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Brian Hopkins is an electronics engineer who lives near Oklahoma City. His stories have appeared in Aboriginal SF, Dragon Magazine, Adventures of Sword and Sorcery, and many other publications. This story originally appeared in Pursuit.


Dark Planet is designed and edited by Lucy A. Snyder. If you spot any errors, or if you have any comments, please contact her at lusnyde@cyberus.ca.

All materials copyright 1996-1999 by their respective creators. No stories, articles, poems or images from this webzine may be posted or published without the written consent of their creator(s).

All Our Yesterdays

by Brian A. Hopkins

 

     Twilight.
          Central Park's northwest corner.
     A businessman alone with the wind.
     In 1998 the city erected a sign here warning intrepid or addled tourists that the northern perimeter, which borders on Harlem, was unsafe after dark. It was signed by the Chief of Police, Central Park Precinct, whose office is located a safe distance away on the south side of the reservoir. On this particular summer night that office is empty, as it was all day and the day before. The Chief of Police, it seems, forgot to show up for work.
     In the years it's been up, the sign has suffered the weather and graffiti, the latter so layered that it's virtually impossible to make out the original words. No matter, less than ten percent of the people in New York City remember how to read. Studying the sign, the disheveled man in the grey suit is more likely to recognize the gang symbols emblazoned on it. Singular symbols are better retained in the hippocampus.
     Unlike almost every other sign in the park -- in fact, almost every other sign in the nation -- this one hasn't been replaced with a proximity-activated, audio sign. The reason for this is a simple one: by 2001 the violence in question no longer existed. Violence requires hate, and hate requires cognizance of past transgressions.
     The man in the grey suit ponders the sign for a moment, waiting perhaps for it to address him, but prolonged contemplation requires more mental faculty than he's capable of mustering. Shortly, he shrugs and moves on, following the trails to the south.
     The trees whisper in the warm moonlight, their leaves rustling like the old women digging through their knitting bags on the park benches. The grass smells of cutting. The gravel under his feet makes a satisfying crunch that is comfortably familiar. He's made this walk before, but he can't remember when. A jogger passes without meeting his eye. An old man and his collie meander from tree to tree.
     A speaker mounted in an ancient silver maple comes to life as the man in the grey suit walks by. "Good evening, citizen. If you're lost or confused, don't let that frighten you. This is perfectly normal. Locate an identification panel along the trail for assistance."
     Proceeding south, he watches for such a panel, but even in these times the park is intended as a place to lose oneself. Identification panels are few and far between. He finds two, but both have been smashed. All that remains is the audio unit which politely, repeatedly, asks him to place his hand against the recognition plate to be scanned. The recognition plate is beyond repair, its glass face a spider web of bright-edged shards, its plastic housing spilling wires and electronics.
     He begins to worry. A quick search through his pockets turns up some loose bills and change, a half roll of Rolaids, and a scrap of paper. No wallet. No identification. On the paper is written, "Heckscher Puppet House" (though he fails to interpret these symbols as words).
     A billboard beside the trail shows him where the Puppet House is located. The billboard is automated and fully functional. It's free of graffiti, as if some unwritten code designates it as off limits, as if the youths who defaced the warning sign respected the necessity of the park map. The man in the grey suit matches the sequence of symbols on the paper to a numbered index. All he has to do then is touch the index number. The Puppet House is situated on the south side of the 843-acre park. Distance, however, has little meaning for him. Without knowing how far he's walked in the past and, therefore, how far he's capable of walking now, he can't relate to this impending journey.
     After the billboard shows him where Heckscher's Puppet House can be found, he asks it a rather simple question.
     "Who am I?"
     "Do not be alarmed, citizen. You can obtain that information from the nearest Identification Panel." It promptly highlights the nearest panel on the map for him, but it's one of the two broken ones he's already located. When he informs it of the vandalism, the billboard politely replies that it will notify the Chief of Police.

