An alarm buzzes in his head, and @SamSmith94 wakes up to blackness.
Lit characters flash an answer on the black backdrop: 0720 EDT. The morning-shift Jobs Lottery starts at 8 AM sharp. Time enough to dial up a cup of coffee, sit through the commercials, and present for a shift assignment. Suckers in the PhysWo have to spend hours on end in cars, in rush-hour traffic.
@Sam switches off the alarm. The buzzing stops, and The Woman speaks. Disembodied and in stereo:
Good morning, @SamSmith94. You have $450 in your Perpe2ity account. Are you interested in viewing Today’s Headlines?
“No, thanks.” Reading means thinking, which means processing, which burns energy, costing him money. Therefore, @Sam only reads what he needs to read. Updates on who is bombing who in the PhysWo, where some hurricane made landfall, don’t qualify as need-to-read. Any fool ten days dead knows better than to burn cycles catching up on the news. It’s all upsell bullshit from the Carrier.
Your day will begin after a few brief messages from our sponsors.
A DRE thuds down over him: a room dropped from the sky. It lands off-kilter, bounces once, settles around him — a bit much, @Sam would tell the animator, if he were asked — and now @Sam is standing in the center of a massive casino floor. He turns a 360. A row of slot machines spirals off from each of the twelve clock-points around him. Lights flash in a hundred colors, retro Japanese computer-game melodies beep and bleat at him from all sides. Bells ring, signaling payouts everywhere. The ambient noise drops out as an announcer — male, enthusiastic — steps to the fore:
PLAYTIME PLAYTIME PLAYTIME —
“Are you up, honey?” @Daisy has logged in.
“Yeah, I’m awake,” @Sam says. “Just watching the ads.” Three weeks ago he asked @Daisy if she would share an open line with him — just in the mornings, before work. She’d said yes. The boys down on the Jobs Lottery gave him no end of shit. But the truth is, it’s just a first-level commitment. The open line means that every morning, between 0600 and 0800 hours, they can talk together, without one of them having to dial and the other picking up. Like they’re in a room together. It’s a slightly greater level of intimacy, that’s all. It’s not marriage, for Christ’s sake.
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Some of these guys on the Jobs Lottery are real broken souls. Butting in with words of advice he never asked for. That prick @BrionBurbridge, for example: “Love? Please. It’s just another money grab by the Carriers. Some coder at Perpe2uity hacks a ‘spark’ between the two of you, and it’s off to the races. Fancy dates in hi-res rendered restaurants, late-night heart-to-hearts, five-D sim-sex, shit: all the time just thinking about the girl — I’ll bet a guy doubles his processor load when he’s in ‘love.’ The girl probably triples hers. And who cashes in? The Carrier.”
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There’s at least some truth in @Brion’s rant. Since he’s hooked up with @Daisy, @Sam has been drawing down on his account with Perpe2ity at a higher rate. It’s not double: he is paying out an average of $200 per day lately, versus $150, $160 before @Daisy. So maybe a programmer did shoot him in the ass with Cupid’s arrow, and maybe Perpe2ity paid the guy a bonus for it. Thing is, @SamSmith94 could give a shit. @Daisy’s the best thing to happen to him in the three years since he died. And she’s real.
The PlayTime 247 casino whirls out from under him in a rush of color. Blackness again. Then, a twinkle of light arises in the center of his vision. The light grows in size and resolves into the form of a woman, walking slowly — ever so slowly — toward him. She is perfectly proportioned, wearing a dress cropped barely three inches below her waist. Petite, redheaded, with a bobbed haircut, round eyes, pouty lips daubed red. She swings her hips when she walks, just enough. The woman hits every one of his buttons. Custom-built, no doubt, by a bot whose owners paid Perpe2uity for a peek into @SamSmith94’s account profile. They know just what he likes.
The woman stops in front of him, fans out wads of cash in both hands. @Sam can smell the fresh bills, smell her perfume, smell her sweat.
“Are you still in the ads?” @Daisy asks him, over the open line. “Seems like they get longer every day.”
The woman takes two steps closer to him. Her breasts are barely an inch away from his chest. She leans over to whisper in his ear. Her hair grazes his cheek. It feels like silk. Her hot breath tickles his ear, while she tells you her secret. The same secret a hundred thousand different renderings of her are telling every other No-Body man who had a 7:20 wake-up call:
Oh, baby, I’ve missed you soooo much. Why don’t you drop by later, when your shift is over? Bring a hundred dollars and your hot, throbbing — she laughs, and God, her laugh itself is enough to close the deal — self by my room. If you’re the best performer I get today, maybe I’ll pay you.
The woman leans back, cocks her head to one side, smiles, turns, and walks away — again, ever — so — slowly — the way she came. She takes ten steps, looks back over her shoulder, and blows him a kiss:
NightFevers.com, she said. Room 314. See you at 5:30.
@Sam sighs and turns his head to the left. His entire perspective swivels left with him, to keep the girl dead-center. He closes his eyes, and the image of the receding woman appears inside his eyelids. There is no way around it: he will spend the next four minutes watching this bot-fabbed dream girl walk away from him, swinging her hips just enough as she goes. Might as well surrender to it, he decides. He takes a seat in the blackness, fixes his eyes on her, watches her shrink to the size of a distant star.
“Sammy?” @Daisy asks him, but he doesn’t answer.
Three or four more ads follow. @Sam pays them varying degrees of attention. Word down on the Job Lottery is that sponsors are pressuring the carriers to monitor their users’ focus on the ads. If you come in under some threshold level of attention, they’ll make you watch the ad all over again.
@SamSmith94, please stand by for an important bulletin from Perpe2ity’s attorneys.
“Are you still not out yet, Sam?” @Daisy wants to know.
“Important bulletin,” he answers. “New TOU?”
“Did you sign off on it?” @Sam asks.
A rendered man in a suit appears in the blackness. He is carrying a briefcase. He sets it down, opens it, pulls a stack of paper out of a manila file folder, and offers it to @Sam.
@Sam flips through the pages, sixty-four in total. “Does it show the edits against the last version?”
I’m sorry, @SamSmith94. I seem to have left my redlined version back in the office. The bot-lawyer hands @Sam a pen.
@Sam checks the time. 7:51 AM. No way he can get through all this and make the Jobs Lottery. For that matter, a close read cover to cover would burn three, maybe four dollars. He looks over the front page:
@Sam accepts the pen, turns to the last page of the document, and signs. Attorney, briefcase, and contract disappear. He checks his meter, his Bean Counter, like he does every day before he leaves for work. Four hundred and twenty dollars.
“Well, shit,” he says aloud. “They’re charging us processing costs for watching the commercials?”
“So it seems,” @Daisy answers.
“We need to switch carriers.”