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Chapter 11

March 5, 2012

There were no restraints on my wrists, no straps across my chest.  I had been expecting them.  Even so, it was still struggle to sit up, my muscles were weak, operating as if they were a great distance from my brain.

“Good you are awake.”

I rubbed my eyes, my vision sliding in and out of focus.  At the end of the bed there was a high backed arm chair, and in the chair sat Laurent, the tablet computer on his knee.

“What did you do to me?  You drugged my tea.”  The words came out as a growl, my fists balling up as I struggled further up in the bed.  Laurent looked worried, his tone soothing.

“I can assure you I did nothing of the kind.  You saw me drink the same tea as you, and it had no effect on me.  No, you passed out.  I have seen it before, although only once in the same manner.”

I grunted and sat back in the bed.  I tried to make it look intentional, but in reality my muscles could barely take my weight.

“If it is the same… the same sort of fit that I have seen before, it will pass.  You will struggle to stay conscious while it remains, but it will pass.  At least it should.”

Laurent rose from the chair and approached the bedside.  He held out the tablet PC.

“This is undoubtedly the property of Dr Collins.  You are undoubtedly not him.  But I think I can help you, some of the way.  But I need you to prove something to me first.  Dr Collins installed some very sophisticated protection on this device.  It was made by a colleague of his in the UK I believe.”

“Richter.”

Laurent looked thoughtful.

“Yes, Richter.  That sounds about right.  Anyway, in addition to the protection I also believe that Dr Collins told no one of the pass code.  If you can unlock this device I will tell you everything I know.  And if I can help you I will, I promise.”

I glared at Laurent.  I didn’t trust him, much as I trusted no one.  I didn’t believe that he hadn’t drugged me either.  The tablet PC in his hand was on the pattern lock screen, the dots shining out from the black screen.  Did I have a choice?

Weakly I pulled the PC from his grip.  Tilting the screen away from his gaze I traced out ‘M3’, the dots on the grid glowing brighter before they disappeared altogether.  I turned the device, now showing the files, to Laurent.  His eyes went wide as he looked at the device.  His expression was almost one of hunger.  He reached out his hands for the PC but before he could take it from me I summoned my remaining strength and hurled it at the far wall.  With a crack the device exploded, the screen peeling free, the circuitry inside ploughing into the wall and breaking into several pieces.  The pieces hit the floor, some breaking up further, others skittering across the floor in every direction.

Laurent’s hungry expression had collapsed into one of shock.  The door opened and the girl I had seen earlier thrust her head into the room, concern etched on her pretty face.  Laurent waved away her concern and she retreated from the room.  When he turned to me next there was a wide grin on his face and a laugh in his voice.

“By god, I could not have asked for more proof.  Only Dr Collins would know the pass code, and certainly Dr Collins would have destroyed it rather than have it in the possession of another.  Of course, I somewhat doubt that Dr Collins would have had the strength to destroy it in that manner, but still.”

Laurent was still chuckling, but I was confused, and getting angrier.

“What do you mean?  I thought you said I wasn’t Dr Collins, what is all this talk of the real Dr Collins?  You promised me answers, and I will have them.”

Laurent finished chuckling.

“Please, be easy.  We had an agreement, and I will of course honour that.  I would have liked a look at the contents of that device, but no.”

Laurent moved away from the bed but didn’t return to the chair.  Instead he paced slowly up and down at the end of the bed.

“OK, all of this will seem like science fiction to you.  It is also top secret.  However, I feel that you have a right to know.  If I am right about you of course.”

He paused and my irritation rose.  If I was stronger I felt sure I would have my hands on the man’s collar already.  Laurent must have sensed my rising impatience.

“Very well, the short version.  Dr Collins is – was – the leader of this facility.  A true genius, a renaissance man, his field of research was broad.  From his specialism, neuroscience, his interests ranged from pure mathematics to computing to ethics.  He would have been a leader in half a dozen fields.  In our area of research he was without parallel.  And his true passion, the focus for his remarkable brain, was human memory.

Some years ago he began research into the data storage centres of the brain.  Rather than focus on the functional centres of the brain he began a painstaking investigation into the physical containers for human memory.  It was these, he argued, that contained the essence of who we were.  He argued that the specialist functions in the brain all drew from this stored experience, like finely honed tools drawing instructions from a central command centre.  In effect he drew his rationale from computer science.  In terms of data retention the important part of the computer was the hard drive, the persistent memory.  Swap this to another device and that device retains the identity of the former host.”

