The Memory Thief
Published April 11th 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…
“There’s nothing I can say that will convince you. This is a decision you must make on your own.” He gave me a few moments to think, then added, “Are you coming, or shall I tell the person who sent me you refused their invitation?”
I hesitated for a moment before answering. Sighing, I…
Option 1: …nodded.
Option 2: …shook my head.
Option 3: …punched him square in the face.
NOTE: Click Here to read the full chapter.
Option 1: 19 votes (79.17%)
Option 2: 3 votes (12.50%)
Option 3: 2 votes (8.33%)
This chapter is dedicated to Dietrich. Thanks for voting.
Sighing, I… nodded. Part of me was still worried I’d made a mistake, but the man claimed to have answers to all my questions, and I couldn’t afford to pass up such an opportunity. Still, it was with a slight sense of unease that I followed him.
“Where are we going?” I asked as we travelled across the city.
“I can’t say,” he muttered. Looking around to make sure we were alone, he motioned for me to follow and entered a narrow alley. I hesitated for a moment, then followed. The side street was narrower than I’d realized, and the ground was littered with loose cobblestones, but my guide progressed quickly, forcing me to run just to keep up.
“Are we in a hurry?” I asked when we emerged from the alley.
The man smiled and winked.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
The man ignored me and marched on.
We continued in silence for a while before my curiosity got the better of me.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“That’s not important.”
I rolled my eyes.
“It’s important to me,” I said, hoping the veiled compliment would convince him to reveal his identity, but he ignored me and marched on.
We kept going for a while before we came across an inverted triangle. Freshly-painted, the symbol’s crimson hue clashed with the grey steel of the building upon which it had been drawn.
“Can you at least tell me what this symbol means?” I ask, pausing to point at the triangle.
The man skidded to a stop and turned to face me. He was frowning, but his face was alive with disbelief.
“Y-You don’t know?”
I shook my head.
“It’s The Triangle of Justice,” explained the man. “The symbol of the resistance.”
“Resistance against what?” I asked. “The robots?”
The man frowned but didn’t answer.
“We’re wasting time,” he said. “Follow me.”
We continued our journey in silence. Every so often, a new question popped into my head, but I stashed it for later use, hoping my guide’s promise would be upheld and my many questions answered.
It took a good half hour, but we finally reached a building so forlorn it barely resembled a structure. The metal that made it up had been turned orange by rust, and large portions of it had collapsed. A brick wall was all that remained of the structure, the rest having been reduced to a heap of twisted steel.
“This way,” said the man, leading me toward the building’s sole remaining door. Opening it, he led me into the building, which was somewhat of a misnomer given the fact that open space now stood all around us. But the collapse of the structure proved irrelevant when my guide led me down a series of metallic steps.
Progressing carefully to avoid the detritus that litters the steps, we travelled deeper and deeper underground, pausing just long enough for the man to retrieve a hidden flashlight. Using it to illuminate the path ahead, he led me deeper and deeper until the light of day had all but faded.
“Where are we going?” I ask when we reached the bottom of the stairs and found a gaping hole in the concrete wall that stood before us. Beyond it lay a makeshift tunnel. Barely big enough to allow us to stand, the passage was bathed in darkness. Every now and then, a torch jutted from the walls, lighting up the roots and stones that protruded from the earth, but they were few and far between.
“Follow me,” said the man. Taking the lead, he guided me deeper into the earth, the sounds of our steps muffled by the soft soil that stood beneath our feet. My heart had begun to race, and I was having serious second thoughts about following this strange man, but I’d come too far to turn back, so I kept following him.
It took a while, but we finally reached the end of the tunnel. Beyond it stood a vast cavern the likes of which I’d never seen. Though smaller than The Slums, the underground chamber was big enough to house dozens of improvised dwellings. Built using scraps, the structures were small and appeared on the verge of collapse, yet they were well-lit, and the people who inhabited them seemed happy. Dressed in the same clothes as the people I’d seen in The Virt, the citizens of the shantytown went about their lives, unbothered by our sudden appearance.
