The Memory Thief
Published Jun. 27th 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 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.
NOTE: Click Here to read the full chapter.
Option 1: 16 votes (64.00%)
Option 2: 2 votes (8.00%)
Option 3: 7 votes (28.00%)
This chapter is dedicated to Chris. Thanks for voting.
Nothing happened for a few seconds, then… the screen turned green, and Lily’s excited voice filled my mind.
“We did it!” she said. “We corrupted the system!”
Breathing a sigh of relief, I let my gaze wander beyond the glowing screen, but the world that once stood there was gone. All that remained was the console, hovering among the endless ocean of negative pixels.
“What…” I began, but my voice trailed off when the console began fading. Within seconds, all but a few pixels remained. Then, I was floating in total darkness.
The transition was so subtle I almost didn’t notice it. By the time I became aware of my surroundings, the Mind-Altering Terminal’s lid was hissing open, revealing the harsh light of the game room. Still somewhat disoriented, I sat up and expulsed the Virt-Gel from my lungs. It wasn’t a fun process, but I knew it would be over soon, so I focused on the blurry shape that stood before me.
“We did it,” repeated Lily as soon as her beautiful frame came into focus.
I smiled, but I was too busy filling my lungs with air to respond. By the time I found the strength to speak, my nudity had become impossible to ignore.
“Would you mind turning around?” I asked.
Lily nodded and turned her back to me. Grunting, I lifted myself up and out of the MAT and grabbed the bundle of clothes that stood next to it. There was no towel with which to dry myself, so I was forced to battle my clothes into position. It took a while, but I was finally decent.
“All right,” I said. “You can turn around.”
Lily didn’t so much turn around as throw herself at me. Reacting on instinct, I caught her, and the reactionary tactic soon turned into a hug. Though momentous, the celebration paled in comparison to the tidal wave of emotions that washed over me upon feeling Lily’s body pressed against mine. Suddenly, a promise I’d made back when I still knew nothing of The Triangle of Justice came back to me.
Though Lily and I clearly shared a deep bond, we had yet to kiss.
It’s time for that to change, I thought as I ended the hug and used the resulting moment of closeness to lean in. Doubt flashed across my friend’s beautiful face, but the uncertainty faded as quickly as it had arrived. Closing her eyes, she tilted her head and waited for me to make my move.
I can’t believe this is finally happening, I thought. I was about to lean in and perform the deed when a voice echoed throughout the game room.
“Isn’t that cute,” it said. “The two heroes are about to share their first kiss.”
An icy cold descended upon me at the sound of the steely voice. Pulling away from Lily, I turned to find a tall, imposing man strolling toward us. Though I had never seen him before, I had no trouble recognizing him.
It was Titus.
A heavy silence followed the magnate’s arrival. Taking full advantage of this, I looked the man up and down as he strode toward us. He was tall—well over six feet—and thin, with sinuous muscles and long, bony fingers. His jaw was square, and his silver hair bounced each time he took a step. His eyes were the colour of steel and perfectly matched his tailored suit. Though he appeared to be in his late fifties, his skin was devoid of wrinkles, and he carried himself with the confidence of a man half his age.
“W-What are you doing here?” asked Lily just as Titus came to a standstill just out of our reach. “You’re supposed to be sleeping.”
The man smiled wickedly.
“Why? Because the house is dormant?” He chuckled. “I only wanted you to think I was asleep. In reality, I’ve followed your heroic progress ever since you first began your perilous ascent.”
A heavy silence followed the revelation.
“I’ve long suspected you were trying to betray me,” revealed Titus, “but I refused to believe it until I had concrete proof. Why do you think I planted those fake access codes?”
“Th-That was you?”
The slender man nodded.
“I wanted to see whether or not you would take the bait,” he explained. “I was hoping you’d do the right thing and leave well enough alone, but…” He sighed. “I’m disappointed. I thought I knew you better.”
Lily ignored the jab and, jaw clenched, voiced her next question.
“This was all a trick?”
“I created the program to provide just enough distraction to make things interesting while making it impossible for you to fail. Why do you think you succeeded even though young Spy here input the wrong codes?”
Well, I thought. So much for my good luck.
No one spoke for a while, then Lily voiced the question that was on everyone’s mind.
“What does this mean?”
“Maybe this will answer your question,” he said. Snapping his fingers, he motioned at the surrounding landscape. At first, I didn’t understand what he was referring to, but then a dozen or so robots emerged from the décor and started converging toward us, their single, triangular eye glowing fiercely.
And, just like that, all hope that we’d somehow succeeded in deactivating the bots was destroyed. Only despair and confusion remained.
No one spoke for a while. When Lily finally broke the silence, she spoke with the harshness of a woman scorned by someone for who she cared very deeply.
“Why go through all this trouble?” she asked. “Why trick us into thinking we’d won?”
