by Douglas J. Swatski
Crystal gazed at her computer’s viewscreen and started her inquiry. “Are you comfortable, Dr. Pestel?”
“Quite,” Dr. Pestel answered, sinking deep into the upholstered armchair, his arms dotted with buttons and an elastic band around his chest. The lights were dim and the air cool, almost chilly. “Is this necessary?”
“I’m afraid so,” she said. “Your memory engrams are not yet fully indexed.”
“Then let’s get started, I have other work to do.”
Crystal touched the viewscreen to start the recording, “Subject Dr. Pestel. Memory debug and index debrief.”
“Dr. Pestel, on Wednesday, September 1st, 2021, you extracted the prototype memory writer from the first test rabbit. Is that correct?”
“If you say so,” Dr. Pestel answered.
“Doctor,” Crystal protested.
“Yes, yes, I remember it. Do we have to do this one?” he asked.
“It was a strong emotion.”
Dr. Pestel sighed, “The encoding sequence made no sense on the indexer. We... or I should say, I didn’t know whether it was the writer, or if the host was rejecting it. The only way to determine this was to perform an extraction. Is that enough?”
“No, describe what you felt; we need this for the index and the bypass filtering,” Crystal replied.
“The encapsulation sheathing tore when I inserted it into the rabbit’s brain. I could not perform a clean extraction.”
“The rabbit died?” Crystal asked softly.
“I tried anyway, but the optic fiber broke, leaving us... no, me, no choice.”
“And you felt what? Sadness? Anger? Remorse? How would you describe it?” she asked.
“I don’t know... I mean, all of them. It’s painful, you know, I’m not like you. You ask me these things, and it’s like I’m there again, reliving them. My memories are like a time machine. To me, it’s like the here and now doesn’t exist while I’m remembering them. I’m there.”
Crystal typed busily at her keyboard then said, “Fine, doctor, now for the next one. On Wednesday, October 2nd, the day the grant from the NIH came through. You should have been, for lack of a better way of saying it, happy. Yet, we show you were depressed that day. Why?”
“I guess there are no such things as secrets, are there?” he quipped.
“Not for you. Now, please answer the question.”
“It was a fraud. I was a fraud. I promised a memory writer, but by this time, I knew the substrate we were using would break down in a human subject. It wouldn’t work. Everywhere I turned, I couldn’t find a solution.”
“Yet here we are today,” Crystal countered.
“Yes, here we are today. Eventually, we found a solution, but at the time, all I could see was failure. I had worked so hard to get the grant. I promised my soul for that grant, made promises I couldn’t keep, and they called me on it, and I was going to fail.”
Again Crystal typed, recording her observations into the database, and then said, “Okay, next incident. Why did you choose French as your prototype language? And please describe your decision process.”
Dr. Pestel squirmed in his chair and said, “It’s a beautiful language, isn’t that enough?”
Crystal’s fingers clicked on her keyboard before she glanced up and gave him the look.
“Okay, okay. Basically, I had a good mapping. I had anchor points from reading several different subjects and I could correlate their engrams. I called this translation process an Alpha Transmutation. That should be enough to update your index.”
Crystal typed. Looking up, she said, “I have one more incident. You were reading a book in November 2017. It had something to do with blue kangaroos, but we aren’t sure of the title. This is a fact versus fiction separation problem. Do you remember the title of the book?”
Dr. Pestel closed his eyes, searching his mind for the book’s name. “I can’t remember, not offhand. Maybe I can give you enough to research it.”
“Yes, that would help. Then we could link together the segments.”
“It was about an Amish girl, on an alien world, an alternate reality theme... a science fiction and fantasy kind of thing. Is that enough?”
“We’ll see. Thank you, doctor.”
* * *
It had been only twelve hours since the kidnapping, and six hours since the shootout. Dr. Pestel spoke into his phone, his voice strained, “It’s never been done before, the risk is too great.”
On the opposite coast, the other doctor replied, “But it should work, we have a volunteer, and we’re set up for the procedure already. We had prepped for this operation later today. I don’t need a full index, just the past few hours.”
Dr. Pestel said, “If you’re looking for my permission, I can’t condone this. Once given, the memories cannot be retracted. He’ll have to live with this, it will become a part of him.”
