by John Mile Deisinger
They love the chess clock; it practically screams sophistication and nation-states. I put it down on the bulkhead, where it will look especially incongruous; polished maple and brass on top of carbon fiber dyed an obnoxious shade of blue.
"45 mins, rite?," she texts to my phone. "Rents paid 4 45 mins."
"That's correct," I say, "Standard rate."
"^_^ awesom. Can start now plz?"
I depress the brass button, letting the ticking fill the room. Her phone screen goes blank as the EMP rolls off the clock in waves. She shudders with exhilaration, or fear, or anticipation. I fold my hands and smile at her.
"So, uh... how do we... uh...," she stammers. Her voice is choked. Out of practice. Like a rusty water pump, from the days when we had water pumps or rust.
"We talk about a topic we have in common, usually. Something both people can say some words about," I say, gently, priming her. I smile, a smile that commands a premium of $199.00 before Standard System VAT.
"Uh... kay. Uh... um...," she says. Her eyes flick to her dead phone. She doesn't panic, doesn't scream or scramble for it. Good. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they think they wanted this but they don't.
"What about the weather, miss? Shall we discuss the weather?"
"Oh," she says. The sweat rolls down her chin. But she's smiling. Confident. She can do this! "It was... cold? Today?"