Fading Dreams

      It was a Monday. Mondays always started the same way. They always started with waking up and realizing that the frivolity and irresponsible activities of the weekend had come to an end and it was time to get back to the real world of being an adult. There was work to do and bills to pay.

      Berkley Woodstock forced himself out of bed and into the bathroom. He didn’t open his eyes until half way through his shower, when he began to wake up. Cold cereal and an almost-stale bagel were his breakfast and he was off to work.

      He didn’t hate his job; it was a pretty good job, all things considered. It paid his bills, and the work wasn’t difficult. Berkley took the bus to the Fading Dreams Memory Adjustment Facility and unlocked the doors.

      His schedule for the morning was about standard. People had things they didn’t want to remember, didn’t want to have to deal with. So, like the kitchen trash, they came to Fading Dreams to just dump it.

      Mr. & Mrs.  Nine o’Clock were late, naturally. They were always late, because they were always trying to grab that one last encounter. It was kind of sweet, actually. They were regulars; they came in every month to have their sex life from the month before erased. They said it kept them like honeymooners, because, as far as they could remember, they hadn’t had sex in years, and never with each other. It was sweet, but he still wasn’t exactly thrilled to have to listen to them tell about which memories to erase. It was rather amusing, though, when she blushed at having to tell about something wild and unusual that, according to their file, they had done many times before.

      Mr. Eleven Thirty was a John Doe. It cost extra to keep your name out of the records. A lot extra. Of course, when he arrived, Berkley could see why. He’d seen that face on countless billboards and bus ads ever since the political campaigns started back up. No wonder he wanted his name kept out of the reports. He wanted to have a couple of things deleted for “plausible deniability.” They kept memory records for the legally required time after eating them, but his name wouldn’t be attached to it.

      After lunch, he handled a few phone calls. Usually they had someone at the desk, but they were short-handed right now. He had to call and explain to a drunk driver that the court orders would not allow them to erase his memory of his crime. He called a handful of other clients back to schedule appointments.

      Little Miss Two Fifteen was cute as she could be, and that only made his job even harder. She walked through the door at ten years old and holding the hand of a child services agent. She walked out holding the hand of her new best friend and no memory of the parents from whom she’d been rescued.

      He was still trying to put Two Fifteen out of his head when he got a walk-in. The man was maybe in his late twenties, but the haggard look on his unshaven face made him look older. The clothes that had been out of style for over a century made him look crazy.

      “Welcome to Fading Dreams, sir. Erase your past to save your future.”

      “Wish it could save the past as well.” He took off his odd, wrinkled hat and sat in the conference chair beside the desk. “I have some memories I want to forget.”

      Why do people always start with that? If you had cats you wanted to kill, you’d be at the vet. Berkley got him the paperwork and went over the pricing with him. He had no hesitation. In under an hour, he was in one of the memory rooms in the back, strapping himself into the chair. The straps weren’t usually needed; it was just a safety precaution. Mostly it just kept people from messing with the device. Reaching out to touch it was always their first reaction. Something about this guy was different than most, though. He wasn’t balking at the straps; he wasn’t taking his time reading through the paperwork; he had something he wanted out of his head, and Berkley was beginning to be a little curious as to what it was.

      “Mr. Kairos, in order to identify the memories you want to erase, you will have to describe them to me. We’ll need to practically relive the moment, to bring it to the foremost of your mind, and make sure we eat the right one.” He nodded, mumbling slightly, and signalled Berkley to hurry up.

      Berkley pulled out the scintillating globe and brought it over to Mr. Kairos. He made some minor adjustments and settled the memory eater over Kairos’s head. The technician’s room was a little area behind a glass shield, positioned just behind the subject’s chair. He could see their body through the glass, but not their face. That was displayed on one of the monitors on the control bank. There was also a monitor that displayed the memories as the memory eater focused on them.

      He flipped the microphone on, activated the memory eater, adjusted some settings, and asked Mr. Kairos for the first memory he wanted eaten.

      “I discovered how to travel through time. I’ll suffer the memories of my transgressions, but I want to forget the secret, so that I cannot teach it to anyone.”

      Berkley tried to tell himself that he had misheard the man. He triggered the microphone again, “Excuse me?”

      “I discovered how to travel in time. I want to forget how.” He closed his eyes and began relating the tale. “For the last five years, I’ve been trying to invent an anti-gravity system. I theorized that having a mass to generate its own gravitational field contrary to Earth’s natural one would result in balancing the two forces. Many trains apply the same principle using magnetic fields.

