Hollowed Memories, chapter 5, part 3

September 28, 2014

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.

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