Chapter 4

By the time The Mandrake allowed for their remote inputs, repairs on Piotr Janics were well under way and the death he’d aimed at was a distant prospect already. Its facilities proving themselves equal to the devastation, exactly as Jancis had feared. A regenerative protocol exciting intra-cellular growth at the level of filopedia, with patterning information taken from the patient’s ectoderm. And if his synapses weren’t firing on all cylinders as yet, there was adequate spark to them for Deborah and Riley to set to work. Aiming at an order of being consistent with the Piotr Jancis from one day before.

“So this is what a brain looks like after a SwanSong’s gone to town,” said Riley.

“And yet he’s mending nicely,” Deborah answered. “Imagine the devastation when they first wheeled him in.”

“Have you ever seen molecular markers that intricate?”

“Nope. Same thing goes for the substrate. There’s hardly a single omission. Which is a good thing, no?

“Wonderful,” Riley said. “One of the many benefits of working for Qunieform. Thank god their sense of permission knows no bounds at all.”

“A question for you – how much freedom of movement have you got left?

“I don’t know, maybe 4000 thousand miles.”

“And your latest tenancy?”

“Just under two months. Your point being that I should bury all these reservations in a deep dark hole.”

“Yes. That’s my point precisely. Not least because I’m in exactly the same boat after the Kluk Kluk debacle, which means that I’ve got sufficient capital to tide me over until next May. After that I’m faced with the prospect of joining the plebian ranks, confined to one district, all discretions revoked.”

“You could always go underground again,” Riley said.

“Joke about it all you like. I don’t see you prospering there.”

Like all remaining jobs, there were countless names for what they were doing. Narrative Science. Contextual Strategy. Remedial Mnemonics. Existential Storyboarding. Or else, as Riley’s mentor once had it, We create home movies for the self to avow. In certain quarters it was thought of as humanistic woo woo, a civic ordinance ripe for disbanding, one more example of tokenism. Although the Wynchliffe Disaster was still fresh in the popular memory; sufficiently so to keep automation off the agenda and the prospect of an overruling at bay.

Central to the profession: this business of reintroducing a world of data to the embryonic self. Building on those flickers of recognition in order to anchor a backstory the patient could acknowledge, even as the Mandrake bound his proteins in vivo. To this end they worked with the echoes of moments to make the past coalesce; the wider context a binding one. Anything to bolster the folk memories of a single human being. All this done using STRUT, a post transcriptional coding language employing MicroRNAs to best effect.

And while that was a simplistic understanding of the procedure – telling the patient stories of those things he’d lived through – there was something to it, even as it played well with regulators and shareholders alike. But Jancis was currently a 4 on the Ptarmingan Scale, and before Deborah and Riley could work with anything as rich as defined moments, they were confronted with small sets of ingrown routines, fixations, recursive loops. The brain’s iconic memory fluffing its lines, stuttering through the trace elements of yesteryear. Murky pre-images best rendered as text for interpretive purposes. Crude representations of Jancis’s past corrupted to the level of phrasal enigmas and abstract nouns. Instances that needed to be straightened out, consolidated, and brought back to life entire.

The Mandrake’s confocal laser scanner converted all this noise into digital signals, and by employing STRUT, Deborah sifted through the ruined chatter, trying to sieve out the junk semantics, the comatose static, looking for a primary hook to build a base memory upon. Six minutes later, she though she might have found it. Flagging up that residual fixation on which Jancis was expending the most calorific energy, as if trying, instinctively, to extend its deep grammar and solve the problem of who he was.

In translation it, it read simply: Galaxians – Number One.

“Galaxians being?” asked Deborah.

“An old video game, for one thing,” Riley said.

“Sadly before my time. What else, reference-wise?”

“Three dead start-ups. Twenty three novels. Two independently produced films.”

“What about his parents?”

“Both dead, but his father signed a lease legacy. With Quneiform predictably enough.”

“OK. Then you cross Galaxians with his paternal overview and I’ll work Jancis’ trove.”

“Already on it.”

Working the patient’s trove meant returning to every last trace of his recorded existence. And the existence of those with whom he’d been known to intersect. There was, of course, plenty in the open domain, especially during Jancis’s glory years, although even then the man had made a habit of keeping appearances to a minimum and messages sparse. But either side of this five year spell the trove was thin. Barren almost. Beyond the reach of Quneiform even. Between the text, speech, collateral footage, tangential surveillance: not one single Flop of data. The designer had managed to hold on to an extravagant amount of privacy. In all probability, she reasoned, it took something close to genius to achieve such a feat.

Deborah might have hoped for a better time with those closest to him but – true to Jancis’s reputation – there were very few candidates as such. The obvious one was Marley, his co-founder at Schwing, and so she moved to put in a confidential request. But Marley’s details, on inspection, had been struck from the register, and even his allowance for medical emergencies was showing a blank. Highly strange, given the urgency of the situation and Marley’s heavy stake in the outcome. But Deborah did not let it concern her for more than a few moments. She knew to work around it. She’d put that nagging voice to bed a long time ago.

Riley, meanwhile, checked the lease legacy of Danilo Jancis and found it to be in a sorry state of disrepair. Eight years deceased and not a single dedicated search of his archive had taken place to date. The dead man’s limited recall only used for composite branch-work, socio-literacies, minor pattern-plays. It begged the question of why his son had not paid for the legacy’s upkeep. Until Riley remembered reading that the two of them were estranged at the last.

