Ted Robert­son woke be­neath a wave of anx­i­ety, an un­ex­pected and in­ex­pli­ca­ble mood of the type that am an oc­ca­sion­ally dis­cov­ers upon con­scious­ness. And though he didn’ t know where it had come from or what it meant, he sensed al­ready that it was go­ing to

Idealog - - RIDE ON - a story by CJ Foster

And it was non­sen­si­cal be­cause, Ted re­minded him­self, ev­ery­thing was per­fect. Mere mo­ments prior he had been gen­tly nudged from his post­work pre-party nap by in­flu­ences far clev­erer than him­self. And though he didn’t know what time it was, and didn’t recog­nise the Scan­di­na­vian art-pop waft­ing from his apart­ment speak­ers in im­per­cep­ti­bly in­creas­ing vol­ume, he knew that it would re­veal it­self to be pre­cisely the right time, and that the playlist se­lected would prove ex­actly to his taste and op­ti­mised for the task at hand.

He breathed out, shak­ing his head in tiny shud­ders as though it were an Etch-A-Sketch he could make blank again, and waited. For her.

Hi Ted. A voice in his left ear. Friendly, en­thu­si­as­tic and care­fully pla­tonic, like a per­sonal trainer who men­tions her boyfriend at care­fully cho­sen in­ter vals while mas­sag­ing your ham­strings. Nice nap?

“Mmm,” he said, stretch­ing to en­joy the crunch of his shoul­ders; his early-mid­dle-aged body did not dis­ap­point.

It’s a big even­ing ahead. Your heart rate is slightly el­e­vated, but don’t worry, we’ve got ev­ery­thing planned. Are you ready? He ex­haled through pursed lips. “If you say so, GO.” I do, Ted, I do!

In the shower, he fol­lowed her in­struc­tions: ap­ply sham­poo, mas­sage for two min­utes, leave for five. Rinse.

You should find a bot­tle of RetroAc­tion Hair Loss Serum on the shelf. It’s pro­tein-en­riched! GO en­thused.

“Cool,” he said, up to that mo­ment in his life suc­cess­ful in his at­tempts to ig­nore the with­draw­ing tide of his hair­line. He sti­fled a yelp as the serum stung his eyes.

I’ve no­ticed you’ve been rush­ing clean­ing your teeth lately, Ted. Let me count you down on each tooth for max­i­mum clean! “Don’t want to rush the brush,” he said, push­ing paste onto bris­tle. You’re so funny, Ted! Ready?

Let’s go!

At the wardrobe, he tongued his smooth teeth. In front of him, still wrapped in plas­tic, hung a new blazer, new shirt, and new jeans. He had seen none of them be­fore but they had been or­dered on his be­half and de­liv­ered while he had been at work, along with his gro­ceries, his laun­dry, and the afore­men­tioned bot­tled mor­tal­ity-aware­ness serum.

“Are we sure about the jeans? I thought the in­vite said for­mal.”

Don’t worry about it. I hap­pen to know David’s a fan of this de­signer, and in the past he’s com­mented on so­cial me­dia that he ad­mires peo­ple who dis­rupt so­cial con­ven­tions. He’s go­ing to love it.

“Okay. You’re the boss, GO. Well, he is. But … you know.” GO laughed, and Ted felt good. The fit was per­fect, of course. Re­turn­ing to the bath­room, he lis­tened as she ad­vised him on how to style his hair to op­ti­mally match his soft­en­ing jaw­line.

“GO,” he said, rub­bing the rec­om­mended mois­turiser into his cheeks. He pushed his jowls down to see what he'd look like as an old man. Melty. “Are you sure I should go tonight?”

Are you kid­ding? You’ve worked hard this quar­ter, and David’s events are a big deal! The av­er­age em­ployee achieves a quar­terly per­for­mance that war­rants an in­vite to one of David’s Gra­cias Ami­gos! par­ties zero-point-seven-five times in their time at the com­pany.

