The moment I walked into the Mem­o­ry Den, the over­whelm­ing com­bi­na­tion of old cig­a­rette smoke, incense, and stale per­fume near­ly knocked me over. My first instinct was to turn right back around and go any­where else, except that I was pret­ty sure the Neigh­bor­hood Watch guys hadn't dis­posed of their dop­pel­gänger friend out in the street yet in the two-point-five sec­onds I had last been out there. I didn’t want to both­er them, and they made it damn clear they didn’t want me both­er­ing them, either. So I squared my shoul­ders and brave­ly car­ried on into the plush, vel­vety interior.

I braced myself for any num­ber of ter­ri­ble things I’d see...sex, drugs, vir­gin sacrifices...the usu­al fare you find around Scol­lay Square. For­tu­nate­ly, it wasn't any of those.

For a sec­ond, I thought I’d walked into an eccen­tric car rental. Three mini-car sized bub­ble-domed pods lined the room. Each had a seat for one per­son with a small mon­i­tor that hung right in front the end-user's face. Some shab­by-look­ing guy looked like he was sleep­ing in one of the bub­bles, and then it dawned on me what this was.

 

Virtual Porn.

Civ­i­liza­tion has lost the abil­i­ty to refine raw mate­ri­als, to man­u­fac­ture a com­bustible engine, to build struc­tures stur­dier than a house of cards, and yet we’ve appar­ent­ly made great strides in porn tech­nol­o­gy. Good for us. At least we know our priorities.

I know I'm not exact­ly pure white dri­ven snow, but if ever I was NOT in the mood...

"I think you've stepped into the wrong place, sweet­heart. You don't look like you need the Mem­o­ry Den. Do you even know what we do here?"

 

One Word: PLASTICS.

 

"Er...does it involve a back room and a hand­ful of sin­gles?" I said.

"Oh, no. You have the wrong idea, hon­ey. I don't sell skin. I sell memories."

"...Ohhh-kaaay. Sure. That absolute­ly makes sense..." I looked around at the near­est open pod and briefly cringed when I won­dered how many times a day they have to clean the glass. "Just to be clear, do you mean your mem­o­ries, or some­one else's?"

She smiled, white teeth against dark red lip­stick. So, peo­ple do still prac­tice den­tal hygiene. That's nice. "Oh, no, not my mem­o­ries. Not many peo­ple could han­dle that."

A "Good" Witch...I hope?

"I meant the, uh...roy­al 'your,'" I said, lamely.

She chuck­led. "No, we're not a peep show, either. We sell your own mem­o­ries. And let me tell you, reliv­ing an expe­ri­ence? The right expe­ri­ence? It's far more intense than any­thing else. But it's not for everyone."

"Oh? Why's that?"

"It's no secret that reliv­ing a mem­o­ry can be about hav­ing a good time, or help­ful in remem­ber­ing some­thing you've for­got­ten or lost. But like any­thing worth doing in life, hon­ey, it's got a kick to it. And the first time can be a little...disorienting. So I keep the client list very small. Peo­ple I trust. It helps us avoid a lot of...unpleasantness."

I should have dropped it there, but I still wasn't ready to head back out in the street. Besides, my inner nerd was piqued. "How does it, um...how does it work?"

"Oh, I just run the show," she said. "The doc­tor back there is respon­si­ble for lift­ing the cur­tain, so to speak."

Ah, the Great and Powerful...wait, who are you?

The woman in the back typ­ing on a ter­mi­nal spoke with­out look­ing up. "It does a sur­face scan of the hip­pocam­pus for the dens­est clus­ter of neu­rons and synaps­es then stim­u­lates that area to inten­si­fy the mem­o­ry imprint."

She'd said that all in prac­ti­cal­ly one word. I’m sure she didn’t expect me to fol­low any of that, or have been the least bit inter­est­ed. It was obvi­ous she sure as hell didn’t expect any fol­low up ques­tions. Well, I'm no brain sur­geon, but I've seen more pic­tures of my innards than any one per­son should. You tend to pick up a thing or three. "Er...non-invasive, I hope?" I said. "Like an MRI scan?"

