The Memory Thief
Published March 28th 2020
What is The Memory Thief?
The Memory Thief is a collaborative book. Each week, I write one new chapter and provide three possible options for what could happen next. Readers vote for their favourite and watch as the story comes to life. Click Here to learn more.
Last week on The Memory Thief…
“Are you ready to learn the truth about life on the surface?”
Nodding grimly, she took my hand and led me to the dwelling’s entrance hall. I experienced a moment of déjà vu as I reached for the handle, but I ignored the shiver than ran down my spine and opened the door.
The world beyond the doorframe was nothing like the one I’d recently witnessed. Before me stretched…
Option 1: …a grim, desolate city.
Option 2: …a glistening, futuristic city.
Option 3: …a virtual, holographic city.
NOTE: Click Here to read the full chapter.
Option 1: 11 votes (47.82%)
Option 2: 6 votes (26.09%)
Option 3: 6 votes (26.09%)
This chapter is dedicated to Laurie. Thanks for voting.
Before me stretched… a grim, desolate city.
A thick ceiling of rainclouds hovered high above our heads, blotting out the sun and casting a blanket of gloom over the entire city. Barren and depressing, the metallic structures that made up the morose metropolis protruded from the ocean of fissuring cobblestones like the teeth of a giant beast emerging from the depths of the earth. Worn by time and neglect, the buildings appeared to be on the verge of collapse. Even the houses, which were few and far between, were made of metal and imbued with an aura of extreme austerity.
“What is this place?” I asked as a chill ran down my spine.
“It doesn’t have an official name, but most people refer to it as The Virt.”
She nodded. “It’s short for virtual.”
I was familiar with the word, yet it seemed out of place in this bleak landscape.
“What—” I began, but Lily cut me off.
“Follow me.” She took my hand and guided me down the cobblestoned road that stretched before us. “The Virt wasn’t always this depressing,” she explained as we made our way deeper into the city. “It was once a beautiful, thriving metropolis.”
“What happened?” I asked.
“It’s complicated,” she said. “A few generations ago…”
She continued talking, but I stopped listening the moment I spotted the metallic being moving toward us. Identical to the ones I’d seen in the memory processing facility, the robot strode forward with purpose, its recently polished exoskeleton glistening in the light of the flickering streetlamps that lined the avenue. A glowing red triangle adorned its blank face, and a metallic suitcase hung from its left fist.
“What’s wrong?” asked Lily, noticing my stunned expression. Following my gaze, she stared at the robot for a few seconds before chuckling. “Oh, right. I forgot this is your first time here. Don’t worry. The robots won’t hurt us.”
I frowned. “Robots? As in more than one?”
Another soft chuckle.
“Yes,” she said. “They wander the streets, carrying supplies for all who require them.”
I eyed the robot warily, but it didn’t seem to notice us. It marched past without so much as a glance and continued on its merry way.
“That was weird,” I muttered once the bot was out of earshot.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “You’ll get used to it.”
I seriously doubted it, but I saw no point in arguing, so I stayed silent and waited for Lily to continue the story she had begun before our creepy encounter with the metallic being.
“As I was saying,” she said, “A few generations ago, a new form of technology was developed that allowed people to enter a virtual world and interact with it in a manner that was so realistic it tricked the mind into thinking it was real.” She sighed. “At first, people used it solely for entertainment purposes, but it soon became a regular part of people’s everyday lives. So much so, in fact, that people ended up spending more time in-game than they did in the real world.” Another sigh. “As technology evolved and new worlds were built, people spent more and more time within the simulations, some going as far as quitting their jobs. The economy began to fail, and the once resplendent city quickly fell into disrepair.”
She fell silent, and I was forced to find a temporary source of distraction. Focusing on the road ahead, I noticed half a dozen bots had gathered around a strange-looking vehicle. Hovering a foot or so off the ground, the flat transportation device came equipped with a dozen metallic suitcases. Taking turns, the robots retrieved a case and replaced it with the one they were carrying. Though I still had no idea what was in the cases, it was apparent the bots were resupplying.
“It’s been a long time since anyone has spent more than a few minutes in the real world,” explained Lily before I could inquire about the odd scene I had just witnessed. “Most people now spend the majority of their lives inside their MATs.”
“What’s a mat?”
“Mind-Altering Terminal,” says Lily. “They’re stasis chambers in which people’s bodies rest while their minds interact with the virtual worlds.” She sighed. “As I was saying, most people spend their entire lives inside their MATs.”
It would explain why I have yet to see a single person. But there was something else that had been bugging me.
“How about you?” I asked. “Why don’t you spend your days in a virtual world?”
“I’m not like everyone else,” she said. She hesitated for a moment before adding, “My father says spending too much time in a video game is bad for you.”
“It depends. The simulation I showed you was very basic and designed for short visits. Anything more complex requires a MAT to keep your body nourished and healthy while your mind galivants in the virtual worlds.”
“What else do MATs do?” I asked.
“They keep your muscles from atrophying, bathe you so you don’t smell and develop illnesses, and even cut your hair and trim your beard if you ask it to.”
“Sounds pretty amazing,” I muttered.
“It does,” admitted Lily, “but the downside isn’t worth it. People are now so obsessed with their virtual lives they have all but given up on their real ones. They have no jobs, no friends, and only leave their MATs to resupply.”
“Resupply?” I asked, but someone bumped into me before Lily could answer.
It was a man.
