The Memory Thief
Published Aug. 15th 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 weighed each option carefully, then once I was certain no new information would see the light of day, I announced my decision.
Option 1: …lead my people into battle.”
Option 2: …fight alongside The Triangle of Justice.”
Option 3: …stay hidden, just in case.”
NOTE: Click Here to read the full chapter.
Option 1: 16 votes (64.00%)
Option 2: 8 votes (32.00%)
Option 3: 1 vote (04.00%)
This chapter is dedicated to Sarah. Thanks for voting.
“I will… lead my people into battle.”
A broad smile spread across Prometheus’s lips, but Lily’s demeanour darkened.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
She opened her mouth, then reconsidered and shook her head.
“Never mind,” she said. “It’s not important.”
I frowned but knew better than to insist. She would tell me when she was ready.
“How do you suggest we arm my people?” I asked Prometheus.
“My men will be waiting for you when you reach the surface,” he explained. “They’ll guide you to the nearest weapon stash.”
“Getting everyone to The Virt will take time. Will that be a problem?”
“On the contrary,” said Prometheus. “It should prove invaluable to the success of our mission.”
“How so?” asked Lily.
“Members of The Triangle of Justice will be hidden throughout The Virt,” explained Prometheus. “They’ll attack as soon as I give the signal, providing the perfect distraction for your people to infiltrate the city.”
“Then what?” I asked.
“We’ll meet at the foot of Titus’s statue and perform a full sweep of the city. Once that’s done, we’ll storm Titus’s home and…” He glanced at Lily. “… rescue my father.”
“What’s the signal?” asked Lily, ignoring the comment about her father’s involvement in Apollo’s kidnapping.
“You’ll know when you see it.”
“We should go,” I said. “Time is short.”
“Thanks. You too.”
Moments later, Lily and I were on our way to The Slums. The trip across The Virt took longer than expected, and midway through our brisk walk, Lily shattered the silence that had accompanied us thus far.
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” she asked.
“What do you mean?”
“You have nothing to prove,” she said. “You don’t have to lead your people into battle.”
“I’m not trying to prove anything,” I retorted, annoyed by her lack of faith. “I’m doing what needs to be done.”
She sighed and nodded. But the damage was already done.
She doesn’t think I’ll be a good leader, I realized. But, as hurtful as it was, the revelation fuelled my appetite. I vowed to do whatever it took to prove her wrong, even if that meant sacrificing myself for the greater good of my people.
The remainder of the journey was spent in silence. The Slums remained unchanged, yet I now viewed it in a whole new light. It was no mere prison; it was a festering pool of pain and misery, the perfect breeding ground for the army that now inhabited it.
For the first time in my life, I felt proud of my city and its citizens. And my pride only increased when everywhere I turned, I found smiling faces and hopeful expressions. Clearly, the previous night’s theft had failed to quell the people’s hunger for justice and freedom.
Beaming proudly, I led the way to the hideout where my friends were eagerly awaiting my return. No sooner had we crossed the threshold than we were assaulted by a wave of questions and comments. But I forgot all about that when I realized two members of The Cluster were missing.
“Where are Lom and Handy?” I asked.
“Gone,” said Squid sadly.
My heart skipped a beat.
“Lom said he was working on a backup plan in case things didn’t go as expected,” he explained. “He wouldn’t tell us what he was working on but insisted he couldn’t do it without Handy. They left a few hours and haven’t returned.”
That’s odd, I thought. It’s not like Lom to be secretive. Then again, he probably didn’t want us to get our hopes up. Still, I couldn’t help wondering what my best friend was up to.
“How did it go?” asked Piggy before I could further ponder the issue.
“Good,” I said. “We’ve devised a plan we’re confident will succeed.”
I told them about our strategy, and how the success of the mission depended on the successful cooperation of The Triangle of Justice and the citizens of The Slums.
“Well?” asked Squid once I was done. “What are we waiting for? Let’s go kick Titus’s teeth in.”
“I love your enthusiasm, but you won’t be kicking anyone’s teeth in.”
“The battlefield is no place for children.”
“Don’t worry,” I interrupted. “You’ll all play your part.”
Squid didn’t seem pleased, but he nodded grudgingly.
“You two,” I said, turning to The Twins. “You’ll stay here and watch over Maggot. It’s your job to keep him safe. Got it?”
The twins nodded eagerly and immediately went to stand on either side of the filthy child.
“Finger,” I said, turning to the only female member of The Cluster. “You’ll be in charge of escorting our troops to the surface.”
