Niko was rather pleased with today. He’d had to spend a little of his newly earned credits on some juice to get the tears flowing, the girls were demanding, but pleasant enough, he’d hammed it up to their heart’s content. Was one of the easiest days he’d had in a while, and he really liked the look zeroed out rent account. For the day and the half it would last at least. So the random message had been help-


  The sing song notification sound of his phone played, and she shifted on the floor. He didn’t have to move to acquire its phone from its charging dock, and pulling it up he was shocked to see it was the random messenger again. Yes, I am quite helpful.


   Now that, was creepy. Way way too dodge. Niko looked around his bare room, the slightly squishy floors that looked like hardwood, seemed the same. The bare concrete walls also didn’t look like they’d changed. It would have been really hard to hide any kind of listening equipment, but he’d been thinking it in his head any way. They had to put stuff in your blood to see brain activity right? It was all super dodge. He knew he wasn’t nearly smart enough to figure it out, but they were being he figured he’d take it. Maybe the corps weren’t all bad. People did try to get into them after all.


   He laid there on the floor, for a time, simply existing, enjoying the simple pleasure but something in him wouldn’t rest. Doubts, niggling uncertainties, and a growing curiosity. He wondered if this is how people got tricked into sending tons of credits to scammers. Couldn’t hurt if he just toyed with them right.


   Yes. Very helpful. You have any other good ideas? He typed the text out slowly, erasing, trying a new tack, settling on that. Laying back down on his one thin blanket, trying to get comfortable. He could get the nano bed out but that would take ten of his remaining fifty credits and he did want breakfast.


   Another ding, pulling his phone up quickly. Of course. Tomorrow, I will send further details. Niko had some loose plans for the following day, there was a food bank that opened, and it was the usual day the bakery down the street threw out their stale goods, though there weren’t usually that many and he wasn’t the only one that knew to show up. Most weeks he didn’t get there early enough. Drifting off to an uncomfortable sleep, Niko decided, he could afford to see if there was another payday waiting.


   Rising, performing his usual morning routine of surveys and calisthenics, being a little less economical with the shower, and stepping out into the slightly warmer day, he couldn’t help but smile. He started the day in the black, and that was a rare thing, one he saw fit to appreciate. Waltzing down the street, he ran some calculations on if it would just be smarter to buy breakfast, but seeing the line, waiting by the alley, a few of the faces familiar confirmed he’d be getting no free baked goods. Of to the-


   Head to Vanberg and Jazz, on the corner with the restaurant head down Vanberg take the second alley. Okay, now it was having him head into alleys. Restaurant? Niko was pretty sure it was a BurgerLord, but street specific but not the food joint? He thought it was rather strange, but he tried to remain optimistic, it would be close enough to people that he could probably run.


   He was almost at the corner when he received another. You will go down, there will be a brown door, wait till exactly twelve seconds after seven twenty three. You will go in, and upstairs one floor, you will enter room 215, enter the bedroom, check it’s closet, you will change into the outfit on the right side of the closet. With that done, head to twenty fifth and trial. There will be a bus token on the nightstand


   Checking the time it was only a quarter past seven, so he had some time to kill, if we was going to follow instructions. He sat and people watched for a bit. He’d heard from a friend of his, Chop, that you could get weird gigs like this off the darknet. He’d looked but never found it, or one of them scrambler thingies, that you’re supposed to have. Perhaps it was that floating in the back of his mind, or something else that drove him to continue.


  He stepped into the alley with half a minute to spare, and quickly found that there was indeed only one door that matched, the others all being a matching green shade, which in and of itself was strange, he even thought he could smell fresh paint. He was almost hoping he’d find the door locked, but it was not, so he entered.


   Taking a look around, it looked like a an old apartment, the kind that they’d never build these days, the floor was an old dirty carpet, ripped every few feet but not in a pattern, the walls old wood panels, bearing tons of chips and scratches. Niko couldn’t find any stairs, as he started down the halls the first thing he noticed were the doors were really far apart, meaning the apartments must have been huge. If they had a separate bedroom they must be, they might even have more than two rooms.


  Just as Niko was thinking over this, there was a chime, and a set of doors behind him opened. It was an older looking elevator, and an odd figure a very serious look stepped out. The man was dressed like a cop, but he didn’t give Niko the vibe cops normally did, he didn’t look worried enough if he’d tried to put his finger on it. They changed places in the hall and elevator. Niko had the thought that the other guy was also trying to be unnoticed. Punching in the button marked two, he began to ascend.


  It was a simple matter to find the right door, and if Niko hadn’t been so nervous, he might have noticed the door frame was broken, or the woman down the hall who watched him carefully. just around the bolt, and he stepped into a well maintained, cozy living room. It was clean, and clearly had the look of being lived in, random bits of trash lingered, a discarded piece of clothing here and there, and he thought he smelled food, maybe recently cooked.


  He waited for a few moments, for any sounds, any signs of movement, any change at all. Nothing met Niko’s attention, and his hesitation grew with each passing moment. The text had scored him something great yesterday, but yesterday he didn’t have much to lose, just walking some where, but now the situation had proven drastically different. His curiosity and greed however pulled him deeper into the house.


