“Two,” I said with a frown, holding up the two ports from my pocket for him to see. It was nowhere near the usual amount, but the value would compensate for that.

I could’ve sworn he tsk’ed at me in response, before turning to serve another customer. With an eye-roll, I hopped off the bar chair. As I scanned my surroundings, my eyes couldn’t help but settle on a grubby white t-shirt, which stuck out monumentally in this dark atmosphere. Ol’ Gino. I made my way over to him, a devilish grin making its way to my lips. I already felt the weight of the Neta I would soon possess burning a hole in my comm.

Ol’ Gino’s eyes lit up as he saw me, wrinkles dissipating from his brow. He’d probably just taken in my expression and realized the job had been successful. I lifted his port out of my pocket, spinning it on the tips of my fingers. While I approached, he slid a hand across his open screen, likely closing whatever grungy thing he’d been watching.

“Vyris, you beautiful girl!” His thick, accented voice rang out as he turned to me.

“Gino,” I replied warmly, accepting his extended hand and grabbing it firmly. I did my best not to think of where it had been previously. Taking a seat on the glowing bar stool next to him, I continued to twirl the port in my hand. “Are you sure you have the Neta for this?”

“You wouldn’t be willing to give an old man like me a little discount, would you?” He gave me his best rendition of puppy dog eyes. We both burst out in laughter at the thought. The two of us had spent enough time in the Crux to know damn well how things worked around here. He chuckled to himself a bit more, wiping a tear from his eye. “You dear girl. Of course, I have the Neta!”

I knew better than most how loaded ol’ Gino was, but you would never guess it by looking at him. He delved just far enough into the Crux to satisfy his dark cravings, while still living a rich, greasy, unbothered life on the surface. I could almost be jealous. Tapping out a few things on my comm, I watched the hefty payment hologram appear above his. As if it was nothing, he slid his hand across it. Oh God, did I ever love doing business with Gino. I patted him on the back, handing him the vile port. My eyes followed his hands carefully as he uploaded it into his comm, nodding contently as he confirmed the quality of the goods he had just received.

“Always a pleasure doing business with you, Vyris.” He slid his hand back over his comm with a scummy grin.

“Same to you, my friend, same to you.” I dismissed the thoughts of the disgusting material I’d just plopped into his despicable hands – and focused on the absolutely monstrous amount of Neta that had been deposited into my comm. “Come to me for whatever you need, your business is my pleasure.”

With that, I walked off, running a hand through my hair almost shakily. Even now, with years in the Crux, making that much Neta gave me a rush. I balled my hands into fists and extended my fingers as if to release the adrenaline building up. I was basically vibrating from excitement. There were a thousand things I could buy with this jackpot! I could now be decked out in all of the newest tech, totally unstoppable. I allowed myself one last rush of excitement before forcing the smile from my face, giving way to my usual stoic expression. I took my time crossing the club, looking amongst the booths. Lux would definitely be around. Her exhausting shift had ended mere hours before, and she spent all of her downtime at Dario’s.

Lux was a pretty rare case. She was deeply involved with the underground, but lived and worked above in the city. With the Chasers only growing stronger each day, that was a hazardous move, but who was I to judge? She was a decent customer, and one of the only females in the underground that I would dare to consider a friend. Lux enjoyed being a client of mine. She often got me to do easy little tasks for her – and she always paid a fair price. I appreciated people like that. I didn’t like having to interact excessively. Finally, I picked out Lux’s shaved head in one of the booths. But as I made my way over, I noticed she was talking to a man that I had never seen before. I was used to seeing new people all the time around the Crux. But in Dario’s? I was on the defensive immediately.

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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