So much time had passed.  Then he had seen her again, and noticed her.  Something familiar about her face, about the way she held herself, had jogged his memory, though he had not understood who she was.  But she had known Yarec.  Despite the changes to his face, Mrissa had recognized him.  She knew I wasn’t there to sell xasers.

The chance meeting must have jolted the old memories loose.  As they carried his bloody corpse in for surgery, she had been there in his mind.  After the transfer, the now of his consciousness had retraced that earlier period, in which Mrissa had featured so prominently.

Did she realize I didn’t remember her?  She must have.  I’d abandoned her, albeit unwittingly.  But she didn’t seem angry.  She could have betrayed me, but she didn’t.  On the contrary….

Is it really worth trying to find her again?  Yeah, what the hell.  It felt good to have somebody, I think.  And what have I got to lose?

When someone came back to give Yarec one of his periodic exams—to collect more immediate information than what was provided by the sensors on his bed—Yarec tried to explain what he had reasoned had happened.  The skilled assistant did not follow Yarec’s explanation, but he called in a practitioner with more experience.  It took a couple iterations, but the staff eventually paged all three of the most senior neurophysicians.  They stood in a row beside the bed, fascinated as Yarec explained what he had experienced.  For a while, they mostly just listened, but then they began peppering the patient with questions.  What Yarec described was not a completely new phenomenon, although it might have represented the longest block of lost memories that a transfer patient had ever recovered in such a fashion.  (It was further unclear whether Yarec’s long bouts of unconsciousness during his fever should be counted toward the duration in question.)  Incidents like this definitely merited further investigation.  Understanding what had transpired in Yarec’s brain could help the ship’s neurophysicians improve the consciousness transfer protocol in the future.

So they ordered a new battery of tests.  Most of them were minimally invasive—at least for a patient who already had so many of his body fluids hooked up to hoses.  Over the following days, there were a few new pricks and many more electrochemical scans of Yarec’s brain.  Using nanoscopic wires, the experimenters stimulated parts of Yarec’s cerebrum directly and noted the results that Yarec reported.  Sometimes the current produced sensations, alone or tied together—like the scent of grass and the feel of the blades under his feet.  Other times, the stimulations brought up things more like memories—still impressions, mostly, but sometimes they had a shimmery quality, as if they were trying to spring back to life.  Most of the images felt random, disconnected—like the faces of people Yarec no longer really remembered.  They morphed slowly from one meaningless individual to the next as the current flow was altered.  However, sometimes Yarec saw things that he knew did matter—his mother’s lean face, or Mrissa’s—and his pulse picked up.

Yarec’s accounts of what he had seen and the biometric data that accompanied them were going to remain closely held secrets.  They were the property of the medical corps.  Whatever insights they might provide about the practicalities of consciousness transfer—and the deeper problem of the nature of primate consciousness itself—were too valuable to share with any operation that might eventually be found consorting with an enemy.  The days when many new discoveries were shared freely were long gone.  Researchers had reverted to the practices of even earlier times, and they hoarded their findings jealously.  To be able to do proper research required wealthy backers to provide security and equipment, and those backers wanted to see returns on their investment.

The whole world had come down a long way.  Even over just the last decade it had gotten to be a less hospitable place.  Yarec had seen an explosion of violence and bloodshed and participated in plenty of it himself.  Free corps groups of veteran fighters were roving across North and South America; old armies numbering in the thousands had been blasted apart, and the remnants became bands of brigands.  Some of the remaining free cities had been overrun and sacked.  However, Sankirk had survived, in spite of the mayhem Mrissa and Yarec had unleashed there.  It’s too bad though, Yarec thought.  It was supposed to be a wonderfully slick city, but I never really got to explore it in peacetime.

Now pirates like Francis Maldanko were finding their way to positions of great importance.  There were many forts to be garrisoned and yet few commanders with both real military experience and the willingness to use whatever unorthodox methods proved necessary.  Dealing with fellows like that was a big part of Yarec’s job, and the work often brought him back to the onboard medical facility, where his body could be repaired or replaced.

Right then, Yarec wanted to be anywhere else, and eventually, the clinic staff decided he could leave.  There had been some concern that Yarec might flash back into another missing memory and lose track of where he actually was.  However, all his brain activity looked quite normal.  There was some microseizure-like activity—sporadic bursts of uncoordinated nerve firings—but that was expected in a multiple transfer patient.

