The Memory Thief
Published Aug. 22nd 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 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.
NOTE: Click Here to read the full chapter.
Option 1: 6 votes (26.09%)
Option 2: 10 votes (43.48%)
Option 3: 7 votes (30.43%)
This chapter is dedicated to John. Thanks for voting.
It was… Piggy.
He lay by my feet, his once rotund stomach nothing more than a charred pit of mutilated flesh. His guts were spilling out of him, and a large pool of blood was beginning to form beneath his shuddering frame. His eyes were unfocused, and a strangled groan rose from his throat.
There was no way he would survive.
I remained frozen for a while before concern for my friend forced me to take action. Dropping to my knees, I grabbed Piggy’s hand and squeezed it. His eyes momentarily focused and a smile curled his lips.
“Why?” I asked.
“You t-taught me the imp-portance of being selfless,” he gurgled. “This… This is my way of b-being remembered as a h-hero.”
He smiled weakly, but the grin faded when a raking cough grabbed hold of him. His eyes rolled back in their sockets, and his entire body began to shudder. But the convulsions didn’t last long. Within seconds, they had passed, and Piggy was now completely still.
He was dead.
I don’t know how long I sat there, holding my friend’s lifeless hand, but the blood had begun to dry by the time Lily and Apollo dragged me away from Piggy’s corpse. I don’t remember what happened next. I vaguely recall wandering through dark alleys and cutting across buildings, but it wasn’t until a squadron of robots appeared before us that I finally regained my wits.
“Get to cover!” yelled Apollo. He shoved me aside and began blasting the robots. I wasn’t sure where he got the weapon—maybe he took Piggy’s rifle—but he forced the bots to scatter, giving Lily and me enough time to seek cover.
“What’s happening?” I asked when he joined us behind the heap of rubble Lily and I had chosen as an improvised shield.
The white-haired man frowned.
“What the hell are you talking about?” he snarled. “We’re in the middle of a war. Now stop being a crybaby and help me blast these damned bots.”
I considered reminding him my friend had just died, but he was too busy shooting the robots to bother listening to me. Even Lily was leaning out of cover, letting off shot after shot of red energy. I looked at my hands and realized they were still gripping my rifle. Ignoring the blood that coated the weapon’s left flank, I neared the edge of the rubble heap and peered at the world that lay beyond.
The robots moved toward us at a steady pace, blasts of red energy erupting from their solitary, triangular eyes. Every so often, one of them would collapse, its charred frame too damaged to continue, but another bot inevitably took its place. In fact, it seemed their numbers were growing, not quelling.
“We can’t stay here,” I told my companions. “We must retreat.”
“Never,” growled Apollo. Stepping out of cover, he let off a series of blasts that momentarily halted the robot army’s approach, but the assault resumed as soon as the onslaught ended. Diving for cover, Apollo only barely avoided the retaliatory barrage.
He cleared his throat.
“Maybe you’re right,” he muttered. But, instead of leading a hasty retreat, he leaned out of cover once more and let off another series of shots. Now more desperate than ever, I glanced at Lily. Unlike Apollo, her shots were few and far between, but every last blast found its mark. Seeing her so focused made me realize how vulnerable she was. One unlucky shot was all it would take to put an end to her existence.
“Lily,” I called, rushing to my friend’s side. “We must get out of here.”
“How?” she asked, momentarily seeking refuge behind the heap of rubble.
I looked around and spotted a dark alley.
“There,” I said, pointing at the narrow passage.
Lily considered the potential egress route for a moment before nodding.
“You go first,” she said, “I’ll cover you.”
I hesitated, but now wasn’t the time to argue. I nodded and waited for her signal. As soon as she gave it, I bolted out of cover and darted across the cobbled street. A few blasts lit up the décor, but I was safely away before any of them found their mark. Taking a moment to catch my breath, I motioned for Lily to join me and, leaning out of cover, began shooting. Most of the shots missed their target, but I distracted the bots long enough for Lily to join me.
“Apollo!” I yelled. “It’s your turn.”
He didn’t seem thrilled at the prospect of venturing out of cover, but he knew staying put would be tantamount to suicide, so he waited for us to give him the all-clear signal, then raced across the ravaged landscape. A blast of energy clipped him in the leg, but he kept running until he reached the safety of the alley. Swearing angrily, he leaned out of cover and let off a few shots.
“Let’s go,” I urged, well aware that time was running out. The robots were now converging toward us from both directions, and it was only a matter of time before they reached our new hiding spot.
I took the lead and guided my companions down the dark, dingy alley. I kept expecting a swarm of bots to appear before us, but we reached the end of the narrow passageway without incident. Ignoring the blasts of energy that now lit the world around us, we skidded around the corner and raced down a wide street.
