It all begun on an ordinary day. I had a meeting with a new biotech startup, Empathics, Ltd. There had been a big bloom in biotech after people started working out how to read the genome, and it was an exciting time to be an investor. I had just about enough knowledge not to be sold a bill of goods, and that was more than most of the other VC agents managed. This Empathics company seemed interesting, and they had accepted to meet with me under a very strict non-disclosure agreement. From the name, I thought they were probably working on something to do with emotional control, so I didn't get why they had so much of an emphasis on secrecy. Of course the whole industry was secretive, but this area seemed specialised enough that Empathics would get its position in what was a rather empty niche.
The headquarters didn't look like anything extraordinary. Empathics had set shop in an industrial building in the outskirts of the city. It was probably an obsolete factory in its day. As I arrived and got out of the transcar I was impressed by the security measures. Not only where there cameras swiveling and focusing on every movement, but drones patrolled around the building ceaselessly. It must have cost a pretty penny, and I hoped I could use it in my favour. After all if Empathics were strapped for cash, I could squeeze harder, and there's only so much credit you can get before banks start wondering why you have a milsec team around your building.
I entered the building, authenticated myself with my ID, and was directed to one of the meeting rooms which they had set up, where I sat at a table with four other people.
Jake was the interface, the guy they had designated to talk to the suits. He was young and dressed well, had a very neat haircut, and probably knew about as much biotech as I did. Laura was the spark, the idea person, and I was surprised to see her at this meeting, which was still preliminary. She was in her late 20s, dressed in casual clothes, though nothing as affected as a lab coat for this meeting, and she had the typical absent-minded look I was so used to seeing. She also had a nice pair of tits, something I had always appreciated in women, but I tried not to glare. That's the kind of thing that gives them leverage, and I had come to deal, not to ogle. Orlando García was a 20-something-year-old whose pressence almost screamed eccentricity. They didn't quite explained what he was there for, but my guess was he did some sort of computer support and they'd been forced to make him a partner.
Then there was Amanda. She looked like an ornamental piece. She must not have been older than 23, wore understated but elegant jewels, and had stunning eyes. My impression about her place in the company sharply changed, though, when they told me she'd be my direct interlocutor in the negotiations. Apparently she had some sort of financial or legal background.
I expected a typical Impress presentation, but Jake told me that was boring, and that their tech was best presented through the user experience anyway. He took out a jewel case, opened it, and shoed me what looked like a normal gold ring, except for an inset stone. Jake told me it was a crystal that had been grown artificially to suit the product's needs, since there were both technical and aesthetic considerations. After he reassured me that the technology was completely safe to my health, I went for it and wore the ring.
I felt a small vibration, and then a tiny prickle. It was then that the crystal begun coruscating in diffferent colours and patterns, in what was clearly a very pretty effect, though I didn't see any rhyme or reason in it. I was a bit annoyed I hadn't been told what to expect, but It was no big deal. Jake told me the ring was now settling in, which would take a little while, and that the best we could do was go through a few experiences so that it would have the time to calibrate itself against me, and so that I wouldn't get too bored. Although I was a bit annoyed by the unorthodox nature of the presentation, I felt the confidence of their representatives, and if they were that confident they had to have an amazing product.
We did all sorts of silly things. They had me playing some video games, talking about my family (my wife and my two daughters), eating, and watching some pictures of all sorts of things: landscapes, spiders, some women ... It all took about an hour and a half, and by the end of it I was starting to get impatient. Then the ring made a sharp and short beep, and Jake told me it was ready.
"Ready to do what?" I asked.
"The patterns you see now are reflective of your mental state. Mostly it's possible to discern emotions and attitudes, likes and dislikes, that sort of thing. Maybe with more r&d we'll be able to go deeper into actual cognitive processes, but in any event we have a seriously powerful item here."
I couldn't believe it. They had brought me all the way there for a mood ring? There had been mood rings for ages, and they never worked. People were so jaded about it they pretty much represented pseudoscience in the popular mind. The ring showed solid red.
"You are angry now, but that's simply because you don't understand the power of our product", said Jake. "This is going to change the world, in unprecedented and unexpected ways. People won't have to rely on words to be able to communicate their feelings, they'll just be able to see. Don't you understand what this means?"
