I couldn’t remember what kind of person I was, but I was fairly certain that it would bother me to not be me.
“That really is upsetting,” I said.
“I’m sure it is. Your hyperlink is just, well, it’s broken. I tried it several times. Someone must have moved your file while you were in transit,” the receptionist replied, adjusting her glasses from her throne behind the dark mahogany desk. “I’m sorry. I do sympathize. I’m sure that we can sort it out. I’ll call Tech Support and get some assistance.”
“Please do. I don’t know what my plans were, but I assume I had some or I wouldn’t have taken the trouble to link up and travel all this way. I wouldn’t like to miss any appointments,” I said, trying to sound stern. Some sort of memories with associated emotions would help right about now, to show her my frustration and to get my point across, but being just a skeleton system, I had none. They were all attached to me.
She made her call to Tech Support, and opened a ‘ticket’ as if she were simply requesting a new printer cartridge. Somehow I thought that I would have doubted her sympathies. I wondered if she had ever had her hyperlink broken.
I stood and waited for Tech Support. The sleeping gas from my trip was still having an effect on my body, and it was making me overheat. I felt sweat on my forehead and the back of my neck. It was probably withdrawals. Twice the receptionist, whose nameplate said Rita, offered me a seat in the oversized wingbacks situated in front of a floor to ceiling trickling fountain, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to sit. Skeleton systems weren’t meant to do more than go from the transit station to a destination, and then request that their link be opened. The biggest deviation from this was a trip to the restroom or to get some water, maybe even food or medications. Standing around exercising patience, or maybe it should be frustration, was not part of the program. So, not knowing if I should try and act impatient or patient, or if I wanted to sit or not, I did nothing.
“Can I offer you something to drink?” she asked, fidgeting with the silk scarf tied around her neck.
“Water please,” I replied. All bodies needed water, which is why the standard program included ensuring hydration. Although, since I didn’t have any customized programming to exclude anything, maybe I wasn’t concerned with small deviations.
She brought me my drink, and as she handed it to me I got a whiff of her floral perfume. She returned to her perch and continued to cast me furtive glances and smooth her perfectly coiffed salt and pepper hair as I drank the cold liquid. I finished the entire glass, hoping it would both cool me and cleanse my body of the drugs.
Help still hadn’t arrived, and, now fidgeting from inaction, a trip to the restroom seemed like the next logical course of action. At Rita’s direction, I found the ladies room at the end of the hall. Inside, I looked at myself in the mirror. My gray pantsuit was starched and ironed. I wore dark rimmed glasses that complimented my brunette hair, which was up in a French twist. I was quite young, maybe in my late-twenties. Perhaps I was going to a job interview. Why else would I wear a suit to a medical office?
When I returned a round man wearing a black t-shirt with a smiley face on the front was whispering to Rita. They stopped their conversation when they saw me approaching, and Rita turned back to her computer screen.
“Hi, I’m Irv,” he extended his hand and smiled with crooked yellow teeth. “I understand that your link is broken. I’ll just need to see your ID chip to find you in the database.”
I stared at him as I shook his hand, numb. I didn’t have an ID chip. I had a hyperlink. A broken hyperlink.
“It’s in your neck,” he explained, “I’ll have to scan you to read it,” he gestured to a chair with a plump hand.
“Will it hurt?” I asked as I sank down in the plush leather seat. He walked around to stand in front of me, the bottom of his belly hanging out of his too-small shirt. He smelled of sweat and corn nuts.
“Oh, no, no of course not. It’s just a light, and then we’ll know where to find you.”
True to his word a painless, warm sensation on the side of my neck, just behind my ear, was followed by a high-pitched beep. I scrunched my pant legs in my fists as he pushed a few buttons on his handheld scanner. What would I do if he didn’t find me? After an eternity, he read off a number to Rita, who keyed it into her computer.
“Her name is Abby Robertson,” she read off. “Her memory is in four-four-one, block seventy-two.”
She sucked in her breath and looked up at Irv. They stared at each other, and then looked at me. Irv cleared his throat. Rita stood up to stand next to him.
