The day I became a contract killer started the same as any other. I showed up for work at Dag's shop just barely on time, checking the sky as I went through the razorwire fence. I was pretty sure the sun was up; just above the horizon I spotted a patch that looked smeary red-black instead of smeary black-black.

Silvio P's boombox was already blaring yerroton, the swaggery beat backing up chugging guitars tuned low enough to feel in your chest. Silvio himself squatted in the middle of his bay, zipping wheels off cutoff hubs and stacking them by size and lug pattern. Skinny and Parra were pushing a vic into Parra's bay to be cut up, Ksana leaned over her toolbox looking still drunk from last night, and Leadfinger was, as always, on the forklift running crates of junk from place to place for no apparent reason. I'd been in there fifteen seconds and I was already half-deafened and sucking fumes-business as usual. I went into the office to find out what Dag wanted me doing.

While the shop was really just a sheet-metal pavilion over a concrete pad, completely open on two sides, the office was actually enclosed. It was in a crooked-sitting modular building whose plasboard walls still smelled like the industrial runoff they were recycled from. The new accountant, who was Dag's niece or something, looked up and stared as I walked in. Being that I was seven feet, three-twenty pounds of mostly muscle, and female, I was used to it.

"Morning," I said to her, hands stuck in the pockets of my coveralls.

She blinked behind her glasses as she realized I was talking to her. "Uh, hi, umm..."

"Sharkie." I thought a moment. "You're Dezhda, right?"

"Yeah!" Her face cracked into a big goofy smile and I wondered what the hell Dag was thinking letting her work here. "I'll remember you next time, er, Sharkie. I promise. Um, Uncle Dagmund went to get breakfast but he left this for you."


Dagmund? That was his name? Wow. I took the note she handed me, thanked her, and headed back out.

When Dag hired me a year ago, I could spin wrenches but lacked most any technical knowledge to know where and when to do so on an actual vehicle. What I did not lack was physical strength and low standards for potential employment. Dag took me on as a kind of all-purpose stopgap.

On any given day I might be sweeping the shop, moving shit around in the yard, or standing in for the fork truck when it broke down-one time after I clean-lifted a transmission up onto a workbench for Silvio K, he said I should get the MHY Synfork logo tattooed on my forehead (I told him I was more of a Superlift kind of girl). It wasn't that bad of a job, really. I got paid on time and there were plenty of lifelights around, which is far from a guarantee in D-Block. The best days, though, were those when there was either too much work or too few people, and I got to pretend I was a real mechanic. Or the chopshop equivalent, at least.

This was one of those days. Dag's note was simple. "Cut these up ASAP. I want them gone by lunch." Apparently a certain few vics had come in last night and needed to disappear. This probably meant they were stolen, tagged, or otherwise hot, but that was very much not my problem. I didn't much care where the car came from; I was just excited to use the glittersaw.

I went out to the yard and found the vic (in both senses) almost immediately. It was a Chrysanthemum two-door whose model I didn't recognize, looking relatively new and painted chromium orange. It looked in good shape other than a crumpled front end. I would have felt bad cutting it up if it was something I ever had a hope of affording. No keychip, which didn't speak well about its provenance, but whoever parked it had helpfully left it in neutral. I set some chocks down in Alan's bay (who, according to Dag's note, was out because his wife was 'in labor or some shit') and flagged down Dragan to steer the vic in for me while I pushed.

"Shit, this thing's barely used and Dagman's letting you cut it up?" said Dragan as he hopped out. "It's a shame, Sharkie, a shame. I remember when we had standards." He smiled to show he was joking. One benefit of being big as a damn Praetor was nobody ever hazed you much.


Dragan was a pretty nice guy, older, with tearstreaks tattooed on his face in ink made from diesel soot. Most everyone working for Dag was nice enough, if odd. Walk in there and you'd see jacker tats like Dragan's, branded carce codes like grid-shaped scars on a few foreheads, some second- and third-hand bionics with wiped ident tags, a couple muties. It was a pretty good cross-section of D-block, actually. Nobody I'd ever lend money, but nice enough all the same. And as for the weirdness, well, I fit right in.

