Everyone wants to know what the other sex is thinking. Two people are about to find out.
Max had to make sure that everything was perfect. His small studio apartment had been overturned, flipped back and turned again in the past week. And he was still unhappy with the result. He felt that soft nagging feeling as he stood in the dining space and took it all in. Something just was not right, like a puzzle piece that fit on three sides, but the fourth edge was a disappointing hole-on-hole.
It was an upmarket apartment in one of hightown New York’s “susto builds”. Sustainable living, using every part of a skyline to keep city living affordable in the Twenty-Second Century. That was the tagline and Max was one of those who had bought into it with an open mind. He looked around him and saw progress. He saw progress and a puzzle that he could not solve.
Funnily, a lot of people compared susto builds to jigsaw puzzles. They were like the old, now-decrepit skyscrapers in some ways, but the emphasis was all on perpendicularity. When the world gets full to brimming with people, going straight ahead stops being productive, becomes unsustainable. You need to branch out, get perpendicular. His apartment clung to the underside of a great concrete-nanosteel arm that jutted out from the vertical tower. Microglaze windows ran in neat rows along the top, bottom and sides.
Right at that moment he was standing on a small square of stronger-than-titanium glass with a lurching thousand-foot drop to the teeming hightown streets below. Now that was living, he thought. But what if she didn’t think so? A ringtone sounded and a caller ID appeared between his feet. Manhattan Mind Research Multicorp.
“Answer call.” he said.
“Good evening, Max.” a bright, enthusiastic woman’s voice said.
He didn’t believe a word of it. Canned enthusiasm, that was what he heard. It was a tone of voice that said “Well, it’s just a job. You’re just a job. I’ll keep sounding chipper as long as my wages keep coming.” Still, he made sure to cut the irony from his voice when he replied.
“Hi there. I’m glad you called. About this experiment, I’ve been feeling a bit -“
“That’s perfectly understandable.” she interrupted, reminding Max why he detested predictive calling with such a passion. How was a computer program meant to know what he wanted to say next? “In fact, that’s why we do these quick checkups before the process starts. I’m here to set your mind at ease.”
“That’s great. What I wanted to know is -“
“No, there’s no need to make any special preparations. Remember that your visitor won’t be affected at all by the physical environment. It’s all about you, Max.”
“Thanks, that’s cleared things up for me.”
“No problem.” she said, her voice rising to an almost manic pitch of enthusiasm before dropping away to a mechanical groan. “ETA four minutes.”
The window went clear and Max felt the pit of his stomach plunge down a couple of hundred feet. He stepped off the microglaze with nervous care and began to drag the furniture into a more suitable arrangement. Something was still missing. Why had he ever let himself get talked into a psychology experiment?
“Um, hi. Can you hear me?”
His mind did a double-take and he actually took two steps back, turned and started looking around the room to see who had spoken. The voice had been clear and audible as if the speaker had been standing next to him. It was a woman’s voice, but nothing at all like that of the MMRM caller. She sounded like a professional of some sort, maybe a doctor or a lawyer. If he was being honest, she sounded cute. A blonde, Max guessed, maybe in her mid-thirties.
“Thanks, I guess. I’m Rachel and, oh I don’t know, do I say nice to meet you? It seems kind of odd, doesn’t it?”
Why did he have to be such an idiot? Talk about making a bad first impression. He would have to be very careful about what he thought.
“I think that defeats the purpose.”
Max told himself to snap out of it, and the visitor agreed.
“Hi Rachel. Nice to meet you. I’m Max and welcome to my brain, I guess.”