Titus shook his head sadly.
“I was hoping you’d prove me wrong,” he said. “I held out hope that you’d come to your senses and put an end to this madness.” A heavy sigh fell from his stiff lips. “And, if I’m being honest, I wanted to punish you for betraying me. Nothing is more painful than having total victory give way to complete failure.”
Lily glared at Titus.
“I hate you.”
Though far from unexpected, the words hit the magnate where it hurt.
“Y-You don’t mean that,” he stuttered, destabilized for the first time since his arrival.
Lily’s eyes narrowed.
“Yes, Dad. I meant it.”
What the hell?
“D-Did you just c-call him ‘Dad?’” I asked.
Lily didn’t respond, but her mask of anger gave way to guilt.
“That’s right,” he said. “You don’t know Lily is my daughter.” Another chuckle. “Well, now you do.”
I gasped, the belief that I somehow misheard now gone. All that remained was an overwhelming sense of confusion. But, the more I thought about it, the more it made sense.
Lily had always been secretive, and though she claimed to be trying to stop Titus, she shot down any plan that involved killing him. I thought that meant she was noble. Now, I realize it was the behaviour of a selfish little girl. She wanted to stop her father, but she wasn’t willing to do what it took to get the job done.
“I can’t believe you lied to me,” I said. Lily averted her gaze, which allowed more pieces of the puzzle to fall into place.
Lily’s mother wasn’t Titus’s maid. She was his wife. And Titus didn’t let Lily stay with her out of the goodness of her heart. He did so because she was his daughter.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked, now more angry than confused.
She ignored me once more.
“Is it true?” I asked. “Is Titus really your father?”
“Look at me!” I barked, my anger flaring.
Her head jerked up, and our eyes met.
“Yes,” she whispered. “It’s true.”
The answer didn’t come as a surprise, but it still hit me like a blow to the gut.
“I wanted to tell you,” she continued. “I really wanted to, but—”
“Shut your mouth!” I snapped. “I don’t want to hear any more of your lies.”
“Shut up!” I growled, now so upset my entire body was shaking. “I can’t believe I trusted you. I gave up everything to help you, and all you did was lie to me.”
“Please…” began Lily, but her voice trailed off. “I… I…”
“That’s enough,” said Titus, stepping forward. He placed a hand on his daughter’s shoulder, but she shook it off and glared at him.
“I hate you,” she growled. Turning away from him, she glanced at me one final time, then ran off, pushing through the mass of robots as though they were mere objects. I watched her go with a mixture of anger and disappointment. Though she had lied to me from the very moment we met, her motives were noble. The real villain was Titus.
I glanced at the magnate. His jaw was clenched, but his demeanour was that of a man entirely at ease with the situation. It was hard to believe a man so powerful would choose to cause so much pain to those he had sworn to help.
“What now?” I asked.
“Now we talk,” he said. “I’m sure you have many questions. I’m more than happy to answer them.”
It felt like a trap, but I was in desperate need of answers, so I ignored the voice in my head that said I couldn’t trust him and spoke the first of many questions.
“How much of it was real?”
“My daughter has been manipulating you from the very beginning,” he said. “She’s the one who wiped your memories, the one who made you forget your former life.” Another heavy sigh. “But she did more than just extract your old memories. She implanted new ones, tricking you and everyone else into believing you’re some sort of hero.”
“You can do that?” I asked, too stunned to be angry at Lily.
“Inserting false memories is far trickier than extracting them, but Lily is an expert at it. Not only did she manipulate you into believing her lies, but she convinced the leader of The Triangle of Justice you were destined to lead them to victory.” He chuckled. “How foolish she was to think it would work.”
I frowned. Who was he referring to? Lily or Artemis?
It doesn’t matter, I realized. I finally had someone willing to answer my questions, and I didn’t plan on ruining it by wasting time on pointless inquiries.
“Why should I trust you?” I asked, determined to test the trustworthiness of my interlocutor.
“You don’t have to.” He snapped his fingers, and one of the robots stepped forward. Facing us, the metallic being blinked twice, and beams of multi-coloured light came shooting out of its triangular eye. At first, I didn’t understand what was happening, but then the rays solidified into a coherent whole.
“What is this?” I asked, staring at the holographic landscape that hovered before me.
“Watch,” urged Titus.
I did as told, and the image came to life. It showed a young woman—Lily—travelling through the muddy streets of The Slums, her head darting left and right as she searched for something. But the scene quickly changed. Lily was now standing inside the fancy mansion where I first learned the supposed truth about myself and the world in which I lived. A young man—me—was strapped to a chair, unconscious but stirring. A robot stood behind me, holding my head while another carefully extracted my memories. A third stood nearby, a gas torch heating its metallic hand. The triangle that adorned it glowed bright, ready for use.
