2034-02-25 1500LT Rebecca has a concern
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|Event: 2034-02-25 1500LT Rebecca has a concern|
|Rebecca, Syd, Dex, Aurora, Wilson, Bertrand||Luna Alpha|
|Caused By||Cause Of|
|On This Day|
Rebecca carefully concealed her anxiety and anger as she pedalled lightly down the broad, open-air cobbled road beside the Henry River. She was on her way to Syd’s bar, Umbra, from her bordello in the South side entertainment district, not far from her theatre complex. Riding in one sixth gravity had taken some practice, but it was the favourite way for people to navigate Luna Alpha. She passed hundreds of people walking, riding, and even a class of beginner gliders, practicing to earn their wings. She shook her head at their antics, remembering her own chaotic learning curve.
She rounded a bend and rode into the populated part of Victoria’s Village, in the Northwest corner of the habitat, automatically navigating the many small traffic circles along the way. With only 15 percent of the intended population in residence the colony’s masters had decided to pack everyone into a single village to keep the population density in the range of a full colony. She’d toured the empty plug-and-play ‘suburbs’ in the Southwest. Right now they were creepy, but they’d be great when new colonists started to pour in next month. She was looking forward to the increased revenue she’d be seeing from all her businesses – legal and not so legal.
Umbra was an unusual business in many ways. This village was almost all medium-density housing over small shops, but Umbra was in its own building rising over twenty metres out of the water in the river bend at the public square – the Commons. Umbra largely matched the architectural style of the village, which looked a lot like the oldest parts of Quebec City. The exterior looked like a small keep made of quarried limestone, complete with defensive battlements. If Vicsville had been a real 15th century town, the building would have been the home of a local Lord. It wouldn’t surprise me if Syd thinks of himself that way, she thought, shaking her head. A large curl of auburn hair bounced slowly over her face. She loved what the low gravity did to her loose curls.
She rolled her bike into one of the ubiquitous bike stands and caught a young man checking her out. Despite her mood, her beautiful face slid into a small, satisfied smile. She enjoyed the way she looked and took pleasure in the effect she had on others. Adding a little extra sway to her hips, she strolled across the drawbridge – fully functional, she knew.
Stepping inside demanded a moment of adjustment. The interior was an ode to the 1980s, largely inspired by the Café 80’s in the Back to the Future movies. Neon and fluorescent lights were everywhere, but they couldn’t compete with the fish. The bar was a metre-wide fish tank that ran the length of the room, starting to the left of the main door, and filled with an astonishing array of tropical reef fish of all sizes. It connected seamlessly with a huge tank that covered the back wall, nearly twenty metres away. It was quite thick, evidenced by the three metre long arched tunnel that lead through to a collection of small private rooms. That was the main public attraction to Umbra: the capacity to reliably have meetings that were not observed by anyone at all. The food was good and the drinks well made – especially since that handsome new bartender came on – but true privacy was hard to come by. Syd’s fees were reasonable enough that his services were popular, even with the population still low.
“Welcome back, Rebecca.” The tall, fit man behind the bar wore a white t-shirt tight enough to show his muscles flexing pleasantly as he polished the glass. Rebecca’s AR contacts superimposed Dexter across his broad, bulging chest. Mycroft – the Machine Intelligence that really ran most of Luna Alpha – was an intimate assistant to everyone in the colony. He knew her habits – that she would be surveying the landscape, as it were – so the text was positioned for her to absorb while she enjoyed the view.
“Dex,” she said warmly. “I’d like to have a chat with Syd. Is he around?”
“Through the tunnel,” Dex said, leaning on the bar.
She stepped between two bar stools to approach him. Some holographic trickery made each seat look like a Rubik’s Cube. When unoccupied, the seats would spin and twist, as if invisible giants were unsuccessfully attempting to solve them. She ignored them, leaning on the bar herself, until her face was very much in Dex’s personal space.
°Lips,° Mycroft whispered in her ear.
It was advice she appreciated, even though it irritated her. She caught herself just as her tongue was making it’s way out to stroke her lips, and turned the movement into a smile. Dex’s expression told Rebecca he was very aware of her attraction to him – but that he was happy to let her take her time. With her practiced eye as an actress and a madam, she was certain that he was actually that confident, and that his confidence was professionally polished. “Can he come out to play?” she asked.
“I’ll che—Oh, here he comes.”
