Short Stories

A Persistent Mind

“How can you send me over there with James! James?! Really?” She turned her palms upwards. “There are so many people in the office, Harry. Look around..” The woman turned back, presenting the people outside the room, circulating her wrists, as if revealing a magical object.

Woman: “This guy cannot handle his own shoelaces, let alone a big case like this one. Are you really gonna trust him on handling the Nilton case?”

“Sophy…can we please calm down here for a second.” The man lowered his two hands with his palms, looking down. His voice was strangely different and slower in tone than Sophy’s and he had a minor smirk in his face that was almost oblivious. “I know this is frustrating but…” The phones start ringing “..we have no choice. Give me a moment here” He grabbed the phone abruptly as he raised his pointer finger with his right hand.

Harry: “God damn it Nick how many times do I have to tell you I want more photos on the front page!” The man’s voice changed as if it was a different person.

Sophy exasperated letting her shoulders drop heavy and spiraling her eyes upwards.

Harry: “I don’t want to hear any more of it. Also, find James and tell him I want him in my office. Now!”

Harry closed the phone with a sharp move and fixed his tie as he leaned back on his chair. He took out one of his cigars and lighted up while looking at Sophy who was averting his gaze by looking on the side.

Harry: “Sophy..” he sipped from the cigar a few quick times. “ I was saying..” he squizzed his eyes, “..James is the only option for this case. There is no one else who knows as much as he does on the project and he is the best at the latest technological trends as well.”

Sophy: “Oh don’t tell me we couldn’t get a technical guy for this one now.”

Harry: “We can’t afford extra expenses on this.” He leaned forward on his chair again. “We need to keep a low profile here. Do you understand?”

A knock came from the door. “Did you ask me, sir?”

Harry: “James!” He opened his arms giving him an invisible hug. “Yes come on in. I have some good news for you.” he pointed at him while smiling, swinging his head lightly.

James walked in shyly and carefully like walking in eggshells. He glanced at Sophy through his big foggy glasses and nodded in a greeting manner.

Harry: “James I want you to take the Nilton story together with Sophy. Starting Monday I want the two of you to move to the area, speak to as many people as you can, and create a good chunk of a story for the March’s issue. I want a clean cut job here. No extra expenditures, no digging around, no questions asked.” he cut through the air with his hand.

Both of them nodded in agreement.

Harry: “You both know how many high profilers are involved in this. And Mr. Powel has his pows all over the city. So we need to be careful. We don’t want to create enemies that have that much power. Got it?”

He waited for them to agree and sipped from his cigar again. As he exhaled the smoke he pointed his finger at them. “I hope we are clear here for your own good.” He whispered with a heavy voice.

James and Sophy glanced at each other.
“You are free to go now.” He picked up his newspaper and leaned back on his chair.

As they left from the door James turned over to Sophy.
“ seems like this is gonna be a fun…” but as he raised his head he noticed Sophy was already heading away from him…

Sophy: “Can you believe they gave me this guy to work with? Out of all the people..” Sophy’s Bordo unbuttoned shirt was revealing a golden chain around her neck. She had her arms wrapped around her waist as her peer was matching her body posture.

“I don’t know..he is kinda cute..” said her friend

Sophy: “What?” her face took a confused expression. “Jenny, are you god damn kidding me? The guy barely speaks without his mama holding his hand. He is the most boring nice guy there is in the face of the earth! I mean..” she pointed over at him “..look at him..”

They both looked over as James was cleaning up his white shirt from some spilled coffee.

Sophy: “Does that look cute to you?”
Jenny: “Well..I don’t know..maybe with his glasses off..” she said teasingly chewing over her glasses.

Sophy rolled over her eyes again as she passed in front of her.
Sophy: “Next week is gonna be the most boring week of my life. I hope I won’t die from it..”

Jenny chuckled as she unfolded her arms from her body…

“I will have to see your ID mam” said the guard.
Sophy: “We are here from the ‘Frontline’ magazine. We have scheduled a…”
Guard: “I m sorry mam. I still need to see the papers. It’s regulation.”

Sophy started picking on her bag as James was waiting behind her with his hands in his pockets looking at the top of the building.

It was a pure architectural masterpiece. A skyscraper with more than 60 floors of luxurious office space equipped with the most advanced technological innovations. James had read a lot about the manufacturing intricacies and the cost it took to be made. Alas, access to the building was restricted only for the very few employees under the Nilton Technologies empire. The company responsible for the future of AI conducted and directed under Mr. Jerome Powel himself.

Sophy took out some crumbled papers from her bag and showed them to the guard.

Guard: “Ok ok you can pass” he motioned with his hands as if he was a traffic manager. Sophy turned over to James who was still lost looking at the building.

“James..” she said with stripped lips. “Could you..?”

James shattered as he came back to reality having a confused look.

