The Deck

Sync winced as he touched the black and blue patch of skin surrounding the datajack adorning his left temple. The job was success; but it also nearly wasn’t. The contusion and burn mark traced a chaotic trail to his datajack, a painful reminder that success often comes at a cost. The site’s defenses were more formidable than previously thought, a fact Sync felt Rook dropped the ball on.

Sync retrieved the cyberdeck from his satchel, its right side a charred memory of the night’s escapades. Once his lifeline now nothing more than a burnt-out, useless brick. His old deck was far from SOTA, but it was his. He will now have to make a new one, at least until he could find a run paying enough cred to buy himself something nice.

The mirror was a relic, speckled and stained, offering a fragmented reflection of the man who stood before it. Sync leaned in, his eyes tracing the crude sutures that snaked across his face—a stark contrast against his pale skin. He winced, cursing under his breath. More time for recovery meant less time to work.

The small bathroom reeked of disinfectant, its odor a sharp, clinical assault that somehow failed to mask the underlying scent of decay. Sync’s gaze lingered on his reflection. The mirror revealed a man in his late twenties, but the eyes told a story of lifetimes lived in the shadows. His magenta fauxhawk, streaked with bold gold, seemed out of place amidst the sterility, a vibrant rebellion. It mirrored the chaotic order of his heavily pierced ears—metal and flesh in a deliberate, defiant array.

Was it truly a symbol of defiance? His looks were part of his calling card, a means to communicate who he was at a glance. A way to wear his disdain for the order megacorps were so intent to impose on society. At the same time, he was curating his image to be recognized as what he was, a PR stunt amidst the chaotic shadows of the world he lived in.

He stepped back, his movements a dance of pain and precision. Sync’s attire, functional and nondescript, clung to his lean frame, a silhouette carved out of the dim lighting. The bathroom door groaned in protest as he emerged, stepping into the brighter but no less grim interior of the street clinic.

Patch was there, a hulking figure surrounded by medical paraphernalia that seemed as dubious as his reputation. The street doc’s eyes, sharp and calculating, followed Sync as he approached.

“Looks like you barely made it, Sync,” Patch remarked, his voice as gruff as his unshaven face.

“Thanks to you, I’m still on the right side of the dirt,” Sync replied, his voice a low rumble, devoid of warmth.

The exchange of nuyen was terse, the currency a mere formality in their world. Sync’s payment was light, the weight of the unpaid job heavy in his pockets. He would receive his cut soon, but street docs don’t accept IOUs as payment. Patch accepted the credits with a nonchalant grunt, his eyes betraying nothing of his thoughts.

“You’ll live,” Patch said, a statement devoid of comfort. “But keep that datajack dry, or you’ll be back here sooner than you’d like.”

Sync nodded, his expression unreadable. He moved towards the exit, each step a testament to his resilience. The clinic’s door swung open, releasing him back into the neon-drenched streets, a shadow among shadows.

The rain had finally stopped. The streets were drenched, a colorful reflection of the sensory assault of every cheap neon signs desperately asking potential customers to come in and spend their hard earned nuyens on things they didn’t need. The bright and loud cacophony an ode to consumerism that even Sync could not always ignore. He stopped briefly by a run down second-hand electronic shop upon seeing the bright red flashing lettering making the promise of offering the best deals on used Cyberdecks. Sync sighed then approached the entrance, the automatic sliding door giving way in a nearly inaudible swish.

It was clear the owner had spared no expense on the digital signs out front. The interior of the shop was a labyrinth of discarded tech in random piles, precariously stacked. The walls were not better, with anything from commlinks, security locks, biometric readers and much more, displayed without any sort of obvious organization.

Sync carefully made his way to the back of the shallow shop. The clutter made the short distance from the door to the counter feel like a test. Sync passed, approaching a smiling dwarf, showcasing a row of chrome coated teeth to go along with the gold-colored dermal implant covering his chin. He nervously slid a hand through his long, curly and greasy greying hair.

“Welcome to Byte and Barter, chummer. You looking for something in particular?” said the dwarf, arms opened, more pleading than inviting a potential customer to spend some cred.

A name popped in subtle blue lettering over the right chest pocket of the shopkeeper’s denim vest: Drix.

“A cyberdeck. Something that can handle heat,” Sync replied, his eyes scanning the shelves, curious to see what a place like this could possibly have to offer.

Drix chuckled, a sound like gravel being churned. “Ain’t nothing here can’t handle a bit of heat, but it’ll cost ya.”

Promising. Price was a secondary concern for Sync. He needed a deck, and he needed it now. But in the shadows, it wasn’t just about nuyen; it was about survival.

“Show me what you’ve got, Drix. But I’m not looking for any junk,” Sync said, his tone even but firm.

Drix’s eyes narrowed, but he nodded, leading Sync through an aisle lined with gadgets and gizmos, remnants of a thousand forgotten stories and failed runs from wannabes that found the hard way that they weren’t up to it. He stopped before a case, pulling out a sleek, black cyberdeck. It looked almost too pristine for a place like this.

“This one’s a beaut. Fresh off a corp exec who didn’t know what he had,” Drix said, his tone a mix of pride and cunning.

Sync inspected the deck. It was a good model, but something felt off. He glanced at Drix, who was avoiding eye contact. Sync’s instincts, honed by years in the shadows, kicked in.

“Stolen?”

Drix’s silence was answer enough.

Sync weighed his options. A hot deck was trouble, but it was also leverage.

“I’ll take it. At half price. And Drix,” Sync leaned in, his voice low, “You sell me junk, and I’ll be back.”

Drix swallowed, nodded, and began the transaction. As Sync left “Byte & Barter,” cyberdeck in hand, he traced a finger over the silver engraving of the device’s model: MCT 360. He glanced over its finer detail, an experienced appraisal that notes obvious modification. This was a custom job. Sync’s curiosity was insatiable, his mind making fantastic scenarios about the device’s history.

The sound of a breaking bottle broke Sync of his reverie. The world before him overlayed by offensive AR programs. False alarm, just the usual sounds of this corner of the city. The decker took a deep breath and disappeared into the alley’s shadows.

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