I opened my eyes and looked both ways down the alley. I was wearing a football jersey, and felt a spiked mohawk on my head... I felt younger, a bit. Stronger and more adventurous. I also felt a miserable itch, but ignored it.
The streets these days were just falling apart, but I suppose no one had the time or the resources to spend on them. I don't mean physically falling apart, either. Filth accumulated on the corners, in the curb, but crime was filling up the spaces even better than the dirt was. Then again, maybe I was a little stunned because I didn't get out much. I did know one thing for certain. I had to move on. Staying in place was just asking for trouble.
The grime clung to my pants as I rose and walked to the street. There was a nearby gas station, and I realized that I was hungry. There was a wallet in his pocket, so I figured no harm no foul, and walked towards it. That was a bad idea, though. As soon as I got close, I heard yelling from inside. A masked man holding the store owner up. I quickly ducked behind a display, cussing myself out at my worst timing ever, and flexed and concentrated to black myself. It was hard to do it on command, spontaneously, but I'd done it before. His body weakened, and start to fall, but before I knew it I was waking up. I was opening my eyes, standing at the counter with the cashier terrified, shoveling cash into a bag. I was holding the gun down and yelling for the gas station to accept the offer of protection. The attendent protested, offering the contents of the cash register instead, and I cocked the gun.
I struggled for control of the body, arguing with it, fighting with it. This was getting easier with practice, though it always made my feel more like an angel on the body's shoulder than the actual body itself.
I muscled the gun down, and the attendant glanced over my in confusion. The other body in the green hair, I turned to see, was staring in shock and fear at the ordeal. I couldn't help but feel sorry for the poor guy, watching walk himself around like that. I held the handgun steady, and slowly walked out of the gas station, and into the street, at what point I considered whether or not I should kill this person. I didn't want to start killing now, though, so I just disabled him. Placing the gun to my right shoulder, I fired, and screamed with the pain. Turning the gun to my opposite shoulder, I fired again, and collapsed, both arms useless, and lost consciousness.
I woke up panicked, and jerked up in my bed reflexively, searching left and right for anything out of place. My sandy hair hung wet over my head, several strands clinging to my ears, my neck. My eyes twitched rapidly, and I flicked on the light, pulling up my shirt.
HOME, I read, carved and crudely torn into my flesh, the left side above the waist. It wasn't written right side up, so others could read it, but up side down, as if meant only for my eyes. It wasn't cut either, but scratched in, gouged in, as if by the fingernails of a madman. Perhaps it was by a madman. I remembered doing it, but I didn't know at this point if enough of my sanity still remained to keep my from that category. I trembled, but I knew I couldn't stay awake for long. My body was too tired. I was always too tired. Even though I managed to keep myself awake for about ten minutes this time, before I knew it, I was no longer conscious.
I woke, and looked around. I was on a couch, in a crummy apartment. I rose from the couch for a moment, taking in the newspapers and junk food wrappers on the floor, then checked my side to make sure I wasn't me. The scarred word was absent.
I walked through the apartment to find a bathroom. Upon finding one, I stood over the sink, and stared at himself in the mirror. Seeing the dirty, unshaven, dark complexion framed by black hair staring back at him, I felt slight vestiges of the body's memories. The body belonged to Albert, his father was dead, he worked at the local computer store, and whatever extra cash he had on him at any given time he spent at the bar.
I stepped back, and left the sink, stumbling with this revelation. Sitting at a couch, I tried to calm myself and keep me seperated from those memories. Seeing the remote, I turned on the TV. The TV was on a watchlist channel, and a sketch was being shown of a bald man with a goatee. I caught the word 'identity' from the announcer, and chuckled. For me, identity crisis was an understatement. I continued to watch for a moment. TV had a calming effect on me and often helped to overcome troubles with keeping my memories seperate from the body's memories. When I was composed enough, I logged into my cloud storage interface from Albert's computer. I retrieved my recent search histories and continued browsing. Fatigue tended to stay with each body, and my own body was too tired for me to do anything from home. Besides that, I couldn't allow anything to be traced back to me anyway. The gang was still looking, and it was only a matter of time before they found me. I couldn't let that happen, but I might as well make progress from here. I've been looking for too long to stop here. I need an answer to what's been happening to me, and I'm getting close.
