Fiction: “The Trouble With Chips” by C.B. Calsing

God, my head is throbbing. And my guts… Ugh. I must have the flu or something.

Franklin swallowed. Then Franklin realized he had a hangover. He reached for the bottle of government-issue analgesics on his nightstand. He dry-swallowed three without lifting his head from his pillow and then closed his eyes again. Franklin wanted water; the kitchenette in his flat lay mere inches from the edge of the bed, but he didn’t feel like moving.

He reached his arm out, grabbed his Google GOggles off the table and slipped them on. His other hand found the book-sized remote for his Hitachi Integrated Media System. He pressed the ON button. The darkness of the minute lens screens in his GOggles slowly brightened to show his desktop of choice, one of the pictures from the Olson Twins’ 2012 Playboy spread. Relaxing ambient music, meant to optimize human interface performance, drifted through the headphones.

He first checked the news. The newscaster listed off the streets with restricted travel, from such a time to such a time, due to a United Nations conference. Only employees from the neighborhood and attendees with proper clearance could enter those blocks.

That would mean no deliveries to those areas today; carriers wouldn’t get through security. He opened the site and checked his order stats; he exceeded the plan set by last year’s sales for the previous day. He’d get a bonus.

Finally, Franklin opened his email. One was from Elliot. Franklin thought about the night before. Elliot had taken him out. Why did I go out last night? Franklin still couldn’t remember. He clicked on the link, and Elliot’s voice came up over the ambient music.

“Hey, Frank. Hope you made it home all right last night. That was some crazy shit! Anyway, Charley and I are gonna meet up for some racquetball later, maybe around two, then cocktails. You know where we’ll be if you wanna play.” Elliot paused for a moment. “Oh, and congratulations again, man. Joining the club!” Club? That didn’t sound promising…

The next email was an actual typed one from his girlfriend: Franklin, I told my parents over breakfast this morning. They were thrilled! They want to meet for dinner tonight if you can make it, to start planning or something. And I think they’ll want to check…ya’know? I trust you, baby, but, well, it’s kind of awkward, but they want you there for it. I’ll come get you around six, okay? Kisses, Anna.

Joining a club…meet parents… This added up to one thing.

Franklin took off his GOggles and looked at his dresser, to the spot where that tiny velvet box had been sitting for months. Gone. He’d done it last night. He’d finally gotten the nerve, Anna had obviously said yes, and then… Check? Check what…Oh, wait.

The third email. He put his GOggles back on. Franklin took a deep breath when he saw the sender and immediately became reluctant to let the breath out. Better to just suffocate right there in bed. It was from Fidelity Systems, LLC, the suppliers and monitors of his Chip. The subject line, Your account…, made him flinch. He tracked the cursor over and clicked.

Congratulations, Franklin Bonds! Your Fidelity Systems account has been updated! Please have your password ready and log into your page to verify the additions.

Franklin clicked on the link and entered his password on the splash page. He accessed his personal database, and when the page came up he quickly exhaled.

Instead of the expected list of his seven past lovers and the coinciding dates, times, location, and blank Excuse? boxes, he had thirteen. Six new additions, all within minutes of each other from the night before. He knew that his evening hadn’t included sex with six different men and women — he’d be in a lot worse shape if he had. At least, he hoped it hadn’t. Not now that he was engaged, anyway. Before, well, maybe. He would try anything once, but…

Franklin clicked the Contact Us! link and sent off an email to his personal account manager, Liz, explaining that there was some sort of mistake with his account. He filled in the excuse box on all the names: This is all bullshit; I didn’t sleep with any of these – he looked over the names: three women and three men, including Elliot and Charley – people. I don’t know what’s going on! It’s some sort of mistake.

He waited a few moments and then looked back to his inbox. A new message from Fidelity Systems was waiting. He opened it quickly…Your account manager will be happy to address your concerns within forty-eight hours…

Forty-eight hours? Anna and her parents would see the list way before that, and any explanation he would make, no matter how true, would sound lame with this infallible evidence staring them in the face. He loved Anna, and no matter how outdated the institution of marriage had become in this modern age, he wanted to go down that sentimental, clichéd aisle with her. He wanted to move into her apartment, too, which was huge compared to his. Or maybe even leave the city. He could do his business from anywhere via the Web. They could have a freaking yard even, if he didn’t blow this.

He lowered the mic boom on the GOggles to his lips and activated the phone. After glancing back at the webpage for the Fidelity Systems local office number, he dialed it and waited.

“You have reached Fidelity Systems, LLC.”

