Outside

Consider Cylee as she walks away from the nondescript building where she was held. Zoom out until Portland is a map, Cylee’s electric signature a small blue dot on the map. Watch Cylee move with purpose down one street, over along another for a while, then turn again, doubling back, until she gets to a business district. Zoom back in until you can see Cylee through the window. Her hair is black and glossy, her skin a deep tan with a mixed ruddy undertone that shows her Native Alaskan heritage, and the fact that it’s mixed with…something else. Maybe you’ll find out what else later. Maybe not. We’ll see.

Meanwhile Cylee is buying clothes at the centuries-long cornerstone of Portland couture: the thrift store. Her “encounter suit” is functional but it basically screams I’m up to no good! It’s really not day wear. She chooses a few pieces that would have been in style two years ago, or twenty, or eighty. That’s right about where she wants it. Too stylish is too noticeable. Besides, she’d look like a Pacifican trying to blend in, which arouses either pity or scorn. Either one is too considered, too memorable.

As Cylee steps into a changing room zoom back out, back to the map view. Check another app once or twice while you wait for her to pay, then follow her dot on the map again. Watch her stop for lunch, then head to a high school, where her dot disappears into a Faraday-shielded classroom building.

Wait, What? Why is Cylee going back to school?

Zoom in again and realize your mistake. While you were zoomed out Cylee had her Spine override the signature of a teenage girl’s cell phone, swapping signals and signatures. She gave you the slip. Even semi-drugged and far from home she’s still very good at what she does, and you should have realized that. In a few hours the girl’s phone will go back to transmitting its own tracking information. Meanwhile Cylee has checked into a small, inexpensive hotel, under the girl’s name, something the girl will have to explain to her parents when they next check her purchases.

In the hotel room Cylee takes a quick shower, then changes into her new clothing and lies on the bed for a bit to consider her next moves. Obviously she won't be staying here tonight; too obvious, only one hop from her real self. She picks up her encounter suit, heads out and mails it to a friend of hers back in Seattle. As she wanders down the street, letting her Spine camouflage itself as various passers-by, she makes a few phone calls. Let’s listen in. Yeah, we can do that now. We’re a book.


MITZI: Hello?

CYLEE: Mitz, hey, how’s it going?

MITZI: Cyl, where have you been, babe? I haven’t heard from you in days.

CYLEE: Yeah, sorry about that, I got word about a job down in Portland. So..here I am. In Portland. The job is heading back to Seattle, so as soon as this is all over I’ll be back up there.

MITZI: Portland! Ick. [gasp] Are you safe? Did they kidnap you? Are you being held against your will?

CYLEE: Portland’s not that bad, yes, yes, and no, in that order.

MITZI: So...they kidnapped you, but then let you go?

CYLEE: Apparently 'can you get out of being tied up' is part of their interview process. Don’t ask me.

MITZI: Cyl, why are you even thinking of doing the job then?

CYLEE: It’s crazy good money.

MITZI: Babe, if you need cash...

CYLEE: Thanks, Mitz, but we’ve been over this. Look, I’m still just thinking about it. I might just come home. In the mean time some of my gear is in a locker downtown, and the payment is coming up. I’d rather not have to buy my own stuff out of a locker auction. Can I send you a few Crypto and have you go pay for the next month?

MITZI: Nah, don’t worry about it, I’ll pay for it. I owe you for that little hidey-hole in Mounlake Terrace. Where’s your lockup?

CYLEE: It’s in Centennial Storage. I’ll send you the address. Locker 31-B-17. I think it’s like, $4000 USD per month.

MITZI: What’s that, like, three Crypto?

CYLEE: Something like that yeah. I’ll send you four.

MITZI: Tell you what, send me two and we’ll call it even.

CYLEE: Deal.

MITZI: Okay, I’ll go make sure your stuff is safe and try not to worry too much about you working for kidnappers. You sure you’re okay?

CYLEE: I can take care of myself. If they need a Carrier on this mission do you want me to recommend you?

MITZI: Ummmmm no, I don’t think I like this company. I’ll catch you on the next job. But, check in, okay? Don’t go all tough-girl on me and get yourself killed or enslaved or whatever because you’re too proud to ask for help.

