Benny finished his coffee, then threw the coffee cup away. Images flashed before his eyes.
Coffee cup> Passer-by throwing his next to it> Thousands of passers-by throwing theirs as well> Little piles of trash> Garbage man fired> Murder ten metres away from that very spot> Bad neighbourhood headlines> House prices go down> New ghetto.
He grunted and picked up the discarded coffee cup. “Okay, okay! Fine,” he mumbled to himself, wincing in pain. He crushed the paper cup in his hand and stuffed it into his pocket.
“Psychopathy is a popular subject of research. We can all understand in some way what psychopaths are and that they need to be treated. Their crimes usually make headlines, making it even easier for researchers to get funding. But it’s not all black-and-white in psychopathy, as recent findings have proven.”
Benny went home. There was a bicycle tossed right in the middle of the corridor, the teenager’s size, muddy and well-used. No matter how many times he’d asked the neighbour to get her son to park it properly, it didn’t seem to take. He stood next to it, pissed off. He kicked the damn thing, then pushed it to the side, bending the spokes on the stairs’ railing. Images flashed before his eyes.
Bicycle> Teenager trying to fix it> Tire breaks> Teenager gets under the wheels of an incoming bus> Miraculously survives> Extended surgical operations> Physical therapy that doesn’t really take> Mother in tears> Teenager angry> Father in debt> Father shoots himself.
“Aaah!” Benny screamed, holding his head. He cursed out loud at every step, went inside his apartment, brought out his toolkit and instead of taking a much-needed rest, he spent an hour repairing the bent spokes of the bike. Once he was done, he put the bicycle in the corner, where it wasn’t in the way.
“We used to think that psychopaths never regret their actions, that they simply don’t have that capability. What we’ve learnt is that some of them are not true-psychopaths, that they can feel regret, remorse, all those usual emotions. But, and here’s the kicker, they’re unable to predict that they will feel that way. There are treatments for true-psychopaths with varying degrees of success, but for those soft-psychopaths, a different approach is needed, I believe.”
Benny took a shower. His arms hurt, especially from all that fixing and tightening. He stayed there for a long time, feeling the hot water on his back. It was somehow an absolution of sin, it washed away everything bad he had ever done.
When it went cold, he stepped out and dried himself up. He got dressed in his sweater and slacks and went for the fridge. He glanced at the water heater button. Alice would be home any minute now. She’d want to get a hot shower too, and he had used it all up. But he was hungry, he couldn’t think of such things now, Alice could take care of herself. He went for the fridge.
Images flashed before his eyes.
Water heater light off> Alice comes home> Lets her hair down> Opens the shower faucet> Puts her hand in the stream> Complains to Benny about it> Benny shrugs and belches on the couch> Alice curses him under her breath> Alice sits on the toilet seat, crying> Alice meets up with her best friend for a coffee> Best friend introduces a blond man to Alice> Alice and the blond man have sex on the dining table while Benny is at work.
“Fuck! Fuck! Fuuuuck…” Benny spat out and went towards the shower, leaving the fridge’s door open. He felt the images coming, so he hurried back and slammed the fridge door shut. Then he turned on the water heater. “There!” he said to nobody in the room. Then he finally went to fill his stomach.
“For example, you have two boys, one of whom is a psychopath. It is worth noting here that a lot of children’s behaviours can be interpreted as psychopathic ones, but let’s say that this one is a true psychopath. Now, there are two chocolates left in the kitchen by their mother, one for each. They’re out playing, and the boy runs back in the kitchen and eats a chocolate. His brother leaves it for later. After a few minutes, the boy is still hungry, so he eats the second chocolate too. He will get a tummy ache, and that will make him feel physically bad. But we’re interested in the emotional toll. The true psychopath will not care when his brother comes crying to mommy afterwards. He will feel no remorse, and perhaps he will learn to fake it so that he slips away from social awkwardness such as this. Now, if that boy was a soft psychopath, he too would eat his brother’s chocolate. But, and herein lies the difference, he would feel remorse afterwards, when he’d see his brother crying to mommy. He simply couldn’t predict the remorse his action would have inflicted upon him beforehand, like a neurotypical person would.”
There was a Tupperware in the fridge, with a post-it saying ‘Alice’ on it. He opened it up, it smelled delicious, and he was hungry. His belly grumbled. He picked up a fork and started eating the braised meat.
He felt the images coming.
Empty Tupperware> Alice coming home> Alice takes a warm shower> Alice finds her prepared meal gone, complains that she was on a diet and what will she eat now> Benny apologises, but what would he eat, there was nothing in the house> Alice points out the sandwich materials in the fridge> Alice slams the fridge shut> Alice quits her diet> Alice gains weight> Alice dies of a heart attack in five years.
“Woah, there, that one’s a stretch,” Benny said to the room. “Come on, it’s one lousy dinner. It’s not even warmed up!”
The room said nothing.
Benny shut his eyes, then breathed in deeply. Breathing out, he put the Tupperware back in the fridge, then took his time to make a sandwich for himself. He made sure to put it on a plate so as to not leave any crumbs on the couch, and he cleaned up after himself.
He sat there on the couch, remote control in hand.
“My research uses advanced simulation software with some supercomputing time to render out plausible scenarios from a patient’s life. The implant would simply show him or her the consequences of their actions as they take them. Hopefully, that way we can train them to think before they act, to consider the other person. It’s a forced form of empathy, sure, but some of these individuals live normal lives that can be improved by this simple crutch.”
There were so many choices on Netflix, he had no idea what he wanted to watch. He always liked to watch something while snacking, it was his thing. He’d grab something to eat, and put on a show to watch, didn’t really matter what. He scrolled through the options, never deciding on anything. He never had that problem before.
Every time he thought about committing to one choice, he thought he could feel the images coming. It was like a migraine that was rushing your way. What if he chose to watch a cop show and some kid on Argentina died? What if he chose a documentary, and his view count was the one that tipped the algorithms over, making the filmmakers successful, and they all went and died in pursuit of more thrills to show on camera? What if he chose a cooking show and Alice came home, saw those juicy recipes and decided to tear out her own eyes?
Could anyone guarantee that these butterfly effects wouldn’t happen? Benny didn’t know. Nobody could know.
He put the plate down. He put the remote control down.
He did nothing.
He was unable to decide anymore.