Udo sat at the counter in Samovar, making his liquorice tea last just that bit longer. No sign of jobs on the sites he’d been scoping, and his positivity was wearing thin. Which was another reason Samovar was his favourite hangout. The music was chosen by an algorithm that selected tunes for their upbeat elements. Karl was sniffy about that, but he was sniffy about a lot of stuff.
And yes, Udo knew Karl was paying more than half the rent for the fourth month in a row, but Karl had always earned more. Sometimes Udo felt Karl treated him like a servant, expecting things to be just so when he came home.
Actually, if he was a servant, Udo would probably be bringing in as much as Karl. With bots increasingly visible, there’d been a revival in personal service roles for humans supporting quality of life for the truly wealthy.
Jan called. “Got you an interview for a hotel receptionist job at two. Finish your tea, have a shave, shine your shoes. I’ve sent you the route. You’ll need to leave by one fifteen. Good luck.” His sister had positivity enough for them both, no need for algorithms.
Coming back from the hotel, Udo pondered what he was going to do next. He didn’t look his age, but when he was calibrated by HR his responses were found to be on the downward slope of the bell curve. Never mind the appreciative references he’d received from nearly a dozen employers – what counted was neural responsiveness.
Udo dwelt on this for a while more as he walked through the city, in the process nearly walking in front of a taxi. That only confirmed the problem, and pointed to the solution.
“We prefer not to think of it as a loan. It’s more – an investment in your future.”
“Which entitles you to 10% of my future earnings.”
“People opting for Axiom wafers boost their income by an average of 17 % in the first 12 months after insertion. Think of it as a way of paying in instalments.”
“For the rest of my life.”
“Your working life.”
“Whatever,” Udo’s mouth was dry. ”The…procedure?”
“The wafer can be fitted in about 90 minutes.”
“It says there’s an overnight stay.”
“Matching your neurology takes a while. Think of it like wearing contact lenses for the first time.”
“A lot less easy to lose, sewn into my head.”
The consultant’s smile was glassy.
Like Karl said people with a wafer looked.
Less like contact lenses, not that Udo ever used them, than…what, exactly? As soon as he considered it, three analogies popped into Udo’s mind:
Like wearing new shoes.
Like driving a new car.
Like getting an upgrade.
Would that have happened before, or was he being too self-conscious?
He recalled no dreams from the sleep that he woke from next morning.
As long as he had all the steaks printing by 5, giving them time to settle before cooking, Udo was confident that he could get through a shift. Restaurant management was a new role, but it drew on all the other work Udo had done, and he guessed the wafer had something to do with it, if only getting him through the door for an interview in the first place.
The way Udo figured it, the wafer was a placebo. It made other people look at him in a new light, for evidence of his enhanced capabilities. And that could only help him feel better about himself, in turn.
Karl had been an ass about it at first, but even he had been won round, saying Udo was taking better care of himself and the apartment now.
Udo woke around 3am, a happy tune running through his mind. So why was his mouth dry, his heart racing?
There was a kind of whirring in his head. And a soothing voice, urging him to get back to sleep.
When Udo awoke properly, he launched out of bed and into the bathroom with a vigour that surprised him.
“In six months, I increased turnover by nearly a quarter by paying attention to what competitors were doing, promotional campaigns with local businesses, and doing targeted offers for existing diners.”
“You’ve got no history of entrepreneurial ventures.”
Udo smiled. “I’ve been biding my time. Learning my lessons in different sectors, putting together what I’ve learned now that I’ve got a concept that consolidates what I’ve learned running the restaurant, in combination with the other service jobs I’ve done. You’ll find all the figures add up, and I’ve identified the key team members I need.”
“It’s an impressive proposition. And historically, some of our strongest investments have come from people who’ve started later in life.”
“One of the reasons I came to you,” said Udo. That smile again.
“I hardly see you any more,” said Karl.
“Why not be happy for me?”
“I’m happy you’ve got something of your own.”
“You don’t look happy,” said Udo.
“I don’t know how much is you, and how much is the wafer.”
“So I’m just the hardware for the wafer to work in.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“It’s not like it was.”
“I’m paying my bills, I have something to focus on. Something for both of us.”
“Both of us meaning you and me, or you and the Axiom Corporation?”
So that, thought Udo, was what the end of a relationship sounded like.
He felt desolate, but a picture in his mind presented a better, pixelated, future.
There’d be another time for remorse, if he wanted to bother with it.
Time now to have a look at the first month’s figures, plan marketing for the next quarter. And there it was, just steps away: Caffarsis. His favourite hangout. The bell rang as he opened the door, and ordered a latte.
Adrian Reynolds is a scriptwriter who loves working on genre projects. His short sf film White Lily is in post-production, and online sf comic Dadtown is set to launch in July. To find out more, see about.me/adrianreynolds