Originally posted on MSPA
Aaron stared. It was pretty much the thing to do; everyone else seemed to be doing it, it didn’t have any immediate repercussions, and above all, it didn’t draw attention to him.
Nizzo did that instead.
A wave of impressions spun its tendrils and centered on this-male-one-of-riches, announcing his presence and Nizzo’s recognition-happiness to all those present.
The impression spread like a tidal wave across the Feedback Loop, pooling in the gravity wells of minds like golden syrup. Here is this-male-one-of-riches, it said. I recognize this-male-one-of-riches, it said. To those not on the scene, it faded without a reference point to affix itself to, lending itself to dinner guests convincing themselves of a momentary confusion. To those there, however, by the pool and more importantly Aaron, some things stuck in the minds of a hundred compulsive gamblers, moderately rich executives, and even one vapid blonde starlet as the impression drained away: Riches.
“Ohmigod, are you, like...” Blonde curls shook as the starlet focused her baby blues on the grey robes and mussed hair. “Like...” Rich people didn’t look like that, her deceptively shallow internal monologue was going, ...not unless they’re really rich. “Loooooaded?!”
Change panicked as he felt numerous minds beginning to cluster around Aaron’s, obscuring and muddling the mental waters. We’ve got to go get Aaron! We’ve got to-
<font color="#AAA555">The two of them had ended up crowded in a workroom the size of a large closet. A bench dominated the room, with a partially-disassembled slot machine sitting on it. “Whoa, whoa, whoa.” Artemis held up the hand that wasn’t fishing in a toolbox. “Hold on there, moneybags. We don’t need to be getting ourselves into any more hot water. Aha.” A dented thermos pulled free from the detritus within. “Speakin’ of which...”
“Don’t you think your pet human can handle himself, sugar nellie?”
The banknotes fluttered disconcordantly for a moment as the mechanic poured coffee into a stainless steel mug. ...Sugar nellie?
”It confuses people, and I don’t have to argue with them anymore.” She took a sip. “Aah. I’m sure he’ll do fine without you, moneybags.”
The last time he and I were apart, he ended up on a power-mad massacre. And I believe that was just the tail end of what he got up to.
“Uh-huh.” She took another sip, and followed it with a swig. “Had a robot do that once. Slaughtered half a city, I think it did. And at the end of it all, turned out I’d just slipped in a G-56aVB multilevel transistor the wrong way round! What a laugh!” And she did - not a mirthless laugh, a well-bodied, happy laugh - the laugh of someone who had actually found something funny to laugh about.
The transaction boggled, as best as a bunch of banknotes could. That’s...not...I mean, economically...
“*snrk* It grew back.” She emptied the mug and poured herself another.
But...half a city! That’s...an inestimable cost of repair! And the lives-
“You know as well as anyone, moneybags - life is cheap.”
Fifty-three cents. But that’s the value of a human body, not-
A thought struck him. What
is that you’re drinking?
“Space Caff. ‘One sip and you’re outta this world’. Probs cause there’s enough booze in it to make you keel over.”A hand went up, another swig was had.
I...see. I’ll just be...going, then. Wait, how does that even work?
“It’s the secret ingredient. Damned if I know what it is.”
Change rippled in consternation. But you don’t
seem drunk. Not one bit.
“Nope.” She got up from her sandbag seat, perfectly steady on her feet. “Meant every word I said. Guess I’ve just been drinkin’ it so long.”
I. Uh. Okay.
Artemis rose, and took Change by the paper ribbon. “Come on. Let’s go a-walking.” She opened the steel door once more, and stepped into the dreary service corridor beyond.
”We’ve still got lots to do.”
Aaron stood bewildered in a haze of glamor and sophistication. There had been a manager, a man wearing a suit with creases crisper than a cracker and a manner smoother than refined petrochemical. He’d said, my word, one of my assistants tells me you’d like to partake of the entertainments we have here, and that you have the means...? And Aaron had nodded, without really knowing why or what was going to happen...
He’d done a lot of things in the past hour without really understanding them. He’d stumbled down gilt corridors, holding Nizzo in his arms while half-hearing the shadowed painter - Tschichold - complaining behind him (he’d at some point designated them both as his aides, apparently, entitling them to come with him down halls that, the manager had said, were reserved for only the finest of customers) -
<font color="#814444">Tschic didn’t think so, not really, the carpeting was threadbare and all the wrong color, often three at the same time, and that ‘authentic’ wooden detailing didn’t look like it at all and didn’t suit the drapes anyway, and speaking of the drapes why don’t you just fucking set fire to them they’d be an improvement especially with some singe done to that wallpaper as well oh my god what were you thinking do you have a design specialist this place needs a complete overhaul look at that dust how many people come up here anyway do you even get the right clientele I can see why, I mean come on who’s going to want to look at this...
Behind him (her?), several designers scribbled maniacally in notebooks to the tune of neverending criticism.
