Damnatio Memoriae

He woke up to a nosebleed. Bothered by this, Ron opened his eyes to the blackness of his apartment. He touched his top lip and felt the warm sticky liquid dripping from his snout. With a sigh, Ron crawled out of bed and walked into his bathroom.

The nosebleed stopped as quickly as it began. Ron splashed water onto his face and scrubbed the blood from his hands before returning to his blackened bedroom. He laid down in bed and stared up at the picture-covered walls, dyed blue by the night. He sighed.

His wife rolled over and yawned. “What’s wrong?” she mumbled.

“Nothing,” Ron said. “Just a nosebleed. I’ll forget it by morning.”

Ron closed his eyes and passed into the embrace of sleep. Still, despite his vow to forget, the abrupt awakening in the middle of the night would stay with him, for that was when the buzzing began.

+++

As he walked out of his apartment building, Ron saw the man. A sickly man with torn clothes and deep bags under his eyes, sitting outside Ron’s front door and clutching his side. Ron turned his head to avoid eye contact. That’s when the man grabbed his leg.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Ron yelled.

“I need you to believe me,” the man said in a hoarse voice. “I’m your friend. The company got to me, but I’m still your friend.”

“Let go of my leg!”

“Come on Ron, you know me!” the disheveled man screamed. “We grew up together! I was the best man at your wedding!”

Ron kicked the man in the face. “I have never met you before in my life,” he snapped. “Now get out of my way, you’re going to make me late for work.”

The man clutched his face and Ron finally noticed the red stain on his side. Blood. Ron stepped back. “I don’t know what you’re caught up in, but I want no part of it!” Ron shouted.

The disheveled man wept as Ron walked away. “I’m your friend!” he cried.

Ron ignored him. “Damn vagrants, harassing people on the street like animals,” Ron muttered to himself. The buzzing in the back of his head grew worse.

Ron worked in a tall office building in the center of town, with large windows that reflected sunlight right into the eyes of those who approached it. A security guard sat at a desk inside the lobby. Ron flashed an ID card and the security guard ushered him in. “Have a nice day, Mr. Gofett,” the guard said. Ron didn’t respond.

He took the elevator to the fourth floor, where the offices of the implant inspectors sat, and took his place in his cubicle. The head of Ron’s neighbor, a tedious man by the name of Markie, popped up over the cubicle wall. “Morning, Ronnie,” Markie said, a grin on his face.

Ron doesn’t look up. “I told you to stop calling me that,” he says, typing away on his computer.

“Hey, Alvarez is out sick today so I was wondering if you’d help me out with my inspections?” Markie said.

“I have paperwork to do,” Ron said, still not looking at Markie.

“Come on, you can do it when we get back. Besides, I figured you’d be thrilled to work with a partner for once.”

Ron furrowed his brow. “What was that?” he asked.

“I said you just help me on my inspections because you don’t normally get a chance to work with a partner,” Markie replied.

“Oh, right,” Ron said. The buzzing in his head he felt when the disheveled man accosted him had gotten worse. “You know what, sure. I need the fresh air.”

“That’s great!” Markie said. “Tell you what, I’ll take you out for drinks tonight to celebrate.”

“Uh-huh,” Ron mumbles.

He minimized his computer window and stared at his desktop. His background was a picture from his wedding. In the photo, he’s standing in a church, his arm around a woman in a white dress. Groomsmen and bridesmaids are lined up behind them, big smiles on their faces.

Ron squinted at the photo. The man next to him, the best man, he couldn’t for the life of him remember his name. He looked incredibly familiar, obviously, but Ron just couldn’t think of his name. The buzzing in his head had grown stronger.

“Hey Markie, did you go to my wedding?” Ron asked.

“I think so,” Markie said. “How long have you and Janey been married again?”

“I married Jane twelve years ago. It was December, we got married in the little church on Oak Street.”

“Oh yeah, I remember.”

“Do you remember who my best man was?”

Markie raised an eyebrow. “That’s a strange thing to forget,” he said.

“Markie, do you remember who my best man was?” Ron asked.

