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The clock on the wall chimed gently, ten soft repetitive notes. In the rooms along the taupe hallway, the lights dimmed and went out, leaving just a narrow beam of illumination from the observation window set in each door. Footsteps and voices in the hall were muffled by thick walls and soft shoes, but still perfectly audible to anyone who couldn't help but listen closely.


In the third room on the right, Erin lay on her bed and stared at the ceiling where a muted afterglow lingered on the extinguished fluorescent tubes. Eight hours till morning, eight hours in the privacy of darkness, unmoving, unsleeping. She closed her eyes to slits. If they looked in on her and saw her awake, she'd be taken out and assigned some mindless time-occupying task, and she needed to think. She needed this time in the quiet dark to remember who she was. They'd tried to remake her here, gave her a new name and a made-up past, but it didn't change who she was. She was Erin Keeley White, and she was lost in time and space.  

Edited by Electra
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Not lost in the traditional sense, of course. She knew the day of the week, the month and year, she could point out her location on a map of the world. But the years that had passed were a blank white blip in her memories, leaving her a time traveler stranded in the future with no way back. The map she would point to, and the world it represented, was nothing but a facsimile of something that was dead and gone. What do you call it when you know where you are but it means nothing because you can't get home? Lost seemed to be close enough.


But at least she wasn't as lost as she'd been. When she'd been brought to this new world, she'd had nothing of herself but scraps, and even those had been blurred and ruined by careless handling. Her mind had been full, but of what she was no longer sure. Bad things, she knew, bad enough that even now a particular noise or a smell, or even sitting in a white room could make her shudder. Then Psyche had come, making Erin very uncomfortable with her tears and her guilty face and the scraps of memory that told Erin both to flee and that fleeing was useless, but she'd changed things. Emptied Erin out, like her brain was an infected wound that needed draining.  

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Psyche had explained what she was doing before, during and after doing it, which was just as well since it was a procedure that allowed for a lot of forgetting. All those bad memories from the years since she'd left EZO2 (that was the name of her world, according to Psyche, a world that had only existed for a few hours in any meaningful form and Erin didn't like to think about that) and gone to EVM1 , all those bad memories were just too traumatic to even work with, and so they had to go. Three years gone, just like that, a smooth white emptiness in her memory that she sometimes puzzled over at night the way you'd stick your tongue in the space where a tooth used to be. Occasionally a memory fragment would crop up from that time, usually nothing she wanted to see, but she knew they were her own memories so she kept them and filed them away. She'd written them down at first, or drawn them in art therapy, but that got her more attention than she wanted and she'd started keeping them to herself.


Fixing the rest of her memories had been a more difficult puzzle. Someone in the bad time had damaged Erin's memories of her entire life, adding fake memories, deleting real ones, scrambling what was left into a weird and frightening pastiche of what it had once been. She'd asked Psyche why anyone would do that, and Psyche had winced visibly. After crying her way through their first meeting, Psyche hardly ever showed any sort of negative emotion around Erin, so that was notable. She told Erin it was all about control. The past created the people they were in the present, and so by destroying Erin's past, that person in the bad time had made Singularity far easier to manipulate in the present. For just a quick little moment, Erin wondered whether Psyche's removal of all those bad memories would do the same thing, but she'd hastily dismissed that thought. The bad memories had been much too bad, they were better off gone.  

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Eventually, Psyche had come up with a solution, even if it was an uncomfortable one. She'd brought in the other Erin, Wander-Erin, who did not belong here on Prime either, but belonged more than Erin herself did. Wander was older (not true, her brain reminded her, three lost years still counted even if she didn't remember them), colder and more combat-experienced than Erin ever wanted to be. She walked like a soldier and held herself like a weapon, and the part of Erin that could reliably evaluate threats even though she couldn't explain why knew that Wander was very dangerous and could hurt her if she wanted. She didn't seem to want to, though. When they met up, Wander mainly sat in a corner with her arms crossed and watched Erin without ever looking her in the eye, depressed and miserable as Erin on group therapy day.


Psyche had explained that since Erin and Wander had once been the same person, an idea that neither of them liked but neither could contradict, their childhood memories ought to be the same. With that in mind, Psyche was sure she could use Wander-Erin's memories as a template to reconstruct Erin's shattered past, cutting away the bad stuff, patching together what was left, and replacing whatever was gone with copied memories from Wander. That whole operation had taken a half-dozen sessions, most of which ended with Erin half-conscious on the bed and Wander weeping silently in her corner, but they'd done the trick. Aside from the smooth white gap, Erin had herself a full set of memories that she was pretty sure were accurate.  


Mostly, anyway. Enough to get by on. The first fourteen years were accurate. After that, Psyche had admitted to blunting the edges of a lot of it, so that the bad things that happened seemed barely real, like a television show she'd watched a long time ago. The facts were there when Erin needed them, but they were clearly not her own memories. Psyche said it was better this way, that she didn't want Erin to have to cope with another set of traumas so soon. Erin wondered privately if all the tampering with her memory might have left her a monster, that she could remember the deaths of her whole family and not even remember caring. More than that, that she could feel relieved about not having to experience the pain. But were they even her family, or were they Wander's? Could someone from a six-hour-long universe be said to have had a family at all? Easier not to think about any of that, easier to let the memories blur to nothing.  