     We spent so many years overlooking the obvious. Alzheimer's was the clue, but we failed to grasp the warning Mother Nature was giving us. Because we noticed it was abundant in the autopsied brains of deceased Alzheimer's patients, we spent years researching apolipoprotein E (ApoE) which normally helps transport cholesterol in the blood. We sensed there was a link, and even as early as 1993 we knew the gene that codes for the ApoE-4 allele was an Alzheimer's indicator. Those with two ApoE-4 genes are virtually guaranteed of contracting the disease. But genetics were still slightly out of our reach in the nineties, and all we could really do was what we always do with something we don't understand: we play the game of haruspication, drilling and cutting and sifting through what the disease leaves us, picking at the remains of its victims in search of a future without the disease. A common enough mistake. A tried and true fallacy of modern medicine.
     We should have been looking at healthy brains, not just the brains of those who had died from Alzheimer's.
     In 1993, we even had within our hands a simple test for Alzheimer's. Neurobiologists had discovered that a particular channel molecule that allows potassium ions to move in and out of cells is missing or nonfunctional in people with Alzheimer's. It was known that these potassium ions play a key role in the formation of memories. What we couldn't identify was what was devouring the potassium channels. What was too unbelievable, though it lay right behind our very noses, was that an enemy had infiltrated our minds.

-- Emery, Peter D., "One Who Remembers," Epidemiology Monthly, Sept. 2005 (undistributed).

     Following a bridle path, he continues past the tennis courts and down the west bank of the reservoir. The wind off the water is cool and moist, easing some of the tension and fear building within him. From here he can see the glass and concrete buildings on Central Park West. He's actually close enough to hear traffic if there were any, but the only thing running this late is the underground public transportation. Looking across the reservoir he can also see the buildings fronting Fifth Avenue, including the Guggenheim Museum, but the most impressive buildings are all to the south.
     There's a working identification panel where the bridle path veers around the south bank of the reservoir. As he approaches the panel, a man with a baseball bat slips from the dark woods and rushes forward. "Good evening, citizen ..." begins the panel.
     "Wait!" shouts the man in the grey suit.
     The man with the bat doesn't hesitate. Putting his shoulders to the task, he takes one mighty swing at the box. The identification panel explodes in a shower of sparks and crackling blue cessation.
     "Hey!"
     The man with the bat shrugs sheepishly, the smile on his face catching the moonlight. "Sorry, friend," he pants, "but you're honestly better off this way."
     The grey-suited man hardly looks convinced. "Why did you do that?"
     "Because the damn things are nothing more than placebos. You think they're helping you, but they're not. It's like the little pocket computers everyone's using or the notepads those who can still read and write carry. You reach the point where you can no longer assimilate everything they have to tell you, friend. Stand and listen to one of those panels long enough and you'll forget what information you were originally asking for."
     "I just wanted to know my name," mumbles the grey-suited man.
     The man with the bat shrugs again. "What difference does it make?"
     "Makes a lot of difference if I expect to get home tonight." He looks at his business suit. "-- Or to work in the morning."
     "See," the man with the bat says, coming closer, "that's the problem. This, my friend, is the next stage of evolution. We've lived our lives letting what we know define our existence. Our science, our technology, our culture, ethics, and religion, they decide who and what we are." He's on a roll now, rising on the tips of his toes and gesturing with the bat, an evangelist ball player at pulpit. "You were the man your parents created, the environmentally programmed product of this city's cycle of cause and effect, a child of the past. In any given situation, your response was predetermined by who and what you were. Free will was dead, my friend.
     "But this ... this is the dawn of a new age. It's time to become that which we forget. It's time for tomorrow to decide what we are today."
     There are suddenly lights in the forest and people shouting. "Prophet, you son of a bitch," someone yells, "where are you?"
     "Uh-oh. Time to be going." He snags the sleeve of the grey suit. "You'd better come along. They'll think you were with me."
     "But I don't even know who you are."
     Switching the bat to his left hand, he thrusts out his right. "Jeremiah Prophet at your service. And you are?"
     "Uh ... that's the problem."
     "I see." The shouts and the lights are much closer now. "We'll sort that out later; right now I think we'd better run."
     "Run?"
     "Run!"

