Instructor(s): Maysan Haydar, Lorraine Tzeng
The minute Lara Powell saw the guy who lived next door climb the steps to her family's residence, she knew that something had happened again. He never came to their house unless it was an "absolute emergency." Since his idea of an "absolute emergency" usually involved false warnings of Larcenists invading the city, he and Lara's father had a longstanding rivalry, although it was mostly one-sided on Mr. Powell's part. Despite this, the neighbor kept on coming to their house. He must have either been oblivious to Mr. Powell's animosity or he knew about it but didn't care. Lara wasn't sure.
The doorbell chimed with a pleasant sound that hardly fit the news the neighbor was carrying. Mr. Powell opened the door tiredly. "You again? What do you want?" he groaned.
The neighbor scowled briefly. "There's a Larcenist on the loose, so I suggest you upgrade your security."
"Another one?" Mr. Powell scoffed. "Last time you said there was a 'Larcenist on the loose,' nothing happened!"
The two men glared at each other in a silent standoff. Finally, the neighbor turned back toward the door. "I'm pretty sure this one is real this time, so don't say I didn't warn you," grumbled the neighbor as he walked down the steps of Lara's house onto the street.
In the universe that Lara lived in, hackers, usually called Larcenists, not only stole people's information, but caused them to cease existing altogether. Victims would begin to lose their memories and glitch in and out of existence. If the Larcenist stole enough of their information, the affected person could be erased entirely, commonly known as being "deleted."
Lara, who had overheard the whole conversation, slipped into her room to upgrade her security. Even if her dad didn't believe there was a Larcenist, it was better to stay on the safe side. She had seen a story on the news about someone who had lost some of his memories and one day simply disappeared, leaving no trace that he had existed at all; Lara definitely didn't want that happening to her.
Lara was helping her brother, Logan, with his homework when there was an urgent knock on the door. Lara opened it to see her best friend, Kevin. "Hey—"
Kevin started talking before Lara could even finish greeting him. "Ican'trememberwhereIlive!" he blurted.
"Whoa, you're talking too fast. I can't understand you," Lara said.
"I can't remember where I live!"
"What do you mean, you can't remember where you live?" Lara sighed. "This isn't the time for this, Kevin. If this is just one of your 'jokes'— "
"No, seriously! I can't!" Kevin cried, nearly panicking.
Something about the look in his eyes convinced Lara that he wasn't lying.
"Okay, calm down. I've heard about similar things happening to other people around here, so you're not the only one like that," Lara said, attempting to stay calm and partially succeeding.
Kevin waited for Lara to explain more.
"According to my neighbor, there's a Larcenist that's invaded, but I think I'm safe since I upgraded my security. My parents don't believe in this Larcenist business, and Logan is too young to understand the whole thing, so he's going to think whatever my parents think. I'm kinda worried for them. Sorry, I'm getting off-topic… Anyway, about your situation happening to others, there's a guy who lives across from us who couldn't remember his own name. He panicked and went to the hospital. The doctors there said his amnesia was because of the Larcenist, so that's probably the same thing that's happening to you. Upgrading your security might stop any further memory loss, but then again, I'm just going on inferences here."
There was an awkward pause.
"You do know how to upgrade your security, right?" Lara said, raising an eyebrow.
"But what? If I'm right about the Larcenist, don't you realize that you could be losing even more memories right now?"
The Powells were the next group to be affected.
The day started normally. It was only when Logan didn't come home from school that Lara and her mom realized there was something wrong.
"Maybe he got lost?" Lara's mom suggested anxiously.
"But he's been taking this same route for two years now. He couldn't have gotten lost, not when he's memorized the route," Lara pointed out.
"That's right…" Mrs. Powell's eyes widened. "I'm sure he'll find his way back though."
Lara abruptly turned toward the door. "Logan could literally be out there anywhere. I'm going to look for him," she said, walking out of the house.
Normally, Mom would have gone with me, or at least been more worried, Lara thought. Is she affected by the Larcenist too?
Worry dug a pit in her stomach as she headed down the sidewalk to her brother's school.
Lara found Logan sitting on a bench in the park staring into space.
"Hey, Logan," she said softly.
Her brother blinked a few times as his eyes focused on her. Suddenly, his bottom lip trembled, and he launched himself at Lara. "I was just coming home, and then I just— I just didn't r-remember where—," Logan sniffled.
This was bad. Very bad. Preoccupied with the thought, Lara led her brother back home.
It only went downhill from there. Lara's parents and brother began glitching — abruptly disappearing and popping back into existence moments later. As the Larcenist stole more of their personal information, they lost more of their memories and started to glitch more often and for longer periods of time.
The next few days went by in a blur. Lara could only watch as her family slipped away. What if they get deleted? she thought worriedly. Then what?
She had no idea what to do.
Her parents eventually upgraded their security after realizing that the Larcenist probably was real, alleviating most of Lara's anxiety. This also extended to Logan since he now believed the same. The security upgrade did not completely nullify the side effects of the Larcenist, however. The Powells, except for Lara, were still glitching, but they did not lose any more memories other than the ones that were already missing. Their rate of glitching also stayed the same as what it had been at the time they upgraded their security.
Luckily, that was the day that the Firewall finally caught the Larcenist. The government promised that, in a day or so, they would ship "memory packages" to everyone affected by the Larcenist. Everything would be fine.
The doorbell rang. When Lara opened the door, there was a small brown package sitting on the doormat. The memory package, her mind supplied.
She grabbed the package and rushed into the kitchen, setting the package down on the table. When Lara opened it, she found three vials filled with memory solution, a clear liquid that contained a person's lost memories. Each was marked with the name of the person its contents belonged to.
Lara waited for her family members to appear.
Her dad flickered back into existence first, and she practically shoved his memory vial into his hands. The same thing happened when her mom appeared. When they swallowed the contents of the vials, relief appeared on both of their faces, only to be quickly replaced by worry when they didn't see Logan resurface.
An hour went by before her brother finally appeared. But when he drank his memory solution, he didn't notice a drop of it spilling onto the floor. The carpet soaked up the liquid, leaving no trace that it had been there at all.
Logan turned toward his parents, confusion spread across his face. He gestured to Lara. "Who's that over there?"
Lara's eyes widened as she met her mom's gaze. With a slight nod, Mrs. Powell confirmed what she had suspected.
Logan wasn't lying.
He didn't remember her.
The sky over the city was a melancholy gray as Lara walked next to Kevin.
"So what happened with your family and everything?" Kevin asked.
"About that… long story short, Logan doesn't remember me," Lara answered.
"Hold up. Did I hear you right? Your brother doesn't remember you?"
Lara stared at the ground. "Yeah, there's really not much to explain. He drank his memory solution, and something must have happened because his memories don't include me anywhere in them. It's not like I can do anything about it though." She laughed mirthlessly.
Kevin raised an eyebrow but didn't say anything else. Suddenly, he turned toward Lara. "Hey, Lara?"
"I can't remember where I live…"
Lara froze, her breath catching in her throat. "Please tell me you're joking. You are joking, right?"
"You should have seen the look on your face! 'Course I'm fine!" Kevin chortled.
Lara exhaled, relieved. "So it's actually just a joke this time, then."
Kevin nodded. "Yeah. Just a joke."
They sat down on a bench alongside the path in silence as the sun finally peeked through the clouds, shedding rays of light onto the bleak landscape.