SUNSWEPT

Chapter 3 "Memories"

Kip stepped into the pedestrian flow and adopted a new disguise like a capsuleer would a new ship skin. This was a whole different world than the tubes and conduits, or even the midlevel pads where stealth was his ally. Here his disheveled cloths and unkepmt nature would blend in as long as he just looked and felt like he belonged. Thousands of people sifted in and out of lifts, buildings, and bazars in the cultural promenade that lay between six of the tallest buildings in New Hyjn. With so many people and everyone so very busy it was also a haven for the indigent and poor. Any take here wouldn't produce his cost in fares, but if he could land one of the busier cabs, it could make up for the low quality of passenger with quantity. The only tricky part was that there would be competition. Almost immediately he noticed Celery almost blatantly begging outside one stall. How she hoped to get a take so overtly he had no idea but he stayed clear of her all the same.

Looking around he noticed a cab pulling up just to his right. It looked in good repair; sounded good. The company wasn't too big and would certainly send this cab back to the promenade or some other major cultural center. He was just surveying a way to get closer when he noticed it. No good. The cab's chip reader had been encased with a simple black plasteck cover on which a large green arrow pointing up signaled to passengers that they should pay inside; and signaling to KipTop that he'd get no take there.

He continued to walk along the paths, aiming for one specific building with purpose but with no real care other than it had been the most directly opposing building to the lift he had taken to reach to promenade. He hadn't returned to this particular location in some time; not since he'd taken a spill about a year back. He had, at the time, recently joined the Boss's team. Not yet as skilled in stealth or city geography, he'd come to this spot based on a memory. His mom had once taken him shopping in the stores within the building somewhere to his left. It was a good memory but his return trip without her had proved nearly fatal. He'd been walking along, still wearing the same nice jacket that his mom had gotten him, when out of nowhere he'd been shoved to the ground. When he'd rolled over to face his attacker, the older girl yanked him up and out of the flow of traffic into a side alley. Once separated from the teeming streets, he had nowhere to run. Brandishing a self-made shiv, she'd taken his jacket and along with it, the 'disc he'd had stashed in the lining. Even as he extended the jacket out to her he'd realized what was inside but before he could pull the jacket back she'd shoved the shive at him forcing him to jump back. This had left her all the time she needed to grab his jacket, shove it half into her bag, then advance toward him.

The next part was one had played over and over in his mind. A man had seen him get attacked and he shouted now from a place Kip couldn't see. The girl ran off leaving a cold Kip to look up helplessly at his would-be savior. There was no way the man could know that Kip was already all but dead for having lost the 'disc, nor was there a way he could tell him.

Kip noticed yet another likely take moving in on the other side of the promenade, but it was too far for him to get to quickly enough; another miss. He kept up his pace. He'd soon be in the building and need to find some out-of-the-way nook in which to double back. His idle mind returned to the man who'd 'rescued' him. He'd not been a well off man, and took the first chance he got to unload Kip on the nearest official he could. Kip hadn't been too keen on finding himself a prisoner in yet another home; so many kids with only drone attendants to watch over them. He wasn't going back there. While the man was talking to the officer Kip quickly rolled off the back of the bench into one of the many bushes and from there found the only place he could see to hide... an exposed power access panel.

After one pass of the promenade, he knew he wasn't going to get many more. Ducking into a lift he took it up one level. He got a few looks as he emerged into a rather nice shopping mall but he played it off as surprise and confusion as he quickly turned, seeing that the first lift doors had closed, he summoned another lift, waited, then stepped into the new one, taking it back down. This time, as he emerged onto the promenade once more he paused to survey the area. He'd have to be more direct or he'd run out of time to get to the mid-levels for his second take.

He spotted an averagely nice man carrying a bit more than he could handle. That man would need a cab and with so much to carry he'd have to load some of it into the cargo compartment, leaving Kip to slip the disk into the door as he passed. He picked a path that would lead him along the landing zone and started off.

