I logged into a webmail account I’d used only once with my buyer contact, D. I’m sorry, I said, about the guy I’d killed. Little mishap. Did the lab still want to buy the data stored under my skin?
It took a few days to get a reply. I was worried about the IP log, so I'd gone to a cybercafe instead of using a hotel computer. But it seemed like my worry was unfounded. When I got the return message, it didn’t even mention the corpse. Instead D - whoever D was, whom I’d been corresponding with for months - asked me if I could meet someone in New York City for a data transfer, at double the fee.
They really wanted it, bad. I killed a neuroscientist and it didn’t matter? Just what was in those files? I had to know.
It seemed they weren’t going to off me after all, so I went back to my condo in Lower Lonsdale, North Vancouver. A good place to blend in, crowded condos in a growth area. Mine was spare and still needed art on the walls. A doubled fee would enable me to buy plenty to fill my space. I thought about pieces I'd seen in galleries recently.
My computer was a lot safer and had way more gear than the hotel courtesy computers had had. With the appropriate cable I plugged into the port piercing my thigh, through the centre of a tattoo. The port was in flames, and a phoenix rose above, symbolizing my life and what was to come of it. Right now the flames were hotter than ever.
I had a look at the files on my drive. Three were in formats I didn’t recognize, one was a database with coded statistics, and there was a text file. Somebody still used ASCII? But it was one of the many programs installed on my system, so I opened the file. It was a letter.
Accompanying this is everything you need for Project Tesla. The results are exhaustive; especially regarding electrical conductivity in synapses and electrolytes, but the paranormal tests are the most promising. I’m excited about the possibilities in Project Tesla. Neurovisual electrical shocks transmitted by telemetry, it's within reach. The applications are as intriguing as they are extreme. Let me know how things proceed with the chip, and we’ll keep going on our end as well.
So D was involved, he worked in a lab, he wasn’t just a data broker as I’d assumed. Neurovisual electrical shocks? From what I knew of Tesla, the inventor, the father of electricity, he’d worked to create a death ray from the atmosphere, the ionosphere. There were ion channels in neuroreceptors; were they related? How could - and then I thought about ways they could potentially apply it. Nasty.
Ken was obviously someone at the black market lab near Boston, working on paranormal bioweaponry. He wasn't the guy I’d killed, good thing. Otherwise D would have been after me, if not the lab.
I unplugged my thigh. Maybe I could leverage things a little.
I’d been a data mule long enough to have made deliveries to plenty of labs working on subversive schemes. Not all of it was meant to harm, in fact most of the work would be very beneficial if their radical theories held up, but I knew that Project Tesla would interest some people you could characterize as evil, or at least shady.
But, my past clients all been contacted and contracted through D, except a few through my ex-boyfriend Paul, who'd brought me into this business. I wouldn’t know how to reach them other than physically visiting the labs.
Which is what I did.
I took the next flight to LA and bought a new 9 mm Glock as soon as I was free of the airport. My old Glock, Greta, had had to be abandoned in a quick border crossing. I couldn’t think of a name for my new gun. It would come to me, these things couldn’t be forced.
I wore it in a hip holster on a police utility belt along with some pepper spray, handcuffs, taser, and a few other goodies. Intrigued by its variety, I bought it at the same place I picked up the printless handgun and an ankle holster. There was even a Velcro pocket for my cam cell phone - but not a radio. I sure wasn’t a cop.
I took an experimental drug, ergotaxeron, which made colours brighter and images sharper without being psychedelic, as well as tensing me into high-strung alertness. Sometimes a little extra cortisol in the mix didn't hurt.
With a pink low rise miniskirt, the belt lay against bare flesh, and below the hem you could see my high tech tattoo. Wetware. Pink platform wedgies made it all fashionable, pulled the look together. A sleek rental electric Toyota Maxivita completed it. I pressed down hard on the pedal, razor sharp, until I reached the lab.
I didn’t look anything like a neuronerd, which is probably why the receptionist at NeuroWare Labs looked at me dubiously when I said I’d like to see the Executive Director. Did I have an appointment? No. It was a matter of some urgency. He was busy. Back and forth it went until I said I was his niece and it was about an accident that had just befallen a family member. She gave in to that, and sent me down a hall with directions to his office.