As a result of the downgrade many of the specifics had been effaced and Galaxians turned up nothing, which was not surprising, as the archive had assumed a diary format and a generic set of tags. But Riley had better luck with video game. And better luck still with video game / Piotr Jancis. A spate of returns showing up for the summer of 1980, most of them including a single indistinct location: swimming pool

Everything else, context-wise, pointed towards their home town. So Riley focused in on Ormskirk and turned his attention to the municipal baths that lay at the heart of it. Tried positing Galaxians inside of the building during the months of June and July. Employing FRUCT to this end: a situational engine for putting objects in their proper historical place. Feeding the program every last stitch of data to create a structural mean of the building. And because the time stamp was pre-internet, it sourced the blueprint from two main sources: advanced lease legacies and old digitized photographs from back in the day. Compiling over 32,000 instances in the process. Between the two measures, FRUCT worked the angles, mined the inferences, and began building up a credible model of the interior. And as Riley watched the public building take shape, he spotted a possible candidate on the second level. Then zoomed in on the upright cabinet. To find a coin operated arcade game with the corresponding decal.


“Boom. I’ve got it. Up against the snack machine on the first floor.”

“Of what?”

“The local swimming baths. Many moons ago. Here…”

Deborah brought up the image and reviewed its composition. Already considering how she

might redefine it for mnemonic use. “That could be our rosebud,” she acknowledged.

“You think you can run that by him?”

“I reckon so.”

“OK, let’s see what he makes of the item in relief.”

After migrating the visual to STRUT, and reconfiguring its dimensions, the arcade game was converted to signal and sent down Jancis’s ventral pathway. To be perceived as a distinct object, designed to excite his recognition. No contextual anchoring or greater stimulus at this point. Just one specific query for his mind to try and unpack.

In reply a whole host of nodes flared up in the cortical network, campaigning to make sense of the imposition. Jancis’s pre-conscious struck by the relay and placed on high alert. For three minutes Deborah allowed the image to register with him. Then she gave the patient something more to consider. Extending the tableau to include the snack machine, table football, off green-paintwork, grey tiled floor. A series of spatio-temporal considerations painting Piotr Jancis into the moment. Providing him with the impetus to feel at home, four decades before.

It was, of all aspects of their job, the one she most delighted in, and Deborah watched the information circulate with great interest. Jancis’s brain in consultation with itself. The spatial imagery referred from the fronto-parietal dorsal network to the premotor regions to the posterior cortices in turn. The whole structure straining to acknowledge former times. Engaged in what she herself had termed neuronal gossip. And a vast array of them were clearly piqued. Unusually active for a category 3 coma. Jancis buying into the would-be experience, modifying the flow of information. So much so that he ran with the initial prompt and made a decided intervention on his own behalf. Practically unheard of for a patient who was still a 4 on the Ptarmingan Scale. But here it was. The screen of the arcade game displaying particulars. Suddenly going live. A tentative POV.

“He’s embroidering it already?” Riley said, looking on. “I’ve never seen that happen before with the upper cortex so retarded.”

“We’ve got his attention, that’s for sure.”

Having appended the query, Jancis projected a leader board onto the Galaxians display. Ten players, in ascending order, along with their best recorded scores.

“That’s our boy, no, in fifth and second place?”

“Yep. PFJ. Franklin’s his mother’s maiden name.”

“Then I’m thinking this is the day he comes of age as a scourge of winged aliens and knocks RDZ off top spot?”

“Hence the Number One – a formative aspiration.”


“This looks like a way in. No doubt about it.”

“Can you reconstitute the gameplay as a modular exercise? Get him learning as he goes along?”


As Deborah attended to the task, Riley upped the ambience and introduced the arcade game’s theme tune. “Boy, does he like that. Check out the dopamine spike.”

“You’re deploying any other ambient sounds?”

“Low level acoustics. A little splashing in the background. Slightly generic, but it should do the trick.”

“Well something’s working wonders – have you seen the synaptic branching?”

“Just brought it up. That’s his VWM on the verge of kicking in.”

Both of them, in their separate locations, regarded the 4d model closely. Afforded a dimensional analysis of the brain’s deep structure which showed resolute gains throughout. Jancis’s mind firing with intent now, furnishing ever more connections, upgrading this step back in time. Exhibiting a level of cogency which moved him from a 4 to a 3 on the Ptarmingan scale. Staking out ever more innervated territory in the process. Recruiting thousand upon thousand of axons to the task.

“So he can take liberties now?” Riley asked.

“In theory, anyway.”

“Then can you suggest he checks his watch?”

Deborah posed the query and Jancis had sufficient presence of mind to raise his left wrist upwards. Which sported a Casio. Displaying the time and date. 14:23 / Jun 21

“There you go. Thank you, Junior.”

“So we build out from June 21, 1980.”

“Yep. You ratify the experience and I’ll start finessing the wider context.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Deborah told him. “I’ll start running the modal processes.”

“So we’re using STRUT to rebuild the memory of STRUT’s chief architect in order to facilitate the company who licensed STRUT to the world.”

“The weirdness is not lost on me either.”

“Wonder what Jancis would make of this himself?” Riley wondered.

“Well, if we do our job correctly maybe you get the chance to find out.”

But there was not the time to make a start on their latest string of objectives. A window opening, without permission, onto Deborah and Riley’s secure line. A cursor blinking inside of it for several moments before the text kicked into action and somebody thought to type Hello?


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