Yarec got the usual warnings when he was cleared for a trip out.  “Don’t overdo it,” the neurophysician said.  “If you start to get tired or feel anything unusual, sit down and rest.  Don’t hesitate to call for help if you need it, and if you’re not sure—well, better safe than sorry.”

“Yeah, I understand.”  Yarec was sick of being cooped up here.  He had been under constant observation, not allowed to do any work.  Any exertion, mental or physical, was forbidden.  I just shouldn’t have told anyone, he thought.  They would have let me out of here long ago.

When he finally got clearance for an excursion, Yarec headed straight for land.  The warship was now permanently moored, off a small, sandy island in the eastern Pacific.  A metal gangway, huge enough to accommodate double width supply trucks, connected the ship to shore.  The vessel, which had spent so many years roving the high seas, was now part of the beachside fortifications.  Its functional guns all pointed out to sea, waiting to repel a naval assault that no surviving enemy would ever have the materiel to attempt.  The onboard manufacturing facilities were being integrated with the larger, less sophisticated factories on the island.

Yarec crossed to the pier, then headed down onto the beach.  A pair of sentries checked his identity documentation, then waved him on his way.  The loose sand shifted under his feet.  The saltwater smelled sour, and the seas looked choppy.  The tide was in, and the strongest waves reached up to knock the corners of the port buildings’ concrete foundations.

He knew his way.  Yarec had been to this island before, and the base had been present there for decades.  He watched landmarks pass by on his landward side—one-story barracks structures behind a steel chain fence and empty pillboxes between them; then the desalination plant; then a block of storage garages for little-used motor vehicles.  As he progressed south, the structures thinned out and drew back from the shoreline, revealing a mess of salty marshland.  The last structure that really jutted out toward the beach—coming right up to the fence line—was the weather station.

It was a fairly large building, two stories high, plus a bluff rectangular tower.  The roof was dotted with bristles—antennas for communication or radar measurements, and masts for mounting other meteorological instruments.  A small spherical receiver stood at the top of the tower, beside a laser wind vane; and a woman was sitting up there in a folding chair, watching the tide start to ebb out.

The meteorologists actually had a separate uniformed corps, distinct from the land-sea command structure that Yarec had become a part of.  It was a result, Yarec knew, of a mere historical accident.  Men and women sent out to monitor battlefield weather had needed protection as officers under the customary laws of war—back when such rules of honor had even existed.  So the meteorologists got their own parallel hierarchy of ranks, which had somehow survived all the way up to the present.  They still had their own insignia and even their own barracks, which took up much of the weather station building.

The meteorologist on the roof of the tower was not in uniform.  An advantage of being separate from the main base command structure was that if the forecasters all wanted to be lax in their military discipline, they could.  I accordance with longstanding precedent, they dressed like civilians, except on the most formal occasions.  The woman on the roof was wearing gray culottes and a sleeveless red-orange shirt, belted with a flexible black plastic tube.

She recognized Yarec and waved as he walked by.  Her hair was gray, like striped granite, and her forehead was creased with wrinkles, from decades of frowning down at weather displays.  She could have looked younger if she had wanted, but apparently she felt that the appearance of age suited her.  She looked down at Yarec with a maternal smile—the characteristic expression of a woman whose wild son had finally found a compatible girl to settle down with.

Yarec smiled back, regretfully, and kept walking.  He was heading for a spur of land several miles south of the base.  It stuck out into the water like a crooked finger, and it was covered with a thick mat of subtropical forest.  It had been clear-cut once, perhaps centuries earlier, to make way for a palatial hotel made of wood and glass.  The building had risen six tiers high, straddling the whole spit, so guests could swim in from the ocean on either side and ascend directly to their rooms.  Of course, the period in which this island was a luxury destination was far in the past (if it had ever really existed; what scholarship existed on the history of the hotel suggested that it had probably been a boondoggle from the moment it opened—with hundreds of guest rooms never even finished).  Now the place was no more than a monumental ruin—a step pyramid from the post-industrial age.

Yarec tried to think.  At least from the mission with Maldanko he knew that Mrissa was alive.  As he had watched her being led away, Yarec had been afraid.  There had been a solid chance that she would simply be interrogated and then get a bullet in the back of her head.  Yet that had obviously not happened.  What did she do to convince them to leave me alone? he wondered.  Then he thought: There must be some relevant information in seven years’ collected intelligence records.

