Friday Night Story

Analog Memory
  I used to be a very bad person. I worked for the CIA, and that’s all I recall anymore. I did terrible things. I was good at doing terrible things. I don’t remember if I was injured, or if I finally did something so terrible I had to be punished, but the memory centers of my brain were removed, and replaced with tape drives the techs called streamers.

I had difficulty with the tape drives because I was often recording data at a lower speed than the drive’s minimum threshold, so the tape would have to stop, rewind, and restart quickly- the techs called it shoe-shining- it created a lot of potholes in my mind’s road. But the bigger issue with the tapes is they don’t allow random access to memory. If you want to remember your sister’s name, you can’t just skip to the part where that information’s stored, you have to watch through the tape of last Christmas until you get to the part where her husband said it aloud- it’s called sequential access. It’s made my life a comic book I flip through, desperately trying to figure out who I am. The pieces I put together, mostly from records and not from the shattered remnants of my brain, tell me that might be a mercy.

Over the years, styles and capacity changed, and usually the upgrades meant better storage, higher resolutions, quieter operations. I went through several tape drives before the Deputy CI sat me down. His face was grim, and his office was dark, but even in the silence I knew there were a pair of agents behind him. He told me maintenance on the tape drives was getting prohibitively expensive, that components and tapes were becoming a real fiscal issue.

I asked if we could transition to a different storage media. Floppies (5¼ or 3.5) would never store enough data; I’d be popping disks in and out all day long without time between even to take a leak. A DVD burner would have been ideal, only the heat of the laser would apparently have cooked the rest of my brain… so I’d remember everything, but be a vegetable. I asked if we could use a hard disk drive, and he sighed. As the techs had explained it to him, a hard disk would be a fine idea, only they die periodically. Every five years I’d lose everything, and go back to being a simpleton and needing retraining to do even the most mundane of tasks. If I was in the field when it happened, I’d be dead. And without a hard back up medium, crucial mission data could be lost- and that’s just not something they could risk.

Because of its ubiquity, and, I later discovered, its relatively low cost, they installed a VHS recorder in my forehead. Because of the larger cassettes, we tried recycling the tapes annually, but after five years, I started slurring my words. A pair of archivists from the Library of Congress assisted in cleaning up the cassettes, but explained that with any future rerecording, we would continue to experience a loss of data. So we stopped reusing tapes. The budget only covered replacements every two years; I made up the rest out of pocket. I figured it was the least I could contribute to my own ability to remember.

But lately, I’ve been having some trouble with my read/write. I showed up to my niece’s birthday party a weak late, with the same gift I’d already brought her when I arrived at her party the week before. There were a lot of little things I’d previously ignored, I suppose, but that was embarrassing enough that I had to admit there was a problem. I got out the cleaning solution, because if my heads were fuzzy, it made a certain kind of sense that my memory’d be fuzzy, too. It didn’t help, so I reported to the techs for maintenance, but I was told there was a problem with their requisitions.

I had another sit down, this time with a different Deputy CI (although I think they changed his title to DCIA, just in case anyone forgot who he worked for). The set up was much the same; at least this guy read the files he was supposed to. Only this time the agents had their weapons in hand, which seemed rude to me, if nothing else. He wasn’t as apologetic, either, and he seemed to bristle at the idea that perhaps he should be afraid of who I used to be, and what my muscles might remember they could do to him, not that I ever made an attempt to intimidate him, you understand. But I think he’d done his homework here, too, and knew how truly shattered I was. I was informed the SecDef had zeroed out the part of the budget that paid for, at least in part, my unique brain. He said he would have informed me sooner, but he didn’t see there being much a point telling me I was doomed when I still had time left I could enjoy.

His eyes went soft, for a moment, like a boy’s who feels bad he’s squished a butterfly in his palm. He muttered about the bureaucrats, how the Democrats always cut us to balance the budget, and the Republicans always cut us to give money back to the taxpayers, but in the end it never mattered who was in power, because all of them made us bleed. It was a nice enough speech, and I couldn’t fault him for the fact I was sure he’d given it plenty of times. He thanked me for my professionalism, my patriotism, and apologized for a country that couldn’t keep itself from leaving soldiers behind. He asked me if there was anything he might be able to do for me. I thought a moment, and asked if he knew where I might get a copy of Girls Gone Wild on VHS. He smiled, looked to the men over each of his shoulders, and said that might be something my government could help him with. I was glad it relieved the tension in the room, and I believed him when he told me it was an honor as I left. But the idea stuck with me, and I stopped by the video store on my way home. I’d spent years using the damned machine in my head to remember, and it seemed appropriate using it to forget.

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