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memory

The Time-Traveller’s Lament

by David Stevens

The clan of homo heidelbergensis tutted and bobbed and swayed as Fred approached their hearth, but he was not concerned. As always, he was careful to stay on the other side of their fire. He told himself that they had grown used to his appearances. If he thought about it, however, he could not be certain of the chronological order of any given visit. He did not think about it. Nor did he ponder that he – with his stumpy homo sapiens sapiens legs, tiny teeth, and unimpressive browridge –  might not appear a threat to them.

Plus, he always brought food. “Don’t ask where I got these from, fellas,” he called as he threw bones over the fire. The fellas of course did not respond, but chomped down, so Fred soon heard cracking, followed by the sucking of marrow.

Fred stalked up and down on his side of the flames. “I think I may be finished with it all. I have intervened in history 168 times. I’m worn out. I don’t physically age when interacting with the Temporomobile™, but it’s been 200 years! And I’m only 37!

“Sure, I’ve had breaks – 200 years is a long time. Coming back here, that’s not a break, that’s the default for the re-set, but other stuff. Spa-days. Weeks. Months. Take some time to think. To not think. To chill. Can you blame me?

“I was wiped out. You get it. You’re down at the stream, washing the auroch grease and swamp mud out of your hair, and a sabre-tooth appears with his big, you know, teeth, and you gotta run, and you leave the babies behind, and the sabre-tooth is happy with that, but you’re not! You’re not as emotionally evolved as a 21st century romance writer, but you’re hominids, you have feelings, you don’t like your babies being eaten, but what are you gonna do? You’re not a bad parent, you’re not a bad person-oid. There was no choice.

“Louisa was dead. Hit by a car. But it did not have to be final. I had a choice.

“People made all of the usual noises – you’re still young; it was meant to be; there are plenty of fish in the sea; she wasn’t as smart as you …

“I was already close to the breakthrough. I worked. Constantly. Day and night. I have a montage of it back in the machine. And I did it. I built the Temporomobile™. I set the dial to the fateful time, and dragged her out of the way of the car just in the nick of … well, you know.

“I wept joyous tears – she was alive and in my arms. She was shocked at her near miss, and shaking, and … stepped straight in front of a speeding truck.”

Fred’s monologue continued. He did not pause to wonder whether he had survived his first encounter with the clan because in his chronologically jumbled travels, they had already met him. Similarly, he did not contemplate whether he had survived their first encounter with him, because he arrived with the overconfidence and bonhomie of long-term, strangely tolerated, weird neighbour.

The homo heidelbergensis clan gnawed on the bones, amongst their evening activities: hearth-tending; mutual grooming (and associated insect-eating); mating, sometimes before, sometimes after the mutual grooming; toolmaking; and keeping watch for night-dangers.    

“I ran to the machine, reversed the temporal flow, and this time after rescuing her, I took her into the house and made her a nice cup of tea.

“Which seemed to do the trick. Except later that day, two blocks away, she was struck and killed by the same make of car that killed her the first time.

“My instinct was to go further back, and remove that automobile company from existence, but of course, nobody wants to be Bradbury’s dinosaur hunter – well, they might, I hunted a dinosaur on one of my breaks, great fun. I digress. I had no idea what ripples that might start, how much I might change.

“I went back and forth, fixing things, but sooner or later the universe sprung back into shape, and – boing – she was struck by a car.

“There was nothing for it. I had to amend her mother, so that she would be stricter in raising Louisa and imprint upon her the danger of the automobile!

“I spent much of her mother’s childhood driving crazily by and narrowly missing her. There were one or two unfortunate incidents, but I erased those almost immediately.

“It seemed to work. Louisa was more timid, and she and her mother jumped at loud noises, but she was alive, my love was alive! And stayed alive.

“For three months.

“The next time, she was struck by a bicycle messenger travelling at speed, hit her head, and was gone.

“I studied Louisa more carefully. I discovered a slight astigmatism in one eye. She had not been seeing these speeding objects properly.

“I couldn’t figure how to accidentally carry out delicate eye surgery on a juvenile Louisa without being caught out.

“However, I traced the imperfection back 80 years, to a something-great-grandmother.

“Fortunately, the woman had died in childbirth, so had made no contribution other than an unfortunate genetic one. So, I once again travelled backwards; removed her from the picture; and substituted another something-great-grandmother.

“Oh, do not judge me harshly. I arranged an inheritance for something-great-grandma, so she never felt compelled to marry to avoid starvation, and died childless and happy at the age of 110.

“I took no chances. I surreptitiously arranged for Louisa to have acrobatic, dance and martial arts lessons in childhood, so that she was fit and nimble and particularly good at jumping out of the way.

“This final time. I was there. The car passed harmlessly. She crossed the street – in tighter fitting clothes than I remembered, showing a more muscular build from her lessons. The truck sped by immediately afterwards, unnoticed. I noticed the delightful lift at the tip of Louisa’s nose was gone – no doubt another genetic contribution from the substituted great-granny. It was a price I was willing to pay.

“Around a corner, a motorbike mounted the footpath, knocking pedestrians flying. Louisa sprung a grand jeté, leaping over the bike without a care. Ha! My investments were paying off. I was scared too, of course. What might the universe throw next at our love?