Yes, Yarec realized, that was where he had to start.  If he wanted to get Mrissa back (And does she even want me back?), he had to find out where she was.  According to Yarec’s own biographical record, his wife’s current whereabouts were unknown.  So to track Mrissa down, he needed to find out what she had been doing since she and Yarec separated—where she had travelled, what work she had done, who she might have met.  It would be a tricky job, and he would need assistance.  There was no way he could get all the research done in an hour or a day.  It all would take time.

At this point, Yarec saw that he could afford to slow down for a while; if fact, he would have to.  He exhaled deeply.  He had finally stopped fighting against the calming drugs he had been given, and before he breathed out again, he was unconscious.

As soon as he laid back down to sleep, between the confining arms of his hospital bed, Yarec started to dream.  It was a very brief sequence.  He and Mrissa were walking together, holding hands.  The path ran under a rocky precipice, and as it narrowed, Yarec let go of Mrissa’s hand.  She moved ahead.  As she looked up at the towering cliff face, her foot slipped off the trail, and she tumbled over onto a stony slope.  Yarec threw himself after her, but before he could reach her hand, the sudden terror had rocked him awake.  He had been barely across the boundary of slumber, and it had only taken a minor fright to wake him up.  However, Yarec still found the dream fairly disturbing.  He realized that he had been seeing Mrissa in his nightmares for a long time—only before, she had just been a blurred, meaningless face.

Sleep quickly overtook him again, and there were no more dreams.  When he woke up, Yarec saw he was still alone. The lights were dim, simulating nighttime.  Yarec opened his eyes but did not move.  He was still frightened, but he had to think.  He had to force himself to understand.

Yarec had crossed paths with Mrissa three times.  The first time was on the actual job that had come immediately before the factory bombing in Sankirk.  Yarec had gone to sabotage a construction project.  It was a huge operation, but it was located high in the mountains.  They were excavating some kind of alpine redoubt.  When Yarec got there, it was nothing but a pit, but there was to have been an immense curving wall in front, with a sheer mountain face defending the fort in the rear.  The warlord who controlled the district wanted to place a huge artillery battery on top of the fortress, to blast his hereditary enemies at the mountain’s foot.  However, it was an absurdly wasteful undertaking, and Yarec had been hired to halt the construction by the warlord’s own superiors in the loose hierarchy of the Sierras.

Yarec’s target was not the construction site itself, but the road providing access to it.  It was a wide asphalt ribbon, winding up through the dirty mountain gullies.  The slopes had once been blanketed with evergreens, and a few isolated stands still remained, but only where it was just too uneconomical to justify harvesting them for timber.  The access road wound past half a dozen little camps, which doubled as security posts and supply depots.  Mrissa had been working at one of those stations.  At the time, she had been just another one of three of four dozen faces Yarec had glimpsed and remembered.  He had a natural talent for matching names, faces, and other facts, which was aided by the special training he had received as a new agent.  It paid to remember everyone he saw, at least for a while.

On the day of the attack, Yarec had stolen a heavy dump truck from one of the camps and led a group of guards on a winding chase.  A couple kilometers along, he took the vehicle around a hairpin turn.  Then he bailed out of the cab and jounced down the slope.  As he rolled, he activated a radio controller, which detonated a massive cache of explosives that he had deposited beside the roadbed.  Yarec had needed to smuggle the explosives up one or two blocks at a time, while he was posing as an engineer.  There was always blasting material travelling up the road, and Yarec had discovered that the security forces did not get unduly concerned if there was a little bit less when a shipment reached the work site at the top.

Yarec concealed the explosives in an indentation above the hairpin turn, practically invisible to anyone driving by.  It detonated just as the dump truck rolled past below it.  The blast launched a barrage of rocky debris and knocked the truck sideways.  It tipped over and careened violently down the slope, bouncing with an elasticity that did not look right in such a massive hunk of metal.

The pursuers in their work trucks were caught off guard.  They were racing toward the hairpin; then had to screech to a stop, as boulders fell and crushed the road in front of them.  The first two vehicles collided, giving the riders a nasty jolt but nothing more serious.  The slide continued to rumble down ahead of them.  Chunks of the asphalt tore away and disappeared in the river of debris.

The spot where Yarec had hid himself was relatively safe from the cascading rocks.  He was almost directly below the jam of stopped vehicles near the end of what remained of the road.  Plenty of smaller rocks, from the margins of the slide, were tumbling in Yarec’s direction, but nothing larger than a fist actually hit him.  However, the construction trucks that had been chasing him took a much worse pounding, with plenty of dents and fractured glass.

