Error. Page cannot be displayed. Please contact your service provider for more details. (30)

DoorQ.Com | Captured Memories (Part 3 of 3)
 
RSS Feed

Captured Memories (Part 3 of 3)

A collage of lights,
red and blue against a black, snow-filled sky, and a sound like the wailing of
a siren, yo-yo’ing through the unseen distance. Or maybe it was just him.
Faces, crowded together in a macabre sea, alternately sympathetic, aggrieved,
hesitant, trepidatious, all looking at him, through him. Then there was a
twisted, crumpled hulk of metal and glass, all razor edges and jagged barbs,
with a dizzying splash of red against its dusting of powder snow, and wrapped
somewhere inside was his heart. A whirl of white and gray, in which certain
words resolved themselves against a background of hurricane noise
.

“…cut off the oxygen supply to his brain…”

“..clinically dead for nearly fifteen minutes…”

“…persistent vegetative state…”

“…living will indicates he doesn’t wish to employ prolonged
life-sustaining measures without hope of recovery…”

“Sign here, Dr. Frankel…”

One endless room, full of waiting, waiting,
while hope shriveled like the flesh from his husband’s bones. An incessant
beeping, which turned into a dripping he just couldn’t find. But it told him
what needed to be done.

“I’m taking him home.”

A flash of black. And then

The signal was good. It was strong; he hadn’t expected it would be. He had
thought there would be holes, breaks, segments of noise and useless trash
signals that would defy even the PATCH program. He had been ready to fill them
in manually, if necessary, but no – it was all there. It was a prime signal,
almost as though David knew what was happening, even though he couldn’t have
understood any of it.

The crackle and the sizzle of the encoding laser stopped, and with a soft click
the holography cube ejected out of the burner. He took the cube by the corners,
infinitely cautious of the treasure it contained, and laid it into the storage
case beside its eight siblings like a mother putting her child to bed.

“Just one more,” he breathed. “One more and we’re done,
honey.”

He picked up another vat of the oxygenated nutria, absently noting the flecks
of blood that flaked off his fingers as he did so, and refreshed the nutrient
bath. Then he ran over to the power supply and, with a wince and a whispered
apology, gave the switch a quick flick. The neon crackle of electricity briefly
broke the darkness of the lab, and the air filled with the nauseating smell of
burning flesh. Mike looked at the monitor – pulse, blood pressure, hematocrit –
the values fluctuated and jumped madly for a moment, then stabilized within
expected parameters. He went back to his seat and looked at the dizzying array
of lines scrawling across the screen. Just as before, the signals were strong –
as strong as the best trials he and Alan had ever done. He reached over, gently
inserted another hologram cube into the recorder, and began again.

“Mike, what are you doing?”

He spun in his chair so quickly he almost spilled out of his seat. Alan stood
just outside the light cast by the desk lamp; the pale rings of his glasses
floated weirdly against the shadowy outline of his body. Mike stared at him,
suddenly alarmed – he hadn’t even heard him come in.

Alan looked at the array in the far corner. He coughed, raising a hand to cover
his nose and mouth, and took a half-step in the dark toward where David lay.

“My God…Mike, what are you-“

That was as far as he got. Mike flung himself out of his seat and tackled him
across the waist. The air whooshed out of Alan in a startled rush as the two of
them tumbled into the cinderblock wall. Mike felt his shoulder smash against
the floor, felt a momentary numbness just before a shocking haze of pain
flooded down his arm. They both lay there for a moment, gasping for breath.

“Don’t…touch him,” he managed, finally. “Don’t you dare touch
him…not before it’s done.”

Alan kicked himself into a sitting position and stared at him, gasping, his
face the color of a salmon’s belly.

“Are you insane? You’re
trying to -“

“Not trying! I’m doing it! I can do it! The memories are there, if I can
get to them in time!”

“Mike, you can’t. The relay won’t catch them if the subject isn’t actively
thinking about-“

“Not in a cognitive subject, no, because you can’t access them safely. But
he’s-” he stopped, not able to say the words. “I hooked the relay
directly into his memory centers, directly where he’s stored them. Where there
isn’t any damage.”

