I tried to take deep breaths as I went through the fence and started out on the half-powdered sidewalk. Blue Div and the Holy Bones had been squabbling harder than usual lately, and I had to keep aware. Some of the guys at work said they were headed for a full-on gang war, which was bad for everyone.

So I kept my eyes up and my head on a swivel as I walked between the blue-white spots of lifelight. A few cybirds alighted on the poles, their chirps garbled like feedback. It was a warm afternoon, so I unzipped my coverall halfway down. Under it I had on an oil-stained Nino's F'in Pizza T-shirt, complete with an angry-faced slice flipping the bird with both of his little stick arms. It was cute, but I still feel I should mention here that clothing is hard to find in my size.

I was so angry and distracted I nearly walked into a dark patch without noticing, one I hadn't seen before. I fumbled a flashlight (everyone in D carried at least one) out of my pocket one-handed, flicked it on, and held it up next to my head like Sawada had shown me. I kept going and sure enough, there was a burnt-out lifelight pole right in the middle of the dark. Hopefully someone important knew about it already.

The lifelights were the one thing just about everyone in D held sacred, even the crims. When one burned out-thankfully a rare occurrence-the gangs would work together to bribe Admin out to replace it. When someone broke one, whether accidentally or not, they also worked together to make an example out of them. They'd left the last guy's face alone, so people knew who he was and what he did, but no one ever found the rest of his skin. Maybe in Vitroix or B-block there were enough lights to mimic the sun, the old yellow one you saw in ancient movies. Here in D the dark was always close and we had to husband whatever we had.

Walking through the dark, I kept one hand on my light and the other on the grip of the saw. Abandoned buildings flashed brief and ghostlike in the scattered corona of my light. They looked abandoned, at least. Just because nobody wanted to live in a dark spot didn't mean no one did. Luckily, I got through the dark without encountering anything but an inquisitive dogroach, who scrabbled away when I nudged it with my boot. In another minute or two I got to the intersection, which was thankfully not in the dark. I leaned up against the lightpole, enjoying the feel of the cool metal against my back, and just stood there for a few minutes.

I considered that maybe I shouldn't be so pissed. I'd played the odds and I'd lost, that was that. But thinking this and feeling it were two different things. I was still mad at having opportunity yanked out from under my nose, at the way Dag had treated me. Hadn't he wanted those vics gone? They had to be hotter than hell for him to write a note like that, and anything inside was going to be hot too. I'd practically been doing him a favor taking that nano.

A couple ratty vics went by on the street, the slipstream tugging at my hair, and I finally pulled myself upright. I decided I'd go home to drop off the saw, first. I felt faintly ridiculous for having taken it but I was still too wound up to care. Then...who the hell knew. I'd need a new job fast. I was already behind on my rent. Savlop-2 was a bad place to be poor and a worse place to be homeless.


Maybe I'd just get a drink.

Luckily it was less than half an hour's walk back to my room. Dag's was on the eastern edge of D-block, where it started to fade out into the quarries, but it didn't take long to get into a more populated area. I passed diners of crumbling brick, kiosks selling cheap electronics, bootleg clothing outlets, gomi stands full of cheap jewelry and weapons, small family-run markets, the famed Rocha's Whatever-It-Is with its various used or stolen or knockoff goods. Advertisements baked under spotlamps, jittered on LCDs, wavered in plasma projectors like ghost flames in the gloom. There were a good number of people out, many of whom crossed the street rather than pass me. Something about seven feet of woman carrying three feet of powersaw just puts people off.

The way home took me past Sawada's place. He still had the same old-school sign up as when I was a kid, a twisted glass tube filled with blue-glowing gas: "SAWADA'S SUPPLIES-SUNDRIES-SECRETS." Funny old man. He was the closest thing I had to a dad, and while that meant I wanted to go and talk to him it also meant I felt too ashamed to actually do it. Better to keep moving.

I lived in a stack of old conex containers that I was pretty sure the Holy Bones owned. It was surrounded by a razorwire fence and guarded by a tiny armored box, maybe four foot square. The box contained a cloud of smoke. The cloud of smoke contained Hermy, who was kicked back reading a lewd comic book-and not even a good one, if I recognized the cover right. I banged on the ballistic window with my free hand. Without looking up, he uncrossed his legs, smacked the unlock button with his heel, and recrossed them. I was glad some of my rent went into this guy's salary.

The containers were stacked 2 broad and 4 high, with catwalks of scavenged sheet metal brazed to the side. The bottom three levels were divided into eight-by-ten foot rooms, the top one into twenties-the penthouse suites. I was on the third level, second cube back. The doors were steel, mounted in frames crudely welded to the container walls, but the locks were strong enough. I unlocked the door and kicked it shut behind me with a clang that rattled the whole box. I was immediately rewarded with pounding from the ceiling and a muffled "Keep it the FUCK! DOWN!" from next door. Home sweet home.