Thank God, Franklin thought, a recording. He wouldn’t have to talk to anyone.

Para oír sus opciones en español, presione nueve. Pour entendre vos options en français, cadran huit. If you would like to know where you can get The Chip, press one. If you would like to activate a new Chip, press two. If you would like to access your account, press three.”

The list went on and on.

“For all other concerns, please press zero and a customer service representative will be with you momentarily.”

On the off chance that he could fix the mistake without talking to anyone, he pressed three, then entered his password, and listened to his options on the submenu. None of him met his needs, so halfway through the repeat of the menu, he pressed zero, and waited.

“All of our customer service representatives are busy at this time. Calls are being answered in the order they are received. Thank you for your patience. Your wait time is approximately … forty-five minutes. All of our customer service…”

Franklin sighed and pressed the pound sign several times on the remote. That took him back to the original menu, where he pressed six and used voice recognition feature in the HIMS to find the address and map it for him. He routed the map to the Google Mobile Interface in its docking station.

The aspirin had started to work on one aspect of his headache, but it had become multi-dimensional since the viewing of his account. Franklin grabbed the extra pillow from the empty space in the bed next to him and stuffed it under his head, propping him up slightly. He removed the GOggles and set them back down on the table. He lay there, staring at the blank wall at the foot of his bed. I should really hang something there, he told himself.

Franklin had not really intended to leave the flat until racquetball, but now he had to go downtown and deal with some bureaucratic bullshit. Then meet Anna after. He wanted that. He wanted to see how happy she looked with that big ring on her finger. He smiled at the thought, and it was the first good feeling he’d had all day. He pictured her face; he couldn’t yet remember exactly how he’d proposed, but he remembered how he’d intended to propose, so he ran that image in his head to keep motivated.

Franklin took a few quick breaths to psych himself into getting up. Then, in one quick movement, he launched himself over the side of the bed and onto his feet. A spell of dizziness came over him, and he raised a hand to his head and tried to steady himself against the edge, but it was too low, and he just ended up falling back down as he lost his balance. He sat on the bed for a moment, his hands to his head, then stood again, more slowly, and trudged into the bathroom. He took a cold shower, gave his teeth a cursory brush, ran his fingers through his dark, damp hair, and then returned to the only other room in the flat.

Without putting too much thought into it, Franklin dressed in his hard-creased blue jeans, a clean T-shirt, and an old sport-coat. By the front door of his flat, he shoved on his Chuck Taylors and undocked the smartphone. He slipped it in the front pocket of his coat, hooked his headset over his ears, and left the room.

On the street, his contact lenses darkened automatically in the bright light of an autumn midday. He wondered when they’d marry. He hoped in the spring. Something traditional, but fun, like a farm upstate, or at Coney Island. A hot dog would be awesome right now.

Franklin headed for the nearest subway entrance and used his debit key to buy a day pass. Once beyond the stiles, he checked the address on his GMI against the subway maps and boarded the right train.

He managed to make it between the lunch rush and the rush home, so the train was empty. Franklin worked on updates for his storefront that he felt would bring in more business, sent them off via his phone, then looked up. His stop came next.

He got up to stand by the doors and was the first one off when they finally opened. He took the stairs out of the subway two at time and came back out into the daylight. The MapIt on his GMI directed him, step by step, to the front door of the Fidelity Systems, LLC building.

Behind the dark glass doors lay a cool, minimally decorated lobby. A row of chairs lined one side of the room where a few people sat, reading e-books from their smartphones or bouncing their leg impatiently. One was scratching incessantly at a spot on her hip just below the waste-band of her jeans.

Franklin turned off his music and walked up to the receptionist.

“Hi,” he began. The receptionist held up one manicured finger in a motion indicating that he should stop. He waited. It didn’t look like she was really doing anything, but her eyes were directed to a point below the shelf of the counter, so Franklin didn’t know for sure. Finally, she looked up at him.

“Welcome to Fidelity Systems, LLC. How can we be of service today?” She blinked her eyes twice as Franklin tried to put his issue into words.

“There appears to be an issue with my account–”

“What is your number, please?” she asked without letting him finish. Franklin ticked off his 9 digit account number.

“Can I please verify your date of birth, Mr. Bonds?”

Franklin told her. She nodded as she typed. Her eyebrows went up as she scanned the account.

“I take it that you claim these last six entries are invalid?”

“Well, I’m walking pretty straight today, so, yeah, I would say they’re pretty invalid.”

