Persistence of Memory
Chapter 1 – Work
The same moment that Michael Gregor awoke for the 11,333rd time, there was a small earthquake far away in Japan. Not enough to do any real damage, it just knocked things around a bit. Most people hardly noticed. Other than that, it was a day like most others in his life. He got up at seven in the morning, showered, shaved, put on something light enough for the blistering San Diego heat that was certainly waiting for him outside, and packed himself a lunch. Today he treated himself to ham and cheese on rye.
He popped a bagel into the toaster and tapped the power key on his computer. There was a happy chime as the box under his desk clicked and whirred to life, the large color monitor casting its own blue-grey glow to the morning lit room. As he waited for his electronic link to the world to come alive, he poured himself a cup of orange juice and fueled his own stiff body. The bell of his toaster and the incoming mail chime rang out almost in unison, and he was momentarily torn as to which he should answer first. His stomach won out.
Smearing a healthy blob of cream cheese onto his bagel, he wiped his fingers and grabbed his mouse. It wasn’t uncommon for him to have mail this early in the morning, but lately he had been corresponding with a very nice woman in Palomar, so he was eager to see if she had written him back. The screen unfolded and he quickly scanned the list of message headers. Nothing, or at least nothing that he wanted to read right now.
He made a quick check on the news nets for anything of interest.
Three people were missing near Mount Shasta, a New York woman won 33 million in the state lottery, and gas prices were up for the third time this month. Three seemed to be the number of the day. His bagel was cold before he realized that he had been holding it out at arm’s length while engrossed in the headlines. He took a large bite and shut down his computer just as a warm furry thing walked over his bare toes.
“I’m sorry, girl… I forgot,” he said, stroking the back of his black and white cat. He leaned over and grabbed the bag of dry cat meal from the corner. As he filled the nearby dish, he made a face. He couldn’t imagine how they ate the stuff, but the feline pranced over to the freshly full bowl and made loud crunching sounds, happily pulverizing the hard food in its back teeth.
Socks, sneakers, and a soft leather briefcase completed his garb, and he turned off the air conditioning and stepped out of the house into an inferno. He noted that it was only 80 degrees this morning as he locked the door and headed to his car.
For Michael, life was pretty easy to understand. He worked as a programmer for a small multimedia company, doing stable and necessary work that made him feel useful at the end of the day. He liked his job. He wasn’t paid too extravagantly, but well enough to have the things he wanted in life that could be bought. Which, he decided wasn’t much at all. But that didn’t bother him because he figured that anything that couldn’t be bought with money he should learn to be patient for anyway.
He drove a simple car, which meant that it got over 30 miles to the gallon on the freeway, paid his bills on time and had good credit. In short, Michael was quite possibly the most perfect “slightly above average” guy in the world. And he was just where he wanted to be.
Parking his car, he made his way into the lobby of the five floor building where he worked. It was a nice place, and not too crowded. He flashed his badge at the security guard who recognized him and waved.
“Okey-dokey,” said the man from behind his large round desk, just as he did every day. Michael smiled at the hilarity of routine. He imagined himself on a treadmill, the other employees becoming hamsters as he stepped into the elevator and punched for the third floor.
“Michael, can you run this over to the client. They need it for a four-thirty meeting and everybody else is bogged down…” Peter Gallagar was holding out a letter sized manilla envelope and looking like a man who did way too much in one day.
“Sure,” he said, taking the package and looking for his car keys. His work load was light right now, and “the client” was only a couple of minutes away by car. Michael decided that he could start a macro on his computer that would process a bunch of computer graphics he had been helping with, and get back just about the same time it was finished. Perfect.
“Thanks a bundle!” chimed Peter as Michael stood.
The car ride was just a short drive through an industrial park, and with most people already at their jobs, should have been one of the safest, least crowded trips he could make. Michael was whistling with a song on the radio as he waited for a light, and just as it turned green, the song finished and the announcer came on. Michael started the car forward, the melody of the song still buzzing in his head. The announcer gave the name, but he missed it, his eye caught by some movement in his mirror. After a quick check, all seemed clear.
“… It’s 3:33 here in sunny San Diego, time for more soft hits…”
Something was wrong.
It was a creeping feeling, like the kind you get when you discover your car is stolen, or your house burglarized. It’s a feeling of dread, totally out of your control. Adrenalin was suddenly surging through his body. Thinking that he had forgotten something at the office, he made a quick glance to the back seat where his briefcase and the envelope lay. Had he not looked back, he might never have seen the white Mercedes convertible as passed him going nearly twice his speed. He never even had time to comment as he swung back around, his eyes following the vehicle as it passed the side of his own car by what seemed like mere millimeters and then lost control as it swerved back in cutting him off. And then nothing… For three years.
