Memory is an Encumbrance, by Julia Stamford

Space Command HQ

It was my fault that I was captured. I freely admit that. I am stronger than an unmodified, I should not be vulnerable to one simply coming up behind me and grappling me to the ground. Unfortunately, this part of my training did not emphasise what to do when the unmodified is in the tail of the distribution, one of the very few who can simply knock me over and sit on me.

Yes, that is the one. Olag Gan. Gan, they called him. Idiot, was what one said when he saw the catch. Avon, I found out later. We talked a lot, later. That man… makes me uneasy.

No, I do not need reprogramming. My blocks are holding. It is simply that they have been stressed of late, they are settling into place. The medic checked this thoroughly before I reported for debriefing. Yes, I requested it. The reason will be covered in my debriefing.

I was knocked to the ground, and Olag Gan sat on me to me to restrain me. He is very heavy, and very strong. I could not force him off, or bring any weapons to bear. He slipped something onto my wrist, then shouted for teleport. It was never discussed with me, but I assume the device placed on my wrist was part of their teleport system. No, I did not observe it in any detail. One arrives in a chamber, smaller than this one, with a console opposite the area where one materialises. The operator sits behind the console, facing the materialisation area. He or she could not be easily taken by surprise. The operator was visible before I was able to move. I presume that I would have been visible to her as well.

What did it feel like? Indescribable. Perhaps an unmodified could describe it. I cannot. I do not have the referents.

There was some discussion about what to do with me. I gathered from the conversation that they had been hoping to capture an officer with information about where a particular prisoner was being held. As it happens, I had the information they required, but they assumed that their interrogation equipment would have trouble calibrating for my modifications. One suggested that I be dumped overboard, another that I be put back where I had been found. No, the first one was Restal. He was not callous, but afraid. He believes the stories about mutoid modification.

They argued for several minutes, and then Blake said, “No. I’ve a better idea. Lock him in a cabin for the moment.”

Liberator

“You are out of your mind, Blake.”

Well, that wasn’t an unusual statement from Avon. “Any particular reason?”

“You can’t reverse mutoid modification. That’s the whole point of it!”

“I wasn’t supposed to be able to get my memory back,” he pointed out.

That was somewhat less drastic than what was done to this… this person,” Avon said. He was staring at the mutoid in disgust. “It isn’t even a person any more.”

Blake looked at the modified man, who stared calmly back at him. Unnaturally calm, but this was still a human being. “He is a man, Avon. I want to see if he can be helped to remember that.”

Avon snorted. “It was a man, Blake. Now it’s little more than a machine. A machine that happens to be organic.”

Irritated by Avon’s lack of empathy, distressed by this evidence of the Federation’s brutality who was sitting passively and listening to them discuss him as if he wasn’t there, Blake snapped, “Well, you’d know about that, wouldn’t you?”

There was a pause. Then Avon said, “Yes, I would. Cygnus Alpha was the better choice.”

He glanced at Avon. “What? You were picked for modification?”

“I was graciously permitted the choice of volunteering for modification. Making reparations for my crimes. Not many men are suitable for modification, and the memory may be blanked but many skills remain. I would have gone into the service of the Federation rather than being condemned to a penal colony.”

“And you told them to go to hell.” You’d make a pretty mutoid. Wonder who took a fancy to you?

“A choice of life on a penal planet, or a living death? Of course I told them to go to hell.” Avon smiled nastily. “The sentence, and its humane alternative, was pronounced in open court. They’d phrased it as voluntary, so they could hardly order me committed to modification after what I said.”

Well, well, well. Avon had never volunteered that sort of information before. Maybe he was disturbed by the mutoid after all. That might be a good sign. Break past the revulsion at this reminder of the might-have-been, and he might be willing to help. “You had the choice. Maybe he didn’t. You were a civilian prisoner, after all.” He addressed the mutoid. “Were you given a choice about modification? Do you remember anything about your trial?”

“Memory is an encumbrance,” the man said placidly. “All trace of it is removed and with it all trace of identity.”

“That’s what that mutoid of Travis’s said,” Avon said. “On that dead planet.”

“Programming?”

“Probably.”

“And you’re the ace programmer.”

Avon’s gaze never wavered from the mutoid, nor did his gun. “I programme computers, Blake, not people. This is a little beyond my experience. It would need surgical modifications to restore him, and that might not be possible. At the very least you’d need to supply him with blood to keep him alive while I tried to find a way to restore his memory. And you might not like what you got, in the unlikely event that I succeeded. Mutoids are mostly convicted criminals, remember?”

Some small success, Avon was no longer dismissing the idea out of hand. “So are most of the people on this ship, or had you forgotten that little detail?”

“Exactly.”

