I think this works stand alone, but it will make more sense to those who have read The Lethe Cluster.
He turned the little data chip over and over in his hands. If he believed them this was all that remained of his memories: a square of gel in a plastic sleeve. He turned it over again and then flipped it open, shaking out the malleable little square onto the receiver pad.
He didn’t know if he wanted this, and his fingers wavered over the command keys. There was freedom in not knowing. His life was his to shape and rebuild as he chose, with no ties or obligations. In the people around him he could see webs of commitments, constraints on actions and behaviour. Now, before he pressed the button, there were no such restrictions on him. It could all change.
And yet there was something missing. He sensed within the absence of his memories a darker void. Once there had been a fulcrum, a point about which his life pivoted, Living without it was disorientating, and he did not know why. The ignorance gnawed at him.
There was no one to ask, no opinion to be sought. They had left him in the little square room with the holo table and a single chair to make his next move. No doubt they had tried to examine the chip already and failed. That he had it in his hands was a sign they needed to know as well. The table would be monitored, whatever he saw, they would also see.
He was tempted to put the chip away out of sheer bloody mindedness. He was tired of the feeling that everyone knew more about him than he did, and yet somehow some information he had access to was valuable.
He took a deep breath. He had dreamed last night of running through a shadowed gallery made of soaring archways and brick walls. Hooks where fine works of art should have hung were empty, as were the pedestals for sculptures. Someone turned the corners ahead of him, always just flitting out of sight. He needed to know, and damn them all if they found out as well.
He pressed the button.
The holo viewer flickered into life, the chip was empty but for one file. He turned his palm in the holo field to unlock the security protocols. The file opened with a twist of his fingers and a picture came up. His breath and heartbeat stopped.
A woman stood in a curved spill of light on a balcony, her hair shimmering and golden, almost indistinguishable from the dress that clung to her body and pooled at her feet. She stood at the margins of the darkness and the light, her face turned away looking into the distance. The bubbles in her glass were frozen in that moment in time.
Like him she straddled the known and the unknown. There was certainty in what lay behind her in the room which cast its glow outside. There was a promise in the darkness. He could tell in the set of her shoulders and the wariness in her posture that she knew promises could be broken. He could tell from the tilt of the glass in her hand that she wanted more than the certainty.
He tried turning the image to see her face, but it was a still single frame, with depth, but lacking the all-round detail of a true holo image. He zoomed in, analysing. There was no ring on the left hand that held her glass. Her one visible ear was lobeless and adorned with a single diamond stud. There was a tattoo of a flower on her bare left shoulder.
He felt a sting of recognition. In two twists of his fingers the image of the flower was cropped and searched. A Ceti Rose. He knew this woman.
The room lurched, as if gravity itself had changed, as if the orbit of his life had redefined its locus. He tried to stand, his feet were unable to plant themselves on the ground, his balance was lost. He tried to hold onto the table, but there was no strength in his fingers, they slapped ineffectually at the table as he fell to the floor, the seat gliding away to hit the wall.
Blood thundered in his head in a roar of reconnection. He knew this woman. His wife, Anna, on the day he had proposed to her.