Matthew Harrison | Anything

The following day, Jack went to work as usual. When he arrived at the ninetieth floor, and went through security, he got a wave from Mandy at reception. And when he opened his portal, he found a forest of congratulatory messages from his online pals and work-mates, including three from Marvin reminding him about chicks. He had somehow copied the icon of Suzie, enlarging her breasts, and clipped it on all over Jack’s online space.

Jack waved all of this aside without responding. Then he looked into his job folder.

He was an analyst in the financial services division of the company. His role was to add colour to research reports which were produced by another department. He was supposed to do this by adding comments to the reports when anything didn’t look right, or when he was aware of something else that could be referenced. The company called it, ‘crowd validation’.  Lots of other analysts were employed to do the same work, so that their collective comments cluttered the report icon like leaves on a tree, sometimes spiralling off into whole branches of discussion. The underlying reports never seemed to change, though.

Today, Jack dipped into his folder with zest. The first report was about the impact of cloning on the beauty industry. It was a speculative piece, advising clients to underweight beauty stocks as near-perfect clones would eventually outnumber natural people. The report icon included holographic comparisons, the models helpfully naked and (on the natural side) showing their flaws.

Jack picked an assertion from the report at random–Do you know that one in ten people on your floor are probably clones?–and punched in his comment, “On my floor, it’s all of them!”

Too obvious. He was attacked immediately. The other analysts on his floor gave him a thumbs-down, and Marvin (who did the same job on the floor above) added his own. Jack saw his comment go down in iconic flames. As the flames were guttering out, Suzie’s icon appeared briefly.

The next paragraph in the report began, With technology advancing rapidly, beautiful people can be cloned at will. Jack punched in a comment: “Rexford discovers cloning’s crucial flaw.”

This one took longer. But in less than a minute, the first corrective comments came in—“No such company,” “Rexford isn’t in biotech,” “Cloning technology mature; obstacles to mass production ethical, only.” Soon his comment was weighed down by counterarguments and evidence, and he was asked if he wished to withdraw it. Jack declined, and saw the comment attract a few more hits before the system judged it compromised beyond repair and it was moved to Archive.

Too easy to check. Jack tried another comment, “Would you marry a clone?” The system flagged this as non-evidential, but even so, it attracted a flurry of responses, ranging from, “My girlfriend is a clone,” through, “I have!” to “Trade-ins allowed?” Eventually, this comment and its collection of posts were moved aside as well.

Jack stared at the busy holographic space on his desk. Already, the leading edge of commentary had moved on. The system prompted him a few times, asking if he wanted to join in as items came up that matched his registered preferences, but he did nothing.  Eventually, the system dropped into “Mull” mode, and Jack shut it down.

You couldn’t get away with just anything.

***

In the weeks that followed, Jack tried to beat the system. He stayed at home for a few days, but got bored with that, and found himself opening the company’s system remotely to check his job folder. Then started on a tour of the company’s premises. The company was indeed vast, having several offices in New York alone, but his security clearance didn’t get him beyond reception. A smiling Mandy greeted him in each office–or if it wasn’t Mandy it was her sister. And all the offices looked exactly the same. Jack got through half of Connecticut then gave up the idea.  And he couldn’t get Suzie out of his mind.

From time to time he convened with Marvin, who seemed to see Jack’s distinction as a kind of shared honour. And one day his friend had an idea.

Why don’t you ask to be CEO?” he said.

Jack thought about it. “Can I?”

“It’s ‘anything’, isn’t it? You ask to do what the CEO does–decide on the company’s strategy.  They’ve got to let you do it.”

With some misgivings, Jack arranged to meet his People Manager.

***

Suzie was dressed this time in a diaphanous turquoise wrap which if possible accentuated her figure even more.

Struggling with this, Jack waited as Suzie opened his file.

“You haven’t been doing too much,” she said after glancing through it. “Not very imaginative, are you?”

That stung. Jack responded sharply, “I want to be CEO.”

“Very well.” Suzie accepted this without blinking.

Surprised, Jack wondered if she had understood. “I mean, I want to decide on company strategy and stuff.” Then he recalled Marvin’s particular advice. “And have a secretary.”

Suzie nodded, and appeared to be making a note of his request. There was a short silence.

“Well, when do I start?”

Suzie looked up. Her eyes seemed to look soulfully into his.

Was she real after all? Jack wondered. Then he had a moment of inspiration–she must be a clone! The original People Manager is somewhere else looking after someone important, he thought, and they send her duplicate to me. He was just working out that that was what made Suzie real, and therefore worth pursuing, when her reply registered.

“You’ve already started.”

(Continued)

 

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