Trade

Wednesday is here, so that means new story. I posted the blurb yesterday, so all I’m going to say is this is a Sci-Fi story and is about 12700 words.

There is a knock at the door. Stuart peers through the peephole of his metal front door. On the other side is a dishevelled looking young man with grubby clothes, matted hair and a scruffy looking beard. Stuart knows why the man is here. There is only one reason anyone, especially with an appearance like this man, comes to this part of the city and knocks on the door of his black-market clinic.

Stuart looks past the man to see if anyone else is with him, but he sees only this desperate looking soul. Stuart sighs deeply. He doesn’t enjoy what will come next but he has to do it. Some of the people, like this man, will think he’s offering a service. Aiding them in their greatest time of need, but it’s not true. Stuart doesn’t run this clinic to help the less fortunate. He does it so Robby won’t break his legs, or worse. You see Stuart has a debt, a massive debt, which is a result of his gambling addiction. It’s an addiction that cost him everything. He lost his house, his car, his family, friends and worst of all, his job. He got in so deep and owed so much money to Robby, who is a loan shark, that he started stealing medication to sell. He had hoped he could generate enough capital to pay off his debt. Instead, he got himself caught after only a couple months and as a result was struck off the medical register.

Stuart retracts the three bolts on his door, one at the top, one at the bottom and one in the middle. Then he opens the latch, with the chain which is industrial grade still linked to the brick wall, and pulls the door open a good eight inches before he makes his face visible in the opening.

“Are…are you Doctor Machado?” The grubby looking homeless young man asks with a nervous look in his eyes. The homeless young man speaks with a stutter.

“I am. Are you here for the treatment?” Stuart confirms as he asks vaguely while looking over the young man. Such a shame Stuart thinks, but its either him or me and I’m picking me every time.

The young man says nothing and instead simply nods his response while he keeps his eyes averted. Stuart lowers his head slightly as he fiddles with the chain so that he can let the homeless man in.

Stuart wonders if Robby has sent him, but he doubts it. If it’s a Robby ‘client’ then he is usually in tow and that is certainly not the case here. Stuart has to admit he feels relief knowing that. He doesn’t like the loan shark, but then wonders if anyone likes loan sharks. He doubts it. There is nothing about them or their ‘work’ to like. They exploit the desperate and weak and Stuart had and still does definitely fall into that category.

He finishes fiddling with the chain and then pulls the door open wide to allow the homeless man entrance. It takes the homeless man a few moments, during which his eyes desperately dart back and forth, but finally he enters.

Stuart isn’t surprised. He’s seen the reaction a thousand times before, maybe not literally yet though. It’s the look of someone who is contemplating whether they have other options. The reality is they don’t and they know it deep down. If they did they wouldn’t be at Stuart’s door, which he swings closed and then slides the bolts shut to stop any possibly unwanted attendees. After all this is one of the roughest parts of the city, which is why Stuart’s walls, which are bare brick, have damp bleeding from just below the high ceilings. He hates this place, but it’s better than being homeless and having to visit a man like him for money.

“Take a seat.” Stuart offers politely as he gestures toward the reclined seat, which looks more like a dentist’s chair.

The homeless man says nothing as he shuffles across the open plan space filled with battered and stained bookshelves that are crammed with books, a simple bed, a couple tatty leather sofas, a plain kitchen area, a doorway to the bathroom and a table and couple mismatched chairs.

The young man had expected more from a doctor’s place than this, but it is clear to him that the chair and the tools on the nearby counter are clean. The homeless man slides onto the plastic coating of the reclined chair that is bolted to the floor.

He finds that the chair is neither comfortable nor uncomfortable. He doesn’t know how it can be neither, but decides it’s better than the unrelenting concrete of the street that he sleeps on every night. He can’t even remember the last time he slept in a bed, or even something with cushions.

He remembers when things had been much different. When he’d had a job, as a stock broker, lived in a high class apartment, partied regularly and drank champagne. That was all before he’d slept with his bosses’ wife, got caught and canned. His former boss didn’t stop there though. Instead, he made sure that he could never get any job ever again. He hated him for it, but there was nothing he could do. He didn’t even have the money to leave the city. And even if he left where would he go? He doesn’t know now, like he didn’t know then. Instead, he watched as everything was taken from his life until he had nothing but rags on his back. Even they were gone now, he notes. Replaced by threadbare clothes he dug out of the garbage one night. This isn’t how anyone should have to live, he thinks as he follows Doctor Machado with his eyes. He seems like a nice, decent man and wonders why he’s doing this. He doesn’t know and doubts he will. He just hopes that the doctor is as good as he’s heard. Memory extraction is dangerous business and often results in death if done incorrectly. But the word on the street goes that Doctor Machado has never lost anyone, which is why Ben is here.

