Hollowed Memories, chapter 5, part 1

September 14, 2014

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.

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