“A lot of mutoids were political criminals, they were modified as a warning to others.”

“A lot are psychiatric cases, the politicals are simply included with them,” Avon said. “Always assuming that there’s a difference in the first place, of course.”

“You know damn well there’s a difference, and stop trying to wind me up.” He considered the mutoid, who was still sitting peacefully. “How much serum do you have?”

“Enough for two days.”

Long enough to make a start, at least. “Right. I’ll put Cally onto synthesising serum for him. At a pinch he can make do with some whole blood, and before you say anything, I meant from the medical unit stores. You start researching what we might be able to do about restoring his memory.” They had files in plenty on Federation memory manipulation techniques, there might be something in there.

“And the surgery?” Avon asked.

“For now we just try to restore the personality. After that we turn him over to one of the groups with decent surgeons.” He considered future possibilities. “If we can do this, and we find one from a family that was influential, but not influential enough, we might be able to get access to the best.”

Avon sighed. “I see you’re set on it. All right, the first task is to find out who he was. Then we might make some headway in reminding him of it. That was how it worked for you, wasn’t it?”

He was used to the horror of it by now, the occasional memory that dropped into place, triggered by some reminder. “Yes. See what you can do for him. Better take him to medical, Cally can do something about feeding him.”

“And I can put him in restraints,” Avon said, then added sweetly, “Do tell Cally that this time she is not to release a dangerous maniac just because he can converse rationally.”

***

Avon considered the latest impossible task Blake had set him. He’d taken all the biological identification there was to be had, and set a ferret running in the Federation military systems. It would need his personal guidance later, but for now it could run unattended, so he had time to spare to examine the mutoid’s cybernetic systems. He spared some concern for the owner. It had not, after all, done anything to him as yet. “Tell me if you feel any discomfort, and I will try to arrange anaesthesia, although I must confess I’m not sure how.”

“You are not causing me any discomfort. Why are you concerned?”

Good question. He wasn’t entirely comfortable with the answer. “I came too close to being you.” He probed gently at the mental control circuits, controlling his feelings. Disgust wouldn’t help him to achieve anything. “Blake must be mad, expecting me to do anything about this.”

“He is mad. He fights the Federation, yet he cannot prevail, not with one ship.”

He looked at the mutoid with interest. “You are capable of having a personal opinion, then?”

“I am a military officer. I could not carry out my duties if I could not think for myself. That is why mutoids are superior to computers.”

True enough. Mutoids were used because they combined the best attributes of machines and humans. Capable of thought, but not of breaking out of their prescribed limits. “Do you want to retrieve your memories?”

“Memory is an encumbrance…”

“Yes, I know, you needn’t repeat it. Blake wouldn’t agree with you.”

“Blake does not know…”

“Yes, Blake does,” he interrupted sharply. “Blake knows very well, they’ve already tried programming him. More than once. He got his memory back eventually, that was what we were talking about earlier.” He fell silent, dwelling on what Blake had said about being brainwashed, then informed the mutoid, “That’s why he wants me to try to restore your memory; he hates the idea of mutoid modification anyway, but the memory blanking is the part that really bothers him.”

“But then what happens to me?” the mutoid said.

“Pardon?”

“I have no memories from before my modification. I am not that person. Will I remember this me when those memories are restored? If I do, will it matter?”

Fascinating idea. “That’s an interesting philosophical point. Are you a person, and where do you go if the memory wipe is reversed? Blake hasn’t thought about that. They didn’t change him that much, just made him more pliable. Well, that is a big change, but still, he was more or less the same person.” He shrugged. “I suppose that’s one of the things we’re trying to find out. You may not want to remember what you were as a mutoid. You might not like the things you’ve done.”

“That is not possible. I am a good officer. I have done nothing that I should be ashamed of.”

“Don’t bet on it.”

***

They debated it on the flight deck later, although Avon was of the opinion that argument would be a better term. Was, or was not, the person they had spoken to a distinct individual, with rights of his own? Would he still be there after the memories were restored? Blake’s experience was of no help–he had still been Blake, if not quite the same Blake; had remembered most of his past even while he’d lost some of it. Blake finally settled it by pointing out that the only way they were going to find out was by doing the experiment.

That decided, Avon went to see how his ferret was doing. Very well, as it happened, the security had been set up to keep out idle snoopers, but it was possible for very senior officers with the right clearance to gain access to the sealed court records. Avon set about being a very senior officer with the right clearance, and shortly afterwards had the court transcript, complete with the man’s former name and yes, rank. He’d been court-martialled. With that information, Avon could find other files, although even this might be enough to help trigger some sort of recall. He glanced through the transcript.

Oh. Blake was not going to like this.

