Thursday, October 20, 2016


The Custodian
By Matthew Harrison

“So you’re a …,” the lady squinted at Clive’s business card, “…a Chief Identity Officer. What do they do?” She laughed, sweeping back her tawny hair, which made the glass pendants hanging from her ears tinkle. A hint of perfume touched Clive’s nostrils.

Clive accepted a glass of wine from the drone, and explained. He enjoyed going to cocktails, getting to size up potential new clients in the flesh, as it were, although of course vast numbers flowed into the arms of the bank without any help from him. And the wine tonight, cabernet sauvignon, was particularly good.

“Gosh! Then you’re really at the heart of everything!” the lady exclaimed. Clive shook his head modestly. “No, No, you are. I’m Avril, by the way. Stephen!” she called to a passing guest, “come and meet our Maker!”

The smart-suited gentleman so addressed turned on his heel; coming over he kissed Avril on the cheek and admired her turquoise dress. “Am I in the Divine presence?” he asked, turning to Clive with a wry smile.

“Don’t joke, Stephen!” Avril slapped his hand in mock reprimand. “Clive looks after our identity – can you believe it? Every time you go online, he’s there. He knows everything about you, every biometric detail…”

Clive laughed. “It’s not as personal as that, just algorithms, I can assure you. We act as custodians of your online identity, that’s all. With the bank confirming your status, you’re accepted everywhere. It’s a humble service, but one we are pleased to provide.”

“I see.” Stephen smiled, more warmly this time, and extended a hand. “Well, I’d better keep on good terms with you then. Can we get you another drink?” He signaled to a drone hovering nearby.

Then, with a nod to Clive, he took Avril’s arm and indicated another group of guests. Avril flashed Clive a quick smile, and as she was steered away he heard her, “… would you believe it, a real person!” before her voice was lost in the general hubbub.

The cocktail ebbed and flowed; people talked to Clive, and moved on; a drone refilled his glass. Clive finished his wine, and surveyed the glittering guests as they swayed and joked and circulated, even spotting the turquoise dress before it was again lost in the crowd. They all were fine specimens – and yet, and yet… He could not really relate to them, he decided, it was always the same with live people. It was time that he himself moved on. He waved away an approaching drone, and strode towards the entrance.

Out in the street, the cool summer air refreshed him, and he decided to take a walk before going home. His steps fell into their familiar routine, and in no time he found himself outside his own office building. Well, it would do no harm to take a look at his charges. The glass doors swept open, he waved to the robo-doorman – receiving a stiff inflection in return – and the flooring whisked him over to the lifts.

Deep in the bank’s underground vault, Clive verified himself at the entrance (sampling his own cooking, he thought wryly), and went inside. He called up the client list, verified himself again, and clicked, Open.

There were of course numerous views available, but there was one that Clive always preferred. He scrolled down, clicked, and with a rising sense of anticipation selected the client.

There on the desk in front of him appeared a tawny-haired homunculus in a turquoise dress, and as he bent down he could already smell the scent, hear the little voice exclaim, and – Yes! – the tinkle of tiny earrings…

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Matthew Harrison lives in Hong Kong, and whether because of that or some other reason entirely his writing has veered from non-fiction to literary and he is currently reliving a boyhood passion for science fiction. He has published fifty SF short stories and is building up to longer pieces as he learns more about the universe. Matthew is married with two children but no pets as there is no space for these in Hong Kong.


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