Monday, September 18, 2023

“Thanks for the Memory” • by Rick Danforth


“Another grocery store robbery isn’t going to cut it,” said Kioxia with a yawn, leaning back on a greasy chair in the back of the van she used as a mobile, and evasive, office.

“Why the hell not?” asked Chris. “Do you know how hard it is? Last time that security guard chased me for two miles!”

“And that was fantastic, you know it was February’s bestseller?”

Chris did. He also knew he didn’t get any additional pay as the downloads crashed into the millions. “Can’t we just do another one?”

“Too boring. The audience wants more thrills, more excitement, more danger.” Kioxa shrugged. “We need maximum adrenaline.”

“Hmm.” Chris didn’t enjoy any of those things. No one did, that’s why they wanted them in downloadable memory form. But he didn’t have much of a choice. It’s not like anyone needed actors since Fabelman invented a way to record and share memories. And there weren’t many other jobs going in this economy. Hence the posters adorning every crumbling slum wall. ‘Sell your memories, afford the lifestyle you deserve.’

Kioxia saw his hesitation. “Look, you can shoplift if you want, but that’ll be lucky to pay for lunch. Do you want to pay your rent?”

“Want is a grandiose term,” said Chris, sighing. He had to pay rent. The only alternative to it was Nile’s indentured work program. Living in a sleeping pod in the Nile warehouse and eating nutrition paste. It wasn’t a life, but it was surviving. Just.

“It’s easy, I promise I’ll get you your rent. I’ll even chuck in bonuses for the right extras. Point a gun, take some tech, jump on the hoverbike outside, and escape into the underway. Cops have a minimum five-minute response time, unless they’re tipped off.”

Chris grunted. The underway, in theory, would work. The police had to be desperate to venture into the old subway tunnels and away from signal range. Mere theft wouldn’t entice them there. “Don’t hoverbikes need a key?”

“It’ll be in the ignition, don’t worry.”

“I’ve not ridden one in years,” said Chris. Not since Fabelman got a Nobel prize and plaudits for changing the world, and Chris had his career ripped out from under him.

“And that’s what makes the memory so good!” Kioxia was almost drooling. “All the thrill of the crime and a first bike ride. It could break download limits!”

Chris sighed, and took the SD card from Kioxia to plug into the socket on his neck, the HUD display on his monocle screen flashing ‘Storage Inserted.’  He knew she was right, she always was. The bestselling memories were true experts in their fields: an NFL quarterback throwing a Super Bowl touchdown, a detective arresting a serial killer. Moments normal people could never hope to experience.

The second-best selling were first-time memories. A child learning to ride a bike, the first taste of chocolate, or an electronics robbery and getaway by an unemployed actor.

“Fine. But this is the last one for a while,” said Chris. Meaning until he next needed food and shelter.

“Last one,” agreed Kioxia.


Anxiety almost overwhelmed Chris when he walked into the shop. He couldn’t even try to calm himself down, the anxiety added fries to the meal of his memory. Chris moved through the stacked electronic aisles and flickering displays with the casual gait of an authentic shopper, half-heartedly looking at the prices of various electronics as he fingered the taser Kioxa had given him.

A salesman waved at Chris, clutching a top-range scanscope in his other hand as he stacked them into a display. Sighing, Chris moved towards him. His HUD flashed up, ‘10% violence bonus.’

Chris mentally apologised, saying it would ruin the memory, but tased the man and shoved him into the display as he grabbed the scanscope out of his hand. The alarm was already giving a deafening roar as Chris hit the door, he had no idea how.

Outside, between the cramped tower blocks, the HUD flashed again, ‘20% bonus for high-speed gateway.’

Sending one fleeting glance to the safety of the alley, Chris jumped onto the hoverbike. As promised, the keys were in the ignition. With the annoying Schlock company jingle, it fired into life.

One minute to drive to the safety of the underway and he’d be fine. Although it might take longer; Chris swore as he saw the hoverbike had been locked to twenty miles per hour. Moving down the street felt like running in treacle.

Although that wouldn’t matter. A police hovercar sat waiting between him and his escape, the sirens turning on as Chris arrived as if to taunt him.

Chris swore, and drifted wide to turn around. The HUD flashed ‘50% Bonus for police chase.’

A taser net fired from the front of the car. Chris stumbled off the hoverbike in time to avoid it, but a second fired instantly and hit his legs. The sparkling electricity made it look like Christmas tree lights.

Then Chris woke up on the pavement, seeing an armoured police officer running towards him.

Chris stood and shook himself fiercely, jumping about in an effort to rid himself of the netting. But it held tight, and he dropped to the ground cursing. Seconds later, the officer shoved his arm up his back and Chris felt cold metal on his wrists.

“Kioxia is going to love this,” the cop said. “Chasing down a violent perp, netting them, handcuffs. This is going to pay my rent for months.”

“That was my rent money,” said Chris, through a mouthful of cold pavement. The HUD flashed, ‘Sorry, nothing personal.

“Don’t worry, fella.” The officer patted him on the shoulder. “Prison just got you ten years free rent.”

Chris had exactly what he wanted, and it brought nothing but thick, ugly tears. Between wracking sobs, he cursed Kioxa, he cursed Fabelman, but he couldn’t help but wonder how much someone’s first day of prison would sell for.


Rick Danforth
resides in Yorkshire, England, where he works as a Systems Architect to fund his writing habit. He’s had several short stories published in a variety of venues, including Hexagon and Translunar Traveler's Lounge. His story “Seller’s Remorse” was shortlisted for the 2022 British Science Fiction Association (BSFA) Award for Short Fiction. His most recent appearance in Stupefying Stories was a rather different tale of first contact, “Patient Diplomacy.”

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Karin Terebessy said...

This is excellent and my favorite type of science fiction. You not only push our existing technology to its extreme, you also explore the limits of our ingenuity, greed, desperations - our humanness. Excellent!