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Chapter 4

January 8, 2012

<warning, contains swearing>

The vanishing pain was replaced by rage.  It had always been like that for me, I realised.  When I might feel scared, or worried, or unsure, I tended to feel rage.  It was an unsettling thing to remember, but there it was.  The muscles on my arms and legs knotted up as I pulled against the shackles.  The metal gave a slight groan but otherwise didn’t move.  I fixed Christa with a murderous stare, which she matched with an icy detachment.

“I can assure you those restraints are more than capable of withstanding anything you can throw at them,” she said calmly, as if we were discussing the weather, or what to have for lunch, rather than the quality of metal used in a torture device.

“What the hell do you mean, lies?”  My voice was choked up with anger.  The edge of the metal was beginning to bite into the top of my wrists, cuts opening up to match the slashes on the underside.  Be calm, get control man!  My head whipped around but there was no one else in the room.

“Who said that!” I screamed.  Christa’s calm mask fractured a little.

“Said what?”

Don’t say another word, said the voice.  I bit my tongue, swallowing the howl of frustrated rage.  You need to get under control.  This machine, this woman, are far more effective if you lose control.

The words made sense, but the voice was in my own head.  In my head!

Who are you?”  I thought the words.  A big part of me hoped I wouldn’t get an answer, that it had been my imagination, that it was a trick.  I wanted there to be a speaker in the headrest, a guy crouched behind the chair.  Pretty much anything other than a helpful voice in my head.  For a second it was silent, but only for a second.

We don’t have time for that.  This contact is very difficult to maintain, but I didn’t see any other choice.  What she has said is true, this machine is very, very effective.  Answers to direct questions cannot be avoided.  Fortunately you know little that can truly endanger you.  I suggest compliance, tell her everything and save the pain.

I grunted.  “What the hell do these people want?

There was a long hollow pause, empty save for the feeling of another presence, nestled somewhere between my ears.

If you knew, you would already be dead.

The presence vanished.

“Dr Collins, are you there?”  Christa was looking at me intently, sitting forward on her chair and peering into my eyes, her impassive mask still intact.

“Yes, I’m here.  I’m not likely to go anywhere, can you not see these?”  In frustration I rattled the wrists straps.

Christa gave a sigh and settled back in her chair.

“As I said, we know you’ve lied, held things back from us.  Now this really cannot continue if we are to help.”

“Such as?”

Christa consulted her notes ostentatiously.

“Well,” she drawled, flicking over the top page.  “Yesterday we discussed what you claimed was everything you could remember.  You agreed, I remember it clearly, that you would let me know if you remembered anything else.  You then returned to your room and told, let me see,” she looked down at her notes again.  “Yes, that’s it: you told Sarah that you remembered her from a symposium in Vienna.  This was something you never mentioned.  What else do you remember Dr Collins?”

I hesitated for a second, my eyes wandering to the cables that connected my head to the overhead array.  A small smile played on Christa’s lips.  The voice had said it was better to avoid the pain.  That certainly made sense.  What did I have to protect?  Some sketchy memories that made no sense, a recalled conversation between Richter and Dante.  Pain wasn’t a reason to do something, but it was generally best avoided.  Screw it!  The rage flared up again for an instant, blotting out logic.  These people could all go hang, they weren’t getting one single detail past my lips that they didn’t have to drag out of my screaming mouth.

“Nothing at all,” I said with a smile.

Razor blades shivered through my brain, points of pressure forming behind my temples and then bursting out, ripping through my skull.  My hands rammed up against the restraints.  I wanted to hold my head, press it together and stop it rupturing in two.  I screwed my eyes shut, lights dancing and exploding in my vision.  The pain vanished but for a moment I carried on screaming.

“Oh Dr Collins, why put yourself through it?” said Christa, her face flushed and excited.  “All we want to know is what you remember.  Then we can move on, get this machine off of you, get things back to how they were.”

“Go fuck yourself.”

Christa shook her head in disappointment.

