Valentino was a miserable old sod. Didn’t take too kindly to people turning up unannounced – that was a great way to get perma-banned – but she’d dealt with the old git many times before, and she knew exactly how to handle him.
She fired off a quick IM: “Hey V! How’s my favourite ex-Linden? Guess who? Yep, it’s that irritating virtual P.I. you love so much. Wanna slope off somewhere and get nekkid together?”
The answer, when it came, was just as she’d expected: “Haven! Bugger off, you rancid old tart. Go bother someone else instead.”
“Not gonna happen”, she responded. “You owe me one!”
“I’ve no time for this. Go play at being a private dick elsewhere. Preferably in hell!”
“Awww… You don’t mean that. D’ya want a chance to piss off the Lab or not?”
It was a good ten minutes before his reply came. “OK. You got me. Come on over.”
Valentino was an avatar with an agenda, or rather a grudge that he wasn’t prepared to drop any time soon. He’d been one of the Lab’s brightest and best employees – a straight-talker, well liked by the residents and always prepared to go out of his way to pull a few strings to help out anyone in trouble. Then, back in late 2013, he found himself on the unwelcome receiving end of the infamous Linden HR Skype call – the powers above were of the opinion that he was was ‘no longer aligned with the direction The Lab were going’. He was out of favour, off the payroll, and on the scrapheap. Bet he wasn’t going to take it lying down. Although denied the coveted Linden name, he was determined that wasn’t going to to stand in the way of his inworld capabilities, and those capabilities were impressive. Nobody knew quite what he could do – there were rumours he’d coded his own bespoke, and highly questionable viewer – which, coupled with underground contacts at the Lab who remained loyal to their ex-colleague, made him a formidable force to be reckoned with. That is, if you could find him. Valentino was a very useful guy to know.
When she arrived at his home, it was much as she remembered last seeing it, a small, unremarkable Linden home – he’d once told her that he lived there out of a sense of irony – there were none of the banks of computers, monitors and other paraphernalia you’d expect to find at an expert hacker’s inworld base of operations, in fact, the only clues to the clandestine nature of his affairs was a small media prim, upon which played a live feed of the interior of Battery Street, in front of which was a large and inviting button. She’d once asked him what would happen if the button was pressed; he laughed, and told her it would set off the fire alarms at the Lab’s offices and that he’d occasionally activate them, just to watch the ensuing chaos as everybody frantically tried to save their work before evacuating. She suspected there might be more to it than that, but it was really none of her business.
“Haven, you irritating pain in the arse, long time, no see… Shame you couldn’t keep it that way!”
“Lovely to see you too”, she responded, “how are you keeping?”
“I was fine until your ugly mug turned up here. When are you going to get yourself a decent mesh head and stop scaring kids in the street?”
Valentino reckoned it was unlikely, but theoretically possible… And, if it was possible, then it would give him enormous pleasure to expose whatever snippet of dodgy Linden code was responsible, or – better still – exploit it for his own purposes. Not known for being overly demonstrative, the irascible ex-Labber even managed to let slip a rare ‘Yay!!!’ gesture!
He was slightly less pleased when she told him she was on a deadline and would need both an answer, and a solution in the next few hours.
“Who the hell do you think I am… Superman?”
She fluttered her eyelashes, grateful for the rarely used, but indispensable HUD that allowed her to do so. “You mean you’re not?” She replied winsomely, “but I’m sure I’ve seen you fly!”
She smiled – that HUD, such a useful piece of kit – “I know it’s probably an impossible task, but if anyone can do it, I can’t think of anyone more capable than you!”
She knew she had him.
“I’ll message you”, he said. “Now piss off, I’ve work to do!”
Oh oh when I if I was a kid oh how magic it seemed
Oh please let me dream it’s Christmas time
Pearl Jam – Let Me Sleep