     What we should have been looking at was the complement system, a particularly lethal group of about 25 proteins in the immune system that destroy disease-causing micro-organisms. We knew as early as 1992 that brain cells taken from people with Alzheimer's disease appear to manufacture certain complement proteins. We should have seen that these proteins were being unleashed not on a microbe, but on the brain itself. If we'd thought to look, we might have seen the virus programming the rampant proteins.
     Under magnification, brain tissue from an Alzheimer's victim shows abnormal, yarn-like deposits, called neurofibrillary tangles, and the gray matter of the brain will appear pocked with "plaques." These plaques are made of dying nerve cell components surrounding a core of beta amyloid protein, a fibrous material. Both the tangles and the plaques occur in the areas of the brain involved in memory and intellectual functioning. We discovered complement proteins buried within the telltale plaque and neurofibrillary tangles. Many in the scientific community scoffed at these findings, believing that when the patients died, complement proteins floating in the bloodstream managed to slip past a damaged or leaky blood-brain barrier. Had we done enough research, we'd have seen that the beta amyloid protein itself binds with complement proteins and sets off a toxic cascade in the brain.
     If we'd known what we were looking at, we'd have seen the culprit disguising itself as an amyloid protein, deliberately -- so it seemed -- hiding from our electron microscopes and necropsies. A virus is nothing more than a small capsule of membranes and proteins with one or more strands of DNA or RNA. With so little as its makeup, it's pretty easy for one to camouflage itself as a beta amyloid. By the time we knew enough to look for CDS, it was already a master of disguises.

-- Emery, Peter D., "One Who Remembers," Epidemiology Monthly, Sept. 2005 (undistributed).

     On the far side of a great open field, they come upon a body of water considerably smaller than the reservoir. Both men collapse on the grassy bank, gasping for air. The man in the grey suit rubs a bruised shin. In his flight across the field, he tripped over a man sleeping in a cardboard box.
     "Turtle Pond," says Prophet, nodding toward the water gleaming in the moonlight. He scoops up a double handful of water and splashes it in his face.
     "I don't see any turtles."
     "You're not likely to, either. Every pond in the park is manmade. Even the reservoir has an artificial bottom. Turtles like good old mud between their toes." Prophet gets to his feet and stands on wobbly legs. "Whew! Not used to so much exercise." He squints out across the dark field. "Looks like we lost them though."
     "Who were they?"
     "That'd be my good friend Orin and whatever rabble he's recruited for the evening."
     "What do they want from you?"
     "Only my head," Prophet chuckles. He takes a couple practice swings with the bat. "Well, I've got work to do. You have a pleasant evening now."
     "Wait. Aren't you going to help me?"
     "Help you with what?"
     "I don't even know my own name."
     "Hmmm." Prophet leans on the bat and rubs his chin. "Bob. Let's call you Bob."
     "But what if that's not my name?"
     "Do you know it's not your name?"
     "Well," the man in the grey suit replies, considering, "I suppose I could be a Bob. But then again, I could be a ... well, a someone else."
     Prophet hoists the bat up on his shoulder and starts off to the east. "Nope," he calls back over his shoulder. "You're a Bob. You're Bob McGiveny. You sell insurance on Broadway. Business hasn't been going too well since the plague wiped out everyone's memory. Nobody seems worried about having insurance these days. And those who already have insurance don't ever remember to send in their premium payments." He's a good thirty yards away now and getting harder to hear. "You got thrown out of your apartment complex this morning 'cause you can't pay the rent, so you came into the park looking for a place to sleep ... I'd find a place further south if I was you, Bob, down by one of those statues on the Literary Walk maybe ... maybe even down by the Zoo ...."
     The darkness swallows him and the man in the grey suit is left staring at the moon on the water.
     "Bob?" he wonders aloud. He tries to recall what he knows about insurance, but nothing comes to mind. Finally, he follows the bank of the pond, heading west because Prophet went east. A few minutes later he comes upon an empty theater, its stage framed by majestic maples and elms. Beyond the theater is a garden and beyond that a cottage fronted with park benches. The cottage features a dormer-like structure where one would expect the front door to be. Upon closer inspection, the dormer proves to be a small stage. The stage is obviously designed for very small actors ... or puppets. Bob -- for such he has decided to call himself -- sits down on one of the benches to take stock of his situation.
     It certainly looks like a Puppet House.
     "Hello?" he calls.
     Hands suddenly seize his arms and pin him to the bench. Flashlights probe his eyes and faces press close. "Where is he?" someone demands.
     "Who?" Bob asks.
     "Prophet. Which way did he go?"
     "I don't know."
     "You're lying!"
     "I forget."
     "You're lying. It was only a couple minutes ago." The speaker pulls Bob to a sitting position. "Who are you?"
     "Bob McGiveny. I ... I sell insurance. You're Orin?"
     The man turns and yells at someone in the darkness. "Hey! Where do you think you're going? Get back here!" He turns back to Bob. "Dullards! Every so often they forget they're with me and start wandering off." He pokes Bob in the chest with a metal pipe. "You're not that bad off though, Bob. I can tell. You remember which direction Prophet took. You can tell me -- or I can rearrange your face with this pipe."
     "I just wanted to get to the Puppet House," Bob stutters. He shows Orin the slip of paper.
     "Heckscher's is to the south, Bob. This is the Swedish Marionette Theater." He smacks Bob sharply on the cheek with the pipe. "Which way did he go?"
     "Aiyee!" comes a banshee scream from the darkness, and suddenly Prophet is among them, cracking heads with his bat. Orin's recruits flee before the maniacal onslaught.
     "Ha!" Prophet laughs, chasing after them, "you've forgotten how to fight, haven't ya?"
     "Let them go!" Orin yells. "There's no need to hurt any of them!"
     Prophet comes back into the light of the Marionette Theater marquee. "That includes him," he replies, motioning to Bob.
     "Hell," Orin mutters, turning Bob loose, "I wasn't going to hurt him."
     "Fine time to tell me that now," Bob grumbles, "after you've scared the life out of me."
     "No big deal, " Orin replies, "You'll have forgotten all about it by morning."

