Lost; a memory.
If found, please return to Shrade@001.
The memory is red, and was last seen outside Central Station No. 3.
Please be aware, the memory could be volatile.
Do not attempt to upload.
Reward upon return.
They stood on a bridge of light overlooking the sparkling purple river. One figure was slim and slight, around five feet, and clothed in loose fitting, translucent street garb. The other was tall, straight as a board, and as broad as a door. He emitted very little light, standing as an unusually dark stain in the City of Light. Both were surrounded by flitting screens of image and text; video, news, thoughts and emotions, all dancing around them like an aura of information. One aura was quick, chaotic and bright. The other, slow, ordered and cold.
“Well Mr. Shrade, I found it, so, really it belongs to me,” Said the shorter of the two figures.
“Look, child, this memory means nothing to you. Take the reward, give me the memory, and walk away,” Responded the taller.
“While I still can,” The boy said with a smirk.
They both paused for a second, as a couple walked by, arm in arm. As the couple moved away, Mr. Shrade leaned in close, until their aura mingled, the text confused, the images blurred. The lighter aura, that of the boy, seemed to shiver and darken for a second, as the heavier, colder aura weighed down upon it.
“You think yourself clever, out here in the open. I assure you, if you had any idea what and who you were dealing with, you would drop this bravado and flee.”
“I think I know enough, Mr. Shrade. Enough that I’m suitably scared and have taken steps to make sure that this memory is released to everyone on every news-feed, memo-feed and entertainment feed in the city. Tagged to you, obviously.”
“That would be a mistake. It could kill thousands. Give it to me, and we can both walk away.”
“I don’t have it here with me. I left it somewhere safe. Besides it’s just a memory, how could it hurt. I don’t know how it was in your day, but people can’t be shocked any more.”
“This is Not just a memory.”
The boy smiled.
Shrade bristled and clenched his teeth. His aura pulsed for a moment, shivering and turning deep red. He closed his eyes and took two slow breaths. The images and text, news-feeds and streaming video all stopped in mid air. Shrade didn’t move a muscle. They both stood still for several minutes, the boy no longer smiling but refusing to back away.
No one else crossed the bridge, they pass along to take another route.
A slight smile twitched across Shrade’s face. His aura began to move again, once more in a slow, calm fashion.
“You have a quick tongue young man. I can appreciate that. Perhaps I judged you by your height. It is an error I will not make again. Tell me what you want.”
“I want to know what it is.”
Shrade nodded and turned away, looking out over the river.
“And I want to know what you intended to do with it.”
“Hmm. That is a lot to ask.”
“It is cheaper than the money I could get for it.”
“You do not know what you ask, or the consequences if I tell you.”
“I want to know. No matter what the consequence.”
“Then follow me. We cannot talk here.”
“I’m not going into any dark alley or anything, if that’s what you think.”
Shrade turned and strode away, back to the street and away from the river. He did not slow down, or turn to look and see if the boy followed. He did not step around the people walking the other way, he just bent his head down and strode on, forcing them to part as allow him through. They walked down Middlemark, and past the dozens of bakeries and bistro’s that lined the bright blue street. The signs flashed as they passed, trying to mingle first with Shrade’s aura, then merging with the Boy’s. The adverts for fresh OrangeBerry Muffins, or Yellow Meadow Latte’s inserted themselves into his feed, overlapping the latest news story, email update and today’s itube celebrity video. Shrade pushed through the ads, the same way he had the people. His aura, his thoughts and ideas asserted themselves as dark violet symbols and distorted images, pushing out the ads before they could attach themselves. The ad’s shivered as they got close and then just ran off, like wet ink running down canvas. The boy tried to do the same, but the adverts were persistent, even as they passed the last of the Bistro’s his aura was haunted by an ad for Mrs. Gantry’s famous Mottled Chocolate Mocha.
He hurried to catch up, and yelled out from behind to try to get Shrade to slow down. “Hey, how do you do that? How do you keep them out?”
“That question was not part of the deal. If you want me to answer that instead, I would be happy to renegotiate.” Shrade said, without turning or slowing down.
They passed through Market Square and headed toward the park. The Market was busy, packed with people buying fresh produce, the most colorful little spheres you could imagine. Business was conducted under the protection of each little stall, covered by a blur screen, just enough to allow the buyer to transfer funds via their banking screen, direct to the sellers, without the whole market being able to see the account.
