"What d'ye even want me for anyway?"
"Because you're one of the best in the business." I paused. "And let's face it, we won't stand a chance without your connections. The Raven's got some, but he's gone surfaceside. He doesn't have the men down there like he used to."
"Listen, Gavin, I've done my part. I even told my boys not to follow ye both. I can't and I don't mean 'don't want to.' I can't."
"Lu," I breathed quietly into the comm, "that file I sold you. Worth more than a million in the right hands. Guess who wants it? Guess who commissioned us to steal it in the first place?"
"This is it, Lu! The File, this job. You could settle down to a nice little retirement after this. Who needs the 'Urbs? You could go surfaceside!"
There was a long silence on his end. Then Lucatz said, "I don't like it. I don't wanna get involved wit' the Raven again. Ye remember 'ow it was, Gavin. Once ye fall into 'is little web, it's impossible to get out. I'm a free man, Gavin. I may be poor, I may be the scum o' the earth, but I'm free. That's all I got."
I had suspected he'd say this; I had been thinking the same thing myself. So I'd prepared another chip to throw into the bid. I didn't like it at all — It was becoming difficult to keep track of all the double-crossing I was doing — but it was necessary.
"You won't have to worry about the Raven after this job," I said.
"What? Gavin, what does that mean?"
"I mean, you won't have to worry about him."
Lucatz caught on. "Then what would 'appen? 'Oo would take 'is place?"
"That would be up to you," I said.
"I'll 'ave to think about this," said Lucatz warily. "I wanna talk all the details over wit' you carefully in person."
"I understand," I said, then cut the call and crushed the comm under my foot. I sprinkled the pieces in different recyclers all the way back to Colosseum Plaza.
Kris was waiting for me when I reached the hotel. A "mysterious benefactor" was putting us up for the time being, but we both knew exactly who the money was coming from. It felt strange to be living in a place of such extravagance after so much time in tram stations and alleyways.
"I got Lucatz," I said.
Kris looked surprised and not entirely happy. "We need him," I reminded her. She made no objection, but instead gestured to the door.
"The bellboy came by to tell us 'we're wanted at Fifty-Two Penrose, apartment Ninety-four A at 4:00.'"
The words hung suspended like ice cubes in a glass of water, revolving, clinking against each other.
"This is it," I said.
"This is it," repeated Kris.
We left the hotel at quarter to four and made our way across the plaza to Penrose street. Number 52 was a plastiglass high rise with gleaming black windows, sharp and bold as obsidian. We needed IDs to enter, but someone had apparently cleared us already and we walked across a polished onyxite lobby, our footsteps echoing disconcertingly.
We took an elevator to the 94th floor. It was so carefully pressurized and perfectly streamlined I couldn't tell if we were moving until the doors whispered open and we found ourselves in a dark corridor punctuated here and there by a stark chrome door. Suite A was the first one and I walked up to it to touch the buzzer, which I knew was wired to an automatic fingerprint-recognition scan. Kris moved in close to me, her fingers tapping her hip anxiously. I knew it made her nervous to be completely unarmed.
We waited and I felt the eyes of a dozen microlenses surveying us invisibly from the walls. Finally the door slid open and there stood a lean man with smooth silver hair sleeked back from his forehead. He beckoned us in and the door closed automatically behind us.
"The Raven has been expecting you," said the man in a soft tone, and I recognized his voice as that of the man who had accosted us in the Plaza the night before.
He led us down a hall and into a black-and-chrome sitting room furnished with synthetic-leather chairs, a glossy table, and an enormous tinted glass window that consumed one whole wall and afforded a breathtaking view of Alarbor from ninety-four stories up. There were already three people in the room, only one of whom I recognized. One was a papery-skinned man with digi-ink tattoos that crawled luminously beneath his skin. Another man stood by the window, bald, and so muscular I was sure his body had been bioengineered; he looked like a pale, hairless gorilla. And seated with a martini in hand was the woman Kris had caught spying on us at the Remmington Casino, her braids looking more snakelike than ever. They almost seemed to hiss as she twisted her head in our direction.
The silver-haired man gestured for us to sit down and we did so, taking the two chairs closest to the door. I wondered where the Raven was, because he wasn't in the room.
And then I heard his voice. At first I couldn't tell where it was coming from, but after a moment I pinpointed its location to a small black dome in the center of the table.
"It's been a long time, Gavin Ryder. I do hope you've made this worth my time."