The Memory Thief
Published Jun. 20th 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…
“What is it?” I asked.
“That,” she said, “is the console we’ll use to access the system.”
I stared at it for a while before the sense of foreboding that filled me forced me to tear my gaze away from it.
“What’s the plan?” I asked.
Lily smiled and said…
Option 1: “It’s simple. I’ll access the system via this terminal and use the codes I stole to corrupt the programming and force the robots into hibernation mode.”
Option 2: “Titus doesn’t trust computers. In order to access the system, we’ll need to manually reorganize the objects in the room. Only then can we input the codes I stole and force the robots into hibernation mode.”
Option 3: “I’ll need your help. You’ll enter the program via the MAT and manually input the codes I stole into the digital mainframe. I’ll guide you from out here and make sure you don’t set off any alarms.”
NOTE: Click Here to read the full chapter.
Option 1: 3 votes (11.11%)
Option 2: 8 votes (29.63%)
Option 3: 16 votes (59.26%)
This chapter is dedicated to Nancy. Thanks for voting.
Lily smiled and said… “I’ll need your help. You’ll enter the program via the MAT and manually input the codes I stole into the digital mainframe. I’ll guide you from out here and make sure you don’t set off any alarms.”
I nodded. Part of me was scared—things hadn’t gone so great the last time I’d used a MAT—but now wasn’t the time to be difficult. The fate of everyone in The Slums and The Virt rested on my shoulders, and I couldn’t afford to let them down.
Lily pressed a few keys on the console, and the Mind-Altering Terminal’s glistening outer shell cracked open with a soft hiss, revealing the pool of clear, viscous liquid that lay within. The mere sight of it caused me to shudder, but I forgot all about that when I remembered something else about MATs.
“Do I need to get naked?” I asked, suddenly nervous at the prospect of disrobing in front of Lily. It’s not that I hadn’t thought about it, but this wasn’t how I pictured it happening.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “I won’t peak.”
The broadness of her grin didn’t inspire confidence, but it’s not like I had a choice. I began removing my clothes as soon as she turned away. Moments later, I was climbing into the MAT and lowering myself into the pool of Virt-Gel.
“I’m ready,” I told Lily.
She glanced in my direction, her expression solemn.
“Good luck,” she said.
“Thanks,” I muttered.
I lay down and let the Virt-Gel envelop me. Moments later, the two halves of the lid pivoted into place, and near-total darkness enveloped me. Inhaling deeply, I prepared myself for what I knew would be an unpleasant experience. Allowing the Virt-Gel into my lungs wasn’t an easy task because my body kept trying to fight my mind, but I eventually managed to expulse the fear long enough for the slimy liquid to slide down my throat. Soon after, the world faded, and a familiar holographic display appeared before my mind’s eye. I stared at it for a while before reaching out with my mind and initiating the activation sequence.
The world faded, taking with it everything I had ever known.
The world slowly came into focus. Blurry mountains gave way to rundown houses. Fuzzy shapes turned into pedestrians hurrying along dirt roads. Glowing spots of pure light became streetlamps, lighting up the city. Piece by piece, my surroundings emerged from the endless void that was my life.
An aura of hardship infused the landscape, like a scene from an old steampunk novel. The pedestrians walked around with slumped shoulders and grim faces. The buildings—if you can call them that—were pieced together in giant patchworks of metal and wood. Trash littered the streets. Mangy mutts scurried about amid the rat-infested landscape, looking for their next meal.
Where am I? I wondered, scanning my immediate surroundings. To my left stood a sharp drop to a lower level of the rundown city. A makeshift park lay to my right, empty but for a few filthy children playing in the mud. Directly in front stood a statue of a young man. His jaw was square and his gaze piercing. Worn by time and abuse, the sculpture was missing an arm, and a middle finger had been carved into its metallic surface. Whoever this man was, he was despised.
Continuing my study, I focused on the house that lay behind me. Mediocre in both design and craftsmanship, it seemed on the verge of collapse. I’m surprised the pressure of my body pressed against it didn’t finish the job time had begun long ago.
