Doctor Skentong did not look like the ambassador from an alien race. He looked more like an experienced life insurance salesman, fiftyish, mature but not venerable, well-organized without being formidable.
"Let me get this straight," said Cambuck. "You're here looking for money."
"For a contribution," said Doctor Skentong. "Voluntary, of course."
"For a ... a recovered memories project?"
"A revival project," said Doctor Skentong. "You and the others must be awakened. You must learn who you are. Not mere humans, but the Implanted, the bearers of the Higher Identities."
"Uh huh," said Cambuck, sceptically. "By the way, how did you find me? I mean, if I'm one of the Implanted, as you call them. Are we all listed somewhere in the Yellow Pages? Or what?"
"I'm not at liberty to disclose my methods," said Doctor Skentong, smiling slightly. "Disclosure might place the other Higher Identities at risk."
"Well, Doctor Skentong," said Cambuck, getting to his feet. "It's been nice meeting you and all. I don't expect to have the pleasure again."
"You might be surprised," said Doctor Skentong, looking unperturbed. "The most surprising things do happen in life, you know." "You'll be taking the materials with you," said Cambuck, pointing to the doctor's collection of what were obviously old and much-loved hand-made toys, cobbled together out of metal, plastic, custom-made circuit boards and the like. "I mean, I'm not paying for them or anything."
"They're yours," said Doctor Skentong. "A gift. Gratis. Free. No strings attached."
Then he smiled, and was on his way. Cambuck retrieved the digital camera from its hidey hole and was in time to get a snapshot of the doctor's tag as his visitor drove away. He phoned a cop he knew. The address on the card the doctor had left checked out.
Well, at least Cambuck knew where to find the guy. If he had to.
Cambuck seriously considered putting the materials, all of them, out in the trash. But he was strangely reluctant to do so. There was something ... nice about them.
What a ridiculous word.
He was a grown man, a professional exterminator, surviving (if not exactly prospering) on the mix of tasks that came his way, disposing of ants, moles, wasps, termites, you name it. He had no unsatisfied desires. Or none, at any rate, that could be satisfied by a bunch of junk from an eccentric hobbyist's toybox.
And yet, there was something uncannily attractive about, in particular, the button board. It was just a kid's toy, a board with colored buttons, each of which made a different musical tone if pressed. But, somehow, the thing evoked thoughts of smiling clowns, of warm milk, of all the candyfloss you could possibly want to eat, and of happiness.
"Blue ring," said Cambuck.
The first color was blue. And the blue ring circled, up up up, down down down.
"Self-hypnosis," said Cambuck. "Or something."
He was not (could not be) remembering a blue ring rising and falling in the air. That didn't make sense. The weirdness of the memory made him almost scared. He packed the materials up in a cardboard carton and put them out in the garage.
Awake. Two in the morning. A dream of some kind. What had he been dreaming of? Something about lights in the sky. And now he knew ... what? A sequence.
"Blue ring blue ring blue ring blue ring, pink ring pink ring pink ring pink ring, green ring, white ring."
First the hypnotically chanted blue, then the pink chanted likewise, then the abrupt jump to green then to white.
The garage smelt musty. Was the roof leaking again? Something moved beside the cardboard box, shifted away into the shadows. A cockroach, maybe. Cambuck never killed any living thing in or around his own house. Well, almost never.
The color button board. Dead beneath his fingers. Broken? No. Just needed a new battery. He pressed buttons, letting the remembered chant dictate the sequence. Blue, blue, blue, blue, pink, pink, pink, pink, green, white.
And the color button board lit up and began to play a melody which Cambuck could not identify but which was achingly familiar, all confused with thoughts of puppy dogs and soft cushions and the glass path.
"Glass," he muttered. "Glass path ...?"
Didn't make sense.
But one thing was plain. The awakening memories came from his childhood. How far back?
What was his earliest conscious memory? The earliest that he could date for sure? The earliest was from when he was four years old, the bear rocking the camper van, his mother screaming ... their trip to that national park.
He could remember a scattering of other things from that era, too, maybe a dozen or so assorted events, but he had the sense that what he was remembering now, the blue ring pink ring business, was earlier. From a naiver, more impressionable age.
The color button board's melody played itself out and the color button board fell silent.
Experimentally, Cambuck tried various random button combinations. Each button triggered a single tone, but no combination caused the melody to commence. Until he tried, once again, that combination: four blue, four pink, one green, one white.
"Dad," said Cambuck. "Did I have any electronic toys? When I was a little kid, I mean. I mean, little. Like, crawling around on the floor. Toddling. That little."
"I don't think so," said his father.
"Oh yes he did," said his mother. "He had that robot. Don't you remember? The one that went around on the floor, bumping into things."
"Yes, I bought that somewhere," said his father. "Someone in the neighborhood used to make them. One of those robot vacuum cleaners, that was the core of it."
They were old, his parents, and maybe starting to lose their grasp on the present, which was one of the reasons why they were in the retirement home. But they remembered the past, sharp and clear.
"Nope," said his father, when the materials were spread out in front of him. "Never seen any of this stuff before."
