𝗣𝗮𝘀𝘀𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗦𝗺𝗲𝗹𝗹 𝗧𝗲𝘀𝘁

𝘣𝘺 𝘙𝘦𝘹 𝘊𝘢𝘭𝘦𝘷𝘢𝘭

Mr. Sloan, you didn’t know anything about electronics or computers before, correct? Never taken a course or gone to a trade school?”

A small man looked up from his desk, smiling broadly. “Nope, not a thing. I always found that stuff a little intimidating. Thought I’d embarrass myself if I tried to use any of it.” He patted the computer on the desk. “And now, I built this thing with my own two hands, got it all set up, and it works like a charm. Plus, I know how to use it and all the peripherals. I hadn’t even known they were called peripherals. Just can’t thank you enough, Mr. Sherman. You too, doctor, of course.”

The tall man standing behind him patted him on the back. “We’re glad to be able to help, right, Dr. Kent?”

“Certainly,” replied the woman next to him. “But I want to confirm that you’re not having any issues with the patch. No headaches, pain, blurred vision? No motor control problems? Most important, no trouble with memory integration?”

“I feel fine, no headaches or anything. Nothing like that the whole time.” Sloan continued, looking confused. “What’s memory integration?”

“Remember, we talked about it before we started, how you might end up with memories that you felt sure weren’t yours, and get fixated on them. It’s been a big problem in the field for a long time, so...”

Sherman cut her off. “But we were sure we had it solved, and it looks like we were right. You haven’t had any symptoms like that, have you, Mr. Sloan?”

“Right, I remember now,” came the reply. “No, nothing like that. Been fine right from the start.”

“Well, that’s it then,” said Sherman. “Mr. Sloan, you’re an expert in electronics, permanently, and all it took was a little outpatient surgery. We should be able to help a lot of people with this.” He glanced over at Kent, then back to Sloan. “Why don’t we get some lunch to celebrate?”

Sloan stood up from the desk. “Good idea. I’ll run across the street to the burger place. Mmm, I can smell it from here. I know it’s not fancy, but their stuff is great, I promise. Let me get it; it’s the least I can do.”

“Sure, that sounds fine. We’ll just get the final paperwork ready for you to sign while we wait.” As the small man left, Sherman shared a smile with Kent. “Looks like it worked perfectly. We should go ahead with the meeting.”

She looked pensive for a moment, but then nodded. “You’re right. I don’t entirely like it, but we’ll need a backer in the long run. I’ll get the documentation you’ll need for tonight ready. Set it up.”


Later that night, Sherman walked into a busy sports pub. “I’m here to meet Mr. Breckenridge,” he said to the host at the door. “He was supposed to have a back room reserved.”

“Yes, that’s right,” answered the host. “He’s expecting you, just through there.” He pointed to a frosted glass door with a sign that read ‘Reserved for Private Function.’

“Thanks,” said Sherman, then wound his way through the tables to the door, tapped on it, and went in. The noise from the pub faded as he closed the door behind him, and he turned to see two people waiting on the far side of a table. A man stood up to greet him, while a thin young woman with several facial piercings reached into a case on the table in front of her. She took out an electronic device with a wand connected to some sort of control box.

The man spoke. “Mr. Sherman. I’m Breckenridge. Good to meet you. This is my associate, Hazel. She’s going to do a quick scan before we begin, to make sure there are no unwanted eyes or ears about. This scan will include you and whatever you’ve brought with you. Is that a problem for you?”

Sherman looked a bit surprised, but shrugged. “No, that’s fine. Is it really necessary?”

Breckenridge chuckled as Hazel began scanning with the wand. “Since you were able to set up this meeting, you must know who I work for, and there’s no reason to mention it further. You must also have at least a basic idea of what it is that I do for them.”

“I’m told it’s referred to as speculative research.”

“As good a term as any,” said Breckenridge. “Our organization is very large, and we find it helpful to keep up with developments in areas that, on the surface, don’t have much to do with our business. Occasionally, we also get meeting requests like yours, where it’s not easy to see what interests we might share. Looking into these things could certainly be considered speculative. Because of this, we occasionally get overzealous people who try to find out what we’re researching, and who we’re meeting with. Thus, the scan.” He glanced over at Hazel.

“Clear,” she said. “The usual?”

Breckenridge nodded. “Thanks, Hazel. I’ll be along in a while.”

She put the scanner back into her case and removed a different device, then placed it on the table beside a pitcher of water. Then she went through the door into the pub.

“Doesn’t say much, does she?” said Sherman.

“Hazel’s interpersonal skills aren’t her strongest suit, but she’s very good at what she does,” answered Breckenridge as he reached forward to push a button on the device. “There. This is a signal jammer. You can speak plainly now, if you like. I can’t promise to do the same until I find out what it is that you have to tell me.”

Sherman sat forward. “Fine, that suits me. As you said, I know who you work for. I’ve got a proposal I think you’re going to like, but it will take some explaining. You must have done some checking up on me before coming. Do you know what I and my associate have been working on?”