There was no sign of the robots that were pursuing us, but I knew it was only a matter of time before that changed, so I led my friends down the first intersection we came across. Another few turns sufficed to put enough distance between us and our pursuers for us to take a quick break.
“Why did we flee?” demanded Apollo.
I glared at him. “I just watched one of my friends get murdered,” I growled, “and I don’t plan on letting anyone else die on my watch. Got it?”
The white-haired man was taken aback by the harshness of my rebuttal, but he didn’t bother trying to reclaim the control I’d stolen by leading our retreat. Still, I could tell he was annoyed when I suggested we keep moving.
“Where are we going?” he asked.
“Prometheus told us to meet him at the foot of Titus’s statue,” I reminded. Turning to Lily, I added, “Do you mind taking the lead? You know this city better than anyone.”
She nodded and pushed past me. We travelled in silence for a while before a robot emerged from one of the buildings. Destroying it was easy enough, but another soon appeared, followed by two more.
“How do they keep finding us?” I wondered. Were there really that many bots scattered throughout the city, or had Titus found a way of tracking us? It seemed unlikely, but the growing number of robots seemed to indicate we were, in fact, being targeted. Soon, it became all but impossible to progress without unduly risking our lives.
“We must find shelter,” I announced.
“No way!” refused Apollo, but he quickly changed his tune when we rounded a corner, and a barricade of metallic bodies and glowing triangles appeared before us. Diving for the nearest building, we only barely avoided the hailstorm of projectiles that came flying toward us.
We raced across the structure’s main floor until we reached the far side, then darted across a series of narrow streets before reaching a building that was both sturdy enough to provide shelter and small enough to be easily defensible. Still, it was with a growing sense of foreboding that I led my friends into it.
Our hideout was perfect in the sense that it would force the robots down a bottleneck, but it was highly imperfect in the sense that it offered no egress route. Unfortunately, by the time we realized this, it was already too late. The bots had begun assaulting the structure’s main door, and it was only a matter of time before they broke it down.
“We must go up,” announced Apollo. Taking the lead, he guided us toward the nearby staircase. The structure was small enough that each level consisted of a single room, but it stretched high into the sky. Still, it took mere minutes for us to reach the topmost level.
“Look for a way out,” instructed Apollo. Standing by the door, he kept an eye out for robots while Lily and I searched the room.
The good news was the building possessed an egress route; the bad news was it came in the form of a trapdoor and a metallic ladder affixed to the structure’s outer shell. In order to reach the cobbled streets, we’d have to climb down a dozen flights. As bad as this was, I was far more worried about our pursuers attempting to blast us off the side of the edifice.
“Damn!” swore Apollo when he learned the news.
“We could…” I began, but my voice trailed off when a blast shook the entire structure. Moments later, the sound of footsteps filled the stairwell.
The robots were on their way.
No one spoke for a few seconds, then Apollo said something so unexpected I wondered if I’m misheard.
“You two go on without me.”
“You heard me,” growled Apollo. “You’re the symbol of the resistance. And you”—he glanced at Lily—“you’re Titus’s daughter. If anyone can pull this off, it’s the two of you.”
I wasn’t sure how to react. Part of me worried Apollo had finally snapped, but what he said made perfect sense. Lily and I were the ones who’d spearheaded this rebellion; without us, there was no telling whether the revolt would succeed. Still, I was reticent to abandon Apollo so soon after I’d watched one of my friends die.
“I realized something while I was imprisoned,” said Apollo. “Violence isn’t the answer. It may well be the solution to our current predicament, but it’s not a long-term solution. Prometheus is a much better leader than I ever was, and he deserves to be the one who leads The Triangle of Justice to freedom.”
I wasn’t sure what to say, so I said nothing.
“Are you sure this is what you want?” asked Lily.
“You should go before it’s too late.”
Lily nodded and, taking my hand, led me toward the trapdoor.
“Spyder?” called Apollo moments before we reached it.
I stopped and turned.
“Tell my son I’m proud of him.”
“I will,” I promised.
I was about to add something else when the first bot reached the top of the stairs. It took a step toward Apollo, but the white-haired man sent it tumbling backward with a well-placed blast. Moments later, all hell broke loose.
Dozens of robots came rushing up the stairs, blasting all that moved with their red energy. I’m not sure what happened next because Lily pushed me through the trapdoor. Only barely avoiding a plummet to certain death, I grabbed the first rung and began travelling down the ladder. Lily followed close behind, urging me on whenever I slowed the pace. I kept expecting to hear the sound of Apollo’s life coming to a close, but the blasts of energy kept lighting up the structure’s topmost level, indicating our brave companion was holding his own against the scourge of bots. Every so often, one of the windows would shatter, and glass would rain down upon us, but such instances were few and far between. Eventually, the flashes of light faded, and a heavy silence descended upon us.
