by Dawn G. Patterson
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
I rolled my eyes. God, he’d pulled off his shirt to better display his nano tattoo on his chest. It showed the hours he had left. We all got 40,000 Active hours to live. Population control. Most seventeen-year-olds had less than a thousand hours left. He had 16,270. And he was spending some of them here. What a pisser.
I slid down the zipper a couple of notches on my spandex jacket to partially expose the nano inked above my breasts. Boots striking the floor to the music, I moved across the club.
“Thanks for getting us in!” The word “in” was barely audible. It hit octaves reserved for mating bats and accelerating vaporcrafts. About to roll my eyes again, I winked instead. Why did I comp tickets to anyone that happy? I changed my path, evading her and her bubbly covey.
The uber-geniuses of the working class — the body shop mechanics — congregated at the next VIP table. “York, come join us for a drink.” I’d wrapped my brother’s convertible around a tree. Screw doctors. The way they resurrected that hover, I was going to visit them next time I got an infection or needed stitches. And the body shop didn’t even charge me, once they found out who I was. Or, rather, who my brother was.
I gave a flirty wave. “Later, okay?”
Dammit. I’d lost sight of Mr. 16K. Craning my neck around the pulsing bodies, I found my target, layered in concentric circles of admirers.
“York, can you check the VIP list for—” I pressed my thumb to my COM-set, silencing Bob, my brother’s current manager. Well, I called him Bob. That’s what I had called the previous manager, and what I would call the next manager. No reason warranted learning their real names. Managing used up a lot of hours. The job literally killed them. People sacrificed amazing things for Ash.
On stage, Ash fist-pumped in tempo. We had the same dark coloring and that same damn freckled skin. He raised his right eyebrow at me in petition. I shook my head; no more fires or exploding paint cans. That was our deal. He theatrically clutched his heart as he sang the words “as you spun my soul on the tip of your bayonet.” I winked back.
Back to business now. People were everywhere. Shove, shove.
“Hey, watch it! Oh, sorry, York, I didn’t—” I ignored the apologies as I made my way to the bull’s-eye. Or more like the jack’s-ass.
It was easier to maneuver through the crowd once I got to the area of the Disengaged. The Disengaged were like the grassy reeds in the sea, upright yet offering no resistance. Their nanos glowed yellow, indicating their suspended state for conserving their Active hours. They must be waiting for the final song before Engaging. How clever were they not to squander three hours for the whole concert? A small chuckle escaped me.
I swayed my hips side to side, using them like hypnotic cobras, and raised my arms over my head. Looking up, I caught Mr. 16K watching.
I mouthed the song busting out of the speakers.
Last day, payday, best day, holiday.
Any day it’s all the way. Crank. Crank.
Same day, another day, only day, death’s day
Any day, cut away. Crank. Crank.
Mr. 16K bobbed his head.
I drew up an inch away from him and gestured at his nano. “That’s sooo sexy.” My hand skimmed over my chest and down to my lanyard with Splat, the band’s name, emblazoned on it.
“You’ve seen mine. Now show me yours,” he said.
So predictable. I looked around at the crowd and then motioned to the red-lit exit. Red light. Warning, sucker.
The bloated evening air of summer floated in as I pushed open the door. The crowd noise followed us out, muffling his words. The door closed behind us and sealed us in the intimate alley. “What?” I asked.
He cleared his throat, shifting gears from shouting to talking. “I said, I wasn’t sure if I should spend time on the concert, but it’s been worth it. He’s great.”
“Yeah. No matter how often I hear my brother perform, I’m still amazed.” I slid my hands into the back pockets of my crimson micro-skirt.
He gave an unconvincing surprised look. Of course he knew who I was. “Your... your... brother? No kidding?”
I nodded, and he almost genuflected. “Wow. So cool.”
“Yeah.” Remembering my objective, I rolled my shoulders back in a stretch — a stretch that thrust my chest, with a hint of my nano, in his face.
“If I recall, you were going to show me... something.” He winked.
I’m sure he hoped to see more than my tattoo.
I looked up and down the alley. No one but a homeless man stumbling along, clutching a bottle of hooch. Widening my stance to shootout style, I pulled the zipper down a few notches and looked up to ensure I held Mr. 16K’s attention. He stared at my chest with hungry eyes. Click, click, click — the teeth of the zipper separated. Three-quarters of the way down, I pulled the jacket open. My nano blinked up: 134.
“Wow,” he said. “I didn’t know.”
