“But she knew how to use the chair. She intuited it.”
“Someone leaked. It’s the only way.”
“I’m telling you, no, she figured it. This is the one we’ve been looking for.”
The other members of the Six looked to Alexa Mathis, waiting for her to weigh in. In front of them, projected above the conference table, was the paused holographic of the new girl’s session with Tester Logan. Around the conference room walls were glass fronted booths with naked, fucking or masturbating people inside them: six chambers for six members of the board, each cell curated by one member. The room was filled with sex from the inside out, but the board members were dressed in expensive formal wear, assessing pornography like a spreadsheet.
“Alexa?” said Benson Young.
Benson sat back. Beside him, his wife Charisma did the same. They were two peas in a pod, and would have to be, to do what they did. The Youngs were in their fifties and looked it, having opted out of aesthetic enhancement because they said the human body was beautiful in all its shapes, ages, and sizes. Alexa, who liked Benson and Charisma, thought it was hypocritical. Of all the scenes and groundbreaking erotic cinema they’d ever produced, not one of their female performers had been over thirty-five. It wasn’t Benson and Charisma’s fault. They may have been open-minded about beauty (and why not? If people were only beautiful at twenty-five, everyone was doomed eventually), but their viewers and subscribers were not. Some things in porn hadn’t changed since the dawn of cave drawings. In the end, people always wanted to watch young, traditionally attractive people fuck, and Alexa of all people understood that the best businesses always gave their customers exactly what they wanted, even if their customers didn’t know what that was.
Alexa considered the paused hologram. She didn’t need to watch it again. Nuances were unimportant; what mattered was that Chloe Shaw had read the Rocker’s operation and function as if an extension of her body. This was a device few people knew existed, that employed highly advanced nanobot prototypes and shifting matrix materials. There were no labels on its buttons. Users had trouble with mastery after a week of lessons. And what was more, based on Logan’s report, Chloe had mastered him, too. That much they could see for themselves, he spent the video following her movements like a lost puppy.
“Regardless of whether she’s right for what we’re seeking,” said Alexa, “she’s insanely intuitive. I’d actually like her back just to ask her about that. Logan was putty in her hands. She’d be ridiculously valuable as a spa escort if she can do that with everyone.”
“She got lucky,” Houston said.
Charisma pointed at the holo. “Houston, that’s your most advanced sex toy. Not one of the dildos and vibrators stuffed into your warehouses. That’s a Rocker. You better than anyone know you can’t get lucky with a Rocker. Maybe when it’s unplugged from the network, a person could get the proboscis to extend and ride it by hitting buttons, but it was plugged in fine. You can see the response curve. Charisma lifted a section of the conference table. The section became a screen showing a graph and an unending log feed of nonsensical data. She rotated it toward the toy manufacturer, her finger on the curve. “You care to tell me how this device, plugged into O’s proprietary connection to The Beam — this isn’t the Crossbrace connection, remember; this is the line Quark gave us to beta their new protocol — could possibly respond as it did if she wasn’t asking it?”
Houston grunted. Alexa watched him, unsure why he was being so stodgy. Alexa herself was far from convinced that Chloe was the protege they were looking for, but everyone in the room knew that electronics had been able to read intention to some degree since the turn of the millennium. It was a staple of prosthetic limbs for decades.
“So she knew it was an intuitive device,” said Olivia Gregory, the only member of the Six who hadn’t yet weighed in. “That doesn’t mean she’s right.”
“Because it’s simple and straightforward to command an intuitive device using unknown technology and materials,” said Benson Young.
“Not simple, but possible. There are other technologies she may have used that …”
“Where, Olivia?” said Parker Barnes. “She’s not Beau Monde. She’s not even fucking Presque Beau. She’s Directorate, like her mother, and works on the tables. She went to a physical school, for Christ’s sake. In fact, I’d say her socioeconomic standing places her damn near the line, well down in the lower 99 and away from anything even remotely resembling intuitive technology. She’s barely been sexually active. You think she has a Smart Dildo? If she has one, it’s probably one of Houston’s plain old rubber ones. Maybe with a suction cup on the end.”
Houston tittered, finally cracking a smile. He was a big man who suited his name perfectly, dressed like a south westerner from the previous century, back when Mexico was a different country, mostly mined for cheap labor before global calamity.
Olivia crossed her arms, pouting. Of the Six, Olivia was the most uncomfortable making collective decisions. Before they’d formed O — back even before Alexa had used her influence and explosive erotica royalties to gather the Six — Olivia had run a chain of extremely profitable brothels catering to highest-end clients. That had been in the forties, while the fall’s aftershocks were still crippling even the NAU, and her business had, at that time, been technically illegal. She’d been able to dodge most of the heat simply because domestic police were so occupied with security issues, but it had still required a huge amount of fierce, ballsy individualism to stay afloat. More even than Parker, Charisma and Benson, Houston, or even Alexa, Olivia had been in the Enterprise party (which embraced entrepreneurism) from the beginning.