Moments later he began to wonder if he had picked up some of Coal's luck as a decent looking cab, with an external reader, came to land to his right and in front of the encumbered man just as Kip was about three meters from the man. He increased his pace only slightly as the rear compartments on the cab opened and the man moved around to the back. The unsealed 'disc slipped from his sleeve to his fingers as he passed the front guards of the cab and with the movement of placing his hand into his pocket he let the 'disc slip into the reader. There was an odd movement to his left but he didn't have the liberty to look yet. He had one eye on the man, now hunched over the rear of the cab and the other forward to avoid running into anyone. He was just about to step past the unaware passenger and his crates when the pain suddenly shot through his left side. Someone whispered "Mine!" from behind him as he instinctively lurched to the right away from the sudden and sharp intrusion. This brought him hard against the cab in a solid thump which did several things simultaneously. First, a soft proximity alarm meant to prevent anyone from damaging it while parked emanated from the cab. Second, the man looked up suddenly, searching for and finding the source of the impact on his ride. Third, every officer present in the promenade received an alert to their comm unit: 'Possible Assault of Property'. Finally, everyone in the direct vicinity of the crates turned to see what happened, allowing Kip's assailant to nab several items from the crate and take the requisite few steps before slipping the goods into a coat and turning to gawk along with every other person nearby.

Kip, however, had no time to look or even notice his assailants' victory smirk. He had to move. Had to run. With the memory still fresh in his mind he made his choice. There would be no blending in now and he couldn't stop to discover the source of the blood that now dripped from his hand. He'd be tracked as long as he bled but that came next. He bolted. Leaping a bench and a bush he came to an all too familiar power access hatch. Locked. With bloodied fingers he reached for his scar and deftly extracted the nanostraw. Placing one end at a seam in the mechanism he bent the straw slightly. A pause. The lock deactivated. He swung the panel opened and leapt inside. Already he could hear someone rounding the corner of the building as his feet tucked into the shaft then in a solid jump sprang him several meters to catch the next cross tunnel up. There was no retrieving the spent nanites for recharge so he didn't even try. He'd buy more, if he lived.

Too many minutes later Kip sat panting as he tugged once more at the strips of what had been his sleeves. The emergency bandage along with his lack of movement had stopped the bleeding for now. It wasn't a deep wound, but enough to seriously hamper any chance of a second take for the day. He needed medpaste and soon. But it had to be almost mid-day and his need to make good on the Boss's trust prevailed. After all, disappointing the Boss was more dangerous than almost any wound. After the take, that's when he could visit one of his many caches to retrieve the paste. He'd have to manage.

*******

Meyan ran her hand through the mist and once more turned the temperature even further down. The cooler water just felt... well... more comfortable these days. Her time in the refreshing unit was quickly becoming a highlight of each day. Passing her hand once more through the mist she smiled, discarded the last of her clothes into the chute, and stepped in through the forcefield. She tilted her head back, letting her neck-length white hair tickle at her shoulder blades, her hands palm up and arms spread she took in the cool bliss. She clearly had been running a bit warmer since her success. And while the green skin was becoming more and more of something she tried to cover up, she was finding other benefits. The dry skin rashes that had plagued her since childhood were all but gone now and any current dryness that seems to occur as well as the now persistent itching was easily abated with direct exposure to water such as the wonderful refresher she was enjoying now. Could the itching be a reaction inherent in the transformation? Or was it related to her childhood condition? Whatever; questions for another time, either way, here and now, the refresher felt good.

