A Brief Respite
Ryn’s office was on a quiet side street near a few virtual cafes. The food and drinks served there were more for show, but it gave workers an illusion of normality as they filtered to and from their respective jobs. Ryn personally considered it virtual clutter; if they wanted a bagel and a coffee, they could always unplug and go out. But sometimes it was nice to walk down the narrow streets and admire the wild cast of characters seated around small tables, some typing away at tablets or chatting over steaming mugs.
And, depending on where you went, some of the avatars were less than human. Not how Ryn wanted to go out, but it made people watching interesting.
The building they worked out of was short and red bricked, with a simple plaque on the door that read Casler & Piers. Were it not for the Implant and VR, they’d still be sharing a towering, gray building with hundreds of other private investigators and small businesses. Some still had to, like the old fogeys who couldn’t get with the times but had a steady client base.
But it was getting harder and harder to keep up if you didn’t have the latest tech and resources.
It was a very standard, almost drab office inside, an open concept that could easily turn into separate offices with the wave of a finger. A few potted plants lined the large window by their colleague’s empty desk, a fish tank with a school of clownfish and sea anemone by Ryn’s.
There was an odd creature at Ryn’s desk. It had the body of a man, but a series of green tentacles extended from its torso to the floor, and a CRT TV perched on its shoulders. It rested its “head” against a long, thick tentacle, and the screen clicked on and displayed the grinning face of a chimpanzee. With his feet kicked up on their desk, it was hard to take him seriously.
Ryn pointed at the man-thing, then to the ground. “Piers, please.” They would not give him the satisfaction of uttering the ridiculous sentence rattling around in their head.
“Oh, you’re no fun,” the TV man grumbled, but obliged, shambling off with the use of his grotesque tentacles, short legs dangling in the air.
The sight made them snort, as close to a laugh as he could hope for. “Why can’t you pick something more presentable?”
“Why should I,” he said, plopping down on his own desk. The TV and tentacles disappeared, leaving only the comically long, pink tie as his defining aesthetic, second only to the pompadour he now fussed over.
“Potential clients? Unlike you, I want to be taken seriously.”
“And you think I don’t?” He grimaced at the sudden pitch in his tone, and adjusted accordingly. “I think you need to lighten up, Cas. Do you even go outside the HUB?”
“Sure. When I’m not working.” That was debatable, actually; jealous spouses were more than happy to have their partners tracked in VR. Those assignments were Ryn’s least favorite, as there were too many variables to consider. The HUB alone gave them too much trouble.
“Psshaw!” He stretched out, chin rested in hand. “So, how’d it go?”
“I also don’t like to talk about my clients. You know this.” They didn’t care for gossip unless they were paying for it.
“You can at least tell me how much you pulled from the job.”
“Ten grand,” they said. “I wanted to ask for more, but I didn’t want to get too greedy.”
“That bad, huh?”
“More like annoying.” Figuring out how the soon-to-be former Mr. Kincaid eluded them was the hard part, but he wasn’t slick; the solution was as simple as following the breadcrumbs and realizing that the apartment building shared a basement with two others. From there, they were able to follow his path via infrared and deduced where he spent those missing hours.
“So, this Kincaid fella…”
“He’s straight,” they said, scanning their messages. “As in he only likes women.”
“And he’s probably going broke soon,” he sighed.
Despite his lackadaisical nature, Piers was very good at his job. Fraud, such as insurance and identity, was his specialty. The two occasionally worked together on a case if it involved catfishing or surveillance, and Ryn often handled background checks for him, if they had nothing better to do.
But they were best suited for fieldwork, where they could put their special set of skills to the test.
“Please develop better taste in men.” Their eyes froze on a missing person’s case, one they’d politely refused not once, but twice.
The first time, it was sent directly to them by a potential client. The second, by another PI running interference for said client. But Ryn didn’t deal with the missing. They were a decent tracker, yes, but believed that some things were best left alone, and not everyone who went missing did so inadvertently. And cases like those were rarely straightforward; they couldn’t be solved in a week or two, like their usual turnaround.
But this client was stubborn and offered to raise the pay with each contact. Ryn massaged their temple. The money was good, but...
“Complains about too much work, piles up on work,” Piers said, leaning on his desk. “You should go on vacation, maybe meet a nice gal and let loose for a while.”
“I plan on retiring early. That’s my vacation.” And if they needed money, a part-time job as a photographer would do. Weddings, birthdays… There was always something.
“I just don’t want you to get burnt out, kid.”
“Don’t worry about me,” they said, and summoned their personal assistant, Burroughs.
In the virtual world, the AI had some semblance of a body, a shady figure with a blue outline. But it had no discernible gender, and Ryn saw no need to burden it with one.
Out of the corner of their eye, Piers grimaced at the stock image. His own assistant was a bear of a man, with arms and legs thick as tree trunks, a prominent belly, and thick gray hair.
“How may I assist?” Burroughs spoke in a dulcet tone, the shadow of a smile forming.
“Clear out my inbox, Redirect tab. Cross reference with my contacts and forward these requests to the hungry and willing.”
A tablet appeared in its hands and its head leaned forward, invisible eyes scanning the surface. “And what of the unsorted request?”
“I’ll accept it, if only to hear them out.”
“And what else do you have planned for the day?”
Ryn shrugged. “Take a nap and run a background check.”
It took them all of twenty minutes to realize the name they were given was an alias. And a pun, at that. Paige Turner. They audibly groaned upon realization, and had to endure five minutes of Piers gasping and wheezing for air. That, coupled with the fact that they were borderline sleep deprived, led to Ryn logging out for the day and seeking a cure.
Playing around in VR was fun; you could be anything or anyone, but you needed to head to meatspace if you wanted the good sleep. The hard sleep.
Ryn wasn’t in a picky mood today, and didn’t look beyond the details presented on the woman’s profile. A consistent five star rating and overwhelmingly positive reviews were all they cared about at the moment.
And she, a tawny brown woman in her early thirties, delivered. What stood about her the most, and what granted her an air of mystery and prestige, were the delicate set of deer antlers protruding from her scalp. She had the markings of a white-tail deer running down her back to complete the aesthetic, a downright work of art if you thought about it. The antlers by far made things interesting, and she made an offhand joke about tennis balls when asked if she had any regrets.
So they were in fairly high spirits when they left the red-light district, but seeing the idling police officer, identified by their electric blue vest, gave them pause. Sex work was decriminalized in some states, or legal and heavily regulated in others (nowhere Ryn wanted to be found, in other words), but some clients got handsy and needed to be dealt with accordingly.
They gave the officer a curt nod; just seeing the vest gave them a temporary case of prosopagnosia. Something about people in uniforms and the lack of an identity, especially from those of authoritative standing.
But status aside, they were actually kind of cute—you just had to look beyond the vest.
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