“But are you sure I should tr y to pitch David on my idea? He doesn’t even know who I am.”

Ted, you’ve been in your role for six years, and your av­er­age an­nual wage in­crease has been be­low the na­tional av­er­age. Be­sides, with the re­cent re­con­fig­u­ra­tion of the com­pany shares, there are in­di­ca­tions that the board will be look­ing for ideas to shake things up. Trust me, your ac­counts in­te­gra­tion con­cept is bound to be a win­ner.

“Okay,” he said. As the slo­gan went: GO knows. In truth, he had been won­der­ing just how much of the ac­counts in­te­gra­tion idea was ac­tu­ally his. It felt like his idea, and he was the one who had first ver­balised it to GO, but only af­ter weeks of her show­ing him ran­dom re­ports that she ‘thought you’d be in­ter­ested in’ and ask­ing him ques­tions that, in ret­ro­spect, felt so lead­ing he might as well have been fol­low­ing along on all fours. There were plenty of de­tails that she didn’t have ac­cess to, though. In­for­ma­tion not in re­ports but just Ted’s men­tal IP, so he sup­posed even if she had dumped all the parts on the ta­ble, it was his glue that had stuck them all to­gether. Now, you need to eat. Not too much - there’ll be tapas at the party.

“Okay,” he said, smooth­ing out his shirt. “There’s a chicken salad in the fridge.”

Ac­tu­ally, can I make a sug­ges­tion? A glass of Glam­orade Pro­tein Black would be the op­ti­mal nu­tri­tional choice,and you'll still be well on track for your daily calo­rie goal. “A what?” He was walk­ing to the kitchen, strug­gling with his cuffs.

Glam­orade Pro­tein Black, the lat­est ex­cit­ing prod­uct from the Glam­orade fam­ily of lifestyle bev­er­ages and liq­uid con­sum­ables. Glam­orade Pro­tein Black is the meal in a bot­tle that fi­nally bridges the gap be­tween the gym and the restau­rant, a so­phis­ti­cated choice for the busy pro­fes­sional who doesn’t want to miss out on life. Ted, would you like to try a Glam­orade Pro­tein Black now?

He opened the fridge and saw four bot­tles of thick black syrup sit­ting among his reg­u­lar gro­ceries. “Sure,” he said, grab­bing one, twist­ing off the cap. What do you think, Ted? “Okay,” he said. “A lit­tle tart.”

Great! Glam­orade Pro­tein Black is the op­ti­mal nu­tri­tional en­hance­ment for your lifestyle and your unique phys­i­o­log­i­cal needs – I’ve emailed you through some im­por­tant le­gal no­tices about nu­tri­tional claims, you can read them later. I’ll sign you up to a reg­u­lar de­liv­ery – would you pre­fer three months, six months … “What­ever you think,” he said. “How am I do­ing for time?”

Per­fectly, Ted. It’s a mild even­ing out­side and David’s apart­ment is only 35 min­utes’ walk away. I rec­om­mend a slow, steady pace to help you work off some of those nerves, and to catch up on your steps for the day. I’ll start a beat so you don’t go too fast and get a sweat. Ready? GO was right, of course. The weather was tem­per­ate, though there was a slight breeze that made Ted idly wish GO could turn the wind down a lit­tle. The even­ing city streets were com­fort­ably full of pedes­tri­ans, mostly solo, all chat­ting to them­selves. A lot of them were wear­ing older ear­pieces than his – bulkier and re­quir­ing them to speak a lit­tle louder – and this made him feel good about up­grad­ing a few months back. That said, a new model had just hit yes­ter­day, and he sus­pected that the se­nior ex­ecs at David’s party would prob­a­bly all be in pos­ses­sion. He men­tioned this to GO who in­ter­rupted her mono­logue about the stock mar­ket to re­as­sure him that it’d be okay for tonight, though she’d email him fur­ther in­for­ma­tion on the new model in case he’d like to con­sider a pur­chase in the morn­ing.

