The Memory Thief
Published May 2nd 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…
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.
NOTE: Click Here to read the full chapter.
Option 1: 4 votes (14.29%)
Option 2: 7 votes (25.00%)
Option 3: 17 votes (60.71%)
This chapter is dedicated to Steve. Thanks for voting.
A quick scan of my surroundings revealed I was… in a large, white room. The walls stretched high, giving way to a domed ceiling, and though there was no apparent source of light, the chamber was bathed in a soft glow.
“Where am I?” I wondered.
“You’re in Limbo,” said a familiar voice.
I turned to find Artemis standing a short distance away. She wore a white gown and her lips were curled into a smile.
“Limbo?” I asked. “What’s that?”
“It’s a safety measure,” she explained. “It protects a player’s consciousness during system malfunctions.”
“Is that what happened?” I asked. “The system malfunctioned?”
“Players are usually awakened when a glitch occurs, but something happened, something that prevented the programming from terminating the simulation.”
Could my indecision upon entering the MAT have anything to do with the malfunction? I wondered. Was my inability to choose between The Mythology Trials and The Magician’s Apprentice simulations what caused the issue? But assuming responsibility would accomplish nothing, so I kept the theory hidden.
“Why was the energy level so low?” I asked. “I thought a single memory was sufficient to power a MAT for a month.”
“It’s true,” she admitted, “but we avoid using memories whenever possible. We used what little we had to give you a taste of what Lifers experience on a daily basis.”
So, I thought, it seems I may not be responsible for my current predicament, after all.
“What now?” I asked. “How do I get out of here?”
“You don’t,” said Artemis. “You’ll remain trapped here until a new memory is inserted into the MAT.”
“How long will that take?”
“Not long. Someone is retrieving a fresh memory vial as we speak.”
A short silence settled upon us. My most pressing questions had been answered, yet countless others still remained.
“How are you here?” I asked. “Isn’t your presence draining what little energy remains?”
Artemis shook her head.
“I’m not actually here,” she said. “I’m only piggybacking off your signal.”
I frowned, totally confused.
“I’m still in the real world,” she explained. “The body you see is but a digital construct, a mere replica of my true form.”
“What…” I began, but my voice trailed off when she tried pressing her hand to my chest. Instead of making contact with my torso, the appendage went right through me, momentarily allowing us to inhabit the same space.
“Woah!” I gasped once the hand retreated.
The silver-haired woman smiled.
“You’re not real either,” she said, “but your consciousness—the thing that makes you unique—is connected to the MAT. It’s what makes the simulations seem so real.”
“What will happen to my consciousness if the MAT runs out of energy?”
“That won’t happen,” she assured me, but the slight waver in her voice told me it was a distinct possibility. I considered insisting, but I didn’t get a chance.
“Let’s not waste time on unimportant matters,” said Artemis. “What did you think of the simulations?”
I remained silent for a while before finally answering.
“It was awesome,” I said. “Until the system malfunctioned.”
Artemis nodded, as though encouraging me to elaborate.
“I can see why so many people choose to spend their entire lives inside Mind-Altering Terminals,” I explained. “But it’s wrong. They’re wasting their lives, living in a state of constant delusion.” I sighed. “And then there are the people whose memories fuel their addiction. Don’t they deserve to experience joy?”
Artemis was beaming by the time I fell silent.
“I was hoping you’d say that,” she said. “We—The Triangle of Justice—have been fighting to overthrow the corrupt system and free all who are enslaved by it, be they citizens of The Virt or The Slums. The aim is to unite both societies and form a new world where neither memory theft nor virtual reality is present.”
“How?” I asked. “How will you accomplish such a feat?”
“We’ll get to that,” she promised. “But first, you must understand the basics. Do you know who Titus is?”
I shook my head.
“He invented the MATs,” explained Artemis. “He’s also the one who discovered memories could be extracted and used as fuel.” She sighed. “He’s also the man responsible for the pitiful state of the world.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“The details aren’t important. Titus is the key to everything. His downfall will mark the end of an era. With him dead, the people will finally be free, and life will finally go back to normal.”
“Where does he live?” I asked, doing my best to ignore the excitement in Artemis’s voice when she spoke of Titus’s death.
She pointed at the ceiling. At first, I was confused, but then I remembered the MAT within which I lay was underground.
“He lives on the surface?” I asked.
She shook her head.
“Not on,” she said. “Above.”
“He home is hidden above the clouds,” she explained. “Tucked away where no one can reach it.” She smiled. “He thinks he’s safe, but he’s mistaken.”
“What do you mean?”
“We’ll get to that,” promised Artemis. “In the meantime, do you have any other questions?”
I did. Tons of them.
“Why is Titus doing all this?” I asked.
“I’m not sure,” she admitted. “Power, I guess.” She sighed. “Thousands of memories are stolen each day, yet it only takes a fraction of that to power the MATs.”
“What happens to the rest?”
“Some memories go to the robots, which require memories to remain active. A large chunk is spent on keeping Titus living in luxury. And the rest… well, no one really knows what happens to it.”
“Aren’t you curious?”
“Not really. All I care about is stopping Titus and freeing everyone.”
She was right, but I wasn’t willing to condemn Titus just yet.
“Why force people to live in The Slums?” I asked. “Why not allow them to live aboveground, in comfort and ease?”
“Not all memories are created equal,” she explained. “Painful memories are more powerful. The more traumatic it is, the more energy can be extracted from it. That’s why Titus created The Slums. He’s also responsible for the lack of supplies, the monsters that lurk in the shadows, and the constant threat from the memory thief.”
