by Davis Allen
Mr. Richards lay languid on his couch as the sound from his TV filled the room. Outside, the sun rose and sent rays of light through one of his many windows—each seemingly bigger than the one before. Yet nothing was as large—or as loud—in this room as the TV itself. Any attention he had to give he gave to the flashing pictures and sound bites coming from the all-but-wall-sized flat screen 5k TV. The Television of televisions—the advertisement said. Mr. Richards had almost spent another several hundred dollars on the then high-end VR-capable version of the same screen—but he foresaw that the trend would fizzle out. And so it did.
Like his taste in televisions, his taste in houses was toward the massive. This room alone was large enough to make it a highly sought-after venue for rehearsal dinners and bar mitzvahs. Despite the size, it now included no more than 4 objects: the TV, the couch, a remote, and a silk onesie with red letters sewn on to the waist which read “Mr. Zachary Richards, the First and Only.” The empty room reverberated the sound coming from the TV:
…truly an amazing new development!
Yes, absolutely, Cindy, and many people have started to use it in very creative ways. You know just last week I was talking to a man
People are already using it? It’s safe?
Safe? [laughter] Of course. It’s merely storage. As I was saying, I met a man who
But what do you say about the security risks?
I say it’s absolutely air-tight. I won’t bore you with the specifics. But as I was saying I met a man who had bought Zakar and transferred everything over—and I mean everything.
How long does it take?
A few hours. It’s merely moving files from your computer to the cloud. But as I was saying he moved it all over and then a week later he discovered
Yes, but are all of these files in one place? What if they get mixed up?
[laughter] Cindy, I assure you, and everyone out there that we have a perfect system in place. We worked tirelessly to ensure an unbreakable connection between users and their uploaded information. So this man
Information. You mean memories?
Yes, of course. I merely want to convey that there is no difference in security between uploading a word document or pdf file and uploading memories. But this man I was talking about, he bought Zakar and was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s no more than a week later.
Well, that’s terrible!
Cindy, it is normally a tragedy. Not just for him, but it could be for his whole family. And all of his friends. But due to Zakar’s revolutionary memory storage system, this man can retain all of his memories.
What are you saying?
I’m saying that Zakar has effectively cured Alzheimer’s Disease.
Thank you. And people have also started to use our product in other creative
Mr. Richards turned off the TV. Without moving any part of his body other than his mouth he yelled out in an inquisitive voice, “Jarvis!” He waited a few moments, and when no one came he yelled again. “Jarvis!” Eventually, a man in a tuxedo arrived at the room, bowed, and asked,
“How may I help you, my lord?”
Mr. Richards laughed. “Jarvis, can you make me some breakfast and coffee?”
“Okay. I’ll make you some breakfast and coffee.”
The man walked out of the room without another word. Mr. Richards eventually sat up on the coach and stretched his legs. He looked around the empty room and shrugged his shoulders. He placed his hand down on the couch and grasped at empty air. He looked down, then moved some cushions, then looked under the couch.
“Jarvis! Could you find my phone?” Mr. Richards groaned.
A moment passed.
“Okay. I’ll find your phone.” Jarvis responded.
Mr. Richards heard a soft buzzing in the distance. He got up off the couch and walked out of the room. He pursued the buzzing through his upstairs hallway—checking in the various bedroom and bathroom doors. The door closest to the spiral staircase was one of his offices, and as he checked inside he saw his phone buzzing next to his laptop. He popped inside to pick up his phone and passed by his empty floor-to-ceiling bookshelves on his way out. He stopped for a moment to look at them; he turned back toward his desk. He sat down and typed blackbird424 into his laptop—it was incorrect. Then he waited a few moments and the back wall of the office slid open—revealing a narrow room filled with servers, hard drives, and a few file cabinets. Mr. Richards glanced at the computing equipment and then walked over to the cabinets. He took out a key from his pocket, flipped it around, and used the back side to open the cabinet. He took a deep breath—he saw the cabinet was full—then let it out slowly. Mr. Richards closed everything up and walked out of his office to the spiral staircase.
He took one slow step at a time—more focused on his phone than on where he stepped. He checked his calendar and saw that his next interview was two days away. He would have to prepare. He could smell bacon grease and coffee grounds in the air. The stairs were carpeted, and he instinctually knew he was off the stairs when his bare foot touched the hardwood floor. Mr. Richards put his phone in his pocket and stood for a moment on the cool wood floor. He bent down and wiped his hand across the floor, and then he rested face first on top of it.