Alan looked at him, at the blood crusting his fingertips and splashed like
spaghetti stains all over the front of his shirt, and swallowed hard. Even
through the haze of pain in his shoulder, Mike could hear his friend fighting
to keep his voice even.

“It doesn’t work like that, Mike. Stored memories are diffused through the
brain, compartmentalized in their component pieces. You know this. Even if you
could get a coherent signal you wouldn’t be able to make any sense out of it.
It would be junk data, useless.” His voice suddenly broke. “He’s
gone, Mike! Christ, what did you do to him? What are you doing to him? You
can’t keep him, not like this!”

“That’s why I’m getting everything!” Mike nearly shouted as he got to
his feet, ignoring the shriek of protest from his shoulder. “If I have
every memory, every piece, then even if we can’t decode the data now, we could
come up with the algorithms later. Figure out how to break up the pieces and
reassemble them. I’ve got him, Alan. I know I’ve got him!”

“Goddammit, Mike! Do you
have any idea what you’re saying? You’re talking about terabytes of fragmented
data from locations all over his brain, locations uniquely his. You’re talking
about effectively decoding information whose encryption key is a trillion
digits long, and you’ve been losing chunks of it since the accident! Are you
hearing me, Mike? This is-it’s astronomical!”

Mike stared at him for a moment. Then, “You won’t help me, fine. Get the
hell out of here. I’ll do it myself.” He staggered back to the keyboard,
transfixing the array of signals with his glare, ignoring the steadily growing
pain in his shoulder.

“Mike-“

“Leave me alone, Alan.”

“Mike-“

“I said leave me alone.”

“Mike-“

“GODDAMMIT I SAID LEAVE ME THE FUCK ALONE!” Rage flooded him, searing
and shocking cold, and before he knew what he was doing he’d hurled the desk
lamp at Alan. He caught a glimpse of Alan recoiling as the silvered lamp shot
across the office, and then the lamp reached the end of its cord, jerked in
mid-air and smashed against the floor in a halogen flash. The lab fell into
shadow. All he could see was the faint metallic outline of Alan’s glasses by
the dim glow of the computer monitor. Silence for an agonizing moment, broken
only by the sound of his own breath and the endless beeping of the EKG.

“That only works in movies, Mike,” came Alan’s voice out of the dark,
quiet and even. “I’m not leaving.” Then, softly, with the barest hint
of unsteadiness, “This isn’t going to work, Mike. Don’t do this to
yourself.”

“It’ll work, Alan. I know it’ll work.”

“No. No it won’t. No matter how much you want it to.”

“It has to work.” It was almost a plea.

“You’re talking about a mathematical impossibility. It can’t-what’ve you-”
Alan’s voice cracked. “Look
at all this.” He gestured toward the bloodstains on the floor, the
splatter over Mike’s coat, the dark mass in the laboratory corner, and his
hands fell limply to his sides. “You think he would’ve wanted this? You.
Like that? Him. Like that?! Look
at him, Mike! How did you even get him here?”

Mike was silent for a while. Then, quietly.

“I don’t remember. All I remember is being in that room, watching him,
watching him and knowing pieces of him were dropping away and then knowing that
I could save him. Knowing that if there is any point, any point at all to the
work we’ve been doing then this has to be it, or what the fuck was it all for?” Somehow that
was it, and the words came tumbling out with salt tears, as though with them he
could expel the jagged lump that split him in half from chest to throat.
“Why the hell did I bury myself in this vault, this fucking tomb, spending
more time underground than I did in my own bed if I can’t even save what pieces
there are left of him. What was the point? Why did I even-why am I-” He
couldn’t continue, the sobs shaking him so badly he knocked the keyboard off
its tray.

Alan walked toward the desk, one step at a time, and, slowly, hesitantly,
wrapped his arms around his friend.

“I know, Mike. I miss him too.”

Mike clutched at him, unable to shake off the sobs. “What the hell am I
supposed to do?”