The reference to computers wasn’t helping me, and Laurent could tell.  In a rush he carried on.

“It is not important.  In short Dr Collins discovered a way to extract and process these memories.  He developed this research, and refined an electrical transfer mechanism that could transfer these memories from one device to another.  In the extreme case, these could be used to transfer memories from one person to another.”

Laurent was pacing faster now, his voice excited.

“It was remarkable, memories from one person to another.  The size of the data set, even for a single memory, was immense.  We needed new mathematics, new algorithms to process the data.  Dr Collins invented a new branch of mathematics to process the enormous amounts of information, new equations of such elegance that they could pinpoint an individual neural packet, a single memory, a recalled experience, a fragment of our identity.”

Laurent was right.  It did sound like science fiction.

“We started with solid state drives, computer hardware, and selected memories.  A summer’s day, for example.  Quickly we found that the storage capacity of even the largest drive was insufficient for anything more than a fragment.  We understand so little of what we possess.  We moved cautiously, but it was already clear that there were others working in the same area.  How they learned of our research we do not know, but human trials had begun, and we raced to catch up.

Almost all attempts were a disaster.  It simply wasn’t possible for a brain to hold any significant portion of transferred data.  Our subjects went mad, killed themselves, collapsed and never spoke again.  It was horrific.”

Laurent paused and swallowed, the memory clearly causing him discomfort.

“We quickly ceased our trials, Dr Collins taking the entire process back to formula rather than put more lives at risk.  He was heartsick over it, I could tell.  But, soon Dr Collins received correspondence from another lab that claimed to have perfected the process.  They had subjects who could absorb countless transferred memories without side-effects.  Or so they claimed…”

Laurent stopped pacing.  His brow was creased with thought, his eyes shrouded, looking inwards on himself, and seemingly not liking what he saw.

“It was not long after that, six months ago or so, that Dr Collins disappeared.  There was a break in, we know that, and other than some of Dr Collins personal effects there was nothing taken.  Nothing other than Dr Collins.  And now you arrive, knowing things that only Dr Collins could know, and without a clear idea who you are.”

My limbs felt heavier, seeming to pull down through the bed.  I was going under again, I could tell.  I fought against it but it was no use, unconsciousness was rolling over me like waves, drowning me with its incessant pounding.  I tried to suck in a lungful of consciousness but the cloying feeling choked me, pushing me further under.

“You see now, don’t you,” said Laurent, looking deep into my eyes as they slid closed. “You aren’t Dr Collins, but for good or ill you seem to have some of his memories.  Why that is, we need to determine.  Together with finding out who you really are.  And for that I will need some help, and I think there is only one place I can turn.”

 

The light from the single bulb cast a hollow dome into the surrounding blackness, the edges ragged and raw against the black.  The frayed light extended to the edge of the small circular table.  Just.  The suffocating darkness seemed to press on the dome of light, weighing heavily upon it, a dark potential waiting for its chance to fall, crushing everything beneath it.  But for now the light held.

The table in front had a cheap laminate cover.  Near the centre, under a circular coffee stain, was a crack in the laminate.  The edge was jagged and sharp.  With a finger I flicked the edge, a small sliver snapping off and shivering its way off of the surface of table.  It was the table from the Mnemosyne facility.

The chair opposite was also from the Mnemosyne facility.  Or at least my memory of the place.  I knew this wasn’t a dream, not a normal dream anyway, even before the man stepped out of the darkness and into the light.

He was old, pushing eighty by my estimation, and his body looked frail and used up.  The skin was stretched tightly over his face as if there wasn’t quite enough to cover his bones, but his forehead was lined and cracked with wrinkles.  He shuffled forward from the blackness, one minute invisible, the next stood behind the chair opposite me.  His breathing was shallow and hurried, as if he had just run a great distance, and there was a gleam of sweat on his crinkled brow.

The eyes that gazed out from the gaunt features from behind thick lenses were entirely out of place.  They shone with the intellect of a razor sharp mind and seemed to try and bore into my skull.  A gleam in them spoke of good humour, maybe even compassion, and they softened the drawn appearance of the man.  With a sigh he pulled out the chair and slowly bent his body on to the seat.

“Hello Dr Collins,” I said.

The man settled himself on the chair, resting his arms on the table.  From his pocket he pulled a pristine white handkerchief with which he dabbed the sweat on his brow.  He made a gravelly sound, half way between a chuckle and a cough, and tucked the handkerchief back in his pocket.