At first, nobody noticed Yarec observing the scene.  He lay pressed against the ground and mostly concealed by a hummock of rock.  The carcass of his stolen truck, scarred and mangled, had come to rest near the bottom of the valley.  A naive observer might have assumed that Yarec had died in it.  However, the security guards were able enough to realize that the theft of the dump truck and the subsequent landslide had come too close together to be unrelated.  Once the immediate shock of the rockfall had worn off, the man in charge started giving orders.  He got out digital binoculars and started scouring the terrain.  As soon as the slide was over—a matter of seconds now, probably—he would send people down to search the slopes.  If Yarec wanted to avoid capture without a lot of bloodshed, he had to move immediately.

So Yarec started rolling downhill.  With his gray outfit, he might have been mistaken for another rock, at least out of the corner of an observer’s eye.  However, Yarec did not manage to escape detection for very long.  One of the guards shouted something and pointed in Yarec’s direction.  Then came gunfire—slugs ricocheting off the rocks just ahead of him.  Until that point, Yarec had been trying to control his tumble down the slope, to keep himself from accelerating completely out of control; but when he realized he was under fire, Yarec just tucked his body into a ball and let himself fall.  He would have preferred to be killed by a simple, forthright rock than by a fired bullet.

Yarec was spinning too fast to see any more of what was happening up on the road, and he needed to remain tightly curled up to protect his extremities.  He could still control his motion a little bit, by leaning his weight to one side or the other.  Mostly, he just tried to minimize his bouncing, to limit the beating that the ground was inflicting on his back and legs.  Keeping low to the ground also made him a more difficult target, if the guards decided to start shooting again.  As long as he did not roll into the main path of the rockslide, all the paths down the slope were basically equivalent.  There were no sharp precipices he had to avoid.  The slopes were ragged, but the steepness was fairly consistent, all the way down to the floor of the valley cleft.

After a little while, he almost thought he had escaped.  Then Yarec struck more bad luck.  He had come down several hundred feet in elevation, and his limbs were throbbing.  The back of his shirt had come apart in three places, threads severed by sharp splinters of stone.  He was wiggling a bit, trying to spread the punishment out among different parts of his anatomy.  Then a spire of rock reared up suddenly in front of him.  It was only about a meter high, but Yarec noticed it too late to react.  He plowed into it with his left hip.  Yarec felt a surge of pain, accompanied by an ominous cracking sound, which could have been either rock or bone.  He lost most of his momentum as he jolted sideways off the spire.  If he had actually come to a stop, Yarec might just have hidden there behind the outcrop and tried to gauge the situation; he was now far enough down that no one could get a direct shot at him from the road.  However, before he could grab a handhold, he found he was falling again.  He accelerated with each bounce or flip, and every time his hip hit the ground, the pain returned.  With each impact, Yarec’s vision wavered, and he found he lacked the strength to move his lower body.  He thudded down over the rocks, feeling his injured joint being pulverized into bone meal, until he finally rolled to a halt in a low, woody thicket.

For a while, Yarec simply lay there, amidst a nest of snapped branches.  Everything hurt, especially his hip.  A rough scrape, seeping blood, ran down the side of his face, from his forehead to under his chin.  He wanted to close his eyes, but he knew that if he did, he would probably lose consciousness.  And he needed to stay awake.  Soon, the guards would be coming after him, and he had to get away, to a better hiding place at least.  Yarec gathered his strength and tried to sit up.  The pain proved excruciating, but he managed to reach a sitting position.  Yarec panted and rubbed his eyes with the back of his wrist, trying to clear the pink fog that had settled over him.

Then he fumbled in his pockets for a pair of important items.  The first one he found was a square metal bottle of pills.  The rattle of the medicine inside was soothing as soon as he heard it.  He popped the lid open and poured two small capsules into his mouth.  They started to dissolve almost instantly.  The pills were specially compounded for agents out on assignment, who might be in extreme pain or have trouble swallowing.  The medicine—an extremely powerful analgesic—could be absorbed directly through the mouth, and it would only take a few minutes for its early effects to be felt.

As he waited for the drugs to tamp down the searing agony of his hip joint, Yarec pulled out the second item.  It was a coded radio transmitter—a thick red rod about fifteen centimeters long.  He activated its emergency signal mode, which would send an alert to another transmitter cached about fifteen kilometers away.  The second unit would broadcast a higher-power signal, summoning a rescue team to pull Yarec out.  The two transmitters bounced signals back and forth a few times, confirming Yarec’s location and the urgency of his situation.  Then the handheld device reverted to listening mode.  It would receive regular queries from the relay station, and send back updates about Yarec’s position if necessary; and it would keep Yarec informed about when the rescuers were going to arrive.

