The group of white coats stood outside the window, looking in. The body inside lay motionless on the floor, eyes closed.
“Alive? Yes.” The doctor pointed to the lit panel just to the right of the pane of glass.
“Her vitals are fine. She has been in the simulation for…” a brief look to the panel “eleven minutes.”
A small sob heaved her small body and a quiet wail rose from the floor.
“Let’s move along, shall we? All the subjects in this lab are here by choice, so you needn’t look so distressed.” His laugh echoed through the group. “To be a part of experimental memory testing or go to the war- they chose this and at any point, they could choose to go to the war. But they obviously already have enough fracturing memories; the war would only add to that, and they are reminded of that upon their entry and exit examinations. This is the oldest Memory Lab in existence, and at the moment, we have just over three hundred patients in our care. Before the wars began, Mulla Suhara had the sensational idea that the future could be found in the past. Since his death in 2098, The International Federation of Peace has worked tirelessly to put his concepts into practice. All our patients here stand behind Suhara’s philosophies and truly believe that his ideas are our best chance at world peace.”
The small, dimly lit rooms they passed all held sedated men and women. Some sat still at desks. Some lay down, on their bed or the floor. All had blank expressions on their faces and just stared.
“Are they okay?” Asked a quiet voice from the middle of the group.
“Oh yes, we monitor their vitals. They are in simulation two to six times a day, depending on their strength and health, and the rest of the day is up to them! They are free to visit the pool, the gymnasium, any of our simulated gardens, and through our new interface systems are even able to interact with loved ones lost in the wars! Really,” the doctor faced the group and chuckled, “if I were not a doctor, I would choose this life.”
The group laughed with him, obviously now more at ease.
“I know that wasn’t the in-depth, secret revealing tour you may have hoped for, but you are free to roam. Please, don’t disturb any of the patients or open any closed doors,” chuckles at this, “but go ahead. Look around. Observe the patients, watch the simulations, note their vitals- see if you can discover the link between a successful patient and their mind.”
Grace let the group slip away from her, staring hard at the map on her clipboard.
“Where are you going first?” A quiet voice whispered.
“To the oldest patient. Wanna come?” She whispered back to the voice she knew.
“Why do you wanna see him?”
“Her.” Grace corrected. “Maggie Lee. Age 83. Top level. Any idea where the East stairs are?”
“Next to the staff rest room,” Jeremy answered her, hands in his pocket.
Grace finally looked up at his sneaky grin.
“Don’t ask. This way.” Quickly, the two slipped past room after room, each occupant pale and the same. From around the corner, a scream ripped through the silence, punctuated by fists pounding on glass. Grace grabbed onto Jeremy’s hand impulsively.
“It’s okay. Come on. Come on.” Jeremy gently pulled her down the hall, breaking into a run past the now sobbing man clawing at the glass.
“We’re almost there.” He told her through gritted teeth. “Come on.”
The patients in the room surrounding the pained man didn’t move. Didn’t seem to register the blood-curdling screams. No one seemed to care.
Pushing into the East Stair tower, Jeremy slammed the door behind them. He and Grace pressed their backs against the wall, breathing hard.
“No one moved. No one cared. Did you see that?” Grace’s hands shook as she pushed them against her face, through her hair. “No one else even heard him. What was that?”
“I don’t know.”
“Do you think they heard him? They didn’t even move.”
“Come on, sit down. Just for a second, come on.” After a moment, Grace let Jeremy pull her down onto one of the steps. Jeremy held her shaking hands in his.
“My mom used to talk about these places before she went off to the war. You know what she used to say? She used to say, ‘Jeremy, sometimes, memories are the worst form of torture.’ That’s what she used to say. Then she chose the war, so she must’ve meant it. These people, maybe they’re okay. Maybe they aren’t as dead as they look. Maybe this is better than war. But if I ever get kicked outta school, if I ever lose favor with the President, or all hell breaks loose, I would choose the war. Because at least out there, you’re making memories, not reliving old ones for doctors who don’t listen when you scream.” Jeremy was silent for a few moments, his thumb rubbing the back of her hand. “You okay?” He finally asked, still staring at the wall in front of them.
