By Emma Geraghty
Galactic Coordinates: 23-04-06-01
“Please enter identification number.”
The voice from the security system is posh and tinny. Instantly annoying. I take off my glove and type in the six digits, the numbers sliding unconsciously from my brain to fingers already numbing in the bitter night. The red light blinks. I hold my breath.
“Confirmed. Please enter.”
I push the door open. The apartment is silent and I want to keep it that way. I make my way along the hallway and into the lounge, everything bathed in a fiery glow from the sunrise outside. The curtains are open and for a moment I think maybe I’m too late. Maybe she’s up already. And if that’s true, then I am well and truly in the shit. But I can’t hear anything. Just the sound of my own breath. Even the sounds of the street don’t make it this high up. It’s unsettling. I’ve always hated silence. It’s easier to hide in noise.
The third door along is the bedroom, and that’s where I need to be. I place a hand on the handle and push it down, the click seeming to bounce off the walls. This room is in darkness. I take a moment to let my eyes adjust, let the silhouettes of furniture emerge from the dark, let my brain remember. The desk. On the other side of the room. That’s where the box is, in the first drawer. I look towards the bed and see her figure beneath the bedsheets, blonde hair turned black in the lack of light. I move quickly to the desk. This might just work – in and out, no trace. Like I’d never been here.
And that’s when the alarm goes off.
“…bringing you the best sounds at six am, this is Blokk Radio, with you all through the day…”
The lights flick on and the curtains begin to open, all of this pre-programmed bullshit ruining a perfectly good plan in an instant.
“What the hell?” She’s awake.
I turn to face her, smiling in what I hope is an apologetic way. “Hey babe.”
“Hey? Is that it? You know, when I said you could stay at mine, I meant during the night. Not rolling in at the crack of dawn with a hey babe.”
Her tone is angry, but she’s never been able to stay mad at me for long. So I shrug off my jacket, throwing it over the back of the chair, and sit on the bed. Look at her. Smile genuinely this time. Her eyes are sharp but lined with sleep, hair all over the place, and the rush of feeling takes me by surprise like it always does. Allory Hacida, stealing the breath from my lungs at the most unexpected moments.
“Have you been out all night?”
“Got stuck with work.” I shrug. Images from the night chase themselves through my brain but I shake them free. I lean in to kiss her. She pulls back, wrinkling her nose.
“No way. Nothing for you till you get in the shower.”
“Is that an invitation?”
I lie back on the bed, making sure my boots aren’t touching the white sheets. She laughs.
“Someone’s come back horny,” she smiles at me, and I can’t keep the grin off my face. She gets out of bed. “It can be an invitation if you want. Saves on water.”
My mind drifts briefly to the thought of a shower, to the hot water pricking my skin, then to sleep, to letting my eyelids close, letting myself dream. I shake my head to clear it and sit up. “No time. I’m due at the station in half an hour.”
She shakes her head, annoyance flashing across her face. “You need some sleep.”
“Not more than I need a job.” I go back to the desk and get a small box from the top drawer. My original target. Inside are a few dozen tiny red pills, each marked with the letter K, and I take two without water. I ignore the small sound of distaste that Allory makes. Klaxxon pills were taken off the general market about a year ago when people realised they destroyed their nanomedics, but as Al’s told me time and time again I evidently don’t care about my health. And I get them for free. I can feel the charge as the pills work their medical magic, and within ten seconds I am wide awake. My ears are ringing and I suddenly have a banging headache, but that’s all normal and I swallow a couple of painkillers as a chaser. Sorted.
I hear the sound of the shower and resist the urge to follow her in. She’ll be genuinely pissed off at me now. As long as I don’t take them in front of her she doesn’t seem to care, but she also insists that I keep them here. So she can keep an eye on me. I have another bag back at my place, but that’s besides the point. What she doesn’t know can’t irritate her. But it is sweet of her, I guess, to care so much-
Focus. Stop thinking about it. She won’t last.