“It doesn’t have to be this way you know.”

I didn’t feel I could really add much to what I had said before, so I repeated myself.

Christa sighed and held up a A4 photograph.  It was of a man, in his 60’s or 70’s.  He had light grey hair and dark rimmed spectacles.  His eyes looked serious and intent.  Intelligent.  The photo was of his face only, the edges of a green colour just visible at the lower edge of the photograph.  I had never seen him before in my life.

“Do you recognise him?” Christa asked.

I hesitated.

“Sure.  It’s my Dad,” I lied.

I thought I might be getting used to the pain by now, but it was like a fresh and novel agony.  When it had finished tears were leaking down my cheeks, but I’d managed to avoid screaming this time.

When my vision cleared Christa was at the console.  She had left the photo propped up on her chair.  The guy certainly looked like a dry sort.  Christa was looking at some graphs and charts on the console’s monitor.  She studied them for some time before turning back to me.

“Well, it seems you don’t recognise him.  Joking about your Dad aside.”

She returned to the seat, flipping the photograph over and tucking it under her clipboard.

“You see, we can get the answers whether you want to talk or not, so it’s only your pain that’s at stake.”

I grinned back at her.  This was interesting.  If I was a betting man I would have said that the contraption struggled with two lies at once: with compound lies.  It knew I was lying, but didn’t quite know what about.  It gave me an edge, a tiny fractional edge.  It also meant Christa was going to drive for yes / no answers.  Fine, but I’d be damned if she got one that was any use to her.

“Do you remember anything from before, what you call in your own words, the flash?”

I could taste blood in my mouth.  I must have chewed down on my tongue during the last bout of brain torture.  It tasted thick and metallic.  I couldn’t see any point in lying here.  She knew I had some memories from before the flash.  I told myself it wasn’t because I couldn’t take the pain.  I hoped it was because I couldn’t take the pain.


At this show of compliance Christa settled back into her chair.

“Good Dr, would you care to share one?”


Christa smiled a cold smile, her lips positively arctic.

“That wasn’t what I meant Dr.”

She was trying to fish without bait.  If she thought I was just going to open up because she had zapped me a few times she was dreaming.  To drive out a lie she needed to get more specific.  And to do that she needed to share herself.

“Do you recall project Clio?”

I spat a wad of blood onto the floor.

“I knew a Clio once.  Nice girl.”  Did I?  I didn’t have a clue, my memory was Swiss cheese.  But it was past tense: I knew.  It was possible that I knew a Clio once.  Even I wasn’t sure if I was lying or not.  Being cocky and arrogant yes, but lying?  It would seem the machine agreed.  I felt a slight tightening around my temples but no pain.  The array above my head gave a slight clicking noise.

Christa sat forward in the chair, bristling with annoyance.

“Yes or no you smart arse, nothing else.”  All the smoothness had disappeared from her voice.

I shrugged.  Christa pressed a button on the small remote control and the pain was back.  This time it lasted for what seemed an hour, pounding against my skull.  By the time it finished my wrists were slick with blood.  Whether I had torn the skin on the restraints or just opened the old wounds I couldn’t be sure.  Something sticky ran down the side of my face from my ear.  Christa was stood over me, a grotesque look of excitement on her face.  She was breathing hard, as if she was the one that had just had her brain pushed through barbed wire.  Her voice was wispy.

“You see, I’ve got the override right here.  You lie, pain.  You give me any shit.  Pain.   Now, personally I get a kick either way, but I am guessing this is getting old for you very quickly.  Again!  Do the words Clio project mean anything to you?”

“Go fuck yourself.”

Christa tutted and patted the small control against her palm, a small pout on her lips.

“Would it kill you to cooperate?  Just a little bit of cooperation and you would see how nice I could be.”

I was beginning to realise that being in the power of this woman was a very bad place to be.  I knew the boundaries of the machines effectiveness, maybe it was time to play along.

“No, Clio Project means nothing to me.”

Christa gave a short laugh and clapped her hands together in a girlish fashion.

