Author : R. Daniel Lester

The call came out of the clear blue. From the suburbs, beyond the gates. A woman, speaking in a whisper, said, I’ve heard you help. Can you help?
He said, No guarantees.
She said, Get my daughter before she really hurts herself. Corner of Peco and Ash.
He knew what that meant: GIFbaby. Another party girl walking on the wild side. He got the details: height, description, etc. He played it professional. He had two terms. One: no crossing. He had border fear. And any day without a body scan and a cavity search was a good day in his books. Two: an envelope of cold, hard currency at the exchange.
The caller agreed. She said, Please hurry.

The main place to score in the city was a 10-block radius of burned out buildings and half-demolished skyscrapers. Zone Zero, where the worst of the bombing and rioting had taken place. Once the glossy hub of glass and concrete, now a maze of rebar and rubble.
GIF was street slang for the latest designer drug to be plunged through the ruined veins of the city. Other names: Loop, Loopy, Stucky, Same Ol’. A common side effect being repeated actions in its user, a brain on replay. The trip you were on depended at what timecode in the movie you were starring in that your brain hit stop, hit rewind, hit play, hit repeat. Good trip: blissed out magic carpet ride. Bad trip: nanobot nightmare.

He went to Peco. He followed it to Ash. Rough territory. The anti-tech gangs roamed the streets. Lately, they named themselves after old movie stars. They were both nostalgic and vicious. He got a pass. He was local. He was a certified no-chipper.
He walked across the open-air plaza of a 50-storey with half the floors it used to have. He saw a GIFhead in a beg-for-change loop. He saw a GIFhead with no teeth and one milky cataract eye. He saw citizens cut a wide path around a girl in a shiny dress and high heels. He saw her roll an ankle. He saw the girl fall down stairs. He saw the girl on autopilot. She stood. She limped back up the stairs. She fell. She was loop-fucked. He got closer. Her palms and knees were raw, scraped. She didn’t feel it yet. She was GIFfing hard.
When she hit the bottom stair, he grabbed her. Her body wanted to move. Needed to. He didn’t let her go. She went, Wha? Her eyes were all pupil. She dribbled spit and blood. There was a tooth on her jacket, stuck to the lapel.

He escorted her to the gates. She limped barefoot. She sobered up as they walked. He snagged an empty pill bottle from an abandoned corner store and dropped her tooth inside. She rattled the tooth around in the bottle. She handed over the rest of her stash.
He said, You’re lucky. If the Dead Astaire’s had found you first.
She nodded. She said, My mom?
He said, Yes.
She said, Shit.

The woman waited on the other side of the gates while a burly member of the family’s personal security/kill team traded her daughter for the envelope. The mercenary was teched out–ocular rig, smart armor, reflex enhancers–and looked at him like he was nothing. Like he was a chimp behind zoo bars scratching his balls.

He traded the GIF for a baggie of pure Columbian. At home, he hand ground the coffee beans. He boiled water. He sipped slow. He savoured. The taste, a rare thing, knocked him out at the knees.

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