Syd was an average man in almost every way. His features were lovely to look on, but somehow bland and forgettable. He stood one metre sixty two, had an average build, and a pleasant tenor voice. His clothes were well made and suited him, but then he was dressed by one of her costume designers moonlighting as a fashion consultant. He walked through the tunnel into the main room and caught sight of Rebecca as she straightened up and turned toward him. His gait became a little awkward as he caught sight of her.
“Hey, Bossman, you have a visitor,” Dex called, raising his voice over the Tears For Fears song playing in the background. Turning back to Rebecca, he asked, “Would you like a drink to go with the conversation?"
“Old Fashioned, please,” she said, keeping her high-wattage smile on Syd. Dex nodded and got to work with graceful efficiency.
“Rebecca,” Syd said as he approached. He plopped down on the stool beside her. It immediately resolved into a completed puzzle. “What, uh, brings you here?” His neural lace focussed his bionically enhanced senses on her in an attempt to interpret her mood and catch any deceptions. In part the woman made him nervous because his assistive programs rarely reported anything useful about her. Mostly it was her obvious, confident sensuality that threw him for a loop.
“I think this is a private conversation,” she said.
“Be my guest,” he said, gesturing at a virtual button on the bar.
Rebecca reached out and pressed it. She wasn’t wearing haptic gloves, but the bar had invisible integrated machines that delivered the sensation of a firm surface that yielded and clicked as she pushed. °A personal field, or for Mr. Balta as well?° The privacy field spoke with a deep and cultured British accent, through the tiny earpieces in her ear canals.
“Both of us,” Rebecca said firmly.
A circle of hazy white mist floated down from the ceiling, surrounding them. It rolled inward across the floor, until the floor was no longer visible, and closed over their heads. The cylinder began to shimmer, and Rebecca felt the presence of Mycroft and the internet fade away. A misty barrier came up between them as well, temporarily isolating them from each other. An almost neon yellow cube from her bar stool pushed itself out and then floated up to hover in front of her. It popped open. The inside of the lid had the words, “Please deposit AR devices” printed on it. A slightly tinny recording said the same thing. She took a moment to remove her contacts and ear-canal-phones, placing them in the disposable containers for such things. She placed those back in the box and closed it firmly. The wall between her and Syd thinned, but did not disappear for a few more seconds. Then it faded away as well. Syd sat before her with his own box. He looked very nervous.
“Scan her,” Syd said. Some of the mist enveloped her in a slight haze. She could see through it easily enough. It took a few seconds, then glowed a light green from head to toe. He nodded, and said “Dismissed.”
Rebecca returned the favour, telling her box to “Scan him.” She sipped her drink while the nanomachines worked. When he glowed green she said, “Dismissed,” as well.
“Um, so what’s up?” Syd said, shifting nervously in his chair. He clutched at the box in his lap where the AI that controlled his neural lace was inside its own little Faraday cage. He felt a little lost and incomplete without it, but that was not a new experience. Privacy meant no recordings, and that was hard to achieve in the modern world where someone like him could have cybernetic eyes with data storage built right in. For a moment he considered triggering his personal override and recording their conversation, but batted the thought away. He wouldn’t get many uses of that backdoor, and Rebecca wasn’t the person he wanted to use it on. He wasn’t sure if the Dutchess’ next booking was the right time to use it… His head quivered as he refocused on Rebecca, trying to remember what she’d just said. “Sorry, I’m, uh, always, uh…”
“Take your time, honey,” Rebecca said warmly. She was pretty sure Syd had a neural lace, based on his disorientation. “It’s just a matter of life and death for the whole colony.” She took another sip. That got his attention, she thought as his jaw fell open slightly.
“I’ve come across some information about a package being smuggled into Alpha,” she said gently. “If my informant is right, it contains a biohazard that could kill us all.” Ella was a skilled Companion despite her youth. Many of her clients let useful tidbits slip when in her care. “You know I move information the way you move materials… I thought this might be one of yours.”
“Shit,” Syd breathed. He stared at her, trying to decipher her expression, but with his adaptive support programs locked in a box in his lap he had no idea. His eyes snapped up and to the left as he tried to remember the docket for the next few shipments. “Um… Can you tell me anything else about the shipment?”
“My information is limited, but I do know it’s small – the size of a carry-on bag – and it’s supposed to be here tomorrow, on the 26th.”
