I sit nursing the beer, the bar noise a background thrum. The place is full of tech voyeurs. My Fingers absentmindedly circling the jack at the back of my skull.
I used to grow my hair to cover it, now, well now I simply don’t give a fuck.
I’m a remnant of another time, a goddamn relic.
Take Billy, the snot-nosed punk who shot his mouth off today.
Came into my bar, telling everyone he is hot shit, the future, that my stable ain’t worth their time.
Most ignored him, they know they get a job done, at a price they can pay. But this motormouth tells them he’s better, smarter, quicker, that I’m slacking, that jobs are going unfilled.
It’s bollocks, all talk, but it smarts a little. Advertising his shit in my bar.
I was quiet, I tell him to leave, take his pretty neural rig and fuck off, before it becomes a 10 million yen suppository.
That got a laugh.
Then the stupid punk made it personal.
So here I am nursing a beer, waiting till 12, the punks got show, I’ll give him that. Laying the challenge, setting a time, cute.
My watch beeps, and on cue, he walks in. Looking clean, neat. I gesture to the booth, and he sets out his kit, twin decks, with suited gloves, myomi neural rig, this kid has spent a shitload, and it’s well spent. I slide into the seat, all I got is me, this wet-wired jack, and a skull full of circuitry.
He fires twin shots of stim into his nostrils and I slide the jack home, blinking as the net takes shape.
I’ll be damned if he doesn’t look like an avenging angel, all bright light and huge. Me, I’m pretty much me, younger maybe and in fatigues but, it’s me.
He races towards the hub. Straight for the goal, and blisteringly fast.
I wait, weigh it up, then I wall him. Gentle, safe, the bright light closed on all sides, he’s going nowhere.
I trace up the wire, about the pull the jack, when I hear the fsst of more stim shots.
Dumbass kid, the cube starts to show light at the edges then the walls explode out and he’s there, 4 or 5 times bigger and strobing like a badass fucker. How much stim has he shot up?
I don’t want this, I know how this is going to pan out.
I think of just holding still, maybe it’s time, maybe just bow out. Then I hear his mouth running, stupid punk don’t know when to quit, don’t recognise the out I offered.
I watch him twitch, then his hand moves, mine matches, reflex, my shot maybe a few milliseconds faster, but it’s enough, it’s always enough.
I slump back, pull the jack, and watch the kid convulse in his chair. The neural rig, pulsing red, the decks dead, a thin line of blood trickling from his ear.
I fight the rising bile, shirk free of the back slaps, the congratulatory murmur, hating it all right now.
Stepping into the street, I breathe a lungful of the fetid air and walk through the crowds. Lifting my head, the neon bar sign reflected, “larroC KO”. For now, I want to escape, get wasted, maybe tomorrow I’ll head back. Maybe I won’t, there’s always a new punk, someone wanting to show how quick they are. How old I am. For them it’s pride. For me, for us, it’s what we were made for. The first and the last digital grunts.