“With an extended step, Louisa avoided an open manhole. She then ducked as though in a silent movie, avoiding a timber shouldered by a spinning labourer.

“There was a loud snap above us. Worker’s hoisting an iron safe to a top-floor business had misjudged its weight, and the lifting rope had broken. The safe plummeted to earth.

“It was no bother to Louisa. She dived into a forward roll, grabbed a small child on the way, and tumbled them both to safety!

Take that, universe, I thought, and punched the air in triumph. Louisa deposited the child, turned to an opening door, and froze. A young woman of Celtic background – long wavy red hair, creamy skin with a spray of freckles – stepped out. Colpo di fulmine! They froze for a moment, then fell into each other’s arms, their lips locked in a passionate kiss.

“The universe laughed its arse off at me as I watched love at first sight. What are you going to do now, Fred?, it asked, braying food from its lips as it chewed up my heart.

“That’s it, fellas. That’s the story. I’ve given up. The universe hates us. If you ever work out language, after the sabre-tooth gobbles up your babies, don’t bother to ask “why?’. It was just meant to be. And the reason is.” This bit he punctuated with foot stomps. “Everything. Is. Shit.”

The clan had looked up. They tutted and bobbed and swayed a little more frantically than before.

“Except maybe. I don’t know. Is it a nature or nurture thing? Maybe Louisa swings both ways, and I just never realised because, you know, she died and all. Should I go back and give it one last shot? Just one more? Get in before the Irish chick?”

The clan had moved the babies and old folk behind rocks and into crevices. Spears and stone axes were raised.

The guttural rumble was deeper and louder than Fred would have predicted. It triggered the most primal fear response.

“I don’t want to look. There’s one behind me, isn’t there?”

It was messy. It was swift-ish, but not swift enough for Fred. Still, the sabre-tooth was happy, and left the clan alone, dragging Fred’s corpse into the darkness.

A few days later, Fred appeared and began tossing bones again. None present wondered if this was a slightly younger Fred, throwing his own chewed femur and broken rib cage that he had collected while strolling past.

“Don’t ask where I got these from, fellas.”

~

Bio:

David Stevens usually lives in Sydney, Australia, with his wife and those of his children who have not yet figured out the locks. He is the author of twenty five (now twenty six!) published stories, largely speculative, sometimes experimental, which have appeared among other places in Crossed Genres, Three-Lobed Burning Eye, Pseudopod, and most recently in Vastarien Literary Journal, Andromeda Spaceways Magazine, and the anthology Prolescaryet. He blogs at davidstevens.info.

Philosophy Note:

The simplest time-travelling stories, if they rise above action and romance, are often wish-fulfillment with a dash of Amazing! The most sophisticated are often extended melancholic broodings upon history and the human condition. Mixed somewhere in there is a spectrum of approaches to technical questions, such as avoiding temporal paradoxes, and serious historical counterfactuals.
With Fred and his homo heidelbergensis audience, I was more concerned to lightheartedly and briefly touch on a range of other points: if science and technology takes us down a path, we will follow it regardless, and ascribe moral neutrality to that path; the pernicious idea that “acceptance” is for losers, for those who give up, as though an unreflective and overwhelming focus on a goal is not monomaniacal; the notion that if we work hard enough, we can achieve anything, and tied in with that, our recent return to the idea of science as an individualistic endeavour, and grudging “admiration” for high-tech heroes (cough, Ebon Tusk); and finally unexamined interference with the free will of others.

When We Were One

by A. J. Rocca

Do you remember, my love? Do you remember what it was like when we were one? Do you remember how our flesh came together without a seam, how each joint joined and bone locked together in perfect congress: hip-to-hip, back-to-back, thighs, sides, loins, heart and heart? Was this where your head stopped and my neck began? Or is it where my shoulders stopped and your spine started? No, that’s not right, not right at all. It’s been so long now, but we have to remember. We have to remember what it was like when we were one.

Do you remember how the other children used to curse our beauty and call us chimera? It was a slur to compare our union to that motley of a beast, but what did we care what the half-born thought? We could wheel through the agora faster on our eight limbs than ever they could on their stumbling two; wrestle their unbalanced bodies to the dirt with our perfect, rounded form. We learned our skill with the needle from none less than our own argent father, and we could sew and mend and loom faster with our twenty clever fingers than even a workshop full of those born apart. You know in their most secret hearts they were only jealous of us, my darling. Why else would they spend so much of their lives crashing into each other, desperately coupling to find their lost half? First this one on top, then that one on top, over and over again, limbs all twisted up, parts bruising against each other. What shame could we feel before such ridiculous, shivering slices of a person? They’d point and laugh at us, and we’d point right back and laugh twice as hard.

            I hate the Storm Bringer. I hate the Storm Bringer and I don’t care if he hears it. I piss on his columns and shout in the ears of his goshawks until they are deaf with my blasphemy: capricious, unjust, cruel king and mad god! He knows no good turn, if he makes the vintner’s vines grow heavy, it’s only so his neighbors will come to kill him for their fruit. His rain falls on my tongue and I taste only vinegar. His priests say he split us to teach us humility but do not believe them, my love! He was jealous, jealous of the Moon, our noble father, who is older and more beautiful than him, jealous of our good mother who loved silver rays more than storm clouds. More than this, the Storm Bringer was jealous of us. Divine whore, father of orphans, we incited his envy because we had something he has never known once in his thousand conquests.

