By R. J. Quisenberry
Matthew did great at the interview. They loved his new tie. His suit (the best he could find at the thrift shop) had come out of the dry cleaner’s beautiful and perfectly mended. He had no problem answering the tech questions. He suspected the cute blonde who interviewed him was even flirting with him! Everything had been fine until he found out that he would need a dermal PDA. The guy from HR had assumed that he had the resources to get the latest model. It turned out the even clocking in would require him to be registered as in the office via his PDA.
“Make sure you get one with a good clock speed and plenty of expandability in case you need to upgrade.” said Richard from HR.
Now, he was scrounging in the bargain shops for second hand PDA’s. Matthew just hoped that he could make it to his first payday with whatever half functional crap he could find for a lousy $100.
Bob’s discount was a new place to him. It was the only store he had not tried in this area and the shadows were getting long. It was already Friday, and the new job started on Monday. It took up a dingy, corner storefront. The dirty windows cracked in only a few places by the stray bullets of some random street shooting last month. It would likely be vacant in another month. That was the way it worked in this corner of the city. Most of the goods were either stolen or defective and second merchandise, some of it scavenged from warehouse and factory dumpsters. Matthew had, at last, come to this final stop in his search. The closest he had found so far had been a substandard unit that was $120. He had almost parted with the extra cash until he realized the damned thing had asyncronous cache errors that caused the registers to overflow unpredictably when speculative execution order was needed in parallel processing tasks exceeded the usage levels of the average highschool coding class. In short, it would have crashed on the simplest tasks in his new job and that would have been the end of that job.No, he needed a reliable implant.
The autocannons whined as their servos brought the multibarreled agents of destruction to track on Matthew. They looked well worn, but clean. He had been in these questionable shops all day. The grimy shelves of the store were stacked with the leavings of hundreds of burglaries and stolen shipments meant for far more legitimate and tasteful establishments.
As Matthew inspected the scratched shell of a medium range gaming system, adorned as it was with a single frayed and scuffed pink bunny sticker, the proprietor of the shop cleared his throat from behind a row of plexiglass display cases in the back of the cluttered store. “Can I help you find something?”
Matthew looked up to see an older gray haired man. He was pot bellied and sporting a spectacular amount of dirty, gray beard over a worn and faded concert T-shirt, and faded red suspenders that supported a pair of spotless khakis. The name of the band was faded beyond recognition under it’s obscuring screen of facial hair. Even an idiot would not have missed the military grade machine pistol harnessed to the man’s left side for an easy cross draw and a similarly impressive tazer on the right.
“What do you have in the way of dermally implanted PDA chips?”
“I have a few series 3 and 4 chips. I also have some that just came in that need to be sorted and valued.”
“I need at least a series 6 for the job I’m starting. Can we work out a deal? I could sort and prep the box of chips for you for a discount on a series 6. I can show you my credentials. I’m a qualified tech. “
“Sort this pile and you can take your pick from the box. I don’t know this stuff and I would have had to pay someone to get them ready for sales. If you mess it up, I’ll take the cash you have and kick your ass kid.”
Putting his wallet on the counter Matthew pulled out his freshly minted certification card, Matthew nodded acceptance of the deal. They held direct eye contact for a moment as if they could gaze into eachother and determine the length that they could each could trust the other to. The older man put his hand out to him and they shook hands on the deal.
“Nice to meet you Bob!”
“Not my name kid. I’m Lou. Bob was the last owner. I’m just too cheap to change the branding…”
“I’m Matthew. Here are my credentials.” he replied as he slid the card with his education records to the older man. Lou slipped the card into a reader.
“It says here you graduated a month ago. How come you’re broke?”
“It’s been rough getting a gig. I need the series 6 to be able to do my work at the job I just got. I start Monday.”
“You had better get started on those chips then. The testing will take a while. This is Thursday. No Friday night plans?”
“No, just getting set up for this gig.”
“ Come in fresh and early tomorrow and we’ll finish up by early afternoon.”
“I’ll be here at 8:00 am sharp!”
Lou’s reply was a curt nod.
The next morning, Matthew showed up at 7:55 am. Lou was waiting in the door with the gates down. “Coffee just finished. Help yourself. It’s dark and nasty, but it wakes you up.”