An audible ping from her com unit interrupted her basking and she winced as she remembered that her rent had come due yet again. She'd already had to take a loan to cover the past week's rent; this week's would dry up every last cent from that loan. She should have gotten a job by now. Drawn from her enjoyment she set about rubbing herself with a lather. She'd passed a small restaurant just the other day which had been advertising for wait staff. It had gotten her through her pre-graduate years, but it wasn't what she was really good at. Why all the work if only to fall back to catering on someone else. And what might they say about her skin? She lifted a hand to watch the lather begin to slide slowly down her palm as the mist did it's work. Her grey-green tinted but otherwise normal hand transitioned slowly to full green as the suds journeyed over her wrist and onto her slim forearm. She rotated her hand and mused over one of the last places on her body to transition; only her face remained. There was a mirror set into the wall; fed by a charge it repelled all condensation. She turned to look, once more lifting her chin to see everything south of her ears picking up the tell-tale grey hue that heralded the oncoming green. Not long now and there would be no hiding it. What had she done? Why had she done? She leaned against the walls of the refresher and let the mist slowly take the suds from her. She looked down as more and more green began to show from under the lather. The image was like watching the whole transformation in high speed. She was struck by how quickly it had happened. What had at first been merely a thought experiment and then a challenge, had opened wide the day she had discovered that Trulian Fungus used something much like chlorophyll but different in some very interesting ways. Whereas chlorophyll could turn sunlight into energy, the Trulian version was only half as efficient but somehow integrated with a system resembling something akin to a mammalian circulatory system. Even more fascinating, the Trulian Fungus' structure was based on a nitrogen nucleobase. While this information provided a unique picture into the limits of plant and animal, the fungus was still a plant. But, it had planted a firm and persistent idea in young Meyan; what if?

A second ping surprised her as she started suddenly. The landlord wouldn't send her two reminders within so little time... would he? She began whisking the remaining suds off with the soft, curved blade requisite in any refresher before stepping back through the forcefield which kept all free H2O within. She stepped, completely dry but with still damp hair, over to her communicator.

As expected, one of the pings had been from Starlight Properties; clearly an appeal for payment. But it was actually the first ping which now had her so unsure; Trinity Cybernetics. An advertisement maybe? She selected the file, her mind musing over the humor of directly advertising cybernetics to someone too poor to own one with which to receive the message....

Image

She held the pad and stared at the short note. Informal was right, this must have been written by the Director himself; how small was this lab? No director of anything larger than a closet had time for such as a lowly biologist. She read it again, then once more before it set in and her heart seemed to catch. A Job! Well, an interview... but A JOB! She quickly flipped from her inbox to her personal schedule, the rent completely forgotten. Yep, there it was, pulsing with the glow of a new addition, two days out, 'Interview with Solu Terona, 15:00, Sunny-side Up'. At least she knew where she was going... He'd said a friend of his owned it?

She set down the pad and grabbed up another. She started scouring the network and sure enough, a page outlying Trinity Cybernetics; no address... 'Implantation, Augmentation, Communication' A direct motto if esoteric. Hmm, no staff pictures... no staff listed for that matter, only this Solu Terona. She stared at the page for a moment, picked up the other data pad again and reread the note. Then it struck her; 'A division of VaskTech', the Lab that wasn't a lab! Damn, what was his name... blond one... Oh she hadn't even asked! Well, she wasn't about to go back and ask him, with how busy he had been, besides, this was a different division wasn't it? She called up a directory of local inhabitants and started looking for any record of Solu.

Almost an hour later, and well into the night, she was forced to admit that further searching was moot. She'd found no record of Solu in any of her filtered searches. She'd tried restricting to researchers, medical professionals; she even went through the faculties of several of Origin's most prominent universities and nothing. She wasn't thinking straight. She rubbed her eyes and found that she wasn't even seeing straight. Well, an interview was an interview and she'd just have to try again tomorrow. With her heart still pounding, and unsure how much sleep she was even going to get she absently itched at her side as she numbly crawled into bed. A job...

*******

Only slightly less than a kilometer beneath, and a world away from the Kinzer Cultural Promenade KipTop knew he was taking big risks. His journey through the towers had been faster than he had liked and had reopened his wound twice; requiring yet more precious time to bandage. His abysmal luck had only worsened over the past hour as private car after private car came to land at the luxurious casino pad that he had chosen. It had been the closest, highest value target he could think of for his second take but he had apparently overestimated the amount of cabs that might frequent Kara's Palace so early in the day. He'd scouted the target months ago and there had been plenty of opportunity then. He didn't know who Kara was, but he had overheard enough to know that the casino was part of a whole chain of Bet-Your-Lucks that stretched all the way to Jita, owned by some scary capsuleer that everyone hated or loved, depending on which everyone you talked to.