"I dunno, Drag. Boss must be either too drunk or too sober," I replied. "He told me to slice it so that's what I'll do. Thanks for the help."

"No worries, Shark. I'm just bustin' you." He began walking back to his bay, then turned around. "And be careful with that saw. Cut straight so it don't bind up. You probably hold twice as much blood as a normal person and I don't wanna be the one moppin' it up." I gave him a thumbs-up and he headed off. Now it was time for the fun part.

I quickly got the vic up on stands, then jogged into the tool cage and grabbed the glittersaw. Even the case was one of the nicest things on the property: a long aluminum box, rectangular and closed by heavy latches. It looked like something you'd keep a fancy gun in. So laden, I went back to what was soon to be my operating theater.

When Silvio K saw me with the saw he set down the bearing he was packing and laughed. "What you doing with that buzzer, chicota? Thought you were stuck on your screwdriver license!"

"Someone's gotta replace your old ass when you kick it," I shot back with a grin.

"Replace? What you talking about? I'm gonna be here another fifty years, giganta. That's the power of clean living." He leaned toward me with an exaggerated squint, like a burnout hit with a thousand-lumen spotlight. "You, though, I dunno about you."

"Think I'd rather bite a heater than be working here in fifty years anyway."

He scoffed and shooed me away like I was a dogroach. "Oh, get outta here, you know what I meant. Quit distracting me." I chuckled and left him to it.

In some of the movies I've seen, the real old Sun Age ones, there'll be a part near the end where the warrior finally decides to stop fucking around and get the ancient legendary sword out of the family vault or his grandpa's tomb or whatever. The music fades and he takes it out of the sheath real slow and careful, like something holy. Then just looks it over for a second, drinks it in, maybe nods in respect. I felt like one of those guys every time I pulled the glittersaw out of the case.

Its real name was the MKM Ultra-High-Frequency Micro-Abrasive Cutter, but if we stood around saying that every time nothing would ever get done. Its blades could be one, two, or three feet long, made of tungsten and trussed carbon and edged with artificial diamond. The blade locked into a battery-powered grip unit whose electrochemical mechanism vibrated it back and forth at some ungodly rate. The blade seemed to have no defined edge, just a sparkling blur along the bottom where the teeth got too small to see. It was lighter than a chopsaw, more versatile than a torch or plasma cutter, and faster than all three. It also looked like a big fucking robot sword, something out of a mecha show, and I couldn't help but feel childishly excited every time I picked it up.

Time to get to work. Off came the hood, the fenders, the crushed front end. The saw made a glassy whine as it went through metal like air, the edge surrounded in the dancing sparkles of steel dust that gave rise to its nickname. I hooked the engine-this thing burned synfuel, not electricity-up to a chainfall and chopped the mounts: Zing! Zing! Zzzzing! I hoisted the engine out of the way, cut the wheels off the crumpled front suspension, sliced the doors off hinges and all, then moved to the back.

I popped the trunk so I could get at the hinges, but I noticed something left inside. It was a squarish bundle wrapped up in a dirty sweatshirt. Hmm. I set the saw down and, hoping sincerely there wasn't a severed head or something inside, peeled the wad open. Within was...a box.

It was a very nice box, though. About an eight-inch cube, dark gray, matte, the finish incredibly uniform. No seams or lines, just the Yakkorp logo, like a couple of stylized Sov runes, etched in the center of one face. Below it was a green circle.