She could only nod.
“Okay. Let’s go. Let’s go find this old lady, huh?”
Her laugh was shaky but made him smile.
“What’s her name again?”
“Maggie. Maggie Lee. Room 1. Top floor. Been here since…” a quick look down at her clipboard, “wow, since the wars began in 2099. First patient.” With a determined nod, Grace stated, “Yeah, I wanna see this woman.”
“Let’s go then.”
Renewed, the two climbed and climbed, hand in hand. The top floor was dark. No lights warmed the walls. The air was heavy, and dark curtains hung where they assumed windows used to let in the world. The only light came from a room at the end of the hall. Grip tightening around his hand, Grace stepped down the hall, toward the light.
“Room 1.” She whispered, brave enough to speak but not brave enough to look into the rooms they passed.
Jeremy turned his head enough to see dead eyes looking back at him. He said nothing, just followed Grace toward the patch of light on the scuffed tile.
The yellow light came from inside Room 1, sure enough. But what was inside stunned both training doctors. Maggie Lee had on the same headset as every other patient, and her room was the same gray cubicle assigned to everyone else, but nothing else was the same. Little candles were strewn across the desk, across the window sill, all lit with little dancing flames. Whether she imitated the flames or they imitated her, neither Grace nor Jeremy knew, but this little wrinkled woman softly danced across the rough floor. And she smiled. Her face was bright, peaceful. Watching her, Grace and Jeremy relaxed. As though aware of someone watching, Maggie stopped short, back toward them. With a deep bow, Maggie extended her hands to an invisible suitor.
“Wait…” Grace went to the lit panel by the window.
“She’s remembering?” Jeremy asked. “This is a memory?”
“Yes. She’s in a simulation now. Look.”
“But she’s at peace.” The voice behind them made Jeremy and Grace jump.
After a little laugh, the doctor laughed, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you. I wanted to congratulate you. You found it.”
“You found the link, between the successful patient and the mind.” The doctor motioned to Maggie. “You found the peace.”
“I don’t understand,” Jeremy admitted, taking Grace’s hand protectively in his again.
“Maggie was in the war.” Crossing his arms, the doctor stepped up into the light, watching Maggie sway slowly. “Before she came here. You see, this facility started as a rehabilitation center, and Maggie was our first patient. She suffered greatly at the hand of the enemy. She was bought and sold like an animal, and when she came to us, it-“ The doctor only shook his head. “It was tragic. I advocated for her immediate release. Reliving memories, though now more bearable through sedation, should not be forced upon some. Upon Maggie. But look at her. She dances.” The doctor laughed in unbelief. “It was impossible. It is impossible! She should cry and scream and try to kill herself. But she dances. Once, I asked her, I said ‘Maggie, what do you remember in those simulations?’ and you know what she said? She said ‘I remember my wedding night. My husband and I were married on June 10, 2097. All our family was there, and we danced under the stars next to the house he built for me.’ That is what she said to me.”
“June 10, 2097? That’s-“
“The night before the war began, yeah.”
The hall was silent as the three watched Maggie throw her head back and laugh.
“She only ever said one thing to me about the war. She only ever said, ‘I forgive them all.’ That’s all she ever said. She said, ‘I forgive them all.’ That’s the secret. That’s how she can dance. She forgave them all.” The doctor shook his head as he straightened his coat out. “Forgiveness- it’s terribly elusive, is it not? If only we could bottle that, then maybe all these terrible wars would over before they started.” A deep sigh, then “I am needed downstairs for the debriefing. If these wars never end, I am sure we could find a place for both of you here, as doctors or patients, your choice. Just leave your applications at the desk on your way out.”
Neither Grace nor Jeremy could take their eyes off Room 1 to watch the doctor leave them.
“She forgave them all, and that’s how she dances.” Jeremy squeezed Grace’s hand as they watched the small woman in front of them slowly, happily spin. “That’s how she dances.”