Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer

The Amour Club is light on love and heavy on by-the-minute. It’s popular with non-johns as the full-time privacy mode prevents surveillance and squashes infobuzz down to a whisper of priority feeds.

I usually enjoy being anywhere that quietens my ConstantTouch and serves JD in liquid form. But the Amour’s regulars are lowlifes who’ll never make it, because talk is cheaper than decisions and appearances are cheaper than experience. Tonight, however, I’m being paid to put up with them for a while.

“Lincoln Shields, as I live and breathe. Who cracked your rock and drove you into the light?”

The comedian on my left is Vinny Roe. The cybernasty on my right is Vinny’s latest goon, Clem. No surname on record. No specialities, either; he’ll do anything that pays him to hurt people.

Vinny waves at the ancient robot bartender – this place is so cheap it won’t even hire an android.

“Get Mister Shields another of whatever mouthwash he’s having. I’ll have Venusian Absinthe.”

Making a production of getting a RealTaste Winston out, I pocket the pack, then pause with a bulky lighter in my hand: “Why the generosity, Vin?”

I see him wince. He hates being called that. I hear Clem’s Gaffin Bodyframe power up. Time to offline my cyberware.

“Can’t a condottierre buy an old comrade a drink without implying ulterior motive?”

He’s been at the thesaurus datachips again. Just what I need when the world has turned dull and my body weighs a ton. I hate being offline.

“We’re not comrades and you never led. If you didn’t keep avoiding me on the streets, we’d have fought and I’d be drinking alone.”

Vinny stiffens. The locale goes quiet. Different jungle; same danger signs.

A skeletal hand wrapped in Gaffin exoskeleton alights on my shoulder like a twenty-kilo parrot. I hear my tendon reinforcements squeak.

“Mister Roe don’t like your tone, Lincoln.”

“Mister Del Crista didn’t like what you did to his daughter, Clem.”

I see Vinny’s eyes go round, which tells me Clem’s making a move. I squeeze the very special lighter and it compresses with a ‘click’. I feel the EMP gallop up my arm and wallop my inactive headware. My vision goes squiffy and my guts flip-flop. I wouldn’t want to have active cyberware right now. Or be bonded into a street-spec exoskeleton – something like a Gaffin Bodyframe.

Clem squeals, gargles, and oily vomit spatters my shoulders.

As the semi-synthetic mess runs down the back of my duster, I turn to look a dying murderer in his one natural eye.

“You went too far with bodmods, yet still expected women to swoon over your implanted macho bollox? That would be sad, except for your problem with rejection. You had yourself hardwired for violence. Did you really think your cyberpsychosis wouldn’t get bloodily creative when a pretty girl slapped you? Or didn’t you care?”

No answer: I’m ranting at a corpse.

Bringing my wares back online, I turn back to see Vinny draped across the bar like a cheap overcoat. A quick status check via his medihost confirms that his half-cybered ticker wasn’t EMP-hardened like all the legal ones are.

I slide him off the bar, then reach over and take the bottle of JD from the EMP-fried bartender’s grip. Pouring a shot, I turn to eyeball at the surviving punters.

“Word of advice: never skimp on your bodmods, people. Cheap cyberware will always fail you when you need it most.”

I down the shot and leave. The crowd parts before me, then mills about indecisively behind. Like I said: never going to make it.