Having sent out his summons for help, Yarec then needed to get moving.  He could not walk; the crushed hip would never support his weight.  The most he could manage was a sort of three-limbed crawl.  The bushes around him impeded his progress, but they also provided plenty of cover.  He navigated gradually downhill, because that was the easiest direction to go and because it took him farther away from the armed guards.

They were searching for him, coming down the slope in loose groups.  Occasionally, Yarec heard their gunshots, as they fired down as suspicious movements.  The shots echoed off the rough slopes, like thunder slowly rumbling down from on high.  Mrissa might have been among the searchers, or perhaps she had remained back at the camp, managing communications with the work site on the mountaintop.

From what Yarec had seen, the road would be out for quite a while.  Before it could be rebuilt, the slopes around the hairpin turn needed to be shored up, or there could be more rockslides.  That meant work at the construction site higher up must soon grind to a halt.  Supplies for the workers could be ferried up by helicopter, but not the heavy equipment or construction materials.  The interruption might not have been enough on its own to shut the operation down for good.  However, it was followed by a number of major mishaps at the excavation site.  The heating system for the workers’ dormitory had failed.  Then a huge heap of scrap had collapsed back into the open pit, burying one of the excavators.  When the main hydrocarbon fuel tank had sprung a leak and nearly caught fire, there was no option left but to evacuate the mountain.  A few months later, a heavy blizzard nearly obliterated the site, and any plans to return were abandoned.

Yarec knew there must have been other saboteurs working with him in parallel.  However, he had not known their identities, and they operated independently.  As he lay in his hospital bed, thinking back to those events, it occurred to Yarec that perhaps Mrissa had not actually been one of his enemies on that job, after all.

Eventually, they had plucked Yarec out of his predicament and flown him back out to sea.  He had recuperated there and then sailed over to Sankirk, to meet Mrissa for the second time.  In the course of their work together, they had become lovers and then, probably prematurely, husband and wife.  It still seemed like that had only just happened, yet he and Mrissa had actually been separated for years.

Chapter 5:  Back in the Now

Yarec woke up practically in mid-sentence.  “Where is she?” he yelled, jerking up in his bed.

Two pairs of hands gently pressed him back.  He struggled for a moment, then consented to being reclined back down onto his pillow.  “Take it easy, sir,” said the orderly.

“They took her!  What happened to her?”  Yarec was yelling frantically.

The senior practitioner was looking over Yarec’s vitals and paid no attention to his expostulations until she had determined that he was truly alert and stable.  The she said, “Sorry, I don’t know who you’re talking about.  I’ve heard that your mission was quite successful, and your target was eliminated, but that’s all I know.”

“I don’t care about that!” Yarec shouted.  “What did they do with Mrissa?”  Behind the orderly, he could see the numbers on one of the gauges rising ominously.  He tried to slow down, breathe more deeply.  “Where is she?” he said.  “Where’s my wife?”

She looked down at him indulgently.  “If you want, I can check your biographic record.  That should have the most recent information is about your spouse’s whereabouts.”

Yarec felt frustrated with this interposition of bureaucracy.  However, he knew his personnel dossier was linked into the whole allied intelligence-gathering apparatus.  If there was information about Mrissa’s location and condition, and it was not too tightly classified, it would be present in his biographic record.  He bit his lip and nodded, assenting to the search.

“Let’s see,” the practitioner said, opening up his file.  She scanned the first few lines of data.  “Yep, ‘spouse:  Mrissa Roonbeck,’” she read.  She tapped her device to call up more information about Mrissa.  “Last seen… uh… two years ago, working as a freelance tech specialist.”

“Come on,” said Yarec, exasperated.  “Isn’t there something from after our marriage?”

“Uh, yes,” the practitioner said, paging forward a few screens.  “After your wedding, she was back in Sankirk for about five months.  Then… then there’s a gap, but she shows up again about a year later down in Central America, working security for a mining company.”

Yarec was aghast.  “A year?  Damn… how long have I been out?”

“You came in about nine days ago,” she said.  “You were pretty shot up.”

