In today's story, Bright Idea, new tech sends Lynn running for her life
Today's prompt came from a recent dream. Most of that dream was quickly forgotten, except for some shining stars that became the tech in this story.
Though it was dream inspired, today's story was still free-written from the prompt with no planning and very little editing. It's a rough take that I might revisit when there's time to polish it into a longer story.
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More about Susan Quilty
Susan Quilty mainly writes novels, including two standalone novels and her current YA series: The Psychic Traveler Society. Susan's short stories for Freely Written are created during quick writing breaks and shared as a way to practice her narration skills before she dives into recording audio versions of her novels.
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Below is the transcript for Season 1, Episode 89 of Freely Written, a podcast by author Susan Quilty:
Welcome to Freely Written where a simple prompt leads to a little unplanned fiction.
[Light piano music]
Hi, friends! I’m Susan Quilty and today’s prompt is Bright Idea.
As you may already know, my process for this podcast is to sit down with a prompt and write whatever comes to mind, with no planning and very little editing, and then record and share the story with you.
Now, usually I get my writing prompts from friends and listeners, or from random phrases that catch my attention on TV or during conversations. Today’s prompt is a little different because it came to me in a dream.
The story is still freely written though, because I’m only starting with the vague idea of the one element I remember from my dream. You’ll know that element when you hear it, since it’s an item that goes by the name Bright Idea, like it did in my dream.
Okay, enough set-up, let’s get on to the story:
Lynn darted down a dark alley, the sound of feet pounding the pavement behind her. It didn’t seem like a safe move to make while being pursued in a strange part of the city, but her Bright Idea had given it five stars and Lynn had learned to trust her Bright Idea.
The alley was longer than Lynn expected. She ran into its deepest shadows, hearing her pursuers pause to argue about their next move. They didn’t like the looks of the alley any more than she had and worried she was leading them into a trap. Why else plunge into darkness?
By the time she reached the far side of the alley, Lynn could hear them following, but they were coming slowing and quietly. She didn’t know if the group had stayed together or if some had circled the block to catch her in the open.
The Bright Idea couldn’t tell her that, but it could rate her notion of ducking into the door that was propped open just before the end of the alley. It gave that idea four stars, which was good enough for Lynn to push through the door and pull it shut behind her with a metallic thud.
Lynn paused to catch her breath, assessing the room around her. It was some kind of warehouse with tall shelves full of dusty crates and boxes. Bare bulbs flickered from a few overhead fixtures, and Lynn could see more light pooling around a table in the space beyond the shelves.
She crept forward, flinching at the sound of the door she had closed being tested from the alley and relaxing when it appeared to be locked. She couldn’t hear any voices or movement in the space ahead, but she had the distinct feeling that someone was there.
A voice from behind confirmed that Lynn wasn’t alone. She glanced at the lower corner of her glasses, but no stars appeared. Run, she thought quickly, and only one star lit up. Wait, she tried next, seeing the display flicker between two and three stars. Turn, she thought with a wary sigh, seeing four stars fleetingly appear before settling back to a solid three.
Turning around, Lynn saw a tall man wearing a gray sweater and jeans. He also wore the distinctive, black-framed glasses that paired with a Bright Idea, which didn’t surprise Lynn in the least. She’d often found her Bright Idea wavering when facing someone else who was weighing their options.
“The door was open,” Lynn offered, not sure if she should tack on an apology or act as if it were fine for her to walk in uninvited.
“Not for you,” the man countered, but he didn’t sound angry. “Someone following you?”
Lynn nodded, running through her options for how much to share and never getting a rating above two stars.
“You can stay,” he decided with a shrug, then walked back up the aisle beside her. Lynn watched his progress through the open shelves, seeing that he was headed toward the table, and followed.
Once they were out of the shelves, Lynn could see that the open space holding the table was small. There were three chairs around the table and a desk across from it. An open door beside it led to a bathroom. On the far wall, a few cabinets sat beside a small refrigerator and an ancient stove.
Lynn wanted to ask where they were, but her Bright Idea advised against it. Instead, she accepted a three-star gamble and asked the man’s name.
“Maxwell,” he said shortly, not offering if that was a first or last name. He didn’t ask for her name, but she gave it anyway and he nodded as if it didn’t matter.
“Do you want to know who was chasing me?” Lynn asked, after Maxwell settled at the desk and started flipping through some papers.
“Do you want to tell me?” he asked in return.
Lynn didn’t have to check her Bright Idea to know that she did want to tell him. She wanted to tell him everything. She also didn’t have to check the rating to know that spilling her whole story to a stranger was a bad idea.
“I know who was chasing you,” Maxwell told her without looking up from his work. “The same people who were chasing me and who are probably chasing my sister right now.”
