| The Network Revenant
Birds were singing from their invisible perches nestled somewhere in the creeper vines and sparse trees that surrounded the area. Fia opened her eyes and uncurled painfully from the nest she'd made from her coat, trying to stretch some life back into muscles protesting hard surfaces and cramped positions. Hearing the birds, she rubbed rheum from her eyes and gingerly moved aside the curtain of vine.
Daylight was visible over the crumbled concrete wall across from her. She looked up at the pale blue sky over the rusted railing that was visible from her position below in the cut and guessed she had another half hour to wait. Since there didn't appear to be anyone around, she moved carefully out of her niche and down the path some twenty-five meters or so before relieving her bladder. She swung her arms on her way back, trying to work out kinks.
The panels still didn't look satisfactory, so she spent the twenty minutes before direct sun clearing vines and scraping debris off them as best she could. When she dropped back down to the booth itself and ducked inside, the sun was just beginning to angle down over the railing; after a minute or two, the booth's internal scripplepaint lit weakly and one or two of its indicator LEDs came on. Fia settled back against her coat, drew the vines as far across the entrance as she could manage, and tapped one of the modules at her waist. Her 'ware woke up, sniffed the booth and instantly reached out to engulf the bandwidth it offered its interior in ancient radio protocols. There was enough to rez up, barely; not enough to Run, but enough to rez. Fia closed her eyes.
Clotho opened them, still leaning against the wall in the Drome. The Drome was less crowded at dawn Eastern Standard, but the crew that hung out was fairly international; several people were visible at the various tables, and a few were strung along the bar. Tourette, of course, was moving along it. She stood and walked around to the proper side, taking her place on a stool. Since she didn't wave, Tourette worked his way down to her, taking her at her normal place in the queue.
"Hi Tourette." She stood and placed both palms on the bar. "Flash priority." Tourette paused, then nodded at her. "Mikare, bolao jumento, rascunho do inferno?" Tourette blinked twice. She nodded back, continued. "We need to have words. I got your call. You were right, and things are now very bad for me. I am free at the moment and would like to get together. Leave me a message and tell me where. Do not delay."
Clotho lifted her hands from the bar and sat back down on her stool. Tourette continued looking past her head for a couple of seconds, then reanimated and looked down at her. They traded nods, then he picked up a glass from behind the bar and began to polish it with a rag, its interior becoming more stained as he worked - Farnham's joke. "Drink, Clotho?"
"Sure, Tour." She sighed. "I'm not going anywhere for a while. Might as well stay here."
* * *
Mikare hadn't shown up in the 'Drome several hours later when Clotho suffered the embarassment of lagging out of the bar. She blinked to find herself back in the booth, her 'ware complaining that the tenuous connection to its uplink had vanished. Her limbs even stiffer than before, Fia stood again and moved outside to note that it was around midday. Time to leave, at least for a while; she was uncomfortable with the proximity of her apartment and its presumed cadre of virtuales. A sadness came over her at this, coupled with an anger at everything that had happened, but both overtaken by weariness. She adjusted the now-dirt stained jacket around her shoulders and set off towards the north, moving generally away from the train and the Lockzone underneath the clouds which had cut off the sun and taken the 'Verse from her.
She wound up in a coffee shop in southern Malden after a tiring walk down streets she didn't know, heading generally north as guided by the GPS in her beltware. With her last few dollars in cash gone to buy a cup of precious caffeine and a bagel, Fia sheltered in a nook against the side wall of the shop, out of direct view of the door, and spent half an hour simply listening to the bandwidth sing through her. No mention of her on the local popfeeds or on the comnews; a single story, buried deep, on a fire alarm at the Bank the night before with no mention of the ejected descender at all. The Bent didn't show up in the feeds at all.
The coffee shop was thick with the electronic rustlings of study and commerce, flows of the revenet familiar to her as a waverider. Without rezzing up, Fia watched four different people in the shop wander the streets and airways of the Ouroverse, their datastreams flickering from server to server as their clients followed the buzzing call of the 'verse VM cloud. Two other customers sat at cheaper, older machines doing simple net work, studying in both cases. After half an hour, Fia was sure that none of them were watching for her.
Her ware began to delicately claim single channels on the air inside the shop, holding them open and hiding them from the network as unavailable. Once it had enough, perhaps a third of the total available to the shop, she closed her eyes to lessen the distraction and jumped up into her private metaspace, opening them again with the particular twist that told her ware, not her eyelids, to show her the world. Her private model of the Bank spun in the ersatz darkness behind her eyelids, tied to electronic reality by the glittering threads of stolen bandwidth.
Fia looked at the Bank through sideways sight, thinking about the logistics of being a fugitive. Then she thought about the hours of idle wondering, sitting in her office, moving money and information around the Bank's systems. A predatory smile came over her face, sitting there in the coffeeshop, and unbeknownst to her, a young man who had just steeled up the nerve to sit next to her looked at her again, shuddered and took his Darjeeling off to the other side of the room.
* * *
Mikare came into the Drome with less than his usual flair, looking around for signs of Clotho. He didn't find any. Moving straight across the bar, he accosted Tourette in the middle of serving a group of tourists who had rented a shortkey, raising some eyebrows from the regulars around the place for jumping the queue but causing some excitement on their part at their luck in seeing an actual Drome celebrity. Grinning distractedly, he nodded at them a few times and dragged Tourette down the bar a few feet. "Tour, where's Clotho?"
"Mik, linejump, bitch. Sure the boat came in haven't seen her in Clotho down the end bolao jumento, capisce?"
Mikare stopped, frozen for a moment in relief. The words weren't familiar, but their very intonation made them an insult. "Tourette, messages from Clotho."
The bar hazed slightly. Tourette leaned in, blinked once, insulted him in what Mikare assumed was fluent Portuguese, relayed the brief message from Clotho and then handed him a card. Mikare took it, slapped Tourette on the arm, and danced his way out of the 'Drome.
When he spun the catcard's link address into his flickerjack, he found himself inside a metaspace spun with crazyquilt spiderwebs of data, an explosion in a cotton candy factory. At the center was an enormous, incredibly complex datastructure which he thought he vaguely recognized, but wasn't sure. Traceries of shuntcode and network routing hung around it like bunting. Feeling as if he was standing in a hangar watching a zeppelin being spun from whole silk, Mikare turned on his heel twice before striking out for the center of the space, dancing between threads and tendrils without touching any, the instinctive reaction of a waverider or a forensic Op.
At the center, he found Clotho, eyes closed, zazen in a clear space wearing a smile. In her lap was a glittering datastruct coded to resemble a fist-sized diamond of the first water. He moved as close as he dared, perhaps five or ten grid points, and then called to her, trying not to disturb any of the incredibly complex netcode that surrounded the both of them. "Clo?"
Her eyes opened. "Mikare." Her smile grew wider. "You're fucking late."
* * *
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