“Ohh yes..sure..” he smiled to the guard and nodded as he passed over him.

They stepped inside and stand still as their eyes wandered around the spacious room.
“A pure miracle..” said James in awe.

Sophy opened her mouth in disbelief. “Could we just..focus a bit more in our job?” She asked. “If that’s ok with you?”

James turned over at her as his upper body leaned a bit back. “Ohh yeah yeah sure. No problem.” He gestured in the empty space in front of him with his hand. “After you..?”

They approached the elevator, encountering the dedicated person standing in front, waiting to accompany the visitors. He was overly young, with puffy red cheeks and a slightly tight posture.

“Sir..mam..” he greeted over them. “Are you in for Mr. Powel’s presentation?”

James: “That is correct.”

“Delightful!” he replied with a minor jump on his feet. “I’m sure you will be happily astonished by it,” he took an awkward smile as James nodded condescendingly.

“We sure will be” Sophy responded

“Now if you follow me this way.” he pointed over to the elevator on which all 3 of them entered. The elevator was spacious enough to have some legitimate distance from the man on which both took advantage, positioning themselves on the utter edge of it.

“I’m so excited about this” Sophy whispered, as she leaned over to James showing her teeth and bumping up and down like a little penguin. “Everything here seems so innovative and visionary” her face opened wide up as if encountering a big gift.

James looked surprised at her holding his hands in front of his waste.
“I wouldn’t jump in any conclusions just yet” he said as he put his hand in front of his mouth like sharing a secret.

“What? What do you mean?” She frowned. “Why do you have to be so negative about everything?” she swung her head left and right in disbelief.

The man turned over, cutting them off their discussion before James got the chance to explain.

After a while, they reached the designated floor with a characteristic welcoming sound coming out of the speakers.

“We are here” said the man with a gentle smile.

Sophy and James moved out, coming face to face with the windows confronting the elevator. The entire city was visible right in front of their eyes.
They wondered in the magnificent view as the height they were in was offering a god-view perspective. It all seemed so small and unimportant from above. They gazed over it, touching their hands in the glass before a voice brought them back to reality.

“The meeting is at the end of the corridor down this way” said the man pointing straight ahead, in which case they marched over it in a hurry.

They sat in their respective sits as the lights switched off all around accentuating the scene. James cocked his forehead.

“The gig is about to start”

The whole room was already filled with people waiting for the event to start.

“I wasn’t expecting that many people on this” said Sophy sardonically.

After a few more minutes a strong clapping made its way, waking Sophy out of her phone. A man appeared on the stage.

“We are all here today to celebrate the future! I hope you are in for the ride!” He said making everybody clap again.

James: “Quite the entrance for an old man, isn’t it?”

Sophy: “I think he is doing just fine there James,” she said holding her knee with her 2 hands.

The man was in his 50s with a wrinkled face and a bushy grey beard. Unlike his thin body structure, his voice was strong and engaging, winning you over with his direct approach.

Powel: “A few years ago the man was alone. He could only know what his closed environment knew. He could only learn what his surrounding taught him. Then came computers, but still, we were dependent on their location and other means to be able to access them. Few years passed and…the phone age arrived. Suddenly we had to carry these damn devices in our pockets and learn how to use them.” he swirled his phone around looking at it in a theatrical confusion.

“I’m still not sure if I actually learned how they work..” the audience laughed.

“The future is definite. We won’t need to carry anything on us anymore. Everything will be…inside..” he tapped twice on his forehead “..our heads!”.
The audience responded in awe as James glanced over at Sophy.

“The connection between humans and machines…is a reality. There is no separation anymore. We are diving a new area where humans are gonna be enhanced in a way nobody had anticipated before.”
There was a definite silence all over the room.

“And I’m happy to reveal to you today that Nilton Technologies is at the forefront of this amazing innovation.”

The presentation finished after a few minutes, and the participants found their way into the main hosting area. The event was offering an incredible amount of little treats and drinks over which everybody could have a good time while discussing the possibilities of the new technology.

Sophy: “I think this is such an amazing opportunity for people and all the…” she tangled her hands together, “..the unsupported and discarded of our society.” Her eyes took a sad expression as James was looking at her expressionless. “Imagine all the possibilities for sick people and the various diseases…it is..simply..amazing”.

James tilted his head slightly on the side.
James: “Sophy… I don’t want to disappoint you here but.. this is not as innocent as it seems to be..”
Sophy screwed her face, bewildered. “What?”
James: “There are many details they don’t tell us, and there are rumors that..they use people..”
Sophy: “They use people?”
James: “Yes, you know…for their experiments..”
Sophy: “Why do you have to attune to theoretical conspiracies about anything that is happening around us. You, mister..” she pointed on him “..are the reason our society lacks behind so much”

James raised his hands as if she was holding a gun. Suddenly there was a bit of noise coming from the side which took their attention off.

