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Chapter 2

Published on 08/29/2022

The sidewalks of New York had gotten more and more crowded over the century, and its citizens seemed to grow less and less happy by the year. Everyone walked quickly with almost a scowl on their faces, too caught up in whatever neural reality feeds were being flashed in front of their vision to even recognize the existence of others. As Vincent walked by, a stranger would laugh or curse randomly at something only they could see or hear, while others would be muttering commands or messages through their interfaces. A small feed appeared in Vincent’s vision, giving him updates on cryptocurrency prices as well as messages from friends, family and various acquaintances. 

He reached the café and the smell of freshly roasted coffee beans wafted past his nose. A small smile broke on his face and he waved to the barista as he walked to his favorite table. The older looking man behind the counter nodded his head in acknowledgement, still in the middle of taking a customer’s order. People sat at their tables and booths, preoccupied in their respective neural realities. A few older looking couples actually spoke to each other face to face, which had lost common place with the youth who preferred to communicate through thought messaging. 

The People’s Café was one of the last food service establishments that did not use any robots for cashier duty, food creation, or customer service. Everything was done by hand, only being aided by machines when necessary. It was so called the People’s Café because you actually had to interact with a person to get what you wanted, and was incredibly popular among the older market who still enjoyed face to face conversation, even if it was just to order a coffee. Many swore that having the coffee made by hand instead of having a machine do all the work made it taste better, even though the reality remained that most of the brewing process was still carried out by a coffee machine. 

Vincent sat idly, scrolling through his neural feeds until Jackson, the man who had been behind the counter, came up to his table. Normally, you had to order your drink at the counter, but Vincent had been in the shop so many times that he knew when traffic tended to die down, and thus always came in when Jackson would be able to come over and speak with him. Jackson looked to be about 65 or 70, with all of his hair a striking white. However, he showed no signs of balding and his beard and mustache were neatly trimmed. He wore a dark apron over a white shirt, and his sleeves were rolled up to his elbows. Despite his looks, he was actually 102 years old, which was a testament to the abilities of the nanobots flowing in his body.

“What is this, you think you’ll get table service just by waving at me?” Jackson mocked, smiling jokingly at Vincent.

“I thought this was the People’s Café, where customer service is everything! You mean to say I have to come to you for what I want?” Vincent shot back in a fake shocked tone.

“The coffee is everything, not the service. I can’t spoil you with coming at your beck and call,” Jackson replied. Then, despite his previous statement, he smiled and asked, “What’ll it be today? We have a nice frappe blend if you’re interested.”

“Sure, why not, I don’t think I’ve had a cup of coffee made by you that I didn’t like. Well, besides your ‘experiments,’” Vincent shuddered at the thought of Jackson’s last request for him to try his “Cranberry Surprise” that he was working on. The logic was there, but unfortunately logic does not always equate to successful outcomes. 

“Coming right up. Oh hey, by the way, do you think you could teach me how to get rid of these annoying words in my vision? They’ve been there since last night and won’t go away.”

Vincent was confused at this request and asked “Words?... Uh, are you referring to your neural feed?”

“Neural feed?”

Vincent stopped, thought for a moment, then said “Focus on those words and think the command ‘Close feed’.”

Jackson seemed to stare blankly ahead, then his mouth opened in a wide smile. “Ha! That worked! You’re a magician, Vincent! I’ll go get you that drink!” With that, Jackson hurried back behind the counter, muttering happily about not seeing “those danged words”. 

The old man was a savant when it came to making coffee, but when it came to using his neural implant, he was like a toddler behind the joystick of jumbo class airliner. He had gotten his implant at the age of 75, far past the natural threshold in which the human mind is still very open to new experiences. Modern medicine had a fix for just about everything, but neural injections were a luxury only the extremely rich could acquire. Them, and Vincent. So Jackson and Vincent had made a trade. Vincent would help Jackson with anything neural related, whether it be simple troubleshooting that had just occurred, or wide-scale marketing across the digital reality for the People’s Café, and in return Vincent could have as much coffee as a reasonable person would want. Depending on how he was feeling, Jackson would sometimes even give Vincent lessons after hours on how to properly roast beans, or the exact temperature and timing at which to brew the coffee.

A little while later, Jackson came back out with the chilled beverage and placed it in front of Vincent. He took a sip and smiled. “Delicious as always, Jackson.”

“Glad to hear. By the way, a lady came in here a couple days ago asking around for you.”

This caught Vincent off guard. There were no women in his life currently outside of family members, so no one should be looking for him.

“Really? What did she look like?” he asked, combing his mind for anyone women that would be looking for him.

“Ah, red hair? She was wearing sunglasses, uh… Nothing really outstanding besides that,” Jackson recollected, stroking his beard. His description fit no one that Vincent knew, which was troubling.

“Huh. That’s odd,” Vincent replied thoughtfully, a troubled look crossing his face. “Did she say why she was looking for me?”

“No, she just asked for you. I think she thought that you worked here or something. I know you’re real uptight about your privacy and all, so I just said that no one named Vincent works here, and then she left.”

“Hm. Well thanks for that,” Vincent said quietly. He was grateful that Jackson had kept his mouth shut, but was becoming more worried. Someone was looking for him, and had tracked him to this café. His mind raced to think who could be looking for him, and the notorious possibilities started to pile up quicker than he would have liked.

“You okay there Vince? You’re getting awfully pale.” Jackson’s voice broke through Vincent’s thoughts, and he put on his best fake smile to reassure the old man that all was well.

“Oh yeah, I’m just getting worried that some crazy ex changed her hair color and is coming after my wallet,” Vincent laughed. His feint worked, and Jackson’s worry left from his face and was followed by a chuckle.

“You have to watch out for them ladies, Vincent. Gotta get you a good one, like my Catherine. Ain’t that right honey?” He yelled to an older lady who was sweeping behind the counter. She looked up and smiled at Jackson, shaking her head, not knowing what he was hollering about but assuming he was joking with Vincent about something. 

“Eh maybe I’ll settle down when I’m 70,” Vince chuckled, taking another sip of his drink. Even though he was putting on a face, his mind was still whirring on who could be searching for him, or how they even knew about him. His frappe suddenly didn’t taste as good.

“Well anyway, I’ll leave you to your drink. If you need anything else, just give me a holler. No wait, actually, come to the counter. No more of this table service for you,” Jackson winked at Vincent as he began to walk away.

“Thanks Jackson,” Vincent smiled warmly back at the old man. After turning back to his drink on the table, his smile vanished, and was replaced with a face of anxiety and concentration. He quickly realized that there was a chance the lady would return looking for him, and he had no plans of confronting her. He gulped down his drink then hurried out the door, not even looking back at the waving Jackson. As he stepped back out onto the sidewalk, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a pair of sunglasses. He also had a medical mask that he could have put on in an act that he was sick, but the combo of the mask and sunglasses tended to look to suspicious to most passing by and he knew he would get looks if he put it on. He needed information, and the place to get it just so happened to be his next stop.