Glass Ceiling, Pt. 6 (Chapter 2d)

He worked in finance, which Jasmine knew from his profile, but she didn’t expect him to be so… so… finance-y. He prattled on about his job, about the money he made, about the vacations he could afford but didn’t take (“Yeah, I could go to the Meadows every weekend. And I don’t mean, go and slum it. I mean, go and fucking live it up, you know? Fucking crush it,”) about all the expensive tech he’d had installed in his skull. And then he looked her in the eyes (well, one eye, anyway. He always kept one of the smart lenses on, a steady stream of God knows what being beamed directly into his brain) and he asked her, “So, what do you do?”

She jumped in her seat, surprised and a tiny bit grateful for the opportunity to talk about herself. She sat up straight, cleared her throat, folded her hands neatly in front of her on the table. “Well, I work for the Office. I–”

He sat up straight in his seat, his expression suddenly alive and excited. “Oh, you’re a Solver?”

She winced. Only for a moment, but it was there, her body recoiling like she’d been slapped. “No. A Fixer.”

He said nothing.

“A Level 2, though. And I’m next in line for promotion to Level 3.” That wasn’t true, of course (there was no line, anyway,) but he didn’t need to know that. “And after Level 3 and Level 4, the next step is becoming a–”

“I know how it works, thanks. I’m not an idiot.”

Jasmine blinked. The words were so much harsher this time, but they stung less. Fine. Let him be in a bad mood. She could deal with bad moods. She had to deal with Patrick every damn day she went into the Office; this asshole she’d only have to interact with for another thirty minutes, an hour tops, and then never again. Oh, I’m never going out with you again. Going to order up an expensive dinner, a couple drinks, and then stick you with the bill. Don’t worry, you can afford it. You work in finance.

They sat for a couple of seconds in silence. It might have been an eternity, but Jasmine held his gaze, her own face an emotionless mask. Come on. Blink. You’re going to blink first. You’re not going to beat me. You’re not better than me.

I’ve got this.

Finally, he did blink. He rolled his eyes up to the ceiling, exhaled, looked down at the table, the menus untouched, and finally looked back into her eyes. “Look. I’ve got some transactions I need to oversee real fast. Business stuff, you know? Real important. You understand, right?”

Jasmine smiled, nodded, grinned her biggest fakest grin. “Oh, yeah. Totally. Business stuff. Real important.”

He smiled back, his eyes humorless, his smile mechanical, plastic, like a cheap synth with latex skin and articulated lips. Not even a real person. She could have gone on a date with PAT and it would have been more stimulating than this. Hell, forget the date. She could have just sat at home and watched some vids on the opLED while PAT provided color commentary and it would have been a better option.

A waiter came around after a few minutes. That was how you knew ‘scent’ was the real deal. It still had human wait staff. “What can I get you tonight, miss?”

“Steak. Real steak. Rib eye. And whatever your finest red wine is, please.”

“And for you, sir?”

He didn’t respond. He just stared off into space, his smart lenses glowing blue, his robotic earpiece feeding him audio, his throat rising and falling ever so slightly with his sub-vocalizations. “Sir?”

“Oh, it’s okay. He does this sometimes. He’s in finance. He’ll have a salad.”

“Very good.”

The waiter disappeared. Jasmine stared at her “date.” He wasn’t looking at her. He wasn’t listening to her. And in the dim lighting of the restaurant, the blue glow of his smart lenses cast a strange pallor down onto his cheeks and all around his eyes.

He kind of looks like a corpse.

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