Short Story - Disorientated

This story wonders what it takes to make you want to forget ...


“You would have lost her otherwise. She is worth it.”

It was his voice, there was no denying that.

“She is worth it.”

He turned the phrase over and over in his mind.

Is, not was, present tense. He had no idea who she could be though. On Saturday morning there hadn’t been a she in his life. Not since mother.

He watched the video file again. It was the tenth time he had played the short sequence since they had handed him the data-pad.

It was the strangest of feelings, in particular as you couldn’t exactly remember any warnings that they might have thought to bestow upon you prior to the procedure. Not that places like this probably offered many warnings. Ask no questions and all that. In fact he was a little curious as to how he had even known how to find one of these places in the first place. You heard about them of course, in the same way you heard about data dealers, trop pushers and DNA splicers. You knew these disreputable clinics existed, but were safely sheltered from having to consider how to find one.

Of course, not being able to remember was the idea in the first place apparently; he had chosen to forget. He had paid them to make him forget.

He looked down at the data-pad again.

The experience of watching yourself say something that you don’t remember saying was proving hard to reconcile. This wasn’t like trying to recollect a lost memory, or some hazy reminiscence. No, this, this he was expected to accept, happened yesterday.

It was his voice, coming from his mouth, with the same haircut. Hell, he was wearing the same clothes. Given his less than reputable surroundings he did consider that this might have been an elaborate theft. What better way was there to cover your tracks than to wipe the mind of your victim? Denial of course is par for the course they say, and that’s why even places that don’t ask questions, asked that their subjects record a personal message, which can then be played back to the post procedure you. The you that doesn’t remember.

The best AI protocols available these days might have been able to mimic the voice, and even, in his experience, do a passable job at appearing human, but they failed to convince when it came to the mannerisms that make you, you….and it was most certainly him in that video. Besides he knew enough about VR tech to know that it was unlikely someone could have processed a file of a procedurally generated digital ‘him’ that quickly.

Hibiki Motozaki needed a drink. Of that much he was sure.

His head throbbed, a dull aching throb. The skin was raw to the touch where the probes had been inserted. They wouldn’t be that visible at least, you’d have to be looking to see anything. He was glad he had not inherited his father’s male pattern baldness at least. That was a small mercy that would make this subterfuge easier to maintain.

“I am free to leave now?” He quietly asked the petite red headed nurse. She had sat silently by the lone grey door that broke up the grey walls of the almost totally non-descript room while he watched the recoding on the data-pad.

If it hadn’t been for the electronic pigment dragon tattoo that shimmered between digital green and red, and wound around her neck, she’d have passed as a perfectly respectable nurse.

“If you’ve found your feet, yes, you can go whenever you like.” She smiled.

“Anything I need to know before I go?”

“Take some Proposprin if the migraine doesn’t shift by tomorrow.”

“And if it doesn’t?”

“On your own, we will be moving along anyway. We won’t be here to be found.”

“No returns, no refunds. I know.” Hibiki sighed, “I like the tattoo by the way. I haven’t seen one like that before. It must have been expensive. Usually the digital ones you see are some kind of lame product placement.”

The nurse laughed softly. “Thank you.”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you.”

“No, you didn’t, don’t worry,” she explained, “It’s just that you said that yesterday too, it comes with the territory.”

“Occupational hazard, I guess?”

“You could say that,” she nodded, “daily déjà vu.”

“It’s definitely distinctive,” Hibiki concluded, “a good test of your services. I would remember having seen one as beautiful as that before.”

“People have said that before yes,” she smiled, “stay safe Mr Motozaki.”

Hibiki wondered if he had a choice but to have given them his real name. It was odd, it that struck him as something he would have avoided doing, unless of course he hadn’t had a choice.

“Thank you.” He offered as he made his way to the door, pulling on his blue raincoat and passing her the data-pad back. “The file has also been transferred to my digital domain box?”

“Yes, encoded to your imprint, and transferred via a proxy blowback. It will be as if it was always there.”

“Thank you.” He repeated, although he wasn’t sure that there was anyone that he needed to hide this from, but then again, none of this made much sense, so perhaps it was better safe than sorry.