My clothes stink. I remove my holster, strip, and throw the clothes into the laundry unit, the mechanisms firing up instantly. I stand in front of the mirror to assess the damage from the night. Just a couple of bruises. Huge one across the ribs on my left – glancing kick from a security boot. On the curve of my right shoulder – breaking into a shitty apartment. Nothing too serious, and I’m always grateful when they go for places I can cover up. A couple of jobs ago I came back with a face like a Rorschach test. Not pretty.
I splash my miraculously unbruised face with cold water and get some of my clothes out of Allory’s wardrobe. I hear the shower stop. She comes back into the bedroom as I’m struggling to fasten my bra behind my back, a blue towel wrapped around her. Her hair drips over her shoulders.
“I don’t know why you don’t just twist it round,” she says, smacking my hands away and doing it for me.
“Thanks.” I grab my t-shirt from the bed. “I feel like I should be able to manage my own underwear by now, y’know?”
I know she’s looking at my bruises and I know exactly what she’s thinking, but I brush past it. I pull the t-shirt over my head. One of the ones from San Ya’s black market – it’s not exactly illegal, but stuff salvaged from Ea1 is always frowned upon.
“A woman’s place is in the resistance,” Allory reads. “Who’s the picture?”
“The princess. From the film we watched last week.”
“The one set in space? With the light-up swords? I don’t know why you like that stuff, it’s so unrealistic.”
“Unrealistic? We live in space, honey-”
“Yeah, and it’s nothing like that film.”
“It’s a masterpiece. End of.” I drag a brush through my hair and pull it into a ponytail. “Anyway, gotta dash.”
Allory looks pointedly at my gun and holster, still on the bed. I put it on, grab my jacket and gloves, and go to head to the front door.
“Morven.” Allory’s got her hands on her hips. “You’re forgetting something.”
“I am?” She raises her eyebrows and I falter. “Oh. Yeah.”
It’s a good kiss, if a bit rushed. I’d stay here for the whole day if I could. The whole week. She’s smiling when I pull away, her face just inches from mine. “That’s not what I meant.”
“Tonight?” I wrack my brain. There’s nothing filed under Allory, nothing under Tonight… The smile disappears from her face. “Tonight. The meal. At Arcadia.”
“I’ll be there. It just slipped my mind.”
“Table’s booked at eight. Dress nicely. No denim.”
“Do you need a ride?”
“No, I’ll meet you there after work.” She bites her lip slightly and it instantly worries me. “There’s something else… Don’t go mad.”
“I didn’t tell you before because I knew you’d panic, but I promise you’ll be fine. My parents are joining us for dinner. I think it’s about time you met them.”
So I’m outside and it’s really fucking cold and my brain is in utter panic. Meet the parents? Christ. Not a chance. No. Fucking. Way. I press my thumb to the scanner, swing a leg over my ride and give it a kick, a couple of passersby jumping at the roar of the engine. It quickly settles into a low growl. I angle upwards. There’s already vehicles buzzing about, zipping this way and that, heading to work or home or to meet their girlfriend’s parents or whatever. I wait for an opening and flick through some music. The little player was another relic from Ea1. You can get these implant things now, but there’s a procedure and doctors and to be honest, I like that I’m in control of my own body now. And if I’m wearing headphones, people generally know not to talk to me.
The ride to the WeGard-U station only takes ten minutes and I have at least six near death experiences. I’m sure cities in the Inner Planets have traffic systems or something, but out here we just wing it. Much like everything else. This whole city is a death trap. Blokk lives up to its name – it was originally an import station for the other outlying planets, and when the money ran out there were just lots of storage containers and old buildings. And then humans invaded, as we always do. So the containers got stacked on top of each other and got made into apartments, which is where everyone lives. The centre is a little better – think Ea1 cowboy movies with more lasers and chrome – but in the suburbs it’s a mess. Allory’s apartment is pretty nice, but it’s expensive. My place is… best not mentioned. I power down outside the station just as the final screams of electric guitar die in my headphones. I remove my helmet, check my reflection in the wing mirror, and head into the building, starting up a fresh track. I may look like a woman but I / cut like a buffalo…
I tip a salute to the Gard at reception. “Morning Xende. Coffee machine working?”