     The scientists originally called it Cognitive Deficit Syndrome, or CDS, but it's been a full year since I spoke with anyone else who remembers this. I prefer to tell people that CDS stands for "Citizens for a Demented Society." I tell them it was an NRA plot to overthrow Uncle Sam before he managed to take away all their handguns. Most people become indignant and storm off with good intentions. Shortly thereafter, they forget what they were mad about.
     Dementia refers to a group of symptoms, such as forgetfulness and confusion, that are often associated with old age. But the loss of mental agility is not a normal consequence of aging, but rather the result of a disease process such as a stroke, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, or Parkinson's.
     Our dementia was born in war. Our brains have been the battlefield. Our enemy was not human.
     Our enemy was infiltrating as far back as 1907 when the German physician Alois Alzheimer found microscopic bits of debris -- since dubbed plaques and neurofibrillary tangles -- cluttering brain tissue taken from a 51-year-old woman who had suffered from senile dementia.
     Like HIV before it, the CDS virus was devious. It spent years probing, evolving, finding its niche. Far more intelligent than HIV, this enemy knew to leave little or no trace of its occupation. In the years that we sought it out, we chased ghost symptoms, diversely misleading side effects, and phantom transmission modes. We still do not know how CDS spreads. Without our most brilliant medical researchers, we will likely never know. Though few spoke of it, even in the early days of the full onslaught of the virus, I believe this was CDS's intent. What better way to ensure its survival, than to erase the mental capacity to drive it from the ranks of the human race?
     Unlike killer viruses such as HIV, Marburg, Ebola, and all the others, CDS had in mind its own survival when it linked up with the human species. There'd be no fever, no hemorrhaging, no weakening of the immune system. There'd be only quiet acceptance and erasure of the memory of any other way of life.

-- Jahrling, Thomas J., Let Me Explain, self-published, 2008.

