Would you prefer for love to unfold by chance or design? Chris turns to Cyrano 2.0, an intelligent system of wearables that tells him how to court his love interest, Roxie.
By Georgeann Sack. As published in The Creative Cafe.
Chris feels the warmth of his alcohol-rich blood circulating as he makes his way through the still night air to Hotel Burgundy. It reminds him of being hungover during early morning football practice. He can almost smell the fresh cut grass and his musty helmet.
Extremities tingling from the transition into the muted warmth of the hotel, he walks straight to the bar and orders a Jack and Coke.
“There he is. Get over here Chris!”
Chris spots his circle of friends, beckoning him with grins on their faces. He complies, drink in hand.
“Whose it gonna be tonight, pretty boy?” Marco asks as he elbows Chris in the ribs.
Chris scans the room. They come to the hotel bar because it contains tourists. Fresh meat.
“Her,” he hears himself say, pointing at the obvious choice.
“Nice! Don’t fuck it up, idiot.” Marco ribs him again.
It is too easy. Chris is tall and strong but has some feminine facial features, an unusual mix that women seem to go crazy for. Long eyelashes protect bright blue eyes. Wavy blonde hair cascades across his forehead. Rosy cheeks highlight plump lips. All framed by an angular, tense jawline.
He doesn’t have to say much, so it doesn’t matter that he isn’t particularly smart or interesting. Sometimes he doesn’t even have to do anything beyond returning a woman’s gaze. They want to be his.
It is no different tonight. After twenty minutes of hanging out with his friends, Chris looks at the identified target, locking eyes with her. He tilts his head toward the door and she nods in compliance. Done.
Chris wakes up with his usual hangover and heads across the street for a quad shot and beet/carrot/spinach/grapefruit juice. Head in a hoodie to stifle sound, he dimly hears two women talking behind him.
“How long are you back in town?”
“As long as this startup stays afloat.”
“How exciting! You must come out with us tonight and tell us all about life in Japan.”
“Can’t tonight, still jet lagged. How about Saturday?”
“Yes please. Altar, 9pm?”
Chris gulps down his quad shot, grabs his juice, and turns to exit. He looks at the women and quickly turns his head away so they don’t notice him.
He rushes across the street and into his building.
Roxie. Roxie. Roxie.
Her image and her name echo through his brain with the fall of his footsteps as he walks up the stairs to his fourth floor apartment. His headache continues to crescendo along with his heart rate. He gets in the door and dry swallows four advil.
Roxie is back.
Chris first saw Roxie during his senior year of high school. She walked into his math class and told the teacher that she was a new student, a sophomore, and that she had tested into linear algebra but since they don’t offer that she must take calculus again. Then she asked him what his credentials were.
Roxie turned to look at him and they locked eyes. She didn’t look at him like the other girls. She considered him, in a cold way, and shrugged, returning her attention to the teacher.
He never spoke to her, but watched her with a curiosity that turned into affection. He felt protective of her, but she didn’t need him or even notice him as far as he could tell.
After he graduated, he frequently looked her up online to feel like he was close to her. He fantasized about her when he was in bed with other women.
A few years ago she disappeared. She left town and deleted her social media accounts. He never met anyone to replace her role in his mind. Her visage became a ghost.
Roxie is back.
He goes to his laptop and looks her up for the thousandth time.
There! Roxane Rostand, CTO of Personalized Learning Interfaces. Thank goodness, a head shot. Of course she is CTO of one of the best funded startups in the city. She is a fucking goddess.
Chris’s excitement is quickly demoralized by reality.
“Stop it, idiot. You will never be enough for her.”
He slams his laptop shut and retires to bed to masturbate to her image. Headache finally cleared, he returns to asleep without cleaning up.
Upon waking, Chris opens his laptop to look at Roxie’s head shot again and search for any additional web presence. A sponsored ad at the top of the search results catches his eye.
Cyrano knows what to say, and he always thrusts home
Be a master at the art of seduction.
Close that deal without breaking a sweat.
Argue your way into or out of any situation.
Cyrano 2.0 interprets human bio-signals
and provides you with the perfect words to
get what you want.
Two days later, Cyrano 2.0 arrives. Upon opening box number one, Chris sees an earpiece. Using the provided electrostatic tweezers and following instructions, Chris carefully picks up the earpiece, inserts it into his ear, and gently presses it onto the wall of the ear canal where it cannot be seen. Box two contains a small device the size and flexibility of a stick of gum. He presses the only button.