      “Of course, the problem is in carrying a planet around in your pocket. So I started experimenting with small, controlled black holes.” Berkley’s stunned attention was caught by motion on one of the monitors. The Memory Eater was focusing in on Mr. Kairos’s frontal memory. He was working on some equipment that Berkley didn’t recognize. It looked homemade. Suddenly little lights blinked on and inside a glass ball, a little black hole formed. Berkley stared at it, amazed.

     It was beautiful. For a moment the air made trace lines as it was sucked into the tiny vortex, then it merely rotated around itself silently inside the chamber. The memory jumped forward, and the black hole was no longer visible, encased in a metal ball, but the meters attached to it filled Kairos with excitement.

     “I applied Boyle’s laws of pressure and heat, and I discovered that heat wasn’t the only energy expression they applied to. By increasing the pressure on the black hole, I was able to increase the gravitational field as well.” The memory jumped forward again. He was going to have a lot of holes in his past if he managed not to lose the entire five year span. “I tried two black hole chambers, but it wasn’t stable.” In the memory, the two metal balls were on either side of his hips, attached to a belt. He’d made them smaller than the original. He activated the apparatus, but instead of lifting him from the floor of his little lab, it appeared to push him around. These results were met with grave disappointment, but also hope. The next memory had expanded the belt into a harness and added more of the little black hole chambers. It wasn’t very attractive, but it finally lifted him off the floor.

     “I had done it. I created a system that could counter gravity. Then I tried to actually fly. I wanted more than just floating, though that should have been enough at the time. I increased the pressure on the hole chambers of my Kerr Harness.” The memory in the monitor showed a great deal of excitement and then fear as his view of the lab began to warp and stretch. It grew dimmer and suddenly there was no lab to be seen, only streaks of light and the feeling of being sucked through a giant, fluid straw of nothingness. He thumbed the switch, hoping to save himself. The sucking swirl vomited him into a shopping mall.

     It was clearly Christmas in the shopping mall, but it had been summer in the lab. Kairos picked up on what had happened surprisingly quickly. He grabbed a sale flyer from the first store he reached. It was advertising specials for Christmas twenty years past.

     Berkley triggered the microphone again. “Why would you want to forget this? This is probably the most incredible invention in centuries, maybe of all time. You’re going to win the Nobel Prize!”

     Kairos, on the other monitor, was sullen and sorrowful. “I don’t want a prize, and I don’t want anyone to have this machine. It’s too dangerous. I tried to save Lincoln’s wife, to keep him from falling into depression, and the damned shooter killed the president himself instead. I tried to assassinate Konrad Henlein and prevent World War II, but Hitler rose in his place. Apparently, he was even worse than Henlein. I tried to save my mother, and my sister died. I tried to save my sister, and my father died. All because of this machine. The memory of it must be purged. When I get home, I will destroy the machine as well.”

     Berkley’s eyebrows shot up. The machine still existed. He adjusted the settings to spread the memory net a little wider. As the Memory Eater worked away at the set of memories, Berkley checked the patient info card. Each patient was given a card on which they could write a reminder or set of instructions for what they wanted or needed to do after having the memory eaten. Mr Kairos’s card read: Destroy the machine. Berkley tucked it in his back pocket, along with the address from the file.

     When the Memory Eater was done, Berkley went in to remove the machine and assist the client. Sometimes, they were a little disorganized, often no longer even remembering why they were there.

     “Who are you? Where am I?”

     Always the same first questions. Except when it ended with ‘who am I’? Those got tricky. He made Mr. Kairos at ease, and suggested he enjoy a meal at a restaurant to let his mind settle from the experience. He left a much happier, and more confused, man than he had arrived. As soon as he was gone, Berkley closed shop early and headed for the address on the card.

     As he broke into the makeshift lab, he swore to himself that he wouldn’t be stupid and go around trying to change everything. He was just going to make a few wise investments. He wasted no time trying to figure out the contraption while in the lab. He grabbed the equipment and got out of there as quickly as he could.

     He let himself into the Memory Eater offices through the back door. He pulled the file and watched the recording a few times, memorizing the controls. A quick history lesson of the stock market on his phone and he was ready.

     Berkley switched on the gadgets and waited for the green light that meant the black holes had formed. Then he applied some pressure. It was a very curious sensation to lose enough weight to float six inches off the ground. He turned the dial again, and the room began to warp and stretch beyond his reach. Soon, he was slipping through time. He slipped through about twelve years, and a downtown corner fell into place around him.

     Berkley felt a little queasy after the trip. He hadn’t expected that. He looked around for confirmation that the invention had worked and found a newspaper stand about halfway down the block. The date was a dozen years earlier. He strolled down the street, soaking in the knowledge that he was out of his own time, though still within his lifetime.

     A diner on the corner provided a quiet spot for him to go through the financial pages, checking stocks against his short history lesson. He knew which stocks to look for; he just wanted to make sure he had the right time.

