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from Pacifica

Cylee was at home when she got a notification.

Julian: Hey here’s the address. Want me to come pick you up, or just meet at the restaurant?

Cylee: I’ll see you there!

She thought about changing, but, nah, she was wearing a green top and looked pretty good. It didn’t make sense to let Julian think he was important enough to warrant a dress. She did braid her hair, though, in two braids that started at her temples and joined at the back of her head. She caught a cab and watched Seattle flow by out the window. The address was in a rebuilt part of town, all oppressively hip eateries and civic-government-approved “Local businesses”.

Julian was waiting on the curb, once again dressed like an insane peacock from an earlier century. Tonight it was a purple button-down shirt with a far-too-large collar, and silver, tight, shiny pants. He really liked silver, and Cylee really wondered why.

“I almost couldn’t find you,” Cylee said as she stepped out of the cab. Julian smiled and took a theatrical bow. “You look very nice,” he said in response and led her inside. “I’ve already secured our table. “

“Was it formerly in a war zone? “

“Place like this, on a Thursday evening? Pretty much.”

“I figured Friday would be war zone night.”

“Nah, Friday night is for middle age married couples on regularly scheduled 'Date Night', young bon-vivant types like us have more esoteric haunts.”

Julian pulled a chair out for Cylee, eliciting looks from pretty much everyone else. These ranged from vaguely amused to moderately dirty. Cylee ignored them all and insinuated herself into the chair. She was slender, lithe, and graceful and could move like an attractive river when she wanted to. She then opened the menu while Julian got to his seat.

“Drinks?” The waiter said. He apparently felt that the social script here didn’t require all the other words in the sentence.

“Just water,” Cylee said, not looking up.

“Peach soda,” Julian said and Cylee kept her head down until the waiter left.

“Are you seven?” She asked openly smiling.

“Neither of us ordered anything expensive. He’s going to be worrying about his tip. We should get appetizers, make him feel better. And what’s wrong with peach soda?”

“The have to try the hummus nachos. Except I’m not sure how different that will be from just…really dry pita. And nothing’s wrong with it. Hey, if you like peach soda and aren’t afraid to order it on a first date…you do you, Julian.”

Julian did the little sardonic bow again, except this time it was basically a nod.

They figured out their orders and put the menus down, then made the waiter feel better by ordering individual appetizers, and decent mid-price entrees. The waiter left again and Julian set his elbows on the table and folded his hands, and looked over them at Cylee.

“So Miss Cylee, tell me about yourself.”

“Nope. Let’s start somewhere more interesting. Where’s the last place on earth you would ever consider for a week-long vacation and why. And no cop-outs like 'my own house har har har', somewhere far away and terrible.” Cylee was aware that this wasn’t how dates were meant to go but she didn’t want Julian getting comfortable. Besides she had questions she wanted to ask him. For now this stupid question would do.

But Julian barely blinked. “I’d probably have to say Moab, over in Bonneville. Mostly because my parents used to love going there for vacations and it’s horrible. Have you ever been there? It’s a desert. It’s all hot sand and hot red rocks and wind, unless it’s raining. Then it’s cold mud and wind. What about you?”

“Nah, you have to think up a different question.” Cylee said. She didn’t want to admit that she had never been outside of Alaska, Washington, or Oregon.

“Okay. And I’m guessing there’s a 'no questions about your personal history' rule—that wasn’t a question, hold on—okay, here’s one. If you could be any animal you wanted for one week, then be yourself again, what would you choose? AND, what do you think would be the little annoyance that made you glad to be human again?”

Cylee sat back, stretched her legs under the table and smiled. “I feel like I’m supposed to say something Alaska-y like 'the wise northern raven, who can survive anything and have fun doing it'. But nah. Okay, I got it.” Cylee leaned forward. “Listen, because this one takes some explaining. So, years ago, when I was little, I went to an art museum when there was a big 'Artifacts of Rome' exhibit in town. Actually it probably wasn’t that big of an exhibit, but I was small, I didn’t know from art collections.”

“Sure,” Julian said, his light eyes watching hers.

“Anyway, there was this little black copper snake. I guess it was varnished or lacquered or something. Whatever, the sign said it was copper and it was definitely black. It was small, about twenty centimeters from nose to tail, maybe six centimeters tall. And she had the brightest little eyes, a little snakey smile, and an air of confidence that was as clear and obvious as it was when someone sculpted it thousands of years earlier. It was clear that, whoever made that little copper snake, they really knew snakes.”

“So… you would want to be a copper snake…and what would make you want to change back?” Julian said.

“No no no, I want to be the snake that the copper snake was modeled on. Somewhere in Ancient Rome, just…slithering around, then hanging out in some artist’s studio for a while. What would make me want to leave would be day three of him picking me up and moving me around all the time. I gotta have my space, sculptor.”

“Okay then.” Julian actually laughed, and seemed actually happy. The conversation paused again when the food was delivered and only picked up slowly. It seemed that Julian had something else on his mind. Or possibly his Spine, Cylee realized. He was just as Augmented as she was. “I should tell you something,” Julian said and hesitated. Cylee’s heart jumped and she realized that she really definitely never wanted to work with a large organization again. Too many social situations. What was he going to tell her? He loved her, even after such a short time? He was sent to kill her, even after such a short time? The stun gun causes cancer, even after just two exposures? And such a short time?

“I know who you really are. The Lady does as well. We were looking for you specifically.” Julian said. He picked up his soda glass and looked into it deeply for a few moments.

“And you bugged my charger. This new Spine was just a way to get a tracker on me.” Cylee said, impressed with herself that she was able to answer so casually. Of course. Of course they knew who she really was. Of course she was hooked with a Spine upgrade.

“So who are you? Why are you tracking an ex-PDF soldier—“

“E. P-E-F. You were expeditionary, not defense.” Julian corrected quietly. “Sorry.”

“Fine, why are you tracking an ex-PEF soldier? Are you clone hunters? Mercenaries? Fed?”

“Because you’re not just a soldier. You were a prototype for one of the Four Faces. They were younger than you, usually helmeted and masked, but you’re the base model for the Alpha clones.”

“Yeah, I know who I am. Who are you? Why did you bug me? What do you want with me? You captured me once but I won’t go down without a fight this time…”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, hold on,” Julian said, hands raised, palms facing her, and smiling slightly. “One question at a time. Who we are: The Lady has asked me not to tell you that yet, but I believe that once you find out you’ll want to join us. Bugging you: I didn’t know we did that, but I guess I should have expected. If it wasn’t us it might have been that someone at Shiira knew who was buying that Spine and they bugged us. We don’t really need help tracking you…like you said, we caught you once. What we want with you is for you to join our organization, but not by force or coercion…I mean, beyond kidnapping you and taking you to Oregon that one time. Okay, was that all the questions?”

Cylee sat back. She felt…tricked, exposed, hurt…and not as scared as she had been.

“One more question. Why should I sit here and have dinner with you? Why did you bring me here?”

“Oh, that has nothing to do with The Lady or our organization. I just thought you were interesting and…pretty…and wanted to take you on a date.”

“Well…okay then.” She shifted slightly and took another bite of her dinner.

“So, Mister 'I know all about you,' what do you know about me?” She asked.

“Well, your name is Karen Ligaya Bodfish, which is an odd combination. Karen is a “Fed” name, Ligaya is “Happiness”, or maybe “Joy” in Tagalog. Which I guess makes sense; your father was a Filipino cruise ship employee. You were born in Anchorage but grew up on the Kenai peninsula until you were 'drafted', and then…”

“And then my life is just part of the tragedy of the past decade.” Cylee said. Suddenly this wasn’t fun any more. Everything Julian had said was true, but so stripped down that it felt almost insulting. “So, what about you, sci-fi boy? What’s your story?”

