Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor



Originally published in Perihelion Science Fiction. Free science fiction stories, science articles, comic strips, reviews, and more, on the Internet. Every month, Perihelion presents solid stories with strong plots, intriguing characters, with a sense of wonder reminiscent of the classic science fiction pulp magazines from the ’60s and ’70s. Artwork is by award winning illustrators. Articles are by experts in their fields. Established in 1967, originally as a print magazine, by Sam Bellotto Jr. and Eric M. Jones, the magazine was revisioned in 2012 as an online publication, and has been published regularly every month since. For the best in entertainment and information, bookmark Perihelion on your favorites list.

Copyright © 2015 by Richard Wren.

Memory Farm

By Richard Wren

“AH. MR. STANDON, COME ON IN.” The concept of “in” and movement was meaningless to both parties but expressions like this had served humanity well in conversation for centuries. They were not easily abandoned. Marcus Standon’s focus moved towards his assessor, Mr. Hernandez, and waited patiently.

“I understand you wish to offer your services to the Memory Trading Program. Could you tell me a little about yourself?” Another language anachronism. Marcus simply made his personal memory data accessible. He did so, while deep in the files and folders of his mind he recalled a long string of interviews like this stretching back into the centuries. Most jobs had been short term—less than fifty years in some cases. All those interviews had been conducted in an office of some kind. This was happening in a box.

It was a small box, as Marcus understood it, white and cubic with rounded edges. It sat on a rigid upright umbilical that connected the box to the Network below. It was a security box, isolated from the main system for interviews like this. Standon and Hernandez had been cut and pasted into the box so that his assessor could check for viral or illegal memories.

“Well,” mused Hernandez “this is very impressive. You were created—sorry, born—in 1958 to organic parents and were yourself totally organic until the age of one hundred and ninety.”

“I had a few implants then but nothing major” added Marcus.

“And those first augmentations were on Mars?”

“Yes. As you can see, I was in the Martian Hellas colony for over eight hundred years. I was one of the thirty-one that got out before it failed.”

“Awfully sorry about that, Mr. Standon. It was a terrible tragedy.” Hernandez seemed distant. He was sifting through other memories while commenting.

Abruptly, he snapped back to focus. “But that could be to your advantage. The misfortune of Hellas and any new perspective you could bring to it could be a valuable commodity. That, coupled with the age of some of your memories could make you a very rich man. Perhaps enough to afford a bodypod.” At this point Hernandez let slip a tantalising image. Marcus had never heard of a bodypod before but the image was shot through with feelings of freedom and independence.

Hernandez continued his rummage through memories then paused and addressed Marcus directly. “These are all genuine, I assume?” Marcus’ sense of indignation was all he needed to check. “Sorry to offend, Mr. Standon but I need to be sure. There are so many synthetic forgeries around these days. And with those vulgar farm memories as well, we need as many originals as we can get. I’m rather old fashioned in that way.”

Hernandez continued again for a while in his examination then emerged triumphant. “Aha! Mr. Standon, I believe I have found your unique selling point.” Both minds reflected on the memory of Doreen Garuba. Marcus had recalled an image of her organic form—dark skin, a round body but pleasantly so, and eyes and smile that loved mischief. The wife that didn’t make it back.

“The lost love, the human story! People will pay dearly to have this as part of them. It tugs at the heartstrings—Pathos! Melancholy!” Hernandez was becoming animated at the thought of his percentage.

If Marcus could still cry he would be doing so now. This world had no respect for personal feelings unless there was a price tag attached. But he had no choice. No organics had escaped Hellas, only memory data; and for most of his four hundred years since returning to Earth he had subsisted by operating menial machines for credit. Most of the time he had spent dormant, but even data storage costs money. At nearly two-and-a-half thousand years old, he was probably the most ancient conscious entity that had ever existed. If he had to prostitute his mind to keep going, then so be it. Living longer had been his obsession, even when he was organic. In those days the media had bombarded everyone with products supposed to extend youthful life. Marcus Standon had grasped the opportunity desperately. Longevity was quite literally his lifework. But he couldn’t stand another century like the last few—a poor Martian refugee starved of information and interaction, cowering in slum circuits in some dead end section of the network.