“You know who I am then?”

I nodded.  I knew who he was.  He was the man I thought I was.  The man I had been told I was.  I didn’t know how it was possible, but I now knew he was the man trapped inside my head.

“You’ve been poorly used, and for that I can only apologise.  It is true that this is not my doing, but it is also true that you would not be in this position were it not for me.”

Dr Collins paused to catch his breath.

“You must have so many questions.  I cannot imagine how I would feel in your position.  To explain everything to you would take too long, and I fear we do not have the time.”

As if to punctuate his words the bulb above the table flickered, the dome of light around us flexing and receding against the onslaught of darkness.  It was marginal, but when the bulb stopped flickering I was sure the dome was smaller.

“They put you in my head, didn’t they?”

Dr Collins nodded.

“Yes.  All that I was, all that I am in here,” he tapped his forehead with a crooked finger, “is tucked away safely in here,” he reached out his hand and tapped my forehead, his skin cold and papery against mine.  “But we do not have time for such talk.  Fortunately, in this place, talk is unnecessary.  You and I must be allies, but first you need to understand what has been done to you, done to us.  Let me share that with you.”

The dark rushed in, swamping both Dr Collins and I.  The bulb was still visible though, its rays beating desperately against the darkness.

Come into the light, came the voice.  Dr Collins’ voice.  The light from the bulb exploded in a flash.

The Mnemosyne table, the chairs, the bulb and Dr Collins were all gone.  I was sat in an enormous arm chair, my body submerged in the luxuriant padding.  High wings from the back of the chair wrapped around either side of my head, the soft velour cover tempting me to rest my head and snooze.  I relaxed more, stretching out my hands along the arms of the chair.  For a second I was surprised to see the grey and wrinkled skin of my forearm, my crooked and bent fingers.  But then, why would I be surprised?

A few metres in front of my chair there was a vast open fireplace, a log burning merrily on the grate.  The flickering flames cast a red glow on me and around the room, compounding the cosy aspect of the chair.  The fireplace was made of heavy grey stone, the great big mass of the chimney stretching up from the hearth and running up to the beamed ceiling above.

I was relaxed and warm.  I revelled in the heat from the fire.  Outside the weather had taken a turn for the worse, with snow on the ground and the temperature rarely venturing above freezing.  My body was no longer equipped to handle such conditions, and while it might gall me to admit that fact, I had no such problem admitting how good the fire felt.  Yes, I was relaxed, but not at ease.  The presence of the man in the chair next to me ensured that.

“It is not as if I invited his attentions,” protested Richter, sitting forward in his chair.  It was the twin of mine, but if its proportions and padding had any soothing effect on my friend he didn’t show it.  “It was quite unsolicited, I can assure you.”

I looked up from the fire.  Richter was a mess, panicky and sweating profusely.  Well, you could put the sweating down to the heat.  The room was something of an oven.  And he did have reason to be nervous, even with the assurance of age I knew this to be true.

“Unsolicited or not, you can have nothing to do with the man.  He is a lunatic, I am sure you realise that?”

Richter nodded, shuffling in his seat.

“Of course I know that, you would think that I would remember that better than anyone.  The last year that we worked together was a nightmare.”

Richter paused, his face clouding over as he relived the memories.  It had all started out well enough.  Both he and Dante were my pupils at Cambridge, and both showed immense promise.  I was delighted when they both stayed on as postgraduates and begun their doctorates in my department, and for five years he three of us had worked well together.  By the sixth year Dante’s behaviour had grown erratic, his nature tending towards violence.  When he was sent down from the university we had all hoped that would be the last we would see of him.  And it had been – until now – nearly two decades later.

“Perhaps you should start from the beginning?” I suggested, my words cutting across Richter’s morbid thoughts.  He nodded and sat back in the chair.

“It was last Thursday, the eighth, at around five in the afternoon.  Until that point it was a normal day.  I was working in the lab, as it happens looking through some of those calculations you had sent me.  I had just had an argument with the Chair of applied mathematics, and was wondering if I should head home early, my mind muddled.  Suddenly the door to the lab swung open and in strolled Dante, calm as you like.  ‘Hullo Richter old pal’ he chuckled, giving me a playful tap on the shoulder.”

Richter paused and took a sip from the glass of water on the table next to his chair.

