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Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Today on SHOWCASE

New Fiction • “600 Years Ago, Today,” by Michael W. Lucht •

By 2134, every memory chip had been networked. Otherwise CRUD, the Commission for the Removal of Unremarkable Data, could not have existed. As things stood, no backup copy was safe from their high-level iterative deletion algorithms. Unless, like Hinckley, one had managed to obtain a rare vintage memory card without integrated wireless access.

Hinckley slotted this highly illegal device into a wireless adaptor to link it with his terminal. That done, a slight gesture was all it took to instruct the computer to copy 2.4 terabytes.

At that moment Javert, senior CRUD manager, appeared at the entrance of Hinckley’s cubicle. The security cam footage shows Hinckley flinching; after all, he had never committed a criminal act before. Hastily, the contraband vanished deep inside his pocket.

Uninvited, Javert strutted inside, grabbing the backrest of Hinckley’s chair. “Deleted Jodie yet?”

“Please reconsider,” Hinckley pleaded. Later, in court, he claimed that he’d still held out hope of changing Javert’s mind.

“I’ve read your report. She’s an ord.”

“She’s anything but ordinary!” To make his point, Hinckley played a section from her video blog on his terminal. It showed a pretty teenager, with tousled hair and intense brown eyes. “Life is a gift,” she declared in a melodious voice. “I shall not waste mine. I will make a difference!”

“Isn’t that profound for an eighteen-year-old?” Hinckley asked.

“With experience you will come to realize that most teenagers share this particular delusion.”

“Her life would have been extraordinary, had she lived!” Hinckley asserted with unshaken conviction. He had spent the past two months following her digital footprints on the highways, roads, and back alleys of the ancient World Wide Web: her YouTube channel, flickr pictures, WordPress blog, reddit and Facebook posts, Twitter feed, and Amazon reviews. To Hinckley, Jodie was beautiful, witty, sexy, prolific, and wise beyond her years.

“Unlikely, and she didn’t. Good riddance!”

Hinckley balled his fists. “And erase from history the pictures of her lovingly carrying her cat? Proudly holding her diploma?” Reverently, Hinckley lowered his volume. “Happy at the beach?”

Expertly Javert brought up her Facebook post about the beach trip. “Pretty and not at all shy,” he leered. “That’s common enough.”

“She died,” Hinckley’s voice cracked, “the very next day.”

“Shit happens! Let me help.”

Thanks to the security cam footage we can witness the panic in Hinckley’s eyes as Javert, with a few practiced sweeps of his hands, initiated the ‘Erase From History’ sequence. Hinckley’s vintage memory card was still plugged into the wireless adaptor, and therefore subject to deletion instructions. Abandoning all caution, Hinckley blatantly dug inside his pocket with both hands, pulling the bits of electronics apart.

A moment later would have been too late. At the speed of light, all traces of Jodie (except official government records) were being deleted from hundreds of backup servers from around the world. Her ambition of becoming a veterinarian, her dream to save what was left of the Amazon, her joy at winning the netball championship, her shy love for the leader of the debate team, and so very, very much more. Gone. Forever.

Except for the contents of Hinckley’s pocket.

Fatefully, his urgent fumbling had not escaped Javert’s attention. “Take it out!” he demanded. We know that this was the third time that one of Javert’s subordinates had created an illegal backup, so he knew the signs. When Hinckley failed to respond, Javert added, “Must I call security?”

Hinckley extracted the wireless adaptor.

“The card!” Javert tapped the desk.

Gently, Hinckley placed the memory card on the table. “Is this really necessary?”

Javert picked up the card by his fingertips. Squinting, he examined it from all sides. “For as long as her record remains, there will be people willing to squander their time on her. It’s human curiosity; we can’t help ourselves. We’ll now prevent that from happening.”

With his free hand, Javert pulled out a pair of scissors from Hinckley’s pencil holder.

“So what if people choose to spend a few hours remembering Judie?” Hinckley demanded, sweating.

“One life, even a thousand lives, would have been okay,” Javert explained. “But Jodie is one of twenty billion lives bequeathed to us, full of self-indulgent tripe. Before the digital age, nine-thousand, nine-hundred and ninety-nine people out of ten-thousand were forgotten a hundred years after their deaths, and that was a good thing. Instead, we now have the chatter of the dead drowning out the thoughts of the living. It’s CRUD’s mission to mine this rubbish heap for nuggets of accomplished, remarkable, or just unusual lives. The rest we delete permanently, ensuring that no one will ever again waste their time on them.”

Javert placed the card between the blades, their pressure holding it in place.

Without uttering a word, Hinckley grabbed the handles, shoving his index finger between them, preventing Javert from closing. Javert held on. Hinckley got out of his seat, twisting around to face his adversary. We don’t know why Javert kept tugging, even as the blades were pointing at his chest.

All of a sudden, Hinckley went from pull to push. The scissors missed Javert’s ribs, piercing his heart.

At his trial, Hinckley explained that he would have done anything to prevent Jodie from ‘dying’ a second time. A murder committed for a girl who had been dead for a century: extraordinary! Hinckley’s life, and the life that had inspired his mortal obsession, had become noteworthy.

And that is why the records of Hinckley and Jodie remain preserved, six-hundred years after the murder. There is little doubt that Hinckley would have been pleased with this turn of events. How Jodie would have felt about the cause of her digital immortality has been the source of much speculation.



Michael W. Lucht is a predominantly Australian writer residing in Hobart, Tasmania. When not writing, he has been known to lecture in mathematics and computing.
With twin ambitions of publishing a fantasy novel and creating artificial life, he is currently prioritizing the novel (which might come as some relief to the world). Said novel should be completed in 2018. If successful, it will be followed by sequels until everyone begs him to, please stop already!

His fiction has appeared in Nature Futures, The Drabblecast, Alternate Hilarities 3 & 4, Bards & Sages Quarterly, and Island Magazine. With respect to non-fiction, he has heterogeneously contributed to: The Journal of Chemical Physics, Artificial Life, The Skeptic, and Cracked.com.
For more details, see: http://www.michaelwlucht.com. For even deeper dives into the science behind this story, see “The Unstoppable Rise of the Facebook Dead” and “The Hard Drive You Can Make Self-Destruct With a Text.”

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