image copyright: Dmitry Sorokin

“I don’t need any more screw-ups, boy-o,” Silas said, waving his hands in front of him, as if to ward off some hex. “There’s a lot of movement on the ground, so we all need to be bloody fucking careful. Understand?”

Deck followed him closely behind as they plodded up the stairwell to Hyousuke’s apartment. Whatever Roland is up to has him spooked. I understand that.

“I hear ya, boss. I’ll keep shit squeaky and clean from here out,” Deck quipped.

Silas chuckled at him. “I believe you about as much as like you, Deck.”

Gotta press on him. Get ahead of this storm.

“I was in Hasan’s today, on my side of town. A couple of Roland’s enforcers, Zeke and some other cunt — Orion, I think — were in there trying to put the squeeze on the old man,” Deck informed him. He watched Silas roll the bridge of his nose between his fingers. “The old man wanted me to ask for your protection. Said he’s tired of the Uptown bullshit, boss,” Deck added, hoping that would be enough to sway him.

Silas sighed and rapped on the door to Hyousuke’s, number 1654. “If I can spare a couple guys, I’ll get ’em over there to help keep the peace. Hasan’s always been a good customer,” he said flatly.

He really is contemplating all of this deeply. Something big is going down.

Silas banged at the door again. “HYOUSUKE! OPEN THE SODDING DOOR, YOU MIDDLING CUNT!”

The locks hissed open and heavy hap-trance blasted out into the hall. Silas and Deck stepped inside the dimly lit apartment. The music blared from a wall-to-wall system, and the walls were lined with pulsing strip lights, flickering violets, crimsons, and aquamarines with each rapid beat of the drums. Hyousuke was in his underwear, strapped into his haptic harness on his ad-hoc vee-deck.

Sonofabitch looks like he’s swimming, Deck thought to himself, chuckling. Hyousuke was skinnier than last time Deck saw him. His spindly, wiry arms waved to and fro as though he might be conducting an orchestra. He’s surfing through code, Deck knew, throwing crackers and jammers at it until something sticks.

Silas was growing impatient. He swung his fist down on the metal table where the shrimpy hacker’s vee-deck arrays were piled together and looped into one another. The haphazard collection bounced up and clattered back together from the impact. Hyousuke jerked in his harness and threw back his headset.

His cheeks were beet red, and though he looked angry enough to snap, Hyousuke kept it to himself. Unstrapping himself from the harness, he spoke meekly to them.

“Boss. Deck. Just finishing up some identity crawlers for the dummy sites we talked about last week,” he said, laying the hap-suit and head set on the vee-deck railing. Trotting over to a pile of clothes on a sofa against the back wall of his sparse living room, he asked them what they needed of him.

“Open this up and tell me what Deck’s ‘good feeling’ looks like,” Silas said frankly, tossing Deck’s sniffer to Hyousuke.

He smiled just a little. “I love this little guy, Deck. It’s wizard’s work,” he laughed, wagging it over his head as he slid into a ratty pair of jeans. Hyousuke stepped back to the vee-deck cluster and connected the sniffer to an off-net box.

“I’m going to open it up in isolation in case it’s hotter than usual. Marcee, project node six on main feed,” he ordered the vee-deck’s assistant.

“Of course, Yo-soo-kee. Resolving feed…” Marcee’s simulated voice chirped back. Hyousuke shook his head.

“All the shit I can fix and I can’t make her not butcher my damn name.”

Hyousuke slipped on just the gloves of the hap-suit and began to maneuver through menu after menu. When he got to “DECK’S DRIVE” on the tray, he gripped it and slid the frame open with both hands. Inside were two encrypted data caches. One was significantly larger than the other, Deck noticed.

Nearly fifty gigs. Has to be something worth a damn.

Worth the trouble.

“Well, my boy,” Silas bellowed, slapping Deck on the back. “It certainly looks the part. How long until I get my Christmas present?”

Hyousuke leaned on the table, swiping through the code in the air. Sienna lines of alphanumerics washed through the room in stiff waves.

“A couple days, boss. This wall looks cor-por-ate as hell,” he remarked, isolating blocks of code. He tilted his head back, gawking at them both upside down. “Where’d you get this, Deck?”

Silas bristled a bit and turned to Deck, looming over him some. “I’d like to know the same, boy-o. Seeing as I had to come to your rescue at the peep-n’-jerk earlier,” he said, smirking.

Deck held up his hands. “Some skylarks on the sidewalk. Couple prim-and-proper gals,” Deck said, pacing a bit. “It has to be something important. You only have a guard dog on your shit if you’re afraid someone might try to take it.”

Silas bellowed with laughter. “As I too often have to remind you, son: you’re not as dumb as you look.” Turning toward the door, he called out to Hyousuke, “Two days. Bring it by the shop. Don’t leave it with no one. Straight to me. Got me?”

“Got it, boss. On your desk,” the frail codemonkey replied, whipping his head back to the code. “Deck. Before I forget, you left your knife here the other night. I set it on the table there.” Hyousuke pointed behind him toward the small stand by the door. Upon it lay his small sand-colored, polished bone-handled auto knife.

Deck picked it up and flicked the release, kicking the glinting carbon steel blade out with a satisfying SNICKT. “Thanks, man. I completely forgot about her,” he said, pulling back the release, and the blade with it. “I must have had too many beers the other night.” Deck put the blade back in his pocket.

As the apartment door slid open, Silas and Deck stepped into the hall, they heard Hyousuke call out, “S’all good, man. Take it easy.” Hap-trance began to blare once more as the door sealed and locked itself.

Gotta figure out what’s going on with all this.

Something don’t smell right.

Deck pulled his cigarettes from his coat and lit up, inhaling and exhaling deeply.

“So, boss. What’s going on Uptown? What’s Roland pulling?” he said, turning to Silas.

Silas towered over him and pressed him to the wall with only one of his newly augmented fingers. “Not a word of this gets out, or I snap your goddamn hands off like I did the poor bastard who told me this. You understand?” he snarled grimly through his teeth.

Dropping his cigarette, Deck deflated some. “Yeah, boss. Mum’s the word.”

He could smash head like a grape with no effort.

Silas stepped back from him and sighed.

“Somewhere in the city, all the bosses except for me are sitting around a table, carving up everything I’ve worked for. Up until today, they was doing so quietly. The missus is having a sit down with that English cunt right now, trying to get me a room with him,” Silas said, a touch of concern written across his face, “…so’s I can make peace.”

Enora? Why would you do that?

“Do you think she can bring him around?” Deck pressed him, trying to mask his worry.

Silas stared down at his palm, balling and opening his fist. After a moment, he answered.

“She’s the most clever woman I’ve ever met in my life. One of the many reasons I asked her to marry me. Enora could make even that bloody snake of a man turn away before he tried to bite her.”

Deck leaned down and retrieved his cigarette.

On that, boss, we agree.

“So, what do we do now?” he asked him, inhaling.

Silas began down the staircase.

“You go see Morris and get paid. Then, you get back to fucking work,” he barked.

Walking slowly behind him, Deck slid open his phone and hovered over Enora’s page, over her sable hair, her blushing cheeks, and her pale skin.

Her jade eyes.

I’m not going back to work.