“I should have called security, but I didn’t want to move.  I’m not ashamed to say that I am still rather frightened of the man.  It’s not just his size – and he is a lot bigger than me – but we both know he is not a stable character.

Anyway, despite his calm demeanour he wasn’t interested in chit chat.  He was there to offer me a job.”

I sat forward in my chair.

“A job, is he working in industry?”

Richter shook his head.

“Not exactly, although you could call it that.  He has been made the head of a new lab run by a private enterprise.  The Mnemosyne Corporation.  Here, he left me his card.”

Richter reached forward and handed me a small rectangle of card.  It carried the name Gabriel Dante and the title ‘Facility Director’.  The logo on the card was white and blue, a hand holding a torch.

“Very classical,” I muttered, before waving my hand for Richter to continue.

“He described the work they were doing as a great noble vision, unencumbered by the restrictions of academia, with the very best funding, best equipment, and best scientific brains in the world.  He wasn’t coy about it, they are looking for novel treatments for a wide range of neurological conditions, and he knew I was the perfect man to join their team.”

“And you said no?”

Richter almost looked offended.

“Of course I said no.  I wouldn’t work with that man again no matter what.  That said, the rewards he was offering are considerable.  It’s not just the promise of the science that could be achieved – he was offering me a seven figure salary, together with a profit sharing arrangement!”

I could read the temptation in Richter’s eyes.  I had little doubt he had said no – his previous experience with Richter almost guaranteed that.  But my old friend was as susceptible to greed as most men.  The promise of great wealth seem to shine in his eyes, alongside the distress at having encountered an old enemy.  Even now I could see he was not entirely sure he had come to the right decision.  I was.

“It is for the best Richter.  There is something very wrong with Dante, very wrong indeed.  He is a genius, of that I have no doubt, but he is flawed in ways that I cannot begin to describe.  He is thoroughly corrupt, and has a unique knack for corrupting others.  Rarely have I encountered a man so able, and so willing, to mercilessly exploit a weakness.  I had hoped we had seen the last of him.  Wherever he has been these past years we had best hope he returns there.  You should have nothing more to do with him.”

Richter nodded, but the preoccupied look didn’t leave his face.  We sat in silence for some minutes until he worked up the courage to speak.

“Collins, there is something else.”

I nodded, indicating that he should carry on.

“I cannot fathom how, but he knew about your work, your research.  He knew more about your discoveries than I could credit, and I do not know how.”

I sat forward in the chair.

“He described a good part of what I thought you had only shared with me.  He seemed to grasp how such research could be important for him.  I got the distinct impression that might have been why he was there, to get to you through me.  I know you do not share my views, but now you must understand what I was saying.  Your research is ground breaking, but it is also dangerous.  Is it protected?”

I glanced down at the tablet PC in my lap.  I didn’t want to let my concern show, that would only disturb Richter more.  With all my experience I knew that to share my concerns with Richter would achieve nothing, other than add to his distress, and increase the chances of him doing something rash.  No, he was mainly here for reassurance.

“It is all protected, using the software you kindly provided.  This is the sole record of my work, other than here,” I tapped my temple with a finger, “and it is quite safe.”

Richter looked relieved.

“But you must promise me Richter, you will have nothing more to do with Dante.”

He nodded, but something in his eyes left me ill at east.

 

The world span sideways, making my stomach lurch.  Just as I felt as if I would throw up it locked back into place with a crunch.  I put my hand up to steady myself, my fingers gripping the edge of the lab bench.  It was late at night, too late to still be working.  My assistants had long since gone home, including Sarah.  That was how late it was.

The man opposite me was red faced with anger, his pink eyes flashing rage.  It was a terrifying site.  He was twice my size and half my age, and if he wanted to he could snap me in half like a dry twig.  More worryingly, it didn’t just depend on whether he wanted to.  I had seen Dante out of control before.

“And what of science Collins, what of advancement?  What of the sick and the dying that we could help?  They need not suffer!”

For others this passion may have been compelling.  I could see right through it.

“Do not even try to play me for a fool Dante.  Any notion that you cared for others was a thought I abandoned many years ago.  I don’t fully understand what devilry you want to work with my research, but you should understand this.  You will not have it!”

I was pleased at how strong I sounded, I felt sure my terror would resonate through my words but it did not.

As quick as a passing storm the rage fled from Dante, a transition so swift it was all the more terrifying.

