Persistence of Memory

Persistence of Memory by J.M. Snyder
Five years ago Joah was culled -- kidnapped by the government to be trained as a soldier. In the process, they erased his memory, destroying his past, his dreams, everything but his name. Armed with that alone, Joah escapes from the facility in search of someone to help him recall the man he used to be.

That person is Tobin, Joah’s husband, who never gave up hope of finding him again. He refuses to believe that the strength of his love alone won’t be enough to bring back Joah’s memories of their shared lives, and he’s determined to bring back the man beneath the soldier, the man he knows has to love him.

But an alarm in the chip blocking Joah’s memories was triggered at his escape, and if it isn’t removed soon, it will shriek his life away. Removing it won’t bring back his past, and may destroy the present that Tobin has tried so hard to build between them. How can the love they once shared possibly survive?

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I awake to voices arguing low in the next room. I hear them over the screech in my head, which has eased up a little. Maybe I've already grow used to its constant presence. I keep my eyes closed and listen to the new voices, the real ones, because I know they're talking about me. "It's not him," the first says. A man, probably around my own age. Why does he sound so familiar?

"How can you say that?" I know that one -- it belongs to the man I saw in the fields, the one who knew my name. "Ashe, it's him. How can you not see --"

"See what?" Ashe asks. "That he's a soldier now? He was culled, Tobin. Culled. One doesn't just recover from that. They took him apart and put the pieces together again into something new. It may look like Joah, talk like him, act like him ... but it's not him. It's not the same man you swore forever to at your handfasting. Can't you see that? Or don't you want to see it?"

Tobin. The name drifts through my mind like stray notes to a tune I heard once but can't place. When he speaks, I hear barely restrained rage and energy mingled together in his voice, and I know he's thrilled to see me. I can almost feel his excitement zipping through the rooms of the house like a bothersome mosquito, never settling in one place for long. "It's him," he says, his voice growing louder as he comes into my room. I keep my eyes shut; I don't let them know I'm awake. Lowering his voice, he adds, "It might take some time, Ashe, but he'll remember who I am. Who we are. I'll help him remember."

Ashe sighs, a lusty, exasperated sound. "They erased his memories," he tries to explain, but this Tobin is stubborn, thinking he can help me remember who I am when the chip is still stuck into my brain. If only it were that easy, I want to tell him. "You can't just kiss them back. Your love can't make everything right."

"Why not?" Tobin kneels by my bed, and I fight the urge to laugh at him, to let them know I'm listening to their every word. Because you just can't, I want to say, as I feel his hand slip into mine. His grip is strong and comforting, and for a moment I almost believe he might do it, he might be able to bring back who I was before. I can feel determination curled in his fingers -- he seems strong enough and stubborn enough to stop the sun in its tracks if he sets his mind to it. So maybe he can help me remember who I used to be.

He raises my hand and kisses my knuckles, his lips soft against my skin. I feel his fingers trace the tattoo on the inside of my wrist, his touch light and feathery. Did I used to love this man? The way he touches me is so intimate, so familiar. Has he loved me all these years I've been locked away, knowing I was forced to forget him? And does he honestly think after all that I've been through, I can remember how to love him once again?