"So you expect to sell these things to lovers and such? Don't you realise people have been making and breaking this promise for about a century now? Lovers are the most gullible market segment, but even they've become wise to this sort of thing." The ring showed a lighter red, with some slow strobing.
"I understand you are sceptical about our technology. I could let Laura explain it for you ... though you wouldnt understand more than a word in 5 and we both know it. For that matter neither would I. I could show you her credentials", Jake somehow emphasized the word, "but that isn't too convincing either. So let's just demonstrate it to you clearly. Amanda, if you please..."
She sighed and approached me, and before I knew it, she was massaging my shoulders.
"You're worried, Mr Daniels. May I call you Keith? You're worried that you're wasting your time, but we have solid technology here." I didn't know how to react. this had never happened to me, although I had heard of other startups in which men or women tried to use seduction to get a better deal. I should have stopped it immediately, but I couldn't. Her voice was so calm, so silky, and her fingers felt really good.
"You were tense, but you're beginning to relax now, and you have no choice. I'm looking at your ring, and I know exactly how you're feeling. I can't tell what your thoughts are, but I know when you're pleased or displeased, and I know when you approve or disapprove. I can move my hands downwards", she said while doing exactly that, "and know whether you want me to go that way. I know pressing this spot, like this, is something you enjoy."
She was completely right. She could read my reactions exactly, though how she could do that simply by looking at some light patterns coming out of the ring, which was now shoing a deeper and deeper green, I wasn't able to tell.
"You see, we don't really have to calibrate the rings anymore. This was a prototype issue we've sorted out, but we thought we could use that time to read you and your likes and dislikes. We know, we all know, you no longer feel atracted to your wife. We know you want me, you like... young girls, hate spiders, and have a fear of heights. Would you like to spend some time alone with me?" I was utterly in shock. They had read me completely, and they could easily destroy my life.
"I'm not sure that would be wise", I said.
"Don't worry", said Orlando García. "You're protected, just as we are, by the NDA we signed. We wouldn't let anyone know about your... peculiarities, after all it's proprietary information. Then he looked thoughtful. "Of course, we had rather ... lapse IT security policies. A shame, I know, but I guess itsec is not really our core competence, is it?"
I understood the threat and the offer very clearly. I could give in, have some nice time with Amanda as payment for this intrusion into my privacy, make sure that we bought into the company, and get rid of this information, or I could refuse, and bad things would happen. It was unfair, damnit! I hadn't even done anything wrong, but these people could blackmail me about the contents of my own mind.
"Oh, I'm sure after we get acquired we'll get some better itsec antipenetration, of course until now it's been an unjustifiable expense", said Jake. "But you were going to have some time alone with our dear little Amanda, weren't you?"
"Come with me, keith. May as well get what fun you can out of this whole situation."
I followed Amanda through a few corridors, and we went into a bedroom with lavish decorations, a splendid huge bed, perfectly made, some chairs and a small table. She closed the door, and made sure I saw her locking it from the inside with a mechanical bolt. I was bewildered by the hole experience, my mind lost in confusion, but my body knew very well what it wanted.
"Would you like to make yourself comfortable, Keith?"
I started undressing, but she stopped me with a gesture.
"I'll do it, if you like."
As much as Amanda's whole attitude was calculated, and successfully so, to appeal to me, there was something about her which sounded a false note. It felt as though she were performing. Well, in a sense she was, since she was going to give her body up to a stranger for money, but there was something behind that too, or so I thought.
"How long do I get with you, and what are you willing to do?"
"Oh, as long as you can justify yourself. I'm not required for other things with any urgency." She managed to hide her disappointment almost perfectly, but not quite entirely. "As to what I'll do, I'll do whatever you want."
"Whatever I want? Surely not."
"Well, anything so long as it doesn't cause me permanent damage. You really got lucky today." She tried to say it casually, but there was an undertone of regret.
I wasn't sure if she really would do anything I wanted, but in the end I didn't need her complete willigness in order to enjoy myself: her obedience would be good enough. In fact, all the better.
"In that case, crawl here, and start undressing me."