Thursday, February 11, 2016

Short Story: Memcorp Bank, NA

Inspired by a prompt from HitRecord: What if memory became currency?

The woman sat down in the surprisingly uncomfortable chair with the bright light behind it that would shine over her shoulder and obscure her face from the camera.

“This chair sucks,” she complained, scooting to the edge and finding a perfect dent for her rump and smoothing her skirt over her knees. She crossed her ankles, wishing she had worn hose.
“It’s a posture chair,” Geoffrey replied. “Ever wonder why everyone on my show looks so good?”

He flashed the smile he was known for. The one that made you trust him immediately. She relaxed a little.
“So, now that we’re here, I’m going to need your name.” He smiled again.
“Oh hell no!”
“If I can’t verify your identity I can’t cite you as a source.” Another smile.
“Fine. After I’m done. And nowhere near any of these damned cameras or microphones.”

She gestured towards the lapel mic on her suit jacket. Noticing a light spot on the lapel, she licked her finger and rubbed at it furiously.
Geoffrey had heard a tiny tinge of a Southern twang when she said “these damned microphones.” He scribbled “GA?” on the notepad in front of him and looked back at the woman in the suit.

“Fair enough,” a sterner smile, “But I have to have something to call you.”
She thought for a moment.
A real Georgia Peach, alright, Geoffrey thought.

“Okay Miss Peachy. Look at the monitor to the left of the camera. We can’t see anything about you except that you’re a woman, do you see that?” She nodded. “Sound, can we put a preview of what the studio is hearing from her microphone?” The technician in the booth scrambled.
“Rolling!” He sounded so far away.
“Will you talk for me please?”
“What do you want me to- oh!” She laughed. “I sound like a tuba!”

Geoffrey saw Peachy visibly relax this time and he flashed a smile at his producer. The sound trick always worked on the skittish ones.
“Okay, sound, that’s enough.”
The deep laughter stopped in the studio and Peachy composed herself.

“Now, Miss Peachy.” Geoffrey didn’t smile this time. “Can you please look into the camera, tell us the date and why you’re here?”

The laughter in her eyes died quickly. She looked into the camera and took a steadying breath.
“It is Saturday, December 16th, 2317. I am here to expose corruption, collusion, and fraud on the part of my employer, Memcorp Bank, NA.”

“That’s a pretty big accusation.” Geoffrey had heard Peachy’s claims before, it’s why they were here. Never ask a question you don’t already know the answer to in a televised interview. That had been Professor Zahelu’s first rule of journalism, and with an expose this big, Geoffrey was taking no chances.

“Yes it is,” Peachy pressed on, “and I have the evidence to back it up-“
“Well before we get into that, let’s establish some background. How long did you work at the bank?”
“13 years.” Peach relaxed a little.
“And what did you do there?”
“I am in commodities management.”
“So you’re still working there even after everything you’ve discovered?”
“And why is that?”
“I wanted to collect enough evidence to make my case.”
“Why not go to the police?”
“I wasn’t sure it would help.”
“Why not?”

Peachy got that scared look in her eyes again. It was time to switch tactics.
“So you’re in commodities management.”
“Yes.” Peachy’s voice became even and measured again.
“What does that entail?
“I help keep the memory data safe from being corrupted.”
“How can it be corrupted?”
“Loss of power to the servers, cyber attacks, plain old data corruption, and time deterioration.”
“Memories can be lost over time?”
“The older ones, from before Memcorp’s charter, yes.”
“So how do you help?”
“I review memories in the bank for inconsistencies, color variances, anything that could indicate a particular bank of memories could be experiencing corruption.”

Geoffrey steered the conversation back to her purpose.
“Interesting. And have you ever played whistleblower before?”
“Once, when I thought a coworker of mine was stealing.”
“Were they?”
“And what happened to them?”

Despite the light over her shoulder, Geoffrey could still see Peachy’s face turn red. She still answered the question.
“She was ordered by the court to deposit all her memories of banking protocol and finance law. She was also given a lifetime ban on all legal, law enforcement, and politics packages, and with those bans she’s really only qualified for labor and service. I heard from a coworker she cleans houses now.”
“Those are some pretty staunch sanctions.”
“Embezzlement is something the government and Memcorp takes very seriously.”

Geoffrey shifted in his seat.
“Now what about Memcorp, have you ever seen or found anything in their policies or practices to suggest they might be behaving in ways that were unethical, or even illegal?”
“Not until about three months ago.”
“What happened then?”
“I saw something...” She swallowed hard and looked at the floor. The camera wouldn’t see it, but Geoffrey could tell she was fighting back tears.
“Let’s back up.” Geoffrey didn’t want this getting out of hand. A little emotion was good, but too much too early and this story would die on the cutting room floor.

