Three days later, Luna was again working in Classical, attempting to adjust a malfunctioning headset. Pressing the Manual override reset, Luna was repeating “Archer” into the slimline mike jutting along her jaw. Luna felt a gentle tap on her shoulder. Turning, she met a set of startling brown eyes, liquid chocolate over ice that Luna stumbled across, sliding into oblivion. Luna recovered enough to smile subtly as she asked “How can I assist you?” Luna had never seen another blush so deeply.
“Yes. I am looking for a March 1923 Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra recording of Beethoven’s Symphony #5, conducted by Wilhelm Furtwangler on vinyl imprint” a gentle pause as she swallowed, then “I heard it at a party,” as if an explanation.
“Sure” Luna said “Archer” into her crackling and distorted headset. Archer, the computer system that automated Pacer, was more artificial intelligence than anything else, named after the programmer who invented her and continues to develop the project with Pacer. The delineation between Archer the human and Archer Artificial Intelligence Program (AAIP) was marginal at best, and the differentiation of name was initially important due to the inherent fear of the power of the program. It was decided by Pacer management that AAIP could not be abbreviated to AA, as it had to many addiction associations, and “ape” was not an adequate pronunciation either, so their twin names were left as is and together they controlled life inside the Pacer building bubble. They were the many tentacled hub of the operation, managing staffing, security, payroll, taxation, stock, scheduling, hiring, location of everything in the building, guest band capability and maintained a zero percentage stock loss from stealing. The substantial digital management system and vast online website and presence was controlled by Archer, where every item available in store was available for purchase via online digital download, or delivery by Pacer owned courier company, APM. Pacer and Archer were curating a physical and online entertainment empire.
The programmer, Archer, was initially employed as a team member for Level Seven after dropping out of university. She requested access to the computer system to make it actually work by adding a software program that she had developed. This program became so powerful that Archer had a plethora of offers that could have made her exceedingly wealthy. However, Pacer and Archer had and uniquely symbiotic relationship to the exclusivity of any external factor. Both we reticent about any information release, and this program had already made Archer exceedingly wealthy.
Archer had integrated her own systems so thoroughly into Pacer, struggling in the reformation of an industry, that together they a created a powerhouse duo to the surprise and shock of many. Business analysts initially laughed at the lunacy of such a system, but then, with its success, at the perceived underselling of such a valuable product into a flailing industry. The merging of such an Artificial intelligence power with an entertainment corporation such as Pacer was relentlessly mocked by the business community, out of both derision and fear, however it proved to be the savior of both.
Archer maintained an apartment on the restricted bomb proof, fortified third basement level (BA3) next to Archer’s mainframe and was a constant management presence. Where all other interests had failed and Pacer had succeeded is that Archer personally maintained ownership and all intellectual property patents currently and any future developments made. Pacer maintained for itself an exclusivity while operational over the product and received the benefits of essentially unhindered product development. It was as much mutually binding as beneficial. Archer had not always ben this powerful, certainly not at the beginning; it had become this way. Pacer management did not know what Archers program parameters were yet were unconcerned by the lack of corporate control and the unparalleled development of the program as it had provided fluidity and flexibility far beyond any initial business plans that had been established.
“Luna” Archers voice finally distorted back.
“1923 BPO Beethoven 5” Luna asked.
“Proceed….” Then crackling and distortion.
Luna looked apologetically at her customer, then said “I am sorry. Let me take you to the Beethoven section”
The woman was classic corporate hummingbird, and with her tailored suit, manicured nails and echoes, clipped footfalls followed tailored Luna’s lead. The crackling dulled enough for Archer’s hard edged voice to break through “I13, R3, T2, V4”
“Thanks” Luna responded, grateful that the security tags made immediate customer service queries perfect, even when her headset was dodgy. Luna pulled out the fourth Vinyl in the second tier of the third row in isle thirteen, then handed it to the hummingbird, “Is this what you were looking for?”
She perused it efficiently and quickly, then nodded, curtly, “Yes” looking up to Luna “You do not look like the others on this level”
A statement, definitive. Not a question. Luna shrugged, pushing some rogue pink hair out of her eye, “I am not usually on this level. Is there anything else that I can help you with?”
“How does it not bleed?” She pointed at Luna’s hair.
“The experience of my hairdresser” the shades of colour forming an elliptical swirl from Luna’s crown, as she smiled for the first time that day, genuinely, then repeated “Is that all you need today?”
“Yes” she extended her hand, fine fingers resting together “Chloe”
“Luna smiling again as she shook the powdered dry manicured hands. A subtle jolt transmitted through their hands. Luna’s headset crackled before the feedback created a piercing whine in Luna’s ear. She winced, then pulled the ear piece out.
“I can walk you to the teller”
“No need. Is something wrong?” noticing both the wince and the extradition of earpiece.
“No” Luna smiled, then shrugged as she said “headset”
“Headset? Chloe asked as they started walking.
“The headset is feeding back is all. I will need to change it.”
“Thank you for your help”
“You’re welcome” Luna replied as they approached the service counter, “This is Galla” then at Galla pointed at the lifts, then to her dangling earpiece. Galla nodded at Luna, then turned to smile at Chloe, extending her hand towards the record. Luna backed away and returned to the administration basement (B3M or “Bam”) to visit the Archers.
“My Headset is not working”
“I know. Here is the replacement. I also need you on level one, dancing to Milhra” Archer looked up finally from the codes scrolling over her monitor, at Luna.
“Archer. He can’t dance” Luna, frustrated, replied.
“He is all we can spare. Kali is needed on four” Archer looked apologetic.
“When” Luna asked, defeated.