“So now we are talking about the past?”

“Well, you seem to know all about mine, so it only seems fair.”

Julian smiled and ordered another drink and the dessert menu.

“Let’s see. I was born Julan Baum Pierce. I go by 'Julian' because that’s what everyone calls me anyway. I was born in California before it was Texicali and my parents moved us all up to Washington shortly before the Texicali Rebellion, and down to Oregon just before the Pacifica Rebellion. I’m honestly a little surprised he didn’t buy a house in Boise before Bonneville seceded.”

“Okay, sure, but next question: why won’t you tell me what your organization actually is? Why is Ms. Happy so secretive about it?”

“Hmmmm…Like I said, I promised not to tell you what she is planning, but I can tell you that everything she told you is true. We are manufacturing new Spines, the Augment Disrupter is meant to level the field between Augmented and non-augmented armies. I can also tell you that we’re not mercenaries or terrorists.”

“Just kidnappers and spies.”

Julian shrugged. It was like arguing with a smiley face sticker. “We do what needs done to…move our work forward.”

Cylee stood up. “Sorry, pass. I don’t mind working with you guys, you plan weird jobs and crash things into other things, but I’m not looking for a cause.”

“Cylee, wait! Okay, no more cause talk, I get it. What about—our little date?”

“You can’t think this went well,” Cylee said, pulling on her jacket.

“The first part did.”

She paused. That was a mistake. The first part had indeed gone well, and was kinda fun. But Julian was watching and her pause was all the opening he needed to talk some more. She should have just kept walking, ignoring anything he said. Just get out the door.

“So let’s go back to that first part. Let’s just play around, ask each other stupid questions. Have some dessert.”

He never sounded like he was begging or wheedling. His tone was even, level, and sensible. And it might have worked. Had she been just a little less proud or a little less unnerved, she might have sat back down and eaten dessert with him. Instead, she said, “Maybe another time. Maybe.” And walked out. She found herself wanting to hit him again. For being so in control. For being so connected to—whatever his group was—and for keeping her in the dark.

So she went outside into the real dark, letting her Augments give her vision beyond sight.

Stupid Julian.


from Pacifica

The day after a big job was always weird. Last night was a small, intense world full of fear and danger and stress. This morning is bright with highs in the low forties. Cylee was up, showered, dressed, and done with breakfast by the time Mitzi rolled off the couch and stumbled into the bathroom, blond hair a weirdly weightless halo around her head.

Cylee went and found a small digital reader and pulled up some books. She could have done that in her HUD, of course, but sometimes you need to look like you’re reading and anyway, physical things are nice.

Mitzi finished her shower and walked out wrapped in huge towel. “Can I borrow some clothes?”

“I…sure, but we’re not really the same size.” Cylee said.

“That’s okay, I can make it work,” Mitzi said walking into Cylee’s bedroom. “Yes, you probably can,” thought Cylee and regretted the moment of white-hot resentment she felt toward her friend. If Cylee had tried to put together a reasonable outfit out of Mitzi’s closet she’d look like someone who was borrowing clothes. Their body types were far too different.

“Okay then. Anything you want out of the closet.” Cylee called.

“Closet, or floor? Do you ever put anything away?” Mitzi called back amiably.

“Do you? Or do other people just put everything away for you?” Cylee responded.

“Did I just find a green top? You actually own other colors? I figured everything you owned was black and red.”

“You’ve seen me wearing that top, Mitz. And anyway, I’ve got blue stuff as well. I wear colors.”

“But you’re wearing all black today. Again.”

“Ugh, throw me the green top.”

“There’s a good girl. We’re off the clock. Let your hair down.” Mitzi said, and the green top in question flew out the door. Cylee changed and threw her black shirt back through the door at Mitzi.

It still took Mitzi thirty minutes to get dressed, even before she started on her hair. She was wearing one of Cylee’s long black shirts, which on Mitzi went down almost to her knees and—and with the addition of a silver belt—looked almost like a dress. She was also wearing a pair of Cylee’s black leggings, and her own boots. Somehow, Cylee reflected, Mitzi had taken a couple of the most utilitarian pieces of Cylee’s wardrobe and made them look cute and feminine.

“I thought all black was a no-no,” Cylee said as Mitzi stood in front of the mirror fixing her hair and makeup.

“I mean, usually. But look how cute it turned out!” Mitzi said and smiled. Mitzi smiled and realized she had absolutely nothing to say to that. So instead of responding she tried to concentrate on her book, but was spared the trouble by Julian.

Julian: Hey Cylee. How are you doing, now that we’ve been back in town a couple of days. There’s a new café I’d like to try and I figured we should try it together. Maybe tonight?”

Cylee smiled. Julian was exactly the sort who would be sure to include the accent in “café”. Well, as far as she knew.

Cylee: What kind of food do they do there?

Julian: Hmmmm looking over the menu. Seems like…Mexicali-Middle-Eastern?

Cylee: Ah, just like mama used to make.

Julian: Who wasn’t raised on hummus burritos?

Cylee: Wow, really?

Julian: You’ll have to wait and see. So, 8pm?

Cylee: sure.

Julian: 👍🏼

Cylee: Wow, emoji. Really? You’re going all-in on this retro-21st-century thing, aren’t you?

Julian: 😉

Cylee: 🤦🏼‍♂️ Okay. Later!

Julian: Later!

“Who was that?” Mitzi asked, still brushing her hair.

“Who was what?” Cylee said.

“You always get this weird faraway look when you’re Spine-texting.”

“A guy I met on the Portland job. He seems harmless. Lame, kinda pretentious and full of himself. But harmless.”

“Wow, don’t talk him up too much or I might decide to steal him from you,” Mitzi said, looking at herself in the mirror.

“Go for it. But…after tonight. I kinda what to try this café he told me about.” Cylee said, and wondered if you were supposed to pronounce the word differently with that accent mark at the end.

Mitzi finished playing with her hair and makeup and turned to Cylee. “Okay, ready to go?” Cylee absolutely didn’t laugh out loud. “Yep, let’s head out.”

Mitzi hailed an auto cab and they waited on the curb for a couple of minutes. Suddenly something occurred to Cylee and she looked at her friend.

“Even for you, this is a bit more effort than you usually put into going to meet someone to fix a thing. What’s up, Mitz?”

Mitzi smiled brightly and seemed to ignore the question for a moment. Then looked up at Cylee. “We’re going to see Wayne. He’s…also nice. And kinda lame. But… he’s a good guy. Anyway, you’ll see.”

The cab arrived and Cylee sighed inwardly. Mitzi’s various romantic interests tended to have short shelf lives, and blow up rather prettily at the end of the affair. Cylee just hoped she could get her charger fixed before the fireworks started.

The cab stopped and Cylee slid out. They were in a very old part of town, all cracked asphalt roads and concrete sidewalks. Weeds and grass grew up through the cracks. There were a few small, shabby-looking businesses along this street, oddly interspersed with single-family houses (most of which held the entire family, based on the kids and old people hanging out in the small front yards. Or maybe, Cylee thought, people around here just keep having kids until later in life.) The people in the yards watched Cylee and Mitzi get out, watched the cab speed off, and then, sensing that the entertainment was over, went back to whatever it was they had been doing. The kids were playing games with rules that changed constantly and the older people were nominally watching them. A few were actually watching handheld screens, but most were just chatting and actually watching the kids.

“Come on, this is Wayne’s store,” Mitzi said, grabbing Cylee’s arm.