“Let’s talk a little bit about how the bank works in general. Now, Memcorp is the oldest bank in the United States, correct?”
“Correct, we received our charter back in 2150. Before then, Memcorp was Memtank. It was simply a social way to share memories with your friends.”
“People used to just share memories?” Geoffrey asked.
“Yes, before the dollar fell and the US switched over to USMems, people used to share memories with everyone. Of course they weren’t the Mems we know now, where you can recall the actual experience, more like an impression. And people could keep their own versions.”
“Interesting, so you could deposit something you also held onto?”
“Not exactly, there were no deposits, because there was nothing to deposit into. It was more like reading, or watching a movie, where you saw and felt what happened, but if you tried to access it later, you were just remembering the memory rather than actually having it.” Peachy was comfortable with this part, explaining the history of memory was part of her job.

Geoffrey paused and chuckled.
“That all sounds very complicated.”
“Well, it’s 50 years of memory history in a nutshell.” Peachy laughed.
“I see, I see. Now how did Memtank become Memcorp?”

“When the treasury shifted to mems instead of the dollar, Memtank was one of three companies that had the databases large enough and stable enough to store large amounts of memories for long periods of time. Wells Fargo bought one, Bank of America bought the second, and our founder, Philip Alexander spent his Memtank fortune getting the authorization to switch over to Memcorp and become a bank.”
“We he and his family certainly made that back, didn't they?”
“Yes, they did. Memcorp is now the largest bank in the world.”
“What do you think contributed to their success?”
“Innovation. We were the first bank to safely transplant a set of memories into a donor body. We were also the first bank to use active scanners to determine how full the brain was so nobody’s memories get overtaxed. We even developed our own scanners that can make deposits and withdrawals so the customer only has to visit one machine. And we were the first bank to be able to target not only a specific amount of time, but a specific set of memories related to one topic and package them for use as a training module for various careers.”
“Like when my parents purchased the journalism package for me.”
“Exactly. Now those with the means can insert and remove packages as suits their needs while still retaining their personal experiences. And we have the largest library of Public Domain Memories in the market.”
“The free memories.”
“Yes, the reproducible memories that can be obtained the hard way by anyone. Reading the Constitution. Visiting a park. Dollar-currency era memories that are lower-quality. All free to any Memcorp customer.”

Geoffrey tugged at the cuffs of his shirt underneath his jacket.
“Sounds too good to be true.”
“It’s not, as long as everyone plays by the rules.” Peachy was quiet now.
“Which brings us to why you’re here. When did you first notice something was wrong?”
Peachy took a deep breath and shifted in her seat.

“I was reviewing the daily memories of one of our tellers.”
“Is it standard practice for tellers to deposit their memories?”
“It’s completely voluntary, but if they give up their half their day’s work, they can withdraw half a day of a leisure activity. We get valuable information about the daily goings on within the bank and the concerns about our customers, and our employees get to leave the most stressful parts of the office behind them and remember fun instead of work.”
“How many employees participate in this program?”
“About half.”
“And why don’t the employees simply deposit their entire day in exchange for an entire day of leisure?”

Peachy laughed.
“They would be of no use to us then.”
“Why is that?”
“Would you want an employee that had effectively been on vacation for three years? The only way they learn on the job is by doing the job and remembering their mistakes.”
“Well then don’t they learn slower than they should?”
“Not significantly. Our studies show only a 15% slower learning rate than in employees who don’t deposit their time.”
“Why do you think that is?”
“People aren’t as dumb as they look.”

Geoffrey chucked.
“So let’s get back to these memories you were reviewing. Now, why were you looking at this particular block of memories? Isn’t there a quality control team to review in-store transactions?”
“Certainly, but there had been a problem with the batch of memories this teller’s deposit was made with, and I wanted to examine the batch individually to see if the problem was with the database or the scanners for that region.”
“I see, so tell me about this memory.”
“It was a teller at one of our flagship stores. These are the stores where we pioneer new programs. They have the best performance; the most traffic, the highest amount of deposits, the most high profile customers-.”
“-Your super-stores.” Geoffrey interjected.

“Exactly,” Peachy preened. “Our super-stores. I was reviewing an altercation between this teller and a customer who was going to be traveling.”
“When you say you were reviewing, did you make a withdrawal?”
“No,” Peachy smiled. “No, that would be far too much for a person in my position to take in. We have a monitor when I can see and hear what was translated by the visual and auditory complex, like watching a video.”
“I see, so you were- watching- the memory, so to speak.”
“Yes. Anyway, a customer was arguing with a teller over a transit map of New York.”
“That’s in the public domain isn’t it?”
“It is, but it requires 0.13% capacity of your memory available. The woman was already at 90.00% capacity according to the scanner the teller was using.” Peachy was getting agitated.
“And Memcorp couldn’t install the memory?”
“Memcorp is very conservative with its lending policies. If someone is paying down a package like corporate leadership or law practice, as this customer was, we require they keep at least 10% of their capacity free, in case they forget to make a deposit and accumulate memories too quickly, and so we don’t risk them going over 95%.”
“What happens at 95%”
“Memories start to destabilize and they can be difficult to deposit or repossess.”
“What does that look like?”
“Say for example, your journalism package.”
“You remember going to class, studying, passing exams.”
“Of course.”
“Do you remember the first time you met your wife?”
“I better say yes!”

