Shred After Reading

Intra-office Memorandum, Level Alpha
To: Alpha 02
From: Alpha 03

2014-12-12, 1343 hours

Shred after reading.

Body of message:

Beta-05 has completed his assignment. H.L.’s domicile contained only one thing of value: draft of a story on his personal server, recreated below.


  1. Are there other copies in H.L.’s possession, digital or hardcopy?
  2. Did he send one or more copies of this draft to others?
  3. Is he currently in contact with Subject J?
  4. Does he know the location of Subject A? If so, is she open to communicating with him, despite her instructions?
  5. Current location of Subject J.

Actions taken:

  1. Corruption of the aforementioned draft of story. It resides on H.L.’s server only as a title. It cannot be successfully read on H.L.’s screen, nor can it be transmitted or recreated, unless he recreates it from memory—or from a hard or digital copy of which we are unaware.
  2. Made one digital copy of story for reproduction here; have destroyed it; you have the only known copy in this transmission, which you will destroy after reading.
  3. Left his domicile with no traces of entry.


  1. Are there further instructions for me?
  2. When will you tell Alpha 01?
  3. H.L.’s story appended.


The Man Who Couldn’t Hear Women

By H. Latham


The truth of it is that John could hear some women, but he didn’t realize this until junior high school. He said they sounded like birds chirping.  By the time he was an adult, he could hear some women most of the time and could understand some of their words, but just wasn’t interested in what he heard.

But this is to quibble because, as far as John was concerned, his default position (he thinks in these terms) was: he couldn’t hear women.  He could always hear his mom, however, but she died just as he entered college at 17.

John’s peculiarity hadn’t been a significant problem to him until he turned forty around two years ago. He and I are life-long friends, so he looked me up to unburden himself to me, in his usual measured manner and well-thought-out expositional style (I’m kind of a journalist and like to use these terms).

How John managed to get by, until now, without having important problems in life is the main idea behind this narrative, and I’m hopeful that if he agrees I can sell the story and make some money.  I know this sounds pretty cheeky and crass, but it really is an unusual story and John has all the money he needs.

If you would be interested in publishing this story, please let me know and I will send the full story to you.


Both our families lived in a suburb of the state’s capital city, within easy driving distance of the international airport, which was important to John’s parents. We lived there because it was cheaper than the city, and my parents had a small business in town.

John’s parents were sort of unusual.  I mean, they were both very successful professional people when it was unusual for both parents to work at high-level jobs that were at about the same status.  He was a banker (international) and she was an engineer (electronics), in the research division of a big company that had a campus on the edge of town.

John’s parents were old when he was born, so they seemed more like grandparents to me. He was their only child, so he had all the privileges of wealth, relative to the rest of the guys. But he wasn’t stuck up and didn’t act as if felt superior or better off.  He was just a regular guy, even if he wasn’t interested in sports.  He was good at cards, though, and he was a regular wizard at the pinball machines (this was before computer games came on the scene).

Starting when we were in junior high, I often went to John’s home to listen to music on his hi-fi rig and play on the three pinball machines his parents had bought him. He even taught himself to repair them. He had built the hi-fi rig from scratch, using Heathkits. When we got into high school he built a computer from a Heathkit, but I didn’t pay much attention to this because I just didn’t understand what he was doing with it.

Mainly it was the great modern jazz and old blues I could listen to that kept me eager to be at home with John. He also had some really interesting girly magazines, right out where anybody could see them. His parents gave him a subscription to Playboy, and he got some other, not so polite ones from somewhere I don’t know. He was in love with Bettie Page. I was too.

His folks were hardly ever home, but he never got into trouble, especially with girls. Like I said, he couldn’t hear them, so they were pretty much invisible to him and, of course, he just didn’t exist for the girls in school. He was a geek, for sure.

He didn’t drink, either—I mean beer and whiskey—like most of the other guys. John said it took his edge off. I didn’t know exactly what he meant then, but I now know that he treated his brain like a precious instrument, which it possibly still is.

There was one girl in junior high school he could hear. She dressed like a boy and if she had tits, she hid them under a loose shirt.  He heard her talking back to group of snotty stuck-ups who were ragging on her, and it kind of surprised him. He never said anything to her, he said to me then, because he didn’t know what to say to a girl. But this was important information for him to store away for future possible use, as he told me at the time—he could hear some women, or at least this one girl.

