This story begins an ongoing series that follows the journey and exploits of Sable during the events of the Borealis Cycle. It will run from now until the release of Parhelion, the second half of the Borealis Cycle.
Crisp air and soft morning light suffused the waking city of Vladisibirsk as the first maglev train of the day cruised into the central station. Early birds yawned their way through entrance checkpoints, school children ran down the streets in pairs or gaggles, and shop fronts rolled up their shutters in preparation for another day’s sales. The Siberian megacity, a shining beacon of arts, culture, and steady employment, had enjoyed mornings like this for almost all of its sixty-odd-year history.
Sable rose from her seat on the regional MLT: her dwelling for the past two days of travel through the spring boreal forests shedding their winter snows one coat at a time. The overhead display blinked seven-thirty AM with a steady pace, as if the train itself was quietly satisfied with being exactly on time. A gentle hum and a slight vibration under foot indicated the magnetic rail system shutting down, and a few moments later the doors hissed open.
She stepped out.
The sounds of the station were a stark contrast to the relative silence of the journey from Novosibirsk, and Sable took a moment to let it wash over her before picking her way through the growing crowds towards the station’s main exit. Clutching in one hand a heavy case covered in black leather, dragging a small suitcase behind her and clad in sleek black with blue trim, Sable looked much like any other wealthy traveler arriving that morning.
Except that wealthy was hardly the word to describe the current state of Sable’s finances, and the first task of the day wasn’t to find lodging but instead to procure the funds needed to even afford an adequate room for a few nights. Gray eyes darted back and forth as she sifted through a myriad of potential marks. This had become second nature for her by now: acquire credits or starve.
Threading her way through the crowded exit checkpoints, Sable pulled her documentation out of her jacket pocket with one hand while lightly running the other a fraction of a centimeter from the coat of the man next to her. There was always a slight thrill here, a secret rush of adrenaline mingling with the tingling sensation of the PAN mods embedded in her fingers. Just a handful of credits, enough to eat and sleep for one day, quietly siphoned from the man’s many accounts, would funnel through a dozen different transactions before arriving in one of Sable’s own accounts. It would take him a few days to notice, if he ever did.
The station staff at the checkpoint waved Sable through without more than a glance at her document: one of the many benefits of her symmetrical visage and platinum blond braids. Her PAN sought out a few more marks before Sable spotted a prime location for her next task. The underground station was connected to the streets above by a wide tunnel that gently sloped upwards, and she was able to quietly set up in an open spot along one wall.
Virtuoso. Sable gently withdrew it from the black leather case after setting it upon her microfolding stool. The electric violin was a gift from her father and grandfather when she graduated secondary school, an instrument intended to travel with her for the rest of her life as she took up musical pursuits as her future career. It nearly did, until Sable herself modified the case to fit a compact console and Virtuoso itself with a control framework and a small unidirectional AR screen.
Eyes were slowly drawn towards the violinist as she configured Virtuoso for the acoustics of the tunnel, and a small group of children gathered nearby to whisper with excited anticipation. A tiny drone that would fit in the palm of a hand buzzed its way out from the case as well: a simple way to collect donations from onlookers. Sable raised the violin and nestled it against herself with the care of a mother to her child. Demirkan’s 7th, she thought, the traditional opening piece for a performance near the spring solstice back home. Raising the bow to the instrument, she began to play.
This was when the true nature of Virtuoso was unleashed: the console housed in the case sprang to life and began to seek out and probe every nearby net-connected device. The data stream was fed to the violin, and the small AR screen then displayed any surface info the console could scrape off each device. The smallest intentional movements of her eyes, fingers or even the bow would direct the console to spike a targeted device, worming a small packet inside to be activated later during a proper run.
