The Memory Thief
Published February 29th 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…
“They’ll do whatever I say,” sneered Piggy. “Now leave, before you regret it.”
So much for diplomacy.
I knew I was a skilled fighter, but I didn’t want to risk injuring someone until I’d explored all options. I thus took a moment to think through the different possibilities that stood before me. The way I saw it, there were three possible solutions to my current predicament:
Option 1: I could fight Piggy, reclaim control of the gang, and try to save Lom.
Option 2: I could try to fix the damaged robot and use it to save Lom.
Option 3: I could try to save Lom on my own.
NOTE: Click Here to read the full chapter.
Option 1: 5 votes (22.73%)
Option 2: 16 votes (72.73%)
Option 3: 1 vote (4.54%)
This chapter is dedicated to Barrie. Thanks for voting.
The way I saw it, there were three possible solutions to my current predicament. I considered each option carefully before deciding a fight with the current leader of The Cluster would be a bad idea. Attempting to rescue Lom on my own would also be ill-fated. That left only one option.
I would fix the damaged robot and use it to save my friend.
I turned my back to The Cluster and walked away. Squid called out to me, but I ignored him. I hated abandoning the boys to their fate, but they weren’t my priority. Lom was.
I’ll come back, I promised myself. I’ll make things right.
I kept going until I reached a section of The Slums that was alive with life. The mass of filthy bodies once intimidated me, but I now found comfort in it. I long for the days where my biggest concern was figuring out what had happened to me. Life was so simple back then. Now, every move I made only seemed to make things worse.
Will things ever settle down? I wondered. But I couldn’t afford to think that way. Lom’s life was on the line, and I couldn’t rest until he was safely back in The Slums.
I scanned the now desolate landscape and realized I was nearing the spot where the teardrop vehicle was located. Halting, I hesitated for a moment before retracing my footsteps. What good was reaching the damaged robot when I had no tools with which to repair it?
I travelled The Slums until I reached the dark alley where I’d last seen Finger. It felt like ages since I’d last seen the little girl, but it had only been a day—I think. Praying the scrags I’d encountered during my first visit were slumbering, I made my way across the mud-infested path. It took a while, but I finally reached the triangle-adorned door. I still had no idea what the symbol meant, or why it had been carved into my forearm, but I had far more pressing concerns.
I entered the dwelling and made my way to the workshop I’d found during my initial search. The room was just as messy as I recalled, but the tools were plentiful and gathering the necessary supplies easy.
I wasn’t sure which tools I’d need—or even what many of them did—so I gathered a wide assortment and stuffed them into one of the half-dozen toolboxes that were scattered throughout the room. I then made my way to the makeshift office—the one where I’d first learned the truth about myself—and retrieved The Ultimate Guide to Building Sentient Robots. I wasn’t sure if I’d need it, but it felt like a waste leaving it here.
Now equipped to fix the damaged robot, I headed off. Most of the citizens I encountered threw me quizzical glances, but none dared approach me. Still, I had the distinct impression I was being watched. It wasn’t until I reached the teardrop vehicle that the feeling subsided. Putting down my supplies, I approached a small stack of bricks. While innocuous in appearance, the makeshift structure held something of utmost importance.
The severed hand began scurrying around excitedly as soon as I lifted the first brick. By the time I’d removed enough of them for it to escape the confines of its tiny prison, it was in such a frenzy I feared it would run off. Luckily, its excitement was due to my return, not my decision to imprison it. Acting like an overzealous puppy, it began running circles around me, its metallic fingers acting as legs and its arm swinging frantically from side to side.
I waited for it to tire itself out, then retrieved the severed appendage and used it to open the teardrop vehicle. The robot’s corpse lay within, unmoved. Ignoring the hand’s excitement, I grabbed hold of the metallic corpse and dragged it out of the vehicle. At least, that was what I tried to do, but the corpse was so heavy it wouldn’t budge. Adjusting my stance, I grabbed the robot’s sole remaining arm and pulled with all my might.
I tried a few more times before realizing it was hopeless. There was no way I’d move it on my own.