Peachy smiled.
“Of course you do. But if your memories destabilized, you may start to believe you met your wife in your journalism class. You were never IN a journalism class, but the two could blend together. Then if you ever decided to sell your package, you would either have to leave out that class or lose the memory of meeting your wife forever.”
“I see how this can be a big problem. So what happened with the customer.”
“She argued that she knew she was at 89.05% because she had a home scanner.”
“I’ve heard those can be unreliable.”
“Like with anything, you get what you pay for, and this woman had paid for the best.”
“So what happened?”

Peach tugged at her sleeve.
“The teller refused to give her the memory so she stormed off in a huff. I documented that the teller had followed Memcorp policy. As is our policy with any customer altercation, I reviewed the next interaction the customer had with a teller. It happened to be 15 minutes later, at a different store. She had decided to deposit some early childhood memories into her personal account to make room for the Transit Map.”
“What happened.”
“The teller gave her the map.”
“Was the teller unaware of the policy?”
“No, her scanner said the woman was at 89.05%.”

Geoffrey swallowed. Here we go.
“Is it possible she could have deposited those memories somewhere else?”
“Any deposit of more than half a percent has a federally mandated waiting period of three days.”
“And is it unusual for that kind of discrepancy between scanners to occur?”
“We have the most sophisticated scanners developed by man. They can detect your capacity to a millionth of a percent. They are calibrated twice a day by an armed guard.”
“Why so much caution?”
“The scanners not only read the balance in your head, they also make withdrawals and deposits. Without careful calibration they could make the minds of all of our customers unstable.”
“I see. So the discrepancy is unusual.”
“A discrepancy of more than two hundredths of a percent is enough for us to shut an entire brance down for an investigation. Anything over 5 tenths of a percent and the entire board of directors could go to jail. This was a discrepancy of 0.95%. This wasn’t unusual, this was unimaginable.”
“Why are the laws so strict regarding the scanners?”
“Because any restriction of the exchange of memory is considered an affront by the banks on the free market.”
“What did you do?”
“I started digging.”
“And what did you find.”

Peachy swallowed.
“Systematic manipulation of the scanners. It was only in flagship stores, and it was only during peak hours, but it was nationwide and it was terrifying.”
“So why come to me? Why not go to the police or the FBI?”
“Because of something else I found.”

Peachy pulled out a rollout screen from her suit pocket and pressed play. On the screen was a bedraggled woman with a vacant expression shuffling through an assisted living home. A woman offscreen was trying to get her attention.

“This is Cathy,” Peachy said, as the off-screen woman called out the same name. Peachy began to cry.
“This is the coworker I blew the whistle on.”

Geoffrey looked down at his notepad. He heard a door slam behind him. When he looked up, the studio was empty except for the chair across from him. Geoffrey looked around, confused. Taped to the chair was a note:


Geoffrey looked at his watch. Either it was an hour fast or he had just lost an hour. Geoffrey pulled out his phone. The time was correct. He called his producer.

“Geoffrey? Whatcha got?” It  was Jerry’s standard greeting, and not at all what he would sound like if he had just woken up in a raided news studio.
“Jerry, man, where are you?”
“I’m on the boat, dude, have been all day.” Geoffrey checked the date on his phone. It was still the same day.
“You, uh… haven’t been by the studio at all today?” Geoffrey swallowed hard.
“No, man, I figured you were calling me with some hot story.” 


“Oh, sorry, no-” Geoffrey thought quickly, “I just was wondering if you and Maria wanted to come by for dinner. Janet is making her gumbo and I found this microbrew you’ve gotta try.” This was true, and had already been part of the plan for the day anyway.
“Sounds great, let me just check with Maria and I’ll get back to you.” 

Crap. Would they get to Maria too?

“I think Janet already talked to her to plan their margaritas.” This was perfectly plausible. It was nice, your best friend being married to your wife’s best friend.
“Well then if the women-folk have their mind set on it, we best just be good husbands and go along with it.”
“Alright, man,” Geoffrey was trying not to let his building panic show in his voice. “See you later.”
“See ya’.”

Geoffrey ended the call and looked around the studio. In an hour, they had removed all his equipment, put Jerry on his boat at least 30 minutes away, and wiped his memory to the exact place where he would know what had happened and why. One thing was clear. Someone didn’t want this story told...