The Techno-Warrior bar pulsed with the steady beat of big bass sounds underlying the din of a major celebration. The tune was lost in the crowd noise but nobody seemed to care. Colored lights flickered along the ceilings, laser bolts flashed overhead and 3-d projections competed for attention as they broadcast videos and still pictures of the last chase and the evening’s street parties.
Small personal drones hovered everywhere sending video directly to their owner’s private channels.
Every available chair was occupied. The spaces between most tables were full and bodies writhed in every square foot of dancing space.
An early victim of the party was the bar dishwashing system that crashed after the flow rate of dirty glasses exceeded its capacity. The auto-servers used the only available option, they chose glasses from the used pile that didn’t contain old napkins or other even less desirable solids. Nobody complained or even seemed to notice. When the beer ran out just after midnight, the bar switched to watered-down, hard liquor. That supply lasted exactly fifty-seven minutes according to the data the computer noted into Jake’s ear feed.
Jake and his four friends had managed to get their favorite table for the night and the five of them mostly ignored the light show and the Chase highlights. Instead they watched the writhing women on the dance floor. They imagined they were the partners, the women hanging on their arms, and the delights that would bring. They drank all the beer they could find. Cold and warm it didn’t matter. They didn’t notice the ever-increasing smells of sweat and beer vomit as the night progressed.
“Jake, check your six, big brother left her alone. Now’s your chance buddy,” sent Kevin on the group eye feed. “Beer says you’re not going to walk there,” he added smirking to the instant agreement from the other four friends around the table.
Quite deliberately, Jake examined the room avoiding looking at his intended target. He noted every detail of the red and blue lights, the heavy bass notes that shook empty glasses on the tables, the lack of windows and the size of the two bouncers standing motionless on either side of the main doors.
Starting opposite her, he checked out every table and person until he got to her. He stared, memorizing each small curve in her face. Blue eyes, wavy light brown hair with slight curl at the ends but long enough to be tucked behind her ears. She was slightly built, small breasts, shorter than Jake’s six-foot, two inches by a good foot he estimated. Her shirt, it could have been one of his monotoned blue ones, was buttoned all the way up including the top one, not unusual in school, but out of place in this bar where the girls usually dropped more than one button.
A voice said, “I have this picture for you to replay at any time. Do you need assistance?”
Jake shook his head slightly. “I want to do this myself, go to sleep,” he ordered using the mental link to his doppelgänger feed. The computer feed disappeared from his eye inputs and Jake smiled again. His brain seemed quieter and more relaxed without the presence of the artificial intelligence.
Damn, she was beautiful he thought.
She must have felt the stare. She turned and their eyes met. A small smile put a thin crease on her cheek. She nodded.
Jake sat, stunned with her response. Damn, she smiled at me, he thought. He thought about this for two nanoseconds. If I can deal with the Secretary, I can certainly deal with a girl. A followup thought rolled through. What the fok. He stood.
His friends stopped cold. Their eyes never left Jake as he slowly walked towards her.
Jake smiled to himself when she dropped her eyes, but kept the smile.
Sober me up, commanded Jake. His doppelgänger, the computer program mirroring him and learning how to be human, adjusted Jake’s internal chemistry to minimize the effects of alcohol. Jake could now walk straight and have a conversation. The computer decided to leave him enough for bravery.
Fok. What do I say to her? What’s a good line? The questions screamed through Jake’s mind as he took slow careful steps to travel the twenty-five feet to her table. She hadn’t met his eyes yet but he noted the smile hadn’t left her mouth.
Jakes stomach tightened, he felt the nervous energy building and all he could think of was what do I say to her? What’s a good subject to break the ice? I’ve never had an opening line. Fok, she’s gorgeous. He felt more nervous than he’d ever felt in his life. He swallowed some sour bile that flowed up from his stomach and his throat burned. Oh great. I’ll walk over there to throw up on her he thought. Damn, I feel like an idiot and she’s going to see how stupid and bad at this I am. She’s probably going to laugh at me and tell all her friends. Just add to the stories about how great I am at stuff. Super. What was I thinking? Fok. The thoughts roiled, but he kept walking. Stopped in front of her. She raised her head and their eyes met.
Jake’s mind stopped cold. Absolutely no thoughts came through. He stood silently. Stunned. Blurted, “Hi.. Then rolled his eyes, looked at the ceiling. That was the lamest, worst, introduction possible. I’m an idiot. A complete idiot, he thought. With his tongue frozen, he simply stood there looking at her. He felt his face get warm. What seemed like ten minutes passed in the next two seconds.
Her eyes never left his. She smiled and said, “Hi, I’m Faith.”