“Look, old friends shouldn’t argue like this.  You must know how much I respect and admire you.  You gave me my first break and I will always be grateful to you for that.  You think I am here to take your research but you are mistaken, and I apologise for that.  I came here not to buy your papers, but to offer you a job.  No, don’t answer right away, let me tempt you first.”

The word was so apt.  The man was like the serpent in the garden, always tempting.  Always searching for a new angle to bring about your downfall.

“We have been up and running for five years now and we have had really good results.  We have invested heavily in both hardware and software.  The pockets behind this are deep, let me assure you, and it is politically backed to the hilt as well.

In many ways we have picked up where you and I left off, all those years ago.  We’ve started from brain scanning and moved all the way through to extraction and transfer.  You should see the mathematics required for the compression, it’s like a symphony of numbers!”

His expression was one of wonder, his eyes shining with the enthusiasm.  This was the Dante I had met, all those years ago.  A Dante that had all but disappeared by the time we parted company.

“We have even moved to human trials, but we have hit a problem.  There are scant few people who are suitable for the trial, and we think we have worked out why.  It’s not so much a capacity issue – you would not believe what our numbers are telling us in that area – rather an ‘indexing’ issue of sorts.  I’ve no intention of being coy with you, I know about your work on memory deletion.  It is something we have been trying to replicate without success.  We need your research, your help, and my bosses are willing to pay handsomely for it.”

He slid a contract across the bench.  My name was on it, together with ‘Mnemosyne Corporation’ as the employer.  Dante tapped his finger next the salary item at the top of the page.  This figure was five million per annum.

I shoved the contract back across the bench where it flopped on to the floor.

“Get out Dante, me and my research are not for sale at any price.  You forget how well I know you.  If I thought for one second that your entire intention is to work for the good of mankind I might have pause for thought.  But I do not, so I do not.  Now get out of my site before I call security.

Dante exploded into anger once again, his face and neck flushing red.

“You do now know what you are doing!  How long do you think it will take us to replicate your work?  Six months, a year?  Because we are old friends I have persuaded my bosses that you are worth this investment, rather than the wait.  And this is the response I get?”

His fists rammed down on the bench, sending a shiver through its length.  He was working himself up into a frenzy.  The last time I had seen this two men had been left hospitalised and Dante had spent three months in jail.  I swallowed as he raised his fists again, now too enraged for words, the veins standing out in his forehead and his eyes bulging.

“What is going on here?” came the voice, feminine yet strong.  A voice I could listen to all day and not get bored of.  Sarah stood in the doorway, the darkness of the corridor behind framing her beauty.  Dante whirled around, his fist still bunched tightly.  My first thought was to get Sarah out of harm’s way.

“Nothing to worry about Sarah, you should be home by now,” I said, not quite finding the calm tone I was seeking.

“It doesn’t look like nothing Dr, shall I call security?”  If she was cowed by the enormous figure of Dante she didn’t show it.  If my admiration for her had had room to increase it would have.

Dante had turned to me, his eyes still flashing rage but also registering something else.  Was it amusement?

“No no, please don’t do that,” said the big albino, collapsing into warm joviality.  “The Dr and I are old friends, and I had stopped by for a chat, but I was leaving now anyway.”

He picked his overcoat from the bench and made his way towards the door.  Sarah stepped to one side, making room for him to pass but not backing away an inch.

“I must say, it was a pleasure to meet you young lady,” said Dante as he passed through the door.  As he walked down the corridor he called back to me. “I’ll leave that contract with you Dr.  Just send me a copy when you’ve signed.”

 

The desk lamp cast a pool of light around my desk.  I should get up and turn on the main light in the room, but I was too tired to move.  Not physically tired, but emotionally exhausted.  I was too old for this.  Too old, that was the real problem.

The day had been chaos.  That fool Jones had left the burners in Lab 4 running unattended.  The fire had quickly got out of control and destroyed a lot of the Lab.  We had lost millions in equipment, and months of research.  At least no one had been hurt.  And then I had found the note, the one telling me to expect a call on my office phone at 10pm.  It was 9:58.

The pocket of light I sat in reminded me of something, but the memory was indistinct, difficult to hold on to.  I gave the computer mouse a shove and the screen flicked back into life, the table of figures and associated charts rearing up in front of me.  The science was solid, the results remarkable.  But they only had a handful of volunteers they could work with.  That was, without my help.