The child nodded, but the way she held her headless doll told me she was worried she wouldn’t be able to handle the task.
“Don’t worry,” whispered Lily. “I’ll show you how it works.”
Finger nodded, and a half-smile appeared on her lips.
“Squid,” I said, turning to the final member of the team. “You’ll be in charge while I’m away. Your duties will involve directing the citizens to the mansion so Finger can escort them to The Virt. Make sure each group has a leader and give them their marching orders. Can you handle that?”
Squid beamed, overjoyed by the importance of his role.
“All right,” I said. “It’s time to gather the citizens.”
The next few hours rushed by in a blur. Less than half of the dozens of thousands of individuals who inhabited The Slums were willing to put their lives on the line. That number dropped considerably when everyone who was too young, old, or weak to fight was asked to step down. In the end, we were left with an army of ten thousand combatants.
It was an impressive number that would have sufficed to bolster the confidence of any general, but I knew better than to get my hopes up. Not only were my soldiers untrained and weak from years of malnourishment, but our enemies were strong and impervious to pain. To make things worse, we had no way of knowing how many robots Titus had at his disposal or how effective Prometheus’s weapons would be against them. But the time for doubts had passed.
It was time for action.
The trip to The Virt seemed to take forever. Lily, Piggy, and I stood by the main door, discussing last-minute strategies. Finger stood a short distance away, manning the controls and ensuring our trip unfolded without issue. Beyond her stood an ocean of nervous citizens. Most were armed with rudimentary weapons—a butcher knife, a shovel, a wooden club—but a few had chosen to leave their armaments behind, confident Prometheus would come through with the weapons he’d promised us.
“How are you doing?” asked Lily.
“I’m terrified,” I admitted. “You?”
Piggy remained silent, but his hands were shaking. This, more than anything, made me realize how truly insane we were to think we could defeat Titus. He was the most powerful man in the world and possessed an army of near-invincible robots. All we had was a couple thousand scared citizens with makeshift weapons and no fighting experience.
No, I realized. We have much more than that. We have a noble cause, a reason to fight, a willingness to sacrifice ourselves for the greater good. That was something Titus would never have.
“We can do this,” I muttered.
“Excuse me?” said Lily.
“We can do this,” I said with more assurance. “We can do this! WE CAN DO THIS!”
Soon, I was shouting at the top of my lungs. At first, my friends looked at me like I was crazy, but then they joined in, and everyone began chanting. It was such a powerful, transformative experience that every last ounce of doubt was expulsed from my body.
“WE CAN DO THIS!” I bellowed, fully convinced of the veracity of my words. But then the mansion shuttered to a halt, and a deathly silence descended upon us.
“We’re here,” announced Lily.
I took a deep breath and addressed my people.
“Lily and I are going to retrieve your weapons,” I announced. “Piggy is in charge while I’m gone.”
I turned away from the crowd and approached the door.
“Ready?” I asked.
“Let’s do this,” I muttered as I grabbed the handle and twisted it.
The door swung open, and The Virt was revealed in all its glory. The good news was there was no sign of Titus’s robots; the bad news was Prometheus’s men also remained absent. Or so I thought until Lily and I left the safety of the mansion. Emerging from the landscape like scrags from the darkness, they moved toward us in a tight-knit formation. Armed with vicious-looking assault rifles, they carried themselves with purpose and poise.
“Are you Spyder?” asked the leader. She was a mature woman with more scars than wrinkles and the confidence of a hardened soldier.
“Follow me,” she grunted. She began moving toward a small rundown building, pausing every few feet to scan her surroundings. It took a while, but we finally reached the crumbling structure. Though far from impressive, the hundreds of crates stacked within it fully made up for it. Tucked neatly within each wooden box was a dozen rifles.
“Is this it?” I asked. While impressive, there was no way a single stash would suffice to arm our entire militia.
“We have three more such stockpiles hidden nearby,” explained the soldier. “Once they’re gone, we’ll have to venture deeper into the city.”
“Can you show our people how to handle these weapons?” asked Lily. “Most have never held a gun.”
The woman nodded.
“Great,” I said. “We’ll go get them.”
Getting everyone out of the mansion took longer than expected, but that gave Prometheus’s soldiers time to distribute the weapons and the accompanying handling directives. By the time the last citizen was armed, Finger was on her way back to The Slums to retrieve the next group of rebels.
“What now?” asked Lily.
“We wait for Prometheus’s signal,” I said.