Her tattoo glistening red was the last thing he saw as the door slid closed behind him and he stepped out into the London rain. The third level walkway hovered across to the elevator pillar before slowly lowering him to the street level.

This wasn’t usually a side of the city he found himself on. Wedged between two separate containment zones, the only people who still lived in Kilburn were those that couldn’t afford to live anywhere else. Hibiki had always felt sorry for those who had to live in fear of the next flood. Granted, most of the old ground level dwellings were long abandoned, but on bad days he knew that even the second and third floors, just like the one that he had just departed, might disappear beneath a tidal surge.

Thankfully it had been six seasons since the waters had risen to the level of the lower star transport platforms. Hibiki looked up, the metallic barrier stations five stories above them glistened around the edges as they combined with the midday sun to cast patchwork shadows across the old roadways.

He knew that they were pretty well sheltered from the difficulties that London folk faced. It was somewhat of the cause-de-jour amongst his well meaning mid level neighbours. The authorities would have you believe that the population that remained had chosen to live down here, and that there was adequate corporate housing further up, or even in the north, if those who lived down below the floodline really wanted to move up.

Hibiki felt around in the pocket of his rain jacket. The only thing they left him with was some cash and the Imprint Card for his hotel. He hoped that his data-cards were still in the hotel, and that he hadn't brought them with him. Part of the process was supposedly destroying or discarding anything that might remind you of whatever it was that you were aiming to forget.

He found that he had a single hundred old pound note in his inside pocket. He couldn't remember the last time that he had seen real money, let alone used some. Apparently that had changed yesterday. It wasn't like he could use them up above anyway, and he was still craving that drink. He didn't have to look far for a bar. They would be open at this hour down here as well, the advantage of being in the sub-levels.

The Prancing Pony, an old traditional English name. You just didn't see those names up above anymore. Hibiki wasn't aware enough of the traditions of his adopted homeland to know where the phrase came from, but he liked it. Names like that instantly gave an establishment the type of character that you just didn't find on the conglomerate plazas.

Hibiki couldn't recall the last time he had been in a ground level building, and while there were clearly the tell-tale signs of water damage on the lower half of the walls, the establishment was reasonably well maintained. The floor wasn't original, whatever had once been there replaced with a modern synthesized polymer, the type that could resist future floods, and he noticed that all the outlet and fittings were protected with upmarket SeaBrite phase-fields.

Even the bar itself was a deal more illustrious than he had imagined. It was faux-mahogany he guessed, the really expensive type. Looked real wood, even felt like it to the touch, but it wouldn't be any the worse for wear the next time the sea intruded on the lower levels. Bad part of town or not, the place was well kept.

It was also virtually empty. A lone elderly Pakistani looking man played on a Ritirri console in the corner, underneath the large news console that dominated the far end of the room. It was streaming coverage of some anti-neutering rally in Stockholm. The Scandinavian president was scheduled to speak later it reported, amid claims that she was willing to cede her union from the Cologne population treaties.

That would be bad news he thought to himself as he took a seat at the bar. Not that there was ever good news on the feeds.

He smiled at the bartender and ordered a whiskey, placing the note flatly on the bar. "Will this cover it? Sorry been a while since I have been..."

"...down here?" The bartender laughed, "don't worry, that will wash away some worries."

"Thank you." Hibiki nodded and turned to watch the new stream again. He couldn't really relate to the cause. Didn't these people realise that the planet wasn't built for this many people. Time seeds doubt they say. Most of the protestors probably weren't even old enough to remember the dark days. They didn't know. His father had gone to great pains to remind him of what happened when you were selfish. He had been brought up to almost habitually dislike selfish people. For their part, the selfish people often declared that to be the problem however. Their placards and banners decrying anyone who accepted the status-quo, as short sighted, and a 'drone' or 'lackey', an artefact of the system. Moulded to do the authorities bidding.

Hibiki didn't feel like he was a drone. He lead a simple life, but one he had considered to be happy. He had never really sympathised with any of the protest movements.