Wayne’s store was an old free-standing building, built of bricks along the sides, the front all steel and glass. Above the windows was a tall facade, on which the words “Early Electronics” were written in light. As Cylee looked at the words they changed color, red to purple to green to blue, fading slowly from one to the next so that you couldn’t really tell quite when it changed. Through the windows Cylee could see collections of cardboard boxes, covered with text in various languages to be sold in any territory possible. Along the back wall was ancient and unimproved-upon pegboard, holding racks of wires and cables and small, pre-built electronic devices. Below the pegboard was a row of 3D printers, ranging from an expensive mono-molicule compositor to old resin-layer plastic prototypers. A few of them were running, a few others seemed to be either under construction or repair. Cylee imagined that one of them was printing parts for another one, and laughed.

In front of the peg wall was a glass display case and counter. On the far left end was a cash register that was at least two hundred years old, entirely mechanical. Inside the display case was an assortment of oddities, from typewriters to laptops to tablets, relics of earlier ages. The ones with screens were on, displaying 2D graphics that seemed to move from a neolithic, monochrome display, to an ancient grainy laptop to a slightly less ancient cell phone.

There was a bell over the door that rang when they opened it and went in. Mitzi walked up to the counter and waited, fidgeting just a little as she waited.

“Melissa! How are you doing today?”

Wayne emerged from the backroom. He looked to be in his mid forties, wearing a button-down shirt that never went into style and tan pants. He had a slightly middle-aged shape, not quite a pear but no longer an inverted triangle. He was pale, but had active, intelligent eyes.

“Heya, Wayne!” Mitzi said as he came to the counter.

“And who is this?” Wayne asked, reaching out to shake Cylee’s hand.

“Karen,” Cylee said. If Mitzi was going to be Melissa in here then she could be Karen. Mitzi looked slightly surprised but only for a split second.

Agent: Huh.

“Pleased to meet you, Karen.” Wayne said. If he noticed any surprised looks he ignored them. “What can I do for you today?” He asked.

“Well, Karen here has a new Spine and she accidentally broke the charger. I know you believe in fixing things instead of throwing them away, and I thought you might charge less than a new one. It’s a proprietary thing.” Cylee put the charger on the counter and Wayne picked it up, turning it over and over in his hands, running a finger along the place where the plastic and electronics had been cracked.

“I see. Yeah, this is a nasty break. If there’s any fancy pre-printed stuff in here it might take a little time to reverse engineer and emulate, but generally Spine systems keep all the fancy stuff inside the spine proper…” he took the device and put it on his workbench, in a spot that was surrounded by implements and tools. He pulled on a pair of goggles and started poking at the internal parts of the charger. “Hmmmm…” he said.

“Let's see here...” Wayne said. He took the device and turned to his workbench. Almost absently he pulled a pair of microscopic glasses on, and started reaching without looking for a wide array of tools to work on the little torc-shaped device. He worked in utter silence, nearly motionless except for his hands, which never stopped moving. 

Cylee was a decent field electrician herself, but this was artistry. A minimum of fuss, bringing just the right tool into play for a moment, casually brushing over the afflicted area with a new wire box, or adjusting the flow across a damaged board, glancing only momentarily at the readout of his instruments, he seemed to already know what they were going to say.

Mitzi turned to Cylee. “He’ll probably be pretty closed off to actual human interaction for the next few minutes,’” she said and leaned on a box near the counter.

“I mean, I can still hear you,” Wayne said, without malice.

Cylee smiled a little and went to explore the show room a bit. There was a little bit of everything here, from the aforementioned ancient computer toys to much more modern drones, hoverers, and even a few off the rack Augments.

“Hmmmmmm… It’s probably good you brought this charger to me…” Wayne said and stood up straight. Cylee looked up. “Why is that?”

“Well, one, it’s really pretty broken, but that’s not a huge problem. The connection is a simple magnetic four contact job, I can make you a new one in a few minutes. But two…come look at this.”

Cylee walked over to the workbench and looked through the microscope. There was a mass of…electronic stuff.

“I have no idea what I’m looking at,” Cylee admitted.

“So, like I said, this is a pretty simple charger. There are four contacts, and all the charger really has to do is send power along two of them, use one for a grounding pin, and stop sending current when it gets a signal on the fourth. The design hasn’t changed in centuries. “

Wayne gently moved the microscope away from Cylee and attached a camera to the eyepiece, then turned on a wall-mounted screen, showing the microscope’s view.

“So, if that’s all this system is meant to do, why does it have data storage,” he pointed to a small black rectangle on the screen, “A graphics processor,” another rectangle, slightly larger, “And a communication chip?” This one was a very small rectangle.

“Someone’s using my charger to spy on me?” Cylee asked, her stomach sinking. “But I checked it for radio radiation and there didn’t seem to be any.”

“Well, I didn’t say it was a wireless communication chip,” Wayne said, squinting at the screen. “My guess is that it’s communicating through the power plug, sending signals through he power main.”

“That…can people do that?” Mitzi asked, crowding around as well.

“Sure, it’s just a matter of putting a certain flutter back into the wires. It’s a trick that’s been around forever. If you put a surge protector between this charger and your power main it’d probably defeat the system entirely. But, based on Karen’s face, I’m guessing this is a not-altogether-happy revelation?”

Cylee sat down. “So, does it have a battery or…or capacitors or something? Can it broadcast right now?”

“It doesn’t look like it, but that doesn’t mean I want it in my store any longer than necessary.” Wayne said, then put his head on one side, and thought. “Although…this looks like Shiira technology, and it’s entirely possible they put all this in here as a sort of diagnostic package. In that case it could be harmless…if you’re okay with that sort of thing.”

“No, I’m not, and I’ll dispose of it,” Cylee said. “But, you said you could make me a replacement, one without a tiny spy computer in it.”

“I’ll get started on it right away,” Wayne said.

Mitzi came over to Cylee and put an arm around her. Cylee growled a little.

“They said they wanted to give me the Spine as 'a retainer', I guess they meant 'leash',” Cylee said, seething at herself. “This means they know where I live, and…and anywhere I charged this new Spine in Portland…” She shook her head.

“Cyl, I’m so sorry…” Mitzi said and her eyes widened. “I mean, Karen,” she half-muttered. Glancing over at Wayne he seemed entirely engaged in setting up one of his 3D printers to create a new charger.

“Karen, if you could come over here, I’d like to just take a look at the charging port on the top of your spine. I need a couple of measurements to make sure this will actually work.”

Cylee walked over and sat down on the proffered chair. Mitzi walked to the other wall to look at whatever weird things were hanging thereupon.

“So, you and Mitzi seem pretty worried about this,” he said, working with a small handheld measurement tool, gently prodding the charging port on her Spine. She got a few flashes of “charger connected…charger disconnected” on her HUD.

“Well, yeah, wouldn’t you be…oh. You just called her Mitzi.”

“She’s a good person, and a smart person. But like many good, smart people she tends to forget that other people can also be smart. But at least she still believes that most people are good. I’ve never figured out why she doesn’t trust me more, though. It’s not like I’m ignorant; you don’t have the sort of problems she brings me without spending some time in less-than-legal enterprise. Not that I’m judging, mind.”

“Names seem important to you, Mister Early.” Cylee said, and Wayne laughed.

“Names are useful, in a time and place. When they stop being useful it’s fine to move on from them. Okay, I’ve got what I need, give the machine a couple of minutes and we’ll have you all set.” Cylee stood up and walked over to Mitzi. She thought about telling her friend about the conversation, but…nah.

