The memo ended with an order for Xavier to depart for Station X within the week with his family. He knew ISEC expected them to come along as a sort of insurance policy to make sure Xavier did his job and they tended to get what they wanted. If anyone insisted on staying behind, and he was thinking of Abby, they would make her an enemy of state, or at the very least put enough bureaucratic tangles in her life to make it almost impossible for her to finish university, get a job, or secure a safe apartment on the grid.
This was a very mixed blessing, he thought. Going to the stars with their family was any ISEC officer’s dream, never mind playing a potentially pivotal role in inter-species contact. Station X, as far as he knew, was the furthest human outpost ever established. He was excited but the mission was dangerous and open ended. However, he could not forget magically what he had just read, and ISEC might not hesitate to make him, and his family disappear if they did not cooperate with a smile.
He sat at his desk, picturing each of his family member’s faces and how they would react to the news. Not well, he supposed. Jay might be excited, Rachel would be accepting if dubious, but Abby would not take well to the news at all. ISEC had never done a good job of explaining why and how that hopper had crashed with her parents in it, and Abby had never forgiven them.
Subtitle- Hong Kong Fui
Jay held the door open for Abby. They had found the bar they were looking for; the walk had taken a good ninety minutes and Saturday evening was approaching; it was about 5pm. The bar was noisy, deliberately fashioned to seem run-down and dirty. All Jay knew about old bars had come from old flicks about the hardscrabble lives of the working class, and he didn’t know how accurate they were, either. The Hong Kong Fui, named after its signature drink, was a comfortable student haunt. They had been there a few times, and Jay knew despite its looks it was managed with ruthless efficiency. The dance floors pumped with pheromones, giving the impression many attractive people were dancing somewhere in the non-toxic smoke. But he guessed at most two dozen or so people were dancing at six in the evening. Most of the patrons settled in dimly lit corners, no doubt secreting drugs from their implants, sipping the newest mixed drinks made of juniper and orange peel and who knew what. The thought made his mouth water in anticipation. Jay dry swallowed a kidney-flush tablet he had in his jacket pocket, to help his renal system cope with the amount of beer he knew he would consume that night. Everyone else here would be on drugs to bring them up and down depending on the mood. They would also have nano-bots in their blood ready to help clean out the toxins on demand. He would want a few drinks just to fit in but had none of the AI tech to help.
He was sitting with Abby and a gathering group of friends when about an hour later he spotted Max at the bar so Jay bounded over to buy him a drink. The bots were getting so lifelike these days Jay had heard a rumor about someone in his building taking a bot home one night and to a huge surprise.
“How’d you know I was here?” Jay asked after they shook hands. “I mean, it’s great to see you.
“I used your GPS node.” He tapped the back of his skull, where he had the standard implant. This one implant was put into everyone at birth. “You did give me the access code.” Max said with a shrug and a grin. “What, you didn’t hear me calling?” Referring to Jay not having NJIs that would have alerted Jay.
Jay bellied up to the bar and raised two fingers. A place like this could have gotten away with a robot bartender, but he was glad that it was a real person. Satisfied that the bartender was coming, Jay turned to Max. “What, and ruin the surprise?”
Max was studying the men written in chalk on an old-fashioned chalkboard. “You do like to do it old style don’t you.” Max said looking at the board.
“Just you, Abby and my parents have the code,” Jay said.
The only people at the bar were glancing around, obviously, students out to pick up an early night home with someone for sex after drinking the afternoon away. Glancing down the long wooden bar, Jay gathered that some of them were also probably professionals.
“Sure, thanks,” Max said.
“Any particular kind?” Jay smiled.
“Whatever you’re having, thanks.”
They wandered back toward Abby, who had found her way into a bigger group of cute girls chatting at the next table.
“Now’s as good a time as any,” Max said grabbing his arm before they got there and indicating a side table.
Without a word, Jay sat with him. The table was a bit sticky with no dry coasters.
Max keyed a sequence into the table keypad, fed in a fifty-credit note, there was a pop in Jay’s ears as the sound filter kicked on and the background noise disappeared.
“You sure this term is secure?” Jay said. Fifty credits was not a huge amount of money but enough to dent a daily student budget.
“It’s fine, Jay,” Max said. “You’re always so paranoid. Don’t forget, AIs can’t lie.” Jay looked away to hide annoyance at the dogged belief even from smart people like Max.
“Jay, I looked at the sequence you used last night, and I think I know why it went wrong.”
“We’re told AI’s can’t lie and so far, we’ve seen no proof of the opposite, but how the crap would we know?!” Jay stared down the gun barrels of whatever Max was about to tell him and mentally squared up.