Hollowed Memories, chapter 10, part 3

August 23, 2015

“Do you want a shower?” Mrissa asked Yarec.

Yarec wavered, unsure what exactly she was suggesting, and Mrissa noticed the hesitation.  “You must need to get cleaned up,” she said.  “The heat down here is terrible, and I know your skin never sweats right.”  She cocked her head to the side and surveyed him.  “Frankly, you look awful.”

Yarec was about to protest, but then he remembered the trio of teenaged girls he had passed on his way out of the lowland town’s market.  They had all pointed at him and tittered.  He must have looked ridiculous.

“Yeah, I guess so,” Yarec said.  He got up with a groan and followed as Mrissa led the way.

“Knowing you, you’ll need some lotion too,” she said as they headed out the door.  “I swear, you could get a sunburn from a full moon.”

The panel swung closed behind them, and Mrissa led Yarec down the hall to the communal shower facilities.  Yarec could her a deep, steady rumbling, punctuated with occasionally louder clangs, coming from somewhere far beneath them.  The thin walls quivered a bit with each crash, and Yarec wondered if the drilling would lighten up during the night, when most people were trying to sleep.

On the way to the showers, they passed a woman, wearing an oversized white hardhat and a brilliant orange shirt.  Here indoors, her green-tinted safety glasses were pushed way down, resting just on the tip of her nose and offering little to no actual protection for her eyes.  As she glided past them in the corridor, she pursed her lips and made a slight disapproving click with her tongue.  The sound was just loud enough to be recognizably audible; but conversely, it was soft enough for the woman to maintain some plausible deniability if she were called on it.

As they passed, Mrissa looked over momentarily at the other woman’s face and gave her the barest nod of acknowledgement.  “Bitch,” Mrissa whispered once they were a few paces out of earshot.

“What is it?” Yarec asked, but Mrissa shook her head and did not elaborate.

They turned a corner, and the shower cubicle was on their left.  The opaque metal door was marked “sanitary shower, occupancy 1” in several languages, and a thin trail of black mildew seemed to be leaking out from under the middle of the door.  Mrissa pointed to the door.  “Here we are,” she said.

She knocked on the portal twice, very rapidly, and did not wait long for anyone who was inside to respond; after about a second and a half, she pushed the door open.  The bathroom was indeed unoccupied.  It was dark inside initially, but as they stepped inside. the round LED bulb screwed into the ceiling gradually faded on.

The room had a black plastic toilet and a matching sink stand.  On the other side of the room was a shower.  The tiled alcove was covered with a transparent yellow curtain.  Mrissa leaned back against the door, reaching behind her to throw the deadbolt.  Then she motioned her husband toward the shower; but again, Yarec felt hesitant.

“What’s the matter?” she asked.  “I’ve seen your bare ass before.”

Yarec shrugged and began to undress.  He pulled off the cream-colored shirt he had bought at the hostel in Mancora.  As he bent forward to unzip his trousers, Mrissa stepped up behind him and played her index finger down across his right shoulder.

“This looks a lot healthier than the last time I saw it,” she muttered playfully.  First Yarec nodded; then he allowed himself to wince as she prodded a spot that was still tender from a recent bruise.

“Sorry,” Ris said, withdrawing her hand.

“It’s okay,” Yarec said.  He stretched both arms out over his head, and one of his shoulder joints popped audibly.  Then he turned his neck slowly from side to side, trying to work out some of the ache in his muscles.  Mrissa leaned back again against the heavy steel door and watched as he finished removing his pants, then pushed the yellow curtain aside and stepped through into the shower stall.

He pressed the palm-sized plastic touch screen underneath the shower head, and it lit up.  However, before it actually activated the shower controls, the plate showed a twenty-second commercial for the shower’s manufacturer.  An androgynous voice emanated from a hidden speaker.  “Welcome to your Voda Industries shower,” it said, as the small panel displayed a corporate logo superimposed in front of streaming jets of crystal clean water.  “Your shower will begin shortly.”  The display cycled through a brief selection of units from the Voda catalog, from simple tubs to a full-body spray massage system which cost as much as a small automobile.  “Thank you for choosing a Voda Industries shower for your home or business,” the voice finished, and the touch screen finally showed him the controls for selecting water temperature and flow rate.