“Wonderful.  See, we really can be friends again.”

She pulled a piece of paper from the folder and held it up.  It looked a lot like the equation I had been given by Dante, and the one I did remember from before the flash.  I tensed.

“Have you seen this before?”


Now Christa looked very excited.

“Where, when, what else do you remember?”

I chuckled.  It was like amateur hour at the torture chamber.

“Where?  Err, I remember it from yesterday when your boss, Dante whatever, gave me a copy.  You people really should talk to each other.”

She gave a shriek of annoyance and crumpled the ball of paper into her fist.  My chuckle turned into a full blown laugh.

“Enough!”  She brandished the controls above her head.  I finished laughing in my own good time.

It was time to follow the advice from the voice in my head.  Admitting that to myself, with all its attendant strangeness, wasn’t easy.  As long as she wasn’t going to ask about what I got up to last night, if I’d been stealing files from strange cabinets, and whether I was prone to suicide attempts in my sleep I would play ball.  Mostly.

Christa recovered her composure and flattened out the paper over her knee.  She held it up once again.

“And, Dr, does this mean anything to you?”

I studied the lines of symbols, wondering if the strange nauseating realisation would hit me again, but it didn’t.  It remained a series of meaningless squiggles.

“Not a thing.”

Christa hesitated, waiting to see if I would collapse into a fit of pain.  When I didn’t she got up and walked to the console, where she studied the screen for at least five minutes.  My guess was that she was confused.  Eventually she gave a frustrated tsk and turned from the console.

“Guards!” she shouted.  The three guards swarmed into the room, hands by the tasers at their hips.

“Get him out of here and back to his room, this is a waste of time.”

The guy with the bloody nose, all puffy and angry red, began to undo the restraints on my wrists.  I grinned at him.

“What’s this, no hanky-panky in the bathroom?” I asked Christa, watching her face flush crimson with my words.  I don’t think it was embarrassment, just pure anger.

The last of the restraints was released and I stood up from the chair.  My legs felt incredibly weak and for a second I thought I would fall.  I masked it as best I could.  The guards looked alert and almost eager.  I wasn’t in a state to try anything, but I wasn’t going to let them know that.  As they manhandled me to the doorway Christa called out.


The guards stopped and pulled me around to face the counsellor.  She was stood in front of the window, framed by light and looking beautiful and terrible.  She had the machines controls in her hand still, and she pointed it at me almost as if it would still have some effect.

“You are as arrogant as I remember, but you have no idea what you are doing,” she said.  “This isn’t a game you know, there is more at stake here than you seem to realise.  If you cooperate it will be all the easier for everyone.  Just think about it.”

I gave a grunt and the guards pulled me around and through the door.  Christa’s mask had been utterly destroyed, there was no mistaking a woman in a state of absolute terror.  It wasn’t on my behalf though, for whatever reason she was terrified for herself.

I wasn’t marched back to my room but instead to the exercise area.  I was pushed into the open space through the blue door, which was slammed and bolted behind me.  I wasn’t in any mood to exercise, I felt thoroughly rung out.  The memory of the brain-fire was fresh and even the thought of the pain brought fresh weakness to my legs.  The day was a cool one.  Small eddies of wind whirled around in the confines of the exercise yard but it looked as if it was blowing a gale out there today, the clouds racing across the sky.  Like vast white zeppelins they hurtled overhead, obscuring the sun for a few moments and then pushing on, bathing the square of concrete in an ever shifting pattern or shadow.

It took a few moments to realise I was not alone in the yard.  Hunkered in a corner, a part of the yard always in shadow despite the flickering sun, was a man.  He was of slight build, with sandy brown hair, probably in his mid-thirties, and was smoking a cigarette.  It was the man from the room next to mine.

“Fancy a smoke?”

