The Memory Thief
Published May 23rd 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…
“Why don’t you join me?” asked Lily. “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.
NOTE: Click Here to read the full chapter.
Option 1: 4 votes (14.29%)
Option 2: 24 votes (85.71%)
Option 3: 0 votes (0.00%)
This chapter is dedicated to Rene (AKA Lolly Dipstick). Thanks for voting.
I would… honour Artemis’s memory and help The Triangle of Justice overthrow Titus.
I stared at Lily. She was so beautiful, and the sight of her outstretched hand tugged at my heartstrings, but my mind was made up.
“I’m sorry,” I said, taking a step back. “I can’t go with you.”
She frowned, but her confusion soon gave way to dismay.
“Why not?” she asked.
I didn’t answer. I just stood there and stared at her. Part of me felt guilty for rebuking her invitation, yet she had done far worse to me in the past. Not only had she dragged me away from The Cluster—the closest thing I had to a family—but she tricked me into thinking the surface of the planet was paradisiacal. Then, just as I was beginning to grow comfortable with my new surroundings, she vanished without so much as an explanation.
Can I trust her? I wondered.
She claimed her sole purpose was to liberate those enslaved by the society Titus had created, yet she shared only whatever information was required for me to comply with her wishes. For all I knew, she was working with Titus.
No way, I thought. My former self would never have insisted I find her if there was even the slightest chance she was working with Titus.
But that didn’t mean I had to drop everything for her. Artemis had sacrificed herself to save me, and I couldn’t sully her good name by turning my back on The Triangle of Justice.
“I’m sorry,” I muttered. I glanced at Lily one last time, then turned and walked away.
She called after me, but I didn’t turn around. I just kept walking until I rounded the corner. Now out of sight, I slowed to a halt and leaned against the wall, my hands shaking uncontrollably.
What have I done? I wondered. I abandoned my only ally, turned my back on the closest thing I had to a friend. And for what? So I can play hero and assuage my guilty conscience.
But, deep down, I knew it was my fear talking. Titus was a powerful man, and The Triangle of Justice had an army at their disposal. If anyone could overthrow him, it was them. But they couldn’t do it without me.
Clenching both my jaw, I pushed away from the wall and squared my shoulders. Head held high, I turned my back to the alley from whence I’d come and marched forward, but the sound of approaching footsteps reached me before I could take more than a few steps. Frowning, I turned to find an unexpected scene.
Lily was running toward me, a broad smile curling her lips.
My heart exploded with joy at the sight of her beautiful face, but I refused to let her presence erode my resolve.
“I haven’t changed my mind,” I said as she skidded to a halt before me. “I can’t go with you.”
Her smile remained unbroken.
“I know,” she said. “That’s why I’m going with you.”
I faltered, taken aback by the unexpected turn of events. Should I allow her to accompany me, or should I protect the sanctity of The Sub? Part of me worried revealing its location would be a mistake, but Lily’s presence could well mean the difference between success and defeat.
“Fine,” I said in a tone I hoped didn’t betray my excitement. “You can come with me.”
“Great,” said Lily. Pushing past me, she strode ahead of me with the confidence of a woman three times her age.
“Where are you going?” I called after her.
“No clue,” she answered.
I watched her go for a moment before racing in pursuit. A half-smile curled her lips when I caught up to her, but it faded as soon as we reached a fork in the road.
“Which way?” she asked.
I shrugged. In my hurry to leave, I’d failed to realize I had no idea how to return to The Sub. Or so I thought until I realized I had travelled there once before.
“Do you know where the giant statue of Titus is?” I asked.
“This way.” She grabbed my hand and led me down the left intersection. I briefly considered asking her to relinquish control of my arm, but I quickly dispelled the notion when I realized just how much I enjoyed the caress of her soft skin.
She may have been a manipulator, but she was also the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen, and I would have been a fool to ask for my hand back. Still, it was with a growing sense of unease that I allowed her to lead me across The Virt.
The trip didn’t last long. Less than five minutes after our reconciliation, we were on our way to The Sub. We travelled in silence for a while before my curiosity finally got the better of me.
“Where were you?” I asked. “And whose car was that?”
“It’s a long, complicated story.”
“We’ve got time.”
She didn’t seem pleased with my response, but she nodded and smiled.
“Very well,” she said. “I’ll explain everything, but only if you agree to do the same.”
I nodded, and her grin broadened.
“Why don’t you go first?”
I could tell she was only trying to delay things, but I didn’t mind. Soon, we’d be deep underground, and escaping would be impossible. Sooner or later, she’d have to tell me the truth.
“Fine,” I said. “It began shortly after you left in that mysterious car…”
I spent the next hour or so telling her what had happened. More than once, I got so lost in the story that I took a wrong turn, but I always managed to find my way back. I was moments away from telling her about the narwhal attack and Artemis’s death when we reached the forlorn building within which the entrance to The Sub stood. We progressed in silence for a while, but I resumed the storytelling when we reached the earthen tunnel that lay beneath it.
