The Archivists · 01

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Ten years ago, back before Feddema Global moved its operations undersea, Margaret Feddema had a big meeting go awry. Mister Horn quoted something she’d said, something she had no memory of saying. (“Of course I’ll cover your costs, as long as you produce physical evidence.”) And then, worse, he sat there rubbing his temples as she sifted through the stacks of paper that littered her desk.

Afterward, Margaret stared out the window for a full hour, motionless, the city churning beneath her. She checked her pulse rate and said: “Let’s make this moment never happen again.”

By the next morning, she’d put together the plan: There was to be a dedicated team responsible for monitoring and recording every word she said, no matter where or when.

They had a guy from Diamond’s come in and install microphones all over the place, and I mean everywhere. If Margaret muttered something in the elevator, in her car, on the toilet, there’d be someone out there to hear it, write it down, memorize it, file it, and be ready to read it back to her, anytime, anywhere.

Problem was, who would be on this team? Who would be on duty twenty-four hours a day? Who would have the dedication, the focus, the will? Who would have the ability? And bottom line, people: Who could Margaret trust with every last thought in her head?

Her then-assistant Sean Bittman, now known as Sal of Sal’s Fish House, chewed on it for a while and brought up China Sweet. China Sweet was essentially a bounty hunter, though her business cards — razor sharp and emblazoned with the silhouette of a cherry tree — just said LOST IS FOUND. She specialized in finding runaway girls, and she and Feddema Global often did favors for one another.

Bittman goes on to chatter about branched protoplasmic extensions of nerve cells and how when you’re young, see, your brain is filled with interconnections, literally, physically, right, so you’re open to infinite possibilities. Which is why the time to teach your kid French or calculus or whatever is when they’re still spitting up on your tired, defeated shoulder. Their minds can make leaps that older kids can’t, you know?

“You need a crew that’s loyal? That’s highly trained? You get some kids in here who still have their dendrites. You put your stamp on them early.”

So they bring in China Sweet (née Maxine Estra), still practically a kid herself, still trying to sort through all the lessons her mother taught her. She said: I know the streets of this city, and I know the girls who have been abandoned there.

“I need children who can be trained to listen and transcribe and process and replay,” Margaret said. And China Sweet said no problem. China Sweet said give me 48 hours.

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China Sweet

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©MMX · Joshua Allen

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