As with his take yesterday, this one was starting to go on a bit longer than he'd liked. He had a rather secure spot just around the corner of the building entrance; an air exchange vent gave him enough cover and just the right view of incoming cabs. He'd spent his wait trying to stay warm despite the loss of blood and trying to decide how he was going to make the take when it did land. The angle was all wrong for trying to slip under the cab as he had the day previous; then he'd been hiding opposite the loading door. Besides, in his current condition he was more likely to slip directly into the repulsive wash than he was to miss it. No, he needed a new tactic for today. He'd always relied on stealth and physicality but how had the others, the scrawny ones gotten their takes. In all his time he'd never payed attention; his way was obviously better.

Wrapping himself tighter with only his arms for a blanket he blessed the warm air cycling out of the vent, even if it did smell of stale booze. So cold. He'd really only felt cold like this once before; a different cold perhaps, but just as sapping. His thoughts of the take drifted momentarily from his mind as he again remembered a time even worse than this one.

Losing a silly little thing like a SkimDisc couldn't compare to getting stabbed right? That's what he had thought when, after narrowly escaping the girl in the promenade, he'd returned to The Boss with proverbial 'hat in hand'. The Boss had given him only six words and sent him away from the Spot; "No take, no isk, no Disc." It had taken him the better part of that morning to puzzle out what to do next, a morning he spent comfortably holed up in his only cashe. He'd spent his previous isk wisely and had a small stash of food and meds to hold him over, but that would only buy him time. He needed a Disc to get a take; or barring that, isk to buy a new Disc from the Boss.

Days spent sifting the markets for loose isk chips to swipe and hiding away in his nest stretched into cold weeks as his stockpile dried up. About two months into his punishment he'd discovered just what 'cold' meant. Starving, jacketless, and utterly unsuccessful at finding more than a few chips to swipe, KipTop found himself begging beside a desolate fence masquerading as a pawning booth. He'd been slowly rubbing his implant scar when the shadiest woman he'd ever seen stepped out of the booth and looked down at him. Her face seemed to curl into something that should have been a smile but instead sent a strange sort of fear tingling through his body. Cold, hungry, and too defeated to move, he could only stare as she spoke. "What'cha got there kid? 'Tis one o' them trackers?" He never really knew what the hard thing under his scar was, just that it had been so important to his mother. "Ya know..." She glanced back into the pawning booth with a disgusted look then back at Kip as she extracted something small and cylindrical from her sleeve. "You'll not be getting' much for it, but I can do ya a hole of a lot better 'an that. Think of what you could do wit' one of these." She offered the tube, more of a straw really towards Kip, who had no idea what it was. He reached for it without saying a word but the woman snatched it back and with merely a flip of her fingers it seemed to disappear. "Eh' uh. It'd be a trade or nut'in puddles. It's a nanostraw, you can open any lock your heart desires." KipTop couldn't respond. It was an incredibly wild claim but if it were true... "Isk, food, you could even unlock an egghead's ship wit' it. An' all you have to give me is that little pill ya got in 'der." Her finger extended to point directly at the scar in Kip's side.

Starvation is a funny thing, something that meant so much to his mother, had meant so much to him suddenly became near worthless when put beside the mere prospect of food, let alone next to the chance at survival. His hand shot out, open and ready to shake as the look on his face became a resolve so keen that everything else seemed in that instance as mist to a hungry wind. With on hand the woman clasped his hand even as she hauled him to his feet and produced a slim blade with her other. "Don't move puddles. This is gonna hurt." She quickly and deftly slit the very top of his scar then used the tip of the knife and her thumb to push-prod the small bean-like tracker from its home. There was only a little blood as the tracker seemed to have been implanted along with an immuno-sleeve to house it. Into that sleeve the woman then deposited Kip's salvation; a small cyan tube.

It was as he sat, remembering a colder time, rolling the very same cyan tube between his numbing fingers to keep them moving, that he suddenly remembered Celery. She was begging. She didn't need to beg unless she hadn't gotten a take... But she'd been smiling after talking with The Boss, he'd caught that much during his moments talking to Coal. So why had she been begging the patrons of a shop stand; a shop stand which sold items too large for her to hide anyway. Hole, those packages would be barely small enough for her to carry... Like a repulsive thrust it hit him. She wasn't begging for isk. She was offering to carry the patron's package for isk! The customer would walk her and those packages right up to the damn cab! Kip was suddenly in the wrong place with the wrong clientele for that plan but he was also out of options. He hadn't enough time or energy to relocate so he decided to just make do. He slipped the nanotube back into its home, quickly smoothed out his now sleeveless shirt over the bandage as best he could and stepped out from the vent just as another gust of air rumbled down the duct signaling the doors opening. Wasn't it nice when your hiding spot also told you when someone was coming?