The room they then came to was palatial, with pillars and paneling and splendor oozing from the walls. Tschic hated it in twenty thousand words, and Aaron...barely noticed.
He let the words wash over him, like a haze of indignation and paint fumes, while an army of smarmy tailors spread tape measures over every limb and bodily feature. He changed wordlessly from his greying robes into a sparkling night-blue suit, compliments of the house, of course, not a problem Mister Abstract sir, and perhaps sir would like to come down to the games now and let these fine gentlemen take care of your old things, hmmm?
Very well, Mister Abstract, as you wish you can hold on very
tightly to those ratty old things if you must, sentimental value, you might say? Oh yes, I understand fully, but those won’t look distinguished
on the games floor, you see...what’s that, sir? They’re important to you? Yes sir, I do understand...how important...they...
Yes, Mister Abstract. I understand. And perhaps your jellyfish could use some water and a tank?
Tschic wasn’t sure what he had seen, having seen it amidst waving arms and tape measures attempting to gain purchase on his own oil-slicked body. But the wizard HAD stepped up to the manager. He’d stood there and - and Tschic had missed something there - looked at the manager silently, or something. And then the manager’d become all sweetness and light.
Something strange was going on. As an artist, Tschic could feel the subtle flows of value traversing the room, and something was painfully wrong with the tattered leather bag and the bundle of old robes that Aaron was handing to the manager. It was the way the ratty man held the equally ratty items: carefully, as if he’d been handed crown jewels. Even Tschic’s disdainful eye caught the overspill of Aaron’s wizardry, and only barely managed to recognize that the (ugh) grey robe and worn bag were just as ordinary as they had ever been.
It really hit home then how dangerous Aaron was.
The troupe stood on a balcony, overlooking the floor upon which money flowed and circulated like blood sacrifice to the House.
Blue chips, fifty credits, enough for a meal and maybe enough left over to pay off the cop trying to rustle you out of the gutter. Blues skittered on the tables under other colors, the lowest denominator filling in the gaps between larger transactions.
Green, five hundred, a night in the...less prosperous end of town. Seedy rooms, peeling wallpaper, a neon confusion through the windows at all hours of the night or day.
Purple, two thousand...
And up, and up, and up to the reds and whites, a hundred thousand, five hundred thousand, the topmost layer of the swirl of multicolored money ebbing and surging on the tides of chance and fate, candy-cane colors the cornerstone of finance.
Theoretically, on Eta Carina’s system of commerce, the scale rose ever-higher to the fabled billions and trillions, where the chips were gilded with platinum and titanium and various lacings of other exotic matter, though no one in the Feedback Loop had seen such currency in living memory. They were colored in subtle shades of golden-yellow and silvery-grey, by some psychological necessity that history had long relegated to forgotten shelves.
He’s doing it again! He’s practicing aurumancy without any thought as to the fiscal responsibilities-
<font color="#AAA555">“Moneybags! What did I say about not worrying?” The two of them reached the end of a large row of steel boxes, each one fitted with a complex electronic lock.
Change riffled his notes in indignation. Remind me of the worth in following you around, as opposed to that in stopping Aaron?
Artemis keyed in a code into an electronic keypad and wrenched open the nearest box. Inside, electronics wittered and glittered to the music of chance and lottery. “Cash. Cold, hard cash.”
Aaron stared at the roulette table, watching the little white ball roll around and around, spelling thirty-eight fates for the chips laid out on the table. In his daze he saw his own lonely blue sitting amongst stacks of red and white, standing on 19...
The croupier reached for the blue across the table, hand outstretched, and in that moment Aaron saw the sneer plastered under that croupierly nose. I’ve got to pay out a fifty,
it said, a bloody godsdamn fifty. Man could have played any number of colors and he stuck a friggin’ blue on there. Idiot.
Perhaps it was that sneer that prompted Aaron into doing what he did next. Certainly he didn’t know himself.
“What’s your name?”
Peter opened his mouth to snap back at the stupid suit, something snarky like ‘read my badge’ or ‘we’re not people, you don’t need to know’, or even...but he realized all he’d said was ‘Peter, sir.’
“I want you to look hard at that chip, Peter. I want you to really see it.”
There was something to what the suit was saying, though. The chip did look pretty weird-
Aaron concentrated, pushing his influence through the mental plane like molasses, “Does that look blue to you, Peter? Surely nothing that
precious could possibly be blue.”
People were noticing, murmuring, and without hesitating Aaron tuned their minds into the deception as well...
Artemis looked up in amusement as Change did little frustrated somersaults in the air. <font color="#CDAD00">Oh no. Oh no oh no oh no oh no...
“Relax, moneybags. We’re almost done here.”</font>
In an office deep inside the Feedback Loop, Richie Rickshaw, proprietor, was having a minor heart attack. “Five billion credits, Harrison?! Five...billion...credits?!”
The head assistant tapped wildly at the tablet set into the synthetic redwood desk. “I ran the chip twice. Robot passed it for inspection both times.”