He studied me long and hard as I approached, his eyes flat and untrusting.  As I got within a few feet his posture changed.  The shift was subtle, but it was as if he was now coiled rather than merely lounging in the corner.  Something about him, his posture, his eyes, the smell of the smoke, or maybe it was just the way he smoked the cigarette, stirred my memory.  I try to grasp it but it slipped between my fingers, the harder I chased it in my mind the quicker it dimmed.

“Hey buddy, you smoke?”  The man was now eyeing me with some concern as I just stood there, staring.  I pulled myself together

“Sure, thanks.”

I had no idea if I smoked.  I hadn’t recently, but that didn’t mean a lot.  I would have thought I would have craved it if I was a smoker, but who knows what happens when you take a spin cycle to the brain.

I crouched down next to the man.  The box of cigarettes he held out was white, with an orange triangle in the middle with the letters ‘HB’ picked out in white.

“Thanks,” I said, taking a cigarette.  He reached into his pocket and handed me a small white plastic lighter.

The first drag I took from the cigarette felt a little rough, but it didn’t leave me choking.  For a few moments we both just sat there, quietly pulling on our cigarettes and watching the clouds race across the sky.  The man had a slightly strange way of holding the cigarette to his lips, his whole hand cupped and therefore covering the lower portion of his face.  Again this tickled my memory, but no revelation came.

“You a prisoner here too?” he asked after a while.

I chuckled.  I’d found it impossible to really trust anyone since the flash, but his no nonsense approach was refreshing.  It was good to talk to someone that wasn’t one of them, as well.

“Not according to my jailers.”

The man gave a grunt, half chuckle half cough, and carried on smoking.

“Yeah, they say much the same to me, but it doesn’t mean I can actually leave.”

“What’s the reason they’re keeping you here then?”

The man eyed me suspiciously and shrunk a little way back into the corner.  His eyes had a furtive, hunted look, and for a second I felt a pang of sympathy.

“You’re not one of them, in disguise, are you?”  He did sound worried, but angry with it to.  I spread my arms wide and gave a bitter laugh.

“Not a chance, although there is nothing I can tell you to prove it.  My names Collins.” I held out my hand to the man.  It looked as if he was just going to sit there, his arms curled around his knees, but eventually he held out his own hand and we shook.  The back of his forearm was crisscrossed with puckered scars, a small tattoo in the shape of a fox’s head on the back of his hand.

“Jack, the name’s Jack,” he said.

Our introductions over I settled more comfortably against the wall.  It was the most normal conversation I had ever had, as far as I knew, and that realisation made me very sad.

“I can’t leave, you see,” said Jack, his face a mixture of sadness and anger.  “I’ve been sectioned, can’t go as I please, do as I please, anything!”  His words came as a surprise.  He didn’t look like a madman.  Sure, he was hunched, shifty and a little dishevelled looking, but our conversation so far had left me unprepared for a declaration of insanity.

“Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re thinking.  I ain’t crazy, but those bastards can get away with anything, murder included.  Getting me sectioned is the least of their achievements.”  With that he hawked and spat into the centre of the yard.

He certainly didn’t sound crazy.  Angry, not crazy.  I started to wonder how sane I would sound, if put to the test.  The blackouts, and the damage to my wrists to that matter, weren’t good indicators.

“Are you, err, here because of problems with your memory?” I hazarded.

Jack spat again.

“Nah mate, that’s just fine.  To give them their dues, I reckon I probably seemed a little crazy until a month or two ago.  Since then I’ve been fine though, and not a hint of getting out of this place.  You see, they brought me in six months or so back.  I’d been shot in the head, see.”  Jack tilted his head forwarded and smoothed up his hair, showing a bald patch of puckered skin surrounded by white hair.

“Seems like the bullet missed all the important bits, but left me with fourteen operations and four months in hospital.  When I was discharged everything seemed OK, except for the headaches, but then came the loony episodes.  Gradually they got worse, until I was brought to this place for treatment.  They seem to know their chops here too, even if they are a strange bunch, but I reckon when a bloke’s better he should be allowed to leave, not kept around like a lab rat.”

