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Mind Games

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Emily gave the door a bit too much momentum as she got out of the car, and it slammed. The sound intensified the tension headache she’d earned earlier that day. It had set in three hours ago, a natural result of staring at a computer screen from breakfast until closing.

When she approached her doorstep, however, Emily saw a package rested next to the jute crochet doormat. Anticipation soothed her headache somewhat, and she bent to collect the box.

<Is this it? Finally? Bah. No return address. Clearly not my Amazon order – and I’m not waiting for anything else, so it must be...> Excitement rising, she fumbled her keys from her pocket and unlocked the front door of her house. Emily hung them on a hook by the door, kicked her shoes off under the shoe rack, and dumped her backpack on the small table she reserved for that purpose.

Daily ritual complete, the last of the tension melted from her shoulders. Emily carried the box into the kitchen where she fetched a box cutter from the junk drawer. Laying into the package seals, she teased herself, <It could be a bomb, not some super-duper new technology product guaranteed to blow the minds of gamers everywhere...>

It could have been a bomb, but it wasn’t. The plain brown exterior packaging opened, and inside was a sleek, black cardboard box with a twisted infinity symbol etched atop it in laser foil. <Oh yeah! THIS IS IT! MY AURA!> She sliced the plastic circle tab that secured the inner box and pulled the thin band out of the protective foam lining.

The band was charcoal grey and shaped like a horseshoe. It felt flexible, a soft plastic over a solid inner-core of metal. At the open ends both flattened, exposing two inner pads. Outside, the same infinity symbol glinted, giving the user a stylish appearance. Emily’s new Aura looked like a Muse headband. Aura Co. probably even took the idea from them. Emily didn’t care where the technology came from, it was what this baby was designed to do that excited her. <Who cares if I’ve been staring at a computer all day? Time to check out my new toy.>

She checked the box for anything else and immediately found a user guide with a download address and application key stickered to the back. A wireless USB receiver and an inductive charging pad nested in the bottom under plastic. <Cutting edge,> she thought, impressed and already planning her review, <I have to give them marks for presentation.>

While she waited for the software to download and install, Emily made herself a cup of tea and read the user guide, jotting down notes about her first impressions. <Pre-charged. Do not use for periods exceeding four hours… leave feedback on the Aura website… hmm, different modes? Nice. During gaming sessions, it uses your subconscious to provide context and fill in blanks? That’s interesting…> Ten minutes later, her system was ready, and Emily slid the Aura on over her hair. Following the diagram in the manual, the contact surface fell naturally against her temples. On her screen, the setup wizard guided her through exercises to gain control over her system with her mind – opening and closing programs, inputting text into her word-processor by thought, and finally… the setup for Theta Mode.

Blinking on the screen, she saw, “ENTER EMERGENCY EXIT PASSPHRASE:”

Up until this point, the presentation of the Aura had been flawless. Even the user guide was upbeat and minimized the chances of experiencing dry mouth, sexual dysfunction, seizures, and/or death.

<Okaaay,> thought Emily, finding that blunt, red text strangely confronting.   <Bold, 24 point, bright red font. I guess Theta Mode is a big deal. Should we put it away?> Her internal dialogue didn’t seem to affect the Aura’s control of her system at all. In fact, it took effort and intent to make the system function, which was good. <No way. If this thing can do what the company claims…>

A frustrating circular process began where the Aura software first informed Emily that her passphrase was too short, then not complex enough, then suggested a fucking poem. Finally, she worked it out and settled on some Placebo lyrics she was pretty sure she wouldn’t forget. She input it three times.

Her chipper mood broken, Emily jotted down a few more notes for her review, then picked up her phone and called Lucas. He answered after a couple rings with paper rustling in the background, “Hey, Em.”

“Hey Lucas. You know that product- the one I signed the nondisclosure about? It’s arrived.“

“What is it, anyway?” Lucas asked, crunching on something while he talked. It sounded like an apple, and she tuned it out.

“I can’t tell you. Nondisclosure, remember? Look, the thing is – it’s got some pretty heavy warnings on it. Can you call me in an hour and check on me?”

“Sure thing,” Lucas replied, then asked with a grin in his voice, “If it’s anything like  that Japanese controller-“

“-No,” Emily chuckled, resisting the urge to tell him more, “Better.”

“What could be better?” Lucas demanded.

“Lucas-” Emily added in a warning tone, though she grinned even even wider, “Talk to you later. One hour!” She hung up before he could get anything further out of her. Two seconds later, she received an SMS. A poop emoji, courtesy of Lucas. She laughed as she turned back to her computer.

“Alright, Theta Mode... let’s see what you got. What to play…?” she asked herself aloud, scanning the heap of icons on her desktop. Her eyes fell on Dragon Age: Inquisition. Mentally, she both squealed and blanched at the same time – then opened the game.