The Memory Thief
Published Jul. 4th 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 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.”
NOTE: Click Here to read the full chapter.
Option 1: 3 votes (13.04%)
Option 2: 1 vote (4.35%)
Option 3: 19 votes (82.61%)
This chapter is dedicated to Gerald. Thanks for voting.
“I want to… reintegrate the outside world.”
Titus stared at me with his steely eyes.
“Are you sure?” he asked.
I wasn’t, but I couldn’t bear the thought of returning to my old life. The Cluster—the closest thing I had to a family—would want to know what had happened, and I couldn’t bear the thought of admitting my recent string of failures. The Virt was as foreign to me as the outside world, but I couldn’t bear the thought of watching all those people waste their lives playing video games. That left only one option.
“Yes,” I said. “I’m sure.”
Titus nodded and snapped his fingers. Two robots stepped forward, their single triangular eye glowing softly.
“They will accompany you to your destination,” he said. After a short pause, he added, “Is there anything else you wish to know before you leave?”
Once upon a time, I would have jumped at the opportunity, but all I now cared about was getting as far away from here as possible.
I shook my head.
“Very well,” said Titus. He snapped his fingers, and the two robots started moving toward the center of the room. I followed them, barely even noticing the ancient gaming consoles that surrounded us. I half-expected the robots to join me in the elevator, but they merely stood guard by its entrance, motioning for me to enter when I failed to do so quickly enough. Head bowed, I stepped into the glass tube and let it transport me toward the building’s summit.
It took a while, but I finally slowed to a stop. Moments later, I was gently deposited upon the glass floor that made up the structure’s topmost level. Vast beyond logic, the hangar-like chamber was empty but for the strange-looking vehicle that stood nearby. Made from the same dark metal as the hovercar Lily used to get around The Virt, the teardrop-shaped vehicle glistened in the sunlight. Four long blades protruded from its summit, so long they dropped all the way to the floor. Intrigued, I made my way toward the strange contraption and came to a standstill next to it.
Nothing happened for a few moments, then a hidden door slid open, revealing a single seat. Glancing around to make sure I didn’t miss anything important, I entered the vehicle. The door sealed shut behind me, and the blades started turning. It was a slow process, but the vehicle was hovering a foot or so off the floor by the time it was complete. Whirring softly, the vehicle began rising toward the hangar’s domed ceiling. For a brief moment, I feared we would smash into it, but the glass scales that made it up retreated at our approach, forming a wide opening through which we rose like the morning sun divorcing the horizon.
Higher and higher we rose until the sphere turned into a single, shining star atop the glistening pyramid that supported it. Part of me worried I’d made a mistake in abandoning the only world I’d ever known, but it was too late to turn back now. Tearing my gaze from the pyramid, I studied the landscape that stood beyond it.
There were rolling hills and deep valleys. A vast forest stretched to one side, and a frothy ocean lay opposite from it. But that was all I had time to take in before the vehicle started moving once more. Unlike before, it moved horizontally, taking us farther and farther away from Titus and his manipulating daughter. I watched in a mixture of relief and sadness as the glistening structure grew smaller and smaller. Soon, all that remained of it was a single glowing dot. Then, that too vanished, and I was left feeling lonely and depressed.
What have I done? I wondered.
I abandoned my friends, left countless innocents to suffer Titus’s wrath. But what choice did I have? I wasn’t a hero. I was just Spy, a confused teenager trying to make the best of a bad situation. Still, I couldn’t help feeling guilty for deserting all those helpless people.
I sighed and focused on the world beyond my tiny glass prison. The landscape had changed, yet the ocean of vegetation remained uninterrupted. Here and there, I spotted what appeared to be houses, but it wasn’t until nearly an hour into our journey that I finally saw the first real sign of civilization.
The city sparkled in the distance, its beauty unlike anything I had ever beheld. Unlike The Virt, the buildings were tall and well-maintained. Pockets of vegetation were sprinkled throughout the vast metropolis, and vehicles whizzed to and fro in a never-ending dance. By the time I was done taking in the futuristic city, we were directly above it, hovering above the large park that stood at its very centre.
We remained there for a few seconds before beginning our descent. The lower we got, the more details I was able to take in. The structures varied in design and colour, and so did the vehicles. Soon, I could make out people strolling along sidewalks and exchanging pleasantries on street corners. They were dressed in brightly coloured clothes and had strange haircuts, yet they appeared happy. But there was something odd about them, something unnatural. I kept trying to put my finger on it, but it wasn’t until the vehicle touched down in the centre of the park, and I stepped out of the glass chamber that I finally understood why.
They were all smiling.