I hesitated.  ‘Loony episodes’ sounded worryingly like it could refer to suicidal blackouts.

“What sort of loony episodes?  Do you mean trying to kill yourself?”

The man coughed but didn’t spit this time, much to my relief.

“Ah, not really, although I guess it could have gone that way.  Mainly it was like being off my head.  I can remember bits but it’s like it was happening to someone else.  Eventually I wound up in a supermarket.  I’d climbed up a shelf in the wine department and was hurling bottles of wine around, hooting like some kinda monkey.”  Jack paused and grinned.  “It was nice stuff as well, the manager gave me a serve, once the police had managed to restrain me.”

“Anyway, they brought me in here, gave me a bunch of assessments, had me declared insane and got me sectioned.  My son, my only living relative, wasn’t much interested, so these guys have pretty been much left to it.  They hooked me up to a bunch of machines, have had me on all sorts of pills.  To be honest it seems to have worked, but it’s been bloody painful at times.”

I could sympathise.  Having seen what lengths they would go to in order to make me remember, or share what I remembered, I could imagine only too well the approach to treatment in the facility.

“Anyway, what about you?”  Jack offered me another cigarette but I turned it down with a wave of my hand.  It didn’t look like I was a smoker after all.

I wasn’t sure how much to say, my policy of holding everything back seemed valid.  But here was someone who had gone through something similar, not the same, to what I was going through.  The frustration and fear of the past weeks seemed to boil in the pit of my stomach, and I realised that talking about some of it, just a little bit, would make me feel a lot better.

“I wish I knew to be honest, I can’t remember a thing before a couple of weeks ago.”  I thought it was best not to share who I was.  If he knew I was actually a member of the facility, albeit one who couldn’t remember a thing, I reckoned his trust would evaporate.

“What nothing at all?”

“Pretty much.”

The man gave a low whistle between his teeth.

“Well sorry for you buddy.  What was it, car accident?”

I nodded.  Then on impulse I added, “At least, that’s the story.  I reckon it was a helicopter.”

Jack quirked his eyebrows in amusement.

“Helicopter, that’s a better story than a car crash.  Much more glamorous!”  He chuckled and I laughed along.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought.  Maybe I am making it up though, like I said, my memory is more holes than anything else.  These people say they are trying to help, but there is so much not right here I can’t believe it.”

“Amen to that!” said Jack.

“I’m also kept under lock and key, and I am sure they are more interested in what I can and can’t remember than my health.  They just finished torturing me for information.”

I thought that Jack might laugh at this, or not believe me. It sounded melodramatic, said just like that, but there really was no other word for it.

“What do you mean?”  His eyes looked mistrusting and shifty again.

“Just before I got here, they had me hooked up to some contraption, chair with straps and leads on the head.  It was like having boiling water on my brain, every time I said a lie.”

“You used to lying then, are you?”  Jack still sounded suspicious.

“When I have to, but not as a rule, no.”

Jack grunted, and I realised I’d clearly said something wrong.

We were silent for a good ten minutes before he spoke again.

“Redhead was it?”

I nodded.

“Her name?”

I told him.

He shook his head slowly, a bitter smile on his lips.

“Alright, I believe you.  I thought you might have been one of them, digging for more information from me with that torture business.  I’ve had the same, although not recently.  I’ve still got damage, up here.”  He tapped his head with his fingers.  “And these folk say they are monitoring their efforts to repair it.  I say bullshit to that.  The last time they had me in that chair was two months back, but I don’t trust any organisation that does that to people.  That’s more than electric shock treatment.  You say torture and I agree.”

I was glad Jack seemed to trust me again.  I couldn’t imagine being subjected to month on month of this treatment.  I knew it would drive me mad – I’d either get better, as everyone said they hoped would happen, or I would be sectioned too.  Either that or kill myself in my sleep.  In that moment I knew I had to get out of this place.  I had to escape.

“Where are they holding you?”  I asked, already knowing the answer, but not wanting Jack to know it.

