The two technicians rolled a large table into the sampling room, the walls of which were completely covered in loudly ticking clocks. On the table was a massive rectangular slab, which was frozen and giving off vapors into the higher temperature room. The larger of the two technicians, who was called Larger, wore a white pillbox hat with a ring of black brocade, but otherwise they were dressed the same in black lab coats and black overalls. Their faces were sallow, oblong, and dusty white. Their eyes were small, round, and beady black and they wore thick cylindrical goggles on their foreheads.
"The scanner said this one had a type three occlusion," said the smaller technician, who was called Smaller.
"Ooh, that must be bad for him," said Larger. "People with type three occlusions never have happy lives, do they...We'll have to perform at least three samplings to locate the occlusion."
"Won't that increase the risk of memory loss?"
"Only in his later life, Smaller. Now help me prep the saw."
Smaller tapped its foot on the floor and a hatch opened up. A large circular saw zoomed up from the cavity under the floor and flew to Smaller's hand.
"Very good technique!" admired Larger.
Smaller handed over the saw and Larger showed Smaller how to start it by pulling on a cord. The device roared to life.
"Now the trick," said Larger, shouting over the noise of the saw, "is to cut precisely perpendicular to the life block. If you get it at a slight angle, then when the ends are fused back together their memories will get a bit scrambled."
Smaller nodded that he understood.
"You should practice this on animals when you get a chance and when the sampling room is free of course. Now put my goggles down, will you?"
Smaller put Larger's goggles down, then their own. Larger carefully pressed the saw to the block and guided it through. The table was hollowed out in the middle so the saw could cut cleanly through blocks. Larger finished the cut and withdrew the saw. Smaller separated the split blocks.
"Now this is the really hard part of sampling," said Larger. "This is a fine art! The slice must be as narrow as possible, one unit wide, although two units is acceptable if you are not taking many samples from the same block. The slice must not also fail to be less than one unit in any part. It must be uniformly one unit wide, or as I said, two units wide, but uniformly so. Otherwise you will have a problem when refusing the ends. Do you understand?"
"Good. That's good. Now I will take the slice."
Larger carefully sliced off a segment precisely one unit wide and Smaller marvelled at the handiwork. Then Larger repeated the whole process two more times, taking two more slices from different areas of the block. Larger powered down the saw and handed it back to Smaller who popped it back into the floor.
Then Larger gave Smaller the first slice.
"Hold it up to the light now," said Larger, and Smaller did.
The rectangle showed a human man brushing his teeth in a mirror. Smaller tilted the slice this way and that to catch all the detail in the image.
"What do you think?" asked Larger.
"It looks normal to me. I can't find any obvious anomalies."
"Very good Smaller! You have a keen eye."
Larger took the first slice and handed Smaller the second.
"Now what do you see?" asked Larger.
The man cowered on his bed with the covers pulled up to his chin. He was looking over to the corner of the room where a long hooked object floated in mid air.
"He looks very unhappy," said Smaller.
"That's usually a good indication that an occlusion is present. What else?"
"There's something in the air there...could that be the occlusion?"
"Yes, indeed it is...now what is it?"
"It...it looks like a human arm."
"Correct! You've done very well Smaller!"
"Do we need to check the third slice?" asked Smaller.
"We have located the occlusion, and since occlusions are usually just foreign objects that have been twisted sideways they do not last longer than they are wide, so it is unlikely that the occlusion will show up in more than one sample slice. However it's always a good practice check all slices."
"And sometimes the occlusion does not show up in any slice and you have to resample."
"Yes! Correct again Smaller. But remember that the subject's behavior in the slices will indicated whether the subject has previously encountered the occlusion, and you can narrow down the resampling zone from there."
Larger handed Smaller the last slice, and Smaller looked through it.
"Oh, the poor man. He is old and near the end of his life. He is begging on the street. He's laying in a gutter with dirty clothes and his hand is up seeking free compensation."
"Yes. This is a classic case of long-term human reaction to an occlusion. Very sad."
Larger took the slice from Smaller and laid it back down on the others.
"Oh, you are free to save these if you wish since they can't be reincorporated during the fusing process. They have a tendency to slip and that's no good at all. So yes, you can take the slices home. Sometimes they are very pretty and make excellent wall art if you install a lamp behind them. Now we must perform the extraction."
Larger tapped the floor and up shot the extractor tool. It had a laser and a targeted matter magnet. The floor resealed and Larger rolled the extractor tool over the segment of the life block with the occlusion. Larger adjusted the height and turned on the laser. The segment lit up in a violent multitude of colors.
"Always remember to leave your goggles on for this part of the process as well," reminded Larger. "Now get in there and move the guide laser around until the output dims. This will show the extractor where exactly to aim."
Smaller crouched down and moved the laser as Larger directed. Smaller made small movements and monitored the change in colors. When they were dullest, Smaller locked off the guide."
"Excellent! I've seen older students unable to get a lock half so quickly. You exhibit a remarkable talent for your age Smaller!"
Smaller nodded, quietly reveling in the praise.
"Now you may turn on the extractor. Just press that button."
Smaller did so, and the matter magnet began to hum.
"It takes a moment to build up strength," said Larger. "It's important to get the guide laser precisely locked because you don't want to extract non-foreign material, which the matter magnet will attract if you are not careful. That alone can destroy the entire life block, which obviously, is not good."
Smaller nodded again, and they both waited patiently for the matter magnet. After a minute there was schwooop, and the magnet turned itself off.
"Ah see? There it is! The offending arm! I wonder who it belonged to. It must be missing from another life block somewhere. Ah well."
They both peered at the tiny arm. Larger picked it off and placed it next to the slices.
"So we fuse the blocks back together now?" asked Smaller.
"Not yet. You have skipped a step..."
"Oh! The filler. I'm so sorry Larger."
"It's quite all right."
They put the extractor back in the floor and took out a large cylinder filled with clear gel.
"This is the easiest part of the process because there is no need to be precise. The gel substrate is completely benign and will not affect the subject in any way. Well, other than rendering an otherwise noticeable hole in their space-time completely invisible."
Larger handed the cylinder to Smaller. There was a plunger on one end and a needle three units wide on the other. Smaller inserted the needle into the hole made by the arm and pressed down on the plunger. The hole filled with the clear gel and Smaller pulled it away before it was over full.
"Such admirable handiwork! Now we fuse them together. We do not need any specialized tools because the life block will naturally re-fuse once the segments are pressed together. You get on that end, and I'll stay on this end--"
They lined up the segments of the block and pressed them all together.
"Excellent! Now we just give that a few minutes to re-fuse and then we can roll it back into storage. You've done a fine job here today, Smaller."
"Thank you. I do have a question though."
"What happens to the man's life, now that the occlusion has been removed. He doesn't actually change."
"That's a very good question, Smaller, and you're right, he doesn't change. He will still think that the arm is there, but others will no longer be able to perceive it. He will still be shunned as a madman. That, as you've seen, is the story told in that life block. There is no way to alter it."
"But the matter magnet--couldn't that be employed to rearrange things in his life? So maybe he never sees the arm if other objects are constantly blocking it."
"That's an interesting hypothesis Smaller, but the time it would take to rearrange everything in a suitable manner that does not introduce more problems, well, let's just say it's not worth our time. We have more fundamental work to perform."
"I see," said Smaller, who looked suddenly downcast. "Come to think of it, I would like to take these slices home with me."
"Oh course! They will make a good souvenir of your first sampling. And now the lesson concludes."
They both put their goggles back up on their foreheads. Larger smiled broadly, and patted Smaller on the back. Smaller picked up the slices and sighed unhappily.