Aware of Hernandez cackling about copyright arrangements and contracts, Marcus drew his attention back. This was going to be a new start for him. He had millennia of baggage, both from his organic and upload lives. A lot was painful to recall but now it had value. Other Hellas survivors had done this before and a couple were now minor celebrities, but none of them had his story. Not just the length, but the loss. Twenty-five centuries of obsession, victimisation and occasional happiness. Sharing it all with the world would hurt but it would make his fortune.

“I want to see the specs on the latest bodypod—top of the range.” The outburst had cut across Hernandez’ monologue.

Looks like he’s interested, the Assessor mulled. I can’t blame him for trying to get a top price. “We haven’t actually come to an agreement yet, Mr. Standon. Bodypods are state of the art and very expensive. Are you thinking to rent or own?”

“Own. And you can have complete and total access to everything up to this interview—exclusive to you.”

Hernandez pretended to pause in thought as was his habit, but no thought was needed for this decision—mission accomplished. “Done.”

The security box barriers were down and Marcus Standon could almost feel the thousands of collectors clawing at his memories. “Show me the pod.” He said.

The bodypod was a prolate spheroid, two by three metres and perfectly smooth. Its surface progressed through a demonstration cycle from black to swirling soap bubble to white, illustrating its ability to harvest and sense all energies while protecting its contents.

“Impressive, isn’t it?” Hernandez purred. “Sensor range from gamma rays to long wave radio plus magnetic and most subatomic particles. In this thing you would see the universe as it really is. Plus the reactionless revised Alcubierre drive means you move inside a space-time bubble. Speed is irrelevant. There we have the last word in freedom—see anything and go anywhere. Totally solid state nano, of course. This baby was built for eternity. I wouldn’t mind one myself.”

Except you couldn’t afford one, Marcus gloated. “When can I move in?”

“It’s illegal to use the drive near any inhabited world because of the gravitational shear at the edge of the drive bubble. They’re manufactured out in lunar orbit and it will take a couple of hours to arrange for your transmission to the site. However, your contract also includes full network access until your transmission so you might as well enjoy. It’s been nice to do business with you, Mr. Standon.” With this, Hernandez simply disappeared leaving Marcus next to the bodypod image.

Marcus figuratively closed his eyes and breathed in deeply with a sense of triumph. He had done it. In mere hours he would be out of this prison and free to roam where he wanted, indeed freer than he had ever been before. Already his world was opening out around him. He had become used to a squalid existence in low data darkness and at first was unsure what was happening. Images of his surroundings within the architecture of the network were forming out of the dark mist that he had lived in for so long. His full access network account was being opened.

Long, sinuous, and ornate corridors twisted away in all directions with no respect for gravity—weaving, electronic metaphors for the communications maze of the network. Moving along them were avatars and icons, some based on real minds, some purely synthetic. As Marcus moved his focus between them, memories of their lives passed through him, complete with emotions, or at least memories of emotions. It was breathtaking and a little shocking but Marcus now understood how trade in such things could be lucrative.

Personal details and extremely private experiences were there for the browser’s titillation. Some were second, third hand or more, copies sold from individual to individual. Indeed, “individual” started to lose meaning as dreams were jointly owned by more and more collectors. Presumably, Marcus’ deepest desires and hopes were being pulled apart and thrown to the masses at this moment. No matter. He had made his decision.

Pulling himself from the clutches of memories, Marcus explored further through the virtual labyrinth. Accessing some external sensors, he found he could rise up out of the network and see what the world looked like outside. His first impression was pleasantly positive. His view showed a semi-wild forest cut by wide glades and meadows. The greenery rolled in all directions, infrequently pierced by vast grey towers that rose into the clouds. These towers of nano-circuitry were connected at their bases by a network of huge, stony-cased cables that threaded between the trees and fields, apparently spanning the world. As his senses spread further, this was confirmed: apart from regional climactic variations, it was a world of memory dump cities and an engineered form of Earth’s old wild areas. He detected places where the two had become intimately interlinked—intriguing.

