Max's Black Box
by Grace Bridges
(Originally published in Regeneration from Random Static Ltd.)
Securitech Z-34 reporting an anomalous occurrence, sir.
Yes, sir, you requested me to inform you immediately if something of this nature came up.
Two of the retrospectors appear to be malfunctioning. Sudden, simultaneous failures.
More details, sir? Certainly. There’s one that will retain nothing, and another that will retain everything, if we don’t intervene. I suspect foul play, because they are both registered at the same address. New Year tonight, we need to take action.
No, sir, I came straight to you.
Sir, is that an Insta-Wipe? What are you–
Max had a love-hate relationship with his retrospector. Wasn’t that always the way? You don’t get to choose your blood relations, but you do get to forget them if you don’t add them to your quota.
Sick of Great Aunt Martha? Then leave her off your list. She probably lost you from hers years ago anyway. Start over with the bare facts. The DNA.
Tonight, like each New Year’s Eve, he brought out the box and stared at it while he swirled a strong drink in his glass. He wouldn’t scull it down until all the decisions were made. He needed his wits about him, and wanted the drink for afterwards, to help sleep come. Although the fresh start meant the losses would be quickly put behind him.
How did he know this? Because he had put it in the box, last New Year’s Eve. He tended to load it up with too much stuff and risk a visit from the securitechs. Yep, he was a maximiser – he guessed it was his destiny, with a name like that. He didn’t believe the State should control people’s minds, and his least of all. But then, he was rather biased.
It brought peace to the world, they said, when everyone could only choose certain memories to take with them into the next year. Sure, the police claimed January was quieter – but soon enough things would get back to normal. Was it good for the soul? Perhaps. Less regrets. Max had kept some of his too long – but they were part of who he was.
He glanced over at the sleeping form of his wife. Sadie was a minimiser. Every year he had to talk her into remembering that she was married to him. She just enjoyed discovering everything brand new, from her job to their house to their love. It thrilled her.
They’d already celebrated midnight; she had entered her few treasures into the retrospector on her bedside table, activated the wipe, and promptly fallen asleep. The process did tend to trigger exhaustion. Max sighed. It must be his turn. He couldn’t wait too long, else the authorities would flag his file, or worse. Being married to a securitech didn’t earn any leniency.
With a thought, he activated his cognitor chip’s interface with the black box. Mentally, he ran down the list of memories. Old items from years ago, kept all this time. Events from this year. Yes, he’d keep his niece’s birth. No, he’d dump that big fight he had with Sadie over the grocery shopping last week. Oh yes, he wanted the lovely week in the Coromandel, the blueness of the sky, the verdant bush coming down to the water’s edge by the bach, the lapping of the waves on the rocks as he’d sat fishing – even if he had to throw his catch back immediately to stay within the law. He’d lose that horrendous work trip to Upper Hutt. Yes, no, yes, yes. There were more yeses than nos. Max had a good life. He didn’t need to forget it – mostly.
The box travelled with him through his past. They reached memories from today, tonight, and included a reminder that he didn’t drink his shot last year – you know, after. He didn’t know why he bothered to pour one this year. Force of habit?
He was finished. Just had to activate it now. He hated that part. But it was already late. No time to lose, or he’d be caught in the filters. He thought his activation code and bade goodbye to the old year.
He blinked. He was lying in a comfortable bed. I should sleep now.
Sadie stretched. Squinted at the sunlight falling into the room. A strange sensation tickled the back of her head, as if there was something she ought to be remembering. She sat up, careful not to wake Max. He always stayed up so late on New Year’s.
That was it! Today was the first of January. Fresh start day. She grinned and hopped out of bed, padded to the window, and surveyed the neighbourhood. She frowned. Something wasn’t right.
It was all familiar. Her gaze traced each tree and house. She’d stood here many times before; she knew every contour of the Mount Wellington subdivision.
But it was supposed to be new… like seeing it for the first time. She turned, sat on the bed, and took up her retrospector, turning it over in her hands. It was opt-in, not opt-out, and she was certain she hadn’t included a memory of what the street looked like. Of all the inconsequential things to remember! She resented its presence in her mind. Even knowing where she lived was wrong, so wrong.
Oh, well. Couldn’t be helped. She’d tell Max, and he’d laugh, because he was always trying to get her to save more of her memories. She regarded his sleeping visage and instantly thought of his angry shouts as they’d argued. No! What was that doing in there? She gripped her head in her hands and shook herself. Not that it’d do any good. The chance for a fresh start was gone. Her mind whirled. Was this an isolated problem? She was due at work today, and if this was widespread, there’d be a ton to do.
Sadie ran through recollections of recent events and discovered that nothing was missing. Drat. Was nothing gone at all? Max would be thrilled. She remembered their whole last year together, though not much before that except for the wedding day he’d always insisted she keep in her box – the old romantic. When they were at the Coromandel bach – just a couple of weeks ago – he’d flung his hand out to the grand scenery and asked her why she’d ever want to forget it. She had to admit he had a point.
She undressed, showered, and wrapped up in a fluffy towel to lay out her uniform. Seeing it brought a sharp stab: one of her colleagues had suffered a terrible accident in a similar uniform, just yesterday – reduced to the mind of a child after neglecting to follow the proper safety protocols. She’d wanted to forget that, along with the persistent flirtatious advances of her superior officer. Suddenly, she was filled with a desire to talk to Max – both of them together with so many memories. More than ever before.
She leaned over him and shook his shoulder gently. “Max, honey, wake up.”
His eyes came open and fixed on her. In the next second he was upright, bedding entangled around him. He glanced about the room with a blank stare, then returned his attention to her.
She searched her earliest remaining memories, right back to her wedding night, until she found the same appreciative gaze now painted on his face. He tugged at her towel. “I don’t know where I am or who the hell you are, but you’re a very welcome sight to wake up to!”
Securitech Z-78 reporting for duty, sir.
Yes, sir, everything’s all right at home, thank you for asking.
Yes, my husband is well. Very well.
I’m sorry I’m late, sir. It won’t happen again.