The phone on the desk rang.  It was an old style, possibly even an antique.  I had owned it for over fifty years, and it had taken some fairly intricate electronics to keep it working with the modern phone exchange.  On the front of the large Bakelite body was a dial, a hole on the dial for each number.  The hand set rested in the cradle above the phone, a small red light blinking on and off with each trill of the phone’s bell.  The red light had never looked sinister before.  It did now.

I picked up the receiver.

“You have our results,” said the voice.

“Yes.”

There was a satisfied pause, as if my single word answer had said a lot more.

“They are remarkable, are they not?”

I didn’t know what to say.  They were remarkable, possibly even a step change in my field of research.  But they were also terrible.  They completely missed the point of what I had been trying to achieve.  They twisted my research in a direction I had not foreseen.  I cursed my ignorance, my naivety.  I cursed the man at the end of the phone.

“They are remarkable, but you are up against a brick wall now, and you know it.”

“That is right Dr Collins, and that is why we need you.  I have never been coy on this point.”  Some of the satisfaction had leached out of the voice, running toward frustration.

I paused, reaching forward and taking a sip of coffee.  It had gone cold.

“I will never help you.  You must know that by now.  You have no hold over me, and you never will.”

There was no reply, but I could picture Dante’s face, his lips curled into an expression of rage, his pink eyes bulging like a vision of the devil.  However, when he spoke I was shaken by how relaxed he sounded.  He was almost jovial.

“I would have thought that you would have realised by now Doctor that I am not playing games.  Willing or not, we now have ways to get the information we need.  I would have liked to have you by my side.  You are a genius, and even though your days grown short I feel there is more you can achieve with us.  But no matter, it is the Adstringo that I need most, and this is something you have already achieved.  Know this Doctor, we will get the Adstringo from you, one way or another.  It is not your choice.  Your only choice is how we proceed, and whether you benefit from the transaction.”

My anger surged.  How dare he!

“Listen here Dante, I am too old to be worried by your threats, you can go to hell, and take your…”

Dante’s voice cut across mine.

“No, you listen Dr.  I have sent a man with a final offer for you.  I believe you will like it.  He has been instructed to receive your answer and report back to me.”

“You can tell your man to go to hell too!” I screamed into the received.

“Tell him yourself, he is right behind you.”  The line cut off with a click, a shiver running down my spine.  It wasn’t possible, this facility had twenty four hour security.  Slowly I spun my chair around and peered into the gloom around me.  It was difficult to make anything out, but was that a shadow, over by the door?

“Good evening Dr Collins,” said the shadow.

I reached for the phone.

“I wouldn’t do that Sir, it will only get people hurt.”  The shadow’s voice was low, but not unfriendly.  He spoke with such confidence I knew the words were true.  I sat back in my chair.

“What do you want?” I stammered.

“I have a message for you.”  The shadow flowed forward and pushed a small envelope into the pool of light.  Against the glare of the light I couldn’t make out his features, and he withdrew to the doorway once I had taken the envelope into my hands.  The envelope was marked ‘Dr Jones, Full and Final offer’.

“You got anything to drink in this place?” said the shadow.  “Maybe some Bourbon?”

I shook my head.  This was a scientific facility, not a bar.  The shadow sighed.  There was a click and a flame blossomed in the darkness, the tip of a cigarette glowing red and floating up to the shadow’s invisible face.

“You can’t smoke in here,” I said.

“Sure thing,” said the shadow, taking a long drag on the cigarette, the red tip flaring brighter.

I looked down at the envelope in my hands.  I flicked up the corner and ran my finger along the side.  The light on my desk pulsed and then exploded into a ball of light, scouring away everything.  I shielded my eyes with my hand, but the light burned through, searing through my hand and plunging through my eyeball, lancing into my brain.

I lowered my hand.  Dr Collins was sat opposite me, just as before, the Mnemosyne table between us and the single bulb overhead.  He looked even more worn out than before, his head slaked with sweat and his breathing ragged.

“You refused again, didn’t you,” I asked.

He gave a nod, taking the handkerchief from his pocket and mopping his brow again.

“They need the Adstringo, but what for?”

Dr Collins gathered his breath.

“I designed the Adstringo algorithm for a different purpose, but Dante and his team soon identified it could be used to wipe the memory of a person without causing any physical damage.  A software lobotomy for the brain, if you will.

They had discovered that only certain people could cope with the grafting process.  Only certain people could accept new memories and remain sane. Or even retain a semblance of sanity.  Their plan was to use the Adstringo to wipe the memories of healthy hosts and transfer in memories from other people.”

