Lucy Campbell is the last person you'd expect to hack minds. The college freshman prefers vintage technology, old books and retro fashion. But when she makes a fool of herself in front of her crush, Marco Han, she wishes she could erase the whole episode from his brilliant mind. She's shocked to learn that her older sister, Mollie, can do just that.
Mollie tells Lucy she's found a way to delete people's memories via Spex, the thought-activated successor to smart phones and Google Glass. Yet, when Mollie breaks into Marco's mind, she decides not to erase any embarrassing moments because he already has a crush on Lucy. Encouraged by her sister's discovery, Lucy stops avoiding Marco. Soon, the two are dating, and Marco, a tech guru in his own right, elevates Mollie's mind hacking from a guilty pleasure to an efficient crime-solving tool.
As the three infiltrate more minds, they realize they're not the only ones who can steal memories. Marco suddenly forgets Lucy; and Mollie forgets that she could ever mind hack. Lucy's mind should be safe because she doesn't wear Spex. But then the mysterious hacker, Nick Lethe, comes after her in person.
Lucy flees to the woods, the only place safe from the surveillance of the ubiquitous Spex. If Nick finds her, he'll erase her memories or worse. If she doesn't find him --and stop him -- no one will know that minds can be hacked and lives rewritten.
Every night before he goes to bed, Nick erases himself from everyone’s memory.
It can be lonely having no one remember him, but it’s the only way he can accomplish his work. And…it’s not a bad life. There’s incredible freedom in being anonymous. Besides, memories and all the petty relationships people construct around them are a total sham.
In truth, each day is like a note with the instructions: burn after reading. Life is the burning. The best part. By the time we hit our pillows most of the day is obliterated. We’ve forgotten what we ate for breakfast, the exact words of a conversation, the face of a stranger. All that remains are ashes and a few random scraps that won’t burn. A look. A taste. A feeling. People hoard these scraps, piece them together, string them into a narrative and pretend it’s life. But it’s not. Life, reality—whatever you want to call it—has already gone up in smoke.
Nick knows this. He knows that none of the memories he scans is completely true. But they’re his only chance to find her. Last night he didn’t sleep. He spent the entire night searching for Lucy, the one person who remembers him, the only mind he hasn’t been able to hack.
He stands in his living room, surrounded by footage of a freckled girl with messy hair. Discrete lenses in the ceiling project dozens of images on white walls. He watches without sound or context, still catching the key details. This skill is how, even as a college drop-out, Nick was able to purchase this oceanfront condo before his twenty-first birthday. This morning the view’s nothing more than thick fog, like the layer of clouds seen through an airplane window.
The memories of those closest to Lucy flicker on the north wall. On the opposite side flash the illicit memories of his clients. A large glass desk near the window reflects and distorts images from both sides. The rest of the room is empty except for some workout equipment: a stationary bike, a weight-lifting bench, and a treadmill, each a lonely island in a sea of gray wood flooring. Nick works out while he scans footage. He’s nothing, if not efficient.
He runs on his treadmill, watching another Lucy memory, this one taken from her hot friend, Karen.
The two girls sit on a quilt on a sunny scrap of lawn outside the computer science building—waiting.
“I can’t believe it’s February.” Lucy wears a yellow sundress. Her freckled shoulders a little pink with sunburn. “This morning my mom sent me pictures of her car buried in snow.”
“I know, right? This perfect weather is freaky,” answers Karen. “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to living without seasons. But it does help stalking.”
“It’s not stalking,” Lucy says with a self-deprecating laugh. “It’s caring.”
Nick laughs. Amen sister!
“Did I tell you what happened Tuesday?” Lucy is too excited to wait for an answer. “He sat at that very bench and, drum roll…” She plays air drums and hits an air cymbal. “Ding! He smiled at me!”
“How do you know he wasn’t watching something funny on his Spex?”
“Give me some credit. Even if I don’t use Spex, I can tell when someone is on theirs. He smiled right at me.”
“Congratulations! But I still say you are doing this the hard way. Why don’t you sign up for his class? That way you could gawk at him twice a week like the rest of us and get credit for it.”
