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It was a cold, rainy evening. Dimmed lights hid the ugliness of closed shops and garages covered in chaotic, colorful graffiti.
The only point standing out from the overall dirtiness was a restaurant without a front facade - a strange thing in a place like this. It bravely cast light onto the street, like a lighthouse on a dark stormy sea.
Near the entrance sat a young Indian couple. The boy looked deeply into the girl’s eyes, holding her hand and whispering tenderly. A few tables away, a robust man in a navy jacket was finishing his meal. The lower part of his metal mask was open, and his stubbled jaw lazily chewed the food.
He glanced at the hologram in the middle of the restaurant, where a group of people was cheering a small boy blowing the candles on his birthday cake.
“Happy Birthday, Tony!” - they shouted.
“Happy Birthday, son!” - a bulky man with a mustache said, hugging the boy.
“Tony, the first human-born Martian, turns ten today! The whole planet is celebrating!” - said the voice-over and presented the colorful light show on Olympus Mons.
“Time flies…” - the masked man murmured and mindlessly scratched a faint scar on his cheek. The quiet hum of the neighborhood seemed to envelop him as he lost himself in thought, his eyes focusing on the distant horizon.
He suddenly heard the sound of shuffling footsteps. Lifting his gaze, he noticed a beggar with unnaturally wide eyes crawling toward the young Indian couple. He was clutching a rosary in his trembling hand, and with a rusty voice, he shouted:
“Prepare for salvation. Our Lord and Savior is near!”
The surprised girl's eyes widened in terror, and she let out a piercing scream. The boy’s panicked face looked around, searching for a way out of it. In that chaotic moment, his mind registered a familiar detail—instead of the traditional cross, the beggar's rosary ended with a small chip.
“Stop disturbing my clients, or I will put that in your ass!”
A dark-skinned dwarfish waiter sprinted to the entrance, pulling up his creamy tunic with one hand. His other hand held an electric stick.
Although the waiter was at most 4 feet tall, the beggar started retreating, his brisk movements suggesting he had a chance to meet the stick before.
“God damn Basilisk church! They are like a plague. Please accept my apologies, my dears. Sorry for that, sir. How do you like the food?” - said the waiter.
“Still the best in town,” - the man in the mask replied - “Could you pass my words of gratitude to the cook?”
“Of course, sir,” - replied the waiter - “You can even do it yourself. Come with me, please.”
The man closed his mask, which matched his face like a second skin, revealing his amused smile.
They passed the counter and entered the small kitchen. An intense smell of curry invaded their nostrils, and they saw two visibly bored men stirring the yellowish sauce in a giant pot.
The waiter turned to his left and entered the freight elevator without doors. The man in the mask silently joined, and a few seconds after the waiter clicked the big red button, they reached the corridor on the third floor with the metal door guarded by two bouncers.
One was a giant, bald man with a primitive and brutal face of a wild animal. When he noticed the man in the mask, he frowned for a second before returning to his regular, hostile expression. Next to him stood a small, maybe 5-foot-tall robot.
The waiter just passed them, but the masked man got stopped.
“Any weapons?” - asked the robot with a pleasant yet formal female voice of a diplomat.
“Yes or no, Cael?” - growled the human bouncer.
“You wouldn’t find them anyway.” - he replied with a mocking smile.
The bouncer's jaw tightened, and he inhaled sharply as if to speak when Cael added:
“No, I do not have any weapons.”
The bouncer scowled but let him in.
As Cael stepped through the door, he felt a sudden numbness in his electronic enhancements, signaling they went down. He looked cautiously around.
An amber glow bathed the spacious room in a cozy atmosphere. Subtle electronic panels covered the walls in a dark, colonial wood matching the thick ornamented carpet on the floor. Quiet conversations, taking place on dozen couches all over the room, generated a pulsating buzz that resembled a marketplace.
And it indeed was a marketplace.
Bikers with their tank tops and heavily tattooed arms. Yakuza with their loosely fastened, black leather jackets and glowing Japanese inscriptions on collars. And rebellious androids designed with black-market AI. All doing business.
Everyone was welcome in Bilal’s den if they were ready to spend some money.
Cael turned his head, and from the corner of his eye, he caught one of the most prominent senators speaking with the smuggler’s king - fat Viking-like Bob The Axe. A serving drone hovered over their table, delivering drinks with seamless efficiency.
Two meters from them, in the dark corner, a businesswoman sprawled on the couch. Looked like she didn’t want to wait for her private room and got her scalp connected to a wall’s wire. Her eyes were closed, and her face revealed a blissful, almost ecstatic relaxation.
Bilal was lying on a creamy leather couch at the back of the place, surrounded by two young women with purple hair - one Black and one Asian.
He was waving.
“Long time no see, Bilal. Is Brian still angry for the last time?”
“He’s very persevering. For good and bad.”
“People here were always crazy, but lately, it feels like the whole city is about to explode.”
“Some people struggle to keep up with the pace. And that’s why they need places like this…” - Bilal added with a smirk.
Cael’s eyes moved to the front door as a tall figure strode in. The man's attire was minimalistic and black, except for his distinctive necklace—a silver globe encircled by electric rays.
“Diaspora? Here?” - Cael asked, his surprise evident.