“Blank!” I swore. The word seemed foreign, yet it definitely sounded like a curse word.
Is blank a swear? I wondered. Given the nature of the word and the fact that memory theft was commonplace in The Slums, it seemed as though it should be a curse, but I had no way of knowing whether I’d made it up or it was part of everyday vernacular.
“Do you need help?” asked a voice before I could tumble deeper down the swearwords rabbit hole.
Heart racing, I whipped around to find a familiar-looking child standing before me.
It was Squid.
“Wh-What are you doing here?” I stuttered.
“I followed you,” he said.
Well, I thought. That explains why I felt like I was being watched.
“Why?” I asked.
Squid scrunched his face.
“You abandoned us,” he said, crossing his arms.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “but Lom is in trouble. I must save him.”
“I know,” said Squid. “That’s why I’m here.”
I raised an eyebrow. “You want to help?”
I hesitated, unsure whether I should agree to let him participate in Lom’s rescue. Then again, it wasn’t like I had a choice.
“Fine,” I muttered, nodding at the robot. “Help me drag this thing out of the vehicle.”
Squid eyed the hung of metal for a moment before nodding. “Fine,” he said, “but on one condition.”
I frowned but didn’t speak.
“You must promise to help us,” he continued. “Piggy is a bully. He beats us and makes our lives miserable.” He sighs. “We’re too weak to fight him, but you’re not. If you agree to beat him up, I’ll help you.”
“Fine,” I said, “but we save Lom first.”
Squid beamed. “Deal!”
He stuck out his right hand, indicating shaking it would seal the deal. I eyed it for a moment before squeezing it.
“Are we good?” I asked.
“Good,” I said. “Now, give me a hand.” I approached the robot and once again grabbed hold of it. Squid was more hesitant.
“What is that thing?” he asked.
“It’s a robot,” I said.
I studied Squid for a moment before realizing he wasn’t kidding. He had no idea what a robot was.
It made sense. Robots were memory thieves. It thus stood to reason they would extract all memories of robotic beings, effectively erasing their existence from common culture. Odds are, I was among only a handful of people who knew what robots were. The fact that I had actually built robots made me unique. It also meant I was the only person capable of rescuing Lom and ending the conspiracy of the memory thief.
“Robots are artificial beings,” I explained, ignoring the responsibility that now weighed me down. “They may look like us, but they aren’t real.”
“It sure looks real,” mutters Squid.
I could have elaborated, but it didn’t seem like a worthwhile investment, so I convinced Squid to stop asking questions and help me drag the robot’s corpse out of the vehicle. It took a while, and far more effort than I’d expected, but we finally managed to free the bot’s body from its metallic prison. Now free to move about with ease, I got to work.
The hardest part was figuring out how to open the robot’s exoskeleton. It wasn’t until the hand realized what I was trying to do and took pity on me that I finally got my first look at the being’s inner workings.
Gears and cogs of all shapes and sizes and were arranged in an assortment of intricate mechanisms. At first glance, the design seemed random, but further scrutiny revealed patterns of varying degrees of complexity. It took a while, but the longer I stared, the more sense it all made. Soon, I could tell what was wrong with a single glance. Picking the right tool for the job was slightly more difficult, but my former abilities quickly returned. Before long, I was twisting gears, turning bolts, and tightening screws. It wasn’t until I reached for a tool and found it absent that I realized how much time had passed.
Squid had constructed a makeshift sculpture of a giant spider using scrap from the surrounding landscape and was now surveying his work with pride.
“Do you like it?” he asked when he noticed me staring. “I made it for you.”
I smiled, suddenly struck with a realization. I didn’t remember Squid, but he knew who I’d been before my memories were stolen. He looked up to me, loved me as a child does a parent. Now more than ever, I felt protective of him.
“I love it,” I said.
“Can you do me a favour?” I asked.
He nodded excitedly.
“How long did you follow me before you revealed yourself?” I asked. “Since I left The Cluster’s hideout?”
“Did you see me enter a door with a triangle carved into it?”
