1.0.3

“Hahaha! You told them what?” howled Stefano. “Vincent my friend,” he said raising his glass, “you have nerves… you have… balls of steel!” He finished what was left of his drink and inelegantly placed it on the table.

“Now look,” responded Vince as he lifted his own glass, “I don’t go around pretending to be a Zuckerberg or Musk or Nakamura, but I do expect a certain level of… quality given my position. Especially when I sacrifice my valuable time and resources to do so.”

“And did they meet your demands?” Stefano asked in amusement.

Vince chuckled and shook his head. “That poor boy. The look he gave me was like… I’ll get fired for this!” He took a sip. “Of course they didn’t. A bottle of wine to all the patrons who ordered the same Pinot Noir?!” He set his glass on the table, which clanked with the sound of ice cubes falling back into place. “You know me. I would never try to pull that shit at say… a place like this. But if you claim to have the best north of Burgundy, that had better be an objective statement.”

Stefano stood briefly. “Another round of drinks over here please!” Returning to his seat, he folded his arms leaning slightly into the table.

“There are clearly more rungs on the ladder left for you to climb then,” he said shifting to a more serious tone. “I’ll give you some time to think it over, but I urge you to consider the opportunity in front of us. The future is deep analytics. Behavioral tracking can only get you so far… it lacks…”

“Nuance.”

“Precisely!”

A waitress set a pair of whiskey drinks on their table, flashing Vince a mischievous smile as she made her way back to the bar. His eyes followed her for a second or two.

“Since Parallel has lifted some of the restrictions in its data collection and use policies, there is a wellspring of potential in front of us for predicting consumer behaviors. But only the first few visionaries to act will be able to stake their claim on the market.”

“I’m not averse to taking a risk you know – hell, I made my first 500k on a gamble. But I’ve never played in the world of big data, and I’m not so sure I’m ready to.”

“It doesn’t pique your interest?”

“There are also ethical questions.”

Vince looked back toward the bar, and the girl smiled at him as their eyes briefly connected.

“I will have an answer for you next week when I have returned to the States,” he said, raising his glass to Stefano.

“And if I like that answer I will send you an exceptional bottle of Pinot Noir!” the larger man joked clinking their glasses together. “Prost, my friend!”

1.0.2

“…the latest in a series of major data breaches taking place earlier this morning around 5 am UTC. The target: Innovocor, the well known tech conglomerate who acquired SrVo last April. Cybersecurity firms have yet to release any official statements about the source of the attack, but online communities are attributing the breach to self-proclaimed hacking-artist Nikola. The governments of Romania and Germany have agreed to…”

Vince averted his attention from the news screen hanging above the central space of the New International Stock Exchange, an open, circular room with corridors reaching out in every direction. He was well dressed, but not overly so, wearing a gray blazer with blue-gray designer pants. He brushed a hand through his sandy brown hair, and turned as he heard his name called out.

“Mr. Vincent Parrish – in the flesh!” a heavier gentleman in a full black suit said approaching him with an extended hand. “How the hell are you?”

“Well as always, Stefano,” he responded with his trademark confidence. “In Berlin right now on business, actually.”

“Always the world traveler – at a conference I suspect?” The man didn’t offer Vince time to respond. “I lost the itch to travel ages ago, it’s gotten less meaningful over the years you know. Though I occasionally visit Jenette’s family in Maine around the holiday season.” He held his finger up for a moment. “Sorry, a message from one of my associates.” Stefano was silent for about fifteen seconds or so. “My apologies,” he continued. “Anyway, I should thank you for meeting me here on such short notice.”

“Anything for an old friend,” Vince responded.

“Shall we go straight to the restaurant or do things the old fashioned way?”

Vince couldn’t help but shake his head at the irony in such a statement. “Let’s walk there, but not because I need the exercise. I need to force myself to slow down once in a while.”

The two began to make their way toward one of the many doorways, and Vince briefly glanced up at the screen above him once more, catching an advertisement for a luxury vehicle that only existed in immaterial space.

1.0.1

Rows of pylons rushed by on Max’s right side, united as a stream of undulating blue light. She glanced to her left and eased back slightly on the throttle that she gripped loosely.