Dressed in dark, loose-fitting clothes, he appeared to be in his early twenties. His hair was neatly trimmed, and his skin pale as a corpse. His movements were slightly sluggish, yet he moved forward with surprising celerity.
“Hey!” I yelled after him. “Watch where you’re going!”
“Don’t bother,” said Lily. “He’s a Lifer.”
“A Lifer,” she repeated. “It means he spends all of his time inside his MAT. Everything he cares about—his family, his friends, his things—is inside the virtual worlds. To him, this”—she gestured as the desolate city—“is the simulation.”
I took a moment to let the revelation sink in. As sad as it was, I couldn’t help feeling somewhat jealous. Sure, everything he cared about was fake, but at least he got to live whatever kind of life he wanted.
Oh, what I wouldn’t give to spend my days in a virtual world. But that was not the destiny fate had picked for me. I was born and raised in The Slums, and hopes of a better life was something better left to others.
I watched as the man raced on. Skidding to a stop next to one of the robots, he uttered a few words that were too jumbled for me to make out. Reacting as only a being devoid of feeling or rational thought could, the bot opened the briefcase it was carrying and retrieved a small glass vial. Inside was a familiar white substance.
“Blank!” I gasped. “Is t-that a… a…”
“A memory?” asked Lily. “Yes.”
I remained frozen for a moment, allowing the bot to hand the vial to the man. Clutching it, he ran off, nearly bumping into me again.
“What just happened?” I asked. “Why did that bot give him a memory?”
“I was going to tell you,” she said, “but I wasn’t sure how.”
“Tell me what?”
“MATs require large amounts of energy to remain active, and memories are among the most potent sources of energy. Life itself is the only medium more powerful than memories, and extracting it is not only difficult but extremely illegal.” She fell silent for a moment. “I don’t understand the specifics of why memories are so powerful, but a single one is sufficient to power a MAT for an entire month.”
A heavy silence followed her revelation.
“Hold on,” I muttered, refusing to accept what my mind was telling me. “Are you saying the robots are stealing my people’s memories just so your people can spend their lives in virtual worlds?”
Lily nodded, ignoring the clear distinction I’d made between our respective cities.
I couldn’t believe it. The citizens of The Slums weren’t mere victims of thievery; they were cattle, raised for the sole purpose of providing the memories required to power the MATs. My people lived in squalor and misery while Lily’s people spent their days in digital abundance.
“This isn’t fair,” I growled once the initial shock had faded.
“I know,” agreed Lily. “Why do you think I brought you here? I’m trying to stop this heinous segregation, and I need your help.”
I didn’t know what to say, so I merely shook my head.
“I need time to process this,” I muttered.
“Take all the time you need,” said Lily. “We’re not in a hurry.”
We walked in silence for a while. Every so often, someone emerged from one of the rundown buildings and approached a robot, but they never stayed outside longer than was absolutely necessary. The more I learned about The Virt, the more I disliked it and the disastrous impact it had on the lives of the citizen of The Slums.
“Do they know they’re using stolen memories?” I eventually asked. “Do they have any idea the misery their actions are inflicting upon my people?”
Lily shook her head.
“All they care about is their virtual lives.”
“Has anyone ever tried telling them the truth?” I asked.
She nodded sadly.
“Everyone who uncovers the truth and speaks openly about it either goes missing or dies under mysterious circumstances.”
“So, you’re saying there’s nothing we can do?”
“Of course not. I never would have brought you here if I thought it was hopeless.” She gives me a broad smile. “But victory lies not in telling people the truth. In order to liberate your people and put an end to my people’s obsession with virtual worlds, we must take out the man responsible for the enslavement of our people.”
“And who is this mysterious man?”
Sadness momentarily flashed across Lily’s beautiful face, but it vanished as quickly as it had arrived.
“His name is…” she began, but her voice trailed off when something caught her eye. Focusing on it, she experienced a moment of panic. The blood drained from her face, and her hands began to shake.
“What’s wrong?” I asked. I followed her gaze, but I found nothing frightening enough to warrant such a reaction.
“We have to go,” she said. “Now.”
Before I could react, she grabbed my hand and dragged me to a dark alley. Progressing quickly, we soon reached an intersection and took a sharp right turn. We raced down a few more narrow streets before I finally had enough.
“What’s going on?” I demanded, yanking my hand from hers and skidding to a stop.
“There’s no time to explain,” she said. Grabbing my hand once more, she led me down another dozen or so back alleys. Though I never saw what was chasing us, I could tell Lily was terrified. She kept looking over her shoulder and ducking behind outcroppings. It wasn’t until we reached a dead-end that she finally skidded to a stop.
“No,” she groaned, her voice heavy with desperation. “This can’t be happening. Not now.”
“What’s wrong?” I asked. “Can’t we just go back the way we came?”
She threw me a spiteful look, but I knew the anger wasn’t directed at me.
“We can’t go back,” she said. “We must find a way…”
Her voice trailed off when a soft hum filled the air. Distant at first, it grew progressively louder. I couldn’t tell whether it was an electrical buzz, a low growl, or the sound of feet hitting the cobblestone pavement, but whatever it was, it was growing increasingly loud.
It took a while, but a large shape finally emerged from the shadows. Though difficult to make out, it advanced until the streetlamp that stood directly above us illuminated it.
Option 1: …a colossal, solitary robot.
Option 2: …a hideous, snarling beast.
Option 3: …a sleek, mysterious vehicle.
NEXT CHAPTER: Click Here to read Chapter 14.
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