In the bathroom, Matthias withdrew a small, unmarked plastic tub from a cabinet behind the mirror and pulled off his shirt. Using his left hand, he covered the right arm in a transparent viscous liquid, coating from the elbow to his fingertips, paying extra attention to the circle of terminated skin on his forearm. Once the liquid had settled, he took a roll of gauze, and between his left arm and his teeth, struggled to wrap the arm completely.
The following night, he stepped out of a teleporter into a murky bar. The room was circular, the bar a central hub, black stools lined the counter, while around the outside an endless array of booths embraced the shadows. A bartender stared as he paused to survey the room. With a lack of windows, the bar was lit completely from within. With no reference to time or location, the bar may as well have been on the moon for a sense of place. Vibrant blue strips lined the intersections of floors and walls, blacklights shone down from above, dance beats reverberated through grimy floorboards. A scattered collection of strangers with conspicuous body modifications – facial tattoos and piercings, but also false arms and legs, a man with an ear replaced with a mechanical device, another with glowing eyes lined the bar. A few spoke quietly, ear to ear, but most were focused on their drinks, and some their reflection as it gazed back at them from a mirror behind the bar.
Circling the bar, Matthias looked for Stacey among the booths, noticing there were a greater number sitting in the shadows. The readings from the crowd were tumultuous: Bionic arms, legs, hearts, ears, eyes. Enhancement upgrades modified minds, sharpened limbs, others simply elevated the appearance. The air was thick with nanotechnological virii, a host of which were attempting to latch on to Matthias like a whale taking parasites as it navigated the ocean. He found Stacey sitting alone, sipping an amber drink in a short glass, dressed to her usual form: short and sharp. With her vibrant eyes, fluid figure and black locks of hair collecting about a full chest, she needed no augmentation.
‘Hi,’ Matthias smiled, pulling into the seat opposite. ‘I hope you weren’t waiting long?’
‘Not at all,’ she smiled. ‘Would you like a drink?’
‘Isn’t that my line?’
‘I think I’ll just get a latte,’ he answered.
‘Try The Commander,’ she urged. ‘It’s coffee, just with an extra kick.’
‘I thought we were just having coffee,’ he smirked.
‘Oh, its coffee! Just with something a little extra. You’ll like it.’
‘Well, if you say so.’
Stacey tapped a button in the centre of the table, illuminating a tablet built into the table top. With two taps of a finger, she entered the order.
‘Nice,’ Matthias commented, ‘we those at work.’
‘I know, right? It would save on the queues. So how was your day?’
‘Weird.. actually. Someone broke into my house and tampered with my dog.’
‘Really? That’s terrible. I hope he’s alright.’
‘Yeah, he’ll be fine. Still.. more concerned about the break-in.’
‘Of course! Did they take anything?’
‘I don’t think so.’
A bartender emerged beside them and placed his drink on the table before vanishing just as quickly. The Commander was a mammoth coffee in a tall glass, a dense layer of cream at the head. Stacey watched as he drew a taste. Besides the coffee he sensed traces of a benign hallucinogen and narcotic stimulant. Blinking, he feigned a reaction. ‘Damn. You weren’t kidding about the extra kick.’
Stacey smiled. ‘You like it?’
‘I.. yeah,’ he smiled. None of it would have any effect.
‘You said someone tampered with your dog..’ she prompted.
‘Yeah, his name is Berkeley, he’s a Man’s Best Friend.’
‘Really?’ she laughed.
‘..I’m not really a cat person. He gives me someone to talk to, keeps my secrets,’ he grinned, ‘You know. It works.’
‘I’d love to meet him.’ Stacey lowered her hand beneath the table to scratch her leg, knocking her purse onto the floor from the seat beside her.
‘Oh.. sorry, I’m.. just a sec.’
Leaning down to retrieve it, she brushed Matthias leg with a finger, leaving a mechanical flea which burrowed into the fabric of his clothing.