I was lucky she didn’t come with me - his face was aghast when I appeared in his doorway. I’m sure I was a sight, with my gun belt and all. The phoenix wasn’t the only tattoo I had; my black distressed t-shirt revealed a full sleeve of artwork. It’s just that none of my other tattoos conceal silicone chips.
“I’m Jaclyn,” I said, simply enough. “And I have some information that I think will interest you.”
“Are you familiar with research going on around brain electricity? It’s a lot more than 25 watts, potentially.”
“How do you mean?” The director still hadn’t composed himself.
“It’s called Project Tesla. Heard of it?”
He got up, walked over to his door, and closed it.
“I thought Project Tesla was a rumour, a college fantasy.”
“I’ve got hard evidence. And I’m willing to sell a copy to you.”
“Sell a copy?”
“I’m not altruistic.”
“Yes, of course not,” he said scornfully. “Who is?”
“So are you interested or not? I’ve got other potential buyers, but I came to you first. Are you going to let me walk out of your office?”
He sighed and sat on the edge of his desk. I noticed the grey hair at his temples and thought about what it would be like to push a gun's barrel into it. Just an image.
“No. I don’t suppose I am. What do you want for it?”
“$500K. And 1000 tablets of dopamaxine.”
“What do you want dopamaxine for?”
I just smiled.
“$500,000 dollars is a lot of money.”
“And this is a lot of hot information. This could put your lab ahead of all your competition. Think of the grants you’d be able to get.”
“Yes, yes.” He pondered, but it didn’t take him long. “All right. I’ll do it. $50K? How?”
“On a secured credit card, please. Name of Rita Burrard.”
“How would I get that?”
I shrugged. “Talk to your bank. Other people have been able to get them, no problem.”
“Other people? I thought you were coming to us first?”
“I mean in the past. Project Tesla is new data, but I’ve carried other information. Maybe I could be useful to your organization in future.”
“I don’t know about that, but I’ll get you what you want. How will we proceed?”
“Start with the credit card. Once you’ve got that and the meds, send an email to my webmail account.”
“Webmail? That’s not secure.”
“It doesn’t have to be. ritaburrard @ you know; just say ‘jack me up’ and we’ll meet back here in your office the next day at noon. You’ll need a USNX cable.”
“Jack me up?”
“Are you hard of hearing?”
He flushed and scowled. “All right, Jaclyn, or Rita, whatever your name is, I’ll do what you want. But if the data’s not what you say it is, you’re not the only mercenary working in this field.”
“I know,” I said breezily. “See you later. Buh-bye!”
With that and a twirl of my skirt, I was gone.
It didn’t take him long to do everything I’d asked, but I was tense nonetheless because D was emailing, wanting me in NYC ASAP. I stalled with delayed emails. After a couple of days I met the director in his office again, and he was more relaxed, marveling at the design of my drive as he copied files from my thigh.
It was just in time. D insisted I meet some guy named Liam the next day at 1300 hours; I took the redeye across the continent and made it to the designated meeting place promptly.
Liam wasn’t so punctual. I was on the lookout for a red baseball cap in the sports bar, which wasn’t easy; there were a lot of caps. The Mets were playing and the bar was crammed. It was Liam who found me first; I asked how he knew it was me.
“You’re nearly the only woman in here, and the only one with a gun on her ankle.”
“True enough. Smart boy.”
He didn’t contradict me.
“You’re also smart enough to bring something to copy the files onto? And a cable?”
“Of course I am,” he said, rebuking me. I just shrugged. After that unfortunate lethal encounter outside Boston, I had to ask.
“Then snuggle up,” I said, and pretended I was his girlfriend. I nuzzled at his neck while he jacked into my thigh. I ignored the sexuality of it all. He had what he wanted in less time than it took a teenager to come and left just as fast. He left my drive empty, deleting files as he’d copied them off. The end of another job. I was blank.
I drank my draft beer, slowly. Listened to the buzz of conversation, the cheers when the home team scored a run. I took a dopamaxine to make me a little happier. Sports bars weren't in my comfort zone.
Thought about twos - double agents, double dealing, doubled fees. Then it came to me. My new gun? Her name is now Gemini.
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