Alan let out a rasping sigh. “Remember him. Love him. Move on.”

He held him until the sobs died away.

Wind and trees under a sunlit sky the color
of periwinkles, that didn’t at all match the even rows of tombstones, or the
sudden roaring of metal against metal. A crowd howling against the oncoming
wind as they fell out of the sky but never hit the ground. Something soft and
fluffy, smelling of honeysuckle but tasting too sweet.

“That was really good!” David was saying, running a hand through his
long blond hair, and Mike found himself momentarily distracted beyond speech.
“The plot dragged a bit at first, but I found it engaging after the first
fifteen minutes or so. And the songs were catchy. What do you think?”

“Huh?”

“Michael, what are you looking at?” David turned, following Mike’s
gaze as they walked past the empty parking lot, then looked back at him.

“Nothing. You. The way the sodium lights make your hair look like it’s
glowing.”

“Sodium lights, huh?”

“You could make one yourself, out of a pickle. Or I could.”

David laughed. “Sodium light out of a pickle. Very romantic, my nerdy
knight in shining armor.”

“Hey, we’re the best kind. Much more useful than some jock with more
football trophies than brain cells. What kind of life-threatening situation
will need someone to throw a ball for you, anyway?” He made a dismissive
gesture with his hand.

“What kind of life-threatening situation will need a sodium light built
out of a pickle?” David teased, then made a wagging motion with his
finger. “I think I sense some bitterness there.”

Mike shrugged. “Pfft. What’s there to be bitter about? I’m getting a full
ride to one of the most prestigious universities in the country, and the guys
who used to pound me for lunch money are working at Main Street Auto. Over
it.”

“Clearly.” David smiled, took Mike’s arm, and leaned against his
shoulder. “I had a great time tonight, Michael.”

“I’m glad. So did I.”

“Honestly?” David looked up at him. “Even though we went to a
musical?”

Mike sighed and rolled his eyes. “Yes, even though we went to a
musical.”

David laughed. “You know, I like guys who can move beyond their own
prejudices. It’s quite charming.”

“Oh, really? Then hell yeah, I enjoyed the musical. In fact, I love
musicals. I’m going to watch nothing but musicals from now on.”

David gave him a light punch on the arm. “Hyperbole, however, is not
charming.”

“Oh, I don’t know. I find conic sections pretty sexy.”

“Math dork.”

“English geek.”

They walked in silence for a moment, watching the moonlight and lamplight vie
for space on the polished hoods of cars double parked in the mall lot. A warm
breeze wafted through the air, bringing with it the earthy smell of wet leaves
and a curious hint of frosted cinnamon from the bakery nearby. Mike sensed
something shift in the air as he walked, prompting him to ask, “What is
it?”

David brushed back a strand of hair from his face, not looking at him. “Nothing.
It’s not important.”

“Come on. I’ve already admitted to loving the movie, and I hate musicals –
doesn’t that indicate I’m a sensitive, thoughtful sort of guy?”

David looked at him for a while, then smiled. “Alright. I have a
confession to make.”

“Your dating me has totally changed your views on men, and you’ve decided
to go to Italy and join the priesthood.”

David looked down at his shoes, a discomfited expression coming over his face.
“Ummm…that’s not that far off, actually,” he said slowly.

Mike stopped, suddenly feeling as though someone had punched him in the gut.
“You-you’re not serious!”

David continued walking. “No, I’m not.”

Mike stared after him for a moment, then ran to catch up with him. “That
was cruel.”

“You’re the one who got smart-alecky before I could even start.” He
turned and beamed at him. “Scared you for a second, didn’t I?”

“Scared the hell out of me, for a lot longer than a second.”

“Good. That’ll teach you.”

Silence again. Then, scratching the back of his head and feeling uncomfortable,
Mike said, “I’m sorry. Did I totally blow the moment?”

“Maybe.”

“Ummm…well, then, can I say something?”

“You’ve been saying lots of somethings all night. I think you’ll do just
as well with this one.”