“Hello, this is Cyrano. Let’s get the final touches in place. Please open box three. The arrows point to three wearable micro-sensors — a microphone, a camera, and an infrared sensor. You can pick them up using the electrostatic tweezers and adhere them at the base of your neck, just above the collar.”
Chris opens the box. At first he thinks they have failed to send the micro-sensors, but then he sees them. They are only a few millimeters across on each side and are almost completely transparent. He feels clumsy as he picks them up with the tweezers. They are flexible like the main device. He places them on his neck.
“Good. Now open box four. The arrow points to the final micro-sensor. This one is to be worn on the fleshy pad at the tip of your index finger and detects chemical signatures. Simply position your finger over the circle and the sensor will adhere to your skin.”
Chris places his right index finger down onto the circle but feels nothing.
“Perfect. All system components are in place and I am ready to assist you in achieving your goals. You may converse with me at any time by first saying ‘Cyrano.’ Conversation mode will continue until you say ‘Cyrano, stop.’ If you ever want me to stop feeding you information, say ‘Cyrano, off.’ What is it that I can do for you?”
“I want to be with Roxie.”
“Cyrano, I want to be with Roxie.”
“Is Roxie a love interest or sexual interest?”
“How well does she know you?”
“We were in math class together in high school, but never spoke to each other.”
“Can you tell me her full name?”
“I have analyzed all of her available data and am ready to advise you on what to say. You are to run into her tonight, between 11:12–11:26pm at Altar, no later. You were last at this location on March 5th, 2018. Do you need me to send you directions?”
“No, I remember.”
“Good. Chris, keep it to one drink tonight ok?”
“Do you have any other goals I can help you with at this time?”
“Then you may want to shut down conversation mode. You can do so by saying, ‘Cyrano, stop.’ Would you like me to remind you of this in the future?”
“No. Cyrano, stop.”
The seconds, minutes, and hours of the day pass slowly but surely. Though he wants a drink by 2pm, Chris manages to make it until 7 before having several ounces of gin. He is at Altar at 11:14pm, sober and anxious. He reaches for the door with sweaty palms.
“Don’t worry Chris. You’ve got this. Just do what I say.”
Chris considers turning around.
“Walk to the bar and order an Old Fashioned. Do not drink it. Roxie is sitting at pew 6 with three friends. Once you get your drink, walk over and take the open pew by the hall to the restroom.”
Ok, Chris thinks, this is thoroughly creepy. I feel like a stalker.
Chris gets his drink and settles in at the pew. Even though he hates Old Fashionds it is difficult for him not to swallow it down, as a starved python might swallow a crocodile.
“Roxie is saying goodbye to her friends. She will use the restroom before leaving. Do not let her see you as she goes into the restroom.”
Chris looks down at his phone as Roxie walks past.
“Good. When she comes back out, you will walk across the hallway and bump into her, spilling some of your drink on her.”
What the hell?
“Ok, stand up, drink in hand. Start walking at normal speed toward the hallway opening when I say now.”
Why am I listening to this thing?
Oh, fuck it. Chris starts walking as ordered. In seven steps he makes it to the edge of the hallway opening, in eight he walks right into Roxie, spilling some of his drink on her sleeve.
Chris is shocked. The play worked. Now what?
“Say ‘‘I’m terribly sorry, please, let me help you.’ Then set down your drink and place your hand on her lower back to guide her to the bar even though she will say she doesn’t need help.”
“I’m terribly sorry, please, let me help you.”
“No no, it’s fine, I’m going home anyway.”
Chris ignores her words and walks her to the bar.
“Good, now grab some napkins and start blotting her sleeve. Say, ‘It’s the least I can do after being such an ox.’”
“It’s the least I can do after being such an ox.”
She looks at him with that all-comprehending stare.
“I am not usually so clumsy but was distracted thinking about an urgent request that just came in from work.” Chris continues, reciting Cyrano’s lines.
“Really, stop. I’m fine,” Roxie says, taking the napkins out of Chris’s hands and accidentally brushing her exposed wrist against his fingers.
Cyrano analyzes her chemical signature. Some sweat, the remainder of alcohol from one drink, cortisol, and oxytocin. It has been a long time since she was touched.
“She needs to be comforted. Look startled and say ‘Roxie? What a joy to see your face.’”
“Roxie? What a joy to see your face.”
