Mar 18, 2017

Exit Edit

In the Ekcolir Reality. Original cover art by Frank Freas.
Special thanks to Miranda Hedman for
"Black Cat 9 - stock" that I used to create the blue
"sedronite" who is in the image, above.
I. Short Term Memory

The Editor was obsessed with his daily assessment of short-term memory function. The test was fully automated and given at the same point during his circadian alertness cycle. Each day a new data point was methodically added to the database that now stretched back more than twenty five years into the past.

An extrapolation algorithm automatically estimated the date in the future when his STM capacity would reach half of what it had been when the Editor had begun the memory testing. That was the cut-off point. The Editor had long ago decided that he did not want to go on living without his short term memory system functioning at least with 50% of its original capacity.

Ever since the projection of that end point had fallen below one year in his future, the Editor had spent hours each day staring at the displayed STM graph. During those periods of time, he was not actually looking at the graph. He was lost in memories of the past, usually remembering the the "good old days" when he and Gohrlay and Yōd had worked together as a team to reveal the secret history of Humanity.

On one such occasion, the Editor's grand-daughter, Tez, arrived and found him staring at the displayed graph. She despised the graph and her grandfather's entire plan to end his life when he reached a particular degree of cognitive decline. Zeta had let her into the Editor's study, gazed sadly for a moment at the Editor, then she'd left Tez alone with her grandfather. Tez said brightly, "Hello!" and asked, "How are you today?"

The Editor remained there, not moving, gazing at the display. Zeta called from down the hallway, "He can sit like that for hours."

Tez put her arms around the Editor's shoulders and felt the horrible boniness of his shriveling body. Zeta returned with a glass of water. With only a brief glance at the graph, she reached out and turned off the display screen. The Editor turned his head, focused his eyes and said, "Hello, Tez." He noticed Zeta and he added, "Good morning, Z." He took the glass and guzzled the water thirstily. "Thank you."

Tez began prattling about her husband and her children, but the Editor was not listening. He was making an entry in his diary and writing down notes about something he had remembered from long in the past.

He wrote:

Memory suppression. Possibly in 1969. Trigger event: Grendel related? ?

Zeta and Tez began discussing plans for the upcoming birthday celebration of Yolinda, the oldest daughter of Tez. The Editor finished updating his notes and rudely interrupted: "Tez, can you take me for a drive?"

The answer was a resounding 'yes'. Zeta and Tez were both ecstatic that the Editor wanted to get out of the house. It was a sunny spring day and the leaves on the trees were starting to unfold from their buds. The air was thick with tree pollen and occasionally the Editor unleashed an explosive sneeze. Tez had automatically started driving towards Kenepoint beach, but the Editor began issuing orders and giving directions.

Zeta asked, "Where are we going?"

The Editor replied, "Home."

Neither Zeta or Tez had ever visited the childhood home of the Editor, which they knew had actually been torn down years before. When they were on the interstate heading west, Tez turned control of her car over to the computer. She turned her seat to the side and looked at Zeta who sat chewing her knuckle and watching the Editor as he gazed out the window at the passing scenery. Tez wondered outloud, "How far?"

Zeta replied, "It is not far."

The Editor looked at Tez and nodded. "We'll be there in twenty minutes."

Tez asked nervously, "What brought this on?"

The Editor shrugged and explained, "One of the advantages of neuronal death is that sometimes a cell's death removes an old block that was put on a memory. Today I suddenly remembered something from my youth..." He fell into silence.

After a minute, Zeta prompted: "What did you remember?"

The Editor pulled himself out of his thoughts and replied, "A hidden place that I discovered. It is very strange that I forgot about it! It was a great discovery... I've been trying to search back through time and determine when my memory of that discovery must have been suppressed."

Tez said, "Why does it matter if you once forgot? Now you have the memory back. Can you tell me about it?"

The Editor scowled at Tez with disgust. She had never had her memories suppressed! Then he found himself racked with suspicion. Was this Tez, or an imposter? The Editor was about to go on a paranoid rant and challenge Tez, but Zeta was watching carefully and saw the storm brewing. She said gently, "When he received his infites, that was a great gift of information, but at the same time those nanites performed extensive editing of his memories. Someone was making sure that only certain parts of human history could be revealed by us... not everything."

