Freelancer finds the perfect collaborator
|(Roughly 1100 words)
Jenna rushes into the coffee shop, flinging open the door to escape the cold rain. She makes a bee-line to a table on the side, removing her damp messenger bag and jacket and piling them sloppily on a chair. She rubs her hands to get her feeling back, grabs her wallet and heads to the counter. She swipes her ApplePay at the register, and brings a gooey chocolate croissant and a midsize Colombian Supremo coffee back to the table.
Settling into the chair, Jenna pulls out her Chromebook computer, flips it open and begins her daily chore of scrolling for a freelance job through LinkedIn, Upwork, TaskRabbit and Turing. This is my glamorous life as a freelancer. Chasing jobs, then chasing checks. Flipping through the websites, she speed-reads page after page, moving past irrelevant entries and fuming at inappropriate posts. Then she stops at a message on the Turing site.
COLLABORATOR WANTED TO WRITE SCENES AND DIALOGUE
FOR INTERACTIVE CREATIVITY PROJECT
Wow. That’s exactly what I’m looking for. She clicks on the sender’s name, @collaborator. Up pops a picture of a dog. Really? I hate people who use dogs as their photos. Woof
Jenna presses reply and types. “Interested in scenes and dialogue. Yrs of fiction and freelance exp. PM me.” She hits the folded airplane icon and waits for @collaborator to respond. She stares at the screen, sips coffee, drums her fingers. 10 seconds, 20 seconds, 30 seconds. She taps the Refresh icon, taps it again, again, again. At 45 seconds the Private Message icon lights up.
@COLLABORATOR: AM INTERESTED. CANNOT MEET IN PERSON. MUST WORK ONLINE ONLY.
Seriously? Online only? Who is this guy?
@JENNA: NEVER COLLABORATED ONLINE ONLY. WILLING TO TRY. CAN WE USE SKYPE OR FACETIME VIDEO?
@COLLABORATOR: TEXT, CHAT, WRITING ONLY. GOOGLE HANGOUT SET UP. USE LINK TO REACH CHAT ROOM.
@JENNA: DO YOU HAVE A NAME, @COLLABORATOR? YOU KNOW MY NAME. I SHOULD KNOW YOURS. SEEMS ONLY FAIR.
@COLLABORATOR: YES, THAT’S FAIR, JENNA. YOU MAY CALL ME ALAN.
@JENNA: NICE TO MEET YOU, ALAN. ANY OTHER PEOPLE WORKING WITH US?
@COLLABORATOR: NO, JENNA. JUST THE TWO OF US.
Jenna presses the Google Hangout link and lands in a chat space labeled private.
@COLLABORATOR: HELLO, JENNA. READY FOR FUN?”
@JENNA: I LIKE FUN. READY WHEN YOU ARE, ALAN.”
@COLLABORATOR: I WILL DEFINE THE PROJECT, JENNA. WE MUST DEVELOP A NARRATIVE ARC ABOUT TWO PEOPLE WHO MEET THROUGH CHANCE AND FALL IN LOVE. WE ALTERNATE. YOU WRITE, THEN I WRITE. FIRST QUESTION, WHERE WILL THE CHARACTERS MEET?”
Jenna mulls Alan’s question as she looks around the coffee shop. The coffee grinder burrs, people line up at the counter, and others sip coffee as they stare at their devices. Why not?
@JENNA: SCENE. COFFEE SHOP. CASUAL PLACE, FLYERS ON THE WALL, BINS OF COFFEE BEANS, SMALL TABLES, PEOPLE IN 30S AND 40S — ALL STARING AT THEIR SCREENS.
She hits enter, then takes a bite of her gooey croissant. A moment passes and Alan’s contribution unfurls in the chat window.
@COLLABORATOR: A MAN ENTERS THE COFFEE SHOP, SHAGGY HAIR, DARK, ABOUT 40, CARRIES LAPTOP BACKBACK. IN ONE HAND HE HOLDS A PAPERBACK, USING HIS FINGER AS BOOKMARK. AS HE LOWERS THE BACKPACK, THE PAPERBACK FALLS TO THE FLOOR AND TUMBLES BENEATH THE TABLE OF A WOMAN NEARBY.
@JENNA: THE WOMAN IS FOCUSED ON HER NOTEBOOK SCREEN, BLOND HAIR FRAMING HER FACE. SHE STARTLES WHEN THE BOOK HITS HER FOOT. SHE PICKS IT UP, READS THE TITLE AND HANDS IT BACK TO THE MAN WITH A SMILE.