“Oh, well, you’ve already filed with your account manager. I’m sure that he or she–”

“Liz,” Franklin interrupted. “Her name is Liz.”

Liz will be able to take care of things for you, once she verifies the information…”

“The email said in forty-eight hours. I sort of can’t wait that long.”

“Our other option would be to file Form eleven.”

“Whatever. I got to get those off before my girlfriend’s…fiancée’s parents see them.”

All right, Mr. Bonds. Then–” the receptionist reached for the forms behind her desk and set them on the counter in front of Franklin– “get these filled out and return them to me. Most important is the signed affidavit from someone you were with during the specified time who can vouch for your inactivity.” She tapped the signature line with her nail for emphasis.

“I can fax them back?”

“No, sir,” the receptionist said, shaking her head for emphasis. “We need to have the original signatures. We’ll be open until five tonight.”

The receptionist’s eyes dropped down to the point below the lip of the counter again. Franklin craned his head around and looked. On her flat-screen monitor, the receptionist was watching Day of Our Lives.

The receptionist looked up at him. “Is there anything else, sir?” she asked.

Franklin, shaking his head, took the papers and checked the time: ten to two. He knew he could catch Elliot and Charley at the racquet courts if he hurried. It would be cutting it close to get back here by five, and then home by six to meet Anna.

He left the office and ran back to the subway, again thinking about what could have happened the night before. He took the train to the stop nearest the racquetball club. From the subway, he tried calling Elliot, but only got his voicemail.

He called Anna too.

“Hey, handsome,” she said when she picked up.

“About this thing with your parents,” he began.

“They can’t wait.”

“Can we put it off for a few days?”

“Daddy’s leaving for China tomorrow. He won’t be back for months, so no. Why?”

Honesty was key in a relationship, but what to tell her? “They guys took me out last night after… you know. I’m sort of not with it.”

“You’ll be fine by tonight, silly. You always are.”

“Okay.”

“See you at six.”

Franklin sighed. No way out but to jump through the freaking bureaucratic hoops and get the entries cleared.

Franklin arrived half an hour later at the courts and ran through the building, peering through their glass-walled backs to find the court on which Elliot and Chuck played. Finally. He banged on the glass door until he got their attention. They finished up their point and came out to Franklin. He sat down on a bench with his head in his hands.

“Hey, Frank,” Elliot said, slapping him on the back.

“Guys, listen,” Franklin began, pulling the folded-up affidavits out of his pocket and smoothing them out on the bench. “I don’t know what happened last night, but…” Franklin took out his Smartphone, logged onto his Fidelity Systems account, held it up for Elliot and Charley to see. They both whistled simultaneously.

“Oh, that’s messed up,” Charley exclaimed. “I love you as a friend, but…”

“It must have been that Taser,” Elliot said.

Franklin’s chin fell, and his brow furrowed. “What Taser?” he asked slowly.

Charley reached out and lifted the edge of Franklin’s shirt. He pointed out two blackish circles, a little bigger than moles, on Franklin’s hip.

“How did that happen?”

Charley and Elliot exchanged glances. “You don’t remember?” Elliot asked, raising an eyebrow.

Franklin shook his head. “I remember dinner with Anna…” Franklin stopped. “You guys took me out… Oh, shit.”

“We all went out to Minx and got that VIP treatment,” Elliot continued. He raised his arms over his head and did a little shimmy with his hips.

Minx was a strip club on the interstate. Franklin moaned. “Oh, shit,” he said again.

“Yeah, and there was this stripper that you really liked, but she wouldn’t have any of it,” Charley supplied. “You got a little too feely, and she had the bouncer Taser you.” His tone switched from buddy to professor. “It is conceivable that the electric shock, in such close proximity to your Chip, could cause its signal reception to boost momentarily, hence registering every chip in the VIP room.”

Charley worked in electronics, so Franklin believed him. The names on the list…everyone in the VIP room: three strippers, two buddies, and a bouncer. Easy to explain. A hiccup in the technology. Only for him it had more serious repercussions. Could he tell Anna this story? Or risk keeping the strippers under wraps? it would probably be worse if she found out later.

“Look, guys, just sign these for me, and I’ll get out of here. I’m on a tight schedule.”

“Sure,” Elliot said, smiling. “Got a pen?”

Charley and Elliot filled out the affidavits, had them witnessed by the janitor that wiped down the courts between matches, and Franklin literally ran out of the building.

On the subway, he called Anna again. Full memory had finally returned. He’d tell her what happened. Laugh it off as drunken revelry because his friends had been so gosh-darn happy for him that he’d found such a swell girl… It sounded so weak.