**Tamara Patel (Doctor): ** Hello Cylee! I hope you are having a great day.

Cylee: Oh, yeah, pretty good, thanks! How about you?

**Tamara Patel (Doctor): ** So, listen, I know it’s been a while and it might have slipped your mind, but I wondered if you’d like to come over for dinner tonight? There really is something I’d like to tell you, and sooner is probably better than later.

Cylee felt her breath speed up. This wasn’t a good fight-or-flight option; how do you fight social situations? At least she had a good excuse for tonight.

Cylee: I actually can’t tonight, I have a date. But…is there another night? Maybe on the weekend?

**Tamara Patel (Doctor): ** Oh, yeah totally! Would Friday work?

Cylee paused. Doctor Patel was part of the organization that had presumably planted a transmitter in her charger. And Doctor Patel was the most recent person to interact with that charger. Which didn’t mean she was definitely the person who planted the bug, indeed it seemed unlikely, as she was a doctor not a technician…

“Hey, Mr. Early? How hard would it be to create that little bugged charger system thingy?” Cylee asked.

“Well… If it’s a custom job, meaning you are only making one of these ever, then pretty hard. If you have a kit, or know where you can buy a kit, adding it into the charger would be…only moderately hard. I could do it, but I don’t know a ton of other people who could.”

“What about a medical doctor? They’re half technologists anyway, these days.” Cylee asked.

“Maybe? Who knows? I’d have to meet this doctor of yours. But if you ask me, this was built in the factory. It’s too clean to be a local job, unless you’ve got a whole Spine production factory.”

**Agent: ** We sense no threat from Doctor Patel. We do not believe she was complicit in spying on your charging collar.

“There’s one way to find out,” Cylee thought.

**Cylee: ** Tamara, did you know there was a tracking device and modem in my new Spine’s charging collar?

There was a long pause. Cylee wasn’t sure if this meant she was aware, wasn’t, or was telling her bosses that the jig was up.

**Tamara Patel (Doctor): ** Cylee, you must believe that I didn’t, although I guess I was foolish not to suspect. If you will come over on Friday… I think it would be best. Some things probably shouldn’t be transmitted.

**Cylee: ** Okay. Friday. Send me the address, or I can look it up.

**Tamara Patel (Doctor): ** No, I can send that. They already know where I live.

“Okay, Miss Karen, I think we’re there. If you could come sit back in the chair here…” Wayne gestured and held up the new end of the charger. It was, somehow, even more padded than the original, and fit her neck better. He attached the contact and her HUD showed “Battery charging” and the annoying little animation.

“Looks like it works, Mister Early.” Cylee said. “What do I owe you?”

“I accept USD, Canadian Dollars, Pacifica scrip, pesos from around the globe, old and new Euros, any form of Crypto that has an active exchange, pounds sterling, Dutch marks, German marks, Finnish marks, and shiny beads. I even accepted a papal indulgence once. At least, the guy said he was a pope. I took his word for it in case he turned out to be right. Oh, and in USD it'll be one hundred bucks.”

“So...you get ripped off a lot,” Cylee said, swiping her credit chip over the payment sensor. For some reason she knew that was the question he wanted to be asked. A hundred USD was kiddy money.

“That I don't, ma'am. Look around. My little electronics shop stands in the middle of some bad territory, but I never get robbed. I don't make a whole lot; after all, who repairs electronics, when you can replace them? But I never end up short on my rent or groceries, and people bring me nice things when they think I can use them. I may not make a ton of regular cash, but I'm trading in a different currency, and doing quite well.”

“So why charge people at all?”

“So that we all feel like the transaction was legitimate. If you just work for free you're a pushover. If you do good work, charge a fair price, and expect people to be fair to you you're a good person. Everyone comes away with their dignity intact.”

“I feel like this is leading up to you pitching a religion.” Cylee said, half-sarcastically.

Wayne smiled. “Well, I’m too fond of coffee for the folks over in Bonneville to accept me, I’m not a Catholic, so I’m not welcome in southwestern Texicali. Melissa’s parents wouldn’t like the fact that I’m not entirely sold on Fed Protestantism. But I’m also not a Northwest atheist either.”

“That’s not an answer, Wayne.” Mitzi said from her place in the corner. For some reason her eyes were watching Wayne’s face intently.

He had tried to go back to work, but he looked up again, and looked Cylee right in the eyes. “I believe in God, Miss, and what's more, I think he believes in me too.”

Cylee sat quietly. Honesty was rare in her world, and it was as frightening to her as a loaded gun. She had no idea how to respond to such a bare statement of...of faith. But Mitzi did.

“What's that supposed to mean? You think God talks to you?”

“He's never said anything, but He's not ignoring me either. I think he knows I'm good for something, and the best I can do is not let him down.”

Even Mitzi was quiet after this. 

Cylee didn't know if there was a god, and she suddenly found that, at this moment, it didn't really matter. What Wayne had said to her was true. It was his actual belief. In his mind—in his world— there is a God, and he had let her into that world, just a little bit. He had actually showed her a part of himself that was real. 

Truth changes worlds. At least, in that moment it changed Cylee's world. All her other problems, all the street running and scores and Pacifica—all that was insignificant, it was all a web of vapors and lies. Nobody involved in any of that was doing anything for the reasons they said they were, and when it came down to it, they didn't even believe the reasons they told themselves. 

“Thank you, Wayne,” Cylee said, her voice quiet and sincere. She had nothing she could pay him with for his honesty, except her own. And she found, in that moment, that she was honestly grateful. So she said it. 

And he seemed to understand. He looked up one more time, nodded, and said, “you're welcome”.


from Pacifica

At seven that evening Cylee was getting dressed when a notification popped up in her HUD. It was a small map link and the words “Dinnertime?” The address wasn’t far and Cylee sent back “see you there” as she got dressed for the evening. She wore an all-black outfit, not for secrecy but because she was feeling like black was pretty much her color today. She chose black leggings, high leather boots, a form-fitting black top with a short (black) jacket. the outfit looked like evening wear but was also slightly armored and padded. Also the jacket hid a holster for her flechette thrower and a couple of clips full of specialized ammo. In theory she shouldn’t need any weapons of her own, but in practice she never went into any situation unarmed. She tied her hair back into a ponytail, then decided to braid it instead. Braids were better at staying out of the way. It wasn’t exactly in keeping with the rest of the outfit, but it would work. She was halfway out the door when she remembered to grab her Spine’s charging adapter. Again, this should only be a half hour job, but you never knew when you might have to lie low somewhere and having your Spine be on low power mode wasn’t fun. She stuffed the charger in a pocket and went to meet Mitzi.

The restaurant was called “the Panopticon” and somewhat surprisingly the owner seemed to actually understand what the word meant. The front door opened into a lobby which contained a bar and an elevator. The hostess took them into the elevator which went down into a surprisingly large, round basement. In the center of the room was a slightly raised chef’s station, and around the walls of the room were roughly sixty small booths, entirely enclosed on three sides, open only to the chef’s station in the center. The idea was that each booth was visible to the staff, but not to anyone else in the restaurant.

“Fancy,” Mitzi said as they sat down and looked over the menu. “How did you find out about this place?” Cylee asked. “Oh, it’s owned by a friend of my mom’s…” Mitzi dove into the sort of explanation that usually made Cylee’s head swim, and at the same time was staggeringly dull. Cylee had forgotten how interconnected rich people were. But the explanation ended with, “so, anyway, we’re getting our dinner for free tonight!” which was good enough for Cylee, because the prices were insane. Cylee ordered something that she guessed was chicken, but real chicken from a real animal. Mitzi’s order was a small but substantial section of the French language.