“Look,” Parker said. “We don’t have to hire her right now. Not even as a spa girl. But we should have her back.” He looked around at the others. “You all saw the holo. If we toss the idea that we’re going to hire her to run the company or some bullshit, does anyone seriously object, based on that —” He pointed at the holo. “— to giving Chloe Shaw a second interview?”
Olivia and Houston raised their hands.
“Seriously?” said Charisma.
“You’re just being belligerent,” said Parker. “Don’t do that. Asshole moves are for assholes. Alexa brought you into the Six because you’re forward thinkers. All of us are. We’ve disagreed on plenty, but we don’t back down because of fear or make stupid decisions based on emotion.”
“It’s not emotional,” said Houston.
“You’re wrong, so you’re being defensive,” said Parker.
“Except that I’m not wrong,” Houston countered.
“You are wrong. You manufacture. I design. That’s how our partnership has always worked. So why are you trying so hard to be the brains on this — at a time when your imprecision could choke us?”
“Are you saying I’m dumb, Parker?”
Parker shook his head. “Of course not. I just don’t understand the harm in a second interview.”
“She’s wrong for us, Parker,” said Olivia. “That’s what you’re not seeing. Stop focusing on the fucking Rocker. You know, right there in pixels, that she doesn’t even have a year working glass tables. So sure, she fucks guys and girls as part of her job now. But trusting our clients with her? Our very best clients? That’s just stupid. So she did well with Logan. Well whoopity fuckin’ doo! Can you honestly guarantee that, just due to her youth and lack of experience, she would never do something incredibly stupid and cost us our reputation? Don’t you remember why Alexa gathered us in this collective? Don’t you remember why we started this company? Because there was no dominant force in the sex industry. Golden fucking opportunity, right? All the way back to the Renewal, back to the fucking moon telescope in the Mare Frigoris when everyone got excited. It wasn’t just attitudes toward global cooperation that changed, you know. Attitudes about sex changed with them, with everything. And then in the downfall and reconstruction? It became even more important. Nobody had any pleasure; they were all terrified of gangs and looters and of being drowned by the rising ocean. So here we are, after all that, and we could take over the goddamn world. And you want to jeopardize all of that — our entire brand as an innovator, as a company that stays 10 steps ahead of everyone, as a company that only accepts the best of the best and delivers nothing less than that 100 percent of the time — on some girl barely old enough to fuck?”
Benson and Charisma both opened their mouths to retort, but Alexa was looking at Olivia and nodding. There was too much in the air now. The conversation was no longer about Chloe, it was about the Six and their wheelbarrows of baggage.
Alexa said, “She’s right.”
Parker spun. “Bullshit!”
“She’s right, Parker. We can’t risk our reputation on one girl who happened to work a number on one of our testers and a new toy. She shouldn’t have even been sent in for testing.”
“Goddammit, Alexa. You of all people should be on my side. I sent her up because she was intriguing. Did you hear her answer for why she waited so long to lose her virginity? It was because she was …”
“Frigid?” Olivia interrupted. “Afraid? Repressed? Starry-eyed and romantic?”
“Oh, fuck you Olivia. Don’t take your shitty childhood out on us.”
“Don’t psychoanalyze me, Parker,” Olivia snapped. “Save that bullshit for your patients.” She paused. “The ones you don’t brainwash.”
Parker took a step toward Olivia. Alexa put her hands out, urging them back.
“Parker,” said Alexa, “you knew the criteria. You knew her inexperience would be a deal-breaker. We’re obligated to hear applicants who are legacies from current or past employees, but it should have been a formality. You thank her for coming, tell her she’s too young and doesn’t know enough, and send her back to the tables. If she’s especially engaging, you invite her back in a few years and keep tabs. What you don’t do is send her up, because that only added a variable that should never have been there. You only confused the situation.”
Charisma said, “Regardless of whether she should have been tried or not, she was … now we have to deal with our discovery.” She stared meaningfully at Olivia. “Which, I’ll remind you all, is something we have literally never seen before.”
Olivia and Houston opened their mouths to object. Alexa, informally recognized as the group’s head, raised her hand for quiet.
“Okay,” she said. “Quick vote. Who says we cut her?”
Olivia and Houston raised their arms. Alexa had lowered hers after getting the group’s attention but now raised it again.
“And who says we bring her back for a second interview?”
Benson, Charisma, and Parker raised their hands. Parker’s hand was almost shaking, eyes wide and defiant.
“Three to three. Told you we should have formed the Seven.”
Benson Young gave a small bark of laughter.
Alexa inhaled, looked around the conference table and then at the glass booths blooming with live sexual art at the room’s edges. She exhaled slowly.
“All right. I guess it won’t hurt to bring her in again. But just so we all understand, the burden of proof is heavily upon Miss Shaw. If she doesn’t do something that turns at least one of our nays to a yea, that’s it. Right now, I can’t imagine what she’d do … but we will give her a shot to find out.
Olivia sighed. Parker beamed.