The patch of hard-packed earth upon which I sat was bare but for a few discarded objects. The occasional blur of movement told me I wasn’t alone, but whatever vermin was hiding in the shadows chose not to antagonize me.
The final detail I took into account was the starless sky that hovered high above. Vast and devoid of colour, the expanse hung over the city, like a giant raincloud heavy with impending doom.
“Where am I?” I asked again, this time aloud. Everything about this place felt familiar, yet I couldn’t seem to recall why.
That’s strange, I thought. Scanning my surroundings once more, I focused on the defaced statue that stood across from me. Though it bore no markings, I knew the man’s name was Titus. I also sensed that he was an evil man and that my presence here was somehow linked to his misdeeds.
“Why can’t I remember anything?” I asked, hoping someone—anyone—would help clear things up. But no answer was given. At least, not in the form of words.
“I wonder…” I began, but my voice trailed off when a series of thoughts invaded my mind. Flashing by my mind’s eye in quick succession, the memories painted a sombre picture of death and despair. But, by the time the flashback ended, I knew exactly who I was and why I was here.
“Lily!” I called out.
“Uh-oh,” I muttered.
My friend had assured me we’d be in constant contact. Clearly, something had gone wrong.
I waited a few minutes, hoping she just needed time to establish contact, but it soon became evident I was on my own. Determined not to squander what may be my only opportunity at severing the link between Titus and his army of bots, I scrambled to my feet and looked around.
The scene was just as I recalled, and I couldn’t help but wonder if Finger—the tongueless little girl I’d encountered during my first visit here—would appear and…
The thought trailed off when Finger emerged from the neighbouring shadows.
She looked just as I recalled. Her cheeks were tear-stained, and she clutched a headless doll in her grimy hands. Her hair was shoulder-length and tangled beyond repair. Her clothes were in tatters, and her feet were bare. A finger was missing from her left hand, and a hideous scar marred most of her arm. Her eyes were dark and devoid of emotion.
“Finger!” I exclaimed excitedly. “I can’t believe it’s really you.”
She frowned. Clearly, she didn’t recognize me, which made sense, given the fact that she was but a digital replica of the real Finger. Still, I couldn’t help being disappointed by the lack of recognition in her eyes.
She stared at me for a while before motioning for me to follow her. Not waiting for a response, she turned her back to me and strode away, her uneven legs causing her to limp severely.
Should I follow her? I wondered. Lily had said she would be my guide, but she wasn’t here. Finger was, and she seemed quite adamant I follow her.
“Wait up,” I called as I hurried after her.
We travelled through the city. Though it was fake, the landscape and the people that inhabited it were exactly as I recalled. I briefly wondered if we would encounter the same drunken men we’d met during our initial jaunt across The Slums, but the program obviously had other plans because we reached our destination without a single hiccup.
Finger had come to a stop by the mouth of a dark alley and was now pointing toward it. I gazed into the darkness, and a shiver ran down my spine. This was the same alley I’d entered during my first visit.
I glanced at Finger.
“You’re not coming with me, are you?”
She shook her head and walked away.
I was alone.
I hesitated for a while, but delaying the inevitable seemed pointless, so I entered the dark alley and began travelling along the mud-ridden landscape. It didn’t take long before I reached a fork in the road.
I paused and debated what to do. The last time I was here, I had gone right, but I didn’t feel like dealing with the scaled dogs that lurked in the shadows. I was about to enter the narrow alley that stood to my left when a low growl filled the air.
Another growl reached my ears. I slowly turned to find three scrags stalking toward me through the darkness. Though I couldn’t make out their scaled frames, their eyes glowed with fierce intensity.
I remained frozen for a while before it occurred to me there was but one thing I could do.
