An aging underground tech trader makes the circuit of an exclusive open-air market.
The wind blew a slight chill through David's hair as he surveyed the strange scene before him. It always gathered in this meadow at noon, and he never quite knew what to expect of it. Small pockets of people moved through subtle paths in the long grass, the overcast day adding a fine finish of frost to the whole affair. David was partly a reporter, partly a survivor, and partly one of the crowd before him. The smallest open air market on the continent was slowly opening in front of him, groups of leather-clad bashers looking violent and shoving anyone anyone who wandered too close to their employers tables. The tables themselves were uniformly refurbished wood tables that propped up on steady legs and had a display covered in glass dominating the top with a small side drawer for the hiding of particularly prized secrets. David had spent a fair bit of time behind one of these tables in a decade past, meeting the right people at weird raves and waves, but now he merely observed and reported for a small digital publishing node. His editor, Gary, was sitting in his office right now hitting a vapo and waiting for a report. Gary was a middle-aged man with a ponytail and a stressed face, a girlfriend with a serious amphetamine habit who swallowed his money and jizz like water, and a passion for intellectual freedom acquired from his years on he other side as a corporate software raider that he would defend to his grave. A man who lived off the ad money of insane people who wanted to see copyright disbanded and the occasional large shipent of illegal parts. One of David’s best friends, the two had met at an after-rave of a crypto=conference. In some circles, the rest was history.
The underground merchants were both exclusive in their paranoid associations and the wares they presented. Illegal chips and scattered open-source projects that moved fast enough to avoid shutdown were the only boards that didn't have the NSA or the DIA hardwired into them these days. David picked out the flat grey of the Sleek uniform at a tabe, a few foreign faces from India and Malaysia, and a dozen friends/strangers eager to show off and impress. Obsession with secrecy due to the snooping eyes of the law had led to a range of cryptographic standards displayed in glowing neon that hung off the front of the tables That segment of subculture ranged from securely standard to esoteric languages that resembled a mix of computer code, binary, and a jumbled slew of music references shaken with obscure musical references. David had a few ciphers in his head himself, but he had gained membership here by his longevity. The gleaming circuit boards on display were illegal everywhere except three cities in Malaysia, and David remembered with a sinking feeling that there weren't many free cities left. He idly wandered from table to table, trading small talk about prices and import difficulties and who was still making music and who had died and the new Intel processors until something caught his eye. A small azure chip. He hadn't seen one of those in twelve years, and even back then, they were nigh legendary. Designed by a schizophrenic noise freak with a serious Hype habit, they were rumoured to distort electricity itself. He had seen them in action first hand in hacking houses it took favours and connections to get the address of. Once, he had seen a viral video of the inside of one, and it had looked like something simple enough to power a lightswitch with a few strange ripples across it. Nobody understood.
He drew in a breath imagining the possibilities. Decentralized banks. Small governments. A million nodes. Cracking into almost anything faster than the sane human mind could comprehend. David looked at the vendor, a small man in glaring retro-raver neon, a face that had not aged well due to the torrent of information and drugs, with small beady eyes that ferociously scanned David. The long greasy hair swept in front of his eyes, looking inherently unwashed. He idly wondered if this man had an idea of the value of the thing he possessed, but then decided that in these circles, of course he did. The true question was, what was the price? The two huge bashers to either side of the man were huge Ukranians, with the shaved heads and hard stares to commit unspeakable things with. Refugees of the wrong side of Eastern European fascism, no doubt, men who had spilled large amounts of blood. David felt his heart flutter for a single second, then kept his cool. He’d been in much worse situations. He calmly inquired, "What's the price for the azure WindBreaker?" The underground entrepreneur looked at him with a wide smile, a practically demonic grin, "The real name of someone you love." David pauses for a brief second, runs it through his mind. Fuck this, he could feel the grey in his hair. He could imagine the endless nights of guilt stretched upon him, the fate of someone dear destroyed by this vile soul who would make sure it happens, no compromise would be accepted by this man. No vague acquaintance, no good friend, someone he truly loved. While the man is trying to be a literal devil, he gives him a solid look. Dressed like an insane hallucinogenic general, flanked by ranking soldiers ready to do inhuman crimes, trying to be a cruel and vicious bargainer that will destroy his enemies, What a pretentious fuck.
David shakes his head slowly. As he refuses and turns, the neon merchant opens up his little side drawer and presses a button. The azure chip operates for a second, warps things a little, and a message is automatically relayed to David’s phone. When he checks it, the screams and anguish of hundreds who danced the dance and lost will be played at full volume and put on unstoppable replay and send until the phone is smashed. A combined practical joke and virus, a carefully curated collection, and it was truly heartbreaking to hear. David walks to the next table. A long day was ahead at the market, and his Sleek phone vibrating in the front pocket of his bomber jacket. He won’t even need to look at it to assume it’s Gary asking about margins and profits and whos-who of attendance. Still, in spite of all the insanity and his grey hair, David loved this part the best. The risk, the reward, the feeling of being on the cutting edge of the times, surfing all kinds of webs until he got to the right places. Walking in weird amazing places with strange intelligent people and something awful waiting to be played on his phone. In the field, he was a digital man of the times.