Nothing really goes in or out of the lower city after midnight—it's one of the few curfews the police don't actively have to enforce. If you don't live in the lower city, you don't want to be there after dark, and the slummies don't have much use for the upper levels.

I'm anxious and agitated, and the fact that it's well after three a.m. and I'm coming up on an autocheck isn't helping matters.

I hit the checkpoint and drag my truck to a halt. The scanners stream over me, a wash of red light in the near darkness. As soon as the beams go green I kick it back into drive. Bright's “official business” pass had worked. It didn't do anything for my mood.

Bright—what the hell am I doing playing errand boy for her in the middle of the goddamn night? Well, this is it. This is the last time. I'd promised myself—and more importantly, I'd promised Polly.

We never fight, except when it comes to my little sideline with Bright. She has every right to be mad. We're getting along just fine on what I get from my more respectable jobs. She practically works for the government, and here I am—

No more. This is my last favor for Bright.

The levtruck shudders over the uneven streets of the lower city, potholes and debris throwing off the gravfield. There's a blip on my nav, coming up fast. My destination; a Transient Center.

Go pick up Reilly in the lower city. Isn't that how this round of bad business had gotten started?

Target. I stop the truck and hop out, achingly alert for anything that seems like a threat. So far, the streets are quiet.

I catch sight of Reilly coming out of the Center. He walks with a stiff swagger, probably still thinking he's going to have to hike home. The bravado in his steps would have protected him until some zombie got a good look at him. In the glare of a street light he looks too sick for words, paler than death, eyes all shadow. Easy prey.

He's lucky Bright's looking out for him. “Reilly!” I call out, just loud enough to get his attention. He looks up and heads towards me without a word. When he stops, he's close enough that I can smell the reek of day-old sweat on him, even through the stench of the lower city around us.

Bright send you?”


Are you linked now?”

No. I don't let her ride shotgun.”

He smiles a little. Something about it makes me cringe. “Good.”

He looks even worse up close than I'd expected—it's been barely a week since I met him, but he looks thinner, older, with rotten black bruises on both his arms. I don't know why Bright bothers. She'd run down the laundry list of the reasons she kept him around, of the things that made him a useful tool, but I can't imagine it's enough to balance out his obvious shortcomings. The guy is a voodoo doll, a trainwreck. I give a low whistle, I can't help it. “Shit, man. You really did a number on yourself, didn't you?”

Wasn't all me. C'mon. You drive and I'll talk.


The End

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