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Cognito, Ergo Sum

This is Benjamin Sonnek's first professional sale--he got so excited about it that he accidentally woke his roommate. Ben is currently a junior in college where he has already won their coveted fiction writing award, has been published multiple times in their annual arts magazine and other publications, and has led a writers' group on campus. When not writing stuff (and polishing his own YA novels in preparation for any agents), he reads things, wears awesome hats, plays interesting computer games, wanders around muttering to himself, does Tae Kwon Do as a second degree black belt, prays, practices the piano, tries to keep his mind palace rooms from shuffling, and is basically the walking embodiment of that "I've Got A Dream" song from the movie Tangled. You can visit him online at benjaminsonnek.blogspot.com, and he thanks you for enjoying this piece.

...so what do you think of that?
The six other girls at the table began moving their heads, the individual thoughts blending into a river: It's crazy! Why would she do that--he's kind of a--don't forget about her last--how could they--does that mean he's available?
That last thought caused a hiccup in the flow. Everyone tuning in paused for a giggle as the culprit turned bright red, her Cognito-earpiece's light fading off.
Molly, what do you think?
The blushing girl's friend, both alleviating her comrade's suffering and establishing her own importance, took the initiative to address Molly directly. Hers was a popular mind--the number of followers she had for her thought stream was never fixed, but it had certainly reached a six-digit number by now. Molly smiled softly, drew herself up like a statue, and put her hands together.
Well, it certainly means there are more boys out there for us now, ladies, now doesn't it?
Everyone at the table lit up, bowing their heads in silent laughter. Even the blushing girl's embarrassed bloom began to dry up, her infirmity cleared by the brush of Molly's shadow. The streams of thought began to mix again as the "Cafeteria Conspirators" went back to work, adding their own lesser insights (with more than a few probably plotting how to snag the jilted boy).
Say, who's that guy?
That was Hannah. Like a tribe of meerkats, everyone in the Caf who'd tuned in swiveled their heads to line up with hers. Oh, there--about sixty feet away, a single boy was sitting alone at his table, his own Cognito-earpiece dark as he stared down at his slowly receding lunch.
Does anyone know that guy?--I don't--I can't find his account--Is he not thinking?--He's kinda cute--No, he doesn't have a Cognito-account!--Yeah, in a brooding type of way, maybe--What's he eating?--Does anyone know anything about him?
Hey Molly, go over there and see who he is!
The friend, reasserting her status, had made this mental request. Molly's own stream went blank for a moment, a void that was rapidly filled by hundreds of affirmations--Yeah! Yes! Great! That'd be Cool! Not me! Yes! Good idea! Yes! Yes!--comments from everyone following her conversation. The majority had ruled. Molly couldn't help but agree. Giving her own lunch a parting glance, she nodded and stood up. A two-second hesitation, and she started to walk. The stream increased in intensity.
Good luck, someone at the table thought, and careful. You never know what boys are thinking! Everyone else giggled, covering either their mouths or their necklines.
Thirty feet to go--best get this over with.
The lone boy clearly saw her approach, but the light on his earpiece was still dark. Did this have to be done the hard way? Clearing her throat with some effort, Molly convinced her voice box to cooperate for a change.
"Ehm... hello... I'm Molly."
The boy glanced up. "Thomas," he replied with a nod, going back to his meal.
Molly glanced back at her distant table. The stream only intensified: Come on! Keep going! What else?
"I... do you have a Cognito-account?"
Without looking, Thomas swallowed his bite. "Yes, I do."
"Nobody can find it."
"I only use it for taking notes in class. Handwriting's too slow."
Booorrrringggg, somebody thought.
Molly didn't move--the other thought streams compelled her to stay. "You do some thinking, don't you?" she inquired.
"I am human, aren't I?"
"Then why don't you share?"
Thomas didn't say a word. He didn't turn his Cognito-earpiece on. His eyes remained half-lidded as he took another bite of lunch. This was getting aggravating. Pulling out a chair, Molly sat down next to him. "Come on," she implored, "why all the secrecy? Don't you like me? Why don't you let anyone else know what you're thinking?"
Yeah! agreed the streams. Yeah! Yeah!
Thomas put his fork down. His chair let out a sharp screech as he turned it to face his inquisitor, his eyes commanding hers. "You want to know?"
"Then disconnect your device from the other streams. Trust me."
A chorus of Oooh sounded in Molly's head. She ran her hand towards her ear... but adjusted nothing. She didn't want them to think this was that personal. Her fans would love it, anyway.
"Have you disconnected?"
"Yes," she lied.
Thomas nodded wearily--at his angle, he couldn't see that her light was still on. "Heads up," he remarked ironically, tapping his ear. The light began to glow.
It wasn't words.
Thomas's mind wasn't a stream. It was a maelstrom. It came smashing into her mind like a hurricane, hundreds of abstractions lashing the inside of her skull. It was dark. Through a deep, whirling fog she saw an ancient tower, flailed about with a hedge of thorns--everywhere, the sleeping eyes followed her. She saw a space-battleship, cannons pointed at the moon, the captain's trigger halfway depressed. She saw a court of phantasms, ghosts of the past, pointing bony fingers towards the Earth in judgment and sentence, if only the writing could be erased! A thousand images in the fog became tangible, audible, a scream that broke off into--
Lurching back, Molly gasped. Thomas's hand was on his ear. The light was dark again.
His chair squeaked as he turned back to his lunch.
On wobbly legs, Molly stood up and faced her group. Their faces were pale. Thomas's mind was spreading, roaring, gyrating through the stream, reaching out to millions of subscribers. Molly got back into her seat as the storm died away, the waves subsiding into ripples again. It's too late, she found herself thinking.
She glanced over her shoulder, but the boy was gone.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

Author Comments

Sitting by yourself can mess with your head, and I'm not a gigantic fan of overly-social media: those ideas eventually led to this story. Rest assured, while my own mind can get pretty abstract, it's usually not that grim in there-just straight-up weird. If you look closely enough at Thomas's mind, though, you might see the hidden beauty in the hurricane's eye. Getting to know a person and what they stand for is no substitute for 140 characters.

- Benjamin J. Sonnek
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