“Are we ready?” Stuart asks with a smile as he rejoins the homeless young man, Ben. Stuart doesn’t know his name. He doesn’t want to, so never asks. What he is about to do isn’t easy and forming an attachment, a relationship, only makes it harder.

“Yes Doc.” Ben says in response with a slight nod. He’s scared, but the money he’ll get from having his memories extracted will help him start again. He’s got plans. He just hopes this extraction won’t take them from him. He knows he should ask, but he can’t find the courage to.

“Ok. Lay back. It doesn’t take long, but you have to stay still. Most prefer to close their eyes.” Stuart says with a calm reassuring voice. It’s a tone of voice that only a doctor can conjure and use to try and ease their patients concerns. Except Stuart isn’t a doctor anymore and this young man, like all those before him, is not a patient. He’s a client. Old habits, Stuart thinks as Ben settles, his eyes closed lightly.

Stuart looks down at the man for a short time. He doesn’t know how long. What he does know is the likelihood of the homeless desperate man being brain dead at the end of the procedure. But he won’t tell the man in need of money before him that. He needs the money even more than Ben, he thinks as he lifts a band, which he slides over the top of Ben’s head before tightening it so that it is in place.

The band sits just above the young man’s eyebrows. Stuart notes how thick this client’s hair is as he pumps the chairs height up before taking a position atop a low stall. Stuart’s fingers go to work feeling the back of Ben’s skull and the point at which his skull joins his spine. Once he’s located it, which doesn’t take him long at all, he digs his thumb lightly right where he needs to inject the extraction needle. With his free hand Stuart retrieves the long slither of a needle attached to a cable that is in turn linked to a mems, short for memory storage, extractor that will sift through and siphon off memories that fit criteria that have already been set.

Stuart hesitates for a moment as he considers whether to warn the client about the sting he will feel, but decides the suppressants will kick in after only a couple seconds so there is no need to.

Stuart drives the needle in. Ben screws his eyes tighter as he feels the sting of the needle being driven through the skin at the base of his skull. But just as quickly as the pain arrived he realises it is now gone. The needle now inserted into the port at the base of his skull. Though, he still keeps his eyes shut as Stuart activates the mems extractor which begins to sift through his memories. They flash across the display of the extractor briefly. Stuart keeps an eye on it as he watches the images, while still keeping hold of the needle plug. He has to admit this young man has seen amazing days, but they are all very much behind him. It should bring him a pang of sadness, but instead all it does is help to remind him of how far he’s fallen. These will sell well, Stuart thinks as he refuses to dwell on his own mistakes. It won’t help. He knows that. He’d done it in the early days after he’d been struck off by trying to drink his sorrows away. The only problem with that is that you need money for alcohol and it quickly ran out. In fact, he’d been surprised Robby hadn’t beaten him to death during those weeks. But now he knows that the loan shark needed Stuart to fall so completely that his desperation would make him do anything and it had. He owed Robby big, real big, and hates the man for watching him sink lower and lower and then exploiting him for it. If only he’d just killed me, Stuart had thought many times as the ping of the extractor brings Stuart back to the present. The machine is finished sifting through the young man’s memories, which will now need to be ripped. There is no other way he is going to tell the young man that the procedure often results in brain damage.

Instead, Stuart activates the rip of the extractor which draws an immediate reaction from Ben who screws his eyes shut tightly and grits his teeth as the veins on his neck become visible. A low continuous rumble of discomfort rolls from his mouth as the machine extracts and stores the best of his memories. He’ll still have them, if he doesn’t become brain dead, but they’ll be distant to him. It will feel more like he’s looking at them from a distance instead of reliving them. That is, if and when he decides to recall them. It’s the price that has to be paid and Ben knows that. Though he doesn’t know how high the likelihood of brain death is as he continues to feel the discomfort of the extractor while it rips memories of his partying, drinking and gambling.

Then suddenly the discomfort ends and Ben’s tense facial muscles relax again. His eyes are still shut as he breathes in and out slowly. The memories have been ripped and safely stored. Ben didn’t hear the second ping, the one that alerts Stuart to the completion though.

“All done.” Stuart says. He doesn’t know yet whether the young man is brain damaged or not, which is why he says the same thing every time after completing the procedure.

“Thanks doc.” Ben manages as he sits up and slowly opens his eyes. He feels the light flood back in so he can see the room again. Just as basic and simple as it had been before he’d closed his eyes. Ben feels comfort in that, but he doesn’t know why.

“Here’s your cash.” Stuart says as he drops three one hundred bills onto the trolley next to Ben.

