Zane had almost finished his second beer when she walked in. The mauve hair highlighted with metallic gold was the same as her profile picture, but the rest of her was more than he’d expected. He’d sent a “Want to meet?” prompt to an attractive woman on the singles site, but the person in the doorway looked more like a supermodel. Zane wondered if he should have slammed three beers instead of two. It was a delicate tipping point between settling his nerves enough not to make a fool of himself and not getting so buzzed that he made a fool of himself anyway.
She scanned the room and spotted him at the bar. Heads turned as she approached him. “Zane McWilliams?” It wasn’t really a question.
“Hi, I’m,” he extended his hand ready to introduce himself, realized that was no longer necessary, and stopped awkwardly, “um, pleased to meet you. You must be Sarathan.” He shook her hand a second too long. Her face was like an airbrushed photo and she had a sultriness that hadn’t come across even in 3-D. His hormones cheered, but part of him wished she had been more what he’d imagined—a nice, ordinary, easy-to-talk-to person. Based on his last few dates, that was apparently harder to come by than one would guess.
She slid onto the stool next to him. Her short skirt hitched higher on her smooth thighs.
“Can I get you a drink?” he asked.
She named a flavor of martini he hadn’t known existed. Zane signaled the bartender, ordered the drink, and held out the inside of his forearm to have his microchip scanned. A larger than expected monetary value appeared on the scanner and disappeared from his bank account.
“So, you’re a programmer,” she said.
He’d marked Technology Industries as his profession on the dating site, but had left the subcategory blank. Saying you were a programmer was about as individual and interesting as being a drone in a hive. Programmers were the new mass-production workers, like factory workers of the Industrial Revolution. If she knew his job, her chip must be scanning his already, the info traveling neural pathways directly to the language center of her brain.
“Um, yeah,” he said.
“Devon H and S,” she divined. “Big company.” Her chip must be one of the latest models, to read him with that kind of detail.
“Yeah,” he said, feeling less significant by the minute. Devon H&S employed eight million people worldwide, very few of whom held impressive positions.
How deeply could her chip read, anyway? He was going to have to get an updated shield if the new models were this advanced. “So, you’re in TI as well?” he said, stopping her before she could delve any further into his boring life. Tech Industries was all she had posted in her online profile and was as far as his chip could read.
“Who do you work for?”
“New Millennium Advanced Tech.” She sipped her martini, exuding sophistication and elegance in every line.
“Oh.” No wonder she had the latest technology. New Millennium was a small company on the cutting edge, and they hired only the best and brightest. Zane had planned to apply a number of times, but recent promotions had kept him on at Devon.
“Any special department?” he asked.
Zane wasn’t sure what that was and didn’t want to look stupid by asking. He hunted through her available information for something they could talk about that might put him in a more positive light. There was a small buzz in his brain, like he’d encountered a shield, but different somehow. Different, but familiar. A possibility occurred to him.
“Would you excuse me for a moment?” Zane gestured toward the restroom, and she nodded.
Once in the men’s room, he removed a portable microprocessor from his jacket. He had intended to do some work from home over the weekend, but maybe he’d do a little here as well. After some quick parameter changes, he opened “search and block” and set the unit to emit, then placed the unit back in his pocket and returned to the bar. When he was a few feet from Sarathan she gave a small exclamation of surprise and nearly knocked her martini over.
The face was still hers, still attractive, but without the glow of perfection it was more of a girl-next-door attractiveness. The sultry air about her had vanished as well—and with it, the feigned confidence that the illusions had given her. Her hands fluttered on her purse. She bit her lip. Zane found himself looking at a nice, normal woman, who was apparently every bit as uneasy about first dates as he was himself.
“So,” he said, taking his seat next to her again. “Profiling. Does that have to do with artificial images?”
“Um, yeah,” she said, blushing furiously and glancing toward the exit.
“That’s a really interesting new field,” he said. “I’d love to hear about the work you do. Can I get you another martini?”
She studied his face as if afraid he was making fun of her. He wasn’t.
“Okay,” she said, blushing again, but risking a tenuous smile. “I’d be interested to hear about your work, too. Decryption, I’m guessing?”
Liz Colter lives in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado where she offsets working in the mundane world by creating speculative worlds of her own. She is a winner of the Writers of the Future competition (Volume 30) and her stories have appeared in Emerald Sky, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, and Enchanted Conversation, among others. News of her writing can be found at http://lizcolter.weebly.com.