I had an idea what this might be, and my chest was getting tight just thinking about it. I had to be sure, though. I gave the green mark a tentative poke, and a seam appeared halfway down the box. The top half opened up with the sort of smooth, damped slowness that just drools quality. It was the company saying "That's right, deek, you couldn't even afford the case." Within the bottom half, nestled in a cavity of shockproof foamgel, was a small round vial sealed with a plastic latch. I pulled it out-it fit so precisely this was tougher than it sounds-and inspected it. There was another Yakkorp logo on the lid, and a smartpaper label along the side. It read: "NANOFIX V4.54.02 LICENSE UNREGISTERED" above a small barcode. Between my fingers was a flask of medical nanotech worth about as much as the car I'd just chopped up-before it was wrecked.

I quickly put the vial back and shut the box, which resealed automatically with a soft fmp. I had a choice to make, here. Technically, anything we found in a vic had to be reported to Dag, and he decided what to do with it. But there was an unspoken rule, by which even Dag seemed to abide, that the techs kept what they found. Usually, though, this applied to small-denom currency chits, food vouchers, maybe a cheap comslab. Nothing so valuable as this. Maybe if I turned it in, Dag would give me a bonus or something. In my fucking dreams. This was Dag I was talking about.

Nah, I was keeping it. I knew a couple places I could sell this off. Not for as much as it was worth, probably. Stuff like this didn't just show up way down in D-Block by accident. No doubt it was hot just like the car I'd found it in, and any fence would take a higher cut to match the higher risk. But even then, I'd have enough to buy some tools, maybe get work as a real mechanic somewhere a little less shady (nothing is entirely without shade in D, no sir). I'd even be able to give Sawada a little something. He deserved it. So, moving nonchalantly as an ogre like me could, I grabbed the box and set it atop one of the tool cabinets, behind the seldom-used big torque wrench. I'd grab it on my way out later and be home free.

The next couple hours passed as usual. I finished stripping the orange vic-without finding any more miraculous windfalls-and then got to the best part, which was slicing the frame into plenty of unidentifiable little pieces that would fit in the crusher. I couldn't help striking a pose with the glittersaw after I finished, and felt like a real hardass cyberninja for about half a second before Silvio K's laughter made me jump. I flipped him the bird but it just made him laugh harder. My prize remained in place. It was an effort not to glance up at it every other second.

I set the saw down and carried all the cutoffs over to Silvio P, who acknowledged me with a single off-beat nod as he bobbed his head to the music. I got all the frame bits together and crated them up for Leadfinger to pick up, then grabbed a broom, sweeping up all the little strakes and dunes of metal powder left by the glittersaw. I was just finishing up with this when a guy walked into my bay from outside.

He was about six feet and kind of stocky, with pale skin, close-cropped sandy hair and a round face half-covered by mirrored specs. He wore a cheap suit that was still nicer than anything I could afford, but no tie. On his left cheek was tattooed an abstract, angular design in blue ink. He ought to have had them put "GANG MEMBER" on his forehead while they were at it. If this guy wasn't Blue Division I was a dwarf.

I quit sweeping as he came up to me. He gave me a weird, appraising glance, like he wanted to ask if it was necessary for me to be so tall.

"Hey man, is this Dag's place?" he asked when he was done.

"Uh, yeah." I jerked a thumb towards the front of the lot. "Office is over there if-"

"Good, good. Where's Dag at?"

I clenched my teeth. Nothing good would come of getting pissed off and offending this guy. "I dunno, man. Haven't seen him today." I made a show of looking around the shop, and actually spotted the man himself coming toward us with his weird jerky stride. "Oh, there he is."

The Blue Division man pulled a thin cigar out of his jacket pocket and lit it by pinching the end between two fingers. Stupid showoff nanopaths. "Thanks," he said and nodded like I was free to go now. Man but this guy rubbed me the wrong way.

Meanwhile Dag had made it to us. He was small and brown and dried up-looking, like a human piece of jerky. His face was pinched and perpetually stubbled, and graying hair lay across his scalp in a lank combover. He was one of those peculiar men who could step out of a steam shower into a sterile operating room and somehow be dirty ten seconds later. Surfaces gathered dust as he walked past. He seemed to have been born with grease under his nails. One could almost see floor dirt leaping eagerly up to stain the sweaty white button-downs he, in what almost seemed to be a gesture of defiance, insisted on wearing.

