The utter professionalism of the Japanese company Sakaguchi Automations is not an invincible force field by any means. Even this company will occasionally do things that most would consider strange or trashy.
Having Karina and a dozen other young women up on stage in skimpy outfits would, in my opinion, qualify as strange and trashy.
Even in a culture where “booth babes” are so common they are almost required, it is still downright sad to see them resorting to something like this. As attracted as I am to some of these young women, it’s degrading and bad and exemplary of exactly the sort of garbage that keeps the tech industry a “boy’s club.” But it is what it is, and I guess most of the women up there seem okay with it, so it is simply my bias against horny men showing.
Also, Karina looks unusually composed at the moment. She’s up there on the stage in front of thousands upon thousands of people, and she isn’t freaking out or anything. What sounds like an utter horror movie to most people, she’s taking without much of any stress. Maybe I’m projecting. I certainly would never go up on a stage that big.
From back here in the standing-room-only section at the far end of the conference hall, you can barely even make out the individual people on the stage. Or at least, you can’t unless you have cybernetically enhanced vision as does a certain being named Morgan Harding, AKA me. Karina isn’t just a tiny blurry blip on a faraway stage, but rather a slightly less blurry figure I can almost kinda make out.
I will admit most of my ability to figure out it’s her is because I’ve known her long enough that I can pick her out just by the way she carries herself when she’s walking and standing. She always has that air of constant busy-ness about her.
“What are you looking at?” Amy asks. “You’ve been staring up there for ages.”
“None of your business,” I say.
“Sure it is. I’m here with you, and I wanna know what’s getting your panties in a twist.”
“I’m wearing boxers.”
Amy blinks a few times. “Didn’t need to know that. Gross.”
“Gross? What’s gross about underwear?”
“Where do you get off, telling a teenager about your underwear?”
“You set me up for this!” I yell just a little bit too loudly, causing some bystanders to stare our way. This is becoming a common occurrence. Way too common.
“Anyway, I’m just looking up at the stage. My friend is up there.”
“Oh, you mean your boyfriend?” she asks.
“I don’t even know what you’re trying to get at with this bullshit.”
“I’m not getting at anything, Morgan. I’m just asking questions.
Suddenly, the lights overhead dim, and some faint spotlights turn on around the stage. The giant video screen in the center of the conference hall, flashes a large Sakaguchi Automations logo. The two to its left and right flash the logo as well.
Now, the press conference begins.
The video screens show a swirl of pink and green and blue, swooshing in rings around the logo and then continuing to do so even as the logo fades away into black. Then the rings speed up and turn into blinding bright silhouettes, and then–
The spotlights turn up bright and the lights on the video screens fade away. Out in front of the stage are three individuals in superhero costumes, green, blue and pink. They wear rubber masks and large capes, and they each are standing still like statues in various poses.
Then, in unison, the three masked people move into attention, and make a series of poses while shouting something in Japanese.
This entire time, Karina and the other skimpy dressed women are still standing at the back of the stage, basically window dressing to whatever the hell is going on right now.
And then a middle aged Japanese businessman steps on the stage in front of them and says, “The new season of Super Tekken Squad will air in Georgia and the Eastern Union starting on September 30th. I hope you will all be very excited to see what is in store.”
The masked people do another series of poses, then cartwheel off the stage. Yes, literally cartwheel.
There’s upracious cheer from the crowd, even some whistling. I thought these guys were all supposed to be journalists and industry professionals… Also, I have never seen a single episode of Super Tekken Squad and cannot fathom why a bunch of grown adults are so excited about whatever this is. Or why it’s at a tech convention press conference.
After all the masked people are gone, the spotlights fade and the logo for Super Tekken Squad appears up on the screens. There’s another round of applause. What the hell is going on…
Next, the stage darkens again and another video plays. It shows off a suburban home with two stories and a freshly mowed front lawn and all that good stuff. But once the first-person-view camera enters through the front door, a kindly blue flashing bump near the ceiling, like an oversized fire extinguisher, says with a soothing synthesized male voice, “Welcome home, Angela. How are you today?”