“What is this place?” I asked as we travelled across the underground village.
“We call it The Sub,” said my guide, surprising me with an answer. “It’s not much, but it’s home.”
“Why do you live here?” I inquired, but the man went back to ignoring me, guiding me across the city until we reached The Sub’s central structure. Bigger than the rest, it possessed both a door and the occasional window, something all adjacent buildings lacked.
“You’re expected,” said my guide as he came to a stop in front of the door. “I’ll be out here if you need me.”
I nodded, tentatively approached the door, and knocked. Nothing happened for a few seconds, then a woman’s voice reached my ears.
I glanced at my guide. He gave me an encouraging smile and motioned for me to enter. I smiled weakly, opened the door and entered.
The inside of the building was just as drab as the outside, if not more. A few pieces of furniture—an old couch, a three-legged table, and a makeshift bed—made up the room’s only fixtures. Gathered around the table were three people. The first was a middle-aged woman with silver hair and a warm smile. The other two were men. One was young, and the other old. Both had short, cropped hair and stern faces.
“Who are you?” asked the woman. Her voice was soft, kind.
“My name is Spyder,” I said. “The man who led me here said I was expected.”
The two men frowned, but the woman smiled.
“May I see your arm?” she asked.
I held out my left arm. The men gasped in awe, the younger of the two nearly collapsing as a result of the triangle that adorned it. The woman merely studied the symbol and broadened her smile.
“Hank. Ken,” she said, turning to her companions. “Please leave us. This young man and I have a lot to discuss.”
The men remained frozen for a moment before nodding. Pushing past me, they slipped out the door and shut it behind them, leaving me alone with the yet unnamed woman.
“I know this must be very confusing,” she said, smiling warmly, “and I promise to answer all of your questions. But first, I have one question of my own.”
I nod, indicating I’m willing to hear it.
“Where did you grow up?”
“I thought so,” she said. “Before we begin, there’s something I must show you.”
She motioned for me to follow her and headed toward a breach in the wall. Though devoid of a door, the hole had clearly been designed to act as a doorway. Beyond the makeshift doorway lay a small chamber at the centre of which stood a strange device.
Roughly the size of a coffin, the contraption was shaped like a flattened egg and was entirely devoid of markings. Whiter than the whitest frost crystal I’d ever seen, the artificial egg stood atop its flat bottom, the faint lines that accompanied its perimeter the sole indication the contraption could be opened.
“What is it?” I asked, eyeing the odd machine.
“It’s a MAT,” said the woman. “Do you know what that is?”
I nodded, though this was nothing like the brutish device I’d pictured when Lily first spoke of Mind-Altering Terminals. But, as fascinating as this all was, I had far more pressing concerns to address.
“Why am I here?” I asked, suddenly annoyed by all the secrecy. “Who are you? What do you want from me? Why do you live underground? How—”
The woman interrupted me with a placating gesture.
“I apologize,” she said. “My name is Artemis, and I’m the leader of The Triangle of Justice.”
I glance at my wrist.
“What is The Triangle of Justice?”
Artemis smiles warmly.
“We’re a coalition of people who chose to reclaim their freedom,” she said. “We’re trying to put an end to the memory theft and free the citizens of The Virt from their addiction to virtual reality.” She paused. “And we need your help.”
“Why me? I’m just a kid from The Slums.”
“That’s exactly why you’re the perfect person to help us,” she said. “You’ve suffered the pain of memory loss. And now, you’re about to experience the bliss of virtual reality.”
“I’ve already experienced it,” I said, describing my day of virtual relaxation with Lily.
“That’s ancient technology. MATs are way more immersive and far more addictive. It takes mere minutes—sometimes less—before you forget about your real life. And experiencing it first hand will show you just how evil this technology truly is.”
I hesitated, torn between my love of adventure and my fear of the unknown.
