Jul 132013
 

Read Me the Story:
hotsy-totsy-PSThe Cast Manager of Club Priape looked him over, and Lewji obligingly turned, slowly, striking a pose. No reason not to. Stav Benthik’s employers did not stint on the quality of their tools, and the biosculp they’d sprung for, before he left Lyad Retsa, had been top quality in its class. He now looked ten years younger than his calendar age, somewhat enhanced where it would count the most, and a whole lot less experienced.

Of course, the biosculp had been accompanied by the implantation of a sensory recording net, add-on modules for the existing mastoid implant, and enough other thises-and-thats to make him feel like a virtual, if temporary, cyborg. It had taken an extra thirty hours or so just to run it all in and get it functioning smoothly.

“I see you had your physical exam and license review on Mesram Xina,” she glanced at the readfield on her desk, then returned to looking him over with practiced attention. “The license review is fine, but we have local regs, so you’ll have to re-do the physical here. But if you pass, we can prep you at the same time, and the fee will be on us.”

That meant A) he’d gotten the contract, and B) Club Priape was every bit as high-end and professional as Stav had indicated it would be. First hurdle passed. Stav had warned him that Priape was “clean— we have nothing to do with it, no connections. Has to stay that way. That’s partly why we’re using you on this job.”

The license was a put-up job, just like the illicit ID he was using, but again, it was top quality. And he’d done enough sex work in the past to pass as licensed. Prepping was a disagreeable necessity for health and safety reasons, but it also enabled a sex worker to use MetaTest safely, and that made the job a whole lot easier. “I’m fine with that,” he told her.

She finally cracked a smile. It wasn’t much of a smile, and it didn’t go beyond the lower half of her face, but it was enough. “Alright, last check, let’s get a retina, and you can stat-print the contract.” She tossed him the Eye-D. He caught it, blinked into it, and it confirmed his ID and initiated the standard InfoWeb searches— clean, of course. He placed it on the desk; she was already reviewing the results.

“Good. Here’s the contract, eyeball it and statprint. It’s a class 2 temp; if we like your work, we’ll upgrade after three payouts— that’s in section twelve.” She handed him a flatreader with eyeball tracker and built-in Eye-D scan, a standard legal registration tool. “You can sit, if you want,” she gestured to one of the couches on a side wall.

Lewji shrugged, and kept reading. Not fast enough to invalidate the track, but not terribly attentively, either. It was a standard employment contract that obligated them to do nothing but pay him if they felt like it, and gave them legal cover to kick his ass out anytime they wanted. Final execution contingent on the outcome of the legally-required physical exam and successful completion of the “FuckPrep Select” temporary biomod process.

The validation clause at the bottom flashed red when he reached it, and supertext appeared over the readfield: ‘To validate this agreement, activate Eye-D scan and read validation clause into audio pickup.’ He found the activation slide, blinked into the scanfield, and said, “I, Jannas Tango, register my agreement under Hub Mercantile Code Section nine-eight-two, for the execution of this agreement, identified as delta-six-ed-four-one, with Club Priape and its parent corporation Pandor Entertainment Limited.”

The clause turned blue, and he handed the flatreader back to his new boss. “Great. Go get your physical, and report for wardrobe review and New Cast orientation at half-seventeen.”

Jul 112013
 

Read Me the Story:
Old AuriganThey were meeting in the Old Aurigan café and social club, as usual.

Lewji was pretty sure Stav Benthik had an office somewhere. He was also pretty sure he knew who Stav worked for, but in neither case did he make the slightest attempt to confirm or deny his assumptions. Stav was a customer, a special, valuable customer, and Lewji’s business ethics deemed customer privacy utterly sacrosanct.

Of course, he hadn’t worked for Stav, lately. The last job had been… about two years ago. A simple delivery, handled with the unobtrusive discretion that Lewji thought of as his trademark. He’d made the delivery, he’d checked his credit balance a couple of hours later. The payment had been there. He hadn’t heard from Stav since, which wasn’t too surprising.

The downeast stratline had brought him into the commercial sector of the city’s Kedwalit node. Kedwalit was a virtual warren, left over from Lyad’s precolonial settlement, and there was only the one stratline platform and damn few working slideways, so he’d have to take pedways most of the way.

Stav had once, six years or so back, intimated that if Lewji wanted regular employment, he’d be accommodated. That was after a particularly tricky series of contracts, finally culminating in some bottom line work, which again, Lewji had handled well. He didn’t much care for bottom line work, though he’d undertake it as needed to complete a contract. And he was very good at planning and executing undetectable and convenient “accidents” when needed.

