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Chapter One

"Here they come!" Our war leader crawled up to where I was crouched behind a garbage can. "You ready, Garrett?"

"As I'll ever be." I don't mind saying I was scared. We'd been in plenty of stomps before, but this one looked to be bad. The word was out that the Hackers had guns,

I patted my clothes to check weapons. As well as the bowie knife in my hand, I had four throwing knives, each in its hand-sewn pocket on the left side of my jacket, a chain in my regular jacket pocket, and a two-foot section of iron pipe in my belt. "I'm ready," I said.

"Good. We're counting on you." Spinny crawled off to encourage the other troops.

I was scared all right, but I felt pretty good, too. I was the hidden reserve, waiting in ambush to break some heads and show just how much better we were than those goons could ever be. I had tough comrades around me, and they depended on me. At the back of my mind I may have wished I was somewhere else, but you don't let thoughts like that up front when you're going into a fight. When this was over we'd own this part of Baltimore.

We were in a big open space under the Washington slideway. When they built the rolling roads, they left a lot of the old streets down under. There were shops and stores but not many customers wanted to go down there, so Undertown belonged to gangs and clubs. Like ours.

Our official name was Werewolves, but we called ourselves Dog Soldiers, and we were a proud lot. I was vice-president.

The first Hackers moved into the square and some of ours hit them from the sides. More Hackers moved in; I waited. When I had their guns spotted, I'd come in from behind.

Spinny had planned it that way, but it didn't go. Just as a free-for-all developed in the square, three Hackers came out of a window we'd been sure was boarded up tight. They'd loosened the nails earlier in the day. Now they jumped me from behind.

I turned and flicked a knife at the nearest one. It hit him in the arm and he dropped back. That gave me time to get my chain out and the other two backed off a step, but not for long. They had obviously worked together before. As I bent to avoid a karate-style kick from one of them, the other laid a ball bat alongside my head. It staggered me despite the surplus Federation Army helmet I wore.

Some plan, I thought. Crap. Ambush my ass! I was bigger than most of the other Dogs, and although at 20 I wasn't the oldest member, I was either the best or second-best fighter we had. I was supposed to be out there picking off Hackers from behind. Instead, I was alone and cornered. It looked like I'd end up with kicked-in ribs and a skull fracture if I was lucky—and my luck hadn't been running any too good.

I caught the guy who had the ball bat with the end of my chain. It whipped around one knee and he fell. I aimed a kick at his head, but missed. Then the other one was on me.

The last thing I remember was a gun going off, three times, and those damned sirens.


I woke up in jail. I wasn't bad hurt, but I was in big trouble. The cops had got there just as I went down, and two cops were killed in the fight. They'd been shot, and we hadn't had any guns, so it must have been the Hackers, but even if they believed us that cut no ice with the cops. They were out to make examples of us.

The problem was the cops didn't have anybody to stick it to. They had several dead bodies besides their own two, but the live crop consisted of seven juveniles—and me.

The juvenile court wasn't about to let the cops take it out on those poor children.

The cops offered me a couple of deals if I'd name some others and go state's evidence, but aside from the fact that it would be suicide, I'm no fink. Since they had only one adult to make an example of, it didn't look too good for Garrett Pittson.

I can't help my name. Garrett means "brave spear." I didn't have to look it up; my father told me. That gives you some idea of where my old man's head was when I was born. He'd just retired after twenty years in the old U.S. Army, back before the Federation abolished national forces. Though he'd been in communications and couldn't have seen much fighting, he talked like he'd won all the brushfires that the U.S. had ever been in, single-handedly beating the enemy to death with his walkie-talkie.

He and my mother had great ambitions for me. I had a normal childhood, with maybe more bloodthirsty tales told me than most kids get, but nothing special. I went through a public high school where I was taught to read and write, which is more than a lot can say they learned, and got interested in electronics because my old man had the junk lying around the place, and it was fun to tinker with. It wasn't their fault things didn't turn out right.

When I got out of high school, things went to hell. I wasn't quite bright enough for a scholarship to a good college. Oh, I had decent enough grades in subjects I was interested in, but there weren't that many interesting subjects. And I liked to read, but not the books on the approved list.

Worse yet, we didn't belong to any minority groups, and we weren't quite poor enough for nondiscriminatory government aid. We sure weren't rich enough for me to go to a good college without assistance. That left the local community junior college, with plans for transfer to the state university after two years.

