Initial Pickup

The Lilywhite Corporation: a bright light of success ignited in the chaos of the last cyberwar – according to the corporate promotionals. Companies had died or blossomed during the digital conflict; the instigators were hunted down and slaughtered, but so much infrastructure was ruined and someone always gets away...

Lilywhite, guarding the future from the mistakes of the past. But only if you believe the slogans.

If you converted to the Digitanium browser for the armoured online experience, loved DigiLock for your digital security, or BlingItOn for your precious metals trading, come and try something relaxing. Lilywhite brings your DigiTart to optimise your personal pleasure...

Yes, a tricky choice of name, a marketing department dog-fight, but it suits the times.

Feeling worried? Need advice that’s perfectly tailored to your needs? No need to be embarrassed, just ask one of our simulations and get perfect suggestions for your sexual relationships – discreet and understanding. We cater for your every need. (Prices to suit every pocket)

New, imaginative, successful, undeniably vulgar and intensely controversial. A bold idea or gross misuse of the emerging technology – just a matter of perspective. The nets are coming back up, speeds are better, websites like the ones we had when we were kids are happening. Terminals are getting cheaper, transactions more secure, interactive apps more reliable, so come on baby, let’s interact...

DigiTart isn’t one of those old-style advice lines, all manned by experienced professionals, who can have a giggle with their microphones muted.. DigiTart is different. DigiTart is new. DigiTart is everything you want. No need to be embarrassed – you're only talking to a machine. Private sessions, absolutely confidential, completely anonymous and all data erased when you close your account.

Yeah. Right.

#   #   #

Clare Farral strolled back to work – not a scenic walk, in spite of the potted ficus every few meters, but she appreciated a job with perks. All those little things mattered: decent heating, fully functional toilets, an absence of nasty little scuttling things... Even the non-scenic walk from those wonderful washrooms in the accommodation area at one end of the floor, back to her cubicle at the other, was a perk – no wind, rain or muggers. No fending off inadequate attention on the late night tram.

Clare eased back into her soundproofed pod. Why call it a pod? Who could fathom the whims of company policy? It was cosy, in a keep your elbows in sort of way, bare and functional, but with a decent terminal and a properly comfortable chair, with arm rests to help keep elbows tucked in. Apparently, the designers had some crazy notion that they could keep a group of personal gratification professionals as detached and impersonal as their software.

“I’m back.” The terminal lit up: please put on the headset.

The first thing to learn was be quick with the headset and ignore the ear-chafing – the on-screen instruction escalated to a nagging synthesised voice in no time, and an actual grumpy supervisor shortly after.

<Server: Thank you. Please wait for next caller.>

Clare resumed her studypad at the chapter on drive chain alignment, revision on a strict timetable for the up-coming engineering exams.

<Server: Login in progress.> The terminal chimed for attention.

Clare put her studypad down and watched the screen. Her perfectly rendered rep appeared in one corner. The headset needed adjusting again – someone ought to fix that chafing...

<Server: Are you a regular customer?>

The next line of the screen window remained blank. A subsidiary window opened with an analysis sequence: call trace, suggested client identifications, probable script options. Nearly a third of callers chickened out at this point.

<CallerAnon: No.>

But not this one.

<Server: We have a range of hostesses. Do you have any preferences?>

Another long delay.

<CallerAnon: No.> <Request audio> <Request 3D interactive>

Wow. Bandwidth to burn. Clare put her studypad in standby for an interesting caller.

<Server:/Audio: Allow me to introduce you to Clare. She will attend to your needs. Should you require an alternative Hostess please ask for Server and I shall return.>

Clare tweaked her headset again, aggravating the sore patch on her ear. Her rep was already full-screen: petite, half-dressed, inviting red lips. It was not like looking in a mirror. Real Clare was tall and solid with thin, pale lips, but the customers expected something different. The customers were always right. Especially the idiots.

"Hi, I’m Clare. What shall I call you?"

Her digital rep lip-synched perfectly. Not like last week.

Another long delay, filled by watching the diagnostic output assessing breathing sounds and stress indicators. Everything read bad and the request for interactive 3D was unusual – someone had access to a powerful terminal and serious money. Maybe a rich kid messing around...

"Phil." Stress analysis tagged Phil as so highly strung he was about to snap. The server was confident that this voice was truthful about being called ‘Phil’ – another oddity. He didn’t come over as a rich kid, or perhaps he was the insecure sort that murdered the junior servants and buried the bodies in the sandbox.

The next line of the standard introductory script popped up in the main window and Clare grudgingly followed the prompts.

"Pleased to meet you, Phil. What can I do for you?" It was crap – she was supposed to be flirting with him, not sorting out an account query.

"You’re very pretty.” The voice stress window crashed. "A little twirl?"

The server did its best, echoing the performance for Clare, as her rep turned slowly, hands resting lightly on hips. The routine concluded with a bow, presenting an inviting depth of cleavage and then a flick and toss of hair which rendered badly on Clare’s terminal. The imagery had been much cleaner yesterday. No telling how it looked on Phil’s fancy 3D display. Bloody upgrades. Bloody geeks in development. Probably wanking instead of having both hands on the keyboard. Somebody ought to take them and...