Two hours later, half a dozen cops surrounded Detective Carl Braslan when he awoke. He had volunteered to receive the perp’s memories to try and find the girl.
Braslan’s eyes fluttered, and the lead detective shook the man’s shoulder, asking, “Is she alive? Where is she? Quick, tell me.”
Braslan mumbled, “I... where am I? What is this? I...”
The doctor cautioned, “Easy, let him wake up. The shock could be too much...”
The lead detective urged, “Carl, we’re in the hospital, where did the psycho bury her? Remember, we killed him in the shoot out, and we transferred his memories into your mind, where is she?”
Horror crossed Detective Braslan’s face. His face convulsed as the psychotic killer’s memories rose to his consciousness. “Gilman Springs Road, a few hundred yards up Massacre Canyon... just a couple of feet deep, you don’t have long, the air...”
* * *
John Pestel sat, legs crossed, center stage, across from the show’s host, Brian Moore. Brian opened the talk show, “John, welcome to the show. I must say, I’ve been waiting all week for this interview. Tell me, what is it like to be given a memory?”
“Thanks, Brian... well, the best way for me to answer that is to give you an example. I took a couple of years of French in high school, but then I just dropped it. I’m sure my French teacher could attest, I was never fluent.”
“And... how well do you speak it now?” Brian asked.
“Nearly as well as my father, who was the source of my memories, though of course, not better.” In French, John rattled off a few sentences describing the day’s headlines, sending the audience into a resounding applause.
“Amazing,” Brian said.
“It’s quite natural. I don’t have to think about translating it. I just think of what I want to say and then say it.”
Brian leaned forward and smiled, “I hear you got more than just French from your father. We have a clip...”
“Yes, I heard you had that. May I say a couple of words first?” The screen rose from the floor behind the pair as John spoke, “It’s not like getting a dictionary installed. Memories are linked to many things, and when you remember one thing, another often pops into your head...”
The clip rolled, showing John in a doctor’s office, shortly after the procedure. A women psychologist asked John, “Can you say, in French, ‘I want to jump out of an airplane?’”
In the clip, John opened his mouth, and then started yelling. “No... I’m going... no, I jumped, I jumped, I’m falling... I’m so high...”
Brian Moore, laughing, quipped, “So, you learned more than just French?”
“Yeah, I learned that my Father went skydiving once. He’d mentioned it, but now I know what it felt like when he first leapt out of the plane. It was amazing, I was there. I felt what he felt. The memory just flowed in like a stream of gushing water, flowing through my mind.”
Leaning forward again, now sporting an impish grin, Brian asked, “What else have you learned about your Father from his memories?”
“I’ve learned to keep secrets... I’m serious, memories are very personal, and to share someone else’s memories is personal in a way I can hardly describe.”
“So, you’re telling me you met all of your father’s old girlfriends?”
“And I’ve also been there when I was born.”
“Are these detailed memories, do you remember images?”
“Some, but often it’s more how I, I mean, how he felt at the time. I couldn’t draw you pictures, but I can recognize people I’d never met.”
Brian reached across the desk and tapped John’s sleeve, and said, “Now tell us about this.”
John pulled back his shirt cuff, revealing a sheath of plastic wrapped around his left forearm. “This is my index. I wear it to initiate memories.”
“You lost me,” Brian said, “I remember things, but you said that you initiate them?”
“Sorry, Brian, this technology brings a whole vocabulary with it. When you or I see or learn something, it becomes a memory and it is naturally integrated with all of our other memories.”
“Give me an example?” Brian asked.
“When I remember what I had for lunch today, I also remember where I ate, what time, who was with me, all that. For artificial memories, these indexes to my existing memories don’t exist. If you pull up real memories, other connections come with them. Not so for artificial ones.”
“So your new memories are like islands, isolated from the mainland?”
“Exactly,” John replied. “So the doctors, they create indexes to retrieve them, and after using the memories a few times, they’re fully integrated and I can use them just like natural ones. So, using this pad, I can query what’s there, kind of like memory training wheels.”
Shaking his head, Brian itched to touch the arm pad, and said, “You have to show us. How do you use it?”
“My father, as you know, was a famous neurologist. I know something about the field, but never spent the years in school or the lab studying it. Still, I have his memories. Ask me a question that my father would know, but that an average person wouldn’t.”