Shot up? Yarec repeated to himself.  What is she talking about?  He tried to sit up again, but he realized he was too weak.  He felt a painful tightness in his belly.  Angrily, he said, “That’s nonsense.  I hadn’t been shot shot when I came in here, and I only just got married.”  He paused to catch his breath, then said:  “What are you up to?  I want the truth, now!”

“Sir, you really need to relax,” said the orderly.

“What I need is for somebody to tell me the truth!” Yarec shouted.

“No, you really need to calm down,” the practitioner said.  She typed something, and a machine started pumping a moderate sedative into Yarec’s veins.

“You can’t shut me up that easily,” Yarec informed her.  “I’m going to find out the truth, eventually.”  As he felt a wave of dizziness crash over him, he gritted his teeth.  He knew that his customized body should be strong enough to resist the the medication.  If the practitioner expected him to lose consciousness immediately, she was going to be disappointed.

“Look,” she told him, “I only know what’s in your file.  See?”  She waved the lamina in front of him, but he did not have the patience to read what it said.  He just lay back, repeating again and again through clenched teeth, “Just tell me where my wife is.  Tell me where my wife is.”

Amid this shower of protests, the staff called in a more senior intelligence officer.  The man arrived after about twenty minutes, which Yarec spent silently fuming.  The drugs were still not having much effect, but he needed a conscious effort to fend them off.  The captain from military intelligence was a tall man, towering over Yarec’s rolling bed.  His uniform hung slackly off his frame, as if he had recently lost weight.  The officer whispered something to the practitioner as he entered.  Yarec could not hear what the man said, but the practitioner nodded lightly in response.

“So, Captain ban Silfien,” the intelligence officer said, “you seem to be dissatisfied with what you’re being told.  I’m Captain Pal Herbsht.  I hope I can clarify things for you.”

“I hope so, captain,” Yarec said, “because what I’ve been told makes no sense.”  There was a hard edge to his voice.  Yarec watched the practitioner’s face for a response, but he saw none.  He was her patient; she was only concerned about Yarec’s health and was immune to his anger.  The orderly had been dismissed, either because he had duties elsewhere or because he was not cleared for the kind of information they were about to discuss.

“You arrived here nine days ago, after being transported by air from the site of your last assignment.  You were moved to a new body immediately, since the old one was deemed irreparably damaged.”  Yarec was about to interrupt, but his reactions were a bit slow, and Captain Herbsht went on after only a momentary pause, “Your mission looks to have been completely successful.  Your principal target, Francis Maldanko, was eliminated.  We will have to debrief with you further to evaluate the success of your secondary goals, but—”

At this point, Yarec had to break in.  “Maldanko?  What’s Maldanko got to do with this?”  In spite of his reclining posture, he felt blood pounding in his head.

“Captain, I’m not sure—” Herbsht began, but Yarec would not let him finish.

“That was ages ago.  I want to know about my wife!” Yarec shouted, as loud as he could in his weakened condition.  At the apex of each syllable, the pain in his temples grew most intense.  “Me and Mrissa got married just a couple weeks ago!  So where is she?”

“Captain,” Herbsht said, and now there was an insistence in his voice that even Yarec’s wild protests could not resist.  “I’m afraid you must be confused.  You just returned from the Maldanko assignment.  However, your marriage to Miss Roonbeck took place almost seven years ago.”

“What?” Yarec breathed.  “What?”  He remembered escaping from Maldanko’s fortress.  Then he had experienced waking up on board the States United warship and heading down to Sankirk in a fresh body.  But no, he thought, that was in April.  He remembered the date he had bombed the factory, and—somehow—Captain Herbsht was right.  It really was almost seven years before the date he had been sent to kill Colonel Maldanko.

So a block of memories—everything that had happened to a whole cloned body—had disappeared.  The recollections had not survived past the first consciousness transfer, when his mind had been rescued from that diseased body and set in a new one.  Perhaps the whole adventure had been too new, so the memories had not been fully integrated into his neural structure.  No, Yarec thought, that wasn’t it.  Because the memories had been correctly copied over; only the route to their hiding place had been lost.

Now the memories had come back, but in a very strange way.  They had not just suddenly reappeared, the way rediscovered memories usually did—there again, as if they had never been absent.  Instead, he had felt like he was experiencing the whole sequence of events afresh.  It was as if his consciousness had traced all through his cerebral cortex, following the recollections in the order they were created.

