Give It Back
by Steppen Sawicki
Short Story: Sci-fi Horror
She woke on Monday without any idea that anything was missing. She opened the curtains and ate breakfast and rode the train to work as if nothing was wrong, because nothing seemed wrong. Even the news she pulled up on her implant was the usual – crooked politicians, another bombing in China, second contact with the alien life expected in 3,000 years. As usual she noticed the other people in the car checking the weather or reading on their phones, and smiled at the thought that soon everyone will be doing all that in their heads like she was.
It had been pricey, but she hadn’t been able to wait. Being one of the first had its thrills.
She stepped into the office and, as always, noticed the white and blue flowers in the lobby. She greeted just about everyone that passed her by, in the usual manner. And she set her briefcase in her office and snapped on her computer as she did every workday.
Then someone she didn’t recognize stopped by her door.
“Morning Gina,” he said. He was a pudgy guy, just a couple hamburgers over hefty, with a full head of hair that was probably a replacement.
“Morning,” she said out of habit.
“Don’t forget. Bennett Works presentation tomorrow. Got it all set?”
“What?” Gina looked at him in confusion, wondering whether this was a joke.
“Right.” He waved a hand at her. “I know you’ve got it all set. But I can still fuss.”
He vacated the doorway and she stared at the spot he left for a moment before shaking her head and turning to her laptop.
She checked her schedule for the day and – just for the heck of it – she checked the next day’s as well.
At 10:00 am, she had a presentation with Bennett Works.
She searched her email for the word “Bennett” and found 294 results.
She searched for Bennett on her computer and found a presentation, a spreadsheet, and varying Word documents.
She didn’t remember making any of them.
She woke the next morning and passed by the photos hanging in her hallway. She didn’t typically stop to look at them; they were mostly ambient decoration like any photos. But she stopped to look at them and wondered absently why she had taken down all the ones of Travis. She saw herself standing on the beach, arm around a stunningly handsome blond in swimshorts.
She didn’t know who the man was.
She sat at her dining table and accessed her memory backup.
It wasn’t there.
She picked up her phone and dialed, and was on hold for twenty minutes before a tinny voice announced how could he help her.
She told him the problem.
“Uh…yes.” He paused for a moment. “Um, yes. Well, that’s…”
Suddenly his voice snapped to attention, as if he had found a paper to read off of. “We assure you that our products have gone through rigorous testing and are held to the highest of standards. We regret to inform you that memory loss has not been documented with the products of Byers Implants and suggest that you seek medical attention.”
“Are you saying you’re taking no responsibility?” Gina gasped. “I don’t recognize a photograph that’s been hanging in my hallway for years.”
“If you don’t recognize the photograph, might I suggest someone placed it there?”
“I’m in the photograph!”
“The displacement has not been documented with the products of – ”
“Displacement? This is my memory!”
“It’s unfortunate that Byers Implants can’t help you at this time. We recommend that you seek medical attention.”
On waking on Wednesday she checked for the backup she had made the day before, after shouting at the company rep on the phone. It was gone.
She wondered what else was gone.
She dressed haphazardly and took the train to the doctor’s, a richly decorated and richly equipped sprawl of an office in uptown. She didn’t brush her hair. She didn’t brush her teeth. She didn’t care.
“I have to see Dr. Carrasco,” she told the girl at the desk.
The girl stared at her appearance in shock, as if Gina must be in the wrong place. The other people in the waiting room were all in business or business casual, as if they were at church instead of a doctor’s office. This woman in sweatpants and t-shirt didn’t fit the girl’s image of where she was working.
“You’ll have to make an appointment,” she said. “It could be several weeks though before – ”
“This is an emergency,” Gina said as mildly as she could.
“I’m sorry, but you’ll have to – ”
“Oh, everyone’s sorry.” Gina clapped her hands on the counter. “Listen, something is wrong with my implant. I’m losing memories. Tell Dr. Carrasco I have to see him now.”
“You could access your backup,” the girl said weakly.
“My backup is gone,” Gina shouted, all pretense of calm crumbling.
The girl stepped back. “Ma’am, you’ll have to make – ”
Gina left the desk and stepped through the door into the offices, the girl calling after her, all eyes in the waiting room on her.
