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30 - Free Spirit

Sitting at Cafe' Nouveau, savoring the coffee, wondering at the bizarre conversations floating about, I let my mind drift along with today's medley.
"Oh, how beautiful! Is that the one from Spirit?" one young woman said to another, who was holding up a tablecloth.
"Just came in today," the other nodded.
"I bet you're glad you stored it before--" the first one began.
"Yeah, still no ID on that guy," the second responded after a short delay. "One person saw his face. I don't even remember the last half of the trip. I should have updated again."
At another table, they were discussing the novel I seem to keep reading over and over . . . 1984, I think it was named. It reads almost like someone's memoirs. Nothing spectacular about it, really. I have no idea what the attraction may be. My tech manuals are more intriguing than that.
From the comfort of my table, my eyes, ears and attention wandered about until I saw a fellow who seemed to be looking for something rather than someone. Once he'd gotten clear of the crowd, I could see his name . . . Crook. This should be fun.
From table to table, he kept moving, carrying an empty cup. You could tell because he occasionally let it tip as he walked. I watched his shadow and reflections rather than trailing my eyes directly after him, so he didn't seem to notice. The musician seemed to be the only other person to notice Crook.
Eventually, the suspicious man had found his way over to a table next to one that was full of people too engaged in conversation to care about anything else. After checking around quickly, he proceeded to reach over, take a package from one of the patrons and quietly leave, heading toward the ruins. I rolled my eyes, finished my cup and set off to follow him.
Crook, well-named, was a bit more saavy at the ruins than he was at the cafe' . . . Though he clearly hadn't seen me, he knew he was being watched. Then again, around here that is more of a given than we'd like sometimes.
Well into the "chase," I thought he'd relaxed enough to unwittingly lead me to his lair and his private stash, but my foot found something noisy, and he dashed over to a large rock, pulling a shotgun out from under it. That thing was just filthy, but he clearly intended to use it.
I realized suddenly that I was out in the open, and I squeezed off a shot at him from my rifle. I grazed him, and he grazed me. Then we both took up better positions. He had more cover. I had the better weapon, by far.
My second shot barely missed him, and a round from his shotgun thudded against my combat suit, knocking the wind out of me but not doing much else. Thankful again for my friends and their kindness, I tried to move in on him, but he nearly hit me again. As he tried to recover from his frantic dash, I dropped to one knee and pelted him dead center.
I will never forget the look on his face, fear, anger, confusion, surprise . . . But he carried on. We took aim at each other and both got hit but good. In the fuzz of near unconsciousness, I turned my rifle toward him, got his head in my scope and stopped him cold. Sick bay MIGHT be able to help him, but I think he's up for a rude awakening . . . in the vat.
The package had a palm scan and a crypto-lock on it, so it might also have a locater. Best to just pretend I'm honest... I took it back to the cafe, where everyone was hunting around under the tables. I walked up to the man who'd been closest to it when it was taken.
"Someone looking for this?" I held up the bag containing the small case. He smiled, took the bag, opened the case without hesitation, examined the contents and took note of my name.
"Thank you," he said. Nothing more until he was with his friends. I doubt he knew I heard this . . . "All of you, all this time, and some collie finds it? and brings it back?"
My coretechs notified me that two bonds had been deposited to my account. Small change for the effort and response. Oh well.
Miss smiley sparkly-eyes appeared behind me with another cup, holding out her dainty hand for its price, which I gladly paid as I turned around to accept the cup and return her smile. She skipped off to another table, cleared it as though she were performing a dance, glided away past the service area and seemed to have vanished.
I spotted my rude new friend looking in my direction, smiled, raised my cup and took a sip. He smiled and turned away, seeming to be someone important.
You just wait. I'll show you.