Julian crossed the lobby, the latest interviewee following him. The process was starting to wear on him. How many had they seen? One hundred? Two hundred? The young man behind him (unsuccessfully pitched a dictation program) shook his hand one last time, hopeful.
Julian said goodbye with a tired smile, and as he loosened his tie and retightened it, he wondered how many more tired smiles he had left for the failures.
Then he bit his lip at the thought because, well, he was afraid that he was turning into one of those interviewers, the sort he had hated as a college student.
The dickhead sort, his girlfriend offered helpfully in his head. The sort who wouldn’t consider you with your crazy glorified roombas.
Julian glanced at his info slate for the next candidate as he crossed the room. He paused.
Once inside the lobby, most of the candidates paced, wringing their hands or checking their phones. The next candidate, a girl, no—a young woman had decided to occupy one of the l-shaped sofas facing the windows. The bitter light of winter glazed through the walls of glass, her features, casting a sharp shadow on the floor of the lobby.
He couldn’t call her beautiful. He wouldn’t call her pretty.
It was something in the way she held herself, as she gazed out at the street. Steam wafted up from vents in the street, a car jerked to a halt. All reflected in her eyes, serene and focussed, like an old woman sitting on a porch watching the world blow by.
She wasn’t talking, or texting, or pacing. Just sitting.
She shifted in her seat. Julian noticed that her back had not been touching the back of the sofa, and he straightened his tie again as Constance rose.
“You must be Julian Sutten. I must say, I’m impressed by your endurance; most would have gotten someone else to take over the interviews.”
She shook his hand.
“Where are we interviewing?” Constance asked.
“We’ll head back to one of the conference rooms on the first floor."
Julian started to lead the way across the room, telling himself he didn’t care they were the same height, and he didn’t notice her graceful acceptance of his flustered pronouncement. He stopped at the Sacred Portal, remembering and turned.
“I’m going to do a quick identity check to make sure you are who say you are, and then we’ll head to the interview.”
Constance paused, then lifted her chin. Julian scanned her retinas.
“Has anyone ever lied?” she asked.
“No, no, not yet.”
She waited as he opened the doors, and the pair stepped inside.
“Keep walking,” said Julian out of habit. A nice stride kept the candidates moving to keep up with him through the Nebula Hall. He continued his brisk stride, then noticed his footsteps were echoing, alone.
When he turned, Constance was standing in the middle of the hall, bathed in multicolored mists. She looked away from the gold strand in the wall, following a gleaming arch of white light from the wall to the hall ceiling. She took a step. Green light tumbled across her eyes, a breeze of fuchsia. She turned, pensive as the great space curled around her like a lover.
She considered the space like a vegetable garden, when it was a bombastic explosion of color and art. Julian knew he should say something, but the words jammed in his throat. This was a moment, a moment when he would be judged by her, and for some reason, that mattered. He couldn’t explain the silence, the strange and subtle domination.
Nineteen. She was nineteen.
What was Void like at nineteen?
“I’m sorry,” Constance said finally. “It’s such a fascinating space.” Starlight flickered over her hair. “You’re very busy, and I’m taking up time from the interview.”
“It’s no trouble,” said Julian around all the other clambering words. “This way.”
Rohan Malik and Ingrid looked up when they entered. They shook hands and introduced themselves. Ingrid, who had been fidgety every since she was born and bored ever since Dominic left, perked up when they shook hands. “What perfume is that?”
“I designed it myself,” Constance said with a playful grin.
“You design perfume?” asked Ingrid. “What’s in this?”
Malik didn’t even lean towards her“Bergamot, orange, rose, and patchouli and amber for the base notes. Vanilla, civet of leather.”
Constance laughed. “That’s incredible.”
“Rohan Malik is our olfactory specialist.”
“Well, that explains it. But it’s not rose."
Rohan stared at her wrist, brow furrowed. He tugged on his cuffs. “Peony.”
She clapped her hands, delighted, and for the first time, Constance Lee appeared her age. Rohan leaned back in his seat, appearing indifferent, and Julian found himself smiling stupidly.
“I love peonies,” she told them as she took her place at the front of the room and opened her bag. She unbuttoned her long coat and took it off, laying on a chair beside her hat. She was not wearing typical interview attire. In fact, she wasn’t wearing typical attire at all. A black grecian dress, the folds of fabric brushing her knees. White silk stockings, and thigh-high boots that Julian only saw in advertisements. Pin-up hair.
Constance placed two hologram bars, each the size of a pencil on the table. They buzzed to life, creating the effect that scrolls hung from the ceiling on either side of her.
“My idea for a project is very simple.”
As she spoke, colors appeared on the paper beside her.
“I have developed two fashion lines for your top design android line. As it stands, androids wear the clothes they came in, but top line owners have the money to outfit their androids according to the seasons, their mood.”
Dancing watercolors showed pea coats, green tea blouses, buttons like chips of ice, sunflower dresses, pearls, debonair suits, pearls, and strawberry lipstick...
“I have worked with fabrics that are used with self-cleaning appliances so that when an android returns an outfit to the wardrobe it is cleaned automatically. So, it’s no hassle. The biggest hassle might be designing the programs for androids getting dressed and undressed, storing things in the wardrobe.”
“It’s very doable,” said Ingrid.
Constance nodded, a careful pause filling the room. “The second part of this remodeling project is android design."
Julian, Rohan, and Ingrid stiffened.
“Void Inc androids are beautiful,” Constance conceded. “They are everything we desire, everything we wish we could be on the outside.” She glided around the table, her displays changing as she spoke. Paint brush swipes colored faces: homely, stern, weathered, and then, serene.
“But some people don’t want to go home to a harem. Some people don’t want to go home to a rival and be reminded of all the things we weren’t born to be.”