An old man spends his last day thinking about his life.
The line moved slowly. We were herded like cattle in one long, single file line. The decor was surprisingly nice for a place like this. Soft lighting ran through the whole building and on walls of warm, comforting colors. There were even real plants scattered throughout the building. I was amazed by the irony, fresh, healthy, living plants in this building. I have to admit, though, I’d never been in here before. I’d seen the building before, everyone has seen the building, but I never imagined what it was like in here. In truth, I never wanted to think about it.
But there we were. Waiting. I hate waiting. A group of twenty centenarians waited. It was funny to see the difference between the people in line. One man wore a three-piece suit, like important men of antiquity. Many decided to wear their regular uniform, a one-piece jumpsuit, and the colors matching the division the person in which he or she lived and with the corresponding regalia per their profession. Dr. Meznik stood in front of me. He stood tall and proud, as tall as a man his age could. He wore his dark gray suit, which signaled Division 15, and had the medical badge on his shoulder. I tapped him on the back “Pretty ironic, you being here huh?”
Dr. Meznik brushed off my attempt at conversation. I understood. Mrs. Miller waited in front of him. She wore a long, green evening gown and despite her age, looked beautiful. Some of the people even came in pajamas, robes and nightshirts.
Despite our different appearances, there was one common item among us. Each of us held one small device, a small black box. This trinket had been with me for years and I had the terrible habit of calling it my mnemonic device. My wife hated when I said that. At the head of the line was a solemn nurse taking the device from people and cataloging their names. There were chairs in the room but no one sat down.
I kept looking at the little box in my hands. I’ve had it for a hundred years but it felt so foreign to me. The cube fit in my hand and had a surprising heft. My exact knowledge of the material within the case was never quite thorough. From what I understood, there was a crystal in the box and on this crystal light could be stored. That, I’m afraid, was the extent of my technical knowledge.
One more person was let in through the doors and the line moved forward. I kept looking at the cube. Its black, featureless surface intrigued me. No one else seemed to even look at it. Everyone kept it at his or her side. Dr. Meznik kept in his right hand while having both hands folded across his chest. The woman in front of him kept hers on her side in a silk bag tied with a gold chain.
I could see my reflection in the shiny exterior of my cube and it made me wonder about all kinds of things.
I remember the day my parents gave the cube to me. It was the last present on my eighteenth birthday. After a day of joy, and many presents, there remained one, single bag on the table. It was small and I assumed it contained some sort of delicate artifact. The feeling of the room changed when my father picked the bag up. My younger siblings were ushered into the next room and the remaining adults stood like a silent chorus. I could tell that there was something different about this gift. So far, the presents were wonderful but they were all ultimately superficial. This little bag contained something different.
It had to be some kind of heirloom, I thought. Something precious, something handed down through the ranks of my family. A small monument to the place we held in history. I couldn't have been more wrong.
My immediate thought was that the bag was much too heavy. The object in my possession was not some little bauble. I opened the bag and reached in only to find something, hard and smooth. I pulled the cube out of the bag. Was this a precious stone? I had read in school about people in the past giving value to rock and minerals. Was that what this was? An unknown connection to our past? I rubbed the featureless surface.
I looked up only to find the solemn faces of my parents. My aunts and uncles looked equally sad.
“What is this?”
Before my father could tell me, I realized what it was. From somewhere deep in my buried consciousness I knew that it was my cube.
“I don’t want it,” I said and handed the cube back to my father.
The memory seemed silly to me. How did I not know what the cube was? After they moved this building into the heart of the city, everyone knew what it was. Mothers had to explain to their young children what the building next to the grocery center did. Little kids with little eyes looked at the Mnemosyne Industries building and wonder what went on in the giant, gleaming building.
The line moved again. I took the one necessary step, as I did, I noticed the door. It was just one metal square on the wall and the only way into the room. For an instant, I thought about getting out of line. Who was going to stop me? I didn’t think they even had a protocol to deal with such an event.
Just as I turned to see if anyone would care if I stepped out of line, I noticed something strange about the door. At first glance, it seemed like any other barrier. However, this one didn’t have a sensor bar at the top, like every other door in the city did. I remembered that other side of the door had one, the door opened as I approached the room. This one didn’t though. It was just some large slab of steel to impede my path. That’s when it became clear to me that the only way out of this room was the door on the far side of the room, the one at the end of this line, so much for testing my theory.