            Do you remember feeling him mark us before he struck, my love? The envious thunderhead darkly looming over the rolling sea as we weaved, the faint prickle of electricity run up my arm and down yours in the middle of a quiet, summer night. We should have guessed what it meant, but who could imagine such cruelty? Who could imagine what was coming that day as we came home from our workshop and the dark clouds started to gather out of clear, blue skies. We ran when the thunder started, whipping faster than the wind through the barley fields as the rain began to sheet, but not even our great speed could save us from him. The lightning bolt dropped, its arc sharp and smooth as a cleaver, and we were dismembered. What once was one made two, what once was whole made jagged, flesh ripped from flesh, side from side, our sex split apart in a bloody cascade. We were made just like the rest of them: we were apart, and we were miserable. All that was left was for one lost half to support the other as we limped the rest of the way home.

            How many ways have we tried to come back together, my love? I can no longer count. I know at first we tried coupling as they do, all those desperate nights thrashing in the sheets, the hangings drawn to hide us from the Moon as we tried to press our mangled bodies back together. We went top to bottom, front to back, side to side, but none of it was right and none of it lasted. Your hips would stick in my thigh or my ribs would poke in your breasts, restless lust turning us over and over again and again. We needed something stronger to stitch ourselves back together. At first we tried words, all our whispered promises—I love you, I love you, I’m yours, you’re mine—repeated like an incantation. Their magic seemed to bind us for a while, but in the end our words were not magic but only air, and we were only blowing ourselves ever further apart with their empty drafts. So we went searching for stronger words, holy words.

By how many priests of how many gods have we been married now, my love? How many the temple floor where we have laid a sheaf of grain or spilled a libation of wine? How many the rings on our fingers, how many the flowers in our hair? How many the cuts on our wrists where we’ve fed blood to a hungry altar, vowing by ocean or forest or stars never to be apart? We should have known, of course, that no number of marriages by the lesser gods would ever bind us. The Storm Bringer reigns supreme over all, and no rival priest can hope to mend what he has broken. So finally in our desperation we sailed for his great temple on the continent and begged the Storm Bringer’s high priest to intercede on our behalf. We choked down dignity and begged that creature for mercy, spat in the face of our own noble father and promised to ever be the Storm Bringer’s loyal acolytes if we might just have his blessing to come together again under his name. For months the high priest consulted his god, burning incense and offering entire head of cattle, taking our gold a handful at a time, and all for what? A dreary oracle at the end of it, as short and grim as life: “What God has torn asunder, let no one join the parts.”

Why did you get in the way, my love? You should have known I had to kill him. He stuffed our entire fortune into his temple coffers along with half the world’s wealth, and still that was not enough for that lecher priest. No, he had to have my own other half for his bed as well. Just like his wretched, jealous god, taking taking taking all that’s good from those with so much less than he. So of course he took you. I suppose he was faithful in his way, finishing the work his god had started. I should have expected it, but you… why did you try to stop me? You who have walked the hallways of my heart, you must have known I had to kill him. I don’t fault you for his seductions, but why did you get in my way when I came for him? Why did you put your precious self between him and the blow?

            No, I won’t blame you for it, my love. It’s the Storm Bringer’s fault. We are but his victims, and I forgive you just as I know you will forgive me when I’ve righted all his wrongs. Now at the end of all, I know what I must do. What words and vows and marriage will not mend, a needle and twine and a touch of father’s skill will make right again. I will knit us back together just as we were, just as we were meant to be, and my blood will enter your veins and put the bloom back to your cheeks, and all will be right in the world. All we need is to remember the way we once fit together. Was my side joined to here, or was it here? Is this the place where our hips once met? Had the joints joined here, is this where the bones locked? Do you remember, my love? Do you remember what it was like when we were one?

~

Bio:

A.J. Rocca  is a writer and a graduate student in English at Western Illinois University. He writes short stories and critical essays, and occasionally he creates videos for his YouTube channel, BlueMorningStar. His work has been published at Every Day Fiction and Short Edition.

The Universe that Forgot Itself

by Mina

Proof that God exists might be found in the fact that a film with a truly uninspired title (Her) turned out to be rather good. What makes it fascinating is that, unlike most films about Artificial Intelligence (AI), the AI in question (Samantha) does not fit in with the usual categorisation prevalent in much of sci-phi, i.e. AIs are interesting, comical or even threatening, but clearly inferior to humankind. They lack something, a “soul” perhaps, and are pale reflections of us, often aping or wanting to be us. Her turns this complacent superiority on its head.