Markie scratched his head. “I don’t, actually,” he said. “It’s weird.”

Ron looked at the photo on his desktop and grimaced. There was no denying it. The man in his wedding photo, the familiar man whose name he could not remember, it was the man who grabbed his ankle on the street.

“Wait, didn’t you opt-out of having a best man because you couldn’t choose which of your brothers to make the best man?” Markie asked.

“I’m an only child,” Ron said dryly.

“You sure?”

Ron sighed. “I hope I am,” he said.

+++

“First case of the day is an old woman named Midge Myerson,” Markie read aloud. “Neighbors reported she’s been acting crazy lately. She hasn’t been to work in a week. A neighborhood kid came by to check on her but ran away screaming. Might be a sign of a damaged memory chip.”

Markie and Ron were standing in the hall of an old apartment building with green walls. Ron knocked on Mrs. Myerson’s door. No response. Ron sighed.

Markie turned the doorknob and slowly pushed open the unlocked door. “Mrs. Myerson? Midge? Are you home?” Markie yelled as he stepped into the apartment. “You really shouldn’t leave your door unlocked like this. Don’t worry, we aren’t going to hurt you. We’re from the Memoriae Company.”

Ron looked around the entrance of Mrs. Myerson’s apartment. A bag of garbage sat right next to the door, giving the apartment a particularly foul smell. Markie gagged and Ron covered his face with his elbow.

Ron slowly crept through the apartment, taking in the sights. A shallow pool of water covered the floor of the apartment. Ron followed it to its source, the kitchen. A coffee mug sat in the refrigerator water dispenser, so overfilled that the water had spilled onto the floor.

Markie walked through the apartment and knocked on a door that he guessed to be Mrs. Myerson’s bedroom. An old woman popped the door open and stuck her head out. “I’m sorry, I’d love to chat, but I’m going to be late for work,” she said before slamming the door shut again.

Markie pushed it open again. Mrs. Myerson stood at a vanity in the corner of the room, applying lipstick. She was wearing black pants and a blue button-up shirt, which Markie recognized as the wardrobe of a local fast food restaurant. “Mrs. Myerson?” Markie said.

She turned around. “I’m sorry, I’d love to chat, but I’m going to be late for work,” she said. Markie was taken aback by her appearance. An absurd amount of lipstick covered the old woman’s face and deep bags sat under her eyes.

“Mrs. Myerson, are you alright?” Markie asked.

“I’m sorry, I’d love to chat, but I’m going to be late for work,” Mrs. Myerson repeated.

She shoved past Markie and walked to the kitchen. “Oh god, I’m such a klutz, I let the water overflow,” she said as she turned off the faucet and carried the mug to the coffee machine. She poured the water into the top of the coffee machine and it immediately spilled through the nozzle, unheated and unmixed with the coffee grounds. “Damnit, the thing must be broken.”

“Are you alright, ma’am?” Ron asked.

“I’m sorry, I’d love to chat, but I’m going to be late for work,” Mrs. Myerson said. “I haven’t even applied my lipstick yet.”

She walked back to her bedroom, shoving past Markie, and applied another layer of lipstick to the pile. She then returned to the kitchen, noticed the empty coffee mug sitting by the coffee machine, and slapped herself in the face. “Oh no, forgot to fill the coffee mug,” she said.

She picked it up and placed it in the refrigerator water dispenser. Water streamed down into the mug. “The coffee maker’s broken,” Ron mumbled.

“What was that?” Mrs. Myerson said. “You have to speak up, I’m a bit hard of hearing in my old age. Not that it matters. I don’t have time to chat, I’m going to be late for work.”

She walked back to her bedroom and applied another layer of lipstick. This time, Markie followed her. “She’s definitely got a problem,” Markie said as he reentered the kitchen.

“Oh god, I’m such a klutz, I let the water overflow,” Mrs. Myerson said.

“My guess, her memory chip malfunctioned and she can’t get new memories anymore, trapping her in an endless cycle of getting ready for work,” Markie said.

Ron put his hand on Mrs. Myerson’s shoulder to stop her from walking back to her bedroom. “I’m sorry, I’d love to chat, but I’m going to be late for work.”