The boy struggled to keep up, the people who moved out of the way for Shrade seemed to move back into place to intentionally block his progress. He had to push and crouch, squeezing through the tiny gaps he could find, then jumping up to see over a shoulder or head to see which way Shrade was going. Eventually, they reached the edge of the square and the crowd died down. Shrade was heading for the park.
The boy jogged to catch up, just as Shrade passed through the gate. The park was lit by lantern trees of red and gold, illuminated to mimic the fall season.
“I heard they used to have real trees that turned colors like this, before we all came here.”
“They did. A long time ago.” Shrade stopped and looked at the tree closest to him, with long drooping branches that fell about it like wet hair. “This would have been called a Weeping Willow.”
“You’ve seen them?”
“In a memory, once.”
The boy stared at him, expecting more, but nothing else came. Shrade sat in the light of the Willow, leaning against it’s trunk.
“I can tell you what you wish to know, and in return you will hand over the memory, or I will extinguish you. Agreed?”
“You said you wanted to know.”
“Then you will agree to my terms, or we have no further business.”
“I agree, okay, I agree.”
Shrade slid down the trunk until he was sitting on the emerald grass, glinting under the light of the trees. He settled back as if to begin a grand tale. “First I must tell you something of myself, if any of what follows is to make any sense.” He paused and looked up a the boy, waiting. The boy got the hint and sat himself down on the grass, cross-legged, but not settled by any means.
Shrade continued. “I work for the Hegemony. I have always worked for them, since the City of Light began. I am their creation. What I tell you today may lead to your death. The City is shrinking. The Hegemony started this City to Save the souls of an entire world about to be destroyed. They saved us, but now this place is our cell. Outside of this City we would cease to exist.” He paused to let it sink in.The boy just nodded and waited for him to continued.
“The power needed to run this City, made of nothing but thought and light, is, I am told astronomical. From time to time, as power runs low, the city shrinks and people need to be, extinguished. We cannot be harmed in the regular sense, as we are nothing but thought and light. The founders, now the Hegemony, designed a way to “cull” the population. The answer to your first question, what this missing memory is, it is a death sentence. Whoever uploads it will be extinguished.”
“The memory is weapon?” The boy said.
“In a crude sense, yes, but it is far more elegant than a bludgeon or a blade. The memory begins just like a news-source or download, it attached to your mind and plays out on a video screen within your aura, the same as any other. The difference is, once it is uploaded and viewed, it embeds itself as a reality. Once it has been seen but once, it is believed. Once it is believed, the mind plays out whatever the scene is, as if it were happening. In this case, the mind is unraveled, and the person viewing it, ceases to be.”
Shrade paused and glanced around the park. His aura seemed to expand out from him until it was no longer visible. He waited, while the boy watched him, neither of them spoke, until, his aura snapped back. The data screens, newsfeeds and netboards all returned to him with images of the park, and he scanned them all. A moment later they rippled, and each returned to it’s purpose; scrolling data, streaming news pictures and images from thoughts and dreams.
“Did you just, use your aura to scan the area?”
“I did. We are safe for the moment, but they will be here, and they will want the memory. You must give it to me before they arrive.”
“So the whole scanning thing aside, which is exceptionally cool, how do I know that you’re telling even a remote version of the truth. You just told me the memory can essentially unmake anyone you want, and now you just want me to hand it over.”
“Everything I have told you thus far is true, with one exception.” He paused again, staring at the boy, weighing his options before continuing. “The memory will kill if it is released, but it will only kill one, the one for which it was made.”
“And you want to complete your mission? Is that it? You need this to finish to job?” The boy stood up and brushed off his pants. Little bright green light shards tumbled off his pants, back onto the ground.
“No, not at all. I have unmade many people since the inception of this city. Each has stained me, as you can see.” He motioned to his appearance with an elaborate sweep of his hand. “My clothing, my aura, all generated by thought and light, all stained by the crimes I have committed. But I did so out of fear, not hatred or anger. I made these memories, I developed the technique when I was young and stupid. I believed we were using it on people who deserved to be unmade. The first time they sent me to deliver a memory personally, I realized how naive I had been. They sent me for a young lady, whose name I am no longer fit to speak. She lit up the street wherever she walked, she was a delight to behold. I fell for her, and in doing so, I ended her life, despite refusing to kill her.”
The boy, intrigued once more, dropped back down to the grass, on his knees, leaning forward in eager anticipation. “This memory,” He motioned with one hand and a closed screen moved into the fore of his aura. It was dark, with red edges, but the screen remained closed as it drifted through the air before him, “was meant for her.”
