Juxtaposed the red brick wall, a man and a woman are deeply engaged, rapt, but not in conversation. It seems they hold a prolonged glance but as time persists it is apparent something’s up. They sit opposite without touching. Their eyes are set, without expression, looking into one another. On their table is a neatly peaked card. ‘Reserved for Gaze Signalling’. Each of their spheres leans on either edge of the standing card, one orange and the other metallic blue.
‘You see. There it is.’
‘There is what? It’s a fad. New today, gone tomorrow.’
‘They are making up for a lack in society. There is no contact anymore. We have all developed this autistic eye contact aversion.’
As more of the gazers arrive, Ari looks puzzlingly at An, ‘We have?’
‘You and I are going to fix it.’
‘Fix it? Yes, I suppose someone needs to invent a fix.’
An continues to watch the couples staring, ‘Do you think they find what they are seeking?’
Ari adjusts his wobbly stool leg on top of a brick and mechanically utters, ’Perhaps you’re right. I see more and more of that sort of thing now. A lot of people just don’t care. The feeling that we can’t quite connect with anyone. Therefore, we don’t care to. It’s not that the people we try to connect to are so worthy, they aren’t, it’s that our inability to connect with them worries me. Perhaps you’re right.’ (random20)
‘I’m glad I am worthy of your approval. What is that from? I’ve heard it before.’
‘It’s from a film.’ Ari looks directly at her, ‘You are worthy. Don’t worry about that, but I have another worry. How are we going to develop this thing and still keep it under wraps?’
‘Hold on. You watched a film? Amazing you could take time out from gaming to do that…’ She holds a sarcastic, curled smile. ‘… But yes, of course it has to be kept a secret now more than ever. We will only talk about it outside the futurehouse and all of the work we need to do will be done at my place. This will reduce suspicions. It will just look like we are having an affair… but first let’s enjoy our celebration,’ An says as she holds up her bottle.
Ari raises his to hers, ‘On completing the first step.’ The bottlenecks angle and ring.
They are at the Almshouse again with two aether in front of them on the scarred, wooden table. They didn’t have to tell each other, but they knew they would both come back to the place where the plan was hatched. Ari is nervous. He is looking around to make sure that no managers see them together. They might see them and put two and two together and then tell the others so they can pin the crime on one of them. He is drinking quickly to try to relax.
An is taking it all in and enjoying their small victory. She wants to know exactly what COR knows. ’So what did they ask? When they caught you and were questioning you about the now infamous robot felony incident.′
‘Every little detail. It went on and on. I thought I’d never get out of there. They went over each frame of the chronotape and asked me to explain what I did. Why I did it. Thankfully there was another problem that came up, so they ended the inquisition before they got to the part I was worried about.’
Ari moves closer to her so that only she can hear him, ‘The less you know the better, but if they ever check what item I was supposed to get on the gun at that moment and the direction I was moving, they would know the whole thing was no accident.’
An whispers, ‘Just say you made a mistake about where to go. I’m sure you get lost in the mess of the futurehouse maze all the time.’
‘At times, yes. I’ll have to use that excuse if they ask. But the whole thing looks fishy. Did you get it out?’ He asks.
‘The less you know the better. I don’t want to incriminate you. We should know in a few days.’
‘Oh, I think I know what you did. Very clever.’
Ari steps his hand forward on the table to broach a subject, ’Whatever you do, don’t think about the fact that we have no money to develop L. Whatever L is. I mean realistically. How are we going to pay for all this?’
‘What makes you think we have no equity?’
‘Equity? Well the fact that we have two dead-end jobs in a futurehouse says it all… and that all of our money goes into escaping the fact we have no escape.’
‘That’s you though.’ An stops to let his phrasing sink in. ‘Well put… I can tell your seeking is slowing down. Perhaps too much reading on the job?’
‘I wolf down an occasional word, more than before,’ Ari grins. ’Thanks to you. But tell me, wise An, how can you manage to save anything to invest in L on our wage?’
‘I suppose I pitted the algos against themselves.’
