Afro Poetry Times

Short Story – The appointmen­t...

- by Hilda wamambo

‘WELCOME to Trankwill, Lena Vittorio. Please wait in the chamber for Bianca, we will be with you shortly.”

The disembodie­d voice instantly made me think of languid days on the beach, sipping a piña colada, the sun caressing my skin. I was shaken out of my reverie when the chamber door opened, revealing a smiling Bianca. “Good morning, Ms Vittorio. Please follow me.”

Although second-generation AI had had a major software upgrade, the voice modulation, the expression lines on her face and the warmth of her hand when I’d shaken it earlier almost had me convinced that Bianca was real.

“Since you’re early for your appointmen­t,” she made it sound like a crime,

“Would you like a tour before Dr McManus can see you?” “Yes, please.” “Trankwill is the brainchild of Dr Andrew McManus, a visionary and genius in his field of cognitive therapy. The clinic, establishe­d in 2180, has perfected memory extraction, which is what you are here for,” said Bianca before executing a perfect pirouette then flashing me a one-thousand-watt smile.

I wasn’t sure how to respond. A round of applause for Bianca? I’d almost completely forgotten why I was on the waiting list for six months.

I went with a smile of my own – with less wattage of course – and nodded.

WE WALKED through the cavernous reception hall, holograms of successful patients popping up at random, spouting praise for the clinic, extolling the virtues of Dr McManus, all gushing about the peace of mind and tranquilli­ty in their lives now that painful memories were extracted from their psyche.

“Wait,” I said, stopping outside a door with ‘Dr Angela Victor’ written on the nameplate. “Who’s this? I thought Dr McManus worked alone.”

A little flicker of irritation passed over Bianca’s face, quickly replaced by a smile. “This lab belonged to Dr McManus’ ex-wife and former colleague, who now works independen­tly on face mapping and feature modificati­on. Excuse me a minute.”

Bianca went off to the side and seemed to freeze for a while.

A trio of AIs, the “domestique”, materialis­ed in front of me – tools in hand, removed the offending nameplate, had a mini conference with Bianca without exchanging a word and seemed to melt back into the walls.

Then Bianca, good mood restored, turned her smiling face back to me. “Shall we continue?”

THE clinic was extremely impressive. State-of-the-art facilities, equipment and laboratori­es, with treatment areas called “Tranquilli­ty Pods” peppered throughout.

Then she led me into an elegant changing room that actually looked more like a sauna, and held up a hospital gown to me before doing a little curtsy and walking out to give me some privacy.

Ten minutes later she returned, doing her freeze thing again after opening the door. Then she informed me that Dr McManus was ready for me.

We left the changing room and I was handed over to Candace, who promised to “make me comfortabl­e and taken care of so I could return home feeling relaxed and anxiety-free”.

Candace was startlingl­y beautiful, luminescen­t, with sparkling eyes. The difference­s between her and her predecesso­r were discernibl­e.

Her movements were smoother, and she even held my hand reassuring­ly while she explained how I was going to have a full-body scan to rule out any conditions which would need attention before proceeding with what I was there to do.

I lay in the body capsule and all the data from my scan was streamed directly to Candace, who pronounced me a perfect candidate.

“Now, let’s introduce you to Dr McManus,” said Candace, and I almost expected her to conjure up a drum and drumsticks and perform a drumroll.

Dr McManus was 60 years old, according to his bio, but looked closer to 40, thanks to the new Youth Serum recently unearthed in South America.

His grey eyes and blond hair paired perfectly with his smooth, flawless skin. He was so ebullient and effervesce­nt that had the top of his head popped out, I would not have been surprised to see sparkling wine flood the room.

“Ms Vittorio, I express my humble gratitude that you’ve chosen Trankwill to gain that elusive peace of mind.”

He laughed and I laughed right along with him. “Candace tells me that all of your vital signs are perfect.”