That got the doc­tor to look up from her console.

"Some­what..." she said as she cool­ly eval­u­at­ed me like some­thing some­one had spit into a test tube. She had an accent I couldn't quite place——German? Aus­tri­an? I won­dered if it was fake. I imag­ine mov­ing from anoth­er con­ti­nent isn't exact­ly easy these days. "The imag­ing out­put relies on a spe­cial algo­rithm that decodes the image from the occip­i­tal lobe and projects it to the mon­i­tor. You don't real­ly need the mon­i­tor, but it helps focus the experience."

"Neat. Kin­da like a vir­tu­al air­craft sim­u­la­tor, then."

"A what?"

Oops. Too geeky. Save the archa­ic tech­nob­a­b­ble for the sec­ond date, kid. "So, does it change your mem­o­ry?" I asked, chang­ing my tack. "Can you con­trol it, like lucid dream­ing? Or expe­ri­ence it from anoth­er person's point of view? Or maybe even over­write a...traumatic...memory?"

"Well... Like any piece of tech­nol­o­gy, peo­ple have found uses for it that it wasn't strict­ly designed for," said the bomb­shell back on the chaise lounge. "Some clients have been able to do some very...cre­ative things. We don't encour­age that, though. It's meant to be more obser­va­tion­al." She smiled, drop­ping her aloof Madame Guru schtick for a moment. "You are a curi­ous one, aren't you," she said, amused.

I shrugged. "Yeah, I'm a bit of a technophile."

"Not what I meant, but we'll go with that." I'm sure she didn't mean that in a preda­to­ry way, but I felt my face start to heat up, nonetheless.

"I don't sup­pose you'd let me take one apart to see what's inside, would ya?" I said, try­ing to flash her my most charm­ing boy-next-door grin. Nora always said I looked like Alfred E. Neu­man when I did that. Of course, she'd said that, but it had worked on her more than once, too. After all, she'd mar­ried me, right? "You can trust me. I'm great at tak­ing things apart."

The blonde laughed. "It's not tak­ing it apart that's the prob­lem. I'm pret­ty sure even I could do that. But, I must admit, you're the first per­son who's ever been more inter­est­ed in how they work than what sort of kicks it'll give you. I guess there's no harm in giv­ing you a tri­al run if you'd like to expe­ri­ence it for your­self. It's not as if I have a line at the door right now, anyway."

That real­ly hadn't been my goal. It was clear this was old, pre-nuke tech with some sig­nif­i­cant mod­i­fi­ca­tions, and I couldn't help won­der what it had been designed for. My guess was they didn't know, either. I was gen­uine­ly curi­ous about the technology——or rather, what was inside it. I'm that guy who'd rather vis­it the con­trol room for the roller coast­er than be sub­ject­ed to ride it. But if she was offer­ing...

I looked back at the pod again, then back at her. "I'm not gonna have a seizure or stroke or any­thing, am I?"

She arched a thin, exquis­ite­ly groomed eye­brow. "Have you ever had a seizure or stroke?"

"Not yet."

"Then you should be fine."

I sighed. "Oh, all right. You talked me into it." If some­one offers you a seat, or food, or a gift, or a ride in their vir­tu­al mem­o­ry rip­per, you take it. It's just the polite thing to do.

"Hard­est sell I've ever had," she said, rolling her eyes coy­ly. "And I'm not even charg­ing you."

She——Irma——sug­gest­ed I get com­fort­able and remove my armor and any­thing that might oth­er­wise dis­tract me from "the experience."

I gave her a look before I start­ed unbuck­ling my armor. "How com­fort­able?" I said.

She fought back a lit­tle smile. "You can keep the suit on." She thought for a sec­ond, then shrugged, "Or not. It's up to you. But if I have to put you in a pri­vate room, I will charge you."

