Coercion

“Just give me one reason why I should meet this fucking twat” arms folded, chin raised, Laure glared at the doctor. Her PAWare had recently supplied a rundown of her new sleeve. She was less than impressed.

“But you must” Jarred wheedled “He’s gone to a lot of effort to organise all this”

“This is organised!?”

“Look, just meet him and hear what he’s got to say, okay?”

“I’d just as soon gut the fucker”

“Oh, come on...” the doctor begged “Please. I’m screwed if you don’t meet him. He’ll space my kids!”

“What!?” Laure snapped in outrage “Tell me that’s not true!”

Jarred sagged “Yeah, okay, it’s not true” he confessed “I’m just trying to get you onside since there’s a lot at stake here. All he wants is to meet - Please?”

Briefly closing her eyes, Laure breathed out a long sigh. If the guy was as desperate as the doctor suggested, he was going to catch up with her one way or another, and it wouldn’t do to have him too pissed off with her when he did.

In any case, she reasoned, she still wanted to know what had happened to the rest of the Plastic Star’s crew. Had they been resleeved? Where were they?

“Fine” she conceded “Don’t make me regret this”

“You won’t, I assure you”

Ushered into a small counselling room a few moments later, Laure was left alone to idly scrutinise the AR tags on the wall, detailing the various upgrade options available for the latest Sevo lungs.

Amid information blossoming around her about rebreathers and neoblood interchangers, the door opened to to admit a smartly dressed, tanned and heavy set man, with a clean shaven head. Laure’s PAWare tagged him as Max Cortez, a recent arrival on the habitat, and overlaid feeds detailing his socials and extra information gleaned from his home network on Mars.

Overall, it seemed way too perfect to be genuine.

“Apologies for keeping you” his voice was deep and rich. Probably modulated. This man was corporate through and through. Laure started getting a bad feeling about this.

Lowering himself into a chair opposite her, he extended a hand “Max Cortez. How’re you doing?”

“I imagine you already know who I am?” Laure shook hands with him

“I do indeed” Cortez smiled as he settled back into his chair “How do you like your new body?”

“Can’t say I’m thrilled" Laure was still peevish “None of my mods; not one but three frigging X-Spots; tricked out pheromones and Dirtwalker feet - Did this thing come with you from Mars or something?”

Cortez shifted uncomfortably in his seat “It was the best available at such short notice”

“And it feels weird being female again” Laure said. This was going to make things awkward with a few of her lovers.

“I accept that it’s not ideal, but it doesn’t have to be forever” Cortez said, smoothly “In any case, that’s a top of the range Circle-A model you’ve got there”

“So?”

“So you know them, don’t you?”

“Yeah” Laure said, guardedly. She didn’t like where this was suddenly heading “This is their hab.”

“Indeed” Cortez leaned forward with a predatory smirk.

“Where are the rest of the Star’s crew?” Laure asked, in an attempt to try and maintain the upper hand in this discussion.

“Ah, yes, your compatriots” Cortez paused to regard her for a moment “I’ll be blunt, Laure - Can I call you Laure?” he didn’t bother waiting for an answer “Without your help, they’re utterly fucked”

“What!?”

“You heard perfectly well”

Laure regarded him coldly. Right then and there, she wanted to murder the supercilious shit. Back in her old sleeve she would have had been able to snap his neck so quickly that he wouldn’t even have have had time to react; but in this body...?

Probably not.

“Let me guess:” she struggled to keep the sneer out of her voice “You want a job doing?” she’d danced to this tune before “A job that requires my specific skills or contacts, that will get my crew resleeved once I complete it?”

“That’s about the size of it” Cortez was struggling to hide his displeasure.

“And what’s stopping me just vanishing into the night, once I agree to being blackmailed into this?”

“If you don’t, I’ll make sure your friends backups are erased forever”

“Impossible”

“I wouldn’t be so sure” Cortez rumbled. Fishing into a pocket, he extracted a cigarette packet sized metal box, which he set down on the table next to him “Proof we have access to the Circle-A Bank”

An AR tag sprang to life when he pressed one of the buttons on top of the box “Go ahead” he nodded.

Accessing it, Laure gasped as she was presented with a visualisation of one of her dead crewmates “Grinder?”

The woman wavered as full awareness returned and her eyes widened “Tagami? What the fuck? What happened to you?” shocked, she looked down at her semi-translucent hands “What’s going on!?”

“You’re being run in virtual” Laure tried to calm Grinder’s rising panic “There was an accident. I’ve been resleeved”

“Why haven’t I?”

Cortez interrupted the exchange “We moved her whole Version Tree to this unit” he tapped the box on the table “This is the only copy”

“What the fuck?” Grinder rounded on him.

“This could easily be simulated” Laure shrugged.

“Then you won’t mind if I just delete this ‘simulation’” Cortez’s hovered a finger over another button on the box.

“No. Don’t!” Grinder yelled as she lunged towards him, her ghostly fingers swiping ineffectually through his hand. She tried again “Please!”

Cortez rested his finger lightly on top of the purge button without depressing it “How sure are you this is just a simulation?”

“Tag - Tag - Please” Grinder turned to Laure, tears streaming down her face “Make him stop. I don’t want to risk it”

Laure cut the AR feed, leaving Grinder to her misery “Fine. I’ll do your job” she shook her head in irritation.

It was entirely possible that there were either other copies of Grinder, or that what she had seen had just been a simulation; but since Cortez had resleeved her, it was obvious that he had access to the Bank, so perhaps he really was telling the truth.

“Excellent” Cortez sat back in his chair with a smile on his face.

“So what is it that’s worth the lives of me and all my crew?”

“A briefcase - which was stolen from my associates just over an hour ago. At the moment, it remains unopened and is currently being hawked in the darker corners of the local Grid to the highest bidder”

“Why not put in a bid yourself?”

“We tried, but the scum that live on this hab run a mile as soon as they get even a whiff of any corporate meddling. Out here there are only a few degrees of separation between everyone; so I and my associates have had difficulty trying to recover our property.

“You, however,” he nodded at Laure “are already part of this extended little clique of anarchists; and your reputation carries more than a little weight around here. I want you to retrieve the briefcase - unopened - and return it to me”

“Is that it?” Laure frowned, knowing better than to ask what was in the briefcase. This deal absolutely stank.

“That’s it. In exchange for this simple task, I’ll resleeve your crew”

Expenses?”

Cortez fished in a pocket and pulled out a Clickchip, which he placed on the table, next to the metal box “Twenty thousand. Message me if you need any more”

Laure stood and scooped the ‘chip up from the table, briefly wondering if this sleeve was strong enough to brain Cortez with Grinders box. Probably not.

“Any other conditions?”

Cortez nodded once “We need the briefcase back within the next five hours”

“Fuck’s sake” Laure hissed and turned to hurry towards the door “I’ll message you when I have it”

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