(Photo credit Leafyishere, taken of somewhere in Seattle. I really like the shot and it seems good and cyberpunk to me)
I opened my eyes.
I was still groggy from the procedure, I could remember that there was a procedure but not what it was for. I blinked and the anesthetic stain on my senses battered down on me like storm clouds, stay still and rest. To my right I was aware of another body, our vital sign monitors chirped together unevenly like rainfall.
Unlike the bleached air I could feel drafting down onto us both, the other body was full of life. I turned my head and focused on what must be three day stubble and scabbed incisions on the man. The marks tracked into the hairline where a thick white dressing rested. More awake now, I could see that he wasn’t strapped down to his hospital bed, though I was securely fastened to a gurney. He was still unconscious, I watched as heavy breaths pushed his chest up and then down.
I could see a camera watching us both, and was immediately struck by how beautiful it was, all sleek features and silent functionality. I could see its smooth glass lens gleaming from the other side of the room. It began to move and I saw that it was attached to a blue metallic rail that ran up to the spot between me and my sleeping companion.
“You don’t remember do you?” Came a smug sounding voice from a hidden speaker.
The voice was young, younger than me I felt with a sudden flourish of irritation.
“It says here that you never remember.”
A pause. I tried to speak and realised that my mouth was extremely dry, a word rattled and died in the last of the spit still in my mouth.
“So, salient points, to avoid over-stimulation this debriefing will be provided via audio only, you had an operation a few days ago. We paid you, you’re a paid volunteer, alright? We paid you. This isn’t your first time here, you’re what we call a sponge. You, like others in your situation have chosen to undergo memory compression, you make a space via a partition in your head with a little help from us for other memories. Sometimes these are memories that you are asked to create before we operate, we might recently have paid you to go cycling and to ride down a hill at high speed for example. This memory as part of our contract did not legally belong to you. It belonged to an ongoing client of ours, a paraplegic who used to love to ride a bike when she was a little girl and who is prepared to pay to experience new things. A fresh adult memory, taken from a donor and implanted, it makes situations like that more bearable or at least can do. So I am told.”
The voice paused.
“Then there are other uses for compression. Making space to hold regular computer data, not so useful really given the advances in storage. The other main use is parking memories. Memory deletion is difficult, or rather its easy but brain death is a typically unpleasant side effect. Memory swapping on the other hand…we can remove unwanted details from a client’s memory. Painful childhoods, bad relationships, social faux pas, anything really…but they have to go somewhere and something has to replace it even if its unimportant, unused fluff from someone else. We found that connecting two brains directly and in effect swapping the memories or rather swapping something concrete with clutter and noise from someone else in effect tricks the brain, we’re not entirely sure why but that doesn’t matter. Your file says you have had this procedure twenty times so far and you never remember the first talk, but as part of our patient support agreement we have to go through it…So anyway, it is like pressure, the brain needs to retain pressure, remove something and damage that pressure and expect dementia if you are lucky, keep the pressure up, swap something in and you are all good.”
“Remember, you’re a volunteer. We paid you. Even if you can’t remember any more why you needed the money, I’m sure it will come in useful.”
“There are side effects, your recent memory, the days leading up to the operation are typically affected, and whilst this is of course a science, it is hard to be precise. The compression itself makes your own memories hard to access, you’re forgetful or you’ll find that you are. You may thanks to this procedure experience recollections of other people who you do not recognise, strange details and associations with certain objects. The compression procedure you had done made space for all these memories, kind of puts you out of commission as a sponge but you will be well compensated for soaking it all up. Zips are what we call sponges that are full up.”
I smiled thinly at the lens.
“So the new memory or memories I should say, we should talk about that. We filled you up. You are a Zip now. Your co-patient, our client used to be a Zip as well until not so long ago, but they decided to pass the memories that they were holding on, decompress their space and go back to normal memory. Its an expensive procedure, choosing to pass a memory on and we discourage juggling of memories between multiple hosts but this is the third time this memory package has been passed on. Most people who get into the Sponge business don’t have the cash to get out easily and need it for other reasons, you can’t run another compression procedure on a sponge to get rid of something like this it all gets mixed up with your own original memories if you do that. Multiple transferals starts to see the same thing happen, memories become looser and start getting confused. When I was first working here I would have said its the difference between hard cheese and grated, but that is not quite right. You still following me?”