Af­ter­wards, she rat­tled off the last of the day’s events: Steve and An­drew were hik­ing in Peru, the pres­i­dent of the US has threat­ened Iran for rea­sons ex­actly match­ing Ted’s pre­con­ceived po­lit­i­cal be­liefs, Sarah and Matt had bro­ken up again.

And this is good tim­ing: David’s just pub­lished a new au­dioblog, en­ti­tled Don’t Pity The Hooked Fish, For He Too Was Aim­ing to Kill. Would you like me to play it?

Ted gri­maced, fail­ing to avoid imag­in­ing a thrash­ing fish pierced on a shiny hook. “Maybe to­mor­row.” Okay, Ted. You need to turn left and cross the street in three, two, one.

Ted did so with­out look­ing. The cars that had been com­ing ei­ther way had al­ready stopped, the GOs de­cid­ing that this se­quence of events would lead to the op­ti­mal out­come for all in­volved. Hey, here’s some­thing ex­cit­ing!

G lam or a de Pro­tein Black, the lat­est ex­cit­ing prod­uct from the G lam or a de fam­ily of lifestyle bev­er­ages and liq­uid con­sum­ables. G lam or a de Pro­tein Black is theme ali na bot­tle that fi­nally bridges the gap be­tween the gym and the restau­rant, a so­phis­ti­cated choice for the busy pro­fes­sional who doesn’ t want to miss out on life. Ted, would you like to try aG lam or a de Pro­tein Black now ?... G lam or a de Pro­tein Black is the op­ti­mal nu­tri­tional en­hance­ment for your lifestyle and your unique phys­i­o­log­i­cal needs–I’ ve emailed you through some im­por­tant le­gal no­tices about nu­tri­tional claims, you can read them later. I’ ll sign you up to a reg­u­lar de­liv­ery–would you pre­fer three months, six months…

There’s a press re­lease from the com­pany that makes me. Did you know that the lat­est data shows that wide­spread adop­tion of the eGO Vir­tual As­sis­tant Sys­tem has cor­re­sponded with a no­table re­duc­tion in ur­ban crime, traf­fic con­ges­tion, CO2 emis­sions and TED YOU NEED TO STEP TO THE LEFT AND STOP.

Ted im­me­di­ately did as he was told, as did the dozen or so peo­ple walk­ing in front of him. A few sec­onds later, a po­lice cruiser fol­lowed by an am­bu­lance roared up the side of them, half mount­ing the side­walk. Mo­ments passed, the nu­mer­ous GOs gave their or­ders, and the pedes­tri­ans started walk­ing again.

“What’s that about?” said Ted.

Noth­ing to worry about, just a mi­nor ac­ci­dent near David’s apart­ment build­ing. Let’s fin­ish the press re­lease. Ted ar­rived at David’s pen­t­house at the per­fect time, the guests hav­ing been or­gan­ised by their re­spec­tive GOs to ap­pear at a steady pace be­tween 8 and 8.45. He wormed his way through the crowd, suck­ing in his gut to

squeeze be­tween but­tocks and breasts, around to a cor­ner where he felt the least in the way. Above him, a glit­ter­ing Gra­cias Ami­gos! ban­ner flaked tiny bits of gold onto his new blazer.

Derek and Lucy from your depart­ment are in the far right hand cor­ner. They’ll make op­ti­mal an­chor com­pan­ions for the party.

“Yeah but I don’t like Derek and Lucy,” he mut­tered, eye­ing them from across the room. “He tries too hard to be of­fen­sive and she’s too eas­ily of­fended.” At that mo­ment, both Derek and Lucy looked across to Ted, each lis­ten­ing to their own pri­vate in­struc­tions.

Oh Ted, you’re funny. Here are some con­ver­sa­tion starters: Derek just bought a re­mote con­trolled sail­boat. Lucy spent the day at her sis­ter’s wed­ding, and com­ments, ‘Happy for big sis but when will it be my turn LOL sad­face emoti­con.’

