The sun was shining bright when Tori woke up the next day. She’d overslept. There were ten messages in her voice mail about three meetings she’d missed this morning and a reminder to be on time for the preliminary hearing this afternoon. Tori ignored all but that last one. There were some things she simply could not skip, no matter what happened in her life.
A lot happened just last night but Liam sleeping over was not one of them. Tori wasn’t that far gone. But she was seeing him again. Soon, she thought.
Ryan appeared in the kitchen just as she was pouring herself a cup of coffee. Odd, she hadn’t called him. “Have you enjoyed your evening?”
Tori’s cheeks flamed as if she’d been caught cheating. “Yes,a ctually.” It was nice to have had company.
“Your guest put in a request for a personal access code. Such requests need the owners approval and security clearance. Shall I issue a code?”
“No!” She had to backtrack in her mind to make sure she understood. “Wait, what?” Liam requested an access code? That basically meant he wanted keys to her house, didn’t it? And he asked Ryan for them? “He asked you for the code?”
“The request was logged in last night. As you requested not to be disturbed, it was not processed until now.” His tone was a little more clipped than usual.
Tori tilted her head a little. He was motionless, looked the same as always, but something about him just said he disapproved. An impossible suspicion surfaced, one she hadn’t considered before – which was blatantly stupid and irresponsible on her part. “Ryan, tell me your system specifications.”
“Hearth Global Virtual Home Assistant is a fully integrated house monitoring system composed of five subsystems controlled by a central unit. ID number 150639-42G, owner Victoria Marlow. Classified Model 6-GX Beta.” He rattled off the specs without pause and although it was still the same voice, it suddenly sounded artificial, as if it was a recording. Funny how she’d never noticed that Ryan didn’t ever sound like that.
“Beta? What does that mean?”
“Per the agreement signed with Hearth Global, 150639-42G was selected for Beta testing additional features currently in various stages of development.”
Tori’s eyes narrowed. “Elucidate.”
Ryan didn’t move but his eyes darted. To her and then back forward like a good little artificial soldier. He didn’t answer.
Tori crossed her arms over her chest. Fine, if he wanted to pretend he didn’t understand, she’d clarify. “Continue.”
“Hearth Global is in the process of developing upgrades for several functions of Model 6-GX.”
Oh, he was so hedging! “Like what?” Tori was a lawyer, and he was going to make her pull teeth?
“Automated processes, scheduling, response time, security, and personalization, on the user end.”
“Adjusting system settings according to user habits and preferences.”
“Energy saving in terms of heating and lighting where it’s needed as opposed to everywhere at once. Syncing irrigation systems to weather station for optimal usage. Updating database of spoken commands for faster, more reliable responses—”
Ryan stopped talking.
“I can change user preferences, is basically what you’re saying. So… if I wanted to host a party tonight, you’d adjust the lighting and heating to accommodate my guests?”
“And… if I started drinking red wine instead of white, you’d change my weekly grocery order list?”
“And if I asked you a random but specific question about your functionality and capabilities not necessarily programmed into your database, you’ll answer.” She deliberately made it a statement.
A longer pause this time. “Cor-rect.”
Tori’s pulse sped up until she felt it throbbing in the sides of her neck. Don’t be rash. Get as much information as you can before you freak out.
“Your holographic user interface is being upgraded to more closely simulate human interaction. While still in the testing stages, certain minor problems may occur but the end result is projected to be a more seamless, natural presence in your home.”
She couldn’t process this right now. “I have to get to work. Do not issue access codes. I’ll be back by six.” No reason to say it, he wasn’t real and wouldn’t give a damn if she decided not to come home for a week. It was just a habit she’d developed and it kicked in whether she wanted it to or not.
Ryan hated this. He’d put his miserable sleepless night to good use and recorded dozens of voice responses to any number of questions. He’d replaced ones that were obsolete and sounded like total crap, and added new ones, including chuckles and laughs, uh-huh and nuh-uhs.
And he should have left it at that. Turned the feature on and let it run. But no. He’d had to personally be the one to tell Victoria that asshole who’d swapped saliva with her had tried to call holo-Ryan and get a security access code. The scary thing was, if it had been the proper holo-Ryan, it would have responded, and it would have granted the request because the system wasn’t voice-specific, only voice activated.
He’d already written up a report about the monumental security risk and submitted it to Celia. Already got a response, too, that all customers were being notified and a voice recognition software upgrade was being pushed to all units. Ryan did not feel even a little bit bad for the three hundred programmers in charge of that one.
A great big fucking hero. Only he didn’t get to gloat, even a little, because Victoria was just short of figuring him out and she would be putting it all together in that clever lawyer head of hers very soon. He thought all the answers he’d given her were believable. They were essentially the truth, minus the small detail about him being the one controlling the holo-Ryan.
He spent the day sweating bullets waiting for Victoria’s inevitable return. She said she’d be back by six. When six fifteen rolled by and she still wasn’t home, Ryan started to get worried. Had she spooked? Had something happened to her? Her car had OnStar, right? It wasn’t linked to the house system but if she’d been in a crash or something, someone would have been notified.
Someone not him.
Like fire ants under his skin was the possibility that she’d gone to the asshole from last night. His gut told him she wouldn’t. She was smart enough to recognize a creeper when he tried to steal keys to her house. But the way she’d looked right before she left? Who the hell knew.
She was back!
Ryan was practically glued to the computer screen, watching her car pull slowly into the driveway. She got out and popped the trunk to take out at least a dozen bags from some fancy dress store he didn’t recognize. Switch to internal cameras as she entered the house, which unlocked for her so she didn’t have to dig for her keys. The door locked when she closed it behind her, a new security measure she noticed when the lock clicked. She looked relieved.
Holo-Ryan didn’t appear and Victoria didn’t call him. Just took her purchases upstairs to her bedroom. A muscle in his jaw twitched when she started undressing. Feeling like a peeping tom, Ryan switched to the kitchen cam to give her some privacy. The audio was still on, though, and he could hear the hiss of fabric and the rustle of shopping bags. He was amazed at his own will power, but this was exactly what made him different from Gordon the perv and Liam the creeper. Ryan knew the boundaries and he was doing everything he could not to cross them.
When she came down to the kitchen, she was humming to herself. She poured herself a tall glass of cold milk, made herself instant mac and cheese, and went to the living room. Turned on the TV and spent the next three hours watching movies.
Once the last one ended, she washed her dishes by hand, dried them until not a speck of water was left, put them carefully away. She wiped down the counter on her way out, and turned off the lights. Back up in her bedroom she opened the window a little, and got in bed. The house went completely dark.
Ryan just stared.
What the hell just happened?
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.