Yarec had been glaring, first up at the circular blue shower head, then back down at the slowly rolling advertisement.  When the commercial was over, he turned the water on as hard as it would go.  It was cold at first, and he shivered as it warmed up to the temperature he had selected.  Mrissa  reached around the curtain and handed him her bar of gray-green soap.  He rubbed it directly against his skin, feeling the little chips of pumice in the lather scouring away his dead skin cells.

Mrissa watched him.  His back was toward her, and she smiled as she saw Yarec’s gluteal muscles tense and then relax.  The curtain gave him an ugly jaundiced complexion, but she was glad to see him healthy and whole.  His body was intact, although the face was a bit different from the one he had had when they met in Sankirk.

Somewhere deep down, Mrissa could not shake the feeling that this was not the same man she had agreed to marry.  Her Yarec had died  Whatever had come after was a copy, a fake—not the same.

But she did not want to share her doubts with this Yarec, whoever he was.  He was finishing his shower, wiping the last bits of soap and grit out of his hair.  With squinting eyes, he fumbled for the shutoff button, and the flow of water dribbled to a stop.  He stepped out of the stall, dripping large, heavy drops on the bare tile floor.  Mrissa tossed him her towel.  It was old and rough, and the white terrycloth was heavily frayed at the corner where Mrissa had written her name.

Yarec wiped the water out of his eyes, then began towelling off his limbs.  His earlier self-consciousness seemed to have vanished.  “I’m kind of getting hungry,” he began.  “Do you think—”

“Why can’t they keep an extra copy of your memories when they copy you—in case you lose some of them later on?” Mrissa interrupted.

Yarec’s expression showed that his wife’s question had taken him by surprise.  He finished wiping his legs, considering.  “That’s not how it works,” Yarec said, as he moved on to his back.  “I don’t think they really understand what the neural data they’re copying means.  They do their best to duplicate the pathways of the old brain in the new one, but I don’t think they know what kinds of memories are where, except very roughly.”

“Oh,” Mrissa said.

“So I don’t think they could just save my memories in a data cluster somewhere,” Yarec continued.  “That’s too bad, really.”

“But the data from all your earlier transfers is still stored somewhere, right?” Mrissa asked.

“Yeah, I guess so,” Yarec said.

“So they could make another copy of you, from older data?”

“Yes,”—Yarec’s voice wavered—“but they’re not supposed to.”  He handed her back the towel, and picked up the new trousers he had bought that morning.  As he pulled them up, Mrissa could see that they were chafing a bit, since he was wearing them without underwear.  She suppressed the inclination to giggle.

“Come on,” she said.  “You wanted something to eat?”

“Yeah.  Yeah, I did.”

“Come on then.  We’ll head over the dining room and see what we can scrounge up.”  Mrissa pointed out the way they would be heading.  “I can’t remember,” she said.  “Do you like seco de proteina?”

“I can’t remember either,” Yarec admitted.  “It sounds fine though.”  He finished pulling on his socks and shoes and nodded toward the door.  “Let’s go.”

Mrissa drew the bolt and led the way again, down a somewhat wider corridor.  In the cafeteria, the pair ate largely in silence.  The food was a little better than what Mrissa had dashed down in front of Yarec at Station Westerly—with crumbles of vat-grown synthetical animal protein instead of merely gruel.  However, it had very little taste, until Mrissa told Yarec to add a little bit of an earthy condiment labeled “liquid smog.”  After that, the meal was quite palatable, although Yarec’s stomach, unused to the strong flavor, was rather upset a few hours later.

Yarec wanted to hear more about how his wife had come to be working for Colonel Maldanko, but it was not something they could discuss in the cafeteria, with people constantly coming and going, even if it was not a normal mealtime.  So he ate up quickly, and they returned to her quarters.  A few people had been watching the pair as they ate—eyeing them with suspicion, Yarec thought.  As they walked back, he thought about reaching across and holding Mrissa’s hand—to keep things looking relaxed and natural.  However, she had opted instead to show off a stiff, none-of-your-business demeanor, and he was obligated to follow her lead.

Back in her room, they sat down again on her bed.  She leaned her head lightly against his shoulder, letting her red curls run carelessly down his neck.  For a while, Yarec just enjoyed smelling her skin.  Then he asked, “So… what happened after they took you away?”

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