     "Now I'm all turned around," Bob complains. "If one of you could maybe point me in the right direction, I'll be going." Prophet and Orin ignore him, circling each other warily, pipe and baseball bat ready.
     "You've got to stop destroying the aids we put in place to help these people, Jeremiah."
     "They're not aids, they're hindrances! And people like you are only interested in taking advantage of these people."
     "Not true! Without us and without the computer aids, these people are lost."
     "Looks like you recruited your posse tonight just fine without them. What'd you tell them this time, that I was a child molester?"
     "I told them you wanted to steal their future."
     "Their future isn't in those damn electronic boxes, Orin. This is their future. Those who aren't capable of adjusting to a life where every day is their birthday will be weeded out of society -- that's the basic mechanism for evolution, you idiot! This is nature's way."
     "This has nothing to do with evolution," Orin counters, "it's a goddamn viral plague!"
     "Live for today," Prophet chants, "yesterday is gone forever!"
     "Without yesterday, you fool, there can be no tomorrow."
     They proceed to call each other names and take tentative swings with their respective weapons, dubious gladiators in the moonlight.
     "Could one of you point me in the right direction?" Bob asks again.
     "Wait," Orin says, backing out of reach of the bat, "we'll let Bob decide who's right."
     "Bob doesn't know his ass from a hole in the wall."
     "Exactly my point!" Orin exclaims. "Without a pocket diary or a friendly ID panel to access, he's lost. He can't function in society without some concept of who and what he is."
     "He can't function in today's society," Prophet retaliates, "but he'll be right at home in tomorrow's."
     "Provided he can find his home!"
     "Every home will be his in the society of tomorrow. We're talking about a level of social conscious and interaction akin to a hive species where there's no need for prescribed roles, occupations, or stations. Everyone simply goes out and does what needs to be done. No one tells each ant which grain of sand to move. No one tells a bee which flowers to gather pollen from on any given day. They simply do these things because they must be done."
     "All for one and one for all," Bob pipes up, having no idea where he's picked up such an expression. He thinks that he's just then made it up, and beams rather proudly at the play on words.
     "Right!" Prophet exclaims magnanimously. "Bob's catching on. It's the good for the greater whole concept."
     "But someone has to build the hive," Orin protests. "Our education and skills -- skills that we acquire through repeated practice -- make us capable of building and maintaining our culture. Without higher learning, we lose our science, our math, all the things that have put the stars within our reach. Without these things, the universe and its secrets are forever lost."
     "Your electronic diaries won't give them back their calculus and quantum physics, Orin."
     "No. But they can help hold society in place until those of us who aren't affected by CDS can figure out something better. Maybe someone, somewhere, is working on a cure right now."
     "Fat chance."
     "Hey!" Bob cries. "I get it. You guys are normal. Neither of you have this virus thing!"
     "Brilliant, Bob," Orin acknowledges sarcastically. "Absolutely brilliant."
     Prophet shakes his bat at him. "Lay off my good friend Bob there, Orin."
     "I know it's not his fault," Orin mumbles apologetically. "Our experiences and our social molding make us who we are. Without individualism, there can be no creativity. No art. No literature. No architecture, music, no original thought. Hell, if we lack the mental faculty to read, or even just to retain what we read, not only have we lost the ability to create new works, but we can't hold in our minds the great works of the past. Without these things we can't grow -- or maybe even survive -- as a species."
     "Our creativity gave us some pretty horrible things too: war, hate and violence, religion, neckties and PeeWee Herman. I certainly won't be missing any of those!"
     Orin ignores him. "Without individualism and creativity, we become a race of mindless automatons stumbling through uneventful days, each one just like the last."
     "Bullshit!" Prophet roars. "Are you listening to this crap, Bob? You're not mindless, are you? Hell, no! No one's mindless just because they can't remember what they did yesterday. And their days aren't uneventful. On the contrary, they're guaranteed that every day is fresh and new. It's like living your entire life as a child."
     "And we all know how cruel children can be."
     "Oh, that's really trite, Orin. It's wanting all the things we can't afford that leads us to do cruel and terrible things to one another. CDS will lead to a social construct in which everything is community property. No man shall covet another man's home because it could just as easily be his home. If not today, then tomorrow. No man shall covet another man's wife -- if two people want to spend time together, they will. And if they're always together, if this is the ten thousandth time they've made love, it will seem just like the first time. Say goodbye to boredom, Bob. Your culture won't have it. We're sitting on the dawn of a golden age of discovery here. Every day, every moment will be new and exciting. I can't believe you don't see that, Orin.
     "Don't you agree, Bob?"
     When there's no answer, both men turn to look. Bob is gone.

