“The collision detection comes built-in, right?” The Neta transfer appeared above my wrist, a steep but fair price. I knew I was about to be raking it in from Gino, so this expense wouldn’t be too crippling. Ickar nodded excitedly in response, watching as I slid my hand over the transfer. My fingers maneuvered through a few screens on my comm, and I watched as the nanotech unraveled from my legs. I tossed my boots onto the counter, and observed closely as he inserted the attachments. His mechanized hands moved fast, I was almost understanding what drove a man to implant them. But, I could tell adding the attachment was an easy process – one I would remember, just in case. He speedily handed them back to me.

“Pleasure doing business with you.” I slid back into the boots, allowing them to shape around my legs. I tapped a few times on my comm, watching the usual strips light up along the sides. Now, they were paired with a glowing red rim around the soles. Everything seemed in order.

“The pleasure is mine!” Ickar smiled at me, patiently waiting to witness my reaction to the new upgrade’s power. With a deep breath I braced myself, before thrusting forward into what should have been a steady run. Instead, I found myself propelled at an unbelievable speed. My own movements were barely fathomable as I wove in and out between any shoppers, the stalls becoming a blur as I sped off. This completely changed the long and boring journey I had grown so painfully used to. Where have these boots been all my life? I almost laughed as I drifted around a corner, dust blown into the air around me. Before I knew it, I was skidding to a halt in front of the bright green sign announcing Dario’s. The boots’ lights faded swiftly, and I let out the breath I’d accidentally held the whole run. Quickly running a hand through my hair, I yanked my cloak back up and composed myself.

Dario’s was a small, shimmering black building that was surprisingly large on the inside. It had one of those new phase entrances – which was actually pretty impressive. It was similar to a force field, one that read your comm as you approached and decided whether or not you were authorized to walk through. A while back, Dario enlisted my help in a little job, which just so happened to be mutually beneficial. With his added insight, we managed to get our hands on some files, and he now had the door set to keep the grimier users around out. I didn’t blame him for taking precautions, because I couldn’t have my clientele mingling with my friends, either. I phased through the entrance without hesitation, my eyes swiftly scanning the bar.

It was pleasantly open-concept on the inside. The walls were lined with a slick, ebon industrial sheet-metal, a common and well-suited material for our underworldly home. Much of the building was lit only by deep purple inlaid neon lights – except for the dance-floor, which illuminated randomly under your feet. The abundance of unused and private seating booths allowed customers to have… personal conversations without having to worry about eavesdroppers. I made my way to the bar, hopping up onto one of the glowing violet stools and spinning around slightly to face the bartender.

“Dario,” I called, making a drinking motion with my hand. He knew me well, sliding a glass of my usual poison across the counter: Osha. I swished the deep blue liquid around, watching it sparkle softly under the glow of the neon light. Ding! A hologram popped out of my comm and I slid my hand across it, confirming the measly Neta transaction as I sipped from my glass. I popped my lips, which were likely already blue from the drink. Dario moseyed over a few moments later, placing his face in one of his scarred, sturdy hands and his elbows onto the bar.

“How many today?” He raised an eyebrow. One hand lazily held a darkly stained towel, which he had been using to dry the glasses.

Dario was older than me, in his late thirties perhaps, but boy was he handsome. He had a head of long dark hair, which was lazily pulled back into a low-hanging bun with the usual strands dangling into his face. A calm first glance was always interrupted by his piercing, golden eyes which glinted in the light – a rich ochre colour that was rarely natural. His olive flesh was coated in fine, intricate tattoos – which shone ever so slightly as he moved. One look told you that he kept in shape – the way his dark collared shirt clung in all of the right places, and the apparent tone to his strong, hairy arms. With such defined cheekbones and that chiseled jaw, it was a wonder that Dario hadn’t made it big as a model on the surface. For a moment, I imagined what he might look like, covered in tanning oil and striking a pose, plastered on some highway billboard advertising cheap cologne, or some male enhancement product.

I almost smiled at the thought, but quickly realized that I’d hesitated to answer his question. I downed the last few drops of my drink, the cool sensation prominent on my tongue. With a dramatic sigh, I slid him my empty glass.

“That bad?” He tapped his fingers gently against my cup before moving it to a nearby sink. The gesture would have been entirely nonchalant, if not for the loud clinking noise which accompanied it. The last three fingers of Dario’s right hand were cybernetics, and not by his choice. I don’t quite know how he’d lost his fingers, though hidden beneath his stubble and long hair, there were deep and lurid scars. I didn’t ask questions. That’s how I survive down here.

4 COMMENTS

  1. oh honey, I could find better world-building in a first chapter of a wattpad fanfiction. keep trying, baby. you’ll get there eventually.

  2. A very lively and compelling read, even for those of us who normally don’t read sci-fi. I like how you define unfamiliar terms and situations by their context rather than beat readers over the head with definition and explanation. However, I had to revisit this last segment to try to figure out what was happening at what seems to be a pivotal moment. It’s not clear to me what information the search revealed. And I found it odd that an experienced hacker working in a very dangerous environment, dealing with someone who seems suspicious, would have plunged ahead when the “challenge” was way too easy. Probably future episodes will enlighten, but possibly a little too much has been left hanging.

  3. You’re a bright and talented girl Ayla. Looking forward to mid December to read more. I’m enjoying picturing this environment that seems so foreign to me in a genre I didn’t know existed. “Low life/high tech” is great concept!! Whats the weather like? (Excuse me if I missed it) Your sparking my imagination, and I can picture dark, cold nights and dry, dusty days. Which don’t go hand in hand at all. But just what I’m envisioning as I read. What’s the goal of the Chasers.. are they chasing people like Vy? So excited to read more. You rock Ayla. Keep it up.

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