Back | Next


Orion Parker lowered her head and stared down into her glass when the cop appeared, silhouetted against the pedway glow beyond the open door. Like all cops, he stood a head taller than the crowd, with his helmet and antennae adding another half foot.

The bar crowd was as light as crowds ever got on Yavet, because by the fortieth day of any month paychips had vanished down throats, into veins, or into somebody else’s pocket at gunpoint. The cop, shoulders square, plowed through the drinkers and dancers toward the service ’bot. Some cops deigned to snake sideways through the crowds, polite even in a hole like this. Vice didn’t.

The cop reached the service ’bot, pressed his ID against its reader, then watched as the list of open tabs in the bar rolled across the ’bot’s screen.

‘‘Crap on crust!’’ Orion slid off her stool and burrowed into a crowd too drunk to smell its own vomit and too stoned to smell her fear.

She hadn’t fled fifteen feet when a gauntleted hand clamped her elbow.

The crowd shrank back, made a hole around them. The cop peered down at her through his face shield with eyes like black stones. It was Polian, from Vice. ‘‘Must have been a good month, Parker, if you can still afford whiskey.’’

She stared at the floor, shook her head. ‘‘I haven’t served a client in six months.’’

He cocked his head, sneered for show. ‘‘Really? Let’s talk about it.’’ He shoved her toward a vacant Sleeper, and she stumbled against a fat man who smelled like urine.

Polian slammed her through the booth’s open door, wedged in alongside her, then pulled the door shut. He took one breath, voiced up the ventilator, then waited. ‘‘Okay. What you got for me, Parker?’’

‘‘The trade’s slow.’’


‘‘I swear.’’ She pointed at the ceiling. ‘‘Slow Uplevel.’’ Down at the floor. ‘‘Slow Downlevel.’’ She tossed her head left, then right. ‘‘Uptown, downtown. Nobody’s got clients.’’

He stared at her, drummed his fingers against the Sleeper’s closed door.

She sighed. ‘‘Okay. I hear Mouse Bell’s taking clients.’’

He smiled. ‘‘Already? The Mouse just got out of the House last month. Where?’’

She stared at the gilt CFA scrolled across Polian’s breastplate badge. ‘‘I dunno.’’

Polian stared back at her. ‘‘Parker, you of all people know it’s cold in the House. Wanna go back?’’

She sighed again, turned her head toward the Sleeper’s stained padding. ‘‘Twenty-second and Elysian. Fifteen lower. Kube fourteen.’’

‘‘Anything else?’’

Orion shook her head.

Polian stabbed his armored finger at her face. ‘‘I find out you short-decked me, you’re back in the House. For good!’’

She wormed her hand up between her body and the booth wall, raised her palm, and looked the cop in the eye, without blinking. ‘‘I don’t know about any other clients. Mother’s Blood.’’

It was the cop’s turn to sigh. ‘‘Okay. Where you want it?’’

‘‘Someplace that won’t bleed.’’

‘‘If you don’t bleed, they’ll know you’re a snitch.’’

Orion tapped her index finger to her right cheek.

Polian drew his mailed fist back, until it brushed the Sleeper’s padding, then slugged Orion so hard that her body sprung the door, and she crumpled onto something sticky that puddled the bar’s floor. She lay gasping, while Polian stepped across her and left.

Orion rolled up, onto her knees, and tasted a salty trickle inside her mouth. It hurt when she smiled, and when she touched her tongue to her teeth, two moved. She spat blood onto the bar floor. It was a bargain price for two successful lies, the one her blood told the world, and the one she had just told the cop.

Back | Next