“That’s weird,” I muttered, creeped out by such overt happiness. In The Slums, people only smiled when they were the recipient of good fortune, and given how rarely that happened, it was with a growing sense of unease that I studied my surroundings.
I was so focused on the landscape and the people that inhabited it that I didn’t notice the vehicle retreating until it was but a speck in the sky. Suddenly aware that I was alone in a foreign city filled with overly-ecstatic people, I began to panic.
My heart was racing, and my palms were clammy. I inhaled deeply, but that only made things worse. Head spinning from the surge of oxygen, I stumbled forward and tripped on an exposed root. Unable to maintain my balance, I toppled forward and slammed into the earth.
The next few moments were a familiar mess of fear, confusion, and uncertainty. But, gradually, the panic subsided, and the world came back into focus. Though nothing had changed, I now beheld my surroundings in a different light. Rather than scaring me, the smiles filled me with a sense of safety the likes of which I had never experienced. For the first time in my life, I felt at peace.
Sitting, I looked around and, taking example from the dozens of grinning faces that surrounded me, let my lips curl into a broad smile.
This isn’t so bad, I thought. It sure beats living in The Slums.
Standing, I studied my surroundings once more, picked a direction at random and set off, determined to explore every inch of this beautiful city.
One Week Later
The sun was about to set on my seventh day in Elysium, and I was finally starting to think of the futuristic city as my new home. The first few days were difficult, but things got much easier when I discovered Titus had made arrangements for my future. Everything in Elysium required payment, yet a simple touch of my palm immediately took care of the bill. When I got hungry, I stopped at one of the hundreds of vending machines that were sprinkled throughout the metropolis. When I was tired, I slept in one of the countless hotels that were conveniently located on each street corner. When I was bored, I travelled to a park and watched the squirrels scamper up trees and the ducks float around. When I got really bored, I chatted with strangers or played games with groups of random people. Though I knew none of them by name and rarely ran into the same person twice, we always got along.
Most days, I was content with my new life, but every once in awhile, I would think of the poor souls trapped in The Slums and The Virt. Whenever this happened, I spent the next few hours chastising myself. One day, I tried broaching the subject with a stranger, but it quickly became evident everyone in Elysium—and probably every other city—saw Titus as a hero. He had brought free energy to the entire world and instilled a new way of living that put an end to war and famine. Trying to convince them he was, in fact, responsible for the suffering of countless innocents was tantamount to getting them to believe the earth was flat. Sure, it could be done, but it would require proof and hours of convincing. And what good would it do?
I had chosen to leave. I had given up just when the citizens of The Slums and The Virt needed me most, and no amount of self-admonishment would ever make up for it. Luckily, each day that passed brought with it a little relief. I spent less and less time worrying about my past and more and more time enjoying my future. By the time my first week came to a close, I only occasionally thought about those I had left behind. But that all changed when, on the evening of the seventh day, I noticed someone following me.
It was a young woman. She ducked from tree to tree, remaining just out of sight. I couldn’t see her face, but I caught glimpses of bright, formfitting clothes and long, glistening hair. More intrigued than worried, I began trying to trick her into revealing herself. When that failed, I hid behind a bush and waited for her to catch up.
It didn’t work.
Instead of falling into my obvious trap, the mysterious woman vanished. Somewhat disappointed, I decided to head to the nearest hotel, but all thought of sleep faded when I came face to face with my pursuer.
It was Lily.
I stared at her for a while before my dislike of her eroded my surprise at finding her in Elysium.
“What are you doing here?” I snapped.
She tried to answer, but I cut her off.
“Never mind. I don’t want to hear it.”
I pushed past her and marched off, determined to stop only once I reached the nearest hotel, but she grabbed my arm before I could take more than a few steps.
“Wait!” she said. “I have something important to tell you.”
I whipped around, ripping my arm from her grasp.
“I don’t want to hear it.”
“Please,” she begged. “It’s important.”
I glared at her.
“Nothing you say can ever make up for what you did.”
She seemed hurt, but she didn’t let that stop her.
“Just listen,” she said. “If you still want me to leave, you’ll never see or hear from me again.”
I hesitated. Though the wound caused by her betrayal was still fresh and oozing blood, rebuking her would mean forever giving up on my past, and I wasn’t quite ready to do that.
“Fine,” I muttered. “Be quick.”
“I did some more digging after you left, and I discovered something horrible.”
She paused, no doubt expecting me to inquire further.
“I always wondered how my father was able to power the entire world using only the memories stolen from a handful of people.”
“I thought there were thousands of people in The Slums.”
