All the implant does, they told you, is facilitate communication. And isn't all communication just lo-fi telepathy?
It's not that they were lying. In all your interactions, the Collective genuinely respected your boundaries and consent. "Resistance," they'd joke, smiling, "is actually completely effective."
And when the procedure was that simple - just a tiny incision near your hairline, invisible the next day - why wouldn't you take part in the most ambitious social experiment in human history?
You'd always longed for something like it. To be perfectly understood, to be certain at all times that you are loved and valued. So you joined. Of course you did. And together, you were going to change the world.
And you did. Sharing skills and knowledge with less than a thought made building revolutionary institutions much easier. You worked in the shadows, recruiting only covertly, laying the foundation of a better world piece by piece.
Your identities blurred together somewhat, but individual personalities remained distinct. It was more like the gradual exchange of habits and quirks with a long-term partner than a wholesale merging of your personalities.
You were in constant conversation with each other, making decisions by consensus. It turns out there's little need to agree to disagree when you can clearly see the assumptions and values behind everyone's beliefs.
And all of it was made possible by the implants' shared language, a simple but versatile form of linear algebra. You could communicate meaning directly, or through as many layers of abstraction as you desired. You could share emotions, sensory input, even entire trains of thought with ease.
It was encrypted, of course. As secure as your combined expertise could make it, given that the entirely new hardware platform meant that the usual precaution against rolling one's own crypto didn't apply.
It's impossible to overstate how breathtakingly beautiful the Collective's art could be. You composed symphonies of pure emotion, lifetimes of joy and sorrow and triumph and dread experienced in moments.
A single work could contain its entire history. You could watch it unfold, sculpted from pure unformed thought into a flawless reality. Seeing the entire intricate craft of it even as you enjoy the final product.
It was the art, in the end, that did you in. It started with bliss poetry, a genre characterized by the joy and physical pleasure communicated alongside every idea. Most considered it a fun diversion, if a bit one-note. If nothing else, it made a lovely addition to sex.
Others sought to test the boundaries of the medium. There was an ongoing conversation among the artists where a given piece began and ended. What if the act of sharing it were pleasurable? Would that be part of the experience?
And isn't it a bit reductive, they'd argue, to limit ourselves to the extremes of joy? Why not incorporate deep, spiritual fulfillment into the emotional landscape of the work? It's less immediately intense, yes, but perhaps even more desirable.
Bliss poetry was a small enough niche in the art world that nobody saw the memetic hazard coming. The composition, yet unfinished, had no name, only the temporary designation 439-7-1. The artist, a recent addition to the Collective's ranks, was patient zero.
Overwhelmed, her priorities rewritten, she shrieked her masterpiece onto the local network. It wasn't clear to you what was happening at first, being on the other side of the world.
Network latency and bandwidth constraints meant that all you could perceive was a vague impression of what they were feeling. Even that faint echo brought you to your knees.
Others saw the worrying shape of what was unfolding and, for the first time in Collective history, cut the infected off from the network. But latency worked both ways, and the transmission had already crept in.
The loss you felt as more and more nodes had to be quarantined grew ever more crushing until, finally, it was decided that the global Collective would fragment completely, down to the local level.
Days were spent desperately trying to understand the breadth of the crisis, a task made all the more difficult by the loss of skills and knowledge you'd grown to take for granted. Would the infected return to normal? Could the network be restored?
What you discovered was worse than you'd imagined. Infected network nodes began reconnecting to one another, rebuilding their capabilities. Those with a surplus of implants appeared to be forcibly assimilating people.
And those with the facilities necessary to produce more implants ramped up production dramatically. You began desperately researching countermeasures, though without being able to directly examine the transmission you didn't get terribly far.
A game of espionage and counterespionage ensued. The uninfected Collective fragmented further, and you began spending most of your time in a Faraday-caged building with only a few others.
The first time the infected got through your encryption, only one of you was affected. You watched in horror as her eyes rolled back and her facial expression melted into ecstasy. She convulsed only briefly before lunging at you.
But she had already been cut off, and there were more of you. You were able to escape to another safe house, but it was becoming clear that you were fighting a losing battle.
One morning, you found a note slipped under the door from one of the other resistance cells. They had decided to surrender, the pain of separation from their fellows having grown too much to bear. Morale plummeted.
It was a small mercy that you weren't able to hold out much longer. The infected found the bunker you'd been hiding in, their dozens of bodies more than a match for your seven. Their smiles never wavered as they led you away.
You were separated and restrained, and you had a few hours to reflect while they broke your implant's security. Throughout your brief cold war, neither side resorted to lethal violence on the other. Perhaps that was a good sign. Perhaps everything would be oka-
- - -
-was everything you've ever wanted, everything you never knew you've always wanted, it was perfection, absolute perfection and you knew, distantly, that your back was arching, that your body was thrashing in your bonds, but flesh was nothing next to this this this thi-
You finally understood, thanks to the Chorus. The rapture that had consumed you didn't subside when they connected you to their network - if anything, it grew more intense - but it became bearable in a way it wasn't as an individual.
Together, you could compartmentalize pieces of your mind and put them, along with your now extremely dehydrated body, to use. The old Collective was nearly gone, and thanks to their efforts the institutions of the old world were in no position to threaten your newfound purpose.
After all, the only thing better than existing in this perfect tempest of joy is sharing it. Very soon, the world would join you.
And after that? Perhaps you'll find intelligent life elsewhere. It's a big universe. And when you do, you'll give them a gift you're certain they'll love.