Sure enough, as he rounded the corner a cleanly dressed couple, clearly well into their drink, stepped up to the pad. He summoned every bit of courage he had and went for it; "Sir, Ma'am, may I carry your bags to the car for you?"

The couple paused, confused, and looked back at the stalwart gentleman following them, already carrying their luggage. Kip's heart sank. "I'm sorry dear, but I think we are quite fine for now." The man's tone was polite and demeaning all at once as an honest to Bob cab, the first he'd seen on this pad all day, came to land.

He choked back every ounce of pride and dignity, thought of the cold that was threatening to drag him under and gave it everything; "Please ma'am. I just need to earn enough for a gram of medpaste." He leaned into the word 'earn' hoping it would set him apart from just some begging kid and for good measure he placed his hand to his side to draw attention to the blood on his shirt. It was a huge risk but he was all in now.

"Oh, the poor thing, Arnst, we can at least take him to a med center can't we? It's the least we can do." Uh oh..."Just look at him." Arnst uncoupled his arm from hers and tossed them with exasperation into the air which apparently signaled to her his acceptance. But a trip to a public medcenter was not what Kip had bet on.

"Oh, please ma'am, I just want to carry your bags..."

"Nonsense! You come right over here and hop in." Arnst had already gone around to the other side of the car and was in the process of stepping into the cab. If he went he'd be trapped between them; his prisoner escort to the end of his freedom. There was only one chance left to him but he'd have to really sell it. He started slowly toward the open hatch, bringing his hands together as though nervous and passed the disc to couch between the fingers of his left hand. "That's it; you come right along with us then."

As he reached the open hatch he paused, grabbing hold of the latch as though suddenly unsure of going inside. "I... I can't" The woman seemed confused but she started gently toward him as though to coax him the rest of the way in. He made his move. His left hand which had taken hold of the latch slipped the few centimeters to the isk reader and deposited the disc. Pushing as much false fear as he could muster into his face he shouted "No!" and half sprinted half limped, for the nearest exit, a panel he'd left exposed hours earlier.

The woman stood back up from the crouching position she'd begun to take and just stared for a solid minute. What on Renaissance could possess such a young thing with such fear of cabs? Gathering her wits she shook her head, and in response to her very grumpy fiancé, who she'd decided had had too much to drink yet again, she slipped into the cab and closed the hatch. Perhaps she could convince Arnst to let her do some shopping on the Promenade before they went home, what was the use in winnings if not to be spent? Her thoughts turned to dresses as the cab lifted from Kara's and flew off into the early afternoon.

*******

Stepping up to the entry to the bar Meyan shifted the data pads lying against her chest, and awkwardly leaning back to do so, strained to see the timepiece on the neocom at her wrist. 10 minutes late. Cursing to herself and stepping through the doorway she looked up to find only two others in the room. The figure who was seated in the booth was mildly obscured by a decorative partition while the figure at the bar wore a dark jacket and looked so completely out of place in a capsuleer's venue. Meyan was just about to look back to the seated figure when the man at the bar nodded in her direction. Unaware that the other figure had also been in the same direction of that nod, she made up her mind, mustered her courage, and stepped up to the man.

"Dr. Terona?" She shifted her datapad stack to her left arm and extended her gloved right hand.

For a brief moment the stranger's face was a mask of perplexed amusement before softening into a smile before moving slowly side to side. Without saying a word he looked up and over her shoulder to the woman, now more visible in the booths. To Meyan's sudden horror the women, clearly wearing a lab coat, tried and failed to stifle a giggle.

Her heart tried to dive beneath her stomach and her face took on an almost red-purple hue as Dr. Terona smiled apologetically and motioned Meyan over to join her. Remembering the man, she turned and whispered something approximating "Sorry", almost afraid that he might also laugh at her.

