Author: Olivia Black, Staff Writer

It’s 4 am and Leed’s alarm doesn’t go off for another hour. It feels like she’s barely closed her eyes and the socket at her temple is hot and achey from overuse. There’s no use trying to force more sleep, she knows from experience that she’ll just end up groggy and sluggish all day if she does. Today’s already going to be hard enough. Maybe getting up early isn’t such a bad thing. Jetta will die of laugher to see it. Leed has never been a morning person. Well — that was before.
Now it’s all riding through empty streets before the sun’s even up to get across town to open up shop. She runs the last data salvaging operation on this side of the country. No one has their physical data storage anymore and all the big firms use in-house techs. Most of her business is mailed in from municipalities still using outdated tech no one else knows how to work with, and those are becoming rarer and rarer. Won’t be more than a couple years before she’s out of business altogether, what with the new data redundancy and transparency laws coming into effect. A sane person would have closed out and moved on, but the shop was always Jetta’s dream. Can’t let go of it now.
The morning ride is always the worst — it’s all uphill until the cloud district, where the vast expanse of state-run data servers are maintained. The towering glass fortresses with their militarized security loom over the streets. The shop’s tucked away on the far fringe, the last storefront in the district that hasn’t succumbed to virtualization. Not that you’d know it from looking at it. Someone’s set off an enzyme bomb on the display window so now the whole thing is a mottle of electric blues and purples. Leed never bothered with cleaning it off. It’s not like there’s any foot traffic to deter.
Inside the shop smells like fresh coffee from the auto-brew with a strong under layer of dust, solder, and mouldering plastic. She shuffles about the shop, turning on monitors and holo-displays. Most of it’s for show, really. And it hardly makes a difference amidst the heaps of dead tech and spare parts that have accumulated in every available nook and cranny.
The last step is to spin up her private servers in the back — technically, she’s only licensed for virtual servers and short-term storage. Owning your own hardware is a big no-no. Not that it doesn’t happen. There’s a lot of money to be made in the underground data trade. With the right skillset and access to lots of old-fashion components, it’s not so hard to cobble something together. Leed happens to have both and motivation to boot. Commercial virtual servers aren’t up to the demands of hosting a human memory matrix, even if they’d let you try. Active personality storage is experimental tech at best, an ethical quagmire primed for abuse at worst. To Leed, it’s worth the risk.
Today is the day Leed’s been working toward. She’s bringing Jetta online. She’s finally not going to be alone anymore.
There’s still a few minutes of diagnostics to run before she can really knuckle down, which means she’s finally able to get at that pot of coffee. Massaging her much-abused data port, she meanders into the tiny break room. The first thing she clocks is the pot is already half empty. The second is the woman in a cheap suit clutching her favourite mug, badge resting on the rickety table.
“We gotta talk about your extracurricular activities.”