There is a wanted ad to be found, flashing in bright rouge and blazing ultramarine, on a dozen billboards in every city on Earth. There is a highly dangerous, armed murderer on the loose whose head is worth 150,000 credits. His name is Subject Zero, and someone, somewhere, desperately wants him back.
It was snowing corpulent silver flakes when Domino left the hotel. Pinched between her crimson lips was her cigarette, already half-gone, the tendrils of smoke undulating upward to dance with the snowflakes. She shrugged her loose cotton jacket a little more comfortably over her shoulders and cast her gaze upward, peering into the burdened cinereal storm clouds. She couldn’t wait to get off the hunk of dross she’d come to know as Earth, but that was a few light-cycles away and she had things to do in the meantime. She’d grown up on Plunara, a planet two solar systems over from Earth, with a similar atmosphere and arguably similar ecosystem. Most Plunarins loved visiting Earth – the lessened gravity allowed for them to appear as gods to the Earth dwellers; but Domino hated it. She hated the coppery aftertaste to the air, the way the humidity clung to her skin and made her want to scratch herself free of her own flesh. Her parents had moved to Earth when she was very young, but she’d returned to Plunara immediately after their death and even now, eight years later, she still struggled to leave her home world.
But there were credits to be made, and plenty of them could be traced back to Earth. Like a vortex with its hold on her, it kept sucking her back in. She resented it all the more. Taking a final drag from her cigarette, she put it out and tossed it into the fire-proof bin.
It was still early morning and the traffic had yet to clog the roadways; she preferred to go for her morning runs when there were fewer people to irritate her. Her earpieces buzzed to life and began her playlist, syncing automatically with her FileDrive, just loud enough to drown out the sounds of the few hovercars speeding by. The snow was just beginning to stick to the ground, and the longer she ran the more sonorous and unsteady each step became. Her lungs sucked in frigid air and expelled hot steam, clenching tighter with each breath. She ran hard and fast, ignoring the weather as much as she could, hoping to get her heart rate up and her blood scorching through her veins. It was harder for her to push herself on Earth; she could almost run for full light-cycles in the weak gravity, every step propelled her twice as easily as it would have on Plunara. If she wasn’t careful she could send herself soaring through the air.
Soon, she was surrounded by a whirlwind of snow so thick and heavy that she could no longer see far enough ahead to continue running. A layer of it caked over her clothes, coating her hair, getting caught on her eyelashes. Domino frowned and pulled out her cigarettes.
She’d only run five miles; she hadn’t even felt the first twinge of tension in her muscles. It hardly qualified as a workout. A despondent sigh escaped her lips in a cloud of air as she lit her cigarette, she told herself she would run again later if the weather permitted. Domino turned around and began her unenthusiastic return to the hotel. A few blocks into her trip, a flash of color in her peripheral vision drew her attention.
There was a billboard on top of one of the buildings nearby, flashing bright sapphire and rouge. Even in the blizzard, she could make out the digital letters blinking across the screen.
WANTED: 100,000 CREDIT REWARD.
She smiled, thinking that perhaps the storm forcing her to turn around when it did had been a small blessing. She was looking for work, and 100,000 credits was nothing to shake her head at. Domino was a bounty hunter, after all; what more could she need than a giant refulgent billboard offering her a hefty payload?
Slipping her keys from her pocket and fingering her FileDrive free of the tangled mess, she held it toward the billboard and saved the file.
Back in the hotel room, another cigarette already burning in the ashtray, she sync’d up her FileDrive with the holoscreen hanging from the aubergine wall. The room was spacious but she still felt claustrophobic; a discomfort she attributed to the gaudy golden light fixtures, the smothering mahogany doors and furniture, and the overwhelming scent of roses.
The billboard wanted sign she’d discovered on her run was intriguing, but she needed to do her research first. A closer inspection revealed the 100,000 credit reward was simply for information, but a data stream with a more in-depth file on the subject with the bounty on his head divulged an even more sumptuous reward for the subject himself: 150,000 credits dead, 250,000 alive. She skimmed the parts she knew from every other wanted ad she’d ever seen: armed, dangerous, highly volatile, do not engage. Every couple paragraphs, in bold-faced, blood-red font, they reminded her to USE EXTREME CAUTION.
The right side of her mouth curled upward in a bemused smirk. She did love a challenge.