001 – Rusted Sunrise

“Enough daydreaming,” Boss said, her words wrenching his thoughts from the platinum sphere warming in his hand, like a muscle warmed from exercise. Ben turned from the ruins, bridges, rain slick towers, and the mess of neon signs, glowing colored threads that tangled with the sunrise. She stood near the door to the roof a few paces from him, her gray-tinged blond hair and ruddy face darkened by her grim expression. “We won a contract at the Arena,” she said.

Ben tensed. “I don’t—”

“You’ll go,” Boss said firmly. “Or no Soma.”

“You know they won’t let me leave without fighting,” Ben said.

“Yes,” said Boss.

Ben clenched his hands to keep them from shaking. “When?” he asked, forcing a casual tone.

“Today,” said Boss. “They were very eager.”

Ben let out an even, steadying breath. “Am I going alone?”

Boss’s mouth tightened. “You’ll take Ashtin with you.”

“Hexclad?” he asked.

She jerked her head once. “They won’t pay if she is. Makes them feel threatened.”

“That’s the idea,” Ben said.

Anger flashed in her eyes. “Don’t forget you work for me,” she said. “And danger is part of the job.”

Ben held up the platinum sphere. It caught the light. Oxygen and nitrogen, hydrogen, trace amounts of cyanide and sulfur, the ethereal exhalation of the city fogged it like a dying breath. Boss flinched as the platinum melted, looking momentarily like mercury, and clenched into solid forms, a screwdriver, a wrench, a crowbar. Ben’s eyes watched the metal, running through the shapes he had practiced since young, shapes he knew better than his own body.

“I do my best,” Boss said, her voice quiet. She crossed her arms and finally looked old, old and tired.

Ben blinked and the metal burst into a cloud of platinum dust. Boss tensed but didn’t move as the platinum swirled around them. Blood dripped from Ben’s nose. Instinctively, he wiped it with his sleeve as the metal trailed back into a sphere in his other hand. Flexing the platinum sphere like his own muscles, Ben closed his eyes. “I know,” he said finally.

“Get going. You have work to do,” Boss said.

“Yeah,” Ben said. He walked past her to the door that led from the roof of the Standard Maintenance building.

Continued in Chapter 2: Rust Colored Red

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