Zoe Ohale cursed the day, seventeen years ago, her mother gave birth. She pulled her ratty sweater up over her mouth and nose to hide the breath that steamed in the night air and threatened to give her away. It also helped to block the reek of the garbage bin she hid behind. Not hearing any pursuit, she chanced a peek into the alley.
It couldn’t be this easy, could it? She lost the hunting party in the maze of backstreets and alleys of Baia Mare? The space-faring tourists who came only saw the nice parts of town and the sea shore the city used as a major marketing point. She spit into the alley, clearing the distaste from her mouth. Tourists. That’s what was wrong, everything for the tourists, nothing for the inhabitants.
Still hearing and seeing no chase, she pulled her frayed knit cap down over her ears and crept out from behind the dumpster. Staying close to the alley walls, she worked her way right, keeping to the shadows and opening her mouth to hear better.
A siren wailed in the distance. Some other poor jerk wasn’t as lucky as she was. She kept to the back streets. Someone turned her in; that much she knew. Her stomach growled; a reminder that her hoped for dinner money was lost when the cops swooped in on her sale. It was only luck that the taser point missed her by a hair. Her buyer, Andy Many Fingers, wasn’t as lucky. Last she saw him, he was jerking spastically on the cobblestones, his purse open and credits spilled on the street.
Damn, she could have used that money. In the street outside the building where she roomed, she hid in the doorway of the house two up from hers. No way she was going straight in. The place might be watched. She hunkered down, butt to heels, and wrapped her arms around her knees. Again, she pulled the sweater up over her face. Zoe looked up and down the street. Who knew I was meeting Andy?
Maybe it was Dallas. She traded for the roll of copper wire she had been selling with a broken watch made of titanium. The watch was useless and she had no buyers for titanium. Dallas was a hustler. She had to watch the dude every minute to make sure he wasn’t cheating her but Dallas didn’t seem like the sort to sell a girl out. He was in it for the long haul and betraying his buyers and sellers was poor business.
She quieted her breathing when a young couple passed by the house. They were arm in arm, heads together. Must be nice. Out walking in the cold instead of holed up inside where it was warm. Maybe they were too poor to worry about mugging. She focused on them until they were out of sight.
She rocked a little, to keep her blood moving. Who else knew I was trading? Nick Silento, perhaps? He was a shifty little runt. Always staring, always hovering on the edges. That was the kind of guy her father called a hyena, back before he was arrested. Always ready to run in and snatch the crumbs other people dropped. But he was a nervous sort. Zoe didn’t think that Nick had the nerve for dealing with cops.
Kortni French, now, there was a fem who had the venom to do another person dirty. Kortni had it in for any girl who she thought was after her guy. Zoe didn’t know why. Sharif Savant was a joke. Sure he was a looker but aside from the fact his parents were still numbered in the middle-class, he had nothing going for him. He was dumb as a box of rocks and the clumsiest person Zoe had ever seen. She didn’t know why the guy hung around with the gutter rats but it was a cinch Kortni was after his money. Maybe it was Kortni. Zoe had made a joke in the group three days ago and Shariff laughed and laughed. Kortni wasn’t amused. Would the fem really turn her in because her boy toy laughed at a sad joke? Zoe clucked her tongue against her teeth. She might. She just might.
A patrol rolled silently down the street. The little electric cars held two cops and a host of surveillance equipment. She shut her eyes and wished for the car to keep going. Maybe they would ignore her heat signature in the doorway and keep moving.
Zoe waited another hour. Nothing moved on the street but the rats and the cats. Moonlight eased over her building and lit the damp street. She stood with care, letting the blood flow back into her legs. Pins and needles prickled but she ignored it until it went away. Still no movement. There were no tell-tale plumes of breath in the cold night air. She eased down the steps and into the street. Her head swiveled, left then right, no alarms, no sirens, it seemed safe.
She was halfway up the steps of her building when the floodlights pinned her mid-step. A voice blasted out of a speaker “Stop where you are!”
There was nothing to do but stop. She put her hands in the air. An entire SWAT team surrounded her, tasers humming. Zoe was grateful they didn’t all tase her at once. Someone grabbed her left arm, pulled it down behind her and did the same with the right. She could feel the zip tie pull her wrists together. Two cops grabbed an arm each and half-dragged her to the wagon. As she passed the cop in charge, she could see Nick twitching next to him, his hand out and credits being dropped into it.
She spit in his direction. He jumped and spilled the credits all over the street. She looked up, the second moon intersected with the main one. A betrayal moon, her dad called it. He was right.
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