The Memory Thief
Published February 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 sat in silence for a while before my curiosity convinced me to take action. Approaching the door, I used the robot’s severed hand—it hadn’t moved since curling up next to its body—to open it and waited for the unknown landscape that awaited me to be exposed. The door slowly retreated, revealing…
Option 1: …a vast hangar filled with row upon row of vehicles.
Option 2: …a robot.
Option 3: …a filthy teenager.
NOTE: Click Here to read the full chapter.
Option 1: 3 votes (18.75%)
Option 2: 5 votes (31.25%)
Option 3: 8 votes (50.00%)
This chapter is dedicated to Nancy. Thanks for voting.
The door slowly retreated, revealing… a filthy teenager.
He was young—no more than twelve or thirteen—and had shaggy hair and dark eyes. His face was slick with sweat and grime, and his clothes were in tatters. His feet were bare.
“Who are—” I began, but he cut me off.
His voice was squeaky, as though he hadn’t finished going through puberty.
“Late? What do you mean?”
“Wha—” His eyes grew wide. “Oh,” he muttered. “You don’t recognize me, do you?”
I shook my head.
“He warned me this might happen.”
“No, not you. The you before you became you. The old you.”
I take a moment to process what the nameless teen just said.
“Are you saying my former self—the person I was before my memories were stolen—came here?”
“And he—I told you I would return?”
He hesitated, looking around nervously.
“Not here,” he said. “We’re too exposed.”
I scanned the chamber—it was a medium-sized room with dirt instead of a floor and dull concrete walls; two dented vehicles stood to my immediate right, and a large, doorless entrance stood at either end—but found nothing to warrant such precautious behaviour.
“Follow me,” said the teenager, heading toward one of the exits.
“Hold on!” I called after him. “Can you at least tell me your name?”
He skidded to a halt and slowly turned.
“My name is Bartholomew, but my friends call me Lom.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Lom. I’m Spyder.”
“No. You’re not.”
Lom shook his head.
“Your friends call you Spy.”
“You used to say it sounded cool, like you were some sort of superspy.”
Well, I thought. That explains why I thought I could unravel the mystery of the memory thief.
“Are we friends?” I asked.
The smirk fell from Lom’s face.
“We used to be best friends,” he said. “Before you forgot who I was.”
A heavy silence followed the revelation.
“I’m sorry,” I finally said. “I didn’t mean for any of this to happen.”
“I know. We all do.”
The smirk returns to Lom’s face.
“You didn’t really think you learned the truth all by yourself, did you?”
Lom sighed again. He seemed to enjoy doing that.
“It’s complicated. I’ll explain everything, but we need to—”
An explosion interrupted him. Powerful enough to dent the flank of the vehicle that brought me here, the blast sent me diving for cover. Scrambling for safety, I barely even noticed the red hue that emanated from the impact point or the dark shape beyond it.
“What’s happening?” I asked, my voice quaking.
“Follow me,” instructed Lom. Leaping to his feet, he darted toward the nearest exit and dove into it. Moments later, a blast of red energy lit up the nearby wall.
I hesitated for a moment before following. Soon, I was stumbling down a narrow corridor, struggling to keep up with Lom. He was lanky, but his long legs gave him a distinct advantage.
“Wait up!” I called as he vanished around a corner.
“Run faster,” came his reply as I skidded around the bend.
We kept going for a while. Every time I looked back, I caught glimpses of a large, glistening shape pursuing us, but I couldn’t make out what it was. It wasn’t until Lom dove into one of the many doorways that lined the corridor that I finally got a chance to speak.
“What… was… that?” I panted once the echo of footsteps faded and silence returned.
“A bot,” muttered Lom.
“Bot?” I asked.
“Short for robot. Sometimes, a syllable means the difference between life and death.”
I wasn’t sure what that meant, but I didn’t bother asking.
“Where are we?” I asked, looking around. The room in which we stood was bathed in shadows, yet I could still make out dozens of large shapes. I couldn’t tell what they were, but they didn’t seem threatening, so I chose to ignore them.
“I’m not sure what it’s called,” admitted Lom, “but it’s a processing facility.”
“This is where all the stolen memories are stored, packaged, and expedited to their ultimate destination.”
I had so many questions I didn’t know where to begin.
“I thought the memory thief worked alone.”
