She makes a disgusted face, but now she seems interested in me. “What a shame. You sure you don’t wanna beer to go with that? Must hurt.”
I shake my head again. “Thanks, cousin, but I don’t drink. I like to stay alert.”
She smiles at me. She’s kind of pretty in the flickering lamplight, with glittering green powder over her smooth-lidded eyes and a short, black, bobbed haircut. A vine tattoo snakes down her neck and disappears into her corseted shirt. A dirty pair of goggles—probably protection against bar fights—hangs around her neck. Kind of a shame. If I weren’t busy hunting for information, I’d take my time with this girl, chat her up and maybe get a kiss or three out of her.
“Lake boy, yeah?” she asks. “Just decided to waltz in here and break a few girls’ hearts? Or are you fighting?” She nods toward the Skiz fight.
I grin. “I’ll leave that to you.”
“What makes ya think I fight?”
I nod at the scars on her arms and the bruises on her hands. She gives me a slow smile.
I shrug after a moment. “I wouldn’t be caught dead in one of those rings. Just taking a break from the sun. You seem like nice company, you know. I mean, as long as you don’t have the plague.”
A universal joke, but she still laughs. She leans on the counter. “I live on the sector’s edge. Pretty safe there so far.”
I lean toward her. “You’re lucky, then.” I grow serious. “A family I know had their door marked recently.”
“Sorry t’hear it.”
“I want to ask you something, just out of curiosity. You heard anything about a man around here in the last few days, someone who says he has plague meds?”
She raises an eyebrow at me. “Yeah, I heard about that. There’s a bunch of people trying to find him.”
“Do you know what he’s been telling people?”
She hesitates for a moment. I notice that she has a few tiny freckles on her nose. “I hear he’s telling people he wants to give a plague cure to someone—one person only. That this person will know who he’s talking about.”
I try to look amused. “Lucky person, yeah?”
She grins. “No kidding. He said he wants this person to meet him at midnight, tonight, at the ten-second place.”
The bartender shrugs. “Hell if I know what that means. Neither does anyone else, for that matter.” She leans over the counter toward me and lowers her voice. “Know what I think? I think this guy’s just crazy.”
I laugh along with her, but my mind is spinning. I have no doubt now that this person is searching for me. Almost a year ago, I broke into an Arcadia bank through the alley that runs behind it. One of the security guards tried to kill me. When he spat at me and told me I’d be cut to pieces by the bank vault’s lasers, I taunted him. I told him that it would take me ten seconds to break into that vault room. He didn’t believe me . . . but the thing is, no one ever believes what I say until I actually end up doing it. I bought myself a nice pair of boots with that money, and even shopped for an electro-bomb on the black market—a weapon that disables guns in its vicinity. Came in handy when I attacked an air base. And Tess got an entire outfit, brand-new shirts and shoes and pants, and bandages and rubbing alcohol and even a bottle of aspirin. We both got a good amount of food. The rest I gave to my family and other Lake folks.
After several more minutes of flirting, I say good-bye to the bartender girl and leave. The sun’s still in the sky, and I can feel beads of sweat on my face. I know enough now. The government must’ve found something at the hospital and wants to lure me into a trap. They’ll send a guy to the ten-second place at midnight, and then place soldiers along the back alley. I bet they think I’m real desperate.
They’ll probably also bring along plague meds, though, to tempt me out into the open. I press my lips together in thought. Then I change the direction I’m walking. Off to the financial district.
I have an appointment to keep.
THE LIGHTS IN BATALLA HALL ARE COLD AND FLUORESCENT. I dress in a bathroom on the observation and analysis floor. I’m wearing long black sleeves inside a striped black vest, slender black pants tucked into boots, and a long black robe that wraps around my shoulders and covers me like a blanket. A white stripe runs down the center of it, all the way to the floor. A black mask covers my face and infrared goggles shield my eyes. Other than that, all I have is a tiny microphone and an even tinier earpiece. And a gun. Just in case.
I need to look genderless, generic, unidentifiable. I need to look like a black-market dealer, someone rich enough to afford plague cures.
Metias would’ve shaken his head at me. You can’t go alone on a classified mission, June, he would say. You might get hurt. How ironic.
I tighten the clasp that holds my cloak in place (steel sprayed with bronze, probably imported from West Texas), then head off toward the stairs that will take me outside Batalla Hall and down toward the Arcadia bank where I’m supposed to meet Day.
My brother has been dead for 120 hours. It already feels like forever. Seventy hours ago, I gained clearance to search the Internet and found out as much about Day as I could. Forty hours ago, I laid out a plan for tracking Day to Commander Jameson. Thirty-two hours ago she approved it. I doubt she even remembers what it is. Thirty hours ago, I sent one scout to every plague-infected sector in Los Angeles—Winter, Blueridge, Lake, and Alta. They spread the word: someone has plague medicine for you, come to the ten-second place. Twenty-nine hours ago, I attended my brother’s funeral.