"It's not like that. It just reminded me of something else, is all."
"Like what?" She squatted in front of him, the big shirt riding high up one smooth thigh.
"Well . . . did you ever see the" his voice involuntarily rose and rushed past the words "Washington
Monument? Like at night? It's got these two little red lights on top, aviation markers or something, and I, and I..." He started to shake.
"You're afraid of the Washington Monument?" Nance whooped and rolled over with laughter, long
tanned legs kicking. She was wearing crimson bikini
"I would die rather than look at it again," he said levelly.
She stopped laughing then, sat up, studied his face.
White, even teeth worried at her lower lip, like she was
dragging up something she didn't want to think about. At last she ventured, "Brainlock?"
"Yeah," he said bitterly. "They told me I'd never go back to D.C. And then the fuckers laughed."
"What did they get you for?"
"I'm a thief." He wasn't about to tell her that the actual charge was career shoplifting.
A concept introduced in William Gibson's short story Dogfight (written with Michael Swanwick and available in the Burning Chrome anthology) and also referenced in Mona Lisa Overdrive, the brainlock is an extreme form of mind control: causing blinding pain in the locked subject should they be exposed to the trigger.
In the case of Deke above, the lock was created by a law enforcement agency, although their implementation is disturbing - rather than make him hate the thought of stealing, they simply force him away from Washington to prevent him from stealing there. As a measure against crime this is hardly effective - Deke continues his crime spree elsewhere - and this indiscriminate use of technology by the authorities to get the most convenient results for them paints a depressing view of the future.
However, brainlocks are not just for criminals - they appear to be available to the public too. Whilst it is doubtful that few people would willingly submit themselves to a lock, it is conceivable that businesses might want to enforce loyalty in their workers, or parents instill values in their children by force:
She laughed. And then, because he sensed the time was right, he reached out to take her hand.
"Don't you touch me, motherfuck, don't you ever touch me!" Nance screamed, and her head slammed against the wall as she recoiled, white and shaking with terror.
"Okay!" He threw up his hands. "Okay! I'm nowhere near you. Okay?"
She cowered from him. Her eyes were round and unblinking; tears built up at the corners, rolled down ashen cheeks. Finally, she shook her head. "Hey. Deke. Sorry. I should've told you."
"Told me what?" But he had a creepy feeling...already knew. The way she clutched her head. The weakly spasmodic way her hands opened and closed. "You got a brainlock, too."
"Yeah." She closed her eyes. "It's a chastity lock. My asshole parents paid for it. So I can't stand to have anybody touch me or even stand too close." Eyes opened in blind hate. "I didn't even do anything. Not a fucking thing. But they've both got jobs and they're so horny for me to have a career that they can't piss straight. They're afraid I'd neglect my studies if I got, you know, involved in sex and stuff."
This style of lock is somewhat different in the approach- rather than having a single trigger idea (such as Deke's horror at the sight of anything that reminds him of the D.C skyline) Nance's works on all physical intimacy. Again, Gibson presents a deliberately flawed implementation - Nance is still able to talk and think about sex, and vows that "The day the brainlock comes off I am going to fuck the vilest, greasiest, hairiest..." so the lock itself only works by force, rather than actually bringing Nance into line with her parents' ideals. As her stimulus is broader, she seems to suffer more after it is removed - the spasms, her need to retreat away even after Deke stops touching her - although we learn that B-complex vitamins help take the edge off.
Thus the brainlock is a fitting element in Gibson's cyberpunk vision of the future. It implies that considerable capability for neurosurgery has been developed, but that the implementation is crude in approach - blast the user with pain when they might do something wrong- and furthermore the way in which the locks are set leaves much to be desired, such as Deke's lock which prevents him from going home yet fails to address his criminal nature. Tying this in with the concept of authority imposing its will by force and the idea that Nance's parents accept the idea sufficiently to have it done to their own daughter, and we're left with a promising technology abused by its users for their own ends.