Bargains

Bargains
A Braeden Wolf Short Story

The woman who went by many names, one of which given to her by Braeden Wolf was Haphazard, closed the vid that played on her datapad and looked across the table in the dingy recess of the nightclub at the waif of a girl seated across from her.  The girl’s real name was unknown; Haphazard knew her only as Random.  Haphazard doubted she was much older than fifteen, sixteen at the most, still not fully developed and with traces of the child she was still in her face.  Yet for all that there was an air about her of a much older person, a deep ground cynicism and world weariness.

In such cases Haphazard would normally say it was reflected in their eyes, but in Random’s case those eyes had a pale golden sheen to them.  They were tin jobs, artificial cybernetic replacements, and they were not the only augments that the girl had, an unusual occurrence for one so young.  It was instead reflected in barely perceived indicators; a slight tightening around the eyes, the curve of her lips, the cast of her face.  Those signs Haphazard could read well; in her line of work she needed to know what the person across her was saying even when they weren’t saying it.

With Random, what was not being said was that she was afraid.

Bundled up in a heavy coat, an old surplus army greatcoat with the ubiquitous sergeant’s chevrons on the sleeve, which swallowed up her slight frame, her mop of dark hair fell across her face, shrouding much of it.  Her shoulders were slumped and she appeared to be trying to make herself look smaller, invisible even.  Haphazard could tell all of it was a defensive mechanism.  The girl didn’t want to be found.

And little wonder.

Haphazard looked down at her datapad again, thoughts turning over rapidly as she contemplated just what had been offered to her by the girl.  The vid had been patchy, and broken up, the sound scratchy; not all of it was there.  Yet it, and the other file Random was showing, was troubling; and explosive.

Haphazard didn’t have any concern for herself should she purchase the files; dealing in such matters was par for the course for her, but even so, it required some deep thought.  If what she saw somehow got out, there was no telling as to what would happen.  People had been killed to keep less than this secret.

Power in The City, well, it was shared between a conflicting web of interests and factions, none of whom wished to see any of the others get ahead, yet always they schemed for ways that they could get an edge over their rivals.  Haphazard had no desire to get caught up in those struggles.

Such a means to gain that edge was on display before her though.

It changed everything, a risk far beyond unacceptable to most of those interests and power bases were it to become active.

And yet there was money to be made from it, if played right, and plenty of it as well.  That most of all intrigued Haphazard.

No indication on the vid or the file existed as to who was behind it all; that Random had removed as her bargaining chip before approaching Haphazard.  The girl had not said where she had come across it either; she didn’t need to.

Despite her youthfulness, or perhaps because of it, Haphazard knew Random to be very skilled at what she did; burrowing into secure networks via the virtual world of the datasphere, and extracting datafiles that the owners of, no doubt, would prefer not to be seen.

That youthfulness had proven to be to Random’s advantage; too young to truly comprehend the risks, like all young she threw herself with reckless abandon into every task, not thinking she could fail.

Except perhaps now she possibly did; even Random could not have but be worried by what it had been she had found, and from what Haphazard understood the girl wanted to try and keep out of sight as much as she could.  Go to ground and hope that in time it would blow over and she would be forgotten.  Haphazard didn’t think it likely, but saying so would just scare the girl more.

“So,” Haphazard said at last.

Random peered at her through stray strands of hair.  “So.”  She wasn’t giving anything away.

“What you have is of interest,” Haphazard admitted calmly.  “I am certain that I can find some use for it.  What is it that you are after?”

“I need to be on the low, like a ghost, ya sav?  For that I need a fist of bark.”

Haphazard nodded slowly.  The girl was desperate to come out so openly like that, a certain sign she knew she’d overturned the wrong ant’s nest.  Scared, that much stood out as obvious, even if she did her best to mask it.  Normally Haphazard would try and take advantage of such a situation, to squeeze any and all concessions she could out of it, yet there were times to be magnanimous.  Random had been a regular, and despite her youthful years, one of Haphazard’s best sources of data and information.  An asset such as that needed looking after.

After a moment Haphazard tapped a figure into her datapad and slid it across to the girl.  Random looked at it, a frown creasing her forehead as she read the number.  She scratched at her nose before coming back with a counteroffer, and for a short time the two bartered away in silence until they came to an agreement on a final figure that the both could live with.

Haphazard sat back, business concluded.  “Where abouts was it that you happened by this?” she asked, curiosity getting the better of her.

“Down Southbrook there is this server that is kept on the down low.  Only boils up when they need it.  I tressed in when it did.  Gilled right up with heavy apps to keep the curious out.”

“And who is responsible for this?”

“Ya won’t be liking it, for cert.”

Random told Haphazard, and she was right; Haphazard didn’t.

 

******

 

A burly man slid silently into the seat across from Haphazard that Random had vacated once all had been done.  He moved with the fluid motion that could only come from augments of reflexes and nervous systems, and yet for that he displayed no other signs of cybernetics; no chrome or steel or plastic, eyes that appeared as if born with and interface jack plugs not openly on display.

The man wore a heavy armoured coat and a hard look, solid jaw and short cropped dark hair; the type who looked to end trouble rather than start it.

“The data is burnin’?” he said, voice quite and raspy.

“Volcanic.”

The man, known simply as Taranis, had saved her from twelve assassination attempts; it was unlucky thirteen that she now dreaded.  He had been her bodyguard for a whiles, but now had become more so, a complication that at some stage needed sorting.  Sometime.

“What do you plan to do with it?”

“Need to get it out to Jack, on the quiet.  He can analyse it properly.”  She paused as an idea came to her.  “Call in our friend Braeden.  I have a favour to ask of him.  He can deliver it for us, and if there is any trouble he can handle himself.”

Taranis nodded slowly before departing to make arrangements.

Haphazard looked back down at the image paused on her datapad again and gave a brief shake of her head.

Life is about to get interesting.


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