For four years Jennifer had been a researcher for the tech/biotech conglomerate BioSol, and today she felt the weight of those years more than ever, as she keyed the final strokes to submit her paper for publication. Her office inappropriately quiet during this occasion, only the muffled sounds of party music and chatter from outside, in the lab. But the prospect of getting word out that she’d finished her work on the WetNet kept her from celebrating with her colleagues, who sounded like they were enjoying Champaign, judging from the loud pop earlier and the laughter that followed.
It’s Done, Jennifer thought to herself, pressing the send button. With the publication of this paper, BioSol will hold the key to the human condition, and Jennifer will have done her part to help forward mankind; at least that’s what she told herself, as there was a knock at the door.
“I’ll be out in a just a minute guys, I really wanna get this done.” Jennifer projected at the closed door.
After a pause there was a reply “Jenn, I’m coming in… With Champaign! Paper be damned!” Sven’s thick Swiss accent was unmistakable. Jennifer rolled her eyes and got up to let him in. “Here you are Jenn! It’s not a synthetic, this was actually manufactured! Timothy went all out tonight!” Sven went on, as the door opened, shoving a flute of Champaign into Jennifer’s hand and lingering closer to Jennifer’s face than she would have liked for a few seconds.
“Thanks Sven, I’m about done in here anyways. What’s up?” Replied Jennifer, taking a sip of the bubbling drink, cringing at the thought of the effect the ethanol would have on her neurons later.
“Chen has brought her brother’s Beat Bot, and we’re going to do karaoke, would you like to join?” Sven asked hesitantly, half looking at Jennifer and half looking at her shoes. White sneakers.
“I don’t really think I have the energy for that, after the push we’ve been through the last few weeks. And besides, the Execs want me in tomorrow morning to discuss the project’s details, now that its finished, and I tho–“
“Jenn, be careful around those guys. I can’t explain why, but I have a feeling that something sinister is happening within the board rooms of BioSol. And—I just care… I care about this project, and about our team, you know?” Sven’s brow was clearly perspiring under his golden bangs, which curved down the sides of his head, stopping just short of his shoulders.
Jennifer had known Sven had liked her for some time now. Known it was him putting a single rose at her workstation once a month for three months. She just didn’t know how to handle the situation. Learning to interact with a person’s brain isn’t the same as interacting with them. And besides, Jennifer wasn’t even sure if she liked Sven. She hadn’t even had a boyfriend in almost five years. That part of her life was over, wasn’t it? Sven was staring now. “That’s sweet Sven, but they’re only metaphorical sharks, not real ones! And besides, we’ve finished what we promised for them. They have no reason to be unhappy with us at all!”
Sven shrugged dismissively, “Alright I got it. I’m going to go sing with Chen and the lab assistants, the new girl has flare for the classics and has promised to sing us some Rihanna. She’s quite good Jenn. I—we would love you to join us.” Sven mumbled, shuffling out the door, making brief eye contact with Jennifer before turning to leave.
“I’ll let you know if I change my mind, thanks Sven!” Jennifer was noticeably flustered, her palms starting to sweat and her pulse quickening, feelings coming loose. I’ve got to get out of here. I need sleep. She thought to herself, gathering her things and dialing up her glasses to GPS mode. No reason she couldn’t get a little exercise on the way home.
After slogging through the goodbying and congratulations form the other lab workers, she was finally able to get out of the lab and out of the building. No sign of Sven though. I guess he’s more upset that I turned him down again than I thought he’d be. Jennifer mused, as the street around her started dancing with geo-data over her eyes, outlining various attractions and giving the world a certain neon hue that you can’t see without a good pair of smart lens. Jennifer checked her crime report social network and there were two assaults and a possible mugging on the route through San Francisco her GPS had originally outline for her. “That won’t do” She said to herself, subvocalizing a different route to her personal network, the HUD shifting to meet her demands.
Two hours later she was home and lying on her couch relaxing. Perusing her inboxes. Then suddenly she shot up in her seat. There was a message from Sven. And it was short. No video, no audio, just a few hundred bytes of text: WE NEED TO MEET. RESEARCH BLOCK IN TWENTY MINUTES. Research block? The crummy bar/café that the lab crew liked to go to to unwind when they were getting research blocks (like writers blocks but way worse, because research actually matters). Why would Sven want to meet there in the middle of the night? The Message was stamped an hour after she’d left work. Why hadn’t she seen it until now? It was signed from Sven, but it didn’t come through his ID. That’s weird. People don’t usually use anonymous texting much these days. What’s there to hide?
