Aphelion Issue 293, Volume 28
September 2023
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by Christopher Collingwood

The studio waiting room was a testament to the clever marketing of the MyLives Corporation. The modern minimalist style, played to the vibrant images of exciting life experiences displayed on the walls. The company sold its services as a simple and safe way to gain the experiences of a lifetime; which was an effective approach to market memory augmentation to the public. This was no more evident than in the company's advertisements, which created the perception of a glamorous thirty-minute photography session, rather than a potentially dangerous piece of neural surgery.

As Marcus Lyon sat in the waiting room, he began to question the validity of the advertising, having experienced nothing but incompetence from the staff during his final assessment. He now waited in frustration, as a customer representative reviewed his payment before approving the procedure. Marcus rolled his eyes as he watched the digital images on the wall go through their animation sequences, for what seemed like the hundredth time.

A picture of a young woman came to life as she kissed a man while running along the beach; a baseball player in mid-strike, swung to hit a baseball; a middle aged women animated and started playing with a child on the grass; an image of the artist made the final stroke on his painting, revealing a beautiful cottage. The animations concluded with a sequence from the MyLives advertisement that flashed across all the displays. An attractive man in a designer suit walked into a MyLives waiting room.

"Are you considering memory augmentation, but don't know your options and feel intimidated by the science? At MyLives we understand these concerns, and have revolutionized the process of memory augmentation; making it safer, cheaper and easier to for you to enjoy. Our streamlined process and shorter assessment times, means you can now spend less time thinking about the procedure, and more time enjoying your memories. At MyLives we understand what drives you; that's why we have developed extended memory sequencing, allowing you to have an entire lifetime of memories in just one sitting. Consider the opportunities you can explore; fulfilling those missed dreams or discovering that once in a lifetime experience. At MyLives we don't believe that you only live once, please call us today and ask about our new 3Lives package." The advert faded out as the MyLives logo appeared on the screen, a small tree with two multi-colored rings on each side.

Marcus took a sip of his espresso and nervously adjusted his tie. He had decided to have the procedure and was not one to reconsider his choices; however his experience during the day's assessment had left him unsettled. He had built a successful career and had always been in control of his life; the idea of putting himself in someone else's hands was new to him, but he still had a strong urge to go through with the procedure.

"Mr. Lyon," a young woman with short blonde hair approached Marcus in the waiting room. "I'm sorry but your credit card has been rejected."

Marcus fastened the button on his tailored suit, and took his credit card from the young attendant. "That's impossible; all my credit cards have gold class limits. Are you sure you are processing it correctly?"

"Yes, sir, I tried several times, but your card has been rejected. Unless you have another form of payment we cannot commence the procedure."

Marcus looked around the waiting room in frustration. Despite its glamorous façade, it fell short of offering on its claims of professional service. During his screening that morning, the design consultants seemed confused referring back to their files. Marcus sat through a lengthy medical, where the attendant had given him a sedative and left him asleep for several hours. After waking up he found it difficult to locate any staff, with the offices vacant and packing crates blocking the hallways. The final frustration was being told to sit in the waiting room, while the staff addressed an issue with his payment. Marcus had arranged for a direct transfer in advance, but the attendants could not acknowledge receipt of funds and now declined two of his credit cards.

"I'd like to apologize for any shortcomings we have in fulfilling your expectations. As I've explained, we're in the process of moving to larger premises so there are a few problems with our systems. Your choice of the 'MyLives Sports Star Package' is an exciting experience that you'll really enjoy. If you give me a little time to sort through the problem, I'm sure I'll be able to settle your payment. I'll reschedule your appointment for next week, and in consideration for the inconvenience we'll offer you a discount on your package."

Marcus accepted the attendant's proposal, with a sense of disappointment and frustration. Marcus gathered his things, and made his way out of the studio waiting room.

"Excuse me, Mr. Lyon, I believe you dropped this." The young attendant called out to Marcus and handed him a small photograph.

It was a picture of a young woman with blue eyes and long flowing black hair; Marcus found the woman to be attractive and charming in a subtle way. There was also something familiar about this woman, as if he had a seen her somewhere before.

