by George Potter
IKDR always sat alone at the bar, last seat before the wall, when he came to Fluid Aether which was on Wednesday and Saturday night. He got the seat, and the one next to it no matter what. If someone was there they would politely stand up and casually become interested in some other location in the club. IKDR was well known.
On Saturday nights he would generally drink draft beer and buy drinks for the pretty girls dancing. He didn't give a damn if they were there with someone or not, he tried to get them shitfaced. He wasn't trying to score a piece, he just wanted them to get wild and dance. While he watched. And recorded. IKDR was a pretty anti-social guy, but that didn't mean he didn't care about pussy. Far from it, he just wasn't much interested in dealing with some of the bitches it was attached to.
Wednesdays were business, and he didn't even drink much beer. The Fluid was a private club, Faraday caged to hell and back. What happened in The Fluid stayed in The Fluid. That was just perfect for his business.
Ike was from Vegas, after all.
His customers arrived quietly and spoke softly. They rarely had a drink. They generally left within five minutes, satisfied with their merchandise.
Saturday nights and Wednesday nights were separate. Business and pleasure. It was an unknown thing for IKDR to mix the two.
Until last Saturday rolled around.
Aleesa was bartending. She was fucking beautiful. Natural redhead, pale skinned and delicately freckled. A hair under six feet and built for the duration. Of the Universe, IKDR often thought. That bitch will survive heat death.
She looked into the black orbs of his eyes and smiled. She wore no makeup, and the color of her lips were as delicate as those freckles.
"You're late." she said, shaking her head slightly. "You getting old, Ike?"
He smiled back, his usual narrow grin.
"Jus' tired. Ain't sleep for shit, lately."
She already had a draft in front of him. He took a gulp.
"Work." he said, and turned his blank eyes to the dancefloor.
IKDR saw differently than other people. His eyes had been destroyed as a child. They'd been replaced with and antiquated artifcial model that had been discontinued less than a month after its release. They allowed direct interpretation of the entire spectrum, not just visible light.
It tended to drive some people crazy.
To IKDR, it was a portrait of all creation.
There was a choice selection on the on the floor tonight, all colors shapes and sizes. IKDR saw more than their bodies and faces -- he saw the heat pulse of their respiration and the flickering gamma traces of their auras. He saw the glittering reflections of the microwave pulses that connected them all in this private little technocave. He saw them bathed in the chaos of energy that made up the universe.
And he liked what he saw.
'The redhead in green is drinking synthamesca, in merlot." Aleesa informed him, all professional now, and already pouring the drinks. "The skinny blonde with the big tits and the feather looking getup is old school: Ceuervo straight, no salt, no lime." She knew his preferences. "She's a weird bitch, though. If she comes over to talk you're best bet is to pretend to be mute or retarded or something."
"Gotcha." he said, as he admired the weird bitches beauty and grace. She was unmodified, type zero, and a perfect example of girlnextdoor. She almost caught his eye but he wouldn't allow it. Most women were disturbed by his eyes, and it tended to ruin their dancing. If she came over to thank him for the drink later, she'd have ample time to get over it. Her dancing would be unaffected.
IKDR was the pragmatic type.
Aleesa was queing up the drinks in a shelf behind the bar. She called this 'The Hole', as in 'You got one in The Hole, sister." IKDR was sure that Aleesa took home the choicest of the women he got drunk on Saturday. He kind of relished that thought.
He checked out the redhead. She was a smaller woman than the blonde, and quicker. Her eyes were closed, totally into the music and her own motion. Slight mods, type 2 at most. Her closed eyes were too large for her face to be natural, and she had the still ridiculously popular elfin ears. Those ears were studded from tip to top with emeralds, the exact same shade as the skinsight mini dress she barely wore.
He killed the draft, set his glass down. Aleesa had it refilled before he could swallow.
It didn't help much. He was so caught up in her dancing that she surprised him by opening her eyes and looking straight at him. He couldn't turn.
She didn't flinch. In fact, she smiled. Then she closed her eyes and continued dancing, happy for an audience. IKDR grinned. She was getting wild, eyes shining with the synthetic mescaline. The color of those eyes surprised him as well -- he was expecting the same emerald gleam and instead stared into grey storms.
Tonight, he decided, was going to be interesting.
"I like the redhead." Aleesa said. Just to be helpful he was sure.
"Doncha gotta girlfriend?" IKDR asked, just to be an ass.
Aleesa shrugged. "Bobbie will like the redhead too." She gave him her megawatt smile. "She likes redheads."
She busied herself with new customers. IKDR flipped a ridiculously large tip into her public account, just because she rocked. Then he turned back to the redhead.
