Alina found Quinn Street. The cops found Alina. Seconds before the cops can run her down, a stranger pulled Alina off the street.
The police lev whispered past, through the spot she had been running through three seconds ago. She saw their faces fly by even as she was being pulled deeper into the alley. The lev went right past the alley, and she heard it straining to spin to a stop.
Whoever had grabbed her still had her by the wrist. Alina didn’t have time to try and pull her hand back before they were spinning her, whipping her around.
Directly toward the alley wall.
Alina winced and almost screamed. Before she could even make the sound her face hit the wall. Went through it. The rest of her followed. Then the person who had grabbed her. Painless. It hadn’t been a wall. It had been a hologram, covering up a divot in the building. A small divot.
She and her mysterious savior were squeezed together, face to face.
Even as close as she was, she could only make out a few features in the burgeoning dawn. Gaunt cheeks. Beads of sweat above the eyes. Eyes so brown they were nearly black. A warm but brief feeling she couldn’t quite identify but felt like…coming home?
The doors on the lev slammed shut, making her jump. His face grew hard and he put a hand over her mouth.
Don’t need to tell me twice.
The holographic wall worked both ways. All Alina could see to her left was dark, reflective glass going up, up, up. But she could hear them.
“Where the phlox did she go? She was right here.”
“Climb down off that ledge,” said another voice, her voice glass. Smooth. Cold. “She couldn’t have gotten far. Work down the alley.”
Footsteps. More boots. Heavy and even. The woman was closer, Alina could tell her steps weren’t quite as pounding as the other pair. Smaller stride, too. Barely. She had to be a tall woman. The man, heavyset. His steps practically shook the ground with their authority, and she could hear the tinge of a wheeze on his breathing as they walked by.
Wait. How do I know all this?
Something about the man in front of her was splitting her signal.
Splitting my signal? That’s lander talk. But how do I know what lander talk is?
The officers were on the other side of the hologram. Vaguely, Alina realized she was clutching the man’s arm. Probably enough to hurt. He didn’t seem to notice. His eyes stayed on the hologram. His hand stayed on a holster at his side.
Holster. Energy weapon. No…no, that’s a gun. He’ll kill them. He can’t kill them. Every cop has a dead man alarm. They die, the rest of the city lands on top of us.
She put a hand on his and shook her head slowly. He was a lander, he had to be. Didn’t he know about the alarm?
When he looked at her, she shook her head ever so slightly. The man squinted at her. Like he was trying to decide something. He let go of the gun.
The police had stopped. Not directly in front of the hologram, from the sound of one of their shifting. A little beyond. Looking up, maybe. A fire escape. Down, for a misplaced manhole. How common were these hologram walls? Would they start running their gloves hands down the alley, eventually punching through?
If he killed them we’d have time to run away.
Whose thought had that been? It couldn’t have been her. It sounded like someone else. She didn’t want anyone to die! She was a dock worker! She’d never been in a fight in her life! Whenever a couple of punks had started dreg on the elevo she’d moved to another car!
They both jumped this time, the man’s hand going back to his weapon.
“We have the target, sir,” the woman on the other side of the hologram said.
She can see us. She can see us!
A hand on her shoulder was the only thing keeping her from losing her cool. If he hadn’t been there, if she had been hiding by herself, she would bolted. Maybe done something really stupid, like trying to climb. He looked at her, those confusing dark eyes piercing into hers, and somehow took the panic away.
“Coroman,” the other man said in disgust.
The woman sighed. “What I mean is…we did have the target. Sir. We do not currently have eyes on her.”
The officer must have gotten closer to the wall as she took the call. Alina could hear a tinny, screaming voice at the other end of the officer’s communicator.
“The whole city is looking for this woman! She’s the bureau’s top priority! And she got away?”
“I’m sorry, sir, it won’t happen-”
“You bet your ass it won’t happen again. You and Burns get back to the station, I need a full report. They’re clawing out my ass over this one, and I won’t be the…”
The two officers were walking away. Back to their lev.
The whole city?
Phlox, the bureau. Why the hell would the bureau want me?
Not her. The arm. It was all because of this stupid arm.
And the man standing in front of her.
The lev whirred off down the street, leaving them in the early-morning quiet.
The man directly in front of her opened his mouth to say something.
“I think I’m going to be sick,” she said first.
Alina half stepped, half fell through the holographic wall. Once her adrenaline had found a chance to slow down her hangover had come back with a vengeance. Roiling inside of her, it was her stomach’s turn to be the random body part that called the shots. Further down the alley, near the other wall, was a grating leaning to the sewer. She barely got to it, scraping her knees along the ground, before everything she had eaten in the past twenty-fours, all the alcohol she had drank on the elevo, and enough bile to burn through the roof of those police helmets came heaving out of her. Somewhere in all of that she became aware of the man standing behind her. There wasn’t an inch of space in her mind to give a shit. Not a single neuron capable of caring. All of this was his fault, she was sure of it. He’d sent the messages through the arm. Hell, he was the reason the arm was…whatever the phlox it was. Whatever was in the arm that the bureau (she heaved extra hard) wanted had been put there by him and his lander friends and he was going to answer all of her questions but only after he stood there patiently and watched as she emptied out her stomach over and over.
“You good?” he asked when the retching had slowed.
Alina hawked and spat. Her throat and sinuses burned. Her stomach growled and threatened to push again, but in the end only turned over and went back to sleep. Just like she wanted to.
He offered a hand for her to stand up. Alina ignored it, standing up on her own shaky terms. “Who the phlox are you?”