By Curtis C. Chen
My name is Eddie. I am ten years old. I forget things sometimes because I am sick. That is why I am in the hospital now and also why I am keeping this journal. So even if I forget things they will still be recorded here.
The doctors gave me this computer tablet so I can read library books but it was easy to hack it so I could keep my journal on it too. I get bored a lot when I am here. They do not let me watch any TV. My favorite show of all time is THE REAL JUSTICE HOUR. Mom says I am too young to watch it but I like how they have all true stories about superheroes catching bad guys! When I grow up I want to be a hero. I do not have any superpowers but maybe I can be one of their sidekicks. All my teachers say I am very smart and that is a valuable skill for crime fighting.
I hope the doctors will fix me soon so I can remember everything. That will help me be even smarter. For now I will write down as much as possible so that way even if I forget it will be in this journal and I can come back and read it and remember it that way.
Why does my Mom not ever visit me in the hospital? And why can I not ever remember leaving the hospital? I know that they bring me here immediately whenever I have an episode and that is why I do not remember coming here but why do I not remember going home? If Mom noticed I was having an episode when I got home she would call the hospital right away. It does not make sense. I will ask the doctors about this.
I think the doctors do not like my questions. They always frown when I ask something about how I am sick and then say "it's complicated" or "don't worry about it." If I keep asking then they just say I should rest because I am very sick and I need to get better. I think they do not know the answer but do not want to admit it to me.
I think the doctors do not know what is wrong with me. They keep running tests on me but they are still running the same tests as when I first came to the hospital. I have read about the scientific method and I think by this time they should have enough data to narrow their parameters for investigation. I would mention this but I do not think they would appreciate my insights.
Has it really been a year since my last episode? I can remember writing the previous entries, but I can't imagine being that boy anymore.
The doctors still don't know what's wrong with me. I think they had been hoping that my condition was going into remission. Mom seemed hopeful, too. She's been happier in the last year than I can ever remember her being. She hardly cries any more, and just the other day I heard her singing in the kitchen.
Mom was a professional singer until she decided to start a family. I guess that means me, because we don't have any other family that I know of. She never talks about who my Dad was. I think maybe that's what was making her sad before, but I can't remember. I hate not being able to remember things. I should start writing a journal at home, too.
Two years? How is it possible to lose two whole years of my memory? I was very angry with the doctors today, and maybe I shouldn't have taken it out on them. I know it's not their fault I'm sick. But they've been testing me for almost four years. Surely they must know something more now than when they started?
I asked them to tell me the name of my condition so I could do my own research when I got home. They said that there isn't a name for it yet because I'm the first known case. I can't believe that none of these jokers have published a paper in the last four years, but I held my tongue.
I'm getting pretty sick and tired of everyone treating me like a kid. I'm smarter than any of them. Mom knows. She was so proud of me when I won that science fair. Was it really two years ago? It feels like it was just yesterday. It's the last thing I can remember. Damn it! I hate this. I hate losing my memories.
To hell with these doctors. To hell with this whole damn hospital. I'm going to cure myself. I rebuilt a hydrogen fuel cell for that science fair and made it fifty percent more efficient in the process. And that was two years ago! I'm older and smarter now. I can fix whatever's broken in my own head, and I don't need any help from these idiots.
I don't know what's wrong with me. Maybe writing things down will help me break down the problem and figure it out.
When I left the hospital after my last visit, six months ago, I went right back to tinkering with electrochemical power systems. It doesn't make any sense. I remember deciding to cure my own illness, and I can see the journal entry right here. Why would I have abandoned that? And why wasn't I keeping a journal at home?
It doesn't make any sense. It's almost like I'm two different people, as if I change personalities when I'm here in the hospital. Is this another symptom of my condition? Do the doctors know about this? Are they afraid to tell me about it? Did they think I was so dumb I wouldn't figure it out on my own?
I know what to do. I'll write a message to myself on my own body, using permanent ink, and that way I'll be sure to see it when I get home, even if I switch to being the other me, the one who doesn't seem to know or care that he's sick. Even if my mind isn't working properly, I can communicate with myself that way. Even if I can't remember, I'll understand the message.
Something is wrong here. Something is very wrong. I think I'm scared. No! I'm not scared. I just haven't figured it out yet. But I will. There's nothing I can't understand.
It's been less than a week since my last journal entry. I have a very clear memory of being at home the day after that, of taking a shower, and NOT seeing the message I wrote on the inside of my left thigh. I have very clear memories of showering every day last week and not seeing any writing on my body.
And now I'm back in the hospital, and the message is still there, on my thigh, just as I wrote it a week ago. As if it had been there all along. Impossible!
