The Memory Thief
Published May 16th 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…
“Do you think it’s safe to go back?” I asked, but the earth began shaking before Artemis could answer. Moments later, the beast surfaced, its gargantuan frame blocking the one and only exit.
We were trapped, and the narwhal knew it. It stared at us with its unblinking eyes, daring us to attempt an escape. Nothing happened for a while, then the beast shuddered softly and…
Option 1: …attacked.
Option 2: …retreated.
Option 3: …exploded.
NOTE: Click Here to read the full chapter.
Option 1: 5 votes (18.52%)
Option 2: 10 votes (37.04%)
Option 3: 12 votes (44.44%)
This chapter is dedicated to Imginarysaminc. Thanks for voting.
Nothing happened for a while, then the beast shuddered softly and… exploded.
It was such an unexpected turn of events I didn’t have time to react. I just stood there and watched at the narwhal was ripped to shreds by some unknown force. Twisted metal sheets and cogs of all shapes and sizes filled the air. A particularly vicious-looking piece of shrapnel came flying toward me, moving so fast I couldn’t quite make it out. All I knew was that it was headed straight for me.
I willed my body to move, but the cocoon of stupor kept me from reacting in time. One second, the projectile, which looked suspiciously like the beast’s tusk, was flying toward me; the next, it was biting into my flesh. At first, I thought I was dead, but the pain was negligible. Then, I noticed myself moving sideways and realized Artemis had pushed me out of the way.
I’ll never forget what happened next.
I only caught glimpses of Artemis’s face, but the look of sheer horror that adorned it told me her quick reflexes had done more than save my life. It had put hers in extreme peril. I couldn’t tell how bad the damage was, but one thing was for sure.
Artemis had sacrificed herself to save me.
A piece of shrapnel hit me and finished what Artemis had begun. Groaning in pain, I crumbled to the floor and did my best to protect myself as narwhal fragments rained down upon me. I couldn’t tell which way was up or down because the assault seemed to be coming from all directions, but I could tell the beating I was incurring was but a pale imitation of the pain Artemis must have been in. I was so focused on her wellbeing that I didn’t realize I was scrambling to my feet until I was upright. The air was still thick with smoke and falling shrapnel, but the brunt of the assault had passed, and it was with a sense of near-total safety that I scanned my surroundings in search of my saviour.
It took me a while to spot her. Not only was the air heavy with dust, but the impact of the blow sustained as a result of her selfless act had sent the silver-haired woman flying across the room. It wasn’t until I noticed the shape pinned against a nearby stack of wooden crates that I finally spotted her.
She was in bad shape. Not only was the narwhal’s oversized tusk buried deep in her abdomen, but a large puddle of blood had formed by her feet. Clearly, she didn’t have long to live.
“Artemis,” I croaked as I shuffled forward.
Her eyes were open wide, and she was looking straight at me, but there was no sign of recognition. Only fear.
“W-What hap…” she began, but her voice trailed off before she could finish.
“D-Don’t speak,” I whispered. “Save your strength.”
She somehow managed to shake her head.
“It’s too late,” she said. Her eyes focused on me, and a faint smile curled her lips. “I’m going to die.”
I wanted to deny it, but I couldn’t. Just like I couldn’t deny the fact that I was responsible for her imminent death.
“I’m s-sorry,” I croaked. Tears had begun streaming down my cheeks, drawing lines across my grime-stained face, and my legs were so weak I could barely stand.
Artemis smiled again, this time more convincingly.
“It’s not your fault,” she said. “I did what I had to, and I don’t regret it.”
I tried to speak, but no words came out.
“I always knew this is how it would end,” she continued. “I just didn’t realize how crucial my sacrifice would be to the success of our mission.”
I frowned, momentarily forgetting about the sorrow that filled me.
“Crucial?” I asked.
She nodded, her movements now so subtle they were nearly imperceptible.
“I need you to promise me something,” she muttered, her voice so soft I could barely make out the words.
I stepped closer and waited. It took a few seconds, but she finally uttered what I assumed would be her final words.
“Stop Titus… no matter… the… c-cost.”
I remained frozen for a moment before shaking my head.
“I c-can’t,” I muttered. “I’m not a hero.”
Her eyes narrowed, and in a surprising spurt of energy, she reached out and pulled me close.
“Yes, you are!” she said, her voice now so forceful speckles of blood peppered my face. “Promise me you’ll take down Titus. Promise me. P-Pro… Pro.. P…”
With a final exhale, her body went limp and what little air remained in her lungs slowly drifted out, producing a sickening death rattle that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
I stared at her, half-expecting her to jerk awake and start speaking once more, but the stillness of her frame dispelled such beliefs. The flow of blood had ceased, and the slight tremors that once accompanied her were gone.
She was dead.
I remained silent for the longest time, unsure of what to do. Part of me wanted to run away, find the nearest robot and convince it to erase my memories. Another insisted the right thing to do was promise to do as she had asked. Yet another believed the only solution was to put an end to my own life, claiming it was the only way to restore the cosmic balance. But, in the end, they were mere thoughts, foolish in their belief that I would listen to them.