It was not scientific, what I actually found this time; that is, it was not an experimental thesis. It was a philisophical theory. I found it under the name of Dr. Kenneth O'Brian, both a neuroscientist and a philosopher. I scanned the few articles I could find on the theory. The theory was called dynamic consciousness, and held that when people slept, their minds, with their senses, their disabilities, their and their memories remained intact, but their consciousness, an empty spirit which gave them just their creativity, their ability to imagine and invent, which had no connection to their body when they were unconsious, instead was released into the world, and woke in another body which was gaining consciousness at that moment. The reason no one was aware of this phenomenon, was the memories were biologically recorded. Every person had the only memories of that brain, and so was perfectly unaware of the phenomenon.
I looked further, and found out slightly more familiar words. Dr. O'Bian had experienced nightmares that got recurringly more debilitating in my youth, and then suddenly seemed to end for a dozen years, and then after his work had begun, he'd gone insane, spent two years at an asylum, and died. I looked for some evidence that the doctor had figured out what had happened to him, but couldn't find anything. I located the asylum that had housed the doctor in his last years, and looked up their current employee records. After getting a name, I got a record and a file for the name, wiped the ram of the computer, returned to the couch, and turned off the TV. I laid back on the couch, and after concentrating hard for a second, I blacked himself.
I woke up behind a hospital desk. I was logged in as a nurse Greg Kirkland, and I felt him trying to get through, trying to wake up, and I kept him quiet and quickly searched the computer system for Dr. Kenneth O'Brian. When I couldn't find him, I searched for Kenneth, Kenny, and Ken O'Brian, eventually finding him. I browsed the medical record, looking for anomalies, and suddenly realized this was taking my too long. I couldn't risk dealing with Greg's memories right now. Opening an internet line, I submitted it to cloud storage, wiped the ram, and signed of. I leaned back in my seat, and realizing I had to finish this before I returned home, I concentrated on a friend who lived north state, and blacked himself.
I woke as my friend. Satisfied that I wouldn't be traced, I got on the computer again and recovered the documentation. After a few more minutes, I retrieved something interesting. Dr. O'Brian had a rare debilitating birth defect that had caused incredible initial and gradual trauma to my hippocampus, my amygdala, my striatum, and several other brain lobes... all connected to the neuroanatomy of memory. He'd had severe, complete and irreperable biological amnesia.
I sat back. How could a doctor have had complete amnesia, both retrograde and anteretrograde? He did research, compounding scenarios and ideas together to form hypotheses. How could I have done that unless... Unless he'd repaired his memory. Unless he'd rerouted it... That was it! I had what Dr. O'Brian had... my brain couldn't biologically store my memory, but in response, I'd somehow somatically shifted my memory to my consciousness and imprinted it. When a lobe failed a savant, they shifted that function around the injury. Why couldn't I? Only I'd shifted my memory to my consciousness, completely isolating it from my body. That was why whenever I slept, I shifted from one body to the next.
I wonder if the other bodies biologically remembered the events that transpired while I was present, but I suppose if my consciousness absorbs the memory, perhaps it bypasses their grey matter. To them it must just seem like a blackout, or at least a foggy memory.
I sat back. So now I knew what must've happened to him, why I was this way. I supposed that when I swapped consciousness with another, they had no memory in my body, and when they returned, they had little memory of what I'd done in that body. I was effectively invisible to them.
Feeling the memories of my friend begin to take a stand, I concentrated on myself, and blacked himself.
I woke up at home, and got up, feeling much more refreshed the night before. Realizing that now I could actually understand what was happening to me, I could probably learn how to better control it, to better use it. Perhaps I could even show the gang not to keep searching for me.