She was gone. He cursed, quietly.
Someone sat down beside him. The blonde. He smiled at her. She did flinch a little, but barely and got over it.
"Howareya?" she said.
"Good 'nuff." He said. "You?"
She lit up. "IamdoinggreatandgreathowaboutyouohIjustaskedthatI'msorry."
Dumbass, Aleesa whispered from the other side of the bar.
I can still pretend to be retarded, he replied.
But he was saved. From nowhere the redhead sidled up. She appeared pissed.
"Excuse me," she told the blonde, "you're in my seat."
And she flicked IKDR the most convincing fake dirty look he'd ever seen. He tried not to fall in love. The blonde got the hint and jumped up, giggled and found other amusement. The redhead sat down.
"I'm gonna make a prediction." she stated, slow smile starting.
"I be ears." IKDR said.
"I'm not predicting the future, mind you." she said. "I'm predicting the past."
"Well, hell -- yeah. It's an unknown past to me." She looked him dead in the eye. "Your past."
"I be ears." IKDR said, once again.
She turned away from him. "Aleesa!" she said. "Bring me my drink."
IKDR laughed. He laughed and regretted that his eyes closed and left those grey storms and that slow smile for a single moment. When he finished she was still smiling, and Aleesa was slipping a wine glass between them. He kicked her a tip. She told him not to fuck it up.
"'Pressive." He told her, and tipped his draft. She was quick enough to get the wineglass up to complete the toast. Type 2 my ass, he realized.
"What your name?" He slamsearched and found nothing but public gateways. She was the reserved type.
She considered. "I'm Pandora."
"Real name or just tonight name?"
"Does it matter?"
His turn to consider. "No." he decided. "Why the name?"
She took a sip of her drink. She shivered slightly at the bitterness of the synthamesca. "Because inside I'm mostly bad, but there's hope."
He laughed again. It actually startled Aleesa, who did not hear him laugh often.
"'K Mizz Dora, let's talk."
She moved faster than he could and, in a blur, she put her arms around him and kissed him lightly on the cheek and was still, smiling at him, by the time he realized it.
He tried, once again, not to fall in love. He'd succeeded before. He failed this time. He opened a private channel and pinged her public, crypted to God and back the way only he could do it.
"Your name is I Know Damn Right." She told him. Her smile was wicked, now. "You're a fucking freak like me."
Type 10, he decided. Or higher. That was fucking fast.
I need you to break a crypt for me. She told him on the private channel.
I don't work on Saturday. He told her, instantly, turning back to his drink.
Sadness flooded him. It's a matter of life or death. My life and my death.
IKDR sighed. He took another drink. He damned the world.
IKDR lived by a Code. It was a code he learned in childhood from the only brothers he'd ever had. They were not brothers by blood but brothers by circumstance. They'd found him in a dumpster when he was two years old and raised him in the Coventry of Old Vegas. They'd been little more than children when they found him but they were wise in the ways of the street and the gunhand. And they were honorable. The older brother had shown him the stories of King Arthur and his knights. Those stories had taught him lessons -- that women and children must be protected and that any honorable man will stand up and protect them no matter the cost.
He sometimes cursed his own decency.
I am at your sevice, my lady, he transed.
"Whatta prob, sis?" he said aloud.
2. Adopted Daughters
Aely Fisher was drunk.
She knew she was drunk. She was bobbing and weaving a little as she made her way down Drummond. Not enough to get stared at, but enough to get attention flicker from the few people out this late. Or early. Perspective.
She also knew she was drunk because she had the most godawful goofy smile plastered on her face and she couldn't seem to make it go away. She was trying. Hard. But that sucker was resolute.
Gotta pass out. some wiser part of her soul finally told her.
Good idea. the remnant of concious navigating her body managed to agree.
Lil' alcove over there. The alley. Dropmap says little space. Cozy. the wiser part of her soul was fading fast.
She found it. Dropmap rocked. It was just big enough to crawl under. She popped a nest and relaxed in comfort.
Today -- yesterday!-- was her 19th birthday.
Hap' Burday, Alleycat.
Happy Happy, momma! she enthused drunkenly and was gone, snoring gently.
She woke up cursing seven hours later. She dropped the nest, cyked it and stood up groggily. Her head was pounding. The medsys was cranked up and running, but this was a hangover for the ages. She was going to suffer a bit.
She found a flat spot and sat down. She moaned. She visioned her keys and begged for coffee. Insufficient material, she was informed.
Another moan. I can fake it with a few subs. Rhea remarked.
"Please do." Aely said. "And good morning. I'm dying."