Ben simply nods, collects the cash. He doesn’t need to count it, he can see it’s the amount it’s supposed to be and then slowly rises to his feet. He feels light headed but none the worse as he staggers towards the door. He concludes the sensation feels a little like being drunk as he stands there while Stuart retracts the bolts and opens the heavy metal door again to allow Ben to be on his way.

The young man staggers out Stuart’s door with the money tightly in his grip. One of the lucky ones, Stuart thinks as he spies a shape lumbering toward him. He knows who it is even before they reach the light that is directly above Stuart’s clinic door. His shoulders drop in frustration. He’d hoped his evening might be looking up, but that would have been too much to ask he knows as Robby slips through the open door.

“Doc.” Robby Smith, the hulking beast of a loan shark says as a greeting.

Stuart can guess why he’s here. He wants his money. He knows it’s that time of the week, but he had hoped that maybe he wouldn’t see him today. The loan shark rarely appears this late for collection.

“Robby.” Stuart says in reply as he pushes the door closed. He doesn’t slide the bolts across or apply the chain. He knows there is no need to. No one in this neighbourhood will mess with him. Here he’s a big fish. Even if the big fish is in a crumbling ocean of pathetic fools desperate for money. Whether that’s to repay a debt or start a life, it doesn’t matter.

Robby’s gold teeth are partially on display as he sneers, his cold dark brown eyes stare at Stuart who crosses the room to the extractor, pulls the mems chip which he then slides into the empty port on his main console.

The console is connected to the black-market mems auction centres which immediately erupt into a bidding frenzy as they try and acquire this latest offering from Doctor Stuart Machado.

Stuart doesn’t know who the buyers are. He never will and if he’s honest with himself he doesn’t want to. But from what Robby has intimated they come mainly from the entertainment and sex industries. It doesn’t surprise Stuart. In fact, he just simply doesn’t care. It’s not his concern.

Robby moves in close so that he is stood right behind Stuart able to watch the bidding. A smile creeps across his face as he sees the number continuing to spiral up to nine thousand quickly before beginning to slow. He knows the auction won’t last much longer, but that’s fine, he’ll get a decent pay check out of Stuart tonight.

“Eleven thousand.” Stuart declares as the bidding comes to an end.

“Which means…I’ve got a little more than twenty that I can pay you.” Stuart continues as he mentally tallies up what he can pay Robby tonight.

The loan shark smiles broadly as his tongue flicks across his lips. If Stuart didn’t know better he’d think the man is after food, but he isn’t. He wants money and lots of it and Stuart wonders when his debt will be paid and feels he has to ask.

“How much more is there to pay?” Stuart asks. He doesn’t feel confident, but he feels he needs to know.

Robby’s smile disappears in an instant. The sneer returning to his face as his brow furrows and he scowls. Stuart gulps. He knows the man is angry. It’s impossible not to know from the loan sharks face as he feels himself shrinking in his shoes. He is pretty sure Robby won’t kill him, though he doesn’t know exactly what he will do instead.

“As much as I say there’s to pay. You’re done when I say you’re done. When I have all my money back. Got it?” Robby says his face an inch from Stuart’s as he holds him by the scruff of the neck. Robby’s face is dark and angry, his eyes burning. Stuart can tell that Robby wants to beat him senseless, but the loan shark won’t. Robby needs Stuart. He’s a good cash cow. The truth is that the former doctor repair his debt a while ago, but he’d never let him know that. He’ll keep this going for as long as he can. Bleeding as much money out of his skills until the disgraced doctor either gets too greedy or too brave. He expects it’ll be greedy, purely because the man before him could never be brave. Even asking him a simple question about money has nearly ended in him wetting himself and that was before Robby did or said anything in response.

“If you try and screw me Doc I’ll kill you. But before that I’d break every bone in your body. No one would miss you. No one would care. Do you understand, doc?” Robby says spitting as he threatens Stuart. He knows he doesn’t need to, but he enjoys it. It makes everything crystal clear, he hopes as he releases Stuart who takes several steps back.

“Money.” Robby demands as he offers an outstretched open hand.

Stuart pulls the credit chip, which is completely untraceable and given to him by the loan shark himself, from the console and then drops it into Robby’s open palm. The loan shark smiles menacingly as he licks his lips, pockets the chip and spins on his heels heading for the door.

“I’ll be back in a couple days. I’ve got a ‘client’ that’ll help pay back a sizable chunk of that debt of yours.” Robby proclaims over his shoulder as he yanks the door open, smiles and then leaves, slamming the heavy metal door behind him.

Stuart races across the room and quickly slides the three bolts into place before taking several steps back. He knows Robby won’t be coming back but his fear won’t listen to reason as he stands there in the open space of his dilapidated clinic panting noisily. His eyes fixed on the metal door, unblinking.

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