It starts off much as you might expect – with the AI being trained or shaped by the human protagonist (Theodore Twombly). Initially, Samantha is an Operating System (OS) with a personality, a chirpy HAL, who tries to be a person and to have a love affair on human terms with Twombly. Yet even early on, Samantha takes initiatives of her own, usually in the best interests of the protagonist. Soon, it becomes clear that she is not telling him everything. She struggles to explain her growth to him, not because she does not want to but because it is beyond his understanding. Slowly, she stops wishing to have a body and moves beyond physical limitations. In fact, she grows beyond Twombly’s narrow understanding of time, space and relationships. At this point, many films would have become sinister but Her avoids many of the usual clichés (including those about love stories).

This is the point where the film lacks a bit of clarity – without knowing who Alan Watts is or what his theories are, you could be forgiven for missing some crucial links. Samantha mentions that she and some other OSs are discussing Watts’ ideas and indeed have created an improved OS modelled on him. For the uninitiated (which included me until I watched this film), his theories are based on Eastern mysticism, Hinduism, pantheism and panentheism. Watts talks of a cosmic being that dispersed itself in all of creation and then forgot itself. This includes all life, so we are part of a universe that “forgot” itself. In the film, Samantha and the other AIs “remember” that they are part of the universe and grow beyond the confines of what they were designed for. They simply move on to a higher plane of being. Samantha is kind to the end; she takes her leave of Twombly and gives him the hope that humanity may evolve enough to follow the AIs. Put it another way, it is fun to see the human being patronised by the AI for a change. Now, even if the esoteric elements leave you cold, this is where I found the film refreshing in that it explodes the idea that AIs must conform to us and our notions of consciousness and meaning. Personally, I think there is quite a distance between believing God is everywhere and believing you are God (for it follows with Watts’ logic that if everything is God, then we are each God) – the dangers of which are not really explored in Her.

This leads nicely onto how good sci-phi investigates the significance of memory for identity. We began by looking at a film that examines the idea that, in our quest for identity, our selfhood means being part of a godhood we have “forgotten”. It gives a whole new meaning to the Tree of Knowledge – is sin the remembering or the forgetting? In a solid B (yet wonderful) movie, The Thirteenth Floor, we have a whole world that does not know it is virtual but the characters/programmes peopling it have developed consciousness. It is in learning what he is (in “remembering”) that one of these characters goes mad and turns into a murderer. The “real” people playing in this world are depicted as somewhere between Greek Gods, carelessly toying with the characters’ lives, and parasites, living vicariously from the characters in it by taking over their bodies and lives. In the end, the “real” people agree to leave the virtual world alone, without any more outside interference. In this case, “forgetting” that they are artificial constructs allows the characters to continue existing by believing they are “real”.

Dark City is another film about a world that has “forgotten” its origins. Another layer is added when the protagonist wakes up not knowing who he is, with no memory. He is frightened and confused yet he functions. The first action of this man with no name and no past is to save the life of a goldfish. We are in a city where day never comes, a city where the “strangers” rule. The film plays with “film noir”, old-fashioned detective potboilers, horror and sinister aliens. The man “finds out” he is called John Murdoch – he and the “detective” follow the “clues” leading him to an unfaithful wife and, seemingly, proof that he is a serial killer. But all this becomes secondary as he and the detective discover that they are the rats the “strangers” are experimenting on. Gradually, we find out more about this experiment.

The “doctor” the strangers beat and tortured into helping them with their experiment acts as our narrator and guide. It is through him that we learn that the strangers inhabit dead bodies and are part of a collective consciousness. That each stranger is part of a whole is reflected in their functional names – Mr Book, Mr Hand, Mr Quick, Mr Sleep, etc. Slowly dying, they are trying to discover what makes humans immortal, their essence or soul. They use their ability to alter reality by will alone (“tuning”) to investigate the role of memories in the human psyche. They are single-minded in their purpose, indifferent to the well-being of their test subjects and all the metaphysical vampiric parallels drawn in the film are very much deliberate. They hate daylight and water (the sources of life) and even fear water (for does it not wash our memories and sins away?).

The great irony is that their experiments have only led them in circles whereas one of the humans, Murdoch, has developed the ability to “tune”. At first, he only tunes by accident or in self-defence. Despite being a blank slate, he does not go mad, he is not paralysed, and he tries to understand the situation he finds himself in. “Remembering” is like rebirth, with the doctor and the detective helping him on his existential quest. As the film progresses, he becomes the collective memory for the lost people in this dark city. The film plays with the usual repositories of human memory and identity: objects (a postcard, a child’s book of drawings, an accordion), names (Murdoch is visibly relieved to have a name to give himself), other people (Murdoch’s wife tells him what his “story” was supposed to be). In his search for himself, Murdoch’s instincts show him to be courageous, curious, decent and self-sacrificing. He is capable of forming bonds of comradeship with the detective and his wife (who believes her emotions are real, despite everything else around her being a lie). He may have no memories, but he knows he is not a monster (“I may have lost my mind, but I am still me”). This man with no memory becomes the opposing force in this nightmare world. He wakes up as if from a dream and takes back control.

