Jeanette rented an old Kia on the cheap and left work early. The box of ashes was in the back seat, still in the box with a blanket thrown over top. Joey was sitting in the front seat, strapped in like a toddler. They were in western Ohio when Jeanette’s phone rang.
"Shit, it’s Steve. Why is he calling?"
"He’s got a major boner for you," Joey said. The words sounded unnatural to her as soon as she said them.
"Ugh, but why is he calling and not texting or pinging? Who calls anymore? Unless it’s something serious?”
"Driving and using the phone is still legal here," Joey offered.
Jeanette answered. “Um, hi?”
"Jeanette, hi there, it’s Steven."
"Yeah hi, what’s up?"
"Well, I had two things I wanted to ask you about real quick. Sorry for calling, by the way, I just figured it would be faster than typing it all out."
Jeanette looked over to Joey and rolled her eyes. “Sure. Shoot.”
"Ok. So, one: LifeMedia is having this big conference at The Drake all weekend, and I was wondering if you’d be interested in going to the after party with me."
She shot another look at Joey, barely consulting the road. “After party?”
"Yep. Free drinks, free appetizers, free…I don’t know, zip drives with the company logo on them? Pens? Whatever people give away now."
Jeanette chuckled. “That sounds lovely, I could use some cheapo corporate pens. And I would go…but.”
"I’m sorry, I know it’s late notice or whatever."
"The thing is," Jeanette leaned her head on the steering wheel and stared at the road. She blew hair from her face. "Joey and I are on a bit of a field trip…to sprinkle her cremains."
"Oh. Oh my gosh. I’m sorry."
She sighed into the receiver. “No, it’s fine. We’ll be okay. It’s just, we’re halfway to Pennsylvania right now. Otherwise we’d totally wanna go.”
"Sure, of course," Milton said, his voice easing into its professional tone. "I’m sure this is an immensely challenging time for both of you, and I apologize if I came across as flip, or insensitive-"
"Yeah, no. You’re fine. We’re gonna be okay." Jeanette said. Joey saw her lips turn up. "So what was thing number two?"
"Oh! Yes, well, I spoke to the other LifeMedia service representatives about your sister’s problems. The visions, the unwanted information, and so on, and I think we’ve devised a solution."
"What’s he saying?" Joey said turning her microphones up.
"We need to re-back her up to an external drive, very temporarily, and reload her to her BrightBox. Run a quick diagnostic, delete any malware on the hard drive. Not her memory or cerebral cortex storage, mind you."
"Okay," Jeanette drummed her fingers on the phone and steering wheel. Joey’s cameras could pick up that her pupils were shrinking slightly.
"This will take ten minutes tops. We’d do it at the next group meeting. I mean, I’m bringing the link cables and the hard drive anyway for Carlton."
"What’s he talking about?" said Joey.
Jeanette said, “Okay. Joey and I will discuss this..,” she turned to her sister and nodded very slowly as she spoke, “and we will get back to you. I’ll text you. Or call, maybe.”
"Yes, sure, whatever! Any time! Have a good trip — or at least as good as is reasonably possible given the circumstances..,"
She grinned out the window. “Thanks. We’ll be fine.”
"Can I see you before the next meeting?"
" If you’re sure you aren’t mad at me anymore."
"No, not at all,” Milton said, haltingly. “I overreacted. I owe you a big mea culpa on that. And I’d like to see you again, as soon as you’re up for it."
"What’s he saying?"
Jeanette batted her hand at the air. “I would too. For sure. But, Steven, can I ask you something?”
"You promise this back-up thing won’t hurt her? Like, there’s zero risk she’ll lose anything?"
"Absolutely. This procedure is completely safe. Again, LifeMedia has no access to, nor control over, the contents of a client’s mind. All I can do is check the hardware and get it running better. And that’s what we’ll do. She’ll feel so much better, I promise."
"Thanks. I’ll see you. I’ll text you," Jeanette said, and tapped her phone off.
By then Joey was glowing red-orange like an ember and demanding to know what was going on. She spoke in a crackling, severe voice that sounded more automated than usual.
"What was he saying? What does he want to do?”
Jeanette explained as they crossed the Ohio-Pennsylvania border.
Lily whispered in the periphery of Joey’s consciousness. <That fucker just wants to see if you made a video of him and your sis banging.>
<I know. And I never said these visions bothered me, did I? I never said I didn’t want these memories. They’re the ones that think I need to be fixed.>
<Stupid breather-ass ideas of how consciousness is supposed to be. They’re jealous. Your mind can do more than theirs and they can’t goddamned stand it.>
She was fuming with anger. Joey could feel it, churning like stomach acid in her esophagus.
<I don’t want them to fix me,> she messaged. <I like it like this.>
<Speaking of which, any new info?>
Joey released a few private LifeMedia emails to Lily’s drive. They had automatically downloaded into her own hard drive earlier that morning. The memos stated that the back-up minds in the storage facility were rapidly deteriorating. Another email stated that the back-up files would prove ‘insufficient replacements’ for those inhabiting BrightBoxes. One employee suggested that they be deleted before the deterioration grew any worse.
<This is so fucked. This is some fascist breather-centric mind enslavement bullshit,> Lily said.
<I know. I know! But check this out,> Joey said, and sent another file. Lily’s temper immediately cooled and her attention pulled away from Joey, into the documents.
In the car, Joey’s BrightBox had cooled to a bright blue and Jeanette had finished explaining Milton’s proposition. After a long pause, Joey said, “That sounds like a good plan. Tell Milton we’ll give it a try.”