His father had always told him that a system was a necessary evil in order to control people. He had always sworn that you couldn't trust people in large numbers. The idea of entitlement will yet destroy us again, he had warned. We should never forget.

Forget. The word of the day Hibiki mused to himself.

What the hell could he have wanted to forget that badly, and who was she? He held his head as the dull throb intensified. He decided it was probably best not to stare at the digital screen for a while, and swung his chair around again to face the bartender.

“Cleaved?” The bartender asked.

Hibiki looked up, unsure for a second of whether he should, or could, trust in a random bartender he just met in such an establishment. “What did you say?”

“I am guessing that you’ve just been cleaved no? Seen it before.”

Hibiki nodded, “Yes, it gives you one hell of a mighty headache.”

“So they say. Time-wipe or deep cleave?”

This bartender is very forward Hibiki thought to himself. “Do you always ask your patrons whether they might have just broken the law?”

“Time-wipe huh? Figured as much, but you don’t see that so much these days. They say that as part of some of the better deep cleaves these days that they can even make you forget you had the procedure. Kind of the whole point no?”

“The headache might be a giveaway.” Hibiki sighed, tapping his forehead with his index finger.

“I heard they explain it away with some other condition, so you leave the clinic thinking you were in for some other condition. You just leave with a few less memories than you started. My sister did some nursing at one of those clinics once, She said it can often defeat the point if you know that you had the procedure right? It makes sense, I mean human fucking curiosity and all that. It would kill me not to know.”

“Forgetting is the whole idea of the procedure no?”

“Sure, but most people have an idea why they are scrubbing don’t they? Erase a lost love, or disregard a heartache, forget a crime, something that will save their life. It’s not like it’s something you do cheaply, especially not if you have to go to a cleaver, no questions asked.”

Hibiki looked up at the bartender, “Just remember. I never said that it was a time-wipe, or that it was done at a cleaver.”

“Of course you didn’t sir” the bartender smiled, “My over-active imagination and all eh? I just jump to conclusions is all, it will be the death of me one day I am sure.”

“Is it that obvious?” Hibiki sighed.

“Only to those that know. Same way I guessed you had just been scrubbed. You are sitting in my bar for a start. Someone like you, no, you aren’t normally here. If you had been to one of those reputable places, the types that give you a receipt, which is the type of thing a wife or girlfriend could trace back to you, then you’d be up on Harley Street now wouldn’t you. You’d be getting the deluxe service, with the counsellor who aids you in those difficult hours after the scrub. Instead here you are, sitting at my bar, and here is your counsellor.” He laughed as he poured Hibiki another whisky, “I’m not judging, not my place, look on me as your budget value post procedure service. besides, like I said, my sister told me a lot of stories.”

“Do you think I can trust the cleaver?”

“You aren’t the type that ever thought they’d be doing this are you?”

Hibiki just nodded and looked down into his whiskey, "Technically I still am, since I now can't recall what drove me to want to forget something that badly."

“Well, on a time-wipe? I wouldn’t worry," the bartender continued, "it’s not like they had to go ferret out some sleazy secret you had. You just had them just plain fucking nuke the last few days or weeks from the sounds of it, right? I guess those Harley Street places rely on discretion and all that, but when you’re just nuking the shit out of a bad weekend, not much for them to take away from that is there? How much do you think you had them cleave?”

“About twelve hours I think.”

Hibiki wasn’t sure, if he was being honest with himself. It was roughly accurate at least. The last memory that was intact was arriving at Marylebone station on Saturday morning and making his way to the hotel that the office had booked for him. He remembered being impressed with the quality of the room, that it was good the travel department had deemed him worthy of a suite, despite his relatively lowly station in the corporation. He worked hard, he had felt like it had been paying off. The room had confirmed that for him.

The bartender stood back, and poured himself a whisky as well. "twelve hours?" he repeated, “the next drink’s on me friend. Wow, really? I have to be honest, I have never heard of someone wiping that short a time. You must be fucking loaded, if you don’t mind me saying. People usually reserve something like this for long term mental problem shit.”

Hibiki thought about how his rainy day money was now gone. He was indeed all-in now. He must have been sure. "It was my savings, all of them."