The gang. I wished I'd never followed them, those kids. They lured me down an alley, claiming their friend was injured, and jumped me. I'd blacked myself, and the kids ended up shot in both shoulders. If it had just been that one time, then the gang might not have noticed, but there was the mugging that I heard and interrupted, and the extortion/turned robbery situation he'd intervened in. I wasn't trying to be a hero, but there was so much corruption and crime on the streets, it was impossible not to be involved. And you shoot two or three criminals in both shoulders, and next thing you know, it's a signature and you're a target.
I knew they were looking for me, but I couldn't yet figure if they wanted my employment, wanted my secret, or wanted me dead. Either way, I'd just continue running.
I realized, now that I was awake, that it was time to work. I'd done many odd jobs over the years, utilizing my secret, both from corporate spying to insider trading to law enforcement interrogation, though that wasn't an official role, merely an assisting one. The job I currently held was one of protection. I employed himself out to people I knew as private bodyguards, a prize rare in this age. As recompension, the clients offered a small fraction of their pay checks to my use. After all, they didn't have to be aware of the arrangement all the time, they just needed to learn to enjoy it. I didn't feel as dishonest, as long as I was looking out for them. And it helped. The moment I spotted a threat, I took control of them. If there was more than one, I turned the weapons of the first against the others and returned. It wasn't that hard to do if you caught the others by suprise, and kept your tactics to yourself. I logged off my computer.
I left for work early in the morning. When I arrived back home that afternoon, I entered to find the house ripped from top to bottom. I saw it from the entry, and ran.
He heard a shout and I put on an extra burst of speed. I heard multiple feet pounding behind him, but kept running fast himself. There was gunfire, and I tripped and stumbled into a ditch. Hitting my head, I knocked myself out.
I looked around, stumbling, but I caught myself. I had a glock out, and was in casual clothes, but I had a uniform under my shirt. I felt a kevlar vest under my jacket too. These guys were some sort of guards... or cops. That explains how they were able to find me so fast... but I wondered why they were here, and suddenly was flooded with memories, his memories. I saw the man extortioning the gas station attendent, but the man was in uniform, collaborating with other cops. The man I shot earlier was a cop! I tried to suppress the memories. I needed to know what was going on, but first I had to get away. I slowed down as I and three of the other cops approached the culvert, and breathed deep. Cocking the gun, I pointed it at one of the other guards, and shot him. I shot the other, and then shot myself in the chest, knowing none of the guards would die, but they would be down for a moment.
I blacked myself, returned home, and kept running. Were these dirty cops? Or just the one at the gas station? I ran round the corner, and seeing a police car round the curve, I ran into a motel lobby. I heard the sirens grow louder, and ran through the lobby to the back, hopped the fence, ran down the sidewalk on the other side, and heard a click behind me.
I whirled and saw the man behind me, his eyes narrowing, his fingers tightening on the rifle trigger. I concentrated hard, as fast as possible, but I heard the gunshot before I blacked out.
I woke, frozen, still holding the gun, and stepped back in horror. In front of me stood myself, my own long sandy hair flying, my bloodshot eyes twitching in panic, and my hands holding my chest, where a blackened hole now fountained dark red. I saw myself stumble, saw my body fall limply, my shirttail billowing up, my eyes blinking in confusion, and I stepped back, knowing in shock that the guards consciousness that had entered my body at that last second had no idea why he was being shot.
He dropped the gun, looking at my own fallen body. He'd died... He'd not blacked fast enough, and I was dead. I could still see, as the shirt had lifted in the fall, a part of the scar tissue that had crudely formed the word HOME.
But I wasn't gone! I was still here... but I'd died. I dropped the guards gun and stumbled to my body, and held it. I tried to do CPR but the blood just kept flowing until I knew it was too late. I held the body in tearless shock. What next?
I eventually heard voices, and left my body behind, running as the guard away. Pausing just before I turned a corner, I looked back at himself, fallen, cold and alone. I should have stayed in the body. There was no reason why I should still exist. It was all over, and I was alone. I stumbled on and ran, my mind still far behind. My home was gone, my marker, my anchor. What now? I'm nothing.
I wonder if Dr. O'Brian had ever felt this despair...Wait! Dr. O'Brian is like me. What if... could he have escaped death too? Maybe I'm not alone. I put on an extra burst of speed.