Prose Header

Unpredictable Factors
in Human Obedience
Obtained via Computer Chips
in Saline Solution

by Jessica Knauss

part 1 of 2

I was going to the charity dinner because, since I worked for the school, it was free. That’s the sort of charity a teacher really needs.

Like most, I didn’t become a teacher for the money. But I didn’t do it because I like children, either. Nor do I believe they are our future — just the opposite. The only reason I’ve been successful as a teacher is that my ex-fiancé had developed a biological, programmable computer chip and was willing to test it on humans.

I asked no questions: I’m no scientist. I put a single, tiny chip into each fortune cookie I passed out on the first day — full attendance, zero distrust — ostensibly as a predictor for the class year. The ones whose tongues touched the exact chip molecule mentioned some bitterness, but most of the thirty fourth-graders crunched happily away.

Luckily for me, children who received no instruction in obedience at home often did not receive a morning meal, either, and weren’t going to complain when presented with almost any food.

The next day, I gave them spinach, mushy, stinky, gross, and said, “Eat your spinach, children,” in the same way my mother used to tell me to eat disgusting things, that way that set me obstinately against whatever it was. Notwithstanding their looks of dismay, even terror, every last one picked up the plastic fork provided and lifted a bite of green stuff into their mouths.

The chip was a complete success!

Soon the administrative offices were deluged with calls and letters thanking and congratulating Miss Mattheson (I wasn’t married yet) for the amazing changes in the behavior of my fourth-graders.

Because I was a novice, my teacher assistant had been at the school for many years, and she spread the word far and wide that there was nothing special or even very good about what I was doing in the classroom.

I began to feel hounded by the other teachers, who wanted to know why a first-year teacher was so effective and why my students reacted the way they did to questioning.

“Cody, we all think it’s wonderful the way you concentrate so much better now that you’re in Miss Mattheson’s class. Can you tell us what you like about Miss Mattheson?”

Cody looked at the floor and replied quite honestly, “Nothin’.”

With furrowed brow the concerned counselor pressed on. “What’s your favorite thing about Miss Mattheson’s class?”


There was no way to improve the project. The children became perfect whether they wanted to or not, and they couldn’t complain because they didn’t realize what was happening. The chip couldn’t be found with a metal detector or any routine medical exam. Even if the children had known or objected, all I would have had to do was instruct them not to complain or tell. It’s amazing how far a little obedience will get you.

Because I told them to, the children, all thirty of them, got very serious about their schoolwork, and soon I was able to introduce some fifth-grade material. I had the brightest ones using sixth-grade reading books, which were easy enough to obtain from the sixth-grade classrooms in exchange for our fourth-grade books, which were about all those kids could handle.

At that point the seasoned, long-credentialed teachers began to throw up their hands in despair. Obedient and well-behaved was enough of a mystery, but reading above grade level and doing physics experiments instead of hundreds of addition and subtraction problems! They began to come to me, humble and subdued, no longer asking questions, only pleading.

I wanted to help them. It wasn’t fair that only thirty children a year could be perfect. I wanted to offer to visit their classrooms, bearing sandwiches, but I needed more biochips. So I called my ex-fiancé, way out in Silicon Valley.

“Hey, Joseph, thanks for those experimental chips. They really work.”

“Wow, that’s great! Are there any side effects?”

“Not that I can see. Does utter perfection count as a side effect?”

“Wow.” He sighed, relieved. “I’ve never done a project involving full-term humans before. So many unpredictable factors. I can’t believe it’s going so well. They’re totally obedient?”

“Yes, and now that I’ve suggested it, they don’t even look like they’d rather resist. And that’s why I’ve called. The other teachers are really envious and I’d like to help them. Can you send me about a thousand more chips?”

“A thousand? Wait a minute. Do you mean to say you’ve used all thirty chips already?”

“Sure. Wasn’t I supposed to?”

“I just can’t believe you got permission for that many...”

I was glad he couldn’t see me. I must’ve been vermillion with embarrassment and guilt. “Oh yeah, there was no big deal,” I stammered.

“Really? Thirty sets of parents and guardians gave you permission to change the brain chemistry of their children?”

“Well, I didn’t put it exactly like that.”

“How else would you explain that when the chip enters the bloodstream, it begins to multiply and perform computations on every cell in their brains?”

“Oh, you know. They’re not as sophisticated as you and me. I just kind of summarized.”

“I never imagined parents could be that lax!”

“Parenting today is really different than when we were kids, huh. But that was the other thing I wanted to ask you. I don’t think I can get a thousand permissions. I mean, that’s a bit much. Is there a way to make the chip flush out of their systems after about a year? Or perhaps be more specifically targeted at certain childhood problems? Maybe then it would be more inviting.”

