"But what if she doesn't want to be found?" A cyborg and skilled tracker, Ryn Casler makes a living busting cheating spouses, both in and out of meatspace. Their latest client, Shae Winters, is a police detective searching for her sister. Ryn doesn't work well with cops, and Shae doesn't like her authority being challenged. But they must play nice if they have any hope of solving this case.
Early Adopter is a queer cyberpunk noir series, with a transmasc, agender, and aromantic protagonist. Also includes sexual content.
Their latest client was painfully old-fashioned, the sort who wanted to stare you down while making demands. It was a degree of familiarity that rattled Ryn’s nerves behind the cool facade.
“I don’t normally meet clients in coffee shops,” Ryn said, helping themself to a scone. Beneath the table, they pressed a hand against their bouncing knee. It was a high end place that was a bit steep for Ryn’s tastes, but they made excellent green tea.
“You’ll have to forgive me,” Mrs. Kincaid said. She was a middle-aged woman and appeared twenty years younger than her fifty-five years would imply—thanks to modern medicine and vast wealth. “I never cared for stuffy old offices.”
The corner of Ryn’s mouth twitched. They hadn’t had a physical office for years; everything was digital now. “I think I would’ve preferred that to airing out your dirty laundry.” Their eyes cut towards the nearby booth, occupied by a couple (his and hers, going by the indicators above their heads) enjoying their coffee and muffins in stark silence. Ryn liked to think they were corresponding via Telepathy, the modern take on telephones.
Body language seemed to imply otherwise. The man’s eyes were focused on his extended palm, darting from side to side as if scanning the morning paper. And the woman smiled absentmindedly to herself, fingers twitching in midair. Both doing their own thing, not quite parallel play, but better than being apart.
Across from them, Mrs. Kincaid merely shrugged. She who carried no pronoun markers, quirky nickname, or embarrassing status update. “I suppose that is an option, but I also wanted to avoid certain implications by inviting you into my home.”
“I understand, Mrs. Kincaid, but—”
“Oh, please. Call me Floyd. No need to be so formal.”
“Floyd it is.” They rubbed the back of their shaved head, close to the nape of their neck. Just below it rested the Implant. Vleck model. Not the first of its kind, but superior to older models. “I forwarded the documents to your email, but brought the hard copies, as requested.”
Floyd leaned forward, eying the thick folder Ryn retrieved from their briefcase. “Included in the files are a series of videos, all of which you can view at your leisure,” they said, handing her the folder. They weren’t in the habit of making hard copies; it was an awful waste of resources. But Floyd was a special case, a dinosaur in the era of high tech. “These are in order, from mildly to increasingly infuriating.”
She handled the folder as though it were C4, slowly turning it around in her fingers before unsheathing the mountain of evidence.
“Has he ever expressed a desire to upgrade?”
“No, not to me he hasn’t. He knows how I feel about all that nonsense. But to adapt it for the sake of…” She drew in a shaky breath. “I know I look calm and composed on the outside, but I assure you I am positively fuming right now.” It probably had something to do with the photos she was flipping through.
They started off unremarkable; just pictures of her husband coming to and from work or loitering in seemingly mundane places. But it only picked up from there.
“He gave me a fair bit of trouble, as you can see from the many time frames and positioning.” Floyd wanted concrete proof, and she got it.
Robert Kincaid moved like a man who knew he was being tailed. They spent that first week learning his patterns. Who he spent his time with outside of work, his actual schedule and not the loose timeline he gave his wife, and his favorite haunts.
It wasn’t until the second week that they realized he’d given them the slip on numerous occasions.
“I had my suspicions already, but I didn’t think he’d be so bold as to bring her here.” She slapped down a picture of Robert and a pretty young woman with thick blonde curls. “He used to bring me to this same cafe when he first began courting me. This was our spot.” She cleared her throat and lowered her voice before it could climb any higher. “It’s been our morning ritual for years, but we gradually stopped coming so often. Sundays are—were our special days together, now that the boys are out of the house.”
Ryn nodded along, adapting a sympathetic expression while they silently checked their email and notes. This was a big deal for Floyd, confirmation of a dying long-term relationship. But it was only business for them, and they hadn’t even gotten to the juiciest part yet. “I really am sorry things turned out this way, but now you know.”
