Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Peck met Richards at the door of the diner. They stood staring at each other without speaking for a long minute before Peck opened the door and ushered his partner inside.

Gwynne was at a booth in the very back corner. There was a halo of empty seats surrounding her that was too noticeable in the busy restaurant not to be deliberate.

“Gwynne Yones?” Richards asked the question. The woman in the booth looked up at each of their faces before waving them into seats across from her at the table.

“You’re the men from, where was it again?” Gwynne returned to cutting slices of what appeared to be natural bacon with a vibrablade, the instrument slicing effortlessly through the meat and causing the plate to hum gently on the table.

“New New York,” Peck answered, “we understand you’re in the printing business.” Two statements, the second wasn’t a question.

She skewered a slice of fried potato and a piece of bacon. “I may be. What exactly are you looking for?” She put the forkful of food in her mouth, then chewed slowly as she continued to study the two men.

“One hundred packages, one hundred kilos each. Unique serial numbers. Mixed” Richards leaned into the table as he spoke, hands folded in front of him.

Yones pushed a piece of fried egg around the plate, chasing it into what was left of the pile of home fries before scooping both into her mouth. She chewed thoughtfully and swallowed before answering.

“Unique serial numbers are a bitch. That will cost extra.” Peck flinched noticeably. “Where are you circulating?”

“What business is that of yours?” Peck snapped. “As long as you get paid real money, what do you care what we do with the product?” His nerves were visibly frayed, his voice raised. There was something here, something…

“I’m an artist, and a connoisseur, and a businesswoman Mr. Peck,” she placed the fork on the nearly empty plate, the blade disappearing into a pocket. “I need to know where my product is in circulation so that we can, all of us, avoid the dangers of oversaturation and the increased likelihood of discovery that brings.” She smiled almost imperceptibly. “I’m the best because my work goes undetected, and that’s good for me, and good for you.” She straightened her shirt sleeves, and then very deliberately checked her watch, an old analog affair. The large, man’s sized timepiece conspicuous on her thin olive wrists.

Richards shot Peck a sidelong glare before catching himself and answering. “Nothing around here, we’ll be distributing in New New York, and over several months.”

She folded her hands on the table, strummed her nails on the polished surface one single time.

“Thirty percent up front, the balance when you collect the merchandise.”

She watched as a vein started to pulse in Peck’s temple.

“Ten percent.” Richards was notably more collected than his partner.

“If you knew me, you would know I don’t negotiate. I don’t print until I have thirty percent up front in hard, real currency.”

“Twenty.” He tried again.

“Do you know how much work it is to secure unique serial numbers? Ones that will pass close scrutiny? And there are very complex anti-counterfeiting measures woven into the genuine article minted by the state, none of that is easy to reproduce.

“Fine. But if you screw us–”

“If I wanted to screw you, there would be nothing you could do about it at any percentage,” she cut him off in mid-sentence, “and screwing is bad for business.” She finished, smiling. “I’m here every morning for breakfast. Come back when you have the front money.”

With that, Yones slipped out of the bench seat and to her feet in one fluid motion, and without looking back walked through the diner and out the front door.

“What the–” Peck started.

“Don’t.” Richards cut him off. “Not here.”

Outside Gwynne dialed as she walked, then spoke quietly, her voice encrypted at the voice box.

“Start combing the lost off-world database for viable serials. We’ll need male and female, fifty of each. Make sure we can get organic material and skeletal scaffolding to print on short notice. I think our new friends are cops, or private military, so they’re either trying to arrest me, or they’re buying a small private army.” At the end of the street, she turned the corner and descended into the subway. “So we get thirty percent and two potentially valuable serials, or one hundred percent and a little new world anarchy. Either way, a win.”