CLASSIFIED AND CONFIDENTIAL
MindMap® Whole Brain Emulation (WBE) Therapy
Subject: Cassie Syland, 27-year-old female, Caste-Alpha
Investigative Cohort: Malcolm Syland, 30-year-old male, Caste-Alpha
MindMap Anomaly #1 of 3
Her Moment of Catatonic Entrapment
23 September 2189
My consciousness embeds within Cassie’s lucid mindscape, and her inner world blossoms around me like a plume of eternal spring. The breeze dances in a perfumed mist and lingers, sweet as the scent of her, my beloved wife. I breathe in her essence — swathed in the smooth coolness of her favorite silk dress, tickled by the supple blond curls cascading down her back. Our minds conjoined—concurrently hers, concurrently mine—I struggle to separate she from me, wife from husband, soulmate from soulmate.
I never would have revisited this day had there been a choice.
On this day—the day my Cassie had fallen—we’d been shopping at an open-air market on the outskirts of Caste-Alpha proper. Complex tapestries hang from racks tall as treetops, their intricate stories woven and unfurled in the vibrant fabric. Firm in Cassie’s memory, I can taste the sweet nectar of a ripe pear she’d sampled from a vendor’s stall, hear the crunch of her teeth biting through the crisp skin of an apple that shined as if lacquered in sunlight.
Cassie’s tinkling laughter fills the lull of a wind chime that dangles from a merchant’s kiosk. He’s selling lilies. My Cassie loves the way their petals open, unencumbered, unabashed; preferring more ‘interesting’ flowers over the ornate arrangements of red roses my caste has conditioned me to associate with love.
On this last day—this horrible day—I’d been haggling with a shifty Caste-Theta vendor over the price of a bouquet when I saw Cassie standing rigid, empty-eyed, and slack-jawed in the bustling square.
Then the screaming began.
All the young women patronizing the bazaar—all Caste-Theta, aside from Cassie—had frozen, catatonic, dropping parcels and small children with a thud to the marshy ground.
They named this affliction Blight. Scientists identified it as a parasite that feasted on the brain synapses of its victims. Conspiracy theorists labeled it a bioweapon—governmental population control targeting the lowest classes, given its laser-precise mark on Caste-Thetas. Though its origin was an enigma, some speculated that a caste-targeted, bio-engineered organism had been released into the water; others spoke of a mysterious substance sprayed over the alleyway gardens that bore the fruits and vegetables that sustained the populace of Theta Proper.
Regardless, Cassie was the only Caste-Alpha afflicted with Blight—a statistical oddity that shattered our lives.
I’d transferred millions of terranotes into the accounts of top Caste-Alpha clinicians to extract the parasite before it reached Cassie’s brain stem. Currently, an advanced vitalBot algorithm is mapping her mind’s data stores, repairing her corrupted memories through the hippocampus so my Cassie can be—Cassie—again.
Yet, incongruities persist across three key memory points in her MindMap. Without their accurate restoration, Cassie’s essence will remain shuttered; to the outer world, she’ll be nothing more than a silent conch shell lacking the resonance of the sea.
I am the only one who can save her from the after-effects of Blight.
Malcom, you are under a contractual arrangement as an Observer. The tinny vitalBot voice reverberates through my brain. Any direct engagement with the subject violates MindMap’s terms and conditions and is subject to prosecution under the fullest extent of the law.
“Understood,” I think. Or whisper. Perhaps both.
You have sixty seconds to identify each Anomaly in Cassie’s memory.
Sixty seconds to find a single misfired detail inside Cassie’s mind. One minute for each of the three anomalies before her broken subconscious initiates a permanent interlinking sequence with my own. The Map’s developers speculate that after too much time elapses, the mind of the subject, Cassie, could swallow that of the investigative cohort, Me, or that our two consciousnesses would crash into each other, Big Bang-like, ceasing to exist, or perhaps creating something entirely unique, like a new universe born. Yet the bodies of both subject and cohort would live on, subsisting on oxygen and intravenous fluids until the government terminated them.
Of course, they have not studied the effects of such an interlink in the MindMap, all being theoretical—the disclaimers state as much—but for Cassie, the risk is worth it.