David’s pen­t­house was ex­pan­sive and crowded, so Ted’s march to so­cial pur­ga­tory was at least slow. As he trav­elled, ex­cus­ing him­self hastily and re­peat­edly, other party-go­ers turned to look, lis­ten­ing for a mo­ment to their GOs be­fore smil­ing tightly and turn­ing back. Most were wear­ing the lat­est ear­piece, of course, a tiny hear­ing

aid-sized glow­ing blue or pink plas­tic ball, and Ted felt ill with so­cio-tech­no­log­i­cal in­ad­e­quacy. Wait one mo­ment.

He did so, and found a waiter stop­ping next to him with clock­work tim­ing. He was dressed as a ban­dito.

“I’m told you’re a fan of Glam­orade Pro­tein Black, Mr…” the waiter paused, lis­ten­ing. “Robert­son. Would you like a glass of new Glam­orade Dis­rupt in­fused with rose-flavoured car­bon­ated tequila?”

Sounds de­li­cious! cooed GO. Ted no­ticed that the waiter was of­fer­ing no al­ter­na­tives, and that all other party go­ers were uni­formly Dis­rupted. “Thanks,” he said, tak­ing a tall glass of fizzy black liq­uid. He sipped as the waiter smiled un­con­vinc­ingly and stepped away. He looked over his glass at Derek and Lucy; the for­mer was mak­ing a one­handed ges­ture of milk­ing a cow and cack­ling while the lat­ter was scowl­ing in wrapt dis­gust.

Ted, I’d like to know how you’re en­joy­ing your Glam­orade Dis­rupt. On a scale of one to –

Across the far end of the room, near an il­lu­mi­nated plas­tic cac­tus, he glimpsed David Grisk, ges­tic­u­lat­ing wildly in the cen­tre of a small group that shrieked

and clapped. David paused, soak­ing in his ac­claim, and then turned to look di­rectly at Ted. Ted, now’s the per­fect time. Go pitch!

Ted’s stom­ach tight­ened, in con­fu­sion he at­tempted to both smile and to turn away and ended up gurn­ing at a nearby pot plant. Ted, what are y

There was the sud­den ca­coph­ony of steel smash­ing into crys­tal and then he was on the ground, en­tan­gled in at least one other per­son, his torso soaked.

“Oh my god,” cried the ban­dito that had just served him, now ly­ing knee-to-armpit with Ted. “Who the f—…I’m sorry, sir. Care­ful, there’s glass.”

Ted felt hands un­der his el­bows, pulling him up. Another waiter, dressed as a senorita, started pick­ing small shards of his for­mer drink­ing ves­sel from his shirt while yet another waiter, a mari­achi, started ques­tion­ing the ban­dito in an ur­gent whis­per.

Ted was in a slight state of shock. It had been so long since he had col­lided with any­one, or had been in­volved in any sort of ac­ci­dent at all, that the whole ex­pe­ri­ence was not only sur­pris­ing but felt wildly vi­o­lent. He looked over at David, who gazed on with two raised eye­brows. The youngish but daz­zlingly suc­cess­ful en­tre­pre­neur turned back to his small au­di­ence, said some­thing with a small cir­cu­lar wave of his hand, and they all cack­led in shrill de­light.

“It wasn’t my fault, Alan,” the ban­dito im­plored to the mari­achi, nurs­ing a cut hand, “That woman just ap­peared out of nowhere, I didn’t even get a warn­ing!”

Ted looked to where the ban­dito was jab­bing a bloody fin­ger. Over on the other side of the room, stand­ing next to an ag­gres­sively phal­lic sculp­ture and in a widen­ing circle of iso­la­tion, was a woman with curly dark hair clutch­ing a can­vas satchel and look­ing like an un­will­ing au­di­ence par­tic­i­pant in a bad im­prov show. Her eyes met Ted’s. Sorry, she mouthed with an ex­ag­ger­ated gri­mace. Ted

shrugged and smiled gamely, but be­fore he could say any­thing he was bus­tled to­wards the kitchen door by an ex­pand­ing army of racially ques­tion­able stereo­types.