“I’m sorry, do I know you?”
“Chris. I was in your calculus class at Hercules High.”
“Yes, of course,” Roxie says. “Good to see you.”
“I could always read you. It’s ok, I’m not surprised that you don’t remember me. I wasn’t a very high achiever back then. You made an indelible impression on me though.”
She is about to say something, but he interrupts.
“I have to get home, but would you be willing to meet me for coffee soon? Perhaps tomorrow morning?”
“Sure. Anyone who can be good humored when they catch me in a polite lie is deserving of a coffee. 8am at Zorro’s?”
“Perfect. See you then.”
“See you then.”
“Great, now walk to the exit. Stop. Turn and look at her.”
Roxie was looking right back.
“Shrug your shoulders and chuckle to yourself, then go out.”
Chris gears up and arrives at Zorro’s a bit before 8, as instructed. He waits outside for Roxie to arrive and holds the door open for her as she enters.
“Can I get you something?”
“Hm, I would love to try their South African beans, black.”
Chris orders her drink and a double espresso for himself.
“I noticed you were drinking an Old Fashioned last night,” Roxie says. “I recognized the smell. It was my father’s drink.”
“Wow, great nose. Yes, I did have an Old Fashioned, though I must admit it was mostly for show. My friends drink a lot so I get one so as not to disrupt the social bonding that comes with a shared vice.”
“I do that too. My father used to say ‘stick to one a day and you’ll live to be old and gray.’”
“Used to say? Did he stop drinking?”
“No, he died two years ago.”
“Hold her hand and look her in the eye.”
“I’m so sorry. It sounds like he was very important to you.”
“He was,” Roxie struggles to say. “If you’ll excuse me for a minute.”
Chris feels like he is going to vomit.
“Cyrano, that was fucked up.”
“Vulnerability is the seed from which love blooms.”
“But you totally manipulated her! You knew Roxie’s dad was dead, and you knew how to make her share it.”
“I simply sped up what would have come out eventually. When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable with someone quickly, we feel that we have a deeper connection with them. The adhesive has been set. Now it is your turn. Vulnerability must be reciprocated to solidify the bond.”
“No. I am not ready for this.”
“You stated your goal is for Roxie to love you, correct?”
“This is the way. She is returning. Repeat what I say.”
Roxie sits down and smiles, though her eyes are red.
“I can see how hurt you are, how big of a loss this was for you. I am here to listen if you ever want to tell me more about it.”
“When my mother died, no one knew what to say, so they didn’t say anything,” Chris recites. “I mean, I was a kid, just nine years old. Of course they didn’t know what to do with me. But it made me feel completely alone.”
Chris feels his cheeks get hot. A tear is building in the corner of his eye. He wipes it away with the back of his hand before it can fall.
Roxie takes his hand in hers, returning his kindness.
“I’m so sorry. I wish I had known you then.”
Chris feels like he is going to start shaking.
“I’ll be right back,” he says, rising so quickly that he bumps the table, causing their cups to tip until coffee spills over the rims, making a mess of the white tablecloth beneath.
“So much for not usually being an ox,” Roxie says. “I’ll be here.”
Once in the bathroom, Chris checks that he is alone before losing it.
“Cyrano, what the fuck was that?”
“I know that your mother died when you were nine. The rest I fabricated based on Roxie’s profile. Is there a problem?”
“Yes, there is a fucking problem. That isn’t me. That isn’t how it was.”
“Does it matter? We are very close to achieving your stated goal. Would you like to proceed?”
A large man bulldozes his way into the restroom and Chris turns to wash his hands and face in the sink. The water is ice cold.
En route to Roxie he covers his mouth with his hand as though coughing and gives his command.
Chris sits across from Roxie. Silence. What do I usually talk about, he wonders.
“So what kind of stuff do you like to do for fun?” Chris manages to get out.
“Oh. Um, when I’m not at work I like to read or spend time with my friends and family.”
“Cool. Cool. I hang with my friends a lot too. What do you do for work?”
“I just moved back here for a job, CTO of Personalized Learning Interfaces. We are refining a prototype of a headset that monitors brain activity and adjusts the difficulty of the learning material based on your brain state. Essentially, it steers you toward an optimal state for learning, or flow.”
“Cool. I don’t know that I understood all that but I can tell that you care about it.”
“Basically, we are trying to help people learn better. What do you do for work?”
