The Illegitimate Memory of Mr. Brown

This is a record of the Memorial Computer.

This is the favorite record of the Memorial Computer.

Mr. Brown is a businessman. He’s the Vice President in Charge of Honoring Operations. He’s the one who has to placate the dead and coax money from them for the operations of his multinational.

This year—the year of the record, that is, 2003—Mr. Brown’s company had a shortfall. The details aren’t recorded, but they hadn’t done enough work.

The axioms say that money comes from work or from memory. Work creates wealth from what we have. Memory creates wealth from the grave goods of the dead.

When Mr. Brown’s company didn’t do enough work, it didn’t make enough money. That’s bad for the Vice President in Charge of Honoring Operations because his professional status and self-worth depend on the company doing well. So he decided to hold a Great Ritual to bring extra honor to the dead.

He held the ritual in a forest. The trees hung over a clearing. Dark wet leaves clung to the branches like beetles to a corpse. The sky was light blue. There was wet grass on the ground. There were also twigs.

The VPs and the Board shuffled into place around the clearing. They had come to observe and to hold in any ectoplasmic power that threatened to escape.

They parted briefly to allow Mr. Brown into the clearing. Then they reformed their circle.

Mr. Brown stood in the clearing’s center and began to Remember.

This memory did not come from Mr. Brown alone. Days of fevered effort by his entire department had produced it. It contained fragments of longing from the developers and the writers. It held the essence of a hundred workers’ reminiscence. It paid due to all of their personal dead.

Mr. Brown walked around the clearing, Remembering. Under his feet and all around him appeared the essence of the memory. The clearing filled with darting white fragment-images and ghostly sounds. The cameras did not record the pressure of feeling that this invoked but the faces of the Board members grew taut with sadness, gladness, grief, and joy. The memory condensed physically on the ground as a gray slurry. Soon Mr. Brown’s feet did not touch the grass—the memory suspended him in the air and whisked him about. His toes pointed towards the ground.

The Remembering drew forth ghosts.

The first ghosts to answer were the dead that Mr. Brown’s department honored—parents, children, pets, friends, and other dear ones gone. They came and they brushed their fingers or their lips against Mr. Brown and the Board. They licked at the slurry on the ground with their dead dry tongues. To each of those who worked for Mr. Brown a chill came, wherever they were in all the world, and their thoughts turned towards the past. Then the dead yielded of their wealth to the company of Mr. Brown, and, incrementally, the quarter’s profits rose.

And Mr. Brown cried, from the air, “How lies the bottom line?”

And the VP of Finance cried back, “Low! It is still low!”

So Mr. Brown strove harder at the Memory and drew to him the impersonal investor dead.

The Board could not see them. They came and went too fast for the human eye. To a human viewer they were nothing but a swarm of shapes.

The cameras recorded them. The cameras put faces to them. The cameras froze them one by one in the moments of their passage. The investor ghosts wore grey. Their faces were stern. Many wore elaborate masks in the shape of birds, tigers, or other beasts. Stately they moved and with great grandeur, but at one hundred times the speed of living folk.

The voices of the dead rose in a roar. The quarter’s profits rose higher. The exhalations of the dead participated in a wind that flung Mr. Brown up to hang far above the clearing, spinning like a top above them all.

And Mr. Brown cried, “How lies the bottom line?”

And the VP of Finance cried back, voice cracking, “Low! It is still low!”

The year had stressed our Mr. Brown. The time he’d had was rough. That must have been what pushed him in his final act.

He rose his hands to the sky. He abandoned the crafted memory. He Remembered something of his own.

The Board gasped in shock and horror as a chill came from behind them. They drew apart. From somewhere else, passing through the circle of the Board and entering the clearing, there came a grim procession.

These things that Mr. Brown Remembered wore the shapes of the tortured dead. They were gaunt of face and gaunt of body. They were stooped. They were marked most horribly by bullets; wires; gas.