“Beyond it is a house,” I explained. “On the second floor, there’s a room filled with tools. Do you think you could grab one for me?”
I smiled and described the tool I was looking for. Moments later, Squid was gone, darting through the rubble like… well, like a filthy orphan going to retrieve a tool from a secret dwelling.
I kept working, doing what I could with the tools I had. By the time Squid returned, I’d come to the conclusion that I required more tools I didn’t have, but my helper was more than happy to make another trip. This little game went on for hours before I neared the point of completion.
“I need one more tool,” I told Squid.
He was still panting from his last trip, but he didn’t complain.
“Do you remember the wrench you brought?” I asked. “I need another one.”
“I’m on it,” muttered Squid.
I watched him run off, sighing softly. The truth was, I didn’t need another wrench. I’d sent him away because I didn’t want him involved in what was about to happen.
I reattached the arm. It was a slow process, but the result was instantaneous. The hand twitched, then began shuddering. Progressing beyond the hand, the convulsions infected the robot’s entire frame. A soft glow emerged from the triangle that adorned its face. Growing brighter, the red light intensified until I couldn’t stand to look at it. Looking away, I waited for the reanimation process to end. It took a while, but the glow finally subsided.
The robot was still.
What’s wrong? I wondered. Did I screw up? Did I—
The robot sat up.
Glowing softly, its single, triangular eye scanned the landscape. It focused on me for a second before moving on. Standing, the robot took a few hesitant steps, testing its limbs. Satisfied, it turned to me and waved. It was such an unexpected thing I couldn’t help laughing.
Was the robot actually waving or was the hand merely happy to be reunited with its body? Did it really matter?
“Will you help me?” I asked. I wasn’t sure if the robot could understand me, but I was confident the hand recognized me as the one who made it whole again.
The robot nodded.
I breathed a sigh of relief. My plan would work. Lom was as good as saved. Or so I thought until the bot’s face triangle started glowing.
“Uh-oh!” I muttered.
I wasn’t sure what was happening, but I could tell it wasn’t benign.
“Hey,” I muttered. “I’m the guy who saved you. You wouldn’t hurt me, would you?”
No response. The glow intensified, indicating whatever was about to happen would occur imminently.
Acting pre-emptively, I sidestepped. Instead of focusing on me, the robot kept staring straight ahead, its gaze fixed upon the child that stood a stone throw away.
It was Squid.
He was frozen in place, the wrench I’d sent him to fetch clutched in his left hand.
I wanted to call out to him, to tell him to run, but it was too late. The triangle now glowed with such intensity the blast of energy I was now convinced would soon erupt from it was beyond interruption.
I couldn’t let that happen.
Acting on instinct, I raced forward and tackled the bot just as it fired. The impact was jarring—for me—and the result disappointing, but the collision was enough to twist the robot’s head just as a blast of energy erupted from its face. Sailing forward, it whizzed past Squid’s left ear and exploded against a heap of rubble. Sending the debris flying, it snapped the dirty child out of his stunned trance and sent him scurrying for safety.
Confused, the robot turned to me and cocked its head, as though asking why I’d interfered. It was such a human thing to do I was momentarily taken aback, but my concern for Squid’s safety quickly expulsed the surprise from my frame.
“He’s a friend,” I said. “Do you understand?”
The bot hesitated, then nodded.
“You can’t hurt him, got it?”
“You promise not to hurt him, or any other human?”
A vigorous nod.
“Good,” I said. “Squid! You can come out. It’s safe.”
“Are you sure?” came his squeaky voice.
It took a while, but Squid finally emerged from his hiding spot. The robot studied him for a moment before turning away. Moving hesitantly, Squid crossed the clearing and joined me.
“What was that?” he asked.
“I’m not sure,” I admitted. “But it’s over now.”
Neither of us spoke for a while.
“I guess you don’t need this anymore,” muttered Squid, nodding to the wrench in his hand.
Another short silence settled between us before Squid spoke again.
“What’s his name?”
“Yeah. Everyone needs a name.”