A heavy silence followed the revelation. Titus was evil—there was no denying it—but did he deserve to die because of it?
“Isn’t there a way to free the people without killing Titus?” I asked.
Artemis shook her head.
“I tried negotiating with him once. He slaughtered half my people and sentenced me to The Slums.” She shuddered. “I found my way back, but not before realizing how truly horrendous life is for those living beneath our feet. I vowed to do whatever it took to defeat Titus.”
Well, I thought, at least, now I know how she knows so much about The Slums.
“How did you escape?”
“It’s not important,” she said. “Do you have any more questions?” she added, obviously desperate for a change of subject.
“Do the citizens of The Virt know what’s going on beneath their feet?”
Artemis shook her head.
“During the early days, I tried spreading the word, but most were too busy wasting their lives inside their MATs to listen. The few who did went missing, no doubt killed or sent to The Slums.” She sighed. “After that, I kept my mouth shut, telling only those who had obvious doubts about the way of life Titus created for them.”
“What happened to them?” I asked.
“They joined me,” she explained, “creating what is now known as The Triangle of Justice.”
I nodded. But there was still something I didn’t understand.
“I get the justice part, but why a triangle? Why not a circle or a square?”
“The triangle is the most powerful shape,” explained Artemis. “It’s also Titus’s symbol. Why do you think our triangle is inverted? It’s the antithesis of everything Titus stands for.”
“Makes sen—” I began, but she cut me off.
“There’s another reason,” she explained. “And that reason is you.”
I frowned, unsure what to make of the odd comment.
“What do you mean?” I asked. “What do I have to do with any of this?”
“Everything,” she said. “My trip to The Slums changed me. Shortly after I returned, I had a vision. It foretold the arrival of a young man with a triangle on his left forearm. Brave beyond measure, this young man would lead our army to victory, freeing all who were oppressed and bringing peace to both The Slums and The Virt.”
A heavy silence followed the explanation.
“Are you saying I’m that young man?” I asked.
“Of course,” said Artemis. “You bear the mark.”
I glanced at my arm. The triangle was still there, red and somewhat swollen.
“I can’t be him,” I said, exposing my forearm. “The wound is still fresh.”
“It doesn’t matter,” said the silver-haired woman. “You bear the mark.”
I sighed. Convincing her I wasn’t who she believed me to be wouldn’t be easy, but I had to try.
“Look—” I began, but she cut me off.
“I know what you’re going to say, but you’re wrong. You may not believe it yet, but you are the one who will lead us to victory. It’s your destiny.”
I sighed. I still had my doubts, but part of me now believed I was this so-called hero. But I forgot all about that when the world suddenly started breaking apart. Piece by piece, the white room began to deteriorate, leaving behind an infinite vacuum.
“What’s happening?” I asked.
Artemis remained frozen for a moment before answering.
“The supply of energy must be running out.”
“I thought you said someone was going to get more.”
“They are.” She sighed. “Clearly, they didn’t get back in time.”
“What will happen if the energy runs out?”
“I don’t know,” she admitted. “Nothing like this has ever happened.”
“What will happen to us?”
“Not us,” said Artemis. “You.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m not really here, remember?”
Oh, right. I forgot I was talking to a hologram.
“Is there something we can do?” I asked, now more panicked than worried. Large chunks of the world are now gone, leaving only never-ending nothingness.
“There’s nothing we can do,” she said as her digital body began deteriorating.
“Wait!” I called out, but it was already too late.
Artemis was gone. And so was the rest of the world. All that remained was the patch of white flooring that stood beneath my feet. Then that too vanished, and the darkness swallowed me up.
Am I dead? I wondered. But then I began to sense things. A cool liquid. A hard, smooth surface.
I was back in the real world. Overjoyed, I bolted upright. My vision was blurry, and my lungs filled with goo, but I could make out fuzzy shapes and hear voices. I tried to speak, but all that came out was the viscous goop in which I’d been bathing for the past few minutes—or had it been hours? It took a while, but I finally managed to expulse every last drop of liquid from my lungs. Inhaling deeply, I wiped the slime from my eyes and studied my surroundings.
I was back in the small, drab chamber where I’d first laid eyes upon the MAT. Gathered around the machine were three people. The first was Artemis. The other two were the men I’d briefly seen upon my arrival. The eldest stared at me in awe, no doubt surprised to see me alive. The youngest stood a short distance away, panting heavily and holding a useless memory vial in his curled hand.
We stared at each other for a while before Artemis finally broke the silence.
“How are you?” she asked.
“Good,” I muttered. “I think.”
She chuckled. I joined in, but the laughter faded as soon as I realized I was naked.
“Could I have a little privacy?” I asked.
Artemis nodded and hurried out of the room, followed by her companions. I waited a few more seconds, then carefully stepped out of the egg-shaped receptacle. My clothes were exactly where I left them, but I didn’t reach for them. Retrieving the towel that had been placed alongside them, I began wiping the thick layer of goo that clung to my frame. It took a while, but I was finally clean enough to get dressed. Once decent, I left the MAT behind and joined Artemis and her companions in the adjacent room.
“Well?” she asked as soon as she saw me. “Have you decided?”
I sighed. The freakish expulsion from the MAT had allowed me to contemplate my options, but I still felt unprepared. Unfortunately, the time for contemplation had passed. Sighing, I reviewed my options and picked one.
And the winning option was:
Option 1: Joining The Triangle of Justice and overthrowing Titus.
Option 2: Returning to The Slums and pretending none of this ever happened.
Option 3: Finding Lily and convincing her to run away with me.
NEXT CHAPTER: Click Here to read Chapter 19.
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