Authors: Angie Smibert
Tags: #General Fiction
Copyright © 2011 by Angela Smibert
All rights reserved
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Memento Nora / by Angie Smibert.
Summary: In a near future in which terrorism is commonplace but memories of horrors witnessed can be obliterated by a pill, teens Nora, Winter, and Micah create an underground comic to share with their classmates the experiences they want to remember.
[1. Memory—Fiction. 2. Government, Resistance to—Fiction. 3. Cartoons and comics—Fiction. 4. Terrorism—Fiction. 5. Science fiction.] I. Title.
This novel began as a short story: “Memento Nora” published in ODYSSEY magazine, May/June 2008, © 2008 Carus Publishing. Used with permission.
Book design by Virginia Pope
Editor: Marilyn Brigham
Printed in TK (TBD)
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
JAMES, NORA EMILY, 15
HAMILTON DETENTION CENTER TFC-42
I’m about to forget everything I’m going to tell you. So I’m only going to mention the parts that matter. To you, at least. The rest I’m going to keep to myself, for my self. For that old Nora James. The obedient daughter. The popular girl. The oblivious consumer. The one who really owns this cute little charm bracelet with the silver purse dangling from it. The one you want to keep around.
It all started a few weeks ago. It was a glossy day. No school. Downtown was having a sale to celebrate two quiet weeks in a row. And Mom was in one of her good moods—her post-TFC mood—and generous with the credit. A very glossy day.
We bought strappy sandals at Macy’s, a cute leather jacket at Bergdorf’s, and ice cream, low-fat chocolate mint, at Burkes. Then we were going to Fahrenheit Books for coffee and a new romance novel for Mom. We were doing our part to prime our feeble economy, as Dad likes to say, while the security patrol watched over us from their machine-gun nest atop Saks.
As we were walking down Market Street, there was a noise like a hundred Fourth of Julys. A body thudded onto the concrete about twenty feet in front of us. It rattled like a bag of bones as it hit the sidewalk. Mom turned me away, but not before I saw it was a man in a dark suit. Brooks Brothers, I think. He had no shoes on, just red socks; but he still had a book clutched in his hand, the hand with a silver watch on it. Burned paper fell from the sky and covered the sidewalk in a thick blanket of ash. Car alarms rang up and down the street. The air smelled like that bonfire we had last fall before Homecoming.
And that’s when I noticed that the top of Fahrenheit Books, the history and classics section, had blown right off. I knew it was history and classics because of the charred books at my feet.
The Art of War
The Fall of the Roman Empire
. In the back of my nonglossy mind, I wondered which book had been the last thing imprinted on the dead guy’s brain.
Security pointed their automatic weapons at us and herded everyone back into the stores. “Nothing to see here,” they shouted. Then a black helicopter rose over Bergdorf’s and swept down the block.
JAMES, NORA EMILY, 15
HAMILTON DETENTION CENTER TFC-42
That night I had the dream.
The body fell like a leaf in a rain of stinging ash. Mom covered my eyes, but I still heard it hit the pavement, still heard the bones rattle, still saw those red socks. This time I could see that his silver watch had stopped at ten past two. I couldn’t make out the book title. Gray covered everything. I wiped and wiped, but nothing came clean. I was so not glossy.
Someone tousled my hair.
“Nora, wake up,” Mom said quietly. “It’s just a dream.”
I shook my head. It felt real.
“Go back to sleep,” Mom told me. “That memory will be gone by lunch tomorrow. And then we’ll go shopping.”
But I couldn’t get back to sleep. The memory wouldn’t let go. Everything in that moment was flash frozen in my brain. Every little detail.
Fumbling for the light on my nightstand, I sent something clattering to the floor. A cold, dark skin of chocolate with tiny, bright red eruptions of cinnamon sprinkles oozed across the wood. I hadn’t touched the cocoa Dad had brought me before bed. Like always, he’d wanted me to talk about what was bothering me—what I’d seen—but all I’d wanted to do was turn up the Bag Boys on my earbuds really loud and stick my head under my pillow.
It hadn’t helped. Still, I gave it one more shot. I laid there, lights on, cocoa drying on the floor, listening to the Boys’ “Glossy Girl” until the alarm rang.