One more person was let through the door and I took the requisite step in order to fill the void between Dr. Meznik and I. I wasn’t sure why I resumed staring at my little black box. Nothing about the box ever changed, it looked exactly the same it did on my birthday all those years ago, and the only difference was the age of the hands that held it.
I remembered the day that Laurel showed me her cube. We were on vacation in the outer regions, laughing, enjoying the artificial sun and the virtual beach, trying to plan out the world before us on our one-year anniversary. One night, after dinner, she came up behind me. “Come on,” she said, “I want to show you something.” The hotel room was divided into two sections, one for the living room and the other was split into the bed and bathrooms. Lauren pulled something out of her suitcase. “Have you ever seen someone else’s cube?” she asked.
From a silk bag, she pulled a small rosewood box with a tiny, gold clasp on the front, and handed it to me. “Here,” she said, “I think you should see it.”
I flipped open the clasp. There in the box was my wife’s cube. It was the same black, flawless, hard, cube. It wasn’t heavy but I could barely hold it. I was holding more than this black box, this thing, this tangible object. I was holding her soul in my hands. There she was not three feet from my face, standing with the silk bag in her hand, with a strange look on her face. She was there and here, in my hands. At this point, my hands were shaking. I couldn’t hold the box anymore; I was too weak as I watched the rosewood box fall to the floor. I fell to my knees with my wife’s cube still clenched in my fists. It was all I had to let go of the box and give it back to Laurel.
That night she asked me if I would let her see my cube. I had to tell that she couldn’t because it was still at our house in Division 15. I remembered how wide her eyes and the gap between her lips when I told her. I never traveled with the object, as I started to call it. To be honest, until this point, I had tried not to think of the little black cube. It was still in the original bag, sitting on an old desk, in the darkest corner of my basement. I had not touched the cube except to move it into my home and did not want to touch it afterward.
That night though, I held my wife’s hand and told her that as soon as we got home she could see the object, and she could hold my soul in her hands.
In the midst of my recollection, the line moved again, and again. My fellow line partner, the silent Dr. Meznik, and I were uncomfortably close to the front of the line. I hesitated to ask another question of Dr. Meznik, he seemed quite at peace with himself. This led me, once again, to the only other company I had for this journey, the black box in my hands.
It was funny to me that we all had these boxes yet, as far I knew, no one really thought about them, until times like this. They sat there in the back of our minds, collecting dust, some in fancy boxes, others in the same bag from their parents.
I remembered the day that Laurel and I received our son’s cube. I was sitting in the room with Lauren when Dr. Meznik, the man with whom I’m waiting, brought in our son and placed him in Laurel’s arms. Dr. Meznik looked not much different than he does now, except for his hair color. He gave me a confident handshake after he was done speaking with Laurel, and wished me the best of luck. Just as he was going to leave the room, a man came in behind him, tall, lean, and very official looking. His dark blue uniform told me that he was part of the government, most likely with the Mnemosyne Corporation. He congratulated Laurel and me, leaned in close to say something to our son Jonas, and from behind his back, pulled out a small black box.
I knew immediately what the box contained, and so did Laurel. Her eyes shifted from the man in front of us back down to Jonas’ small face and she put the tip of her finger near his mouth so that he could suck on it. The black box was as dark, and featureless as the object it contained. The only difference between the cube and the box it came in was the small, golden M on its top.
“Mr. Pallas,” the man began to speak “as—.”
I didn’t give him a chance to finish “Did you really have to come here, today? Today? Of all days you have to bring that stupid little box here, to this room. You couldn’t give us a day? Just one day to spend with our son, enjoy just one day with him.”
“Sir,” he said, “it's company policy. In order…”
“I don’t care what the policy is,” I stood up and was now face to face with him, “just take that thing away.”
The man stood a little straighter now, annoyed with my outburst. “Sir,” he said, “you know very well that I have to give this to you. One day you will give this to your son. Now, in order for your son to be discharged and leave this medical center, he has to be issued one of these. It’s the law. Now take this,” he said and he handed me the box. I took it in my hands. I felt every bit of the hatred I felt when my parents showed me my cube.
Twenty years later from that day, we gave our son his cube. His mother succeeded in making a birthday more special than the ones before it. We had a nice box made for the cube and it too was fastened with a golden clasp, just his mother’s. Throughout the years we had that cube, I only held that one time, in the medical center. My son accepted the box from us with a solemn, stoic, grace, more fitting of his mother than his father.
