Every month, you will find a new free short story here for your reading pleasure–after which, it will diminish to a sample. For April 2017, I’m proud to present you with The Open Source Woman, the first in what may become a series of hardSF tales examining life in a fully transparent world. And if you prefer to listen to me read it to you, you’re in luck. For the first time ever, I’ve released the audiobook simultaneously with the ebook. Click here to listen now!
Whichever way you choose to do it, join me now as we follow Luke, a transparency activist with his own unique code of ethics where the dating game is concerned, as he gets more than he bargains for when he sallies forth to the singles bar to fight dirty for truth, justice, and honesty in romance…
The moment he spotted her, Luke knew everything he needed to know about her to make his decision. Unfortunately for Luke, she wasn’t the one he really needed information about. It didn’t help that, until she walked in, he’d been otherwise occupied with his primary hobby, which his mother called “meddling in the affairs of others,” because she was one of those people who just didn’t get it.
The low-hanging flood lights painting the room with little pools of dazzling occupied by about thirty sitting people. Shortly before she walked in, his attention had been occupied by a couple on the far side of the bar, past the long mahogany high table. It was a garden-variety pickup, the kind Luke had seen a few thousand times, the kind he’d even engaged in back before he’d learned the hard way. Back before he’d found the collective and gotten things figured out.
The woman in the prospective couple hadn’t figured things out yet—neither had the man, as was obvious from Luke’s vantage point forty feet away. He could see that the moment he looked at the woman and her metadata popped up around her, the display framing her as Luke scanned back and forth between her and her prospective beau. It was the kind of display you’d expect from someone who’d just gotten their social networking license, which was excusable on someone in junior high, but unconscionable on someone who was twenty-seven, worked in finance, and had graduated Summa Cum Laude from Carnegie Mellon. Her metadata read like a CV.
His was just as bad. Pictures of him on his rowing team, a copy of his Juris Doctorate vellum and law license, pictures showing him with a full head of hair rather that the balding crown he sported now—which Luke could see, but, because of where she was standing, the woman couldn’t—and interests including “long romantic walks in the evening.”
They had freedom of speech, and they had the right to present themselves as the perfect potential marriage partners if they wanted to. Defrauding their prospective dupes, though, wasn’t exactly kosher. For example, what would Mr. JD think if he knew that Ms. Finance’s StreamFilms profile showed that she had a predilection for serial killer movies, chess competitions, and hardcore, but completely hated romance, action, and science fiction? And what would Ms. Finance think if she knew that Mr. JD also had a profile on CatholicDating.com under a pseudonym, where he confessed his total lack of respect for any woman that would sleep with him before things “got serious.”
Fortunately, Luke also had freedom of speech, and he used that freedom to blink-click on Ms. Finance’s “I Know Her” box and paste the link to her StreamFilms profile, then he looked down to the tabletop where he kept his virtual keyboard, and he typed in “One good thing about Tammie, she’s got the greatest taste in movies!” and hit “Enter.”
Then, to keep things equal, he switched over to Mr. JD, selected the same field in his public profile, and linked to the CatholicDating.com profile with the comment “One of the best things about Alan, he’s a man of good morals who isn’t afraid to tell the world that he’s no friend of promiscuity.”
One after the other, they stiffened noticeably, and within a minute their little tête-à-tête had broken up. They’d each discover why later, but by that time perhaps they’d find people whose company they’d enjoy more anyway.
Luke waved to the waiter, signaled for a refill on his Coke. He hadn’t gotten to the point in the evening yet where he felt like adding rum out of sheer depression. Keeping his whistle wet enough to enjoy the onion rings did the job just fine.
Wednesday nights were when he did his bit for the public good. As a member of the not-really-that-secret-anymore collective Open Source Lives, Luke devoted one night a week to introducing a little honesty and transparency into courtship rituals.
His reasons were his own, and he’d never published them online, but he paid his dues by selecting a bar every Wednesday and keeping an eye out for the kind of misguided souls that thought that lying about themselves would lead to happy relationships—like Ms. Finance and Mr. JD. Yes, some folks were fastidious online and kept private the parts of their lives they preferred to keep private, and then said so on what public profiles they kept. Though they might have buried secrets they were concealing, folks like that weren’t his concern—they were up-front about the fact that they were concealing something. Their partners were thus warned, and could go digging on their own if they wished to.
The collective was more concerned with folks who seemed to think that there were still real secrets in the world. Secrets were different from private things. Privacy was the zone someone preferred to reserve for their intimates. Secrets were the things people hid from their nearest and dearest for fear that it would make them unlikable—usually they were things so powerful that they’d share them with complete strangers, like psychologists, online friends, or hobby communities for the sheer relief of it. The difference, you might say, between delight and shame.
Luke’s booth wasn’t on a line-of-sight with the door, by intention. He wasn’t interested in scoping everyone, his was merely concerned with keeping everyone honest once negotiations were in progress—after all, despite being obscured beneath the propagandistic cruft that most people called “romance,” courtship was essentially a business transaction. Each party wanted something—sex, entertainment, bonding, friendship, marriage, what have you—and each was willing to supply something in-kind to get to it. The transactions only went sour when someone in the equation wasn’t honest about either what they were looking for, or about what they were offering. Luke—like the other members of Open Source Lives—saw his function as akin to a realtor’s title search database, or to the mechanic who gives a used car the once-over and checks it for hidden problems.
Not everyone saw it that way, of course. The group didn’t exactly have the shining reputation they might have liked, but he supposed a culture built so heavily around deception takes time to adapt to transparency, even when they thrust it upon themselves with the rabid clamor for technologies that enhanced it.
This was another one of the reasons why Luke wasn’t on a line-of-sight with the door. Anyone who looked at him (well, anyone with contacts or glasses with their metadata pingers turned on) would see in a moment who he was if they cared to actually read beyond his vital stats (height, age, weight, education), but since he was here in his official capacity rather than in an attempt to pick anyone up, he didn’t consider it fair to go cluttering up the visual field. He would have considered it rude to get in the way of quick decisions. Time was the only precious resource, and wasting someone’s time was rudeness bordering on theft, as far as he was concerned. As much as he might have been an outlier for the broader culture, on this, at least, he agreed with the mainstream.
Because his table was behind a tall partition out of view of the door, he did not expect to be noticed at all. He never had been before. Then again, in the six months he’d been an active member, he’d never noticed someone that he’d deemed worth a second glance on his own behalf, either. At least not until a few minutes after resolving the Ms. Finance/Mr. JD situation, when she walked up to the bar and stood in a pool of light, making her bottle-fire hair sparkle enough to draw his attention.
When he focused on her, his optics returned a flag:
Warning: Open Source Woman
Then, below, in smaller print:
Reciprocity expected. Click here to proceed at your own risk.
While Luke knew some Open Source Women from the circle, he’d never met one socially, and he’d never seen one that posted it as a warning label.
Or maybe a dare?
Proceed at your own risk.
He hesitated. He could do reciprocity. An evening of conversation with a kindred spirit, that might be nice too. But this was a pick-up joint, and that wasn’t something he was interested in at all. Not anymore. At least, not for a while.
Proceed at your own risk.
Then again, what was life without a little risk? Luke focused on the button, and blink-clicked.
Level 1 Access Privileges Granted, said the meta-cloud.