During breakfast, Mom had one of those morning ’casts on in the kitchen. The hosts were comparing new fat-reducing products. I picked at my egg while I watched.
The blond guy concluded that the Reducal implant was the most effective one. “It’ll suck the fat right out of those thighs, Diane.”
The thin woman flashed him a fake smile, and then she turned to the screen. “To recap our top stories: the Coalition took credit for the Market Street bombing in downtown Hamilton yesterday as well as several others in the Mid-Atlantic region. Washington, Philadelphia, Charlotte, Wilmington, all reported—”
Mom flicked off the screen.
“We need to get going, honey,” she said.
Dad bounded down the stairs in his usual hurry.
“My little girl is making her first visit to TFC.” He pecked me on the cheek and then Mom. She flinched.
She dabbed makeup on her right cheekbone after he left.
Sentinel Car Service picked us up in front of our house in a glossy black SUV.
“TFC downtown,” Mom told the driver.
As soon as the car pulled away from the curb, ads flickered across the blast-proof glass windows in the back.
Forget your cares at TFC
. The letters floated like clouds over a flock of sheep grazing in a lush green field.
Fifteen new locations opening soon
blinked in red across the bottom of the field. I didn’t click the info icon. Everyone knows about TFC.
The ad cycled. A mother packed up a bunch of kids in soccer uniforms and drove out of the gates of a compound, all safe and snug in her new Bradley MPV. It looked like a tank.
Feel as safe as if you’d never left home
I wished we lived in a compound.
The next ad was the scent that the woman from my favorite ’cast,
Behind the Gates
, sells. Guarded. The perfume whiff made me sneeze.
And then the Nomura Pink Ice mobile came up. Very glossy. I clicked on that one and picked up the info on my mobile.
The Pink Ice was superslim, with a pearly pink body. You could do all the usual mobile things with it—watch ’casts, search the data stores, do homework, ID yourself, shop—but you could also lock it with a full retinal scan. And the Pink Ice came with a sparkly case. I was sure I could talk the parentals into buying it for me.
“TFC, ma’am,” the driver announced.
When we got out, a cop checked our IDs and warned us that a car had just exploded in front of Macy’s. That’s why everyone I know—who doesn’t live in a compound—uses secure car services. That, Dad said, and because the insurance for owning a car is astronomical. Poor people, he explained, drive without insurance or take the bus, which isn’t much safer.
“We’ll go to a mall next time,” Mom told me. “The security’s better.”
Her usual TFC was sandwiched between a frozen-yogurt shop and an ex-Starbucks. The coffee shop was boarded up, but rubble still clogged the sidewalk. Someone had spray painted a word across the plywood—
—in fire engine red. I began to feel hot.
“I can spare some points for a sundae.” Mom flashed her mobile in my face. I didn’t catch the whole number, but her TFC point balance sure had a lot of zeroes after it. I knew she was saving up for something—a trip maybe—but she never said exactly. As we tiptoed through the debris, she rattled off how many points you need for frozen yogurt: 25. Movies: 100. Spray tans: 300. Mobiles: 3,000. Her chatter didn’t drown out that dreary body-on-asphalt sound echoing inside my head.
My hand trembled as I pushed open the door. The white letters on the glass read T
. 23. Inside, the air was cool, the music soft, and the colors bright. I felt glossier already. Mom headed straight for the counter and swiped her mobile. Number 174 lit up on her screen. The now-serving sign over the counter blinked 129.
Mom cleared her throat. “It’s her first time,” she said.
A frizzy head popped up from behind the counter. The lady it belonged to went all sad and smiley at me. She asked me questions, and I told her:
. The lady asked me if I had an ID implant. I shook my head, and she motioned for me to swipe my mobile over the reader.
My mobile chimed. The message said,
Welcome to TFC, Nora James. You’ve just earned 500 points for your first visit! You’ll earn 100 points for each subsequent one.
Then the screen displayed the number 175.
“Hon, watch the orientation video,” the lady called as I followed Mom to a blue table by the door.