Stepping into the darkened shop, Matthew followed the acrid scent of slightly scorched coffee.
The box of chips was set out on a worn static free work mat. Stains from heat and chemical discharges leaving a crusty pattern of wear and abuse on the work surface.
“Help yourself to coffee kid.” was Lou’s only comment as he passed with a pink, flowered mug full of the darkly steaming liquid.
“Thanks!” Matthew walked over and found the styrofoam cups. Coffee in hand, he walked over to the workbench area in back, where Lou had placed the box of chips on a static free mat.
Soon Matthew was caught up in testing the chips. Some had minor interface damage and some needed firmware patches. Before he knew it, his half finished cup of coffee was cold and bitter. Several of the chips were series 5 and 6. He soon had them all sorted into neat piles. There had even been a series 7 in the pile, but he was more interested in the one chip that was marked with the regular series 6 marking and an additional X. A little research on line told him this marking was`the expected marking for the next gen chip in development that was supposed to be compatible with series 6, but have exponential speed advantages.
Some of the chips did not pass muster. Matthew marked the ones that could be used as lower powered chips. Those could go in a bargain bin. There were a total of 12 series 5 chips and 6 series 6 chips with no performance issues. The series 7 ended up being fully functional. The series 6X passed all tests with flying colors and did so with exemplary speed. There was not even the expected level of heat generated, even under heavy load.
Thinking to himself, Matthew had to debate internally if he was brave enough to try the prototype, or should he play it safe and take the series 7. At the end of the day, he took the risk. He just could not turn down the allure of the speedy little specimen.
Just then, Lou came back from the other side of the room, where he had been reconditioning a few game systems and power tools. “How are we doing Matthew? Anything usable?”
Matthew briefly explained what he had discovered and what was in each pile. Lou grabbed the deffectives right away and dumped them into a materials recovery bin. Those would be sent out for a service to strip any valuable substances from them for cash.
“Have you picked your prize?”
“Yes, I have! I’ll take the 6X chip. It should do quite nicely.”
“You make a good deal kid. Let me know if you need a little side work after you start your gig. I could use a guy with your skills.”
“Thanks Lou. I may just do that once I settle into that gig.”
Matthew placed the chip on his skin and ran a finger around the edge. He watched as the edge of the chip adhered to his skin firmly and began powering up. His own bioelectric field and body heat would power the chip and any basic periferals he acquired. The green light in the center and the soft melodic chime indicated a safe bootup.
“Take care kid. I guess I’ll see you when I see you. You have my number if you need to reach me.”
Slightly distracted by his new acquisition, Matthew nodded and walked out of the store into the city twilight.
When Matthew got back to his efficiency apartment, he had to deal with the dishes his room mate had left in the sink.
Crusted layers of cereal and milk cemented in place with liberal slathering of sugar encasing it took a toll on his willingness to tolerate living with Robert. They had been friends since 5th grade. Robert was not a bad guy, but he was sometimes hard to take. Matthew’s highschool crush had shocked him by confessing to a major infatuation with Robert right before he came out publicly. This lead to a tense few weeks that Had oddly cemented Matthew and Robert’s friendship. They would be friends for life, but living with him was enough to drive a saint to murder. Neither knew what happened to the girl.
Still, nobody had helped Matthew more than Robert when his parents had been injured in the accident. Matthew had been a wreck. Robert was a source of strength and calm as Mathew’s parents had been first put on life support and maintained that stolid support through their decline over weeks of emergency treatments, and the eventual funeral. The hospital bills had all but destroyed Matthew’s school funds. The funeral costs had finished the job on his school fund. Matthew had even had to sell his chip to pay for his last semester’s books. Robert had pulled strings with a boyfriend to get him enough work to pay most of the tuition, but student loans were the only option for the rest. If it hadn’t been for Lou, He would have had to get another gig through Robert’s connections. After all of that, a little dish scrubbing was not a big deal. Luckily, Robert had all of his clothing professionally laundered, so that was not one of the gripes about his slovenly housekeeping.