“You recently formed a small charity with a Dr. Jennifer Kent, who is an expert in memory transfer. Something about job retraining for people with brain injuries, I think? I’m hardly the man you’d talk with about a simple charitable appeal, and a bit of checking shows that you’ve done work something like mine. It seems that you’re acting as an intermediary for the doctor just as I do for my employer, and that whatever it is you want to discuss has to do with her field of expertise. Is that correct?”

Sherman nodded.

“That field is thought to be untenable,” continued Breckenridge. “Although copying specific memory engrams has been proven possible, too many collateral memories come with them. The recipient brain effectively rejects them, much like the body can reject an organ transplant, but the effect is psychological rather than physical. The experimental recipients all ended up with mental problems, some quite severe.”

Sherman’s eyes widened. “Wow, you really found out a lot in one afternoon. That’s a good thing, though, because it’ll save me sharing the background. Dr. Kent has made a breakthrough, and if you’ll bear with me a bit, I’ll explain how I think it could benefit your employer.”

“All right, tell me about it.”

“First, everything you just said is correct. As an example, if we want to copy the electronics expertise in someone’s brain, and give that expertise to someone else, it’s theoretically possible. But when we actually try it, we get many other memories as well, and the recipient suddenly has memories of people they’ve never met, places they’ve never been, and so on. They realize this, and can’t successfully integrate the memories.” Sherman paused for a sip of water. “Dr. Kent realized that, since we can’t entirely control which collateral memories are taken, there need to be no memories to take which could be jarring in that way.”

Breckenridge considered this, a slight frown on his face. “How could that be accomplished? The only ways I can think of are quite distasteful.”

Sherman shook his head. “No lobotomies or drugs, nothing like that. We use amnesiacs for our donor engrams. People who have lost the ability to recall any old memories, but are otherwise normal. They come to us through our charity. There aren’t too many of them, of course, but they do exist. We teach them a skill, like electronics from our earlier example. While we do that, we can closely monitor their brain activity, so we have a more specific idea than ever before of exactly where their new memories are stored. Besides that, the other thing we do is to ensure that all new memories created are very generic, so they’ll be familiar to almost everyone and so not be rejected.”

“How can you do that?”

“We teach them to focus on objects and places, not people,” said Sherman. “Having a memory of a person that you know you’ve never met is the common thread from those early experiments, and nothing causes rejection faster. But since we’re starting from scratch, we work hard to make sure that our donors don’t make strong associations with people. We interact with them as little as possible, use people with plain faces and voices, and teach them to focus on items and generic places. We work in areas with no unusual sights, just common ones like gas stations and stores that everyone knows. But what we’ve found works best are taste and smell.”

Breckenridge sat forward. “Why do they work best?”

“If you look into it, you’ll find that taste and smell are closely intertwined. Many experts say that taste and smell combine to produce what we know as flavor. And smell, in particular, is very strongly associated with memory. You’ve probably experienced it yourself.” Sherman smiled. “Have you ever had a scent immediately bring back a memory? An example that many people share is the smell of bread or cookies reminding them of their childhood, when their mother or grandmother was baking. I’ve had that one myself.”

“Yes, I know what you mean,” said Breckenridge, looking interested now. “How do you make that work for you?”

“While our donors are learning their skill, we keep a well-known smell in the air, and when they’re successful in using the skill, we make it stronger. That way they associate that smell with the feeling of accomplishment. We do the same with food, and associate taste in the same way. When the skill engrams are later copied, the memories of the tastes and smells are stronger than the others, and associated with the skill, so they tend to be the collateral memories. And the other memories, of the common items, stores, and such, are ones that practically everyone has. They’re not jarring enough to cause rejection.”

Sherman leaned forward in excitement. “We have successful trials of this. The reason I used electronics as my example earlier is that we’ve actually done that skill. We implanted electronics expertise into someone who was very technologically challenged, using only a short outpatient surgery, and there are no side effects at all. If you want to know how to do something, now you can, and you don’t have to put in the effort of learning it yourself. You can have the knowledge implanted, quickly and safely.”

Breckenridge looked thoughtful. “I’ll admit, that sounds like an amazing breakthrough. But how does it apply to my employer? Spell it out for me.”

Sherman leaned back, grinning. “This process works. I’ve got documentation here for you that proves it. Millions of people will be getting skill implants, maybe tens or even hundreds of millions. And we decide what tastes and smells are associated with their use. How would you like everyone who gets that electronics implant to get a pleasant memory of how much they like your employer’s burgers along with it?”

Breckenridge offered his hand. “Mr. Sherman, I think we’ll be able to work something out.” ✦

Rex Caleval lives in Regina, Canada, where he spent twenty years as an air traffic controller. Always an avid reader with story ideas popping into his head, he decided to try writing a few, and has been pleased to find that some people like them. His work has been published by Daily Science Fiction, Every Day Fiction, 365 Tomorrows, and Swords & Sorcery, among others. Links to his stories which are available online can be found on his Facebook author page.

A Speculative fiction ZINE