I croaked out that I was.
“You committed a war crime, or it might feel like that. A few Zips ago, someone committed a war crime. That someone was obviously found not guilty as they wouldn’t have the liberty or the money left for something like this, but they paid to get the memory it out of their head after the trial. This is about as far as we can go ethically before the memory definitively fragments. When you check your bank account you will find full payment, you will be rich. When the nurse eventually comes in to release you -a minor precaution by the way when dealing with traumatic episodes, she will pass you a list of company recommended therapists and counselors who will help you come to terms with your new experiences. She will also help you to start reviewing your memories. Until then I suggest you sleep it off.”
The camera retracted back into its chrome housing on the other side of the room and I slept.
I opened my eyes.
I saw the grey scrubs first of all, leaning over my co-patient and checking what I estimated to be the five day stubble and scabs on his head. The nurse was in her fifties, short hair, slicked back with something oily, and apart from the black makeup around her eyes, no adornment on her tea stain coloured skin. She smiled and whispered that she would be over to me in a moment. I dozed for another moment and felt that I was on the edge of remembering something, something large; I was expectant now that some kind of penny was about to drop and looked up at the nurse eagerly as she approached me. She took a breath and launched into a long explanation to me, her face was lit up and she cooed in the special tone we use for animals and children.
“Your readings are really good, really great in fact. I guess you’re an old hand at this! Despite all that, you probably won’t remember your memory triggers yet, we get everyone to write down some key memories, good and bad, that really cement who they are before they go under. When they come round from the procedure we get you to read them, its like footsteps on the road to remembering! So, take this, its your writing, read it, keep reading it and things should come back to you. Once they come back the new memories should follow on naturally. I’m going to loosen your arm restraints so you can read, but we still need to keep you securely for a little longer until this part of the recovery is complete. Take your time.”
She unfastened the buckles and heavy Velcro, tweaked the sheets and placed the paper on my lap. I blinked hard and picked the paper up and looked at the round characters, the over exaggerated capitals and wondered at who I was. The nurse was leaving, I heard the door swing as she disappeared, and then I was alone with myself and the still sleeping man to my right. I started to read.
Your memory is going to come back in a few days, or at least it always has so far. Your compressed memories are not so great comparatively, though they will seem normal soon. That is why you are doing this, money for therapy to deal with your memories. Your therapist from when you were young decided that you had repressed something. Something bad happened to your family, but all you can remember is them going to sleep one day and then you moving out, to the children’s home. Its been something professionals have questioned you about for much of your childhood, you can’t or won’t remember it, but its impacted on you, you can’t grow up in the system and come out normal. So the money from the Compression sessions is for therapy, putting that right and finding out what its about. The rest of you is straightforward, you love your dog, Milo; your job isn’t bad, its good fun being a courier, you meet new people, learn new routes. That is how you got the tip for this to begin with.
My head swam, it was an effort to read, each sentence being a jolt as I recalled images, sounds and smells. I lowered the sheet. It felt like there was a torrent of sparks issuing into my brain, flickers of recollection, flickers of memory. I saw my hands, for a second I looked into an ornate mirror and saw the reflection of the man in the bed, handsome, no beard, wearing a suit with music playing somewhere behind him, but he was sad. His eyes looked down and then back up again and again as he struggled to meet his own gaze.
I read the note again and again, other details came back to me but I struggled to access the new memory that had been zipped into me. Again and again I saw my childhood, tugging on my sleeping mother before a woman in a white coat carried me out. The years in the children’s home, the doctors, again and again and then I saw something new.
I jolted hard and sat up with a cry.
I could see my home, I was standing in the kitchen, but I was tall and I held a rifle. Before me, a man, my father struggled as two other men in camouflage held him down. I raised my gun and shot him twice in the chest, because he was a police officer, because he was a target. We strode around the house shooting whoever we saw, then we tossed a fragmentation grenade upstairs and an incendiary downstairs and left the building.
I jolted again and felt my head throb with pain as I made the connections.
I put my hands up to my face in defence, and in mourning for the dead, whose deaths I bore the knowledge of, whose deaths I had witnessed from both sides of the gun. I shook and instinctively turned my head to look at the bearded man now conscious who smiled at me and who smiled at what he could no longer remember.