“What do you think happened?” I asked as soon as we reached ground level. “Do you think he’s still alive?”
“I don’t know,” admitted Lily.
“Should we go back?” I asked, though I knew that would be a mistake. Apollo had sacrificed himself to allow us to escape, and returning to the meat grinder would invalidate all he had accomplished. Plus, there was little we could do for him now. Still, it was with a heavy heart that I turned my back to the structure and began the long journey to Titus’s statue.
The good news was we only encountered a few robots, and they were easily incapacitated. The bad news was reaching our destination took much longer than expected. By the time we finally emerged from the labyrinth of narrow streets and dark alleys, many hours had passed since Piggy and Apollo had given their lives to protect us. But I forgot all about that when we turned a corner, and a shocking scene appeared before us.
Titus’s statue was gone. In its place now stood a heap of charred, twisted metal. Though most fragments were unrecognizable, a few caught my eye. The first was the massive, half-melted head that stood at the very apex of the pile. The second was the oversized foot that protruded from the base of the stack. But I quickly lost interest in the fragments when I noticed the vast crowd that was amassed around it.
Hundreds upon hundreds of filthy, blood-soaked combatants were gathered. Most I recognized as citizens of The Slums, but members of The Triangle of Justice were scattered throughout. Seeing so many familiar faces filled me with a sense of relief, yet I couldn’t help but wonder why there were so few. Nearly ten thousand individuals had agreed to join us in our battle against Titus, yet only a thousand now remained.
Did the rest perish? I wondered, but I refused to even consider such a possibility. Ignoring the sense of foreboding that filled me, I pushed through the crowd, followed closely by Lily. At first, people grumbled, but then news of my arrival spread, and a path appeared before us. Ignoring the smiles and waves that greeted me, I led my friend to the heart of the crowd. There, standing tall and proud, was the man we were looking for.
“Welcome, my friends,” he said. He hugged us tightly, then gestured at our surroundings. “What do you think?”
I studied the remains of the statue for a while before realizing the explosion that had destroyed it had served as the first official blow against Titus and his mighty army. Not only had the blast signalled the start of the rebellion, but it had shattered the tyrant’s false aura of invincibility. But then my gaze landed on the crowd, and I forgot all about Titus and his robots.
“Is this all that remains?” I asked.
Prometheus frowned, but then a broad grin curled his lips.
“Not at all,” he said. “Your people were very brave, but they were untrained, and most were unable to cope with the atrocities of war. They fled, abandoning both their weapons and their comrades. The men and women who stand before you are the bravest of the brave, the toughest of the tough.”
Part of me felt ashamed of the cowardice displayed by the vast majority of my people, yet I couldn’t deny how relieved I was to learn they were alive and well. Plus, two of my companions had given their lives so that I could live, so I was in no position to…
The thought trailed off when I realized Prometheus knew nothing of his father’s sacrifice. As difficult as it would be to explain, I knew delaying would only make things worse, so I took Prometheus aside and told him of his father’s bravery and his words of farewell.
He stood stock-still for a few seconds, then smiled.
“My father is still alive,” he said.
“What do you mean?”
“My father is a hard man to kill. There’s no doubt in my mind he’s alive and well.”
I faltered. Should I try convincing him Apollo was, in fact, dead, or should I allow him to go on believing he had somehow survived? In the end, I chose to let the events play out. After all, there was a chance—a slim one—Apollo was still alive.
“Do you think we have enough manpower to perform a sweep of the city?” I asked, desperate to change the subject.
“Why would we sweep the city?”
“Didn’t you say—”
“I’m sorry,” he interrupted. “I thought you knew. We’ve already swept the city.”
The man nodded.
“There were far fewer robots than we’d anticipated. All but a few stragglers have been eradicated.”
“What are you saying?” I asked.
“We did it,” he said. “The war is over. We won.”
A heavy silence followed the revelation.
“Are you sure?”
“Our people are safe. Nothing bad will ever happen to them again.”
I winced, worried something horrible would happen, but the world remained unchanged. Sighing, I lowered my guard and allowed myself to believe Titus’s tyrannical reign had finally come to an end. Of course, that was the very moment things took an unexpected turn.
It started with a slight tremor, but it quickly grew into a powerful vibration that shook the entire city. Moments later…
Option 1: …thousands upon thousands of robots emerged from the surrounding landscape.
Option 2: …thousands upon thousands of winged robots rained down from the heavens.
Option 3: …a solitary, building-sized robot erupted from the depths of the earth.
NEXT CHAPTER: Click Here to read Chapter 35.
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