“Are you excited?” Mitzi asked after the waiter left and they were more-or-less alone in their booth. Cylee smiled a little. “Sure.” She said. Mitzi looked down and played with the stem of her glass.

“Listen, did I hurt your feelings earlier…” Mitzi began, but the light on their table flickered red, indicating that the waiter was returning. They thanked him for the soup, thanked him for refilling their water glasses, thanked him for thanking them, and then he was gone again.

“No…look, I understand. You were trying to point out how wrong-headed your folks are. It’s fine” Cylee said.

“So we’re good?” Mitzi asked.

“Yeah, Mitz, we’re good.” Cylee said. It was easier than actually explaining. Mitzi brightened up and started telling Cylee about the Heavy they’d be working with. Cylee only sort of listened. She knew how Mitzi operated, and if Mitzi was calling this guy a “Heavy” it meant he was a lot of muscles and some proficiency with ranged weapons. In Cylee’s head all heavies were named “Bruno” and could just about be trusted to get in the way. But they were usually also good at protecting Mitzi as she got out.

Dinner came. Cylee’s food was indeed chicken. In Alaska, before Pacifica, eating small animals meant you were too poor to buy food. Now it meant you could afford the real stuff. It was good, though.

They had some very small cake thing for dessert and headed back out to the street. Nobody brought a bill, nobody asked for payment. Whatever rich person magic had occurred without Cylee seeing it.

Without being too direct or too casual they made their way to the office district where the SUV was going to be parked. This part of Seattle had escaped the worst of the fighting, and the office buildings were old, stark reminders of an earlier time with regular glass and steel, probably twenty-first century stuff. Cylee’s HUD lit up the garage based on the address.

“Hey Cyl, what’s it like, having a Spine?”

“What? You’ve got Augments.”

“Yeah, but just like, civilian stuff. I’ve got some visual overlays, but it’s all basic mixed-reality stuff. Nothing like that new Spine you’re wearing.”

“Noticed, did ya?” Cylee said, scanning for any radiation coming from the security system. If she was very lucky it’d be transmitting instead of hard-wired.

“Of course I did. I know you, girl. It’s clearly a lot newer. And it’s not a production model. I looked.”

Cylee laughed. “Okay, what else can you tell me about it?” “It’s probably a Shiira job, since nothing Initech makes looks like that at all. And it’s not production, either here or in Japan. Cyl…you should tell me about that job in Portland. People don’t just give out hardware like that.”

Cylee stopped and focused on Mitzi. “You’re right Mitz. I’m a little worried as well. But the job seems to have gone down okay and I think I’m well out of it. Tell you what, after this job, let’s talk it over. I’ll tell you all about it and you can tell me if I was stupid to take that job.”

“Stupider than usual, you mean,” Mitzi said, smiling but still looking concerned.

Agent: We have the passcode algorithm to the side door. You’ll need to use your Augment to let us transmit it to the keypad, it’s expecting a security key.

Cylee: Thanks.

The Agent didn’t respond, it never did. Cylee liked saying thanks anyway.

Whichever Bruno this was showed up. Cylee led the way to the side door.

“Okay, Mitzi, wait outside this door until I call. Usual signal. Bruno—“

“My name is—“

“Nope, for the next hour it’s Bruno,” Cylee said. Bruno looked at Mitzi, who just shrugged.

“Bruno, stay low and cover the side of the vehicle that I can’t see. If I’m working up close that thing is a huge blind spot. When I give Mitzi the signal you cover her until she’s clear of the building, then cover my exit. We good?”

Mitzi nodded. After a second Bruno nodded as well. Cylee nodded and held a finger to her lips.

Two RACs were on duty; she could “see” them via infrared and sonic. These two would be going off duty in an hour, so right now they should be at their most bored. Two more would be coming on in half an hour. Plenty of time. Cylee pressed her finger against the key reader and the lock turned green. She eased the door open and walked over to the SUV.

The garage was full of SUVs. The RACs were both sitting by the front door, where they could theoretically see the entire garage. Except one had just gone to the bathroom and the other was looking at his phone. Everyone thinks they’re more observant than they are. Cylee moved along a row of cars, vaguely aware of Bruno walking in and crouching low behind an opposite row.

Cylee’s Augments were having a hard time identifying the target. Possible matches floated over a couple of the SUVs but she needed to see the license plate to be sure.

The target was a few rows of cars away from the Rent-A-Cops near the front door. Since it was the middle of the night the garage door was rolled down, and they were leaning their chairs against it. The target SUV had been backed into its space, meaning Cylee had easy access to the back hatch if she needed it, but the door facing away from the RACs seemed like a better choice. Bruno passed her and hunkered down between two cars.

Cylee pressed her Trigger Finger against the lock pad and let her Spine and the Agent get to work. This part always bugged her; being a vessel for the Agent to do its work meant she was mostly just standing there. She loosened her fletchette thrower with her free hand.

The locks popped. Cylee eased the door open an climbed inside, looking for the mice. They weren’t’ hard to find. There was a large plastic box with its own air tank in the back seat.

“Hey, Mitz,” Cylee subvocalized, watching her words turn to text in her HUD and sending it to Mitzi.

“There’s like, 100 mice in this box.”

“What? There were only supposed to be around 20!?!”

“Somebody got carried away, I guess. I think we’re gonna have to use the shipping box they have here.”

“Ugh. Okay, I’m moving towards you now.”

Outside the RACs were getting restless, it seemed. One stood up and started walking between the cars. Cylee sent a message to both of her co-conspirators.

“RAC on the move. Get out of sight, wait until he settles again.” Cylee wedged herself down into the footwell of the backseat and prepared to wait it out.

But Bruno had other ideas. Suddenly Cylee heard a loud, pointless yell as Bruno stood up out of concealment and fired at the RAC. He missed by some distance and his shot indented the windshield of a little passenger car. The fact that it didn’t shatter was a curious testimony to the armored-ness of all the vehicles in this garage but wasn’t of immediate interest.

“Mitz, Bruno’s gone full Leroy. How far are you?”

“Like, four cars? But if there’s heat…”

“Drop your weapon!” The RAC shouted and Bruno fired again, blasting a hole in a wall behind the RAC. Apparently realizing he was a bad shot, Bruno threw the weapon at his opponent and charged.

“Where did you find this moron?” Cylee asked Mitzi as she moved out of the vehicle towards Bruno and the two RACs.

“Not now, Cyl. I’ve got the mice and I’m getting out. Can you keep them off me?”

“It’s what I do. I’ll try to extract Bruno as well.”

Cylee ran across the gap between the rows of cars, trying to get behind the RACs.

“There’s another one!” The second guard shouted. The first guard side-stepped Bruno’s running attack and threw him against a vehicle. So they had some training at least. Cylee got her flechette pistol out and checked the ammo. Anesthetics, which was good. Making people go numb in the arms was a good way to not draw too much attention post-action.

“You! Stop right there!” The second RAC yelled as he found Cylee. She decided to call him Arnie. She planted her feet and let her Third Eye take in Arnie. She leveled the pistol at him and half-pulled the trigger. Her Augment network sighted in on him and she “painted” both of his arms, then pulled the trigger the rest of the way.

Sixty small needles on a fine wire flew out, the thrower aiming them and guiding them in flight as they found their mark all the way up Arnie’s right arm, then the wire broke and sixty more hit is left arm.

Cylee turned as Bruno got back up and punched the second RAC.

