—He says he’s very busy, Mr. Stilbur.
—Yes, well, of course, we all are. Tell him this is an urgent matter.
—Mr. Greggs is here.
—Send him in please.
—Hello Mr. Stilbur, I…
—Yes, Greggs, yes yes, come in.
—I’m sorry, it’s just that we are so busy out there with this…
—Yes, yes, tragic stuff. Really, really… yes, well, please have a seat. This is nothing official, no Nancy in here to…
—Yes, Mr. Stilbur?
—I heard my name, sir.
—Oh this damned. Not now, Nancy. This damned… how do you turn this box off?
—I believe that button on the bottom right.
—I see…. There we go. Now. Where were we? Yes. As you can see, my secretary is not present here with us in this room, which means this meeting is a level 2a. I am now, and this is all protocol, David, a formality type thing, you know, I’m now on record, via OfficeInsure™, that I have informed you, David Greggs, of this meeting’s, eh, the uh, type of meeting we are having, and therefore I will turn off OfficeInsure™’s audio recording devi… how… how does one even do that anyhow?
—I believe it’s that red button, sir. Second row, yep, that one.
—There we are. Christ. This thing. All protocol, you know. Still not used to it. Point is, David, we are no longer being recorded. This is a level 2a meeting, okay? Nothing too serious.
—Okay good, I am busy and…
—Yes, yes, of course. This won’t be long. I just wanted to… well, hey, how is your wife doing, by the way? Margaret?
—She’s doing fine.
—Hey, that’s great to hear! Some good news, ay?
—Well, the treatments are still…
—Are they working?
—Well we hope so, her spirits I mean…
—Knew a guy, Robert Salder, didn’t feel any improvement until the last day or so of the treatments. It’s a real miracle, these things.
—Yes, well we hope they are working. She’s being a real trooper through it all and I can only, well, I’m just being supportive and she gives me strength and we all hope it just works, uh, works out for the best.
—Yes, David, of course. I just got off the phone with Bagley and he…
—Yes. The big guy. And I was telling him about your dedication through all of this, you know.
—You said that? To the CEO?
—Yes and he was very impressed with your dedication, I told him you didn’t even miss a single day of work he was very impressed. He said something along the lines of, “Well that is the spirit of this company. Everyone at InfiniBook™ should aspire to his level of respect for our calling and for the depth of his humanity.” You know, something like that.
—I’m, I mean…
—My boy, you don’t need to say anything. It’s a high compliment, yes, to be spoken of so highly by the national CEO of InfiniBook™. Very big deal, as they say. I’ll mention it in our branch’s weekly memo text.
—I’m very flattered…. I…
—Maybe just a quick, I don’t know, “go DG” or something at the end. It’s hard to keep those memos under 80 characters as it is.
—Is this what you called me here to talk about? The, uh “depth of my humanity?”
—Partly, yes, but. Oh Dave. You are quick. You see, this is why we hired you, your ability to see, I suppose, past people in a way. See past their outward shell and into their true selves. A, um, an exemplary InfiniBook™ employee indeed.
—So what is it you wanted to talk to me about?
—Yes, of course, sorry, well. I’m afraid that, oh. This is my least favorite part. It involves a small transgression, David, I’m afraid, a bit of impropriety on your part as Facilitator. Oh I dislike this, especially with such a, as you know, dedicated and talented employee as yourself.
—What? What did I do?
—“Depth of humanity” and all that.
—Yes, David, I’m getting to that. Just girding myself, as they say. Really my least favorite part of this job. But these orders come from above. Protocol, as you know, and I have to follow these things to the letter.
—I understand. But isn’t this a level 2a meeting?
—All by the books, it’s very… what?
—A level 2a meeting. Therefore, can’t we just cut to the chase? You don’t have to…
—I’m afraid I do, David. When you leave here, Nancy will have you fill out and sign a Form-1281B in which you detail the discussion we had here in my office. Meanwhile, a 1281A pops right into my Computact™’s inbox waiting to filled out with my E.I.D. code, which form’s completion will upload the thing right to H.Q. automatically. You following?
