The Difference Salt Makes

Carlos didn’t want to appear suspicious, so he stayed in a doorway three houses down from the corner. He tried to distract himself, thinking about the possibilities of using curry sauce in chicken Kiev, but he kept looking at the corner. Carlos wanted this to be over as soon as possible, so he wouldn’t have to worry anymore. Skott had said it was simple. Meet the girl–who Carlos would know as soon as he saw, Skott assured him–make the trade, leave. That’s it.

Skott didn’t mention that Carlos would be thinking about the worst-case scenario over and over again. By the time the girl showed up two minutes late, Carlos had already envisioned himself be arrested, convicted and eyed by a gorrilla of a cell-mate named “Big Beauford.”

Skott was right, Carlos recognized her instantly. “I’m Saki,” the girl said when Carlos approached. “Are you Skott’s friend?” Even in street clothes, Saki looked like she was wearing a lab coat. Poor girl was probably born in one. She was pretty, though, in that little Japanese girl way. Carlos like the way her faded-pink hair brought out her dark eyes from behind her glasses.

“I’m a friend of anyone who’s eaten my coconut and wasabi custard pie. One bite, and you’ll know why.” It was a standard line Carlos used around girls at parties; it was the only thing he could think of. Big Beauford was still weighing very heavily on his mind.

“Heh,” Saki said, without any sort of humor. “You’re funny. You got the chow mein?”

“Hot and fresh,” said Carlos, as he handed over the paper bag stuffed with Chinese carry-out containers. Saki opened one of them, appraising the scavenged processor chips Carlos and Skott had spent all of the afternoon ripping out of junked motherboards. “You’re looking at enough processor power to run a small defense grid, you hook ’em up right. I brought the chow mein, you got the egg-drop soup?”

Saki shifted the bag to her left hip and dug into the right pocket of her jacket, removing a small translucent-plastic pod. “Here. It wasn’t easy to get, but I got it.”

Carlos cracked open the pod. Inside was a blob of silver and black, slowly swirling with the slight shaking of his hands. Thin, straight wires stuck out from the goo, giving the it the appearance of a melted spider. This was the goods. Top of the line. Unhackable. Uncorruptable.

Bioware.

“I don’t know what you think you’re going to with that.” Saki said after Carlos had slipped the pod into his pocket. Her voice was low, a hurried whisper. “You can’t hack it. There’s no code. The programming is part of its structure. I know Skott is all about open sourcing everything, but this tech cannot be brought to the people, okay? It can’t be done. You’d have to be some sort of biologist to take it apart.–”

“Thanks for your help, Saki,” Carlos said, turning away.

“No!.” Saki thrust the word so hard against her clenched teeth that Carlos felt her saliva on the back of his neck. “Tell you what you’re going to do with that! You owe me that much, after what I’ve been through!”

Carlos’s posture softened when she grabbed his arm. Her hands were so small; delicate for a lab monkey. Carlos found himself imagining what else she could do with those hands. “Everything comes apart, Saki. That’s what biology teaches us. It’s how it comes together that makes it work.”

“But how could it possibly–”

“Because biological components aren’t just stacked like blocks, they’re mixed in specific amounts. They’re recipes. And any cook worth his salt will tell you that any recipe can be simplified or improved upon.” Saki looked at him blankly behind her thick glasses. Skott would approve of this, surely. This was bringing enlightenment to the people, wasn’t it? “Here, why don’t you come back to my place. I’ll explain everything with some curry sauce and a handful of dill.”

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