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Erin's repaired past didn't come without problems of its own. Memories, she'd found, didn't exist independently, they formed webs and complex lattices, where old experiences connected to new ones so that thinking of one could bring up a half-dozen others. Now when Erin thought back to things like the Homecoming dance her freshman year, she could remember it clearly, thanks to the transplant. The nervous fun, how her best friend Kathy hadn't come because of the flu, how she'd kissed Ben on the cheek and not on the lips afterwards because he'd spent the whole evening with his friends instead of with her. She remembered other dances, dancing on her dad's shoes at a wedding reception, her brief and disastrous flirtation with ballet in third grade.


But she could also remember another dance very faintly, dancing with a tall boy with dark hair and a damaged suit, in the middle of a hallway with one earbud in each of their ears. Her body was bruised, her hair was ruined, and somewhere nearby people were yelling at each other, but it didn't matter. She remembered feeling a way about the dark-haired boy she'd never felt about Ben, or about anybody. Erin knew that memory didn't belong to her, and that it was probably something private and special to Wander. She knew she ought to try and forget it, along with the handful of other memories she'd uncovered that belonged to a person who hadn't lived her teenage years in blunted edges and smooth white blank spaces. She kept them instead, filed them away like secrets along with the scraps of memory Psyche hadn't managed to catch in her cleaning effort.

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 But aside from the few hiccups, the mental revision had done what it was supposed to. Erin could function, could answer to her new name and attend therapy and life-skills classes and Project Freedom group activities without being dangerous to herself or anyone else. With the help of her therapist, she took ownership of her crimes even though she didn't really remember them, and vowed in front of all of Project Freedom to never be a villain again. It was not nearly as difficult a vow for her as it seemed to be for some of her fellow inmates. She completed her GED and struck up a cautious friendship with her neighbor Aquaria, who was oddly friendly for a Deep One and didn't mind if there were days when Erin was thinking too hard to be able to leave her room. Aquaria slept in a big inflatable bathtub, so she didn't even notice when sometimes Erin woke screaming from nightmares she didn't remember. It was a pretty good arrangement, and when Erin didn't think too hard, she felt almost happy. Felt almost Jessie sometimes.


The psychologists had started talking about supervised release and jobs programs, and Erin had deliberately backslid a little in her therapy sessions till they'd stopped. There was something out there waiting for her, looking for her, and she was in no way ready to face that yet. Sometimes she missed Blackstone and the room she'd had there, which was monotonous and small, but so very safe. Eventually they'd kick her out of here, she knew, and she'd have to face the dangerous world on her own. She'd have to choose for herself who she was going to be. She couldn't be Erin, no matter what she felt like inside, that spot was already taken. She didn't want to be Wander, who'd been molded by memories nobody had taken away, and who for all her moments of joy still lived a life of constant conflict. She definitely didn't want to be Singularity, a person she didn't even really remember, but whose image in Wander's mind was wrapped in concepts like monster and trapped animal and murderer. She could be Jessie, the name she herself had chosen in what seemed like another lifetime, but to do that would mean surrendering to all the things that had been done to her, good and bad, and becoming the person she'd been molded into. Wash away the past, forget the losses, and never dig too deeply into the back corners of her own mind.

Edited by Electra
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 Erin sighed and opened her eyes, staring into the darkness. Outside the wind was whistling between the buildings, but the thick insulation in the windows kept the room pleasantly warm. The walls around her were powder blue, like the uniform they'd given her at Blackstone, soothing and unlikely to cause any empty flashbacks. The blue was nearly obscured by all the art she'd pinned up, both what she'd made herself and what she'd copied from books and clipped from magazines. A large wall clock and calender hung where she could see them from her bed, all her daily appointments and activities carefully noted down and marked off as they happened. Erin didn't know why it reassured her so much to do that, but she still went through the ritual every day. She didn't have to make any decisions tonight. Tomorrow was art therapy day, and that was generally uncomplicated fun. She'd help with the laundry and run twenty-five miles in the gym, and maybe look at the online course offerings from Freedom City College. In two weeks, she would go and spend the entire Christmas weekend with Wander and her dark-haired boy at their home in North Bay. She was glad Aquaria was coming, too, to prevent things from being unbearably tense and awkward. Maybe after all of that was done, she'd be able to start making some decisions.


There was a light knock on the door. Erin stiffened with surprise, then made herself relax as the door opened and the light from the hall flooded the room. "Jessie?" the night attendant asked. "It doesn't look like you're getting much sleep tonight. Would you like to come put a puzzle together in the activity room?"


"Yeah, okay," Jessie replied, pushing herself to sit up and running a hand over her face. "Could we have a snack, too?" Sometimes when you were lost, it was just easier to keep walking the way you were going.

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