She is worth everything.
Please verify your bond to her psyche is secure.
Mother had admonished against this procedure. Let her go, she’d told me. But I cannot. I’ll risk anything to save Cassie, even if it means reaching into the depths of her soul to bring her back.
My mind sighs at the familiar visual, that moment before I’d lost her. Dirty, ragged Caste-Theta miscreants glaring at me. Cassie, in the distance, crouched down, running a jeweled hand over the back of a mangy dog as she feeds it a crust of bread. Cassie standing, brushing away crumbs. The dog wandering off.
I’ve never understood her affinity for this specific market on the border of the Theta Slums or her fondness for strays; it is a quiet quirk that makes Cassie so uniquely her. So different from other Caste-Alpha women.
Find the Anomaly.
The market lights with color, royal hues painted in brisk brushstrokes over the dismal sepia landscape I recall.
But this is Cassie’s construct, not mine.
Then I see it, an imperfection in Cassie’s attire. Tattered, muck-filled canvas sneakers replace her fine leather designer shoes. Bloodied and filthy, her perfect toes peek through holes worn by rot and despair.
“There,” I say.
Cassie’s light dims. Again, I watch her body stiffen, frozen in this random, implausible moment that never should have been. I reach out, yearning to touch her as my consciousness tears from hers.
I can only hope that the remaining incongruities in her memory are as easy to identify.
MindMap Anomaly #2 of 3
Day of Their Marital Union
4 January 2187
Clouds cast a gray pall over our wedding day; pinpricks of winter numb with a biting chill. Cassie’s world lies still, tense as a held breath that fears escape, as if the slightest sigh could crack the icy veneer that lacquers her mindscape.
Cassie’s construct of this day—our happiest—misaligns with my own. I recall the majestic windows of the judge’s chambers, a warm hearth, soft snow glistening through a filter of pillowed sunlight.
But as I’ve learned, the landscape—the feeling—can never be the Anomaly; the discrepancy lies in some twisted nuance. And this new moment presented in my wife’s mindscape is foreign to my experience—that first precious connection shared between my mother and Cassie as her new daughter-in-law. It’s a favorite story Mother has relayed countless times—one that makes Cassie smile.
I pray I can find the glitch.
Sixty seconds, the vitalBot reminds me, and I enter the scene.
Cassie clutches wildflowers tied with a white ribbon, the ornate bouquet selected by Mother tossed aside, much to her chagrin.
“A Caste-Alpha bride should be regal. A queen among peasants!” Mother says. Her lithe form towers over Cassie, nose and chin chiseled sharp and precise as an ice carving. The room shrinks as Mother fusses over my wife’s simple cotton dress. “This most certainly will not do. Malcom deserves … more.”
Gooseflesh rises defiantly on Cassie’s bare arms.
“Is there anything more than true love?” Cassie challenges.
“Nonsense.” Mother tsks. “As a little girl, did you not dream of this day? Flowing tulle trailing your steps, your body lost in a sea of white satin? Didn’t your mother—” she stops, her crimson fingernails clicking as her fingertips steeple. “Oh. I understand.”
“Oh, do you?” Cassie straightens. The air crackles with her glare.
“The grandfather who raised you; he never did teach you the societal value of proper fashion. How could he? Old men, from New Maine, no less, know nothing of style.” Leaning in, Mother whispers, “Malcom told me of your unfortunate family predicament, dear.”
The room shivers with rage.
Reaching inside her gold-studded handbag, Mother retrieves a diamond brooch. Cassie steps back; Mother moves forward and clutches the neckline of Cassie’s wedding dress, securing the oversized pin. It pulls the soft fabric like a frown.
“There. Now you almost look like a proper bride,” Mother says.
“Proper?” Cassie says. “You Caste-Alpha matriarchs are all the same, thinking you know what is proper. What is just.”
“Feisty. Irreverent.” Mother scowls. “Malcom never mentioned this side of you. Rushing into marriage, love at first sight. Nonsense.”
I watch Groom-Me enter the room, my gray topcoat shining and stiff. A suit of armor.
