Chapter 12

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Tauri sat, waiting, at a restaurant on Akoya's top level. A stuffier joint than the sort of places she typically preferred. It was afternoon time, so it was mostly empty besides a few people in suits having a late lunch. Display panels covered most of the walls, showing news, sports, and other media broadcasts from various sources.

The table-top was displaying a news broadcast. Tauri stared at it with little interest until a handsome face appeared, which she thought she recognized. Then the label on top confirmed it was Schafer Maichonsing, BRAIN's co-CEO, and renowned troublemaker. Apparently, he did something controversial again, something about a vote. The sound was off, so Tauri had only the short captions to go by. The view changed to show a photo of him when he was younger. He was good looking. The title explained that Maichonsing was once a member of a movement called Spread-Humanity. Strange name, she thought before signaling the table's panel off.

Tauri turned her gaze to scan the restaurant's interior. There wasn't anything special about it - just a typical top-level corporate joint. She chose it because she knew it would be empty and because there was little chance someone would recognize her or the person she was meeting with.

Her ice tea was almost gone by the time Jeremy arrived. He moved in his abnormally quick pace between the tables to reach her booth. She always thought he walked like a broken drone, just a few centimeters away from bumping into something yet somehow managing to sway away at the last second.

Jeremy was a short man, wiry, and jumpy. He wore a white t-shirt and baggy gray pants, both a couple of sizes larger than needed. His spiky dark hair was always messy as if half of it grew in one direction and the other the opposite. Tauri got up to hug her friend but mistimed due to his quickness, so they embraced before her legs could straighten all the way and clear the table. He smelt faintly of alcohol and sweat. After that awkward embrace, Jeremy flung himself down to the bench opposite of hers. A couple of the customers glanced warily at the unusual newcomer but quickly went back to their food or drink.

"What are you drinking?" was the first thing Jeremy said. Before she could answer, he took her glass and gulped down the little remaining liquid. "Ugh! What's this?" he made a disgusted face. "Ice tea, Jer, just cold tea," Tauri answered patiently. "Why are you drinking it?"
"Because it's not even afternoon."
"So?" he genuinely looked puzzled. "How are you, Jeremy? You look like crap, are you eating?" she asked to change the subject. "I'm good, I'm good." he smiled at her with white teeth. Luckily for him, genetic modification was part of his ancestral history. Otherwise, Tauri was certain all of his teeth would have fallen off a long time ago.

"I don't like this place. It's too fucking quiet. No barmaids either. What's wrong with this place? Can a guy get a beer around here?!" That last part he practically yelled. "Keep it down, for Atom's sake, you're not supposed to draw attention like this," Tauri said firmly and grabbed his hand for emphasis. "Oh yeah, right, sorry." The table's holo display came on with a 'Would you like to order?' message appearing in the air a few centimeters above its surface. "Ice tea and a beer," Tauri said. The message disappeared with a merry chime. "Fancy," Jeremy cooed derisively.

"Seriously, Jer, how are you?" Tauri asked worriedly. She'd known him for twelve years and could always see through his bravado. Jeremy was undoubtedly anxious. They both acted out as young teenagers; spent far too much time away from their families. Tauri eventually returned to her family - to her father. Jeremy, on the other hand, never went back. His eyes were constantly searching, darting toward any movement. It was plain as sunlight that he was on edge.

"Your little space games sure got a lot of people angry on the bottom side, T. They're losing their shit over all the pilots you got nabbed lately. A lot of shipments are falling behind-"
"Good. And these aren't games either Jeremy. These thugs need to pay for their crimes, and if CSF won't do something about it, I will!" Tauri said angrily. "Shit, girl, remind me to always stay on your good side."
"Yeah, don't you forget it, and don't forget you owe me. Besides, it's gotten you what you wanted, right? You get to be a bigger chip now," she pressed and leaned forward.

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