“Mis taw grega?”
“Mis taw grega? Kanyu heerme?”
“Ifucan heerme themoovya finga?”
He heard the sounds, but they had no meaning for Michael. They were mere syllables. His eyes were stuck shut, and he clenched them, trying to make them obey. His muscles felt frozen, and although he willed it they too would not move. None the less, Michael found himself at peace. His mind was completely quiet. Not just at rest, but silent. It was as if he simply had nothing to think about. He had no references, no language, no images, no memory. His mind was a blank.
Upon that blank, was Michael, or rather, some part of Michael, or rather some essence of Michael. It moved here and there, generally feeling its way around until it decided that it liked the order of things, or possibly the disorder of things, and settled down. It decided that it would be better to stay unconnected to the strange thing that brought sight and sound and touch, input – to itself. It decided to remain a floating, observing entity and let the body-thing deal with itself. After all, it had worked for three years. Not that time had any meaning at all to that part of Michael.
And it all would have worked rather nicely, except that the body-thing was insistent and bothersome and relentless. Now that it had established a link with consciousness, it wasn’t about to let go so easily. The essence of Michael protested. It threatened to sink back into itself again. This caused the body-thing to react. It tried to communicate with the essence part, but found that there was no common ground. In near panic, it did the only thing possible… it gave the essence part language.
“So you’re saying that he understands words, but he doesn’t know their meanings?”
“Yes, that’s it. He can talk to you, but he has had to learn what each word means from scratch. It was slow at first, but he’s almost up to a conversational level now.”
“He remembers then?” asked the female as she watched Michael through the one-way glass mirror. He was seated on the floor in the middle of the room, his hands in his lap. His eyes were closed.
“Oh yes. He remembers almost everything it seems. Nearly photographically. At least what he wants to remember.”
“And he just sits there like that?”
“Yes. That’s the one thing we can’t seem to figure out. At first we thought that he might be sleeping, but his mind is unbelievably active when he’s like that. As far as we can tell, he never sleeps.”
“Never?” She asked in disbelief.
“Not that we’ve seen.”
“Maybe he’s bored…”
“Perhaps. We simply don’t have the man-power to keep him active. He’s like an information sponge. He takes in everything. Do you want to meet him?”
“What? Right now?”
“Why not?” I have to warn you though. You would be the first female he’s talked to. I can’t guarantee how he’ll react.”
“Well… sure, I mean I guess so.”
“Michael,” said the short balding man as he entered the room. “This is Rachael. She’s a friend from one of the other labs.”
Michael looked from one figure to the other with a half smile and said nothing.
“Hello, Michael,” she said holding out her hand. To her surprise, the man reached out and instead of shaking, he clasped her hand in both of his and brought it closer. Examining it as though it were some intricate puzzle, he turned it over and moved it even closer to his face.
“I… uh…” She stared.
Sniffing her wrist, his eyebrows raised up a bit. Then to her shock, he licked the palm of her hand. It took every bit of will she had not to pull away. With anyone else, she probably would have been grossed out by such a gesture, but there was something completely innocent in the way he looked up at her. It was as though she were staring at a child. Then he spoke, and the child was replaced by a man.
“Hello, Rachael.” He said with a slight smile. “Doctor Carma said you are from one of the other labs. What it the purpose of your lab?”
“I’m studying sleep states,” she answered watching his eyes. She noticed that they took in her whole figure, not with the sly masculine gaze that most men gave her, but with a deep curiosity.
“This one is different,” he pronounced to Carma with a slight rise in the pitch of his voice.
“This one is female, Michael. This one is referred to as a ‘she’.” He answered back.
Michael nodded and then turned back to her. “What is sleep?” He asked bluntly.
Rachael was a bit taken aback. “Um… well, it’s an unconscious state when your mind processes the events of the day.”
He was silent for a few seconds, then, “What is ‘unconscious’?”
“Well now,” she replied with a sigh. “That one is a bit more complicated. I suppose that is a time when your mind is unaware of the world around it.”
“So if you have not seen something, then are you ‘unconscious’?”
She thought about it. “Put that way, I guess I’m not sure. What curious questions you ask…”
“Why don’t I just leave you two alone,” said Professor Carma squeezing her shoulder softly.