Melting ice drips from the ceiling, like the tear cascading down Cassie’s cheek. Her features soften as she sees me; her world breathes again at my presence. Mother’s form dissipates in an irrelevant cloud of smoke.
I hear my voice through Cassie’s mind, deep and melodious as a saxophone solo.
Mother’s brooch burns red on Cassie’s chest, an enraged serpent. It slithers, hissing and fighting for release from the dress.
“Mother’s gift to Cassie,” I whisper. “The pin was a peacock, not a serpent.”
I long to kiss my bride, to thaw the frost that embellishes her vision of this day, and retreat from Cassie’s mindscape, relieved yet unnerved by the additional “glitch” I’ve discovered. This moment, it’s not the story Mother told.
MindMap Anomaly #3 of 3
Their First Meeting
27 May 2186
The sweet vibrato of Cassie’s song stretches like tendrils of ribbon toward the sky, each sweet note swirling into heaven. Her guitar’s tone—hopeful, mournful, yearning—voices an accompaniment that paints the world with splashes of sound. She closes her eyes, losing herself, finding herself, simple yet complex in the moment—in that moment—when I first saw her sitting in the park outside my favorite café. Cross-legged on the grass, she cradles that familiar old wooden guitar with reverence, as if she’s holding an instrument of the gods. A satin periwinkle shawl—once fashionable among middle-aged Caste-Alpha women—drapes across her shoulders like the embrace of an old friend; her simple yellow sundress, kissed by the florets of admiring dandelions, channels sunshine.
Cassie glows with confidence. Her song lights a beacon for the weary. For a man like me.
Before Cassie, I’d never realized how lonely I was, how empty and shallow my days. Squashed beneath the gilded stamp of society’s expectations—stature, propriety, wealth—I’d worn blinders to the wonder of a world my peers deemed mundane. I’d never thought to ponder the taste of rain, or dance in the shadow of moonlight. I’d never counted the veins on a leaf or searched for the fortune told in their pattern. Cassie had given me hope for a life where my bucket would always be filled, not with riches, but with love.
I can only hope I’ve offered her the same.
Now in her final, faulted mindscape, I loll in the warmth of the possibilities she’s painted—a park filled with rolling hills, a chorus of songbirds swaying in the trees. A sky as vast as the ocean, as deep and as blue, errant clouds drifting like captain-less ships overhead.
Sixty seconds, the vitalBot reminds.
I land in the moment that changes everything.
“Hello,” I hear myself say. I stand between Cassie and the sun, casting a shadow over her.
“Do you make a habit out of stealing the sunshine?” she asks.
“Oh,” I stammer. “I’m sorry. Your singing, it’s lovely. I haven’t heard music like this in a long time.”
“Interesting,” she says, squinting. Sizing me up. “Music is everywhere. Perhaps you haven’t been listening.”
I recall the clamminess oozing through my palms with her glance, the shiver of the temperate spring breeze—of unexpected anticipation — rippling across my skin.
“Filthy,” she replies with a laugh. She gestures toward my paint-soaked jeans, my sweaty T-shirt. Self-consciously, I run my hands through my hair and end up with fingers full of blue.
Her laughter washes over me like an unexpected tickle, and I can’t help but laugh as well.
“This isn’t how I usually look.”
“Hmm.” She raises a finger to her chin; a fine line of scrutiny etches on her forehead as she furrows her brow in a gesture of exaggerated thought. “Painting yourself incognito?”
Heat flashes across my cheeks. I’m suddenly dizzy, acutely aware of the spectacle I’m making of myself. I can only hope no one in this park recognizes me. If Mother had an inkling of my appearance…
“Incognito, yes. Something like that,” I say, swallowing past the crack in my voice. “I’m Malcom. Covert painter of walls, and apparently, myself. Stealer of sunlight. And you are…”
“Cassie. Maker of music. Singer of songs.”
I reach for her with my painted hand. I long to feel the softness of her palm, to secure this moment of our meeting with a touch, clasping skin to skin as if sealing a promise, so I know it is real.