The next morning she couldn’t recall if she had made it to Dr. Carrasco or not, if she had told him anything or not. She was still lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, when her phone rang.
“Gina, where are you?” the voice on the other end raved. “You weren’t here yesterday, and today you’ve gone missing too.”
Gina swallowed a lump in her throat. “Who is this?”
“What? It’s your boss of course! Now we’ve got a big meeting this afternoon, remember? Are you going to be there or not?”
She had a boss? A job? “I’m sorry. I’m a bit under the weather.”
“Eh?” The voice thought about this. “Hmm. Well, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you take a sick day. Must be something awful. And you don’t sound good. I’ll cover for you. Just take it easy.”
“Thanks,” she breathed, and hung up, and stared at the ceiling.
Was there anyone who could help her? Travis was good with computers, even claimed to be a hacker. And wasn’t this just a computer in her head? She picked up her phone and scrolled through the contacts, not recognizing half of them. Why had she broken up with Travis anyway? Why had she removed his picture from the hallway? He hadn’t done anything out of turn. They had never fought. Not any time that she could remember.
Her thumb froze, hovering over his contact.
Half an hour later she was banging on his door as if she could bash it in. When he finally answered he looked disheveled, as if he had been woken. He yawned and scratched at the dark curls of his hair. But he smiled at her.
She spoke before he had a chance to comment. “What are you doing to me?”
“Gina,” he said, still smiling. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
She woke. She looked at her phone. It was Friday.
What had happened at Travis’s apartment?
She leapt out of bed and threw on whatever was at hand. She went to the police.
“This will sound crazy,” she explained to the bored deskman. “But I have an implant, and someone is hacking into it.”
Officer Desk blinked at her, then looked up at the ceiling as if looking for guidance there. After thinking for a moment in this way, he shuffled through his papers and attached some to a clipboard.
“Fill these out,” he said.
“Fill out papers?” she said. “This is serious!”
“Okay. Fill out the papers.”
She tried. She couldn’t remember where she worked of course, if she worked. But she also couldn’t remember her phone number or address, could only remember how to get there. She wrote down the complaint as if writing a fictional story. It did sound crazy.
“So,” the police woman assigned to her said, “you confronted this Travis at his apartment. Then what? What did he say?”
“I don’t remember,” Gina said.
The officer looked at her over her glasses. “You don’t remember?”
“That’s part of what’s gone. Every morning there’s a little more gone. I think he does it while I’m sleeping.”
“How does he do it?” she asked, her voice level, not believing.
“I don’t know, but the implant connects to the internet. Maybe he gets in that way. He must.”
“Why do you suspect him? Have you two had altercations in the past?”
“I don’t remember! I don’t remember if we have!”
“Hm.” The officer twirled a pen, regarded her coolly. “Well, we’ll question this Travis. Where does he live?”
“I don’t know.”
The officer sighed and took off her glasses to rub at the bridge of her nose. “But you went to his apartment.”
“Yesterday.” Gina was on the verge of tears. She wasn’t prone to tears. Was she? “That was yesterday.”
“Alright. We’ll find him out. Give us a call tomorrow.”
Tomorrow she forgot what it was she was supposed to do. She went about her breakfast nervously, anxious about something but unsure of what, like someone hid in the shadows of her apartment, watching her. She knew there were things she couldn’t remember, but she didn’t know what to do about them. She could tell someone, but who? The people she had told yesterday? Who were they? Or the people the day before? Like Travis? Why didn’t she want to ask Travis for help? There was a reason, perched on the edge of her consciousness, just out of reach. An emotion. All she had left were emotions.
She didn’t leave the apartment. She didn’t know where she would go.
On Sunday she woke.
She sat up in bed and looked around her as if seeing the room for the first time. She peeked through the curtains and marveled at the city’s buildings, tall and shining in the morning sun.
She went from room to room, discovering, touching the walls and shelves and pictures and figurines. Feeling the leaves of a fern and the porcelain of a sink and the surface of a mirror with a strange alien woman in it.
She waited for Travis, until the doorbell rang.