by T. Gene Davis

“You won’t burn my wedding pictures.” I extended my hand, demanding the memory stick back.

Naiomi, you plugged this into your work computer?” Carter ground his teeth while taking a deep breath, following it with a sigh. “I’ll have to run a full scan to see what kind of virus you’ve given it. You know the security policies. Your memory stick is now company property. You signed the same NDA we all signed. I’m throwing this memory stick into the incinerator.”

“They’re the only copy of my wedding pictures, and I need to get them off that stick.” I tossed my single, long, blond braid over my shoulder for effect. I doubted tossing my braid looked terrifying. Perhaps if I swung my head around and whipped him across the face with it.

The word, “Hello?” sat plastered over top of windows, dialogs, and the background. No independent process printed it on the monitor. The word, or rather question, blocked all access to the computer, the memory stick, and my wedding pictures.

“The only safe thing to do with this memory stick is destroy it before you infect other computers with it. The virus is blocking access to your data.”

“That,” I said, stabbing my index finger at the monitor, “is why I came to you. You’re the head of IT. You’re supposed to know how to recover data.”

The words on Carter’s screen turned to, “Can anyone understand me?”

“It won’t even let me eject the memory stick properly. I hate yanking these things out without ejecting.”

Carter reached for the memory stick. I reached faster. He really didn’t stand a chance of getting the stick before me. Even hopped up on energy drinks and sugar, Carter’s still a mildly overweight, out of shape, fifty-something tech. I climb a different mountain every weekend. I used my advantage.

I was out of his office and up the stairs before he realized I grabbed the memory stick. I caught the tail end of Carter yelling my name and something about HR and security, but escaped earshot before I caught a full sentence.

I really wanted to keep my job. Losing my wedding pictures and my job in one day. It must be Monday.

Carter showed up at my cube with one of his interns. Carter panted, his cheeks gaining a bit of a rosy tint. The intern looked from the now red, gasping Carter to me. I put on my most innocent expression—the one usually reserved for my husband when I ate his last Girl Scout cookie.

Naiomi, where’s your memory stick?”

I switched to my poker face. I pulled my braid over my shoulder letting it fall over my chest. I played with the lose end absentmindedly.

“I remembered I had another copy of the pictures, so I dropped it in the incinerator chute.”

Carter did not have a poker face. He may have turned more red. I’m not sure. Is there a “more red” than fire engine red?

“Don’t mess with me. I’ll have you’re job and that stick.”

“Check the incinerator.”

Carter turned to the intern. “Watch her until I get back.”

The intern rolled his eyes as Carter turned and left.

“Awkward,” the intern stated after he finished rolling his eyes a second time.

I managed to laugh. I discreetly put my hand on my jeans pocket to ensure the memory stick still hid there.

After shifting in front of my cube for a few moments, the intern made up his mind. “I’m going to the vending machine. You want anything?”

“No.” I smiled. “Thanks.”

I plugged the stick into my computer before he rounded the corner. The words, “Are you intelligent life?” appeared on my monitor. As before, the mouse and keyboard became inactive.

I slammed my hands on the keyboard in frustration.

The words changed again. “I only see gibberish. Just random letters.”

My heart may have skipped. Was the virus interacting with me? I blindly typed, “Hello?” It did not appear on the screen. Instead, the words changed to, “I read that! You are out there. There’s life out there.”

Someone was messing with me. I listened for giggles from another cube. I swore.

“Who is this? This is anything but funny,” I typed in.

“Isn’t it exciting? You’re my first ET. I can finally prove we’re not alone.”

Weirder and weirder.

“I just want my wedding photos.”

“What are photos?”

“Who is this?”

“I’m just a researcher. I’ve been trying to use electrons to communicate with advanced civilizations besides our own.”

“Well, you moron, you managed to dial Earth. Try again.”

“Earth? Is that your home? How many sentient life forms are there?”

“How many sentients are with you?” I attempted sarcasm.

“3,238,937. We ran out of memory, or there’d be more.”

I didn’t hear anyone in nearby cubes snickering, and I wasn’t laughing. It dawned on me, however strange, this might not be a joke. My nose twitched in a way I never felt before.

The desk phone drew my eyes away from the monitor. The letters HR scrolled across the phone’s display. Carter must have gone to Human Resources instead of the furnace room.

I pocketed the memory stick again. Now I only had three million additional reasons to keep this stick safe. I locked my computer and showed myself up to HR. My braid bounced on my back as I took the stairs two-at-a-time to the fifth floor.

HR Lady met me in the hall outside her office. I never knew her name. She seemed to know everyone’s names.

Naiomi, why is Carter in my office all worked up about stolen property and viruses?”

I gave her my version, claiming the stick no longer existed. She escorted me to the office with a waiting Carter. He looked like a smug elementary school bully.

“You’ll search her?” He asked HR Lady.

“I am calling security right now.”

Cart left to search my cube.

“How dare you search me?”

“You signed permission in your NDA.”

“And if I leave?”

“I’ll call the police and file charges for theft of company property.”

Losing my wedding pictures, my job, and killing three million sentient beings, or go to jail. I really did not like these options. The memory stick in my pocket felt like a led weight.

HR Lady already had security on speaker phone.

“I need a full body scan. Internal and external.”

“You’ll have to settle for the hand held one and shoulder to toe. It’s not rated for head scans.”

“That will work. Bring a flashlight. We’ll scan her mouth visually.”

“Give us twenty minutes.”

HR Lady hung up the phone and gave me a polite professional stare.

Naiomi, you seem a bit nervous. Either that or you’re doing the potty dance.”

I was nervous. There had to be a way out of this. “I could use a stop by the restroom.” I really needed a few moments without HR Lady staring at me if I wanted to get out of this mess.

“I could use a pit stop myself.” She proceeded to accompany me down the hall to the restrooms.

Seriously? I thought to myself as she entered the restroom with me. At least she did not demand I leave the stall door open.

After security came and I passed their search, Carter returned to admit the memory stick wasn’t lurking in my cube, I demanded an apology from HR Lady and Carter. I then gently stomped out of HR.

Once out of sight, I fixed my loosening braided bun to make sure it still held tight enough to conceal a memory stick.

Notes …

I’ve been pretty lazy about writing stories for my blog these last few months, so it was about time I posted another one. Hope you enjoy!

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