It took Lucatz several days to procure our false identities. In that time, Kris and I were left strong room, alone but for each other in that dark prison.
We were both much relieved that Lucatz had finally agreed to take our offer, but his latest chat had left me with nagging thoughts that ate away at me during the quiet hours while Kris slept and I pretended to do so.
We passed much of our waking time talking; there was little else to do. I told Kris all about myself: how Lucatz and I had run away from our schizophrenic father who had been constantly threatening to kill us; how I'd grown up on the streets with only Lucatz to look after me. I told her about falling in with the Blood Hawks to fill our bellies, and how their leader, a man called the Raven, had eventually recruited me for the Kamarov job.
In return Kris shared some of her past with me. Her father had been a Scarabine ambassador for the World Coalition, but had been assassinated when Kris was a teenager. She joined the gangs much as I had, but had been caught trading information to other gangs. After being harshly beaten and left for dead, someone had found her and brought her to the hospital to revive her, after which she was immediately arrested when the authorities uncovered her criminal record.
"It's stupid, isn't it?" said Kris's voice from the blackness beside me as she finished her tale. "They wasted all that money on treatment for me, then arrested me and sent me off to get killed in illegal death matches. Why didn't they just leave me to die there in that alley?"
"Maybe it was fate," I said. "If you hadn't gone to the Arena, you wouldn't have made it this far, would you?"
Kris snorted. "As if this were anywhere."
I shrugged, which I then realized Kris couldn't see in the darkness, but decided it didn't matter anyway. We lapsed into silence.
"I'm sorry," said Kris after a moment. "I just wish . . . why can't things just be easy for a change, dammit?"
There was another empty silence. Outside, a rumbling baseline vibrated weakly through the heavy strong room door. Inside, the only sound was our slow, shallow breathing.
"Kris," I said after a minute, "I've been thinking . . ."
I stopped, wondering how to proceed.
"I want to know what's inside the File," I said. "Before Lucatz gets it. It seems like my entire life has revolved around this thing — I want to know what it is."
"But how can you?" asked Kris. I felt her take my hand in the darkness, running her fingers over it until they found the slim, raised scar on my palm.
"I could cut it out," I said. Kris's fingers tightened around my hand.
"Gavin . . ." She sounded concerned. I didn't wait for her to marshal a counterargument.
"Listen, Kris, I found this in the corner." I reached into my pocket and drew out a long sliver of jagged glass: sharp as a knife, though much cruder. I handed it to Kris.
"Gavin, no," she said at once, pushing the glass shard back to me. "You can't."
"But you could," I said.
"Just a small cut — it'd be done in a second."
"I couldn't," stammered Kris. "Gavin —"
"Don't pretend to be squeamish on me now," I cut her off forcefully. "I saw you at work in the Arena. There was nothing squeamish about that."
"That was different," protested Kris.
"I'll do it myself if you won't," I said. "It'll just be messier. But really, if we wait for Lucatz to do it, do you think he's going to be any gentler?"
"This is ridiculous," said Kris. "I can't even see. And how are you going to read this thing once I get it out anyway?"
"It has a mini-projector built into it," I explained. "It only has a fifteen-minute battery, but that should be enough. You should be able to trip the startup button when you make the cut, which ought to give you just enough light to get it out."
I handed the piece of glass back to Kris.
"I hate you," she said in a tone that meant she did and she didn't.
"Thanks, dear," I murmured, smiling in spite of how much I knew this was going to hurt.
I waited, muscles tensed, bracing myself for the initial stab. Kris held my hand firmly and I knew she was either trying to come up with another reason not to do this, or finding the best place to make the incision, though quite possibly she was doing both. I silently lifted my left fist to my mouth then clamped my teeth around it.
Then there came a searing stab of pain in my palm and I let out a gasp despite the fist in my mouth.
Kris swore loudly from beside me. I returned with a few curses of my own as well as the order, "Don't stop, just do it!"
It was a mark of just how stoic and dexterous Kris was that she was able to complete the operation with only a bit of glass as an improvised scalpel. I felt jabbing throbs of agony with every second Kris dug around with the glass sliver. Hot blood trickled from my hand, running down my wrist in sticky rivulets. I just bit down harder and harder on my knuckles, praying for it to be over soon.
Thankfully, it was. Kris got the File out in less than a minute, though I wasn't even aware that it was over until I felt Kris mopping away the blood with her scarf and trying to bandage it as best she could. I turned weakly to help her.
"This really needs stitches," Kris said fretfully, wrapping the blood-soaked scarf tightly around my hand.
"I think we can both agree I've had worse," I said in as light a tone as I could manage.
A bluish light now dimly illuminated Kris's face and I looked down to see that it came from a small, bloody datachip on the ground. I scooped it up in my left hand, wiping away the wet red sheen that coated it with my thumb. It was the first time I had seen the Kamarov File outside of my hand in years. It was time to see what was inside it at last.