“I guess you’re right. How about Handy?”
“Because of the hand?”
“Yeah. What do you think?”
Squid grinned. “I like it.” Turning to the bot, he stuck out his hand and said, “Hey, Handy. My name is Squid.”
Handy stared at the hand but didn’t shake it.
“I don’t think—” I began, but my young friend cut me off.
“You shake it,” he said. “It’s a sign of friendship.”
The robot stared at Squid’s hand for a moment longer before grabbing it and shaking it from side to side. Squid laughed.
“Not like that,” he said. “Here, let me show you.”
He moved his hand up and down, teaching Handy the proper form. It was such a strange sight I couldn’t help laughing. Squid soon joined in, and even Handy seemed to smile, his featureless face swaying gently.
“What are we waiting for?” asked Squid once the laughter had died down. “Let’s go save Lom.”
I sighed. I’d hoped to avoid this by sending him on a useless errand, but the reanimation process had taken longer than expected, and I was now forced to tell Squid the truth.
“You can’t come,” I said. “It’s too dangerous.”
“No,” I interrupted. “This isn’t up for discussion. I appreciate everything you’ve done for me, but I couldn’t forgive myself if something happened to you.”
“I can help,” insisted Squid.
“I know you could,” I said. “But I have Handy. We’ll be fine on our own.” I put my hand on Squid’s bony shoulder. “Return to The Cluster. I’ll come for you as soon as Lom is safe.”
Squid didn’t seem pleased, but he didn’t argue.
“Fine,” he muttered, “but you promised to beat up Piggy. Don’t forget.”
“Don’t worry,” I assured him. “Piggy will get what he deserves.”
“Okay,” he said. “Good luck.” Lunging forward, he threw his arms around me in an awkward hug. Pulling away before I could reciprocate, he flashed me a quick grin and rushed off, dropping the wrench in the toolbox as he did.
“Well,” I muttered, turning to Handy. “Looks like it’s just you and me, big guy.”
The bot didn’t react. Shaking my head, I entered the teardrop vehicle and gestured for Handy to join me.
“Let’s go,” I said. “We have a friend to save.”
The trip to the facility didn’t take long. Soon, Handy and I were hurrying down the narrow corridors on our way to the chamber where Lom and so many others were being cryogenically stored. We encountered two robots during our travels, but Handy incapacitated them with his spheres of glowing energy.
“Here we are,” I announced when we reached the door leading to the storage warehouse. One quick peek through the reinforced window that made up the door’s upper half confirmed Lom was still present, frozen within his stasis chamber.
“Can you open the door?” I asked, gesturing at the glowing triangle that stood next to it.
Handy pressed the back of its hand to the triangle, and the door slid open with a soft hiss. Pushing past the robot, I rushed into the room and approached my friend’s glass tube. Hidden behind a layer of frost, Lom remained immobile, his levitating body frozen solid.
“Free him!” I commanded. I didn’t know if Handy was qualified to unfreeze my friend—or even if such a thing was possible—but I’d come too far to give up.
Handy approached the glass cylinder and pressed its hand to the triangle that adorned it. Immediately, a section of the glass retreated, causing a blast of cold air to slam into us. I shivered, but the discomfort was only temporary.
“Place him on the ground,” I instructed.
Handy did as told, carefully manipulating Lom’s frozen frame to avoid damaging it. Frozen solid, my friend lay motionless, the frost that coated his body melting slowly. It was a slow process, but my friend was eventually back to normal.
He was unfrozen, but he was still unconscious.
Is he dead? I wondered.
I held my breath, waiting to see what would happen. It took a while, but one of Lom’s hands twitched. Moments later, the movement spread to the rest of his body, and soon he was shivering uncontrollably. Inhaling deeply, he bolted upright, eyes wide and mouth agape. He stared blankly ahead for a while before focusing on me.
Option 1: “What took you so long?” he asked.
Option 2: “Who are you?” he asked.
Option 3: “I know how to fix everything,” he said.
NEXT CHAPTER: Click Here to read Chapter 10.
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