"Was I ever looked after by anyone?" asked Cambuck.
"Well," said his mother, doubtfully. "By Granny Minkerston, I suppose. If you could call that looking after."
"She used to drop by," said his father. "But she wasn't the sort of person we'd leave you alone with."
"Just one more question," said Cambuck. "A glass path. Does that mean anything to you?"
"A path made of glass?" said his father.
"Depends what you mean. There was a trend, you know ... glass blocks. I've seen that. Like a brick path, with bricks of glass. That was ... when? Forty years ago? Must've been thousands of glass paths, all over the country."
They answered his questions, but they didn't ask why he was asking them. They weren't so interested in the wider world. Not any more. His father seemed to have forgotten about politics. And his mother never once mentioned his sister. Certainly there was no hint of guilt about them. No suggestion that, when he had been very little, they had brainwashed him.
And they would have remembered, if they had. The present might be slipping away from them (or might not - it was very hard to be sure) but they were just fine on the past. Both of them.
Cambuck didn't like leaving Bruce to run the business, not even briefly, but there was really only one way to settle this, and that was to drive upstate, back to Arkhanton, because the secret had to be there, somewhere.
Phoning Doctor Skentong ... now that was another option. Make a modest financial contribution to the "revival project," and you might learn something. Or might not. You don't survive in business without a strongly developed sense of financial caution, and anyone but a fool could see straight off that Doctor Skentong was a bank robbery just waiting to happen.
Pine trees, cool river ... was it really true that a bear came wandering into the school grounds one day? In the Arkhanton of memory, maybe.
Only when he got there, it had (as expected) all changed beyond recognition, and he drove round in bewilderment, not recognizing anything. Where the old family home had once stood, there was a parking lot which served a movie theater. He tried the library, a landscape gardening place and a couple of travel agents, asking after a glass path, but he got nowhere.
He'd already tried the Internet, but a search with so little to go on came under the heading "life is too short."
"So we're out of leads," said Cambuck.
Unless you counted Doctor Skentong as a lead. And you had to, didn't you? Dr Skentong had show up out of nowhere and had gifted him with an entire box of materials. It followed that Doctor Skentong had access to a list of names and to a mother lode of materials. Somewhere. But what list of names?
"Let's dig a little into Doctor Skentong's background."
Should've done this earlier.
"Seek and ye shall find," muttered Cambuck, looking at the computer screen.
There were a whole lot of Skentongs on the Internet, including the notorious Phyllis Skentong, imprisoned in the 1920s for publishing a slim book of poems called "The Clitoris Dialogs," but the most famous Skentong of all was Joshua Harolderson Skentong. Deceased. Dead at the age of sixty-five. Survived by? Not stated. Maybe he was related to Cambuck's Skentong, to Doctor Carl Tovelson Skentong, or maybe not.
"Let's say it's maybe yes," said Cambuck, and read on about the life and times of Joshua Harolderson.
Joshua Harolderson Skentong had at one time been indicted on charges of conspiring to murder Maharajah Tajamuntaz, aka John Meeskambo Henlethson, leader of the
of the Deleted, an organization which had prospered in Arkhanton many years back, until it had ... ceased to exist? Morphed into something unrecognizable? First Church
Let's dig deeper.
CoreSerpent Deletive Therapeutics was half an hour by car from the heart of Arkhanton. But the drive would have been shorter in Cambuck's childhood, when the area had been comparatively rural, and traffic had been lighter. The institute (that was what its signage proclaimed it to be) was built on a small rise, overlooking the Hugging Honey Reventionist Sunday School. Cambuck had no problems getting in to see the director, but thereafter drew a blank.
"I graduated just last year," said the director, who looked exactly that young. "And, us, we're a start-up. Sort of. I mean, we bought the name, the program. But they were bankrupt. We got it for a song. The, uh, the evolutional history, I wouldn't know about that. What you're talking about, the Maharajah, that's someone else's history. Us, we're cutting edge, history isn't our thing. We're into the here and now, cutting edge confrontational therapy, show no mercy, accept no excuses, throw it right back at them then stomp on their faces. Spit on them! Spiritually, I mean. Hey, would you like to know a secret?"
"Sure," said Cambuck.
The director looked around then said, conspiratorially, "Our lawyer thinks he's drafted a watertight release form for electroshock therapy. Even though we're not, you know, medical doctors or anything. This could be to the mental health industry what McDonald's was to fast food."
"I'll keep it in mind," said Cambuck.
The director grinned, exhilarated by his own bursting enthusiasm. High on something? No. Just young. Very. Very. Young.
The impulse was shameful. Cambuck hadn't smoked for years. Three and a half years, to be exact. But there was still that "I've given up so I'll never touch these" pack in the glovebox.
He didn't want to smoke in the car. Didn't want anyone to smell his shame, later. Certainly not Bruce. Give up, Bruce, it'll kill you.
Cambuck slunk off down to the border by the Hugging Honey Reventionist Sunday School. Lit up.
Smoking ... thinking of nothing ... depressurizing ... smoking gives you a kind of privileged space, non-smokers never realize that ... path by the Sunday school ... white stones ... amber ... bits of soft amber, soft glass long polished by the sea ... green glass ... there's a bit of blue ... glass path ...
