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Candido Reloaded [Finale]

Back to part 5: x

Ceyla had received the data drive. Of that Nick was certain. But after that a weeks-long silence followed. The anonymous account that used to contact him on his PerTer had gone dark and was no longer able to receive messages. On the plus side, the retribution he had feared from Bennet’s Consulting didn’t come; apparently the leak had gone unnoticed. Coffee breaks with Amanda had become a regular occurrence that saw him as a bored, yet somewhat obliged, participant. Day in and day out, Nick carried on to the office waiting for any kind of news, until he was fully submerged again in his old, uneventful daily routine.

The Jaybot in his flat now resembled Ceyla much more closely. It still lacked the cheek marks, but its face structure, hairstyle and body shape matched his memory of her. He had changed the bot’s voice to be feminine, but without a sample of Ceyla’s tone there was no way of replicating the same accent. The Jaybot had become a pleasure and a crux, constant reminder of the person it was supposed to take after. As the nights grew longer, Nick found himself spending more and more time with it, in a way or another, to the point he had to ship it for repairs at the end of the month.

With the flat truly empty, there was nothing to shield him from the truth. Ceyla had taken advantage of his position to leak the data, he was certain of that. Her sudden disappearance spoke volumes. And yet, Nick couldn’t find an ounce of anger in his body. Looking through the windows to the skyscrapers lighting up in the evening sky, when the silence in his house had become unbearable, he resolved to do the unthinkable.

He took a cab back to the junction on the 205th that same night, despite the danger. He made the driver stop in front of the dilapidated department store.

“Wait for me. I won’t be long.” The driver replied something that Nick didn’t register; he was just a blurry image with a furrowed mono-brow as he jumped out of the car.

A small crowd of kids stood watch near the entrances, their sunken faces partially hidden by long hoods and, in one case, what looked like a bike helmet. Nick rushed in the dark maw of the building, frantically tracing his steps back to the broken escalator, his hurried steps soon breaking into a run. He stopped at the first floor to catch his breath – according to the silent hallways behind him, he wasn’t being followed.

He only had a vague memory of the place. He only remembered closed doors and the hushed tones of people talking in small makeshift houses. Where Ceyla’s place had been, however, the door had been left open. The single room had been stripped bare, leaving nothing of value inside. Just the two tables remained, pushed against the back wall. The curtain of the bathroom area had been pulled from the ceiling and now laid on the floor, looking like the skin of a plastic snake.

She’s been busy moving, Nick thought, feeling weak in his knees. I should have hold her one last time. Had he chosen to spend the night with her… had he remembered the flowers and the Girl under the Last Willow...

Getting back outside felt like having to relearn how to walk. The voices behind closed doors grew to become screamed arguments and a single explosion of rancid laughter. Outside the pack of street boys was still around, exchanging cigarettes and small plastic bags, too focused on their trade to mind him. The cab driver looked at him with a silent question and he caressed the idea of giving up for good. But it wasn’t time yet.

Nick made instead for the old metro station. The stairs were as slick as he remembered, and further ahead the plastic sheets that separated Merine’s restaurant from the rest of the ruins were still in place. A comforting smell of oily food lingered on the backdrop of humid metro tunnels. His heart skipped a beat when he found the same long table waiting for him. Just a couple of hobos were eating, IY poking from their necks.

“Pona tawa kana? Tawa sina?” He didn’t remember the greeting Ceyla had used. The men at the table glanced at him, then went back to their plates.

Nick let his body collapse on a chair. Hours, or maybe just minutes later, he heard a familiar voice.

“You won’t find her here.” Merine was wearing a gray apron and a knowing, if sad, smile.

“Where is she?”

Merine sat beside him. “Tan Neon City. Tawa Neon City.”

“She’s still here?”

The woman shrugged. “She won’t meet you.”


“It’s her wish.” Merine slowly put an arm around his shoulders. It was heavy, but warm, and Nick didn’t push back. “It’s better like this, if someone comes with questions.”

Merine’s arm had to be the first real physical contact Nick had with somebody in weeks. He slouched on the chair, melting in that warmth. The woman pulled him closer as he started sobbing. I love her, Nick wanted to say, but each and every time he opened his mouth only broken syllables would slither out, and he wasn’t even true those were truthful. Maybe the word “love” managed to get out a couple of times, audible enough to be noticed between the sighs.

Merine gave no signs of hearing it, no signs of judging, she was just there, sure as a mountain. After a long while she patted his back and retreated in the kitchen without saying a word.

On the table, a spare IY plug laid waiting.


Candido, Reloaded is one of the short stories on my forthcoming project - a cyberpunk-weird collection set in Neon City, where you are equally liable to be screwed over by greedy megacorps and complacent eldritch Gods alike.

If you read this far, you have my sincerest thanks.


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