I slipped into the booth almost silently, eying the man she sat with. I didn’t elicit the slightest reaction, and instead he quietly sipped his clear, iced drink. He had a dark, chocolate skin tone and a head of natural curls; it appeared to be dyed with something that gave his hair a rainbow sheen when it reflected light, like pooling gas shimmering on hot pavement. His eyes were narrow and bright – a startling blue-grey beneath his large black brows. Dark stubble lined the lower half of his face, with strange tattoos visible just above the satin collar of his shirt. It was a deep purple, buttoned to the top but with the sleeves rolled up. His tidy hands held his glass tightly, without the slightest movement.

“Lux,” I nodded at her.

“Vy!” Lux basically screamed into my ear, throwing one of her muscular arms around me in a tight embrace. I hated that nickname, and she was the only one who could use it without getting beaten.

I rolled my eyes but gave her the slightest smile all the same, pulling her port out of my pocket and handing it over. She knew the drill and the transaction went over smoothly. “Just give it back to me once you’ve made your desired changes and I’ll upload it, no extra charge,” I explained, although Lux seemed inebriated and quickly tired of our conversation. I accepted that, shifting my attention to the bigger problem at hand.

“Who’s this?” I asked Lux, narrowing my eyes towards the unwanted guest – who seemed to almost smirk at my displeasure.

“Oh, Vy… funny story actually!” Lux exclaimed. She was an excitable person when she drank. I assumed it had been a rough day at work, but I didn’t plan on asking.

“This guy right here– wha– what’d you say your name was-a– Whatever. He was, like, looking for you actually!” She hastily slurred out a story before returning to her drink.

“Why were you searching for me?” My tone was harsher than I had intended it to be. Often people looked to me for jobs, they’d just never been in Dario’s – and never sitting with my intoxicated, unguarded friends.

“So you’re the infamous Vyris.” The man’s eyes flickered up and down at me. His voice was smooth and deep but his tone hinted at something much more judgmental. My hands balled into fists under the table. Something about this guy was putting me off. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”

“So has the entire Crux. What’s your point?” He seemed amused by my bluntness, the slightest smile playing on his lips. Lux didn’t seem to be acknowledging the situation, focused instead on downing the drink at hand.

“Well–” He was interrupted by an outburst from Lux, who had just realized she had managed to empty her drink.

“I’m…going to the bar!” She stood up abruptly. I stood and stepped to the side, allowing her to stumble out of the booth and head towards Dario. I wasn’t worried about Lux in this bar. It was easily the safest place to be wasted in the Crux. Instead, my focus went back to the man. I waited for him to continue.

He leaned in, “I wanted to see if you were as good as they said you were.”

“And you couldn’t have done that the way everyone else does? You had to infiltrate Dario’s to find me?” My eyes rolled automatically, jaw clenched ever so slightly.

“I wouldn’t call my presence here an infiltration. I made it through the phase, didn’t I?” A chuckle almost escaped his lips. He made a fair point. Either his record was clean, or he was good at slipping under the radar.

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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