Every seat had its own flat screen, which is better than watching stuff on your mobile, even if you have one of those virtual 3-D displays. I played the orientation on my screen; Mom watched a home renovation show on hers. The orientation droned on about how powerful emotions, along with adrenaline, can etch a memory onto your brain, making it hard to function productively. Doctors used to call it post-traumatic stress disorder. Back then you had to put up with the nightmares and the panic attacks. Now you just pop a pill and go on like nothing ever happened.
The video ended. I scrolled through the games menu while the now-serving number crept up slowly.
When I got bored, I decided to play my own game. Guess the trauma. It was easy. Those four were soldiers. They’d probably seen someone killed, or worse, in war or a Coalition attack. That girl staring at cartoons saw a car bombing. So did that guy with the ugly glasses.
Something blew up in the city all the time. Fifty people were here on a Thursday morning.
They went into that door dreary. They came out glossy.
I noticed this guy, maybe my age, watching me. He had stitches over his right eye and a broken arm. He angled his cast so I could read something written on it. That word again.
Another number was called, and his mother dragged him toward the treatment room door.
I looked up that word on my mobile. A memento, it said, is a reminder of the past. Then some gushy jewelry ad played. Man gives woman diamond earrings for their anniversary.
Remember each year as if it were the first
, the ad said.
Ten minutes later the guy came out trailing his mother. She hurried out the door. He stuck out his tongue at me.
, I thought, until I saw the white pill sitting on his pink tongue. He coughed into his hand. Then he mouthed the word
, tapping his cast, and tossed the pill in the trash can.
I watched him leave. He wasn’t glossy. He wasn’t dreary, either. He was something else.
He was all there.
Our numbers were called. I followed Mom through that door, and we sat down in a cold, white room.
A chubby doctor, almost as white as the walls, walked in. Without looking up from his mobile, he said, “Ah, Mrs. James. Oh, and I see we have a first timer.” He looked all sad and smiley at me, just as the frizzy-haired lady had. “You’ve watched the orientation, right?”
I nodded, though I doubted I could have passed a quiz on the material.
“Any questions?” He looked back at his screen.
“I have a test tomorrow,” I said.
He looked up. “Don’t worry about that. The pill doesn’t affect those kinds of memories. Different part of the brain.”
I must have looked unconvinced.
“Okay,” he said, putting down his pad on his desk. “I might as well give you my new-patient spiel.” He laughed, more to himself than to us.
Great. A lecture.
“Our brains distinguish between emotional and other types of memories. When you experience fear—or any strong emotion—your body excretes adrenaline. That’s what makes your heart race when you’re scared. Adrenaline also opens up your brain cells.” He held out his chubby pink hands palms up, fingers splayed, as if waiting for something to fall into them. “Your brain cells are ready to snatch up that event and make strong connections between one another.” He meshed his fingers together and tugged. “Voilà. A traumatic memory.”
He held a hard knot of fat, pink, wriggling fingers in front of me.
“Ameliorol—this pill I’m going to give you—keeps that from happening.” His fingers slid apart. He shook them out as if they pained him. “I’m sure this kind of memory had some evolutionary advantage in our species, but frankly, it doesn’t pay to remember that kind of thing today.” He smiled rather sadly in my general direction.
“Wouldn’t it work better if you gave me the pill right after the thing happened?” I asked.
“Yes, it would, young lady.” He looked at me, impressed. “But you see, that memory isn’t permanently stuck in your brain. Every time you replay that event in your head—or out loud—the memory has to stick itself to your nerve cells all over again.
“Ameliorol disrupts the resticking process. When you reactivate the memory, which is usually an emotional process, the chemicals in the pill bind to your nerve cells—temporarily—blocking the adrenaline from attaching and the memory from re-forming. It’s fast acting and only affects emotional or traumatic memory. All that cramming for an exam gets stored elsewhere in your brain.”
“Will I remember this part?” I asked. “You? The TFC?”
“Since this is your first visit, and you’re nervous, the adrenaline is probably coursing through your veins and getting those brain cells ready to make a pretty vivid snapshot of right now. The pill will make the memory of your visit a wee bit fuzzy. You may remember the boring parts. Like the waiting room. And my little science lecture.” His smile seemed genuine now.