Yarec had never known how important his sense of the temporal order of his memories was—until he had a chunk transposed out of position.  Of course, there were always some events whose dates slipped around.  Had something happened last year, or the year before?  Yet this felt different.  Yarec could not shake the gut feeling that his adventures with Mrissa had just happened, after Maldanko’s assassination.

Some of the misplaced memories had actually been a bit hazy as relived them, with the ordinary imperfections of human recall.  But the lacunae had not been noticeable as he was experiencing everything.  It was like a dream; as long as his consciousness was fully fixed in the narrative, it was impossible to notice the prodigies of illogic.  In an ordinary dream, there might come a time when Yarec could recognize that things did not quite make sense; and that was a sure sign that he was about to wake up.  But this had not been a dream from which waking was possible.  He had relived the full block of memories, from beginning to end—the complete chronicle of one of his cloned bodies.

He knew, from the dates and seasons he remembered, the true sequence in which things had to have happened.  However, that would never be the order that felt correct.  His internal chronology was out of step with reality.  The impression that he had sailed into Sankirk after the job at Maldanko’s blockhouse was unbreakable.  A few other feelings—elements from his period with Mrissa—were still with him as well; they were stuck in place, now that Yarec had lived through them twice.  The taste of vomit, from when he had been unable to keep down any solid food, never quite left his mouth.  Usually it was minimal—just a sting in the back of his gullet—except sometimes it burst back at full intensity, and he felt like his whole mouth was choked with acid.  When he was under stress, Yarec might also relive the crushing abdominal cramps that had also been part of his illness.  They were etched very deeply into his brain matter now—phantom pains that he was never going to escape.

“Go.  Just go away,” Yarec said, and the others left.  The senior practitioner glanced from the readout on the wall down to her handheld lamina, to be sure Yarec’s vitals were being accurately transmitted.  Then she stepped out and closed the door behind her.

Writing and Rewriting

September 13, 2014

My postings have reached the end of, roughly speaking, the first part of Hollowed Memories.  I’m currently working on the second part (out of three), but I’ve been having more than a bit of trouble with the final chapter of part 2.  I wrote a version of it, but I wasn’t satisfied with the pace or the plot, so I went back and rewrote another version, with a rather different story.  Then I decided that I liked the original plot outline better, so I’m trying to integrate the two texts together and to fill in any gaps as I go.

After that, he had only vague memories, picked up during scant waking moments, of being moved back to his house.  Doc Gadner’s little clinic was not equipped to quarantine a patient with such a violently contagious infection.  They would probably spray everything in Marshall Kubiak’s longhouse with strong disinfectant and incinerate anything organic that Yarec had touched, but there were no major medical facilities within two hundred kilometers.  Fortunately, Yarec had installed a small but sophisticated medical suite in his basement.  It was a place for him to recuperate from injuries, if he could not get to an allied hospital.  Mrissa and the Doc could hook him up to an intravenous line to provide clean fluids and antibiotics, and Gadner did his best to drain and clean the festering wounds.  However, Yarec’s private facility was not really equipped to save the life of anyone this badly infected.  Treatment at home could probably only prolong his sickness; to cure it, they would need to get him to somewhere better.

It was probably some virulent strain of germ from the factory, which had stayed stuck to his skin through all the water and wind.  “Biological weapons are nasty,” Mrissa told him, as she patted his forehead with a gloved hand.  She sat back in her padded chair, which she had carried down from Yarec’s living room and propped beside the head of his bed.  She was muttering regional obscenities, and Yarec turned his head to look at her.  It was one of his rare moments of lucidity since the infection had overcome him the day before.  She saw he was looking and tried to smile; he turned back to stare at the pocked cement ceiling, so she would not have to try for too long.

He had no one else, and he might be dying.  He had previously made arrangements for his estate to go to States United Armed Forces in the event of his death.  Yarec had reasoned that if he died on a mission, his earnings would be recycled in support of his allies’ cause.  Now, however, he finally had somebody he wanted to share his accrued wealth with.  He could have recorded a new will, but there were still regulations, left over from a time when there had been a professional legal class, even in the hinterlands.  The only court around here now was a part-time affair, with a single judge, hired by the rich families to preside over murders, gross assaults, and any suits between the major landowners that could not be settled with simple threats.  There was still a prescribed form of a proper will, and the civic authorities could be counted on to snap up any property that was not correctly disposed of.