“I had a great day at work,” the point-of-view-voice says. “We got two new Oishii Drip Coffee robots at the office–” You can practically hear the trademark symbol as she says the product name–“and now we can get freshly brewed coffee made just like we like it. It’s so great!”
“That’s nice, Angela,” the blue thing on the ceiling says. “I’ve preheated the oven for your chicken and brewed a pot of herbal tea. Is there anything else you’d like me to do?”
“Thank you so much, Adam!” Angela exclaims, stepping into the kitchen that’s perfectly laid out for a family of four or five. “Yes. Fill me up a hot bath, and It’ll be perfect.”
“Coming right up, Angela,” the male voice says.
Angela takes a chicken out of the fridge and places it into the oven. She looks into a mirror, where we see her shining face smiling like she just won the lottery, with the blue dot on the ceiling flashing behind her. And then there’s a freeze frame as a new narrator comes on, saying, “From Sakaguchi’s top designers comes the product of the future: a Smart Home for every family. Preorder the Sakaguchi Home Bot today, or call us for a free consultation. And try out the demo today, right after this press conference.”
The video ends, and there is a round of polite clapping.
“Now here to talk to us about the Sakaguchi Home Bot is none other than lead designer Kazutora Kodama. Please welcome him onto the stage.”
Another round of polite clapping.
Before the clapping dies down, Karina’s dad comes on stage, his bald head flashing as the stage lights bounce off of him. He does so in a quiet, stilted march towards the center spotlight, seemingly rehearsed endlessly… and this is just a walk. He is a man of ritual, if everything his daughter has told me is true.
And speaking of his daughter, Karina is still standing there at the back of the stage with all the other women in skimpy outfits. None of them have done anything yet, and I’m really confused at what they are here for.
Karina’s dad starts speaking, but he’s talking fast and he’s talking about home economics and the efficiency of the household, and it’s bored me enough already that I can’t help but tune out.
“The rich are the worst,” Amy whispers to me. “The absolute worst.”
“I can’t exactly argue with that,” I say.
“We have thousands of kids on the street right now, and they’re here promoting a robot to check your wine cabinet.”
“Wine is really important if you’re a white woman over the age of thirty-five. Helping homeless people isn’t. You should know that by now.”
“Everything about this tech expo makes me want to burn the whole place to the ground,” she whispers. “It’s just so… awful.”
“You should have met Jones. You’d have been good friends with her.”
Finally, Karina’s dad finishes up to the tune of more reasonable-volume clapping, and he moves away from center stage, standing off to the side near all of the young women.
Then the narrator shouts, “Now it’s time what we’ve all been waiting for… Goro Okamura, head of research & marketing, here to tell us about none other than… The Sakaguchi Knights!
The clapping becomes a lot less polite as the crowd enters into a much more exciting product– new war machines. Yay.
Oh, the skimpily clothed women are all moving up to the front of the stage now… Karina, what have you been roped into?
Another middle aged Japanese guy steps into the stage and is completely fired up, shouting, “Bring out the robots!”
The crowd cheers back, “Bring out the robots!”
At the same time, all of the conference hall doors swing open and there’s loud metallic clanging at exactly 120 beats per minute. Rows of robots march down the aisles, completely in step and menacingly precise. And then in an instant, they halt. The conference hall goes dead silent. The guy on the stage says, “Come here, Knights.”
In response, all of them simultaneously activate rocket boosters on their backs and fly into the air, circling around in formation before all landing at the same moment on the stage, just behind the row of women.
Dead silence again.
And then a wave of applause.
The Japanese guy bows like a concert maestro, and the women do some weird rehearsed cutesy poses. The subsequent sound of camera clicks and flashes is almost as loud as the clapping, too.
I feel like I’ve entered a historical moment of some sort. But I’m standing way in the back, so… I don’t know what that says about me.