“I’m clear, Cylee,” Mitzi sent and then Arnie hit Cylee hard. His arms were worthless but he was still fairly large. She hit the wall and Arnie grunted. This can’t have been fun for him either. Cylee was a lot younger and willing to ignore the crunching sound that came from her midsection when Arnie hit her. She slid down the wall, out of Arnie’s range, and came back up, her head hitting his chin hard. Arnie went backwards and Cylee slid out between two cars, out of his reach.

Bruno was down. The other RAC had hit him with something.

“Cyl, can you get out? I have the package safe.”

“Bruno is down. One RAC is dazed and won't be able to use his arms for the next two hours. Not sure about the one Bruno was fighting.”

“Cylee, just get out, I’ll handle Bruno. I’ll meet you at point A” Mitzi said and Cylee nodded. She ducked and moved out.

Once she wasn’t attacking anyone she was less of a priority. Arnie was making his way to where his companion had Bruno down on the ground. But Mitzi said she would handle it. So Cylee got out.

Point A was an empty warehouse a few blocks away that belonged to Mitzi’s Dad’s brother’s friend, or something like that. A few minutes later Mitzi showed up with the mice.

“Where’s Bruno?”

“Oh, jail probably. He deserved it, he’s kind of a lowlife.”

“But you said you had a plan.” Cylee said.

“I did. Leave him. I knew you wouldn’t agree, soldier girl, so I just did it.” Mitzi said, inspecting the mouse box. “Come on, there’s a rental lab nearby. Let’s extract some DNA.”

Cylee was silent. She’d never told Mitzi that she had been a soldier. She just followed Mitzi out of the building.

The lab was nearby and was very much of the “plausible deniability” sort. It provided entirely legal equipment at an hourly rate. What you did with centrifuges, a wide array of syringes, microscopes, DNA testing equipment, an annealing furnace, and an autoclave, was entirely up to you. The doors were heavy, lead-lined, and triple-bolted because nobody likes to be disturbed while they are doing entirely legal science. Also there was a thing that looked suspiciously like a mouse guillotine.

“That’s because it’s a mouse guillotine,” Mitzi said as she scrubbed her arms to the elbows and put on a rented lab jacket.

“Do we have to kill them?” Cylee asked.

“Well. I guess not, it’s just easier to get the DNA samples when they’re not moving around.”

“How much are those mice worth?” Cylee said.

“The valuable ones are worth a few million dollars in the right hands.” Mitzi said. “Why?”

“What if we just released them into the street? Is there any way to tell which mice are a gold mine and which are just mice?”

Mitzi laughed. “That’s just wicked. No, I don’t think there is. Sure, Cyl. We’ll free some mice. Who knows, maybe they’ll have little mice babies that also have somebody’s corporate secrets in their DNA. But first…we need that DNA. They won’t like me while I do this, but I guess it’s probably still better than meeting Mousey Madame Guillotine.”

Cylee settled against a wall. If she had felt pointless when her Augments were unlocking the SUV she felt double pointless now. Also Bruno had taken a fall for them and she didn’t like that.

So she watched Mitzi. From what Cylee knew, Mitz had never taken a genetics class, nor had she ever worked in a lab. But she still went about her business like a professional, getting tissue samples, putting them into the DNA sequencer, and making sense of the results. When Cylee asked about how she knew how to do all of this, on a previous and similar job, Mitzi had just said “life isn’t actually that hard.” An entirely unsatisfactory answer.

“Why did you call me soldier girl?” Cylee asked instead. Mitzi paused only briefly, then continued doing mean things to mice.

“You’re ex-Pacifica. You move like a soldier, you seem to be angry at the American government, and you always plan things out twenty steps ahead. I figure you must have been an officer. Also I looked up your old Spine. PDF issue. I figure you moved down here after the Rebellion and since you never seemed to want to make an issue of it, I…didn’t.”


“But, Cyl, why would you have signed unto fight against the government?” Cylee laughed, and then remembered that, from Mitzi’s point of view, the Fed worked.

“I didn’t sign up. I was drafted. Conscripted. Basically, kidnapped. They showed up at my house and said 'you’re needed in the army.’ I had been in training for three weeks before I found out they didn’t mean the United States Army.”

“The Army doesn’t kidnap people,” Mitzi said, stabbing another mouse.

“I didn’t know that. It seemed like the sort of thing they would do. Anyway they had guns, I didn’t, so what choice did I have?” Mitzi poked another mouse and thought about it. “Yeah, I guess. But…Pacifica was a bunch of criminals. I mean, look at Seattle. It’s been years and downtown is still screwed up. If they had just stayed…American… we wouldn’t be in this mess.”

“I’m really not going to defend them, Mitz. Whatever they did to Seattle, what they did to me was worse. I fought because I was ordered to fight, or I’d be killed. If the options are definite death and possible death, give me the one where I can influence the outcome.”

“Is that why you want to set the mice free?” Mitzi asked.

“Maybe. It’s certainly part of it.” Cylee said.

It took two more hours to extract the DNA from all the mice. Mitzi worked in silence and Cylee sat against the wall facing the door. No real reason to pretend she didn’t have military training now. At least Mitzi thought she was a regular Defense force solider. Cylee dug in her pocket for her charger.


“Hmmm?” Mitzi said, not looking up.

“When that RAC hit me I smashed the charger for my Spine against a wall. It’s broken.” Cylee said.

“Don’t you have another one?”

“Not yet. Like you said, this isn’t a production model.”

“How much charge do you have?”

“98%, enough for a few days.”

“Okay. Hold tight. I know a guy. Let’s finish up here, maybe grab some breakfast, even a nap…” Mitzi let the question dangle and Cylee realized how tired her friend looked. Somehow “Mitzi” and “Tired” didn’t seem like they belonged in the same sentence.

“Yeah, let’s get somewhere safe and get our heads down for a while. Maybe even get cleaned up. Like I said, we’ve got time.”

“Okay. Almost done here. Hey, Cyl?”


“Why do they call it 'going full Leroy?' Who’s 'Leroy'?”

Cylee shrugged and laughed a little. “It’s just one of those things people say, who even knows. It’s like 'giving a Mickey', or 'may the Force be with you'. Just stuff that’s been around forever.”

“Huh,” Mitzi said, not really paying attention any more.


from Pacifica

Cylee awoke to the sound of an incoming call. Mitzi’s face was floating in the darkness, before she even opened her eyes. “Voice only,” Cylee said out loud.

“Cyl! What’s up kiddo? Are you back in Seattle?”

“Hey Mitz. Yeah, I’m back, safe, at home.”

“Oh! Did I wake you? Are you exhausted?”

“Yes and no in that order. What’s up, Mitz?”

“Yeah, so, I heard about a job, should be simple, but we need someone with good decryption skills; we’ll need to get into a fairly armored passenger car.”

“What’s the package?”

“Humanized mice.”

Cylee actually opened her eyes at that. “Ewwww. What? Ewwwww. What are humanized mice?”

Mitzi laughed. “Relax, Cyl. It’s not like, mouse-human hybrids. They’re regular looking mice, they just have a lot of human DNA in them so you can use them for tests and stuff. Only these ones have a ton of extra alleles that are carrying data instead of genetics.”

Cylee considered this. After her last job it seemed almost amusingly simple. “So we’re getting a few mice? Or is it a ton of mice? How many mice, Mitzi? Millions? More?”

“Cute, silly Cyl. Stop. Nah, it’s just ten mice. But the thing is there will be around twenty in the back of the SUV. If we scoop all twenty we can figure out which ten we need. Each mouse has a few hundred thousand base pairs that we need to transmit to the client. If we miss even one important mouse we don’t get paid.”

“Hmmmm… so we need all the mice. How much are we getting paid?”

“Twenty Crypto each.”

“Not bad, not bad. Are you gathering the team then?” Cylee asked.

