Chapter One

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I am in the middle of solving homelessness when my boss raps his knuckles on my cubicle. I know it's Paul—my eyes stay on the computer monitor, what with an intractable social ill hanging in the balance—by the timid tap...tap-tap pattern. Also the smell. Paul eats McDonald's every morning for breakfast, Sausage McGriddle man.

"Deb, we're heading up to the meeting—"

"Busy." I squint around the San Francisco street map on-screen, mousing over a blinking dot labeled Wanda. She isn't moving. None of them are moving.

Paul sighs. "We're all busy. But it's a Company-All, so if you—"

"Is it a Susan meeting?"

"No. It's the kickoff for Blackquest 40."

"Means nothing to me." I click Wanda. Why aren't they moving? Database problem?

Paul says the meeting invite should have explained everything. Blackquest 40 is a training exercise, mandatory for every employee in the company.

I look up and see that, indeed, he has the whole team in tow. Jared in his My Code Can't Fix Your Stupid trucker hat. Minosh fingering his spiral-bound notebook, peeking at a clock. They are watching me—all 5'2" if you count the platinum spikes, and a decade younger than most of them—like zoo visitors wondering if the glass is thick enough around this freak-colored poison frog.

"Susan hired me," I say, invoking our rockstar CEO again. "Susan said I don't have to participate in anything I don't believe in."

"Look, this project—"

"Is corporate training. High on my list of things to not believe in."

With that, I pop over to the log file, which confirms my worst fear: the carebnb database isn't refreshing. The last pings happened eight minutes ago, meaning Wanda and every other unhoused person on that map is misplaced.

Ugh.

The timing is brutal. Today is my launch, the day I am supposed to start demonstrating to all the venture capitalists not funding my side-project that a little technology plus basic human decency can equal disruptive positive change. Across the city, 137 unhoused San Franciscans are wearing 137 smart wristbands, produced at great expense by a micro-manufacture co-op, in the hopes of connecting with a beta host.

I signed up 344 hosts, but that number is dicey because many I bullied into joining. Some will have uninstalled the carebnb app, not anticipating the day (tomorrow?) I comb my list for chicken-outs and visit their apartments and measure, then post on social media, just how many square feet of covered living space they waste nightly.

My brain races for solutions, but Paul's voice and eau de McGriddle essence distract. He is explaining that Susan—our fearless leader and the sole reason I'm here—is out of pocket, tying up loose ends in Davos, that Carter Kotanchek has the ball until—

"Okay Paul, honestly?" I click over to the /t server, the probable source of my issue. "There is no combination of words or faux-words you can say that will get me off this workstation."

"You're the principal software architect, Deb. We need you. I'm still in the dark myself, but I'm hearing Blackquest 40 is enormous."

My mouth twists. "Getting colder."

Paul hates managing me. I'm sure he goes home every night to Li Wei, his former-secretary-now-wife, and curses Susan for ever poaching me away from Google. Now, as his eyes roam my workspace—the bin of droid-Hot Wheels, Polarity of the Universe toggle currently set to Amoral, my toes in their sandals (he has a thing for my feet)—his face drops another shade closer to dough.

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