The Memory Thief
Published April 25th 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 were two buttons, each one displaying an entirely different scenario. I read each one in turn and carefully considered my options.
Pick new simulation.
I was tempted to exit the MAT and demand Artemis answer all of my questions, yet the prospect of entering another simulation was too enticing to ignore. I weighed both options carefully before finally making up my mind. Confident I’d made the right choice, I reached out…
Option 1: …and pressed the button that read “Exit M.A.T.”
Option 2: …and pressed the button that read “Pick new simulation.”
Option 3: …but the system malfunctioned before I got a chance to press a button.
NOTE: Click Here to read the full chapter.
Option 1: 8 votes (33.33%)
Option 2: 2 votes (8.33%)
Option 3: 14 votes (58.34%)
This chapter is dedicated to Mark. Thanks for voting.
Confident I’d made the right choice, I reached out… but the system malfunctioned before I got a chance to press a button.
It started with a flicker but quickly escalated. Piece by piece, the holographic buttons flickered out of existence, as though eaten by some invisible parasite. Soon, only a few fragments remained. Then, those also vanished, and I was left standing alone in complete oblivion.
I looked around, but all I saw was endless nothingness.
“Hello?” I called out. I couldn’t tell whether I was speaking or thinking the words, but it didn’t really matter.
I was alone.
A shiver ran up my spine, a perfect match to the rising level of dread that grew within me. But there was more than just fear. It started with a tingle but quickly grew. Soon, it felt like my entire body was vibrating.
“W-What’s happening?” I asked/wondered. But that was all I had time for before the odd sensation vanished, replaced by another, far more troubling one.
Gravity had been altered. Instead of being pulled downward, the world was pressing in around me, threatening to crush me with its invisible embrace.
“Help!” I cried out, but the outburst never reached my ears. The pressure had now grown so intense I could no longer breathe. My bones felt as though they were about to snap, and my heart was beating so hard I feared it would explode.
Am I going to die? I wondered.
That was my final thought before the pressure released me, exploding outward like a tidal wave. Not only was my digital body freed, but the explosion had torn away the veil of emptiness that surrounded me, revealing the world that lay beyond.
The landscape was unlike any I had ever seen. The plants were foreign, and so were the inhabitants. Even the sun was different.
It was red. Bright red.
Where am I? I wondered.
I continued studying my surroundings for a while before noticing the beings that inhabited this strange world weren’t as odd as they once seemed. Sure, they looked nothing like any human I’d ever seen, but they behaved in much the same manner.
Gathered in two factions, the beings faced each other, grim expressions plastered across their alien faces. The first group was made up of hundreds of bipeds. Deep blue, they possessed two pairs of eyes and four arms. Their legs were stout and powerful, and long, tentacle-like strands of hair cascaded down their bare shoulders. Neither male nor female, the beings were naked, yet none seemed bothered by the ambient chilliness.
The second group was more beast than man. Standing on all fours, they looked like a cross between the scaled dogs I’d encountered back in The Slums and the teardrop-shaped vehicle I’d used to travel to the memory-processing facility. Massive and terrifying, the monstrosities were a freakish amalgamation of flesh and mechanical parts. Equipped with massive jaws and razor-sharp claws, they stood at attention, as though waiting for some sort of signal.
What’s happening? I wondered. But that’s as far as I got before a distant explosion shook the earth. Nothing happened for a few seconds, then both armies charged forward.
The clash was awe-inspiring. The monsters bore into the mass of aliens and tore them to shreds. But the bipeds weren’t helpless. Retaliating with the weapons I only now realized they possessed, they mowed down the mutated beasts in mere seconds.
But the battle was far from won.
Two more factions emerged from the surrounding vegetation and raced toward the aliens. Many were blasted into oblivion, but most of the reinforcements reached their targets, and dozens of bipeds fell in the first few seconds of the skirmish.
I watched in a mixture of awe and horror for a while before I realized something.
I was back in a simulation. Though obvious, the oddness of the events leading to the revelation had delayed its arrival. But now that it was here, I felt safe. Of course, that was the very moment one of the monsters noticed me.
Skidding to a stop, the beast growled angrily and began stalking toward me. Though I suspected in-simulation deaths were impossible, I wasn’t planning on sticking around to find out.
I ran, leaving both the battle and the sense of safety I once felt behind. Racing through the alien forest, I did my best to stay ahead of my angry pursuer. It wasn’t easy, but I somehow manage to lose it. Or so I thought until the beast emerged from a wall of leaves and slammed into me.
