Cyberpunk Challenge – Detective Rickard Varriano 4

You can backtrack through my previous posts to read how this story is developing, or go back to the start with the original post Write This! Cyberpunk Challenge.

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Speaking With The Un-Dead

The following morning, Varriano found himself getting off the bus in the high rent district. A lot of building construction was going on, he noticed. He’d walked all of two blocks before his phone beeped and told him he was going the wrong way. It wasn’t really the wrong way, as Varriano had the idea to have a glimpse of the beach and the old pier. Maybe he’d come back later, after his planned visit. If his visit went well, that is. If not, he’d surely feel disappointed, and he did not want to feel down when gazing out at the placid stretch of ocean.

His target building had five floors, but Varriano was only interested in the street level businesses, and just one in particular. Mr. Happy’s Games Plus, its animated sign said, with a cheery, glowing sun slowly moving behind the lighthearted lettering.

Great Games, Great Times.

That was the tagline under the business name, but it wasn’t the only one.

Quantum VR, step into a different world today!

The door was made of real wood, Varriano noticed as he walked in, with a lot of hand-carving on it that made it look jungular. Wait, that wasn’t even a real word, was it? Junglish? Whatever. He’d just started reaching for the door when it slid open of its own accord. The place had an exotic theme to it, with lots of wood paneling, fake palm trees with toucans in them, and a lot of big-leafed potted plants all over. Varriano counted two rows of gamer cubicles, each with two ‘puters and seating for two players, ten cubicles total. Most of the cubicles were empty, but then again, it was early on a school day.

He sniffed the air just as a pretty clerk walked over and smiled at him. “What’s that smell?”

“It’s synthetic bamboo scent.” She nodded. “Would you like to try Dune Wars today?”

“Uh, no.” Varriano pulled out his detective card. “Scan this, will you? I want it logged as an official visit because I might need the verification later.”

“In that case, you’ll want to speak to the daytime M.O.D.” The woman said. She made a complete turn and gave him a second tempting smiled. “That’s me! Would you follow me to the service counter, please?”

“That was cute, what you just did, turning around like that.” Varriano grinned back. “You just made my morning a hundred times better. Thanks.”

“And you are very welcome!” She piped out, leading him past the cubicles, where a lot of expensive boxed hardware sat on shelves, including VR headsets and video game consoles. “Our scanner is right over here. I hope we’re not in trouble!”

“No trouble. This is more of a fact-finding task that your establishment might be able to help me with.”

The woman took a handheld scanner from the counter, scanning both his ID card and his person. The device beeped when it caught Varriano’s embedded microchip in his right shoulder.

“Mr. Rickard Varriano.” The day manager read off his name on the scanner display. “What can I do for you?”

“Use the scanner on yourself, will you?” He requested.

The woman’s smile finally faltered. “Is that necessary?”

“Yes, I would like to make sure of who I’m speaking to. The task I am working on is of a highly sensitive nature.”

“All right.” She relented, scanning her right hand and holding the device out so he could read its result.

No wonder she hesitated. Her honesty rating was down at sixty-four percent, but most of that had happened years before. She had three names on file as well, including a couple of old aliases. People in Stem City didn’t do that unless they had something to hide. He figured she’d been into drugs at one time, probably a seller.

“Am I in trouble?” She asked.

“You are not in trouble.” Varriano tried to console her. “I see that you have twenty percent ownership in this business. That’s the level person I need to speak to. Can you have someone cover the floor while we speak somewhere in private?”

She eyed him carefully. “Sure.”

Varriano watched her stride off to where a young man in a company shirt was playing a game on one of the cubicles. Maybe he was testing a game, the detective figured, or trying to stir up interest by playing it online with others. After the manager tapped the young man’s shoulder, he quickly got off the game and gave Varriano a curious look.

“Take the floor for a few minutes.” The woman said, before she motioned for the detective to follow her. “Right this way, Rickard.”

“Call me Rick.” Varriano said. He didn’t like when people used his first name, but he didn’t want the woman to think he was trying to screw her over in any way either. He didn’t even know what to call her, since she had three different full names.