“We’re developing a temporary chip now,” he said almost automatically, distracted by the science. “If we knew we had a test group, we might be able to have it within a year or two.”

“Well, keep me updated. Send it as soon as you’ve got it.”

His enthusiasm for discovery had won him over for me, fortunately. After I hung up, I took my troubled mind with the rest of me to the closet and pulled out the box I’d saved from the first package of biochips. Under a mass of packing peanuts was what I can only call a manuscript, which I’d completely disregarded. Of course, it explained in detail the process Joseph mentioned and included permission forms for the parents and outlines of the sort of reports I was to make with the data and send back to the lab.

I almost felt like I was back in school again, but the problem also frustrated me. I couldn’t recall anything being so complicated when I was an adolescent or a college student. I couldn’t get used to being a real adult.

Things just weren’t simple anymore.

On the one hand, I’d already changed thirty children and the course of their lives forever without consulting them or getting to know them, and there was no way to give them back the choice I’d already made. Would they ever think of becoming great artists or scientists if I happened to forget to suggest it?

On the other hand, they tested really well, and in June I received several different awards as well as a small raise and a grant to design a school-wide improvement program at all grade levels. My picture was in the paper and I was interviewed for Channel 5.

My husband, Claud, was the cameraman. We wouldn’t have found each other anywhere else, so I had to conclude that the whole experiment was meant to be. Maybe I sold my soul in order to find my soul mate. A bit of an O. Henry, but well worth it. My soul was a lonesome, power-hungry old wretch before Claud. It’s not lonesome anymore.

In the meantime, I had Joseph send a steady stream of prototype chips so that I was well stocked for whatever occasion might arise. My grant-funded improvement program turned out to be a kind of lecture series based on the idea I’d originally had of taking pity on the other teachers.

I went to every classroom where I was requested and gave a study skills workshop to a group of children which invariably started out unruly, even restive, but began to show true dedication after the break, during which I would have passed out doctored tortilla chips and various dips.

Of course the difference between before I’d visited the class and after was punctuated and phenomenal; all the teachers remarked on it.

I experimented with the dosage and found that in the older children, sixth grade and up, only one chip didn’t produce the sweeping behavioral changes I was used to seeing in the younger ones. They tended to go begrudgingly about tasks set for them, and the overall attitude remained very antiestablishment. Two chips, however, produced robots even I found unattractive. I moderated my contact with the upper grades and considered the students in the attached middle school a lost cause.

Between observations like that, feigned scatterbrainedhood, and excuses such as preparing for my wedding, I was able to keep the Silicon Valley crowd, always avid for scientific reporting and hundreds of signatures, mildly appeased or at least at bay. The modified chips arrived beautifully on schedule almost a year after I’d asked for them, just in time for the Christmas festivities. There were a thousand of them in saline solution, which again took up much less space than the accompanying literature.

This time I took a lot of trouble to make sure I’d found all the pages in among the packing materials, and sat down to read right away. I found that my memory of high school chemistry, refreshed by the experiments we conducted in class instead of doing sums, was all I needed to grasp the words in among the biochemical symbols and diagrams.

Essentially, the chips could hold sway for six weeks, after which they shut down and were flushed out of the system, leaving it as if they had never been introduced. The uses were endless.

Claud came home at a normal hour because he didn’t have any live broadcast assignments, and found me off guard in the big fluffy chair, the literature stacked methodically around me on the arms and the floor, and saying, “Ah! Aha!”

“Hey there, what’s all this?” he said.

I looked up and he seemed to be floating in a cloud of C’s, H’s, O’s, and other elements. I thought of the vial of saline solution on the dining table just behind him. My inclination was to answer truthfully and tell him the whole story, in essence, the whole reason we ever met, but when the cloud cleared and I saw his innocent sky-blue eyes, peering at me so naively, I averted my gaze and said, “Ah, just some new teaching materials a friend sent me.”

We stood in the kitchen making Cuban rice for dinner and after he told me about the interview with the congressman he’d taped that morning, I asked him a question, the importance of which he might never guess.

“Were you obedient as a child?” We hadn’t had a very long engagement; these sorts of questions were bound to come up sometime.

“Not really. I don’t remember caring about anything until after high school. I wish I had been a little more obedient. Then I would’ve gone straight through to college and been a better citizen overall.” He stopped stirring and looked at me. “Why do you ask?”

He pierced me with his blue eyes. My Claud, my perfect Claud, was telling me that he could have been much more perfect. I might be having dinner with the mayor or a Film Studies professor instead of a Channel 5 cameraman. Not that that’s a bad job.

“I wonder if the charity dinner is accepting potluck. I have an urge to bring peanut butter crackers tomorrow,” I replied. He would never know just how to-the-point my comment was.

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2010 by Jessica Knauss

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