7. Compatibility

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Lily Duchamp was awake now—truly awake to the pitiful reality of her situation—but she had no idea what to do about it. It felt as if the world had suddenly revealed itself to be a dream. She knew that she was free to do whatever she wanted, but she was afraid. Real or not, she had to go on living in this dream world day after day.

Nigel Connor turned his chair toward Lily and asked, "You going to the happy outing tonight?" His tone was casual, but Second Sight's thermal view made his nervous energy painfully obvious. Ever since Lily had stopped wearing her engagement ring—as if she'd had some choice in the matter—Nigel had begun treating her differently. It felt like he was gearing up to ask her out, but this was the closest he'd come.

"Sure, I'll make an appearance." Of course she was going. When Triclave brass flew in from Fremont for their quarterly schmooze-fest, you had to play along. Besides, it was free booze.

This particular "happy outing" got started around three in the afternoon. The original design of this "team-building event," as it was called, had taken advantage of happy hour discounts at the local bars. But over the years, it had grown beyond such insipid budgetary concerns. Each outing seemed to start a little earlier and end a little later than its predecessors. Once the revelry began to die down at the first location, the larger group typically fractured into a handful of smaller cliques, each headed by a manager or team lead with a corporate expense account.

As Lily saw it, there were a few separate forces driving these events. On the most obvious surface level, everyone enjoyed the free food and drinks. More than that though, they enjoyed making Triclave pay for it. No one likes putting a credit value on their own freedom, selling their soul two weeks at a time. But every one of them had done just that, and they resented the company for it. So why was upper management okay with all of this? When people drank, they talked. True feelings came out, secret relationships, hidden plans... useful things to know when it came time for restructuring and right-sizing—that is to say, firing.

Contemplating the inner workings of Triclave International with no small amount of bitterness and self-loathing, Lily drained her glass of Armagnac and quickly ordered a Don Julio take its place. "Actually, could you put a couple of cherries in that? And a little slice of orange? Thanks."

It was eight fifteen, and the sun had finally gone down. The outdoor seating at Arcadia Bar and Grille was made for nights like this. Cool and breezy. Nice view of the waterway. Lily wondered what it would be like to actually choose Arcadia on her own dime—just a swanky place to sit and while away a Friday evening. I'd probably need to gather up a few friends or the drinking would get lonely fast. In any case, the obscene prices would almost certainly diminish her enjoyment. No, this place was for happy outings only.

A few of the less committed Second Sight employees had already excused themselves and headed home for the night. The remainder of the group was quietly preparing itself for fragmentation.

"So... where are we headed for round two?" Lily asked no one in particular.

Nigel seized on this as if she'd been addressing him directly. "You want to head someplace quieter?" he asked.

"Quieter, louder... Anyplace is good as long as I don't get stuck with the bill."

"You drive a hard bargain, Lil," said Nigel with a smirk. "Come on. I know a place."

At this point, Lily's head was swimming from hours of free drinks. She got up and stumbled through the patio gate without ever realizing that nobody else had risen to join them—no manager with a company card, only her and Nigel. He gripped her arm proprietarily as they climbed into an autocab, and before Lily could even think to ask where they were going, they'd arrived at their destination.

The place was called Jacob's Inferno, and it was in no way quieter than Arcadia. Nigel had apparently taken her at her word that she didn't care. Besides the bass-heavy music, the first thing that struck Lily about this establishment was its apparent lack of any sort of dress code. Although, she thought, it hardly matters these days. Most of these people are probably using unauth bodyscan filters anyway. This was definitely more of a dance club than a restaurant or bar, an odd choice for a company outing even if it was round two.

"Hey, I didn't see..." Lily shouted over the music. "Who else is coming?"

"Here?" Nigel looked around sheepishly. "It's just us tonight."

"Oh no," Lily said, the realization finally dawning on her. "You're trying to take me out, aren't you? Like this is some kind of a date."

Nigel's face fell, and then his expression hardened into something hateful. "Why'd you get in the cab with me if you're just gonna— Never mind; forget it. Just find your own way home."

Lily was in no mood to be dismissed like that. Not tonight. "Listen, you— you absolute waste of a human life. You may walk and talk and breathe like I do... you eat and sleep and do all the other things... but we are not the same."

"Wow, you are really drunk. Maybe you should just—"

"Where do you go at night, huh? When you sleep? Do you even exist? Or is this all there is for you?" She waved a hand around to indicate the club, its patrons, and the rest of the waking world.

Nigel had no answer. He just stood there looking puzzled.

"If you think this is life," Lily continued, "if you expect all this to add up to something... then I don't— I don't even know what to tell you."

Now Nigel's smug self-assurance returned in force. "You're obviously drunk. But you are not my problem. Sleep it off. I'll see you Monday."

On impulse, Lily pulled out both of her Second Sight lenses and tossed them down at their feet. "No... No, you won't see me Monday. I'm done with this. Tell Zahra I quit. Or actually... She'll see this, right?" She stepped closer to Nigel, put her hands on his shoulders, and looked right into his eyes. "I quit, Zahra! I'm done."

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