Now there is a row of robot soldiers, functional and moving, unlike the display models I saw the other day. They tower over everyone else on the stage, domineering with a silent threat that puts me very much on-guard. How are these things just being let here… they’re literal soldiers with literal weapons.
The Japanese guy is going on and on about the functionality and features of these robots, but I’ve mostly tuned it out in favor of looking at the Sakaguchi Knights with my own eyes. These are the protectors of the future, all the advertising says… but they’re also the attackers of the future. The invaders of the future.
If the streets of Atlanta become filled with half-functional war robots that street mechanics repair and crime lords use as enforcers, the city is going to descend into chaos very quickly. If anyone particularly unscrupulous gets their hands on robots like these, it’s going to make my job not only a lot harder, but I’ll probably get killed immediately.
I don’t like the idea of dying, so I am suddenly very much not a fan of these robots.
“..when these robots go into full production early next year,” the Japanese guy says, to more applause.
There’s a sinking feeling in my stomach. About these military robots, and about everything surrounding the tech expo. There’s so much surrounding the convention, so much tension, so many people circling in on… something, all at the same time.
This is what R8PR’s been talking about for ages. That Atlanta is a river that’s been dammed up, sealed off, stuck in the past for decades, and now everything’s about to burst through. The Atlanta Annual Tech Expo is showing me exactly that.
The Sakaguchi Knights, the Blade Runners, the Earth Group, the Holos, the Ascendants… All of these groups, all of these names. Something’s going down, some chess pieces are being pushed, and I’m just here trying to figure out what is even going on. The status quo is about to explode, and someone is going to have to take a new role in guiding Atlanta through the floodwaters. With all the factions involved in conspiracies and set-ups and intrigue lately, it seems like everyone in the damn city is trying to be the new protectors, the knights of the round table, but if everyone’s trying, then that means there’s going to be collisions, and a lot of them at that. Who’s going to step up?
It sure ain’t me.
I turn my attention back to the press conference.
The Japenese guy is turned back to Karina and the other girls next to the war robots and is chatting with them, asking, “Now, ladies, why don’t you show off the capabilities of these robot pals of yours?”
Oh, it’s a scripted demonstration… of a war robot. Nice.
“Gladly,” says the woman in the skimpy outfit nearest to the Japanese guy. She winks at him, and then does a catwalk behind the robot and around in a circle. The robot’s upper eye tracks her in a full 360-degree loop, while the lower eye stays fixed at the crowd in front of it.
“Oooooh,” Amy says. “Wait. I don’t know what just happened.”
“And now, let’s show off their intelligence,” the guy on stage says. “I’m going to hide a red flag with one of these girls, and the robots are going to track her.” He hands the flag to one, and she shows it to the robots, then hides it… in her bra. Oh, wow. The crowd is cheering… Ugh.
“Okay, now, ladies, let’s scramble!”
The ladies begin walking around in a jumble, trying to confuse the robots–
Until Karina trips and falls onto another girl–
And half of them crash to the ground.
The audience bursts into laughter as people start tumbling down–
Two of the robots raise their palms and a high pitched heating noise comes from both of them. Out from their arms extend guns that are pointed right at the fallen-over women.
“THREAT DETECTED,” one shouts in a synthetic monotone.
There’s gasps and cries–
And then the robots lower their arms immediately.
The Japanese guy, and Karina’s father, run out in front of the robots in a panic. “Calm down, calm down. Nothing to worry about here!” They turn back and help up a couple of the women, and then turn back to the audience. “These Knights are in safety mode. There are no bullets and all weapons are disabled. But it’s nice to see how quickly they respond to threats, eh?”
Somehow, this convinces the audience, and after a moment of shock, people start to applause once more.
I turn and meet my eyes with Amy’s. She doesn’t seem too interested.
Then, I look back to Karina, who looks absolutely pitiful as she stands back on her feet. I’m gonna have to give her a hug…