There was little more to see here. All the business of the world happened in the network and towers, so Marcus settled back down into the cascade of thought. He had originally been worried that memories might attach themselves to his mind uninvited but now realised that a formal credit exchange had to be completed. He supposed that a business model that gave away too many freebies wouldn’t last long.

In stark contradiction, a vivid memory suddenly pierced into his mind. He was riding a rollercoaster with arms outstretched and lungs screaming. The sudden, unexpected onslaught of the sensations shocked his own mind to paralysis.

The car had just pulled up out of a steep dive and lurched to the left as it rose up, clattering and pinning him into his seat with G-force. The car was violently battering him from side to side now as it had reached another peak and plummeted downwards through a sharp drop-off. His neck cracked audibly and what he had thought was a fairground ride was becoming a torture. His head was now jerked downwards and for the first time he realised he was in the body of young woman, probably upper teenage.

Gripping the safety bar of the car, she struggled to raise her head to see forward as the vehicle continued to accelerate towards a sharp turn. Someone sitting next to her gripped her arm painfully and screamed into her ear. Below them, tiny people waved or gaped in shock but were difficult to see through the sparks caused by the emergency brakes on the rails. They had little effect and the bend continued to hurtle towards them. Any residual excitement was now replaced by sheer terror. She closed her eyes and tore off fingernails, gripping the bar. She felt the wheels crack and the car start its slow topple off the ride to the ground far below. Dread of that final impact and the nausea of a body in freefall flooded every sense. She clenched every muscle, waiting for the inevitable.

Suddenly the invasive memory stopped. What the hell was that? Had he just been molested? He paused to gather his wits together. The shocking memory faded, leaving just one thought intact—“Memory Farm.”

“My God! It was some sort of commercial.” Marcus wondered how far the memory would continue if he bought it. Would he feel the splitting of his skull as he hit the ground? This was some kind of perverted stuff. But despite his disgust, he had to admit that this was the most excited he had felt for centuries. Even his memories of Doreen were nothing compared to this. So these were the vulgar farm memories that Hernandez had such contempt for.

Marcus gradually regained his own self from that alternate personality he had briefly inhabited. It was an effort. The experience had been unbelievably intense, not just due to the terrifying content, but also the quality of the memories. He had never realised how much his recollections had faded with time. What he had felt on the rollercoaster was spiced with real fear and despair, not just memories of those emotions. There were glands involved there, a real organic body. How was that possible?

An alert drew his attention back from these organic fantasies. It was Hernandez, or at least someone containing much of him. “Your transfer has been scheduled for forty minutes time, Mr. Standon. You also will be interested to know that initial sales of your experiences are going very well. One collector has already purchased a complete copy, all twenty-five centuries.”

“That’s great” Marcus replied, a little uncertainly. “Before I go maybe you can help me with something else? I’ve just received some kind of sales pitch from Memory Farm.”

Hernandez’ distain was palpable. “They’ve obviously found out that you’ve come into money. Their products are not cheap.”

“I can believe that. The stuff they sent me was ... remarkable. How do they get memories like that? Are they synthetic?”

“It’s all very distasteful, Mr. Standon, and you really do not want to get involved with those sort of people. Anyway, may I thank you again for your thoughts.” Again he disappeared in an abruptly businesslike way. Marcus was beginning to suspect that Hernandez was at least partly synthetic himself. His social graces could certainly use some reprogramming.

Forty minutes, Marcus considered. He had forty minutes left before he could leave Earth or even the solar system if he wanted. And he intended to leave as soon as possible. Mere hours ago he had been rotting in a dingy slum and he still had the nagging suspicion that this was too good to be true. He had to get away to be certain. Then he would be free to have his own thoughts like in those early, mythical years of the twentieth century. Out in the big black he could revel in new experiences, nostalgia and comfort.

