The day the Federation debuted the pill, thousands of people remembered what it was like to be alive.
Steel encased an oval shape of microscopic circuits and sensors that read data transmitted from the brain’s electrical activity and uploaded it to the Cloud. The amalgam of emotion, thoughts, ideas, beliefs, fears, and dreams floated lazily within a secure server, accessible to anyone with permission to peek in on someone’s innermost feelings.
People lined up at the designated implant locations, waiting hours, sometimes days, for a puncture wound. The pill was hydraulically implanted into the base of the skull, an optimal and inaccessible place for a transmitter.
So accustomed to viewing virtual realities created for them, the pill enabled citizens to mentally download the experiences of other people. Replaying activities and celebrations, fights and sex, was as simple as tapping into their own memory stores and watching them like a film inside their eyelids.
The day the Federation debuted the pill, Beatrix Estrada got married.
She and her husband Louis waited one day before lining up for an implant. Beatrix wished they’d postponed their nuptials until after receiving the pill, but Louis wanted a mentally authentic wedding—guests were even asked to disengage streaming services during the ceremony, though his cousin had one eye trained on the annual cyborg super bowl, which wedding attendees politely ignored.
He held her hand as Beatrix sat in a cold, plastic chair. The doctor wasn’t wearing gloves when he raised the massive syringe to her brain. The tattoo parlor where Louis received his sub-dermal health monitoring implant was much more sterile.
With a thump and a hiss, Beatrix was connected. Her eyes rolled towards the back of her head and her breathing became ragged.
“That’s normal, it will pass in a minute,” the Federation’s doctor said. “Ready?”
Louis sat in a neighboring chair, resting his chin on his chest. He still held Beatrix’s hand in his, giving the limp limb a squeeze.
The pair gave themselves permission to view each other’s memories, and although it was tempting, both refrained from accessing memory caches that existed before they met.
Or so they said.
Occasionally the relationship became strained when Beatrix inadvertently downloaded a dialogue with a college girlfriend, or when Louis pulled memories from Beatrix’s debut in The Game. They’d met there one year ago; he didn’t want to know whether her other suitors really looked like their avatars, or, like him, had lied.
Beatrix’s avatar was an identical representation of herself—unruly curls, deep, sharp eyes, and a small mouth hiding crooked teeth.
Sometimes Beatrix would turn off the VR entertainment they watched together before bed, instead running through his memories. She wondered if he missed the pond where he would catch fish on rusted hooks and roast them over open fires in the village where he grew up.
“That wasn’t my memory,” he said when she asked. “That was a sim I played as a child—I don’t think I know how to catch a fish.”
More than anything, the pair would relive time spent with each other. The first time they met in real life on the fourth floor of a gaming studio. The first time the kissed on a threadbare couch in the backroom of a dream bar. Their honeymoon to Antigua—on the only beach within a relatively short flight that wasn’t marred by trash and pollutive build up—revisiting the dying reef each time they closed their eyes.
Love, affection, happiness, desire. All experienced in the blink of an eye.
But as time passed, the more mentally connected the couple became, the more distant they felt toward each other.
It was easier to experience intercourse from times before than engage in it at present; the occasional trips outside became even more brief and infrequent, and their skin began to pale from a lack of sunshine obscured by graying air.
“I can’t do this,” Beatrix said one evening as they were about to watch the same passionate moment that had replayed on their eyelids the week before. She took his hand in hers, warming his cold fingers.
“Let’s disengage,” Louis replied. His eyes shone for the first time in months, desperate to rid himself of the pill and all her memories.
They went into the kitchen and he picked up a knife.
“Turn around,” he said.
Beatrix felt the warm, wet river of blood run down her neck and spine, staining the back of her nightgown. Louis dug the tip of the blade into her skull—the pain was excruciating, but it was a feeling and it was real.
“Your turn,” she said as Louis handed her a blood-soaked pill, pulled from deep within her cranium.
She had barely begun to cut into his skull when Louis fell to the ground. Breath gone, eyes closed, and mouth slightly open as saliva pooled on the floor. Beatrix shook him, frantic. The open wound in the back of her head continued to bleed.
“Hello Mrs. Estrada,” said a stranger in a suit.
She shrieked, holding up the knife with a tip still wet with her husband’s blood.
“I’m afraid you can’t do that. Under Federation order 269-B, Citizens are not allowed to disconnect.”
In an instant, her mind went dark. Gone were the memories of her husband, but so too, her own. She fell in a bloody heap beside the unconscious body of Louis.
“Disconnection failed,” the stranger said, looking at the pale, thin bodies on the kitchen floor. “The couple is ready for transport.”