The Memory Thief
Published Jul. 25th 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…
“All right,” I said after counting the ballots three times to avoid making a mistake. “We have a winner.”
A loud cheer rose up, but it died down as soon as I raised my arms. Taking advantage of the silence, I announced the results of the vote.
“We’re going to…
Option 1: “…capture a robot and use it to convince the people to rebel.”
Option 2: “…steal a memory vial and bring Handy back to life.”
Option 3: “…talk to the people and hope they believe us.”
NOTE: Click Here to read the full chapter.
Option 1: 4 votes (17.39%)
Option 2: 18 votes (78.26%)
Option 3: 1 vote (04.35%)
This chapter is dedicated to Jo Ann. Thanks for voting.
“We’re going to… steal a memory vial and bring Handy back to life.”
My friends cheered, which was odd given the fact that one of them voted against fixing Handy, but it was of little importance. A consensus had been reached, and it was time to plan in accordance.
“Any ideas on how we can retrieve a memory vial?” I asked, staring at each of my companions in turn. All but Lom shook their heads.
“Why not return to the sorting facility?” he asked. “Stealing a vial shouldn’t be that difficult.”
It was a logical approach, but I quickly shot it down. Not only was there a high risk of getting caught, but our presence was bound to alert Titus to my current whereabouts, and I couldn’t afford to let that happen.
“Can’t you return to The Virt?” asked Squid.
It would definitely make our job easier, but I worried exposing myself so openly would lead to Titus learning of my return. Plus, I didn’t want to risk running into Lily until I had completed my mission.
“I don’t think that would be a good idea,” I told Squid. “Any other suggestions?”
“I guess that leaves only one option,” I said. “We’re going to steal a memory vial during tonight’s extraction.”
A heavy silence followed the revelation.
“How?” eventually asked Lom.
“I’m not sure,” I admitted, “but I’m certain we can come up with something if we work together.”
My friend smiled.
“In that case,” he said, “let’s get started.”
We spent the next hour or so strategizing. Many viable options were produced, but one—trapping our target in a pit—stood above the rest with its sheer simplicity. Now, all we had to do was figure out how to incapacitate the bot long enough to extract a memory vial. Destroying it was out of the option as it would risk damaging the vial. So was trying to overpower it. That left only one option.
“We have to temporarily incapacitate it,” I said.
“How?” asked Squid.
“I don’t…” I began, but my voice trailed off when I remembered something I had all but forgotten.
A few weeks ago, when I first learned the truth—or what I believed to be the truth—about myself, I found a book called The Ultimate Guide to Building Sentient Robots. Though it had proved useless in helping me repair Handy, the information it contained was incredibly informative. One specific passage had caught my eye, and I now recalled it with perfect clarity
…trace amounts of liquid nitrogen to keep the robot’s gears from overheating. Please note that larger amounts will result in temporary—or permanent, depending on the quantity—interruption in motor functions, so be careful when…
“Are you suggesting we freeze the bot and steal the memory vial?” asked Lom once I had repeated the passage aloud.
“I’m pretty sure I saw a container marked ‘liquid nitrogen’ in the workshop where I found the tools I used to fix Handy,” I explained.
“I saw it too,” said Squid excitedly. “I was curious, so I touched it. It was really cold.”
I smiled. With the nitrogen at our disposal, freezing a robot should be relatively easy. But in order to pull it off, we’d need The Ultimate Guide to Building Sentient Robots.
“Do you know what happened to the book I had with me when we repaired Handy?” I asked Squid.
He nodded eagerly, and without uttering a single word, leapt to his feet and hurried off. When he returned a minute or so later, he was holding The Ultimate Guide to Building Sentient Robots.
“I retrieved it when you left and didn’t return,” he explained, smiling sheepishly.
“You did the right thing,” I said, taking the book and flipping through until I found the correct page.