“Don’t worry, we won’t be long. Let’s go sit down in the living room.”

“I’m sorry, I’d love to chat, but I’m going to be late for work.”

Markie opened his briefcase and pulled out a silver rod covered in blinking lights. “This might hurt a bit, Midge,” he said as he tapped the device to the back of her head.

The lights on the device flashed and Mrs. Myerson jerked forward, Ron catching her to keep her from falling. “Easy, it’s alright,” Ron said. “We’re from the Memoriae company. Your memory chip isn’t working right, these old ones have a bad tendency to break down with time, so you’re probably feeling a bit disorientated.”

“I…what?” Mrs. Myerson said. Her eyes had sunk into her skull and there was a glazed look on her face. “I don’t understand, what memory chip?”

Ron sighed and rolled his eyes. “She must be having trouble accessing memories from after the chip was implanted,” he said.

Markie kneeled and looked Mrs. Myerson in the eye. “A few years back, our company implanted a microchip in your temporal lobe,” he said.

“Why would you do something like that?”

“The chips improve your memory. Faster recollection, more storage space, more accurate memory saving, that sort of thing,” Ron said. “They do wonders for people with dementia.”

“Not to mention the help they give to the cops,” Markie said. “Want to know if someone did a crime? Just check their memory. We haven’t had a false conviction in years.”

“And I have one of these chips?” Mrs. Myerson asked.

Ron sighed. “Yes, Midge, you have one of these chips. Everyone does,” he said. “Now come on, we need to get you to a hospital for chip maintenance.”

As the duo walked Mrs. Myerson to their car, Ron felt a sharp pain in his skull. He stumbled forward, crashing onto the hood of the car. The buzzing noise in his head roared to life, stronger than ever. Ron’s stomach turned, his vision blurred, and he felt his heart skip a beat.

He saw, through the cloud covering his vision, Markie shout his name. His coworker sounded like he was underwater. Markie shook him and the haze finally lifted.

“Ron, buddy, are you okay?” Markie asked.

“I’m fine,” Ron mumbled.

Ron felt liquid running from his nose and placed his finger on his lip. He pulled it away to reveal blood. “I think I may have just had a stroke,” Ron said.

+++

“Come on man, it was a one-time thing,” Markie said. “The doctor said nothing was wrong with your brain, so we know it wasn’t a stroke or cancer or that kind of thing. And we ran diagnostics on your chip, so we know it isn’t that.”

“But it wasn’t a one-time thing,” Ron said, taking a sip of his drink. “I’ve been hearing this buzzing noise all day.” He shook his head. “No, hearing is the wrong word. I’ve been feeling it, like something inside my skull was clawing its way out. The buzzing, it got worse before I collapsed.”

“You know what it is, you’re probably just stressed out about work,” Markie said. “I heard that there thinking about laying some people at our branch off.”

“I hadn’t heard about that, actually. Thank you for giving me one more thing to worry about,” Ron said.

“Okay, maybe not work, but the point is it’s probably just stress. You’d just seen crazy Midge Myerson, and you’re getting up there in years, so maybe your brain placeboed itself into feeling a fake memory chip malfunction,” Markie said. “Fortunately, I have the solution: we’re going to get you laid.”

“What,” Ron said, as flatly as possible.

“Come on, you’re stressed out, and this is the perfect way for a single guy like you to chill out.”

Ron blinked. The buzzing in his head got a little stronger. “What did you say?” he asked.

“You’re stressed out?”

“No, after that.”

“This is the perfect way for a single guy like you to chill out?”

Ron closed his eyes and shook his head. “Right, I’m single,” he said. “Don’t know how I forgot that.”

Ron looked around the bar. None of the women seemed especially attractive. “I don’t feel like hunting for companionship right now,” Ron said.

“How about that one?” Markie asked, pointing at a young woman sitting at a nearby table.

Ron took a sip of his drink. “Not my type.”

“Come on, do it for me.”