The next few minutes are a blur. I recall darting into the same alley I’d borrowed during my initial visit, and I think I used the stack of wooden desks to slow down my pursuers, but I don’t recall much else. All I know is I ran as fast as my legs would allow and didn’t stop until I’d reached the door with the triangle carved into it. Throwing it open, I dove into the well-lit dwelling that stood beyond and slammed the door shut.
I was safe.
I took a moment to catch my breath. I was about to study my surroundings to make sure the virtual replica was identical to its real-life counterpart when the house began to shudder. At first, I was confused, but then I realized what was happening.
The house was moving, slowly travelling toward the Earth’s surface.
I wonder— I began, but my train of thought was derailed by the sudden appearance of another person’s voice within my head.
“Spy,” it said. “Can you hear me?”
My heart leapt with excitement at the sound of Lily’s voice.
“What happened?” I asked, too relieved to bother questioning the fact that I was hearing Lily’s voice as though it were my own.
“Something happened,” she said. “I lost contact as soon as you entered the MAT. I tried pulling you out, but the program wouldn’t let me. It took all I had just to establish contact.”
“What does this mean?” I asked.
“I’m not sure,” admitted Lily, “but I think the only way for you to escape is to reach the source code and input the codes I stole. Hopefully, corrupting the program will eject you from the system.”
“I’m sorry,” said Lily. “I wish I could be more definite, but I have no way of knowing what will or won’t happen. I can’t even see where you are.”
A short silence, followed by yet another sigh.
“No. Where are you?”
“I’m…” I began, but my voice trailed off when the house slowed to a halt, and the tremors ceased. “I’m inside the hideout,” I explained. “I just reached the surface.”
“You’re in The Virt?”
“Not yet,” I said. “Do you think I should go outside?”
“Definitely. The program is obviously trying to lead you somewhere. My guess is, the source code is where you’re headed.”
“Why would the program lead me there? Doesn’t it know we’re trying to destroy it?”
“I’m not sure,” admitted Lily. “All I know is, locating the source code is our number one priority. Nothing else matters.”
“But—” I began, but she cut me off.
“Nothing else matters,” she repeated, enunciating each word for effect.
I approached the door and twisted the handle. After a brief moment, I yanked it open and stepped outside.
The Virt was just as I recalled. Metallic structures stretched as far as the eye could see, protruding from the ocean of fissuring cobblestones like the teeth of a giant beast emerging from the depths of the earth. Worn by time and neglect, the buildings appeared to be on the verge of collapse. Even the houses, which were few and far between, were made of metal and imbued with an aura of extreme austerity.
“Which way should I go?” I asked.
“Blank!” I swore. The communication must have been severed. Hopefully, Lily could find a way to hack the system again, because locating the source code would be pointless without the stolen access codes. But I forgot all about that when shapes began emerging from the shadows. Moving as one, the robots began converging toward me, their movements slow and jerky and the triangles that adorned their featureless faces glowing with fierce intensity.
“What now?” I asked, wondering what new challenge the program had devised for me. But Lily’s words were still fresh in my mind, so I didn’t question the robots’ motives. I merely started running, putting as much distance between myself and the bots as possible.
It wasn’t easy. Each time I managed to outdistance my pursuers, more emerged from the surrounding landscape. But they didn’t seem to want to capture me—had that been their goal, they would simply have shot me with their spheres of glowing energy—they seemed more interested in guiding me across the city. Though strange, it all made perfect sense when one of the city’s massive, slanted support beams appeared before me.
“Of course,” I muttered. “The source code is located inside Titus’s home.”
Now more excited than worried, I kept running until I reached the giant beam. Pausing to make sure my pursuers weren’t too close, I began scaling the seemingly never-ending staircase that stretched before me. The bots followed, travelling in pairs and moving in an ordered fashion.
I kept going until I reached the midway point. Though the world that stretched beyond me was digital, I still experienced the same burning sensation in my legs I had during my initial climb. But my reprieve was only momentary.
A loud creaking noise filled the air as the entire metallic structure shuddered. At first, I didn’t understand what was happening, but one quick look at the base of the girder revealed the presence of thousands upon thousands of robots. Clearly, their combined weight was too much for the beam to handle, and a collapse of the entire structure was imminent.