“…and that’s how I ended up back in The Virt,” I concluded shortly before we reached The Sub. “The rest, you already know.”
Lily remained silent for a while. When she finally spoke, she sounded impressed.
“You were very brave,” she said. Coming from anyone else, it would have sounded insincere, but something about the way she spoke the words made me believe her. Just like I trusted in the veracity of the condolences that followed.
“Thanks,” I muttered.
We travelled in silence for a while. I was about to ask her to share her own story when we emerged from the tunnel. I briefly considered delaying our journey, but I suspected the tale Lily had to share was a long one. Still, it was with a slight sense of disappointment that I shelved the talk for a later date.
“This is The Sub?” asked Lily.
“I thought it would be nicer,” she said.
It was a cold, emotionless comment that left me feeling bitter. But then I noticed the pitiful state of the makeshift village and realized my companion’s statement was entirely justified.
The narwhal attack had left the village in ruins, and only half of the structures had survived. The citizens were hard at work rebuilding, but it would be days—if not weeks—before it was back to normal.
“Come on,” I said, leading Lily across the subterranean village. Every now and then, someone would stop and stare at us. At first, I thought they were looking at Lily, but then I realized they were, in fact, gawking at me. Clearly, word of my arrival had spread.
We continued for a while before I realized Artemis’s death had left a gaping hole in the community. Not only had she been their leader, but she’d been their spiritual mentor. With her gone, who would take charge?
“Why not you?” asked Lily when I voiced my concerns.
“I’m not leadership material.”
“Are you sure?”
I was… until now.
What if she was right? What if I was expected to lead The Triangle of Justice? Could I shoulder such responsibility? Could I succeed where Artemis had failed? I had vowed to do whatever it took to free my enslaved brethren, but now that the moment had finally arrived for me to take charge, all I could think about was how unprepared I was. Luckily, the burden of responsibility was lifted from my shoulders when we reached The Sub’s central structure.
Only half of the edifice now remained, but the group of men and women gathered within the lingering half of the building proved that Artemis’s passing had only slightly affected the sanctity of leadership. Two of the men gathered within the ravaged dwelling were familiar to me, but the rest were foreign.
“What are you doing here?” asked the obvious leader of the group. His hair was an ocean of white with the occasional speckle of black, and his face was marred with deep wrinkles. But, as old as he was, he bore a striking resemblance to the young man standing to his immediate right. Clearly, the two were related, a fact I’d failed to take into account during our previous encounters.
“I’m here to help,” I answered.
The old man studied me for a while before answering.
“Glad to have you on board,” he said. “My name is Apollo. This is my son Prometheus.”
I gave the young man a solemn nod. It was our first real encounter since he’d shot the narwhal and unwittingly forced Artemis to sacrifice herself to save me, and I felt bad for running out on him. He returned my nod with a half-hearted smile and averted his gaze, no doubt feeling responsible for what had happened.
“This is Lily,” I said, motioning to my beautiful friend. “She’s here to help.”
Apollo looked Lily up and down, snorted and returned to his discussion.
“As I was saying,” he said, his tone forceful and authoritarian, “we must strike while the memory of Artemis’s death is still fresh in people’s minds. We must use their pain and sadness to our advantage.” He sneered in anticipation of the violence to come. “Soon, Titus will be dead, and we can finally claim what is rightfully ours.”
A heavy silence followed the revelation. Not everyone was comfortable with the concept of using grief as fuel for war, but no one dared speak. When Prometheus finally did shatter the silence, his question was tentative at best.
“When do we attack?” he asked.
“Tomorrow at dawn.”
Prometheus’s eyes grew wide.
“A-Are you sure it’s wise?” he asked.
Apollo glared at his son.
“Titus is weak,” he said. “He rules through fear and force because he’s too much of a coward to be a real leader. The citizens of The Virt deserve a true leader. Someone who can make the hard decisions. Someone who isn’t afraid to inflict pain if the situation requires it.” He smiled. “They deserve someone like me.”
Apollo was nothing like Artemis. He was angry, controlling, and power-hungry.
“I think we should wait,” I said, speaking before my mind could warn me against the dangers of standing up to Apollo. “It’s what Artemis would have wanted.”
The white-haired man glared at me.
“Artemis is dead,” he growled. “As for you, you’re just a figurehead. Your job is to look pretty and convince everyone that your presence will somehow ensure our victory.” He scoffed. “Now shut up and let the grown-ups work.”
I winced, unaccustomed to such a powerful verbal assault. By the time it occurred to me to retaliate, Apollo was deep in conversation with the group of men and women gathered around him. His son gave me an apologetic look and mouthed the words “I’m sorry,” but that was the extent of his rebuke. Sighing, I turned my attention to Lily.
