The People Manager was so out of Jack’s class it hurt him to look at her. She was strikingly beautiful, thirtyish he thought, in a brown silk dress that shimmered as she spoke. And now she was looking at him.
“So that’s it,” she concluded. “Anything goes.”
“Anything?” Jack repeated numbly. He hadn’t been paying attention.
“Anything,” she said. Jack hadn’t met her before, but that meant nothing in so vast a company. The name tag ‘Suzie’ hovered over her bosom.
“There is a kit for you here,” a ringed finger indicated the holo pack. “And then, well…,” a bright smile revealed flawless white teeth, “the world is your oyster.” She waved at the wall screen behind them–which scrolled over a view of New York, raced over the Appalachians, and ended up hovering over the Grand Canyon.
Dazzled by Suzie’s smile, Jack’s attention wandered again. She couldn’t be real, they wouldn’t waste a real manager on him. And she was too perfect anyway. Was she an avatar? Sometimes avatars went off on their own for a while, he’d been lucky once or twice that way. She was still smiling at him anyway, which was promising.
Then he caught the tell-tale fuzziness as Suzie dropped her hand. So–just a holo, and low-quality too. Fancy being caught out like that! Marvin would be pulling his leg.
Now he could focus on what Suzie was saying.
“…You’re one of the candidates selected for the experiment. Of course, there are others–several thousand of them worldwide, you’re not that special,” Suzie laughed, “but you’re special to us, so we’ll be watching your progress carefully.” She folded her arms across that bosom.
Jack thought for a moment. “How can I progress? I mean, what does ‘progress’ mean–if I can do anything?”
Suzie laughed again, so engagingly that for a moment Jack wondered if she was real after all. Get a grip on yourself, he thought.
“We’ll be watching as you explore the possibility space,” Suzie concluded.
Then she stood up, and extended a hand. “Good luck, and call me if you need help.”
The handshake was warm and firm. Was it sensory technology? Jack hadn’t heard of that being applied in the company before. He mumbled his thanks, and left the room hurriedly.
Marvin, when Jack told him about the interview, was for once shocked into silence. Absently, he began pouring drops of his coffee onto the table to watch the robot scrubber scuttle out from the sauce tray and clean up the mess.
Disappointed in his friend’s lack of reaction, Jack confessed to being caught out by the holo.
This hardly prompted a smile. “Yeah,” was all Marvin would say. “Happened to me once. Twice–after a few drinks. But I was set up,” he added absently.
“Say.” He put down his coffee, and the robot scurried back into its hole. “This is big.” He looked Jack in the eye. “Really big.”
Jack laughed modestly. “She said they have thousands like me.”
“Thousands out of millions of staff means you’re still one in a thousand,” Marvin retorted, “maybe more. The top nought point one percent–that sounds impressive.”
Then a twinge of doubt crossed his face. “This isn’t somebody setting us up?”
Jack played the holo again, creating a little world on their table top in which an icon of Suzie explained his new role.
“Seems genuine,” Marvin said, grudgingly. “But then, so did Suzie!” he laughed. “Not that I blame you, I mean did she really look like that?” he gestured to the icon.
“Anyway,” he resumed, “that means you can do whatever you like?”
“Guess so,” Jack shrugged.
“And you still get paid?”
“Of course, you don’t get paid much,” Marvin said thoughtfully. This was true. Both he and Jack were on the Standard Wage, which was enough to buy just about whatever they needed for themselves, especially as the prices for everything kept falling anyway, but not enough to command resources from others.
“Not that you do much, either,” he added. This was also true. In the Optimised Economy, most of the work was done by machines. As if to illustrate the point, the scrubber dashed out and wiped up a fleck of his spittle that had fallen onto the table.
“But still, ‘anything’ sounds like a lot of things.” Marvin leant forward excitedly. “Does that mean you can touch chicks and stuff?”
“She said, they’d be watching closely.”
Marvin’s face fell. “I thought it sounded too good to be true. But anyway,” he consoled himself, “there’s the cops already.” He glanced up at the cameras that peeked from every corner of the café. “Plebs like us can’t go too far off the rails.”
He sat back in his chair. “So we’re whittling it down. ‘Anything’ means, ‘anything legal’.
Then he perked up. “What about travel? She said, ‘The world’s your oyster.’”
“I can travel anyway,” Jack pointed out. And he had indeed just been on a world tour, rushing through seventeen countries, and it was rather a bore, packing and unpacking at each hotel. Even with the servobot to do it, you still had to think of what to get out of the case. And all the sights whizzing by and the tour guide’s endless briefings. He would rather stay at home.
Marvin agreed. “Well, that’s travel off the list. What’s left? Drink? Eat?”
They both involuntarily looked down at their bellies, caught themselves at it, and laughed.
Marvin tried again. “You’re sure you can’t get some edge with chicks out of this?
But Jack had had an idea. “Suppose I just do the same work as before, but the other way round? Just mess things up?”
“What would be the point of that?”
“Well, just to test the limits. See if ‘anything’ means really anything.”
Marvin shook his head. He was still trying to persuade Jack to work out an angle with the chicks when the table invited them to leave. Its sensors had detected a higher-paid group approaching. Jack blinked at the viewer for retinal verification, waved the bill to his account, and then they could go.