How can something like that disappear and reappear? And why would it coincide with the times I'm in or out of the hospital?
Think. Think. Could they be inducing hallucinations? Possibly, but for what purpose? The doctors still act like they thinks memory loss is the only symptom of my condition. Well, I'm not going to tell them otherwise. I don't trust them. I don't trust any of them.
Why are they doing this to me? WHAT are they doing to me? I need to find out more about this place.
This is not a hospital. I don't know what it is, but it looks like some kind of science lab or research facility. Am I one of their experiments? How many more people do they have locked up in here?
My door wasn't hard to open. I can crack an SPDT keypad in my sleep. But I wasn't prepared for what I found on the other side.
The long, empty, white corridor outside curved away on either side, following the circular shape of my room. I turned right and walked down until I saw another door. The display panel showed a medical chart and a patient identification number. It took me ten seconds to open the door.
The room looked the same as mine, except it was even more sparsely furnished. There were no electronic devices inside. The old man in the bed was even reading a paper book. He sat up and gave me a strange look when I came in.
"Hello," I said. "I'm Eddie."
The old man didn't say anything. He stared at me for a long time through his thick eyeglasses, his eyes flicking from side to side as if he was speed-reading something invisible in the air between us.
"Can you talk?" I asked. "Are you sick, too?"
"Listen to me very carefully, Eddie," he said. "You're going to go home tonight and tell your mother about a girl named Laura."
I took a step back. "How do you know about Laura?"
"Shut up and listen," he snapped. "You're going to tell Mom about your little crush, and she's going to suggest that you bring Laura a bouquet of mixed-color Gerbera daisies."
I edged closer to the door. My heart was pounding, and I didn't like this strange old geezer making pronouncements about what I would or wouldn't do in the future.
"It's not going to work," the old man continued, "because Laura won't be at school tomorrow. Her father's taken another job and they've moved to Chicago. You're going to be lovesick and heartbroken and utterly pathetic for exactly four days, and then you're going to meet Jenny."
Before I could tell him to stop, I heard voices and footsteps coming down the corridor toward us. Stupid! I had memorized the rounds schedule long ago, but the crazy old man had distracted me with his babbling.
I slammed the door shut and ran back to my own room. I tripped in the hallway and twisted my ankle, but I managed to keep quiet and get back into bed before the doctors came in to run more useless tests.
I don't know who that old man was or how he knew so much about my life, but I'm not going to do anything he predicted. I won't get those flowers for Laura. Does he think I'm some kind of simpleton, that a weak suggestion like that could affect me? I'll show him. I'll show them all.
How did he know? How could he possibly have known? Time travel? Mind control? Impossible! Impossible!
It's been two weeks since I found that old man down the hall. After my last episode, after I went home, everything happened just as Edward said it would—with Laura, with the flowers—even though I was determined not to do anything that would prove him right. I don't understand it.
But that's not the impossible thing. The impossible thing is that I broke into that AstroChem warehouse last week, climbed the fence and jumped a railing and ran away from those guard dogs, and didn't feel even a twinge in my ankle. It couldn't have healed that quickly. And now, back in the hospital, my ankle is throbbing with pain once more.
I thought it might be this place, whatever it is, doing something to my body while I'm here. It seems crazy, but in the absence of any hard evidence, how do I decide what to believe?
There must be a rational explanation for all this. I just don't have all the facts yet. I never thought I'd say this, but I need to spend more time here, in this "hospital."
It will be easy to convince the doctors that I have some strange new symptom, and they'll waste another day running more of their idiotic tests. More than enough time for me to ask that old man down the hall some real questions.
Edward. I know his name now. I know who he is. I'm not sure I believe it, but I can't find a better explanation.
I waited today until the staff were making their rounds elsewhere, and I knew I had at least twenty minutes before they came back. Then I went to the old man's room and demanded some answers. He was more than happy to provide the information I wanted. He seemed almost pleased by my obvious bewilderment.
Edward says I'm a clone—a clone of him. A genetic duplicate. He says I was created here, in this facility, and the doctors have accelerated my growth and implanted false memories of my childhood. Except they're not really my childhood; they're Edward's childhood, and they're removing those memories from his mind and inserting them into mine.
"That's ridiculous," I told him. "Why wouldn't they just make a non-destructive copy of your memories?"
"Oh, so you're a neurologist now?" Edward said. "I'm not familiar with the exact process they're using to transfer my synaptic patterns. I suspect it's some quantum-level interference scanner, which would by its very nature be destructive." He waved a hand dismissively. "The really interesting thing is how selective they are with which memories they're implanting into you."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"Do you remember anything about your father?" he asked.
I shook my head. "He left Mom before I was born. I never met him."
