(Attn: story contains PG-13 language)
The man across the table did not seem to blink, like at all. His eyelids never even fluttered behind his heavy blackframed glasses. They had locked on her from the moment she sat down and had not left her face. His partner next to him was far more animated.
Least that one pretends to be somewhat human, Claire thought.
“You are Ms. Irving? Ms. Claire Irving?,” he asked.
The manila folder lay open in front of him and Claire could clearly see her headshot photo in the top corner but the man did not look down when he asked the question.
“You came to my work and asked Mr. Marlowe for me. You obviously know who I am so why don’t you tell me what this is all about,” Claire said. She crossed her arms and sighed audibly. This was ridiculous…talking to these two government suits and this guy wanted to ask twenty obvious questions.
“Ms. Irving,” the other man spoke. “Do you mind if we call you Claire? We’d like to keep this informal. We just have a few minor questions.”
“You can call me Claire and I’m going to call you a bullshitter, no offense,” Claire said. “From my side of the table it looks like you have more than a few minor questions. You show up here, folder and all. Any time one of you CIA types has prepared a folder it’s anything but minor. So let’s cut the crap.”
“Fine, Agent Lynch and myself would like to know more about Dr. Tomorrow and Recollections, Inc.,” said the glasses man.
“Lynch? Don’t you guys kinda wear that one out?”
Lynch smiled faintly.
“You’ve clearly read my articles about Dr. Tomorrow and his company, Claire muttered. “So what could I possibly tell you that you don’t already know?”
“Ms. Irving, we do not have time for you to play coy,” the man with the glasses said. “Answer our questions here or answer them down at…” Lynch placed a hand on his arm.
“Easy, Smith,” Lynch said. “Look, Claire, since his series of interviews with you, Dr. Tomorrow and his company has maintained a flat refusal to work with any other media.”
Lynch leaned forward, looking at Claire over the top of his glasses.
“What makes you so special?”
“I don’t know,” Claire shrugged. “Recollections, Inc. reached out to me this time last year after my series on violent crimes ran.”
“Violent crimes?” Lynch asked, taking off his glasses and wiping them clean with a tissue before pushing them back on his face.
“The number of violent crimes in the city was on an uptick. My pieces focused on possible resources victims could use to move on with their lives and recover. Tomorrow’s secretary called and said he was interested in speaking with me.”
“I don’t blame you for not passing that one up,” Lynch leaned back and met Claire’s eyes.
“Are you kidding me? Dr. James Tomorrow, inventor of the Recollection tech, wanted to talk to me?” Claire smirked. “Shit, that phone call was better than some one night stands I’ve had. I practically had to have a cigarette afterward.”
Agent Lynch cocked an eyebrow. Agent Smith remained unchanged.
“Tough crowd,” Claire shook her head. “Anyways, that was it. A security badge was sent over to the Herald for me and I reported there the next day…no, two days later. I met with Tomorrow three more times and did my write up. The story ran and people ate it up,”
She shrugged, “He was an inventor who developed a way to overwrite bad memories. That kind of sci-fi shit always draws readers in but...”
She gestured toward Lynch and Smith’s folder.
“You already know that,” she sat back. “But Tomorrow was…”
“Was what?” Smith asked.
“He was…well, he was Tomorrow. Not like anyone else,” Claire remembered. She told them about arriving at Tomorrow’s office for the first time…
It was a simple office for a guy who had just changed the world, basically overnight. Beige carpet, long wood table and a bar cart in the corner. The man seated at the table was as nondescript as the room - average height and build with short blonde hair, parted to the side. The man wore wire framed glasses and had sharp blue eyes that were focused on the task in front of him.
That was what drew her attention the most.
The man was peeling hard boiled eggs. He placed the shells into a large, stainless steel bowl, then sliced the egg in half, placing the whites in another bowl and the yolks, intact, into the smallest bowl. The faint egg smell wafted to Claire’s nose, causing her to sniff. That sniff is what drew Tomorrow from his work.
