“I’m Tabitha Rose, Mr. Harris,” she said, extending her hand. She was obviously Grimrok material. She wore a white full length lab coat, opened down the front to reveal a white blouse with starched collar and a knee-length dark blue skirt. She had been built to appear attractive. Her finely shaped face was complimented by chestnut hair that gently brushed her shoulders and her brown eyes mimicked awareness. She possessed beauty, but in a rather intellectual and nondescript way. A man would find her pleasing to look at. But later, alone in his own bed, it would not be her face that shaped the fantasies of his dreams.
Zak stared at her without taking the offered hand.
“I’m sorry,” The guard interrupted, suddenly stammering with what resembled embarrassment. “You are Mr. Harris. I will take you to see Mr. Grimrok immediately.”
“Jonas, what were you told about playing VR games during working hours!” Tabitha Rose admonished the other SHIAM.
“I am sorry, Dr. Rose,” Jonas said. “I will not allow it to happen again.”
“Doctor?” Zak didn’t attempt to hide the animosity in his voice. “Grimrok gives you machines names and titles?”
“Actually no, he does not.” The android answered curtly. “Mr. Grimrok allows each of us to choose our own name when we are activated. As far as my title...I happen to have earned a doctorate in Bio-Chemical Engineering.”
“By earned, I take it you mean programmed,” Zak said as he visually scanned the lobby. “It must be nice to be able to build your own work force. Spend a little on juice for recharging rather than having to shell out wages on the real thing.”
“We are not merely a work force,” Dr. Rose said, now appearing more openly annoyed with Zak’s attitude. “We at Grimrok Corporation are a part of a dynamic social development project specifically designed for the advancement of the SHIAM personality. We encourage the development of social skills and individual growth. And as far as our names are concerned, we are simply following the conventions of your society. Would you perhaps prefer reciting a long alpha-numerical serial number instead?”
Zak chose not to answer.
Anger seemed to cloud the attractive features of the android’s face, but cleared almost as quickly as it had appeared.
“Jonas will show you to Mr. Grimrok’s office,” she said turning away from Zak. As an afterthought she turned toward the other SHIAM. “And, Jonas, no more Warriors and Wizards on company time.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Jonas replied meekly. He handed a visitor’s badge to Zak and then slid a digital registry pad in front of him. “You’ll have to sign in, please Mr. Harris.”
Jonas led Zak across the glossy marble floor and through one of the brass doors that led deeper into the building. “You specialize in network security, is that correct?”
“Excellent.” The SHIAM had turned and was walking sideways as he continued talking at the same time. He reminded Zak of a young boy leading him down the corridor with an overabundance of childish enthusiasm. “I wonder if you could help me with a problem I’m having.”
“I don’t do freebies, Bud.”
“The name is Jonas, sir, not Bud.” The SHIAM continued on. “And no, of course not. I don’t expect you to do any actual work. I only want your opinion.”
“What?” Jonas looked puzzled, and then giggled with embarrassment. “Oh, yes, of course. An expression for go ahead or continue.”
They stopped at a bank of elevators. Several SHIAM units were also waiting for a lift to arrive. It was uncomfortable to be around so many life-like machines. Zak kept the group in his peripheral.
“I am playing this cool VR role playing game called Warriors and Wizards. I’m afraid that was what I was doing when you came in, although I’m not supposed to play during working hours...”
“Yeah,” Zak interrupted. “I got that part while I was standing there waiting for you.”