“Does this help?” Rebecca held up a paper printout of Brian William’s face. “This is the source of the information.” She watched Syd’s eyes grow large. “You know him,” she stated.
“He’s a client,” Syd said nervously. He thought for a moment. “I can’t tell you a lot.” More thought. “The package isn’t supposed to stay on Luna,” he said, finally. “The seller is staying on Alpha for a month on vacation. The buyer has already arranged for the package to go back to Earth immediately.”
Rebecca sat in silence for a long moment. “This stinks, hon,” she said. “Whatever is in that package could kill the whole biodome even if the thing is shipped groundside right away.” That was the actual plot of a VR game she had helped produce a few months ago. Her face screwed up a bit at the irony. “I think we may need to do something about this,” she said, reaching out to touch his knee.
Her long red nails stroked Syd’s pants for a lingering moment, leaving him even more flustered. He cleared his throat fiercely. “What can we do? I mean, neither of us is gonna do well if we start leaking information about our clients.”
“Fair enough,” Rebecca said. She frowned and pursed her lips.
Syd’s face was suddenly hot. He wasn’t at all sure why, but his face felt like it was on fire.
Rebecca noted the bright red blush welling up from Syd’s collar. Sexy thinky frown, she thought. Must remember that one. She cocked her head at him. “How’s this: we agree to a one time only information share about our shared client for the sole purpose of determining if he’s about to kill us all and destroy the moon. Deal?”
Syd was so relieved by the concrete offer he sagged a bit. “Deal,” he said. “His name is –”
“Brian William,” Rebecca said. “He’s an SVP with Boeing Luna, and he likes Companions with some more eclectic skillsets.” Syd’s face froze completely for a moment at that last revelation.
“Uh. Well.” His own tastes at the bordello were quite pedestrian, but it suddenly occurred to him that the very sexy woman sitting across from him knew all his sexual exploits. His began to sweat. “Uh…”
She gave him a moment to collect himself. It wasn’t the first time that a client suddenly realized that she had an intimate insight into their character.
Eventually, Syd gathered himself. “The seller is from Genetek. They’re a small biotech consultancy based in Canada somewhere.” He gestured at his head. “I’ll need to reconnect to say more.”
“It’s a start. Does the seller have a name we can follow up on?”
He struggled to remember for a long moment. “Philbert, maybe? Sorry, I can’t recall without…”
“Don’t worry about it honey,” she said with a wicked grin. “It happens to all men eventually.” She was disappointed when he missed the double entendre entirely, and just nodded. She sighed. “Do you think you can find out what is in that package before the ship docks?”
“It’s coming in tomorrow at 1500,” he said. “That’s what, about eighteen hours from now?” He frowned. “I’m not sure if I can, but I can try.” His head was already filling up with the many systems he’d need to compromise to do something like that to a ship in transit. °I need my whole brain,° he thought to his lace – but of course there was no response from the inert hardware infused through his brain. “Dammit,” he muttered.
“While you work on that I’ll see what I can dig up on your ‘Philbert’ and this Genetek. Call me if you come up with anything. Tell me you want a date with Shauna, and then come to the Office to talk.” Her bordello didn’t have an official name, but almost everyone knew it as The Office. When you lived in a surveillance state it sometimes helped to be able to say, “I’m stuck at the office,” without lying.
“Got it, Shauna,” Syd said, distractedly. He looked Rebecca in the eye for a moment with an obvious effort. “This isn’t… Sorry. I’m not… This isn’t my thing.”
Rebecca gave him a gentle smile, all the sexy dialled down to zero. “That’s okay, hon,” she said, reaching up to cup his left cheek in her hand. “You’re doing fine.”
Syd sagged again, but then started to re-inflate. “I… I have an idea,” he said. “I’ll call you by midnight, no matter what, ok?”
“Sounds lovely, darling,” Rebecca said. She held up her box. “Are you ready?” When he nodded, she turned the dial on the lid. As soon as it started moving the shimmering fog separated them from each other’s view. With the skill of long practice she put her earpieces and contacts back in place. When she set the closed box back on the chair it flew itself back into place and disappeared into the cube. The privacy barrier faded away immediately.
When the field came down Dex was a ways down the bar. He strode over to Rebecca and said, “I hope that was productive. Would like like me to top you up?” He nodded to her almost empty glass.
