Waves crashed over his head. He tried to tread water. Tried to stabilize himself. Tried to breathe, but it was useless. The water level rose quickly. Soon he was completely submerged. He attempted to swim toward the surface, but something was holding him down. Saltwater burned his nose as he convulsively inhaled. He felt a claw fasten around his ankle. His heart raced. His mind went blank with panic. His body began to sink deeper as he felt the claws moving up his leg.
Norton sat up on the edge of the bed, rubbed his eyes and lit a cigarette He ran a hand through his thick, black hair feeling for the scar. He needed to make sure that it was real, needed proof that it wasn’t just another nightmare. Ten minutes had passed this time, before he had been forced awake. Six months ago, this would have meant nothing. Now it was an accomplishment. Taking a moment to brace himself, Norton stood and took a deep breath. Involuntarily, his mind began to replay the nightmares. His muscles tensed, he crushed the lit cigarette in his hand and began to pace the room. As he walked, his breathing quickened. Soon he was hyperventilating. Attempting to calm himself, he leaned against the edge of the window. Norton noticed his reflection in the glass. His eyes were vacant, he had become pale and his ribs were beginning to show through his skin. The sleep deprivation was taking it’s toll. After a few seconds, his eyes lost focus and he stared blankly into the street.
"It’ll all be over soon." he thought to himself, letting out a sigh of relief.
He saw his wife’s car turn the corner. As she turned into the driveway, another car sped out of nowhere. The two cars collided and the other car vanished as quickly as it had appeared.
"Stephanie!!" he cried, pounding on the window.
It was pointless, she was already dead.
"Get this thing out of me!" Screamed Norton as he fell to his knees, clutching his head.
"This is inhuman!" he shrieked, writhing on the floor, his arms wrapped around his chest.
Norton sat up and turned on the television hoping it would keep him awake, desperate for anything that would stave off his subconscious a little longer. Once again he was in the news. He had been the top story for months and he was getting tired of hearing about himself.
"Former real estate entrepreneur Paul Norton, who was convicted last December of the murder of his former business partner Tim Frasier, begins his third month of house arrest today." said the anchor. "As you may remember, Norton was the first person in the country to receive the ST-537 Neurological Implant. Norton chose to be given the implant, as an alternative to the death penalty. Joining us now to explain more about how the ST-537 works is Dr. Richard Owens, Chairman of the Neurological Cybernetics department at Caufield University. Welcome Dr. Owens." she continued.
Norton had heard the explanation many times before. By now, he practically had it memorized.
Immediately after it is implanted the ST-537 catalogs every thought in the subjects subconscious. Then, while the subject is still anesthetized, the chip places each thought into consciousness. The resulting dreams are then analyzed. Those dreams that cause a fear response are transferred to the subjects long term memory, and the thoughts that caused them remain in the chips memory. All other thoughts are deleted. The chip then analyzes the electro-chemical makeup of the remaining thoughts. When the subject is awake, the chip probes their subconscious in search of new thoughts that match the profile and stimulates the subjects long-term memory. When the subject is asleep, it first runs the new thoughts to test them and then cycles through the rest of the thoughts in it’s memory. Norton was the first subject to survive the operating table.
Paul Norton's eyes sprung open. He was lying on his back, his eyes overwhelmed by a bright light that seemed to be hovering above him. He squinted and could just barely make out the silhouettes of people in masks hunching over his body and holding odd-looking tools.