“What…” I began, but my voice trailed off when the robot approached the Spy from the hologram and pressed the glowing triangle to his left forearm. Nothing happened for a few seconds, then my digital self’s eyes flew open. Screaming inaudibly, he struggled to break free, but his restrains kept him from escaping. Panic filled his eyes, and he turned to Lily for help, but she ignored him. Arms crossed, she watched the torture unfold.
The scene continued for a few more seconds before giving way to a different one. This time, Lily was trekking across The Sub. It must have been night because most of the fires had been extinguished, and the streets were empty. Moving cautiously, she motioned for the robot that accompanied her to keep quiet and made her way toward the village’s central building. Unlike the last time I’d seen it, it was intact and completely dark. Sneaking into it, Lily made her way to the structure’s sole bedroom and approached the slumbering form that lay atop the stingy mattress.
It was Artemis.
Seeing her alive and well made me regret the role I’d played in her demise, but deep down, I knew I wasn’t to blame. Titus and Lily were. They could have intervened, but they chose not to, and a good woman died because of it.
I kept watching for a while, observing passively as Lily and her robot assistant played with Artemis’s memories. Meanwhile, Titus explained what my former friend was up to, revealing she was the one responsible for Artemis’s so-called vision about my supposed destiny. Clearly, she had thought of everything.
“How are we seeing this?” I eventually asked. By then, dozens of scenes had played, some showing Lily interacting with various characters I’d encountered throughout my journey, others displaying her hiding the notes I would one day find.
“I have cameras hidden throughout The Slums and The Virt,” explained Titus. “I watched from afar as my daughter wove her web of lies.”
The answer only made me despise him more. He could have stopped Lily at any time, yet he chose not to. Clearly, he was just as bad as Lily—if not more—but I had suffered far too much to care about such trivial things.
“That’s enough,” I said. “Turn it off.”
Titus snapped his fingers, and the hologram vanished. A heavy silence followed the disappearance, and I took this time to process everything I’d just learned.
I’m no hero, I realized. Never have been, never will be.
Most people would be disappointed, but I was relieved. The burden of responsibility had been lifted from my shoulders, and I couldn’t have been happier. Titus was still evil, and countless innocents were suffering because of him, but I was no longer responsible for putting an end to his reign of tyranny.
I turned to him.
“What now?” I asked.
Titus smiled reassuringly.
“I know this must be difficult,” he said as he placed a hand on my shoulder. “But you learned a valuable lesson.”
“People are inherently selfish. They won’t hesitate to lie and manipulate to get what they want.”
I didn’t want to agree, but I couldn’t find the strength to disagree. I simply nodded.
“What will happen to me?” I asked. “Will you kill me?”
“Of course not,” he said. “What kind of monster do you think I am?”
“I realize you are in an emotionally unstable place, but there’s something you must understand.” He paused to make sure I was listening. “I’m not the bad guy. I won’t deny that I cause suffering, but the positive ramifications of my actions far outweigh the negative ones. The pain of a few sustains the joy of many. The world is at peace because of what I have done. There are no wars, no famine, no strife of any kind. Isn’t that worth the suffering of a few poor souls?”
I faltered. Once upon a time, I would have vehemently argued that any pain, no matter how small, is wrong, but I was in no state to argue with Titus. I merely shrugged and let the subject drop.
“What now?” I asked. “Will you wipe my memories?”
Titus shook his head.
“Now,” he said, “you have a choice to make. You’ve proved your worth by making it this far. As payment, I will let you retain your memories and choose where you wish to spend the remainder of your existence.”
“Aren’t you afraid I will tell people what you’re up to?” I asked.
“No one would believe you.”
Good point, I thought. Aloud, I said, “What are my options?”
“You have three. You can either return to The Slums, make a new home for yourself in The Virt, or leave this drab, pain-filled place behind and reintegrate the outside world.”
“You’d let me leave?”
“Well?” he said after a few seconds. “What will it be?”
I took a moment to think through my options, then voiced my answer.
“I want to…
Option 1: …return to The Slums.”
Option 2: …return to The Virt.”
Option 3: …reintegrate the outside world.”
Author’s Note: You may be disappointed that you didn’t get to vote on whether or not Titus made an appearance, but I had a good reason for doing that. Actually, I had three. Firstly, Titus’s appearance occurred so soon after the end of the last chapter that allowing people to vote would have meant having a super short chapter. Secondly, I’m convinced most people would have voted in favour of Titus’s arrival, so allowing you to vote would have been a waste of time. Thirdly, having the bad guy show up just when the heroes think they’ve won is storytelling gold. I simply couldn’t pass up such an opportunity. Thanks for understanding.
NEXT CHAPTER: Click Here to read Chapter 27.
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RELEASE SCHEDULE: New chapters are released on Saturday.
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