The passage was exactly as I recalled, and the text that followed delved deep on the subject of cryogenics. With a little time—and a whole lot of luck—I should be able to weaponize the nitrogen and use it to temporarily incapacitate our robotic victim.
“This will take time,” I told my friends, “and there’s a chance it won’t work, so I need you to work on the backup plan.”
“What backup plan?” asked Maggot, his squeaky voice drawing my gaze to his small frame.
“I need you to dig a pit in a deserted area of the city and cover it with a thin layer of planks and earth. Place a large stone next to it so I can easily locate it. Can you do that?”
I wasn’t speaking to anyone in particular, so everyone nodded.
“Do you need help?” asked Lom.
“Good idea,” I said. “Squid, would you like to be my assistant?”
Squid nodded eagerly, but Lom seemed hurt by my rejection.
“It’s not personal,” I told him. “Squid and I worked together before, so I know we make a good team. Plus, you’re stronger than him, and thus better suited for digging.”
He didn’t seem pleased, but he nodded.
“Don’t worry,” I told him in a hushed tone. “You’re still my best friend.”
He smiled and turned to the rest of the team.
“Come on,” he said. “Let’s go dig a hole.”
Maggot and The Twins didn’t seem thrilled at the prospect of spending the next few hours excavating a pit capable of holding a bot, but Piggy and Lom wore resolute expressions. Finger remained impassive, but she dutifully followed her friends. Soon, only Squid and I remained.
“Ready?” I asked.
“Great,” I said, tucking The Ultimate Guide to Building Sentient Robots under my arm and making my way toward the hideout’s main exit. “Let’s go build a grenade.”
Half an hour later, Squid and I were hard at work within the mansion’s workshop. We had cleared a workspace among the stacks of tools and random supplies, and everything we would need to build the freeze grenade was spread out around us. Beyond the mechanical components stood the liquid nitrogen, its heavy, metallic container coated in a thin layer of frost.
“Hand me the wrench,” I instructed.
Squid retrieved the tool and handed it to me. The next few minutes were spent building a prototype. While crude, it proved quite effective. Still, I ran a dozen more tests before being confident enough in my abilities to begin work on the receptacle that would house the liquid nitrogen. It was bigger than I’d hoped—roughly the size of my head—but it was still small enough to be thrown, something that would be essential for my plan to work.
The creation of the oversized grenade took most of the day. Midway through the process, I spilled nitrogen all over the contraption and was forced to start over. Fortunately, the amount of wasted liquid was negligible, but the supply of spare parts was running dangerously low, so I was forced to improvise. I nearly ran out, but I managed to complete the grenade just as Squid awoke from his most recent nap.
“Help me pour the nitrogen, will you?” I said.
Squid rubbed the exhaustion from his eyes and nodded. Together, we filled the grenade with the precious liquid and screwed the cap into place. Equipped with a safety pin and an internal ignition system, the cap was what turned this simple receptacle into a weapon. When the time came, I would remove the safety pin, shake the grenade, and throw it at the robot. If all went according to plan, it would explode, covering the bot in nitrogen and rooting it in place. If not… well, I preferred not to think about that.
“All right,” I said, clutching the grenade to my chest to avoid dropping it. “We’re done.”
“We’re going home?” he asked.
Squid was so excited he insisted on leading the way. I didn’t complain. Not only was I exhausted, but I was carrying the grenade, so having a human shield was a welcome luxury. Still, it took quite a while before we reached the hideout.
“What took so long?” demanded Lom as soon as we entered the boarded-up house.
“What do you mean? I asked.
“You were gone for over a day. You missed the extraction.”
I shrugged, too exhausted to care.
“We’ll do it tonight,” I muttered. “Is the pit finished?”
“Good,” I said, handing the grenade to Lom and making my way toward the nearest bed. “Wake me up an hour before nightfall.”
I don’t remember falling asleep, but I clearly recall my best friend’s voice invading my dreams.