“There is no memory thief,” he said, putting an emphasis on the final two words. “There are hundreds of them. Thousands.”
“Did you really think a single person was capable of stealing so many people’s memories?”
“There’s much that doesn’t make sense. I’m not even sure I believe what’s happening is real; it could be an elaborate dream or some sort of simulation.”
“I wish,” he muttered, “but this is real. Bots travel to The Slums every night and steal people’s memories. Thousands are extracted each and every day.”
“But… I-I thought—”
“The bots go from home to home, extracting one or two memories from each person. They usually retrieve the oldest memories—distant recollections people have all but forgotten. Only those who venture out of their homes past curfew have their minds wiped. Everyone else just loses a few memories and go on with their lives.”
“How is this not common knowledge?”
“The bots remove the memory of the extraction.”
I gulped. Clearly, the conspiracy was much larger than I’d realized. Now more than ever, I was aware of how incredibly foolhardy my quest for justice was. But I couldn’t give up. Not yet.
“What happens to the memories?” I asked.
“They’re brought here.”
“To this facility?”
Lom shook his head.
“To this very room.” He reached for something and, moments later, lights flickered to life, illuminating our surroundings.
The room was much larger than I’d realized, and hundreds of pallets were scattered about. Stacked neatly atop each one was hundreds of small metallic crates. A familiar shape had been carved into each.
I gulped, my gaze instinctively travelling to my left arm.
“What are they?” I asked.
“See for yourself,” said Lom.
I carefully approached the first pallet and grabbed one of the crates. It was light, and twice the size of my combined fists. Inside were ten foam-encased vials filled with glowing white energy.
“Is that…” I asked, my voice trailing off.
I stared at the glowing energy for a while before my gaze ventured beyond the crate.
“Are all these full?” I asked, staring at the stacks of crates.
Lom nodded again.
I gasped. “There must be tens… no, hundreds of thousands of memories.”
My friend shook his head.
“I did the math. There are just over a million memories in this room alone.”
“There are more rooms?”
“There are six. They’re never all full, but there are anywhere between two and five million memories in this facility at any given moment.”
I gulped, once again overwhelmed by the grandeur of the conspiracy.
“W-What happens to the memories once they’re sorted?”
“Follow me.” He grabbed the crate from my hands, returned it to its stack, and headed for the exit. Peeking out to make sure the path was clear, he motioned for me to follow and slipped out of the room. I hesitated for a moment before following.
“Where are we going?” I asked as we tiptoed down the hall.
“You’ll see,” was all he said.
We kept going, hiding more than once to avoid being spotted by the robots that wandered the facility’s many corridors. I caught glimpses of them, but I didn’t get a good look until we reached our destination.
The room was big—too big to be called a room—and filled with row upon row of odd machines. Relatively small, each one was equipped with half a dozen tubes that travelled straight up and vanished into the high ceiling. Clear and roughly the same width as my forearm, the tubes seemed to be pressurized—everything that was inserted into them was automatically transported upward.
Standing before each machine was a robot. Tall and intimidating, the metallic beings were identical to the one I’d encountered during my trip in the subterranean vehicle but for two distinct differences: they were whole and very much alive, a fact proven by the glowing triangles of red energy that adorned their featureless faces. Hard at work, the bots were busy extracting the memory vials from the cases that stood atop their assigned machine and feeding them into the tubes.
I watched them work for a while before noticing the robots carting pallets of crates—some full, others empty—across the vast chamber. Working in pairs, they each had their assigned job. One would retrieve the empty crates and add them to its growing stack while the other would replace it with a brand-new crate. It was such a perfectly timed process the new crates arrived exactly when the last memory vial was extracted from the old ones.
I stared for a while, entranced by the strange dance before it occurred to me this new discovery only provided me with more unanswered questions.
“Where are the memories being sent?” I asked in a hushed tone.
“I’m not sure,” admitted Lom as he retreated to the safety of the corridor. He sighed, shoulders slumped.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Well,” he said. “You were the one who found this place. You only told me because you needed my help.”
“I’m the smallest of the group, and I’m good at hiding. You asked me to stay here for a few days. You were hoping I could figure out where the bots were sending the memories, but…” His voice trailed off.
I took a moment to process what I’d just learned.
Well, I thought. At least, now I know why Lom’s first words were “You’re late.” But there’s something that still bugs me.