“It’s never been a matter of knowing,” she said with a sigh. “It’s catching him in a lie.” She turned the photos over in her hands and laid them down with disgust. The topmost one was where things started to get serious.
“Do you need a break?”
“I don’t want to be alone right now, but I’d appreciate a change in topic,” she said, brushing an imaginary strand of hair from her forehead. “You asked if he was interested in upgrading. Why is that?”
They gestured at the discarded photo. “There’s more to the Implant than private calls and email,” they said. “Virtual reality is its main selling point.” He’d also scoped out clinics, a small list Ryn included as a courtesy.
Originally promoted as a second world, one where all means of life could take place (primarily work and education), it also sported a thriving gaming community. The open world MMORPG was something Ryn occasionally dabbled in to kill some time and energy, but they mostly stuck to the HUB.
“I don’t think he’d go that far. Not at our age.”
Ryn smiled back at her. “I hear it takes less out of you when you’re a child. Acclimation is practically seamless, at that age.” It had been almost fifteen years since Ryn elected to test out the Implant, back when it was still in the experimental stage and competing with body hackers. While the alternatives were fun and came in many flavors, they didn’t like leaving their faith in hobbyists. Looking back now, too many abandoned their projects to move on to new things or work on official hardware, leaving old clients in limbo.
“Oh, you young children...these are some rather good shots, I must say.” Floyd set another picture on the table and tapped at a corner. “How did you manage to get a shot of him like this...oh, excuse me. The balcony scene. It looks like it was taken a mere few inches away, but I know that building.”
“It’s one of the apartment buildings adjacent to his sister’s, yes.” The mistress lived somewhere on the 28th floor, way out of a normal person’s vantage point.
“You can even see the city skyline from this angle. Is that an upgrade provided, or do you have some sort of super camera?” Her tone and expression were endearing at least, but Ryn was not susceptible to flattery.
“A magician never reveals their tricks,” they said with a wink. “But I believe my work warrants the pay rate.”
Floyd’s smile faltered, but only slightly. “Oh, I’m not doubting you. I’m just curious about the procedure, is all. I want to know if anyone could do your job.”
“They’re more than welcome to try, but armchair detectives aren’t cut out for this gig.” It was dangerous, for one, and not just in regards to their life. One had to consider the legal ramifications for their behavior, such as trespassing or overly candid shots. “It’s best to leave it in the hands of professionals.”
“I suppose I can’t fault you for being cautious,” she said with a soft sigh. “But I’ll be able to sort the rest out in court.” She pressed a finger against her temple. “I believe the completion fee came up to five thousand, for a total of ten thousand dollars, correct?”
The job itself was tedious, but the money was more than worth it. Ten grand wouldn’t get them very far in the long run, but it was more than enough for a flight to and an extended stay in Berlin. “That is correct. You can send it the same way as last.”
“Yes, I still have your information saved.” She may be behind on the times, but at least Floyd wasn’t handing out paper checks.
A soft ping! went off in Ryn’s left ear, followed by an alert of the deposit. They blinked, and it disappeared. No muss, no fuss. “It was nice doing business with you, Mrs. Kincaid.”
“Oh, I suppose it’ll just be Ms. from now on. He took my name when we married, but he’ll shed it soon enough.”
“As it should be,” they said, and rose to their feet. Their job was done here; it was up to Floyd to figure out the rest.
“Oh, Mx. Casler?” Steely blue eyes looked them up and down, lingering at their bare fingers.
Ryn mentally exhaled. “Ms. Kincaid?”
“I don’t suppose you’re married, are you?”
Their skin prickled at the question, but they maintained a neutral expression. “You’d be correct. You’d also be correct in thinking I can’t understand where you’re coming from.”
Floyd visibly relaxed. “No, I can’t imagine you are. Not in this line of work.”
“I’m more than capable of separating my work from my personal life, Ms. Kincaid.”
They could’ve laughed. Wanted to. They had no interest in relationships, even before seeing the bitter remnants of their clients’. But they kept that cool expression, feigning something close to sympathy for Floyd’s sake.
“Well, be careful about who you choose to let in.” Mournful eyes swept the cafe one last time. “It’ll save you a great deal of heartbreak in the future.”
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