Today's Reading

Rubi pushed aside the thought of Gimlet, of the gamer grudge match she hadn't quite managed to call off yet. She pinged the @Interpol agent: "I'm due to update Luce's support ticket. You gonna tell me why you're after him?"

"'Oui, d'accord.'" If he was affronted by her bossiness, it didn't show. "This meeting room's free."

"No. Somewhere less isolated." When he frowned, Rubi added, "Come on, Agent Javier. It's a beautiful day."

"You can call me Anselmo."

"Anselmo, then."

His smile changed the whole landscape of his face; the severity vanished, replaced with sparks of good humor. Despite the guns and his hint of arrogance, she found herself liking him.

"Hold everything but a crisis, Crane."

"Understood, miss."

"Thanks." With that, she whisked up her satchel and walked out past the cop, daring him to object.

Instead, Anselmo fell in beside her.

'Nothing like the sims,' Rubi thought again, walking fast, getting some distance from that gun platform as she made for the stairs.




The Feckless Bachelor party was Woodrow Whiting's adultsonly gathering, a virtual club built into his e-state, Whine Manor, with design and logistics managed by the Great Lakes Casino Consortium.

On a good shift, five hundred people might toon into the party from around the world, with another hundred queued. The sim was fully immersive. Guests partied with friends, chatting, dancing, catching concerts. Many came hoping to see a live performance, or unlock a rare one-on-one meeting with the host himself.

Drow's streaming concerts were randomly staged events, surprises calculated to keep subscriptions boosted, but he kept his main stage hopping with promising new virtuosi. Today's feature, Whiskey Sour by name, was a sylphlike soprano with a killer sense of rhythm. She was just wrapping up a set—a mix of covers and her first original comps.

Drow closed his eyes, gauging the Feckless applause by sound, declining the aggregated user reviews. The crowd was upbeat. He didn't need infographics to tell him the neophyte had done well.

"Give her another hand, @FecklessGuests!" He raised a roar in channel, then handed Whiskey down from the stage, straight into the arms of her gathered parents.

Suddenly, a guy dressed in old-time prison pajamas and burglar's mask—a free overlay, for anonymity—plowed through the guests. He made straight for Drow, waving a red referral key from Social Support.

"I gotta talk to you! Emergency."

Drow paged his casino sponsor, requesting a guest host for the party. "You'll be all right, Whiskey?"

"Beyond," she said. "I'm sky high!"

"You should be: they loved you, kid."

She bounced up on tiptoe, giving his cheek an exuberant kiss. "Go. I'll work the crowd."

Drow ushered the burglar to an illusion of a secluded back-room table with a velvet rope. They sat and the party faded out. The metaphor shifted, painting Drow's consulting office around them. A comfortable room with light blue walls and inviting couches, it had a window view of a copse of birch trees.

The convict toon was jittering, rubbing his knees. Tags popped up. His actual body was somewhere in WestEuro.

"My name is Drow," he said, giving him time to get acclimated. "Pronouns he/him. My current physical location is the Great Lakes, Toronto District. I'm a volunteer peer counselor specializing in trauma—"

"Weren't you just hawking old records?"

"Like most people, I have a mash-up of careers and passions," Drow said. "Counseling is volunteer work."

Was the guy incapable of eye contact? Just as Drow formed the thought, his guest met his gaze straight on.

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