There’d been talk of a bonus, which Lewji turned down— a matter of policy. He set his fees, with minimal negotiation, and they were ‘inclusive.’ So Stav had hinted about regular employment, which Lewji’d been briefly tempted by, but it would probably have involved more travel than he’d want. Junari was younger then, and he didn’t like leaving her alone with his mother too long. The old woman was a terrible influence.

He’d just said he currently wanted to spend more time with his daughter than regular employment might allow, and hoped that wouldn’t be misinterpreted. Stav’s employer, he felt, would be bad people to get crossways of. But Stav had seemed to understand. He’d noted that “the bosses” were pleased with Lewji’s work, and would find some acceptable way of showing it.

A few months later, Junari taken Academy quals and come out near the top. Even with top quals, there was no guarantee a kid could get a good Academy slot; there were never enough slots available. But a recommendation, from some senior ’crat in the Lyad Retsa Education & Training division Lewji’d never heard of, had tipped the balance.

Since then, Stav had occasionally asked about “your girl’s” progress at the Academy, in a glancing sort of way. Lewji had mixed feelings about that. On one hand, he was fairly sure there wasn’t much Stav’s employer didn’t know about him, and probably Junari, and probably his mother, as well. And letting him know they knew… that could be a sign that they regarded him as a trusted associate, or just that they knew which strings to pull. Or both.

He checked the marker coming up for the next slideway— Malgar Conduit. When the slideway ended, he turned into the crowd, walking mostly against the tide of homebound shift-changers. It was still daycycle, but in this neighborhood, most businesses kept their nightcycle lights on all twenty-four. Many of them had music blaring over the pedways, as well, just a fraction of a decibel below the “public nuisance” threshold.

The Old Aurigan was about a kilometer from the intersection, but the slideway on this section of Malgar hadn’t operated for years. Instead, it had become an informal market point for casual vendors of everything from sex to toothpaste. The gaffers swept through often enough to keep things “casual,” (no one sold anything they couldn’t pick up and carry away fast) but some of the vendors had occupied their particular pitches for years.

Lewji kept to the pedway. About halfway there, the ambience began to change. Not spectacularly, but definitely. The competing strains of music were just a little less loud, a little less strenuous. Aimed at a crowd that could remember the musical fashions from a couple of decades ago. There were fewer EZshops, cleaning establishments, fast eateries, tempsculp parlors, and more betting shops, oases, and sit-down eateries. Light displays were a tad less garish.

And there, on the corner of Malgar and East 112th, was his destination. Unobtrusive, and a little shabby. No display lights, just a sign, and a dusty display window with an ancient still life of wine carafes and fake Chendillian food items, to which some wag had added a few pieces of formidable-looking cutlery, a joke appreciated only by those in the know. It didn’t even look open, this time of day. But Lewji passed his hand over the sensor and the door opened.

Inside was very different. Clean, for one thing. The lighting level was low without being dim, and the décor, though old-fashioned, was relaxed in character and had once been expensive. There were few patrons, this time of day—a table of four on one side of the main dining area, another deuce by an archway that led to the back premises, two women sitting at the end of the bar nearest the front door, and a man sitting at the far end of the bar: Stav Benthik.

“Lewji. Good to see you.”

“Stav.”

“Glass of caldos?” Stav lifted the small footed glass in front of him suggestively.

“Pleasure, thanks.”

Lewji sat down, nodded to the bartender, and accepted a similar minute glass of the very strong apple cordial. He disposed of it properly, and eyed Stav with patient enquiry while the little fireball he’d swallowed spread through his torso, up his spinal column, over his scalp, and brought a mild sweat to the back of his neck.

“There’s a Small-Cluster conference coming up. On Farn-Amli.”

Lewji put on his negotiating face, and nodded. A Small-Cluster conference? That was out of his usual sphere of operations. He ran a few quick mental calculations on why they might need a freelancer, and came up with some interesting totals. This would not be a small job.

“We’d like to get you in place well before the conference opens, and keep you there throughout. Multiple targets, multiple objectives. Tiered.”

“So what are we talking about, in the way of time, here?”

Stav’s eyes rolled upwards as he worked out some internal calculation. “To Farn-Amli… The conference itself… You’d need to leave fairly soon. Then figure, twelve- maybe thirteen hundred hours altogether, including travel time.”