Mystery solved. Almost.
"Son? You okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. Dad, why I'm calling is, uh ... a question. When I was little, did I ever go to Sunday school?"
"Yeah, uh ... until you were three, I think. There was a reason for that, wasn't there? Oh, yeah ... the fees, I never understood it, but the fees, there was a big hike up, fees hiked way upwards at age, on your third birthday. Until then, it was a steal. Eight hours, every Sunday. Eight? Or was it twelve? Let me think ... now I got it. The third Sunday of every month. That was the twelve-hour session."
Eight hours standard, sometimes twelve. Not your usual Sunday school, then. More like a nursery school. An infant brainwashing academy. An academy, that is, for brainwashing infants. And yet, earlier, both his parents had asserted that nobody had looked after him. Period. But, then, Cambuck hadn't definied "looking after," had he? Probably his parents had thought he had been asking about babysitters.
"Dad, what was the school called?"
"Hold on, I'll ask your mother."
She didn't remember. A name which had something to do with fish or whale. That was the best she could do. But the mismatch of names did not matter. Cambuck was sure that he had found the place where he had been implanted.
The Sunday school, on investigation, turned out to also be under new management. It had been taken over by a well-financed charity which specialized in offering a free Christian preschool education to the children of Muslim families. No takers yet, "but it's early days," said the coordinator, smiling a well-nourished non-profit smile.
"To tape the conversation?" said Doctor Skentong. "No, I have no objection."
"Well," said Cambuck, "this is what I've found out. You had a brother, some years older than you, who was high up in a cult. The cult was run by a guy called Maharajah Tajamuntaz, who believed he was here on Earth as the representative of a race of aliens, the Mortanko Enhoneth."
"And?" said Doctor Skentong.
"The cult was associated with a certain nursery school which worked with very little kids. Under the age of three."
"And if that is true?" said Dr Skentong.
"What Maharajah Tajamuntaz was doing," said Cambuck, "he was implanting little kids with false memories which would be recoverable in adulthood, with the right stimulus."
"With what purpose?" said Doctor Skentong.
"A generation of ardent believers, I guess," said Cambuck. "Creating them, I mean. For later ... well. Harvesting. Or whatever."
"And you want?" said Doctor Skentong.
"I want the list of kids," said Cambuck. "The kids who were at that nursery school. You have a list. From your brother, I guess. That's how you found me. No other way to get to me. You have a list, and you also have multiple sets of the materials. The button board, and so on. If you only had one set, you wouldn't have been so casual with it. Wouldn't have left it with me."
"There is no list," said Doctor Skentong, "and there are no multiple sets, as you put it, of what you've termed materials."
"That's sad," said Cambuck.
And pulled out both his revolver and his can of pepper spray.
"This is so unnecessary," said Doctor Skentong, starting to talk a little faster. "If you want me to cut you in, as a partner, I mean, okay, that could be negotiated."
"Sounds like fun," said Cambuck.
Then shot the doctor in the kneecap.
The sound of the gunshot was very, very loud. Doctor Skentong gaped in horror. His gape grew wider and wider, attempting a scream. Cambuck gave the doctor a squirt of pepper spray, right down the throat. The doctor convulsed.
Much later, when Cambuck left the house in the early evening, he was smiling. He had the list, he had the disks, he had the keys to the storage locker. He had everthing he needed. He did not linger to watch the house burn.
"Yes, my name's Cambuck ... yeah, Cambuck, that's it ... buck as in deer ... no, with a C ... anyway, like I was saying, we were kids together at this nursery school, you and me ... no, really ... oh, about three years old ... how? ... an old friend of the family, he gave me a list ... yeah, I see ... no, I thought it would be nice to get together ... how do you mean? ... look, I'm sorry you feel that way, but I have one quick question, just one ... would you object if I was to send you something in the mail? A kid's toy, it might have sentimental value for it. No, I'm not selling anything ..."
Uphill work. But Cambuck was patient. He knew where he was going. He knew what he wanted and he knew how to get it.
Cambuck had always found it hard to accept the Fallen reality in which he lived as the real world. How could this be the real world? This blurred, damaged excuse for reality? This fake, this sham that we've been duped into calling home.
There is a truer reality than this once, a reality in which you do not have two dead wives and five dead children, a reality in which you do not have to live by setting traps to strangle moles and by assuring Mrs Tenpennyhecker, over and over again, that, yes, the ants will die a perfectly painless death.
Bring us all together, put us all together as we used to be, and we will rebuild it, we will rebuild the perfect world, complete with the taste of candyfloss and the smiles of clowns. And if the Nation Outside is against us, why, that is because the Nation Outside is in conspiracy against us, and that is what the gates will be for, and the walls. And within the gates, within the walls, we will work on our project, our revival project.
And perhaps the project will not last forever. But, at least, we will be happy while it does.
This sf fictional story story, "Implantation," was first published when posted online by Hugh Cook 2004 July 31 Saturday. Copyright © 2004 Hugh Cook. All rights reserved.