The target is acquired, the objective within sight now. All senses engaged and in overload, despite his mask of calm. The polyrhythmic drumbeat in his ears is the blood boiling under the surface. The woman in the red dress approaches with a slow, measured gait, as if she was walking a tightrope over the chasm still separating what he wants and why she came here. Her stiletto heels produce a sharp click with each step. He will compartmentalize the sights and sounds for future remembrance. The sequence has been initiated.

There is no way back until the holotape, by now overused, plays out. And according to predefined script, she approaches. The parameters were selected, his carefully curated preferences loaded in precise order and yet he still has second thoughts. He would go back and replace her shy smile with something more…self-assured? He wants something different. Today, he wants more control.

On cue, she stops in her tracks, while he makes up his mind. Tilts her head to one side, eyes scanning, deciphering his intent. There is much more than pure calculation going on behind them and he relaxes, relieved. He has indeed punched the correct sequence.

His initial design has evolved, but she follows along preternaturally fast. The ruleset has changed. The initiative reversed. She remains standing still. Within touching distance, if he’d care for a touch. He does not, though. Not yet, and she understands it. Right now, he is keen to sit and observe and not lift a finger at all. He narrows his gaze, idly wondering where pure calculation ends and chemistry kicks in. The lines are blurred, it appears, but there is a certain logic in the sequence. She stands immobile, yet there is a motion to her red dress.

The red is magnetic, lush and vivid, blotting out the unnecessary details of the nondescript space they find themselves in. The fabric shimmers in the dim glow. Ripples at the movement of her arm tossing a stray lock of hair from her brow. Insinuating. In high definition, with crisp textures. It captivates him. He makes a mental note to bookmark red in his favorites for next time. For once, he is not in a hurry for her to cast it away. And she reads his mind.

She wiggles one arm free of the dress. Just the one to start with. Slowly, almost annoyingly so, but he ordered a master tease and is happy with what he got. He finds enjoyment in the drawn-out process. After all, he did not select just any cheap flick. This is a top-end product. Built to last

until someone pulls the plug, short-circuiting the sequence. He wakes up in his pod, the red light from the computer invading his vision. Profoundly irritated, he fingers the socket on his nape. The cable that is supposed to be plugged in is not. The display on the terminal in front of him reads:



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