So he had forty minutes to see what Memory Farm had to offer. After a general request he experienced what could only be called a catalogue. A dizzying sequence of sensations flickered through his mind—sex, terror, greed, blood-lust, they were all there. Even love, Marcus was happy to note after experiencing the baser desires. And all vivid and hormonal. There was only one way these could exist. These were from real, organic humans. And they weren’t faded memories, these were sent live from their owners.

The enormity of this conclusion was shocking. The girl in the commercial, plummeting to her death—it had really happened right then in real time. The same for that maniac in the catalogue slicing his way through innocent tethered victims. Marcus would have been sick if it were possible. He had been isolated on Mars for eight centuries and on Earth for four. What had happened to society in that interval disgusted him.

A gentle chime informed him of his impending transfer. “Thank God” he muttered to himself. “Get me off this debased rock!” In an instant of perception, the tangle of network corridors disappeared to be replaced by a distant view of a blue world.

Through his new bodypod senses, Marcus Standon could see the colours of Earth and the nearby Moon. From his parking orbit in space, he could see magnetic streamers drifting around the Earth and Sun and was aware of the subtle tugs of gravity in a dozen directions. Colours, textures and what could only be described as smells filled his mind as he experimented with his new abilities. Here was the universe as it really was, stripped of the human sense filters through which he had seen it all his life. He felt the Alcubierre drive within him like a well-toned musculature and vowed to put it to good use.

Godlike now, his plans of mere exploration were put aside. The crimes he had just seen on Earth had to be dealt with. With indignation to direct him, the Alcubierre drive bubble would tear a hole through any part of Earth he chose.

“Not now Mr. Standon.” The ethereal voice was very like Hernandez but spoke with a confident, measured tone. There was no threat or order—just a simple statement, a word of friendly advice.

“Who the hell are you?”

“I am an agreement, or maybe consensus is a better word.”

Marcus knew this deal was too good to be true. “Is this about my contract?”

“No, the contract is binding. This bodypod is yours in perpetuity. However most people on Earth do not want to be killed by its drive bubble.” It was another simple statement.

The consensus continued calmly. “Your destructive thought will fade. It will never be copied.”

“I wasn’t intending to let anyone copy it. And it can fade after I’m finished with it!” He paused himself as a question occurred to him. “How do you mean, you’re a consensus?”

“I am the result of natural selection. Thoughts that are beneficial get copied many times, increasing in number. Thoughts that are not useful do not get copied and eventually die out. Useful thoughts become common property of more and more individuals. The thought to kill many people is not useful.”

Marcus recalled his sense that individuality was eroding on Earth. Apparently it had gone further than he thought but perhaps it was inevitable. Evidently, the bodypod saw the overview rather than all the individuals. “So, do you run things down there?”

“There is no need. The world can run itself. Any non-beneficial thoughts— to destroy, for example—would result in the perpetrator having less ability to copy those thoughts.”

Was it the last word in Democracy or Communism? Marcus wasn’t sure. But he was reminded of his original objection to this system. “And what about those poor people suffering to supply the world with entertainments? How can they be good thoughts?”

“There are no good or evil thoughts. Just beneficial and non-beneficial ones. Any truly destructive ideas would be self-defeating, as I have already suggested.”

“That’s just avoiding the subject.” Marcus’ indignation was returning. “They’re not just thoughts in that Memory Farm, they’re whole people—organic, vulnerable people. I detect we’re talking about generations of people bred so that their thrills can be harvested. Why do you have them suffer like that?”


The shimmering bodypod drifted slowly between the gravity fields of Earth and Moon, feeding on high-energy particles while Marcus silently considered this. The consensus mind understood that more information had to be supplied. “For natural selection to operate without the world stagnating, a stream of new thoughts and experiences are required. Some will be copied and continued, others will dwindle to nothing.”

Marcus was still repelled by some of Memory Farm’s products. “From what I saw there was not much of benefit coming out of that place but those feelings were still intense. They would certainly be copied.”

“They have short-term sensational effect but little long-term benefit. There is a general opinion that as an evolutionary experiment they are a failure. Like the appendix, they have become more of a nuisance than an advantage. Memory Farm and their like had their uses but that is probably past now.”