The manager didn’t volunteer any of them. She just walked past the counter and into a back area with two small, open offices and a wall halfway stacked up with boxed goods.

“Have a seat, detective.” She gestured toward a padded office chair, as she rounded the desk beside it and took a seat across from him. “I have the strangest feeling that you’re about to spring something on me.”

“I am.” Varriano nodded as he took his seat. “I would have preferred someone with a higher honesty rating, but here we are. I’m going to show you something. I cannot obligate you to keep quiet about it once I leave, but I am asking for your discretion.”

“I understand.”

“Good. Now, someone gave me an item. He gave it to me no questions asked, and now that I have it, I’m asking questions to other people to get to the bottom of this. You with me so far?”

“Yes. This sounds important.”

Varriano did not reply, but he did put his hand in his coat pocket and pulled out the ring box. He set it on the desk and slid it over toward the woman, who looked at it curiously. When she took the box and opened it, her eyes widened out in surprise.

“You know what that is?” He asked.

“A memory drive.”

“A ten thousand cred memory drive.”

She gave him an odd look, before she set the box on the desk and turned around in her chair. Along the back wall, she had a number of small poly boxes with lids on them. From one of these, she pulled a drive similar to the one Varriano had brought in, but this one glowed in a subtle silver sheen. “This is a ten thousand credit drive. This is what we use here for our top end customers, when they go into our VR games. Our drives save customized characters and game worlds. What you have there is a fifty thousand credit drive. We don’t carry anything like it.”

Varriano frowned. “Oh, I was hoping I could enter the VR world and speak to the person whose memory is inside that drive.”

“You can do that here.” She nodded. “We can plug this drive directly into a server and you can use a VR headset to access its contents. What we can’t do is record over any data or tamper with the contents. Access will cost you a hundred creds an hour.”

“I don’t have that kind of money to throw around.” Varriano replied. “How about we get creative and do some bartering? I find people who don’t want to be found, I follow people around who might be cheating, I repo cars and other expensive property. I charge three times what you charge. You give me an hour or two in VR and I’ll be in your debt.”

“What are you hoping to do with this drive?”

“I want to find out who is on it first of all.” He admitted. “If the drive was stolen, which I believe it was, I want to get it back to its rightful owner. That could be somebody’s deceased father, for all I know.”

She tapped on the box. “Whoever is on here is worth at least one million creds. You’re thinking this is a regular data drive that businesses use for archival storage. No, this is a quantum drive that stores an actual person’s memories in a small housing environment. This is next gen stuff! These are not available to the public. There is no way this should have ended up in your hands unless somebody was murdered.”

“If that’s the case you could help me solve that murder.” Varriano said.

“You can’t just bump somebody off and take this kind of drive! There are multiple levels of security where these are kept.”

“This was a heist, you mean?”

“Yes. It was something big and well-planned. Multiple people were killed, not just one. You could be putting me in danger just by coming into my business!”

“Not likely.” Varriano shrugged. “I took a roundabout route and I’m positive nobody followed me.”

“And the scanning? Your presence here is public information now.”

“As far as the public is concerned, I’m here to take a vacation VR for an hour. I have my contacts. I can get this drive to its rightful owners without being there personally.”

“The rightful owners are a corporation. There are only two places that even deal with drives like this. As far as I know, neither one has reported any trouble… But they wouldn’t publicize it even if it did happen. They have too much too lose with public confidence and security.”

“Not to mention stock value.”

“They’d lose millions, tens of millions if word got out that even one of these was stolen.” She estimated. “Enough that they wouldn’t think twice about killing us. You do any fishing? Any sports?”

“I like looking at ancient things.” Varriano answered. “Why do you ask?”

“We have that. I can pretend you booked two hours in ancient Egypt if you want. Two hours should be enough for you to do what you came here for, right?”

“More than enough. The offer is still good. I’ll owe you two hours of detective work for doing this.”

“I don’t want it. The sooner you’re out of here, the sooner I can stop worrying about this. Let’s get you set up right away.”

(To be continued.)

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