“Wake up,” it said. “It’s time.”
I bolted upright, wide awake.
“How long?” I asked.
“We have a little over an hour before the extraction begins,” explained Lom.
“Good,” I said. “Let’s talk strategy.”
We gathered around the grenade and discussed the best approach to corner a robot and extract the memory vial we needed to bring Handy back to life. Not everyone agreed the pit had been a wise investment of our time, but we all believed in using every asset at our disposal, so we devised a plan that involved both the pit and the grenade. By the time we were done, the extraction was about to begin.
“All right,” I said, standing. “Lom, you’re coming with me. Everyone else stays here.”
A chorus of protests erupted from my companions’ throats, but I silenced them with a placating gesture.
“I know you want to help,” I said, “but there’s no point in all of us being in danger. Lom and I are the only ones going, and that’s final.”
No one protested, but I could tell they weren’t happy.
“See you soon,” I said as I grabbed the grenade and carefully wrapped it in a thick blanket. Moments later, Lom and I were on our way.
“You did the right thing,” said my companion as we navigated the deserted streets.
“Thanks,” I muttered.
We continued in silence until we reached the pit. Though it was covered by a layer of planks and dirt, I could still make out the outline of the hole, and the stone that stood by its edge was a perfect landmark to avoid inadvertently falling into it.
“How deep is it?” I asked.
“Deep enough that a bot can’t climb out, but shallow enough that we can pull or push each other out if the need arises.”
We stood in silence for a while before the inevitability of the task that awaited us became impossible to ignore.
“Ready?” I asked.
“All right,” I said. “See you soon.”
I handed him the bundled grenade and set off in search of a robot. It took a while, but I finally found one emerging from a home, clutching a familiar-looking briefcase. Though it likely already contained dozens of memories, I couldn’t risk luring its handler into my trap until I had proof it possessed what I needed. So, I followed it to the next home and watched as it chased down an innocent man and extracted one of his memories.
It was the first time I witnessed an extraction, and it was even more horrifying than I had imagined. Having pinned the victim to the wall with one of its powerful arms, the bot opened the briefcase and retrieved one of the half-dozen empty vials that remained. Clutching it within its metallic palm, the mechanical being pressed its index to the triangle that adorned its other hand. Nothing happened for a few seconds, then the triangle split into three even parts and opened outward like a flower, revealing a glowing orifice into which the bot inserted the vial. The top half vanished from sight, but the bottom half remained exposed, standing at a ninety-degree angle from the hand.
Now equipped to steal its victim’s memories, the bot placed its hand to the quivering man’s forehead and began the extraction process. Not much happened, but the man started squirming and screaming, his voice filled with terror and pain. Clearly, having your memories sucked from your mind was incredibly painful.
I watched, aghast, as the vial began slowly filling with the white glow of stolen memories. It took a while—nearly a full minute—but the extraction process finally came to an end, and the man slumped into unconsciousness. Releasing him, the bot stepped back and carefully returned the vial to the briefcase, oblivious to the fact that its victim had knocked his head on his way down.
I can’t believe I let this happen, I thought. I could have intervened—revealed myself before the robot entered the poor man’s house—but I had made a conscious choice to let it happen. And now I would have to live the rest of my life with the memory of what I had just witnessed.
I don’t remember deciding to step out of cover. I just did it, yelling and waving my arms like a madman. The bot spotted me immediately, but it waited until the vial was safely back within the briefcase before it came after me. I should have used this time to get a head start, but I just stood there and watched as the metallic being finished its sordid business. By the time it occurred to me to run, it was almost too late.
Two powerful strides was all it took to carry the mechanical being to me. Diving out of the way, I only barley avoided the bot’s powerful, pincer-like hands. Scrambling to my feet, I scampered off, glancing over my shoulder every so often to make sure my pursuer was still following.