He gave me a squint as he walked up. He was very good at these, his eyes being beady little gimlets deep-set in a face the texture of old leather. I took the hint and turned around to get back to sweeping-Oh, shit!

Someone must have come and grabbed the torque wrench while I was talking to the gangster, for my (I'd already begun thinking of it as such) medical nano was sitting there atop the cabinet, entirely exposed.

Kingsdammit. Why today of all days? We took things apart far more often than we put them together. Why hadn't I found a better hiding spot? Why hadn't I just called off? Too fucking late for any of that now. Dag was standing right there, muttering with the Blue Div guy. I couldn't hear much of their conversation.

"...taken care of..."

"...soon as we can..."

"...Rukha won't want to hear..."

Who the hell knew. My impression of Dag was that he was always trying to get his fingers into other people's pies. They kept going a for another minute or two.

"...have to wait to hear back..."

" out in the office. Come on."

Finally! They were leaving. I was home-

"Hey, Dagman. What's that up there?"


I'd finished sweeping and was pretending to put the saw away, but really I was watching Dag from beneath the brim of my cap. His eyes followed the gangster's pointing finger up to the gray box and narrowed so hard they disappeared. "Why, Mikey, that's just a little surprise I thought you might be interested in." He didn't know what it was, but it wasn't hard to tell it came from uptown.

"Huh," said Mikey. He took the box down and popped the lid, then pulled out the vial. "Damn, Dagman! Where'd you find this?"

Dag flashed a smile that didn't reach his eyes. "Just a trick of the trade. Let a man have his secrets."

"Yeah, sure." Mikey turned the vial over in his hands, doing his best to peer inside. "So how much you want for it?"

I saw Dag's jaw clench a little. "Fifteen."

"Done," Mikey replied immediately. I cringed. It was worth at least twenty thou, maybe twenty-five, and the lack of haggling would make that obvious. "A pleasure doing business with you as always, Mikey. You head up to the office. I have to clear some things up with Sharkie here and I'll meet you in a minute."

Mikey barely looked at me before closing the vial back into its box and walking away, taking the best opportunity I was ever likely to get with him. "Sure thing, Dagman. Take your time." I'd stopped sweeping by this point, knowing the charade was pointless. Dag let him get a few bays away before he came over to me, his jerky walk like a busted toy's.

"Get down here so you can hear me," he said. I complied, bending down. "You're fired. Grab your shit and get the fuck off my premises."


"But shut the fuck up. Comslabs, loose change, meal tickets for fucking Nino's, those I can let slide. But nanotech? Corpo shit? Hell no. Especially when it makes me look like a fucking tool in front of my business associates. Lesson learned, I guess. This is what I get for hiring no-account fucking street creatures. Fuck." The last word came out more as a sigh. "Get out of my face. If you're not gone in five minutes there's gonna be trouble."

Now I was already unhappy, but that fucking pissed me off. What was he gonna do? Call Admin on me? Even in some fantasy world where they showed up in fucking D-block, they'd just carce everyone in here. Fuck him.

The only thing I'd brought that wasn't on me were a couple slices of pizza in the fridge, and he could clean those up. I hoped they rotted. "Fine," I bit out. "Won't even take five seconds, you cheap bastard. See ya." I started stomping out the bay door.

"Hey," called Dag from behind me. I stopped without turning. "Leave the saw."

I glanced down and realized it was indeed still in my hand, blade, battery, and all. I turned around slowly and stood up straight, still white-hot mad.

"Do you want to come over here and get it?" I asked, keeping my voice very level.

Apparently not, for he took a shuffling step back. "You're stealing."

"Take it out of my last check, Dag." We both knew he wasn't going to pay me for last week.

He glared at me with those beady little eyes for a moment, then did a one-eighty on one heel. "I see you around here again and you're fucked, sukha." He walked away without looking back. I screwed my cap down over my eyes and did the same.