The voice stress window recovered and the analysis was not good. A solid nine-point-five on the nut-job scale.

Clare read the script – is that satisfactory? "You like?" she drawled.

Another window popped up – performance deviation analysis. Too many of those and it was back to blocked U-bends and roach-swatting. Deviation positive. Lucky, lucky, lucky...

"Are you really a machine?" Phil asked sharply.

"No, I am Clare...” and back on script, because luck only went so far. “I am a Simulated Interactive Response Algorithm. I am designed to offer advice on any sexual topic from the female perspective whilst remaining perfectly objective and absolutely discreet and confidential." Still shit, but better than a week ago, and any changes to that pile of crap had to be formally authorised. Somehow, none of Clare’s suggestions made it through.


Clare pinched her nose to kill a burst of laughter. Machines didn't flirt... but this AI was learning fast. The present rate of progress made her short-term contract look likely to end early. Even if Lilywhite paid in full, those perks mattered. Even with cash to spend, soft toilet paper was not easy to come by outside the wealthy enclaves.

Her rep shivered on the screen, a cascade of yellow tones flowing down her arms and pooling in her belly. She stabbed the mute for the microphone. "What the hell was that?"

<Server: Stress feedback from remote terminal. This is a fully interactive session.>

The display showed where Phil thought he was touching her. This wasn't just bandwidth to burn, more a bit-rate bonfire. The digital complexion returned to normal but she dragged up the colour scale from the corner of the screen. Yellow was the lightest of touches, but he ought to have asked first. It was the sort of negotiation she might have made without words if they had met in the flesh, but over the nets there ought to have been something… more.

"I would have gone to a priest, but I wanted to be certain.” Phil turned chatty, the sort of chatty that made a girl with any sense change seats on the late-night tram. Or get off and walk. “I just need to talk. To someone who won’t… Discreet. That’s what I want. Yes. Discreet."

"I am happy to listen." Her rep gained a chair out of nowhere and sat, leaning forwards to give an impression of avid attention. And bottomless cleavage. The script was temporarily suspended.

"It concerns a woman."

"My speciality." Her rep smiled and smoothed her clothes. That was better than yesterday.

"I’m going to have to kill her."

The rep leant back, a simulation of surprise. Not a bad response. She flagged it for the AI techs. Definitely time to get off the tram. And stay close to the street lights, if they were working.

"That’s extreme." Clare brought up the list of girls on duty that night – Nikki or Carole were best for this... "I am not really fully conversant with sadomasochistic interests. Perhaps one of the other Hostesses would be more suitable." She quickly typed a note: crap line – could do better. Not my thing… shall I change into someone else?

"She’s my boss." Phil ignored the offer. "Not my lover. And she’s misusing the UltraNet There’s no other way to stop her."

Clare wetted her lips. This was way off any script and every suggestion the server was throwing onto the screen was inappropriate. Some of it was inappropriately hilarious, but not helpful. Stop the tram, I really want to get off.

"Perhaps you should try making love to her instead. I can offer extensive advice." Her rep performed a leisurely cleavage adjustment. That wasn't right, the movement looked synthetic. And the script... so it was rubbish, could do better, but just now she couldn’t think – even though the nut-job was not beside her on the tram.

Phil chuckled. "I don’t need advice. I just wanted to talk before I did it. My confession." He laughed again. "Will you give me absolution?"

"Is that like a blow-job?" Clare spoke without thinking; the server flagged it as deviant response requires further assessment. “Fuck it...”


<Server: Connection lost.>

"Thanks? Thanks for what?"

Her rep faded.

<Server: Connection lost. Call terminated.>

"Fucking nutter...” No real threat, no danger, no need to be breathing so hard... “ Did he really mean it?"

<Server: Voice analysis: Probability of intent to commit murder: very high.>

"That bastard’s telling the truth?"

<Server: Voice analysis: Probability of deliberate falsehoods: very high. Do you wish elements of suspect conversation highlighted for analysis?>

"No. Yes. Do it. Oh shit." She pulled the headset off, rubbing the renewed sore patches. "What’s the UltraNet?"

<Server: Unclear. Repeat.>

Clare spoke deliberately, "I asked what’s the UltraNet?"

<Server: Unknown. No references.>

"Shit… Log it as a nutter. Never even got to ask how it was for him. That’ll screw your stats."

<Server: Caller logged as Deranged Mental State. Statistics will accommodate.>

<Login>: Audible warning sounds.

<Server: Welcome back, John/|\7.>

<John/|\7: Hey, baby.> <Request audio> "Is Clare available?"

<Server: Ident is John/|\7. Preferences known. Adjusting rep.>

"Shit." She put the headset back on. The digital Clare materialised in a subsidiary window, clothing significantly abbreviated. It’s just a job. Think of the perks. Shower later... Deep breath, eyes closed, just another customer. Relax and... "Hi, John. Just caught me dressing." She skimmed the script and then branched out on her own. "How do you like it?"

A threatening window opened and relented. Deviation positive. Lucky again...

"Looking great," John/|\7 enthused and then turned sly. "Still a bit over dressed. I’d really love to see you…"

Clare muted the microphone and sighed.


Fairy Dust



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