“How long do you think—” began Piggy, but a powerful explosion interrupted him. Moments later, a massive ball of fire rose from the heart of the city.
“Was that the signal?” asked Lily.
“Does it matter?”
“Not really,” she muttered, lifting her weapon and cocking it.
I smiled and turned to address the crowd. Most wore shocked expressions, but a few were beaming, relishing the sweet taste of impending victory.
“This is it,” I announced. “It’s time for us to show Titus what we’re capable of. Are you with me?”
A powerful cheer rose from the mass of bodies. The rumble penetrated my body, filling it with hope and optimism.
“Let’s go!” I announced. Turning my back to the crowd, I started marching toward the explosion and the dozens—or hundreds—of robots that stood between us and our destination. My people followed, and we marched forward with the confidence of a mighty army.
The first leg of our journey was uneventful. We encountered a few robots, but The Triangle of Justice had already gotten to them, and all that remained were charred husks of metal. Every now and then, we encountered Lifers, wandering the streets in search of memories. They appeared lost and frazzled, as though unaccustomed to dealing with the realities of the real world. But that would soon change. Once we defeated Titus, every last Mind-Altering Terminal would be destroyed, and those whose entire lives were digitally rendered would be forced to reintegrate the real world and build new lives for themselves. It would be a painful process, but one that would better the lives of everyone involved.
We kept going until we turned a corner and came face to face with the harsh reality of the unfair battle we had engendered. Dozens of innocent civilians had been herded into a corner and were now being methodically eliminated by the handful of robots that surrounded them. One by one, the poor souls were being forced onto their knees and blasted with red energy. I watched in stark horror as a young woman was shot in the head. Her body collapsed and trembled for a few seconds, then grew still.
She was dead.
I stared at her lifeless body for a moment before a blazing inferno of fury erupted from the depths of my soul. Unable to contain it, I vented it in the only way I knew how.
I lifted my weapon and fired.
A blast of red energy blossomed from the weapon’s barrel and shot forward with great zeal. It missed its target, but struck another robot in the chest, causing it to collapse in a convulsing mass of charred metal and dented armour plates. But the damage was minimal, and the automaton quickly recovered.
“Uh-oh,” I muttered as the bots turned their glowing gazes toward us and prepared a retaliatory volley. But they never got a chance to fire. Hundreds of shots were fired simultaneously as the army of humans that surrounded me fired at the metallic beings. Within seconds, not a single robot remained.
But the victory was short-lived. Dozens of robots emerged from the surrounding buildings and converged toward us with murderous intent.
Was this a setup? I wondered. Was the execution meant to lure us forward so the hidden throngs of robots could take us by surprise?
It doesn’t matter, I realized. All we can do now is defend ourselves as best we can and hope for the best.
“Defensive positions!” I yelled.
I wasn’t sure what would happen, but my companions formed a protective circle around me and began blasting at the approaching army or metallic beings.
This is incredible, I thought. They’re risking their lives to protect me.
But, deep down, I knew that was a lie. They weren’t actually protecting me; they were protecting what I stood for—freedom for all.
“This isn’t right,” I muttered. “We must do something.”
“You’re right,” said Lily. She grabbed my hand and dragged me through the throng of bodies.
“Hold on,” cried Piggy as he hurried after us.
“Where are we going?” I asked as we neared the edge of the crowd. Blasts of red energy filled my vision, and I only caught glimpses of the advancing robot army.
Lily didn’t answer. She kept yanking me forward until we finally emerged from the mass of bodies. Now that we were free, I realized just how hopeless the situation was.
Hundreds of robots were advancing, their blasts of red energy ripping into my people as though they were nothing more than cardboard. Dozens had already fallen, and countless more would soon follow.
“What have I done?” I groaned. These people put their lives in my hands, and I repaid them with death and torment.
“This was a mistake,” I muttered.
“No!” growled Lily. “Staying here is the mistake.”
I peered into her eyes and found the same fierce determination I had seen in her father’s eyes. Perhaps they weren’t so different, after all.
“We can’t abandon them,” I protested.
“We’re not,” she promised. “I have something to show you. Something important.”
“What could be more important than—”
“Please,” she begged. The hardness had faded from her gaze, leaving only apprehension. Still, it wasn’t until a blast of red energy whistled past my ear that I finally decided to trust her.
“Fine,” I muttered. “Let’s go.”