“Crap!” I swore as I realized I had but a short window of opportunity to reach the summit. If I failed to crest the pyramid in time, the beam would snap, and all hope would be lost.
I started running. More than once, I lost my footing and nearly tumbled off the edge of the staircase, but I always managed to get back up. The shaft was now shuddering, and though the peak was in sight, I doubted I would make it. But luck seemed on my side, for I reached the metallic ladder that stood at its summit just as the beam snapped. One second, I was standing atop the girder; the next, I was hanging on to the rungs of the ladder, watching the twisted mass of metal fall toward the rusted city.
“That was close,” I muttered as I began climbing. The hatch stood precisely where I recalled, and I had no trouble hoisting myself through it. Taking a moment to catch my breath, I turned my attention to Titus’s home.
Shaped like a sphere, the dwelling glistened in the sunlight, the triangular sheets of glass that made it up tilted outward to allow access. Approaching the edge of the platform atop which I stood, I scaled the glass steps that appeared before me and shimmied my way into Titus’s home.
Reaching the elevator was easy. So was travelling up to the gaming floor. I half expected to find Lily standing by the console, but there was no sign of her. Just like the MAT within which I lay remained dormant.
What now? I wondered as I studied the console. This was clearly how I was meant to access the source code, but without help from Lily, I had no way of knowing what the correct access codes were. Still, I took a moment to familiarize myself with the system.
It didn’t take long. The interface was simple, and the input fields basic. In order to access the system and deactivate it, I had to input five number sequences. But what good was knowing all this when—
“..can you hear me?”
The voice exploded within my head, momentarily destabilizing me, but the volume soon auto-adjusted, and I was able to hear Lily’s voice as clearly as I had before.
“What happened?” I asked.
“The program is fighting me,” she explained. “We don’t have long. Did you find the source code?”
She breathed a sigh of relief.
“That’s awesome. Give me a moment; I’ll give you the codes.”
I waited. It took nearly a full minute, but she finally started rattling off numbers. Imputing them into the system took longer than I expected, and we lost contact more than once, but soon only a handful of digits remained to be entered.
“The final three numbers are seven, three, and…”
Her voice trailed off.
I waited, but all I heard was silence. The connection had been permanently severed.
“Blank!” I swore.
I input the first two numbers into the system, then turned my attention to the world around me, desperate for a distraction. It remained unchanged, yet there was something different about it. At first, I didn’t understand what it was, but then it hit me.
The glass walls had faded, leaving nothing between the game room and the outside world. But then I notice the sky and the clouds were also gone, and panic began to grow within me.
The world was dissolving.
“Lily!” I called, desperate for an explanation, but silence was the only answer I got.
I was on my own.
“Blank!” I swore. I studied the objects that surrounded me for a while before realizing the deterioration was progressing quickly. Odds were, I had mere minutes before the mysterious eradication reached me, and all hope was lost.
Desperate for a way to determine the final digit in the sequence, I began studying the previous strings of numbers. At first, the order seemed random, but I soon began to notice a pattern. Three series of numbers were repeated throughout the sequences, and the first two digits were all the same. As luck would have it, the two last digits I’d input matched perfectly, which meant I had a thirty-three percent chance of guessing the right number. But it also meant I had a sixty-six percent chance of guessing wrong.
I didn’t know what would happen if I input the wrong number, but I really hoped I wouldn’t have to find out. I waited until the last possible moment, praying Lily would find a way to re-establish communication, but it soon became evident I was on my own.
“Please be right,” I muttered as I picked one of the three possible numbers at random and input it into the system. Nothing happened for a few seconds, then…
Option 1: …the screen turned green, and Lily’s excited voice filled my mind.
Option 2: …the screen turned red, and an alarm started blaring.
Option 3: …the world faded away entirely, leaving me floating in an endless void.
NEXT CHAPTER: Click Here to read Chapter 26.
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