It didn't work. The instructors had nothing to say and weren't interested in teaching anyway. To them, it was just another job. They never talked about anything that wasn't in the stupid books they gave us, and there wasn't much in those. I could read the books and not bother with the classes. I decided I didn't want to be an engineer after all.

I didn't know what I wanted to be. The best jobs were with the government, of course. Get on civil service and stay there. It wasn't what I wanted to do with my life; I wanted to get out on my own, do something for myself. But how?

The government didn't let you do that. The government took care of you, whether you wanted to be taken care of or not. Even the dropout communes were visited by the government social workers. But if they didn't let you starve, they didn't let you get ahead, either. That's called social justice.

I wasn't interested in my classes and I wasn't interested in where I was going, and so I took to hanging around with other kids my age. At least we could earn some respect from each other; as part of proving our manhood we did some things that weren't strictly legal. Pretty soon we were in trouble with the police.

It wasn't serious, but three times my father had to come to the station house and get me out. The third time I was home just long enough to pack.

Hell, I was a lazy bum. He hadn't made any mistake there. I had no ambition, and while I didn't mind working—I could and did put in twenty-hour days on hobby stuff when I felt like it—I didn't see anything to work for. I wasn't going to be a rich taxpayer without graduating from something better than Francis Scott Key Community College. Any job I'd get with a degree from that joint would earn me just a little more than welfare and be about as interesting as carrying out the kitty box.

When my old man threw me out we had a hell of a fight, and right then I decided that I was on my own. I needed no help from him. But I had no job; pretty soon I drifted down to Undertown. You can't stay alive down there unless you're part of a gang. I chose the Dog Soldiers, and before long I was proud to be part of it. Sure, I knew there was no future in it. So what? There was no future in anything else I could find, and this was a good gang.

Up to the big fight that was the story of my life. It wasn't much of a story. I thought about that a lot while I sat in the cells waiting for trial. Here I was, twenty years old, and not worth a damn to myself or anybody else.

Well, I told myself, that doesn't matter much. It looks like I've got a great future stamping out license plates, with occasional groovy variety like laundry duty and sewing mailbags.

The judge didn't like me. He was up for reelection, and the newspapers were giving him hell for turning criminals loose. The cops were pushing hard to have the book thrown at me, and the Public Defender didn't think my case was going to give him the headlines he'd need to set up a rich private practice.

They charged me with murder one, and it took the jury about ten minutes to come in and say "guilty." I read somewhere that English judges used to put on a black cap before they gave out death sentences. We didn't have death sentences and he didn't have a black cap, but if we did and he did, he would have. He socked me twenty years to life. Then they herded me back into the cells.

My deputy public defender could spare me a half hour. He laid it out for me in simple terms.

"Go to prison and you'll be a faggot inside of three years. You've seen the queens in your cell block?"

"Not me." I had nothing against homos, but I had no desire to join them.

"Yeah. Well, if you hold out, you still won't like it. Be a good boy. Work hard and they may let you out in ten years if you crawl just right. How are you at arse-kissing? Can you suck up to the parole board?"

"I'd be more likely to tell 'em to rape themselves." I never was much at the arse-kissing game.

I guess I learned more from my old man than I like to admit.

"Well, there you are," he said. He looked so goddamn smug. He wasn't on my side of the damned wire fence. "What the hell do you mean, there I am? Why are you talking to me?"

"Don't get smart with me, Pittson. I came to offer you a choice."

"What choice have I got?"

"I can put in for a new trial. Maybe I can get one. You could get out on bail. Can you raise a hundred grand?"

"That's stupid."

"Yeah. And even if a bondsman would handle you, which I doubt, you haven't got the ten grand he'll want. So you stay inside for the new trial. And there's not a chance in hell that the verdict will be any different next time."

"Okay. So a new trial is a waste of time." So was this conversation, but it was better in the visiting room than in the cell.

"Yes. You can't stay out of prison—if you stay here. But you've got another option: voluntary exile, transportation for life. I can arrange it for you."

I didn't have to think about it, not really. I already knew my answer. I'd read about the colony program and how they needed more men. There'd been a time or two, back at Francis Scott Key, when I toyed with the idea of shipping out as a volunteer.

It sure as hell beat what I had coming here.

Why not go to Mars? "Where do I sign up?"

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