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Fixation Morbidity

Eric Brown began writing when he was fifteen and sold his first short story to Interzone in 1986. He has won the British Science Fiction Award twice for his short stories, and his novel Helix Wars was shortlisted for the 2012 Philip K. Dick award. He has published over fifty books, and his latest include the crime novel Murder at the Chase, and the SF novel Jani and the Greater Game. The Sequel, Jani and the Great Pursuit, will be published in 2016. He has also written a dozen books for children and over a hundred and thirty short stories. He writes a monthly science fiction review column for the Guardian newspaper. He lives with his wife and daughter in Cockburnspath, Scotland, and his website can be found at: ericbrown.co.uk.

So... today is when I edit myself.
I should be through in an hour, maybe two. I have a lot to get rid of.
It's a process I go through every fifty years. The medics at the Institute warned me of the consequences should I miss a wipe.
I'm doing it for my mental health.
I glance into the kitchen. Mr. and Mrs. DuBois, from the agency, are sitting at the table, drinking coffee and waiting patiently.
So here goes.
The device looks like a silver skullcap, with a chinstrap to keep it in place once it's activated.
I place it on my head, fasten the strap, and activate the control in my right hand. I'm aware of a faint buzzing at first, and then a pleasurable warmth passes through my head.
Dr. Evans appears before me, seated in the recliner. He's smiling. "Good to see you again, Ed. Are you ready to go?"
The image of Dr. Evans always makes me sad. He's a hundred and fifty years dead, now. Ironic, isn't it, that one of the medics to work on the project at the Institute, in the early days back in 2150, was unable to undergo the treatment and in consequence died when he reached his allotted five score.
"I'm ready to go," I say.
"Very well." He looks down at the screen in his right hand, then smiles up at me. "I'm getting high scores--way up in the nineties--for some emotional trauma dating from 2280 and emanating from someone called Ola. Shall we take a look?"
"Let's do that," I say."
The simulation is more vivid than my memory.
I'm at the party where I met Ola, forty years ago. We hit it off immediately. She's tall, blonde, Scandinavian, a violinist with the Swedish National Orchestra. We have a love of classical music in common. We meet again a week later, and after that are inseparable for two years.
We marry in 2282, and it's downhill from there.
Dr. Evans appears, overlaid on a stilled image of Ola arguing with me at breakfast.
"Okay..." he says. "She was a bad choice, Ed. You should never have gone there. I've warned you off the domineering, alpha-female types before, and taught you how to spot them. But you keep on ignoring me, even though you know I'm right, and even though you know how dangerous it is for you. It's that Oedipal thing again, Ed."
Despite myself, I groan.
"So," Dr. Evans says, "I suggest we Wipe, agreed?"
"Let me see..." He refers to his screen and nods. "That's the two years you were together, and thirty-eight years of consequent memories." He taps the screen a few times, murmuring to himself. "Laying down the tracers, implanting the erase command. Commencing the Wipe in five, four, three, two, one... Now."
I wince in anticipation. A fierce heat blasts through my head, a synaptic firestorm. I rock in my chair, cry out loud--and then it's over.
And I feel great.
Whatever emotional trauma was lingering in there from the memories of whoever or whatever were wiped from my consciousness has now cleared, and I feel clean, refreshed... renewed.
"Are you ready to go on," Dr. Evans asks.
"Let's do it!"
"The novel you wrote in 2265."
"That failure!"
The simulation shows me the office of my publishers, and the grim face of my editor.
Dr. Evans says, "It's laying down a whole seam of trauma and negative associational emotions. Wipe?"
"Wipe!" I agree.
The simulation vanishes.
I brace myself. The firestorm, and then release....
"Your unfinished twenty-third symphony...?"
"I don't know... Dah-di-di-dah-di-dah! It means something to me, on a level I can't access. Maybe one day I'd like to finish it."
"I wouldn't advise that, Ed. According to the data-stream..." He consults his screen again. "The symphony is responsible for a certain fixation morbidity. I'd advise we Wipe it."
He continues with the psychobabble, and convinces me.
"So Wipe it!"
He Wipes, and after the firestorm I feel much better--though, of course, I have no idea why.
"2275. The death of your youngest daughter...."
I weep. He doesn't need to lay down a simulation. My memory provides everything. Lizzie had just celebrated her 102nd birthday and was driving home with Vince, her eleventh husband. The auto-drive malfunctioned and the safety baffle failed at the same time. The car ploughed into an oncoming fifty-ton juggernaut. Lizzie and Vince were killed instantly.
Killed dead.
Dead forever.
"Wipe!" I yell.
Firestorm, then relief.
"2278. Your next wife, Jan--"
"2285. Clive, your third husband."
"That bastard? Wipe!"
"2286. The business deal with Amalgamated Assets?"
"2287. Elsa Simm--"
"2288. Climbing Mount--"
"2289. Your marriage to Bob and Maria--"
"2291. The trip to Mars--"
"2292. Your tenth novel--"
"2293. The Canberra opening--"
"2298. The holiday in Paris--"
"2299. Christmas Eve--"
Nice man smiles at me.
"That brings this session to a close, Ed. Mr. and Mrs. DuBois will be on hand for the next few months to take care of your every need. Don't worry about a thing. You'll be back to normal very soon. Don't cry, please don't cry... I'll see you again in fifty years."
Smiling nice man and woman take off my hat.
"There, there, Eddie. Let's go to the bathroom, hm? You've been a naughty little boy and we need to clean you up."
Giggles. "Wipe!"
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015
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