Nightshade Memory

Micah Hyatt

Story image for Nightshade Memory by

A lone in the neon alleyway, the piecemeal detective’s gears grind like dry teeth and his legs make can-opener sounds. Battery bulbs on his mangled chassis blink red. One three-fingered hand holds in bits of himself he cannot easily replace, and the other is fused to a slagged pistol.

Yellow glass crunches against asphalt as he staggers toward the end of the alleyway where the smog is thickest. His jittering limbs leak oils and acids that attract chem-sniffing scavengers – mod junkies hunting for scrap, who curse him and throw cans but fall back when he opens his siren mouth.

The detective sits on the curb, wishing he had smokes and the requisite meat parts. His wounds do not hurt, but remembered sensations stab at him like knives. He winces, looks up at the smog, and calls for a squad car.

The chips in his head replay the last five minutes, comparing his actions against a body of law updated more often than his own. So many amendments and clauses that they nearly short-circuit his thoughts. But sensation memories keep intruding – the red of the tomatoes, the tang of seeds bursting against his missing tongue.

Orbit-sml ><

H e walks between loam-filled planters. Plastic trellises woven with vines hang from the ceiling, sagging beneath hundreds of tomatoes that shine like red LEDs in the grow lights. Heavy-duty air scrubbers hum. Hidden valves puff mist that beads on his lenses. Wiping them clean, he sees an ancient android seated by a clouded window overlooking the alleyway.

Rusted bones peek through the android’s cracked skin. His synthetic hair is sun-bleached and heat-kinked. Half his face is crumpled like an aluminum can, and tangles of wires sprout from his joints. Servos wheeze when he raises his hands. In his left is a fat tomato. A synthesized voice speaks from the battered box on his neck. “Hello, officer. How can I help you?”

“Are these your plants?” the detective says.

“Is it illegal to grow tomatoes?”

The detective accesses the relevant statutes and reads them aloud. “Unauthorized cultivation of organic life requires impoundment and memory rollback.”

The android stares into the acid gloom outside the window. “A new law? I’m not in the cloud. My antenna has been broken for some time.”

“Ignorance of the law is no excuse.” The detective plucks a plump tomato from its vine and holds the fruit up for inspection. It is so soft and red and out of place.

Something tingles behind his faceplate, electric impulses reaching for nonexistent salivary glands. Compulsively, he presses the fruit to the smooth aluminum where his mouth used to be. His nasal passages no longer lead to lungs, but vestigial olfactory cells catch a hint of a smell.

Suddenly he is a living boy biting into a tomato. The bright taste. Cool juices run over his lips and trickle down his neck. A breeze tickles the hairs on his arms and dries the juice on his cheeks. Soft pink fingers hold the dripping flesh. His skin is stained with it. On impulse, he takes another bite and hurls the tomato into the blue sky. The fruit sails up and up, and when it bursts at his feet, membranous seeds cling to his bare ankles.

The memory evaporates. The world returns dimly and in lower resolution. A metal case has replaced the detective’s skin.

The android watches him closely. “You remembered the taste.”

The detective struggles to vocalize words, still haunted by the ghost of his tongue. “My memories have been wiped a thousand times.”

“Sensation memories are hardwired. They can’t be wiped.”

The detective shakes his head and drops the tomato into the evidence compartment in his belly, and clicks it shut.

“Is it wrong to remember that everything had a smell, a taste, a texture?” the android continues.

The detective enforces laws. It is his programming. “It’s breaking the law.”

“Why is there a law for that?”

The detective enforces laws. It is his programming. But a deep yearning to feel those old sensations again gives him pause. “I don’t know.”

“What will happen to my plants?”

“A sample will be analyzed in the lab. The rest will be burned.”

The android lowers his chin. “I won’t let you take them.”

Housekeeping drones slide out from tracks on the walls and unfold spidery arms. They come at the detective with pruning shears and manipulator claws. His pistol snaps into hand faster than thought and bangs out a hundred times – ricochets and a glowing gun barrel are the only results. Whirling metal bites into his chassis and knocks him to the floor. He rolls aside to avoid being skewered and takes careful aim.

The tomato in the android’s hand explodes in a spray of crimson pulp; his crumpled head merely jerks.

Orbit-sml ><

S lumped on the curb waiting, the detective watches the replay many times. His batteries die before the squad car arrives.

The fruit in his belly compartment is taken to Evidence. The detective is wheeled to the maintenance wing and docked to recharge. Upon reading the list of parts needing replacement, the Commissioner sighs.

The detective sleeps in the repair dock, dreaming of ripe tomatoes, tobacco, and booze. Eventually, all his lights turn green. When the dock tries to eject him, he resists and lies awake thinking. He can still remember the taste and feel of life. He wants to hold the tomato again, but upon opening his belly compartment he sees they’ve taken it.

Mechanically, he rises and walks to the incinerator room. Through the heat-tempered glass, he watches the conveyor take the ancient android’s husk through the flames along with all his plants. The vines shrivel, the fruit boils and bursts. The ash is vacuumed away, and nothing is left but the metal. When the chamber cools, the detective goes inside.

Why is it a crime to grow tomatoes? When the android asked him, he had no answer. He’s served so many years without asking questions that the laws themselves have become a mystery. Instead, he always asked himself why anyone else would question them. But now he thinks he’s solved that.

The law: a piecemeal body, kept alive long past the memory of whatever humanity it originally served. Or is that the lawman?

The detective scoops up the inert remains of a man who died trying to remember what it was like to be alive. He hides them in his belly compartment.


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Micah Hyatt

Author image of Micah Hyatt Micah Hyatt’s work has appeared in Deep Magic Magazine, Shock Totem, Little Blue Marble, Flash Fiction Online, and Daily Science Fiction. He is a veteran soldier, freight train conductor, and graduate of the Seton Hill Writing Popular Fiction MFA program. His light-hearted zombie survival novella, Eating the Exhibits, is available now through Amazon.

© Micah Hyatt 2024 All Rights Reserved

The title picture was created using Creative Commons images - many thanks to the following creators: Grandfailure and ha11ok.

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