Sophy: “Ohh there he is! I think I would better head off to him than wasting my time here..” she looked at him disapprovingly.

She approached Mr. Powel who was standing by the table holding a white wine in his hand.

“Mr. Powel! That was a very inspirational speech you gave! Me and my partner are very highly supportive of your venture” she connected her hands in a peaceful way as she nodded in encouragement.

Powel: “Thank you, miss..”
Sophy: ”..Sophy. And this is my partner James..” She pointed over at him as they greeted each other.

Sophy: “So Mr. Powel may I ask what are the next steps in your vision. How would you describe it in a few words?”

Powel: “My vision?” he chuckled. “honey… Nilton is going to be everywhere around you in a couple of year..” he showed around him circling his hand with his drink.
“Nilton technologies is the future. It’s gonna be everywhere…Health? there is no sickness that is not gonna be detected right on the spot. You want ‘connection’? You ‘ll be able to control everything around you, as long as they have the ability to be online? Communication? You don’t have to sweat..a..thing” he said, delaying his last words rhythmically.
“You will be speaking to everyone on the spot! I’m talking about something the world has never seen or even imagined before. The capabilities are infinite.”

James: “Sir, could you elaborate a bit on the methods you use to advance these technologies. You are embedding a number of ships straight in the brain if I am correct?”

Powel left his drink on the table and got a bit uptight.
“That is correct. We are still in a preliminary phase but all experiments are running smoothly so far.”
James: “But you have already tried to bring them into humans, right?”
Powel: “We have done successful experiments with multiple mammals, sir. That is all I can say at the moment.”
James: “But is it true that people have been injured in the attempt to connect the chips in their brain? There are multiple rumors..”

Powel: “Mr. James!” he said raising his tone enough to draw the attention of the surrounding people.
“All experiments are running according to plan and I’m afraid that is all I can say at the moment. Now if you would excuse me.”
Powel nodded at them with a tight smile as he left them, leaving James exasperating.

Sophy: “I..simply…cannot believe you!” she said, watching Powel beginning a discussion with some of the facility guards.
“Not only we didn’t get enough for our piece, but we are also going to be thrown out as well!” she said as she clenched her fists.

James: “I think it would be wise for us to head over out of here ourselves” he said as he grabbed her by the arm in a discrete way.

As they got out Sophy turned over to James.

“James you are..a disappointment..” she said as she turned around leaving him staring at her walking away.

The next morning.

James: “Miss Harrison! Would you mind if I speak to you for a few moments?” he said as he knocked over the old door. The house seemed like a wreckage ready to be demolished in the first wind and it was placed in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the town. James looked around him and noticed some kids kicking a wrenched old ball in the dust. Some old people were outside on their little doorstep having a silent moment in their balconies. Somehow the whole landscape would remind of a colorless picture.

The door opened. “How can I help you, sir?”

James: “Mis Harrison, I just wanted to ask you a couple of questions. I promise it will only take a minute” he sliced his hand on the right in a definite way.

Harrison: “Ok you can come in, you don’t seem like you can hurt anybody anyway..” she said as she looked at him up to down.

James opened the door as the old lady dragged her body over to the sofa. She seemed weak, but her tone was still sarcastic and acute.
James sat on the chair opposite of her.

“So miss Harrison, from what I know your husband has been gone missing for the last 3 months is it?”

Harrison: “Yes that old sack of shit probably got his eye on a younger one and chuckled his legs behind her ass. You can’t do much of men’s indecency..”

James: “I see… Do you know anything about an experiment he was set to take? Something related to Nilton technologies?”

Harrison: “ are digging into mud waters young man..” she chuckled. “He would run into anything he could get his hands on. The old man was into everything that could bring him a dime or two.”

James: “Yes..but do you know anything related to medical experiments? any medicines maybe he was to take?”

Harrison: “Sorry are out of luck..”

James nodded and raised on his feet, taking the way out.

Harrison: “Unless..!”
James: “Yeah?”
Harrison: “There is a doctor he was talking to quite a lot before he disappeared. Not sure if it means anything to you, but I may have his card somewhere around here..”

She dug into a pile of papers.

Harrison: “Ohh there it is. Dr. Elkhart Martins. I hope that will help you. Now if you would excuse me..the old lady needs to rest..”

“This night is freaking cold” whispered James as he rubbed his hands together inside his car. It was already late and the roads were mostly empty, apart from the scarce drunken groups that happened to pass by from time to time. His eyes were already tired and drowsy. He took another sip from his hot, warm coffee and opened a folder he kept on his side.

“Dr. Elkhart Martins..what kind of job are you doing exactly with Powel?” He took a photo from the folder in front of him. The man depicted in it was thin enough for his face bones to protrude and a characteristic double edge jaw marking his face with a distinguished stroke.

