He was long on The Node now, long enough for it to feel normal. To have accepted it. To have integrated it into his patterns. The ever changing litany of data smeared together with his subconscious. Perpetually flowing at the back of his mind, as if feeding an inarticulate hunger, ever feeding but never filling. Honestly, it had disconcerted him how easily the two had melded. At times he had wondered where The Node began and his own thoughts ended.
The memories confused him most. She had written some implants for him that first few weeks, Her own version of things growing up together. He had lovingly accepted them with one part politeness and one part skepticism. A gift from his wife. At first He found it disorienting, watching their life from outside themselves. He hadn’t liked it, not really, and had pushed them back into some darkened back channel where they might be hard to find, maybe even disappear eventually. But there had also been a gnawing curiosity, and eventually he sought them out once more, dug them back up. The moments she had cherished of him as a spouse, of them as partners, them as a family. Birthdays and anniversaries, a Fourth of July when they had left the Tall City for a day to see the broad grid of fields and pipelines surrounding it. They had watched the sun set on a horizon unlike any they had seen in decades. Uninterrupted by the towers looming at their backs.
She had written him things that had never happened as well;small fictions made up of places and things she’d never been to or seen. Jungles and grasslands clad in otherworldly color and shape, seamy assemblies of different paradigms, most pre-fabricated And filtered through a template. The child‘s imagination she had kept alive inside herself trying to escape and breathe in a world whose ease and enhancement seemed only to stifle.
He had his own memories too. He had been one of the oldest people to go on The Node, so many years of his life had now passed, that there was doubt whether his mind would accept being plugged in. He was old enough to remember wild trees and animals. He remembered a place where once when he was just able to walk his parents had taken him, water springing from the earth cold and clean enough to play in, even to drink. He remembered the dark night in some canvas blank flat land lying in the bed of a truck under a billion stars, the girl he would one day marry next to him. The heat of the summer sun held in the steel of the pickup and then the moon rising so swollen and bright they could’ve read by it. They had snuck out of the settlement after curfew and fixed that truck together night after night. It had been in the back of an old half collapsed Quonset. They had found it and tinkered together for countless hours, just to be together. Neither of them actually believing that one day it might run.
The truck held memories of its own as well. Photographs in the glove compartment, a matchbox, a notepad with maintenance records inside. They were Polaroids of a woman in a blue dress laughing with a glass of wine in her hand. The other of a dusty old green house with a swing set and a field in the background. Neither of them could ever remember having seen print photographs, and they made an A-frame of the notebook and leaned them against it on the dash. As though they were something precious. Worthy of display and prominence. Inside the matchbox had been a gold locket marked H and R in rolling elegant script on each half of its insides. They closed it and hung it from the rearview mirror and laid the matchbox between the photos and held each other on the bench seat all that summer, sneaking home with the rising sun and by some absurd chance never being caught.
He could remember the night they finally did get it running. The headlights hadn’t worked and they had been inclined to take it slow, at first just driving out of the building and up an almost imperceptible dirt track. Then that moon in his memory had risen so bright as they lay in the bed and the thrill and possibility of it had run away with them. His head resting on the door frame and the light of the moon as the blue world flew by, her hands tight on the wheel and her hair whipping in the wind they made with their speed. That was before. Before the Tall City. Before The Node and the steady stream of days in and out of the cage of his house and his job; the cage of what passed for a life in the Tall City.
When she had died he had been sure it would kill him. He lay in his bunk for what seemed like weeks doing little more than move around inside The Node. Searching the memories over and over again. Stopping inside them and investigating every detail, the shape of her hands moving as she spoke, the set of her eyes and shoulders when she was right and she knew it. Their later days, the grey of her hair in the morning light. The way the fire had remained in her eyes to the last. He moved through each of them with an unimaginable softness, his presence so insubstantial he could not have even stirred the air if he had wanted to.
It was how he discovered the road behind the door.
The road stretched on beyond his sight, a strip of pavement like a long black scar through wild and tangled autumn woodland bright with color he had nearly forgotten existed. Everything sharp against the black trunks and pale blue sky.
The implants sat in his mind easily now, like something seen in a film or read on a page. Though he knew they were static, wrought of code, they seemed to grow and change with him like natural memories. Or maybe it was that he grew and changed around them like the roots of a tree around some immovable stone. The memories like static unchangeable dioramas and his awareness and understanding growing and changing around and inside of them.
He knew that they were not all that there was, that somewhere not far there was a road and that he must take it.