     Those of us who did not immediately contract the disease -- or for some unknown reason are immune -- were left with a nearly impossible undertaking. The responsibility which fell to us was no less than the survival of the human species. Without memories, how was society to function? How does a man rise in the morning, go to an office, and contribute toward the global machine upon which the very foundation of our society is built?
     We immediately set about automating what we could. What we couldn't automate, we watched society surrender as each of us in turn eventually contracted the virus. When the last of those with a medical background fell, we shut down the hospitals. When the last engineer came down with CDS, we ceased all our designs. When the last pilot sat weeping in front of his controls, we shut down the last airline, an instrument CDS -- like all its kin before it -- had surely used to its advantage.
     Because we had the technology to do little else, we spent a lot of time addressing the confusion factor. Every morning, some 6 billion people wake to the terror of not knowing who they are, where they're at, or with whom they're sharing the bed. We scanned the palm print of every person we could find those first few years, stored the images in massive, networked databases, and fed in everything we could about those individuals. Using the GPS satellite system for a data link, we designed and distributed hand-held minicomputers, electronic diaries on which a person could record who and what he was. We wrote extensive data query software, so that an individual could enter his entire life on the computer and have it answer the most mundane of questions. With the nation's wealth up for grabs, we manufactured and distributed them for free. We taught people how to use them. We taught them, best as we could, how to survive.
     When people forgot how to read, we replaced important signs with audio bulletin boards. When they forgot how to drive, we beefed up the public transportation systems. When they forgot to show up for work, we created programs to either drive them out of their homes or bring the work home to them. When they forgot ... You get the point.
     But it wasn't enough.
     And there are fewer of us fighting the problem every year. Last count -- and this was nearly two years ago -- ninety-seven percent of the world population had contracted the disease.
     For both those with and without CDS, suicide seems to be the preferred method of cheating the disease. There was a time when we couldn't even keep them all buried.
     For those who struggle on, time is running out. Already, food grown in rural areas has stopped making it into the cities. The factories in the cities are falling silent one by one as the effort to remember how to operate them becomes more than people are willing to endure. Though birth rates are up because people have forgotten about birth control, population growth is outpaced by infant mortality rates because we've forgotten how to care for our children. Though there's very little violence in CDS's world, lethargy and ignorance claim just as many lives every year.
     I wonder if the virus didn't do too good of a job afterall.

-- Jahrling, Thomas J., Let Me Explain, self-published, 2008.

     Leaving the Marionette Theater behind, Bob enters a dense area of underbrush, trees, monolithic rocks, and winding trails. It's called the Ramble and its thick warrens were the earliest gathering place for gays in New York. The gays have long since forgotten they used to meet in the Ramble's secret coves and leaf-strewn byways. In fact, most of the gays have forgotten they're gay. The process of coming out runs far longer than they've now got retention capability to handle. Bob, of course, knows nothing about the Ramble or gays. The mere concept of sex between two men would seem not only absurd, but wrong to him. Without memories and experiences upon which to draw, he has only instinct and hormones to motivate his prurient interests, and for him these are devised for promulgation of his species.
     For the moment, however, his mind is occupied with the two men he's just left behind.
     "They'd like to kill each other," Bob tells the night. An owl calls out and Bob answers. "Prophet and Orin, that's who. It's their individuality which makes them so violent." As soon as that escapes his lips, he's rethought it. "Or is it fear? I can see where they'd be afraid of catching what all the rest of us have. I can see where that would drive them both to create an almost theological viewpoint for dealing with it. With Prophet, it's acceptance. With Orin, it's a dogged determination to triumph in the end. I've no doubt that Orin's got his entire life history stored on a pocket computer just in case. I've also no doubt that Prophet has none.
     "Then again, maybe it's their fear of being the last ones who know what it's like to remember what they did yesterday, the last to know how we all got like this, the last to know the name of a specific pond in the park. That in itself, could be an incredible burden."
     Beyond the Ramble, he comes upon water again. There's a beautiful bridge arching over the pond's moon-stippled surface. Beyond the bridge there's a breathtaking fountain. Beyond that, another open field. He cannot begin to imagine how one would build such a bridge or fountain. But he thinks he might, if he had enough time, clear such a field. Not everything, he decides, is lost.
     "I know one thing. I know that if having my memory means living my life to put such beliefs as Prophet's and Orin's above everything else, even the safety and well-being of another, then I'm better off knowing that by tomorrow I will have forgotten them both."
     And he says nothing more as he crosses Sheep Meadow and the Heckscher ball fields, coming at last to the puppet house.

