Tomorrow and Tomorrow

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9781472214874: Tomorrow and Tomorrow
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It is ten years since the attack that reduced Pittsburgh to ashes. Today all that remains is the Archive: an interactive digital record of the city and its people. John Dominic Blaxton is a survivor, one of the 'lucky ones' who escaped the blast. Crippled by the loss of his wife and unborn daughter, he spends his days immersed in the Archive with the ghosts of yesterday. It is there he finds the digital record of a body: a woman, lying face down, half buried in mud. Who is she ... and why is someone hacking into the system and deleting the record of her seemingly unremarkable life? This question will drag Dominic from the darkest corners of the past into a deadly and very present nightmare.

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About the Author:

Thomas Sweterlitsch has a Master's Degree in Literary and Cultural Theory from Carnegie Mellon. For the last twelve years he has been a Reader Advisor with the Carnegie Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. He lives in Pittsburgh with his wife and daughter.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

***This galley is from an advance uncorrected proof***

 Copyright © 2014 Thomas Sweterlitsch

8, 23—


Her body’s down in Nine Mile Run, half buried in river mud. Time-stamped late April, the rains must have exposed her. Or maybe the rain-swollen river rose around her, the current rinsing away the foot or so of silt that had covered her. Time-stamped 6:44 p.m.— shafts of sunlight slant through the woods, dappling the mud in the clearings. The water’s a mossy green where the sunlight hits, but outside the direct sunlight the water’s a sooty brown, almost black. I think of the earth here, the history of this place, how accustomed it is to burning—the hillsides running steep to the riverbed were once slag heaps for the mills, rolling landslides of molten ash—but by the time I knew this place, everything was reclaimed and greened. It was a city park.

When the time stamp’s reached 7:31 p.m. it’s grown too dark to see so I adjust the light filters. The woods and the body brighten with the sickly pallor of digitized light. I can see her feet now, white like white mushrooms grown bulbous in the soil. Bookmark the body. I leave her, finding my way back through the woods along the jogging path in the utter dark.

At the trailhead parking lot I reset to 6:15 p.m., a half hour before I will find her body. The night reverses to a bluer shade of dusk. I follow the jogging path that runs serpentine through the woods before scaling down a tangle of roots and bramble, holding on to reedy branches to keep my balance. I’ve been this way before. Scan the underbrush for footprints or signs of struggle, scraps of clothing, anything, but I don’t find any tangible traces until I find the white lump of her body—a pallid curve I take as her back and a spray of hair much darker from mud than the honey-brown I know from photographs of her. I kneel near her. I study her, trying to piece together what happened—trying to understand. At 7:31 p.m. it’s grown too dark to see.

I retrace my steps. At the trailhead parking lot, I reset to 6:15 p.m. and the night reverses. Her body’s down there, half buried in mud. I start along the jogging path, scanning the woods for traces of her. I’ll find her in about twenty minutes.



10, 21—


People often ask us how their loved ones died, expecting extra-ordinary circumstances or wondering whether they suffered terribly, and I’m reminded of Auden’s “Musée des Beaux Arts” because, with rare exception, the deaths we research are banal— someone eating, opening a window or walking dully along. Nothing extraordinary—though often survivors remember how fine a day it was, how perfect for autumn, how almost like summer. The end occurred quickly, that much is verifiable—no one suffered except the ones who lived. Five hundred thousand lives ended in the blinding white flash. Shadows elongated and became like charcoal smudges, the City became like snowy ash and in a breath of wind vanished. Other than details, all we really answer about their loved ones is that they likely did not suffer and they likely died as they had lived. Even this dreadful martyrdom ran its course.

October twenty-first—

Ten years since the end.

Tuesday’s the last I used brown sugar. I’d even pinged Kucenic that morning to be courteous, to tell him I’d a touch of the bug and wouldn’t be coming in—but he informed me I’m already out of sick days and vacation days and some of the other archival assistants were tired of covering for me. That I would be docked pay and may face probation. There’d been complaints, he said. He voiced a few minutes later, his profile pic all snowy beard and kind blue eyes, his Adware left gaudily exposed like a crosshatch of silver wires threading his skull beneath his wispy hair. This was over at Tryst Coffeehouse, on their Wi-Fi to take the call. My Adware’s shoddy, running a skittish frame rate that augments reality with a shitty split-second delay. Kucenic’s image hung in my eyes like a transparency overlaying café menus, displays of lattes, Red Eyes, mochas, velvety coffees hovering wherever I looked, Fair Trade and Organic info scrolling over every bag of beans. He asked if everything was all right, but his lips weren’t quite synched up with his words.