Rebecca stared at it for a moment, having completely forgotten she held it in her hand. She giggled, tossed back the last of it, careful to avoid poking herself in the eye with the straw. “You’re a delight,” she said, putting the empty glass down on the bar. A bright blue fish glided over to the disturbance. “I’m good for now, though.” She was reintegrating into the augmented world with each breath. She flashed him a saucy look. “I’ll be seeing more of you soon, I’m sure.”
He grinned, collecting her glass. “That sounds like a reason to live,” Dex said. “I’m looking forward to that.”
Rebecca didn’t turn it up to ‘stripper stage’ on her way out, but she was absolutely certain that her ass was the subject of intense study as she left.
Dex flipped the empty glass up in the air, sending it tumbling over his head. The slow arc took it down behind his back, where he caught it effortlessly. He dropped it into the dishwasher, then scooped the straw into the garbage. At least that’s what it looked like to Syd as he appeared from his privacy shield. He never saw Dex palm the bit of plastic. He slipped it into his hair while running his hand over his head in a natural-looking motion.
When Boeing blackmailed him into taking this job in Syd’s bar he hadn’t fought too hard. The options were: accept some very expensive, sweet augments, or rot in prison, or die at the hands of some very angry marks. Good grifters know when the con is done.
The straw was some new super material that could record up to five minutes of conversation completely passively. At least that’s what Aurora told him when she gave him the box of straws. “We’ve put a reader under your scalp,” she said, standing over his hospital bed. Dex wasn’t sure how he felt about the extent of the augmentation they’d installed, but he didn’t think arguing with the CEO of Luna Alpha was going to get him good results. His eyes were still bandaged up, but his new ears were working just fine. “It looks like a standard Faraday cage to protect your brain and implants,” she said, “but it has a few other functions.” He heard her dunk a straw in the water glass on his bedside tray and stir. “It’s activated by water, so don’t get these wet until you’re ready to listen in. Once activated, well…” She pulled the straw out of his glass and tucked it behind his ear.
Dex had a confused moment when the sounds of the room distorted. Then he heard a terrible recording of Aurora saying, “It’s activated by water…”
“That… that’s pretty impressive,” Dex said.
“Damn right it’s impressive,” Aurora said it with some satisfaction. Her corporate espionage unit had outdone themselves this time. “We’ll debrief you when you’re home after each shift. You still have a few weeks of recovery and training before you’re ready for anything that exciting, Mr. Lee.” Without another word she left.
The discussion between Rebecca and Syd played out in Dexter’s ears for a little while as he worked the bar. It was interesting, he supposed, but he found it hard to believe that Aurora Smith wasn’t pulling the strings here. Wilson changed the delivery plans after Bertrand was in transit, he thought, remembering the conversation he’d bugged a few days before. I smell a double-cross. For the next two hours he wondered what he should do with what he knew.
Outside, Rebecca was in motion, pedalling lightly toward her dome-side condo. About half way there, Shauna materialized ahead of her, in augmented space. The beautiful young woman was very much Rebecca's right hand, and trusted with helping to manage the whole business - legal or not. Rebecca accepted the call by saying, "Hey, 'Na. I'm on my way home. What's up?"
"Hey, boss," Shauna said. Her transluscent avatar floated along calmly, ignoring the way she was flying backward down the road. She was standing in her office IRL, and the visuals didn't bother her. "We need to have a chat about a new client tonight." She raised her left eyebrow slightly and crossed her arms.
Rebecca knew those cues: the eyebrow meant the client wanted to shift some information. The arms meant the discussion had to be in private. "When are you done today? Maybe we can talk over some drinks?"
'Na nodded. "Say 1700 at Umbra? I have one more client today."
"See you there," Rebecca said. The call ended with Shauna turning to mist and blowing away.
In her ear, Mycroft said, "1700h at Umbra with Shauna." Mycroft monitored everything to enable that kind of assistance, which is why they needed a few codes.
Rebecca's condo was just south of the easternmost part of the biodome wall. She had a great view of [stuff to add] in her spacious home. The upper floor was where she entertained, a large open space with an amazing deck, professional kitchen, and lots of places to enjoy a conversation. Her parties were the social centre of the new colony. She ignored the beautiful space, in favour of her sanctuary: the lower floor.
[more about her place, a bath, reapplication of war paint]
Refreshed and retouched, Rebecca said, "Up," and leapt. The section of ceiling above her snapped open, letting her pass through. By the time she was settling back down it had snapped shut. She landed lightly and made her way to the door.