CYLEE: I’ll keep that in mind, MOM.

MITZI: Somebody’s got to watch out for you, Tall, Dark, and Grumpy.

CYLEE: Thanks, Short, Blond, and Preppy.

MITZI: I’d say I resent that but why bother? Okay hon, take care, check in soon, have fun in Portland...if that’s even possible.

CYLEE: Okay. Bye.

MITZI: Byeeeee!


Mitzi hung up and wasn’t surprised to find her left index fingernail pulsing a dim blue, indicating that she had just received some money. She went to an ATM and withdrew the requisite $4000 in hard cash.

The one thousand dollar coins weren't really United States dollars, of course. Federal money wouldn't have a picture of the last non-dynastic president on it. Nor a picture of Denali—or as the Fed called it, Mt. McKinley—on the “tails” side. Nor would it exist. The Fed still persisted in making coins of less-than-one-dollar denominations, even though a single dollar was worth almost nothing. Five, ten, and twenty dollar coins also existed, but most people just used credit systems. Who needs to carry around small change? But sometimes you did need to carry around big change, and that's where these coins came in.

Technically they were issued by the New Northwest Pacific Bank, an entity built out of the ashes of Pacifica's Department of the Treasury. The coins were huge, nearly two inches across and a quarter of an inch thick, so four of them was a massive chunk of metal to carry around, but that was the point. NNWPB would allow anyone to redeem a coin for actual federal money deposited directly into their account, so you didn't want to accidentally lose one. Real money or not, they were the de-facto currency of anyone who didn't want their spending habits to be part of the public record, a luxury that neither USD bank transfers or Crypto could afford.

Mitzi knew all of this, and went to great lengths to hide the fact that she knew this. Mitzi had finished a Batchelor’s degree in Economics before deciding that getting her money in more direct and illicit means was more fun. Nature had blessed her with classic Fed-approved good looks: she was blonde, green-eyed, had a pretty smile and a body that drew attention. Unlike Cylee she wasn’t afraid of attracting eyes while she walked. She knew that people watching her go by weren’t thinking about where she was going or what she was doing.

Heritage had also blessed her with a rich family, and she was fully aware that, in some ways, she was living life on easy mode. As long as you were okay with brutish dudes with their Neandertal attitudes and pointlessly sexist business practices. Mitzi was more than okay with it, she was good at it. Her playbook wasn’t all that complex, but it still seemed to work.

Walking into the storage area, she looked around briefly. The room tried to look respectable, but storage lockers aren't a respectable person's market. Row upon row of metal doors stretched out before her, reflected in the dim light and the faux-marble flooring. The room echoed like a tomb of a library.

There was no attendant on duty. There never was. Attendants tended to get killed for seeing things people didn't want seen. The building was almost entirely automated, right down to its “collections” process. If a locker went past its due date it was hauled away, still closed, and auctioned off. Part of the auction price was the replacement for the door, which was ceremonially ripped off when the sale was finished. Forfeit auctions were a popular way to spend a Saturday afternoon. People stored all sorts of things in public lockers. Fed agents would generally confiscate anything that was too illegal, or too likely to be used against them. The house would refund the buyer's money and the agents would usually pay about half of the auction price. For less dangerous items you could work the Fed bribe into the purchase price of the auction itself.

Mitzi walked up to the heavily armored payment cubicle and pushed a button to be scanned. An outer door opened and she stepped into the mantrap. A computer looked her over, decided she didn't have anything that looked too much like a weapon on her, and allowed her into the payment area. Inside was another heavily armored wall, with a coin slot and a small terminal that let you pick which locker you were paying for. Right above the coin slot was a small unmarked hole in the wall that looked suspiciously like a gun muzzle. Nobody ever said what it actually was, and Mitzi wasn't curious. There were better ways to make money than knocking over a storage locker.

Mitzi punched in Cylee's locker ID, dropped the four coins into a hopper and ensured that the “next due date” was what she thought it should be, then breathed deep as she escaped back out to the main storage area. Tiny restrained spaces were always miserable. She glanced briefly at her palm, checking the time. It was time for someone to buy her dinner, and she had a good idea of who it should be tonight. Walking quickly she caught the tram to downtown.