“Pace, how’s the scenery back there?” She accelerated as they exited their turn.

“Still no sign of Graystar,” responded a young man’s voice.

She grit her teeth slightly. “ –Don’t blink.” She scanned the environment around her for a moment and then tapped on a screen. “Ji, talk to me.”

“We just crossed paths with their second bike at the last junction. Think they took the upper road. Got a few shots on us but no serious damage.”

“Good, we’ve got a lead on number one but not by much.”

Max and Pace’s vehicle shot through a tunnel carved into the dark landscape.

“Where the hell are-”

“I see them,” reported Pace.

“Where?” Max responded, rapidly looking over the array of displays surrounding her.

“Just came up from the lower level – south tunnel.”

A volley of vivid red laser blasts grazed their rear cockpit.

“Punch it!”

The bike shot forward as Max slammed the throttle away from herself, nearly colliding with a line of metal pillars in the center of the track. Another series of blasts narrowly missed them.

“Send something back their way, will ya?”

Pace focused sharply on the view outside his rear cockpit window, anticipating the trajectory of the vehicle trailing them. He shifted the yoke-like controls carefully down, and slowly compressed a pair of triggers with his hands.

A series of short but powerful snaps could be heard as a torrent of laser blasts emanated from the turret on their own bike, racing backward toward their opponent. The Graystar vehicle swung to the left and then right again as it was struck by three or four of them.

“Too early…” grumbled Pace under his breath.

They glided over a smooth curve in the track, which sent them downward on a slope that extended deep into a canyon, the walls covered in screens displaying an impressive variety of signs and logos.

“I’ll shake them at the fork-” began Max, but Pace interjected.

“-Stay to the right, they’ve taken more hits than we have.”

Descending into the rushing blur of neon displays, Max pulled their bike close to the canyon wall.

“We need to close this gap between us, at this distance they have plenty of time to react.”

“You want me to-”

“Yes, slow down.”

“I’d rather leave those posers in the dust.”

“Excellent synergy you two,” Ji’s voice rang over the speaker, thick with sarcasm. “Cut it out and win this thing.”

Max pulled back on the throttle and the vehicle behind them slowly began to draw closer. There was a tense, brief calm as the racers faced each other down, immediately followed by a storm of crossfire.

“Here we go,” said Pace who flashed a brief smile. He compressed the triggers in each of his hands one last time, and the Graystar bike behind them exploded into a violent cloud of flame and smoke.

“That’s how it’s done!” shouted Ji. “Great work, now bring it-”

Her words were cut short as the broad side of Max and Pace’s back wheel was struck by another line of laser fire. In a moment of slowed time, their vehicle spiraled into the air and then down to the canyon floor beyond the racetrack. Graystar’s second vehicle, which had emerged from a tunnel above the main path, shot forward and out of site.

Max blinked several times as she tried to find her orientation. Before she could piece together exactly what had happened, the world around her dissolved away, and she found herself standing in a vast, empty white space with the words “Players 3 and 4 Disqualified” hovering above. She took off her helmet, and a cascade of bright red hair fell past her shoulders.

“Damn,” she said.

1.0.0

Xun stepped out into the cool night air and rested an arm on the rail of his tiny apartment’s balcony. He didn’t really understand the need for such a space, though he was aware that a few considered regular exposure to the outdoors a necessary part of their lives. He looked across the river that divided his complex from the hazed skyline of a brightly-lit mega-city. How could something so vast be… inexplicably drab?

He reached into the pocket of his pants and withdrew an electronic vaporizer and a vial of finely shredded plant material. He pulled back a slot in the blue-gray cylinder, poured some in, and glided his finger across a smooth switch on the side. He brought the vaporizer to his mouth and drew in a few breaths.

It had a mildly sweet, earthy taste, though it was hardly anything special.

Xun held the vaporizer up to eye level and studied it for a moment. At least the glowing end of this style was slightly more interesting than the more frequently marketed “hazard free” models.

He raised his other arm for a moment and without hesitation pressed the fiery end of the device into the palm of his hand, holding it there for three or four seconds. He winced, but didn’t make a sound, and looked down at the charred circular mark below his fingers.

“I don’t get it,” he muttered into the wind.