Short Story About Consciousness | The Relegated by Amber Fernie

After he is framed for a spate of murders he didn’t commit, a police officer finds himself “Relegated”, his consciousness uploaded to a mainframe, his body inhabited by someone more deserving.

But is Landen Bly really a good guy? When it turns out his new body’s owner has ill intentions, the fading consciousness of our hero must vie for control of his own physical presence. 

This is a short story about consciousness and what happens when two distinct personalities dwell within the same body. Set in a near future, it brings our modern anxieties about presence and individuality into an action driven narrative.  

See more at the Short Story page.



Short Story About Consciousness

by Amber Fernie


It’s an interesting experience, riding in one of the old combustion engine automobiles, the kind that were all over the place back in the days before the Celerity Rails got so cheap and easy to use, back when petroleum was king.  This one isn’t an antique, though. It’s a reproduction.  And I’m in the driver’s seat, but I’m not driving.  The guy driving is what’s known as an operator.

It was toward the end of the 21st century that a new breakthrough in life extension technology was made.  Cryogenics?  Laughable.  This was all about mind transfer.  Now you could just upload a person’s entire consciousness into a machine at the push of a button, to be stored indefinitely.  Well, I suppose it’s not as simple as all that, but that’s what their commercials would have had you believe.

Still, there were questions about what constituted a consciousness.  All these uploaded people were essentially just numbers on a screen.  How could we know if they were really there, or if what we were seeing was just data?

The answer to that came when the government launched the Death Row Deliverance Initiative.  It seemed like our justice system finally had a solution to the debate over execution.  The prisoners would stay alive, but confined to the recesses of their own minds while their bodies were handed over to honest, decent people who would otherwise be dead or disabled.  It was just humane enough to satisfy the bleeding hearts, and just cruel enough to satisfy everyone else.  It also saved the tax payers a great deal of money spent feeding and housing the likes of murderers and child molesters.

I am neither a murderer nor a child molester, by the way.  I’m a cop, and a good one.  I just got tied up with the wrong people.  It made great headlines in all the news alert notifications, though.  “Metropolitan Police Officer Found Guilty in the Slaying of Six”.  Everyone wanted to read about the good cop turned bad.

Except I didn’t do it.  I’m no angel, and I got mixed up in some things I shouldn’t have, but I didn’t kill anybody.

No one wanted to hear about DNA tampering, or security footage altering, though.  I don’t know how many people in that courtroom were on my estranged associates’ payroll, but the verdict was unanimous, and once handed down, justice is swift, my friend.

Now my own mind is a prison.  I see and hear and sense everything this guy Landen Bly sees and hears and senses, but I have no control over any of it.  He’s operating my body.  I’m just along for the ride.

And here’s another thing – this guy may not know what I’m thinking, but I know everything he’s thinking.  Every memory, every desire, every impulse…I’m a witness to it all, like some kind of retroactive fly on the wall.  Let me tell you something – Landen Bly is a bad guy.

I’ve read a lot about serial killers, from H.H. Holmes, to John Wayne Gacy, to Horace Rakofsky, the guy they caught about ten years ago.  Well, Landen Bly makes the lot of them look like amateurs.  The only difference between this guy and those guys is that this guy never got caught.  Instead, he got crippled, and then they had to go and give him my body.

Well, Landen Bly may think he’s going to use it to kill again, but he’s got another thing coming. I’m going to stop him, and for good, because I’ve discovered something he doesn’t know.  See, there haven’t been any significant side effects reported from the operator insertion procedure, except one.  Almost all of the operators have reported having periodic blackouts. These decrease in frequency until they vanish altogether, so it’s considered an acceptable risk.  I read all about this stuff when I was awaiting relegation.  That’s the word they use for when they hi-jack your body – relegation.

What I’ve discovered is exactly what the blackouts are.  And I wouldn’t have figured it out, if not for Lorna Cole.

See, when Landen Bly woke up in my body, one of the things he was so stoked to have back was a working libido, and he headed straight to the brothels.  That’s where he found Lorna.  She’s a working girl, and the reason we’re driving down this highway.

He must’ve stood at that selection kiosk clicking through profiles for a good fifteen minutes before he came across her picture.  It was just a flash of chestnut hair and big brown eyes, but oh man, I wanted him to go back a page, and to my surprise, he did.

There she was, one of those rare natural beauties you just don’t see anymore.  She had a vulnerability in her eyes that was heartbreaking, but you’d never know it to look at her smile. That smile belied any damage she’d met with, and I speak the truth when I say I fell in love with her in those thirty seconds before the other guy pushed the “select” button.  I didn’t even get around to reading her stats.

Turns out, she was his type, too, but in a bad way.  As we were led through the lobby into the back rooms, I was assaulted by flashes of every type of perversion you could think of, and by the time we came to her section, Landen Bly was wiping a line of drool from the corner of my mouth. What I wanted more than anything in that moment was to be able to forget what I’d seen in his sick head.

There’s no forgetting, though.  There’s just watching, and as he entered the room, I wondered if other guys like me were going crazy from horror, or disgust, or just plain boredom.

The brothels are pretty competitive, and if a working girl wants to get any business, she has to put on a show.  Lorna puts on an old fashioned kind of show, all decked out like a mid-20th century pin-up.  “Hey big boy, fancy seeing you here,” she says, sitting you down in this big arm chair.  Cue the music, and then she’s dancing all coy, batting her eyes, and here and there losing a glove, slipping off a stocking, opening a button…  The theatrics are hokey, but I could watch this girl give a lecture on the history of the parboiled yam and find it fascinating.

Then I realized something.  The creep was leering at her.  He was about to put his…my…hands all over her, and though I can’t even begin to describe how much I wanted to touch her, I knew I couldn’t let that happen.