The negotiating face didn’t slip, but Lewji considered the eight or nine weeks—that would be pretty much the entire offterm. Granted, Junari would be at that Starna Lake Camp for five of those weeks, but still, he’d hoped to spend more time with her, when Camp was over. Maybe take her on a trip to Lyad Center, let her pick out some upend clothes for her final year at the Academy.

On the other hand, a job of this size and complexity could be lucrative. Even on a half-subsidy, the Academy wasn’t cheap.

“Tell me more.”

Stav lifted an eyebrow. “I can do that. Under an erase agreement.”

Lewji didn’t care for erasure, but it didn’t have many long-term side effects any more. It was just annoying. You always knew something had been erased, if not what. Like an itch you could never scratch. And because of the way erasure worked, it had to be text. No verbal, no questions and answers— that left different memory traces, problematic for erasure.

“All right. Erase agreement.”

Stav poked at his wristcom. “Okay, you got it. Want a beer while you’re looking it over?”

“No thanks,” Lewji was already pulling up the readfield, adjusting it for the dim light in here. Stav shrugged, signaled the barkeep for a beer for himself, and turned to watch the holostage above the bar, where coverage of the Retsa Cluster finals in the Central Axis Peiball League was underway.

The text rolled out on the readfield. It was a complex job. A couple of deliveries. Sensory recording. Observation. And…

Oh, great. Sex work.

Jul 062013
 

Read me the story
Honor Roll CertificateIt was a little difficult to tell whether the enthusiasm of the applause was attributable to the quality of the performance, or the fact that it was that last one on the schedule. Either way, the smiles it brought to the faces of the dozen or so eight-, nine-, and ten-year-olds on the stage were enough to prolong it another ten seconds.

“Thank you very much,” the poised youngster who stepped forward to the front of the stage gestured for silence, and received it. “We’d like to thank our Precep, Ti Vundaras,” he gestured at the smiling young woman standing at the side of the stage, who waved a little, then motioned for him to continue. “And we’d like a special round of applause for Junari Ulongo, who adapted the story of the Three Lost Starfarers for our script.”

That was a request Lewji Ulongo could grant with fervor, as the Precep gestured to his daughter from the other side of the stage and the applause swelled again. Junari walked over to stand by the boy at the front of the stage, who made a theatrical mime of gathering the cast together, and all the children bowed again.

The plaudits completed, parents extricated themselves from the slightly-too-small seats, and straggled out to the “lobby” area in front of the academy’s Media Center. Here several tables of refreshments awaited them, and the youthful performers, who were starting to stream out from the backstage area.

Lewji positioned himself where he could see Junari right away when she came out, which also happened to be where half a dozen other parents were queuing for hot cafchi, dispensed by one of Junari’s Preceps. The man grinned at him “I will miss Junari very much, when the new term starts, Ten Ulongo.”

One of the other parents, a blondish woman with a biosculp that definitely hadn’t been worth what she’d paid for it, turned to smile at Lewji. “I should think so! Such a talented little girl!” He’d chatted with the woman briefly before the show began, but for the life of him Lewji couldn’t remember whether her kid was male or female.

Think fast, Lewi… “I think we can both congratulate ourselves on the general excellence of our offspring, don’t you?” His return smile was calculated nicely to distract her without offering insult, and it had its effect. “Oh… Well, I know that Trokip and Junari haven’t always been, ah… friends, but I think they have a lot in common!”

Oh, yes. Trokip. Trokip Temagun. Junari described him as “Eight hundred cc’s of vacuum between the ears with slightly less personality than a lint ball.” But he was a good-looking lad, if he was the one Lew was thinking of… winner of this year’s Mixed Tenso combat medal. “Yes, quite a lot,” he offered. That was true, if age, human DNA, general area of residence, and attendance at the Ermetyne Academy were placed in the “shared characteristics” column.

There she was! Lewji extricated himself without letting his relief show. “There’s my girl…” he murmured, turning to meet his daughter emerging from the cross-corridor that ran behind the venue stage. She separated herself from a small cluster of classmates, and looked a little surprised at the hug he offered. They weren’t normally demonstrative in public. Then she caught sight of Ti Temagun by the cafchi table, smiling and waving. “Oh, right. Let’s go over here, Dad. I want to introduce you to Ti Vundaras, she’s been great.”

They made their way among the little knots of parents, students, and Academy staff, to where the young Precep was chatting to a set of parents with twins who’d appeared in Junari’s “Endless Search” one-act playlet. Well, Lewji thought of it as Junari’s, though technically it was her whole pod’s project. “Ti Vundaras, this is my father, Lewji Ulongo. Dad, Ti Vundaras preceps Creative Expression for all the Upper Division pods.”