“You said ‘smallest of the group.’ Does that mean there are others?”
Lom frowned, but then a mixture of comprehension and guilt flashed across his face.
“You don’t remember anything,” he muttered, hitting his forehead with his open palm. “Sorry. It’s hard to keep track of who knows what.”
“Tell me about it.”
He laughed, but the outburst didn’t last long.
“We’re six… well, we were six until Rock got snagged by scrags.” He sighed. “Now we’re five. Four and a half if we consider the fact that you’re only half a man.” He chuckled, but his heart wasn’t in it.
“What’s a scrag?” I asked.
“Scaled dogs. You must have seen them; they’re everywhere.”
I nodded, all too familiar with the vicious beasts.
“You keep saying ‘we,’” I asked. “Who exactly are you referring to?”
“The Cluster,” repeated Lom. “It’s what we call a group of spiders.”
“We were scoundrels, urchins, forced to scrounge and steal to survive. You found us and took us under your wing, providing us with shelter and guidance. You taught us the value of hard work and helped us survive.” He sighed. “Well, everyone but Rock.”
A heavy silence settled between us. I didn’t remember Rock, yet I still felt sad that he was dead. It was strange.
“You’re our leader,” continued Lom after a while, “and your name’s Spyder, so we decided to call ourselves The Cluster. I’m the one who came up with the name. Do you like it?”
I smiled. The Cluster was a horrible name, but Lom seemed so proud of it I couldn’t bring myself to tell him.
“It’s awesome,” I lied.
He beamed proudly, and I returned the smile. Lom was kind of geeky, but he was a good kid, and I was proud to call him a friend.
“Where’s the rest of The Cluster?” I asked, struggling not to laugh at the silly name.
“Back in The Slums. You didn’t tell them about our mission; you wanted to be sure before putting them in danger.”
“Why did I tell you?” I asked. I didn’t mean for it to sound harsh, but it did.
“I’m your best friend,” said Lom, suddenly looking much younger. “And I’m the best spy you got.”
“I don’t doubt it for a second, but you did your job. It’s time for us to go home.”
“What? No way! We don’t even know where the bots are sending the memories. We can’t just give up.”
“We’re not giving up,” I said. “We’re regrouping. We’ll tell the rest of The Cluster what we’ve learned, and then we’ll come up with a plan. We can always come back later.”
Lom didn’t seem happy, but he nodded.
“Fine,” he muttered, “but you owe me one.”
“Deal,” I said. “Now let’s get the hell out of here before—”
The echo of footsteps interrupted me.
I froze. So did Lom.
“Is that what I think it is?” I asked.
I scanned the corridor in search of an escape route, but there were only two ways out. The first led to the chamber we’d just left; the other meant travelling toward the sound of approaching footsteps. A pallet of crates stood to our immediate left, but there was no way we’d both be able to hide.
“Crap!” I swore. “Is there another way out?”
Lom shook his head.
“Any bright ideas?”
“No,” admitted my young friend, “but I have a dumb one.”
“How is that supposed to—” I began, but he didn’t let me finish.
“Tell the guys I died a hero,” he said.
“What? No… I…” I stammered, but it was already too late.
Lom took off running, closing the gap between us and the bend in the corridor in a few strides. Skidding to a halt, he faced what stood beyond it—though I couldn’t see it, I had no trouble imagining the hulking robot and its glowing triangle eye—and started waving his arms like a madman.
“Hey!” he yelled. “I’m here. Shoot me. Shoot me!”
I wanted to call to him, to order him to stand down, but I knew that would only make his sacrifice pointless. All I could do was take cover behind the crate and watch as my friend sacrificed himself to save me.
It took a few seconds, but a blast of red energy finally came hurtling from behind the bend and slammed into Lom’s chest. Grunting softly, he crumbled, immobile.
I stared at my friend’s motionless body for a few seconds before a sharp intake of breath told me he was still alive. He was unconscious, but he was breathing. For now.
I waited, breathless, as the robot came into view. Walking slowly, it approached my friend’s body until it was standing right over it. It remained motionless for a moment, then…
Option 1: …shot him in the head, killing him instantly.
Option 2: …started extracting his memories.
Option 3: …carefully lifted his unconscious body and carried him away.
NEXT CHAPTER: Click Here to read Chapter 8.
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