I suppose you wonder how he got along in classes where there was a female teacher. His (female) teacher thought he had a learning disability when got into first grade. His folks sent him to a (male) specialist who said there was nothing wrong with him.  They figured he needed something, and could see he had trouble understanding females, so they put him in a nearby Catholic school run by monks and priests until it was time for junior high.

This is where I came in, at least in junior high. We purposefully took the same classes. I was a good note-taker and John could read and remember a textbook almost at a glance.  He helped me with the math and science stuff that he was a whiz at. Man, he really was a brain, but he looked geeky and stupid when female teachers called on him, so they stopped doing it. He always got an A in any class where the teacher didn’t mark him down for being asocial—“fails to engage with the instructor and other students,” or some crap like that. These were the non-math and non-science classes.

When it was time to start thinking about high school, John told his parents he wanted to go to a special technical school over in the capital, around 80 miles away on the other side of the airport. They were super okay about it, and they set him up with his own apartment next to the campus and made arrangements for an official guardian to be appointed—one of his dad’s business associates who lived in the city.  John even was allowed to have his own car so he could drive home on the weekends, if he wanted to.

When he did drive home we hung out together, as usual, but by this time we had given up the pinballs and would play the latest games on the two computers his folks had got him. He gave them all the specifications.

Even though the games were a challenge for me, John got bored with them after taking them to their limits a couple of times. He decided he was going to write his own games and, since he was taking classes in computer programming at his high school, he knew where to start. Even his school wasn’t advanced enough for his ambitions, so he learned all the other programming languages he could, on his own. He ended up creating a language that was specific to the kinds of games he wanted to play. His dad helped him get a few copyrights, and he was set for life.

But John was no business man, and he knew it. He just wanted to make new games, improve them to their limit and move on to other games and other software challenges. So, after he completed his high school early, at age 16, his mom and dad helped him enter a technical college where business was also taught so he could get in contact with business geeks.


Like I said, I come into his story again when we were both forty years old.

We hadn’t been in direct touch since he went to college at seventeen. John could easily find me on the Internet, of course, but I was surprised to hear from him. I had been working at a publishing house, mainly as a gofer with a fancy title, hoping to climb the ladder into something more interesting and remunerative.

Meanwhile John became financially successful as a geek whose talents were appreciated and used by a small team of entrepreneurs who knew how to capitalize on his technical genius. They treated him like the precious commodity he is. He lived in an artificial world they created for him, his every need catered to. But he had few needs, certainly few social needs. What he needed mostly is his own laboratory with endless and immediate access to the most advanced tools in geekdom.

But, at age forty he met a woman he could hear and fell completely, almost fatally, in love. He couldn’t understand what was happening to him but he didn’t care. He was in a new world and he explored it completely, endlessly fascinated with new feelings and sensuous experiences which had eluded him until now. He saw the world as beautiful, a concept new to him.

She, on the other hand I later learned, was not new to the game and had spotted a good target for herself. She was thirty-five, twice-before married, and very intelligent. They met at a Mensa function, something one of his colleagues urged him to do. She could match and even surpass him on an intellectual basis due to her greater life experience. She wanted simply to mate with John so she could give birth to at least one child who would have a greater than average chance to be, by her way of thinking, superior, which superiority will redound to her status. She also liked that John had personal wealth beyond his needs.

Because of this new state John could now hear most women, but he didn’t pay much attention to this new condition until the luster of the relationship with Athena began to fade. He started noticing other women before she found the opening to get him to marry her, so she settled for getting pregnant and getting a pay-off from him. He, at this point, was spending money like a sailor and getting in bed with all the women he could. But his business partners were hovering, trying to protect him and their investment in him.

After several months of bedding every woman he could entice, he started losing his ability to hear them. At first, the sounds of their voices simple grated on his nervous system. Then he began not to understand the words they were saying to him.

This just lays the foundation for the rest of the story.

Please consider this a formal inquiry to your publishing firm.


H. Latham

End of Alpha Level transmission, 2014-12-12, 1343 hours



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