Monitoring: Michael Williams
Madison, Wisconsin, USA
3:20 p.m. Central Standard Time
Thursday, January 2, 2014
21:20 Coordinated Universal Time
Thursday, January 2, 2014
This is Michael’s first experience driving a car, and technically, he’s not old enough for a permit. However, he doesn’t think he’ll get caught, and he has plenty of experience to draw on. It’s just not his experience.
He does have to worry about crashing into a tree because he can’t maintain his focus on the road, though. The standard phrase is “lost in thought,” but this doesn’t adequately cover the phenomenon as Michael is experiencing it now. Memory, he decides, is like a whitewater river. Remembrance has a certain direction to it, with one thought leading to another and then to a third. Like the river, it comes up from beneath, without any notice at all, and threatens to pull you under if you are unwary. Smells are the worst perpetrators, but then Michael thinks that he remembers (hah!) reading that the sense of smell was strongly linked to memory.
This isn’t to say that most people see things this way, but that’s because they’re at home in their own memories, adjusted to them like someone who has been away camping without a shower for the week and doesn’t notice the odor. Michael, on the other hand, is completely fresh to the experience and can recognize the stench quite clearly. This is what comes from inhabiting someone else’s body, with all of their memories there for perusal. They are more than accessible; they are jumping out and demanding to be accessed, so that any sight or smell or sound threatens to bring up a host of associations, and each memory thereby summoned up has connections to yet others.
People get used to their homes, but Michael has been given a skeleton key to all of them, and each one has rooms utterly unlike any others that he has experienced thus far. If it doesn’t stop happening then he’s going to have to figure out a solution because he can’t afford to be losing his train of thought every twenty minutes like he’s developing a case of dementia.
Also, Michael thinks as he considers the limp body in his bed back at home, I am going to have to do something with myself. He had already, technically, done something with himself, which is to say that, in another body, he had lifted and laid himself down on his bed. That’s hardly a long-term solution, especially since he isn’t sure how important that body is to him. Maybe he’s free to roam between bodies as he pleases, or maybe he still has some obscure link to his original body and will die without it. It’s better to not take chances.
The shift manager—named Leo, a little obnoxious in the opinion of this body’s owner, prefers the pizza that they make at—stop, focus!—Leo looks annoyed when he walks through the door. “What took you so long, Greg?”
“Traffic,” he says. There’s a split second where he has the temptation to jump to Leo’s body, but he resists. Ricky, the guy who’s normally running this body, is already going to be missing memories when Michael passes on, and it wouldn’t be smart to leave a trail of amnesiacs. One here, another there, and hopefully nobody will be able to connect the dots, but two cases of amnesia in people from the same workplace is the sort of thing that might let people draw a line and notice that Michael Williams made an order today. After that, it won’t be hard to see that the last thing Ricky remembers is getting handed the tip from that same boy.
So he keeps his head down, takes out the next set of orders, and waits. There’s an exercise that Michael wants to carry out if he gets the chance, but if fate doesn’t work in his favor then he’ll just take the opportunity to practice the art of staying focused. After a few more trips out to make deliveries, though, fate does smile on him, and with a delivery of its own: a family of five, seated together at one of the side booths.
He has to pause for a moment to decide if he really wants to do this. It’s going to be risky, and he might cause some sort of incident that nobody really pays attention at the moment but stays there in people’s heads, ready to be brought out by the right questions.
Risks have to be taken, he decides, and before he has to make another set of deliveries Michael offers to help bring over the pizzas that were ordered. Stephany—wears unapproved hats whenever she’s working under a shift manager that approves—wait, stop it—is happy to accept. As he sets a personal pan pizza, still hot, before the kid in the striped navy blue shirt, he makes contact with her hand—
He reaches out, and reaches out again, making contact, jumping along a chain of bodies. Scraps of identity unfold as he jumps, caught by his entrance into their memories and dragged along in his wake.
Gabby is really hungry and—
Samantha likes dragons—
Trevor had a bad day at school yesterday—
Reach out, he thinks. He can’t afford to be distracted. Reach out.
Bret Shaw is afraid of sharks—
Yvonne Shaw is looking forward to viewing Saving Mr. Banks in the evening—
A bit of Stephany emerges—Stephany, who is getting tired of her girlfriend’s bullshit—from the river as he jolts forward to touch Ricky and jump forward one last time. A glimmer of awareness is there to greet him, a second or two of consciousness that Michael puts back to bed as easily as he moves from one body to another. Easy there, Ricky.
Everyone present has clearly experienced something, though Michael doubts that any of them can recognize it on the others’ faces. There was, perhaps, just a flicker of…change, like a slight jolt. It’ll go unquestioned, hopefully. People don’t like to question things so long as their attention is allowed to go elsewhere. Michael, though, has what he was looking for, a better idea of his limits.
This is important. His country needs him, though the hour is early enough that it may not know that. Whether he can show himself or not, which is still to be determined, he has to know exactly what he is capable of. If he cannot know his enemy—and God knows that there are millions of them within and without the country (to say nothing of ninety-nine that might be the most dangerous of all)—then he can at least know himself.