“Jarvis! Is breakfast ready yet?” Mr. Richards lifted his head just enough to say.
“Breakfast will be ready shortly, my lord.”
“Jarvis. I’d rather you call me Sir Poops A Lot.”
“Okay, I’ll call you Sir Poops A Lot.”
“Jarvis, wait. I’d rather you call me Mr. Rich.”
“Okay, I’ll call you Mr. Rich.”
Mr. Richard remained on the floor.
“Mr. Rich, your breakfast is ready.”
Mr. Richards stood up and walked out of the foyer, past the first-floor office, the laundry room, the game room, a secondary living room, the basement door until he finally arrived at the kitchen. Mr. Richards disregarded a large mahogany table and sat at the kitchen bar where a small plate with only bacon was set. There was coffee as well in a plain white mug. No silverware. No eggs.
“Jarvis, could you remind me—” Mr. Richards began when he looked up and saw a woman in a black-and-white maid outfit washing dishes at the sink. She turned to face him. Mr. Richards scratched his head.
“Jarvis, change Kitchen AI sex setting to male.” He reached for some bacon.
“Okay, changing Kitchen AI sex setting to male.” By the Mr. Richards looked up again the maid had turned into the man from before. He continued eating in silence.
“Jarvis, you know what’s interesting? No matter how developed we can make AI and home assistants, no matter how real we can make you look, you still can’t come up with conversation topics on your own. I just don’t see a way to program you so that you can have an original thought without being given it in some form or another by a user.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t know how to help with that.”
“Right. You can respond almost perfectly to anything I ask or say, but you’d never initiate the conversation. The closest I could get is to program you to ask how an event on my schedule rather than simply reminding me an event is coming up.”
“That sounds like a good idea, Mr. Rich.”
“You’re right, but you only say that because I told you to say that. Nonetheless, it is a good idea.”
Mr. Richards ate for a few moments in silence.
“Jarvis. Let’s have a conversation.”
“What sort of conversation would you like to have?”
“Ask me what I did last night.”
“Okay. What did you do last night?”
“I don’t remember.” Mr. Richards said as he dropped a half-eaten strip of bacon back onto his plate. He shook his head. “Some stuff of mine is gone—everything in grand room and the books in the office upstairs. Was I robbed? Did I give it away?”
“Would you like to access the Zakar footage?”
“Good idea.” Mr. Richards said as he ate the final remains off of his place. He gulped his coffee down. He pushed the plate and mug to the edge of the bar, walked out of the kitchen, and went inside the living room. He plopped onto the couch and asked Jarvis to cast the footage onto the living room screen. There was a delay.
“What time are you looking to see?” Jarvis asked.
“How about 9:30pm?”
Nothing casted onto the TV.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t seem to access the footage right now.”
“What?” Mr. Richards said softly to himself.
“The footage is either unavailable or doesn’t exist.”
“Well I certainly existed last night at 9:30, so. Is 6:30 available?”
“No, Mr. Rich.”
“Is 3:30 available?”
“Casting 3:30pm, December 31st, 2029 on the living room screen.”
Mr. Richards saw two bare feet—his two bare feet—standing on carpet. Then two hands emerged buttoning up a blue shirt. The hands put socks and then dress shoes on the feet. He heard his own voice ask if Jarvis had everything ready for “their” arrival. He heard himself say that everyone was coming soon. Jarvis said that everything was in order and the food would take another 45 minutes. Everything was on schedule. The perspective strolled out of a closet, through a bedroom, out into the upstairs hallway and into the great room. Great works of art decorated the walls—a Picasso, two Monets, among others—and multiple statues filled in the space around the couch. The video also revealed a grand piano.
“Fast Forward 45 minutes.”
The video focused on the large TV screen in the great room when a doorbell rang. Mr. Richards heard Jarvis announce that the first quests had arrived. Then the video went blank.
“I’m sorry. It seems that the video feed in unavailable and stays that way until 6:30am, January 1st 2030.”