“Everything’s fine,” I told him. “My sinuses, I think, just a sinus infection—”

“You’re researching homicide,” he told me.

“I’ll be better tomorrow—”

“I’ve trusted you with potential fraud and homicide,” he said. “There’s a schedule we have to follow, there are reports—”

“Her body was tampered with—”

Self-conscious discussing the body in a crowded café, but everyone at the nearby tables was immersed in their own Adware streams, chatting to unseen companions or slumped over their coffee lost in private fantasies—no one paying attention to me.

“RFI #14502—Hannah Massey,” said Kucenic. “You’ve written that the Archive’s corrupted around her—”

“Whoever’s trying to cover up the killing is sloppy,” I told him. “All those corruptions in the Archive are like fingerprints, but there are a million fingerprints and it will take time to make sense of them all—”

“You’re burning yourself out,” he said. “I understand this is a difficult time for you, and I’m sympathetic, I am, but I need to know if you can handle this report right now. It’s been months since you first found her. I need you to wrap this up. Do you need help? We can work out a leave of absence. We can reassign your cases—”

“I don’t need a leave,” I told him. “I can’t afford a leave—”

“What does your doctor say?”

“Leave personal shit out of this,” I told him. “Don’t turn this personal—”

“You’re doing taxing work,” he said, easing off a bit. “You’re always thorough in your approach, but there are gaps in your presentation. Significant gaps. What about the victim’s parents? Her friends? You haven’t even filled in her last hours—”

“There are no last hours, not yet,” I told him. “I’ve tracked her to the point of her disappearance, but that’s not when she died. She was on campus, a psychology lecture about human-computer interaction. After class she cut through campus and entered the lower level of a parking garage on Fifth Avenue, near Morewood. No security cameras down there. That’s when she was taken—”

I minimized Kucenic and stared into my coffee, at the nutrition facts appearing there like legible shimmers of light. There’s a gap in the Archive from when she entered the parking garage to when I found her body near the river. Security cameras were installed in that garage in the weeks after she vanished—there’s plenty of footage of the garage’s lower levels time-stamped weeks and months following her disappearance, of security guards making their rounds on golf carts, but all too late.

“We need to trim the scope of what you’re working on. State Farm just wants proof of how she died,” said Kucenic. “A documented cause of death—that’s all. A one-page summary. And when we’re certain we’re dealing with homicide, I’ll have to register her death with the FBI—there are legal implications if we don’t handle this properly. We need to stick to their timetables. I can’t go days or weeks without hearing from you—”

“I found her body,” I told him, thinking of spring rains sluicing away her shallow burial. “No one else would have—”

“Look, Dominic,” he said, “if you’re going to work in this field, you have to understand the bigger picture. You can’t just hole up in the research, block out every other consideration. You have to understand that when I meet with State Farm, their reps will be excited by what you’ve found, the work you’re doing, but their first question will be Why haven’t you told us how she died? That information means money to them—they care about the money, not the girl. You have to think like they think if you want to be effective in this line of work—”

“They don’t care who killed her, just that she was killed,” I said. “Isn’t that right? You want me to ignore what happened to her? I can’t do that, Kucenic. For the past few weeks, whenever I close my eyes I see her—”

“All these images aren’t real,” he told me. “You immerse into the Archive and if you’re not careful, you forget that it isn’t real. You spend so much time watching people die, it can affect you. It’s okay if you can’t keep up right now, if you can’t work like this—”

“What do you mean, ‘forget that it isn’t real?’ It was all real—”

“Log some hours,” he said. “Work through this. I’ll need an update by this afternoon—”

“Fine, fine,” I told him, but skipped work that afternoon anyway. I immersed at the Mount. Pleasant Library, accessing their public Wi-Fi from a wingback chair in the gov docs room that’s hidden from the reference desk librarians. Private back there, no one to bother me. Brown sugar comes in blister packs—taupe heptagons—cut for use as a study aid. I dry swallowed the pill. I closed my eyes when the sweetness hit and my breaths grew deeper. I loaded the City. I was with my wife then. For a solid ten hours, at least, I was with her. The librarians kicked me out at closing so I slept the night in their parking lot, half hidden by a hedgerow. Still connected when I woke, but the City had timed out—the morning feeds blaring Cash Amateurs and looped promos for season 4 of Chance in Hell and the Voyeur Cam pay streams and Real Swingers of DC and groupons if I opinioned who was hotter between last week’s murdered Fur girls on Crime Scene Superstar, blonde versus redhead, dead teen bodies displayed in crime scene streams, Look here to vote, look here—
Dr. Simka has diagnosed me with major depressive disorder, substance abuse disorder and secondary traumatization. He’s prescribed Zoloft and suggests I should exercise more, that jogging through Rock Creek Park when the weather’s nicer or training for the National Half Marathon will cleanse toxins from my bloodstream. He says I’m putting on weight and it worries him.