He explained everything to Anna.

“My parents aren’t going to believe that,” she said. “I know you, and I hardly believe that. Are you sure you’re not bullshitting me, Frankie?”

She called him “Frankie” when she wanted to instigate. He didn’t feel like being instigated right now.

“It’s the truth,” he said. “I’ve got the affidavits signed. I just have to get them back to the office before the place closes. I’ll be home by six. I swear.”

“Don’t mess this up,” Anna said, and signed off.

It was a quarter past three by the time that Franklin stepped off the subway near the Fidelity Systems, LLC offices again. He turned the corner and stopped in his tracks. Somebody had set up barricades, and a few cops in riot gear stood around drinking smoothies, the bright-red straws tucked up behind their Plexiglas face screens.

Franklin remembered the announcements on the morning news about the closed portions of the city. He wondered if the police would be sympathetic to his situation if he explained. He doubted they would. Instead, Franklin decided that the best course of action would be to look like he belonged there and try to stroll on by without drawing too much attention. Franklin took a deep breath and started walking toward the blockade. He got a step beyond it before one of the cops lowered her smoothie and said, “Hey! I need to see your ID.”

Franklin stopped and looked at her, feigning incredulity. “I’m sorry?”

“There’s restricted access here today. I need to scan your ID to see if you have clearance.”

“Oh, I just need to deliver these docs to that office right…over…there.” Franklin pointed to the tinted glass of Fidelity Systems, LLC.

“I’m sorry, sir, I can’t let you through here unless you have clearance.”

“Yeah, I understand,” Franklin acquiesced, his shoulders sinking. “Say, listen, could you take them there for me? I could make it worth–”

“Are you attempting to bribe me, sir?” the cop asked, her hand falling to the Taser at her hip.

“No, more of a tip, really,” Franklin explained hastily. “These documents really need to get to that office over there–” he pointed again – “before five this evening.”

“That’s not going to happen today, sir, unless you have clearance. Do you have clearance?”

Franklin looked at his feet sheepishly and said, “Can you give me clearance?”

“I’m sorry. You will just have to wait until the blockade is open, which will be Saturday.”

“But that’s too late! It has to be today.”

“There’s nothing I can do, sir.”

Franklin made a decision.

“Okay, thanks anyway,” he said, turning around and walking a few paces back toward the subway. Then, without giving himself another second to think it over, he turned and broke into a sprint, rolling past the officer and her smoothie in a move that would have made his fantasy-football-obsessed father proud. He ran all-out for the Fidelity Systems office, burst through the door with the cop only paces behind, shouting incoherently from behind her riot mask. Something about making her drop her smoothie? He tried slamming the door, but she was already there, blocking it.

Franklin leaped ahead and slapped the forms down on the receptionist’s desk.

“Here. Please take care of it,” he panted out through ragged breaths. He heard the cop coming up behind him, slowly, taking heaving breaths. Then he felt the suddenly familiar sensation of the Taser barbs, through his jeans, in his seat-meat.

Franklin fell to the floor, twitching. Now I remember this.

He blacked out.

***

At the police station, Franklin handed in his personal effects, his shoelaces, and his belt.

“I need to call my girlfriend,” he said as they ushered him into a holding cell, his Chuck Taylors flapping loosely on the pitted concrete.

“There’s a terminal in the cell. You’re allowed ten minutes of Internet. You can contact her then.”

Franklin looked at the PC, running XP, a decade and a half out of date, and tied to the wall with multiple chains and antiquated cables. A flickering CRT monitor stared back at him blindly. Franklin shook his head and stood in front of the keyboard. Chairs could be thrown, so there was none on which to sit. Years of use had rubbed off most of the letters on the keyboard, but Franklin had been touch-typing since kindergarten.

He sent off an email to Anna, explaining (with a little embellishment and omission) why he couldn’t meet with her that night. Then he sent one to Elliot, asking for him to contact a lawyer to get him out.

When he finished, Franklin stretched out on a bench and closed his eyes.

He awoke to someone punching the bottom of his foot repeatedly. He opened his eyes and raised his head to look at the newcomer in the cell.

“This is my bench, slick,” Franklin’s new cellmate hissed. He was a large man, with a shaved head and spider-webs tattooed around his ears, making them look like the head-fins on some B-movie beach monster.

“Yeah, sorry,” Franklin said as he sat up and put his feet on the floor. He stood and walked to the other empty, identical bench, then sat down again.