“Excellent.” Today is hell.
I’ve just completed the retina scan – recent freak-out with clones, don’t ask – when Gard Probis appears. He’s well educated, conventionally attractive, and a complete bellend, so naturally I figured he would feature in my day.
“What are you doing here, Glass?”
I shrug, leaning nonchalantly against the reception. “Nothing much. Chilling out. Maxing. Relaxing all cool.”
He narrows his eyes, recognition flitting briefly across his face. He definitely knows I’m taking the piss.
“It’s half six in the morning, Probis. Just doing my job.”
“Of course,” he sneers, looking me up and down. “Every inch the professional.”
I’m just about to snap back a killer one-liner when my file arrives. Xende clears her throat. She’s holding a small three-tipped needle. “You want it direct?”
“Nah, transfer.” I suppress a shudder. She turns to her screen and within seconds is handing me a micro-card the size of a fingernail. Probis raises his eyebrows.
“Memory card? You need to catch up with your tech, Glass.”
I roll my eyes, pocketing the card. “Why are you still here?”
His indignant response is drowned out by drums and electric guitars as I unpause my player and head back to my ride. I occasionally enjoy irritating him, if I have the time, but not today. I put on the helmet and slide the micro-card into the side of it. Images flash across the visor. A name. A face. A location. Warning. Dangerous fugitive. Proceed with caution.
That’s more like it.
I take the rest of the morning relatively easy. Grab a coffee, some breakfast, another coffee, buy some new cigarettes. I spend quite a while sat outside what passes for a cafe, smoking and scrolling through data files on my laptop. Yes, I still have one of those. It looks like it’s survived several nuclear blasts – which, to be fair, it might well have done – but it works like a dream and I don’t feel like I could break it if I tried. I’m researching my target. Well, refreshing my memory, really. I’ve gone after this guy before. A good fifteen years ago. And he got away. Dabrial Birch. I’ve not got a vendetta or anything. In fact, it’s quite nice to have a familiar face pop up now and again, like checking up on an old friend who you’ve tried to kill several times and finding out they’re still well and still fucking their life up. And all I have to do is find him and bring him in. Dead or alive.
His last known location is Triisk, about three hours out of the city, so that’s where I head. I’m not worried about him skipping out on me. Triisk is home to the biggest network of gambling dens in the outer planets, with a minimum stay of three days and no maximum limit. The place is a void. You get thrown out when you run out of money – trust me on that one – but thanks to the vast amount of illegal trading he’s done, Birch is loaded. And he checked in thirty hours ago, so unless something has gone horrendously wrong then he’s still in there.
The bouncer is huge. I think he’s a Rhino, which means he’s small on brains and big on everything else. His voice sounds like he’s chewing rocks. I pay the minimum fee and slide past him into the Complex, stopping just inside the door to get my bearings. There isn’t much light, most of it coming from the smart screens that run the games, and the sound of the players is masked by a throbbing bass that hits just below the ribcage. I can feel my pulse slowing in time to it, feel my alertness fading away… I bite my tongue to sharpen my brain. Birch is a tricky sonofabitch and I’ll need every scrap of energy to get him. I shake my head quickly. Bloody hell. My brain- hang on. There’s a woman stood, and I’m guessing by her outfit of a very skimpy bra and knickers that she works for the Complex. The silver platter she’s holding has lots of little red pills on it. Jackpot. I take two of them, murmuring my thanks and feel my heartbeat kick up to double time. Whoa there. If only Allory could see me now, I grin to myself. I feel fantastic.
I start scanning the games for my man, hands in pockets, slightly hunched posture. Making myself inconspicuous as possible. I slink from game to game, hoping that I see him before I have to get involved in one of them. The management get annoyed if you just hang around without playing. I gravitate naturally towards the bar, and just as I’m about to order a drink, I see him. And he sees me. We lock eyes over the bartender’s shoulder, and for a moment, everything is still. I raise my hand and wave at him, smiling. He looks confused. And then he runs.
Here we go.