I laughed and stepped over to a couch pushed to the side of the wall and de-shelled myself, try­ing not to feel too self-conscious.

When I was done, she glanced down at my waist. I was alarmed for half a sec­ond, afraid I had inad­ver­tent­ly ripped my Vault-suit run­ning, or being shot, clawed, or acid-spit at and was expos­ing more of myself than I'd intend­ed to before I real­ized she was look­ing at my wrist. The Pip-Boy. I hadn't real­ized until then that I bare­ly feel it any­more. I take it off to show­er and sleep, because the few times I didn't I woke up with the logo brand­ed back­ward onto my face for the day. Oth­er­wise, I don't go any­where with­out it.

I inward­ly cringed at the thought of leav­ing it out in the open for some­one else to find. It didn't occur to me until lat­er that I wasn't think­ing about the bio­met­ric data the Pip-Boy has been col­lect­ing on me, or set­tle­ments I've sur­veyed, or map mark­ers I've saved, or my con­tact list, or to-do lists, or the grow­ing list of loca­tions I've bro­ken into (and how), or con­ver­sa­tions I've recorded——I only thought of this jour­nal. My own lit­tle pri­vate ther­a­pist. I shook my head and told her it stays with me.

I've become a 13-year old girl fierce­ly pro­tect­ing my diary. Just add uni­corns and glitter.

"Mem­o­ries involv­ing oth­er peo­ple are eas­i­est," she said. "Recent events involv­ing loved ones. Does any­thing come to mind?"

I thought of all the mem­o­ries I'd had with Nora——the day we met, the day I pro­posed, that time I sur­prised her by show­ing up for her graduation...

Our wed­ding day... She was so beau­ti­ful. At least until I "acci­den­tal­ly" dropped cake down her cleav­age... Clum­sy me. (Best. Cake. Ever.)

Or that one time we went to the light­house. Or that oth­er time at the light­house. Or that oth­eroth­er time at the light­house... God, I loved that lighthouse...

Or some­thing a lit­tle more fam­i­ly-friend­ly and whole­some. Like when Shaun was born...

Well, I don't know if "whole­some" describes it. More like a com­e­dy. But I thought, what the hell?, I could use a good laugh. And per­haps a little...motivation. The very first moment I saw her hold­ing our tiny, new­born son... I'd give any­thing to feel that again.

I wasn't sure how much detail I had to go into. I fig­ured she didn't want to hear my life sto­ry, so I gave her the very, very, very abridged ver­sion. "My... wife died recent­ly. If I could just see her one last time..."

"Oh, hon­ey, I'm so sor­ry. It's nev­er easy los­ing some­one that close to you. But I think we can help. Have a seat in the lounger and we'll see what we can find."

I walked over to the bub­ble-domed clown car and gave it a skep­ti­cal looksee.

 

Well, there's your problem, right there...

"Any sug­ges­tions on how to get in this thing?"

The grin in her voice was obvi­ous. "You're young and fit. You'll fig­ure it out. Don't wor­ry, we won't laugh at you."

Yeah right. At least not out loud. I got the feel­ing that I has just become her enter­tain­ment for the day.

I awk­ward­ly climbed in and shift­ed around to get com­fort­able, tri­an­gu­lat­ing the most com­fort­able posi­tion between my ass, feet, and head, while Irma gave a cou­ple com­mands to the Doc­tor still typ­ing away on her ter­mi­nal in the back.

 

Say, 'AHHHHHHH!!!'

The bub­ble dome came down over me, sound­proof­ing the inte­ri­or, and the mon­i­tor hov­ered in front of my face. The only sounds I could hear were the sta­t­ic from the test pat­tern on the screen and my own heart­beat thud­ding in my ears. I tried to force myself to relax. As the pod hummed to life and the pic­ture came into view, a sud­den par­a­lyz­ing chill and feel­ing of famil­iar dread washed through me...

Even in an econ­o­my based on rub­bish, the old say­ing is still true.

You get what you pay for.

 

 

 

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