Written by Kacey Flynn
"At ThoughtTech, we secure your past so you can focus on your future."
The large portly man sitting across from Harper exhaled a small cloud of smoke, the faint glowing ember of his cigar gave his craggy, scared face an even more ominous look. Though the man wore a polite smile–the fake kind of smile one might find on any customer service worker–there was a coldness in his eyes that he was either unable or unwilling to conceal. It set Harper’s nerves on edge, and gave her the feeling that she was unsuspecting prey in a nature documentary ready to be pounced upon and chortled at by some charming old British narrator.
“Isn’t that their slogan?” The man’s voice had adopted an edge of condescension, the corner of his mouth twinging with the faintest hint of a smirk.
“Oh, yes Mr. Holder it is.” She smiled, nodding as if she had just been reminded of some grand piece of information. As if she had not heard the slogan and accompanying jingle so often it was burned into the very recesses of her brain.
Harper sat as motionless as she possibly could in the rigid holoconference chair, her eyes fixated on the balding man across from her casually flipped through small projections of her resume, application, and other documents she’d needed to include when applying. She knew that it was part of the process and an obvious tactic, yet it still made her feel like some animal about to be judged.
“Now, you worked there for…almost three years. Why did you leave?” The man leaned back in his chair slightly, taking a heavy pull off the cigar that illuminated his face enough that Harper could very clearly see the oddly lengthy nose hairs poking from the man’s nostrils. And in addition to disgust she curled her toes in anger in the overly uncomfortable but very professional looking shoes she wore.
She knew that this bastard already knew that she hadn’t quit at all. He knew that because the letter of explanation she’d had to write detailing the reason was visible on the partially see-through screen hovering just off to the side of the desk. He simply wanted her to say it, to squirm and admit that she needed this job more than it needed her.
“Well, as you know I used to work at ThoughtTech in their service department. It was mostly routine maintenance on the storage servers; mostly my job involved checking for any corruption or wave variance within the thoughtscapes, as that was more likely than a failing of the machinery itself.”
Mr. Holder nodded as if he understood, yet Harper suspected he only took in roughly half of what she had said. She suspected he’d understand it about the same if she’d described it the way she did to her younger siblings; that it was akin to listening to a live recording but only listening for the notes that the performers miss. Except it was only like that if you were simultaneously the performers, the instruments, and the music being played.
“Unfortunately though sometimes the machinery does fail, and there are backups for that. This incident in question, however, ThoughtTech did not have as many backup servers as it now does and so during a particularly heavy surge within the thoughtscape servers we were forced to make a choice between one of two servers to transfer into the last backup.”
Harper let the words hang in the air, not entirely wanting to finish but knowing she would have to. She could see the hunger in Holder’s cold shark eyes.
The words made Harper shiver.
“I was given an order from my superior on which server would get the full transfer and I…while I maintain that I did not completely disobey, I acted without approval to salvage as many memories from the second server. And so I selected a small handful of memories that could be purged which would allow the bulk of the second serv-”
“You purged memories without authorization?”
Her eyes caught the way he had bit down on his cigar when she mentioned acting without approval, and the faint twitch in the corner of his eye at the mention of salvaging other memories. He knew the story, most in this shitstain of a city did. Her face and name had been plastered across nearly every news broadcasts for weeks, demonised as not only someone who’d abused her power but worse had cost the great Randal Howett several of his “prized” memories.
No one seemed to care that she had saved other important, prized memories. Nor did they care why she’d chosen that handful; the memories of a whoremongering scumbag who abused not only his power but anyone else he could. He should have thanked her for purging those memories, erasing his evidence. Letting his sins pave the way for the memories of a mother holding her firstborn child, and a daughter saying a farewell to her grandmother, and countless other truly precious memories.
Or at least, she thought no one cared.
“I did, Mr. Holder. And as I stated in the rather humiliating letter you had me write to get this interview, I would do it again without a second thought.”
For the first time since the holocall had been initiated she saw genuine surprise cross the man's face, followed quickly by a questioning look as he probed his mind for what exactly was going on. No one talked to him like that, and sure not some crazed person.
“Hmph, how brash.” The man had regained a modicum of self control, though Harper could still see the faintly pulsating vein near his temple. “Well, I don’t think that someone like you would be a good fit-”
“Let me just stop you right there, Mr. Holder. I’m not actually interested in working for you piece of crap company.”