I should have been more concerned with putting as much distance between myself and the robot because it was both quick and agile. It easily navigated the urban landscape, weaving between buildings and leaping over obstacles as though they were mere pebbles. I didn’t know what this meant—perhaps this was the latest model, or maybe they had a special mode they entered when they were on the hunt—but I was forced to expend every last drop of energy I had just to avoid getting nabbed by the metallic being. By the time I reached the street where both the pit and Lom lay in wait, I was so exhausted I could barely stand. Slowing to a stop by the pit’s edge, I carefully made my way to the far side and turned to face my pursuer.
The robot stood a dozen feet away, glaring at me with its single, glowing eye. It took a step toward me, then another. The third one brought it right by the pit’s edge, but it went no further.
Does it know? I wondered. Did it somehow figure out I was leading it into a trap?
It seemed unlikely, but there was no denying the fact that my plan had failed. And things only got worse when the bot’s triangular eye started glowing.
It was about to shoot.
I didn’t know what to do—Should I run? Should I duck? Should I dive out of the way?—so I stayed put and prayed Lom would find a way to save me. My friend did, indeed, come to my aid, but his rescue attempts didn’t have the desired effect. Appearing behind the bot like a ghost emerging from the shadows, he unwrapped the grenade and, taking careful aim, threw it at the metallic being. It soared high and came down hard, hitting the bot in the head just as it was about to shoot.
The good news was Lom had just saved my life. The bad news was the grenade hadn’t gone off and now lay harmlessly by the robot’s feet. But that actually proved quite fortuitous as the distraction caused by the failed weapon convinced the bot to turn its attention toward my friend. In so doing, it took a step toward me and, losing its balance, toppled into the chams in a thundering explosion of wooden splinters and airborne earth.
I watched in a mixture of awe and disbelief as the cloud of dust settled, and the most beautiful sight I had ever beheld was revealed. Not only was the grenade still there, undamaged and out of reach from the robot, but the case containing the vials had somehow escaped the mechanical being’s hand and now stood by the pit’s edge.
I glanced at Lom, eyes wide with disbelief. He returned the gaze, just as shocked. Everything had gone wrong, yet in the end, it had all worked itself out. Or so I thought until the case began to move. It slid toward the pit, propelled forward by the slant of the earth and the pull of gravity.
“No!” I cried. I raced around the pit and dove for the briefcase, but it fell from view moments before I could grab it. Now flat on my stomach, I peered over the edge and watched, devastated, as the cade landed in the robot’s open, waiting hands.
I couldn’t believe how close we’d come, only to have everything we’d worked so hard to accomplish come crumbling down around us at the last second.
“It’s not fair,” I muttered, retreating from the pit’s edge before the bot could blast me with its red energy.
“What’s wrong?” asked Lom. He stood next to me, a perplexed frown furrowing his brow.
“What do you mean?” I wondered. “We failed. The grenade didn’t go off, and now the vials are out of reach.”
Lom’s confusion gave way to guilt.
“The grenade didn’t malfunction,” he said. “I forgot to pull the pin.”
I stared at him for a while, unsure what to make of his statement.
“How could you forget to pull the pin?” I asked.
Lom smiled sheepishly.
“You were about to get shot,” he said. “I panicked.”
I stared at my friend for a while before a broad smile curled my lips.
“So, the grenade didn’t malfunction?”
Lom shook his head.
“It may be a little dented, but it should still work.”
“I hope you’re right,” I said, retrieving the grenade and studying it. It appeared undamaged, but there was only one way to know for sure.
“Let’s hope this works,” I muttered as I yanked the safety pin, shook the grenade vigorously, and tossed it into the pit. A few seconds ticked by, then…
Option 1: …nothing.
Option 2: …a muted explosion shook the earth, and a blast of cold air rose from the depths of the pit.
Option 3: …a powerful explosion rocked the earth, and a column of fire erupted from the depths of the pit.
NEXT CHAPTER: Click Here to read Chapter 31.
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