“Childhood daydreams, first birthdays, and flights of fancy, yours for only three hundred—!”
“Piano lessons, cooking classes, foreign languages, we’ve got ‘em all! Get your practical skills now—!”
“Memories for sale! What’s past is present again! Memories for sale!”
The neuro-bazaar bustles in the way that only back-alley markets can: full of restless vim and vigor, shopkeepers hawking their wares with boisterous voices and watchful eyes. The crowd pours between the stalls like a viscous stream, swirling and idling before moving on. General curiosity mixes with intense negotiation all along the street, every interaction seasoned with the guarded vigilance of patrons who know that they’re skirting the law just by walking here.
In baskets and cases at every point, crystalline globes filled with gel and silicon chip facets rest just out of reach. They tempt and invite careful inspection as hired musclemen within arm’s length tap their cudgels as a gentle reminder of the street’s unofficial rules. Memory vessels are too delicate to keep stun-sticks around, so the overly-inquisitive walk away with bruised knuckles or broken heads.
You wander aimlessly, catching snatches of conversation and spirited exchanges. A handful of displays prompt you to linger for a few moments: signs promising the grand epiphanies of minor artists, the eureka! moments of puzzle champions, and the ecstasies of sundry sensations without physical limitations. Nearly all of them give the standard “clean slice” guarantee: at least 85% free of mental and emotional baggage, no serious complications.
In all honesty, most of the vessels here likely aren’t better than 69% free of contamination, and everyone knows it. Such is the dubious charm of the black market.
“You, sir, look like you’d appreciate the scent of the Lilac Broadlawn, freshly-mown in the middle of April! It’s yours to enjoy at any moment of the day for just forty-five dollars—!”
“I know what you’d like! To possess the techniques of the most skillful hackers in the business! I know well the man who provided these especially to me, and I can vouch for the quality of the goods—!”
“My friend, I can offer you something truly unique in this world! With this vessel in my hands, you could relive the Night of Nights! Picture the evening that radiant Selena sang on stage at the Crown Theater in those hours before it burned to the ground! The splendor, the scandal! My dear friend, you would be her bosom companion throughout—!”
It’s standard fare, offering experiences and skills which may or may not live up to the billing, or to the bill. Still, reasonable incredulity is a must for more than one reason. Although it’s rare enough to find a truly rotten egg in a basket, there are enough twitching, stuttering addicts eying the stalls here and there to urge a little caution. Scrambled eggs are one thing, but brain is quite another.
The ebb and flow of the crowd takes you on a lengthy tour of sparkly baubles and airy promises. By the time the clock strikes four, you’ve seen more fungible talents and wholesale sensations than could be found anywhere else that you know; the internet doesn’t yet have the storage and transfer capacity of this hidden sprawl, though it’s likely only a matter of time.
Your final stop is the real reason you’re here today. There’s a man who specializes in more…obscure goods. Most memories are lifted from paid contributors in discrete facilities which can be broken down and set up again elsewhere in a few minutes. A typical exchange goes like this: a classified ad is put out for a particular need, whether skill- or experience-based; those who know where to look and can meet that need are paid in cash for a short rest in a spindly chair; and when the patron walks away a little richer (off the books, of course), the client takes his new wares to market.
Tom works at the morgue.
Taking memories from the freshly dead is, if possible, even more illegal and risky than with the living, but that doesn’t completely stifle the demand—especially among certain types of customers. Technically speaking, most of the people on this street are criminals if only by aiding and abetting, but there’s always someone with a reason (savory or not) to know what was on the mind of a man before he died.
The identity of his killer, for example.
You’re a subtle sort, but Tom is rather sharp himself. He’s already seen your casual approach, and a barely perceptible nod is all it takes to confirm that you want your usual order. Without a word, he hands over a red-tinted vessel, palming a hefty, uncut gemstone in nearly the same movement. The woman considering some of his more conventional offerings (one doesn’t advertise these sorts of things carelessly) hasn’t even noticed the exchange as you slip past her.
You allow yourself the luxury to ponder for a few moments while slowly making your way to the alley’s masked opening.
Memories drawn from corpses are typically fragmented and carry their own brand of mental and emotional contamination, which is difficult to cut through. Between the last five vessels, you’re getting a clearer picture of your quarry’s manner and methods, but it’s hard to say whether this is the final piece of the puzzle. Still. It’s a work in progress.
The face of a serial killer is trapped somewhere in your hand, suspended in crystal and gel.
Stepping through the holo shroud at the mouth of the street is like drawing back a thin veil of hot mist. The hustle and bustle of the neuro-bazaar is instantly silenced behind the dampening field, and you’re once again standing in the city proper—only slightly suspiciously lingering at the back of a dimly lit alleyway.
You thoughtfully tap the hidden vessel with one finger.
“We’ll be meeting each other soon. And then we’ll have words.”