—Yes but I…
—And they have this thing down to a science, really. Our psych profiles for cross reference, a discretion expert on hand, a full-time job actually, I met him and his wife once in D.C., very nice lady, cat trainer or some damned thing. Point is, they’d catch us if we lied and, well, neither of us wants to be in that position. This meeting is level 2a remember, not 3a.
—I see. I’m sorry I didn’t mean to.
—It’s quite alright, David. It’s quite alright. Now. Where were we. Ah, yes. The impropriety. I have the files right here in my Computact™, so don’t be weirded out if I look like I’m just staring into space. It’s just how I look when I read files. The deceased in question is #846, a man who went by the name Jacob Fischer. He died in 2043 at the age of 24. Too young, too young…… Anyway, the complaintee is his sister, in our system as 846-008a. Her complaint, filed on May 20th, 2046 involves an interaction with us on the day previous, the 19th. The complaint number is 846-001c and the interaction number is 846-012b. Low numbers, as you can see. I mean, three years and this last communication was only his twelfth. Not that well liked, I guess.
—And I take it I was the facilitator for that interaction. Number, uh….
—846-012b, yes David, you facilitated that communication between 846 and 846-008a.
—Between Jacob and his sister.
—Precisely, Jacob and his sister. There’s your humanity again. Very good. Very good.
—So the interaction was…
—Not yet, David, I’m sorry. This is the protocol part. We’ll get into specifics later. Right at this moment, all you need to know is that you facilitated a communication on May 19th, 2046 that resulted in a complaint from an Indirect Subscriber. Not a direct Costumer, mind you, which is why this meeting’s not being recorded.
—Now, protocol requires I engage in a short discussion about InfiniBook’s mission statement and your role in it, you know, etc. etc. The classic type stuff, stick with me on this.
—So you may know a good deal of this information, David, but bear with me.
—Good. Good. All moving along swimmingly. Very good. Now David. In your own words, can you please reiterate to me what InfiniBook™’s mission statement is?
—Okay. Well. It is to provide loved ones some kind of, I don’t know, nostalgia, some sense of, uh, a family member’s essence still being tangible, or able to be engaged.
—Okay. Okay. I think you fuddled a bit there, but I’m sure you get the gist. Here is the mission statement as written in our Computact™ ad: “InfiniBook™ strives to maintain a tangible connection to the past without compromising the closure that is so important for the grieving process.”
—So you had the word “tangible” there. Good job. And it’s a very good ad, I think. The marketing guys didn’t want that last part, especially the word “grieving,” but Jeff Bagley believed, rightly, that our customers would appreciate honesty during such a sensitive time.
—No one wants to feel sold to at their lowest point.
—Exactly. That’s why Bagley is such a genius. Anyway, our mission statement is about giving our customers, and of course our Indirect Subscribers as well, a connection with loved ones by allowing them continual contact with avatars of the deceased. Now, David, what sets us, would you say, apart from our competitors?
—Well, I would imagine it’s the InfiniSelf System™, designed by Mr….
—No no, well yes, but no. Don’t get me wrong, the InfiniSelf System™ is terrific, but it’s great in that Bagley understood its limitations and was able, therefore, to focus more on what the program could do than…well… I’m close to giving it away. I’ll rephrase my question. Why do you think our customers, 72 % of the market-share remember, are willing to pay more for InfiniBook™’s services than, say, those of Cloud Status™?
—Uhh. Are you talking about the human element?
—Precisely. Like I said before, the InfiniSelf System™ is a marvel of mathematics and programming, but Bagley’s genius was in his understanding of its limitations. Our competitors may have understood this too, but alleviating said flaws costs money. Our solution? Allow InfiniSelf™ to work with the data and compile a believable online avatar for the deceased, but hire actual people, rather than some unfeeling A.I. with no gift for langauge, to facilitate communication with next of kin.
—You see? Real people behind the keyboard; the InfiniSelf System™ behind the wheel. That’s the brilliance of this whole thing. And there’s something inspiring about it, too. Computers can never replace people. They can perform incredible functions with miraculous speed and precision, but Jeff Bagley understood that in this business, the human element is just as important, if not more so, than the smartest chips in the room. Do you see where I am headed with all this?
—You’re saying this company runs most smoothly when all parties know their respective roles.
