Toxic Duck Inc.

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My life was pretty peachy before I caught the virus. At least, that’s what they tell me.

My partner, Jaz, and I had managed to save up enough money to travel the world and stay comfortable. We lived in full colour then; climbing mountains, skiing down them, eating in fancy restaurants… And at night, just like everyone else, we would put those little squashy pads against our temples and plug into our phones to upload the memories of the day to the cloud. They say it not only preserves your special moments for ‘fully immersive enjoyment’ another day, but it also improves the efficiency of sleep, security, and peace of mind. Except I have no peace, not anymore.

One evening, after a few drinks in the famous old Tokyo Mixology Lab, Jaz and I got back to our hotel and plugged in. No way were we going to risk losing the memories of that day! Then an alert box appeared on my screen:

Free updates are available. Apply now for extra security?

And I hit ‘yes’.

Our private sections of the cloud are not supposed to be accessible by anyone else; they would need the neurology and associations of the user to see anything other than a broken TV set. I thought that meant nothing could get in. But I had – stupidly, carelessly, drunkenly – given an intruder permission to creep into my most private of moments.

Everything seemed normal until I synced the next morning, whereby my thoughts became jumbled up. I was confused. I couldn’t remember for the life of me why I had woken up in a hotel overlooking a crowded city, when I had gone to sleep in a glamping pod in the Scottish Highlands. Jaz thought maybe I had suffered poisoning from the seafood we ate the night before, or reacted to the flaming cocktails we had supped. He sent me to rest in bed for the day, where things only became worse.

Adverts started appearing everywhere for Toxic Duck Inc. Their logo is a fluorescent green cartoon duck with a cross through it, if you haven’t seen it. They are environmental activists of sorts, with a chain of head shops, a clothing line and a branded organic fizzy drink – it’s really refreshing actually; you should try it. Damn it!!

I searched through some old memories to try to understand what was going on, and that logo started showing up all over the place. It was on placards at the ski slope we visited last winter. It was on the side of the plane that took us to Rio. It was on the wrapping paper my Mum and Dad used for Christmas when I was 10.

The more memories I went through, the more the virus contaminated. Soon I remembered drinking Toxic Duck pop at my graduation ceremony, wearing Toxic Duck branded clothing for my sister’s wedding, and reading books by my all-time favourite author: you’ve guessed it, Toxic Duck. Jaz found me an hour later in a delirious state, sticky with cold sweat on the floor. He took me straight off to the local hospital, where they connected me to their isolated network and diagnosed me as having contracted the Trojan virus.

Having top-tier medical insurance, I was repatriated the very next day. But by the time we got back to the UK, the advertisements were so firmly rooted in my subconscious that I found myself recommending Toxic Duck to friends and strangers alike. Have you tried their pop by the way? It’s very refreshing. Damn it!! More and more of my memories were being replaced each time I tried to draw information from the past. During the worst of it, my ability to recognise faces was affected; I saw only bright green ducks where there should have been people. In my memories, I still do. My late grandmother’s warm smile – gone. The pride in my Dad’s eyes as I won the Harper’s trophy for innovation – gone.

I was put into a specialist psychiatric ward to recover, and my little part of the cloud was quarantined, meaning I could no longer upload fresh memories. For a while, I had to rely on my brain alone to remember important details, and I dreamt again like I hadn’t in years. I was tired all the time, and I no longer understood who I was; or, more accurately, who I had been.

Jaz did extensive research and found that Toxic Duck Inc. do exist as a company, but they don’t operate through any central systems and are elusive to the law. The whole thing has been heart-breaking for him. Both of our lives stopped moving forward because of an invasion into my past. He is patient, though, and has kindly helped me to piece together this sequence of events so that I might share them with you.

There isn’t a cure for the virus. With therapy, I’ve been able to get to a state where I feel like a whole person, but I’ll never know those old experiences again; not really. I can use a new cloud account to store fresh memories, but no one has found a way to change the old ones back. The choice I face now is to keep them as they are or wipe the lot. Live with a fake, toxic history that is forever blurring the present, or live only for the future. Which would you choose?

***

Toxic Duck Inc. was originally written for the Virtual Futures Salon (Dis)ease of the i-Mortal and was read live by Gigi Lynch.

For more of my flash fiction, please check out my book Fragments of Perception. You can also follow this blog for news on my forthcoming release of interconnected short stories, Mind in the Gap. 

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