“Is it safe?” I asked.
“It takes prolonged exposure to cause damage,” she said. “And your trip will be short.”
I still had doubts—after all, I barely knew Artemis, and I had no way of knowing whether her intentions were noble—but the prospect of exploring a virtual world was too enticing an opportunity to pass up.
“Okay,” I said, strolling not to smile. “I’m in.”
Artemis beamed. Motioning for me to step aside, she approached the MAT and pressed her hand to it. Nothing happened for a few seconds, then the top half of the egg split in half and opened, revealing a pool of clear, viscous liquid.
“What is that?” I asked, eyeing the fluid nervously.
“Virt-Gel,” explains Artemis. “It produces electrical impulses that are interpreted by your nerve endings, creating a symbiosis effect between your body and the virtual world.”
I didn’t understand most of what she said, but it didn’t matter.
“So,” I asked. “How does it work? I just get in?”
“Yes, but you must first remove your clothes.
“E-Excuse me?” I gasped, nearly choking.
“Clothes interfere with the immersion process, causing interruptions that render the experience less than enjoyable.” She smiled. “Don’t worry. I’ll give you some privacy. Simply remove your clothes and enter the MAT. The machine will do the rest.”
“Good luck,” she said. Moments later, she was gone, and I was beginning to undress. It didn’t take long before I was completely naked. Feeling exposed and vulnerable, I carefully climbed into the pod and lay down. The gel was cool, but not overly cold, yet a shiver ran down my spine when the lid closed, sealing me in. Panic momentarily gained me, but I manage to chase it away with a few deep breaths. But the worry came rushing back when the level of Virt-Gel suddenly began rising.
“What the blank!” I muttered. I felt around, hoping to locate the input valves but found nothing. Now more panicked than worried, I tried to pry the lid open, but it wouldn’t budge.
I was trapped.
I kept struggling, but it quickly became evident escaping the MAT would be impossible. And the gel was rising quickly, covering every inch of my frame with goo and making it impossible for me to do anything but flop around as more and more of the liquid poured into my pod.
“HELP!” I yelled, hoping Artemis would hear and come save me, but the outburst felt dull and subdued. There was no way she heard me.
“Blank!” I swore. Moments later, the last few pockets of air were expulsed from the chamber, and I was left fully submerged. I thrashed around for a while until the exertion caused what little oxygen remained within my lungs to get absorbed. Moments later, I was struggling not to breathe.
I held out for as long as I could, but the urge to inhale eventually overcame my desire to survive, and I inhaled deeply. The Virt-Gel poured down my throat and filled my lungs. I waited for my body to react, but it behaved as though I’d inhaled a large gulp of air and began extracting the oxygen contained within the liquid and pumping it into my blood.
That’s odd, I thought. But I wasn’t about to let the unexpected turn of events distract me from my goal. Breathing deeply, I managed to calm my racing heart and closed my eyes, letting the Virt-Gel do its work and waited for something to happen.
It took a while, but a holographic display eventually appeared before my mind’s eye. Simple but effective, the virtual display consisted of a single button.
I stared at it for a while before reaching out with my virtual hand—I could still feel my real hand pressed against the bottom of the pod—and pressing the button. Vanishing in a flash, it was replaced with a brief message inviting me to pick my favourite simulations from the list that would soon appear. Moments later, the notice faded and was replaced by a list of potential simulations. Each consisted of a title, a short, looping video, and a button that read “Launch Simulation.” Trembling with excitement, I went through the list and selected all options that caught my eye. I then went through a second time and removed all but the three that seemed like the most fun. I studied each in turn before finally picking one. Smiling broadly, I reached forward and pressed the button that read…
Option 1: …“Launch The Mythology Trials Simulation.”
Option 2: …“Launch The Magician’s Apprentice Simulation.”
Option 3: …“Launch The Dinosaur Race Simulation.”
NEXT CHAPTER: Click Here to read Chapter 16.
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