IMPERMANENT RECORD, Part 5

Last episode on IMPERMANENT RECORD: At Theodore Roosevelt High School in Patrick’s Vale, South Dakota, all of the students have lost all memory of who they are… and so has everyone else. While the school tries to put a lid on the chaos, the problem has been noticed elsewhere…

memoryTHE BLACKOUT

5 (of 9)

Special Agent Phil Johnson looked across the board at his opponent. Sam had just sent two air factors into France, interdicting several hexes that Phil had been expecting to use to launch a new push. Now Phil sat there, running his long fingers through his thick blonde hair trying to outwit the cleverest opponent (and the only one who could parse the rules to the old SPI game) he knew. Phil was still deciding what move to make when a message appeared on the laptop monitor he was staring at.

“Director Hills is about to come in,” Sam (short for SamSUM algorithm, Mark II) said, white pixels on black screen.

Sam was rarely if ever wrong, as evidenced by the door opening behind Phil ten seconds later.

“Phil, tell me this isn’t what it looks like. What have I said to you about using the SamSUM-2 engine to play wargames?”

“You said don’t play Diplomacy with him. This is War in Europe.” Hills could be a hardass, especially with the younger agents, but either he liked Phil or he had taken it seriously when Phil said that he had leverage on Ian’s immediate superior.

“Look,” Hills said, “it’s not just that you’re using up part of Sam’s processing power, but this is supposed to be our backup conference room and you’ve covered the entire table with Monopoly.”

War in Europe.” There was hardly a hint of Phil’s old South African accent left in his clipped, direct speech.

“We’re not at war with Europe, Phil,” Hills sighed. “Can you clean it up?”

Phil tensed a little and obviously must have made a pained expression.

“You’re not going to get to finish anyway,” Hills said. “I’m putting you in the field.”

Now it was Phil’s turn to be off-balance. He was a investigative psychologist, not a field agent.

“There’s an… an incident. Mass amnesia at a high school in South Dakota. The Director wants feet on the ground there, and there are enough anomalous data blanks that Sam flagged it for the Yellow Center. You’re my best profiler who isn’t out on a case.”

“I’m not a profiler,” Phil corrected. “I’m an investigative psychologist.”

“Are you going to make me ask the difference when you (a) know I already know, (b) know what I meant, and (c) am this close to writing you up for insubordination about your illegal floating craps game?”

War in Europe,” Phil said, unable to stop himself.

Hills slapped a very thin file down in the middle of France, scattering tiny cardboard tokens everywhere.

“When you bring that file back, it better need someone to help you carry it,” Hills snapped. “See Diane on the way out to get your transport taken care of. I don’t want to waste any more time on dealing with you.”

It was a few seconds after Hills slammed the door that another line of text appeared on the monitor running Sam’s interface.

“I told you he would not want us playing War in Europe.”

Phil typed back, “When I get back, how about a game of Magic Realm?”

“It’s your funeral,” Sam replied.

“What do you know about it?” Phil typed. The SamSUM-2 artificial intelligence was in charge of collating data and finding anomalous situations… the kind of thing most people would call paranormal. If Sam flagged a case, it got bumped to the FBI’s special inquiries division, the Yellow Center. To Hills. That meant that since Hills had given the case to Phil, the commutative law meant that Sam had already seen it.

“I am presuming you are asking what I know about ‘the case [just assigned by Director Hills to Special Agent Philip Johnson],’ not about ‘your funeral [figure of speech].'” Sam responded with almost human parsing. Text poured down the laptop screen. “At 1:46 today, 485 students at Theodore Roosevelt High School in Patrick’s Vale, SD reported complete lack of memory of their identities. Teachers on the scene were also unable to remember who the students were. Records that should have been able to identify students were either found missing or incomplete. Loss of memory is a rare psychological or neurological disorder. Statistical clustering and unifying traits of the victims indicate that this incident is under 0.1% likely to be a natural occurrence. Yellow Center involvement is deemed appropriate. Media lockdown also suggested.”

No wonder Hills was willing to give the case to me, Phil thought. There won’t be any reporters around to report if I screw it up.

Phil typed back, “Any possible causes?”

“No probable causes on file,” Sam responded. Phil noticed that he–sorry, it–had changed the question in his answer.

“Any possible causes?” he typed again.

“Anything is possible. That question is invalid.”

Phil shook his head in amazement. It was hard to remember that Sam was a program, let alone an iteration of one over twenty years old.

“Someday I want to meet your programmer,” Phil typed.

“You do not have clearance for information about my mother,” Sam responded in glowing type.

“Please compile me a list of mass memory loss causes with a PROBABILITY of >1%.” Phil typed. “Email it to me.”

“Compilation begun. Please pick up our game before Director Hills orders a software patch preventing me from ignoring his orders to you, Agent Johnson.”

A network message indicated that Sam had shut down communication with Phil’s laptop.

Ten minutes later, all the teal, grey and black tokens were returned to their respective Ziploc bags and placed in the cardboard box held together by yellowed Scotch tape. Phil picked up the file and headed out to get his plane tickets.

Twenty minutes later, he was on his way to Patrick’s Vale, SD on a military jet.

Four hours later the plane landed at Rapid City Regional Airport and he was whisked to a private car.

Forty-five minutes after that, at 7:54pm, he arrived at Theodore Roosevelt High School just in time for the strangest town meeting he ever attended.

To be continued…

Starting next week, look for IMPERMANENT RECORD on Fridays in December as we make room for our Christmas Special, THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF KID SANTA!

© 2013 by Douglass Barre, All Rights Reserved.

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