"I'm sorry, it's not my photograph." Marcus handed the picture back to the young attendant.

"My apologies, I thought I saw it fall out of your jacket as you were leaving. It must have come from one of our client files."

With a polite smile Marcus left the studio waiting room, deciding to go straight home to his up market apartment after a long day at the MyLives office.

Arriving at his apartment building, Marcus struggled to get his key card to open the security door. As he fumbled with his card, he heard shuffling from behind a group of shrubs that lined the fence. A figure suddenly appeared out of the darkness, grabbing the back of Marcus's jacket and forcing him up against the brickwork. Marcus cut his lip and could feel the blood trickle down his chin.

"Michael!" The smell of scotch and cigarettes drifted from the man's breath. His voice was raspy, and the man coughed loudly as he tried to speak. "You have to listen to me." The man pushed Marcus hard against the wall, and held him tightly as he tried to take something out of his pocket.

The man was drunk and confused; so Marcus didn't want to be tangled up in a case of mistaken identity. As the man loosened his grip, Marcus thrust his elbow into his chest and then raced through the security door. Marcus caught a glimpse of the man through the glass, and saw him race off towards the shadows. He couldn't clearly see the man's face, but he did catch sight of his strange black hat with a purple band around the brim.

Marcus was left shaken and tired, and went straight up to his apartment. He was so distracted, that he didn't realize that his lights weren't working and stumbled in the darkness of his apartment. He couldn't believe his luck, and rummaged aimlessly in dark cabinets for a torch. As the torch brightened the apartment; Marcus's heart stopped, as he was confronted with a living space that seemed completely bare. Marcus raced around his apartment and found that most of his possessions were missing and only his furniture remained. His shelves had been completely stripped of all his books; his television had been removed from the entertainment unit; all his kitchen appliances had disappeared; even his artwork had been removed from the walls. Marcus rummaged through his dresser draw to find his jewelry and money also missing.

Marcus reached for his mobile phone and called the police, and then tried to contact the building manager. It took the police an hour to attend his premises, so Marcus assessed the damage to his apartment while he waited.

Upon arrival the police made a search of his apartment, and took statements from Marcus and his neighbors.

"Well Mr. Lyon, I have taken statements from all of your neighbors and no one has seen any unusual activity during your absence today. Did anyone else have access to your apartment, or was there anyone who would have known of your absence today?"

"No I was the only person who had a key, and I don't recall telling anyone of my plans today." Marcus treated his cut lip with a towel as he spoke to the police officer.

"We're investigating your loss of power with the building manager; it's possible the intruder cut off power before entering".

Another officer completed his survey of the apartment and had a brief conversation with the other officer.

"Mr. Lyon my colleague has completed his inspection of your apartment and can't find anything to identify an intruder; and strangely no evidence of forced entry. We will put a search out for the gentlemen that attacked you outside your building; it's possible that he was involved in the robbery." The police officer mused over his notebook, then read over the statement which Marcus had finished writing. "We will also extend our search to look into the reports of an unidentified woman who has been seen lurking around your building in the last few weeks."

"Do you believe she might be involved in the robbery?"

"It's difficult to say, but several of your neighbors have reported seeing a middle-aged woman with black hair and blue eyes hanging around the building in the last few weeks. In the meantime I would suggest going through your personal affects, and contacting your bank to cancel any credit cards." The police officers completed their review, and left Marcus alone to consider the depth of his unfortunate violation.

The next morning Marcus awoke, still feeling unsettled from his experience the previous evening. He went through his usual routine in preparation for work, which included dressing in a cleanly pressed suit and putting on his last remaining wristwatch. It helped him to get into the right mind frame and gave him a sense of purpose and control. Marcus decided that work was the best way to get over the incident, and locked his apartment as he made his way down to the secure parking garage. Marcus was thankful that he had taken his Porsche to the MyLives office the previous day, so it had remained safe.

During his drive to work he called his bank, in an attempt to cancel his credit cards. The bank manager was quite helpful in dealing with the issue and arranged to deactivate his cards.

"Your credit cards have been deactivated Mr. Lyon, although I've noticed that you have already exceeded your credit limits."

