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sins of a cybernetic empire

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Waver Velvet yelped as the implant he was working on sparked at him, electronics fizzling and rendering the whole project useless. He sighed and shoved the damaged goods to the side, glancing around the shop. There was a bit of dust lingering on the shelves – he’d have to take care of that later. Customers didn’t like dust on books or electronics, he guessed he’d been slacking a little bit. He stretched with a sigh and moved to grab a dust rag to start cleaning up.

Perhaps you should have grounded yourself, Waver.” His AI’s voice was soft, almost melodious.

“I probably should have, yes, Libby.” Waver ran a hand through his chin length dark hair before shaking his head. It felt a bit silly to be talking to an AI he’d created to help with the shop and his apartment, but, well, sometimes he got a bit lonely. Libra (Libby) was at least good for conversation. At least he thought so. “You could have reminded me as well.”

You’ve instructed me to not interrupt your work, you know.

Waver rolled his eyes, but once again, his little AI was correct.

He’d inherited the media shop from his parents, his mother specifically. A shop that sold books alongside electronics and electronic media was a rarity in the society Waver was in. Electronics and technology were favored, but Waver found something comforting about working around books. He was surrounded by history.

That, and if he needed an obscure reference book, Waver was pretty likely to find it hiding in the shop’s extensive library. That simple fact had been one of the contributing factors to him having a head’s up over some of the other people in his university courses. It wasn’t his fault that the rest of his class didn’t think to look in reference books.

Not all information was on the Internet, after all.

He wiped the dust away, having to go up on his tiptoes to reach most of the shelves. Waver was being a tad stubborn about that – he hadn’t accepted that he was done growing height-wise, but he was 20 years old and who grew after their twentieth birthday?

His thoughts were interrupted at the gentle ping of the door opening. He glanced over his shoulder, his ‘customer face’ slipping on. The man coming into the building was enormous – Waver swore he had to be somewhere around 7 feet tall. Granted, his perspective on height was somewhat skewed considering on a ‘tall day’ Waver was only about 5’2”.

“Welcome to the Velvet Media Vault.” Waver smiled as he tucked the dust rag into his back pocket. “Please let me know if you need help locating anything.”

He got a better look at the man now. He was tall, broad in the shoulders, with tanned skin and rusty red hair on both his head and face. While he was clearly part titan, there was no denying that there was an attractiveness to the stranger. Waver might have been intimidated, but the guy’s face was split into a wide, cheerful grin. Robbers didn’t smile like that, right?

“I’ll let you know if I need anything, boy.”

Of course. The man thought he was the kid of the owners, not the actual owner. Wonderful. He felt Libby shift from the apartment and store’s network toward his neural link. It was his only cybernetic enhancement thus far, a very ‘plain Jane’ one. It allowed him to be connected to the internet and data stream at all times, many university students wound up getting them to keep up with their studies.

Perhaps you should ask him how he got so tall so you may also become tall.” The words were whispered right into Waver’s mind via his neural link.

Waver had been regretting having installed one of the new AI personality units in Libby. She had become sassy and snarky and teased him all the time. But…the unit had made her a better conversationalist, so he supposed he shouldn’t complain too much. And he couldn’t bring himself to uninstall that personality unit. Libby seemed so happy with it and he didn’t want to take that away from her. Even if he was the one getting bile thrown at him.

But the giant of a man browsed around the shop, only asking a few questions here and there. It seemed he was content to look around. So Waver retreated to his counter, pulling out another project to work on. He urged Libby back into the store’s network so he wouldn’t look nuts if he started asking her questions.

This one was one of his pet projects, though if he was honest with himself, most of his projects were like that. But this one Waver was especially proud of; he’d been working on it for the better part of a year. The process had been incredibly delicate and he was hoping to show it to one of his professors when he went to class later. There were plenty of cybernetic implants on the market that enhanced speed and strength, some that augmented particular muscles, some more advanced versions of his neural link. But this one? Waver had designed it to increase reaction speed. It had taken awhile to figure out the proper signal to have the cybernetic implant latch on to – yet another moment that he’d been grateful for the media shop’s cache of weird books.

“Libby, mind looking up ‘cybernetic implant reflex enhancement’ for me?” Could he do it on his own? Yes. Was he a bit too preoccupied with handling the implant to do so? Yes. Had he done this search every week for a year just to be sure someone else wasn’t taking his idea? Absolutely.

I will look it up for you, though I doubt that the status has changed since you searched last week.

There was a slight, deep snicker from the other man in the shop and Waver felt his cheeks flame. Sure, it was paranoid, but he would rather be overly cautious and make sure no one else had ripped off his idea.  He wanted this to be his claim to fame.

“Thanks Libby.” There was a bit of snark mixing in his tone and he didn’t care.

He glanced to the clock – he had half an hour until he had to be in class, so he’d have to shut the shop down in the next fifteen minutes to be sure he had enough travel time. Even when he booked it, Waver still needed about fifteen minutes. He blamed his short legs.