I shrugged. “How would you? They don’t announce it until you’re under 100.” I looked down. Very demure.
“You have anything... special... I can do for you? I mean, I’m sure you can ask anyone you want...”
“I’m Active now. May as well use my time wisely, right?” I laughed, liking how the alley walls made it sharp and clear. I’m Active. Right. Like I ever had to Disengage. Only people watching their hours Disengaged.
“What is it?” he asked.
“Will you... can you...” — my hair fell over my eyes — “kiss my opal?”
“Never mind. It’s stupid.” I smiled brightly at Mr. 16K. Cue the bottom lip quiver.
He reached out and grabbed my hands. “Just ask me again.”
I licked my lips. “Kiss my opal?” I turned my wrist over, exposing the opal stud piercing the thin skin beside my radial artery.
He pinched back a smile. “Sure, York.” York wasn’t even my real name. He lowered his head.
“Turn around. It’ll work better.”
After turning his back to me, I pressed the full length of my body to his. Breathing down his neck, I slid my left arm over his shoulder and upturned my wrist. He brought my hand to his mouth, kissing my palm first. His lips moved to the piercing, and his tongue ran delicate circles around the stone.
My breathy sigh covered the sound of the fast-action deployment spring of my switchblade. I snaked my right arm around his neck. Adrenaline burst through my veins. Like sliding the bow across the strings of a violin, I sliced his throat.
Cutting skin was never silent. There’s a swoosh to it, like brushing a piece of lint off a pair of pants. Sweesh. His blood warmed my hands.
I fell with him to the ground, onto our knees, keeping my wrist on his mouth while his hands went to his throat. An odd disconnect occurred. I’d seen it with every throat-cut. The hands went to the pain at the throat, the hands pulled away with blood, the mind slowly comprehended. The process always played out the same way.
I shook my head. He should know he couldn’t talk. Dude, I just cut your vocal chords. Plus, his mouth needed to stay connected to me. I pressed my piercing back to his lips. Just a few more seconds. I scoped the alley again. All clear.
Mr. 16K’s body fell forward. A mechanical warmth burned the center of my chest. Smiling, I peeled the 134 iFlesh off my nano display and watched the real numbers under it. At times like this, I wished our nanos made pinball machine noises: Ting, tang, cha-cha-cha-cha. And flashing lights. Yeah, that would be cool.
The numbers slowed. The final score confirmed a winner: 83,666. The tingle went from my head to my toes, almost making me spasm. It was the best feeling in the world.
Greedy, I know, but I pushed him over on his back, to make sure I’d gotten it all. His hazel eyes gawked at me. The nano stupidly shone a big fat 0.
A cough behind me. Panic. If I were caught, my worst nightmare would come true: the Draining Pole. They’d put me in the town center and hook me up while live-streaming. Everyone would see my hours. Everyone would see all my hours drained. Until I had no more left. Until I was dead.
“If it’s not my little time hoar-der.”
My heart resumed beating. “What do you want, Stuart? Trying to steal my target?” Way to come off a high, dealing with Stuart.
“Your alley fetish is going to expose you.” He offered a handkerchief from his suit pocket. Since I always dressed in crimson, the entertainment reporters claimed it my signature color. If they only knew I wore it to camouflage blood splatters. Still, my face sometimes caught a fine spray. Face wiped, I looked back at Stuart.
“Clean?” I asked. He nodded, and I swiped my badge to let us in the back door.
“I would feel responsible if you were caught,” he yelled over the music. “I know I’m to blame for your penchant of rendezvous settings.” He laughed. Under the ultraviolet lights, his flared nostrils morphed into yawning black holes on his blue-tinged face.
I hated when he overstated his influence on me. True, he had introduced me to time-stealing three years ago. I’d met him over another dead body in another dark alley. He had killed a small girl, probably only thirteen. Strangulation. Much neater than slicing. I couldn’t manage it and keep my wrist in their mouths. He had a nipple piercing. It kept his hands free.
When I had contemplated the location of my contact point, Stuart had suggested my belly button so my victims would be at a disadvantage. Only it would be tricky to get a casual acquaintance to put his face on my stomach. I could get almost anyone to kiss my wrist, even a married man going to the bathroom in a romantic restaurant on his anniversary date with his wife. I couldn’t pass up a 19,036, could I?
“Why didn’t you take mine when you met me?”
He threw back his head and chuckled. “1,113? Really? I do have standards.”
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Copyright © 2017 by Dawn G. Patterson