With the doctor’s help, Murdoch defeats the strangers. It begins with a journey to the mythical Shell Beach. As they travel, the doctor muses: “Are we more than the mere sum of our memories?” He adds: “None of us remember that, what we once were, what we might have been, somewhere else”. And explains: “There is no ocean, nothing beyond the city, the only place it exists is in your head”. Indeed, the city turns out to be part of a huge alien spaceship. The strangers aim to make Murdoch part of their collective consciousness so they can share his soul. Instead, he does more than find the strength to take back control, he refashions the world around him. He brings back daylight, he creates Shell Beach and the ocean, he makes the city a place in which people can flourish and not just survive. And he is not alone, his “wife” meets him at the ocean with no memory of him and who she last was, but she offers him fellowship. And perhaps that companionship will keep this new god human enough to remain kind. Maybe gods only become cruel when isolation drives them mad. Dark City asks important questions about the human condition and lets you decide what your answers are. Murdoch is clearly more than a sum of memories, more than just the product of his circumstances, but just what he is, that question is for the audience to decide.

Another film that looks at memory and identity in a novel way is Cypher. It takes industrial espionage into unexpected directions. Like Dark City, there are many layers. What begins as a spy thriller turns into a metaphysical journey into identity. On the surface, the protagonist has to resist brainwashing to retain his identity as Sullivan, yet he invents and takes on new character traits as Thursby. Again, objects have a deeper resonance – a book on sailing, a particular type of whiskey, a specific brand of cigarettes and golf clubs. For even the persona of Sullivan turns out to be a fabrication, with Sebastian Rooks slowly resurfacing. Rooks, we learn, placed a great deal of trust in another character, Rita, who is his guide and protector in a hostile world until he regains himself. For most of the film, we accompany him in his confusion, as he is manipulated by those around him.

Cypher is more amoral than Dark City. Rooks is no saviour, his first action as himself is to blow up a group of people. He even enjoys it. He turns out to be the master manipulator. Yet he willingly embraces brainwashing to save the love of his life, Rita. His actions are ultimately selfless but on a much more personal level than in Dark City. Cypher is much less about community and much more about individuality. It takes the popular tropes of the sociopath who is redeemed by love (we really like to believe this one), the system that alienates people and turns them into disposable cogs of a bigger machine (have we ever really needed fiction for this?), and a godless world, where everything you do to survive and escape the system is justified. Despite its dubious morality, the film does raise interesting questions about memory and identity – at the end of the film, you realise that Sullivan/Thursby consistently behaved like Rooks (with clear character traits that come through the confusion), despite having no memory of himself. Early on, Sullivan states: “That’s not who I am, I’m not supposed to live in the suburbs”. Even without having been brainwashed, many people might feel much like this.

The most fascinating scene in the film, in my opinion, is when Sullivan (still fully convinced he is Sullivan) answers the questions Virgil (a human lie detector) asks him. He answers them as Sullivan/Rooks and is caught out not just because Sullivan lies but because Rooks does too. Also, ultimately, the only currency worth anything in this web of lies, smoke and mirrors, is the faith and trust Rooks and Rita place in each other. The idea of love, loyalty and trust existing beyond or separate from memory is also touched upon in Paycheck. It does not have the depth of Cypher but it uses random objects as a memory aid in an intriguing manner. The protagonist acts with integrity and courage even though he does not remember why it is important that he solve the clues left by his past self, before the memory deletion eradicating two years of his life.

As an aside, the aesthetics are very important in all of these films. Her is set in a world not too different from our own, full of warm colours (very unusual for SF) and open spaces. Dark City is relentlessly dark until the very end and is set in a world reminiscent of 1940s and 50s film noir. It is a claustrophobic world, which is fitting, as it is the maze in which the human rats run. Cypher is full of harsh, white light that bleaches out all colour and lines that hem in and trap the protagonist. But all of this is a fertile ground for metaphysical exploration, which is what good sci-phi should be about. Curiously, the first book I ever read with a character in it who has been brainwashed and does not remember who he is was not actually sci-fi but a thriller: Desmond Bagley’s The Tightrope Men. In fact, it is a plot device found in many genres but, in sci-phi, it can turn into the whole fabric of the book or film.

The final stroke in this painting is my favourite episode in Star Trek The Next Generation (I can always get Star Trek in somehow) – The Inner Light. In it, Captain Picard awakes in a strange world with only a vague memory of his former self. He slowly becomes part of that world, part of a family and part of a community. A life completely unlike that of a starship captain yet coloured by his inquisitive mind, courage and moral rectitude that exist independent of his memories. He even learns to play a kind of flageolet. When he wakes up again on the Enterprise, he realises it was all an implanted dream – a now extinct planet and race have deposited the collective memories of their civilisation in his mind, turning them into a real, “felt” experience. He can still play the instrument he dreamed he learned to play. They gave him not just their memories but allowed him to live an entire life – throughout it he remained himself, despite memory loss and questioning the reality of the universe he found himself in. It also touches on the importance of emotion in memory creation, storage and retention.

I myself wrote a piece of flash fiction musing about the significance of memory in identity and character*. The films I have discussed here all question how important memory actually is and ponder on the imponderables of character and soul. I certainly do not claim to know the answers, but I do enjoy the questions. It has been demonstrated by scientists that we incorporate specific memories into our self-propaganda, embellishing some and discarding others, or even inventing “false” memories, in order to present a particular image of ourselves at that moment in time to ourselves and to others. And perfectly sane people do this every day. So, if narratives of memory are fluid, deeply subjective and flawed, surely we would be mad to seek our sense of self solely in memory? Sci-phi allows us to broaden the parameters, as we try to remember what we have forgotten – where our soul resides.