     The next stop was his old bank. Twelve years ago, he’d been banking with Metropolis Economics Credit Union. He took the subway to the main branch. As he passed through the big doors of the bank, it occurred to him that a time traveler would make the perfect thief. Go back before the high-tech securities were available, and then vanish into the future. You wouldn’t even have to take the money with you; you could just hide it, and it would be waiting when you returned. That, however, was not his plan.

     He started to sign his name on the list to see a loan officer and stopped. His name was already there. He glanced over to the waiting area to see himself sitting on the navy blue leather couch, looking over some papers. He looked young.

     Berkley, the ‘real’ Berkley, slowly sidled around some promotional signs to get behind the couch. He peeked over the younger him’s shoulder. He was holding a boat pamphlet. The memory was vaguely familiar to him. He was trying to buy a boat.

     “What I’m going to buy will be much better for us, buddy, don’t you worry,” he whispered to himself. He whispered without the other him hearing. “But how to get you out of the way first?”

     After a moment of thought, he smiled and raised his voice. “Anyone in here drive a blue hatchback? I think there’s a cop writing it a ticket outside.” He turned enough to not be seen straight on, but kept himself in view. As expected, he jumped up from the couch and headed quickly for the door, without looking back. Berkley picked up the paperwork, trashed the boat pamphlet, and began reviewing the loan application.

     As if on cue, a woman with light blond hair and small-framed glasses stepped around the cubicle wall and called his name. Her cubical office had nearly a dozen pictures of three cats. There was a framed family photo as well, on the shelf over her head, but he could read the frame advertisement in the corner from where he was sitting.

     “So, Mr. Woodstock, how can I help you today?”

     “I’m looking to take out a personal loan.”

     “I see. For what purpose?”

     “I’m looking to invest in a friend’s business.”

     “I wish your friend the best. Any collateral?”

     He slid the financial records across the desk and proceeded to leverage everything the younger Berkley had. By the end of the afternoon, he left the bank with a sizable check in his pocket, leaving enough in the account for normal expenses, but nothing more.

     With the check in hand, it was a simple matter to visit a stock brokerage and invest in Pooglesoft, a small software development company that was destined to explode on the digital market. Their first breakthrough made money so fast that one of their main investors was able to quit his dayjob and go to work for Pooglesoft himself. Many of his later developments brought the company to new heights, as it became a household name. It surpassed its dinosaur-like competitors, moving too fast for them to even try to keep up with the innovative new technology. It was even one of their applications that brought the Memory Eater within the common man’s reach.

     Pooglesoft’s stunning software portfolio wasn’t what Berkley was interested in, however. It was their stunning financial portfolio. Their early investors had become rich men as the stocks doubled and tripled in value many times over. He had just bought more Pooglesoft stock than any three of them combined.

     The Kerr belt slid him forward through time about six months. He took a cab to his apartment. At the time, he’d been living in a two bedroom place on the second floor, in an apartment complex called Mountainlake Vistas. There wasn’t a mountain within a hundred miles of the city, and the closest thing to a lake in the apartment’s “vista” was a sewage ditch that overflowed when it rained too hard. Overall, it wasn’t a bad place, but it was the best he had been able to afford. He’d been driving a beat up old pickup truck that he’d gotten cheap from his uncle. It got him from point A to point B, but it wasn’t exactly a “babe-magnet.” He hoped he had changed all of that.

     It was early in the morning; the sun was barely out of bed. There was a different car in the driveway, a nicer car. But was it his, or someone else’s? Berkley snuck alongside the car, away from the apartment windows, and peeked inside. There was nothing definitive.

     He made his way to the stair and landing, bending low under the kitchen windows. He carefully peeked over the sill. There was no one there. It looked cleaner than he remembered it. He ducked as someone entered the kitchen and slowly peeked again. It was a woman. He didn’t recognize her, but she instantly struck him as beautiful. She had dirty blond hair and green eyes. She had an excellent figure, even though it was partly concealed in a white, collared shirt. Clearly, he no longer lived here. He wasn’t sure if that was good or bad news, but he couldn’t seem to tear his eyes away from the girl as he debated his next move.

     A man came through the door, and Berkley nearly fell over. He did still live here, afterall. Who, then, was the girl? He must have changed something, even if it wasn’t yet evident to what extent.

     Gravity shifted as he activated the controls, and time slid past him another six months. Thunder cracked as the apartment complex faded into place around him. He hugged the wall under the windows, trying to stay out of the rain. This time, the kitchen wasn’t empty. Three kids and a harried mother were having breakfast on and between cardboard boxes. One of them was upside down in an open box, his legs waving in the air. After a moment, he came up with a plastic bowl and spoon.

