Nicolai touched the glass front of a store as he passed and glanced at the time. It was nearly midnight. It was late, but Doc’s message had said he could come by and pick up his new creativity chip whenever. Nicolai, realizing how overly eager it made him look, intended to take Doc up on his offer.
He hadn’t been able to come straight over, and the delays had given him upgrade blue balls. Once he’d left the Orpheum, he’d been summoned back by Isaac, who was in a celebratory mood and wanted the speechwriter to have his due. Nicolai said it was quite all right and told Isaac to take the credit, but Isaac was having none of it. Besides, Isaac said, Natasha wanted to thank him. Then Natasha, once she got him alone, told Nicolai that she’d been very flustered during the riot. She said that she wanted to thank him, to tell him that she felt much better now that the speech he’d written for Isaac had soothed a lot of Directorate nerves. That was what her lips said, anyway. But this was Natasha, and her eyes — when she spoke to Nicolai — always said something else.
Hours and hours had dragged by. Nicolai’s fingers twitched, then twitched again. He didn’t want more Directorate bullshit. The event was politics at its worst. Nicolai shook more hands in an hour than he normally did in two weeks, his fingers twitching the entire time. All he wanted was to write. Sometimes the need seized him, and he wanted to nurse it immediately. This was one of those times. So he screencapped what he was sure had to be a firestorm of neurons using his current implant, but what he really wanted was to get his new implant and see what that baby could do.
It would be okay. Upgrade dealers were like drug dealers, and used to the schedule. Just like with drugs, it was possible to become addicted to add-ons. Dealers of both were always available, no matter the time.
Still, he should call. Doc might be in bed.
But if he called, Doc might not answer, or might tell him to come back tomorrow. Nicolai didn’t want to come back tomorrow, so he didn’t call. Doc had told him to show up whenever, and “whenever” happened to be midnight. Paying Doc through the nose for upgrades bought Nicolai a lot of leeway. He reassured himself that it was okay to take it.
Nicolai’s Beam ID was registered — via Doc’s invite and via his status as high-ranking Directorate — on the permanent guest list in Doc’s building. He nodded to the guards, stepped into the elevator, and tried to still his breathing. He felt like a piece of art was trying to be born inside him. He had to get his fingers on a keyboard, or explode in an orgasm of creativity.
The floors couldn’t pass quickly enough.
Nicolai arrived at the 47th floor to find Doc’s door ajar. That was strange, but it wasn’t as though doors had to be closed at all times. So he stepped inside and found the room dark. That was stranger. The lights should have sensed him and gone bright.
“Canvas,” said Nicolai.
He stepped further into the apartment, tentative, already thinking he should back out. It was hard to see, but the hallway light showed him that a lamp had been shattered and that a framed picture had fallen from the wall. What used to be the frame’s glass overlay was in shards on the carpet.
“Doc?” he called.
Nicolai said nothing further, because at that moment, a strong hand clasped him from behind and the cold blade of a knife pressed against his throat.