The First Encounter
Late nights and overworking - two habits Harold once thought he left behind after his days at MIT. Much to his dismay, both practices followed him into his late adult life.
It was two in the morning at IFT - the software company where Harold worked- but that didn’t seem to phase him. Technically, no one was supposed to be in the office after ten pm- eleven at the latest. However, when you’re a genius billionaire co-running a company from behind the scenes, corporate rules don’t always apply to you.
For most people, working for a company such as IFT meant the opportunity to effect technological innovation for years to come. But Harold was not accustomed to being like most people. For him, it was an opportunity to be successful from the shadows. He helped his best-friend-turned-business-partner Nathan Ingram launch IFT decades ago without anyone else knowing he was involved. This was by design, of course. Since Harold had once used his coding skills to hack a government network he should have been in prison. He went to college on a fake name and has since created dozens of aliases to hide who he really is. At the time, revealing a large chunk of the government’s secrets seemed like an impressive feat that was worth the risk, but Harold had failed to consider the personal cost. It’s not easy to find stability when you have to constantly look over your own shoulder.
Maybe that’s why he threw himself into his work. Fixing software at two a.m. seemed easier than facing the loneliness of being a wanted fugitive. Nonetheless, even Harold had a breaking point. He knew that if he didn’t go to sleep soon he would be awake until Nathan came in at seven o’clock that morning, so he decided to turn in for the night. Of course, it wasn’t unusual for the fugitive hacker to stay in the office that late. In fact, it had become such a regular occurence that Nathan had a couch in his office specifically for the situation. Sleeping there never made for a restful night, but it was better than hearing Nathan’s “you need to take care of yourself” speech for the fifth time that week. Ideally, Harold would be home by now, but given his sleep deprived state, trying to drive home would do more harm than good.
Eventually, the software engineer gave in and retired to the couch just a few floors above him. He was right about one thing: the night was anything but restful. Although the comfort level of the couch had little to do with it. As soon as Harold closed his eyes, he was sent into a dream that seemed all too real.
Beach on one side, jungle on the other. Harold was trapped between two terrains he was not at all used to. It didn’t help that he was still wearing a suit jacket, slacks, and tie. The beating sun got to him quickly and he lost the jacket. With little idea of where he was going, Harold walked along the treeline in hopes of finding someone else alive on this vast island. Less than fifteen feet of walking led to exactly that- another person! However, Harold was startled by the person’s sudden emergence from the jungle. The mystery man stumbled out of the brush and fell at Harold’s feet. He wanted to ask the man if he was alright, but the stranger’s appearance caught Harold off guard. Harold could have sworn he was looking at himself- granted, a ten-year-younger version of himself without glasses- but himself nonetheless. Before the reclusive billionaire could gather his thoughts enough to say something, his younger clone beat him to it.
“Who- who the hell are you?” The man asked as he stood.
Harold avoided the question, “I’m sorry… and you are?”
“Benjamin Linus,” he answered confidently. “So I’ll ask again: who the hell are you?”
“Harold…” the hacker started, but he hesitated to state a last name. He had so many aliases he didn’t know which one to give. Should he use Crane? Wren? Swan? No last name would have to work for now.
“Harold… what?” Benjamin prompted.
“Harold is fine for now,” he reassured.
Ben delivered a sideways glance before asking, “And where are you from, Harold?”
“I live in New York,” Harold answered coyly. Live is not the same as from.
“How about you, Mr. Linus."
“I live on the Island.”
“You live on an island?”
“No, I live on this island,” Ben clarified while gesturing to the landscape around them.
“And what island is this?” Harold wondered.
“Well you won’t find it on any traditional map, I can assure you. To the majority of the world, this island doesn’t even exist. And that’s the way the Island wants it to stay.”
“The island wants to stay secret?”
“You do realize how ridiculous that sounds, don’t you?”
“I suppose for someone from New York the whole thing would sound quite far fetched.”
The software engineer returned the sideways glance before answering. This man has been stuck on an island with no one to talk to for too long, Harold thought. If he truly believes that the land we are standing on is alive then the only logical explanation is that seclusion has driven him to insanity. However, Harold was aware that pointing this out would only lead to more conflict so he decided to let it go.
“I suppose it would,” Harold responded, acknowledging the obvious comment targeted at his previous, vague answers. “So what do you do for a living on this island?”
“I’m in charge,” Ben said.
“In charge of what?”
That was not the answer Harold expected. His brow furrowed in confusion at the response.
“That may have been a little over dramatic but it’s no less true,” Ben admitted. “And what is it that you do?”
No answer. Except this time Harold wasn’t hesitating.
“Well?” Ben asked again.
“I’m not all that comfortable sharing,” Harold finally stated. “I’m a really private person.”
Ben’s mouth started to move as if he were going to say something else, but before Harold knew it, the man was gone and his vision was black.
“Harold. Harold!” The coder heard a familiar voice as he came to. When he opened his eyes, he found an old friend hovering over him.
“You fell asleep in the office again,” Nathan told him. “I should really start charging you rent.”
Harold’s voice was rough from being woken suddenly but he was able to answer, “You already don’t technically pay me to be your IT supervisor.”
Nathan laughed, “Yes, that’s because being my invisible partner pays you well enough that you don’t have to be an IT supervisor.”
Harold weakly smiled back as he sat up on the couch.
“Why don’t you head home?” Nathan suggested. “You’ve been working for almost twenty four hours straight.”
“Has it been that long?”
“I haven’t counted the hours but it’s not like you haven’t done it before.”
“Perhaps you’re right. It might do some good to sleep in a real bed again.”
“Exactly. Rest up and I’ll see you tomorrow.”
As Harold started walking out of the building he couldn’t help but remember the dream he had last night. Who the hell was Benjamin Linus? Why did he look and sound like Harold? Was he some sort of figment of his imagination? He must have been. It did bother Harold how real the dream felt, however. He couldn’t quite explain it, but it didn’t feel like a normal dream. Regardless, it was just a dream. An image created during REM sleep and that’s all… Right?