Riding the cosmic waves was one of Deban’s favorite hobbies. He hadn’t taken his board out in weeks, but he also hadn’t made any credits either, which is why he had to turn Granta down.
“Come on, they say a shower is coming in. A good one. They’ve already raised the level to red,” Granta’s face was projected into a tiny area in front of Deban’s face.
“As much as I love dodging meteors out on the surf, if I don’t do this job I won’t have a board. Sorry man, I’ll catch you next time.” Deban flicked the hologram and it receded back into his arm console. It wasn’t necessarily true. He could sell his slab and live off the street, but his board would no doubt be stolen the first day. Not like he’d have to make that decision anyway. He practically won the lottery.
Antares was a city that borrowed its name from the star at its heart. In school, he learned that Antares was built over six thousand years ago during the first years of humanities endeavors into space. Earth was a term in the history books that meant nothing to him except as a speck of dirt lost somewhere in the cosmos when compared to Antares, and that his ancestors supposedly came from there. Earth was a tiny planet that revolved around some star named Sol. Antares the star is 700 times the size of Sol, and Antares the city surrounds the star, making the entire area roughly 2.1 billion miles circumference. Not bad. Except over two trillion people live here, which made space a commodity.
Which is why Deban needed the cash to pay for his tiny eight by eight slab he called home despite all the heat and electricity for the city being siphoned from the star beneath it. The only thing between him and falling into that fusion reactor was eight miles of engineered metal. He was born and raised here so never gave it a second thought.
Somehow, out of the trillions of people always needing a buck, he was given the opportunity to make an easy six million credits by delivering a data file to some prick who fancied himself a politician. Deliveries like this cost extra and often entailed dirt on somebody, or else a simple data transfer across the net would do the job. Deban didn’t want to know and didn’t need to. All he needed was the cash. Sure, he could crack whatever simple encryption they placed on the little metal tab in his pocket, but doing so would leave a mark and they’d know he compromised the package. It was bad business and he was a professional.
Deban pulled up the map on his visor and followed the augmented path through the metallic city. This trip would take him out of his hemisphere which meant he would be seeing some new sites. Sites he would never have been able to see before, but included with the data file was a false identity that would let him cross borders with no issue. At least that’s what he was told.
He made it to the train station and it was time to put the caliber of his client’s pocketbook to the test. False identifications were extremely hard to come by with the scanners stationed in every nook of the city. Even if you managed to get one, or have a delusion of grandeur and decide to make one, it was never guaranteed to work. They failed nearly ninety percent of the time and getting caught meant getting Iced.
Deban placed his hand on the terminal and hoped his life wouldn’t end with a false read. The synthetic fingertips registered and he was admitted as Wallace Stevens. Two first names? he thought. Whoever made this ID was either a genius or the luckiest idiot in the galaxy. Two first names is almost a guaranteed red flag but it worked so he boarded. The nerves didn’t go away even after the train had been hovering at high speed for an hour. He was headed to a new land so to speak. All of Antares was basically the same. He tried to keep calm and soon lost himself while staring out of the window across from him.
Another hour passed and they must have entered the new hemisphere because a news story filled the window he had been gazing through.
“Dr. Bugosa was found dead in his laboratory two nights ago. The servers containing his research were destroyed and no backups can be found. Though nothing is confirmed at this point….”
He stopped listening and pulled up his arm console. His audio switched to his personal link and music filled his ears. He surfed the net for another few hours as the train took him closer to the biggest payday of his entire life. He lost himself in his console and didn’t notice the two large men board and sit across from him until he happened to glance up and see both of them staring at him. They wore old Mark VI suits. He offered a nod but neither of them moved. He returned to his console and tried to forget about them. Other passengers boarded, got off, walked by, but the two men never moved.
He decided to get off and walk the last fifty miles hoping the two would lose interested. When he stood, they stood, and he knew he was in something. He turned to exit and one of the men tried to grab him. Deban prevented the man’s thick hand from getting a hold on his jacket and bolted through the closing door. The doors reopened and the two men ran after him, but he was through the scanners. This hemisphere’s housing units weren’t as confining as they were up north, but they were still stacked at least three high which gave Deban cover and the confidence he could lose the men as he ran the final miles to his new life.
Running through crowds was an easy way to get spotted. The streets were less crowded here, but he knew how to blend in. He stopped after the first few miles and took a straightforward path walking the streets like it was a normal day. He stopped at a small noodle shop and had a bite. He hadn’t eaten since last night and he was feeling it. He tried to eat slow but finished quickly anyway so he hit the streets again. He almost walked into the two Mark VI’s as he left. They walked by surveying the area but hadn’t seen him. He thought about grabbing a car, but his contact said only trains and no direct paths to the destination. Besides, cars were easily traceable and easy to get caught in. Deban had mulled that tidbit over on the train and had a plan that technically fell in the clear. He carefully retreated the opposite direction of the two suits and visited a board shop. He bought a cheap, beginner’s model.
Boarding was restricted except for designated areas so he headed toward the nearest launch point. He’d start off in the waves and then veer off toward the estate to drop off the metal tab and pick up his six mil. He was thinking about how he’d use the money when a slug bounced off a wall to his left. He turned to see the Mark VI’s running toward him with weapons drawn. He launched his board instantly and took off above the stacks. He ran the board as hard as he could to minimize his time in the air. He made it to the estate within minutes. No cars had followed him. He’d taken a direct path, but was confident he hadn’t been tracked.
As he descended, he saw enforcement cars near the front gates. He almost bolted but instead cut the engine and dropped eighty feet before powering the engine back up to stop himself. He mistimed his ignition and tumbled onto the back grounds of the estate. He hit the floor and was surprised to find it soft. Still hard, but softer than the metal he was used to. He ran a hand through the green blades of grass he had only seen in holograms. Real grass cost more than a year rental for a slab. He wished he could enjoy it, but he needed to hide.
He got up, grabbed the board that was still hovering several feet above the ground, and hid in a small corner. He pulled up his feed and synced with the local network. His screen showed the front of the estate behind a reporter.
“Landus has been found dead inside his estate this morning. Though no links have been determined as of this moment, there is speculation that his death may be linked to Dr. Bugosa’s from a few days ago. Both men had been-”
Deban flicked the screen away. His heart was racing. What is happening? He fumbled in his pocket and pulled out the metal tab. It was a simple device. He scanned it and worked quickly to decrypt the contents. Ten minutes felt like ten years but he finally cracked it and let the contents spill across his screen. It was mostly raw data though not hard to understand. Antares, the star, was nearing the end of its life, which meant that the city would share the same fate. Deban assumed the people chasing him wanted to keep it a secret since the data had Dr. Bugosa’s name imprinted in it.
The way he saw it, he had three options. Upload the data to the net so everyone on Antares knew. This would get him Iced by authorities once they traced his upload, or he could even be killed by whoever held the leash of the Mark VI’s assuming they could trace him also, but a mass exodus would likely occur. Maybe he could escape in the chaos. Option two was to try and get the metal tab to someone with authority who could use the information to save the city or at least its inhabitants. Of course he would never know who would be clean and who would be a part of the group trying to kill him. His last option was to keep the data and run, but he would be running forever even if he found a way to get off Antares.
Deban ran his hands through his hair. Easy scores are never easy. Now what? Idiot.