“A pleasure, Ti Vundaras,” Lewji placed his palms together, and nodded, and she returned the gesture. “The pleasure is mine, Ten Ulongo. It has been such a joy to work with your daughter this term, she has a most creative imagination, and a flair for writing.”

“She only says that because I can’t act for sparklets. So they had to find something else for me to do.” Junari caught sight of her father’s lifted eyebrow. “I’m not flapdowsing, honest! I flopped every audition. Besides, what chance did I have with these two in the lineup?” She exchanged grins with the twins, who looked alike enough to be identical, except for the sex differentiation.

Lewji greeted the Chuko-zun twins, Hendale and Tandali, and their parents, Aja and Horis. The Chuko-zun were a disept of the vast (and wealthy) Chuko clan. Aja was an Advocate, qualified for Hub Mercantile Exchange Arbitration, and Horis was a maintenance executive in Vastok Commerce Shipping. There had been a security check, back at the beginning of term, when it became clear that their twins and the daughter of a freelance Receivables Consultant would be spending a certain amount of leisure time together.

One of the twins made an eyeroll/grimace cue to their father, who nodded, and addressed himself to Lewji: “Ten Ulongo, I understand Junari will be at Starna Lake Camp this offterm?” he verified politely.

Lewji nodded. “That was the deal. She’s more than earned it with this term’s qual score.” Junari gave an embarrassed shrug. “Da-ad… they’ll think I’m a grind,” she muttered.

Aja and Horis exchanged amused glances. “We will be having a little sendoff gathering for ’Dale and ’Dali on our skyboat, a three-day tour of the Lake, and then taking them to Camp. We would be so delighted if Juni could join us for this? There will be two or three other young people as well, with my brother’s partner and her sister,” Aja explained.

Junari looked at her father. She probably thought she was being very carefully controlled and grown-up, but the light escaping from all the cracks showed the supernova of hope and anticipation inside. Lewji repressed a sigh. He’d hoped to have a few more days of her company between the end of term and dispatching her to Camp, but… “How very kind of you to offer. Of course she may join you,” he smiled at the Chuko-zuns.

The Academy’s Dean was circulating, chatting briefly with parents, exchanging greetings with students, and in the process tactfully beginning the process of bringing the Term-End Gala to a close. Lewji was just as glad to escape the rarefied atmosphere, so when the Chuko-zuns moved off to greet acquaintances, he placed himself more or less on the Dean’s trajectory.

“Ten Ulongo, I’m glad to see you at the Gala this year.”

“I’m glad I could be here.” Lewji knew full well that implicit in Junari’s subsidy had been the assumption that he’d be a devoted Academy parent, attending functions and volunteering to proctor outings and all the rest of it. Well, that might be fine for parents who had partners, and/or whose work was based on regular hours and locations. Fortunately, he’d had a little extra clout in the recommendations department. And then, Junari had pretty much carved her own way through the subsidy route, consistently placing top honors quals even among peers who included a high percentage of genmod-enhancements.

Still, it didn’t hurt to be a little conciliatory to the Dean, a formidable woman who reminded him very much of his mother. In fact, he hoped the two of them never met. So far he’d successfully prevented that.

The Dean smiled at Junari. “Junari, would you mind giving me a moment alone with your father? Perhaps you could collect your gear for leaving.”

“Yes, Ti Ardasan.” Junari was properly respectful, but the glance she threw at her father held plenty of subtext.

“Ten Ulongo, I’ve been most impressed—really, most impressed, with Junari’s quals this year. So much so, that I have included her on my Recommendation List. Just in case you were thinking of a Lyceum application.”

“A Lyceum application,” Lewji repeated carefully. He’d counted himself beyond lucky to get the recommendation from Stav Benthik that had gotten Junari into the Ermetyne Academy, five years ago. But then, Academies in Lyad Retsa were chartered to accept at least 15% subsidized enrollment. The requirement for Lyceum status was one tenth that, and even a half subsidy would be far, far outside his ability to afford it. “That’s… Well. Thank you. Thank you very much, Ti Ardasan.”

The Dean smiled encouragingly. “You never know, Ten Ulongo. A youngster as bright as Junari deserves every chance.”

Lewji couldn’t agree more. He thanked the Dean, and she moved on to another parent. He was looking around for Junari when he felt a tingling, behind his ear.

He’d almost forgotten he had the mastoid implant. Blinking, he activated his wristcom, and checked the incoming file. Nothing there, so it wasn’t urgent. Just important.

Very, very important.

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