Marcus jerked at the steering wheel as the bank manager made the comment. "Excuse me; did you say that I had overdrawn on my credit limits?"

"Yes sir, on your credit cards and on your bank accounts."

"That's impossible; the thieves must have already used my cards to make payments."

"If you have any reservations about the validity of the transactions, I am more than happy to go through them with you. In the meantime I will put a freeze on all your accounts, until the matter is resolved."

"Thank you, before you go I was wondering if you could confirm the last transaction that was processed to my account." Marcus was starting to become concerned about the bad set of coincidences that he had been experiencing.

"The last transaction was from a foreign account, the description reads Oceanic International Trading Cooperative. The transaction was disallowed, due to insufficient funds."

Marcus considered this as he arrived at his office building. He took his car to the underground car park, but could not get his access code to work so parked on the street. He raced through the revolving doors and reached the security gates; where he stopped, realizing he did not have his security pass. Frustrated by the inconvenience, he jumped over the gates and quickly made his way to the elevators.

"Hey!" A voice yelled out to Marcus from a small desk near the entrance of the building; a tall security officer with a shaved head raced over to him.

Startled by the security officer, Marcus waited for the guard to approach.

"Excuse me sir, can I please see your security pass?"

"I'm sorry but I have left it at home."

"Could you please come with me, sir?" The security guard took Marcus by the elbow and guided him to a small room behind the security desk.

"This is all a miss understanding, if you just let me explain." As Marcus was guided behind the security desk he saw one of his colleagues entering the building. "Catherine, Catherine!" Marcus called out to a middle-aged woman in a blue dress, whom he hoped would identify him and settle the incident. As she caught sight of Marcus in the custody of the security guards, she gave a startled look and walked off quickly towards the elevator, giving Marcus no sign of recognition.

The security guard brought Marcus into his office, and asked him for some identification while another security guard stood watch by the door. Marcus passed the security guard his wallet; while the guard accessed his computer.

"What is your name?"

"Marcus Lyon, I work on the thirty second floor, for Walstein International Banking Corporation."

"One moment sir," the security guard checked his computer and made a phone call. As he held the phone against his shoulder he searched through Marcus's wallet.

Marcus began to feel nervous, he could see the other security guard waiting by the door, and he did not appear sympathetic to Marcus's predicament.

"Oceanic International Trading Cooperative," the security guard said to Marcus across the table.

"What!" Hearing that company again, took Marcus by surprise.

The security guard held out a card, which he had taken from Marcus's wallet and handed it to him. He saw the name of the company in small blue print at the back of a white business card. He turned the card over and saw the symbol of a tree with two multi-colored rings attached to each side. Marcus's heart sank, as a thought began to enter his mind.

There was a loud clutter as the security guard hanged up the phone. He looked up at his counterpart who nodded and discretely disappeared back out into the foyer. The security guard picked up the MyLives business card, and placed it with Marcus's wallet in his desk draw. "I have checked our security system, and have phoned reception on level thirty two; you do not have access to this building, and I want to know what you are doing here."

Marcus froze as he tried to think of a response to the guard's question. The gravity of his situation was beginning to set in, and he was at a complete loss for words.

"My colleague is contacting the police, you don't have to answer any questions now but we intend to hold you until the police arrive."

Marcus reacted so unexpectedly; that the security guard tumbled off his chair as the tray of papers hit him in the face, allowing Marcus to escape his office. The security guard called to his colleague, who caught sight of Marcus racing towards the revolving doors. Marcus pushed his way through the crowd, and waited anxiously on the street corner for a break in traffic. Marcus felt a sudden strike from behind, and was forced to the ground by the security guard. He struggled for a few moments, before he felt a sudden tug from behind, and realized the security guard had released his hold. Marcus pushed himself free and raced across the road to his Porsche. As he looked back he could see the security guard lying dazed on the ground, and he noticed a woman with black flowing hair and blue eyes standing over him. She gave Marcus a strange haunting gaze, which caused Marcus to enter his car and drive off as quickly as he could.