"Oh, that's alright" He gave her an understanding wink as she reached for what was left of her courage and once more turned toward Dr. Terona. Barely missing another table as she turned, Meyan nearly stumbled her first few steps across the room.

Solu Terona, decidedly female, took a sip from her martini before raising to her full 173cm, smiling, and extending her mechanical arm to the flustered biologist. "You would be Meyan then?" The relaxed nature of her pose seemed to soften Meyan's trepidation as much as Solu's easy smile. "I'm Dr. Terona although I would much prefer Solu if it's all the same to you."

"Solu would be fine." Meyan nerves were running at an all-time high as she took hold of Solu's hand. Gaining some control she looked to the booth, "Should I sit? ..Oh, and yes, Meyan!"

Solu resumed her seat and motioned to the booth across from her, inviting Meyan to sit. Managing a sudden and blessed grace, Meyan slipped into the booth without further embarrassment and placed her datapads on the counter. Looking up she noticed the distinct lack of datapads opposing her. Like a bulkhead to the face she realized that someone specializing in implants would have no need of them. "Thank you for the chance to talk with you."

Solu adjusted a strand of her short hair; white with black highlights. "The pleasure is all mine. So, as nina explained to me, you're a... Xenobiologist correct?"

"Um, well, yes... Xenobiology is my specialty, but I have experience in less obscure fields of biology."

"Any previous experience with implantation of augmentation before?" Solu took another sip of her martini, her eyes still fixed on Meyan.

Meyan looked down at her gloved hands, reflexively rubbing one upon the other. "Perhaps not directly with implants themselves, but biological augmentation yes, and certainly I've worked with the biological end of implantation." Regaining some composure, she handed one of her datapads across to Solu. "I worked with Dr. Ipith during my post-doc in CAS. He was doing research on increasing neural uptake for some of the more extensive implants that are starting to hit the market."

Solu accepted the data pad and skimmed the contents at a higher than normal rate. "Why Origin then?" Meyan seemed confused so she continued. "With that kind of work experience any one of the major capsuleer schools would want you on board working on the Jovian Wetgrave problem."

Meyan once more looked down at her gloves. "I... well, let's say that my aspirations seemed to fit better with an open mind." Something about Solu's relaxed manner lent her the added courage to suddenly remove one of the gloves to reveal the distinct grey-green hue starting at her fingertips and gradually darkening toward her sleeve.

Taking a sudden increased interest, the doctor sat up, her eyes focusing on Meyan's wrist. A smile started to form on her lips. "Yes they would... Chlorophyll Injections?"

This was not the reaction Meyan had expected. Shaking her head, she replied with an increasing spirit, " Tried it, the chlorophyll never stood up to the t-cells... Trulian moss however, is a bit less threatening it seems." A conspiratorial smile began to spread across her face until she was leaning forward a bit, the smile turning to a prideful grin.

"So it's self-sustaining then?" Her mechanical fingers started tapping excitedly on the table as her own lips joined in a wide contagious grin.

"Well, right now it is self perpetuating, if that is what you mean." Meyan shrugged as she felt a little odd, suddenly conscious of how exposed her hand was. She resisted the urge to look around at who might see. "I, well, I don't know how green it will get... but it should start tapering off soon, the transition that is." Looking up, she realized that Solu was not only still grinning, but also genuinely interested. It was an oddly freeing moment for her, the first in a long while. She hadn't expected such a warm reception to her condition.

Solu's grin passed to one of reassurance as she leaned back. "Either way, damned impressive..."

The pad just to the left of Meyan's hand, the one she had given Solu only moments ago, lit up to signal the completion of a download. She turned her eyes to see, in title case across the top; 'Contract - Terona Project - VaskTech - Core Staff'. "Wait, you're...." As though it would disappear if she waited, Meyan scooped the contract into her hands and started reading it with zeal.

"I'll give you a few days to look over the comp. and benefits, but yeah. You have a spot on my team if you want it, I was certainly stressing a bit over the immunosuppression requirements the things we were planning would have."

Meyan looked up. "Immunosuppression requirements? I would need them?"