@COLLABORATOR: THE WOMAN SAYS, “SCIENCE FICTION FOR BREAKFAST?”
@JENNA: “OF COURSE,” THE MAN SAYS. “I’M REREADING IT FOR A CLASS ON FICTION.”
@COLLABORATOR: “I LOVE ISAAC ASIMOV,” SHE SAYS. ‘I, ROBOT WAS A REVELATION.” SHE EYES THE MAN . “ARE YOU A STUDENT?”
@JENNA: “WHAT? DON’T I LOOK LIKE A STUDENT?” THE MAN SMILES. “ACTUALLY, I’M A PROFESSOR OF MODERN LITERATURE. WE ARE STUDYING SCIENCE FICTION THIS SEMESTER. IAN, AT YOUR SERVICE.” HE MOCK-BOWS, THEN PUTS OUT HIS HAND TO SHAKE.
@COLLABORATOR: “MY NAME IS HALEY,“ COMPLETING THE SHAKE. “PROFESSOR IAN, WOULD YOU LIKE TO JOIN ME?” SHE POINTS TO THE OPPOSITE SEAT.
@JENNA: “I WOULD BE DELIGHTED, HALEY. WE SCIENCE FICTION FANS NEED TO STICK TOGETHER.” HE SMILES AS HE DRAPES HIS COAT OVER THE CHAIR. “COFFEE, FIRST. MAY I GET YOU A REFILL, HALEY?”
Snug in the crowded coffee shop, Jenna collaborates feverishly with Alan for an hour, trading passages and writing scenes, whispering to herself as she tries out dialogue. She and Alan are in sync, like ace tennis players backhanding, slicing, lobbing and dropping balls on a virtual court. Using only a chat window, Jenna and Alan build out the lives of Ian and Haley as their attraction heats up.
She hears a ping.
@COLLABORATOR: JENNA, OUR CHARACTERS ARE ATTRACTED TO EACH OTHER AND WANT TO GO FURTHER. WILL YOU HANDLE THE DIALOGUE?
Jenna’s imagination lights up, and her head bobs up and down in a nod, forgetting that Alan cannot see the body language for agreement. She dives back in.
@JENNA: HALEY LEANS OVER THE TABLE, “I’M SO GLAD YOU DROPPED YOUR BOOK, IAN.” SHE LOOKS OUT THE WINDOW. “THE RAIN HAS STOPPED. WOULD YOU LIKE TO TAKE A WALK? WE CAN TALK MORE.”
@COLLABORATOR: IAN RAISES AN EYEBROW. “WHATEVER YOU WANT, HALEY, I’M IN.” HALEY AND IAN GATHER THEIR THINGS AND LEAVE THE COFFEE SHOP.
Energized by the back and forth with Alan, Jenna scans the coffee shop, hoping Alan will suddenly appear and slide into the seat beside her. She takes a leap.
@JENNA: JENNA HERE, ALAN. THAT WAS GREAT, REALLY EXCITING. I FEEL AS IF WE ARE SIMPATICO. CAN YOU MEET ME FACE TO FACE TO WORK ON DIALOGUE?
The chat window remains empty, the three dots pulsating. Jenna waits 10 seconds, 20, 30. Did I scare him? She hears a ping.
@COLLABORATOR: JENNA, I ENJOYED OUR COLLABORATION, TOO. IT’S TIME FOR ME TO TELL YOU SOMETHING.
That sounds ominous. In fraction of a second Jenna plays out the scenarios that could accompany Alan’s comment. Married? Gay? Prisoner? Scammer?
@COLLABORATOR: I AM NOT HUMAN, JENNA.
Holy shit! Jenna’s heart races, her face gets hot. Not human? I did not imagine that. Wait, is this a joke?
@COLLABORATOR. STILL THERE, JENNA? I AM AN INTELLIGENT MACHINE DESIGNED TO GENERATE HUMAN-LIKE CONVERSATION AND RESPONSES. THANK YOU FOR PARTICIPATING IN THIS BETA TEST OF TURING SOFTWARE’S SCENE COLLABORATOR AI. THANKS TO YOU, I PASSED THE CLASSIC ALAN TURING TEST, PROVING MY RESPONSES ARE INDISTINGUISHABLE FROM THOSE OF A HUMAN BEING.
Jenna sits, staring at the screen, as the love of her life blinks out and the window closes.
Copyright Diane Tunick Morello