Luis kept rambling on, citing all of Campbell’s failings as they rounded the last corner and found themselves back beneath the enormous Rosen Robotics sign. Awareness of what he was saying and to who slowly dawned, and as they passed back through the lobby, he said weakly, “Probably shouldn’t mention this once we’re back upstairs, huh?”
Sady smiled at him. He couldn’t tell if it was warm or nervous. “Probably not. Same time tomorrow?”
Luis’s whole world burst with light. “Sure!”
That one last exchange kept him running the rest of the day better than any burrito. He actually revised the existing AGI code and even wrote a few new lines. As people began drifting out for the evening, he ran a quick compile and simulation… And just about leapt up at what he saw.
“Holy shit. It could work…”
The next day, Luis forced himself awake earlier than usual and arrived with a few minutes to spare, despite the usual snarls with the metro. He was already into his second cup of coffee and teasing out a learning algorithm when Campbell passed by. “Looking good!” he declared in his cheerily obnoxious manner. Luis came out of his reverie long enough to briefly fantasize about taking the AGI project home with him, finishing it up solo, and selling it to some other company — no, his own startup! He’d thought of doing it, like every other developer in the Rosen stable. And like every other, he didn’t have the first clue of how to stand out from the crowd. At least until now…
It would need a catchy name of course. “Mendez Memetics” had a good ring to it. Luis imagined the long hard nights of work — though romantically lacking in headaches and eye strain — and imagined much more the glad-handing and hob-knobbing of shoring up investors, of giving keynotes, of sailing onto the TED stage to cheering crowds hailing him as the new Steve Jobs with Sady there —
“Shit!” he hissed, looking at the time. He’d been so focused on the code, he’d nearly worked right through his lunch break. Rather his walk with Sady, if she hadn’t left without him.
Luis rushed back to the elevators, where he saw no one. Not even the receptionist. He paced back and forth for a few minutes, feeling sick and wretched that he missed her until she came hurrying down the hall, distracted by something in her bag as always.
“Oh, hey!” she said, her face lighting up as she saw Luis. “Been waiting long?”
“Huh? Oh, I just got here,” Luis replied, trying to look casual despite the thin sheen of sweat on his brow.
“Uh-huh.” Sady smiled like she didn’t believe him but didn’t think any less of him either.
The walk felt shorter this time, though it covered about the same distance.
“Where do you want to go?” Sady had asked.
“Oh, anywhere. You lead,” Luis had answered, pleased at his own chivalry.
The conversation thankfully didn’t rest just on Rosen this time, mostly because Sady had binge-watched a whole season of Mad Men the night before and couldn’t stop talking about it. Luis had only ever caught an episode here or there but told her he’d seen every episode, loved every minute. He was sure she’d see through it in a minute, but they kept up a happy chatter all the way back down Hawthorne.
“Back to the grind,” Sady said, as they returned to the Rosen building, her grim tone belied by her obvious joy.
A joy Luis hoped was all for him. “Just a few more hours,” he said. He wanted to ask if she wanted to get a drink after quitting time but by the time the words were ready to pass his lips, the elevator opened back up on their floor.
“Same time tomorrow?”
They kept it up through the end of the week, Luis never once asking Sady out for a drink.
He agonized all weekend over how to rectify things come Monday. How to expand those daily little walks into an actual outing together, something more intimate. His mind recoiled at the “D” word, if only out of superstitious fear that articulating it would jinx him. On the bright side, he’d gotten so far along on the AGI project, he could coast through the rest of the two-week project sprint. Not like Campbell ever paid attention…
Despite leaving early, Luis arrived at Rosen fifteen minutes late on Monday morning. Worst of all, Campbell was right there in the lobby!
“Luis! Good to see you.”
“Hey, sorry about the time but the Metro–”
Campbell waved a hand to cut off the excuse before it could begin. “It’s all right. This stuff happens. Though I did want to speak to you about something…”
Luis felt his blood run cold. He’d heard those words once before, right before a three-month period of unemployment. As he followed Campbell to the elevator and up to their floor, he tried to assure himself that’s not what this was about. A mid-project change in requirements. That made sense. Not that it explained Campbell’s dour expression, but he could just have gas…
“So, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Rosen is doing some restructuring,” Campbell said gently, after leading Luis into the small conference room just across from the kitchen.
“I, uh, hadn’t heard anything,” Luis said, a lump forming in his throat.
Campbell wouldn’t meet his eyes. A bad sign. “It’s all very normal business, of course, but sadly it looks like our department is getting reduced.”
Luis collapsed into a chair that creaked at his weight. “Oh shit,” he said.
“Yep,” Campbell said, his face all warm understanding. “We’re not throwing you out on your butt — and certainly not right away.” He settled into the opposite chair, his fingers dribbling over his tablet. “I pulled for you, you know, because of all your work on the AGI project.”
Luis, his mind spinning, could only grunt dumbly, “Huh?”
“Well, you’d be perfect for the direction we’re going,” explained Campbell. “With what you’ve written, the next simulacrum line will be leaps and bounds better than the last.”
“Last what?” Luis asked.
“You know Sady over in QA?” Campbell looked at him, a hard glint entering his eyes. “She’s one of the models in beta. Mimics human interaction and whatnot. She’s had an awful lot to say about you…”
Trevor Kroger is a librarian between libraries somewhere on the East Coast. His fiction has appeared in Eastern Iowa Review, Blood Moon Rising Magazine, Babbling of the Irrational, and Potluck Magazine. His novels Fiend and One Nation Under God are available through Amazon.