I know, I know, it’s been forever since I posted a chapter. But here it is, finally. And things are about to get… interesting.
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By day three, Ryan was ready to kill the bitch.
By the end of day five, he’d made it through a weekend in the office, hadn’t shaved in so long he looked like a yeti, and the house he was in charge of was almost ready to be set loose. And kill the bitch.
Well, not really. In the end, rigging the oven to leak gas and the burner to spark after a sufficient amount of time had gone by might have been fun, but it would have ruined everything this company had worked for. There were thousands of employees all over the world and one woman’s moody ass was not going to put them out of work.
Security and environmentals were done up to 100%. More even, since he’d come up with a trick or two that were going to be pushed to all other systems in tomorrow’s scheduled update. The timers and memory functions, which made making automated schedules possible, were finished as if they’d never been messed up to begin with.
Essentially, the house worked.
Except for one little, minor glitch. Ryan couldn’t get the holograph to respond the way he did. While he was at the controls, it moved the way it was supposed to, mimicking human gestures and expressions. Because he controlled it with a joystick like he was playing a video game. It talked the way he wanted it to because he was the one responding to Victoria’s questions and commands.
But as soon as he relinquished control, the holograph turned into a statue and talked like a robot. A female robot, for some reason. It didn’t move a muscle, never showed up facing the speaker as it should, and only spoke when addressed directly by name. He’d been testing and tweaking it in a virtual environment for three days now and made zero point no progress.
Ryan had done his job too well. Had gone above and beyond the capabilities of the system in the way he interacted with Victoria. She spoke to him now as a person, made conversation and expected him to answer, even though she still sometimes caught herself and shook her head at the strangeness of it.
And he, idiot that he was, answered every time. No matter how robotic he made his voice, just the fact that the holograph seemed to hear and understand her made Victoria more comfortable with him. Which was good. Except it wasn’t. Because Ryan could spend the next fifteen years of his life coding the holograph feature, altering the responses and expanding the memory database of previous exchanges, and the thing still would not act human. Because it wasn’t – and wasn’t meant to be.
The moment he got the thing up to standards and let it run on its own, Victoria would notice something was wrong, and she would complain, and she’d be told that what she was asking for wasn’t one of the system’s capabilities. The clever girl would put two and two together, figure out that she’d been watched 24-7 all this time, and go nuts.
She was a high ranking member of a world renowned law firm. The company wouldn’t stand a chance in court.
Ryan got up to stretch. He no longer had to stay here all the time. Victoria’s schedule was pretty set, so he knew exactly when he had to be available to play a robot and he’d rigged his iPhone to alert him if something came up and he wasn’t at the helm. Celia had even allowed him to hook his home computer up to Central. He couldn’t do everything from there, but he could do enough that being here wasn’t necessary.
He was going home.
The computer beeped as he got to the door. Through the speakers, Victoria’s front door closed with a soft click. “Honey, I’m home,” she said to herself.
Ryan dragged his feet back to his seat and maximized the video screen.
Victoria was leaning against the closed door, head tilted back, eyes closed. She looked exhausted. Shoes dangling from their straps in her hand, hair mussed, circles under her eyes. But she was home early.
Ryan checked the logs. Shit. No, she wasn’t. She hadn’t even come home last night. He’d been so damn busy with the holograph he hadn’t even noticed.
Victoria opened her eyes and frowned. “Ryan?”
Another thing the holograph shouldn’t have done, but had anyway – appear to greet her when she came home, called by name or not. But now he’d been summoned. Ryan switched on the holograph and took up the joystick. “Welcome home, Victoria,” he said.
Victoria smiled as if she was glad to see him. “There you are.” She peeled herself away from the door and made her way toward the kitchen. “You wouldn’t believe the day I’ve had.” She stopped next to the holograph and Ryan turned it to face her. The way she was looking at him made Ryan uneasy. He felt her gaze as if it was really him standing there.
He switched cameras to see her face. Her eyes were soft, so different from the first time he’d seen her. She looked like a woman who needed to be swept up in a giant bear hug by someone who cared. Someone obviously not him.
“You know, I… I actually missed you,” she said with a chuckle. “Weird.”
What the hell was he supposed to say to that? The original system would not respond. He couldn’t not. “Shall I order your favorite?” A legitimate question. The system would log her preferences and would know what her favorite take out food was.
Victoria groaned. “Not today.” She pulled a bottle from the wine rack and struggled with the cork for a moment. If he’d been there, he would have opened it for her. Already knowing where she would head, Ryan started the library fireplace and raised the temperature there a few degrees. Yet another thing the system should not know to do.
She drank a glass and poured herself another, taking the bottle with her. Set both down and went to change out of her skirt suit. Her back was to the current camera and even though he should have, Ryan didn’t switch away.