“Tens of thousands,” corrected Lily, “but the number isn’t important. Compared to the billions of humans who inhabit our planet, a couple of thousands is a negligible number.”
“You sound like your father.”
Lily winced but didn’t bother trying to defend herself.
“Anyway,” she said, “I always wondered how so few memories could power so many homes. Well, the answer is simple: They don’t.”
I frowned, now more confused than angry.
“Do you remember when I told you the only source of energy more powerful than memories is life itself?”
I nodded, though it was so long ago it was barely more than a vague notion.
“Well, turns out my father isn’t using memories to power the world. He’s using people’s lifeforce.”
“How is that possible?”
“I wondered the same thing,” admitted Lily, “but then I uncovered the truth, and it all made perfect sense.” She sighed. “Stealing memories serves two purposes. First, it keeps the citizens of The Slums in a constant state of fear and paranoia, which keeps them complacent. Second, it powers the Mind-Altering Terminals.”
“What does that have to do with—” I began, but Lily cut me off.
“I’m getting to that,” she said. “You see, MATs do more than distract the inhabitants of The Virt; they extract their lifeforce—the very thing that keeps them alive. Why do you think no one in The Virt is old?”
I hadn’t thought of it, but now that I did, I realized she was correct. Not once in all of my time in The Virt did I encounter someone above the age of thirty.
“What about Artemis and Apollo?” I asked.
“They lived in isolation, using MATs only when absolutely necessary.”
Once again, her answer was perfectly logical.
“So,” I said, my mind racing to make sense of what I just learned. “Titus uses memories to power the MATs, which in turn extract the lifeforce of its users. This energy, which is far more powerful than memories, is used to power the world. Is that what you’re telling me?”
Lily nodded sadly.
“From what I could gather, citizens of The Virt rarely make it past twenty-five,” she explained. “Given how the average life expectancy is now a little over one hundred, it means they are unwittingly giving up seventy-five years worth of their lifeforce.”
A heavy silence followed the revelation. Looking around, I studied the surrounding buildings. Once beautiful, the glowing structures had been reduced to grotesque monuments of death and despair. How many people had to die to power a single one of them?
“How powerful is lifeforce energy?” I asked.
“It’s hard to quantify,” she said, “but thousands of people had to die to power this city.”
I gulped, once again overwhelmed by the severity of the news.
“How can Titus justify such cruelty?”
“He views it as a fair trade. He provides Lifers—people who spend their entire lives inside virtual worlds—with twenty-five years of excitement and happiness. In exchange, he takes the seventy-five extra years they would have had and uses it to power the world.”
Well, I thought, that explains why Titus was so willing to send me here. He wanted me to see the fruits of his labour, no doubt thinking I would change my mind when I realized how many people were benefiting from the suffering of those unlucky enough to be living in The Slums and The Virt. Clearly, we had far different definitions of right and wrong. But that was irrelevant now.
“Why are you telling me this?” I asked, glancing at Lily. “There’s nothing I can do about it.”
“That’s not entirely true.”
“I’m not special,” I reminded her. “You’re the one who implanted that thought in Artemis’s mind.”
“I know,” she said, “but I don’t regret doing it.”
I frowned, too confused to bother being angry.
“You and I are among the select few who know the truth,” she explained. “Everyone else still thinks you’re a hero, destined to free them from oppression. That belief alone could mean the difference between success and failure.”
“What about Titus?” I asked.
“Don’t worry about my father. I have a plan that—”
“No!” I interrupt. “If we do this, we’re doing it my way.”
“Does that mean you’re willing to come back?”
That wasn’t my intent, but now that the words had been uttered, I realized I had meant them. But my mind was far from made up. My old life—what I could remember of it—was filled with pain and sadness, and the prospect of returning to it was far from pleasant. On the other hand, remaining here would mean spending the rest of my life knowing I had willingly chosen to turn my back on those I had left behind.
I sighed, too overwhelmed to do anything else.
“So?” asked Lily expectantly. “Are you in, or are you out?”
Knowing that further deliberation would only make my decision more difficult, I spoke before my mind could stop my heart from speaking its truth.
Option 1: “I’m in,” I said.
Option 2: “I’m out,” I said.
Option 3: “I-I don’t know,” I said.
NEXT CHAPTER: Click Here to read Chapter 28.
HOW TO VOTE: The Memory Thief is distributed via my newsletter, and only subscribers can vote. Claim your FREE book below to become a Storyteller and start voting today.
RELEASE SCHEDULE: New chapters are released on Saturday.
Thanks for reading.
Want a FREE Book?
Lured away from his life at the orphanage by the promise of a family reunion, fifteen-year-old Will Save unwittingly embarks on an adventure through time and space.