“I’m James Michener Gould, by the way,” the tattooed skinhead said, offering his hand across to Franklin, suddenly congenial. Franklin took it and shook it meekly. “First time in?” James asked.

Franklin nodded.

“It gets easier.”

Franklin hoped that wasn’t the case, or that he would never have to learn the truth of it firsthand.

James lay out on the bench and closed his eyes. “What did they get you for?” he asked sleepily.

“Uh, suspected terrorist activities, I think. Something like that,” Franklin explained vaguely.

“That’s a joke. They bring me in every so often because of some ‘on-going investigation’.”

Franklin swallowed. “Yeah? Sorry to hear that.”

“Well, thanks.” James was quiet for a moment. “But it does get easier.”

At one in the morning, a lawyer came in, with steak sauce on his tie and smelling of expensive scotch. He got Franklin out with a promise to appear the next Monday in court, and sent him home in a cab.

Franklin slept a good seven hours, and the next morning was much like the one before, though the order was slightly different. He awoke, took two analgesics, crawled to the shower, and then booted up the HIMS.

Franklin lay out on his bed, wrapped in a towel, his GOggles on and fingers moving across the remote. He watched the news stream.

“Last night, suspected serial rapist James Michener Gould was taken into custody. The maker of the Chip, Fidelity Systems, LLC, has finally agreed to cooperate with investigators and turn over Gould’s account records. FSL lawyers were fighting authorities on privacy grounds, but the state Supreme Court sided with investigators.

“Oddly enough, Gould was housed in the same cell as accused terrorist Franklin Bonds. Bonds broke past a police barricade yesterday afternoon in an attempt to reach key members of this week’s UN conference, investigators speculate. Little is known about Bonds. This station has learned that he runs an online grocery service and was recently engaged to Anna Swartz of Long Island. I don’t know if congratulations are due to Miss Swartz in this case. What do you think, Bob?” The newscaster smiled as she turned to her co-anchor, and Franklin clicked the window closed.

Franklin swallowed hard. He opened his mail folder and scanned the messages that had come in since his incarceration the day before. One was from Anna, only seconds old: Daddy had to leave. I explained everything to Mom, and she thought…I can’t believe this…you were “chivalric.” We’ll do dinner tonight with just her. It’s all fixed now, isn’t it? And I don’t mind the news thing. It might be good for business. Love U.

Franklin smiled. He couldn’t believe how lucky he was to have her.

There was another message from earlier in the morning, sent by his lawyer, and, finally, one from Fidelity Systems, LLC, with the subject Your account… Franklin took a deep breath and clicked on the subject.

Congratulations, Franklins Bonds! Your Fidelity Systems account has been updated! Please have your password ready and log-in to your page to verify the additions.

Franklin opened his account. For a moment, relief flooded him. His list was back down to … ten? There were two women, who he guessed were the receptionist at Fidelity Systems and the cop that Tasered him the second time, and then:

Name Time of Activity Date of Activity Location Excuse?
Gould, James Michener 23:13 10/13/2017 Cell, 19th Precinct
153 East 67th Street
Manhattan, NY 10021
N/A

“Ah, shit,” Franklin said to the empty room as he stared at the blinking cursor in the Excuse? box. He didn’t even want to try to explain that. Well…

The Manhattan Fidelity Systems office was off limits through Friday. Franklin did some checking on their Web site. They had a branch office in New Jersey; he could go there to get Form 11, then take it to the police station where Gould could sign it. Nothing had happened, after all. Probably his chip had shorted with all the Tasering.

Franklin got dressed and headed out. He would do anything for Anna, really. He didn’t want to botch this.

***

“This is news at six. Suspected terrorist Franklin Bonds, released on bail early this morning, was apprehended by Homeland Security trying to flee the state of New York today. He had no possessions with him, so investigators postulate he was trying to move quickly and undetected.

“A class action lawsuit was filed today in California against Fidelity Systems, LLC. Apparently, our Chips malfunction when subjected to excessive electricity. The company has agreed to look into a recall. No more licking outlets, kids, until this problem is sorted out! And now for the weather…”

.

C.B. Calsing was born and raised in San Luis Obispo, California. She now lives in New Orleans. She holds a master of fine arts degree in fiction from the University of New Orleans. She teaches English, edits for a prominent e-book publisher, and writes. Her work has appeared in literary journals, anthologies, and on Web sites. Her first collection of short stories, All Along the Pacific, released in late 2010. More information can be found at www.cbcalsing.com and www.cbcalsing.blogspot.com.

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