Mihail and Sophia are arguing again. Same old thing, they roll through a round of meds and start up the same thing every time.
“We’re on an island, I tell you!”
“Can’t be. How did Sammy get out, if we’re on an island? He damn sure didn’t swim away at his age.”
Good point. None of us are up for an exciting escape. I look around the room; not a soul under 200. Sophia is almost 250, Mihail is 242 or so. I’m about to turn 220. I’m the youngster.
Sammy’s across the room, playing cards with the Russians.
Sammy isn’t his real name. None of us remember our real names.
Lunch comes in, a soft step at the door and a gentle unlocking. It’s the bland, blonde one. I can’t remember her name. Blandy. Blandy Blondie. She smiles and starts doling out veggie packets and vitamins and drinks, juice and water. No tea, caffeine agitates us.
Questions bounce off her; “Is something wrong? What’s happening?”
“Don’t be silly. Nothing’s wrong! Don’t get upset, a little memory loss and paranoia is just an effect of the meds, now, you know that.”
The bloody meds. We’re forgetful, right? Forgetful and easily upset. But the meds keep us alive. That’s it. Right?
There are no electronics allowed here. None of us have a pad or a lens or an implant. Modern news and entertainment upsets us. That’s what Blandy told us. No, the one before her. The brunette. Browny?
The news upsets us, so none of us has a phone. Right.
Except one of us has a phone, and a charger. An old style phone, just a flatscreen. Set not to transmit. Who has the phone? I don’t remember.
I look around. The Russians are playing cards. The Nigerians always eat together, but then they and the Russians always want to sing, to tell stories none of them remember alone, but together they can piece out. Some of the stories are upsetting, violent.
Our four American women are praying intently over their veggie packets, stern and frowning in concentration.
Carlos and Sigrid are picking carefully at their plates, sharing bites like newlyweds. They’ve been married since they got here. It’s her fourth marriage and his third, something like that.
“I remember that day out at the farm,” he tells her, leering. “Ooooh, you were good that day.”
“We’ve never known each other in that way,” she tells him, prim and fussy.
I think I’ve seen this before. Don’t they do this every time?
“We did!” He cackles again. “Right under the tree out back, just threw your skirt up and had at it!”
“That wasn’t you. I told you that story years ago, that was my second husband Herbert.” She picks again at her meal, and delicately extracts a bite of broccoli, transfers it to his plate. He snaps it up eagerly and chews hard, his tiny eyes gleaming at her the whole time.
Who has the phone? I can’t remember. There was something on the news we needed to keep an eye on…
I feel my robe pocket. Good God, it’s right there. I look around, but Blandy is gone. The cameras are still on, but as long as I’m on this side of the table I can sneak a peek.
The news pops up on the screen. Sports, Kremlin-cine stars divorcing, flooding in Mississippi.
The Supreme Court, that’s it. The historical evidence case. They decided today. I scroll down, grateful for the old interface of a finger on a screen. Until we figured out how to change the settings we had to use a blink-lens interface. Try clicking a blink-link on a flat screen with 220 year old fingers. Fuckers, always changing something.
There it is. 6-3, historical evidence with no chain of custody is now admissible. The links are hard to follow. I end up on a chorus site where everyone is commenting at once. No priority of comment, very democratic, but the phone isn’t set up to chorus comments like a lens and implant could, and they come up as a random stream; death squads? Quantum computing, higher dimensional data mining. “Grey Guilt.” Standards of proof from old data: proof of theft, murder, crimes against humanity.
A whole sub-chorus about that. The worst of the worst, put away because there wasn’t admissible evidence to convict them. Now quantum computing can untangle huge data sets, ferret out deleted emails, put together shredded and buried pages, sniff out trails of phone calls and bank transfers from old records.
I turn off the phone and sit, shaking.
Who was I before this? It’s all gone. I look around the room.
I’ve been here a century. I’ve listened to them bicker, all of them, and listened to Blandy and her predecessors tell us how we’re lucky, how the meds are experimental, how they’re saving our lives, but at the cost of some clarity, some memory, some cognition.
I watch one of the Russians slide a card under the table to the player on his right, giving advantage now, the debt closely recorded.
One of the American women sees him, and hisses something quietly about sin and the devil.
Who were any of us?
One of the Nigerians is starting a story, and makes a hard slashing motion with his hand. A chill slides up my spine, but the words “cut to the middle, took it on my right foot” drift across the room. A football story from a century ago, probably not even his.
Carlos reaches across the table to steal a cookie from Sigrid’s tray, but she freezes him with an icy glare, merciless, and he gently replaces it. Her look triggers a memory in me: a headline, a photograph, that cold implacable stare.
Who was she?
I hear something outside. Steps in the hallway. Not Blandy’s gentle tread. Crashing doors. I half stand up.
Who was I?
K. S. O’Neill teaches math at a small college on the Texas coast. In his spare time he designs and builds oddball sailboats, teaches fencing, and in other imaginative ways avoids doing any writing.