Author: David Henson

“I’d rather not plug in now, Pop.”

“Robby, you and Sally do as your father asks. It’s good to relive family memories.”

Steven Matlink sees his wife, son and daughter enter the reminiscences room and put on their helmets. “Thanks, Dorothy. They always mind you better than me.”

“And whose fault is that?”

The four go into the reminiscences room, which contains an artificial brain that wouldn’t quite fit in a bathtub. The organ pulses to simulate blood flow. Lights flash to suggest firing synapses.

Steven puts on one of the helmets. “Family Brain, I want to relive our day at MarsLand.” He becomes immersed in memories of the enclosed amusement park on the red planet.

“Robby, Sally, stay close,” Dorothy says as the family strolls down the crowded midway. The mother takes her son’s hand. “Steven, pay attention and hold on to Sally, will you?”

Steven feels his daughter’s grip. When the girl strides ahead of her father, he feels the tug at his shoulder. He’s always amazed at how real the illusion seems. “Hey, Sally, slow down. Rocket Robot isn’t going anywhere.”

“Hurry, Pop,” Robby says, “before the line gets longer.”

The four Matlinks join hands, snake single file through the crowd, and clamber into one of the cabins of Rocket Robot.

“Blast off!” Robby shouts.

“No, it’s lift off, silly.” Sally tickles her brother in the ribs.

Robby’s giggles are interrupted by Rocket Robot shooting up toward the transparent dome. “I see Saturn,” the boy says.

“Oh, yeah? I see Pluto,” Sally says.

Suddenly the cage drops. The four Matlinks scream.

Steven feels giddy and weightless. “You should see your hair floating up,” he shouts to his wife.

Dorothy says something he can’t hear over the rush of the plunge.

Back on the ground, the family disembarks. “Can we get back in line?” Robby says.

Dorothy squeezes her son’s shoulder. “Don’t you want to try something different?”

Sally squats then jumps straight up. “I’m Rocket Robot.”

Robby copies his older sister. “I blasted off higher.”

Steven laughs. “It’s a tie. You both win … comet cones for all!”

“That’ll spoil their lunch,” Dorothy says. “Oh, well, life is short.”

Steven sighs and removes his helmet. He looks around at the three empty seats, helmets askew on the floor. He tells himself he has to get on with his existence in the real world. “But not today.” He puts his helmet back on. “Family Brain, repeat.” Steven sees his wife, son and daughter enter the reminiscences room and put on their helmets…

This time, when Dorothy says “Life is short,” he hears in her voice a tone he hadn’t previously noticed. Is that why she blocked her memories, he wonders. Was she already planning to —

“Knock, knock.”

The image of Steven at the family brain dissolves as Rob, his hair gray, removes the sensors from his temples. A woman, white hair framing her face, has stepped out of a beam of light.

“Hi, Sally, good to see you.”

“Popped in to say ‘hello’ to my brother. What’re you up to, Rob?”

Rob motions toward the baseball-size orb on the table next to his float recliner. “Reliving some of Pop’s memories. I hadn’t realized he spent so much time plugged in to the family brain after Mom and us moved out. He —”

“What are you doing, Sweetie?” Doris, Sally’s daughter, says.

The image of Rob and Sally dissolves as the girl disconnects from her brain chip. “Visiting some of Great Uncle Rob’s memories. Mom, can we go to MarsLand? I —”

The image of Doris and her daughter dissolves …