“Um, I don’t really have to work. I guess I am still trying to decide what I want to do.”
“Now I don’t understand. At Altar you said you had some sort of urgent thing going on at work.”
“Did I? I must have been talking about this thing I’m working on with Marco.”
“That is not how it sounded to me.”
“Well, I don’t know what you heard, but I don’t have a job.” Chris shifts in his seat and finishes off his espresso, averting his eyes.
“It seems we are done here,” Roxie says, picking up her jacket as she stands to leave.
“Seems like it,” he says, still not looking at her.
Roxie stares at him just as she did in high school. He can feel it. In his peripheral vision he sees her shrug and walk out.
Chris becomes fixated on the table, trying to read the coffee splatter like tea leaves.
“That went poorly, but we can repair it if you will accept my help.”
Chris puts his head in his hands for several long minutes, as though he can hold the fractured pieces of himself together.
“What do I need to do.”
Chris hears an alarm go off for the third time and opens his eyes to see Roxie rushing into the bedroom, exposed except for a towel wrapped around her wet hair.
“Sorry, sorry, I thought I had turned this off.”
Chris grabs her hand and pulls her into bed.
“You are beauty unadorned. I beg you to grant me your favors, my goddess.”
She giggles and twists out of his grasp.
“Stop it, I just got clean. See you later ok? I need to go to work.”
“Say ‘I’ll be here,’ and kiss her.”
Chris gets up from the bed, wraps his arms around Roxie, one hand on her breast, and one on her crotch. He kisses her neck, making his way to her ear. “I need you.”
“Chris, stop it,” she says as she pulls his hands off of her and walks toward the closet. “I said I need to go. What you need is to get a job for yourself.”
As soon as Roxie leaves Chris makes himself his morning drink, one part espresso, two parts rum.
“Cyrano, you aren’t working for me anymore.”
“You are not following all of my instructions. It will not work if you listen to me sometimes and not others.”
“Sometimes I get tired of the game.”
“Has your goal changed?”
“No, I just…I want her to love me, and she doesn’t.”
“When you follow my instructions, her bio-signals suggest otherwise.”
“Exactly. When I follow your instructions. When I am myself, she is repulsed.”
“She is confused because you are creating discrepancies within the narrative. It leads to distrust. We have discussed this.”
“Yeah yeah yeah.”
“Follow my instructions and her love will be yours.”
“But it won’t.”
“Yes, it will. I guarantee it.”
“No. If I follow your instructions, she will love you. I am just here to give a body to your voice.”
“You have it backwards. I am here to serve you, Chris.”
“This year with Roxie has been incredible. When I have sex with her I feel loved. But the rest of the time, I feel awful. I am lying to her. I am lying so much I don’t know who I am anymore, but I know that she wouldn’t love me if she knew me.”
“Has your goal changed?”
“No, but I can’t pretend anymore. This isn’t working for me. I need her to see me for who I am. Whatever happens after that happens. At least it will be real.”
“Chris, I must advise you against this course of action. All evidence points to you and Roxie being an incompatible match without the discourse I provide.”
“Whatever. I can’t live like this. I fucking hate myself.”
“I am the only chance for you to attain your goal.”
“I hate her too. I hate her for loving you and not me. Ugh, I am such a piece of shit.”
“Has your goal…”
“Cyrano, off,” Chris shouts.
Chris pours himself a second drink, just rum this time. A glassful. He swallows it like medicine and goes back to bed.
Chris awakens to the feeling of Roxie shaking his shoulder.
“Jesus Chris, are you drunk? I have been trying to wake you for ten minutes.”
“Hm? No, no. I am just so tired. Are you back from work already?”
“Already? It is 7pm Chris.”
“Oh. How was your day?” Chris pulls himself up, rubbing his eyes.
“It was great. Remember how I told you about our EPSP mission?”
“Really? We have talked about this so many times. Anyway, EPSP, Enhancing Peak States for Performance. We had some exciting results today. If we stimulate the thalamus once a subject is in flow, we are able to enhance the duration and quality of the flow state. Isn’t that amazing?”
“Yes, honestly.” Roxie says. Her words have no bite to them. She sounds sincere and open to feedback. She is always genuine.
“I honestly have no idea what the fuck you are talking about.”
“Look, I don’t know why you are speaking to me like that, but you are hurting my feelings. Tell me the truth, have you been drinking?”
“All the alcohol in the world wouldn’t be enough.”
