Chapter 2: Cybernetics and Synthcaf

Stephanie’s morning routine was fairly simple. She made the rounds looking for work, asking around in the local dives, shops and anywhere else where she was a familiar face. As a decker, she was well supplied with work, mostly breaking into systems and selling the information gathered back to her clients. She occasionally did work improving people’s Net security, though she generally only extended that service out to friends or people that she wouldn’t sell out. Reputation was important and she was not about to get the reputation of being untrustworthy. To do so would be financial suicide.

Also, obvious betrayal of the local crime syndicates was literal suicide. If they even so much as suspected that she was working for rivals they would have her ‘removed’ from the street.

Today, however, her morning rounds were totally different. No small jobs. She was heading to the Doc’s clinic.

Doctor Miller was the local street doctor for Stephanie, a man in his 40s with cropped, greying hair and was often found wearing an old, off-white lab coat and safety goggles over emerald eyes. His clinic was not what one might expect of a professional medical clinic, however it was located outside of the corporate ring of London so it was, by comparison to the local area, a paragon of cleanliness. Stephanie made her way through the front door to find him fiddling with what looked to her like a piece of rubbish. His eyes darted up from his work as she walked in, curiously looking her over before fixing on her face.

“What brings you in here, Steph?” he asked her with a mildly disinterested tone as she walked inside, his eyes going back to the item that he was working on.

“I need a data implant,” she replied quickly, catching Miller’s attention before he could get back to tinkering with the device in his hand. He raised a curious eyebrow at her once more. “I know the model too. TyCorp OLK. I know you have one around.”

Miller put down what he was working on and stood up. He was a tall man and stood about a foot taller than Stephanie He walked over to her, arms folded with an inquisitive gaze. “And how would you know what I have lying around here, hm?” he asked as he approached her, casting his inquisitive gaze down on her.

“I’m a decker. Do I really need to explain any further?” she answered with a grin, though she was now looking quite far up at him.

There was a silence before the doctor chuckled, shaking his head and raising a hand. “Unnerving, but a valid point,” he admitted, turning around and walking back to the bench he had been sitting at. “You do know that this will not be a cheap procedure and you will be under the knife for hours, right?” he asked, going to a cabinet to the right of the bench and rummaging through its contents.

“I got you covered, Doc. Don’t worry.” she answered, raising her hands in assurance.

“You’re not an affluent member of society, Steph. I don’t believe that for a second.”

Stephanie frowned.

“Hey, I’ll have you know that I-…”

“I don’t want to hear it, Steph. I don’t trust that you’re good for the money, so I want payment up front.”

“How much…?”

“Five thousand.”

“Five thousand cred?” her eyes went wide at the prospect. “That’s robbery. I’ll give you one thousand, five hundred up front!”

The doctor shook his head. “I knew that you weren’t good for it. Now, is there anything else I can do for you?”

“Look, I really need that data implant.”

“And I need payment for services rendered. You could afford the cheapest implant, but I know you’re smart enough to know that is a bad idea.”

Stephanie went silent, staring at the ground with a frown.

“You know what?” she finally spoke out, breaking the awkward silence, “I’ll make do without. Good day, doctor.”

Before he could answer, she stormed out of the door.

“Cheap son of a bitch,” she muttered to herself as she made her way down the street, past a stand where a greasy looking, rotund, balding man was serving synthcaf. He tried to wave her over to get her to buy a cup, but she raised her hand with a smile and shook her head. She wanted to sit somewhere comfortable and buy from somebody that she actually trusted. Synthcaf was easy to make, but home-brewing recipes were often questionable at best.

She made her way through the door to Café Gille, a small café on the corner of a commercial block under the ownership of Pierre Gille, a cleanly shaven Frenchman with blue eyes and light brown hair that seemed to defy the laws of gravity, growing up rather than downwards. He wore a light blue and white chequered shirt and a pair of fashionably ripped jeans. He smiled as Stephanie walked through the front door.

“Mademoiselle Choi, always a pleasure,” he greeted her as she walked up to the counter where he was cleaning a mug. “You’re later than usual. May I ask why?”

She offered him a coy grin in response. “I don’t need to tell you, because you already know, right Monsieur Gille?”

The Frenchman returned the grin with one of his own. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, mademoiselle,” he started, placing a mug beneath a tap that extended below a cavernous gap in the metal box to his left. He flicked the switch and a dark liquid poured into the mug below. “I have no idea about a certain lady drinking a dozen too many and being helped back home by the redhead from the machine shop.”

He flicked the switch again and the liquid stopped pouring, sliding the mug over to Stephanie. She reached out to grab it and his hand shot out to divert it, grabbing her gently by the wrist.

She turned her hand so that her palm was facing upwards. She was holding a datastick.

Pierre smiled, his pristine teeth shining between his lips.

“I knew that I hired the correct person,” he uttered, placing his other hand over hers, taking the datastick. “Your account has been credited, the synthcaf is on the house today.”

“I made the right choice, huh?” she smiled, moving her hand to finally grasp the mug, bringing it to her lips and taking a small sip.

“You made the right choice,” he reiterated, retracting his hand. “Got plans for today? Preparing for a pretty big run, I hear.”

Stephanie’s eyes shot up to his, peering at him over the rim of the mug. He raised his hands defensively. “Relax, relax. I have no interest in seeing you damaged. You’re my little ace in the hole, remember?”

Stephanie took another sip of synthcaf, a smile forming on her lips. “Is there anything that you don’t know?” she asked, a light hearted tone to her voice.

“Your idea of a perfect date.”

An awkward silence.

He chuckled and shook his head, making his way to another customer who had made her way up to the bar. She was taller than Stephanie, fair skin underneath a long, brown leather coat and pair of dark grey trousers. Her hands were smooth, almost impossibly so, complimenting a soft, well-spoken voice. She had shoulder length brown hair that was worn loose which seemed to shimmer in the light. The woman lit a cigarette, puffing smoke as she spoke in a hushed voice to Pierre. Stephanie tried to make out what the two were talking about without looking obvious. She was confident in her subtlety, but it was impossible to make out the conversation over the noise. Something did not add up.

Then it hit her.

The cigarette was genuine. She could tell from the smoke. The difference was minor, but being a smoking addict afforded her one, singular benefit: the ability to tell authentic from synthetic. This woman was corporate, that much was obvious to her. Which company did she work for though? Matsutech? KleinNet? TyCorp? NetZen? Regardless, she was dangerous. Her mere presence made her feel uncomfortable.

Pierre walked off into the back room. The woman stood still, arms folded, those perfect hands stroking the outside of her coat’s sleeves, fingers tapping rhythmically. Stephanie’s brain was working over time trying to think of the best course of action. She could hack the woman and steal her secrets, though decking in public seemed a bit too obvious. She could follow her and kill her; selling her cybernetics could earn a small fortune. She could simply chat to the woman.

Pierre came out of the back room again, holding a small box which he passed to the woman. The woman seemed to examine it for a moment before smiling, nodding as she took the box, and walking out. Probably just a servant getting some genuine article cake for breakfast for her master.

Then again, all corporate drones were effectively slaves.

“Who was that?” she asked Pierre after the woman had left the café. Long after she had left.

“Oh, another client. Ace in the hole like you.”

Stephanie raised her eyebrow as she finished her cup of synthcaf. “You put me in the same category as a corporate? Not sure if I should be flattered or offended.”

“We all have our strengths, Mademoiselle Choi.”

Stephanie sighed and got to her feet. She had a lot to do before the evening. Besides, she wanted to get to Layla’s shop earlier than that. Nobody could be expected to be business all day every day, after all.

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