“Somewhere over that way.”  Jack waved in the general direction of the wing where my room was.

“Me too.  You know Morse code?”  Jack looked surprised and then laughed.

“I know how to tap out SOS, it passes the time!”

The blue door opened and a guard walked into the yard, pointed and me and beckoned with his finger.

“Nice talking to you Jack,” I said as I stood up.  “Don’t let them get you down.”

Jack gave a grin, half smirk half grimace.

“See you around Collins.”

The guard, talkative as ever, pushed me through the door and into the hands of two of his colleagues.

“Adrian, Adrian, I can’t believe it, this is horrible!”

Dante rung his huge hands in distress, his piercing pink eyes watering up with his anguish.  I was seated in his office, in one of the low chairs by the coffee table.  The room appeared exactly as when I had been in here last.  Dante paced up and down anxiously in the centre of the room, his large shoes making deep depressions in the high quality carpet.

“She has really gone too far this time, too far and a half.  I have always had concerns about Christa, she would not be my choice at all, not at all.  There are many at the facility who frankly are terrified of her, and that says nothing of the other tensions she sows amongst the guards.  She came highly recommended of course, and in a number of respects is quite perfect for the role, but this sort of thing is intolerable, intolerable!”

He had been going on for some time about how shocked and appalled he was at Christa using the machine on me.  He mentioned the name of the device, something long and complicated sounding that didn’t lodge in my memory at all.  He was making quite a show of it, but on the whole it was thoroughly overdone.  It was quite clear to me that Dante knew what was going on in his own facility, and if he might not entirely approve of everything I was certain it would have been within his power to stop it.

“I called you hear as soon as I heard of course.  That this sort of thing should occur in my own facility makes my head spin with shame.  She must be let go of course.  Yes, that’s it, that is the first thing I must do.”

As he spoke he hurried around to the back of the desk and picked up the large black telephone.  It was the old fashioned variety, with a large mouth and ear piece that sat across the top of the phone’s body.  There was a dial on the front of the phone, and it was possibly some sort of antique.  It was clearly hard wired to somewhere in the building though, as Dante didn’t even touch the dial.

“Yes, hello?  Yes, get me Christa Mayhew’s file, and a representative from HR.  Have them in my office as soon as you can, or god help me….  What?  I don’t care, just get it done!”  He slammed down the phone, so hard I thought it might have exploded into slivers of bakelite.

He wiped his hand across his brow and gave a sigh, before picking up a decorative wooden box from his desk and walking back round to the coffee table.

“You don’t want a cigar do you Adrian?  They always used to calm your nerves when we’d been working too long in the lab”  He pulled open the box and held it out to me in two hands.  The cigars looked expensive, but I had no way of knowing.  I shook my head.

“No?  Quite right, disgusting habit.  I don’t smoke myself, as you know, but you never know who you are going to get dropping in on you.  The bigwigs from head office have a habit of turning up unannounced, and there is nothing worse than a grumpy chairman who can’t get a smoke.  Drink?”

Again I shook my head.  Dante busied himself at the drinks cabinet and I studied the back of his head.  I didn’t know what I could possibly hope to get out of this conversation.  Dante just didn’t sit right with me, for all his bluster, and I was certain he wouldn’t tell me anything useful.  At least that was what I thought.

“Look, it’s clearly high time I came clean with you,” he said, returning to the coffee table with a large glass of what looked like brandy.  He slumped down into the chair opposite and took a big gulp of the amber liquid.

“I guess a part of me is not all that surprised that Christa went to the lengths she did.  After all, there is a chance that some time on the Transmemographer would do you some good.  It is standard treatment for some of our psychosis victims, and the research we are doing into the relationship between brain damage and non-physical psychosis suggests remarkable parallels.”

He paused for another gulp.

“Anyway, the pressure we have been putting on Christa to help you, and the pressure she will be feeling from herself, must have been too much.  Your important to her you know – as much as you are important to all of us here – and then some.  She must be truly desperate to subject a healthy man to that kind of treatment though.  I mean healthy other than the amnesia of course.”

