Unlike many hotshot web developers, Randall kept his output up, and had something cool in the pipeline at any given time. In five years he had never missed a spot at the podium at one of the major events, and he’d never had to buy a single drink at any that he attended. Many of his fans had become friends and some even had proved to be good business partners on various projects.
It got to the point that there were few places in the Bay area or the valley that Randall could go without being recognized. He wasn’t a theatre lover or an opera fan, or he might have had some peace. What Randall loved was technology, and his business was also his hobby. Everywhere he went, someone knew his name.
However, Randall was happy to put up with a little lack of privacy in exchange for the opportunity to meet so many people. He always carried the latest cell phone as well as the speediest and tiniest computer available. Even when he was working on a project, he’d have one window open with an IM conversation and be plugging away at emails. For the first time in his life he was popular, and Brian Randall loved it.
It was at one of the few conferences he attended that never asked him to speak that Randall met Ellen Baines. She was on a panel discussion about the ethics of cyborgism and as soon as she started to speak, Randall understood a lot more about his fans than he had before. She was utterly fascinating to him. She was challenging one of her co-panelists who argued that merging human biology with mechanical contrivances should be outlawed as wanting to close the barn door after the horses have bolted.
“Anyone who wears glasses, has a prosthetic limb or a pacemaker – heck, even a boob job,” she paused for the guaranteed sophomoric laugh, “any one of these people is already a cyborg. Sure, we need to be careful going forward, just as we already are careful with any medical procedure. But we shouldn’t stop human evolutionary progress just because we’ve seen too many cheesy science fiction movies.” She got an even bigger laugh, her co-panelist turned a light shade of crimson, and Randall was enthralled. He determined to meet her.
Randall was accustomed to people seeking him out, and at first was at a loss as to how he should go about tracking her down. After he’d given up just wandering the halls of the hotel where the conference was being held, he eventually posted a message on one of the social networks he used. “At Sci/Tech. Looking for Ellen Baines. Anyone know where she is?”
Within two minutes, he had replies from a half dozen other attendees, indicating that she was at a wine and cheese sponsored by a pharmaceutical company that was trying to market a new crop of smart drugs. Randall made a bee line for the suite. He had the room number, but once he got to the right floor of the hotel, he just followed the sounds of drunken conference attendees. He had been to enough of these kinds of things to know what to expect – just about anything. Nerds were surprisingly good party-goers.
This affair was relatively tame as these kinds of things went. There was an open bar, so the crowd was nicely lubricated, but everyone had all their clothes on and the furniture was still intact, if not in its usual places. Randall picked a microbrew out of the ice filled cooler on the kitchenette’s counter, and looked around the packed suite for Ellen Baines. He was stopped only once by a short, thin woman who asked him some questions about his latest project. Randall was polite, giving the woman a few minutes and about half his attention, before nicely but firmly moving on. He had spotted Baines in a corner, sipping a microbrew out of the bottle and talking to a owl-faced man about twice her age.
He waited patiently near her, and listened to the conversation. “The headset trials really are amazing,” the man was saying. “Do you think there will be a practical application for the technology soon?”
Ellen Baines laughed. “I can’t possibly comment on that, Clive,” she said. “Non-disclosure agreement,” she added, a mock serious tone in her voice. “But between us, we are close to something that’s going to make these headsets look like those brick size car phones from the eighties. Give us a few years, and there could be some serious developments, indeed.” Randall sensed a natural pause in their conversation and took his opportunity.
“Excuse me,” he said to them both, then turned to face Baines. “I heard your talk today and was blown away. You destroyed those other guys on the panel.”
She laughed again, and Randall noticed that the sound was particularly pleasing. “I don’t know about that,” she said, “but I’m glad you liked what I had to say.” She glanced down at Randall’s name tag, and a slight frown appeared on her face. “Brian Randall,” she said, her voice a question.
Randall stuck out his hand for her to shake, and said, apologetically, “You won’t have heard of me; I’m just an interested amateur here.”
“No,” Baines said. “I’m sure I have heard of you. You’re big on the Web, aren’t you?”
Randall laughed, and said, “That’s pretty accurate. I should get that printed on a tee shirt.” He named a couple of his recent projects and Ellen’s eyes lit up.
“I knew I knew you from somewhere,” she said, and took a step back. She stretched, and Randall didn’t notice her eyes travel the length of his body. “Say, you want to blow this joint? I know a really good pub not far from this hotel; we can walk it.”
Randall beamed, and discovered that his heart was thrumming.