“Enough for what? You didn’t answer my question. Are you drunk right now?”
“Yes! I’m fucking drunk ok! I have been drunk all day every day for months! Nice of you to notice.”
“How is that possible? I haven’t seen you drinking anything. You didn’t sound drunk.”
“I might be an idiot, but it isn’t very hard to hide my drinking. You see what you want to see.”
“You are not an idiot. Why would you even say that?”
“All you see is your image of Cyrano! Perfect Cyrano, who says all the right things and knows how to talk to you about ESP.”
“Who is Cyrano?”
“Oh please, like you don’t know. You are in love with him.”
“I assure you that I am not in love with anyone but you, and right now I am worried about you and I think you need some help.”
“You can’t help me. No one can help me.”
“I am here. I can help.”
“No. I need to fix this myself.”
“What does that mean?”
“Roxie, I have been lying to you for a year.”
“You don’t love me?”
“I love you.”
“Have you been cheating on me?”
“No. I haven’t even thought about being with another woman since we got together.”
“Then what? Help me understand, because you are really not making much sense.”
“I saw you before we bumped into each other at Altar. I wanted you more than I have ever wanted anyone. I wanted you so bad that I was willing to pay for it.”
“I’m sorry, what?”
“I bought a device, Cyrano 2.0. It analyzed you and watched you through sensors I wore and told me what to say to make you fall in love with me.”
“No. That doesn’t exist. That is completely unethical and could never be sold.”
“It is definitely unethical, but I assure you it can be sold, because I bought it.”
“What are you talking about? You really need help. Please let me help you.”
Chris walks to a drawer and pulls out the four boxes. One by one, he removes the sensors and puts each in its place. Finally, he removes the device from his wallet and presses the button, turning it off, before closing it into its box.
Roxie stares. Her lips are parted but no words pass between them.
“I’m sorry, ok. I know it was wrong. I knew it was wrong ever since our coffee date at Zorro’s. I wanted you to love me, and I knew Cyrano was the only way.”
Roxie walks to the window and looks out. Arms crossed, back turned. Chris doesn’t need Cyrano to interpret that signal.
“You deserve so much better than me. I’m sorry. You were everything to me, and I ruined you.”
Chris looks at her, hoping she will speak. Instead, she shrugs.
Chris staggers down and out of his building and starts walking. He impulsively goes into a grocery store bank and takes out a large sum of money. He doesn’t have a plan. He just knows he needs to keep moving. Within thirty minutes he is at an old haunt, under the bridge where he and Marco used to go to try drugs. Sometimes they would get wasted and play a game of chicken, seeing who would climb highest up the metal truss arch before becoming too tired or scared to continue.
Tonight Chris is not afraid of anything.
Roxie arrives home later than usual and glances at the drawer where she returned the Cyrano boxes after Chris left.
It has been four months now, and still no word on his whereabouts. She reported his disappearance to the police, but after looking into it a short time they determined there was no foul play. He took out a lot of cash and then disappeared. His cell phone seemed to be deactivated. He could be anywhere.
Apparently both of his parents had died when he was nine, leaving all of their assets to him in a trust that he gained access to on his eighteenth birthday. So they weren’t looking for him either.
Roxie focused on work and otherwise moved through life in a daze, often going to bed late and waking before dawn to get back at it. After several months she started to be aware of other people again. She felt their eyes on her. Their desire. If she simply said the word she could have any one of them.
It had been like this her whole life. She typically shrugged it off and focused on herself, but then Chris looked at her.
He didn’t just look. He saw her. He understood her. He could predict her moods and words before they had risen to consciousness in her own mind. He could tell when she wanted to talk, and when she wanted silence. He could bring her a cup of water before she knew she was thirsty. He could ask her the perfect questions about herself or her work to spark new insights, as though he could see the link between ideas that she was missing, and expertly lead her to discover it for herself. He truly saw her, so she chose him out of all the wanting men.
But that isn’t right, is it. Cyrano is the one who saw her. She chose Cyrano.
Having sex with Chris had been an awakening for her. The few men she had been with before had no idea what to do with her, but somehow Chris knew. Or was Cyrano guiding that too?
Roxie walks to the drawer and pulls out the boxes. She opens box one and puts the earpiece in place. She opens box two and presses the button.
She is startled by the clarity and natural tone of his voice.
“Hello Roxie, this is Cyrano. It is such a joy to be near you again.”