He waved a hand in the air as if he could magic away my memory problems with so easy a gesture.

“Nevertheless, while I can appreciate her motives, it doesn’t excuse the actions.  Like you always used to say old chap, the ends not justifying the means.  Strange scruple for a scientist I thought, but then you were the man of ethics, not me.”

He laughed as if sharing a private joke with me.  A joke that I of course did not understand.

“And this is where I must come clean, as it’s not fair on you to keep you in the dark, even if you already are in the dark.  The fact is we are in deep trouble here at Mnemosyne, deep trouble indeed, but then you’ve seen the prospectus, and with your brain I suspect you have some idea what I mean.”

“The intangible assets?” I guessed.

Dante gave a short bitter laugh.

“That’s the one.  Let’s not get into all that finance hocus pocus, but let’s say we are very close to being underwater.  It costs a lot of money to run a facility like this.  The areas we are researching have the potential to make our shareholders unimaginably wealthy, but the truth of the matter is that less than one percent of our treatment innovations reach market viability.”

“That one percent can be enough of course, when you are talking about advances that change the world, and lately we have been working on an advance that could be the greatest single step change for human society since fire.”

He took a great gulp of the brandy and let out a belly laugh.

“I know what you are thinking, it would seem crazy to me as well, if I didn’t know what I was talking about.  Now, it’s very detailed, and you know this – somewhere – even better than I do.  But now we get to the crux of my confession.  You see Adrian, we all want you to get better.  You are our friend and to some family.  In addition to that, there is an enormous focus on your health because you are the man to make this discovery click.  We are so close, so tantalizingly close, to having this one ready to go.  But we are really up against it in one area.  If we can blaze through that then we are home and dry.  I have been given blank cheque to get this project across the line.  The best person, I think the only person, to finish off the research is you.  So there you go, if you think you can feel ulterior motives everywhere then that is it.  My friend, you are the golden goose.  If we can fit your mind back together again you can take us all with you to the promised land.  For some that is more important than anything else, and for many of us it could mean we lose sight of the fact you are our friend.”

Dante swilled the brandy around his glass and poured the rest down his throat.  He looked red, his pale skin flushing up.  Whether it was from the brandy or what he was saying I couldn’t be sure.

“Well, I must say I don’t really understand the way you’ve gone about it, keeping my locked up, and letting me know almost nothing.”

Dante grimaced and waved his empty glass in circles.

“Direct hit my friend, fair point.  You’re right of course, we’ve not taken the right tack at all.  You see, there were many who thought you would never recover, and a fair few who have campaigned for you to be removed from the programme, and this building, altogether.  Cast you aside.  For that reason we had to make sure you were exposed to as little new information as possible.  This stuff is beyond top secret, and with you not – yet – being the man you used to be, we didn’t really feel we could trust you.”

I weighed it up in my mind.  I guessed it was possible.

“So what’s changed?”

Dante gave a bitter laugh.

“Changed?  Nothing has changed.  Well, almost nothing.  We are getting nowhere with our research, so the level of desperation in this place has gone sky high.  It’s no longer an issue about whether we can trust you with your shonky memory, it’s more about whether we have any chance without you.”

Dante hesitated.  He placed the glass down on the table and for a few seconds played with the rim.

“Also, to be honest, I can only imagine you’re in a pretty bad head space after all that with Christa.  I wouldn’t trust people who had done that to me.  And trust me, if I can I will make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

“If, what do you mean, ‘if’?”

He sighed and sat back in his chair.

“Well, that’s just it.  I mean to sack Christa, but whatever Richter may have told you, I am not god in this place.  I answer to the board and they answer to the shareholders.  Getting Christa out of this place will need to go via them, and if they think that her approach is going to yield benefits… Well, like I said, desperation is the flavour of the month at the Mnemosyne corporation.”

“Just what the hell are you saying Dante?”

He sat forward, resting his elbow on his knee.