I can’t explain how I did it…I just willed it somehow.  First I felt my toe move, and then I realized that I was the one who moved it. I clawed through my own mind until I felt myself take over, and then it was like I sat down in my body, like I was putting on a skin or something.  I could feel that my control was going to break at any moment, so I moved fast.

I jumped out of the chair and grabbed Lorna by the shoulders and I shouted in her face, “Stay away from this guy! He’s dangerous!” And then I ran out of there.

I ran about two blocks before I started to lose my hold, and then I passed out.  When I woke up, we were in the hospital, and Landen was back in charge.  The doctor was explaining about the blackouts, telling him what to expect.  But here on the inside, I couldn’t be happier.

Let me tell you, I had big plans in the weeks to follow.  I was going to take over, get my body back, and then work on clearing my name.  And the powers that be would be none the wiser.

But that’s not the way it happened.

Instead, every time I tried, it got harder, and I could feel my hold getting weaker.  I understood then, why the blackouts eventually stopped.  It was like a weeding out process; like your body choosing its new owner over you.  That level of betrayal is rough.

I didn’t have much time to boo hoo about it, though, because soon he started following her.

At first he tried going back to the brothel, but they’re pretty protective of their girls there, and thanks to my erratic little outburst, he was put on the “do not service” list.  I was rather proud of that until Landen started getting agitated.

His following seemed harmless enough in the beginning.  For two weeks, he waited for Lorna outside the brothel every morning at sunrise.  He stayed about twenty paces back, trailing her through the market, watching her run her errands before heading to the celerity terminal.  Then he would go home.

While he watched, I watched, and every now and then, I threw a wrench into his plan by taking over just long enough for him to lose her, but I knew I couldn’t keep it up much longer.

I don’t even think he had a plan at that point as much as a general malevolent purpose.  If he did, I couldn’t see it. But everything changed the day he followed her into the terminal.  He waited until she strapped into the accelerator booth and then all at once, he ran over to it, and gaped at her through the window.  I could see the fear on her face just before she took off. He made a note of her coordinates, and then went home to look them up.

Now we’re driving, and if I don’t do something soon, we’ll be at her house, and she’ll be dead.  I can see it all over his mind.

I understand now why Landen likes these old cars.  If he took the rails, there’d be a record of who was riding and where.  This way, the roads might be torn all to shit, but at least he can come and go without anyone being able to prove it.  Not easily, anyway.

I need one last push.  Even though she’ll never know how I helped her, I have to do this.  I wanted to take my life back, but my life is being a cop.  My job is to protect and to serve, and for that, all I need is ten seconds.

I see a busted up guard rail ahead, and beyond that, a steep drop.  Come on, body. Don’t fail me now.  I can feel myself responding.  I can feel the vehicle turning, and I’m the one doing it. My hands are jerking the wheel.  My foot is pressing the accelerator. We’re going faster.  The edge is rushing to meet us.

Landen Bly is going down.


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11 thoughts on “Short Story About Consciousness | The Relegated by Amber Fernie

  1. Spot on. Absolutely spot on. I think this would be in my top 2 favourite short stories I’ve read on this site. It is a really cool concept to base a story on and brings in a resolution to a current-world issue. All of the explaining of the situation, while I normally wouldn’t like it, works so well with the perspective you present for the protagonist.

    I also really enjoyed the cliff hanger ending. Will he take over his body for long enough or will his Relegator (?) wrestle control back in time to save himself?

    I’m a fan. Well done mate!

    1. Thank you, Adrian. I hadn’t intended for the ending to seem like a cliffhanger so much as a fade-out of sorts, as he was doing his job in the same way that a soldier might throw himself on a grenade. I’m interested in the perspective, though. The possibility of him being thwarted in that attempt hadn’t occurred to me.

  2. For a moment, it reminded me of O’Brien in DS9’s “Hard Time” and then Dollhouse came to mind. In any case, I like the premise but that’s just a personal thing.

    I like the gradual expositions and pace. It’s easy, at least for me when I’m writing, to get bogged down in explaining elements which need to be explained. However, you seemed to have done it without being clumsy.

    Not sure what your intentions are… but you seem to pose the question regarding the consciousness/self and by the end seem to imply that it is real, that there is such a thing as the self and consequently the will of the individual. I like that and I like the (subtle) exploration of the question.

    And lastly, nothing else quite succinctly spells justice than ” is going down.” 🙂

    1. Thank you, Joey. It’s so interesting that you mentioned Star Trek. We haven’t gotten to DS9 yet, but my fiance and I are watching all the episodes of every series together (we’re on second season of TNG right now), and about a week after I submitted this, we saw the one where something similar to this happens to Data. I honestly had never seen it before, and when I asked Rob if he remembered the episode, he said that he did, but hadn’t wanted to say anything because he was afraid it would influence me. Just goes to show that there are no new ideas, just new ways of expressing them. Anyway, I appreciate the feedback, and I’ll keep an eye out for the episode you referenced when we get to DS9 🙂

  3. I love the smooth way you introduce the whole premise that drives your story ‘And I’m in the driver’s seat, but I’m not driving. The guy driving is what’s known as an operator…’
    Classy writing from start to finish!

  4. Awesome story Amber! I felt like there was a lot of “telling” rather than “showing” at first, but it was interesting enough to carry me through, and it turned out to make a lot of sense for the story to be told like that.

    The idea of the story is one that I’ve always found intriguing, and I really liked the way you dealt with it, and I totally enjoyed the ending. All told, it was a great read.

  5. Thank you, Nathan. That feedback was very helpful because after reading your comment, I read back over some of my other things and realized that I do have a tendency toward “telling” rather than “showing”. I will be more aware of that now and try to discern when it works and when it doesn’t.

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