All Jake could think of was to say, “Jake.. Now what he thought. What do I say to her? Another half-second eternity passed silently.
The computer whispered in Jake’s ear. “Tell her you’ve seen her around and ask what she’s studying.”
Another half-second went by.
Jake smiled back and said, “I’ve seen you here before. What are you studying?. And then he kicked himself. That was the lamest damn thing to say that’s ever been said. I am just no good at this.
She reached out and turned the chair her brother had been sitting on outwards for Jake to use, gestured for him to sit down.
He did but there was a unbelieving look on his face.
“I’ve seen you too but my brother is pretty protective. I saw you a few days ago start to come over and chat but I caught the look he tossed your way. He’s a bit of a dolt sometimes,” she said holding out her hand. “Pleased to meet you Jake.”
Jake took her hand, swallowed and wondered what had just happened. She didn’t laugh at him. She seemed nice. She’d offered him a chair. Does she like me?
“I’m not very good at this meeting people thing,” said Jake. He immediately regretted opening his mouth. Sweet pickup line, I am such an idiot he thought.
She ignored the line. “You’re a senior computer student aren’t you?” she asked. “I’ve always been interested in computers but my family wanted me to take English so I could be a teacher. I dabble a bit at home but nothing like what you’re doing.” She brushed a bit of hair off her face and tucked it back behind her ear and smiled up at him.
Jake smiled back. She’s shorter than I am he thought. Idiot. Of course, she’s shorter than you are. This was immediately followed by, OK, be calm.
“Yeah, I’m a senior tech student specializing in server systems and AI development,” said Jake. “That’s what I’ve always wanted to do, what my parents did and it just seemed natural to do for me.”
“Both your parents are computer programmers?” asked Faith. One eyebrow raised as she asked the question.
Jake thought the raised eyebrow was the best thing he’d seen in a very long time. But the memory of his father’s death was still close enough and hurt enough that he answered quietly. “Well, they were. They’re both dead now. It’ a long story,” he said.. “Not much to tell really.” He decided Faith may be gorgeous but there was no need to explain about how the Secretary killed his mother or drove his father underground to Anonymous.
“I’m sorry. Really. It sounds sad,” said Faith. “But what are you going to do when you graduate?” she added changing the subject.
Jake smiled and relaxed. She sounded like she meant it and didn’t want to pry too much. “I’m not sure now. Things changed so much in the last week or so. Who knows what’s going to happen and what the Captain is going to do now he’s whacked Carpenter,” said Jake. “I’m just waiting to see how things shake out.”
Faith chuckled. “Aren’t we all.” She smiled at Jake again, extended her hand with her comm device showing on her wrist. Here’s my contact points.”
Jake waved his wrist over hers and the information transferred.
“Let’s chat,” Faith said. “But for the moment, here comes my brother. No. Don’t get up and run away.”
Jake started to stand, froze on her command, allowed himself to sink the inch back onto the seat. Turned his head following the direction of Faith’s gaze.
Out of the corner of one eye, he watched her raise her face to meet eyes with what appeared to be a gorilla from where he was sitting. The brother was one of the biggest and best known athletes in the city. Even at twenty-two years old, he was already a legend in the octagon ring.
“Tommy, this is Jake. He’s a senior tech student. Top of his class. Big future in AI coming,” she said. “He’s OK.”
“Stand up. Shake his hand,” said the computer in Jake’s ear.
Jake took a deep breath, stood up, raised his eyes to look up from Tommy’s chin to his eyes, reached out in a handshake.
The mountain of a main looked at Jake as if he were an insect to be crushed underfoot.
Jake heard Faith’s soft voice but this time it contained steel.
Tommy reached out and took Jake’s hand. Started to crush it.
Jake winced. Started to open his mouth to yell.
“Tommy,” repeated Faith more forcibly.
The pressure eased.
Jake watched the young man meet his sister’s eyes. There was some unspoken communication between them.
Jake watched him break eye contact, turn to him, nod once and give his hand a small shake. Tommy leaned closer, Jake wasn’t sure what he was about to do but heard his whisper, “Don’t piss me off.”
Jake nodded. Met his eyes, but then turned to Faith, smiled and said, “It was good to chat.”
Her soft smile left him incapable of further speech. She likes me he thought. She really does. But how lame was “Good to chat.” Who says that to a girl? The thoughts, both good and bad rolled through but the warm feeling persisted. She likes me.
Jake turned, shook his hand in a futile attempt to relax his hand. But forgot the pain when a group text arrived from his awed friends, “You’re the man buddy. You’re the man.”
The night was a good one and a late one. Jake refused to think about the challenges that would surely arrive tomorrow.