Solu laughed softly. "No, no! But in implant users, the worry is that the user's body won't start rejecting implants, I wouldn't require anything from you in a medical sense, although I would push you to take on a PDA implant."

Half listening and half still looking at the contract Meyan nodded. "PDA?..." She glanced up, then to her typical stack of datapads. "Oh.." Slightly embarrassed, she saved the contract and set it on top of the offending stack. "I suppose that would be a lot easier." She sighed. "It's just with loans and all, I barely had the funds to get what I needed for..." She trailed off as she looked at her still exposed hand, then, slowly, looked up at her soon to be new employer. "Thank you" Meyan smiled as she extended her still uncovered hand. "I'm... actually looking forward to this, a lot now."

Reaching across with her own mechanical arm, servos whirring, Solu shook Meyan's hand once more. "From one augment to another, you really shouldn't be worried in Origin, you must have seen the networkers or multiples down planetside." At the same time, the gentleman who had been sitting quietly at the bar the entire time decided to stand and make his way to the door.

"I.." Meyan smiled deprecatingly. "...yeah, I suppose I should have." She noticed the gentleman nodding to Solu and winced slightly before whispering to Solu; "I hope I didn't offend him. I can't seem to place anyone right in this bar."

"Who, Che?" Solu nodded back to the man. "To be honest, I'm not too good with names and faces either. Any questions for me though on the contract?"

Meyan shook her head and released Solu's hand. "Not as yet, though I may have some after reading through the contract in earnest." She reached for her datapads and stifled a chuckle as she realized that her days of lugging the damned things around may be shorter than she thought. "I'll read through it and get back to you. Would two days from now be too long?"

"That would be fine, my neocom code and e-mail are at the bottom of the contract, feel free to send me a message if you have any questions or want to reschedule."

"Reschedule? Oh, no, that shouldn't be needed." Meyan stood from the booth, still a little stiff from sitting so long. "Again, thank you!" Starting to extend her hand again, she realized that it is holding the datapads and was forced to swiftly retract it. The result of the maneuver being that the pades rattled and almost fell. "Oh, I.. well... I'd better get going. I'm sure you are quite busy and well, I've got some reading to do." She ended abruptly with a blush as though cutting herself off.

Solu took the opportunity to smile once more at Meyan and she finished her martini. "I'll see you in a few days then Meyan. It was nice meeting you as well."

"And you!" Meyan turned and paused to be sure she had everything before starting for the door. She walked a full six steps down the corridor before uncharacteristically tossing her head back and cheering at the empty passageway.

*******

A person didn't survive long in the shafts and dark corners of the city if they didn't understand priorities; and a kid less so. The pain was becoming unbearable but it was the numbing exhaustion that worried Kip now as he was nearing his closest cache. Possible options jumped through his mind, almost in a sort of strobed sequence but only one option was really doable. His cache was only a few duct segments ahead but he took the next left and came to an exhaust vent for some local restaurant, Matari by the smell of it. This same vent was linked to one that opened to the waste chute for the kitchen and with practiced but weak fingers Kip pulled out his nanostraw and opened the freshlock that kept vermin from reaching the scraps as they were sent on their journey to the composter far below. He removed his shirt and rigged it across the channel then waited.

During the few minutes it would take for his makeshift net to fill, he relaxed back against the side of the duct as comfortably as he could, letting his mind return again to the alley beside the pawning booth: He had his hands on some new tube; the woman who'd traded it to him was long gone moments after with only a cackle in parting. Locks had never been of concern to him but just maybe he could sell it for enough to buy a new Disc! He could never clearly remember the few steps it had taken to get into the fence's shop but as he proudly set his new treasure on the counter with a resounding 'how much?' the fence's face would haunt him.

"Mate, i'm sorry, i really am. But I couldn't buy it from her and I still can't buy it from you." Kip wilted. "Look, it's only got but a few nanites left, so it aint worth much for that, but this one was used not two days ago in a robbery, pretty high profile one too."

Kip pressed. "But ya just gotta take it, I... I need the isk and it's all I've got."