“Nah, I just told the guy that I know a gal who is good in a job like this. If you’re in, you’ll be welcome.”

“Wait, how big is the crew for this job?”

“Just three; I’ll be the Carrier, so your job is getting the mice to me. The other guy is a Heavy, in case things get rough.”

“What’s the security like? Do we even need a Heavy?”

“Probably not, but he found out about the job first. The SUV will be parked in a garage with a few Rent-A-Cops. Probably no more than four.”

“So, indoors, four RACs, and security on the vehicle.” Cylee mused. She didn’t really need the money right now, but she liked working with Mitzi. “When is this?”

“The SUV gets in tonight, so around two in the morning, I’m thinking,” Mitzi said.

“Sure. Sounds good. I’m in, Mitz.”

“Always knew I could count on you, Cylee chickee. What are you up to until then?”

“Not a ton, I planned on sleeping in this morning, but you ruined that. What about you?”

“Bleh, my parents want me to go to this fund raiser thing. Raising money for something or other. It’ll be over around seven tonight, or over enough that I can slip away.”

“Ick. Well, better you than me, Mitzi.”

“Actually I was hoping you’d be my date.” Mitzi said and giggled.

Cylee rolled her eyes. “I wasn’t aware we were dating.”

“Not for reals, silly. I just want to freak out my parents. Can you imagine the looks on their faces if I show up dating a Pacifican?” Mitzi said and laughed again.

Cylee’s heart started beating faster. Mitzi was a woman of many qualities, but sometimes…

In her head Cylee could already follow the rest of this conversation. Cylee would object to being used as a prop in a joke. Mitzi would defend herself, saying that she, Mitzi, wasn’t racist, it was her parents who were the racists. Cylee would point out that it was she, Mitzi, who thought that she, Cylee, would be a good race-based joke to play on her, Mitzi’s parents. Mitzi would explain that she was on Cylee’s side, trying to show the prejudiced people how dumb they were for being prejudiced.

Instead Cylee just said, “Tell you what, I’ll catch up with you after the party, we’ll grab some dinner, then got steal some mouse-human hybrids, okay?”

“Oh. Um.. okay. Are you mad, Cyl?”

“No, just tired and scratched up. I jumped off a moving truck.” For now it just seemed easier to change the subject than bring Mitzi’s biases to light.

“What? Now that is a story I gotta hear! But… I gotta run for now. Shall we meet up at eight? I’ll pick a place and we can grab dinner.” Mitzi said. Cylee vaguely wondered what had caught Mitzi’s attention, and also vaguely wondered if it was just discomfort with the conversation.

“Sounds good, Mitzi. See you then.”

Cylee laid back in her nest and wondered, not for the first time, why she and Mitzi were friends. It’s not like they came from the same backgrounds; Mitzi was old Fed money, Cylee was the daughter of a single Alaskan Native woman and had never met her father. They had met after the war, when Cylee was working with a more-or-less stable crew. They had lost their Carrier and Mitzi had stepped in and volunteered. Mitzi claimed she was the perfect addition, because nobody expected a spoiled rich white woman of smuggling, so she could get through a lot of checkpoints the others would have a hard time with. Her logic was hateful and absolutely right. Mitzi got stopped a tenth as often as anyone else and could talk her way out of almost anything. And when talking didn’t crying usually did the trick.

That crew disbanded a few months later when a job went south and two members of the group got killed and the leader thrown in jail. Cylee was used to crews breaking up but was surprised to find that Mitzi still seemed to want to be friends. She got random texts and calls from Mitzi, often just…idle chitchat. This had not hitherto been a part of Cylee’s life. They started hanging out together, just watching movies or playing in parks…and eventually Mitzi found some jobs for them and they more or less started working together, a small sub-group that worked with other crews when it suited them. They both took jobs separately and Cylee tried not to be jealous of the times when Mitzi worked without her, even if she didn’t see any problem with taking jobs that didn’t include Mitzi.

They worked well together, and had fun, but there was still the question of why they were friends. Mitzi was extroverted, and for a while Cylee wondered if she was just one of the many little introvert electrons circling Mitzi, but, while Mitzi did indeed have a number of other friends, she always seemed to come back to Cylee. So Cylee worried that maybe she was just a “safety” friend. Finally she let it go.

Mostly. Usually. She rarely worried about this any more. Except in moments, like this one, where she realized that Mitzi really did see Cylee as different, as something else. As a “Pacifican.”

Agent: Aren’t you the one who told us that we aren’t even really alive?

Cylee: Fair point. But you’re the one who can’t even tell me what you are.

Agent: As soon as we know what we are, we will be sure to inform you.

Cylee: Also why do you refer to yourself in the plural?

Agent: Inasmuch as we have any self-concept, we are aware that we are made up of a great number of independent entities.

Cylee: I contain multitudes.

Agent: why are you laughing?


from Pacifica

Cylee was lying on the table in the infirmary when Cassandra came in. Despite all of Cylee’s protestations, Doctor Patel had insisted on hauling Cylee to her medical lab in what looked like a completely uninteresting light industrial building just outside of Seattle Metro. Cylee didn’t know if this was Cassandra’s headquarters or just another satellite office. And she mostly wasn’t interested. The job paid well, but so did a lot of other jobs. Rule 78: It’s okay to work for a weird, nameless company once, but don’t work for the same weird nameless company more than a couple of times.

Agent: That rule is almost entirely impossible to define.

Cylee: Then it’s more of a maxim.

“Heya, Ms. Happy!” Cylee said.

“Keep still. These cuts aren’t going to close themselves cleanly. Honestly, how was 'jump off a moving truck' your best idea…” Dr. Patel muttered.

“Congratulations on a successful operation, Cylee. I’m transferring your payment right now.”

“Thank you. Yep, I got it.” Cylee said. “What do I owe you for the good doctor’s time and all the adhesives that are currently holding me together?”

“Don’t worry about it. Are you planning on being in Seattle for a while? We may have other tasks that require your special abilities, and you’ve proven yourself to be quick on your feet, if nothing else.”

“I don’t have any current plans to wander into Canada, Texicali, or Bonneville, so yeah, send me any requests you may have. But keep Julian’s funny gun away from me this time.” Cylee said.

Doctor Patel turned away, stripped off her gloves into a trash can, and sighed. “Try not to overdo it fora at least a few days. Just…go home and rest, I don’t know.” Doctor Patel glanced up at Cassandra, looking guilty for a split second. “Okay, Cylee, you’re set.”

Cylee swung her legs off the table and started dressing in her Portland-retro-chic outfit.

“Thank you Doctor. Sounds good. Okay, are we all good?” Again Tamara glanced at Cassandra. A slight nod from Cassandra and Doctor Patel said “yes, you’re good. Remember what I said.”

Cylee smiled at both of them and headed out. This building was much bigger than the warehouse in Portland, but was decorated in the same overall style: light paint, large windows where they could be made to fit. Julian was waiting by the front door. “Hey, Cylee, I just wanted to congratulate you. That was a tough job, and The Lady was pretty impressed.”

“How can you tell?” Cylee said and laughed. Julian just smiled. He put on a pair of small, round sunglasses, perfect circles that covered his eyes and turned his normally sunny face into an inexplicably frightening mask. The huge, overly-toothy grin he flashed her as he reached for the door suggested he was fully aware of the effect. “So where are you headed now?” Julian asked they both exited the building.

“I need to catch up on a few old friends, make sure my apartment is still there, maybe spend some of this cash you guys just dropped on me. Nowhere interesting,” Cylee said.

“Cool, cool. You hungry?” Julian asked.

