Staff Writer
Mark Lotto
251

Why Early Clues ‘Matters’

“i cant believe i read the whole thing and still don’t know what’s going on”

@Lotto looked up from his #standingdesk, bleary-eyed.

“Is that you Cassandra?”

What?

His junior editor looked startled, clutching a plain folder nervously.

“Oh nothing. Just day-dreaming I guess…”

I need to sit down.

He looked around carefully, his eyes taking tiny footsteps across an icy surface, and relaxed finally onto one of the numerous milk crates littered around Medium’s open concept New York office.

“This just came for you. It’s for the staff writer position.”

Lotto eyed the packet of papers, warily. He smelled a waste of time

“Why didn’t they submit it through the website?”

“I don’t know. It came by bike courrier.”

Hm, he said, taking the pages.

“That’s not a good sign.”

“Why not?” Junior Editor adjusted her thick-rimmed glasses.

Lotto smiled, “Indicates a lack of respect for proper editorial process…”

“I wouldn’t know,” she said with a laugh, and departed.

Alone again.

He gripped his brow in his free hand, closed and rubbed his eyes.

Opening them, he switched on the dangling, naked incandescent bulb next to the milk crate. It hurt his eyes. Just how he liked it.

Luminous blobs strobed across his awareness for a moment, subsided.

He opened the folder, scanning the headline:

Sigh.

He phoned Nick.

Nick picked up the phone.

“Hey, Mark!” cheery as ever, the curly-haired imp.

“Listen, Nick, are you free by any chance?

“Er, no… but I can be in about 15. Will that work?”

Of course.

By the time Nick was ready, more like 45 minutes had passed.

His volumetric avatar found Lotto passed out on a milk crate, propped up against the wall—again. The incandescent bulb swayed gently in the stark concrete room, its rays caressed his sleeping body.

Nick shook him awake gently.

“Come on, Mark,” he said. “Let’s go out on the veranda.”

Mark put on his cheap Chinese Oculus Rift knock-off.

French pocket doors gave way to one of fifteen lush outdoor themed environments nestled among the craggy spires of the Medium mega-compound.

Vintage plantation.

One of Nick’s favorites. They often met there on their coast-to-coast holo-visits.

A thin sliver of silver moon was just making her appearance for the evening. Each man eased himself into a white wicker chaise lounge, beneath the resplendently splayed leaves of the magnolia tree—in full bloom. Nick bodily, Lotto ethereally.

“Ah, San Francisco…” Nick said, laughing.

Mark looked sullen.

“What’s the ‘matter,’ Mark?”

“I hate that joke,” Mark admitted.

Thinking better of it, he added: “I’m just tired.”

“Don’t be such a grouch! What could be better than this?”

Nick’s hand swept across the twinkling expanse of the city far below, putting on her evening dress.

Lotto brusquely tossed the folder digitally onto Nick’s lap.

Very funny.

His eyebrows were laughing, but his mouth said nothing.

Nick’s wearable document scanner whirred to life. Beeped.

“Oh, that,” Nick said. Added nothing else.

Mark waited.

Lotto: “Yeah… that.”

Now it was Nick who waited, sipping his real hand-squeezed southern-style lemonade. He looked at Mark ruefully.

“Sorry I can’t offer you one. It’s super good, lemons flown in this morning. But you’re—”

“I know,” Mark said, staring off into space.

“Just a hologram.”

Don’t remind me.

A hologram in their world; real only in mine.

A truth he lived with every day.

Lotto took a breath. “Why is it, anyway…”

Nick sipped his lemonade. He knew where this was going. Speech time.

“Why is it that you guys in SF are sitting around playing hologram all day long, and sipping tea on the ornately decadent replica Southern-style veranda, while I’m back here in New York City, no air conditioning in Summer, barely any heat in Winter, sitting on freakin’—milk crates, shivering, while we shoo moths away from the one incandescent light bulb Medium sent me in their ‘Welcome Kit’—with not even a fixture; I had to buy that myself…

Nick held up a hand.

“Mark,” he said. “You’ve got it all wrong.”

“What? How’s that?”

“It’s lemonade, it’s fresh-squeezed, and if you had one sip, you would forget all these,” he searched for the word, “issues.”

Guffaw.

Lotto’s holo-avatar swatted at an insect only he could see.

“Issues?”

“This isn’t a github project, Nick—this is my office!”

Nick, un-phased:

“Did you really call me up to talk about your office? You know I can’t do anything about that. I don’t have access to the—”

I know, I know. The magical 3D-printer that can print anything, in any substance, of any shape that your army of fresh-faced engineers can dream up… but that cannot—must not—be used to send any equipment, ever, at any time, to the New York offices…”

Nick laughed, “Yeah, that one.”

“You know the shipping rates would kill us, Mark. Even if we went by @Shyp. Just go to Ikea. Isn’t there a new one near you in Jersey? Sheesh! You’ve got an expense account—I don’t see what you’re cryin’ about…”

Mark pouted.