“Thanks” with a sigh, Luna walked back out to the lifts, and then returned to classical, to see Galla. As she exited the lifts to walk out on to the floor, a voice spoke, startling Luna’s fury.
Luna turned towards the voice “Chloe?”
“Galla said you were dancing shortly.” A statement.
Luna smiled. An unequivocal statement. Her jazz timbered voice left no other interpretation. Luna liked the strength of Chloe’s voice, the hard edged black coffee curved gentleness.
“I decided to stay and see you dance.”
Luna nodded, apprehensively curious “The café has the best view. It is on Level 1”
A simple nod, and Chloe turned upon her knife point stiletto and walked towards the lifts. After the 45 minute set, Luna did not see Chloe. Luna returned to level three after a 15 minute break, and wondered over to Galla, shifting into shelves. A trolley stocked with various merchandise items due on the shelves, sat beside her.
“Miss” Luna spoke harshly and deep. Galla jumped and then giggled before turning.
“What was with telling the hummingbird?” Luna raised her eyebrows in mock anger.
“Not really. Archer paged you, and I responded that your headset was down and that you were on your way. They told me that you would be dancing.”
“Uh, so that would still have been headset only”
“Luna” Galla sardonically smiled, then they both broke out laughing before continuing, “I told Laeir, as I was told on single engagement after the public broadcast, so only I got it”
Luna picked up a group of Chopin books before responding, “Sure, Galla, Sure”
“There was something though, that I saw in your face” Galla continued, baiting Luna.
“Shut up G. Kai and me are going to Sadie’s, then Harper’s after. You coming?”
“Ok, Ok. Just giving you a hard time” Galla, holding up her hands in submission “Yeah. What’s playing? Who’s playing?”
“Not sure. We were getting food before Kai has to work, but then he was shifted to lates, so Harper’s came up. We don’t get to see each other if I am on days”
“He won’t care that I am coming”
“I know. That’s why I said” Luna laughed, comfortable with the lightness of the afternoon, and the prospect of finally being able to catch up with Kai, her brother, her best friend, her life. They lived together but shift work had kept them apart for over a week. For the next hour, they idly reshelved the trolley merchandise, joking about the dodgy dancing of Decter Mesa. At three, they made their way to the basement and from their out of the staff entrance, walking further into the alleyways to avoid the main streets.
The city was old, and with most places built up over centuries, the inner city was full of back alleys and service entrances, dark and useful places that can be delightful shortcuts when you know the paved secrets. Luna and Galla rustled out on off main street entertained district laughing. Harper’s was an ancient place that had at one point been a laundry, a coffee house, an art gallery. It was a small egress the width of a double door that was dark, barely lit and sunk most of the way through to the other side of the block. It had evolved into a meeting place of revolutionaries and poets, artisans and painters, writers of glory and dissent. Harper’s had evolved to become a performance place, the dark corners creating life to swans of swords and song. Where the back of darkness stopped, a miniscule kitchen slid, cooking some of the best foods and gifts such a tiny place could make. There was no menu, no list of micro-brewed beers, no ordering system. Harper’s only opened at nightfall, closed before daylight and was always full between those times, the falling of people a cloud outside the doors. The battle to find a table was only matched by the fight to keep it. Once gained, food and drink would appear, dumped on shoddy, graffitied tables.
Luna and Galla turned the last corner, the cloud of drifters and itinerants gradually using the last of the afternoon sun to gather and wait for it to fade. The pair walked around the side towards Sadie’s, the yellow walled bean bag filled eatery. Sadie’s, next to Harper’s was the twin place, identical, melding together through the shared wall. However Sadie’s opened at dawn as the sun kisses the cityscape, closing as darkness encroached. Sadie’s and Harper’s were two faces looking into a mirror and reflecting the damage. Galla and Luna crowded through the intimate space until they found Kai, defending a table.
“Took your time”
“How would you care?” Luna snickered as Galla answered.
“Double teaming tonight?”
“Always Tri-teaming” Luna replied, kicking him in the leg. They sat, the noise of Sadie’s flexing, while the winter sun drifted to its inevitable solution.
“So do we get food here of next door?” Galla asked ”Next door”
“I already ate. You too are late”
They drank Sadie’s specials for the two hours that it took for daylight to linger more deeply into the twilight it had become before the trio escaped out the back door. All three lit smokes, languishing in the service alley finishing them before night fell completely. Kai threw his on the grimy, incessantly wet ground, then pushed himself from the wall.
“Come on” Kai pulled the back door open and they entered Harper’s from the backend. Harper’s was Kai’s first job, before Malaree’s and he still maintained certain favor. They sat, momentarily alone, in the bar and shortly food and drinks were placed, inevitably, on the rickety table.
“ohhh, Kai” Galla brightened “Guess”
“Galla, no” Luna pushed Galla mockingly.
“What?” Kai’s interest peaked from Luna’s subtle flush “Tell”
“Don’t Galla” warned Luna
“Well, Kai” began Galla “Luna met someone”
“That’s it!” Luna intercepted over-dramatically, theatrical throwing out her arms “Kai, so no. Galla is simply being…”
Kai laughed “Owww, Luna”
“She was a hummingbird, Kai, seriously” Luna rolled her eye.
“Ewwww. Social death” As they laughed, the doors were opened to the dark sky bleeding yellow street lights. The three friends relaxed and chatted and with the inevitable influx of people, they rose to the pleasure of Harper’s entertainment as only this place could inspire. Even when Kai left for work, Galla and Luna stayed, mixing their bodies to the sounds, flowing and twisting until the last of the night relinquished to the light and Harper’s closed itself from it, a precipice retreating from dawn as it bleed life to the sidewalk. The ladies, exhausted, drifted to their homes and yielded to the slumber that waited them.