I take Iris back to Schuster’s place, where she spends the next two days gushing over the design of the little gynoid. Even Javier deigns to come out of his lair for a few hours to sit in Schuster’s workshop, debriefing Iris on the software which interfaces her brain with the artificial body.

For my part, I spend those days making preparations. The plan might be simple enough, but it involves enough moving pieces that I need to ensure that all of the equipment is in order and all of the people involved know their roles. Most of the equipment can be procured or manufactured in Schuster’s bunker, but I do have to make three calls:

The first is to George.

“The kids ok?” I ask, after our handys have negotiated a secure connection.

“Well enough. We lost one trailer to blown debris, but I’ve got everyone circled round and tied down up at the house. Nobody hurt.”

“Anything unpleasant rise up?” I ask, thinking of the all the sinkholes and regions where decomposing medical waste occasionally rises to the surface.

“Dunno. Today’s like to be the first I can release the drones since all this started. If we’re lucky there won’t be anything worse than your standard spectrum resistant bacteria. Super lucky we may find a new breed a bacteriophage that’s adapted to the mine, or maybe a fresh cache of obsolete hardware.”

“Listen, George, I need a favor,” I say, hesitant. George will do anything for me but if she’s got Miriam in the room, she’ll have to say no. 


Miriam must be taking care of some kids in one of the trailers. I press my advantage before she can come back and prohibit George from helping me. “Those drones have defensive capabilities, right?”

“Most of them are armed. Gotta be prepared, living out here on the edge of the mire, you know.

“That’s what I was hoping to hear…”

The second call is to a regular client of Tamar’s who runs a fleet service. He’s a pleasant man, but seemingly deficient in neurotransmitters which encourage forming long term emotional relationships. That, or he’s just really good at keeping some terrible secret hidden from his paid partners. I’ve escorted a dozen or more manikins to his place over the last couple years and he always has a fresh pot of Koffee waiting in the kitchen for me, then joins me and whichever man or woman I’m escorting for a pastry and chat after they’re done playing in the other rooms. 

“This is a pleasant surprise,” he says when our call connects. “I heard that Tamar was running quite the party during the storm, but I thought I would sit this one out and catch up on my interactives.” He gestures behind him to a slim virtual reality headset. 

“So I hear also, but I’m not calling for Tamar this time.”

“Oh?” His bushy eyebrows rise as he draws out the word into two languid syllables. 

“Do you remember how you offered to sell me one of your used cars a few months back? One of the old executive protection models with a manual drive mode.”

 His eyes narrow for an instant, then he nods enthusiastically. “Certainly! Are you ready to buy?” It’s a masterful performance. Anyone screening this call, human or restrillect, would be hard pressed to claim that he is doing anything more than recalling a half forgotten conversation. 

“Maybe. I had to borrow a bike to run errands during the storm. Nearly got hit by some debris. Starting to think that a nice durable vehicle might be the safer choice, even if it sets me back some coin.”

That’s as much as I can say on an open call. We aren’t close enough to be using impenetrable shared key encryption, so we have to assume that the call is being monitored.

A few pleasantries later, it is all arranged. I’ll stop by the fleet offices next week and he’ll show me a run down fleet vehicle that I might actually buy. In the meantime, he’ll wait forty-eight hours before reporting any of his vehicles stolen between now and then and, in exchange, I’ll cover his tab at Tamar’s for the next month.

The final call is the one I’m dreading. 

“You’re not asking for another favor are you?” Darby says when the call connects. “Because I’m not feeling particularly generous today.”

“I’m looking to pay you back,” I reply.

Darby leers into the camera, his bare chest glistening as he holds the phone out so I can see that he is sitting shirtless in a padded chair. The room around him is hung about with vaguely medical devices. “Now, Tally, you know that’s not how favors work. I own the favor. You do me the favor when I call for it and, until then, I own you.”