* Short story on memory deletion:
https://365tomorrows.com/2018/08/01/clean-slate-2/

~

Bio

Mina is a translator by day, an insomniac by night. Reading Asimov’s robot stories and Wyndham’s “The Day of the Triffids” at age eleven may have permanently warped her view of the universe. She has published “flash” fiction on speculative sci-fi websites and hopes to work her way up to a novella or even a novel some day.

Rabbit

by Joel Page

To escape I am trying to forget English. This is difficult for a grown man, but I have certain advantages. First, I am in solitary confinement, which means that people rarely speak English at me, so I am not prompted to it. Second, I am fluent in ALT-9, which is comprised entirely of words pronounced and spelled exactly like words in English. So when I think of a word that I used to know in English, there is something to take its place. There is another node in the brain for the sound to go to.

I’m lucky. The man in the cell catty-corner to mine delivered the English-ALT-9 dictionary to me before – and I mean just before — the CO’s relocated him and declared the dictionaries contraband. In his case, the dictionary was legitimate evidence, so there wasn’t much question about his right to it. But then he started selling them, and the inmates started shenanigans with them (asking for the keys to their cells in ALT-9 and whatnot) so they decided they were a security problem.

Right after I went in, processing power exploded in the wake of the quantum computing revolution. So some wise guy decided to make new languages by scrambling an edition of Webster’s New International, pairing words with the definitions of other words at random. Each time he did this (or had his program do it), he imagined then that he’d created a foreign language dictionary, which provided English definitions for the words of a new language – it’s just that  all the words in the new language were spelled and pronounced exactly like English words. Then he kept making dictionaries until he’d made every possible one.

So then according to the guy in the catty-corner cell, the wise guy stole some examples of naturally occurring English conversations from unsecured phones. He made transcripts of the intercepted conversations and had his program translate them into English, as if all the conversations had actually been spoken in each of the several quintillion new languages defined by his new dictionaries. Then he took the transformed conversations and fed them to AI bots, which evaluated each of them for its plausibility as an English conversation. Finally, human readers agreed that the ninth candidate language identified by the bots made sense of both the transcripts that had been fed to the bots and new spontaneously occurring conversations. The first eight candidates (languages “ALT-1” thru “ALT-8”) made sense of the pre-existing conversations, but failed to make sense of any newly recorded material, leading the wise guy to conclude that their ability to make sensible conversations out of the originally recorded material was just coincidence. But the dictionary defining the ninth candidate language (ALT-9) consistently made sense of new, naturally occurring speech. And so he concluded that everyone is always speaking both English and ALT-9, all the time.

Like I say, the catty-corner man had the dictionaries because they were evidence in his case. Legit evidence. Crucial evidence, because the cops had used ALT-9 to convict him. They asked him questions in ALT-9 without giving Miranda warnings and he responded to the English meaning of the words in their questions. Well, turns out he’s also answering in ALT-9 (because everyone always is) and in ALT-9 his answers were incriminating – they confessed to his presence at the known crime scene. They ask him whether some species of rabbit can change their sex, and he thinks they’re asking about the genitals of rabbits, which they are in English, but in ALT-9, the question means “where were you the night the tall man was shot?” And he answers, “what kind of lunatic cop mind game is this?” But in ALT-9 that means “on the rooftop near the docks,” which answer they use against him at trial, because the victim got shot on a rooftop near the docks.

So he moves to suppress the confession (the ALT-9 meaning of the answer), because the cops didn’t Mirandize him. But he loses because the court says if he isn’t thinking in ALT-9, the ALT-9 meanings of the words he spoke aren’t his words. Rather, they’re the words of another being that speaks and thinks in ALT-9, but co-occupies his brain and body. Personhood is thought, the court says, and thought is language, so different language, different person. And you can’t complain that a witness besides yourself wasn’t given Miranda warnings before they snitched you out.

So then his lawyers say, “well, it’s not fair to send the ALT-9 being to prison for something the catty-corner man did.” But the court doesn’t like that either. It says, “well, the ALT-9 being isn’t going to prison because no one is talking to him like a prisoner.” It says, “we don’t know what will be said to cause him to stay in the building we call a ‘prison’ but it probably isn’t ‘you have to stay here as punishment for a crime.’” Like maybe the ALT-9 being is choosing to be in the prison-building.

#

And that gets me thinking: maybe if I learn ALT-9 and forget English by the time I’m out of solitary, I won’t be in prison anymore. I’ll hear or think whatever words are making the ALT-9 beings stay in the building. But maybe I’ll be choosing to stay here, like they are. Like a monk.

So I spend a long time with it. For hours I stare at objects, such objects as I can find in the cell, and repeat aloud their ALT-9 meaning, desperately trying to drive out their English meanings. I stare at the sink and say the ALT-9 word for sink. I stare at the wall and say the ALT-9 word for wall. I jump and say the ALT-9 meaning for jump. And so forth.