“Look Adrian, what I am saying is that I am on your side, and I will do what I can.  But these are desperate times, and if I get overruled, you might well find yourself back in that chair.  I really will do what I can, but my bosses are desperate for progress.  I need to give them something.  Anything.  You understand don’t you?”

I understood very well.  This whole thing, the whole day, the torture, the brandy and cigars, was just a good cop / bad cop routine.  A standard play as old as the hills.  Sure, they’d embellished here and there, but it was nothing new.  I felt angry, and for some reason I felt insulted.  What Dante had said about needing my knowledge might be true.  It did seem to fit, but my instinct was it was the only shred of truth in a whole tissue of lies.  This man, with his bluff manner and comfy chairs, was worse than Richter.  At least Richter had the decency to sneer most of the time, and he must know his forced friendliness reeked of artifice.  This guy looked me straight in the eyes and offered to keep his torturer off my case, if I plaid ball.  And that wasn’t going to happen.

“Sure, of course I understand.”  My tone was as friendly as I could get it.  I wasn’t a master at this, but I had a better mask than Richter.  Better than Dante for that matter.  I leant forward in my chair.

“Listen, if I let you know anything I remember, will that be enough to keep the board off your back, and enable you to keep Christa off of mine?”

Dante gave a wide smile.

“You know, I think it might.  But then that would depend on what you could remember old chap.  Any joy with that little maths problem I gave you?”

So, back to the equation.  I shook my head.

“Oh well, never mind.  What else has popped back in there, anything at all?”

Carefully I fed Dante all that I had told to Christa.  It was all worthless, and as I spoke this was confirmed by Dante’s sagging features.  When I had finished he paused for a few seconds, looking thoughtful, and then clapped me on the shoulder.

“Well, it’s more than before, isn’t it?  And for that I am very grateful, very grateful indeed.  It’s not what we had hoped for, probably not enough to satisfy the board, but I am really grateful that you can share with me.”

I smiled back.

“Listen, I think this is a really big step forward we’ve made Adrian, and I think we should capitalise on it.  There’s no need to strap you to that confounded chair.”  How quickly he had climbed down from his high horse.  First it would be forbidden, then he would do all he could to prevent it, now it was ‘not needed’.

“I think we need to get you back in the saddle, full memory or no,” he continued.  “Starting tomorrow I am going to get you in the labs, get you around your old work.  That’ll get things sparking I bet, get you back to us.  Every evening we’ll meet up, right here, and you can tell me everything you recall that’s new.  Do we have a deal?”

“Deal,” I said, and reached forward to shake his hand.  His grip was firm and powerful, and for a second I was reminded of him holding Richter aloft by his throat.

“Good man!” he bellowed.  “I reckon that calls for a drink.  Are you sure you won’t join me?”

I shook my head.  Shrugging in disappointment he made his way to the cabinet.  As he was reaching for the bottle his phone began to ring.  The tone was unmistakably electronic, tinny and imitative.  The phone clearly wasn’t an antique then, merely a passable fake.  Dante jogged to his desk and whipped up the receiver.

“Yes.  What?  Well he’s early.  OK, five minutes.”

He slammed down the receiver and gave a heavy sigh.

“Talk of the devil.  The CEO is on his way up, so I am afraid we are going to have to cut this one short.  You don’t mind do you Adrian.”

I shook my head and stood up.

“Of course not, I understand.”

“Good man, good man!”  He put his arm over my shoulder and walked me to the door.

“Try not to break the face of any of my guards on your way back to your room!”  The words were a joke, clearly a joke, but there was a hidden steel under them, almost as if his friendly exterior were wearing thin, liable to snap into violence at any moment.  I gave a cheery smile and waved as he close the door behind me.

As the door clicked closed the voice whispered through my head.  Harsh and urgent, it was like the roaring of waves heard from a great distance.  Powerful but muted.

If you want to live to see the sunrise you must escape this place.  Tonight.  You must go!


From → Story

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