And I’m chasing him through the Complex, through the middle of games, knocking cards and chips everywhere, people are shouting at us, swearing and shaking fists. Birch turns down an aisle of old slot machines, and with great effort pulls one of them over to block my path, but I notice it in time and I’m jumping over it, keeping my breathing even, adrenaline coursing through my body and at the same time hoping for a dead end so I can take the bastard down. It doesn’t take long. A locked fire escape. He turns, back to the wall. I stop a couple of feet away from him. Both of us getting our breath back.
“Of all the gambling dens in all of the galaxy, Glass-”
“I had to chase you through this one.” I smile. I like this guy. Shame he’s a criminal, really. “Fancy a ride? I can drop you anywhere, so long as it’s the Gard station.”
He shakes his head, still smiling. “Not a chance. I like my freedom.”
There’s a bit of a crowd now, including a couple of Rhino bouncers. It looks like they’re going to let us finish this ourselves – nobody’s getting involved, but everyone is blocking our way out. I see Birch is crouching slightly. His shoulders are tense, arms raised a little. I allow a note of amusement into my voice. “Are you going to fight me, Dabrial?”
“Looks like it, sweetheart.”
“Excellent. Just be a gent and don’t go for the face. I have a date tonight.”
“I’ll try my best.”
He launches himself at me and I dodge to the side, grabbing his shoulders and driving a knee up into his stomach. He doubles over, winded. I give him a bit of room, dancing back, light on my toes, bouncing from foot to foot. Call me a philistine, but I love a good fight. The crowd are louder now, cheering and jeering, not rooting for anyone in particular. Birch is up again. I throw a punch at his face, but he feints to the right and lands a hit, I can feel his knuckles crunch against my already bruised ribs. I swear and retaliate, pushing him forward and smacking his head off the wall, following quickly with a kick to the back of the legs and driving him to the floor. A cheer from my fans. I straddle his back and unhook the cuffs from my belt.
“Honey, I am bringing you in.” The cuffs tighten automatically and I haul him to his feet. He doesn’t look happy. There’s already a bruise starting on his forehead. “Thanks for that though. I think I needed to get something out of my system.”
He doesn’t say anything. I steer him towards the door, and after a brief negotiation with the Rhinos and more than a few VCoins changing hands, and secure him on my ride. I unfasten his cuffs. “Don’t try and escape or anything, because I will just shoot you this time.”
Birch’s laugh is hollow. I’m just about to get on when my phone goes. I check the screen. Allory.
“Hey babe,” I gesture to Birch one minute. He rolls his eyes.
“Is this a bad time?”
“Kind of. I’m in the-”
“So, tonight. Just want to make sure you’re remembering everything.”
“Eight o’clock. Arcadia. No denim.”
“Get there at ten to.”
“Al, I have literally just caught a criminal. Can I call you in a bit?”
She sounds a little irritated, but we say our goodbyes and I put the phone down. I take a deep breath. Massage my temples. Try to ignore the guilt that’s gnawing my insides.
“I was surprised to see you tonight. You haven’t changed. At all. Fifteen years, Glass.” Birch’s voice is low. I can tell he’s looking at me but I don’t want to meet his eye. “You’re one of the Lazarus kids, aren’t you? The experiments.”
“So you don’t age?”
I shake my head.
“Does she know?”
I shake my head. It’s something I don’t want to have to think about. Something I constantly push to the back of my mind. I’m almost reaching the limit with Allory. We’ve been together for two years, and I think I’m as close to being in love as I will ever be. But in another year or so, I’ll have to break up with her. Because everyone I know gets older, apart from me. And I can’t undo what the scientists did, so my relationships don’t last. Nothing lasts. Every three years, I uproot everything.
I pinch the bridge of my nose and count to five. Let go. Let go. Birch is still looking at me with what looks like pity on his face. It jolts me. I throw the spare helmet to him. “Enough of this sentimental bullshit. Let’s get going.”
“If we must.” He fastens the helmet over his head, and I do the same. “I’ve never rode on of these before.”
“In that case, listen up. Relax. Enjoy the ride.” The engine roars to life. “Oh, and hold on tight. Or you might just die.”