“What have we got here?”
A black boot, sturdy laces. A graceless kick to my shoulder. Ragdoll. Head falls back against a soft mass. Crinkle, garbage, stench. Lower city. Splayed on the ground, lifeless. Stasis. 'Machineshock. Major repairs.
Unfocused eyes stare upward, grasp futilely at two faces; rough stubble chins, riot goggles and gear. Cops. Zombie patrol.
“Junkie. Lookit those arms. Hoo boy.”
“Bag 'im and tag 'im, buddy. It's your turn.”
I choke out a sound, a cat coughing up a hairball. “Aw damn, he's alive.”
“Then get him in the truck, it's still your turn.”
“Shit.” A stun baton leveled at my guts. “Get on your feet.”
Can't. Sorry officer. All operators are currently busy assisting other customers. Please stay on the line.
More swearing. He realizes stunning me won't help his cause, puts an arm across my back, heaves me upward. Slack muscles try to assist but it's no good.
Dead weight. Always dead weight.
In the back of the truck, nine men, one woman, and me. The same glazed eyes, sallow skin, lower city stink. Except me. I'm an outsider and they smell it. There's a guard at the front, but his head's nodding, in and out of sleep. I'm dead before he pulls them off me, if he bothers to. We're all cuffed, but chemhead zombies don't need hands to fight.
Something, anything. I taste my own fear and cannibalize it. I pull myself together as best I can and steady my gaze. Eyes to eyes with the biggest, baddest one. He's coiled to strike. Instead of tensing in response, I lean back against the truck, relaxed. I grin.
I am crazier than the lot of them put together.
He doesn't give me any trouble.
The Transient Center. Nervous fluorescent light. The smell of sanitation and cafeteria food. Single file.
“Name?” The question comes from a bored female officer, short, dark hair pulled back in a tight bun. Control.
Tongue thick, mouth cotton-coated. “Doghouse Reilly.” The retnal scan burns like the sun. The device chirps in confirmation.
“You have an address.” A look of pure contempt. It would be hatred if I wasn't beneath wasting the effort.
If I didn't feel like death warmed over, I could enjoy this. But I'm all out of clever retorts, one-liners to inspire sneers and condescension. They'll come to mind later when the scenario plays over, and I'll save them for the morning, for the eventual transmission from Bright. “Yeah.”
“You're free to go. Straight home. We'll be putting a marker in your file. Expect it to come up at your relocation meeting this week.”
Great. Time flies when you're having fun.
“What have we got here?”