“Well, I guess what I wanted to say is…ah…” He went silent as he
mustered the courage to say what he was thinking. “You know, I had the
biggest crush on you for the longest time?”

“You did?” David looked at him, startled.

“Yeah. Ever since you started writing that column in the school paper. The
way you spoke, the passion behind your writing, the thought that obviously went
into every passage. You…it took my breath away.”

“It did?” David was suddenly very interested in his right sleeve.

“Yeah.”

“Why didn’t you ever say anything?”

“I was afraid. Intimidated. I wasn’t sure what someone like you would see
in someone like me. All I really knew was math and science. Derivatives and
integrals, statics and Newtonian mechanics. You were so much more popular.
Good-looking and socially active and smart. You’d also been all over the place,
whereas I’ve never really even left town. Plus you’re much more well-read than
I am; all I ever read are science journals and science-fiction novels. I
thought I’d come across like an idiot.”

He was breathing hard when he finished, his heart jackhammering in his throat.
For a moment he basked in the fact that he’d finally gotten that off his chest,
and then he realized David hadn’t said anything. He turned to him, and realized
with a start that he was crying.

“What…did I say something wrong?”

“I wrote it for you.”

“What?”

David sniffed and looked at him, tears glistening on his cheeks. “I’ve
noticed you since we were sophomores, since I saw you reading Thomas Pynchon
through the library doors this one afternoon. I love writing, putting words to
the page to tell a story or express a point. But when the editorial position
opened up, I was thinking in the back of my head, ‘Here’s my chance. Maybe
he’ll read it. Maybe he’ll notice me.’ You were my imaginary audience every
time I wrote a column. But I never saw you with a paper. You never said
anything. So I thought you’d never read it, or that you didn’t like what I
wrote.”

“Why didn’t you say something?” Mike asked, floored.

“The same reason as you. You’re probably one of the smartest guys in
school. I’m an A student, but nowhere near your caliber in anything except
English. I just didn’t know how to approach you, how to impress you, without
looking like a total moron. So I just kept hoping.”

“And writing.”

“And writing.” He started crying again. “God, look at me. I feel so
stupid.”

“Hey, no, come on,” Mike took him in his arms, feeling an unappealing
lump in his own throat. “It worked, though, didn’t it? I was reading. I’d
been reading the whole time. I just wish I’d had the guts to ask you out.”

“Stop that. It doesn’t really matter, does it? Turns out we were both
hoping for the same thing.” David turned his face toward Mike, eyes
searching his with an expression that stopped Mike’s heart.

“Yeah. It doesn’t matter,” Mike whispered, and leaned in.

The kiss wasn’t very good, but it was perfect, in the shadow of the maple
trees, against the warm summer breeze.

Darkness again, and nothing else. Then a
lightening of the dark so gradual it was imperceptible, until one realized the
expanse was no longer an endless wall of black, but gray…then white. And then
there was a house, an unremarkable split-level with cream colored vinyl siding
on a brick foundation. It sat on a hill dyed yellow by the afternoon sun, and
even a cursory observation showed the lawn’s careful tending. Pine trees
enclosed the house on three sides, opening just enough to allow the driveway
into the nearby street, and to let the neighbors see when someone was home. A
battered old
Toyota Tercel hatchback sat in the
driveway, a pronounced dent on its passenger-side door, antenna bent in four
places. At length, the front door, freshly painted sea green, opened, and
someone wearing a plain blue shirt and jeans came walking out. In his hand was
a half-finished magazine with dozens of yellow sticky notes jutting out of its
top.

“Hey Alan,” said Mike, with a
slight, sad smile. “We’ve talked about this enough that it doesn’t really
need any explanation, does it? Just…keep them safe for me.”

He scratched the back of his head, looked
discomfited.

“I can’t find the right words to say
this, so maybe I’ll just go with the ones that come to mind.” A pause,
then. “Thank you, Alan. I can’t express how much your friendship has meant
to me all these years. All the times you’ve been there for me, supported me,
listened to me complain, kicked my ass into gear. The things we shared, happy
and sad, at our best or dog sick and dead tired. I don’t know where I’m going,
or if there’s even anywhere to go, but I’m so glad you were with me this
far.”