I’m not sure how long I stood there, staring at Artemis’s corpse, but it felt like an eternity. Finally, the distant sound of voices drew my attention away from the woman’s still frame. Turning, I focused on the cave’s entrance just as a half-dozen men came barreling out of it. Most were unknown to me, but one seemed familiar. There was something about the way he carried himself that reminded me of something—or someone—but it wasn’t until he had crossed the entirety of the cave that I finally understood why.
It was the same young man I’d met during my first interaction with Artemis. I had yet to learn his name, but it was of little importance now.
“What happened?” he asked.
I didn’t answer. I simply stared at the strange, tube-like device that was clasped in his hands. Though I had never seen anything like it, I could tell it was some sort of weapon. The fact that faint smoke tendrils rose from it told me it had just been fired. Given the recent explosion, it was safe to assume the nameless man was responsible for destroying the narwhal.
That means I’m not responsible for Artemis’s death, I realized, but I instantly regretted the thought. A woman had just died, and all I cared about was assuaging my guilty conscience. Not only was it a reprehensible thing to do, but the reasoning behind it was flawed. The man holding the gun may have fired the shot, but it was my inability to react in time that had caused Artemis to sacrifice her life to save me. Had my reflexes been better, she would still be alive.
The man asked a few more questions before finally giving up. Moving toward Artemis, he dropped the weapon and sunk to his knees. I didn’t know who the silver-haired woman was to him, but I could tell he cared deeply about her. This, more than anything, was what caused me to do what I did next.
The right thing to do would have been to honour Artemis’s wishes and lead The Triangle of Justice against Titus, defeating him and liberating everyone that had suffered as a result of his selfish behaviour. But what I did was far more cowardly.
I’m not sure why I did it, or even where I was going, but I ran as I had never run before. My legs were still weak from the recent ordeal, yet I pushed through the pain and exhaustion, gaining more speed and resolve with each new step. I heard the young man call my name, but I ignored him and ran on.
And I kept running. And running. And running.
I’m not entirely sure how it happened, but I eventually ended up in The Virt. The once-imposing city now seemed like the clawed fingers of a giant beast, closing in around me. Lost, confused, and lonely, I kept running. More than once, I came across a robot, but the metallic beings were too busy dispensing the memories so many innocents had suffered to create to bother trying to intercept me. I also spotted a few dazed citizens, staggering toward their next fix. Seeing them so oblivious made me feel even worse for running away.
But what else could I have done? I wondered as I slowed to a stop and, panting heavily, leaned against a wall for support. Artemis died because of me, and agreeing to help The Triangle of Justice would mean having to watch countless others perish. As desperate as I was to see Titus punished for the crimes he had committed, I couldn’t bear the thought of anyone else dying because of me. But what was the alternative?
I can’t run away, I realized. As tempted as I was to return to The Slums and pretend like none of this ever happened, I knew it wasn’t a viable option. Or was it?
With Artemis dead and me gone, The Triangle of Justice would be powerless against Titus. They would remain hidden, safely tucked away beneath the city that had birthed them. While this meant letting Titus win and maintaining the status quo, it would spare countless lives. Not to mention the fact that it would alleviate the need for me to take decisive action. But could I live with the knowledge that I’d passed up what may well be my one and only shot at overthrowing Titus?
Defeated and confused, I slid to the ground and buried my face in my palms. I’m not sure if I cried, but it sure felt like it.
I don’t know how long I stayed that way, but a familiar sound eventually shattered the cocoon of misery that enveloped me. Ignoring the buzzing sound that filled my ears, I looked up just as a dark, sleek vehicle floated to a halt before me.
My heart leapt at the sight of the hovercar, and an image of Lily’s beautiful face appeared before my mind’s eye. It felt like ages since she had abandoned me, yet it had been mere hours—I think. Moving slowly because of the stupor that still plagued my muscles, I pried myself off the ground and carefully approached the vehicle. The rear door swung open just as I reached it. Though the inside of the vehicle was dark, I could still make out the young woman seated within it.
It was Lily.
“Hey,” she said, her tone so casual it sounded like an insult to my ears. How could she be so calm when a woman had just died?
I didn’t answer. I just stood there, staring at her. This went on for a while before her brow furrowed, and the smile that adorned her beautiful lips evaporated.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
I didn’t have the strength to answer, so I distracted her with a question.
“Where have you been?”
“It’s complicated,” she said. “Why don’t you join me? I’ll explain everything.”
I hesitated. Not because I didn’t crave the feel Lily’s soft skin against mine, but rather because I had just realized that I had come to a crossroads. Multiple choices were being offered to me, and picking one would mean giving up on the others. But a choice had to be made, and delaying things would only make it worse.
I considered each option carefully before finally picking one. Though I was still plagued with doubts, my mind was now made up. I would…
Option 1: …follow my heart and go with Lily.
Option 2: …honour Artemis’s memory and help The Triangle of Justice overthrow Titus.
Option 3: …return to The Slums and keep anyone else from dying because of me.
NEXT CHAPTER: Click Here to read Chapter 21.
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