Psychopunk Lullaby Vol. 5

by

The next morning I woke up at four, as usual. Joey didn’t know it, but if it weren’t for my constant slicing, we would’ve been starving and sleeping on the streets. It was a constant battle to stay two steps ahead, constantly staying as far Upwind as I could keep us while pilfering the little amounts we needed to survive. That particular morning I was skimming credit from my newest find, a crop of particularly well-off individuals connected by close business and personal relationships. I made it look as easy as picking grapes off a bunch, but it’s easy to look a certain way when everyone sees what they want to see.

My slicing was interrupted by Joey’s terrified voice.

“Sally! SALLY! I can’t move!” The tone in his voice made me drop everything and sprint to his bedroom of our suite. His skin was crawling with data. I shouldn’t have let him dice his head up fractal, I knew what could happen

“I’ve got diagnostic up, it doesn’t look like anything’s wrong with my body, it’s just, everything, everything in here, it’s, it’s…” his mouth worked noiselessly as though whatever coursed around the corners of his neural pathways had no word, no name to which it answered.

“We have to get you to see somebody,” I said without hesitation, pulling up local hospitals and neurological specialists, all the time thinking how am I going to pull this off, we’re far enough Upwind to get noticed but that doesn’t translate into medical care, especially not the kind of specialist who can pull this off.

I had one option. I pulled up the pool of identities I’d been distributing my costs across. I’d been careful not to get noticed, but one of them was going to have to give up their medical rating for a while so that Joey could get help.

I surfed through clouds of security until I finally found the pigeonhole containing the prize I was looking for, a 5-star medical rating. There might be questions asked, but not until after a neurosurgeon got a look at Joey’s brain. I reached inside the pigeonhole–

and from the other side another hand took mine firmly. I shrieked– Joey started, but was silent– and before me stood a tall, muscular man with dark complexion. I hadn’t set any of my visual feeds public. This was an intruder in my mind.

The man smiled at me. “There she is. You’ve been poking around in some things that don’t belong to you, little girl. As a matter of fact, you’ve been poking around in things that belong to friends of mine.”

I struggled, trying to cut off any possible way that he could be accessing me– he was blowing through my security code, projecting himself into my head–

He shook his head and laughed softly, without malice. “You’re very talented, Sally. Without a shadow of a doubt. Why, look at this.” He released my wrist and held up something in his hand. Something blue and sparkly.

I gasped. My payload!
He looked at it closely, admiringly. “This is ingenious, but I don’t have to tell you. In fact if you get far enough Upwind with this, you could probably gain a lot of power, do a lot of damage Become a pretty significant player. And you only fourteen years old.” He raised his eyebrows.

I snarled. “Give– that– back!” The payload was once again safe, buried under the most sophisticated protocols my mind had.

The man looked at his newly empty hand a moment. “Yes, you’re an impressive girl.” He spoke quietly. “So what is someone like you doing making an amateur move like attempting to swipe someone’s medical rating? They’ll shut you out of Delusion if you keep that up.”

I shuddered at the thought but said nothing.

He narrowed his eyes and mine began itching and burning. He’s accessing my optical feeds??

The man shifted position so that he was standing beside me, seeing what I was. “Who is he? He appears to be in some trouble.”

I glared at the man and muttered, “His head is diced Fractal.”

He whistled. “You don’t need a doctor, kid, you need a pilot.”

“Why would I need a pilot? And how am I supposed to get him taken care of? I’m not THAT far Upwind.”

The mysterious man smiled quietly. “Well. It’d be a shame for someone as special as you to come this far and lose your friend to cheap mind surgery. I tell you what.” He siezed my hand again and with a finger traced glowing numerals on my palm. “You call this number, you see this guy, and you remember that you owe me a favor.”

I looked at my hand, the number, and him, in confusion and disbelief. “Who ARE you?”

He winked. “Tell him Jude sent you. Good luck to you and your friend.”

He stepped out of my head and, as far as I could tell, out of existence. I stared at my hand for what felt like a long time.

No one picked up when I called the number. A quick search told me almost nothing. There was no name, no listing. Just an address on the other side of town.

I spent the taxi ride trying to comfort Joey, who was speaking in nonsense syllables.

“I’m gonna take care of you, Joey. You’re gonna be okay.”

“You don’t underslithy. The toves, Sal, The TOVES. It burbled as it came…” He coughed and was silent for a while.

The taxi dropped us off a couple blocks away from our destination. I’d never seen such a dirty part of the city before– and that was saying something. I could barely get a connection to any public access and Delusion covered only street signs. The rest was naked concrete.

Finally, we found the building. It seemed almost abandoned, but Delusion displayed a directory of the offices in glowing letters. I stopped to read through them when Joey started screaming, doubled over in pain.

“We’ll get you taken care of, we’re here, Joey! Hold on, there’s someone here who’s going to help us!”

I helped Joey sink to the floor then took off running. It has to be here somewhere, the office number is– AHA!

I banged on the door. “Please! Somebody help! My friend needs help!”

The door finally opened and a gaunt face in a laughable fedora snaked out, apparently attached to a thin body in an ill-fitting blazer and blue jeans. “You’ve come to the wrong place, Miss. I’m sorry. Good day.” He started to close the door.

“Jude sent me! He said we need a pilot!”

The man in the fedora froze. His face took an incredibly pained expression. “Damn it, Judas, NOW you’re calling in that favor?” He sighed. “Bring in your friend, I’ll see what I can do for him. The name is Tom. Thomas Bleakly.”

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