This memory of mine ended just before I had to take another step forward. To my surprise, Dr. Meznik was the only person in front of me; everyone else had passed on behind the door. The woman in the antique evening gown, the man in his three-piece suit, even the ones in their pajamas, all of them were in the room beyond my current one. Dr. Meznik moved up to a desk where a young woman was taking the information from us. It was the first time since he walked in that he took his hands from behind his back. The old doctor set his cube down on the sleek, white surface and proceeded to confirm the information the nurse relayed to him.
The process took longer than I expected, and to be honest I hadn’t paid much attention to any of the people before me. After giving his last statement, Dr. Meznik stood and walked towards the door, a slow confident walk, back still straight, with the cube clenched in his hands. His motion ceased and he turned back towards me. He stuck out his hand, just like he had all those years before.
“Goodbye,” was all he said.
“Goodbye, Dr. Meznik,” was the only thing I could say back to him.
Now it was finally my turn, and I took the seat in front of the nurse, clad in an all-white suit. “Hello,” she said.
“Hello Miss,” I said.
“Shall we get started?”
“I’m not in a hurry.”
The young woman in front of proceeded to read an electronic display that appeared in front of her. I took this opportunity to set my cube in front of me. The gleaming, black cube was an island in a sea of white.
“Is your name Alexx Pallas?”
“Last time I checked.”
“A simple yes or no please,” she lifted her head ever so slightly at my remark.
“Do you live in the 15th district?”
“Were you born on June 2, 2073?”
“Yes,” I leaned back in my chair in a way I hadn’t seen anyone else do. The young woman, however, didn’t seem to notice.
“Can you please say today’s date please?”
“June 2, 2193.”
“Mr. Pallas, I have to ask, are you here of your own free will?”
“Do I really have a choice?”
“Thank you, Mr. Pallas, please exit through this door here,” The electronic readout disappeared from the table. I picked up the cube and began to walk through the door. “Oh, and Mr. Pallas,” the young woman said “Happy Birthday.”
I decided not to answer and walked through the door. I left behind the calming, beige room and came to a stark white one. A young man that walked with distinctly measured cadence led me to a small room with a comfortable-looking reclining chair, some non-descript art, and a single window that didn’t particularly look anywhere. I took the chair and the young man who told his name, Erix or some new sounding name, pulled up a stool next to my seat. I wondered if this is how Laurel felt two years ago.
“Hello Mr. Pallas, welcome to the inner chamber of Mnemosyne Corporation. I trust that you know what is about to happen?”
“Refresh my memory,” I didn’t think he ever got my joke.
“Well, sir. If you hand me your cube, I’ll walk you through it.”
He kept going, “the cube here has the memory capacity of somewhere around five petabytes, the human memory is around two and a half petabytes...” and the man kept explaining what would happen. He would place the cube in this special device, the extractor, I think he called it, and they would place two sensors on my head. From there, my memories would be downloaded into the cube and placed in a certain spot, accessible by my friends and family, for a nominal fee of course.
He put the sensors on, two ice-cold spots on my forehead. Dr. Erix then placed a needle in my arm and found a vein.
“What’s this for?”
“This is for after you’re done.”
“So that’s how they do it.”
Dr. Erix touched a button on the machine. It was the first time that I had ever seen the cube change. A swirl of twinkling lights danced all around the cube. The lights sped up and I felt as if I was leaking like I was an hourglass and there was sand falling out of my consciousness. Memories and feelings rushed through my mind, a strange montage of sights, sounds and smells flooded through me.
What was this? I was living my life all over again and at light speed. Visions zipped in and out and I saw things I hadn’t thought about in a long time. I could see my parents’ faces but they were fuzzy and misshapen, and it was then that I realized this is how they looked through my newborn eyes. I saw my son, and I could smell his scent, the day he came home. I could see Laurel, the first time I saw her, on our wedding day, and on her last birthday.
Finally, it ended, and I couldn’t tell if I wanted it to or not. The cube had returned to its original form. It was hard to believe that cube was essentially me and to behold my legacy was eerie. The last thing I remembered was Dr. Erix taking the cube out of the device. I vaguely remember him saying something to the effect of “Goodnight Mr. Pallas,” oh well; I guess we all can’t live....
End of File
Subject: Alexx Pallas
Address: 17 06 Alpha District 15
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