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Memorlies

Gregory Guevara is a Canadian journalism student. He does poetry and other stuff ot Facebook.com/mcswm.
My most treasured memory is not my own. It hangs on my dresser, captured in a stained glass bubble. I bought it for a week's worth of work.
It was not an easy find. There are laws in place to prevent people from slapping a memory piece on an infant, so I had to go through the black market. But it was worth it.
When I hold it close to my heart, my surroundings blur away.
I am small, insignificantly small, held by two warm hands, held close to a warm breast. My mother's voice coos softly in the distance, cooing a name that's mine.
It's not mine, but you learn to silence the voice that contradicts the memory.
Her lips press against my forehead. I belong here.
But I couldn't be like this for long. It was time to work.
I rolled out what passes for my bed, straw stolen from a nearby farm since abandoned by its owner stuck reliving his life when his farm was green and bountiful. I sold the old bed for another memory, one of a child passing a football to another. He catches it, falls, and laughs.
I swapped the dirty rags I wore for cleaner ones and stumble outside, alcohol on my breath. I walked down the blue road, averting my gaze from the bodies huddled over glass bubbles, their eyes locked onto illusions, their mouths drooling, smiling at what is no longer there.
I turned my memory piece on. I snuck into the compound. Shot two guards for the thrill of it, though I felt nothing. Broke another's neck. Pushed a fourth one out the window. Stole the documents. It was a good scene, though a little too similar to the ones I've made before. And of course, it was missing the emotional element, though I tried my best to fake an adrenaline rush after the second guard.
The next morning I went downtown to get it developed.
"This is good," said Charlie, holding the newly made glass bubble close to his flabby chest. His computer replayed the events of last night. "Really good. I could find a buyer for this in a couple hours. Eight thousand."
"Eight thousand?" I said.
"Don't be difficult," he said. "Eight thousand is fair."
"That's twice as good as last time," I pressed. "It's worth twice as much."
Charlie sucked in air though his teeth and rested a hand on his gut. "It's good," said Charlie, "but the feelings are all off. The actions are there, but people want the feeling that goes with them. You know how hard it is to find raw emotion nowadays."
"You know how I am with feelings," I said.
"You and all the other lost boys," scowled Charlie. "People want emotion more than action. Shoot up a school, but do it with feeling or else what's the point? Psychopathy, vengeance, heroism, vigilantism, people just want to feel something new."
"I don't do new," I said.
"Then it's time to start," shrugged Charlie. "Eight thousand."
"Ten," I said.
"Eight," he said.
"Nine," I said.
"Seven," he said.
After I deposited my eight thousand dollars into someone else's bank account I fumbled through the memories I'd stolen.
Most were worthless, throwaways that might feature an orgy or haut-cuisine. A few were older ones that were made before people really grasped the appeal of the memory piece, ones where people would "record" themselves doing something instructional like cooking a dinner or fixing a chair. Still, you could feel all the fear and self-doubt that filled the instructors, so it was ironically enjoyable.
There was one great memory in the pile, though.
I have long slender arms, smooth legs. My hair is around my neck and my head is pressed between two breasts. Her soft lips press against mine. I belong here.
The next morning I realized I'd overdone it, and that I needed to relocate. There was a police drone outside my apartment. I shoved as many memories as I can into my pockets and abandoned my apartment.
It was inconvenient to leave, but I traveled light. I knew this day would come eventually. That was what Plan B was for.
My friend owned a memory editing business with a vacant basement. That is to say, a man who said he was my friend said he owned that business. I spent the night there. My "friend" and I exchanged no words. He likely worked for whoever did this to me. Whoever turned me into passive income. They were just protecting their asset.
I left early the next morning and passed a group of teens having a threesome on the street. They didn't even seem that into it--they were doing it for the memory they were going to develop and sell to some creeps. Which was a horrible mistake, of course--it would sell for double if they at least tried to be more engaged.
One by one, I scooped up the bubbles from the urchins littering the streets with their presence. They hissed at me as I took it away, then screamed as they realized they could hear their own hiss, their own thoughts. Then I threw them another memory, lower quality, and they held onto that before they could so much as get to their feet. Swap out the low-quality memories for the mysteries that the addicted homeless are holding onto.
I did this for about an hour. Swap dinner with the family for dinner alone. Swap the $100 back massage for the half-hearted back rub your ex-lover used to give. The profit margins weren't amazing, but if you did anything long enough you'd get your time's worth. Sometimes you'd even find something exotic.
Like what I was holding in my hand. A golden glass bubble of an old woman on her deathbed, surrounded by her friends and family. She'd lived a full life and was ready for death. The satisfaction of a completed life without doing a single thing for it. The jackpot. The motherlode.
That's when the bullet whizzed by my head and I knew I'd overstayed my welcome. This was a rival gang's territory. They were probably planning to swap out the urchins' memories in the same way I was just doing.
If I could be worried, it wouldn't be about the cops. They're inefficient, slow like the swing of an executioner's axe. It's the other gangs that pumped out killing machines without needing to actually make their members kill a single person. They strapped their recruits into a chair and forced them to experience murder after murder for weeks on end. Not only does it make you numb to the killing, cycling through that many identities at one time makes you numb to yourself. You forget who you are and do just what you're told. The poor kids didn't know what they were getting into, pieces of their memories ripped away and replaced until their identities were carefully crafted to serve the gang. It was a miracle I survived.
And then I started to run, but I already knew where this was going. More and more gang members showed up, guns drawn. I took out my suction cups and started climbing a nearby building. I smashed a window and swung--
BAM!
And then I was bleeding to death on the floor of some cubicle labyrinth. I said it was a miracle to still be here
I'm not.
I don't know who I am.
I can't remember.
My memories were indistinguishable from the memories of others.
The ones forced into my brain. The ones that crafted my identity into one that could serve others. The ones that made me deposit my money into someone else's bank account.
The ones that caused the old me to die.
I was dying and it meant nothing because I didn't know who it was that was dying. It meant nothing because I died a long time ago. I'de been a walking corpse for so long. Part of me knew coming down this way would get me killed. Part of me wanted this.
They did this to me, the people at the bank, or maybe it was the office, or maybe the government. I couldn't remember. All I could remember is that once I had memories of belonging, of a childhood. Now my memories of belonging instead fill my pockets,
I wasn't even scared. Fear kicks in when you have something to lose.
Blood pools around me and I hold the golden bubble to my chest.
I am an old woman staring at my daughter. My husband is holding my hand and tears stream down his wrinkled face but he's smiling and kisses me.
Then I look out the window and see my grandchildren playing in a bright green field, the sun catching their eyes just right. Satisfaction wells in my chest, so much satisfaction that the pain of death seems like a distant buzz in a cloud of love. I belong here. I belonged here.
BAM!
The End
This story was first published on Friday, December 22nd, 2017


The idea of a "pleasure machine" has always interested me. If there was a machine that could simulate a perfect world at the cost of losing contact with this one, would I plug myself in? The people I asked this question to would always say "no, of course not," but for me the answer was never so clear.

As technology advances and the pleasure machine becomes less of an idea and more of a reality, a few difficult questions get raised. Those questions were the ones I wanted to explore in Memorlies, but never felt confident giving an answer to. What would happen to the world if we gave everyone in it an escape hatch to a better one? What would happen to your identity if your memories were replaced with someone else's? Is it right to escape into the past when there's no future in sight? Is a society any less of a dystopia when all of its inhabitants are happy?

I don't think there's a clear answer to any of those questions, which is why I couldn't write any clear answers into my story. All I could do was ask the questions, and I hope that's enough.

- Gregory John Guevara

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