Mr. Richards wondered what the problem could be. There certainly was no issue with the Zakar program. It was infallible. Air-tight. Memories uploaded to a personal cloud with unlimited storage space. Perhaps it was a problem with the Wi-Fi. Stupid internet companies. He could invent a cure for Alzheimer’s but they still couldn’t find a way to make Wi-Fi signals work in his house. Perhaps his next project would be home internet solutions.
A doorbell ring broke his concentration. Jarvis announced that a guest had arrived. Mr. Richards had no idea who this could be. He went to the door, which Jarvis had already opened, and there stood a woman. Mr. Richards thought she was attractive, she was around his age. But he did not recognize her. He offered to take her coat.
“How may I help you?” He asked as he put her coat in a nearby closet.
“Zach! It’s so nice to see you again.” She hugged him. Mr. Richards looked at Jarvis with a confused face.
“Is there something I can help you with, Mr. Rich?” As Jarvis said this the woman stepped back.
“No. Jarvis, and please, call me Mr. Richards.” He said, somewhat embarrassed.
“Okay, I’ll call you Mr. Richards.”
“And Jarvis, could you search the premises to see if we have any other visitors?”
“Okay, I’ll search the premises for you.” He said as he walked out of the room.
“Excuse him, that’s just the AI Butler. An evolved form of the early home assistants—from a decade or so ago. Rudimentary things those were. We are working to make the Jarvis program even better. Just this morning I—” Mr. Richards explained.
“Of course I know Jarvis—one of your great projects!” She all but squealed saying the word projects. “Everyone knows. That and Zakar. Zach! Look at you!” She yelled. He looked down at his feet and back up again.
“Sorry for dropping by unexpectedly, but I was in the area for New Year’s and I thought I’d take a chance.” She smiled at him and pushed her blonde bangs behind her ear. She twisted her head and looked inquisitively at him. He did not hide his confusion very well. Mr. Richards was at a lost for who this woman was.
“Really, I just wanted to come by and congratulate you on all the success. I can’t believe you did all this. I mean of course I can because you were so bright but I had no idea how bright.” The woman walked into the kitchen and took a seat at the bar. “Oh my gosh—this place is gorgeous! Well done.” She softly clapped her hands together. “Zach, is it possible that I could ask for a drink?”
Mr. Richards could not think of anyone who called him by his first name—other than his mother. “I, um, yeah. Would you like a mimosa? Here. I, well, this is terribly awkward but may I ask who you are?”
“Zach! Are you kidding? It’s me. Sophia.” She said.
Mr. Richards did not know a Sophia. Who was this woman? What did she want from him? Of course, it was some elaborate ruse. Happened every now and again. Some attractive woman appearing at his house. claiming to know him, trying to seduce him. Probably looking for money. Or to steal his plans for future work. He considered asking Jarvis to contact security to escort her out right away and eliminate the threat.
But then, he thought, perhaps she was a guest at the event he hosted the night before. Perhaps she was a thief—or one of many thieves. His inquiry into his storage room revealed that they left the real treasures behind. Perhaps they could not find them. She might be here to trick him into showing her more of the house. This could work to his advantage–if he could get her to confess, or to show even a micro-expression of familiarity with the house then he could convict her and ruin the plot.
He knew it was Macrosoft. Always Macrosoft gunning for him. After he put both
Microsoft and Apple on the brink they had to merge in order to compete with him. They still weren’t close. This woman must be with them.
And yet, he continued to think. At this point he had been thinking long enough for Sophia to notice. He smiled and placed his hand on his chin to make it look like he was only pretending to think. He considered that it was possible for this to be a woman from his past. He had no recollection of a Sophia, but friends were rare for Mr. Richards and he did not want to risk ruining this relationship.
“Yes, of course. How could I forget? It’s just been so long. How long has it been since we’ve seen each other?”
He gambled on letting her stay. It was not much of a risk considering Jarvis was currently conducting research on the woman. Mr. Richard programmed Jarvis to run background checks when he used the signal phrase search the premises. In a short amount of time, Mr. Richards would know the real identity of this woman.
“Too long! I think the last time we really spent time together was right after college. And then there were those two other times we happened to cross paths. You remember the promise we made each other. Don’t you?” Sophia asked.
“Of course, I do. And I plan on keeping it.” Mr. Richards bluffed. “Tell me more about yourself. What have you been up to in the meantime?” He asked, looking for information to cross-check.