“I didn’t even think the valuium chips still circulated!”
“They aren’t, not this side of town!"
Richie was not a healthy man to begin with, and this wasn't helping his 200-pound body one bit. Because one didn't become a entrepreneur in Eta Carina without a few tics, his hammy hands slowly crept to the edge of the desk and began kneading at it, like dough. "What're we going to do?"
Grimly, the assistant set his face into a crude approximation of a smile. "We...pay out
, sir." He spat the phrase as if it were poison.
"Can...can we cover that?"
"We should. Oh! Look at it this way, if news gets out, then we'll see a spike in popularity, and then-"
Irritably, Richie waved a hand. "That old biscuit. No one believes that anymore. We'd never make enough to cover paying out this once in what little interest we could generate." He heaved a sigh, sending interesting wave phenomena down the collar of his suit. "I been in this town a long time, Harrison. Bought into the Loop ten years ago, when it was still uptown. And in a decade, if there's anything I learned, it's that this is one hellhole of a city. If there's any magic, it's all uptown, where all the real bastards run their houses. You gotta be a real bastard to run a casino, if you're lookin' to survive."
“It takes a right bastard to do what we’re doing, moneybags.” <font color="#CDAD00">Change watched as Artemis artificed her way inside the humming steel box, attaching clips and pieces of wire to circuitry with bits of solder, hot glue, and what the Transaction could have sworn was bubblegum.
And...and what are we doing?
A river of money flowed in the cybernetic world, lapping against its banks, splitting into tributaries that invaded every nook and cranny. Here and there, cashflow slowed and pooled in vaults, safes, socks under the mattress.
Among them lay the Feedback Loop’s accounts, a transient pool on the fabric of Eta Carina’s financial spacetime, barely endeavoring to keep its depth amongst the outflows and displacements. A closer look, and the individual transactions between machine and man could be seen in a web of nodes, pushing money to and fro between customer and house.
Slot Machine #238 was paying out. It was the strangest thing, since #238 was currently lying disassembled on a workbench, its payout mechanism connected directly to the nearest banking network. A creatively rewired control computer a few floors below continually sent it the command to win, opening a drain in the bottom of the Feedback Loop’s electronic vault.
The office door burst open, its inset glass cracking between ‘Richie Rickshaw’ and ‘Owner'. A meaty hand slowly withdrew from the doorway, its owner stepping aside to reveal the comparatively smaller frame of Aaron Abstract, millionaire.
“There wasn’t any call for that, Alistair.” His voice was different now - colder. More businesslike. Much more professional than the wreck that had first washed up in a workroom behind the casino facades.
“Sorry, Mr. Abstract, sir.”
Richie Rickshaw stared, hands working away at the desk, as Mr. Abstract stepped into the office as if he owned the place. Behind him, an entourage wittered in the hallway, muffled slightly by the muscle blocking most of the doorframe.
True to his credit as an assistant, Harrison recovered first. “What’s the meaning of-”
Aaron held up a dismissive hand. “You’ve got something that belongs to me. A lot of somethings. A lot of meals and hotel rooms and perks for underpaid coppers. A lot of what really makes the world go round, Mister,” he peeked at the cracked etching on the door, “Rickshaw.”
“Well, why didn’t you claim it at the exchange, Mister,” Harrison mock-stared at an imaginary clipboard, “Abstract
“I did try, but the staff behind the desk...directed me up here. Over their shoulders, in fact, as they were...what’s the word?” Aaron’s face lit up in a cruel smile. “Hightailing
it out of there.”
The chair behind the desk screeched as it skidded across the floor. “What?!
“You can’t pay, can you, Mr. Rickshaw? Not so rich as your name suggests?”
A brief hesitation colored the proprietor’s speech, but Rickshaw still hauled himself as tall as he could manage. “O-of course we can! Pay the man, Harrison! We can do a wire transfer, right here, right now!”
And Harrison’s voice rang clear like a bell into the sudden silence of the room: “No. We can’t.”
Artemis slammed shut the steel locker’s door, pausing only to hear the satisfying thud of bars shooting home. “And now, moneybags - we haul ass.”
“We. Haul. Ass.”</font>
There was a tableau of perfect stillness in that office. Aaron simply stood, basking in the desperation, anger, sadness, despair - the emotions that fought before the backdrop of Rickshaw’s face as Rickshaw’s body fought to keep standing.
Then the silence was broken by two sounds: Harrison’s screams, and bone grinding on bone as the meaty hand of Alistair squeezed the pistol out of the assistant’s.
“Oh, is that how they do it this side of Eta Carina, then?” A sardonic smile slid its way onto Aaron’s face. “You wouldn’t have done it, Harrison.”
It was to his credit that the assistant’s voice never wavered, issuing calmly from white lips. “I would. I would and I’d have shot you twice more to be sure. What makes...what makes you so sure?”
“Really. Am I the only one here that sees the way out of this?”
“Apparently, I am. Five billion credits? You’re standing in it