Sweat poured down Marcus's face as he felt the fear clinging to him; he drove in no particular direction in an attempt to distance himself from the building, expecting a police car to come upon him at any moment. Marcus wasn't sure why he had reacted the way he did; his instincts just told him to flee, and he couldn't ignore the feeling. Too many bad coincidences had been happening to him, and he knew he wouldn't be able to reason it out with the police. It had all started after his visit to MyLives, and he needed to learn if they were the cause of the problem. Marcus could feel his chest tightening, and decided to head directly to their office.

Marcus parked outside the MyLives office, and began to formulate a plan as he got into an elevator and made his way to the correct floor. The elevator doors opened, and Marcus felt a surge of adrenaline as he entered the waiting room. He was taken by surprise as he saw that all the furnishings and fittings had been removed from the waiting room, making it completely bare. Marcus watched as a tradesman unscrewed the display screens from the wall. They now stood inactive and cold on the ground, no longer vibrant with exciting life experiences.

"I'm sorry, sir, these offices are now closed." A young attendant approached Marcus, while he stood in the waiting room.

"I want to speak to someone immediately; I suspect there has been a terrible violation of my privacy and confidential information."

"I can see you are distressed, but there are no customer representatives here. We are moving to a new premise, so I can arrange you an appointment for next week, or you can attend one our other locations." The young attendant suddenly paused, and opened a small vanilla folder which she had been holding under her arm. "If your concerns are that urgent, I might be able to get a customer representative to see you in person; if you would please follow me this way."

The young attendant led Marcus to a small room at the back of the office, which contained a small table and two chairs. Marcus watched as the young attendant pulled something out of the vanilla folder and carefully folded it in her hands.

"If you just wait here a moment, I'll contact one of our representatives and see if they can meet with you shortly." The young attendant left the room, closing the door behind her. She seemed quite nervous as she left the room; holding vanilla folder close to her chest.

Marcus did not like her reaction and decided to follow her after she had left the room. He crept down the corridor and discovered that most of the rooms were now empty. Marcus found a room that still had some furnishings, and caught sight of the vanilla folder sitting on the edge of a desk. He couldn't see the attendant, but heard rustling behind a closed door at the back of the room. He quietly entered the room and opened the vanilla folder. Marcus was immediately taken by surprise, as he realized that the contents of the folder was his personal profile. It was at this point that Marcus understood the extent of the information collected by the MyLives Corporation; the file was extensive and included information that he could not recall providing. His suspicions grew, as he found a letterhead belonging to the 'Oceanic International Trading Cooperative'. A review of the file caused Marcus to consider the long sessions he spent in the MyLives offices, and the extent of their memory extraction procedures. After reading through the entire file, Marcus could see no sign of the document that the attendant had removed and folded.

Marcus quietly crept over to the door at the back of the room and tried to open it; the handle did not turn and the door appeared securely locked. Pressing his ear up against the door he could barely hear the attendant talking on a phone.

"Are you almost here? I called the police like you instructed and I have him sitting in one of the waiting rooms. He seems very agitated and I think he is suspicious of the whole thing."

Marcus did not like the tone of the conversation and decided it was time for him to leave. He quickly walked out of the room taking the vanilla folder with him. As he passed through the studio waiting room, he heard yelling from the back office. Marcus quickly raced down the emergency fire stairs and made his way out of the building.

As Marcus walked towards his car, he could see the passenger door open and a man looking through his glove box. At first he thought it was a policeman, but caught sight of a man's head through the window. He immediately recognized the black hat with the purple band, and raced towards the passenger side door crushing the man. The door collided with the man's legs, causing him to fall to the ground. Marcus slammed the door against the man's head, knocking him down to the pavement. Marcus pulled the man away, and closed the door as he jumped across the chair to the driver's side. Marcus started the engine as the man tried to grab the door handle; blood was streaming down the man's face. He had no idea what the man wanted, but suspected he was involved in his sudden misfortune. Marcus put the car into gear and drove away as quickly as he could.

Full of fear and confusion; Marcus tried to consider his options, suspecting it was no longer safe to return to his apartment. He had limited resources with his credit cards cancelled and didn't know who he could turn too. Marcus suddenly noticed a car following him in his rear view mirror. As the car got closer, Marcus recognized the driver as the man in the black hat. Marcus slowed his car allowing the man in the black hat to pull beside him. As the vehicle caught up, he peered through the window and had a good look at the driver. Marcus looked into the man's eyes, and then quickly jerked the steering wheel slamming against his car. The man in the black hat drove off the road and stumbled over the gutter.

