“Thursday night?” she asked, the LEDs implanted under the skin of her brow flaring violet. “Impossible. Gigantic Mechanical Powerfist are playing at the Forum and I’ve held those tickets for months.”

I assumed that violet stood for incredulity. I’d only known Mavia for a few weeks, so I hadn’t yet seen every one of her emotions and, for the most part, she’d displayed a flat cream neutral. I’d wondered if maybe she’d gotten the implants to help control her feelings. “That system’s a lot more accurate than any mood ring,” I said, gesturing at her face. She only raised an eyebrow at me. She was too young to get the reference and I was too old to waste time explaining it. “I get it,” I said. “Thursday’s no good.” GMP was some performance art-slash-industrial metal band that had come out of nowhere and captured the hearts and minds of almost everyone under twenty. I needed to keep Mavia on my good side, and our relationship was tenuous at best.

She rolled the tips of her index finger and thumb together, like she was balling up a booger. The app she’d called up on her terminal scrolled and stopped on a wide bar marked SATURDAY in writhing neon lettering, an animated font that slipped from grotesque hard capitals into a flowery script and then back again, changing colors all the while. “Saturday looks good,” she said, “you’ve got an hour between 2 and 3.”

“That’s not—” I almost said ‘enough’ “—a lot of time.”

“I won’t need a lot of time,” she said, and her brow glowed a faint magenta. Irritation? Anger? Whatever it was, it was crabby but only slight. I pressed my luck.

“I’ll look into getting a higher rate.”

“It’d have to be double to push some of these commitments around.” She scrolled. “I won’t really be free again until the next Saturday, and I have a feeling that what you’re cooking will be spoiled by then.”

“You’ve got good intuition,” I said. “Fine. I’m sure these clients will go double, maybe even double and a half if,” and I really stressed the point, “if you can guarantee results.”

“Hey now,” she said, her brow flashing the pale blue of amusement, “you’re the salesman, agent. It’s your job to know if I can do a thing or not. Can I do this?”

I smiled. “It’ll be a cakewalk.” That was one of the most important things about being a great middleman to the hacker elite: knowing exactly when and how to tell the biggest lie.

2014.12.26 – 2023.07.28

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