This time the surprise became too much, and Holder’s large mouth dropped open with his cigar falling out and rolling onto the desk, leaving a faint trail of singed wood as it went. He recovered and grabbed the cigar, stamping it out fiercely into a nearby ashtray as his cold eyes became small pits of flame staring at her with utter contempt.
“You model your company as some kind of rival to ThoughtTech, but in my time there I don’t think I’d ever heard it mentioned once. No, it wasn’t until I met my new colleagues that they made me aware of the corrupt bastard who holds memories for ransom, forcing people to pay outrageous monthly fees to sate his own twisted desires.”
With a scoff the man waved one of his meaty hands. “I have no idea what you’re talking about young lady, but this meeting is over.” He pressed a button on the chair that was intended to end any transmissions, however he was surprised when Harper’s smirking face did not vanish.
“I’m afraid you won’t be able to get rid of me that easily, Mr. Holder. Not like those who spoke out against you that have mysteriously disappeared.”
Holder looked at her now with the flicker of fear in his eyes. How could she know that? He was careful. Hired only the most professional problem solvers. And yet that smirk on her face told him she knew every sordid detail.
“Who the hell are you?”
With a shrug Harper leaned back in her chair, though the locking mechanism was in place during calls it reflected the now casual approach she had; the time for pretence was long gone, this man had never once been any threat to her.
“Is that really important? Every trace of my applying and interviewing here is being erased as we speak.”
“So I’m basically talking to a ghost?”
She smiled. “Something like that, yeah.”
“So what is it you want then, ghost?”
“Now you’re asking the right question.”
With a flick of her wrist she sent a small illuminated pad of paper across the virtual desktop. The words of several organisations illuminated in blocky lettering. Holder picked them up and gave them a cursory examination before shrugging.
“And this is?”
“It’s a list of charities. You’re going to be making an incredible donation of ten billion dollars to each of them, with the promise to make annual donations each following year of no less than five hundred million dollars.”
Holder stared at her for a moment before exploding with laughter. He roared and pounded his belly, tears beginning to form in the corners of his beady eyes. Yet Harper remained calm and composed, which forced him to cut his laughing fit shorter than he’d have liked.
“Why on earth would I ever do something like that?” He feigned wiping a tear from his eye in an effort to antagonise her. “Aside from accusations, which I’ve dealt with most of my business career, you have no proof of anything.”
Harper remained silent, smiling and pretending to look for something just out of view of the holocall. After a moment or two of making him sweat she pulled out a small silver cylindrical canister which she set before her on the desk, slowly rolling it from one hand to the next.
“Do you know, Mr. Holder, that memories have become a very important piece of evidence in trials ever since the technology came about. After all, memories can’t be bribed into silence, can’t be hidden, and though they can shift to fit a narrative their core remains the same.”
Picking the canister up she let the name flash across the screen, Ernest Holder. And all the colour drained from the large man’s face. He swallowed hard and his small eyes became slightly larger, staring not at Harper but the item she was now rolling between her fingers on the desk.
“That…that doesn’t prove anything. Who knows what memory is even on there. It could be the birth of my son for all I know.”
Holder adjusted himself in the chair in an effort to regain some composure, but it did very little to settle the nerves that were beginning to boil in his stomach. Especially with the knowing smirk the young woman was giving him.
“Do you know what I think? I think you know exactly what memory is on here. I bet you still recall it every once and awhile, chuckling with the fact you actually got away with-”
Silence fell between them as Holder gnawed on his bottom lip, staring down at the list of charitable organisations in front of him. He shifted it slightly with his finger before letting out a small sigh of resignation.
“I accept your terms.”
“Excellent. I am very glad we could come to an agreement.” Snatching up the canister she tucked it into a pocket in her coat. “Now I’m sure it goes without saying, Mr. Holder, but should you fail to uphold your end of the bargain then not just this but all your dirty secrets will be on display for all to see.”
The man didn’t reply, simply gave a curt nod. And a moment later Harper hit the button on her chair to end the call, bringing the entire five foot virtual cube to a close. Picking up a pencil she scratched out the name Ernest Holder from a physical list on her desk. With a smile she set the canister in her coat down next to several others, each one bearing a different name.
“Well then. I wonder who else is feeling charitable.”