There's not much you can fit in an eight by ten by eight and half foot cube. I had a cot against the far wall and a couple of old gun lockers on the left for clothes and stuff. The walls were bare except for a few pages torn out of the tech mags Sawada still saved for me and my two movie posters: one for the Jet Colter flick Jacks are Wild and one for Princess Tomoe and the Nine-Demon Blade.


I stuck the saw under my cot, then laid down in my clothes and closed my eyes. The LED bar glued to the ceiling made patterns dance and twist behind my eyelids.

I'd really screwed the roach today, huh?

I grabbed one of my trashy novels off the floor and tried to read, but somehow the adventures of Knight-Princess Deya and her harem of handsome adventurers just weren't holding my attention. I found myself skimming the same paragraphs without taking anything in. I dropped it and tried to sleep, but even if there hadn't been music thumping from the cube behind mine I was still too wound up. After an hour or so I turned over and looked at Princess Tomoe on her poster, standing amidst the waves and rain. I had no idea what the actress's name was, couldn't read the alphabet it was written in. But she'd killed it. Tomoe's hair was wet and disheveled, her robes torn, and blood trickled from a cut on her cheek. But there was far more of it on the blade of her sword-staff, and her eyes burned with a crazy dark fire.

That poster was old, way old. Princess Tomoe was a Sun Age flick. It was one of the most valuable things I owned, to the right buyer. I wondered how much longer I could afford to hang onto it.

Suddenly the room felt even smaller than it was. I shot up off the cot, shaking my head. Fuck this. I was going out. I peeled out of my coverall and put on a pair of dark green cargo pants and a military-style jacket covered in pockets. I slammed the door behind me again, ignored the shouts, took the steps down two at a time, and buzzed myself out. Hermy didn't even twitch.

Letting my feet go where they would, I found myself on the lower reaches of Rankin Street, where it crosses Dovmont. Plenty of restaurants and gambling parlors and geisha bars marked with the sign of the Entertainers' Guild. Charlatans and fortune-tellers busked in their little stands, throwing sticks or bones or cards. It was always crowded, which was inevitable when there were so many different work-shifts always clocking out or going on weekly break. I wandered into Orrech's, an old brick bar I'd eaten at once or twice before. The whole front wall was open towards the sidewalk, making the place feel almost like a pavilion.

I went up to the bar and ordered a can of bad beer and a glass of worse synliq, along with the red pepper chicken. The bartender was a quiet guy, amiable enough despite the extra mutant pair of eyes set below his typical pair. He swept up the denars I set on the bar, got me my drinks, and sent the food order back to the kitchen. The place was only half-full, so he just waved at the free tables like 'sit anywhere.'

The plastic chair creaked as I plonked down at a two-top. I pulled off my cap, pushed a lock of dark hair out of my face and started sipping, beer then liquor then beer. I watched the other patrons and tried not to think about what the hell I was going to do.

Most of the people in there wore orange hazard suits. Probably just off a shift at the ration vats. Men and women both had their hair cut close to fit in their hoods. Sitting near me were two men and a woman with the stringy look of tweakers. One of the men was smoking something that smelled like burning plastic from a water pipe and the other two were laughing too hard at his jokes. One table in the corner held a pair of quarrymen, looking half feral with their filed teeth. Otherwise there was a scattering of jackers, pale scrawny burnouts, a pair of nanopaths with silvery trails on their arms, and a couple of those muties with the real square heads.

"Alright, red pepper chicken for the tall lady in-Oh! Sharkie! Is-is that you?" I looked up and saw Dezhda of all people holding my food. She was wearing a black tank top and purple capris now, rather than the button-down she'd had at Dag's.

"Dezhda? What happened? Did you get fired too?" The words were out of my mouth before I could think. That synliq went down hard but it worked fast.

She set the tray down in front of me and answered. "Oh, no! I worked here first. I'm just doing a favor for Uncle Dagmund, um, balancing accounts and stuff-" She cut herself off, eyes wide behind her glasses. "Wait, you got fired?"

"Uh, yeah. And you mean Dag's not paying you to work his books?"

"I-I'm so sorry about that!" The way she said it, I actually believed her. "And of course he isn't paying me. I'm just doing him a favor. He's family!"

This poor woman. "That's fu-fwhatever. To family, I guess." I raised the glass of liq and drained it. "Thanks for the food."

She flashed me a sunny grin. It lit her right up, making me notice the freckles on her cheeks, her bright green eyes, the honest openness of her face. I felt like some kind of Glasslands creature next to her, too big and pale and sharp-faced to be pretty. "Sure! I hope it's good! Do you want another, uh..."

Maybe I should stop at one, I thought. But then again maybe I shouldn't. "Yeah. Please."

She got more liq, set it in front of me, then put her hands on her hips as if to survey her work. It was apparently up to standard, for she gave me a nod and a smile then half-ran back to the kitchen. Poor woman, I'd thought. But if she was happy doing what she did, maybe she wasn't the poor one.

Only one drink in and Maudlin Sharkie was already here? This was a bad day.