She hesitates. Holding her hand back for a few seconds, a few eternities, she reaches toward me tentatively, as if taking a first step on wobbly legs, in an unfirm terrain. The warmth of our connection envelops me like a midsummer tide. The blue pigment smears over our skin. She smiles.
“You’ve definitely made an impression. Malcom.”
I watch myself leave her—my steps spry and warmed with hope. After that moment, I would never leave her again.
The Anomaly, Malcom.
The vitalBot! I’ve almost forgotten.
This moment is exactly as I recall—her words, her touch, her smile even more dazzling inside her mindscape. Fear seizes my gut; if I cannot find the Anomaly to repair, I risk losing Cassie forever.
From a distance, I watch as Cassie stands, grinning at her painted palm. Errant blades of grass slide down her skirt and her shawl slips from her shoulders. The breeze lifts it; it flutters about like the wings of a fledgling butterfly.
Clouds creep across the sky, predators of the sun. As they pounce, the radiant hues dissipate from the park, evaporating into a sepia fog. It falls as a dull, heavy mist over Cassie’s mindscape.
Sluggishly, she retrieves the limp shawl from the dried-out lawn, its periwinkle shimmer withered brown, much like the deadened grass upon which it had laid. Cassie shivers as she wraps the coarse, ratty shawl around herself like a blanket.
“There,” I say to the vitalBot. “The Anomaly.”
Negative, the vitalBot responds.
“But Cassie’s shawl, it’s Alpha Blue. It’s always been—”
I gasp at the realization—the truth I am seeing for the first time. My wife wears the garments of Caste-Theta.
Cassie is Caste-Theta.
Ten seconds until interlinking commences, the vitalBot warns.
Contracting Blight was not an oddity, but a certainty that day, given the true nature of my wife’s lineage. And the specificity of her corrupted memories? Perhaps it was she who’d resisted the MindMap algorithm’s repair mechanism. To protect her secret.
Our life had been a lie. The woman I loved, an impostor.
“Wait,” I instruct the vitalBot.
I need more time.
“No! Not yet!”
“Cassie!” my voice escapes me. I cannot stop myself. I cry out into Cassie’s mindscape. The sound of her name thunders; the realm of her subconscious quakes at my forbidden intrusion. She falls, her knees landing hard against her guitar.
Violation! The vitalBot shrills an alarm in my brain.
“I don’t care!” I shout.
Then there’s silence.
Pain sears through me; hot coals explode through my cells as I push my present self to materialize inside my wife’s mind.
I run toward her. “Cassie, why didn’t you tell me?”
She gazes at me, her expression as soft and as heavy as a child-in-arms drifting into slumber.
“You never would have laid eyes on me if I hadn’t been wearing that dreadful Caste-Alpha shawl.”
“And you would have run from me if I wasn’t covered in paint like some Caste-Beta working man.”
“Incognito. Like me. The only way a Caste-Theta girl could play guitar in that park.” She offers a weak smile. “Such a wondrous, forbidden place.”
I take Cassie’s hand, running my fingers over a palm I’d once painted blue, wincing at the irony. “We would have made it work, without the lie,” I whisper. “Together.”
She looks away; I cup my hand beneath her chin.
“What is an anomaly, if not just a twist of truth?” I say. “Your memory, it’s whole, and it’s real. Come back with me.”
“They know, Malcom. The data is here. In the eyes of the law, we are the aberration.” She shakes her head. “I’ll be arrested, perhaps even executed. And you—? I can’t bear the thought of them punishing you for my untruths.”
“Then let’s stay here,” I say. “Safe, inside your mind.”
“You’d sacrifice yourself for me? Even after I—”
Time has expired. Interlink commencing.
The vitalBot’s voice warbles; a sharp pulse slices through my head.
Cassie reaches for me as I feel my subconscious tearing from my body. Her world spirals around me, inside me, a vortex of color and song.
I’m light as a feather drifting in the breeze.
“We’re soulmates, Cassie. Now, in the most literal sense.”
I motion toward the sunlight swirling above—red, gold, and pink weaving a tapestry in the sky. A new dawn. Our new story.
“I loved you then. I love you now.”
“I’ll love you always,” Cassie says.
Until our dying breath.