The walls were black and oily, but also somehow a dully gleaming metal. This was the first thing Kristen noticed when she opened her eyes and glanced around the room in confusion. She slowly came to her feet, feeling the flowing metal ripple beneath her lightest touches. Small waves slid out across the floor, walls, and ceiling, gleaming and dancing peaks and valleys coalescing into random patterns. The effect was… surreal.
The sound of her voice muffled itself, strangely, against the haze created by the rippling walls. One second pulsing, the next buzzing, there was almost a psychic sort of feedback for a few seconds. Kristen resolved to say as little as possible. Then, after a moment of thought, she whispered softly, “Hello? Is there anybody there?” The words hissed through the air oddly, but were easily discernable.
The only sound she heard in return was the fading static of her voice. She noticed that the pulse of the sound seemed to fade and increase in time with the ripples in the walls. Nausea briefly struggled for her stomach, but strength of will won out. She straightened her back and studied the walls more closely, noting the subsiding patterns fade back into an almost mirror surface.
What was she doing before she came to this place? Her name was Kristen, and she was from Wayne, Indiana. She was born April 4th, 1990, daughter of…
Whose daughter was she?
She could not recall her parents’ names, or their faces. No memory of voices, habits, or petty grievances. There were other memories she could not bring up. No best friends, no favorite pets, and no birthdays. Her life was a blank.
Stifling a sob of horror and shame, Kristen closed her eyes tightly. She wanted this living nightmare to end. Curling in on herself into a fetal position, her body floated up away from the floor, her toes and the surface almost clutching at one another until that nearly painful moment of separation. Her mind collapsing in on itself with bizarre revelations, she sank into an ocean of bad memories. Cheating boyfriends, abusive siblings, and schoolyard bullies tormented her thoughts. Waves of depression broke across her psyche like dark water across a bank on the River Styx. This was truly hell, in a very real sense of the word.
“Oh, hey, man, what happened to her?”
Kenji got up from his chair behind a glowing, yet transparent, control panel and stepped gingerly over the heavy cables spreading out across the floor of his apartment’s living room. He looked over to his buddy, Trevor, who was stretched out across the couch with a beer can on his chest.
“What do you mean?” Kenji asked. “The monitors aren’t catching anything out of regular ranges.”
“Yeah, I know, man, but look at her. I think she’s got The Twitch, man.”
Stepping over another bundle of cables over next to the couch, Kenji looked at the young woman they had wired into the Reader. Every muscle in her body seemed to spasm and jerk of its own volition, and completely independent of its neighbors. Her mouth was stretched back in a rictus grin, and her eyeballs were rolling whitely back into her head.
A warning beep emitted from the control panel’s speakers, alerting them to the sudden jump in activity that read well outside of the acceptable bounds. “Oh, damn,” Kenji muttered. “You’re right, she’s got The Twitch. Man, I hate it when they do that! Get up and go get the wheel-barrow. She’s got nothing left, the idiot.”
As he slowly dragged himself into a sitting position, Trevor drank the last of the beer and belched. “Yeah, me, too, man.” He thought about it for a minute, and asked, “Hey, what did you mean, ‘nothing left’?”
As he unhooked plugs from ports in the back of her neck, Kenji mumbled something to himself about chatty partners. “Hey, I don’t need you trying to figure out the business, man. I just need you to do some heavy lifting and light cleaning.”
“Yeah, OK, I see,” Trevor said; he was oddly crestfallen.
Kenji felt a pang of guilt at bruising his buddy’s ego. “Oh, alright.” He crouched down on one knee and gestured towards the young woman’s distorted features. “See, what we’re doing here is pulling certain memories from her engram. It’s really crazy stuff, what they can do to engrams. If you have a Writer, you can turn a shy geek into a raging monster, and back again, if you want. We ain’t got one of those, though.” He patted the shell-shaped device that was earlier wrapped around her head, and continued.
“What we have is a Reader. You can’t add anything to a person with a Reader, but you can sure take it away. So what we do, with the right settings, is pull some of those memories out of her. She comes in, we buy some of her happiest moments, and we pull them out. We then turn around and sell them to guys with Writers, who sell those precious Kodak moments to kids looking for a heavy rush. Hey, I guess you can buy happiness.”
It was a dark joke that made its rounds throughout the Puller and Pusher communities. Some took exception to it, while others embraced it, but none felt all that great about the sick truth behind their business.
“But some people get too greedy. We only pull so many times from a single person so we don’t take too much, and get The Twitch on our hands. Sometimes, though, you get some stupid ones who go to a bunch of different Pullers around town, and before they know what happened, every good memory they ever had is gone. That’s it, they’re all tapped out. All they got left is the bad stuff. It’s messed up, man, and their brain shuts down. And there you go. It’s Puller 101.”
“Oh, wow, man, that’s crazy,” Trevor said. “That’s crazy.” He started pulling Kristen out of the harness and laid her out across the floor. “I’ll go get the wheel barrow.”
“Yeah, you do that.” Kenji rubbed his chin thoughtfully as he considered the situation. “I’m going to go start looking for more talent. My pool is getting thin. Maybe I’ll try for some older ones, like cougars. They’ve got a lot of hot memories, man, worth some good money.”
“Hahaha, yeah, a cougar!” Trevor guffawed as he stepped out the backdoor.
“Yeah, a cougar,” Kenji muttered. He was looking to make a move into that higher dollar market, and this might be the best time to try for it. “You take care of this. I’m going out tonight.”