She looked like one of those statues of pharaohs you see in the history holos – god kings of old who had the power to shape stone and bend even the great Nile itself to their will. She looked as if she could do that to a man herself with a look, her smile weirdly symmetrical so that you felt that if you took your eyes off it for a second you might forget that face and never quite be able to conjure an adequate representation of it in your mind again.
I hadn’t taken a drink in around a year or so. Looking at her was oddly like my memory of what being drunk was like.
“London is always something new.”
I had no idea why I’d said it – if I’d thought about it, I never would have had the nerve.
“Oh, you’re from here?”
“I was born here.” Gentrification had driven my family out long ago. Yet I still felt connected to it, like a cortical shunt to the head. “Wish I had as much personality as this place does,” I said weakly.
“Don’t put yourself down,” she said. “That’s not selling you to anybody.”
“Well I’m not trying to sell you anything. What is this – America?”
We both laughed.
“So you were just saying hi?”
“Hi. I’m Mona.”
She wore fashionable city clothes under her coat that looked new and expensive, and she showed me the implant behind her ear proudly. She worked for a telecoms company in London, she told me, and this was one of the perks of the job. Although cybernetics had already become fashionable, this one had some cutting-edge features. It was always on, relaying information. She could even tune it in to the BBC.
“My goodness. Is it recording us right now?”
“It could be.”
“Aren’t you worried about someone listening to you? Is it even on during – you know..?”
She just laughed at the idea. “I don’t have anything to hide.”
“I’m not sure if I like that idea.”
“The company are looking for people who want to upgrade. Why don’t you sign up as a beta tester?”
“Me? Why me?”
“I’d get a commission.”
“Oh. And I thought you were just being nice.”
“I am nice! And I need the money. So what do you say?” She came over and sat next to me and thumbed the edge of my careworn jacket: “It’s easy. You just have to be on call three or four hours a day. And you can still do whatever else it is that you do.”
“I’m a bookseller,” I said.
“Well then,” she said, “it’s about time you caught up with the twenty-first century!”
A few weeks later we were walking on Westminster Bridge when the attack happened…
to be continued