A marriage, on the other hand, could be contracted with relative ease.  They called in the necessary two witnesses, which were traditionally one male and one female.  Marshall Kubiak and his wife Vikki watched from behind a rose-tinted plastic pane, as Mrissa and Yarec made their pronouncements.  Yarec heaved himself up into a sitting position to announce his commitment, as the bride patted his hand between hers.  The rituals were brief and businesslike, which suited all the participants.  The Kubiaks were still annoyed that Yarec had spoiled their soiree, but he was family, and he was in trouble.  Mrissa wrote out an affidavit on a card of single-use script media, and everyone signed.  The ragged block letters she traced out with the stylus, pale gray-green against the dark brown background, spelled out the terms of the marriage, including the sole right of inheritance if either partner should die.  Then she flipped a tab on the corner of the card, and a shot of electric current sealed the document so the surface pigments could not be erased or amended.  The witnesses congratulated her as “Madame ban Silfien” and set off for home.

Yarec collapsed in exhaustion.  He slept through the whole next day, and there were no visitors except the Doc, who just clicked his tongue and added more opioids.  Every time he woke, Yarec felt weaker, and though he felt famished, he was also so nauseous that he could not eat.

He drifted through unconsciousness, never really waking until a high-pitched alarm in his earpiece informed him that something was amiss upstairs.  The monitor above his bed showed a split scene.  There were heavily armed men and women outside his front door, and some of them were already inside the house.  Mrissa was talking to them in the kitchen, with rifle barrels pointed at her face.  She did not look frightened; her face was still warm with color, although she hesitated every now and then to fumble with her hair.  Her face was angled partially away from the camera, so Yarec could not read her lips.  It might have been intentional, he thought.  She looked like she was speaking very softly, and he did not have the energy to find the sound controls, to see if the audio feed was picking up what she was saying.

She was answering questions from five soldiers in blue uniforms piped with black.  He recognized them—enemies.  The leader was interrogating her, while two of his underlings had their guns had their guns trained on her head.  The others were poking around.  One of them glared suspiciously  at Yarec’s countertop convection oven.  She prodded at it, as if trying to trigger an imaginary booby trap.  The cubical device resounded with a soft, unmusical thud every time she hit it, until finally, growing impatient with its unresponsiveness, she knocked it flat on its back with the triangular butt of her weapon.  It fell with a clatter against the streaked ceramic counter, and the soldier glowered at its inert shape.  Then she moved on to inspect Yarec’s other drawers and miniature appliances.

Whatever Mrissa told the leader, it was apparently convincing.  He snapped an order into his communicator mouthpiece, and the troopers outside visibly relaxed.  They lowered their rifles, which had all been pointed in toward the building.  Some abandoned their protective cover and stood up.  A junior officer outside pointed down toward the road, and two men jogged back in that direction, guns slung loosely across their backs.

Inside, Mrissa was doing more and more of the talking.  She gestured toward the ceiling, and all the intruder’s eyes followed her extended fingers.  Eventually, they reached some kind of agreement.  Mrissa picked up her personal computing lamina, which had been sitting, folded up, on the kitchen counter.  Then they all marched outside.  The last trooper in line left the front door hanging open.  Watching his own house, Yarec felt he was seeing a derelict.

As the troops departed, Yarec noticed they were lugging a piece of rather fancy-looking scientific equipment.  Two people were carrying it between them, and it was large enough to hold a modest suite of automated chemical reaction vessels.  On top, it had a pair of narrow hoses, now neatly coiled—the kind used to collect atmospheric or aerosol samples.  Perhaps that’s how they found me, Yarec thought.  A few molecules of their specially engineered bacterial DNA floating in the air, detected, duplicated, and confirmed.  My open wounds would be like a homing beacon.

The entrance to the basement was concealed, although not incredibly well.  The troops might have missed the stairs, or Mrissa had convinced them not to bother.  Would they be back?  Yarec had no way to know.  In fact, he remembered, he had no way to do anything.  The tension of watching Mrissa bargain with the invaders had kept him awake.  Now, they had all withdrawn, and he could not help plunging back into his fevered sleep.

He had no way of measuring the time, except by pain and hunger, until the medical practitioners arrived.  They slammed through his door, and Yarec woke with a flash of terror.  He felt too weak to move as they closed in around his bed.  They were blurs, all speaking at once, it seemed.  Yet somehow he thought he recognized one of them.  He did not know her name, but she was familiar, and he tried to croak something to her.  He struggled, but his throat, like most of him, was effectively paralyzed.

“Don’t worry, captain,” she said.  “We’ll get you out of this ruin.”