Edward laughed, a long, throaty cackle that reminded me of a dying fire, feeble but still dangerous.
"So you don't remember being twelve and thirteen years old!" he said. "Oh, I envy you."
"I suffered an episode—" I stopped and corrected myself. "They didn't give me those memories. What happened during those two years?"
"My father came back," Edward said. "He came back to live with my mother and me. He made us both miserable, and there was nothing we could do. No. I could have done something. I just didn't have the strength yet. I hadn't realized my own potential yet."
"What did he do?" I asked. "To you? To Mom?"
Edward looked at me for a long moment before speaking. "I know why they chose not to give you those memories. They believe that he's the reason I became a criminal."
"Wait," I said, "you're a criminal?"
Edward laughed. "I'm what the media like to call a 'super-villain.'"
"Really. So what's your super-power?"
"My intelligence, of course! I'm the smartest man on the planet."
"Then how did they capture you?" I asked.
He glared at me. "It took an entire carrier battle group and six costumed idiots to bring me down. And by the time they had me in chains, the Eisenhower was at the bottom of the Pacific and two of those caped clowns were corpses."
I glared back at him. I could see the madness in his eyes, and the anger, but I could also see that he was not someone I wanted to taunt. I shut up and let him talk.
"These fools want to steal my mind," he said. "They believe that if they can give you a happy childhood—all my learning, without any of the suffering—they can grow you into something different. Something they can use."
"Nobody's going to use me," I snapped.
"Of course not," Edward said. "We both have the same determination. And now that you've found me, and I know what they're doing to you, I can help you."
Twenty minutes had passed by then, and I had to come back to my room. I'm still not sure what to believe. Edward's explanation is plausible—or, at least, no less plausible than anything I've been able to come up with on my own. But I can't take his word for it. I need more proof. I'm a scientist! I need facts. I need data. I need to find the truth myself.
It's almost embarrassing how easy it is to circumvent the security here. Do the doctors really think so little of Edward? Do they really have no idea how smart he already was at age fourteen?
It wasn't difficult to reconfigure the library connection on this tablet so I could access the Net through a packet tunnel. If anybody bothers checking, they'll just think I'm downloading a whole lot of romance novels. They should find that encouraging. Fools!
I know more about my—what do I call him? My predecessor? I know everything I need to know now.
Edward Gardner Gneiss, Ph.D; born, 1997, Waukegan, Illinois. A gifted student. IQ off the charts. Won a scholarship to MIT, where he completed his undergraduate studies in two years. Got his doctorate in chemical engineering two years after that, then a second doctorate in material physics one year later. Holder of over a hundred different patents before they were stripped from him by the government.
Edward Gneiss, criminal. Convicted and incarcerated on eight different occasions for various felonies including armed robbery, manslaughter, domestic terrorism, and the murder of his father—Charles Andrew Gneiss, serial rapist, wife-beater, and child molester.
No wonder they don't want me to remember.
Edward Gneiss, evil genius. He is me. Or, rather, I am the first part of him, the pieces that will eventually combine and mature into the adult sitting in the room down the hall. Or will they? Can these doctors make me a better man by excising the unhappiness from my childhood? Or is this impulse to dominate and destroy something I cannot escape?
They were afraid to allow Edward access to anything electronic because they knew he would use that material to build tools that could help him escape. They didn't count on Edward and me meeting in here. They didn't count on me growing up so fast.
I've already begun stealing spare parts from the various instruments in my room, and palming other portable equipment when they take me to the lab for my "tests." I'm bringing all those components to Edward, and we're building things together. It won't be long now.
It's been three days since we escaped. We finally have a chance to rest. I've converted this tablet to use solar power so I can continue this journal.
I thought I would feel something more when Edward killed that orderly in the scanning chamber. It's curious, really. All I felt was a mild distaste at seeing how the blood fouled the instrument array. Was it just a professional detachment, the training of scientist to make unbiased observations? Or something more sinister?
I didn't have time to think about it then, and now, it bothers me. I don't think I want to turn into Edward when I grow up. There's no denying that he's brilliant, but he's also obsessed with petty vengeance. I'm sure I can do more productive things with my own intellect. And if I did decide someday that I wanted to rule the world, I'm sure I would succeed at it quickly and efficiently, instead of bumbling around for years like he has.
He asked me to talk about her tonight. We had built a fire in this oasis, the first source of water we've encountered in this godforsaken desert, and he stared into the flames, not looking at me. I could only see the reflections in his glasses as he spoke.
"Tell me about our mother," he said, his voice a gravelly rasp.
I knew why he was asking. I'd read it in his FBI file. The doctors had implanted memories up to my sixteenth birthday, and the final gap must be when she died. When her husband came back for the last time and killed her.