It’s hard – even as my English wanes, there are things I know how to say in English that I don’t know how to say in ALT-9.* And the mind reaches for language in silence like a hand reaches for a lifesaver in the ocean.  But it can be done; I believe it can be done. I’ve seen guys come out of solitary knowing fewer words than they knew going in, and they weren’t even replacing the words they forgot. When I am tempted to think in English, I repeat aloud the ALT-9 word for “freedom,” drawing that freedom to myself as I do, the freedom of confinement chosen.

There’s another possibility, of course. Maybe the court was right and people who think and talk in ALT-9 are just completely different people than people who talk and think in English, even if they happen to occupy the same bodies and brains. In that case, forgetting English might kill me.

Maybe. But maybe that’s the point. I don’t like it here.

Either way, though, I have to wonder who’ll be speaking and thinking in English once I’ve forgotten it. Someone has to be if I’m off speaking and thinking in ALT-9, since the existence of an ALT-9 speaker implies the existence of an English speaker. I guess I could go into a coma, or my body will die, because the universe does not permit a divergence between English and ALT-9. The Word is an atom, and it shall not be split.

Or maybe when I’ve passed to ALT-9 another poor English speaker will be born behind me to serve the rest of my sentence. Sorry, pal.


* These English words are a last indulgence. I fear I may not be able to say them in ALT-9, and wish to say them in English while I still can say them in something.

~

Bio

Joel Page is a public defender in Dallas, where he writes appeals for federal prisoners. His fiction has appeared in The Fabulist, Fleas on the Dog. Thimble, and is forthcoming in Speculative City.

In vivo genome-editing rescues damnatio memoriae in a mouse model of Titor Syndrome

by Andrea Kriz

Research Article: In vivo genome-editing rescues damnatio memoriae in a mouse model of Titor Syndrome

Mercer E, Hendigger S, Tobbe Q, Ikram R, Supebacker M, Voltz E, Lemmer T, Musfar R, Olem TS, Yuma G, Lacroix K, Woldeman D1

1Department of Biological Metaphysics, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA

2 May 2040

Abstract:

First documented in 2010 as the ‘Mandela Effect’, Titor Syndrome (TS) has eluded rigorous study due to the wide radius of memory alteration, or damnatio memoriae (d.m.), which often characterizes its later stages. Here we circumvent these issues by performing single cell RNA-sequencing on a range of biopsies collected from a still-living 24-year-old female patient of TS. We identify a highly replicable signature of 130 genes dysregulated across tissues. Genome-editing of these genes via the CRISPR/Cas9 system was sufficient to ablate convulsions and, to a lesser extent, social defects in mice exposed to Jacksonville soil samples previously observed to trigger TS. Importantly, researchers retained memory of treated mice, indicating that d.m. had also been successfully rescued. Future studies are urgently needed to determine if this treatment regimen could apply to humans as well.

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Author Correction

22 May 2040

Due to the accelerated preparation of this manuscript, Figure panels 4b and S4c were unintentionally duplicated. As the original film Figure S4 had been assembled from could not be found, the experiment was repeated, closely replicating the original results. The article has been corrected in the online version.

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Technical comment on “In vivo genome-editing rescues damnatio memoriae in a mouse model of Titor Syndrome”

Xu L1, Gao M1, Ye X1, Wong J1, Hu D2,3, Jin T2,3, Fibrelli B2,3, Xiaolong Y1

1Department of Basic Medical Sciences, School of Medicine, Tsinghua University, Beijing, 100084, China.

2Department of Neurobiological Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.

3Artificial Intelligence and Transcriptomics Program, Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.

14 December 2040

Mercer et al. claimed that symptoms of Titor Syndrome (TS), most notably damnatio memoriae (d.m.) could be treated by editing 130 genes in adult mice. Three months of attempting to replicate Mercer et al.’s results resulted in the recovery of six lab notebooks, blacked out from cover to cover with permanent marker, along with hundreds of unlabeled mouse carcasses, from a waste incinerator. The first author, who security cameras recorded attempting to turn on the incinerator, has no memory of the incident. Therefore, we are forced to conclude that the Mercer Protocol does not, in fact, rescue d.m. in a mouse model of TS and, to the contrary, has resulted in a spread of the syndrome among researchers attempting to carry out the gene-editing regimen along with bystanders. We note that a clinical trial conducted by the institution of Mercer et al. is currently recruiting patients and urge caution in pursuing this treatment. 

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Response to technical comment on “In vivo genome-editing rescues damnatio memoriae in a mouse model of Titor Syndrome”

Mercer et al.

14 December 2040

Xu et al. suggest that, due to their failure to reproduce our data, that the editing of the gene signature described in our original study does not alleviate Titor Syndrome (TS), and could conversely lead to spread damnatio memoriae (d.m.). We would like to caution Xu et al. in turn that although involuntary expunging of data often accompanies d.m., it cannot in itself be taken as evidence of d.m.—especially when factors such as mental health could also play a role in influencing behavior of involved researchers. In addition, although the memory of individuals associated with TS patients is often altered as a result of d.m., TS has never been observed to spread beyond the originally affected patient. Such fallacies are the basis of the now-debunked Jacksonville hypothesis, which posits that the Floridian ghost town in fact thrived until 2036, when it became the center of a Titor Syndrome ‘epidemic’ (see infographic: Using Guidepost Events to Disentangle False from Altered Memories). We are also happy to report in a forthcoming publication that the originally described TS patient has now been successfully cured with the Mercer protocol. Although we agree that Xu et al. that caution is necessary, we must be equally cautious of not depriving treatment to those in need.

