CHAPTER 1: HARSH ASSESSMENTS

1K 45 42
                                                  

Novelty-seeking was supposed to be a trait of above average intellectuals, but Norma Mansfield considered herself an outlier, especially concerning the characteristics of smart people. Every Friday she left work for lunch at the usual hour, took her usual route, and ordered the same toasted vegan Reuben she always got. She preferred to perform this routine alone.

Therefore, at precisely noon by the close of the workweek, she glided out the doors of Chang & Mansfield Lifestyle Tech and took the glass causeway overlooking New Silicon Valley. She made a beeline for one of the shimmering sky cables connecting upper city to ground level.

But, as she donned tinted specs against the dizzying rapid descent, neon words flashed her line of sight: Hey, Big Head. What's the cure for a quarter-life crisis? -- Skylar.

"A dose of reality?" Norma mused aloud. Cable riders gave her a quizzical look. With a smirk, Norma fired off a text to her best friend to join her for lunch. Much as she hated changing plans, Skylar was her exception. The girl needed someone like Norma to keep her in check.

At the surface, the overcrowded city blasted her senses. Engines revved from self-driving cars. People shouted conversations as they brushed past. Shop windows displayed moving promotions, and the pungent aroma of different foods spilled from the eateries lining the street.

Norma loved the controlled chaos. The city operated like a well-programmed machine, and her enhanced brain teased out the patterns that made everything flow. She also saw the problems in the code. It was what gave her an edge as a lifestyle tech engineer.

Problems like global warming. Fortunately, the unbearable outdoor heat triggered her blazer's built-in climate control. A burst of jasmine-scented air whirled around her as she hailed a Lyft—worth the extra carbon tax. It was so hot, a haze rippled above the asphalt.

Within minutes, her automated drone was zipping down the AR-highway. Norma relaxed into synthetic leather seats and gazed at the passing scenery. Influencer-screens on every building displayed the world's most famous. One angry face stood out from the preening self-promoters. When Norma used the AppCenter embedded in her wrist to sync with the stream, a rant against the government granting Enhanced Intels human rights filled her ears, and she quickly disconnected.

Trolls, she thought, shaking her head. Nobody else talked politics anymore. If it couldn't be bought, sold, or traded, it didn't trend. She pushed the uncomfortable bigotry from her mind as the drone landed.

There was Skylar, with her handsome brown face raised to the sky, drawing curious looks along the busy street. A short-sleeved Oxford shirt exposed athletic arms swirling with tattoos, and long multi-colored dreadlocks fell to the center of her back. Norma hid a smile. Her best friend radiated casual assertiveness, but Skylar was the most adorable, flightiest person she had ever met.

Skylar was waiting for her at the doors of a mid-century café. They went in together. Décor from the twenty-fifties gave the place a nostalgic, minimalist feel. Honestly, Norma considered it old-techy and only came out of habit—an ex-boyfriend had introduced her to it years ago—but the quality was consistent.

"So, what's this about a quarter-life crisis?" she asked. She slid into a booth and touched the menu screen to order her vegan Reuben. Meanwhile, Skylar fondled a purple-tipped dreadlock and frowned at the list of options. Norma prompted, "You like the cranberry chicken salad, remember?"

"Don't you ever get a taste for something different?" Skylar picked an entrée at random.

Norma laughed. "You know the answer to that. Now, make it quick. I can't stay past lunch." She tapped her wrist, and a timer popped up in the periphery of her field of vision.

STRATEGIC BEHAVIORWhere stories live. Discover now