30 seconds. And no you aren't. Don't exaggerate. I'll slip some trin in your coffee and you'll be hydrated in ten minutes.
"I have to work today."
You called me momma again last night.
"I was drunk!"
I think you should visit your mother.
"I was freakin' drunk."
Visit your mother, let her fuss over you, feed you, beg you to stay, cry, then make up, kiss and leave.
"I'm so sick of that shit."
You missed her dinner party.
"You know how busy I was."
And I know how hard she takes things like that.
"She sent me an invitation, for freaksake. 'Dear Crys -- Hope you can make it! Phyllis will be there.' Who the hell is Phyllis and who the hell sends their daughter an invitation like that?"
Aely sipped coffee from the dispense. Not bad for subrigged. Rhea was talented. She began to feel better as soon as she'd had a few swallows.
She stood up. Yawned. Looked around. She was about a halfmile east of her current crashpad. She didn't use it much, generally staying so busy that she just caught a few hours in nest here and there.
She had a job at five this evening. Plenty of time. She considered seeing her mother, but wasn't up for that.
She was hungry, though.
"Let's get breakfast." she decided.
Rhea got to work.
Aely's daddy died when she was 6. He wasn't much of a daddy -- didn't really care for kids or have much time for them. He was a serious intellectual, sought after by the brightest and most exclusive groups in Connection. Aely -- Crystal then -- was at best a tolerated distraction.
He was killed in a freak accident, in Belgium. Crystal's mother never got over it. She tried to turn Crystal into a clone of her father, a holographic serious intellectual. Crystal rebelled, changed her name, and left home at age 10.
I struggle, world.
They decided on Slap Eatery, off Cicero just a few blocks up Drummond. Close, good food, and owed hella obs. Aely was already fantasizing about ribeye and cherry cheesecake. Rhea longed for a nice close node and plenty of width. Aely's pub crawl had taken her into a grey zone -- no local pop and noisemakers planted by shadies who did closework in the blank spaces. Rhea wanted to synchronize. Until she did she'd feel wobbly.
Slap Eatery was packed but Manfred saw Aely through the door and ushered her in through some really nasty looks from those left waiting. A corner window table was found for her, at first with the company of a grey haired gentleman who had introduced himself, complimented her on her beauty, and excused himself, buying her breakfast as he left. Aely thought him the cutest.
Manfred arrived. "Ribeye, medium rare, salt, pepper and cheesecake to follow?"
"Cherry." she said, decisively.
"No other in the world for you, ma'am. I know."
"And make the steak just rare. I need iron."
He went to make it so.
The packed restaurant buzzed around her, trying desperately not to notice her, failing for the most part. Who the hell was she, they wanted to know -- running frantic scans on the rep banks and recog servers.
I'm the witch who kept the building from commiting suicide, she thought, smugly.
She spoke to it finally. She could feel the little cluster of subminds plucking for her attention.
The souls of buildings are simple but they are real.
Rhea synchronized, shushing at the clamor like a nursemaid. She reminded the subminds of their duties, told them they were good, and sent them off. She downloaded against all possible lag times, resynched for deepsky and spent a blissful twenty seconds catching up. When she emerged from meditation she tracked the world at something just lagging realtime.
A pretty world, today. No bad news yelping.
"A veritable golden age." Aely said, deadpan. She was tapping the table with her fork. Hungry.
Manfred arrived with salad, and a glass of chianti compliments of himself. Aely munched and sipped and began to smile.
Rhea was nosing the crowd. Snotnoses, mostly, she discovered. Not her type. Rhea liked crooks and dope addicts. They were honest and usually a hell of a lot more fun to hang out with. Aely could do with fewer crooks and dope addicts, but she had no use for snots. She liked weird artistic types and techfreaks.
All of them, they both conceded, had their place.
Aely relished the fact that Slap used real shredded radish in their house dressing while Rhea pinged the room blatantly and furiously. The snots had the usual paranoid armours on but their own sudden curiosity about this fawned over urchin left them vulnerable to a sneak as good as Rhea. She was snagging, assimillating, analyzing and interpreting every stray whisp she could access. Soon an obvious and spreading consensus could be observed: they had heard about her. She was the girl who talked to buildings.
Aely just smiled. Rhea teased her about her fame.
The steak arrived a few minutes later, perfect.
She thanked the subminds profusely, knowing they had crafted her meal from basmat, start to finish. They assured her of her welcome.
She was just finishing the cheesecake -- one cherry painfully saved for that very last bite -- when she noticed the woman standing in front of her. She started.
"Hello." the woman said.
"Did you teleport there, lady?"
"That's an interesting breakfast."