He toyed with everything for a few more moments before carefully packing the implant into a static-free box and cushioning it with static-free foam. He knew moving it to the university was a bit of a risk, but Waver wanted a bit of feedback on it. He couldn’t tweak it and perfect it without feedback from someone more knowledgeable in the field. He’d risk the small chance of damage for valuable input on what he could be doing better.

Plus, hearing praise would give him a bit of a confidence boost.

As expected, there are still no search results for ‘cybernetic implant reflex enhancement’.” Libby’s soft voice came from the speaker above his head. “Waver, you have about twenty minutes until you are due in class.

Waver nodded to himself, the slightest of smiles twitching against his lips. “Thanks Libby.”

His eyes settled onto the stranger in his shop – the man was looking at a few of the CDs that his parents had displayed in the store. He didn’t seem particularly interested in buying anything, which Waver didn’t find all that odd. There were some oddities in the store; he had a few gawkers come through each day. He didn’t mind too much, at least when they were like this guy. He was quiet enough, only chuckling from time to time. But he was keeping to himself and that was all that Waver could really ask for, that meant he could get some work done. But for now, he needed the giant to clear out.

He approached slowly, swallowing dryly as he glanced up at the much taller man. “Excuse me, sir. But I have class in twenty minutes and need to close up the shop for the afternoon.”

The redhead grinned down at him. “Well, I can’t be interrupting someone’s education. Thanks for letting me hang around in here. Real neat place, boy.”

Once again, the word ‘boy’ stabbed straight into Waver’s fragile ego.

“Not a problem, sir. I hope to see you in here again.” He watched the giant retreat from the shop, his customer smile intact until the door closed tightly. It slowly morphed into a scowl as he sighed. “I am not a child.”

Yes, you are clearly the epitome of an adult as you sulk about being called ‘boy’.

“I’m having a perfectly acceptable response to being called a child when I’m twenty years old.” Waver huffed.

Clearly.

The noise he made was nothing short of indignant as he skulked behind the counter to grab his leather bag. Waver checked it over twice before nodding to himself. Yes, he had everything he needed for his class, including extra pens in case one of his just stopped working.

“Alright, Libby. Lock up everything then pop over into my implant.” Waver grabbed everything up and walked out the door.

He latched the physical lock and waited for the comforting hum of the security system engaging. It only took a few extra moments for that sound to resonate through the door. Waver sighed in relief, eyes closing as he felt Libby flit into his neural implant.

He started toward the university, eyes lingering along the buildings jutting up toward the sky. It was a bit odd to be living in such a business oriented area, but there were a few things he really liked about it. There was no shortage of parts for the implants that he worked on, he could find just about anything he needed in terms of technology. There weren’t many other people living in the area, so Waver didn’t get interrupted when he was working on homework, he supposed that was nice. Lonely, but nice. He wasn’t the only smaller shop in the area, but they were the minority.

Thankfully, Waver had a stranglehold on the media and book front, so his business was still profitable even with the big names around.

The skyscrapers tapered off to apartment buildings and smaller shops. It was still the city, very much so, but it was more lived in. There were people milling around, businessmen calling out about their products, about the deals they had. A cursory glance over to a few revealed a few shoddily put together implants – ones that would degrade within the human body. They’d work for a bit of time, but the person would have to get a new one within a few months. Mass produced crap. A look in the other direction revealed a few teenagers grouped together with their tablets out, playing some sort of mobile game. It was loud and busy and quite crowded. He supposed a better word was alive.

He ducked under the arm of a salesman who was flailing the newest product from Gate Incorporated. Waver wasn’t interested in the least, but that wasn’t going to stop the businessman from trying to make a sale. He supposed he couldn’t fault him for that. But he was on a tight timeline at the moment, getting caught in a sales pitch would make him let for Professor Archibald’s class.

And if he was late, he wouldn’t be allowed in. Professor Archibald locked the door when he started class. If you couldn’t be on time, you obviously didn’t care about his class enough. It was a harsh rule, but Waver could see why he had it in place.

“Libby, how much longer?” He whispered the words while he moved. Despite it being perfectly normal to converse with the AI in his neural link, he was quite self-conscious about it.

You have five minutes and twenty seven seconds until Professor Kayneth Archibald’s class begins. I would recommend that you start running.

He swore under his breath and broke into a run. He refused to be late to this class. Absolutely refused. He could feel his breath coming in sharp, short pants as he ducked under the arms of another salesman and finally breached onto the campus’ property. He started sprinting across the yard, ignoring that there were indignant yells from other students and from a few professors who were wandering about. Stairs were taken two at a time despite the shortness of his legs and he internally cursed whoever had decided that this class should take place in a third floor lecture hall in the building with the steepest stairs.

Waver careened around the corner, eyes going wide when he saw his professor in the hall, getting ready to close and lock the door. He darted past him, whispered an apology, and slumped down in a seat toward the back of the room. Professor Archibald glared at him as he stalked up to the lectern to begin the lecture.

But he’d made it and that was all Waver could ask for. He pulled out his notebook and waited for Professor Archibald to begin. He could feel sweat trickling down his spine, gross. That was going to be distracting.

But he was just glad he wasn’t going to miss his favorite class.