Victoria stepped out of her skirt, rolled her thigh highs down her legs, pulled her top off over her head. For the forty seconds it took her to get her sweat pants and flannel shirt, she was naked except for her baby blue panties and matching bra. Ryan couldn’t look away. He’d seen her like this before, but this was the first time he actually saw her.
Without conscious thought, his hand reached out to touch the screen.
* * *
What was wrong with people today? Twenty seven hours of research and running down every possible lead to defend someone who was probably guilty anyway, and refused to give them the information they needed to do their job right. The guy would go to jail because he was too paranoid to trust his defense council.
She hated these cases. Absolutely despised having to stand in front of a judge and jury, and twist someone’s words to fit her own agenda, just so some scumbag could toss money at her and go home to do the same crime all over again to someone else.
Victoria was one hell of a prosecutor. Which was why they occasionally called her in to defend. She knew all the twists and turns, all the tricks in the book, and how to get around them. She was the ace up their sleeve and was smart enough to know that if she made partner, she’d take over that firm in five years.
Which was why she would never be making partner.
God, she hated being used like this. The moment she had enough pull on her own, Victoria was out of there and starting her own firm. All she needed was to solidify her reputation.
Her feet were killing her. It took longer to get down to the library and her wine than it had taken to come up here. Now that her power suit was off, it was like her body just drained. Victoria collapsed onto the settee with a sigh worthy of a seventy nine year old arthritic.
“Seven billion people on earth and I’m here by myself.” By choice. People were scum and she’d known it for a long time. And the rare ones who actually had good, strong hearts beating in their chests weren’t the kind to talk to her. She was the bad guy. The unapproachable. If a woman engaged her in conversation, it was because she needed something. If a man did, it was because he wanted a trophy.
“Ryan, is it bad to be sick of humanity?”
The holograph was nothing more than a machine, and yet it was more human and caring than most people she met on a daily basis. He anticipated her needs, knew when to make himself scarce, knew her likes and dislikes. It was like being in a relationship, except she got taken care of without needing to take care of him in return. First time in her life that happened. It was nice.
“No,” he replied simply, appearing in the room.
Victoria took up her glass and toasted him. It was a good year. Warmed her right up until her cheeks heated and her eyelids felt heavy. How much had she drunk already? Two glasses? Half a bottle?
Meh. Tomorrow was her day off, anyway. She could afford to get a little drunk. Already she was tipsy enough to think nothing of talking to a machine as if he was real. Looked real enough. Victoria frowned. “It’s just… people suck. I mean, they really, really suck. It’s all lies and scams to get what they want.” She gestured with her glass and nearly spilled her wine. “Money, sex… well, mostly just those two.” She smiled bitterly. “It’s the loneliest thing in the world, to be surrounded by people who smile at you, compliment you, bring you coffee… and to know it’s all a lie and the minute you turn your back they’ll stick a knife in it.”
Ryan said nothing and suddenly she felt exposed, and more than a little foolish. Victoria drew her knees up, set the empty glass on the floor. “It’s pretty pathetic, really. All this money and success, and the only person I can actually talk to isn’t even really … real.”
Ryan flickered and disappeared. Her heart leapt up into her throat. “Ryan?”
He reappeared different and to her alcohol-hazed mind, he looked so real it hurt. Sitting in the armchair, knees splayed and elbows braced on them, leaning forward like he was really listening to her. His eyes were looking at her and even though she could see through him to the fire behind the holographic projection, she still felt choked up the slightest bit.
She blew out a tense breath, a little embarrassed. Not that he would care. “You know, my last boyfriend was a lawyer,” she heard herself say. Where the hell it came from, she had no idea, but now that she’d said it, the words just kept on coming. “He took me out to dinner every night, called me at least twice a day. So considerate. So what if all we ever talked about was work? Didn’t think anything of it. He had this huge case he was working on. He told me all about it, even asked my opinion sometimes. I was actually flattered.”
Victoria scoffed. She’d been such an idiot. “Turns out he was just using me to win his case. And once he did, he suddenly became too busy to call anymore. We had two more dates, which he showed up to an hour late, and rushed through so he could kiss me good night and disappear.” She leaned forward, nearly falling off the settee. “If you learn nothing else from me, just remember this one thing. Never date a lawyer.”
“Input saved to memory,” Ryan said and for some reason, she found it hysterical. She laughed until her eyes teared up – and when was the last time she’d done that?
It wouldn’t be until the next morning, when she woke up still curled up on the settee, her mouth dry as the wine bottle next to her that she would note the dry humor in his tone and wonder if she’d been drunk enough to have imagined it.
Virtual Copyright 2011 Alianne Donnelly, all rights reserved, may not be reprinted or reproduced in any manner, written, electronic, or otherwise without express permission from Alianne Donnelly.