Shrade sat up straight, his eyes focused on the memory. He spoke quickly. “Memories must be tailored to one specific person or they will not organically mesh, or… upload, and be believed. This one is for her. I could not bring myself to use it, so the Hegemony used it against me. They hid it from me, and used me to remove people, threats to their reign, or just excess when the power dropped and the city shrank. Last week I managed to retrieve it, but I was sloppy. As I made my escape, it was lost. I need it back, now.”
“It seems a little, far-fetched. How is it that no one else knows about all this.”
“They remove any one who finds out.”
The boy gulped.
“You must decide, now. We don’t have time to stay here. They are looking for it, and now, for you.” Shrade stood suddenly, his aura bristled and shivered.
Two ordinary looking men ambled down the path towards them. One wearing a dull brown overcoat, the other dressed in a blue suit with no shimmer or shine.
“It is too late. You cannot remain here. You must leave. Give me the memory, it must never be found.”
“I… how can I?”
“Either give it to me now, or run and never be found.”
The boy flicked his wrist and detached the closed screen with red edges. For a moment it drifted between them like a dry leaf in a light breeze. The men on the path quickened their pace. Shrade expanded his aura, wrapping up the closed memory file, shuffling it in with his own. He looked at the boy and smiled. It was a slow, crooked smile, rusty from disuse. “Thank you.”
For a moment there was a calm in the park. Shrade closed his eyes and steadied his aura. The boy looked from the tall dark man to the two dull figures approaching.
“Run.” Shrade yelled as he himself turned to run, his aura began pulsing and flashing red, a beacon to attract attention. He blared every news-feed and station he could muster until the sound filled the park, sending the glittering bluebirds and shimmering red cardinals into a panic. The men on the path covered their ears and pulled their own aura’s close, wrapping around them like a shield.
The boy turned and ran, into the park, away from Shrade and away from the men. The sound behind him was a deafening mix of voices and music, adverts and them tunes, all blaring out at the same time.
Shrade raced into the park, past bushes of yellow and purple, trees of sapphire and green. The boy threw himself behind a tree and crouched down to watch.
The men shook off the shock of sound and took off after him. More of them appeared coming through the gate, all dull looking and uninteresting, not a glow of light between them. The boy counted eight in total, grim faced and all pointed at Shrade.
He ran without looking back, into the park without slowing down. The boy wondered where he planned to go. The men were closing in and surrounding him. The gate out of the park was the opposite way and all that lay on the far side of the park was the edge.
Shrade ran on, as his pursuers closed in, cutting off all means of escape. Those closest to him sent out parts of their aura, trying to infiltrate his, sending swift moving data mining screens, virus screens and little flickering glitches to dart in and out of his aura, hunting for the memory, distracting and tugging at him. Shrade deflected them, angling the little screens of his own aura to push out the invaders. He did it without looking, without any trace of slowing down.
The wall came closer, the edge of the city, the blazing orange dome that signaled the end of their world.
Shrade wrapped his aura around in front of him, angled it to point out directly at the edge, the wall of light marking the end of the city. He threw himself forward, holding onto the closed, red memory, keeping it close to his chest. He rushed the wall. It resisted for a moment, but he pushed on, through the wall.
From inside the city it was hard to see exactly what happened on the other side. As he pushed through the wall, it appeared, beyond the bright orange haze, that his aura began to fall apart first, wisps or tendrils pulled away like cotton candy. There was a brief red flash, as the memory was unmade, and then Shrade, glancing back. The boy imagined he was still smiling. Then there was another flash of brilliant blue light, drowning out the orange haze of the wall, and the glow of the trees and the grass. The blue light seemed to splattered onto the orange dome, and then in a rush, it was gone.
The park settled into silence. The men stood by the wall, staring out at past the edge of the city.
The boy took off, out of the park, disappearing into the maze of streets before the men could come for him. He crouched in the dark pink shadows behind a row of shops. His aura was pounding, news-feeds already scanning for any sign of what had just happened. There was nothing, and he suspected, no matter how long he waited there would be no news of this event.
Just as his shoulders sagged, as the exhaustion of the moment weighed down on him and the worry that all this was something just a dream, something beeped and popped up in his mail. A message without a title. The attachment was huge. He waited, finger hovering over the little node of light he needed to press to open the message. He licked his lips and thought about what it could contain. Was it information, or was it death? He pressed the node, opening the message screen in front of him. The message read, “Use this well.” The attached file was named “Shrade archive 1 of 3.” It opened itself, and began to download everything.