***

Avon had insisted on fetching their prisoner. Whatever, whoever, it was, he thought it had the right to be party to this. His conversation with it had convinced him of that much. It stood calmly, ignoring the weapons aimed at it.

“What have you found so far, Avon?” Blake asked.

He handed Blake the transcript, let him read it. It was obvious when Blake got to the listing of the charges.

“I don’t believe it! This has to have been planted, they knew we’d taken him!”

“It’s genuine, Blake.” He wished it wasn’t. “I checked very carefully. It is the original file. And before you say it, yes, he might have had a rigged trial, but in that case it wouldn’t have been aimed at you. He was convicted four years ago.”

“What’s going on?” Vila asked.

“Our visitor was formerly one Commander Derek Brant, head of the Federation military base on the colony planet Epiphany.” Avon watched the mutoid for any sign of a reaction, but there was no sign of interest. Just like that one that Travis had had with him. “His replacement at the end of his tour of duty arrived unexpectedly early, and as a result Brant was arrested and brought back to Earth for court-martial. He was found guilty, and sentenced to modification.”

The mutoid was starting to show some curiosity. “For what?”

“For raping three children and frightening them into silence by threatening their parents with reprisals if they told anyone what you had done to them,” Blake said, voice as chill as Avon had ever heard it. “You used your position as base commander to abuse the children of your junior officers. Then you injured one badly enough for her to need medical treatment, and you hadn’t wiped the computer records clean before your replacement arrived.”

That calm, passive acceptance was broken now. “No! I am an officer of the Federation, my duty is to serve and protect!”

Blake stared at the mutoid as if it was something he’d found on the sole of his shoe. “The sort of protection you gave those children?” He thrust the transcript at the shocked officer. “Read it.”

The bald statements of the charges, then the statements of the children, what had been done to them, the threats made to break their parents if they ever hinted what had happened. The details of one child’s injuries. Avon watched the growing horror in the man’s face, and realised that he’d started thinking of him as a man.

“No, I could not have done these things! I would have been sent to a penal colony for this!”

“Read the sentencing,” Blake said. “You were a superb soldier, and they didn’t want to waste you.”

“No!” Brant, or the man who’d taken his place, looked at Avon. “It isn’t true, is it?” he pleaded.

The question of whether this was a real person was settled, as far as Avon was concerned. And whoever he was, he wasn’t the Brant that had been, at least not enough to hurt in that Brant’s stead. “It is. I’m sorry.”

Brant handed the transcript back to Blake, very politely, and asked, “May I sit down?”

Curt nod from Blake, and the others hastily cleared the couch. Cally remained on guard, everyone else drew together at the far end of the flight deck.

“Still want to restore his memories, Blake?” Avon asked.

“No!”

“Good,” Jenna said. “Somehow I doubt he wants you to.”

They all glanced at the spectre on the flight deck couch. Brant was staring at his hands.

“Then what are we going to do with him?” Gan asked. “He hasn’t done anything wrong.”

“He’s a Federation officer,” Blake said.

“Not by his choice,” Jenna pointed out. “He’s been programmed.”

“And to undo that, we’d have to restore what he was,” Blake said in disgust.

“Then offer him the choice,” Gan said. “I mean, that’s what we’re fighting for, isn’t it? So that people can decide for themselves?”

Blake’s expression cleared, just a little. “Thank you, Gan.” He strode back to stand in front of Brant, the others following in his wake. “Decision time, Brant.”

Brant looked up at Blake. “I’m not Brant. I don’t want to be. I don’t want you to restore my memory.”

“We don’t intend to.”

“Are you going to kill me?”

“Who you are now… has done nothing to deserve being killed in cold blood. What are we to do with you?”

Disbelief on the mutoid’s face. “You are asking me?”

“We are asking for suggestions. Make some.”

“If you do not intend to kill me, then return me to my base,” Brant said wearily. “I have no existence outside the Service.”

“And then what happens?” Jenna asked. “No one will believe that we just let you go.”

“I will be blanked.”

“They will punish him like that simply for being captured?” Cally asked.

“No. They will reward me for the information I can give them about this ship. They will blank me, after my debriefing, if I ask.”

Blake looked at the mutoid for a long moment. “It can’t give them anything they don’t already have. Find a planet where we can drop it off without us getting caught and without it getting lynched by the locals.”

Space Command HQ

No further attempt was made to reverse my modification. They put me down in countryside, with a supply of synthesized serum, and told me which direction to walk to reach a town. I reported in as soon as I could. My summary report that I had been captured by the terrorist Blake, and held for a period on his ship, was assessed and I was ordered to report here at once for a full debriefing. I have now made a full report and have nothing further to add.

No, there is nothing more that I can remember.

Please may I report for memory blanking now, Ma’am?

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