“Hello Claire,” Tomorrow smiled brightly, stood up, and shook her hand with a damp hand. Whether it was moisture from the eggs or sweat, Claire couldn’t tell. The smile far outweighed the wet handshake.
The inventor had a smile that felt like the two of them shared a past, full of inside jokes he was dying to laugh at with her. He smiled while he said her name, like he had been waiting all day just to say hello to her.
“Welcome to Recollections!” He held his hands out grandly, like a showmaster. In one hand he still held his paring knife. He realized quickly and set the knife down. “Sorry about that. For some reason after the procedure many of our patients experience a loss in proteins and vitamin D.”
“A problem easily remedied by our friend the egg,” Tomorrow said. He held up a glistening egg white for Claire to see. “We separate the yolk from the whites because we have found the whites are easier on our patient’s stomachs. They have to fast for 48 hours you see…”
“And that was how our interview started,” Claire scratched her head. “He told me about creating the hippocampus shunt and immersion chamber.”
“So you know about this then?” Smith asked.
His partner held up a small black object, flat on one end and cylindrical on the other. The flat end was sheath, containing the sharp end of the shunt.
“It’s a hippo shunt, but…” Claire’s forehead furrowed. “How did you get that? I’ve never seen one outside of Recollection’s lab.”
“That’s not important,” Smith said.
Claire’s tongue moved inside her cheek and her eyes turned flinty.
“Oh, I see. This is a ‘I show you mine but you keep yours covered’ type situation,” Claired said. “Never one to lay all your cards on the table, Smith?”
Lynch again layed his hand on Smith’s arm. Claire smirked, it was obvious to her who wore the pants in this partnership. He slid the folder over in front of him and began flipping through laminated copies of her articles.
“And so Dr. Tomorrow created Recollections, Inc., at first helping people relive moments for a hefty price but then he experienced a change of heart and started helping people erase tragic events so they could move on,” Lynch said. “That summarizes that but you left things out I think, Ms. Irving.”
“In all your time with Tomorrow did he mention a Dr. Steigmyer?”
“Interesting. Did he ever offer you the chance to experience the use of a shunt?”
“He did, but I was not comfortable with having someone poking around in my brain, thanks,” Claire said.
“Did Tomorrow mention future plans or directions for his technology?”
“He said something about trying to make it more accessible to everyone,” she said.
“Did Dr. Tomorrow ever share any information about collaborating with other companies who were dabbling in memory enhancement software?”
Claire crossed her arms.
“He is very protective of his tech. I mean you’re dealing with a person’s brain here, one wrong move and you’ve just wrecked not only somebody’s past but their future as well.”
She glanced at the clock on the wall. They’d been here that long!?
“Besides, Tomorrow was always paranoid about Recollection tech being weaponized by the wrong individual so…he…the whole place locked up tight,” Claire started to stand up. “Look guys this has been great but I really gotta get back to work.”
“Ms. Irving, please sit down,” Lynch said. It was phrased as a request but his tone let her know he wasn’t going to repeat it.
“So that’s it. You have nothing to worry about,” she said. “Dr. Tomorrow has so many fail safes in places that his tech is safe. Besides, it’s completely usable outside of the Recollections compound, plus you need to use the immersion chamber which there is only one of.”
“It’s interesting you bring that up Ms. Irving, and that’s what Recollections, Inc. has led the US government to believe as well,” Lynch said. “Then three days ago this shunt was discovered in the possession of an operative who works for…an antagonist country.”
“That’s not possible,” Claire said.
“This would say otherwise,” Lynch held up the shunt again. “Not the only problem. This shunt seems to possess the ability to perform a memory enhancement, completely independent. No immersion chamber required.”
He set the shunt on the table.
“And the piece de resistance, in the last forty eight hours Dr. James Tomorrow has completely vanished. No sign of him at all, anywhere,” he paused. “In the world.”
Lynch reached down to his bag and pulled out a much fatter folder than the one on the table. He opened it and began placing photos, spreadsheets and other documents on the table in front of Claire.