Tez had grown up humoring her grandparents and their obsessive belief in alien visitors to Earth. She'd even tried to read their books on that topic, but she'd found them silly and unreadable. She glanced out the window and looked at the gray hills. The car was climbing steadily up into the hills and some patches of packed snow were scattered along the road, slowly melting in the warm spring air. The car exited off the highway. She commented, "My, it's still wintry out here."

In just a short distance along the expressway they had left behind the megalopolis and climbed significantly in elevation. Spring would not really arrive up in the hills until a few more weeks passed. They crested a ridge and the Editor pointed off into the distance, "That's Weeselick hill, where the first settlers began clearing the land and farming. I grew up prowling the western slopes, which had reverted from cleared farmland and back to forest. You can see that the eastern slopes are still pasture land."

The Editor provided the car with instructions and they left the main road for a narrow street that wound up the south side of the Weeselick drumlin. Finally they stopped, high on the western Weeselick ridge which was now cluttered with fine homes, each set back from the street among the trees. They were parked at the end of the pavement near a small pond that was still half frozen. A gravel-topped road extended past the pond, disappearing among the trees in the direction that new development would soon proceed, further up the ridge line towards the top of Weeselick hill.

They got out of the car. The Editor looked around and tried to get oriented. "When I was a boy, this pond was a mile away from the nearest road." He stepped off the pavement into the leafy litter of the forest.

Zeta asked, "Where are you going?"

The Editor stopped, turned and explained, "Not far. Come on. Just a short stroll."

Tez popped open the car's trunk. She pulled on a pair of snow boots and a jacket and then she and Zeta set off into the woods, trying to catch up with the Editor. After a few minutes he had reached an old stone wall where he waited until the two women caught up. Above them was a high canopy of wild grape vines that had grown to the tree tops. Melting granular snow lay along the north side of the wall. The editor jumped off the wall and landed in the snow. Zeta complained, "I'm not wearing boots."

The editor did not seem to hear. He was moving quickly down the slope through the forest. Tez helped Zeta across the patch of hard packed snow. When they caught up to the Editor, they found him standing on an odd carved block of granite set in the ground beside a small depression, what looked like an old well or possibly a spring. The Editor knelt down, felt along the side of the granite block, then he stood up. In his hand was a small amount of green moss and something silvery, like iron filings.

Tez jumped onto the slab of granite and asked, "What do you have?"

The Editor held out his hand, "Now I know what this is. When I was a boy I thought it was ancient, oxidized tin, part of an old cover for a well."

II. Long Term Intervention

Zeta stood beside the granite block, looking up at Tez and the editor. "What did you find?"

The Editor walked to the end of the slab, knelt down and brushed a few flakes of the silvery material into the palm of Zeta's hand. He said, "You tell me."

Zeta's nanites performed a chemical analysis and she reported the results, "This is a kind of N-polymer. An artificial nanite-generated plastic."

Tez had learned about N-polymers in school. They had been one of the great advances of nanotechnology, removing Earth's dependence on oil for plastics manufacturing. Tez scuffed her boot on the rough stone slab. "This looks very old."

The Editor stood up and said, "Exactly. Over 200 years old. There should be artifacts from the original settlers of the area, but for some reason these woods are full of N-polymer artifacts. I collected them when I was a kid, before there was a nanotech industry on Earth." He paused, snapped his fingers and said, "Sally!"

Zeta asked, "Sally?"

"Sally was my next door neighbor. She and I both had collections...I'd forgotten all about it... I'd been made to forget!"

Tez asked, "Forget what?"

"Sally and I both had collections of artifacts from these woods. We thought they were bits of old glass and tin. For a couple of years we kept searching... we thought we might find some old coins, something that we could date. The historical society people called this an old dump site. They weren't interested in our finds. Then... then ...." The Editor stood there, trembling in the cold breeze.