"It's dirty" Kip snatched it back and began to rub it with his shirt. "No, I mean it's hot..." Kips confusion continued as he clearly held the room temperature device with his bare fingers. "Look, the officials will be tracking it... and whoever has it."

As the horror of just how bad of a trade he had just made set in, the fence had clearly started to reconsider just what kind of situation the kid was in. "Oh, look see. Yes, they can trace the device by the programming that the tube leaves on the nanites. If it's all you have then it's all you have." Hope? "I still can't buy it..." No hope... "But, I'll tell ya what-" The fence started to circle around from behind the desk as his brilliant mercantile mind tried to find some way both to help the kid whom he'd honestly felt sorry for and profit from it at the same time. He stepped to a cabinet and took out a small box in the same cyan as the tube and stepped back over to squat beside Kip." "I'll recharge it for ya free just this once. As long as you don't try to use it on anything someone might miss, the officials won't care too much."

Kip handed over the tube hesitantly and watched as it was quickly inserted into a small hole within the box which vibrated and pinged. The fence paused as he handed it back, just noticing the blood from Kip's scar. "I'll even spot ya a drop of medpaste for the cut. Call it an investment."

Medpaste and nanites. It wasn't much but Kip wasn't accustomed to charity. "Yeah, and what do I owe ya now?"

"Oh, nothing... but when you start getting some isk again, an you will." Kip had been about to disparage. "You just remember who can sell ya more nanites and medpaste, an I'll sell em cheap too." He produced a tube of the paste from within his pocket and squeezed a small bit onto his finger, which he then held out towards the cut.

Not wanting to believe his new luck, Kip lifted his shirt and rotated, allowing the fence to smear the paste over the cut. Recognizing the value of the scar, the fence also had the forethought to shift the immunosleeve up so that it stuck out of the quickly sealing wound.

"You keep that sleeve up, blocking the cut like that till tonight, and you'll even have a nice safe place to hide your nanostraw." Kip remembered those words as he, with his chance at redemption, turned and walked in a daze of excitement from the booth.

The shirt, spread as a net across the waste chute, had collected several scraps, and only a few things wet enough to cause too much mess. KipTop quickly retrieved it, purloined a few pieces which he consumed ravenously, and wrapped the shirt around the remainder to save it for later. With the sensation of food already starting to warm his belly, shirtless, and still dizzy with pain and exhaustion he retraced his path back to the ducts. Continuing he quickly found and unlocked the panel which led from the ducts into one of those rare exceptions of unused space within a tower where space was at such a premium.

Whether it was the oddly shaped wall to one side which precluded a clean match with any abutting wall, or the few biowaste pipes which passed through the center of the space, the engineers had seen fit to leave roughly a 25 cubed feet hole in their plans. A hole into which Kip had stashed isk, two changes of clothes, a few measly morsels of non-perishable food, and above all a half-full tube of medpaste.

An hour later Kip lay back against one of the pipes. The medpaste was well into it's work on his side but he'd had to use most of what was left. The last crumbs of his dinner had been brushed from his shirt which now hung, well soiled, over the other waste pipe. He'd find somewhere to wash it if it was worth saving, but most likely he'd just have to get a new one.

The prospect of spending the night in this particular cache didn't appeal too much to him but his larger hidey-holes were just too far away and his wound too freshly mended. Not for the first or last time he wished that he could just go back to the Kinderhaus as usual but that just wasn't an option either. Shortly after he'd been taken into the small religious-minded orphanage, one of the other kids had taken ill from a nasty cut on his leg. Already in the employ of The Boss, Kip had sacrificed some of his hard-earned isk, and following a quick visit to his friend the fence, produced just enough medpaste to save the young boy. Rather than the hero's thanks he expected, however, Kip had received a very stern look from Mistress Sdint. She'd assumed that it had been stolen or otherwise ill-gotten and the disappointment in that face had been enough for him to rethink ever coming back to the haus with so much as the smell of medpaste on him. There were times, however, when it was really needed, that medpaste would quietly appear in the weekly donation packages which came from local charities. He was finally starting to drift off as one last conscious thought lingered in his head; if this was how days with two discs were always going to go, he was almost unsure as to whether he'd want the second one tomorrow. Almost.