‘How would that make any money? I don’t understand.’
‘Say I start packing more of an item. Say I pack four of something on a shift. Then I will take notice and write down in my notebook how many I am packing that week. If I pack more than twenty of the same item in a week, then it’s a signal that this product is popular. Being popular is going to affect the value of the company that makes this product. So I use my paycheck to buy ownership shares in this company and just suffer until the next payday. But by suffering I have become an owner because I own the company’s stock, a share of it.’
‘How is that pitting algos?’
’I have become the algo. I am tabulating the amount of sales. Not only that, but Amero Street is now completely run by algos. The algos write the headlines about the fantastic sales of this product, then the algo quant hedge funds will electronically read these first and frontrun all the mom and pop investors. They will get a low price before everyone bids it up. Well, I’m getting in ahead of the Amero Street algos. Nowadays, algos help make the product, algos move the product here at the futurehouse, algos write the headlines on the sites and then algos trade the computer-programmed ‘news’ on the stock exchange,’ she catches her breath. ’It’s like when something goes viral. If you could see all the connections with green lines on a map and the rate speeding up, you could predict when a new meme populates the collective mind, when it hits critical mass.
‘I’m not sure I get that, I mean just because you pack a few extra items doesn’t mean the company’s shares are going to go up.’
‘I thought of that too. So once I think I found a winner, I bribe Ananke to give me the monthly orders for that product,’ An says below the hum, looking away.
‘Bribe him…. with what?’
‘I can’t tell you all my secrets.’
Ari’s eyes narrow, and then he says, ‘I don’t want to know. At least we have some money in the bank in case we need it. We need to buy a few peripherals and hardware for this thing to work…’
‘Oh come on. It’s not what you think. I give him a cut of the action. He’s got a few kids.’
It hits Ari. ‘Remember we had to sign that form when we started here though? We are not supposed to use COR information. Isn’t that illegal?’
‘No more than a quant hedge fund being able to use information faster than anyone else.’
‘I bet the law doesn’t see it that way.’
‘Capital is nine tenths of the law.’
They stare at each other as they talk. There is a silence as they notice themselves mimicking the other table. They notice and laugh. It as though only they are in the room. The music and the voices fade away.
‘Should we try it at least?’ Ari asks.
They get more comfortable in their stools and start to look deeper at the color of their eyes. They can see their own eyes reflected in each other’s. After some time, there is another plane they enter. Their thoughts get lost from the increased intimacy rawly exposed by the aether. It is a heightened moment. Their breathing intensifies as does their pulse to the point that they have to stop from the public absurdity. They both end at the same time together.
‘That was fun,’ An says.
‘Yes. In a strange way. I was thinking, not during but directly after, that we could just buy the internal hardware second-hand,’ Ari scrambles uncomfortably to start a new conversation.
‘Second-hand? I haven’t heard that in a while. Where do you think we could get anything second-hand?’
‘At a second-hand store.’
‘When was the last time you went to one? I haven’t seen one in years. We’ll have to make it all ourselves.’ She asks quietly, curiously, ‘Why would you look into my eyes and think of second-hand stores?’
‘The eyes are windows to second-hand stores.’
‘Are those the type of meaningless string of words you tell all the female associates?’
Ari angers, ‘Look, as soon as you get the delivery, let me know. We’ll take a look at exactly what we have and go from there. Like I said, I have a few ideas. I also have some old hardware we can scrounge from. I’d be willing to sacrifice my old vintage MSDOS machine. We can take it apart if we need to… but only if we need to.’
‘Don’t worry. We won’t need to scrap any of your family heirlooms if they are your prized gamescapes.’
‘Fair enough then. Let me know when you get it. I need to get a nap in before the shift starts. See you there.’
‘Wait up. I’ll walk out with you.’
‘Should we walk together? What the heck; who is going to notice? Hey, we did it.’
‘We did it.’
They both swallow the last of the aether, stand and exit through the cracked-open door under the sign that reads… ’Not An Exit’.