“Maybe we should try to lose some weight together,” I’ve told him, but he just pats his belly and laughs.

Simka’s offices are over in Kalorama, near 21st and Florida, in the building with the bright red door. He’s filled his waiting room with furniture that he’s made—black cherry Mission-style chairs, a magazine table, a matching bookshelf filled with his early editions of Lacan. After our biweekly hour I feel I’ve pawned damaged goods to him, that my case is certain to hurt his success rate. I mention this to him while he’s signing my EAP paperwork, but he just smiles and nods and strokes his bushy mustache and says, “You don’t need style points to win—”

I’ve learned to trust Dr. Simka. I talk with him about Theresa, about my memories. We discuss the amount of time I spend in the Pittsburgh Archive visiting her. We try to set limits, boundaries— we try to set goals. Simka doesn’t believe in VR therapy, preferring face-to-face contact with his patients, so I relax on his cushy leather couch and have conversations with him—about anything, anything at all, whatever’s on my mind, whatever thoughts I’m trying to exorcise. I talk with him about my work for Kucenic, about the archival research I’m assigned—the information’s confidential, but I unburden myself to Simka. I told him about RFI 14502, the woman whose body I found.

“There was a dispute,” I told him. “The policyholder’s beneficiary—her sister, in Akron—filed life insurance claims for the woman and her three children, but State Farm contested the claims to avoid part of the payout, contending that only two of the woman’s children could be verified as dying as a direct result of the bomb—”

“So, your firm was contacted to confirm their deaths,” said Simka.

“Kucenic won the case in a batch bid and assigned it as part of my caseload,” I told him. “We were contracted to find evidence to bolster State Farm’s dispute, or if we found that all three children did die in the blast, to provide recommendations for a settlement—”

“Either way, you’re searching for a dead child,” said Simka.

“I found the first death easily enough,” I told him. “A boy at Harrison Middle School. Plenty of security cameras in the school, plenty of footage to reconstruct his life. I made sure I was with him in the classroom as he died, marking when the white light streamed through the windows, marking when he burned. The second child was only a few months old. Another boy. I logged several hours in the house with the policyholder, the mother. She spent almost every afternoon watching The Price Is Right while her boy cried in the bassinet. Sometimes I picked up the boy to try and soothe him, I don’t know why—I knew it didn’t matter, that the boy was long since dead, that the crying was just a webcam recording re-created there. I just held him, sang to him until he calmed, but the moment I put him down the Archive reset and he was back in his bassinet crying. He was crying in his crib when he died. Each child earned a separate report—”

“And the third?” asked Simka.

“Hannah,” I told him. “Nineteen years old. She’d been tampered with in the Archive, huge chunks of her life deleted. State Farm keyed in on the deletions when their researchers first examined the claim, which is why they put it up for bid, but they couldn’t track her—”

“And you could?” asked Simka.

“I can be obsessive about the research, is all,” I told him. “State Farm doesn’t have the manpower. When something’s been deleted from the Archive, it generates an exception report because the code falters. If you isolate time frames you can print thousands of pages of exception reports and slog through them, try to stitch back what’s happened. Clever hacks replace whatever they’ve deleted or changed in the Archive with something else, something similar—if you’re careful, you can delete something and insert a forgery without generating an error message at all. Whoever deleted Hannah, though, wasn’t skilled or very careful—I could reconstruct her life by following the exception messages, reading the code; it just took time. I imagine it’s like following a boar after it crashes through the underbrush—”

“Where did you find her?” asked Simka.

“I found her body in the river, half buried in mud over in this reclaimed slag site called Nine Mile Run. Academic footage of the watershed taken by Carnegie Mellon’s Environmental Science department. Her body had been buried there, but the rain washed away the mud that had covered her. Whoever deleted her didn’t think to delete JSTOR footage or didn’t know it existed as part of the Archive. By the time I found her body, she was swollen. Hard to even recognize—”

“You seem particularly upset over her death. You deal with this type of work on a regular basis—”

“You would have liked her,” I told him. “She was a psych major. An actress in a comedy troupe called Scotch ’n’ Soda. She was a head turner, vibrant—but I couldn’t even recognize her body when I found her in that footage. Only a few minutes of white in the mud, a partial of her back and her feet. I had to prove it was her through the exception reports—”

Nearly every death is contested, nearly every property damage claim. Billions and billions of dollars in lawsuits. My research is handled like a spreadsheet, but I told Simka those three children still troubled m...

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