Whoever she was, he sure hoped that the him from yesterday, the one in the video file, was correct, and that she would be worth it.

“They usually have to from what I heard.” the bartender offered, “I mean think about it, unless you have months for treatment, they have to go far back to the point when you first started something or met someone. A time-wipe can’t be guaranteed to clear all the memories of someone or something if you don’t start at the right point.”

"That's what I hear."

“So you must have been fairly certain then?”

“I guess so.”

"Did you cheat on your wife? I've seen that quite a lot, nothing like literally purging guilt from your mind."

"I'm not married," Hibiki answered, shaking his head slowly, "parents dead, no one to disgrace. Not that I know of at least"

"My sister said that it was invariably women at the root of most male cleaves. Maybe you can count yourself lucky."

Hibiki just smiled back. He might know who she was, but the him from yesterday seemed to indicate that there was indeed a women behind his need for the time to be scrubbed too, he just had no idea who she was.

"Maybe I am."

"I bet it must have been a fucking interesting story then." The bartender laughed, "Twelve hours? Shame you won't remember your best story eh? No offense and all."

"None taken."

"Enjoy another sir," he continued, pouring another whiskey, "best of luck to you either way." He shuffled away to bring another drink to the man in the corner, and as he did so a young couple entered and took a seat at the round table closest to the screen. The bartender seemed to know them, welcoming them as if you might a family member. You didn't see that much on the conglomerate plaza either.

Hibiki nursed the whiskey for another half hour or so, occasionally turning back to watch the feed. The dull pain radiating from the probe points was being replaced with the warm glaze of the alcohol. He wished he could take a bottle back up with hm.

He knew he better be getting back. He didn't want any twenty four hour flags to go off, and since he didn't exactly know how long he had been down below level, he should do his best to avoid it. That kind of thing just generated questions. Questions that at this juncture would be virtually impossible for him to answer.

The authorities finding out that you had been cleaved would only strengthen the idea he had done something wrong. No, it was better to avoid the questions completely if at all possible. Hibiki couldn't deny that the idea he might have broken the law in some other way hadn't crossed his mind.

He had thought of himself as reasonably happy. If not happy, content. He knew he should have wanted a girlfriend more, but work had been going so well. With this last promotion he was so close to where he had planned to be.

Could a women have changed that overnight? Could she have changed things so profoundly he would be willing to forget that it had happened at all?

She was still out there.

The ‘him’ from yesterday had clearly implied that the cleave was part of not losing whoever this she was.

He wasn't entirely sure how he was supposed to not lose someone he had no memory of having, or even meeting. What the hell had he done yesterday that had almost cost him whatever it was she had brought into his life.

He wondered if this feeling was kind of like what his friend Brian had once described. Brian found out that he was adopted when he was in his mid twenties. It only came to light when the people he had called his parents passed away. He suddenly remembered how Brian had told him of all the stories that ran amok through his dreams in the days between finding out he was adopted and actually meeting his birth parents.

She could be anything, anyone.

For a moment after the procedure he had wondered if it was the nurse with the dragon tattoo.

He was probably going to wonder it every time he met someone of the opposite sex.

That didn't strike him as a good thing.

What had he done to himself?

Hibiki made his way to the transport station and was soon sitting in the comfortable air-conditioned safety of the monorail carriage. It glided quietly along as he stared vacuously out of the window. He usually looked out across the horizon, drawn to the landmarks that dominated the urban design of New London. The flawless glass towers, silver struts and housing complexes interspersed with garden spheres and the various biodomes. The Heathrow skyport hovering impressively off in the distance to the west. That was the skyline that the tourists came to see.

Today his eyes were drawn downwards to London itself. It struck him how infrequently he chose to glance down onto the old asphalt below. As the monorail buzzed over the old parliament buildings he wondered if she was from their world or his. It wasn't like he made a habit out of spending much time below the floodline.

It struck him that there were more people down there, going about their own daily business than he had credited. Sure, it wasn't in need of mandatory control anymore, and was nothing on his home towers...but it was still home for many.

Maybe she called it home.

He hoped he would have the chance to find out.