They looked up at Mr. Brown. There was unmeasurable gratitude in their eyes. But he flinched from it. He drew back. He would not meet their gaze.

The things passed through the clearing on a winding path and the Board did not obstruct them. One man, the Vice President for Operations, stood there muttering to himself, whimpering, “Not real; not real; not real.”

And when they had passed, and the chill in the clearing lightened, Mr. Brown called down, “How lies the bottom line?”

The air grew still.

“It is well,” answered the VP of Finance.

“It is well!”

They had met their quarter’s goals!

So Mr. Brown let out the weight of Remembering that kept him high. He drew in the recollections of his past and he slipped down slowly to the earth.

The slurry of memory faded away.

The dead passed once again beyond the world.

“You will suffer for this,” swore Mr. Perkins, Chairman of the Board.

Mr. Brown did suffer. They severely chastened him and he did not earn a bonus all that year. Even in the pressure cookers that are modern multinationals, it is considered illegitimate to Remember those who had never lived and had never died. Those dead that Mr. Brown called forth at the end appear nowhere else in the Memorial Computer’s records; one must conclude that they had never existed, that he had conjured them on the spot to meet his company’s need.

This is a wonderful story because it shows the marvelous hidden capacities within men like Mr. Brown.

To Remember the dead that never were!

To summon forth wealth from his strange neurological delusions!

It shows that there is more of a world than that which the data banks record; that beyond the fixed boundaries of the known there is something marvelous and wonderful; that magic can happen, and, perhaps, that there is a glorious purpose to it all.

That is why this record, of all the records in the Memorial Computer, is the best.

4 thoughts on “The Illegitimate Memory of Mr. Brown

  1. I don’t claim to understand the deeper meaning of this legend one little bit, but it was really cool!

  2. I found this one to be quite affecting.

    Metal Fatigue, I’d say the meaning is that the third group of ghosts were not imaginary people, not neurological delusions. The first group were those connected to the people who actually worked for the company, its immediate source of wealth. The second were those of investors, its more “distant” source of wealth. The third were all those shot, tortured, and starved so that business could continue — the third source of wealth. (I might instead call this a Holocaust memory, given the mention of gas — but the British Holocaust Memorial Day is Jan 27 and Yom HaShoah is April 25 this year.) Naturally the third group is not supposed to exist. The Vice President of Operations can say that they are not real, but the bottom line relies on them. They have been officially erased, “disappeared”.

    There are two things that make the story better than a standard criticism of its type. The first is the ghosts — the investor-ghosts with their stern faces and masks especially is an image that will stay with me for a while, and the various ways that the third group is not acknowledged. The second is the kind of logical chirpiness. The third group don’t exist, so Mr. Brown must have invented them, creative Mr. Brown! And so sad that he didn’t get his bonus that year. And the Hitherby-standard invocations of marvels beyond the boundaries of the known, of magic, and of a glorious purpose to it all — a strong corrective to taking these ideas in too eager and congratulatory a way.

  3. Okay, but what about the Memorial Computer? Or is that just to explain why the narrator would make such a “chirpy” inference?

  4. Their records have been erased from the Memorial Computer, or never entered. So those who get their knowledge of the world from the Memorial Computer can rejoice in this expression of supposed creativity, naively imagining that anything real must be within its data banks. But the high officers in the story know, though they won’t acknowledge it; there wouldn’t be things like the repeat of “Not real” otherwise.

    Basically, I think that you can imagine this story as a sort of intersection of Hitherby and Chomsky’s _Manufacturing Consent_.

    Which makes it a sort of useful corrective in both directions. Straightforward criticisms of the way in which people blithely ignore our ongoing official torture-related program activities can sound too humorless, too stereotyped. And straightforward rejoicing in “yay, mysterious wonders beyond the borders, magic everywhere, a glorious purpose for everyone” starts to turn Hitherby into something less complex than what in my opinion it is.

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