Marcus hit the accelerator and drove away as quickly as he could. He peered into his rear view mirror, and saw the man in the black hat regaining control of his car; then start to pursue him down the road. Marcus tried his best to swerve through the traffic, and take a sharp detour down one of the side streets; but he couldn't lose his pursuer who only seemed to gain on his position. It wasn't long before the man black hat had gotten close enough to nudge the rear of his car; causing Marcus to awkwardly slide across the road. Marcus struggled to steady his vehicle and then accelerated towards the intersection; watching as the lights turned red. An approaching driver entered the intersection, and slammed his breaks narrowly missing a collision with Marcus. There was a loud crash in the distance; and Marcus peered back at his purser who had collided with another car in the intersection. Marcus could see the man throwing his hat on the ground in frustration, as he got out of his mangled car. A loud horn brought Marcus's attention back to the road, causing him to immediately slam his breaks; but it was too late as he collided with a car reversing on the main road. The force caused Marcus to skid off the road, hitting a light pole and flipping his car.

The first thing Marcus saw when he opened his eyes, were the bright white tiles that lined the ceiling of the hospital room. He tried to move, but his head was extremely sore and it brought on a strong feeling of nausea. He slowly raised himself against the head of the bed, and noticed three other people waiting in the room with him. There was a middle-aged woman, with flowing black hair and blue eyes sitting by his bedside; she looked tired and appeared occupied by her thoughts. There was a tall man with blonde hair, in a white medical coat; he appeared to be a doctor. There was a man at the back of the room playing with a deck of cards on a small table; he was wearing a black hat with a purple band around the brim.

"My God, Michael can you hear me?" The woman stood up, at the sight of Marcus awake and alert in the bed. It caught the attention of the two other men, who walked over to the bed.

The doctor stood over Marcus; checked his pupil dilation and then examined his responses. "Can you hear me?"

Marcus did not respond but merely nodded.

"I know this might sound surprising, but you were involved in a car accident. Your condition is stable, but we weren't sure if you would come out of the coma. Can you tell me your name?"

"Marcus Lyon." He spoke in a whispered voice.

The middle-aged women gave a gasp of surprise.

The doctor put his hand on the lady's shoulder, and whispered something to her before continuing his discussion with Marcus. "What is your occupation, and where do you live?"

"I am an investment banker for the Walstein International Banking Corporation. I live in apartment 42A, 281 Closter Street."

The lady broke out in tears on hearing his response.

"I am sorry Mr. Lyon, I have something to tell you and you might find it difficult to hear at first, but I want you to keep an open mind. You are suffering from a condition known as IDAS or Identity Disassociation Augmentation Syndrome. It happens when a person undergoes a memory augmentation procedure, which develops into a psychosis, causing them to be so enveloped by their new memories they disassociate with their real life."

Marcus still felt disoriented from the accident and found it difficult to follow the conversation. "What are you trying to tell me, doctor?"

"The person you know as Marcus Lyon does not exist; your real name is Michael Campson. You are currently suffering from IDAS, and have built the life of Marcus Lyon around a series of memories you had implanted."

"That's impossible." Marcus couldn't help but laugh at the doctor's comments.

"It might seem that way, but victims of IDAS become so completely consumed by their delusion it can be virtually impossible for them to separate from their false identity."

Marcus sat up in the hospital bed, and looked at the other two people who stood by his bedside. He peered at the women and recognized her deep blue eyes. "I have seen you before; you were outside my office building."

The middle aged women nodded; she reached into her handbag and pulled out a photograph which she gave to Marcus. It was a photograph of the two of them, when they were much younger. They were glancing at each other, and Marcus couldn't help but admire how beautiful she was.

"Who are you?"

"My name is Vanette, and I am your wife." She brushed her hair gently as she spoke.

"Are you saying we have a life together?"

