Alice moves through the nightmarket, ignoring the calls from the tired-looking glittergirls and bulked-out meatboys, all looking to sell themselves, for business, pleasure or both. A stim-dealer hisses at her from a dark alleyway, for some reason trying to conceal their activities, despite the far worse drugs being openly traded in the flickering neon lights. A drone buzzes past and drops in front of a trader, who opens the pod to take out a cred-stick, scans it, then tosses a bag of bright red powder back in. It beeps before taking off again, then it moves rapidly upward, seeming keen to get out of grabbing range. If the powder was genuine, organic-grown spice, speed is wise – that was a big bag, easily a grand or more. That or one of the new synth-drugs, cooked up in some tweaker’s lab, just as liable to give the user a vision of the infinite as to kill their brain, or their liver, even before being cut with brickdust or coloured flour.
The traders ignore her – a known entity, she knew what she was looking for, and had told them to piss off enough times they know not to engage without good reason. She looks over the stalls with a practised eye, looking for anything undervalued, that her contacts can make a profit off. A lot of junk, shiny crap stolen from up-city, or tech-gear hacked and spliced together in a Frankenstein jumble of wires, solder and circuitboards. Between the tech are older items; real books, statues, trinkets of wood and metal, all from before everything went to shit, before the big black, the plague, the riots, back before Alice can remember. She examines them carefully, looking for anything her customers might be interested in. Most look too common, random stuff left abandoned in the die-offs, reclaimed from sealed storage units, passing between traders all hoping it might have value, before getting tossed into landfill.
Her attention is drawn by raised voices, an argument. Such things are rare here – the Old Man doesn’t like shouting, and gets his guards to enforce quiet, forcefully if needed. It’s White Michael, his waist-length white beard shaking with indignation as he gestures at a young woman. She’s an oddity, dressed like someone from the Uppers, sky-blue synth-silk clinging to her body. Although she’s not utterly stupid, a stungun hanging from her waist, a hand resting on the grip, ready to draw. And that’ll draw the guards like shit to flies – the Nightmarket’s rough, but the Old Man keeps it calm, in the only language everyone understands. She’s not alone – she has a guard, a young man, wraparound sunglasses probably hiding some jacked optics, his muscles clearly tweaked and enhanced, ostentatious chrome studs on enlarged biceps, gleaming metal-and-flesh under the electric lights. One of his hands is wrapped in a clunky gauntlet of black plastic and metal, some kind of weapon. Probably illegal, but it wasn’t as though the police ever came down here, at least in anything less than riot gear. And the Old Man allows weapons, at least as long as they stay holstered.
She moves closer, curious to see what had angered White Michael so much, as he gestures at the woman to leave. Up close, her modjobs are obvious, her skin unnaturally soft and smooth, far more than any cosmetics could provide. Expensive, but not expensive enough to look natural. The port of a sense-jack can just be seen at the top of her spine, gleaming through the curtain of her sleek, black hair.
‘It’s worth at least forty grand!’
Michael crosses his arms. ‘Not to me, it ain’t. I’m not taking it, and I doubt you’ll find anyone else here that will. You want to sell jink like that, you take it to the Society. We don’t deal with that here.’
The guard steps forward, electricity snapping around his gauntlet with a snapping whine. The other traders all look away, making sure no-one could think they’re intervening, for when this all goes to blood. The woman turns to him and calms him down, before she walks away, all stiff-necked humiliation, mingling with fear and desperation. Now she’s facing Alice, it’s obvious that her eyes are an unnatural blue, either contacts or modded, but even her enhanced skin can’t hide the swollen redness around her eyes, or the tiredness in her posture. No visible injuries, and she’s walking without a limp, as Alice tries to take her measure. There is a flash of something purple, a momentary gleaming in her hand, before she tucks whatever it was into a pouch around her neck.
She sees Alice looking at her and approaches, now all smiles, trying to appear friendly. She speaks, her voice the brittle, polished accent of someone from the crap part of the city trying to sound like an Upper. ‘I need some money in a hurry and was wondering if you would be interested in purchasing something. It has been in the family for some time but is scarcely needed these days.’ She’s tired enough the accent slips a little, a more standard local buzz starting to creep into her tones.
She reaches into her silks, a puff of some expensive scent billowing forth, before she tugs on a necklace and pulls out a soft velvet bag. ‘Just an old gem, but it’s valuable.’ She tilts the bag and pours the contents into her hand, as the guard moves close, attempting to loom. He’s big, but doesn’t move with the sliding agility of someone with a full loadout of combat mods, or have the skin bulges of armour implants – at this range, a quick draw and several thrusts to the abdomen would take him down, and she can deal with some zaps handily enough.
The thing the woman tips into her hand gleams with an inner fire, and sheds a chill, purple light under the flickering electric glow. It was a gemstone, a lozenge the length of Alice’s little finger, but even fatter. One end has a band of silver around it, to attach into some mount or focal point.
‘You look rather more discerning than the others here. I’m sure you can see the worth of this item? I believe it to be worth more than eighty thousand credits, but am willing to part with it for a mere forty thousand.’
She can’t keep the desperation from her voice – she needs money, and fast. Such a thing would be impossible to come by honestly, and highly unlikely even as a drunken gift from a customer, which makes it stolen property. Expensive and highly traceable stolen property. Worth a lot to the right person, but only if that person doesn’t just take it back via force. And forty thousand is a lot. Alice shakes her head, as the woman looks at her with barely-disguised desperation, trying to cover by keeping her voice level, unable to keep a faint quaver from her voice.
‘Not even for thirty thousand? I’m sure you could easily sell it on for far more.’
She’s not wrong, but it’s a hell of a risk. The market suddenly goes quiet, as everyone looks away, anywhere but at them, suddenly very busy and distracted. Alice glances past the guard – three figures, all in long jackets that unsubtly hide body armour are walking towards them. Uptown muscle, from their style, and no-one she recognises. No marks or insignia, which is never a good sign – that means they’re either disposable, so won’t mind cutting loose, or they didn’t feel the need for any protection. Everyone else pretends to not see them, as the bodyguard shows at least some awareness, spinning to face them, his movement pushing the woman away, towards Alice. He settles into a fighting stance, electricity sparking around his fist.
Alice steps back, trying to divest herself of the situation, as the woman grabs her hand, fear and desperation now stark on her face. ‘Please! Don’t let them take me.’ Alice pushes her back, trying to stay uninvolved, even as the woman grabs at her, clinging on with a strength born of desperation.
Alice growls, feeling rage building within her. There’s a soft click and a sudden coolness spreads within her chest, the rage subsiding, replaced only with irritation. She pulls back and pushes the woman off, before she strides swiftly away. The woman groans slightly and starts making her own retreat, the bodyguard slowly backing off in unison, as one of the attackers slowly and casually readies their own weapon. Tracking modules start to writhe, lasers scanning the area, feeding information to the user in preparation. Alice moves away, not wanting to be part of whatever violence is about to ensue.
The three are in no hurry, letting their prey panic and tire themselves out. Alice ducks quickly around a corner, heading into the shadows, not wanting to draw any more attention. The back-alleys might have their own dangers, but nothing she can’t handle. She hisses as another trader – drugs or flesh, at this point she doesn’t much care – approaches, backing off rapidly, ducking into another tiny alleyway, fading from sight.