“Getting another implant? Or is this just a tat?” I ask, identifying the room as one of the many shops that peddle unregulated implants. I’m surprised to see Darby there. He’s got enough money to pay for proper, tested and guaranteed wetware at the upper city or midden clinics. Why would he gamble with sepsis and implants that burn out after a few months?

He tilts the camera, revealing the reddened patch of skin on his left pectoral where the clinician has prepped him for surgery by slathering his skin in iodine. Guidelines drawn in black marker peek through the red sheen, revealing the path that the subdermal wires will take. 

“This is going to be sweet, Tally. Remember that little show I put on for you in at the range? This will be even better. Artificial tendons wired to an encrypted link.” He holds up an adhesive patch with several small probes on it. “Slap this baby on someone and I’ll feel every beat of their heart. Figure it could be fun for those special times when somebody is… fatally late in payment.”

That’s why. Easier to clean a lowtown clinic until it’s safe to use than to find a regulated clinician willing to implant a device intended to let Darby feel his victims’ heartbeats as he murders them.

He pulls the camera close again and gazes intently into the lens. “What could you possible have for me that’s worth this intrusion?”

“How about access to YuriCo’s network?”

That gets his attention. 

Darby leans forward in the chair, holding his phone in both hands so the view pivots upwards to show the ceiling behind his head. “Don’t tease me, Tally.”

“I’m just making you an offer. You came through on finding that girl for me, now I have a chance to get something I think you’d like, but I’m not giving it to you for free.”

“I could count this as the favor.”

“More. If I let you in on this, I get territory.”

“Oh, hell no!” Darby laughs, shaking his head. “You don’t get to stake a claim anywhere, Tally. You’re lucky I haven’t collected rent for that shitty sex club. Keep talking like this and I’ll have to push that up on my priorities.”

“You don’t seem to understand, Darby. I’m going to finish talking, then give you thirty seconds to decide. You don’t agree to my terms, or you take too long to decide, and I’ll hang up and get my backup somewhere else. I’m sure the Zheng sisters would be willing. Maybe Kreiger would join in.”

“Don’t you bl—“

“So the terms are these,” I snap, cutting him off. “You send your best soldier along on my job to help if I need another body. We meet someplace outside the city and you help me interrogate a contact. When the job is done, you’ll have deep access into YuriCo’s network. After this, I owe you nothing. After this, I own a five block radius around Tamar’s. You don’t get to hustle anyone there. It’s mine. You have thirty seconds to decide.”

“You don’t get to dictate terms, you little shit!” Darby snarls. 

I don’t say anything. Just look back at him through my phone camera and wait, counting silently in my head. 

Darby’s face contorts and I imagine the rage he is feeling has more to do with my nonplussed response to his outburst than my demand. “You know what, Tally? Just for this I’m going to pay a special visit to your little club. I’m thinking I’ll find your best dancer and do a bit of cosmetic surgery on them. How you like that?”

“Seventeen,” I say. 

Darby lunges up from his chair, the background twisting wildly as his face contorts in anger. “You don’t belong here. You hear me? I’ve had a stake in this city since I was old enough to slit a throat. You? You’ve barely been here a decade.”


Darby’s eyes widen. The ropey muscles of his neck tighten and I half expect him to throw his phone across the room, ending our call with a whirl of color and a sudden, definitive crunch.


“Fine!” Darby shouts. 


“You have a deal.”

“See, that wasn’t so hard,” I say, breaking my count. “I’m glad we could settle this as rational men.”

“I don’t generally go into the field myself,” he growls. “That’s what I have people for.”

“I know, which is why I am so sure that you’ll be picking nice safe place for the interrogation. Someplace where nobody can hear us, or monitor our movements.”

That elicits another scowl, but Darby is smart enough to keep his mouth shut. 

“Tell you man to be at the Quality Cafe tomorrow at five in the morning. I’ll fill you in on the details then. All goes well, we’ll be done with our business by nightfall.”

I end the call before Darby can complain.

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