Someone else stepped out of the house. He
was wearing a green T-shirt and plaid shorts with incongruous white sneakers,
and his long blond hair was pulled into a ponytail. An old
Ticonderoga number 2 was stuck behind his ear,
and a simple yellow notepad nestled in the crook of his left arm. Walking down
the hill, he stood beside Mike and took his hand.

“Hi, Alan,” David said.
“Thanks for taking care of this bozo while I was gone.”

Mike looked at him, smiled, and turned
back. “Even if there is nowhere else. Even if this is it, well, it’s still
everything I could’ve hoped for.” He waved once. “I love you, buddy.
Take care of yourself.”

The two of them walked back into the house
and, with one last, long look back, closed the door.

Roderick Neumann slowly removed the output leads of the portable recall device
from his temples as the replay came to a close. His hands were shaking, so he
left the hologram cube inside the PRD and instead turned his attention to the
old man lying in the bed in front of him.

“Do you understand, Rod?” Alan asked, his voice raspy.

“Yeah, Grandpa, I understand,” Rod replied. He looked curiously at
his grandfather. “You loved him, didn’t you?”

Alan smiled. “Yes, I did. Not in the way you’re thinking, but no less
deeply for that.”

“What happened to Dr. Frankel?” Rod leaned over, crossed his arms on
the bed, and rested his chin against his wrists.

“He died,” Alan replied, “three years to the day after David.
Pneumonia, which was still a problem back in my day, but he made some stunning
advances in the PATCH program before he passed away. It hasn’t been modified
that much, actually, and it’s still used in many modern devices. I don’t know
when he recorded that, but he must have known what was going to happen, because
he put it and its companions in a security box and left them all to me in his
will.”

Rod looked at the other hologram cubes neatly stacked inside the fireproof
security box, which was designed to withstand a nuclear fireball with its
contents intact.

“Then those are…”

“Yes. His memories of David. I’ve never looked at them – they’re his,
after all. That one,” Alan pointed at Rod’s PRD, “that one he
obviously meant for me.”

“What was that last bit, at the end?” Rod asked.

“Hmmm…a thought. A hope, perhaps. A memory, now. Mine. Your father’s.
And now yours,” Alan smiled at the thought. “It so warms me to think
of them like that. Mike reading his Scientific America and taking notes on
everything, as usual. David still writing with a pad even though computers are
readily available. It’s been fifty years. If you still remember them fifty
years from now, then, in a way, they’ll have lived longer than anyone else of
my generation.”

“Don’t worry, Grandpa,” Rod assured him. “I’ll keep them
safe.”

Alan smiled at him. “You’re a good boy.”

A voice drifted up from
below: “Roderick, Patrick is here!”

“Alright, Mom, I’ll be right down!” Rod yelled back.

“Patrick?” Alan asked, frowning.

Rod blushed. “Umm…yeah. My boyfriend. We’re going out tonight.”

“What happened to Shannon?”

“She and I broke up, um, a while ago.” He quickly added, “We’re
still friends, though.”

Alan fixed his grandson with a stare, then said, “Well, you shouldn’t keep
your new beau waiting. Go on, I’m just going to take a nap.”

“Alright, Grandpa.” Rod leaned over and kissed him on the forehead.
“I’ll stop by before the weekend. I’d like to hear more about Dr. Frankel,
and about how you and Grandma met.”

“And I’ll be happy to tell it,” Alan replied. “Have a good
time.”

Alan listened to the sound of Rod’s feet hitting the wooden stairs in rapid,
staccato thumps, then the slam of the front door closing. A screeching of metal
and wind as the engines of the hovercar outside gained speed, then propelled
the vehicle into the distance. He listened until the sound had died away, then
laid his head back against his pillow and closed his eyes, lost in his memories.

Leave a Reply

Error. Page cannot be displayed. Please contact your service provider for more details. (17)

Error. Page cannot be displayed. Please contact your service provider for more details. (17)