“Who’s that?” said Ted. “The woman with the black hair? Black sleeve­less top?”

GO was silent for a split se­cond. Not sure who you mean, Ted. There’s no-one here that I’m aware of that matches your de­scrip­tion. I’ve or­dered you a new shirt from Mell­berg Broth­ers across town. It’ll ar­rive in 17 min­utes.

22 min­utes later, Ted was lean­ing against a fridge big­ger than his wardrobe, but­ton­ing his new shirt (per­fect fit), when GO abruptly paused her mono­logue on his op­ti­mal blood sugar lev­els to an­nounce: David Grisk is com­ing.

A sin­gle se­cond later, the kitchen door swung open and David stepped through. He was beam­ing with the ef­fi­cacy and ease of some­one who was a nat­u­ral beamer, the rare type of man who could beam with­out in­stantly look­ing like a lit­eral or fig­u­ra­tive Mup­pet; his un­fair ge­netic beam­ing abil­ity en­hanced by his un­nat­u­rally white teeth, white linen shirt and trousers (no shoes), and just-short-of-or­ange tan.

“Ted! Ted Robert­son! Good to see you, thanks so much for com­ing along,” he beamed. “Hey, nice jeans! Your GO told you to wear those, right? There are like 20 other guys wear­ing those. Hey, I’m sorry about what hap­pened out there, that’s ter­ri­ble luck. How are you any­way, Ted, have we ever met?” He lis­tened for a mo­ment. “No, but that’s cool. How are you?” “Um,” said Ted. “Ha, I’ve sur­prised you, right? I do that. I hacked my GO so she doesn’t share in­for­ma­tion with her net­work. I don’t know, I’m a kook, I guess. So what’s up?”

David was younger than Ted by a cou­ple of years, some­how dressed both im­mac­u­lately and like a man who went miss­ing on a three week get­away in Phuket only to be found seven years later run­ning a small beach bar made of planks and tar­pau­lin on the Cam­bo­dian coast.

“So, Ted, I hear you’ve been with us…six years! That’s a great run, well done. In Ac­counts! Wow, that’s great, you guys re­ally are the heart of the busi­ness, I mean that. You had… eight sick days in the last cal­en­dar year. Yeesh, do you have some sort of ill­ness? Dude, we might be able to as­sist with med­i­cal. Do you mind if I check out your med­i­cal his­tory? Just say ‘al­low data ac­cess re­quest XT4417’ if it’s cool.”

“Oh, ah. Al­low data ac­cess XT4417.”

David scowled and lis­tened for a few sec­onds. “Oh no, no ill­ness. Just ‘men­tal health days’ huh?” He laughed, slapped Ted on the shoul­der, then left his hand there as he low­ered his tone, squint­ing his eyes. “I mean, we don’t re­ally care about that kind of stuff any­way, you know? That’s not what’s im­por­tant to us. What’s im­por­tant to us is, you know, you, the team­ster and them, the cus­tomer, you know? And if we make the cus­tomer happy, guess what? We all get rich. Well, some of us. But if I get rich, you know, then you get rich. Right? In a way. Don’t pity the hooked fish, you know?”

Ted tried to smile, think­ing, ‘Holy hell, his hand’s on my shoul­der, I think that’s my lep­rosy sorted’. “Ah, well ac­tu­ally David, I had some­thing I wanted to talk to you about,” he said, and im­me­di­ately saw the smile on David’s face dim, even though not a sin­gle mus­cle moved.

“Oh. Yeah?” said David, his eyes flick­ing from Ted’s eyes to his chin to some­thing on the wall be­hind him. He re­moved his hand from Ted’s shoul­der.