The impact was so jarring it expulsed both the air from my lungs and the courage from my body. Flat on my back, I watched as the monster crept forward. It was even uglier from up close, and the urge to close my eyes was strong, but I resisted it.
Just when all hope seemed lost, something unexpected happened.
The world blinked into inexistence. Actually, that’s not entirely true. The alien world vanished, but another, far more perplexing one took its place.
The new landscape was that of a busy city. But the metropolis was unlike any I had ever seen. The streets were hard and crackled, and pale strips of uniform material lined them. Beyond that towered buildings so tall they seemed on the verge of collapse. Made of metal and glass, the structures were alive with signs and lights of all shapes and sizes. Giant screens showcased short, punchy videos, intercut by the occasional “Breaking News” segment. It was so overwhelming I had to close my eyes. But the sense of relief was short-lived.
“Hey,” said a deep voice as something—or someone—bumped into me. “Watch where you’re going.” Struggling to maintain my balance, I opened my eyes and looked around. The bands of pale grey material I’d noticed earlier overflowed with people. Their clothes yelled at me with their boldness, and their haircuts were both stylish and ridiculous. Some wore hats. Others sported small, framed panes of glass on their noses. A few even had pictures drawn on their skin. But the most overpowering thing of all was the smell that accompanied the crowd.
It was a blend of sweat, resentment, and sadness. There was also something else—something horrid—that made the mere act of breathing difficult. Overwhelmed by it, I staggered backward and fell off the edge of the pale strip.
A loud, high-pitched sound blared, and the squealing of rubber filled the air. Panicked, I turned just in time to see a strange vehicle screech to a sudden halt. Square and dark, the car glistened in the sunlight. Inside was an angry-looking man.
“Hey!” he yelled, his voice muffled by the glass. “Get off the road!”
I stared at him for a moment before something caught my eye. Focusing on it, I realized dozens of vehicles were speeding along the street. They varied in size, shape, and colour, yet they were all ugly and loud. Not to mention stinky. Overwhelmed by the stench, I bent over and threw up. At least, I would have had the world not suddenly changed.
The busy cityscape gave way to vegetation. Calm and serene, the landscape reminded me of the simulation Lily had tricked me into entering. Further scrutiny revealed I was seated in a canoe, floating lazily down a river. Wide but calm, the body of water crystalline. The mere sight of it was enough to soothe me.
What the blank is happening? I wondered as I drifted along. Clearly, I was jumping from simulation to simulation, yet there was no way of knowing why such a thing was happening. Had something gone wrong? Was I doomed to a lifetime of drifting through the digital worlds contained within the MAT? Since no answer presented itself, I chose to make the most of this period of rest. But, no sooner had I decided this than I saw it.
It stood a short distance away, spanning the entire width of the river. Speaking of which, the current had now grown quite agitated, and the canoe was now being tossed around violently. I scanned the inside of the boat, but there were neither rows nor floating devices. Sighing, I did the only thing I could think of.
I held on and waited for the end to come.
It didn’t take long. One second, I was struggling to hold on; the next, I was being thrown free of the canoe. Gravity slammed into me and dragged me toward the frothy water, but my momentum carried me beyond the waterfall’s edge before that could happen.
Screaming in terror, I plummeted toward the earth. I couldn’t tell how high I was, but there was no way I would survive such a fall. But, just when all hope seemed lost, the world changed once more.
I lay on a flat surface, breathing heavily. My heart felt as though it was going to explode, yet I had never felt so grateful. But the sense of relief faded when the world changed again. And again. And again.
At first, the jumps between the various simulations terrified me, but I soon grew to accept them. Each new transition occurred more quickly than the last, and a sense of foreboding soon began to creep into me. Though I had no proof, I became convinced this strange journey would end with my death.
I closed my eyes and waited for the end to come. Simulations blinked in and out of existence, the change in ambient temperature the only indication I had entered a new world. My heart had slowed considerably, and I was no longer terrified, yet I sensed the end was near.
It took a while, but the simulations finally receded, taking with them the sense of unease that had plagued the last few minutes of my life. Hesitant, I opened my eyes and looked around.
It was over.
I breathed a sigh of relief and sat up. A quick scan of my surroundings revealed I was…
Option 1: …back at the main menu.
Option 2: …back in the real world.
Option 3: …in a large, white room.
NEXT CHAPTER: Click Here to read Chapter 18.
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