Westin did not recognize where he was. The walls of silver, and the floor of deep magenta, and the uniform screens of solid yellow dotting the walls, all did not match any familiar location.
And, adding to the issue, sitting up proved to be quarrelsome. His feet would not function, and it was only with some serious effort across his stomach, and a flailing, pushing motion of his hands, that he did rise and sit.
Aliens were a likely candidate out of all the mental options he could conjure up as an explanation. But, instead of green-skinned beings, all he got was a man. He was old, with thin hair and a broad smile. He leaned forward, almost like he was waiting for his cue on some stage, before standing up and waving at Westin.
“Hello Westin, how are you feeling?”
This, as it turned out, was not so easy a question. Westin was not precisely sure.
“I am feeling…all right, I guess.”
“You guess?” the man said, walking up to Westin with a slow, easy gait. On his shirt, written in obvious and large letters across his chest, was the word burn.
“Well, I suppose that’s a start,” the man said. “Tell me, where are you?”
“I have no idea,” Westin said with no hesitation. He shrugged to reinforce his answer. “I have no earthly idea.”
“Ah, well then, we did a perfect job.” The man smiled and clasped his hands together. “I am Burn, but you may call me Burn.”
Westin frowned, as he was sure something was off about that statement but he could not place what. “Nice to meet you, Burn.”
“Oh, that’s much too formal. Call me Burn,” the man said and extended his hand for a shake.
Westin reciprocated, stretching his body upward to do so—as he could still not stand. “Okay, well, it’s nice to see you, Burn.”
“And back to you, Westin. Now, how is your head doing? Anything going on that is odd or out of the ordinary?’
Westin opened his mouth, about to say something, when Burn interrupted. “Oh, I mean besides all the stuff that is obvious. I meant does your head hurt at all? Does anything in there clank around when you think too hard?”
Now that Burn mentioned it, yes, his head was hurting. Something both sharp and somehow viscous was in his head. It moved from his brain stem to the back of his eyes and then back again.
“Yes,” Westin said. “It does.”
“Lovely,” Burn said, and walked back over to his seat to grab a clipboard stuck to the back of it. He returned to Westin with his same slow gait, writing down a few things with a large red pen. “So, then, tell me: do you recall anything? You have English, right?”
“Yes. I can speak it.”
“Good, I see that. Do you recall any part of learning it?”
Westin racked his mind for some loose image that might, in some way, fit the request. Some specific day or teacher or even memory trick that would prove to himself he did not learn English five minutes ago.
“No,” he said. He covered his mouth for a moment, then frowned. The frown remained even after his hand came away from his face.
“Ah, okay,” Burn said. “Do you have any friends, family? Any pets? Where did you grow up?”
Westin could only shrug helplessly.
“Well, good. Glad that all was sorted. The whole lab is going to want to have this detailed.”
Burn turned and walked back toward his seat. Leaving Westin still sitting on a cold surface. Westin’s back hurt for some reason, and his eyes were still not used to the sterile silver of the room.
“Wait,” Westin said, his voice flat.
“What?” Burn said, turning. He smiled, having expected this to happen.
“Am I… what am I? Am I human?”
“Those are common questions,” Burn said, sounding flippant. “I’m afraid so common that I don’t have much of an answer for them. You are what you are.”
Westin slammed his hand down: the only action he could do that was angry besides actively yelling. “No… You are not going to brush me off. Am I an A.I.? Human simulation? A brain in a jar?”
Burn smirked and sat down again. “No, no, nothing quite that complicated. If I must assign something to you: you are as human as they come.”
“Then what happened?”
Burn held up a piece of paper, the type much too small to read. The collective scrawl of the calligraphy was still visible though, all looping and beautiful in its interconnectivity.
“You signed this,” Burns said. “It told, and it does tell, that you would not question this.”
Burn ripped it down the middle. “Well, I suppose most rules are hard to follow, aren’t they? Like the one that prevents me from telling you.”
Burns cracked his fingers and then delivered the fateful line.
“You are you. We just wiped your memories of certain things.”
“Like what?” Westin asked, able to accept this explanation, despite it being ludicrous.
Burns smiled and gestured toward the paper. “If I must keep one rule, I think this is the one that I will. You paid for it to go away—all of it. Poof. I don’t want to have to go and do all of that again. I’m afraid you are going to have to leave it at that, sir.”
Westin frowned but nodded. If he had ordered this, perhaps he had a good reason to do so. Or an evil reason. Whichever.
“All right, so, what do I do now?” Westin asked.
Burns nodded to the question, as if that answered it, but then gestured toward a thick yellow door Westin had not noticed until now.
“You can go anytime. The numbness will wear off in a few minutes. But, I must tell you, it’s a dangerous world out there. Better to stay here and not know whatever it is you do not want to know.”
Westin agreed with a nod and then stared at the ceiling. “Okay, but did I leave something for myself?”
Burns smiled. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small book. It was leather-bound and smelled of something bitter. Once he got over how rough the surface was to his fingers, Westin undid the rope tied around it and flipped through the pages. Each passage, in neat handwriting, contained a single address, or a name, or an object’s detailed description.
“I guess, if you must go—then you best get on it then. Memory is unnecessary, I suppose.”
Special thanks to: Bob Gerkin, Collin Pearman, Dylan Alexander, Jerry Banfield, and Michael The Comic Nerd.
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