“Why did this have to happen to me?” Jeffie whined. René Biagini patted his friend on the hand and flicked a finger up to the waiter for another glass of synth-wine.
“Can you tell me exactly what was done?” Biagini asked, setting his system to record the conversation. He didn’t really think he’d be able to find whoever vandalized his friend’s store, but he’d promised to try so he ought to put a little effort in. “Do you have a recording of the instantiation?”
Jeffie nodded. “I record every work day. Prevents a lot of disputes over price quotes.”
“Good,” René said. “Send me the vid.” The wine arrived and René felt a download drop into his system. “You drink this,” he said, handing Jeffie a large glass of red, “while I look at it, okay?”
Jeffie sniffled and nodded, sipping the wine. The vid showed a blurry image of Jeffie’s storefront as it materialized in front of his vision. René had visited it more than a few times, and expected to see the familiar yellow and orange sign over the green portal door. Instead, there was a disturbing electrical buzzing sound and the door was distorted and pixellated. It did not look safe to enter, but Jeffie must have gone in anyway as the vid’s point of view moved through the portal and into what should have been the small shop.
From his previous visits, René recalled that Jeffie would have two or three of his models out and available to interact with walk-in clientele. There was even a small cubicle where clients could try before they’d buy. In the vid, the walls of the cubicle appeared to be slashed and the two models — it looked like Mintra and Oolo to René — were cut into pieces and lying on the floor. There was no blood or gore, but René couldn’t shake the disturbing feeling that he was looking at a murder scene. He understood now why Jeffie was so upset.
“I’m sorry,” he said, and reached out for his friend’s hand again. “That’s just horrible.”
Jeffie nodded. “I checked all the code,” he said putting down the half-empty wine glass. “It’s all still there and the links are fine. I don’t know how anyone cracked into my private disk space, but I’ve reset all my passwords and tokens. I can fix the door in a few hours and I’m pretty sure I can repair the boys and girls, too.” He looked at René. “It’s just the sense of violation, you know?”
“Of course,” René said. “Not to mention the lost business.”
Jeffie shrugged. “If I’m closed for a couple of days I can manage. But I just don’t feel safe anymore. If I lost the shop, I don’t know what I’d do. I wouldn’t be able to pay my rent, and I’ve been without a regular job for a year. I’d never get anything over level two now. I’d have to start over from scratch.”
Jeffie looked like he was going to start crying again, so René patted his friend on the shoulder. “Don’t think like that,” he said. “If whoever it was wanted to destroy your shop, they could have done a lot worse. It was probably just kids or some fucked-up stim-head. You’ll get over it, Jeffie. It was just pixels and code after all.”
“This time it’s just pixels and code,” Jeffie said, “next time it could be my whole livelihood.”
“There won’t be a next time,” René said, but he didn’t know how he could promise that. He ordered two more glasses of wine, and turned on the Biagini charm. If he couldn’t fix Jeffie’s problems, the least he could do was help his friend forget them.