Situated among the Mars Trojans, the Eternal Supplication of Goats was the jewel in the crown of the Circle-A biocollective. A rotating, hollowed out asteroid that they’d boosted in from the outer system, it bristled with external towers, each counterbalanced and anchored in place by struts that criss-crossed the interior.

The centrifugal gravity afforded by the habitat’s rotation quickly diminished as Laure rode the El up from the infirmary in Spire 24, heading towards the Carnival, near the centre of the asteroid; the gripads on her boots activating to anchor her to the floor as the carriage finally slowed to a halt at the axis. A short, annoying walk, with her long hair billowing around her in zero-g; a wait for a connection, and a five stop ride down the line saw her arrive at her destination.

To the uninitiated, the Carnival of the Goat was an assault to the senses. A chaotic hive of jerry-rigged pods and stalls, it flourished like a cancer along the walkways and struts that stretched between towers. Flivvers soared through the sultry gloom overhead, while in the distance, the neon effigies of the Zero Kult burned brightly, drifting slowly between the twisting spider web of towers. Everywhere you looked, AR tags blistered to life and the air was full of exotic scents and the sound of vendors hawking their wares to the crowds that thronged the gantries.

From military grade hardware and pirated augs, to tricked out sleeves and kidnapped forks. Here, you could truly buy anything.

Slowing to take in the sight of the market, Laure took a deep breath of the spicy air and sighed it happily out. It had been some time since she had been here, but it felt good to be back. Had she the time, there were dozens of her family and hundreds of other contacts here that she would have liked to catch up with, but these would have to wait until she had located that briefcase.

Someone jostled her from behind, muttering a curse at the stupid dirtwalker, getting in his way, gawping at the pretty lights.

Twisting, Laure grabbed the man’s shoulder and slammed a fist into his solar plexus, winding him and doubling him over “Connasse!” she snarled as she pried the clickchip that he’d just lifted from her, out from between his fingers.

Grabbing a handful of his synthetic green hair, she pulled the man’s head back for a flat palm strike to spread his nose across his face.

“Please...” he coughed, weakly holding up his hands “No”

Fist raised, ready to strike, Laure wavered. This guy was nothing. In truth, she was more annoyed at herself for not thinking to secure the ‘chip properly, but she was so used to the respect that her old sleeve commanded, she hadn’t even considered it necessary.

Letting her hand fall, she released him and jerked her head “Go on. Piss off before I change my mind.”

He didn’t need telling twice and deactivating his boots, boosted himself away from the gantry as quickly as he was able, leaving Laure shaking her head in astonishment as she watched him go.

Un-fucking-believable. she mused Ash? Can you occasionally remind me that I’m nowhere near as much of a badass as I used to be.

[Certainly] the feminine voice of Laure’s PaWare entered her mind [You are no longer a cybernetically enhanced monstrosity. You are in fact soft, and pink, and very blonde.]

Not right now you obtuse twat Laure smiled in spite of herself as she turned and continued down the walkway towards the market Just - you know - when I forget

[Would that be before or after you try to step out of an airlock?]

Har har. Very funny.

[I try]

While you’re on, have a word with Goat Prime and find where the Seraphim is set up; or wherever Dee Dee is working at the moment

[Sure thing]

Ash returned a moment later with an AR overlay, directing Laure to where she needed to be; thoughtfully sticking to the gantries that were easier to negotiate without the prehensile feet many spacers had.

Another fifteen minutes of fending off pushy vendors looking to haggle over their wares, Laure arrived at the Seraphim; a large plastic geodesic, mounted on the underside of a support strut, linking towers fourteen and fifteen.

Expertly swinging herself around to the gantry, Laure deactivated her gripads and pushed off towards the entrance; sailing a good twenty metres through the air before she twisted to plant her feet on the doorframe and swing herself inside.

In spite of having been set up in an entirely new location, the busy bar seemed to have barely changed since the last time Laure had been there. Comfortably dark and gloomy, it was strung with fairy lights, coiled through the bioengineered vines and creepers that festooned the walls and ceiling. Dee Dee was, as usual, working behind the bar. Tall and graceful with long braided hair, her chrome arm caught the twinkling lights as she swung another crate of bottles up and snapped them into place in the chiller rack.

“Hey, Dee” Laure slipped into a chair at the bar.

Dee frowned, quizzically for a moment before her PaWare identified Laure.

“Tagami!?” she stared in disbelief “Shit, man. What the hell happened to you?”

“I had a touch of death”

Dee sucked her teeth “Tough break. Where did this happen?”

“Over Earth apparently. Did you hear anything about the ‘Star going down?”

“Nah. You guys have always been pretty cagey, but I’ve heard nothing in weeks, other than you working on some big secret or other” Dee shrugged, leaving Laure completely stunned. She had no memory of this.

“So what’s with that fancy new sleeve?” Dee pulled a fridge open and extracted a beer “Have you started identifying as female again, or are you just helping out while we’re busy? ”

“This fucking thing?” Laure grimaced as she accepted the bottle and cracked the drinking nozzle open “This is temporary. It’s embarrassing”

“Looks good to me” Dee winked.

“I’ll be sure to leave your deets for the next owner”

“Hey, don’t knock it - It’s a good look. I prefer you like this. Do you wanna come back to my place later on?”

Laure laughed at Dee’s deadpan mock-seriousness and, dialling down her medibots, took a swig of the beer “Did I mention that this thing comes with three x-spots?” she said, lightly.

Dee raised her eyebrows “Three!? - Where are they?”

“I couldn’t say”

“Fucking tease. One way or another, I promise you that I’m going to find out”

“Maybe later?” smiling, Laure shook her head “There’s some shit that I need to see to first”

They lapsed into silence for a moment while Dee served one of the punter

“So what’s your Biz?” Dee sighed and leaned forward on the bar “What is it this time?”

“Someone’s in real big trouble”

“Aren’t they always?”

“No, I mean it” Laure insisted “Some corpse got their briefcase boosted and they’re throwing everything at trying to get it back - and I mean everything. Major industrial secrets. I’m as good as dead for knowing them”

“What the fuck? What’s in that briefcase?”

“No idea” Laure took another swig of her beer before leaning in and continuing in a low voice “Whatever it is, it’s worth letting slip that someone has access to the Circle-A mind bank”

“You’re fucking kidding me!? Who?”

“No idea. I have suspicions, but it’s why I need to get that briefcase back. Someone’s hawking it on the Grid - Any idea who?”

“Let me make a few calls. Back with you in a bit” Dee raised her chin towards a punter who was making his way towards the bar “What can I get you buddy?”

By the time Dee returned with a name, Laure had almost finished her beer.

“Oubliette” she said “District twenty-two. If you can give me another twenty minutes, I can probably get a better fix”

“Nah” Laure peeled herself off the gripseat and slipped to the floor “I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a kick squad already looking for this guy. It’s about a half hour away and I need to get there way ahead of them. Let me know if you hear anything else?”

“Sure. Will do”

“I owe you Dee”

“Nah - that corpse titbit you dropped is more than enough. Someone’s going to pay real well to know that. You just make sure you don’t get that pretty new face of yours all bashed up”

Laure grinned at this “Deal”


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