Like any of the gods from the lost pantheons of the human race, Henry existed on an unseen but omnipresent plane. From the remote subterranean facility that was Henry’s place of employment, he could use the infrastructure of global communications to be anywhere on the planet. He was a phantom that could slip in and out of people’s pockets through their phones; he peered into people's bedrooms through their laptops. Every lens, every microphone connected to the digital realm served as the eyes and ears of the omnipotent Henry. Not only could Henry see all and hear all like the defunct gods of the bygone world, he knew the darkest secrets carried in the heart and stored on the digital mediums of anyone connected to him through the web.
The machines people live through create a digital timeline that can now not only spanned but often exceeded an individual's limited biological lifetime. Starting from the birth announcement and the first baby pictures, Henry could reach back into a person’s life and see who they were at any age. Their interests, desires, and every aspect of the human experience were digitally documented in the vast server farms' infinitely expanding memories. Entire human relationships are transcribed through text messages. Sexuality is explored through search bars. The minutes and details of every interaction, no matter how benign, is embedded in the virtual world.
There was nothing anyone could hide from Henry. The more he watched people, the more acutely aware he became of just how connected people are. Facebook friends, email contacts, and Instagram followers gave Henry a means of mapping connections between people no matter how vast the physical distance might be between them. For Henry, the world was small and always contracting. He began to see the state of the world as the sum of billions of human relationships.
Although it was henry’s job to be a passive observer, he had the ability to intervene in people's lives and issue decrees in his virtual domain that would set into motion events with an unlimited range of consequences. By definition, the infinite has no beginning. Henry found it impossible to pick a place to start. So he fell back on the old and familiar habit of delegating the decision to the scrutiny of carefully calculated algorithms that would filter and catalog billions of souls with a list of rigidly defined terms. He would then search randomized combinations of the human descriptors and blindly select a subject that fit. Impartiality was a trait Henry believed was crucial to the benevolent. The program was a slot machine of fate, and the very second it was cranked, The future of a family for better or for worse fell into the hands of Henry.
Despite his oath, he was tempted to call a do-over.
The agony befalling the Hillard's seemed relatively light on the global and historical spectrum of human suffering. Stephanie Hillard, the family's matriarch, was a divorce and consequently a single parent. Still, she was a highly educated and well-compensated professional. Her teenage daughter Elise being the offspring of two intelligent parents, quickly proved herself to be just as adept and even more promising through her early development stages. Her transformation into a hostile pseudo-nihilistic and very self-destructive adolescent felt so sudden to the girl’s mother. Henry knew better, though. There was ample and easily recoverable documented evidence that could have predicted this development. Despite her ample intelligence and good nature, hormones triggered a defect in the poor girl that rendered her devoted to an angry, confused, and worse yet directionless boy from the class two grades above her own.
Stephanie did her best to be an attentive and available mother, and given all the demands on her time, she did reasonably well, but there were things about her daughter she didn't know. Where she had suspicions and theories about what was behind the seemingly sudden change in her outlook and behavior, Henry had concrete evidence of what was going on with the broody teenage girl. Not only was he able to construct a personality profile based on extensive records kept by institutions such as the educational system and the medical establishment he had access to direct communications from Elise herself that stated rather plainly how she was degrading her mind, body, and spirit.
Henry’s initial reaction was indifference. If he could save this girl from blind self-destruction, then perhaps in the future, she would focus her keen intellect on some positive world changing endeavor or, at least as a functional and well-adjusted member of society, cease making life so difficult for her poor mother who by all reasoning should resonate positively.
Henry had trouble mustering enthusiasm in this particular case but reminded himself he might never decide anyone is worthy of his compassion. He tuned into every microphone and every camera in the house and settled in to watch and assess.
Henry hadn’t anticipated the tedium of human life being such an impediment to his humanitarian mission. Even though he was observing them for a screen, life wasn’t constructed like a movie. There were no tightly written scenes to convey what was on the minds of the subjects. As time wore on, Henry came very close to rolling the dice one more time in hopes of finding a resolvable human conflict with more gravity. There was just one aspect of the Hillard household dynamics that kept his attention, and that was the very apparent distress Elise was causing her mother. Stephanie became a very sympathetic character to Henry. While he had his doubts about how saving Elise from herself might influence the world around her, there was something inside him that yearned to see Stephanie relieved of her anguish.
From what Henry knew about drug addiction and its associated problems, the best place to start was a confrontation with loved ones. To set that in motion, Henry would have to make Stephanie fully aware of what was happening. His method for approaching that problem wasn’t very subtle. Henry decided to redirect some drug-related texts from Elise’s phone to her mother’s. It was innocuous enough. Sometimes people send messages to the wrong people. Sometimes cell networks malfunction either way; Ms. Hillard wasn’t likely to think much of it.