"We were married for thirty years; for the most part they were happy years, but we slowly began to drift apart and had a brief separation two years ago. It was during this time that we rediscovered ourselves and established a close friendship. It was during this time that you began to reflect on your life and some of the regrets you had. You started to consider the missed opportunities you had with your career, and began to act and dress differently. It was not long after that you started to discuss you interest in a memory procedure."

Marcus adjusted himself in his bed. "I suspected that the MyLives Corporation was involved in some unethical conduct, but I didn't realize how far they would go to deceive its customers." Marcus gave the man in the black hat a sinister look, and then peered at the vanilla folder that he held in his hands.

The man removed his hat and placed it on the bed, then took out a business card and handed it to Marcus. "My name is Walter Fripp, I am a private investigator, specializing in MA cases."

Marcus stared at him as he failed to make out the writing on the card.

"I specialize in memory augmentation cases; uncovering the truth when it's not even known to the victim. Your wife hired me, after you disappeared four months ago. When I learned that you were considering an augmentation procedure I thought you might be a victim of IDAS, so I set out to determine if you had a new identity."

"I find this hard to believe, considering that you attack me on our first encounter?"

Walter picked up his hat and started spinning it around his fingers. "Once I have discovered the identity of a victim, I usually work slowly to provide clues to see if the memories will resurface. When I learned that you were considering a memory augmentation procedure in your current state, I realized I had to act quickly. The consequences of overlaying a memory while suffering IDAS could be devastating. So I tried to confront you with the truth and dissuade your decision."

Marcus did not respond but stared at the investigator.

"I want you to consider carefully the reality of your situation. How much detail do you actually remember about your life? The little things that might not seem that relevant, but are an everyday part of life. For example; do you remember your first day working for Walstein International Banking Corporation? When was the last time you were off sick? Can you tell me where your office is and what it looks like? You see your mind skips over these details, and when you begin to scrutinize the reality of your memories your IDAS begins to surface."

"If what you're saying is true, then why am I not in my apartment right now; comfortable in the belief that I'm a successful banker, instead of this hospital bed seeing my life fall apart?"

The doctor checked Marcus's pulse and then looked at him with an expression of sympathy. "I suspect that your visit to MyLives triggered something in your psychosis, it caused a breakdown in the barriers that protected the personality. The reality of your situation was that you had an expensive lifestyle but weren't earning any money. You were a successful businessman at a large corporation but you didn't work there. Once you began to actively engage the delusion, you started to see the holes in your life and your mind responded by inventing conspiracies or threats that helped to explain your situation."

Walter adjusted his hat on his head and then flicked through the pages of the vanilla folder. "We tried our best to intervene, but you are a determined man. It's just lucky that you didn't go through with the procedure."

Vanetta turned to the doctor with a concerned expression. "So what happens now?"

"Now we go through the long process of recovery. He will have to go through an intensive treatment process and undertake counseling for the rest of his life. With ongoing treatment he might retain some of his memories, but victims of IDAS rarely return to their original personalities."

Marcus could no longer listen to the conversation, and turned on his pillow as he wondered whether everything he believed about himself was merely a memory implant. He gripped the pillow firmly against his face, and watched the small digital screen that was mounted to his hospital bed. The main program ended and an advertisement appeared on the screen.

An elderly man walked along the beach; watching the waves calmly crashing up against the sand.

"Have you ever wondered what your life might have been like if you had made different choices? Have you ever wondered what you might have become if you had different opportunities? At MyLives we understand the frustration that life can bring; that's why we have developed extended memory sequencing. To allow people to find that extra fulfillment, no matter what stage of life they are in. At MyLives we provide a unique opportunity, and you don't have to wait a lifetime to experience it. Please call us today."

The advertisement ends with an elderly lady and a little white dog, joining the elderly man, as he continues to walk down the beach. The advertisement fades out as the MyLives logo, a small tree with two multi-colored rings appears on the screen.


© 2015 Christopher Collingwood

Bio: Chris was born and raised in Sydney Australia. He completed university in Sydney and graduated with a degree in business. He has spent over ten years, working in various roles in the finance industry. Chris has developed his writing over this time, mainly focusing on genre based works. He obtains inspiration from both modern and classic literature.

E-mail: Christopher Collingwood

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