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The Rememberists

During the day, Thomas A. Mays is a career US Navy officer and all-around Serious Person. At night, when the moon is full, he taps out science fiction with a feverish madness that would likely get him cashiered if his Uncle Sam knew about it. Aside from "The Rememberists," he recently published a collection, REMO, and his debut military SF novel/space opera, A Sword Into Darkness. Tom's blog, The Improbable Author, can be found at: improbableauthor.com.

Ansel Matthews poured cream into his coffee and watched as entropy curled black and white to brown. He enjoyed tracking the delicate whorls of liquid as they folded in upon one another, but he would not remember this. It was too mundane an event to retain specifics. There was far too much to remember already.
And even more to forget.
He looked at his guest in the diner's booth and stirred his cup. "My gift is one of preternatural credulity. You tell me how things happened, and I'll believe you. I'll share your story with my equally unquestioning brethren around the globe, and together we remember your version of history. Soon, a tipping point is reached where belief becomes reality and the deed is done, your past is changed."
She narrowed her eyes. "That can't possibly be true." Representative Karen Reed was recognized by most as a practical and principled public servant, but she had sought Ansel out and sat down in his booth, not the reverse. Her protest was hollow.
He shrugged. "They pay you to debate. They pay me to accept. And I do all right."
"Prove it. Whose history have you changed?"
Ansel gave her a melancholy smile and sipped his coffee. Too sweet. Must have forgotten how many sugars I put in. "Our services wouldn't be worth much if you could pick out the changes. We accept your reality and eventually it becomes the reality all accept. Everyone assumes history is a fixed, true thing, but our own timelines-–past, present, and future--are defined by what we believe of the past. The public believes what its most committed members believe, whether they're experts or merely the nagging voices of certainty. I'll commit to whatever story you tell me."
Reed fidgeted in her seat, as if confirming its solidity. "But what about evidence to the contrary? Or eye-witnesses? Won't those screw up your 'version' of history?"
He nodded and set his cup back down on its saucer. I only put in one sugar. That's all. "If we do our work right, physical evidence becomes transparent fabrication, witnesses doubt their own recollection until they accept the zeitgeist. Whatever came before might even fade away completely. Countering a widely accepted or strongly implanted reality requires more effort on our part, more intrusion into public perception, but in the end, you yourself will doubt what you used to think was the undeniable truth. Just look at the Moon landings."
The representative peaked an eyebrow at him. "Are you implying those actually were faked?"
Ansel frowned and shook his head. "No, just the opposite. Conspiracy theories like that only pop up as a bleed-over from much larger manipulations. The moon job was–-unfortunately, in my opinion--a very successful modification. When you think of Apollo, you think of a program with six successful landings that fizzled due to a jaded public and fickle politics. If I talk about Apollo 18, or mention Hephaestus or the Lebedev obelisk, you have no idea what I'm referring to." He slumped, disappointed, and stirred his coffee.
Reed leaned forward, eyes wide. "They found something on the Moon and had you people cover it up? What about other conspiracy theories like 9/11 or the Kennedy assassination?"
Ansel shrugged. "Those aren't germane. Karen, you can look at this mundanely, that we're just a viral-marketing form of propaganda. Or you can see it as I do, that objective reality is a gestalt of all subjective realities, that this is a quantum, holographic universe defined by perception and belief, subject to manipulation." He smiled and continued, "So, what story do you want remembered differently?"
She seemed to consider her options, and then sighed. "I'm running for national office, but there's this... possible thing in my past that would ruin--"
"Don't tell me what others want remembered. Tell me what reality should be."
Reed closed her eyes. "Edward was one of my staffers when I first started out. He... might insinuate that we did things... together in the offices. Things that might have involved campaign finances, and drugs, and... infidelities."
"But, you didn't."
Her cheeks flushed. "Let's say no. Let's say his evidence is only fabricated. Help me! He's trying to get revenge on me for firing him, but I don't deserve that. I deserve to win."
Ansel's gaze bore into her, skewering her soul. "Is that what truly happened?"
She paused before giving him a slight nod.
He smiled. "Then I believe you. E-mail me some info on Edward, a few photos and details, anything you can think of to flesh it out, and you can consider it a done deal."
Karen Reed stood without preamble, as if anxious to be gone. She reached into her purse and pulled out a fat envelope stuffed with bills. "Your payment, Mr. Matthews."
He took it and nodded. "Ah, yes, but there's one other requirement."
Ansel sighed, apologetic. "I need you to remember something for me. Remember it and believe it."
She appeared cautious. "Okay. What is it?"
"Just this: There, at the last, Anna believed me, believed that I loved her. And that was enough. She didn't pull the trigger. She simply lived. Will you remember that for me? Please?"
Reed nodded. "I will. I'll remember." She walked out of the diner, only pausing once to look back at him before exiting.
Ansel picked up his coffee again. It had cooled some, but it tasted fine--with but a hint of sweetness to cut the natural bitterness and acidity. Satisfied, he put down the cup and pulled out his phone. He dialed the first contact and waited for Anna to pick up.
It sounded a three-tone alarm, warning that he had dialed a number that had been disconnected. But that was all right. It would not always be disconnected, not if enough people remembered the way it should have been.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

Author Comments

This story was a lot of fun to play with, mostly because it was my first serious attempt at the flash format and it was so different from the military sci-fi I usually write. The story came about when I started reading a lot of alternative history, new versions of what had really happened in the past, and how it colored my perception of the present and my expectations of the future--but I had no reason to believe it was any "true-er" than what I originally learned. Combine that with my love of conspiracy theories, the quantum observer effect, and diner stories, and this short was almost inevitable.

- Thomas A. Mays
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