Tez put an arm around him and thought about offering him her coat. She asked. "Then what?"

"I don't know. There is still a block... but I remember this. They said that Sally committed suicide. I never believed it."

Zeta complained, "I'm cold. I'm going back to the car." She wasn't really very cold, but she wanted to get Sally back to the safety of the car.

Tez helped the Editor down from the the carved stone block. She put her hand to her head, "I feel dizzy."

The Editor nodded, "There is a cloud of nanites here, still defending this place." He asked Zeta, "Can't you do anything?"

She replied, "No. They are Grendel nanites. Quickly, now! Let's go! Let's get out of here before we trigger a reaction from the nanites and lose our memories." She took hold of Tez's hand and pulled the girl towards the road and the waiting car.

The Editor turned back to gaze upon the mysterious stone slab and muttered, "Maybe I still have..." He suspected that all of the nanites he had ever accumulated were long gone, but he made one last systematic effort to mobilize the nanites he had obtained from Ivory. Something went 'POP' and the stone slab began to tilt. The Editor laughed.

Tez and Zeta turned around and saw the Editor step into a hole at the foot of the now vertical granite slab. Slowly the Editor began to sink out of sight. He called to Zeta, "It opened! Come on!"

Zeta ran to the slab and looked down the veyershute. She shouted down the shaft, "Don't go down there!"

He called back up, "It's okay. Now I remember. Sally and I went in here!"

Tez looked down the shaft and cried, "What is this?"

Zeta explained, "This is a Grendel base."

Tez had never really believed in her grandparent's stories about aliens on Earth. At least, she had given up on the idea that she would ever be allowed to see any evidence to support those beliefs. Now suddenly she realized that it was all true: here was physical evidence of aliens who had long ago been on Earth. She stepped into the shaft and felt it gently take hold of her body. She began to sink into the ground.

Zeta had not let go of Tez's hand. She shouted, "No!" Zeta tried to pull Tez out of the hole, then she lost her grip on the girl's hand.

Zeta was certain that no Grendels remained on Earth, so there was no point in going down into the Grendel base. But then why was it still here and still defended by nanites and still equipped with a functioning veyershute? With a sad sense of resignation, she stepped into the shaft and began sinking into the hillside.

inside Grendelkeep
III. Exit the Editor

At the bottom of the veyershute, the Editor and Tez waited for Zeta. The editor said, "I was in here seventy years ago."

A strangely lit tunnel lay before them. Tez asked, "What is this place? What are those weird tubes?"

Zeta reached the bottom of the shaft and stepped past Tez. "This is a Grendelkeep. The Grendels were aquatic." Zeta put a hand against a cool, curving glass pipe. "This is some kind of anteroom, a nexus where you can enter their water-filled base." She turned to the Editor, "Did you really go in there?"

The Editor rubbed his eyes and then gazed once more into the glowing purple light of the water-filled tubes in the nexus. "I can't remember. All of this was once blotted out of my memories. Each step I take brings back more of those lost memories." He started pulling off his clothes.

Zeta warned, "If you go in there, you might not come out."

The Editor put his arms around Zeta. "I have to see what's in there."

Zeta shook her head, "I already sent a femtobot probe in. There are no Grendels here. This place is empty, running on automatic defenses. As a carrier of nanites, I'm not safe here."

The Editor nodded. "I understand... you should leave before you trigger this place's defense system. But this is my way out."

Zeta put a hand against his face. "I still have work to do on this miserable world. Goodby." They held each-other close for a moment then the Editor finished undressing and jumped into the gurgling water in one of the tubes. He was quickly sucked out of sight.

Tez said, "He'll drown in there!" She started taking off her coat and boots.

Zeta shook her head, "There are oxygen vents."

"But he's an old man. And he never learned to swim." Tez dove head first into the tube. After thirty seconds of swimming and drifting with the current she began to wonder what an oxygen vent might look like. Something in the water was irritating her eyes and the lighting was terrible. Then she saw the Editor and realized his head was in a bubble of air.

