Author : Marlan Smith

Rob ran into the bar and slammed the black leather bag down on the counter.

“Done! Gimme!” His eyes were wide with fear.

Hal looked at him, then down to the bag. He casually emptied his drink between thin lips and then smiled. “You know the arrangement. Not until I count the money.”

“Come on, Hal. This isn’t funny anymore,” Rob was trembling, a silent countdown running through his head. “I did everything you asked.”

“Oh, I agree,” said Hal. “Next time though, maybe you’ll think twice before claiming such an extravagant loan, eh?”

He looked at Rob from down his long, thin nose. He thought for a moment then presented the liquid-filled, synthetic diamond glass, which Rob snatched away from him.

It was a yellow mixture, on the rocks, and slightly cloudy from the millions of nanomachines that swarmed inside the liquid. Each tiny device, no larger than a single cell was a hunter-killer drone designed to track down and destroy the same number of microscopic robots currently swimming through Rob’s bloodstream. Only Hal knew the exact number.

Rob lifted the glass, but Hal gripped his arm abruptly. A shrill little whine escaped Rob’s lips as he thought he might spill the drink. Even one drop lost could mean thousands of artificial prions roaming unchecked through his brain. He estimated roughly a half hour before they began burrowing like tiny drills through his soft gray matter.

“It had better all be here,” said Hal, his cold eyes level on Rob’s. “Maybe next time you’ll toast a business deal a little more carefully, eh?”

He laughed and released Rob’s arm. The glass trembled. Rob gripped it in both hands, carefully lifting it to his lips. The cocktail slid frictionless over the nano-tempered glass, specially engineered to allow every molecule to pass over its surface unscathed. Not a single drop was wasted.

Rob swallowed greedily, slammed the glass down and ran a hand through his spiky hair, crunching the ice in his teeth. He swallowed and let out a long, lip-pursed breath, a silent “whooooo!”

Hal opened the bag, blinked. “I think we have a problem here, Rob. You’re short.”

“I think you have bigger problems than that,” said Rob, now smiling. “About how much Mad Cow Special would you say someone could purchase with all that money?”

Hal scowled back at him, knuckles white on the handles. Then suddenly his expression softened. His eyes went wide, then glassy. Hal blinked. Looked up at the bartender. The tall man winked back. As Hal’s hand began to tremble, Rob stretched lithely along the bar.

“It can buy quite a bit,” Rob said. “And with money left over to bribe the barkeep.”

A tick formed along one side of Hal’s face as Rob stood up, adjusted his collar and took a second bag, handed to him by the bartender. He then bounced out the door as Hal slumped in his stool, staring at nothing.

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