Brian reached across the desk and took a piece of paper from a stagehand. “Thank you,” he said, “It’s not my field either, John, so I asked for some help before the show. Here goes: describe how an Alpha Transmutation is used to prepare an index?”
John tapped the arm pad, capturing the question with a voice recognition applet. “I’ll enter that in, and then I’ll see if I can answer your question.” A moment passed as John concentrated. Memories flowed into his consciousness as his mind raced to process the information. He closed his eyes and his head dipped for a moment before he jerked back to attention.
“Are you okay, John?” Brian asked.
“Yes, that’s normal, it’s just a long baseline. I didn’t expect that. You asked something that touches a lot of memories. Just give me a few seconds.”
“No problem,” Brian said.
John sipped from a glass of water, and then answered. “An Alpha Transmutation is the mapping of memories from a donor into a set of memories compatible with a target subject. My mind is a little different from my father’s. So they transformed my dad’s memories into a format that would work for me. Otherwise, I would just get gibberish.”
“That’s amazing, John. I have some more questions, but let’s take a short commercial break, and we’ll be right back...”
* * *
Thirty-five years later, John was ready to pass along his memories, which included his father’s, and give them to his son, Peter. Peter would be the third generation to have his grandpa’s memories, a multi-man, as the press called him.
Peter asked his father, “Did you ever regret it? Receiving your dad’s memories I mean.”
John picked up a stone and tossed it into the ocean, “You’re not the same... you change. It’s like you grow up all over again. I sometimes wonder if I know too much.”
“Too much?” Peter said.
John said, “Too much about people... vulnerable moments, about what they think, what motivates them, my father’s regrets, my regrets about my father, what I could have done differently.”
“But the more you know... you don’t have to repeat mistakes, and you can apply what you know while you’re still young.”
“I think Detective Braslan, if he had lived, might disagree.”
Peter turned a shell over in his hands. “There was no index, no training, no prior history. It was a raw dump, and—”
John continued. “I was there, in a sense, I can see it through Grandpa’s eyes, or memories. Grandpa flew out to oversee the detective’s recovery, but it was too late.”
“I didn’t know that. What happened?” Peter asked.
“Not everything made it into the papers. The memories set up in a feedback loop cascaded, causing something like a stroke, only worse. Then he fell into a coma and never woke up.”
The waves lapped against Peter’s ankles as the incoming tide consumed the last of the soft sand. Minutes passed. They strolled up the beach, stopping to rest on the harbor’s jetty.
John said, “There are so many things I wanted to do, that I still want to do. You have to promise me something.”
Peter said, “Tell me.”
“The transfer, it includes more than just facts and baselines, it also includes my hopes and dreams, including those from Grandpa.”
“I know, Dad. I understand, and I accept that,” Peter replied.
“If you’re not careful, they’ll color your own aspirations. Promise me Peter, that you’ll remember to be yourself. Not me, not Grandpa, but yourself.”
* * *
Explaining his dissertation to his advisor, Peter wrote a short history on the revolution his grandpa’s work had ushered in.
“I, more than any other person alive, understand what it means to hold the memories of generations past. I also know that human curiosity knows no bounds. Let me pose some of the questions that we, as a race, have recently answered:
- Was it wise to transfer animal memories to humans?
- Or human memories to animals?
- Will people murder because of the intimate memories they share?
- Is knowledge that is given valued as highly as knowledge earned?
- Will athletes born from the memories of the greats feel frustrated in the vessel of an inferior mind and body?
- Is there a practical limit to the number of memories a mind can hold?
“But now, the answers to all of these questions are well known, recounted to us daily by our media. We are no longer the same race of people that we were a mere thirty-five years ago. We can no longer return to the age of innocence and live in the solitude of our own memories.
“We are also more. We can find answers to questions that were previously elusive, and this gift of memory transfer has broken down communication barriers where words often failed us.”
Peter leaned back in his chair, keyboard in his lap, and then tapped out his vision of the future. Scrolling to the top of the document, Peter smiled, realizing what he needed to do. He could never take back the double-edged gift that his grandpa had given humanity. But he could remove the pall cast over the present by the past.
Placing his cursor at the beginning of the document, Peter typed the title of his dissertation: “Negative Knowledge: Culling Falsehoods and Trauma from Memory Transfers.”
Copyright © 2011 by Douglas J. Swatski