“I got married. Then divorced. He just wasn’t as good as you. I’ve always considered what things would have been like if we stayed together. Have you ever wondered that?” Her mimosa glass was already empty.
“To be honest, I don’t think so. I guess I just focused on my work.” Mr. Richards felt that she was a little forward. To come right out and say that. If he had known this woman then it may have been some sort of bombshell. Consider if this were the love of his life—consider they met in high school. She was on the soccer team and she had been dating a guy, Josh, on the soccer team—super nice and legitimately humble. Out of nowhere she invites Zach to have a picnic at the park with her best friend. He assumed Josh would be there. He assumed he was being set up with the friend. But it was just her; and her friend had to cancel. Last minutes. Strawberries sitting in sunlight. Rosy lips. Cool breeze ruffling their shirts and blowing her blonde hair into his face as
Summer ended and college began. He went here and she went there. They tried but the distance and the classes and the new people. She tried—she came and visited campus only to discover he was with another girl in his room. Windshield wipers on all the way back. He tried to make it better. He visited. Tried to explain—but what could he say? He stood outside her dorm room while her roommates glared from down the hallway. He leaned forward and whispered I love you. She yelled back We’re over. He left.
Time must have healed some things. She reached out again a year after college. Said she had a group of friends, they were going to see a movie. Maybe he wanted to join? He thought about it but decided to tell her work was too busy. Couldn’t make it to the movie, or the bar, or the party, or the white elephant gift exchange. He worked from home. She asked him to stop by the art museum—where she worked. He never did. She stopped by one evening to see what he was up to. She saw him asleep in his parent’s garage. Put a blanket around him. Waited.
They dated again. Thought about getting married. He had no money. Only aspirations. Only goals. She said her parents just couldn’t. So she just couldn’t. He remembers watching her headlights fade into the horizon of a chilly autumn night. He kept working.
Years later, mid-twenties, he saw her downtown his hometown. Ice cream shop she licked a cone and smiled at a child with her. He approached, smiled, asked Yours? She screeched. Hugged him. What else could she do? Ice cream shop was certainly not the place to explain how hurt she was. How she had come to terms with it by herself. How she wanted him back. How she had never called. She did say, No, but could be soon. She flashed a finger. Ring. Nice. They said it was nice to see each other. He left the shop—hey kid you gonna buy something? Nah—and he made it a half block when a hand grabbed his arm. He turned. Blonde disheveled hair sparkling in front of the sun. She smiled. Zach. There’s so much to say—and someday I’ll say it. But for now can we just make a promise? He nodded. Promise me
“I can see that! And thank goodness. This place is so big and fancy! Would you mind showing me around a little bit?” Sophia interrupted his imagination. He liked her a little better after making up a backstory for the two of them—yet he still did not remember who she actually was. He would show this woman around. He would get to confess what she had done to him. His eyes would record her every movement.
“Sure. Why don’t we start upstairs and make our way down? Would like another mimosa to take with you?” He offered; she accepted.
He escorted her to the spiral staircase. He rushed up the stairs, asked her to wait, came to the railing and tossed some clothes down at her. He was laughing and so was she but she asked what he was doing.
“I’ve always wanted to do this. Makes me feel like the Great Gatsby.”
“You are the Great Gatsby.”
“Are you Daisy?” He smiled.
She smiled but looked down and walked past him up the stairs. He followed her. He told her to walk all the way down the hall to the great room.
“Wait! Close your eyes!” He took her hand and brought her into the room. “Okay, open them!” She opened them and looked around. Her eyes widened and brightened.
“What a ginormous room! What are you going to put in here?” She asked. She seemed genuine—but he’d let his analysts comb through her reaction.
“Maybe some art. Do you have any recommendations?” He asked. She thought for a moment.
“Your grandfather was a painter, right? Why not some of his paintings?”
Mr. Richards considered this for a moment. He remembered vaguely that his grandfather was actually a painter. But it wasn’t something he ever talked about with him directly. He couldn’t remember any time he sat down and painted with his grandfather. In fact, he couldn’t remember any particular piece of art that his grandfather made.
“I’m not sure there are any paintings of his to put up—I think he just did it as a hobby. Probably just ideas in his head—nothing on paper.”
“No, I remember looking at them together. You remember? We were in the closet in the back of your grandparents’ garage? All of them were these. We looked at each one. They were beautiful!”
