reds, Art’s truth index was a solid green beacon.
When he was voted class president in his seventeenth year, he promised to work hard to improve relations between students and teachers, to fight for dress-down Fridays — all the kids hated the uniforms — and to extend the deadline for all graduating seniors’ theses by a full week. None of this he planned to do, of course, but his Verilum remained ever green as a pine and he was elected in a landslide. While he was unable to deliver on his campaign promises (due to circumstances entirely beyond his control, he would later testify, as his Verilum winked away, confirming his every word), he went on to make totally illegal connections with local vendors and laid the groundwork for his afterschool enterprises selling stolen tests and adjusting students’ grades, all of which was naturally entirely illegal. The flashing green light at his temple was his guiding star and his unfailing decoy. Because nobody suspected him and believed everything he said without even a glimmer of doubt or suspicion, Art finished school in possession of a small fortune and a list of contacts that might have made the devil himself raise an impressed eyebrow.
Art knew the penalties for all his crimes, of course, but he wasn’t worried, not in the least. Since the Embargo on Lying had passed, there was no value in being able to spot a lie anymore. A red flash at the temple for an outright untruth, or a yellow one for a lie of omission, and a two year old could tell when its parents were fleecing it. Since Art didn’t seem to set off his Verilum no matter what he did or said, he found that he was in no danger of being discovered by anybody.
Then, one day, he awoke in a sterile room surrounded by sterile men in masks and white gowns, regarding him thoughtfully if not piteously as he fought against the thick straps binding him to a table.
“What the hell is this?” Art demanded, but none of the men answered him. Instead, a disembodied and distorted voice spoke from the ceiling.
“Don’t struggle,” the voice said, “we’re not going to hurt you.”
Art couldn’t move anyway. “What do you want?”
A trickle of sweat ran down Art’s brow, though it was quite cool in the room. “Why?”
“Because you’re a liar.”
Art chuckled at that, smiling despite the mounting terror in his chest. “I’m not.” He cut his eyes sideways at the flashing green light in his temple. “See?”
“You are,” said the voice, amusement evident through its garbled timbre, “and you’re the best kind of liar, besides.”
“What kind is that?”
“A liar who can’t get caught.”
Art licked his lips. The men in masks were waiting for something; they hadn’t made a move toward him since he awoke. “I’ve done nothing wrong.” Again, his Verilum proclaimed his innocence with a green flash.
“That,” said the voice with strained significance, “is more true than you know. Gentlemen, begin.”
One of the masks pushed a fierce-looking instrument with an array of needles up on Art’s left side. Another machine, all dangling electrodes and multiple displays, wheeled up to his right. His arm stung with pinpricks and he got dizzy as the needles went into his elbow, his wrist, his forearm. One of the masks unceremoniously buzzed the hair off his head and began attaching the electrodes. The monitors blinked into life.
“I don’t understand,” Art protested, tears springing to his eyes. “Please, let me go.”
“We’ll let you go if you can tell a lie.”
Art thought crazily through the haze of pain and terror. He began to shout every lie that sprang to his mind. “I’m fifty-two years old! I have a wife named Catherine! I don’t know how to read! I’m afraid of heights!”
The Verilum processed in a fraction of a second his heart rate, brain waves, skin temperature, pupil dilation, and a host of other factors which it was designed to detect with one hundred percent accuracy in one hundred percent of people, and found all of his statements to be one hundred percent true with zero possibility of misdirection or omission. It happily signaled its findings by flashing green, green, green where his hairline used to be.
“I didn’t choose this,” Art sobbed, “I’ve always been this way, I can’t help it. I don’t know how it works.”
“Luckily, we do,” the voice said. “Since the Embargo passed, we’ve been looking for a way around it. The men you see around you are some of our best. They’re very happy indeed to see you here today, because it means that the Betrayer’s Helix is a complete success.”
A glimmer of hope. “So, you need my DNA — and that’s it? I can go?”
There was a long silence, punctuated only by the beeps of the monitors he was hooked up to and the clicks and clanks as the men worked with their tools all around him.
“Not to be glib,” the voice said finally, “but I don’t want to lie to you. The world needs liars. Lots of them. So I’m afraid we need as much of your DNA as we can get.”
The men in masks set about their gruesome work.
8 thoughts on “Betrayer’s Helix”
Holy cow, but I love this. Like, freakin’ LOVE it! And I have to ask – did you intend the deeper subtext implied within your story? That art lies, that we do not see the lies that come from art, that, perhaps, critique dissects those perfect lies that the dissector may then learn to lie better himself? Because I was being hammered with that the whole time I read it. Ok, maybe I’m just hammered on mojitos. Either way, fucking brilliant. Pardon my french. 🙂
Art’s name was not a mistake, because lying is an art. There’s a pretty big undercurrent in the background of this one that frankly was too involved for the 1000 words the challenge allowed: Lying is part of our biological imperative, everybody lies, all that. Just think about the havoc that one liar could cause in a society where everybody else doesn’t even think to lie.
I think I brushed up against it here but I didn’t feel like I really achieved it. Glad you liked it though 🙂
OK, that was deep. I’m going to be thinking about this whenever I intend to lie.
Woo! Glad to hear I got in your head.
I agree this needed more than 1K words to work up fully, especially to develop, if that was your intent, the undercurrents you allude to in comments above and the anticipation and horror of the operation they planned. But given the 1K challenge, spare and tight. Nice job!
Yeah, my feelings on this one remain mixed. Still, glad you enjoyed it!
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