The glass doors slid open and the mechanical voice rumbled, “Minny, approach the Redactor.”
Minny’s heart skipped a beat and her stomach fluttered as frigid air rolled out of the black room. It carried a chemical tinge with it, which tickled—almost stung—to breathe. Naked, Minny’s skin ripple into gooseflesh all over. She stepped into the cavernous hall, arms crossed tight over her chest, rubbing hard at her shoulders. The black marble floor mirrored the ceiling and the black marble ceiling mirrored the floor. It was a long walk through glassy space to the steel throne. That’s exactly what the Redactor looked like, a steel throne atop a tall silver staircase.
Using the Redactor was expensive, but not unaffordable. The application process lengthy, but doable. The massive machines ran constantly to serve the population with their one simple and marvelous ability: to help you forget. And funny enough, no one—at least no one out on the streets—could quite remember where the machines came from. But that wasn’t important, because the machines worked.
Minny needed to forget. She needed to be able to sleep again, to eat again, to—
“Quickly,” the voice rumbled.
Minny picked up her pace, counting each of the stairs as she climbed. She stopped somewhere around sixty. Why was it so far up? She kept her eyes low. She didn’t want to look up until she had to.
Seeing where the machine would do its work might crush what little courage she had left, sending her home poor as a beggar, and still haunted by Emma.
Minny needed to forget Emma.
At the top of the stairs was a platform no larger than five square feet. After a moment of catching her breath Minny looked up and almost laughed. It was just a chair, made of polished steel like the stairs. There were no straps, or needles, or bags of chemicals ready to pump into her brain. There was nothing to fear. Just a bright steel chair against a black marble wall.
“Sit,” said the voice.
Minny turned around. Vertigo washed over her as she looked out over the obsidian room. Standing on the Redactor, this throne of memory, was like being adrift in—
“Sit,” the voice boomed overhead. Impatience was the nature of all machines.
Minny drew a sharp breath as the chair’s freezing steel stuck to her naked body. It’s going to be okay, she thought. This is a normal thing normal people do. It’s going to be fine.
“Relax,” said the voice. “Your pain will be extracted.”
The room quaked, and machinery shrieked below the platform as the Redactor rumbled to life. The pitch of the whirring machine grew higher and Minny began to feel heavy. Her heart began to race. She couldn’t move. It felt like all the planet’s gravity had turned its attention to her and her alone.
All she could do was breathe, deep and slow. Lots of people forget. It’s okay.
The whirring climbed into a squeal so high she could feel it vibrating through her eyes. It blurred her vision and plunged her into darkness. Heat flashed in the center of her skull, buried deep in the soft tissues. And then, blinded by its sound and grounded by its gravity, she felt the Redactor enter her mind. It plunged into her skull like an iron hand still hot from the forge. Minny wanted to scream—and maybe she was screaming—but the darkness was silent.
Minny could feel the hot iron hand searching through her mind. It searched and probed and poked until it found what it was after—the items to be removed. More pain for its collection.
It found the memories of Emma. It found when Minny met her on campus. And when Minny asked her out on a date. It found the smell of ramen and coffee wafting through the dorm room, the window cracked to let in the crisp fall air. The machine found the first date, and the next, and the next. It found the movies where Minny had let Emma slide a hand into her pants and touch until she couldn’t contain her squirming and they left early; when they raced back to the dorm room so anxious they dropped the keys three times in front of the door; and when finally, inside they made love. The machine found that time and the next.
The machine found the months and years to follow. Every victory they shared and every defeat, each smile and tear.
The machine found her proposal, and the wedding, and—the crash.
The machine reached for a rainy night, the skies ablaze with lightning. The horrid sound of metal bending, glass shattering, and Emma screaming as the passenger side dash audibly cracked her ribs. How Emma begged for Minny’s help through blood-soaked lips as the rain pounded the smoking hood of the car. The machine found Emma’s eyes glassing over, after she had finally stopped moving. It found Minny’s last memory of Emma and pulled on it like a stray thread in a sock. It pulled and pulled until no more would come loose. It pulled until the line was taut and ready to snap.
All the pain was about to be removed.
No more pain.
But the relief vanished as Minny looked down the thread of that last memory. She looked down the thread and saw how it was connected—one memory to another.
Threads in a tapestry.
She looked down the thread and saw the reason she stopped her car when she saw a stray cat or dog, looking for a collar or if she needed to call a shelter. She saw the reason she always gave the ragged man outside the thrift store some change and didn’t worry about what he’d spend it on. She saw the reason she knew it was important to sometimes stop and look at the stars, or the sunset, or a tree older than the city around it.
The reason was Emma.
Minny knew she would lose all memory of Emma coming here. She knew what she was giving up, but she hadn’t understood. Now, with the Redactor’s iron fingertips on the last thread, she could see. And now that Minny understood, she couldn’t do this.
Her grief had led her here to betray the memory of Emma. Minny cried out against the machine’s hand, pushing the construct back with an effort of sheer will. There was nothing to hear in the darkness, but nevertheless she screamed. She screamed with all her being against the burning iron hand. She would hold on to those memories. She would hold on to Emma.
“What a shame,” the woman said. She gagged and covered her mouth.
“Crying shame,” the man agreed. His voice was muffled through his sleeve. “They did vet her, right? I mean, you saw how scared she was coming in here.”
“Yeah. It was all by the book.” She sighed. “Poor custodial crew. You know, we’d gone almost a whole year without incident. The instructions simple and clear. They know what happens when they fight it.”
She motioned to the corpse in the silver chair. It was slouched forward, tendrils of smoke still drifting into the air.
“She must have put up a good fight,” the man said. “The machines are hard to resist.”
“Impossible,” she corrected. There was a brief pause. “So, how soon you wanna forget this?”
“Soon,” the man said. “After lunch? Custodial crew said they’d have this cleaned up by then.”
She snorted. “You’re fucking kidding me, right?”
“Nope. Lazy bastards are gonna let this ruin our lunch.”
“Wonderful.” She pursed her lips then let them go with a smack. “Well then, I’ll put us in the scheduler.”
Former IT guy turned spec-fic writer and librarian, Austin Gragg lives in Independence, Missouri. Coincidentally, his hometown was also hometown to not only Harry S Truman, but two of his favorite fantasy authors, Jim Butcher and Margaret Weis, both large inspirations in him giving this writing thing a shot.
When he isn’t writing, reading, or teaching digital literacy classes, he can be found playing Dungeons & Dragons with his wife, friends, and three wonderful cats.