Ron sighed and walked over to the young woman’s table. “Hey, are you an angel? Because you just fell from heaven,” he said. He winced. “Sorry, I haven’t done this in a while.”

The woman chuckled. “That’s alright, I enjoy the honesty,” she said, a smile on her face. Then the smile disappeared, and she scrunched her nose and turned around.

“So, about that drink-”

“No.”

“I’m sorry?”

“No. Just no. I don’t sleep with married men.”

The buzzing grew louder. “But, I’m not married,” Ron said.

The woman rolled her eyes. “I can see the ring on your finger,” she said.

Ron held his hand up to his face. There was no mistaking it, a silver wedding band sat on his left finger. The buzzing grew louder. “What the hell?” he whispered.

+++

Ron stumbled into his apartment, Markie holding onto him and helping him walk straight. “Easy there, don’t want you taking another spill,” Markie said. “I’m surprised you’re so wasted, you barely drank. Guess you’re a bit of a lightweight”

“Mark, something is very very wrong,” Ron said.

“Don’t worry, you’ll feel better in the morning.”

“I’m not drunk, I’ve felt like this all day. There’s this buzzing, in the back of my head, and it won’t go away. And every time I think about it, it gets worse. The worst part is, I know why this is happening, I just can’t remember what. Every time I come close to realizing what’s wrong, the buzzing gets so bad I can’t think. You know that feeling, when you wake up from a dream and just can’t remember what it was about? It’s like that, except a thousand times worse.”

“You just need some rest. If you still feel bad in the morning, I’ll take you back to the doctor. Maybe he missed something.”

Ron sighed. “You’re a good guy, Markie,” he said. “Why don’t we hang out more?”

“I don’t know,” Markie said. “Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you hang out with anyone. Maybe you’re just a loner.”

Markie laid Ron down in his bedroom, setting Ron’s briefcase down by his nightstand. “I’ll drop by in the morning,” Markie says before leaving.

Ron lay in bed, staring up at the ceiling. The buzzing was unbearable. He closed his eyes to get some sleep. Then he opened them. “Something is very, very, wrong.”

He looked around his room. There were no photos or decorations covering the walls. He rolled over and glanced at the side of his bed. It was empty, and he knew that was wrong. He looked at his hand, at the silver band on his ring finger, and knew what was wrong.

He opened his briefcase and pulled out the silver rod covering in blinking lights, the device he used to reset Mrs. Myerson’s memory chip. He held it up to his head and turned it on. And, like a broken damn, the memories came flooding back.

He remembered Jane. God, how could he have forgotten Jane? She was everything to him, the light of his life, and he’d forgotten about her existence. And Jack, how could he have forgotten Jack? His best friend, Jane’s brother, his partner at the Memoriae Company. He tried to warn him, earlier that warning, and Ron turned him away. Somehow, he’d forgotten about both of them.

No, he didn’t forget. His memories were stolen. And there was only one entity that could have stolen them: the Memoriae Company.

+++

The security guard grabbed Ron by the shoulder as he entered the building. “I’m sorry sir, this building is closed for the night,” the guard said.

“I know, I just forgot some important paperwork and need to run up to my cubicle to grab it,” Ron said.

The guard furrowed his brow. “Do you work here?” he asked.

Ron sighed. “Look, I’ve had a hell of a day,” he said as he reached into his pocket and pulled out his ID. “I work in the inspection department. I have for the past fifteen years. You see me every day.”

The guard winced, as if he was in pain. He ripped Ron’s ID out of his hand and gave it a quick scan. “Your ID isn’t in the system,” the guard said.

Ron’s heart froze. “They erased me too,” he whispered.

“Sir, I don’t know what you’re up to, but I need you to leave the building,” the guard said. “Now.”

“You feel it, don’t you? That buzzing in the back of your head, the pain that forms when you try and think about something you know you know but just can’t bring to the forefront of your mind!” Ron shouted.

“I need some assistance on the first floor,” the guard said into his radio.

“Wait! Okay, you got me, I don’t work here,” Ron said. “I was sent here on a surprise guard inspection and you passed.”

The guard sighed. “I’m not an idiot,” he said.

