The street teemed. Shit, thought Billy. You have to suck in your gut to turn around. He had a job interview at 2:30, six blocks from here. Billy blinked twice and accessed the ticker running across the top of his NonUV. An ad for Negrad suncreens played across the ticker, and he blinked in annoyance. Do they really think I'm interested in Negrads?, he wondered. That's like seeing an ad for Pepsi on a Coke can.
1:52. No, 1:53. No way in hell would he make it, not through this crowd. They actually seemed to be pressing him back a step for every two steps he took.
A little frantic, Billy looked left, then right. No chink in the wall of humanity surrounding him. Damn it all, he thought. I should have done this over the Net, like everyone else. Still could, I suppose...there's an alcove over there that might serve. But if I teleview, I probably won't get the job.
Billy Madison was one of those rare curmudgeonly types who still believed in face-to-face contact...especially with people who had the power to jump his remuneration rating up seven or eight levels overnight. He had an old-time thing people once called "charisma", but it only worked in Slo. His many online avatars said all the right things, but they lacked a certain...persuasiveness. So he'd taken an envirocab down to the Nexus, the closest term to the Mercanix building, figuring he'd walk the rest of the way. He could use the exercise.
I could use a little more time, he thought.
He blinked twice. 1:59.
"NEED MORE TIME?" came a voice in his right ear. It was accompanied by the image of clock hands whirring around and around. They morphed into a pill, and the word PEECE appeared above it. "TRY A LITTLE PEECE. CALM THOSE THOUGHTS! MELLOW OUT!"
Billy rubbed his eyes. Damned if he'd ever get used to this neuromarketing.
There was one thing guaranteed to chill him out, and it wasn't a pot pill. He touched his left ear and imagined the lake where his grandpa's place used to be. A bell chimed softly and his Mercanix MusicMuse activated. Secret Garden, he thought.
A song called Serenade To Spring began, and Billy felt better almost instantly. So it was--he blinked twice--2:07. So what? Three blocks to go. He'd make it.
It was a great idea to get this MusicMuse, he thought. The scanner would check out his wares and note a Mercanix product. Prudent. You couldn't expect to be hired to market Mercanix ware if you were adorned with General Systems ware yourself. Of course, he thought, G.S. was functionally superior, but all the same--
A bolt of pain shot through his head. It felt for all the world like he'd been clubbed. He staggered and put a hand to the back of his neck.
Sorry, he thought. Rogue neuron firing there...what was I thinking? Only Mercanix made you feel whole. That was the slogan, after all. Mercanix: Feel Whole.
The pain abated.
Billy had forgotten about the propshere, which went live three weeks ago. Within five square blocks of Mercanix, neuroreceivers analyzed incredibly subtle fluctuations in the energy matrix, in effect reading the mind of every passerby. Negative thoughts activated a neurotransmitter that in turn activated pain receptors deep in your brain. If you imagined something like bombing the Mercanix building, the news said, you'd feel as if you were being ripped apart. Imagining Mercanix products, how useful they were and how they made you "Feel Whole", would generate a sense of well-being that would wash over you like a tide. They had set the positive reinforcement too high on their first trial and the president of Mercanix, J. Paul Gatlin, had ejaculated in his pants on live Netfeed.
General Systems was said to be frantically trying to develop a propsphere of their own. Billy had a mental picture of competing propspheres forcing people's thoughts to turn first one way, than another. What the hell do they need me for, he thought. Their marketing is perfect.
Mercanix headquarters towered over him. His ticker said 2:28. Okay, he thought. 92nd floor. Let's do this thing.
To be continued...