—Well bravo, David. Really. I couldn’t have said it better. That’s perfect. You see, this is why we hired you, “when all parties know their roles.”
—Computers do the valuable data work, facilitators make sure it comes across as real.
—Excellent. When InfiniBook™ receives a request for avatar creation, we compile the total available online life-data of the deceased. Social media, publications, blogs, texts, etc. We’re even now working on a way to utilize Computact™ video recording, for those who can afford Computact™s of course, but don’t tell anybody, Top Secret, kinda thing. Anyway, we take all this info, we put it into the InfiniSelf System™, which then creates an online identity for the deceased.
—And facilitators communicate, via social media, with Customers and Indirect Subscribers as the deceased loved one.
—Yes, but you’ve skipped an important step. As you know, every communication must be run through the InfiniSelf System™. You get a query, say some weepy girlfriend who just watched some romantic type BlipTube™ video, she writes to a deceased ex lover. Before responding, we always, always, run the query through the InfiniSelf System™ before responding. That way, we can be sure we are responding in a mode apropos to the deceased. I know you know this, it’s all just protocol that I remind you.
—After all, we don’t want to sound like other people. I.e. you don’t want to sound like David Greggs; you want to sound like Jacob Fischer, or whatever poor bastard.
—The InfiniSelf System™ ensures we accurately ape the language, tone, and content of the deceased on their social media profiles.
—Thus is it wholly important, crucial one could say, to never stray from the script provided by the InfiniSelf System™’s diagnostics.
—Yes, I understand completely.
—Good. Good. All moving along here. All swimmingly. You’re doing swell, David. Now that brings us to complaint 846-001c. I have the report here in my Computact™. Again, excuse the blank staring. On May 19th of this year, IS-846-008a opened a communication with D-846 in which she wrote, and I quote with grammatical errors found in the communication, “Jake, I miss listening to you play guitar on our porch during those sweltering summer nights.” Now this was…
—Where were the grammatical errors?
—Where were there errors? That sounded like a perfectly correct sentence.
—Well, yes, I guess it is. They just have us say that every time, you know. Most of ‘em, well you know how it is; you’re in the trenches as they say. Anyway, that was the query from IS-846-008a. Our records show you did run this through the system, and you were recommended, by the system, to facilitate a communication that included a cultural reference. Does this case ring a bell, David?
—Yes, I remember it. The girl had contacted him a few times before and…
—Yes, well, let’s not get into that. Anyway, the InfiniSelf System™ recommended a cultural reference with a personal touch, and if you went back to 846’s profile, you would see the number of acceptable cultural reference points from which to choose. Rock bands, mostly as I’m looking at it now, but some BlipTube™ channels in there as well.
—Yes I looked through all of those but nothing seemed…
—And our records show you even received specific suggestions from the system, like which lyrics to cite and whatnot, but these were all apparently ignored.
—Yes, they, well, yes, they all just seemed inadequate is all.
—Well the InfiniSelf System™ isn’t perfect. But it safeguards us, in a way.
—So anyway I looked into Margaret’s…
—So you ignored 846’s profile and the InfiniSelf System™ and the system’s recommendations and went off the beaten path, as they say. Is that accurate?
—Well, yes, I…
—For the record, since we have now established that you went off script, so to speak, and did not follow protocol, can you tell me what you did write in response to interaction 846-012b?
—I, um, what?
—When Jacob’s sister contacted him on his profile, what did you write in response, David? These words in response being, of course, not protocol.
—I uh, well, I, I wrote some lines from a poem.
—Yes a, um, a Walt Whitman poem.
—I have the records here. Again, excuse the blank staring. This is what you wrote: “Still with you, Sis! Remember Walt W.’s jam, ‘After the dazzle of day is gone / Only the dark night shows to my eyes the stars; / After the clangor of organ majestic or chorus or perfect band / Silent athwart my soul moves the symphony true.’” Now, David, why would you go and write something like that?
—Well Walt Whitman wrote it, I just…
—Sorry, I, um, well I couldn’t find anything in the recommendations from the system that I thought worked, and nothing from his profile seemed to…
—But that doesn’t mean you should just pull shit out of your ass, David.
