Author’s Note: So I was doing my window flipping thing, and I looked at prompts on the dashboard and one popped up that had me going, “but I already wrote that.”
I didn’t finish the idea, but I wrote it. At least a year ago. I’d have to dig into emails and stuff to figure out just how long ago it was.
The prompt said this: They found out a good way to make soldiers was to remove the memory function entirely.
This was my start of that kind of concept.
No one remembered what was before. That was gone forever, and no part of it would ever return. That was what everyone knew, what everyone had been told. The before was gone. Only the now existed. Only the war and their training. Nothing else.
Yet alone, unbidden and unexpected, something like a memory stirred in her, a moment so clear it burned almost enough to cause physical pain where here neuroimplant was. She wasn’t supposed to feel pain there, not supposed to know where it was, but then she wasn’t supposed to remember anything, either.
She did. She swore she did.
They would tell her she misunderstood it, that it was something from training, but how could it be? She could not forget the sense of the forbidden, the thrill as well as the guilt, the quickening of her pulse and her breath.
He touched her. Gentle, soft as it was, it felt like fire, burning where his hand had been, and though she knew it would never happen again—it should never have happened at all—she would feel it always. He broke the rules. He touched her, taking her elbow to aid her, but he didn’t—shouldn’t—and yet for that action they could both be punished.
She forced her eyes away from where his hand had been, needing to see his face.
She never did. That part of the memory was gone. Still, with as many times as she’d been grabbed, hit, and manhandled in training—both live and simulated—she could not believe the memory was anything to do with that. She would not have thought it forbidden. Touch was expected in a time of war, and the rules here were simple: follow orders and defeat the enemy. The enemy was merciless, relentless, and seemingly endless, outnumbering them and outclassing them, and so fighting could easily be vicious and painful, even if only with other soldiers. No touch was too far against the enemy, and lethal was only held back in training, since allies were few but opposition numerous.
That moment was not from training. It must have been from before.
Lying in her bunk, she stared up at the bed above her, listening to other soldiers sleep and wondering who she had been. She was not supposed to care, but the memory made her question so much—where had she been that someone touching her could be a crime? Was it a fault in her or in him that made it wrong? Who was he? Had she known him well or was he a stranger? Why could she never remember his face? She wanted to know so much, to understand it, and she would not, not without more memories.
If he was a soldier, then he was dead. She knew most of her contemporaries were already gone, the same ones implanted and washed when she was were almost all dead. They had the same training as she did. She just lasted longer, not by any special means of her own, but by what they would say was accident, not even stubbornness or favorable fortune.
She closed her eyes, concentrating on the memory again. So far, none of her attempts to bring back more of it had worked, but she didn’t want to stop trying. She replayed the image in her head, focusing on the hand, memorizing every line and wrinkle, every possible scar and identifying mark.
If she ever saw that hand again, she’d know it.
She also knew she was a fool—nothing from the before existed, and she needed to fight in the now. This was a war. She was a soldier.
She had nothing else.
Just the illusion of a memory.