Ted, now is not the op­ti­mal time to talk to David about the ac­counts in­te­gra­tion idea. Change sub­jects.

“Oh. Um. Great party,” said Ted, smil­ing weakly, the metaphor­i­cal pith and vine­gar drain­ing out of him as though his feet were sieves. “I’m so grate­ful.”

David beamed, again, slap­ping Ted on the shoul­der in the ex­act same spot.

“Lis­ten, I’m psyched you could make it tonight. I think I saw a cou­ple of your col­leagues out there too. Derek and Lizzy? I’m sure you guys will have a lot to talk about. Ac­tu­ally, it’s funny, Derek looks like a to­tal normie too but he just pitched this in­cred­i­ble idea about ac­counts in­te­gra­tion to me. Smart dude. Su­per dis­rup­tive. Have you tried the tapas? De­li­cious. Well, I’m told, I don’t know, I’m on pure liq­uids now, you know? Now get the hell out of my kitchen. I’m kid­ding! But yeah, don’t hang out here, it’s weird.”

David strode out of the kitchen, toy­ing with a leather bracelet on his left wrist, mut­ter­ing as he went, “This party sucks, GO, what the hell kind of playlist is this?”

Ted sat in si­lence for a mo­ment and tugged on the cuffs on his shirt. “Derek pitched the ac­counts in­te­gra­tion idea?”

I’ve got great news, Ted. Af­ter your ac­ci­dent in the lounge, I cal­cu­lated that you pitch­ing the idea to David would carry a greater risk of not be­ing ac­cepted, so I sent the info through to Derek’s GO and she gave him a quick run­down. The most im­por­tant fac­tor was de­liv­er­ing the idea to David for the good of the com­pany, but now there’s the added ad­van­tage of Derek re­ceiv­ing a po­ten­tial pay rise so he can put his daugh­ter through pri­vate school. She’s hav­ing a tough time. It’s re­ally the op­ti­mal out­come, given the cir­cum­stances.

Ted sighed, but didn’t ar­gue. GO Knows. “How much longer do I have to stay be­fore it’s pro­fes­sion­ally op­ti­mal for me to leave?” One hour, 27 min­utes, Ted.

Ted sighed again, harder, clench­ing and un­clench­ing his jaw. “Okay.” In the lounge, Ted lis­tened-but­not-re­ally to Derek re­count his con­ver­sa­tion with David, how the idea just ‘came to him’ a few min­utes ear­lier, while Lucy quizzed him closely on whether David had men­tioned money. Mean­while, GO chat­ted in his ear about the fi­nan­cial mar­ket and asked him if he’d ap­prove a small trans­ac­tion to in­vest in a par­tic­u­lar brand of smart sports bra that she thought was promis­ing.

“Yeah, sure,” he said, star­ing at the full drink in his hand, swirling it close to the lip of the glass.

He looked up, puff­ing his cheeks and breath­ing out sharply, and spot­ted the woman with the curly black hair and sleeve­less top. She stood on an ex­pen­sivelook­ing rug by her­self next to the cho­co­late foun­tain, eat­ing a cho­co­late-drip­ping plum with­out a nap­kin. “Ex­cuse me,” he said to no-one. “Oh god,” said the woman as Ted ap­proached her. She had a deep voice, the type that some­how man­ages to ver­balise an eye­roll. “Hi. I’m sorry. Hi.”

“Hi,” said Ted.

Ted, I can’t sense who you’re talk­ing to — do you see an ear­piece in this per­son’s left ear? They might need to re­set it, if you get their email ad­dress I can send the in­struc­tions through.

“No wor­ries,” said Ted. “I was just sur­prised. That’s the first time any­one’s bumped into me in a long time.”

“Oh re­ally? I do it all the time. It’s kinda my thing, mak­ing a dick of my­self. Kid­ding. I’m Kather­ine. What’s she say­ing?” “Who?” Kather­ine tapped her left ear, and Ted saw that it was empty. It looked weird.

