He was crotchety, irritable – the skin on his face more like melted candle-wax than human flesh – but for an 125-year-old, he was surprisingly alert.
I carefully considered how to begin the conversation, while children, unperturbed by our presence, milled about the classroom.
“Today, I'm meeting with the last living person to have directly witnessed the religious genocide 115 years ago...”
I hadn't even completed my introduction before he interjected. “There was no genocide.”
“I understand that's your position...”
“I was here, *WHERE* it allegedly happened,” he said, swirling his cane at our surroundings. “*WHEN* it allegedly happened. As a member of the religious group that was allegedly persecuted.
I'm still alive. And I tell you, firmly, *there was no genocide.*”
I bit my lip, watching children dutifully recite the pledge of allegiance, hands at their hearts.
“There are photographs.”
“Easily faked. Hire actors. Use Photoshop. It's easy. There are also very few. Maybe 100 total, reposted every time someone wants to make a political point.”
“They say the state censored evidence,” I countered. “There were more photographs, but they were expunged from the historical record.”
“Hogwash,” he spat. “When the radicals took power, they falsified documents to demonize their forebears.”
“There were internment camps...”
He sighed. “They were for our own good. We learned how backwards it was to worship some mystical sky-man that'd cast us into eternal hellfire if we ate improperly-butchered meat.
The reason there're barely any religious adherents today is because we embraced modernity, not because the state murdered us.”
I nodded, unsure how to proceed.
“And now, thanks to Eidetech,” he continued, casting his gaze into the classroom, “There's proof.”
Eidetech. An experimental service that allowed elderly people to upload memories to a server to preserve them for future generations.
“You can access any of my memories, any time, and see for yourself.”
So here we were. Observing a perfectly normal classroom full of bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed ten-year-olds. In an internment camp for religious re-education. 115 years ago.
I opened my briefcase.
“Hackers leaked your health records to the press,” I said, dropping them on the desk. “They indicate a family history of Alzheimer's disease.”
He didn't react.
“Do you actually remember this? Or just trust the memories Eidetech provides?”
He smirked. “Why would Eidetech create *fake* memories?”
“Maybe they're bigots.”
He shrugged. “Look – I'm the last person to see the internment camps. This is how I remember them. If we can't trust our own memories, what can we believe?”
I had no answer.
“But even if you're right... isn't this a more pleasant past than what they teach in school?”
I recalled the historical photographs. Hollow faces peeking from behind chainlink fences. Piled corpses, fresh from the incinerator, smoking in the snowbanks.
We watched sunbeams filter through the windowpane. Children happily stacked blocks and carefully coloured at their desks. It *was* pleasant.
“Maybe... there was no genocide,” I conceded.