Nick can’t see Karen in this memory. But after spending a night scanning recollections of Lucy, he has a good idea what her best friend looks like. She’s short, well-built, always wears workout clothes, and her white blonde hair is styled in a pixie cut with a blue streak.
“Can you see me in computer science? I’d be the only one without Spex.”
“Sweetie, you’re the only one on campus without Spex.”
“That’s my point. I don’t belong in computer science. I belong in a ratty, old armchair reading the thoughts of dead men.”
“While spying on live ones?”
“Something like that.”
“Lucky for you, I’m an excellent stalker and a good friend. I took some photos for you in class today. I’m sending them now with a couple shots from the beach yesterday.”
Karen thinks, Charlotte: Send Lucy photos from yesterday taken at La Jolla Shores and the ones from class today.
“With pleasure!” A female voice with a slight Boston accent whispers in her earpiece. “Sending Lucy Campbell eleven photos.”
Lucy takes her phone out of her backpack. She pauses on the picture of Marco lecturing. Karen leans over to admire it, too.
“You might be right.” Lucy downloads the photos. “Maybe I should take his class.”
“You have to. He’s the best TA. I mean it’s not just that he’s a genius and all that. His enthusiasm is contagious, and he remembers everyone by name.”
“Of course, he does. He made his fortune with his Good with Names app.”
“And he’s not even too old for you. He started college when he was like fifteen.”
“I know. Trust me. I’ve Googled him plenty. What sort of stalker do you think I am?”
“We’ve already established that you’re not a very good one. No one can truly stalk without Spex. You should try mine. They’re the latest model. They have telescopic lenses.”
“Cool! Maybe I will. Wait! That’s him!”
Marco Han’s black mop of hair emerges from the building.
Karen thinks, Charlotte: Zoom. Immediately in her right lens “Zoom 2x” appears. Marco’s wearing a faded blue Hawaiian shirt, khaki shorts and frayed flip-flops. Karen’s left lens top corner, reads, “Marco Han, 19, single, UCSD Grad Student” along with a link to his social network page. Both girls let out an audible sigh. What do they see in this dude? thinks Nick. Look at how he dresses! It’s all because he’s rich. I’m rich!
Marco hops on his board and skates across the wide pathway to the edge of the lawn to where they are sitting.
“Hey Karen, new Spex?” He flips up his board.
“Yeah, I got them last week.” Karen stands up to greet him. Lucy remains on the blanket, her eyes fixed on the ground. The afternoon sun illuminates her reddish-brown mane of hair.
Marco and Karen ooh and aah over the new Spex, Lucy sneaks a look at Marco who is trying on the new glasses and appears ridiculous in the retro frames with rhinestones in the winged tips. She stifles a laugh. He looks her way.
“No Spex, huh?”
She tries to play it cool. “Not my thing.”
“Seriously? I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone over eight without a mindseye.”
“Tell me about it!” Nick hollers at the screen. What is wrong with this girl? If she wore Spex, I’d have found her by now.
“I’m Marco, by the way.” He returns Karen’s Spex and sits down next to Lucy.
“Right, I see you all the time.”
“I bet you do.” Karen snickers. Nick laughs too.
“So, why no Spex?” he asks.
She takes a steadying breath before answering. “I like to see the world through my own eyes. I don’t want to be distracted.
“That’s ludicrous,” says Marco. “That’s like going around with your eyes closed so you’re not distracted by the clouds and the trees and meeting new people.” He talks with his hands, pointing to the clouds and trees as he mentions them.
“My eyes are wide open and I just met you.” She smiles big. “You’re new.”
“Sure, but you’re closed to another layer of reality.” He waves a hand in front of her face. “Spex bring the whole world to you.” He pops the iridescent earpiece out of his ear. “This baby can hold every recording in the last century as well as every movie made in my lifetime. Why wouldn’t you want one?”
“I have funny ideas…”
“She wants to keep her mind pure.”
“I just don’t think it’s that big of a leap from our thoughts controlling Spex to Spex controlling our thoughts.”
Marco laughs outright. “We lost that battle long ago. All media directs our thoughts. Be it a book or a movie. It doesn’t matter if you see that movie in a theater or watch it while you’re walking to class. Or in class, like some of my students…”
She interrupts, “‘It’s the movies that have been really running things in America.’”