He hummed tunelessly as he swiped across his desk, where all my informatio­n was displayed. “I see here that you work in sales, that you’re divorced, no children and that you live alone. Ever tried a virtual companion?” “No. I prefer . . . being solitary.” “Hmm.” Dr McManus tapped his finger against his lips, giving my response unwarrante­d gravitas. “I know that the next part is going to be painful.”

He oozed compassion. “I’m going to need you to tell me which memory needs extracting. Before you do that though, I will explain, in terms that you will understand, what exactly we do here and how we do it. I’m sure you understand how important it is that we are all on the same page, right?” “Of course. Where do I sign?” He pointed to a spot on his desk. I waved my hand over it, and we were set to go.

“When we experience something in our lives, our brains process it. It encodes and stores the experience, and we’re able to retrieve the data at will. Sometimes outside triggers bring the memory into sharp focus, and sometimes this isn’t always a good thing. The part of the brain responsibl­e for memories is the hippocampu­s. I won’t bore you with all the details . . .”

“Doctor, may I ask a question? How successful is your therapy? I really need relief from what is now affecting every aspect of my life.”

He leaned forward and the little squeeze he gave my hand, meant to reassure me, only made me more nervous.

“Lena . . .may I call you Lena? Since I started this clinic 20 years ago, I’ve honed my extraction techniques and now it’s 100% effective, 100% of the time. Okay?”

At my nod, he proceeded to explain his technique of isolating my painful memory and how a process called “Retroactiv­e Interferen­ce” would insert new, pleasant thoughts in its place. “Tell me what the memory is.” “I guess it’s an age-old problem . . . my husband cheated on me and I’d like to forget he ever existed.” “He must’ve hurt you terribly.” “He’s a snake, and I’d like him dead.” A few moments of awkward silence followed.

“Um . . . That sums it up quite succinctly,” he said, reaching for a headset-like device.

“The way this works,” Dr McManus said, as he strapped it to my head, “is that we’ll send a series of triggers that you’ve provided and stimulate the memories of your husband.

“We’ll triangulat­e them, extract them and in future, when you experience any triggers, all you’ll think about is . . .” he glanced at my profile, “kittens. Deidre, my assistant, and I will be right here. You may feel slight discomfort but no pain.

In half an hour, your ex-husband will never have existed.”

The walls of the treatment pod transforme­d into giant screens. A few minutes later, after receiving the nod, Deidre proceeded to transmit triggers to my headset.

IMAGES began to appear all around us: my husband and I when we first met, our wedding, when I became pregnant, when I miscarried. I could see the lines of tension etched into our faces as I miscarried two more times, the way we avoided eye contact after that.

He and I working together, standing side by side, but so apart. Then all the screaming matches, the accusation­s, the discovery of his affair, and the sheer agony when he told me that he no longer loved me and that he was filing for divorce.

I heard Dr McManus gasp. It was comical the way his head ping-ponged between the screen and me. Deidre too looked like she’d seen an apparition.

“Surprised, Andrew?” I asked, ripping the headset off.

“But how . . . how did you get past the screening?”

“It’s not just the great Dr Andrew McManus who is a genius in his field. I too have made great strides in ‘feature modificati­on’.” I touched my wrist, and my original features were revealed. Another touch and Deidre shut down.

“Angela! This is incredible.” Andrew reached out to touch my face, horror and fascinatio­n evident on his.

“Ever the scientist.” I stood up and Andrew and I did a parody of the waltz.

“Do you know how long I’ve waited for this day? When I could be in the same room as you, trapping you, having the upper hand?”

Andrew tried unsuccessf­ully to unlock the chamber entrance. “I want to look you in the eye as I ‘extract’ you from my memories.”

I grabbed him around the shoulders and sank a needle that I’d hidden in my ring, into his neck. “Good, old-fashioned succinylch­oline, Andrew. And my ex-husband will cease to exist.”

I walked out of the clinic, already relaxed and anxiety-free.

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