The ancient wooden fireplace crackled and sparked as her grandfather lifted the canister of boiling water away from the heat-proof seat set into the hearth. Scents of ground coffee filled the room, carried by the warm air from the fire, mingling the smell of freshly baked bread and köfte. “Come here Nyusha, watch your grandfather carefu—”
Sable blinked twice. It wasn’t unusual for the music-trance to overtake her, but it wasn’t ideal when out in public like this. How long had she been so focused? Virtuoso’s AR display had switched to show the time: it was already into the early afternoon. Her stomach rumbled, as if in agreement with the console’s automatic functions. Time for food, then to make her way to the meeting spot with the contact she was to meet here in Vladisibirsk.
Thankfully, Sable mused, her busking earlier had been successful enough to gather a decent sum of credits waved through to her tiny drone as it floated nearby during performances. Music for money was a venture nearly as old as history itself, and Sable had no qualms setting up in any location if it would fill her belly for the day. A hole-in-the-wall near the station exit had good blini, and she munched on several while following a map several blocks away to the meeting location.
The coordinates Sable had been provided with led to a small park not far from a strip of cafes, tech stores and a school. The civil planning of Vladisibirsk seemed to be built around a great deal of foot traffic, with barely any ground vehicles in sight and even fewer streets that would accommodate them, instead opting for a vast network of air-roads filled with hoppers and other mid-level aircraft. This didn’t feel like a megacity rife with insurrection and industrial action like the news feeds claimed, but Sable had long ago learned that NBN peddled as many lies as her former employer.
Restless, Sable began to people-watch, reading the emotional state of adults wandering the park in pairs or on their own. Some sat eating an afternoon tea, others jogged around the artificial lake, frost still lingering at the edges despite the warming weather. Subtle details in body language or posture allowed Sable to read them all like open books; patterns were as fundamental a part of human nature as they were any other intrinsic aspect of the universe. Once you can see the patterns, you can read and predict anything.
A tall man in his late forties, was leaning against the back of a bench nearby. He had a rugged, almost roguish, aesthetic that many people would find intensely attractive. Sable was not many people, not at all, and found her gaze stayed on him because of the expensive antique pocket watch he was fidgeting with. Someone who owned a piece like that and had the time to stand around in a park was surely worth a closer look.
A tiny flick of Sable’s wrist and Virtuoso hummed to life inside its case, whilst a rapid series of winks activated the AR implant in her right eye. She didn’t like to use this implant often, as it caused the eye to water and itch after only a few minutes, but for a quick look like this it would be an acceptable tradeoff.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” the man abruptly said.
Instinctively Sable hit the flip switch in her wrist, shutting down both console and eye implant.
“I’m sorry, what?” she replied.
“Check me out like that. You know what I mean.”
“Check you—what! I have no interest in you like that!” Sable retorted.
“Oh come now, a gene kid like you? I know your type, and though you may be tremendously pretty, I’m not going to let my guard down so easily.” He smiled broadly, exuding an aura of self-confidence. “Unless you give me a good reason to, of course.”
Sable stared at the man. Was he awkwardly trying to hit on her all of a sudden? If he was, it was foolish: Sable had no interest in anything like that no matter who it was with.
The man sighed. “I’m waiting here for two reasons. One: to pick my kids up from school soon. Two: for you, I believe. I hope I’m not mistaken, otherwise that would be awkward.”
Sable narrowed her eyes slowly before replying. “All is folding back, ever back.”
The man nodded. “Together as one. Looks like I wasn’t mistaken after all.”
Sable frowned, this wasn’t who she expected to meet here. “I was told to expect a woman, what happened?”
“A change of plans,” he replied. “That comrade had something come up. Usually I try not to mix work and my personal life like this, but the intel you claim to have is important enough to risk it.”
He crossed the few steps between them and held out a calloused hand. “It’s good to meet you, Miss…?”
“Just Sable. You can call me Sable.”
“Ah, like that, is it? Well, in that case, you can call me Sundog.”
To learn more about the Criminal mark mechanic in Midnight Sun, read Lead Designer June Cuervo’s companion article to this piece.
Midnight Sun will be released on July 22, 2022, as physical cards via NISEI’s print partners and pay-what-you want files for downloading and printing at home!