We darted away from the horde of brave men and women and darted into the dark alley that stood nearby. The crackle of energy and the whistling of projectiles filled the air, intercut by the occasional scream. Though we were rapidly progressing away from the battlefield, it still sounded like we were in the very midst of the confrontation. It wasn’t until we’d travelled a few blocks that the sounds of battle finally receded.
“How much farther?” I panted.
Lily skidded to a halt.
“We’re here,” she announced.
I looked around, but all I saw was rusted steel and shattered glass. Piggy stood nearby, equally perplexed.
“I don’t get it,” he muttered.
“Me neither,” I admitted. “Why did you bring us here?”
Lily sighed. A great sadness had descended upon her, infecting every inch of her frame and weighing down both her head and her shoulders. Still, it wasn’t until she spoke that I realized what she’d done.
“You lied to me?”
I probably shouldn’t have been surprised, but I couldn’t help feeling betrayed. I thought we’d moved beyond her need for secrecy, overcome her hunger for manipulation. Clearly, I was mistaken.
“I’m sorry,” she croaked, her voice barely more than a whisper. “I-I couldn’t allow you to sacrifice yourself.”
“Is that why you did this?” I asked. “So I can continue coning more innocents into sacrificing themselves for this hopeless cause?”
The fire momentarily returned to her belly, burning away the guilt that filled it.
“It’s not hopeless,” she snapped. “You’re just too naïve to realize victory against my father requires great sacrifice.” She sighed, the fire giving way to glum once more. “But that’s not why I tricked you.”
“Because…” Another sigh. “Because I love you.”
“E-Excuse me?” I croaked, struggling to make sense of the unexpected twist.
Lily brushed the hair from her face, revealing her gentle, enchanting features.
“I love you,” she repeated, this time without an ounce of hesitation.
I remained silent for a long time.
“Why did you wait until now to tell me?” I asked.
“I didn’t want you to think I was trying to manipulate you,” she said. “And…” She faltered once more. “…I was afraid you wouldn’t reciprocate.”
A heavy silence followed the explanation. As much as I cared for Lily, I had yet to forgive her for betraying me. It would take weeks—if not months—before I was mentally stable enough to figure out how I truly felt about her. Unfortunately, it seemed she was intent on putting me on the spot.
“Hey,” muttered Piggy awkwardly. “What’s that over there?”
He hurried off to investigate an imaginary object, leaving me feeling trapped and alone.
“Look,” I muttered. “I like you, but…” My voice trailed off.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean to—”
“It’s fine,” she interrupted. “I shouldn’t have put you on the spot.” She cleared her throat. “We should go before—”
“Guys,” called Piggy. “I think we have a problem.”
I glanced at the rotund boy. He was pointing at something, but I couldn’t quite make out what it was. It wasn’t until the strange vehicle emerged from the shadows that I finally recognized it.
It was a hovercar, the same one Titus had sent for Lily back when I was still a stranger to this town.
The sleek vehicle glided forward, the low hum of its engine filling the air. Every inch of its interior remained hidden behind a layer of tinted glass, yet I could only think of one individual brazen enough to venture out during such a violent confrontation.
What is he doing here? I wondered. Is he coming to retrieve his daughter, or has he more sinister plans?
The flying vehicle advanced until it was within stone throwing distance. I was seriously considering making a run for it when it slowed to a halt. Nothing happened for a few seconds, then one of the doors swung open.
I lifted my weapon and aimed it at the vehicle. Piggy did the same, but Lilly was too distraught to react. She stood perfectly still, staring at the open door with great apprehension. But then the vehicle’s occupant appeared, and my dread turned to incomprehension.
“Apollo?” I asked. “Is that really you?”
“Who else would it be?” retorted the white-haired man. “And why the hell are you pointing a gun at me?”
I chuckled. I hadn’t missed his lack of tact, but I was glad to see him alive and well.
“What are you doing here?” I asked as I lowered my rifle. “How did you escape?”
“Why should I tell you?”
My eyes narrowed in annoyance.
“Because I’m the only one who knows where your son is.”
Apollo considered this for a few seconds then nodded.
“I’m not sure what happened,” he explained. “The robots who’d been guarding me ever since I was taken prisoner suddenly ran off, leaving me free to wander Titus’s home. I considered trying to locate him so I could put an end to his wretched existence, but I thought it wiser to return to The Triangle of Justice.”
“How did you get the hovercar?” asked Lily through gritted teeth. Clearly, the bad blood between them remained as murky as ever.
“That’s none of your business, little girl,” retorted Apollo. Focusing on me once more, he asked, “What the hell is going on? Where’s my son?”