Looking at the time, Jennifer realized that even if she left now it would take her at least 20 minutes by taxi to get to the bar, and she’s already late. His Loss. If Sven wanted to play some kind of weird love game to get her attention, he could play it by himself. She was tired and more than a little irritated now. Shaking her head she switched her personal network to off, toggled an alarm for 7am and went for a shower and sleep.
The next morning her meeting with BioSol went as she expected, corporate morons asking silly questions about viability and copycats being able to get around the patents they were applying for that day. Jennifer patiently sat through it all, distracted by the feeling that she’d forgotten something.
It wasn’t until she was leaving the board room for lunch that she remembered Sven’s message, and her blood boiled. I am going to have to have a serious chat with that man. She thought to herself, gesturing into the air to pull up his contact info and phone him, the old fashioned way. Let’s see what he has to say about this.
Jennifer’s knees almost gave out as the line stopped ringing and was answered by a husky voice: “San Francisco Police. Homicide Division. The person you are trying to contact is deceased. Your IP address and identity have been documented for questioning. Please await contact from a San Francisco Officer and do not attempt to leave the city. Doing so will result in a warrant for your arrest being issued. Thank you for your cooperation.” Dead!? This was some kind of mistake! Jennifer hadn’t even realized she was running until she had passed all the sauntering execs making their way to the elevator, jumped inside it and mashed the close door button. The tears came as the door swung shut, to the dismay of the BioSol elite approaching the elevator. Sven was gone. There had to be a mistake.
While waiting for the elevator to reach ground floor, Jennifer pinged Sven’s social networks, no new posts since two am last night. Just pics and vids of the party. Nothing to explain why he might be—Dead. Clearing the elevator Jennifer was on autopilot as she shuffled through security, back into the roaring city, fully alive now at 11am. Where do I go now? She thought to herself, entering the taxi she had called for while exiting security. Maybe this is a joke, some sick joke, Sven’s sick joke. He wants me to be worried, realize I cared for him all along and win me over. “Disgusting” Jennifer said into the air in front of her as the empty car she sat in awaited a destination. If this is a game, then I’ll play for now. I’ll go straight to his house and confront him! “The Neo-Poli apartment center” She muttered to the car’s AI. Drifting into her head, thinking of what she’d say to Sven, and relieved it was just a poor attempt to get her attention.
Pulling up to the apartment complex, Jennifer felt considerably calmer. A few people from the lab had tried to call her, asking about the meeting no doubt, but she hadn’t answered. Her head focused on what she would say when she confronted Sven and put an end to his passes on her. The Neo-Poli center was a mega structure, designed to be a city within a city, and Jennifer had to crane her head up to see the top, two kilometers up. It took her another ten minutes to get to Sven’s level, about half a kilometer up, having to switch elevators in the vast lobbies three times, all complete with outdoor parks and walk around malls. A city within a city. And designed for the vast majority of citizens who couldn’t afford to live anywhere else in the city. Land had gotten expensive in San Fran, so the government built up, rather than out, and subsidized most of the mega structure’s apartments, which were now slums. Jennifer clutched her bag closer as she exited onto Sven’s floor, she’d been here once before, when he needed help moving, but she hadn’t realized how much this floor had gone down in years since. The outdoor park looked mostly brown and there were a number of homeless people leaned up against the artificial redwood trees containing the support pillars for the floors above. It felt dangerous.
Jennifer briskly passed through the park to the row of doors that lined the perimeter of the open space. She paused at the edge of the park, seeing the police tape across the open door to Sven’s apartment, with several officers standing outside, and several more pacing about inside. Jennifer had to force herself to march up to the blockade of officers. Peering past the shoulder of one of them, who appeared to be talking to her apparently, she could see the silhouette of Sven’s body, lying face down in the living room. His blond hair matted red in spots, and the ground around him looked almost black. She was on the ground heaving before any of the officers could catch her.