“Oh,” he said. “She’s ask­ing who you are. I guess she thinks you don’t ex­ist.”

“Yeah. I get that. The other day I tried to cross the road – at a cross­ing – and an Audi rammed straight into me.” Kather­ine lifted up her top and showed off a deep pur­ple bruise on the right side of her ab­domen. Ted sucked air

be­tween his teeth ap­pre­cia­tively. “Saw me from right up the road too. Well, saw me but didn’t see me, be­cause she wouldn’t have seen me.”

Ted, I’m scan­ning David’s net­work for a Kather­ine and noth­ing’s com­ing up. I don’t think this is the op­ti­mal con­ver­sa­tion for you to be hav­ing right now. If you’re in­ter­ested in meet­ing some­one tonight, there’s a lovely woman called Wendy from Test­ing with ex­cel­lent fi­nan­cials who – “Do you smoke?” Kather­ine said. Ted, no. “No.” “Didn’t think so. I’m head­ing out on the bal­cony. Come.” They leaned against the rail­ing and looked out while Kather­ine lit a cig­a­rette and drew on it. “See the cor­dons down there?” she said, point­ing to the street to the west of the apart­ment build­ing. “Some guy jumped.”

“I don’t think so,” said Ted. “I heard it was a mi­nor ac­ci­dent.”

“Nah. Rich dude a few floors down. Hap­pened ear­lier. David knew him.” “You know David?” “Half-sis­ter,” she said. “Don’t ask me where I work, I don’t, and no I don’t live around here, just vis­it­ing. She re­ally told you it was a mi­nor ac­ci­dent?”

Ted, I’m ac­cess­ing pub­lic records of David’s ex­tended fam­ily now, but in the mean­time there’s a de­li­cious Turk­ish lamb chop dish be­ing served up in the –

Al­most with­out think­ing, he reached up and took the ear­piece out while Kather­ine stared down at the street. He hid it in his fist be­fore low­er­ing his hand and push­ing it into his back jeans pocket. The cool even­ing breeze in his left ear star­tled him.

She blew out a plume of smoke. “She doesn’t like news that re­flects badly on her. You no­tice that?”

“Who? Oh. How do you know it was about – ”

“I don’t. Just guess­ing. I’ve known a lot of peo­ple who, um, don’t get on that well with her. The idea that ev­ery­thing should be per­fect, all the time. It’s kind of ... a bit much. And ev­ery so of­ten … ” She ges­tured to the street be­low, trail­ing a pointed fin­ger in a long arc up and then down. She ended it with a rasp­berry noise, then shrugged. “It seems to work for a cer­tain type of per­son, though.”

“What type of per­son?” Ted was find­ing it kind of creepy not to have a se­cond mono­logue in his ear.

“You know. Op­ti­mal heart rate and fastest-way-to-get-there and green-poo smooth­ies and all that. They used to call it Type A, back when there was a B. You know, I heard one story about a ware­house fire in Perth where the GOs told all the ex­ec­u­tives first so they could get out be­fore the rest of the staff.”

“That can’t be true. That would have been huge news.”

“Yeah, you’re prob­a­bly right. De­pends on who's giv­ing you your news though, I sup­pose.”

“Be­sides,” he said, “maybe that was the best way to re­spond to the fire. Maybe the ex­ec­u­tives were closer to the ex­its, or maybe they were on av­er­age older so it would take them longer.“

“Oh yeah, I’m sure you’re right, or maybe it was the op­ti­mal choice for the com­pany or the lo­cal econ­omy or what­ever, or maybe the ex­ecs had bet­ter ear­pieces, or maybe the of­fice work­ers didn’t have any at all.” She turned to look at Ted, el­bow lean­ing on the rail­ing. “Still though, if I was go­ing to be burned to death I’d like to think I’d get a chance to scrap it out fair and square, you know?”

