The neon glow of the street outside filtered through the rainslick windows, doing little to illuminate the darkness of the crowded little sushi joint. From his corner spot at the bar, Slider surveyed the clientèle with scant interest. A varied group, all a little rough around the edges, most seemed to be there in groups of two or three. In his peripheral vision were a group of friends chatting, animated and gesticulating wildly. On his right, around the side of the L-shaped bar, were a couple talking in hushed tones. Although he could not hear the conversation, their body language made it clear the topic was a serious one. The man’s hand was tense but Slider noted the tell-tale signs of cheap first generation sub-dermal augmentations that prevented him from fully clenching a fist. Positioned between Slider and the couple was another loner, face hidden behind a grey beard and dirt. He was focused on a holo display next to him on the table which projected a stock ticker. Faced with a sea of red numbers, he appeared almost as despondent as Slider felt.
As he ruminated upon his own financial situation, Slider’s gaze fixed absently upon the curve of the conveyor belt, made up of separate tessellated plates that he thought rather resembled fish scales, rotating around the corner before locking back into place as the track straightened out once more. He sipped from a bottle of Kaizoku beer, the gold foil of its label peeling back at one edge from its azure glass.
“Hey, friend,” a voice behind him called out.
This could not be good. What real friend feels the need to clarify the relationship in an opening salvo? Slider quickly calculated how long it would take him to vault the bar and snatch a knife from the hands of the sushi chef if things turned sour: too long. The answer lacked precision but provided him with all he needed to know. He would have to talk his way out of whatever trouble had just come knocking.
In lieu of a response, Slider inspected a slice of seared salmon, carefully rotating it with his chopsticks to expose its raw underbelly, before flicking it into his mouth in a practised flourish of indifference. Realising no invitation would be forthcoming, the stranger pulled up the stool next to him and sat down. Slider waited, keeping his gaze fixed on the fish gliding past — hamachi, shime saba, sake, awabe.
“Reverb Spence? What’s good here.” the intruder asked, his unusual intonation making his own name sound like a question whilst his flat inquiry sounded like a statement.
Slider pointed at the conveyor belt and paused before providing his equally flat answer, “the sushi.”
Now that the man had moved into a shaft of yellow light, Slider took the opportunity to inspect him. Dark slicked hair, clean shaven, average height and build, orange-tinted AR goggles feeding him information that Slider could not see. He wore an expensive-looking three-quarter length turquoise softshell jacket which suggested he spent reasonably substantial time outdoors and that meant the clean coat must be new. Recent promotion, perhaps.
“So are you here to offer me a job or threaten me?” Slider asked lightly, as if either option were equally appealing. Meanwhile he dropped his chopsticks with a soft clatter, tacitly abandoning any notion of finishing his meal.
“Yes,” Reverb replied unhelpfully, making Slider wince. That was usually his shtick.
Reverb reached into a pocket and deftly extracted three items which he placed carefully in a column on the bar: a business card in textured black with embossed yellow lettering, a wearable data storage ring with a clear acrylic housing, and finally the finger which had, until recently, worn the ring.