The Sensory Deception
to twelve months,” Gloria said. “Since you’re academics, McKay asked me to be your business consultant. I’ll show you how to do quarterly reports, branding, that sort of thing. They also moved the VirtExReality Arcade launch up to fourteen months. It means you have to be ready for product production in one year and delivery two months later. It’s tight, but Sand Hill Ventures has contract manufacturing contacts in the Midwest that can deliver—if you can.”
    “McKay is challenging us, right?” Chopper said. “He wants pressure on the academics because he thinks we’ve never worked to a schedule.”
    Gloria nodded.
    “What if the schedule slips?”
    “Okay, I’m not supposed to tell you this.” Gloria felt a wave of intimacy with this team, this band. “They expect the schedule to slip. They reviewed the development effort with some pretty awesome engineers, and they think your original twenty-four-month schedule was ambitious. When you fall behind, they’ll insist you license your technology to other companies. Look, they want to disrupt the video game industry, and they don’t have much confidence in the applications that we pitched.”
    Chopper said, “We’ll beat the schedule.”
    Farley looked at Ringo, who shrugged.
    “We’re too
National Geographic
, not Disney enough?” Farley asked.
    “Yes, sir.” Gloria smiled. “The good news is that you impressed them enough that they didn’t put licensing in the contract. But don’t think it’s not on the table—they’re betting that you’ll miss the schedule and give them leverage.”
    “Leverage.” Chopper spit the word out. He pointed his index finger at her like a weapon. “Did you tell them that we’ll cave in to the almighty dollar? Did you ‘leverage’ us?” He emphasized every syllable in the word.
    “No,” Gloria said. “Listen to me, Romeo”—Farley and Ringo both elbowed Chopper at the slight of his given name—“when you sign this document, my career will be ‘leveraged’ on your success.”
    Ringo said, “Point to Glo, Chopper.”
    Chopper turned and stared at Farley for a second as though reading the text of his face.
    Chopper’s expression relaxed and he said, “All right, all right. Don’t worry, Gloria, we’ll deliver the goods.”
    The way he said it was warm and playful, but Gloria detected something else in his countenance. It was something shifty, but not malevolent. She couldn’t nail it down.
    Farley said, “Show us where to sign.”
    She handed him a pen and indicated the locations on the contract where each man should initial or sign.
    Then she saw what it was. Chopper wasn’t paying any attention to her. Even when he’d spoken to her, even when he’d looked her directly in her eyes. Chopper only paid genuine attention to Farley. To all others, even Ringo, it was as though Chopper were acting a role designed to impress Farley. The weirdest thing about it, and something obvious to her, was that Farley was utterly unaware of it. She wondered if Ringo noticed.
    Gloria pulled three legal-size files out of her briefcase and handed one to each man. Ringo flopped onto a worn chair and started reading. Chopper tossed his on the desk and stood next to Farley. Farley opened the file and saw the forms with all the numbers filled in for the first time. He said, “You did it.”
    As Gloria leaned closer so she could show Farley the budget page, he put his arm around her. It was the sort of congratulatory, appreciative gesture that parents use to impart self-esteem in children, and coaches use to build loyalty in teams. She knew this from business school, but that didn’t make it any less effective.
    He pulled a sheet of paper from his back pocket, unfolded it, and compared the numbers with those on the budget page. Then he stood up straight and spoke with resonance: “We have ten million dollars—enough to build a VR system and maybe enough for a prototype, but not enough to pay ourselves minimum

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