Edward must still remember that. The police report said he found her body on the bathroom floor. I remember that bathroom very well. I can imagine her blood spattered across the blue and green tiles. It makes me sad to think about it, but not angry. I never knew her killer. I never got the chance to hate him.
So I told Edward about our mother. I told him about the songs she used to sing, and how she always made me dance with her on my birthday. I told him about her stupid ceramic owl collection and her inability to ever cook a decent turkey for Thanksgiving and her despicable addiction to television game shows. I told him all the reasons I loved her anyway.
He wept like a helpless little boy. He cried himself to sleep, and now here I am, listening to him snore, watching his withered hands twitch as he dreams. Pathetic. I can do so much better than he did. I can be so much more than he ever was.
We've been following our makeshift GPS for four days now, hoping to reach the coast before the authorities find us. Edward keeps cannibalizing parts from this tablet and the other equipment we took from the lab. He says he's making a stun weapon to defend against our inevitable pursuers.
How dumb does he think I am?
I know what he's doing. He wants his memories back, and he's planning to steal them from me. He's rebuilding the probe from the lab's scanning chamber. He doesn't have the control deck, but he won't need it. He doesn't want to pick and choose which patterns to transfer. He'll just take all my memories, my entire life, and suck them back into his own wrinkled head.
This journal is encrypted, and even the diabolical Doctor Gneiss can't break the code to read it—he may be hyper-intelligent, but he can't change the nature of mathematics. Writing things down helps me think, helps me plan. It's one more advantage I have over the old man, one more thing I can do that he never did.
I've been thinking about asking him to tell me about our father. Quid pro quo. I wonder if summoning those memories and reliving that terrible childhood—the only past he can recall, now—will eventually cause him to break down. Maybe I'll try that later. He seems to want to talk all the time anyway, trying to teach me things I already know.
He doesn't realize that I've had access to the Net for weeks now, and his own scholarship is decades out of date. He doesn't need to know. He can blather on for as long as he wants while I smile and nod. Cold fusion? Really? Nanotechnology? Oh, that's fascinating. Tell me more, old man. That's right. Keep yourself distracted.
I suppose I'll have to get used to most things in life presenting hardly any challenge to my vast and superior intellect. Perhaps that's why my predecessor constantly pursued such grand schemes and lofty goals—because nothing else could engage him in the least. And it will be even worse for me, having all of his mental advantages and none of his emotional handicaps.
It will look like a simple boating accident, when the authorities eventually follow our trail here; a stolen yacht, an argument, a scuffle, an explosion, two bodies partially devoured by sharks. I'm glad we lugged all that exotic medical gear this far. It made amputating my left leg that much easier. The bionic replacement I'm building will be far more useful anyway.
Strange, this feeling: as if I'm running away from home. I know that Mom isn't waiting for me, that she's been dead for decades—long before I even existed. But it feels as if I just spoke to her a few days ago. I can still hear her voice, a melody echoing down the hallway.
That's good. It's good that my last memory of her will be a happy one. I suppose they all are, relative to what my predecessor got stuck with before he passed away, but this particular moment is nearly perfect:
I'm lying in my bed, calculating rocket trajectories, and I can see her shadow moving under my bedroom door. She's singing to herself. She thinks I'm already asleep. I'm still her little boy, perfect and precocious, making her proud with my excellent grades and good behavior. She doesn't know about the neurotoxins I've been creating in the woodshed or the laundered cash hidden beneath our floorboards.
I wonder if she ever actually found out about Edward's criminal activities before she died. I choose to believe that she didn't. I prefer to think that she lived her entire life knowing only a wonderful son who loved her and treated her well. A son who was nothing like his father.
As I stared down at the limp body of my predecessor lying on the deck of that stolen yacht, I briefly considered siphoning off the rest of his memories. The four minutes before his brain died from oxygen deprivation would have been more than enough to extract all his knowledge and put it into my own head. But why would I want that? Why would I want thirty years' worth of obsolete science and twenty years of abuse cluttering up my magnificent mind?
The doctors did their job well; they distilled Edward Gneiss into the purest form of himself. But they were wrong about the essential nature of that man. I would never have turned out like they wanted. I will never abide anyone else making plans for me.
I am everything my predecessor was, and more, precisely because I have less than he did. Less pain. Less trauma. Less baggage. I am a perfect, glittering jewel, and I will shine my light upon this wretched world—a light so brilliant, it will blind all who see it and do not submit!
Edward is dead! Long live Eddie!
"Restart" by Curtis C. Chen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://curtiscchen.com.
Originally published in Strangetastic, July, 2009.