This reminded me of the words of Laurent – it sounded like science fiction.

“But why, to what end?”

Dr Collins shuddered.

“Immortality of course.  Richter tried to warn me.  Imagine this: a billionaire, dying of cancer, could transfer his entire memory, his entire consciousness, into a healthy twenty year old.  Gain a new body, a new lifetime to use that body.  Such a technology would be worth billions, trillions.  It would offer up the prospect of eternal life for some, those that could afford it.  And of course it would doom the hosts to an early grave, scrubbed out of existence so someone could take over their very being.”

The light above flickered and dimmed for a second.

“But without my Adstringo they were left playing around with the few that could cope with additional memories.  Astounding as it was, it was not the end goal for Dante and his team.  When I refused they had one last resort.  They took me, my memories, my consciousness, and transferred it to a host.  They hoped that this would enable them to extract the Adstringo from the host, that he would be more pliable than I was.  They hoped that they would be able to get the information from you.”

My head ached, pressure building up like it was about to explode.

“And it will, metaphorically.  That is what I am here to tell you.  There is too much in your brain, and it is not just me, not just my memories.  You are stuffed full, with memories, recollections, skills.”

Dr Collins waved his hand and images leapt up before me, sounds hurtling at my ears in a deafening wave.  As soon as they had come they vanished.

“You cannot cope, and soon you will die.  But you deserved to know. You are innocent in this, but you will die because of it.  I am sorry that you have to die, I truly am, but you deserved to know.”

 

My eyes were gummed up and filmy, my cheeks wet, like I had been crying in my sleep.  The dream was fresh and real, it didn’t fade like a normal dream would.  And it wouldn’t, I knew that.  It was real.  It was true.  And for the first time I could remember I knew what to do.

The door opened and Laurent walked in.

“You are awake again.  And you look better, perhaps the fit has passed, no?”

I swung my legs from the bed.  I did feel better, I hoped it would last.  I didn’t have time for any more episodes.

“There isn’t much time.  Listen to me carefully, ‘cos I am only going through this once.”

I started at the beginning, my beginning, when I awoke at Mnemosyne.  I talked through my experiences there, and everything that Dr Collins had told me.  Half way through Laurent had sat gingerly down in the chair.  When I had finished his face was ashen grey.

“And all this… all this was to get the – what did you call it – Adstringo, from Dr Collins?”  I nodded.  It was the missing piece of the puzzle, a puzzle that was going to kill me if I didn’t act fast.

“And do you remember it, this mysterious Adstringo?”

Did I?  I wasn’t sure that I did.  But I had, back at Mnemosyne.  Dante’s plan had come close to working.

“That’s not important.  These people you mentioned that had memories implanted, these ‘Grafts’, how did they access these memories?”

Laurent looked confused, and unsure of how to answer.

“Like I said, most went insane.  But in terms of the successful transfers, there was no need to access the memories, they were just there.  In the same way you might struggle to remember your own memories some might be indistinct, but they were effectively blended.”

It was as I suspected.

“And what about reversal?  In the notes I read the prospect of reversing the process was mentioned.  Could memories be taken out of my head?”

Again Laurent looked unsure.

“It is theoretically possible, but we had only worked on duplicating memories, not removing or deleting.  I did not know of Dr Collins’ work on the Adstringo.  Maybe there would have been notes from him on his notebook, but you have destroyed that…”

I shook my head.  There was nothing on the notebook, I knew that.  Just a voice recording with his moral dilemma.  Dr Collin’s knew what he was dealing with – eventually – and he had made sure to leave no record behind.  Other than in his own head.  And now mine.

“So if the reversal is possible, the only person that would know how is Dr Collins?”

Laurent nodded.

“That seems likely, but we don’t know where Dr Collins is.  He has been missing for months remember.”

I stood up, my legs felt strong.  I grabbed my pack and thrust my arms through the straps.

“I know where he is.  He is in a heavily guarded compound in the south east of England.  And I am going to get him out.”

Laurent looked shocked.

“This Mnemosyne place?  But you said they were the ones that did this to you?  How are you going to get him out of there?”

I didn’t have a full answer to this, not one that would satisfy Laurent.  But there was something from my dream, something that Dr Collins had showed me that gave me confidence.  If I analysed it too much it would vanish, so I just took it on faith.

“I can, because I’m beginning to remember who I am.  Or at least what I am, what they did to me.  I can get him out.  Trust me.”

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