"The chance of night is very high today," Steinbeck said, and Jenkins only nodded his head a fraction of a millionth of an inch, as though to indicate that his interest was as indecisive as the laws of uncertainty that governed the uncounted particles beating against his face. Perhaps it was, for he was there only on the urgent and very personal request of the former, who sat still beside him, counting the blades of grass in the park, while he fidgeted nervously and tried to ignore everything about him.

"And you know, there was grass here once," came Steinbeck again; Jenkins only nodded again, another fraction of a millionth of an inch, hesitatingly this time, as though in the realization that a million nods would bow his head a fraction of an inch. Steinbeck ignored him completely and went back to counting the grass: "Zero, dear Jenkins. Zero blades of grass." Jenkins nodded, for the- fortieth?- time that night and tried to hold back- what was he trying to keep inside?- perhaps it was frustration, since that emotion came out the easiest for him. He started playing with the concrete floor, drawing imaginary lines with his fingers, making no mark on the uncanny smoothness of a ground that had forgotten all its wrinkles but none of its hardness. Then he turned to Steinbeck again, as though to say something, but decided against it, and sighed.

"Trees, too, my good man. There were trees, I remember that." And then Jenkins could not hold back his frustration any longer and let out a sob, catching half a tear with the finger of his left hand before it left the corner of his eye. He turned to the old man who used to be his mentor, now a broken husk of a man, and tried to sigh, but ended up sobbing instead. "Don't weep now, what's there to be sad about? It's a beautiful night."

Then Jenkins felt a beep in his jacket, and he instructed the program to mute all alerts for the next fifteen minutes. He held out his right hand, confident in the memory that his databanks drew up for him, and tried to interface with the host reality, interlinking their data with a completeness and speed that the primitive users of the worldwideweb could only dream about. Then came the indignant reply- "No you don't, I programmed it myself, I do the input," and Jenkins withdrew out of respect for the senile, fragile old man that sat cross-legged, hoisted his monocle into his eye socket, and tried to count the blades of grass in the park with no trees, no stars, and no grass.

"I don't understand, Jenkins. I know what a tree is, I know what grass is, I- I know the stars, I know they were there, but this- this silly program, it won't let me, it says it can't find them in my memory, and won't render them for me. The trees, there was one here, it was- it was tall, and- I think it was brown?-" and Jenkins got up to leave, then sat back down and put a hand on the old man's back, while he continued "- and grass, it was green and- grassy?- I- I know, just give me some time to remember."

And the program delved into Steinbeck's mind through the second umbilical, the cord of optic fiber that ran into the back of each human's neck, accessed each and every neuron, searched for anything that fit the criteria- green, the colour of her dress the first time they met- the smell of nature when they laughed at each other beneath the- was it a tree?- that brown, tall thing?- and it gave a beep of victory as it managed to recover the smallest fragment of data from its master's mind, and reconstructed the host reality according to the fresh input.

"Yes, I was here once, with her, you know." Now it was Steinbeck's turn to sigh, and a flicker of a sob crossed his mouth as the memory of his memories flashed for an instant in his mind. There it was- the great- oak?- tree- and there was a sky, which was now grey as concrete, and the grass below him which felt exactly the same as the concrete he distinctly remembered he programmed to be the default texture when none could be found, and there was a grey wind and a grey horizon and a grey rectangle where the fence used to be, and the only thing that felt out of place was the great tree, vivid, real, alive. And he tried his best, but could not- "But you know I forgot her two years ago."

Jenkins could only nod again. His memory had perhaps everything, down to the exact texture of the grass, the number of molecules of water in the dew on the day that Steinbeck was so desperately trying to remember, but there was nothing he could do against the pride of a man who lived before the fourth generation of the web. "I programmed it, Jenkins, I swear to you I'll get it to recall the memory and reconstruct it," and Jenkins reached out his right hand, instantly uploading all the information that Steinbeck so desperately desired, watching almost rapt as the program instantly converted raw data into blades of grass, the smell of the soil, the dampness of the wooden bench beneath the tree that hid a quarter of the stars in the midnight sky, the scent of darkness hiding the sins of the world from them; and Steinbeck put his hand on the emptiness of the bench beside him, and started weeping.

"No, Jenkins, you fool, you fool. I don't remember this. Revert to only host memory."

Then as quickly as it had appeared, the greens and browns and whites and yellows disappeared, replaced by endless bounds of grey, leaving only one tree standing alone in a concrete field, the incongruity of it striking Jenkins like a blow across the eyes, but Steinbeck seemed satisfied with the sight.

"You fool, Jenkins. This is what I want. This is my memory. This is- all that's left of-"

And then the fifteen minutes were up, and an angry beep sounded in Jenkins' coat pocket. He processed the alarm, sent a quick reply and apology, and turned to the man at his side.

"I know you have to go. It was nice having you around."

Jenkins got up, unconvinced, but time was calling, and he waited for no man. He turned and looked over his shoulder one last time, gazing at the man with the melancholy smile, then gave the instruction to disconnect and return to his own home reality. And there he was, outside his door in the patter of a rain that knew not where to go. The water pooled at his feet as his hand hesitated before the bell, the ripples of the water distorting each other like the trails of smoke in air, and he savoured the sensation of his hair soaking wet, a bitter coldness that he had never experienced before, and felt for a moment that he could understand why Steinbeck clung so tightly to the vestiges of a past he never could have imagined might be beautiful. For a moment, he thought he might envy Steinbeck, but then the door opened, and Miranda looked at him with a frown on her face; a movement of two fingers, and it was bright, it was sunny, it was dry, the heat breaking like a wave upon the glass and leaving him comfortable at the optimum of twenty-six degrees celsius, and she took his hand and brought him in, where they sat together on a beach in Hawai'i, then on a balcony in Paris, and then finally, beneath the trees and the stars in New Zealand, a bottle of wine on the table between them, their feet playing with the blades of grass in their shy dampness, and he could smell her, for a moment he could smell the footsteps of Steinbeck in the waving of the grass, and in that instant the comprehension overwhelmed him, and when he finally came to, he was in his bed, covered with the blankets, with Miranda beside him, and he felt safe and scared and he did not know what to feel when he finally turned to her and said:

"Dear, let's go get those extended memory chips."