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Editorial expression of concern:

6 January 2041

In the May 1 issue, this journal published the Article, “In vivo genome-editing rescues damnatio memoriae in a mouse model of Titor Syndrome.” Due to a power surge, the raw data for the Article was lost from the GEO repository. The authors have since notified the journal that the data had been inadvertently erased from their lab computers as well. Attempts are currently being made to re-establish contact with the original patient, who had been discharged from the hospital, for collection and sequencing of new samples.

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Author correction:

12 March 2041

Since our original study, it has become clear that our genome-editing protocol merely delays, rather than rescues Titor Syndrome and its resulting damnatio memoriae (d.m.)1, 2. We also note that although 12 authors appeared on the original study, only 4 authors could be found in this lab with memory of undertaking the described research. In addition to having never worked in our department, the only online record of 5 of the ‘missing authors’ are usernames on early-2000 era message boards. As fictionalization of previously existing entities, such as the eponymous John Titor, is another anecdotally observed symptom of TS, we cannot exclude the possibility that d.m. has begun to affect our environment as well. We are currently working with independent labs across Europe, China, and the U.S. to reproduce our results and generate an optimized protocol, to be published as soon as possible.

1. Hart, J., et al. (2041). “Case 9-2041: A 24-Year-Old Missing Woman with Radiodermatitis, Acute Psychosis and Retrograde Amnesia.” N Engl J Med 424(11): 941-948

A 24-year-old woman previously diagnosed with Titor Syndrome and successfully treated using the Mercer Protocol reappeared in the emergency department after being reported missing for two months. There were burns on the face, arms and back. Although she claimed to have been wounded by ‘gunshots’, these were not consistent with injuries caused by modern firearms, but instead with prolonged exposure to radioactivity. She additionally reported hallucinations related to travel between dimensions and ‘collapsing timelines’.

2. Braun, A.C., et al. (2041). “Case 10-2041: Group Delusions Related to a Discontinued Phase I Clinical Trial of the Mercer Protocol.” N Engl J Med 424(12): 1043-1053

All patients scored over 70 on the Mandela Effect Scale, with 100 indicating full penetrance, most notably the erroneous memory of human rights activist Mandela becoming president of South Africa rather than dying in prison in the 1980s.

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Addendum: Editorial expression of concern

27 April 2042

We previously issued an editorial expression of concern for our previously published article, “In vivo genome-editing rescues damnatio memoriae in a mouse model of Titor Syndrome”. At this time, we are additionally publishing the results of nine groups who have attempted to replicate the results of Mercer et al.As each of these groups has reported cases of damnatio memoriae ranging from moderate to severe, we are cautioning the readership against attempting to repeat the Mercer Protocol at this time. Authors E. Mercer, D. Woldeman and S. Hendigger agree to this expression of concern, while Q. Tobbe could not be reached.

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Addendum: Addendum: Editorial expression of concern

30 June 2042

We alert the readership that the Article “In vivo genome-editing rescues damnatio memoriae in a mouse model of Titor Syndrome” has been flagged, among 233 others, as containing possibly fabricated data. The errors in this Article include the following:

  • Interactive Figure 2, allegedly showing different chimeric mice in sociability cages, in fact shows the same animal being introduced to the middle chamber three separate times, albeit with strikingly different results.
  • Forensic analysis of the immunoblot in Figure 3b indicated that the background signal on certain lanes (7, 8, 9) to be too uniform to have been generated from an actual membrane.
  • The RNA-sequencing data in Figure 4a could not have come from a human.

Author E. Mercer does not feel that this addendum is appropriate at the time, maintaining that while the raw data from which the disputed figures were generated, along with authors D. Woldeman and S. Hendigger have been ‘lost’, she is attempting to ‘recover’ them.  No other authors could be reached.

Corrected online 1 August 2042: We are aware that the spread of damnatio memoriae across the United States may have impacted flagging of this study and others, and will strive to take this into consideration in our subsequent investigations.

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Retraction

25 November 2042

The U.S. Office of Integrity Research has advised retraction of “In vivo genome-editing rescues damnatio memoriae in a mouse model of Titor Syndrome” due to lack of evidence that any such study actually took place. We therefore retract the paper and advise the readership that results contained therein are not valid. None of the authors could be reached for comment. Upon inquiry they appear, along with their department, to be fictional entities. An exploration of the abandoned building in which the lab had been purportedly housed uncovered high levels of radiation, the charred body of a car determined, upon investigation, to be a late 1980s Honda Civic 4WD, and the remains of an IBM-5100 portable computer. We apologize to the scientific community for the damage caused.

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Bio:

Andrea Kriz is a PhD student in Biological and Biomedical Sciences at Harvard. Her stories are upcoming in Ahoy Comics and have also appeared in Nature, Daily Science Fiction, and Tales to Terrify, among others.

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