  Walking carefully, as quietly as he could manage, he stepped around the apartment. Only two exists from this room, checking the one on the left first, obviously a kitchen, dishes in the sink, another sign of life, moving toward the other door, Niko froze at what he saw. A person, maybe better to say a body, recently killed no less, rested on the bed, and his hesitation saw this moment to transform into terror, his vision felt like it was narrowing to a single point of light when a chime disrupted his train of thought.


  You can ill afford to miss this opportunity. Do as I instructed and all will be well. That wasn’t a comfort. Niko thought it almost sounded threatening.


  And if I don’t? He shot back


  I cannot say


  Can’t or won’t


  Cannot. I am not able to foresee should that come to pass, though if I were to wager?


  Yes, what?


  You came to this very location after a strange number helped you clear your debt, only once. Not even a day had passed. Likely something more malicious than I will come along, and a terrible fate will await you. Have faith.


  The problem, was the person on the other end was exactly what they described, in the same breath it asked him to have faith? That was absolutely maddening, and Niko didn’t know what to think, his fear swelling until it consumed his ability to think. His phone singing informatively once more, and something within the darker parts of his mind pushed him to look.


  Do you wish to test me? Shall I tell you your morning routine? No I could be spying despite you finding no trace. Should I retell the events of this past year? No perhaps there I’ve been spying, waiting for my moment. Perhaps I should regale you with the words of your father the last night you ever saw him? Before he headed off to work for the last time for that long year, when you were but seven years old!? How he asked you to be brave, unlike how you are now!?!


  That was impossible. His fathers own last words were to that effect, and something within him suggested that if he did ask the person on the other end would know. He froze. The height of his emotion left him paralyzed. Woodenly he stood there, before long, he found himself moving, going into the room, stepping around the bed where the body rested, and checked the closet. Isolated on the right side, was an outfit, a long jacket in a dark brown, a nice shirt, some dark washed jeans, a striped knit scarf, and winter boots cut just below the knee. The outfit did not fit with the rest of the wardrobe not that it mattered. Collecting the items, Dressing slowly, stiffly, he shed his patchwork clothes and as he dressed he found his mood lifting, his limbs warmed, and the terror subsiding. Now fully re-dressed in that strange living room, in some house that was not his own, he thought again of the person on the other side, and decided, to be optimistic, to hope. What was the worst a cellphone could do that he couldn’t be prepared for.


  He stepped into the hall, this time seeing the woman at the edge of the hall, who upon making eye contact with him turned to leave. Niko looked on unsure, but he had somewhere to be. He was surprised, but he told himself he wasn’t as he stepped out of the buildings main entrance just as the bus, that just so happened to take him close to that intersection, slid into the stop.


  Stepping into the bus, dropping his token into the slot, he found an empty seat, only a quarter of them being occupied any way. He hadn’t taken a bus in a while, his requests to receive a token stipend denied too many times, and he was surprised they were clean, the seats while a only barely cushioned and covered cheap synthetic leather in good shape. The ride was an ice break from walking, and it might have taken him a couple hours to cover the distance otherwise.


  Stepping off the bus, giving it some distance to pull away he moved to the corner, and looked around. He almost never made it to this part of the city, the kind of people who spent time here were too busy, or held to tightly to their credits, so it was a fruitless effort. Niko had no idea what this payday would be, but the stranger on the other end hadn’t sent him anything else. So he set to wandering around.


  He did see quite the cavalcade down the street, in front of some building, the closer he got the sooner he realized it was a huge, aging mansion, and there was a security team, with a small convoy currently parked out front. He had no where else to be so he watched. They were mostly waiting around, a few of the security personnel giving him side eye, and he’s sure he saw one of them point something at him, a scanner he guessed. Eventually, an older woman, probably in her sixties exited, causing the detail to stir. Approaching the cars, she peered toward Niko, and paused. She said something, and to his shock some one from the detail approached him.


  ‘The lady would like to speak with you.’


  ‘Me?’ he balked, but didn’t shrink away. ‘Uh, sure.’ He hoped this didn’t cut into what he was supposed to be doing, but still no messages. He was brought before the elder, and she appraised him without a hint of shame.


  ‘Young man. Are you busy this afternoon?’ Oh god, this was not the sort of thing Niko wanted to be getting into at all. He must have looked uncertain as she followed up. ‘I am visiting the grave of my deceased husband, and one of my physicians, silly creature, suggests I rent some one to talk to as I do so.’ Being rented? Niko had heard of jobs like that, but always dismissed that as the sort of thing that just wouldn’t happen. Wealthy folk just wanting some one they have no risk of knowing to bitch to? Or just sit near them when they go to the doctors office or something? ‘I’ll of course compensate you for your time.’ her face took on a look of disgust ‘Most of the people they find me from that service just’ and she pantomimed throwing up, complete with the noise. She got weirder by the second from by his estimation.


  ‘Sure. I’ve got the free time this afternoon. But uh-


  ‘Very good. Tibalt, check him and put him in the car when you’re done. The large man she had glanced at before departing proceeded to path down Niko, thoroughly, using at least two scanners, before he seemed satisfied. Before holding a door open for Niko to enter the middle car, the same one as his new boss, before climbing in himself. Well, she wouldn’t have him killed right? Did rich people do that?

A note from Highlord_of_Iron

This is the end of the story. So far at any rate. Come back Saturday to find out what comes next.

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About the author


Bio: Highpriest of the new word.

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