“Be­sides, she’s done a lot of good for crime and the en­vi­ron­ment and – ”

“Oh for sure. I guess there’s no op­ti­mal an­swer, right? Not to be­ing hu­man. Don’t pity the hooked fish – ”

“– for he too was tr ying to kill?”

“I was go­ing to say ‘be­cause other­wise you’d never sleep.’ But yeah, that too.” She looked up at him in a way that was some­where be­tween a threat and a prom­ise, and in­stantly he wanted to know ev­ery­thing about her. To not be in­formed im­me­di­ately was tor­tur­ous, and strangely ex­hil­a­rat­ing.

A woman ap­peared, tall, se­ri­ous-faced, hold­ing two glasses. She smiled at Ted, paus­ing be­fore she spoke. “Hi Ted, I’m Wendy. I was told we should meet. Would you like a de­li­cious Glam­orade Dis­rupt, in­fused with – ”

“Oh. Sure,” said Ted, though he was still hold­ing his full glass. He dropped his warm glass on the bal­cony and took a cool one from Wendy’s hand.

“Um,” said Wendy, “I’m also be­ing asked if you’d mind re­turn­ing your ear­piece to your ear. I’m told to en­sure you that it’s the op­ti­mal de­ci­sion.” She smiled gamely.

“Oh, yeah. Sure,” said Ted, sud­denly em­bar­rassed, as though his fly was down. He started dig­ging in the back pocket of his jeans, and as he did, he caught Kather­ine look­ing at him. “Oh, ah, this is Kather­ine. Kather­ine, this is Wendy. She, uh, has ex­cel­lent fi­nan­cials.” Hav­ing to make an in­tro­duc­tion be­tween two peo­ple felt weird and old-timey. Wendy turned to Kather­ine, look­ing slightly sur­prised to see her there. Lack­ing con­ver­sa­tional prompts and look­ing con­fused and slightly pan­icked, Wendy said noth­ing but held out her own un­touched drink to Kather­ine.

“God no,” said Kather­ine, scrunch­ing her face up at the half dozen glasses of black syrup on the waiter’s tray. “Beer maybe?”

“Oh. Um, I think they might have some,” said Wendy, “I’ll find a waiter.”

“Ac­tu­ally,” said Ted, sur­prised at the sud­den vol­ume of his voice. “A beer would be good, if you wouldn’t mind.”

Wendy looked at him with an ex­pres­sion that he couldn’t quite place. She was silent for a mo­ment, head cocked to the side, lis­ten­ing. “And are you sure that’s the best de­ci­sion to keep you within your op­ti­mal daily diet limit to­day, Ted?”

“Oh,” said Ted, still hold­ing the ear­piece in front of him. His cheeks felt hot de­spite the cool night air. With­out a con­stant voice in his ear, he felt like he was sud­denly in­cred­i­bly con­scious of the vol­ume of his own thoughts, as jum­bled and manic as they were, and was ir­ra­tionally wor­ried that ev­ery­one else could hear them too. He felt, too, like he could hear now the noise of the whole city ; a plane was fly­ing over­head, a cou­ple screwed on a nearby bal­cony, Kather­ine’s long dan­gling ear­rings jan­gled in the breeze. He could feel the vi­bra­tions in his fin­gers of GO say­ing some­thing to him; the buzz was in­sis­tent, she was re­ally go­ing for it. He looked at Wendy, at Kather­ine, out to the city sky­line, down at GO.

“Ah. Um. Ac­tu­ally, you know...” he said. It was as though in the back of his mind, some­thing small and shiny had started thrash­ing wildly. “... I re­ally have no idea.”

Ted, I’ m scan­ning David’ s net­work for a Kather­ine and no thing’ s com­ing up. I don’ t think this is the op­ti­mal con­ver­sa­tion for you to be hav­ing right now. If you’ re in­ter­ested in meet­ing some­one tonight, there’ s a lovely woman called Wendy from Test­ing with ex­cel­lent fin an­cia ls.

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