Ads 468x60px

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Prodigal Father

The machine whirred to a stop, and as soon as it had shut down, the two technicians shot each other meaningful looks. The man inside was one of the Serpent’s top paying customers and every week he spent an entire day inside the Love Machines without more than a quick break in between sessions to down some nutrient supplements and mop his brow.

The senior technician awaiting him, a purple-haired woman named Sarah, cracked open the sarcophagus, already anticipating what he was going to ask, “Another one, sir?”

Nalon Whitaker blinked up at them, his gaunt face pulled into a frown. He was a tall, slender man in his late forties with a deep voice like gravel sliding into honey, “Yes, please. Also, can you be sure it isn’t one of the ones I’ve seen before? That last one seemed too familiar.”

Sarah nodded, and slid the lid closed again. The other technician, a stump of a man called Cyril, cleared his throat at her and asked, “Isn’t it regulation to make them take a break in between sessions?”

“This case is an exception. He pays enough for Ms. Ng to ignore some of the regulations.”

“That is a safety requirement!”

Sarah gave him a stern look, “Can you please start the next session, or would you like to debate about it first?”

He scowled and synched up the next program. After it had started, he sat down on the bench that rested by the wall and scratched his neck; “This man has a serious hard-on for children, eh?”

The look in Sarah’s eyes was stern, “That’s not at all what this is about.” she glanced back at the machine, “The man had one hell of a childhood, it sounds like.”

Cyril snorted, “He’s one of those rich bastards that live in their fairy mansions high above the rest of us. What does he know about a bad childhood?”

“Oh shut up. You don’t know what you are talking about at all.” She scowled darkly, “This guy’s was incredibly messed up. His father was a cold, heartless man who raised him alone. From what Mr. Whitaker says, it sounds like that supreme coldness was the only emotion he felt from him.” she looked back at the man in the machine, “He comes here every week to live in other people’s childhoods, where fathers love their children. He doesn’t have a thing for children, he just wants a father.”

Cyril snorted and brought up a news article on his incredibly old and nearly obsolete ocular implant.

An hour passed, and the machine slowed to a stop. This time, before they had even finished opening the machine, Nalon’s voice demanded from inside that they start another program.

He had discovered a specific donor during his last session at the Green Serpent who had radically peaked his interest, and he had specially requested all of the files from the same source. There was something oddly familiar about the scenes he was living out, something bizarrely uncanny about the man through whose eyes he was watching.

The donor’s memories began with the birth of his child. The woman in labor, the donor’s wife, shuddered and collapsed immediately after her son was free from her, and Nolan had experienced the singular emotion of rabid, violent grief. From there, the memories had followed the life of the man and his son, the feelings of increasing love, pride and contentment so scintillating and addictive to Nalon that he had spent the entire rest of the week impatiently waiting for his next fix.

His body shuddered as he felt the machine start up, and when his eyes closed again he was immediately standing in a strangely familiar field, a battered base ball in his hands. He glanced around rapidly, and realized that he was standing on one of the few remaining acres of grass on the planet in a park called Dranston Field, a place that he had gone many times in his own childhood.

The feeling of familiarity within the memory increased significantly and for the first time within this specific donor’s programs, Nalon felt his skin crawl. He looked across the field at a tiny child who was staring up at him with huge, fascinated eyes. Nalon took a step backwards in shock, the familiarity of the child so uncanny that his heart started to race, and even as he did so the reason for his intense attraction to this single memory donor became hauntingly clear. It was him at age three, standing there in his baggy pants and tiny jersey, his green eyes squinted tight against the setting sun.

Nalon remembered this day; if he thought back far enough, he vaguely remembered the grass, the sun, and the giant of a man standing across from him with the ball was his father, laughing in the twilight. That was where his own memory ended, though, and seeing everything from the higher angle made his head spin.

“Again, daddy!” tiny Nalon cried, clapping his hands with joy.

The emotions of the memory’s original owner suddenly flooded into his own consciousness, and he couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by the love and pride that erupted when he looked at his childhood self, and his heard his father’s voice, a voice deep and resonating like gravel poured into honey, “Are you ready? Here it comes!” he gently tossed the ball underhand to the child, who caught it with both hands and shrieked with laughter. Inside the sarcophagus, tears coursed down Nalon’s face even as a smile quirked his lips.

“Whose memory is this, by the way?” Cyril asked, feigning interest.

“That is a sad story. Apparently, Legan was the one who gathered this memory. He said the man who brought it had just lost his job and all of his money and was in danger of being impoverished. He was terrified, mostly for his son who was just a baby then, so he sold every memory that Legan would take in order to give them financial security. Once they were done with him, he barely knew his son and all of his memories of love for the child had been completely erased. Legan said it broke the man, he said he was like a hollow shell when he left.”

“Huh. Stupid.” Cyril shrugged, “I wonder if it was worth it in the end?”
Sarah shrugged back, and neither of the technicians noticed the trembling sobs that echoed quietly from the man asleep in the machine.

No comments:

Post a Comment