Forget the dead, the past? Oh, yet
There are ghosts that may take revenge for it,
Memories that make the heart a tomb,
Regrets which glide through the spirit's gloom,
And which ghastly whispers tell
That joy, once lost, is pain.

-- from "The Past" by Percy Bysshe Shelley

That which is behind me is of no concern.
I need only keep my eyes on that which lies before me . . .
Because that defines my path in life.

-- Unknown [attributed to Jeremiah Prophet, b. 1976, d. 2010 (?)], spray painted on the wall in a Manhattan subway station

     To Bob's complete and utter amazement, there's a puppet show in progress, with an audience sitting rapt in the carefully arranged benches. He takes a seat toward the back and, for the moment, simply enjoys the show.
     "I know you can't remember, but here's the deal," squeaks a marionette mouse, "I'm supposed to eat the cheese and you're supposed to eat me."
     A scraggly tom cat scratches its head and sweeps a baffled expression across the audience. "I'm supposed to eat you?" The audience laughs at the cat's incredulous tone.
     "I'm quite confident that that's the way it's always been," replies the mouse.
     The cat moves its paw, revealing a wedge of Limburger. It looks at the cheese. Looks at the mouse. Looks at the cheese. Finally, the cat looks at the audience. "But I was really looking forward to that cheese!" In that moment, when the cat's attention is on the laughing audience, the mouse darts forward and snatches up the cheese. Then, with a quick snap of its heels, it's gone, taking the cheese with it.
     "My cheese!" wails the cat. Agitated, it runs about madly for a few seconds, but then it stops and settles down. "Oh well, I suppose it's all been worth it," the cat says philosophically, "if it gets me out of eating mice."
     Bob wonders about the creativity of the puppeteer, who must surely have written this skit after the spread of the CDS virus. Perhaps it's another immune, like Prophet and Orin. A simple peek behind the curtain and a few choice questions would give him the answer, but Bob decides he'd rather believe that creativity has survived CDS.
     "Where on earth have you been, Kevin?" exclaims a slim brunette as she slides onto the bench beside him. Bob looks her up and down and, though he finds her extremely attractive, he doesn't recognize a thing about her.
     "Uh oh," she sighs, "I've seen that vacant look before. You set your briefcase down on the subway again, didn't you?"
     "I don't know," he stutters.
     "You don't even know who I am, do you, Kevin?"
     Kevin?
     She slides closer, putting her arm around him. "It's me, baby. Julie."
     "Julie?"
     "Your wife, silly." She takes a handful of photographs from her purse and shows him one. It's the two of them, though years younger. White dress. Tuxedo. A cake. There are words on the back of the photograph, though he can't read them. The handwriting, however, looks familiar. "Kevin and Julie Mueller," she says, tracing the words with her finger, "June 21st, 1995."
     Kevin Mueller? It sounds no more familiar than Bob McGiveny. Still, she smells wonderful and warm. And something about her feels right pressed against his side. It's possible, he thinks, that some of our neurons remember better than others. It's possible that our sense of touch has a memory all its own. He tests his theory by running his fingertips along the line of her jaw, across her lips, down the length of her arm. He decides it's true, maybe for no better reason than he wants to believe it's true, but that's reason enough.
     Touch has a memory.
     "Let's go home," Julie says. She consults a pocket computer for the address and they leave the puppet show behind to stroll hand in hand through the park.
     Her hand in his is the most familiar experience he's encountered all evening. The smooth breadth of her palm is a perfect match against his own. Nerve and skin cells, flesh and blood and tactile palm patterns -- even the CDS virus -- recognize the proximity and the rightness of her.

 

Note: The author wishes to acknowledge the work of René Etcheberrigaray of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in Bethesda, MD, Joseph Rogers of the Institute for Biogerontology Research in Sun City, AZ, Elizabeth H. Corder and Warren J. Strittmatter of Duke University Medical Center in Durham, NC, and Patrick L. McGeer of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

THE END