“10 years under the military primary division hospital. Served as medical director in Iran..several metal awards for the service over the years..” He rolled over the photos in the folder stagnating on a particular one. “Special honor from the president himself..seems this guy has done quite a lot..”
He juggled some more files around.
“All to bring you down to working with Mr. Powel. And what is it in for you in this?” he said in a slow manner.

A couple of hours passed and the daylight started appearing on the horizon. “Assuming you keep a strict program I would expect you to leave the house any minute now.” He checked over his phone and then glanced at the house front door. “According to the information I got you have no family or children which should..” he sipped from his coffee again “..give me enough room to check your apartment..with all your permission of course..” he ducked down in his seat, lowered his hat camouflaging his face, and waited on his spot for any signs of movement. Suddenly the door of the house opened, and a man with a coat and a suitcase got out.

“Finally… it was about time or I would freeze my ass around here!”

He waited for a few more minutes and then got out of the car. Keeping his big hat lowered down and with a leather bag, in his hand, he approached the door. He took out a long silver stick that was thin as an icebreaker and a particular wire that seemed swift and flexible. He glanced on his sides and quickly used his tools to open the door.

“Ouala!” He slid into the house quickly and took over the stairs. Although marching over them fast he didn’t want to trigger any random questions on his movements so he went by with a low profile. He reached the third floor and took a turn left on which he abruptly lowered his head as he met with a passing old lady. She looked curious about him but didn’t say anything. James nodded in a greeting manner and continued as nothing happened. At the end of the hall, he took another turn left which got him face to face with the last apartment right across him.

“And that should be our stop, right here.” He said smoothly as he approached the door and touched his bag on the ground. He attached his head on the door for a few seconds, but no sound came from inside. He took his tools out and used them again in a similar way unlocking the door. As it opened, he leaned behind scrutinizing for any sign of life coming from inside. Then he shifted in and closed the door behind him.

The place was modern and luxurious but quite small at the same time. He carefully moved over to the main hall that was constituted with a big black sofa and glass square table in the middle. He looked carefully around and moved over to the corridor. Checking the rooms was part of the process of establishing the fact that he was indeed alone in the house.

He located the office and start snooping on the various papers.

“Is this guy a hoarder or something?” he snarled.

He checked on his drawers, the library, and the whole office, but he found nothing related to his job. Although filled with papers they all seemed irrelevant. “There has to be something around here”. He started snooping in a smaller drawer kept at the corner of the room. Inside, there were a number of folders in what seemed to be chronologically ordered.

After a bit more digging the search proved successful. A folder with the stamp “Nilton” on top appeared in front of his eyes.

“Look what we got here..”
Opening the folder, he found a number of files on unsuccessful experiments that depicted details on different cases. As he turned the pages with eagerness, he stopped abruptly on one as if frozen for a moment. On the top of the page the header displayed: “Nick Harrison” with a red stamp on the side writing “Deceased”. He put the folder in his bag and marched out quickly.

Harry: “I don’t want to hear a word. James, I am deeply disappointed in you. I gave you a clear order on this. A clear goddam order.”
James was standing opposite at him with his hands in front of his waist as Harry’s face was reddened with anger. On his side confronting him was Sophy as well, looking at him judgementally.

Harry: “Sophy told me all about it. You insulted the guy right in front of his face! And for what reason? There was no reason at all! It’s only your mind. Am I right mr. James?” He put his hands on top of his desk, touching it with his fingers raised as he looked at him.

James: “Sir I’m afraid this case goes deeper than what we thought. Mr. Powel is deep in the waters on this one..” he revealed some papers in his hand “..and I have the proof right here.”

Harry: “The proof? What do you mean?”

James sat down and explained to him the details of the case. He already had spotted one guy, but it was pretty evident that following down the leads there would be a whole set of people that had been mistreated the same way with Harrison. It would be only a matter of time before the whole team was locked up in jail and the corporation closed down by the law. The 3 of them spent the rest of the day in the office…

A few weeks later.

James sipped over his cigar. The heat was unbearable as he was sitting in the patio with a thin shirt and a drink under a tree. In the newspaper front page, some headlines were visible:

“A Terrible Scandal”
“Some of the most prominent members of our society”

James left the newspaper on the table and took a long breath as he closed his eyes. It was a stressful period. And he was worth these last days off as nobody else. God knows how he managed to come out of it. Suddenly his phone rang. The screen displayed a name: “Sophy”. He smiled and picked it up.

“James! Nice to hear from you… I hope you are having some good time in Italy..”
“Yeah, things have a different rhythm down here for sure..”
“I’m sure they do. Hey, listen, I would love to meet with you for a catch-up once you are back. Maybe we can get over for a coffee or something..”