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art by Liz Clarke

The Take

Alex Shvartsman (@AShvartsman) is a writer and game designer. His adventures so far have included traveling to over 30 countries, playing a card game for a living, and building a successful business. Alex resides in Brooklyn, NY with his wife and son. His recently published fiction is linked at alexshvartsman.com.

I move through the aisles slowly, with the casual gait of a bored shopper who's there to kill fifteen minutes while his spouse is trying on shoes across the street. Someone not likely to make an actual purchase and, therefore, ignored by the salespeople. I disregard the flashy displays of electronics piled up high and the enticing discounts. Instead, I study the cameras, the location of the clerks, and the security tag detector equipment by the exit.
It helps to think of something else when you're in a high-stress situation, keep one's mind occupied so as not to get overwhelmed by anxiety. I choose to concentrate on how much I hate Charlie Tan.
Back in the day, I used to be an actor. Not a big Hollywood star, but someone with a string of small credits, perhaps on the verge of a real break. Along comes Tan with his invention--a way to record and share memories like you would a digital photo. Tan gets a Nobel Prize and many longwinded editorials about how he changed the world, and I get my career yanked out from under me.
I walk over to the shelf housing the RealFeel players. They're packaged in small boxes, each the size of a hardcover book. RFs with the record option, like the one I'm wearing, are much more expensive and kept behind glass. The basic player models are out in the open, perfect for what I need, and somehow fitting.
When it comes to home entertainment, RealFeel is impossible to beat. Take a guy who's climbing Mount Everest, and have him wear an RF recorder. It will capture everything--the smell of crisp, fresh mountain air, the excitement and danger of the long climb, the camaraderie of your fellow adventurers and, finally, the thrill of reaching the summit. Then an experienced editor will take out the inconvenient parts--the frostbite, the muscle aches, and the fear. Just like that, you've got a blockbuster memory that any couch potato can experience for the price of a pack of smokes. Who would bother to watch another movie or play, after that? And what's an unemployed actor to do?
I slide a pair of slim RealFeel packages into the outer pockets of my coat. They're spacious pockets, and their sides are lined with material that blocks the signal from the RFID security tags. No one seems to have noticed. So far, so good. I make my way toward an exit, walking slower than I would like. My heart is racing. To my knowledge, I've never done this before.
Just as I'm moments away from getting out, a pair of large men appears from an unmarked door. They head toward me. I increase my pace, but they nod to the security guard sitting by the entrance and he gets up to block my way.
"Come with us, sir," says one of them in a quiet, firm manner. When I hesitate, the other one moves in closer, invading my personal space. He's a head taller than me, and quite a bit wider.
"Better for you if you don't make a scene," he rumbles.
They usher me into a small room, away from the sales floor. I keep imagining how, in a few moments, I might be on the ground, with both of them kicking in my ribs. The shorter one extends his hand and just stares at me until I fumble with my pockets and hand over the stolen gadgets. He collects them without comment.
"Wait here," says his partner. "Police will be along shortly."
"I can explain," I tell the security men. "I'm recording an RF experience of a first-time shoplifter. The items were to be paid for afterward. My producer is in a van outside. He has all the paperwork."
The market demands new experiences all the time. Two types of memories sell best. One is something done by a true expert in their field: an NBA star playing ball, or a grandma drawing on her sixty years of experience to bake an amazing apple pie. Those you can't fake. The other best-selling memories are those of a first timer. Your first time seeing the Grand Canyon, your first time learning how to swim. Or your first time shoplifting at an electronics store. Recording petty theft isn't exactly blockbuster material, but money's tight and I take what work I can find.
I don't know if I've ever shoplifted before. I have no memory of that because that's how Billy, my producer, wants it. There's an RF hack that lets you erase any memory, any experience, permanently from your mind. Your first kiss gone forever, so that you can record your next one and bring thousands of voyeurs along for the ride. You can't falsify mastery, but novelty is easy to fake.
It takes a little while, but Billy sorts everything out with the store manager. He has a notarized letter filed with a lawyer, stating what we are doing, and some money in Escrow to pay for anything I might steal. This doesn't make it legal, exactly, but it helps. Billy pays some sort of a fine and works his magic to make sure there are no criminal charges.
Afterward we are in the van, wearing RealFeels and going over what I'd recorded. Billy isn't pleased. I point out that an experience of being caught for the first time may be worth something, too.
"We've already got that from your previous takes," Billy says. "Now I need a memory of you jacking some stuff and actually getting away with it. I'm tired of explaining this escapade to the rent-a-cops. And you better believe the bribes are coming out of your pay." Billy pulls out an RF tricked out with the memory wipe hack. "Let's get you reset and try the shopping center on West Street next."
I curse Charlie Tan's name one more time, and prepare myself for erasure.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, March 12th, 2012

Author Comments

The technology described in this story will likely exist one day soon. Scientists are already making headway in learning how to read and interpret brain activity. In fact, a study out of UC Berkeley was published only weeks after I wrote "The Take" that is a huge step toward creating RealFeel or something very much like it.

- Alex Shvartsman
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