GREY DRIVE • by Ann Wilkes

“When did Napoleon die?” asked Brandy from across the library table.

Jake couldn’t look up. His cheeks felt hot. “1821.” His fingers didn’t pause on the keys of his mini.

“You had that memorized?”

Jake hoped she wasn’t going to tease him for being a brain. “I have the text on my Grey Drive.”

“Handy. So, do you have the book we’re supposed to read for Am Lit?”

“Sure.” Jake finally looked up. Brandy’s wavy auburn hair came to her shoulders. Her green eyes twinkled with curiosity. Jake had sat there knowing she would take up her usual spot.

She fiddled with the pages of her book, eyeing him hesitantly.

“I could give you a copy if you want.”

“Could you?” She sat up straighter and smiled.

Jake grinned back. His hands went sweaty. Do it, you idiot. Just ask her. She’s so beautiful. She probably already has a prom date. She just wants the file. But her smile gave him hope. “We’ll have to do it outside somewhere. Joey got busted last week for piracy.”

“Well, if you don’t want to, I’ll understand.”

“I didn’t say that. I’ll meet you out behind the utility shed before 6th period.” Ask her now. No. What if she just wants the file? Ask her!

Jake surfed the net at lunch on his mini, looking for a song for Brandy. He found U Slay Me by the Dunder Droids and downloaded it to his GD, which appropriated unused brain cells for file storage. He put it in a folder with a copy of The Grapes of Wrath. He thought, GD Command / U Slay Me / Play, to hear it on the way to 4th period.

A cacophony of techno, rock and classical all playing over each other screeched in his head. He deleted the mangled file, and blocked that song emporium from future searches. At least she wasn’t expecting it.

Just after 5th period, Brandy met Jake behind the shed, her GD cable dangling from just above her ear.

“Ready?” he asked.

Brandy nodded and inserted her cable into his GD port. Jake felt a spark when her hands brushed his ear. The whole experience felt intimate: the secrecy, the connection, the shared crime. He almost asked her. Almost.

The bell rang. The “download complete” ding sounded at almost the same time. Jake unplugged the cable.

“Thanks, Jake.”

Jake watched her walk away, admiring the swish of her short skirt.

***

On the way back to her locker, Brandy played the beginning of the The Grapes of Wrath. She heard The Grapes of Wrath, but another voice was bleeding over it. She stood in front of her open locker door, her brows knitted. The voice sounded familiar, certainly not a narrator. Then she made out some words when the book’s narrator paused: … beautiful … ask her … wanted the file … prom. “Oh my!” She staggered back and dropped her books. That’s Jake! His thoughts!

Brandy shoved her books in her locker and headed outside. AmLit could wait. She sat behind a row of cars and replayed the file from the beginning. His words held her spellbound. It was like reading someone’s diary. She felt her cheeks burn as he described her figure. She stopped the playback.

After arguing with herself for all of one minute, she resumed playback.

***

Jake was listening to a sappy love song on his way back to class when his GD went nuts, playing all his files at once. His head burned at his GD port. Then everything went black and he fell in a heap.

Jake heard people walking and talking, phones ringing. And the low buzz of a fluorescent light. The smell of disinfectant made his nostrils twitch. He cautiously opened his eyes.

“Back with us, I see.” A freckle-faced woman stood over him. “How do you feel?”

“What happened? he croaked from a dry throat.

“You collapsed in the hall. How do you feel?” she asked again.

“Weak. My head hurts. Where am I?”

“The nurse’s room.”

Jake started to ask her what nurse’s room, where, when he realized something far more horrible. “Who am I?”

“Oh, dear. The trauma must have caused memory loss.”

Jake shook his head. That only made it hurt worse. “What trauma?”

A man came in wearing a white smock with blood stains. “Hello, Jake. I’m Dr. Gaston.” He moved to the side of the cot.

“What did you do to me? I can’t remember anything!” He tried to sit up, but it made his head pound.

“You uploaded a virus to your Grey Drive,” said Dr. Gaston.

He touched the side of his head and felt a bandage.

“We had to remove it immediately, along with a portion of the surrounding brain tissue. Your memories will return in time. Now rest. Your parents are on their way.”

Jake had a million questions, not least of which was: How much surrounding tissue? But the doctor was gone. The nurse patted his shoulder before leaving him alone.

Rest! I’ve been lobotomized and you tell me to just rest!

Then a gorgeous green-eyed girl slipped in, closing the door behind her. “Hey, Jake.”

“Brandy! I don’t remember who I am, but I remember you.”

“Do you remember cabling? You gave me a book for AmLit just before this happened.”

He did remember that. He also remembered how attracted he was to her. “Yeah. Oh, no! Are you okay?”

She squeezed his hand. “I’m fine. I think I know what happened to your memories.”

“You do?”

“I think the virus made your GD copy your memories on to it.”

“How do you know?”

“You didn’t give me a virus, but you gave me more than The Grapes of Wrath. I’ll help you fill in the gaps.” Her eyes twinkled and she gave him a crooked smile. “But you’ll have to take me to the prom.”


Ann Wilkes‘ first book, Awesome Lavratt (2009, Unlimited Publishing) is a tongue-in-cheek space opera with mind control, passion and adventure. Her stories have appeared in magazines and anthologies. She also maintains Science Fiction and Other ODDysseys, a blog on writing, science fiction and writing science fiction. She lives in California’s wine country with her husband, Patrick and their youngest son.


This story was sponsored by
Camilla d’Errico: A character designer and artist who dances on the tightrope between pop surrealist art and manga inspired graphics. Explore her paintings, characters and comics: Tanpopo, BURN and Helmetgirls.

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