Just as Matthew finished the dishes and had them all dried and back in the cabinets, the illuminated screen displayed the text, “Initial Charge Cycle Complete” followed by the prompt, “Begin Initial Configuration Y/N?” He chose the “Y” with the tip of a finger. “Interface With Nearby Display Y/N?” was the next prompt. Choosing “Y” Matthew was next prompted for the wireless network password and selected the main TV in the apartment. The screen activated as soon as the device started connecting to it. After that, he worked his way through answering the questions posed on the TV to input his vital information and the access codes for everything that he needed to connect to.
As he was finishing up and was about to shut down the TV, Robert came in. The scent of Apple liquor wafted off of the smartly dressed young man, wearing an artfully crumpled pink shirt. Robert carefully removed his rolled up tie from the pocket of his suit jacket and smoothed it out on the arm of the couch and combed his fingers through his thick, blond hair. “Any luck Matt? That interview must have been hard with what they were offering.”
“I aced it. And I managed to get a deal on a chip. Check it out!” he replied, displaying the new hardware adhered to his wrist.
“Wow! Isn’t that just like the one you had to sell a while back? I figured you would go for an upgrade.” gushed the foppishly dressed young man.
“If I had the cash, I would have, but this was a bargain. Did a bit of barter to get it. Besides, this is a prototype. It’s the 6X that we were hearing rumors about. I’m not sure how my source got it, but it’s much faster than a standard 6.”
“Barter sounds more fun than just buying it anyway.” Robert responded as he flopped bonelessly onto the couch. He artfully flipped his stylish shoes into the rack as if by magic.”Got anything cool to stream? I love those old drag queen pageant shows!”
“Sorry, have not found any new sources for that stuff, but I do have some other stuff. Sci-Fi? Maybe you like a little Young Adult Dystopia?”
“I’m sick of that drivel. Throw some fantasy on the screen… Maybe something with a unicorn?”
“I know of one you would like. I have it somewhere. The lead role was played by some short, pretty, white guy. It has a unicorn and some brit with big rubber horns on his head playing the devil.”
Leaning over the near arm of the couch and kicking his heels with excitement, Robert looked at Matthew with a coquettish smile,”You know me so well. If you didn’t play for the wrong team, I would take you for my very own!”
Matthew replied with the reply he had given for years to the inside joke they had been using since the first week Robbert was out. “You could never afford me. Too high maintenance!”
“I agee! You’ve always been easy, but never cheap!” Robbert shot back with an ear to ear grin.
Matthew input a command through the touchscreen of his chip and the movie began to play.
A small icon showed on the screen. Matthew recalled that this particular icon was a prompt for activation or advanced features. The online manuals had been vague about what those features might be.While his room mate was absorbed in the dialog of the movie, Matthew selected the icon. A small dialog popped up saying “Enable Visual Overlay? Y/N”.Puzzled, he selected the “Y”. Immediately, a grid of light pulsed in his vision, mapping the whole of his visual field. Large text formed in his vision as if floating in the center of the room. “Visual field mapping beginning. Please stand still. Process may induce motion sickness.” Just as he finished reading the text, his vision filled with shapes and patterns and shapes that popped into place randomly and began moving. Just as he didn’t think he could take any more, the shapes stopped moving and faded away. In the top right part of his vision, text faded into being. “Activate advanced sound features? Y/N” was written out in cool, blue bold text. “Look at your chosen response for 5 seconds” was displayed below. “Why not. What’s the use of having a prototype if I don’t try out the features?” he said to himself as he stared at the “Y”.
A series of high and low tones started sounding in both of Matthew’s ears. The volume slowly increased until it was just below a painful level. A small bell like tone sounded and a clear, whiskey toned, female voice said from what seemed like right behind his left ear, “Calibration of enhanced visual and auditory interfaces has been completed successfully. Do you wish to supply a name I should respond to for verbal command mode?”
“Yes. You will now respond to Synthia.
“Very good. If you wish to use typed commands, simply draw a rectangle where you would like to have me project a virtual keyboard and I will place it in your vision. You may, then type on the keys as if it were a physical device.”
“Cool! Are there any surfaces that it will not work on?”
“No. Even the surface of a pool of water will do. If you like, I can also provide an avitar in your vision as a way of interacting. Please let me know if you would like to set this feature up and we can customize it to your liking.”
“Is this your default voice?”