She moved close to him and inhaled a breath of air from the vent. She asked, "What are you trying to do? You'll get lost in this maze of tubes."

He replied, "I'm hoping I can get my ticket off of Earth. You should have stayed with Zeta."

"I'm not going to let you kill yourself." Tez asked, "You were in here before?"

"Yes, my old memories are coming back to me. These tubes radiate through the entire complex, but there are some air-filled rooms."

Tez knew there was no point in arguing and trying to get the Editor to retreat. And now Tez was fired with curiosity. "Well, lead on. Something is damaging my eyes."

"This is salt water. You'll get used to it."

The Editor led the way through the tube network. After ten minutes, they were breathing at another vent and Tez complained, "I think we came this way before. Do you know where you are going?"

The Editor laughed, "This maze of tubes is part of the defense system." He was breathing hard, gasping for air. "The currents are designed to keep circling you around the perimeter. I'm completely lost, but I know there is a passageway that leads to the inner chambers."

Tez said, "I understand. You wait here. I'll find the correct tube and then I'll come back and get you."

"No! You'll never find your way back."

"I have a good sense of direction. I'll be back." Tez ducked out of the vent hole and disappeared down the tube. Fifteen minutes later, she finally returned.

The Editor said, "I was getting worried."

Tez laughed, "I only got lost twice, but I figured it out. The tube network is really simple, but the exit is disguised. Follow me."

She led the way to another vent. Inside that little bubble of air, Tez reached up and pushed her hands into a dark crevice. She wriggled her arms in and then, bracing with her feet against the wall, pushed her head through. "Grab hold of my feet and don't let go!" She was sucked out of the vent and the Editor was pulled up and out of the water. His head crashed into the barrier then he slipped through. He got stuck at his shoulders, but Tez was there on the other side and pulled him the rest of the way through the narrow point.

Tez led the way up a short dim tunnel into a purple-lit chamber. The Editor said, "I was here with Sally. We met a Grendel and then our memories were erased."

He wandered around the dimly lit room for a minute. "No! Only my memories were erased. Sally... of course! Sally was an interventionist! That was her exit. She had completed her mission..." He approached a strange device that hulked in a corner of the chamber. "This is a teleportation terminal."

Tez examined the strangely shaped alien device. "You know, I could never really believe all of your stories about aliens and teleportation and nanites..."

The Editor laughed, "That's because I taught you to demand evidence. Objective evidence; something I could never provide to you, until today."

Tez asked, "Do you think the teleporter still works?"

The Editor shrugged, "Why else would it be here? Why else would I have been allowed to remember..." Tentatively he touched the control panel. A set of lights blinked in response. "It is active. The Grendel told Sally that she would be teleported to the Galactic Core."

Tez threw her arms around the Editor. "You don't have to go! This is the evidence that you always wanted! Now we can show this place to the world-"

"No!" The Editor interrupted her. "That's not the way this works. Listen to me, Tez, I'm going now. This is my way out. And you have to go back. Back to your family, to your life. But your memories of this place will all be erased."

Tez shouted, "No! I won't forget. Zeta and I will bring scientists here. This will..."

The defense nanites of the Grendelkeep were at work inside their brains. The Editor knew the sensation of having his thoughts guided. And he now knew exactly how to activate the teleporter. He put his arms around Tez and briefly held her tight. "Maybe you will someday be given a chance to escape from Earth. A copy of me will be... out there. Waiting."

Tez was already feeling her understanding of the teleporter and the purpose of the Grendelkeep slipping out of her conscious mind. She mumbled, "Out where?"

"Look for me in the Galactic Core. I've always wanted to visit Tar'tron." He stepped into the teleporter beam and was removed from Earth.

Tez numbly made her way out of the Grendelkeep and back to the car. Zeta had the car running and warm. Tez quickly fell asleep. By the time they got back to town, Tez had a new set of false memories of how the Editor had been found dead in his room that morning.

Zeta was the only person on Earth who knew the truth about the Editor's escape. The price of retaining those memories was that Zeta could never discuss them with anyone.

Next: retroreading with Robert Silverberg and Don Martin

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