“They are not concerned with safety the way mere mortals are. And as you know quite well, everyone needs some privacy. I told you that my place is an essential part of the city's fabric.” - Bilal replied with a hint of resentment in his voice.
He followed up, filling the awkward silence:
“Speaking of which, what brought you here after all these years? Did you get longing?”
“I spend all my nights longing for Indian midgets.”
“Pakistani, you prick!” - replied Bilal, with theatrical indignation, as repeating some old sketch.
“Whatever,” - Cael said, smiling - “We’ll need some privacy.”
Bilal stood up and led them to the strong, spiked metal door.
“By the way, why have you come through the front door?”
“I just like when you serve me food and call me ‘sir.’”
“Ohhhhhh!!!!” - they heard loud shouts as soon as they entered the place.
Five men surrounded the living room with an arguing couple. If everything weren’t a little bit too small for a real-world place, you wouldn’t notice that it was just a hologram.
The woman was ferociously pointing her finger and shouting:
“You said you’re going to do it! How can I respect you if you can’t do even such small things?”
The man held his head and exploded:
“Give me a fucking break!”
“You won, motherfucker, you won!” - one of the men close to the hologram spoke to his friend, patting him on the back.
“Some new entertainment?” - asked Cael while moving.
“Yes. They’re betting on what happens next in this lovely couple’s life.” - Bilal replied.
Cael slowed down and looked at the smoke-filled room, five men, and the man tapping his watch to transfer the money. He connected the dots.
“They know they’re being watched?”
“Of course not. That’s part of the fun.”
Cael shook his head.
“I’m just giving people what they want!” - Bilal smiled playfully with his yellow, curved teeth while opening the next door.
This room was almost entirely dark. Cael felt grass under his shoes, and in the middle, a real bonfire spread soft light. The sounds and smell of the rainforest helped to completely switch off.
The young blonde girl was organizing pillows around the fire. She had long, slim legs and moved with the easiness of a model. She turned around to finish her work and looked at them cheerfully with huge green eyes. Her tanned skin was covered with freckles.
“Hello, Bilal! Hello, stranger!” - she waved with girlish awkwardness.
“Hello. You and Bilal look like Yin and Yang.” - threw Cael.
“Some people think that he’s my lost twin! I’m Mia!” - she smiled, showing the line of her perfect teeth and extending her hand.
“Cael Mux, nice to meet you.”
“This Cael?” - her eyes widened.
“I guess so.” - he smiled in response.
“Okay, Cael, stop picking up my twin sister and let’s get down to business. Mia, could you leave us for a second?”
“Sure.” - Mia murmured, her enthusiasm visibly fading. She slowly made her way out and threw a glance at Bilal and Cael before closing the door.
“I see that Mia caught your attention.” - Bilal said quietly - “You want her tonight?”
“Is she… you know… real?” - Cael inquired.
“If you have to ask, does it really matter?” - Bilal replied lazily while searching for the right position to lie down on the pillows. “So tell me, what’s the deal?” - Bilal put his hands behind his head and looked at the ceiling resembling the starry night.
“It’s a long story. So…” - Cael stopped and touched his ear. - “Wait a second.”
“Yes, Alice?… What?… What do you mean moved?… But they haven’t been moved for over 60 years… Have you triple-checked it?… Yes, I know that you’re diligent… But shouldn’t he be dead by now?… Who else could have accessed his money?”
Bilal leaned in and caught a feminine voice:
“No one knows. Mayor called asking you… or I’d say ordering you to take this job. He said it’s election time, and he can’t afford any disturbances. And he repeated a million times that you should not leave any traces.”
“Tell him I won’t leave any traces because I won’t take this fucking job. I’m not looking for problems, and searching for Satoshi’s money sounds like a big fucking problem… Okay, I will say it to his face… Yes, I know that it’s urgent.”
“Also, Isaiah wanted to speak with you. He didn’t say why, but he said you will understand.”
“Thanks, Alice.” - Cael replied, gripping his head as though trying to steady himself.
“I smell problems.” - interrupted Bilal.
“Gotta tell this idiot to solve it himself. I’ll be back in an hour.”
"Keep in mind, my friend, that the so-called 'idiot' holds considerable power." - Bilal's tone carried a clear warning.
Cael nodded and went out.
As soon as his elevator went down, he felt that something was wrong. It was too loud for this part of the city.
He went out of the restaurant and, about a hundred meters away, saw a massive crowd of agitated civilians. His gaze drifted to the propaganda billboards looming over the street. They had been hijacked by a message that tugged at the corners of his memory.
“‘Not your keys, not your coins’? I haven’t heard this phrase since 2031.” - he mused as he made his way toward the car.
Cael found himself at a crossroads.
He knew that the mayor was losing his mind, and he should confront him as soon as possible. Yet he couldn't shake the sensation that this story might be too big for him, and he could ask Isaiah for help.
Which path should he follow?
Engage in the conversation and mint the NFTs to influence Cael’s decisions. Every NFT will give you one vote on all of his choices from this point forward. You can mint up to eight NFTs.
The decisions Cael makes - just as in life - are immutable. So choose wisely.
After you mint the NFTs, go to story.caelmux.com and click the links at the top to join the community and cast your votes.
And of course, subscribe to read the next episodes.
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