—No, no, no not at all. I looked into her profile, you see. The sister’s. She was an English major in college, specialized in American Poetry, you see. She definitely would have…
—David. David, David. You can’t do that, she…
—I would have thought she’d have gotten the reference, I mean, it’s about…
—David that’s not the point! It was you whom she felt she was talking to is the point. It was David Greggs, pretentious poet; not Jacob Fischer, wannabe rock star and her beloved but sadly departed brother! She wanted a communication with the latter, not you.
—I wasn’t trying to subvert… I mean, I think I wrote it like he would have.
—Oh goodness, David. That whole “Walt W.’s jam” business? It came off… I mean, Jesus I’m sorry about this because, you know, “depth of humanity” and your wife and your kid in that accident two years ago and all that, but I mean, Christ, David, it came off as totally pathetic and weird.
—The strings behind it… so obvious. It’s sickening, really. It’s gross. You could see why, oh the fuck’s her name, 846-00…whatever is so upset over this. And Liz is in trouble for this too. Apparently off God-knows-where with that new young intern kid when she should have been in your sector approving these communications!
—I see. It wasn’t her…
—I mean do you see how this makes me look? It’s like I have no control over this whole branch. Such a breakdown like that.
—I’m sorry, sir. I really am. Is there anything I can…
—No no, Christ. I’m getting too worked up over this as it is. It’s still pretty minor, just don’t pull this kind of shit again, okay? A simple switcheroo is all. Reggie is going to handle the Fischer case from here on out, and you’ll take over one of his, a #254, some wacko who offed himself by pretending to skydive. Who does that? Backpack had no parachute at all, just bricks and a note.
—That’s fine, Mr. Stilbur, a totally reasonable fix.
—Well it’s not my decision, it’s protocol. Everything’s protocol, Greggs. Sometimes I don’t know why a computer doesn’t just do my job.
—Not at all. You’re very needed, sir. The human touch and all.
—Well thank you, David. I’m all worked up, here you are trying to end things on a positive note. Like I said, why we hired you. Anyway, I don’t want to take up too much more of your time, I’m sure Nancy is just itching to get that 1281B into your hands.
—Okay, sir, I’ll get out of your…
—Just heed this last bit of advice: You’re a facilitator, got it? You’re not a writer. Your job is not to make the customer feel better; it is to accurately create the illusion that their loved one, or some part, some ripple of their loved one, still lives. Do you understand?
—Sir, I understand completely. And let me just say before I leave that this company’s compromise on that health plan thing is really helping us out, I mean my wife…
—Yes, well, it’s fine, all by the books but that reminds me.
—Your wife. I know this is delicate, but with your wife ill I figured. Well. I noticed that she does not have Pre-Mortem Contract of Intent with InfiniBook™.
—Are you aware it’s free for employees? I mean, you could be her Direct Subscriber at no cost and….. oh dear, I am being improper I’m afraid, not the right time, just look at your face.
—No it’s just that…
—I merely hoped that someone in this office has kept you informed of our policy, you deserve that much.
—It’s just, um, well. We talked and…. It’s her choice, sir. You know how it is.
—Yes, yes. Of course of course. I understand.
—Thank you sir.
—Oh blasted. Yes Nancy?
—Your daughter is on line one?
—Well fine, just a minute. Afraid I have to take this one, Greggs my boy. Send love to the family and keep up the good work, “depth of humanity” and all that.
—Yes sir. And her name’s Margaret, by the way.
—Well of course it is, I know Margaret. I’ve met your wife many times, lovely woman.
—Yes, but I meant the sister. Her name is also Margaret. Maggie Fischer.
—The si…. oh, yes well, very good.
—Mr. Stilbur? Your daughter.
—Yes Nancy, Christ. Au revoir, David, don’t forget the form. Hello? Penny? What do you mean the cat……. The neighbors? Stop yelling….. I just want….. no stop yelling I can’t….. I can’t…… I can’t……
Matthew Denvir hails from Kingston, New York. His fiction has been published in journals such as The Conium Review, Paper Nautilus, and Thunderclap! He received a NY Press Association “Better Newspaper” award for his Le Moyne College column “Cheers and Jeers,” a satirical treatise on college life. He graduated with an M.A. from Bard College in 2011.