Mr. Richards certainly did not remember this. It seemed to him that she was trying to add memories into his system. He couldn’t be sure but his intuition told him that this was somehow a hacking attempt on the air-tight Zakar system. Sort of inception process—he’d let his security teams watch his files and see if they agreed. For now, he decided he better visualizing these false memories she was giving him.
“Let me show you the office next. Why don’t you walk down that hall again, last door on your left. I’ll be right there.” He directed her and she left. Mr. Richards walked into the great room a bit and spoke up to the TV.
“Jarvis!” He yelled in a whisper. “Any results on the check?”
“Mr. Richards, I searched through your Zakar files and no cross-reference could be established to verify the identity of this woman. However, I have some reason to think that this was a faulty method of checking” Jarvis’ face came on the screen. “I’ll run a couple other checks and I’ll get back with you.”
“Faulty method? Jarvis, what do you mean by faulty method?”
“Significant amounts of footage are either unavailable at the moment or do not exist”
“Damn, Wi-Fi!” Mr. Richards stomped his feet and left the great room. He came into the office and saw Sophia on his laptop. She was still on the lock screen. She typed something in and the computer told her she was incorrect.
“What are you doing?” Mr. Richards asked.
Before she could respond, the back wall of the office slid open and revealed his hidden room. He looked intently at her face to see her reaction. She was completely surprised. He, in this moment, believed it was somehow an accident. But he knew the team would take a look at it. They would know if she was a siren, a desirable liar. Her illusion started to wear off.
“I—I don’t know what happened. I just wanted to see if I could guess your password. I guess your moms name, then mine which was silly of me, but then I tried the coffee shop we used to go to out of state just to get away and our dating anniversary. Why is that your password?”
“What did you say that was?”
“Blackbird Coffee Shop, Valparaiso, IN. April 24th.”
“I’ve never been there. Jarvis!”
“Zach, what are you talking about? We went all the time!”
“I’ve never been there!” He yelled.
“Mr. Richards, how may I help?” Jarvis appeared at the doorway.
“Call the police! Get this woman away from me!”
“Yes, Mr. Richards. Calling the police now. I also have the results from the background checks.”
“Background checks? Police?” Sophia asked. She looked at Mr. Richards and then Jarvis. She bolted for the hidden room and ran for the file cabinets. She pulled and pulled but they were locked. Mr. Richards stood at the door with Jarvis. He eventually heard the police come in the front door. They rushed into the office and forced Sophia out. She screamed. “Zach! The promise! The promise! You promised!”
Mr. Richard sighed as he watched the police drag Sophia out of the house. He turned to Jarvis.
“Who was she?”
“Her name is Sophia Andersen. From what I could find of her, it looks like she was a Divison 1 athlete. A soccer player for a school in the Midwest. She went on to work at a small city art museum. Eventually became the head of it—good for her. She was married to a man named Josh Thompson, but they recently got a divorce.”
What is this elaborate rouse? How did they get me to imagine the exact information that would corroborate the background check?
“Thank you, Jarvis. I think we did the right thing. I’ll just close up in here and I’ll meet you downstairs. Shall we golf this afternoon?”
He walked into the back room and opened the file cabinet. He pulled the cabinet drawer and grabbed a red file from the very front. He opened it and looked at the paper on the top. It was a receipt for something he had sold. He looked around on the page—less interested in the who then the what. It seemed that he had made a transaction through the Zakar program, and sold something that was defined by time rather than a name. He read “4:16pm, December 31, 2029 to 6:29am, January 1, 2030 sold to…” What?
Mr. Richards flipped through a few more pages. The one after the first had pictures. One had a Picasso painting. Then a Monet. Then a landscape painting. Some bushes that opened to a clearing which lead to a beach. The ocean and the sky beautifully mixed in the background. Under the picture there was smaller type—part of which caught Mr. Richards attention and all related Zakar files shall be moved from Mr. Zachary Richards’ cloud to that of Mr. Lawson’s client—an unnamed art enthusiast who wishes to study Mr. Richards’ grandfather.
And he remembered—part of it anyway. Mr. Richards threw down the papers and sprinted to his front door. He swung the door open and was just in time to see the police car racing off into the distance.
“Sophia!” Mr. Richards screamed.