I do not plan on catching Day tonight. I don’t even plan on seeing him. He’ll know exactly where the ten-second place is, and that I’m either an agent sent by the government or by the black-market dealers that pay taxes to the government. He’s not going to show his face. Even Commander Jameson, who’s testing me with this first task, knows we won’t get a glimpse of him.
But I know he’s going to be there. He needs plague meds desperately enough. And him showing up is all I hope for tonight—a clue, a starting point, a narrower direction, something personal about this boy criminal.
I’m careful not to walk under the streetlamps. In fact, I would have traveled by rooftop if I weren’t going to the financial sector, where guards line the roofs. All around me the JumboTrons blare their colorful campaigns, the sound of their ads distorted and jolty from the city speakers. One of them shows an updated profile of Day—this time featuring a boy with long, black hair. Next to the JumboTrons are flickering streetlights, and under those walk crowds of night-shift workers, police, and merchants. Every now and then, a tank rolls through, followed by several platoons of troops. (They have blue stripes on their sleeves—soldiers back from the warfront, or soldiers rotating out to the warfront. They keep their guns by their sides, with both hands on the weapon.) They all look like Metias to me, and I have to breathe a little harder, walk a little faster, anything to stay focused.
I take the long way through Batalla, through the sector’s side roads and abandoned buildings, not stopping until I’m a good distance outside of military grounds.
The street police won’t know I’m on a mission. If they see me dressed like this, equipped with infrared goggles, they’ll question me for sure.
The Arcadia bank lies on a quiet street. I go around the bank’s back side until I’m standing in front of a parking lot at the end of an alleyway. There, I wait in the shadows. My goggles wash most of the color out of the scene. I look around and see rows of city speakers on the roofs, a stray cat whose tail twitches over the lid of a trash can, an abandoned kiosk with old anti-Colonies bulletins tacked all over it.
The clock on my visor says 2353 HOURS. I pass the time by forcing myself to think through Day’s history. Before the robbery at this bank, Day had already appeared on our records three times. Those were only the incidents where we found fingerprints—I can only guess at the number of other crimes he’s committed. I take a closer look at the bank’s alleyway. How did he break into this bank in ten seconds, with four armed guards at the back entrance? (The alley is narrow. He could have found enough footholds to jump his way up the walls to the second or third floors—all while using the guards’ weapons against them. Probably got them to shoot at each other. Probably smashed through a window. That would’ve taken just a few seconds. What he did once he got inside, I have no idea.)
I already know how agile Day is. Surviving a two-and-a-half-story fall proves that much. He won’t have a chance to do that tonight, though. I don’t care how light he is on his feet—you just don’t jump out of buildings and then expect to be able to walk properly afterward. Day won’t be scampering up walls and stairwells for at least another week.
Suddenly I tense up. It’s two minutes past midnight. A clicking sound echoes from somewhere far away, and the cat sitting on the trash can makes a run for it. It could be a cigarette lighter, a gun trigger, the speakers, or a flickering streetlight; it could be anything. I scan the roofs. Nothing yet.
But the hairs on the back of my neck rise. I know he’s here. I know he’s watching me.
“Come out,” I say. The tiny microphone at my mouth makes my voice sound like a man’s.
Silence. Not even the kiosk’s layers of paper bulletins move. There’s no wind tonight.
I remove a vial from a holster at my belt. My other hand doesn’t leave the handle of my gun. “I have what you need,” I say, and wave around the vial for emphasis.
Still nothing. This time, however, I hear what sounds like the faintest sigh. A breath. My eyes dart to the speakers lining the roofs. (That’s what the clicking sound was. He’s rewired the speakers so he can talk to me without giving away his location.) I smile behind my mask. It’s what I would have done.
“I know you need this,” I say, gesturing again at the vial. I turn it in my hands and hold it higher. “It has all its official labels, the stamp of approval. I assure you it’s the real thing.”
“Someone you care about will wish you’d come out to greet me.” I look at the time on my goggles. “It’s five past midnight. I’ll give you two minutes. Then I leave.”
The alley falls silent again. Every now and then, I hear another faint breath from the loudspeakers. My eyes shift from the time on my visor to the shadows of the roofs. He’s clever. I can’t tell where he’s broadcasting from. It could be on this street—it could be several blocks down, from a higher floor. But I know he’s close enough to see me himself.
The time on my visor shows 0007 HOURS. I turn, tuck the vial back onto my belt, and start to walk away.
“What do you want for the cure, cousin?”
The voice is barely a whisper, but through the speakers it sounds broken and startling, so crackly that I have trouble understanding him. Details race instantly through my mind. (Male. He has a light accent—he’s not from Oregon or Nevada or Arizona or New Mexico or West Texas or any other Republic state. Native Southern Californian. He uses the familiar term cousin, something Lake sector civilians often use. He’s close enough to have seen me put the vial away. He’s not so close that the speakers can catch his voice clearly. He must be on an adjacent block with a good vantage point—a high floor.)