Author: Daniel P. Douglas

When a sleek and shiny bizbot from Rush, an upstart Venusian drift-pod vendor, showed up on the same mid-day shuttle to Godessa, Ogleblatt fumed. He glared at the bot’s silver and blue pinstriping and decided to call up Ortega on holo. He punched in her number and set the transceiver on the lopsided fold-down tray in front of him.

“If I could look miserable, I would,” Ogleblatt said. “But I chose the kind empathy theme for my default facial expression. Implants and lasers work miracles. Wearing the wavy brown hairpiece was my idea.”

Ortega mimicked a jovial chuckle. She’d heard Ogleblatt tell his plastic surgery and wig story at least ten times in the past month. “Just refer the bot to Hammer in Procurement,” Ortega replied. “Besides, what makes you think that business bot wants anything to do with you?”

“See, this is the part that kills me.” Ogleblatt slouched and whispered, “The bot is from Rush and they’ll stop at nothing to get control of our pod sailing lanes. How many times do I have to explain it to you?”

The cabin lights dimmed and Ogleblatt felt the shuttle liftoff from the Moon. He peered out the window and watched the lunar surface recede below. “Those Venusian lanes are Godessa’s most lucrative subsidiary,” he bragged. “We make billions off them.”

“Yes. People everywhere love those unpowered, untethered, high-altitude hypersonic thrill rides as much as Godessa’s unrivaled resort offerings.” Ortega’s holo flickered as she shifted the view from the one of her seated behind a large glass and chrome desk to a close-up of her young face. “Look, nothing bad is going to happen. Besides, your flight to Venus isn’t very long.”

“Long enough for me to fire you and promote that hellhound, Bachrus. Plus, we have a layover in Houston.” Frustrated, Ogleblatt fumbled with the tray table’s lopsided end, jiggling Ortega’s crooked holo.

“Oh, right. Sorry, when I booked your flight, Transia had the cheapest rates, and Hammer only—”

“Only approves the cheapest rates, I know. Acts like he owns the joint.” Ogleblatt bent forward, leaving mere inches between him and Ortega’s holo. “Lotta folks don’t like him. Maybe someday the Board will do something about it. They don’t like roadblocks or prima donnas, you know.”

Uncertain how to respond, Ortega held her breath, then sighed and smiled. “Personally, I always go comet class on Ajax. All direct and non-stop.” She wanted to keep him distracted.

Confusion shared space with some of Ogleblatt’s kind empathy. “Since when can you afford to fly Ajax?”

Ortega worked up a wide grin to charm and calm Ogleblatt. “I never pay full fare.” She licked and pursed her full, red lips and watched Ogleblatt slide back into his seat. “More to the point,” she said, trying to soothe him further, “I doubt this bot intends to do anything during the flight except maybe run a software update. So, all’s bueno bueno.”

“Ugh,” Ogleblatt murmured. “That sounds like something Hammer would tell you to say…. If I didn’t know better, I’d think you two are plotting against me.”

Ortega glanced past her transceiver and waved, winked, and blew a kiss. She nodded and smiled. She spoke a few muffled words to her out-of-frame guests. A moment later, she turned to look at Ogleblatt, then widened the holo view to show her seated—along with Bachrus and a Cheshire-themed Hammer—at a large glass and chrome desk.

“You’ll never replace me!” Ogleblatt shouted.

“Take another peeky peeky at the bizbot, Oggy,” Hammer purred. “We already have.”