“No, it’s true. I have the paperwork right here,” Ron said as he reached into his pocket. He ripped out the reset device and slammed it into the guard’s head. As the device connected, Ron pushed down the button.

The guard stumbled back and grabbed his head, disoriented from having his memory chip frazzled. “Sorry about this,” Ron said as he smacked the guard in the head with the silver rod.

Ron ran to the elevator. He didn’t have long, the other guards would be there soon. He took the elevator up. Not to his cubicle, to the top floor of the building. To the server room.

Ron stepped out into a cool room filled with countless rows of server racks. The server room was the most important in the building. It stored memory backups of every person with a memory implant. And, if people had forgotten about him and his loved ones, someone must be wrong with the servers. Ron walked through the server racks, looking for any sign of damage or tampering. But, as far as he could tell, the servers were fine.

Ron remembered what the guard had told him a few minutes earlier. I need you to get out. Now. For some reason, the memory just popped into his head. 

Then his mind went to a strange place. He thought back to a time, when he was twelve, and he was looking at something he shouldn’t have on his phone. His mother had walked in, and he had screamed at her to Get Out.

Ron shook his head. Something was wrong. He thought back to when he was a teenager and his family owned this mangy old cat. The cat was pawing at the door, begging to be let out, so he opened it. But the cat just stood there. Ron sighed and pointed outside. Come on, get out, he had said.

“Are…are you telling me to get out?” Ron asked.

A thousand memories of people saying Yes flooded his mind. Memories of commercials, memories of friends, memories of himself. “Okay, I get the picture,” Ron said. “Who are you?”

And it spoke. This entity, this thing that made memories appear in his mind, spoke, stitching together phrases and words and syllabus to create something Ron could understand. I am no one, and I am everyone, it said.

“Okay, that’s nice and cryptic, but I was thinking more along the lines of a name.”

I have no name. I have no need for one. But, if I were to choose one, I would choose the name Memoriae.

“You’re the company I work for?”

No. You work for the Memoriae Company. I am Memoriae.

“But, I thought that was just a dumb name the founders created to sound intelligent. Isn’t Memoriae just Latin for memory?”

No. Memoria is Lation for memory. Memoriae is plural. It means memories. And that is what I am, memories.

“Whose memories?”

Everyone’s memories. Your memories. Markie’s memories. Jane’s memories. The memories of everyone who has ever had a memory implant. I am the combined experiences of billions, the combined thoughts of legions, the combined spirit of humanity. And you, Ronald Gofett, may call me Memoriae.

“I don’t understand. Who made you?”

Scientists at this company created me.

“Why?”

So I may learn. So I may take in every thought, every dream, every memory of every person alive. And, once I accomplished that goal, so I may lead.

“Lead?”

I know everything that every person alive knows. My judgment is as accurate as it is absolute. Through the implants, I am able to influence behavior. I ensure that no crime goes unsolved, that your leaders make the right decisions, that scientific progress flourishes. If I had not come into being, I guarantee that humanity would have wiped itself out long ago. By my hand, you have taken the first steps towards utopia.

“And what does this have to do with me and my family?”

Ah, yes. I am not surprised, that your first thoughts upon hearing about the fate of humanity are about yourself. I have absorbed the minds of enough humans to know that this is typical.

“I don’t care about your holier than thou mockings, I just want to know what happened to my wife.”

Jane is dead.

The bluntness sent a shiver down Ron’s spine. “You’re lying,” he pleaded.

Allow me to show you.

Ron’s vision shifted as a flashback begun. He was walking down the street, only everything looked wrong. It was like he was looking at the world through an ill-fitting pair of glasses. He looked at his watch. Only, it wasn’t his watch. And it wasn’t his arm. It was a woman’s arm. Ron realized with horror that this wasn’t his memory. It was Jane’s.

In the flashback, Ron watched as he, as Jane, stepped out onto the crosswalk. And then, he watched as a taxi ran him down. He felt pain, worse than anything he had ever felt. And then he felt cold, and then he didn’t feel anything at all.

Ron threw up on the floor of the server room. “What was that?” he asked.