I distracted myself by tucking into the meal, which came in a fiberfoam tray. There were noodles, peanuts, and slices of red pepper all swimming in spicy red sauce, along with chunks of "chicken." Every restaurant had their own recipe for making arpaste taste like meat, and Orrech's was pretty good. The heat of the sauce also did a lot of work, and as long as the arpaste noodles had a different flavor than the arpaste meat I wasn't gonna be too disappointed. Food is food.

I made it disappear then got back to drinking, letting my mind swim in the undercurrent of conversation, trying not to think. There were a few scavenged flatpanels hanging from the ceiling running an old Jet Colter flick with the sound off. The Devil Wears a Size 12, I thought. They ran out of good titles long before they ran out of movies. Jet was driving his Vintner Twenty at breakneck pace around the edge of a quarry pit, his tires just barely grabbing the rock. I'd seen this one before. He never falls in.

"Hey! Shasha!" It was the tweaker with the water pipe, loose-jointed and twisty-looking. "I been waiting twenty minutes and still no food!"

Dezhda immediately ran over to him. "I'm so, so sorry sir, it'll just be another few minutes, I apologize for the-"

"Does telling me sorry get my food out faster?" The guy was staring at her with huge eyes now, and his whole body had gone taut like a puppet with its joints too tight.

"Um-Sir, I'm sorr-"

"Just answer the question. Does. Saying. Sorry. Get my food. Out. Faster?"

Dezhda bit her lip, a worried frown on her face."N-no, it-"

"SO SHUT THE FUCK UP AND GET ON IT!" the tweaker screamed. Dezhda's eyes went wide and teary for an instant before she ran back to the kitchen like a kicked roach, tweaker and company's roaring laughter chasing her the whole way. A few of the vat workers glanced up, muttering, but quickly returned to their food. I...I wasn't sure what I was going to do.

"Dumb bitch probably forgot about us," said the tweaker to his friends.

His friends laughed.

"Probably forget her name if it wasn't pinned to her shirt." he said.

His friends laughed.

"Probably forgets what comes after 'inhale,'" he said and took a huge, bubbling rip on his pipe.

His friends laughed and I was on my feet before I'd even decided to get up.

I walked over to his table, slow and loose. Finally, I thought. Finally, finally, finally.

I stopped when I was standing over him, definitely too close for comfort. My height can intimidate people; it was usually something I tried to avoid. Now I was doing it on purpose but this guy was too hazed to care. Maybe he thought I was a hallucination. "Can I..." he drew out the word, "...help you?" The sycophants giggled.

"I'd like you to apologize to her when she comes back." I jerked a thumb toward the kitchen door.

"The raddy who runs the food?" He looked at his friends with a lazy grin, like Look at this chick. "Wwwwwhy would I do that?"

"She apologized to you. You apologize to her. Simple."

"Now why would I say sorry when she didn't do her job?" He gave me a smug smile. Junkie QED.

I had to unclench my teeth to answer. "Because she was doing her best-"

"Best wasn't much, then-"

"Or maybe you don't deserve her best."

Magenta-veined eyes narrowed. "What are you sayin'?"

"Just what I said."

"You know what, tva?"

"What." I waited for his response, tense. Eager.

"You need to relax. Huff on this once." He held the water pipe out to me.

Fuck it. "You suuuure?" I asked, mimicking him.

"Yeaahhh. Take it." I did, and he and his friends watched eagerly, ready to laugh if I coughed or something. I made a show of inspecting the thing. It was a nice piece of glassware, I'll admit. Two feet long, heavy, with a thick-walled, potbellied base half-full of oily water. The stuff in the bowl smelled like body filler.

"How'm I supposed to smoke it?" I asked calmly.

He fumbled in his baggy sweatshirt. "Oh, yeah, here's a-"

I wound up and smashed the pipe into his face.

The sound of breaking glass was perfect as a sound effect. The thing was thick and heavy enough it had turned the tweaker halfway round in his chair before shattering. He sat there dazed for an instant, a few spears of glass in his cheek. Then my fist cracked into the side of his head and spiked him to the floor.

I sent a kick into his gut, hard enough to knock him into the table, then another a little higher. I felt a rib or two crack. A third to the face, his skull bouncing off my steeltoe with a woody thok. He was hardly moving now, his limbs curling in like a spider sprayed with parts cleaner.

My breath came hard and fast as I stood over him. The neck of his pipe was still clenched in my right hand, and I dropped it. The noise of it rolling away was the only sound in the whole restaurant. It wouldn't be hard to end this- the clang of a tin platter hitting the ground shocked me out of it. I looked around as the sound went on and on, the platter tipping round and round until it rattled itself quiet.

Tweaker's friends were gone, their chairs tipped backwards on the concrete floor. The other patrons were silent, either staring or keeping their heads down. The bartender had an oily combat shotgun at his shoulder, its muzzle a perfect black circle aimed at my chest. And Dezhda was standing by the kitchen door, spilled noodles on her cheap shoes and a look of utter horror on her face.

Without a word I turned on my heel and left.