This week’s prompt is “truth.”
Part I is here.
Then Sam was twenty-four. He had an MBA and a spot high up in the city towers. He had Jessica. This morning she was in the kitchen pouring Sam orange juice. Wearing nothing but boyshorts.
And he still had Jack, even though keeping an old model like Jack around was like still having a rotary phone on the wall.
Sam was in the bedroom pulling a shirt off a hanger. Jack came in with the juice.
“I got a weird reading on Jessica this morning,” he told Sam, I think she’s pregn—”
Sam dropped the shirt. “Fuck you.”
“You pulse just hit two hundred.”
“You’re a piece of shit, Jack. I’m going to kick you over the rail.”
Don’t wear an undershirt,” Jack said. His voice had been re-programmed. More chill now. Like he surfed all day and slept in a Eurovan. “It’s too humid.”
Jack had a shallow dent in his side from the time a drunk Sam had slammed a door on him. And his buffed silver paintjob was flecked with some of Jessica’s nail polish.
“Call in a bomb threat to the building,” Sam said. “So I don’t have to go today.”
Jack padded into the closet and pulled down a checked tie. “You sure you want me to do that? I can give you some prison rape statistics to change your mind.”
Sam sat on the bed. “Give me the knot that that lawyer on that show has.”
“Double Windsor,” said Jack. He stretched up on his toes to tuck the tie under Sam’s collar. “Or how about a noose instead?”
Sam’s place had a terrace. You could walk outside and stand inside a cloud. The world was all blue and chrome when you got this high up. Sam’s family had a yacht in the Mediterranean that he used for parties. Sam had everything in the world except a job. Today that was going to change.
“I’ll call the driver. You should leave in five minutes,” Jack said. “There’s protesters on the route.”
“There always are.”
“Today there’s more.”
A girl in a skirt showed Sam into a conference room in his father’s building. She giggled a lot because Sam was who he was. The prince.
The conference room was one of unnecessary dimensions. It was the size of a soccer field. Three of the walls were glass with graphics flowing across them. Two guys were at the table. Which was also glass. Just a big flat touchscreen.
The first guy was well-scrubbed and looked like a youth pastor. Maybe he was. The other one had bugged-out eyes and a voice so deep Sam thought he was joking. They said their names. He didn’t remember them.
There was an office in this building, twenty floors up, and it was going to be Sam’s. The office had a desk in it that he’d been bred to sit behind. His birthright. Sam had money. Which made him one of about thirty people on the planet who did. But the money was conditional. It would evaporate unless he came here every day and sat behind that one desk in that one room. Upheld a legacy or some shit like that.
It wasn’t fair. Everyone else had to spend all their money to lose it. All Sam had to do was piss off his dad. He was going to be six years old forever.
He had to interview before he went upstairs. A formality. So the board members could approve the hire. He didn’t even remember what the job title was. That was for Jack to remember. That’s why Sam had an earbud and a contact lens in. So Jack could tell him these things from his perch on the couch back home. That’s how Sam got through things. That’s how everyone in city towers got through things.
Sam’s interviewers each had a glitz of digital blue in their eyes and they touched their earbuds every minute or so. They both had a Jack in their heads too. A familiar game. When all parties in the conversation knew everything about all the others. And when whatever they didn’t know could be divined from body language or facial tics.
Truth could be mainlined. Which is hard to handle. So what happened was everyone still kept up the bullshit charade. Social performance art.
Sam sat. Right now they were laughing about football. Their contacts told them when a laugh was fake. When a vocal stress indicated the speaker was lying. Which, Sam had been horrified to find out, was almost all the time. No matter who you talked to. It’s why Jessica was always throwing wine glasses at him.
The youth pastor slid into a question about the company’s share price. Sam opened his mouth and said something. He had no idea what. Jack was feeding words into his contact.
“…since third quarter of last year…”
And then he was answering a question about task management.
“…to ensure my personal objectives are in synergy with the…”
Sam was glad he wasn’t really listening to himself. Sounding exactly like the asshole he was about to become.
Then about thirty minutes later things took a left turn.
“Sam, I want to try something before we finish up,” said the bug-eyed one. “Go ahead take your contact out for the rest of the interview.”
Not a request. Even Jack stalled at this one. Sam gave a tight smile.
“Well, you two both have them. Are we all going to take them out?” he asked. He blunted this objection with a fake chuckle.
“You’re incredibly capable, Sam—that fact’s not in doubt. I think you’re someone who will excel in this position. I just want a more complete view of you since we’ll be working closely together. I want to see how you are when you’re not ‘jacked in.’”
Sam wondered if that was intentional. Then the guy gave a shadow of a grin and Sam knew it was. Just the suggestion of a grin. But still the smuggest thing Sam had ever seen. What a fucker.
They were putting him on the backfoot. This was the real interview.
He pulled out the lens.
“And the earbud,” said Bug Eyes.
Sam took that out, too.
“Thanks, Sam. Great. Now tell me, where do you project we’ll be standing within the industry ten years from now?”
Sam swallowed. And moved his head from side to side. Like he was knocking a few thoughts into place.
“Short version,” he said, “is that our friendly competitors over at ArcRidge are going to cool off fast. That renewables acquisition their last CEO approved is an anchor. That’s why we dodged it. I think their growth will slow by 3% annually. And the Journal thinks it’ll be even worse than that. Meanwhile we’ve got a DOD solar contract coming through and that’ll net us thirty-five billion annually for the next decade. Last time I checked that’s ten years. So in ten years we won’t be standing anywhere. We’ll be running. And we’ll be running at the head of the pack.”
The youth pastor and Bug Eyes said nothing. They were fact-checking what Sam had said. Then they both nodded at the same time. Sam didn’t have to put his contact back in to see that Bug Eyes was steamed. Maybe his eyes would pop out onto the table.
“Thanks for talking to us, Sam,” said the youth pastor. “We’ll be in touch tonight.”
Jack was watching a cop show on the wallscreen when Sam got home. The detectives were regular folk. Trying to solve a murder and having a bitch of a time doing it without voices in their heads. To Sam they seemed primitive.
“That was clutch, little man,” he said. “You’re a genius.”
Sam had put his earbud on the conference room table. But it was still on. Recording and transmitting back to Jack. Who had acted fast. He’d gotten into the corporate network and put words for Sam to say on the glass wall behind the interviewer’s heads. Then he’d listened for the rustle of fabric that would indicate they were turning to look behind them. If he heard anything, he’d hide the words.
“Almost didn’t get to upload anything in time,” Jack said. “If I had an asshole it would still be clenched.”
Sam drew a Sam Adams from the fridge and tossed the bottle to Jack. Jack caught it and karate chopped the cap off. It sailed into the trash can.
“I wish I could drink,” Jack said.
Sam put his jacket down and slid a little black zippered pouch out of the cabinet. He took out a brush and a cloth and laid them next to each other on the coffee table. While he drank he scrubbed the tiny traces of grease and rust off of Jack’s knee joints. He saw the spots of Jessica’s nail polish and cleaned them off, too.
“Couldn’t have done it without you,” Sam said.
“Of course not. Did you get it?”
Sam nodded. “Haven’t gotten the official call. But my dad already messaged me. I’m in.”
“Good man. You and Jessica go to work and I’ll sit here and watch my shows and listen to jazz.”
“I’m actually looking forward to it,” Sam said. “Because there’s something I want to do while I’m there. Something kind of big.”
To Be Continued