Musings on the Coast

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Huh, The Hot Blonde?

By Michael Ray

Scene: The Lumberyard

Time: 6:30 p.m.

Day: Wednesday, mid-week, not very many people there.

The Players: Jean, the gorgeous barkeep; me; and someone new who arrived unexpectedly.

The Drink: The usual gin martini, my way.

I arrived at The Lumberyard, pulled out my cell, and thumbed on “Words with Friends.” It’s an online scrabble game. I play almost every day. A few of my adversaries I know personally, but most I don’t. You can ask the game to dig up an opponent of equal ability (or higher or lower), and seconds later have one.

Sometimes photos accompany the opponent’s name, but you never know if they are real, or even if they are real humans. A couple of times I’ve spotted obvious bots because they made so many dumb moves.  But you never can be sure.

I was playing someone new and we were almost tied. It was my turn and I was searching for the right combination that would get me that perfect word. I was into it, concentrating, brained sealed from the outside world.

Then an unfamiliar voice whispered, “You’re playing a bot.”

I startled and involuntarily shiver-jumped. My head pivoted toward the voice. It was a stranger but also strangely familiar.

“Who are you?”

“I’m The Hot Blonde.”

“What? No, you’re not. She’s Petra. You’re not.”

“Michael, look at me.”  She was standing three steps away.

“Take your time. Look close.”

I did a sweep: slightly taller than Petra, more angular, eyes deep green not cobalt blue, hair still blonde but with darker, almost red streaks, head tilted instead of straight on, black stiletto pumps instead of red.

“Ahh, who are you?”

That got a wide smile from her. She slid onto the barstool, swiveled facing me and leaned forward—the moves only Petra would make—and she took my hand as though I was a child who needed comfort.

“My name is Katya. Petra had to leave, so I replaced her.”

“You’re a figment of my imagination, too?”

“Yes, sort of. We both are bots.”

“You mean like bots from Words With Friends?”

“No, not like them. They’re primitive. So are the bots of Facebook, Google, Instragram and all the other social media sites. Our AI is way more sophisticated. We even can appear in the flesh.”

She turned toward Jean the barkeep and beckoned her. Jean glanced at me, quizzical, who was she? I shrugged; go with the flow.

Katya ordered exactly what I had ordered.

“I don’t get it. Where is Petra?”

“There is a problem in New York. I can’t tell you much except that it has to do with Amazon—a team of software engineers can’t get their act together. They need guidance and Petra is great with groups, flitting among them, shape shifting, all that. Her algorithms are perfect for them.”

I was dumbstruck, mouth slack.  She raised her eyebrows, “But if you want, I can make myself look like Petra.”

“No, no, no. I’m confused enough. Why are you here? Petra was always complaining about the city and how it is run. What are you doing here?”

She leaned her head against my shoulder, “You are such a silly boy. I’m here to help. You have enemies. Your Liberate Laguna candidates won the election and now the other side is both scared and angry. That means they likely will do something stupid, maybe more than stupid.”

I replied, “That’s politics. I’ve been involved my whole life, things get dirty.”

She smirked, “You don’t get it. They’re out to get you, all of you, painting you as heartless developers who would pave over the city.”

“You know that is false. It’s propaganda. When the facts don’t work, make it up.”

“Listen to me. You’re in danger, but they’re really out to get Peter Blake.  They’ll resort to almost anything. They’ve already falsely accused him of violating state laws.”

Then just like that she rose, turned on her heels for a few steps, then swung her head to me. “Watch your back, especially Peter. I’m serious.” Then she was gone.








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