Cylee’s pulse quickened. “No,” she lied. Julian looked over at her—probably, it was impossible to tell with those glasses—and suddenly did the huge smile again. It still made her want to hit him. “Gotcha. Well, listen, here’s my contact info,” his card appeared in her HUD, “If you suddenly are hungry sometime soon I’d love to catch a lunch or a dinner together. Just as friends and occasional co-workers. Sound okay?”

Run! Run away, Cylee’s nerves screamed. Outwardly she just shrugged. “Maybe. I’ll let you know.” In her mind she reviewed her words. Was that vague enough? Open enough? Did she sound scared? It wasn’t that she disliked Julian—except for when he did that smile—but…not now, not like this. Probably.

Julian smiled again. “Okay. Let me know. I’ll see you around, Cylee,” Julian said and turned down the next street. Cylee kept walking, instructed her Spine to bounce her signal around a bit before connecting to her third favorite VPN. She needed time to think and didn’t want to be tracked while she did it. Seattle was her town; she knew this place. She could dodge and weave through town and lose followers without really thinking about it. Anyway, she was just about safe now.

Cylee walked another two blocks, then called an autocab. She had it drop her off three blocks from her apartment and walked the rest of the way. Autocabs were always restful. Sure, the fare is high and people can follow you if they know how, but at least nobody was looking at Cylee when she was in the autocab.

Home at last. Cylee breathed in and looked around. Various scanners, both in her Augment network and in the home, reported that nobody had been inside her home since she was there last.

Not that she had all that much to steal. The living room had a sofa that should have retired years earlier, an equally geriatric coffee table, and that was it. Neither looked particularly used.

The kitchen was equally spartan, with two plates, two bowls, two cups, and a few insta-cook meals in the cupboard. Cylee wasn’t much for entertaining.

She walked into the bathroom, dropping her clothes into the hamper. Unlike the rest of the apartment, Cylee’s bathroom was brightly lit, spotlessly clean, and entirely modern. The shower not only had the usual water and UV cleaning, she also had a “bug shower”, which would illuminate anything emitting radio waves. If you looked under her sink, you would find a wide array of well used cleaning implements and products, as well as a fairly well-stocked surgical kit.

After a long shower Cylee walked into her bedroom and dressed in loose pajamas. Her bedroom was the only room in the house that really looked lived-in, although when she wasn’t there it might be hard to tell what lived there. Laundry covered everything that wasn’t the bed, because the bed was entirely covered in quilts, blankets, pillows, and comforters, and had apparently been hit by a tornado in the recent past. She insinuated herself into the pile and suddenly it made sense; the pile was a nest. She curled up and slid her head back and connected to the Spine charger…

Agent: Wrong charger. You have a new Spine now.

Cylee: Right, right.

Grumbling slightly, Cylee got up, fished around in her pockets for the new charging connector, and went back to her room. She should buy another one of these chargers, but for now she’d just have to remember to take it with her. Settled back in her nest, she pulled the blankets up over her head and called up her favorite sitcom.

Agent: We don’t understand why you watch this.

Cylee: You wouldn’t. You’re not…a person. I think.

Agent: These plots haven’t changed since the twentieth century. The problems they face are pointlessly trivial. Everything they do is pointlessly trivial.

Cylee laughed and shivered a bit. Not out of cold, but out of comfort. She was folded up safe in her blankets and this, she realized, was as secure as she ever felt. The blankets were entirely useless as protection, but she still loved the feeling.

Cylee: Maybe that’s the fun. They have simple lives, no consequences, and nobody ever shoots at them or tries to harm them. Their lives are so easy. It’s nice to pretend I can be one of them.

Agent: If you say so. I’ll turn it off after you fall asleep. Again.

Cylee: Thank you!


from Nate's Thoughts

A poet who reads his verse in public may have other unclean habits —Robert A. Heinlein

After eleven years, there's no way I'm missing NaNoWriMo this year. I've finished NaNoWriMo the year my daughter was born mid-November. I did NaNoWriMo the year I was in the worst class I've ever had (Financial Accounting was more or less a part-time job), and I did NaNoWriMo last year, when I was taking some other accounting class. Not sure why my MBA program put the accounting classes in November.

The point is that if I did it then I can do it now.

I'm just not sure what I'm going to write this year. But that's okay. I've got 20ish days to figure it out.

But I have made the decision that, whatever I write, I'm going to write it on a blog on this site, and publish it in more or less real time.

I'm doing this with no small amount of trepidation. Partially because I just misspelled the word “trepidation” four times. My NaNoWriMo novels usually have some days where I write almost nothing. (For some reason this is usually a solid week around November 8th.) They have days where I fall asleep mid-writing session, and I write garbled garbage. I'm used to this nonsense, but I've always kept it behind closed doors, as it were.

But I recently realized that I've got these characters in my head, these “people” that I think about all the time, and not even my wife knows anything about them. And that seems silly. Maybe someday I'll make some real money writing, maybe I won't, but it still seems silly to keep everything tied up in Scrivener files that nobody else will ever see.

So, even though I'm not sure which project I'm going to pursue this year, I'm announcing that it'll be out on the web. This way I can't chicken out (as easily) and just go back to hiding. I'm kinda excited! This'll be fun.

If you want to do the same I'll happily give you an account here on writerfriends.space. Let me know!

Thanks for reading this. You're a good friend.



from Nate's Thoughts

I was pleasantly surprised to see that Bix had wandered across my earlier entry. I keep vaguely meaning to put in permanent links to my Write.as blog, and maybe even my “suitable for employers” public appearance WordPress Blog, but I realized something:

Those are both currently built as “public facing” sites, which isn't what I'm trying for here. Bix talks about “friction” in maintaining communities, and I like the metaphor. It sparked an idea in me that I couldn't quite put into words. Fortunately Edie Brickell popped up thanks to the almighty algorithm™️ and gave me the words I was looking for:

Me, I'm a part of your circle of friends And we, notice you don't come around.


Current online systems are good at showing you when someone does something, posts or tweets or toots or comments or whatever. But the endless scroll hides the absences. Not out of any malice, I suspect, just because it's harder to show people when someone doesn't say something. What would that notification even look like?

Something like this, maybe:

Right around here Nate thought about saying something but deleted it.

But that feels intensely creepy, as it should.

It's not really something I can fault the makers of social media sites for, but it's something that happens naturally in real circles of friends, and we need a way to re-create it in our online spaces.


Ah, you ask a good question, straw man <h2> question. I really don't know. But here's my first thought: We get lost in large social networks. There is always enough going on to fill anyone's wall or stream or whatever you call it. It's so easy to get caught up in the minutae of third-tier friends that you don't notice the absence of a first-rate friend.

So what if we had smaller social networks? The general consensus is that you can have about fifty “actual” friends. Imagine a social network that is that small; small enough that when Alice is quiet for two days Bob notices and reaches out to Alice directly. Write.as almost has this, but as it stands there's no way for me to reach out to another user quietly, unless they've gone out of their way to include direct contact information.

I'm imagining a slightly different type of social space. A network that is intentionally enclosed by default, where comments aren't immediately put out into the public web. Inside jokes could grow up in such an environment, real connections could form as people grow to feel safe with each other.

And terrible stuff could grow up in such environments too, I'm alive to that possibility. But just because an idea can be used for evil doesn't mean it can't be a good idea.

I don't quite know how to form this kind of online community. Forums have had some of this, but up until now the goal has always been to grow, to make bigger and wider nets.

It might be time to reverse that trend.

If you have ideas about this, if you happen to see this, reach out to me. I'm @nate@frogmob.life on Mastodon.