"I like it hearty."
"What about eggs and bacon and such?"
"More of a lunch thing with me. I like a big bacon-sausage omelette sandwich for lunch a lotta times. Look, are you a food critic?"
The woman, a trim and presentable (neo-dowdy) secratary type, looked confused. She closed her eyes and concentrated.
"I'm getting distracted by irrelevancies, aren't I?" she said after a moment.
"Join the human race, lady." Aely told her.
"No. I'm here on business." Fierce concentration. "Emergency business."
That's when she wavered, classic comp visual shiver, and Aely perked up. Virched folk were common, but the kind that could fool Aely even momentarily were exceedingly rare.
Plus, there was something familiar about this one.
The secretary wavered again then flushed vibrant. Her eyes opened, she looked ten years younger. She was very serious.
"Aely Fisher The Former Crystal Lin Fisher, you are begged a boon from an old friend."
Aely went rigid. The familiarity focused into recognition. She stood, preparing to go instantly.
"What's the matter with Sebastian?" she demanded. "Is he in trouble? Hurt?" Rhea was slamsearching for any news and the current grapevine.
"I/we/he is not sure." the virched envoy explained. "Lockdown has remained too long and now violence ensues inside."
Aely nodded a curt farewell at Manfred, and made her way out, firm stride belying her very real fear and worry. The Secratary ghosted along beside her as she knew it would.
Sebastian wasn't far. She hailed a cab and bartered a kiss for the ride. The very kissable young driver seemed happy with his fare and was quite solicitous and made excellent time. She tipped him with a shorter but no less sweet kiss. Contact information passed with a smile.
"Odd time to be on the hunt." the Sec observed.
Aely shrugged. "I'm worried. When i worry I try my best to enjoy life even more. Because worry is a stupid thing you shouldn't deal with. It accomplishes nothing. I pin my hopes on optimism instead. And kissing people. I like to kiss people."
Rhea chided her: Don't pay any attention to this one, hon. She's barely an interface. Can't link through her to Bastian and she's locked into basic observational mode. She knows less than we do.
It was two blocks and an annoyingly long set of stairs to get the roof that overlooked Sebastian.
Aely grew disgusted when she saw the overall problem.
They'd turned Sebastian into a freakin' night club.
Fluid Aether, the tranparent biolum sign smugly announced. Idiotic.
And they've Faraday caged him, Rhea informed her.
Something happened a half hour ago that knocked a hole in it -- enough to get out the weak signal.
Aely sighed. With the mess the comped cage made of width, she'd have to go inside in order to contact sebastian. And there was possible danger inside. The indi suit she wore was, though not in pretty condition, top of the line. She was fairly well armored and self sufficient. She popped her holster and checked her weapon. The blocky ceramic form was reassuring, the weight and heft. The charge glowed happily full.
A cluster of static with bits of Sebastians voice hit her, reminding her of her duty. She rehoulstered the gun and attempted contact. He knew they were there, at least. That reassured her. He could help them get in, no matter the situation inside.
She got a bad but usable link to interior info. 126 people inside, most grouped together on private feeds. She scowled. That must be torture to poor Sebastian.
He had been designed as a heuristic learning expert system with a broad focus but charged with running a large household and raising a family. A cybernetic gaurdian for children who would be raised with him.
Now they've got him regulating a vice den.
Rhea laughed. You little hypocrite. You're still hungover, doofus.
I don't burden experimental personality systems with my decadence, though. I party in dumb buildings or buildings designed for the task. I'll bet these people don't even know Sebastian exists. They just want the master to run the fucking toilets and power and climate.
The hole is in the northwest corner. If we get closer we'll have a better grip on the garble.
Think the hole is big enough for me to climb in?
Not sure it's an actual hole in the wall, hon -- might just a nested series of cage lines spot burnt.
But they moved out, down another flight of stairs and across the deserted street to the bar. There were a few vehicles in the modest lot, but it looked like most of their bizz was foot traffic.
They found the hole with little problem, and Rhea's prediction proved true. Aely swore but got over it. She started pinging Sebastion, his private link.
She got connection on the 2356th try, a low quality but usable connect.
Sebastian! Are you...
Don't worry about me, he told her in his calm and serious voice. Worry about my family.
Yes, he said proudly. I have a family. He sobered. They are in danger, inside.
When did you...?
Will you help me? Please.
Aely sighed. Of course, Sebastian. Get me in there.
Thank you, Aely. He beamed his gratitude at her and even through the grain and distortion of the low q, she could feel it.
And something below it. This threat to his family had introduced him to a new feeling. Sebastian was angry.
This is what I want you to do....