She was standing perfectly erect, hands clenched and eyes narrowed. Her gaze was fixed upon Apollo, and I could tell by the intensity of her gaze she despised him.
“Don’t say anything stupid,” I whispered, but it was already too late.
“Who the hell do you think you are?” she asked, stepping forward with her fists on her hips and her head held high. “You’re just an insecure man trying to make up for his inferiority complex by belittling others.”
It took a few seconds for Apollo to realize she was talking to him.
“What did you say to me?” he asked, eyes narrowed and nostrils flaring.
“You heard me,” snarled Lily. “You think violence will solve everything, but it won’t. Killing Titus will only make things worse.”
Apollo glared at her, but Lily didn’t back down. If anything, she seemed even more upset than she was before.
“Titus is protected by an army of robots,” explained Lily. “The only way to defeat him is to publicly discredit him.”
“And how do you suggest we do that?” asked Apollo, now more condescending than angry. “By performing an interpretive dance? Or perhaps we should sing a song?”
Lily ignored the obvious sarcasm and retaliated with a powerful verbal jab.
“We must break his hold over the people,” she explained. “What do you think would happen if the supply of memories suddenly ran out?” She didn’t wait for an answer. “The citizens of The Virt would revolt, and Titus would lose all credibility. After that, liberating the residents of the Slums would be easy. Together, they would rebuild their city and live long, prosperous lives free of physical and digital enslavement.”
It was a good plan, but something was amiss. Something major. Unfortunately for Lily, I wasn’t the only one who picked up on it.
“And what of the robots?” asked Apollo, a confident sneer deforming his wrinkled face. “How do you plan on stopping the flow of memories when Titus controls the ‘bots from his fortress in the sky?”
Fortress in the sky? I thought. No one said anything about a fortress. Then again, I was always the last one to learn about important details. Why would this time be any different?
Sighing, I brought my attention back to the debate. I had missed the first few words of Lily’s rebuttal, but the second half was enough for me to grasp the gist of what she was saying.
“…a stealth attack,” she said. “A small team could easily slip past Titus’s defences and disable the central computer. After that—”
“After that nothing!” interrupted Apollo. “A swift, brutal attack is the best approach.”
“No,” insisted Lily. “It’s not.”
They started going back and forth, each yelling with increased ferocity. Soon, the argument was so heated I feared Apollo would resort to violence and do something he couldn’t come back from. I was about to intervene when Prometheus stepped forward.
“That’s enough!” he snapped. “You’re acting like children.”
Apollo tried to protest, but his son wouldn’t allow it.
“People are watching,” he said, gesturing at the crowd of citizens that had gathered to watch the screaming match. Though there were only a dozen people, their shocked expressions lent great credence to Prometheus’s claim.
“You both make good points,” he continued, “but we can’t attempt both plans.” He paused to make sure everyone was listening. “I suggest we let an impartial third party decide.”
Apollo didn’t seem pleased, but he nodded. So did Lily.
“Who did you have in mind?” I asked, joining the conversation.
I nearly choked.
“Y-You want me to choose?”
“It makes perfect sense,” he said. “Artemis was convinced your involvement would determine the outcome of the war, and I think I speak for everyone here when I say you’re the most impartial of parties.”
A few heads started moving, and soon everyone was nodding. Even Lily and Apollo gave their consent. Only one person remained unconvinced.
“I don’t think—” I began, but Prometheus cut me off, proving once again that he would make a far better leader than his overzealous father.
“It’s not up for discussion,” he said. “Please pick a strategy.”
I gulped, uncomfortable being the centre of so much attention. But, deep down, I always knew it would come to this. No matter how far removed I was from a particular situation, I was always brought to the forefront, forced to take part even when doing so meant making very powerful enemies. But a choice had to be made, and I was the only one capable of making it.
I took a few minutes to deliberate. Apollo’s approach would require the sacrifice of countless lives, and there was a high likelihood that he would end up replacing Titus as tyrant of The Virt and The Slums, but it was nearly guaranteed to succeed. Lily’s strategy involved no bloodshed and could sever Titus’s hold over both cities in one fell swoop, but the odds of it succeeding were very slim. Not to mention the fact that both our lives would be on the line.
It was an impossible choice to make, but one that had to be made. I went back and forth a dozen times before finally picking one. I was plagued with doubts, but my mind was made up, and it was time for me to announce my decision.
I looked at each strategist in turn and said…
Option 1: “I choose Apollo’s plan.”
Option 2: “I choose Lily’s plan.”
Option 3: …nothing. The wall to my left exploded before I could utter a single word, and dozens of robots emerged from the landscape and started converging toward us.
NEXT CHAPTER: Click Here to read Chapter 22.
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