“Miss, um, Robertson, I’m not sure how to tell you this, but, block seventy-two, well,” he paused to rub the back of his neck, “it was stolen yesterday. Probably identity thieves.”
“Identity thieves,” I repeated.
“Yeah,” Irv continued, “unfortunately it’s common. Identity theft groups steal any info they can use to impersonate people to access their money. They, uh, they usually destroy the data when they’re done, well at least, none has ever been recovered.”
“Isn’t the whole purpose of downloading memories before long-distance travel to protect them from theft while the traveler is in hyper-sleep?”
“Ummm, yeah, and it does. Since the beginning of the program attacks on sleeping travelers has decreased ninety-seven percent, and the amount of people it has saved is nothing short of amaz-” Rita’s smack on his arm stopped him. “Well, the sad part is now they steal the data from the storage facilities,” he finished, red faced.
They stared at me with furrowed brows. My head started to ache, probably from my program searching for the next step, of which there was none.
“I’m an empty shell,” I said to no one in particular.
“No, no,” Irv patted my hand as Rita slipped out of the room. She probably didn’t know what to do with an empty shell hanging around her waiting area. “All of your base knowledge, you know, your ‘bones’ - how to read and type and what you learned in school - is still there in your mind. The skeleton program, which is what makes you feel like you’re supposed to hurry up and go somewhere, is just there to guide you in your base form, so you don’t just wander around like an idiot after waking up. The stolen data, those were your experiences and your memories. But those aren’t your soul, they aren’t you. You can build new memories. This kind of thing happens and people adjust -”
“Irv, you’re rambling,” Rita said as she returned. She handed me a hot mug, almost too hot to hold. “Cocoa,” she said gently as she sat in the chair next to me, “your first memories should be good ones.” She rested a hand on my shoulder.
The fluffy white top cooled the liquid enough to drink. Rich and creamy in my mouth, it ran down my throat and warmed me from the inside out. It was a warm hug.
“Would you like me to turn off the skeleton program? It will keep you from feeling like you have to get somewhere soon, you know, like you’re late for something,” Irv asked, lifting his scanner again.
I nodded. He scanned my neck as I got another view of his belly. A beep and the headache instantly dulled. Moments later my shoulders relaxed.
“I called Memory Cache. A representative will be here soon to talk to you,” Rita chimed in.
“Talk to me about what?”
“Oh dear, the memory storage industry has regulations. They can’t just leave you stranded like this. They have to provide you with a mentor, get you temporary housing, reimburse whatever money was stolen,” she ticked off a finger with each item. “Oh, and give you one hundred thousand units. It’s the law. And, they’re looking for everyone in block seventy-two. It was on the news.” Irv’s phone buzzed. As he stepped away to answer it, she took my hand and leaned in closer. “This is a blessing in disguise you know. After we learned your name, I saw that you are on our list for today,” she whispered. “I thought you were just an intern or something, you being so young. You must have fallen onto hard times to sign up for this at your age.”
I shook my head, still in a daze. What was she talking about?
“The company brings vendors – well, that just means women – here from all over the system. What you have is a high priced commodity, due to high demand and so few who are willing to sell. We only have a couple of vendor days per month, with maybe a dozen or so vendors on each day.”
Why didn’t she just call them women? I waited as she took a deep breath and let it out. My heart thudded in my chest.
“The company purchases reproductive organs to transplant into women who can’t have children.”
The creamy cocoa curdled in my stomach. I was going to sell my ability to have children?
Maybe I didn’t want to remember me.
Irv interrupted my thoughts. “Grant, my co-worker, just responded to another broken hyper-link on the eight floor,” he said as he bounced on his toes. “She was in a totally different memory block than Abby but she’s also here to umm, you know, do a vendor visit. Her entire block was stolen this morning too and Grant said someone else had the same issue on four in Dr. Jansen’s office from another different block,” he paused, breathless. “I don’t understand what the hell is going on.”
Rita said what we were both thinking.
“They’re targeting vendors.”