“I’m not crying.”

Mutual silence.

Broken by the sound of a straw reaching the end of a glass of ice-cold lemonade.

Finally.

“It’s good, but you know I can’t take it to print.”

“What?” Nick looked genuinely confused. “Are we still talking about Ikea? If it’s what I said about Jersey…”

“No,” Mark said. “Early Clues.”

“Ah. But it’s not print, Mark. It’s digital.

“Digital or not, Nick: it’s a simple question of—” Mark paused for emphasis, “habeus corpus.”

Habeus corpus?”

“Yeah, bring me the body.”

“What do you mean?”

Lotto brought out his needling kit.

“I know you know.”

“You know I know what?” Nick put down his empty lemonade glass absently. A demurely, but immaculately, tuxedoed, crowd-sourced servant whisked it away without a sound.

Nick reached into his breast pocket, monocle chain twinkling as the stars began to come out over San Francisco.

“Cigar?” Nick dropped one onto the empty chaise lounge where Mark Lotto’s hologram was draped, in the costume of a dapper Ante-Bellum gentleman.

Nick clipped the end off his, chucking it over the balcony that separated Medium from the Real World, swirling far, far below.

Lighting up, “Suit yourself.”

A plume, like feathers, into the purple night…

Nearby, a violiniste took up a slow mournful tune, breaking at times into joy. The sound of evening.

Nick closed his eyes, taking it all in.

“I don’t know more than you know,” Nick finally answered, both hands behind his head, puffing away, seemingly without a care in the world.

“Everyone—in both offices—knows that isn’t true, Nick.”

“You’re in their videos, scattered across their corporate documents. We all know you’re part of it, or at least involved somehow.”

“Seriously Mark, I wish I could help you…”

“Oh, come off it—” small bubbles were coming to the surface, but the water was not yet boiling. “That document proves its you.”

“Oh, does it, now?” Nick said is his best, I do declare accent.

“Every word,” Lotto said cryptically.

“Huh?”

“What I don’t get, is—how you knew what I would say before it happened…”

“What in blazes are you talking about?” Nick demanded, half raising himself from his chaise lounge.

Evening broke, at last, into the fullness of night.

The smell of magnolia lay heavier than all their questions, all their confusions.

Mark looked suddenly conspiratorial, “You really don’t know—do you? That was a test.”

“No,” Nick asserted. “I haven’t read your precious document. And I certainly didn’t write it.”

“If it’s not you, then who is it? How did they know what we would say?”

“You better tell me what the hell you’re talking about,” Nick said, agitated.

Quietly:

“Read it,” Mark said. “I’ll wait.”

Nick: “Can’t you just give me the tl;dr?”

Impatient, “Nick—”

“Okay.”

Nick tapped into the ambient augmented point cloud projectors local to the veranda and summoned a view screen, which automatically loaded the file the central computer system knew they were talking about.

Nick scrolled.

Down.

And down.

And down.

And down.

Saying nothing.

Mark watching intently, arms crossed.

It was he who should have been sipping lemonade right now, or one of their damned iced Blue Bottle coffees they were always going on about.

When he finished, Nick had only this to say:

“Typical.”

Boiling—at last.

“Typical?” the kettle whistled furiously.

“Somebody manages to write down an exact transcript of an actual conversation between two people before it even happens, and all you have to say is, ‘Typical’?”

Nick shrugged. “Yeah, that’s Early Clues for ya’.”

“It’s how they operate.”

“What the hell is that even supposed to mean? Who in the hell are they?”

“Just tell me.”

“Can’t.”

Habeus corpus.

“Well, I can’t hire a logo, Nick. I need warm bodies in cubicles.”

“But I thought you wanted to get out of your editorial ‘swath,’ Mark... And don’t you mean milk crates, anyway? Warm bodies on milk crates?”

Grr.

“San Francisco, some day I swear…”

“I love it when you call me that, Mark—”

“But name-calling won’t get us anywhere.”

Sighing.

“You’re right.”

“But everyone has to go through the online form. It’s a question of—”

“—Respect for the editorial process,” Nick finished his phrase.

“There are only two things we can count on, Nick. The calendar and the editorial process.”

The two men looked silently at the same stars, though separated by an entire continent of wires.

“We’re not so different,” Nick said. “You and I.”

His cigar had gone out.

He re-lit it, puffing in the direction of Mark.

“It makes them look more real,” Nick observed. “The smoke—on the holograms. It makes them look more substantial.”

“That’s it!” Mark said.

“Habeus corpus—where there’s smoke, there’s fire!” Mark erupted with glee.

“Fire…” Nick repeated, smoking, not following immediately.

Fire. Why not?

Thoughtful then, “You did say you wanted to ‘reinvent the way we tell stories,’” Nick chided him.

“Be careful what you wish for!”

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