“Your sister?” Lynn glanced back down the length of shelves to the door she’d closed. “You left that door open for your sister?”
“She won’t use it tonight,” Maxwell answered. He didn’t sound concerned but Lynn thought he was worried, and her Bright Idea agreed.
“She won’t lead them here,” he added. “Not when she sees they’re so close.”
“The way I did?” Lynn asked, but Maxwell didn’t answer.
“They’re after the tech,” Lynn said, broaching the topic directly.
“They’re after the guy who made the tech,” Maxwell corrected. “The tech is how they think they’ll figure that out.”
Lynn thought about that while easing into one of the wooden chairs beside the scarred table. It felt good to finally sit down, though her body still shook with adrenaline.
“They can’t use it though,” she reminded him, assuming he already knew that. “The Bright Idea is just a pair of glasses without the embedded bit.”
Lynn shuddered slightly, remembering her fear of the procedure and relief when the surgery was over. No one else in the office had seemed worried about becoming beta testers, and it was their pressure to join that had gotten her into this.
“They don’t need to use it,” Maxwell said with an edge in his voice. “They just need to run their ideas through you.”
He finally looked up and the overhead light glinted off his lenses. Lynn assumed her eyes were also shielded by the glare and nearly lowered the frames, until a single star warned that may be a bad idea.
“Why do they even want it?” she asked instead, hearing the frustration in her own voice. “There are so many wearables out there, why the fuss over this one?”
“The fuss?” Maxwell set down a sheaf of papers and raised an eyebrow. “We are wearing tech that bypasses our limbic systems to assess the decisions made in the frontal cortex, effectively letting us make rational, informed choices without the murkiness of emotional upset, even in high-stress situations. You can’t see why people would want that?”
Flustered, Lynn dropped her gaze and took a deep breath. Ignoring the stars in her eyes, she took off her glasses with one hand and rubbed the bridge of her nose with the other.
“You were part of R&D?” Maxwell’s eyes narrowed as he watched Lynn’s shoulders tense.
“Sort of.” She shrugged, keeping the black-rimmed glasses cradled in one hand. “I was Harold’s executive admin. Before he left. With the others.”
The bitterness of her words carried the shock of the last three weeks. She tried not to remember the panic when Harold and the other execs disappeared. There was a rumor they’d packed into a private plane and flown to an unknown haven.
The rest of them, the several hundred who’d had the test procedure, soon realized there was a bounty on them all. People began disappearing. Bodies turning up with the embedded tech ripped out before it was known that the tech couldn’t be surgically transferred.
“You weren’t supposed to get the tech,” Maxwell said with a frown. “It was supposed to be a limited test.”
Lynn considered him carefully. She’d never seen him at the office, despite working in the Research and Development department for over a year. It wasn’t a big department. The only people who didn’t work on her floor were the really important scientists, the ones creating the cutting-edge tech, like Bright Idea.
“It was you!” Lynn stumbled out of her chair and pushed her glasses back in place. Though she didn’t care what Bright Idea thought of her confronting him. “You’re the guy who created this tech!”
“No,” Maxwell shook his head and pressed his lips into a thin line. He hesitated, studying Lynn’s face and glancing at his Bright Idea rating before saying anything more.
“The guy who created this is my sister,” he said at last. “And she’s still out there.”
Lynn flushed, unsure if meeting Maxwell put her in more danger or less. She could see lights rapidly flashing in the corner of her lenses as her mind raced. When they settled to five bright stars, Lynn focused in on her current thought: If Maxwell’s sister created this, maybe she can safely remove it.
“I’ll help you,” Lynn told Maxwell decisively, though he hadn’t asked for her help. “I’ll help you find your sister and keep her safe.”
Maxwell smirked, then shook his head and sighed.
From then on, it was them against the world.
Thanks for joining me today. This was a fun one for me. It’s rough for sure, being freewritten with no editing, but maybe it’s an idea I’ll come back to sometime for a more polished story.
If you’re wondering, the Bright Idea tech in my dream was more like a projection of stars that would show up over everyone’s head to rate their ideas. I think people thought the tech was giving them the ideas, when actually the good ideas came to them whenever they slowed down to watch for the stars to appear. Power of suggestion, slowing down to regulate emotions, and all that. I don’t remember much else about the dream, so turning it into wearable tech and everything else in this story came up after I sat down to write.
If you enjoyed this story, please share it with your friends and leave a review for Freely Written wherever you listen to podcasts.
While these quick stories are fun, most of my focus in on my novels. You can learn about them on my website, SusanQuilty.com. Links are in the show notes. Thank you for listening and for all of your support!
Until next time, try a little free writing of your own. Let go of any planning and see where your imagination takes you.
[Light piano music]