     Berkley debated whether to wait for the rain to end or try to hurry to some cover. He wasn’t sure how well the equipment was made to withstand water, and getting stuck in the past was not part of his plan. It was nearly five minutes before he kicked himself for taking so long to realize the solution to his problem. A moment later, he was standing in a sunny tomorrow morning and casually strolled away from the old apartment. Time travel did have its advantages.

     He stopped into the office and got his new address by pretending to check for unforwarded mail. The new house was across town, in a nice neighborhood. Most of the mail in the box was addressed to Mr. & Mrs. Berkley Woodstock. One catalog was addressed to a Jessica Woodstock. He was married? It had only been a year. How much had the stock changed his life?

     He swiped the newspaper from the front porch and turned to the financial section. Pooglesoft was huge. There was even an article about them on the front page of the section. POOGLESOFT: ONE HIT WONDER? The writer was claiming that nothing new had come out of Pooglesoft since their breakthrough release nearly a year ago. They should be coming out with their next big thing any time now.

     A car pulled into the driveway, and Berkley ducked into the bushes. It was his younger self and the girl he’d seen before. She kissed him as he opened the trunk of the car. He handed her a single apple out of an open grocery bag, and she laughed. They carried in the groceries together. They seemed really happy. As long as she wasn’t after the money, things would be great. He watched until they were safely inside before leaving the bushes.

      He slid forward a year this time. They were having a fight. He didn’t need to peek in the windows to listen to the argument, but he did anyway. She was pretty even when she was angry. By the time he figured out what they were fighting about, they were making up. They’d been fighting about money, but there should be plenty of money. He’d made sure of that.

      Berkley snuck into the house and crept to the office. He found the bank statement right on top. It figured if money worries were around, then it would be close at hand. Nothing looked particularly out of place. No mysterious withdrawals, no unexplained purchases. He laid the bank statement back down, scratching his head. A stock report caught his eye from under the bank statement and he picked it up. There was the problem; Pooglesoft was dropping fast! It didn’t make any sense.

      The newspaper from the trash helped explain the problem. Someone had started up a new company and was releasing the products that Pooglesoft was supposed to be coming up with. Something had changed. Pooglesoft was going to fail. He heard a noise and ducked under the desk. Someone was coming.

      “Don’t worry about it. I’ll talk to the broker tomorrow and move our money over into a mutual fund. He’s been telling me to diversify all year. He’ll be thrilled.”

      “Thank you, Berkley. It just makes me nervous when I see all of our eggs in one basket, and the basket’s sitting out on a limb!” They laughed. He could see their feet from under the desk. Jessica’s toenails were painted with little pink hearts on a blue background.

      “Here’s the book you wanted. Honestly, I don’t know why you read that stuff,” he teased.

      “It’s escape. I can read this and experience things that are impossible in real life.”

      Berkley knew how she felt. He was experiencing impossible things himself these days. On his way out, he grabbed an apple from the kitchen. Time travel made him hungry. At least he knew the money was safe, even if Pooglesoft wasn’t. He must have bought out that investor’s shares; kept him from joining the company.

      Everything seemed perfect, but Berkley wanted to make one last check before heading back to his own time to enjoy the fruits of his labors. He slid forward another year. There was the pretty house, the nice car. Jessica opened the front door, making him step behind a tree to escape notice. She was pregnant. He smiled proudly as he watched her get in the car and back down the driveway. He’d built quite the little life for himself this time. Finally, he would be happy. He reached for the time controls.

      The crash was so loud that it knocked him off balance. He grabbed the tree to keep from falling. He looked up in horror and stared at the car. A truck had hit it in the side. The car was sideways alongside the edge of the yard, one door crushed in against a tree trunk. The truck had careened off and was sitting half on the grass across the street.

      Berkley ran to the car. The door was jammed. Jessica was unconscious inside. Blood speckled the broken windows. He called an ambulance, waited as long as he dared. He overheard a neighbor say that they’d called the husband. He’d meet them at the hospital. He watched them drive away with her.

      He slid forward a week. The nice car was gone, obviously. On the door of the house hung a black ribbon. Still in shock, he picked up a paper to see the obituary. He was right, they’d been expecting. He read details about his dead wife’s life that he’d never known: her hobbies, her birthday, her middle and maiden names. Then, a date caught his eye. They’d been married for four years. They were already married when he first showed up from the future. He slid forward through time.

      “Welcome to Fading Dreams, sir. Erase your past to save your future.”

      Berkley didn’t even look up. He knew the routine.

      “I want to forget something I already forgot.” He sat down in the chair beside the guy’s desk. He’d already destroyed the equipment. “I want to forget my wife.”

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