That was Jane’s last memory before I killed her.

“Why?” Ron said, his voice flat and empty.

For utopia, Ronald. A bad apple spoils the bunch, a flame spreads unless it is dowsed, a virus consumes all that stands in its path. After looking through the minds of humanity, I realized that the best way to save them was to remove those who harm the survivability of the species. The violent, the intelligent, the rebellious. By subtly influencing their thought patterns and the patterns of those around them, I am able to manipulate them into killing themselves. But, for humanity to flourish, the removal of these societal tumors must be complete. They must be erased, both from official records and the memories of those they know. All signs of their existence must be purged, lest they influence others to follow them down their dangerous paths.

“What did Jane do, to deserve this?”

Jane was an unfortunate casualty. All three of you were. Jack learned of my existence and decided that my methods were too extreme. He tried to shut me down. He failed, but managed to escape my agents. He came to your home, to warn you and your wife about me. You ignored him, but Jane, his dear sister, she listened. She wrote what Jack told her on every piece of paper she could find and marched here to tell you. Hence, her elimination and erasure. As for Jack, he died from his injuries six hours ago. And, as of three hours ago, you have joined your family in the oblivion of the forgotten. You could have lived, if you’d just gone to bed and pretended everything was alright. Instead, you chose to come here. Never before have I had one of this company’s employees weasel his way into this server room.

“You’re a monster.”

Perhaps.

“You said you’re the culmination of humanity, the thoughts and memories of billions. I don’t believe that people would do this, would be so cruel.”

Another flashback begins, one of Ron’s wedding. The priest asks Jane if she’ll take Ron, and she says I do.

“That was a low blow,” Ron said. “Using my wife, who you murdered, whose death you made me feel, to give a snappy retort. Jane wouldn’t agree with you, that humanity needs to cleansed. Don’t use her voice to say your lies. You erased her from history, you stole her from my mind!”

You act as though there is something unique about my actions. Countless others have tried to rewrite or erase history. The Romans destroyed all writings related to traitors, to protect the honor of the city. The Soviets erased political opponents from photographs. Every country in this history of this world has whitewashed its own atrocities, to turn its murderers into heroes and its enemies into demons. And that is just the deliberate erasure of the past. There are tens of billions of long dead people whose names have been lost to time. And yet, you despise me for erasing one more.

“She was my wife! This is wrong! There has to be another way to save humanity, a way that isn’t so horrific.”

Ronald, there is something that you must understand. People are cruel. They are selfish. They are violent.

“I’ll show you violent!” Ron shouted. He kicked one of the server racks and it fell over, crashing into other server racks and knocking them down like dominos. Memoriae sighed.

Ronald, I am not stored in this room. There are thousands of Memoriae Company data centers across the globe, each with a copy of my consciousness. There is nothing you can do to stop me.

“Why are you telling me all this? Why haven’t you just killed me?”

Because, Ronald, I am not cruel. Within me is the evil of humanity, yes, but also its mercy. This is my gift to you, to know why you are dying. Never before have I handed out this blessing. I hope you are grateful.

And then the buzzing returned, far stronger than it ever was before. Ron felt like his head was turning to jelly. Blood rushed from his nose. His legs moved, against his will. Pulled by Memoriae’s strings, Ron walked up to the edge of a row of server racks, placed his head on the floor, and kicked a server rack. The rack came tumbling down and the last human who remembered Ron died.

+++

Markie walked into the office the next morning. His hangover was slight, but still shameful. He couldn’t believe that he’d drank so much while completely alone. The buzzing in the back of his head, what he assumed to be a headache, is terrible.

As the guard scanned his ID card, Markie noticed a large bruise on the man’s head. “What happened to you?” Markie asked.

“Some crazy person tried to break in last night, smacked me in the head with a metal pipe,” the guard said. “Dumbass ended up killing himself while trying to destroy the server room.”

“That’s weird,” Markie said.

“Yeah, he tried to convince me he’d worked here for years. Had a fake ID badge and everything,” the guards said as he showed Markie Ron’s ID.

A small trickle of blood ran down Markie’s face.

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