“Now my partner and I have done several ‘articles’ of our own. So allow me to fill in the holes in your story,” he said.
Claire’s eyes jumped from the papers to Smith’s unblinking stare to Lynch and back to his papers.
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”
“You did meet with Tomorrow four times under newspaper business, but there was also a fifth time,” Smith said. He tapped a document and several photos in succession. “Indicated on this log sheet and these security cam stills.”
“Okay, so I went back on a personal matter, so what?”
“You neglected to mention that originally. You were clearly aware of Tomorrow’s security measures, did you really think we wouldn’t notice?”
Claire shifted in the chair.
“I think you might want to start mentioning everything you know before this gets much worse for you, Ms. Irving,” Lynch finished putting papers on the table.
“I don’t understand. Do I need a lawyer or something?”
“Not yet, Ms. Irving, what you need is to start telling us the truth,” Lynch rested his hand on the shunt. “We want to know how this falls into hostile hands when you assure us it can’t? How can it operate without the immersion chamber when you assure us it can’t? And how can one of the most powerful men on the planet just vanish like smoke?”
“I don’t know anything about that thing or how somebody would…”
“We are aware you do not know the answer to those particular questions Ms. Irving, or we would be having a very different conversation,” Lynch said. “You do have answers we need though.”
“Okay,” Claire’s eyes closed and opened a few moments later. “I went back to Recollections. I saw James…Dr. Tomorrow, again because he offered me a chance to use a shunt and I accepted.”
“We figured as much, Ms. Irving,” Smith said.
“It was my grandmother…the last night she was alive…”
Claire’s shoulders started to shake and her eyes brimmed with tears. Lynch held up his hand.
“No need to explain why, Ms. Irving. My partner and I are most interested in the how,” he said.
“He told me I couldn’t speak of it. We signed a nondisclosure,” Claire sighed.
“I don’t think that applies in this situation,” Smith said. Unlike Lynch who was doing his best to atleast fake sympathy, Smith remained unchanged. His eyes still hadn’t blinked.
“James said I could never tell. End scene, end story. He said someone would take the tech and turn it and who knows what they would do with it,” Claire glanced nervously at the clock. “Some people would just be interested in money, too.”
Lynch took a deep breath in and let it out slow. He removed his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose, massaging the skin there.
“Ms. Irving, I don’t think you understand the gravity of the situation. If you continue to suppress the information we critically need at this moment then I’m afraid it would be in our best interest to detain you. We can make the next few weeks of your life very long and miserable indeed, not to mention the unforeseen consequences this will have on your career as a member of the press,” Lynch said. He looked her in the eyes until she looked away.
“...Okay,” Claire mumbled, her voice barely rising above a whisper.
“Okay, as you’ll talk now or okay as in…” Lynch left the end of his statement hanging out there between them.
“I’ll tell you,” Claire fidgeted with her hands nervously. Her eyes never left the table.
Just then Lynch’s phone went off. “Hello,” he said. “Right. Give me a sec.” He hung up and looked at Smith.
“Give us a moment Ms. Irving.”
Both men rose and exited the room through the door on her left. They closed the door behind them, but Claire didn’t look up from the table.
The two agents entered an adjacent room, and looked through the two way mirror at her. She hadn’t moved since they left. Lynch turned and looked at the man standing behind them. The man wore a crisp, white lab coat and wire frame glasses.
“So what would you like to do Dr. Tomorrow?” Smith asked.
“Ms. Irving is not the right candidate for us,” Tomorrow said. “Modify her memory and we will find a new one.”
“But sir, she only broke because we threatened her job. Her media skills would be highly beneficial in phase two,” Lynch said. Smith just stared through the mirror at the women. “Not to mention Doctor, her feelings for you are quite obvious.”
“Sentimentality has never dissuaded my decisions,” Tomorrow reached into his lab coat pocket and took out a hard boiled egg. He began to peel the egg shell away. “Loyalty is what I am after. She was prepared to give up secrets to protect herself. Not what I am interested in.”
He bit into his egg.
“Besides, you know what they say about making a cake…”