As Henry expected, this provoked a heated confrontation between Stephanie and Elise. Henry’s meticulously calculated projections were that the protracted emotional war waged by mother and daughter would subside then resolve in two to four weeks.
Calculated into his prediction was his gross underestimation of the power of denial. Ms. Hillard was quickly withered by the tension of life with an openly hostile rebellion by her only teenage daughter as well as the incessant demands of her professional life. She hadn’t the emotional or physical energy to see herself beyond the budding stations of such a confrontation. No matter how much torment is inflicted upon her, Stephanie came to accept this relationship with this warped form of her offspring.
Henry was confounded by this resistance to his will. He decided to press the dial. He tortured Stephanie by inundating her phone with random transmissions from her estranging daughter. Throughout the day, her phone buzzed with messages between Elise and other socially retrograded drug-addled adolescences.
She received texts about “picking up.”
Her youtube received updates from random accounts with videos of her drugged-out daughter, her face flushed and her eyes fluttering, her cracked and pale lips muttering incoherently. The cleavage on the crop top-wearing youth on the verge of an overdose drew views into the hundreds of thousands. Her voice mail flooded with sound bytes of her daughter's mistakes and degenerations. The foundation of Henry’s plan was to push the frightened woman until she had no choice but to finally resolve the increasingly unbearable situation. He is provoked by his deep-running sympathies for Stephanie and frustrated by his inability to micro engineer the world around him by influencing the fortunes of the hapless Hillard family. Rattled by failure, Henry decided to inflict a barrage of well-meaning torment on the beleaguered single mother by making her an unwilling witness to the drug-fueled excesses of her wayward child. Henry forwarded Elise’s texts and Facebook messages to Stephanie and even made Elise's phone dial her mother turning her cell phone into a bug so she could hear what her daughter was really up to during much of the school day.
Despite all of Henry’s efforts to push Stephanie towards some definitive action everything, the distraught mother made a wasted effort that amounted to naught. Instead, the Hillard household simply settled into a new normal. Where Stephanie found herself living in constant fear because of her daughter's erratic behavior. The more about Elise Henry revealed, the less she had to hide. The more Stephanie went through, the more he pitied her and the angrier he became at Elise.
Henry’s chance to force a showdown finally came one afternoon when he watched Elise and her boyfriend in her bedroom through her laptop camera. The young couple was on edge. They didn’t have a dollar between them, and they were starting to enter the early stages of physical and psychological withdrawal. They were pacing past each other back and forth in an agitated and nervous state. Elise was chewing her nails while her boyfriend called around looking for a loan. When no one came through, Elise finally suggested stealing her mother’s bank card. Henry was ecstatic this was his chance. He had to inform Stephanie somehow, but there was no time to send her recorded footage. She had to catch her daughter in the act.
Henry keyed into Stephanie’s laptop. She was currently using the device to work while exploring parenting forums for any helpful advice. Henry had to think fast, but he could only come up with one idea, and it wasn’t very subtle. He commandeered her system. Stephanie was baffled when her unresponsive mouse as if being operated by a phantom presence, drifted over to an open word document.
CHECK YOUR PURSE! The words typed themselves out.
Herny watched Stephanie get up from her chair and leave the room. He quickly keyed into Elise’s phone. It was in her pocket, so he couldn’t see anything, but he could still hear what was happening.
“What are you doing?” He heard Stephanie say sharply.
“Nothing, I was just checking to see if you had any gum,” a nervous Elise said unconvincedly.
“That’s it. I’m done with this, Elise. You’re stealing from me. You’re stealing from your own mother!”
“You! I want you out of my house!” Stephanie shouted.
“No, Mom, he’s not going anywhere,”
“I swear to Christ if you’re not out of her in five fucking seconds I’m calling the police,” Stephanie hissed.
“Mom, stop it!” Elise shrieked
“Fucking stop it, you bitch!” Elise screamed.
“That’s it I’m calling them. They can deal with him and you,” Stephanie said acidly.
“Oh my god!” Elise squealed. Henry heard something hit the floor. He accessed Stephanie’s phone. Her head fell into the still frame. Fresh crimson oozed through her hair; she was down on the kitchen floor. Elise's boyfriend was standing over her, holding a heavy wooden cutting board. Its flat surface was smeared with blood.
“Oh Christ,” Henry jumped as he quickly shut off his computer. Henry buried his face in his hands and took a deep breath. “Holy shit,” he muttered. He exhaled and rubbed his eyes. “Oh my god,” he whispered. Henry quietly rolled his chair back and shuffled out of his office. His attempt at intervention had backfired spectacularly, and now thanks to his good intentions, a woman, a mother, was dead. It was a setback, but Henry refused to believe he didn’t have the ability to change people's lives and, by extension, the world for the better. A detailed analysis would show him what he did right and what he did wrong, and he could try again.