“Thanks for coming on such short notice.”
Sascha waved the nicety away. “Tell me who I’m looking at.”
The live security feed showed a lanky young man in the next room—mid-twenties—with disheveled black hair that pointed in every direction in a fashionable imitation of bed-head. His lumpy face was the color of a ripe plum. He wore a clean hospital smock with a sheet pulled up above his abdomen, and he laid on a gurney-style bed with his arms zip-tied to the rails. Bright light pinned him to the mattress like he was a rare butterfly, but the beam was narrow and the various machines and monitors connected to his body and surrounding the bed were cloaked in shadow.
“Well, that’s sort of the problem,” said Elene.
Elene was one of the best back-alley biohackers in Port Zenith. Sascha had personally used her services on several occasions. He liked her straight-shooting, no-nonsense attitude. Now she was being coy. He planted a small red flag into that muddy thought and then pushed it aside.
“Are you going to make me guess? If he won’t tell you or you don’t believe him just run a sample.”
“I did, three days ago when he first arrived. ID came back as Kaylum Baird.”
“So, Kaylum Baird was serving 15 years at the Phobos Panopticon for minor corporate war crimes. Information extraction, virtual torture, that sort of thing.”
“Was? He escaped the Pan?”
“No. Killed after assaulting a guard. Two years ago.”
“So why does this guy have Baird’s DNA?”
“He doesn’t. I took another sample yesterday. Came back Gareth Nguyen. So I tried again last night and he ID’d as Asa Frost. Then I took the same sample from last night—the same sample—and tested it again this morning. Sid Gordon.”
“Some kind of spoofer? Maybe in his marrow?”
“Can’t be done, not like this, anyway; the tech’s not there yet. And besides, it couldn’t be in the marrow because the individual cells are cycling. And in unison, no less.”
“What’s he even here for?”
Elene shrugged. “Doorstep delivery, midnight special. Someone dropped him here and left twice my going rate in cash. He was unconscious then, and I’ve kept him under since. Starting to wonder if the trouble’s worth the juice.”
“What’re you going to do?”
Elene looked at Sascha.
“Oh, no. I came out here as a curtesy for all the patch-jobs—”
“No. A courtesy would be paying me up front or not destroying gear that you borrow—”
“One time! That was one goddamn time, and I don’t care if you could’ve replaced it, I wasn’t going to let the guy cut my fucking eye out!”
“I’m not going mind-diving into some John Doe with deep pockets, bad friends, and a clear desire to stay anonymous.”
“What’s that, an ethical stance?”
“No, it’s self-preservation. You should consider it for yourself.”
Elene was silent. She held her elbows and watched the monitor. He lower lip quivered. That red flag waved in the silent wind in Sascha’s mind.
“Oh Christ,” he said. “That is what you’re doing. He wasn’t a midnight special.”
“No,” said a low, gruff voice. A well-dressed refrigerator box of a man emerged from among the high-piled detritus of a darkened corner. “He wasn’t.”
The continuous-fire high-capacitance laser pistol he held was objectively large, but it looked oddly tiny in his bear paw of a hand. Most people would have held it two-handed.
“Get your shit,” he said. “You’re going for a dive.”