“Nice! Andy Warhol!” He points at her. “I love that quote. And it proves my argument.”
“Nah, it proves mine. It’s harder to separate your thoughts from others’ when you hear their ideas in your own head.”
“You’re hearing my arguments in your head right now. Your brain’s translating the sound waves picked up by your ears. What’s the difference?”
“He’s right,” says Karen.
“The difference is that the businesses who own apps and search engines want to suck up as much of my time as they can. To make money, they need my attention. If I take too much time to think for myself, they don’t make money. I don’t want Spex to crowd out my own thoughts.”
“Heaven forbid! It’s obvious you have a gorgeous mind. I appreciate your desire to protect it. But Spex, used judiciously, only amplify a great mind.”
“That is…” She gives him a saucy look. “…if you don’t spend your whole day, gaming or binging on TV.”
“Point for Lucy,” says Karen. “It’s a tie: one for Marco and one for you.”
“What I want to know is how you manage your classes without Spex,” he asks.
“I remember things.”
“I bet you do. But you’d have to remember a lot. What was once called cheating is now applied knowledge.
“When I don’t know something, I look it up—the old-fashioned way.”
“You don’t have?”
She pulls her iPhone out of her backpack. “Yep, vintage.”
“Can I see it? Everything still works?”
“Pretty much. Whenever something breaks, my sister fixes it.” She hands him the phone. “She’s a computer genius. She used to hack for the government.”
“Hey! 2048!” He fiddles with the phone with childish delight.
“I used to play that on my dad’s phone on my way to preschool. Can I play it on yours? It’s not the same on Spex.”
“So, you concede? Spex are not superior in all ways?”
“Only if you let me play 2048!” He’s engrossed by the phone. “Hey, nice photo. You’re cute in a swimsuit.”
“Don’t go through my photos!” Lucy grabs her phone.
He gives it back to her with a smirk. “You know, if you wanted my picture you could have Googled me.”
Lucy doesn’t answer. She stands up, turns around and runs.
Marco chases after her. Karen laughs, so does Nick. And then he deletes the memory.
RUTH MITCHELL lives in San Diego with her husband and four marvelous children. Whether she’s writing science fiction, contemporary Rom Com or a women’s fiction ghost story, she strives to create clean, smart books with lots of heart.
When Science Fiction Becomes Reality-Tech in DELETED
When I first came up with the idea of Spex (the thought-activated smart glasses crucial to the plot of my YA novel, DELETED) Google Glass hadn’t hit the market. No one was wearing air pods (similar to the Mindseye worn in everyone’s ear in my book.) And the hyper-specific targeted advertising assisted by smartphones was purely a marketer’s dream.
Now the future depicted in my book is basically here. The week DELETED was published, Amazon started promoting their new Echo Frames operated by voice commands to keep you connected with your Echo where ever you go. The Frames are not as cool as the Spex in my book, which are thought-activated, not voice-activated, and come in a wide-variety of stylish frames. But still, the similarities are eerie. Likewise, with the popularity of airpods everyone now has a little voice in their ear just like they do with the Mindseye in my book. Also, the tech-assisted marketing, such as Spex using GPS tracking to notify you about a lunch deal at a nearby sandwich shop (an idea I thought so clever when I wrote this book in 2011) is old news.
When I first started looking for an agent or a publisher for my book, I worried that the tech in real life would quickly catch up with the tech in my book. I was basically right. But now as more and more of the things I predicted have become realities; it’s obvious that they only make the book more relevant. In DELETED the main character, Lucy has almost nowhere to hide because the mysterious hacker chasing her has access to the memories of everyone wearing Spex. Even with her closest friends or family, she is under surveillance. True our thoughts aren’t under surveillance--yet. But sometimes when an ad pops up on Instagram for a movie you were just thinking about, it feels like they are.
DELETED is not anti-tech. In fact, some of the tech in the book, I would really like to own, such as the “Good With Names App,” which use facial identity to remind you of people’s names and how you know them. This YA book doesn’t condemn tech, rather it explores issues of identity, privacy and reality in a world where everyone is continuously on-line. So pretty much, our world.