“Multiple bio-queues indicated this would be a good voice to use to interact with you. Do you wish to change it?”
“No, I like your voice. It’s sexy. I’ll keep the avatar feature in mind.”
“If there is not anything else you need right now, I will begin unpacking your online backups and importing your news and entertainment preferences. I am able to locate the data you backed up from you previous chip. You will be happy to know, my capacity is more that ten times what you were used to, so you will not have any reason to worry about storage issues. Just call my name and I will respond.”
Just as her sultry voice faded, Robbert’s giggles peaked. Matthew looked over to see him tittering as the British actor emoted profoundly as his rubber horns wiggled with each move of his head.
Matthew took his customary spot on the other end of the couch and they watched the rest of the movie, only interrupted by Robbert’s joyous giggles as the vintage 1980’s cheese played out on their large TV. After the end of the movie, they talked a bit about trivial matters, ate some ramen, and went to bed early.
Matthew stared at the ceiling of his room, still thinking about his luck finding a deal on what he needed for his new job.
Matthew woke bright and early on Monday morning at 6:00 am. Robbert was still snoring loudly from the other bedroom as he left at 7:00.
His commute to work was quick and uneventful. HR had the usual stack of paperwork for him, including some NDA and security documents. They also sent him a large number of policy documents via email once it was set up. Lunch was at noon. After Matthew had wolfed down his improvised lunch of leftovers from last night’s dinner, he headed back to the office just in time for the orientation class.
Synthia had been quiet throughout this boring series of events. Matthew did use the more basic features of the chip to record the orientation for future reference. The whole thing was very boring and a little daunting. Diagrams of all of the important locations in the buildings were shown quickly. Synthia took snapshots of each at a whispered command from Matthew.
Matthew was tired but happy when he arrived at the apartment. Robert was going to be bringing the food for tonight. As he was selecting a video to stream to the TV, a strange friend request came in over his email from a user with the handle “ID10T”. Matthew found this funny since it was an old tech joke about inept users. He replied to the email. Minutes passed and he was sent an invite to a new social platform called XDem that was sent by ID10T. The address for the site was a long and strange one with multiple hard to discern characters in it.He quickly created an account on the system with the userID of PEBKAC.
Just then, Robbert came home and regaled Matthew with tales of office gossip and humorous descriptions of the people in the office. To hear him tell it, they were like a real life sitcom cast. Half way between the third round of who was crushing on whom and what was the likely outcome of what odd pairing, Matthew started reading through the images of his work documents and absorbing the information about his new job. There were a mind boggling number of regulations about employee interactions. He was glad that he had no intentions of daring anyone from work.
Synthia popped up in his at the edge of his vision and began highlighting the important passages in the documents. Once this was done, she whispered into his ear, “The add request for that strance social network has been accepted, but there are no messages at this time.”
“Do a search for any information about this social network you can find anywhere on the internet please.” he replied under his breath to the artificial intelligence.
“I am unable to trace the address. It seems like the connection only traces to the internal CPU on the 6X chip. Next time you hear from ID10T, I suggest you ask for more information about the platform he invited you to.”
“Sounds like a plan Synthia. Can you give me some of the tech diagrams for the network at work?”
“I can give you a realtime map of the network with live and predictive data modeling. I think you will like what I can show you.” she replied and a large 3D image of the building’s network popped into his vision in the middle of the living room. He could see the pulsing lights that denoted the data flow. Already, Matthew could see multiple choke points in the network flow. Thinking ahead, he drew a rectangle on the table in front of him to create his virtual keyboard and began a report for his boss describing the problem areas and outlining a plan to overcome the issues. He finished just as Robbert began to wind down in his stories of the joys of office life.
“…and that is why I set you up on a date with Nancy for Saturday night. Don’t worry, I built you up to her. It will be great!”
“Why are you setting me up this time?”
“Matt, you have not dated in the last year. I know you’re broke, but you need a relationship. Lonely Matt is a boring person to live with. This girl is a classic cheap date. She has tastes that match yours and loves the free concerts in the park.
“She expects you at the address I just texted you with at 7:30 PM. Walk with her to the park and see if a concert leads to romance. If not, there are others out there. If it works out, we can finally double date!”