from "Feed the Hand that Bites You"

“Okay Ben,” says Jojo, putting too much emphasis on the name. His sleeveless black pullover bears the logo of the Abnation: a capital N in a circle, horizontal line through the center. The designer of the graphic has represented the N as a red lightning bolt, extending beyond the circle's perimeter and tapering off into wicked points above and below.

Mikal blinks. He's suddenly afraid, and he's not sure why.

The solid credit card hovers into the space between them, waving gently up and down. Its NIN and current value bob up and down above it in aug reality, green for Mikal and blue for Jojo. “My friend Ben needs to leave a message for the Pan Sibs,” says Treat, with similar emphasis. “He's vetted. I reset his systems and cleaned up his wake.”

“On you, then.”

“It's always all about me, honey.”

Jojo sniffs and nods his head, takes the card. “Right.” He looks at Mikal again. “You don't touch a thing, got it? You dictate, I drive.”

Mikal nods, unsure if he should say anything.

Jojo pulls a reclining chair out from under a worksurface. “Sit.” He begins fiddling with the 'faces of various systems, hands flying as he negotiates a secure and scrambled connection to the Dark Net.

Mikal sits, perched nervously on the edge of the recliner. Treat pulls up CitizenReporter and filters its output through CityMap, creating a realtime display of Muni datapoints. A lookout.

“What's your message, Ben?”

Mikal opens his mouth, his mind a blank. He's rehearsed this message dozens of times in his head, reducing it to its shortest and most elegant form, but now he can't remember it. “Um, well, I have proof of, uh, Theorem 32,” he stammers. One of the many theories posited on anticiv nodes regarding the identity of Slothrop. “Can't explain here. Can we meet? Um... I need to stay dark.”

Jojo looks back at him, then at Treat. Treat nods and shrugs, one eyebrow raised.

“Alright,” says Jojo, turning his attention back to Mikal. “You'll receive a Rent-a-Pet coupon when your message is received. You'll receive the NIN of a dropserver in a personal ad on LocalHub if your message gets a response. Got it?”

Mikal nods. “Got it. And thank you.”

A skull and crossbones appears in the air in front of Jojo, grinning malevolently, all glowing green vectors with an ultraviolet aura. The skull seems to be winking. “Authenticate,” it says.

“Jojo Loner. Lunatic Fringe. Bite me.” Jojo touches a control on his utility glove and a small icon flies into the skull's mouth.

The skull laughs and grows until it fills the space, open mouth encircling them all.

# # #

- from "Feed the Hand that Bites You" by Tod Foley

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