“It’s complicated,” I said. “But I’ll do my best to explain.”
I gave him the cliff notes version of what had transpired since he was taken. Surprisingly, he was more amazed by the fact his son was a good leader than he was our decision to launch a full-scale assault against Titus and his robotic army. Clearly, he had an extremely low opinion of his son.
“Where is Prometheus now?” he asked.
“I’m not sure,” I admitted, “but we’re supposed to meet at the foot of Titus’s statue.”
“What are we waiting for?” he asked. “Let’s go.”
I hesitated. Reuniting with Prometheus and The Triangle of Justice was the most logical move, yet I couldn’t bear the thought of abandoning my people. They had left everything they had ever known behind and risked life and limb to help my friends and me. But the more I thought about it, the more foolish the prospect of backtracking seemed. Not only would the skirmish be over by the time we returned, but there was little chance my people had survived the robotic assault.
What have I done? I wondered, once more assaulted with feelings of guilt and despair. Unable to cope with the shame that filled me, I doubled over and heaved. Nothing came out, but I could taste the bile in my mouth.
“Are you all right?” asked Lily.
I shook my head, still struggling to keep from retching.
“What’s wrong with him?” asked Apollo, tactless as ever. “Is he worried about his little friends?” He snorted. “This is war, kid. You gotta toughen up.”
Lily threw him a withering glare.
“Don’t listen to him,” she told me. “I’m sure your people are safe. They’re strong, resilient.”
I nodded, but I didn’t believe her. My people were dead; I could sense it. And more would soon follow—many, many more.
“It’s hopeless,” I groaned. “Titus will win, just like he always does.”
“You’re wrong,” said Apollo. “Titus has been the uncontested ruler of this city for far too long. It has made him weak, complacent. Today, he shall witness the destruction of his empire.”
I sighed. It was a rousing speech, yet it didn’t change the fact that hundreds of innocents had perished because of me, and thousands more would soon follow. But that could all be avoided. All we had to do was locate Titus and force him to call off his robots. It was a long shot, but it was the best one we had.
“Apollo is right,” I said. “We must reunite with Prometheus and finish this before anyone else gets killed.”
The white-haired man beamed.
“Should we take the hovercar?” asked Lily.
“No,” I said. “It would draw too much attention. We’ll keep going on foot.”
I retrieved the weapon I’d dropped during my moment of weakness and motioned for my companions to follow me. Apollo didn’t seem pleased, but since we were the only ones with weapons, he had no choice but to fall in line.
We travelled the deserted streets for a while before coming across a squadron of robots. I suggested going around, but Apollo insisted on eliminating the threat. Before I could so much as protest, he snatched the gun from my hands, and yelling at the top of his lungs, he ran out of cover and started blasting the bots with red energy.
I watch, wide-eyed as he single-handedly took on half a dozen robots. The first two fell before they could even realize what had hit them. A third was blasted to smithereens by a well-placed shot that overloaded its memory vial and caused it to explode. The remaining bots retaliated with a flurry of blasts, but Apollo danced around them as though they were mere nuisances. Just when it seemed like the robots were going to have the upper hand, a fourth robot came crashing down. Ducking for cover, Apollo waited out the retaliatory barrage of red energy, then darted across the narrow alley and blasted the two remaining bots.
And, just like that, it was all over.
“Woah,” I gasped as my friends and I stepped out of cover. Piggy stared wide-eyed at the carnage while Lily struggled not to display her amazement.
“Here,” muttered Apollo as he tossed me his weapon. “I don’t need it anymore.”
I stared at the rifle for a few seconds, unsure how such a simple weapon could create such devastation. But then something caught my eye, and I forgot all about the gun.
One of the robots had survived. It was damaged beyond repair, yet it retained just enough power to let off one final shot. No sooner had I realized this than a blast of red energy came flying toward me.
I had no time to react. One second, I was staring at the weapon in awe; the next, I was watching my life flash before my eyes. Time didn’t stretch like it does in stories, but a miracle did occur. Moments before the projectile reached me, someone dove in front of me and took the full brunt of the blast.
I remained frozen for a few seconds before the reality of what had just happened dawned on me.
One of my companions had sacrificed themselves to save me. But who was it? Heart pounding, I focused on the groaning mass of mutilated flesh that lay before me.
Option 1: …Lily.
Option 2: …Piggy.
Option 3: …Apollo.
NEXT CHAPTER: Click Here to read Chapter 34.
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