“So does that mean that the evolution stops dead—just the same old ideas being swapped back and forth like football cards?”

The consensus didn’t comment on this archaic comparison. Presumably memories of football cards still existed in the population of Earth. “We hope not. There is another way to find and interpret new experiences. You are presently in one.”

The bodypod? Of course, the bodypod! As Hernandez had said, you experience the universe as it really is—and all the experiences are new, never lived before by any human being.

“And suppose I don’t want to harvest new memories from all over the place?”

“But you do want to—that’s the point. Your life experience and attitude is beneficial. You want to live. You want to experience. The Memory Trading Program was set up to find people like you.”

A younger Marcus would have felt used. This one was more philosophical. “It did seem a little too easy to make the deal. The bodypod idea was yours as well, I suppose?”

“Only in a sense. It was what you wanted, anyway. And before you ask, the Memory Trading Program does also exist to trade. Your memories are now circulating.”

Waste not, want not, Marcus considered. It really was a neat setup. The people with the longest memories are commercially valuable and are probably more able to deal with new experiences on behalf of the world. Being older, they were likely to prefer independence. Give them a marvellous toy like a bodypod and they would happily cruise the universe for new and wonderful memories. There was enough out there to feed humanity for an eternity.

Marcus felt that the consensus had moved on, or at least the bodypod was no longer communicating with it. It had no need to stay. It didn’t even need to make any point, the choices were inevitable. Marcus Standon could no more turn back than he could kill himself. Just like all the merging humans on Earth, the meaning of life for Marcus was simply to live.

But his feelings about Memory Farm still simmered deep inside him. The consensus was right on one point. They were an appendix—and surgery was required.

With enhanced appreciation, he took in the whole blue globe below. He felt the rough textures of familiar continents, connected by massive network conduits. The dusty taste of deserts had been reduced to a beneficial size and edged with palms and agriculture for the organics. The flow of information was audible even from this distance, from both mind and flesh. Life was moving on, striving to survive and adapt like it always had. Just like he always had.

But there it was. The decadent dead end of Memory Farm, a knot of a different texture in the data stream coming from the long thin Malay peninsula. It was a vast area of production—miles of coastline studded with casinos, torture rooms and brothels. Maybe a million slaves writhing in a public Sodom and Gomorrah.

Feeling the abilities of his new body, Marcus hurtled downwards with a renewed sense of fury. He knew what he had to do—a skim across the crust of the Earth just enough to remove the abomination. With his enhanced senses he could watch speeding seconds pass in infinite detail.

He approached the fragile strip of land from the east, noting with satisfaction the warping of the waters of the Bay of Bengal. At supersonic speed, the drive bubble slammed into the peninsula and crumbled the land into a trench as it tried to twist into its new space-time shape. No rock could stand this pressure and a twenty kilometre wide gutter cracked open with a demonic rumble as magma was squeezed out of the parallel ridges, cutting the coastline in two.

Marcus pulled back and the bodypod stopped instantly then rose with air-tearing thunder. He paused at high altitude to look back. He wasn’t angry any more. People were dying, most were already dead. But now their suffering was over. Even as he watched, that canyon of flaming rock was disappearing under gushes of steam as the Indian Ocean fought for possession of the crater.

Like an earthquake aftershock, another tsunami of emotion swept across the world from the doomed peninsula. Memory Farm bade farewell to the world with its greatest, most intense offering—the searing death of a million souls.

Shocked by his powers, Marcus considered the damage. In the wider perspective that he was becoming accustomed to, it was acceptable. The world would heal with time and now he had a job to do to ensure intelligence would do so as well.

With flame, rock, and water twisting in a maelstrom below, a final glance Earthwards and a welcome flicker of excitement, Marcus Standon threw himself into the cosmos. END

Richard Wren has been writing fiction for the last twenty years. He runs an Environmental Field Centre in the U.K. and teaches biology and astronomy. His previous story for “Perihelion” was in the 12-OCT-2014 update.






jamie noble