The tightness in her chest diminished. She had planned on staying partially behind cover, but she wanted to get away from Ben. He followed her, but stayed back. She stepped out into the open, in direct view of the firestarter.
“I told you to stay away from me,” he said, eyes wide, teeth bared.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” Zee said, keeping her voice calm and clear.
“I’ll hurt you,” the boy said. He stumbled out of the heap of clothes and scrambled to his feet when she didn’t leave. Baggy clothes enveloped his scrawny frame. Zee held out her hands, both aching and trembling from their injuries, and stayed alert for any increases in temperature. She inched closer.
“What’s your name?” she asked calmly.
“As if you don’t know,” the boy said. His eyes darted, looking for an escape.
“I really don’t,” Zee said. She paused. “It’s not Drone, is it?”
“My colleague and I are here looking for some broken equipment, but my GPS indicates you are what we’re looking for,” Zee explained. “You don’t look like equipment.” While she spoke, the boy continued moving, pacing a few steps left and then right.
“Who sent you?” the boy demanded, his words snarling from his mouth.
“We received a contract from the city’s government,” Zee said. The boy paled at her words and edged towards the broken floor like he would jump. “Please,” Zee said, holding out her hand. “Please don’t. I’m not here to hurt you.”
The young man looked down over the edge of the building and gulped at the drop. He looked back at Zee. “Who are you?” he demanded.
“My name is Zee. I am an analog. Standard Maintenance currently holds my lease.”
“Maintenance…what?” he bit his lip. “Why would the governor send a maintenance crew?”
“I suspect they lied on the contract,” Zee said. She frowned, thinking fast and reviewing the contract in her mind. False information on the contract nullified it, released Standard Maintenance from the job. But that didn’t change the fact that they were here now. Someone had wanted them to be here, had gone to great lengths to manipulate them and put them in the same location as this young man. Why?
Zee’s eyes widened. “Ben,” she said, breathing fast. She turned to him, putting her back to the firestarter. “I need you to authorize a sublet.”
“What? No,” he said. He set his jaw stubbornly. “We don’t even know this—”
“Ben, now,” Zee said, glaring at him. “Trust me.”
He opened his mouth to argue. Closed it. He stared into her eyes, looking for something. Zee continued to glare at him. He sighed. “I, Benjamin Havoc, authorize the sublet of unit one-seven-z to…” He grimaced at the words and paused, looking at the firestarter.
“What’s your name?” Zee asked.
“Jun Hideki?” the young firestarter said, stepping closer. He frowned in confusion. “What’s going on—”
“—to Jun Hideki for—” Ben continued.
“For twenty-four hours—” Zee prompted.
“Twenty-four hours?” Ben asked, raising his eyebrows. Zee just glared at him. “For twenty-four hours,” Ben said through clenched teeth.
“At a rate of zero credits per—”
“What? Come on—”
“Look at him,” Zee demanded. “Does he look like he has any money?”
Ben expelled a frustrated breath and ran a hand over his face. “For twenty-four hours at a rate of zero credits per hour.”
Zee’s voice turned to a monotone, though she spoke quickly. “This contract is binding to all parties and cannot be severed by any party, stated in the contract or otherwise. Penalties for breaking a contract will be handled by Far Contract Enforcement. If you accept the terms of this agreement as binding, then place your mark.”
She held out her wrist between the two young men, turning the glowing tab embedded in her arm upward. Reluctantly, Ben pressed his thumb against the glowing screen. He lowered his hand, and they both looked at Jun.
“Hurry,” Zee said. Confusion wrinkled between his dark eyebrows, but he raised his hand and tapped his thumb against the screen. Zee blinked. “Sublet accepted.”
If you like what you’ve read, you can make a one time donation through PayPal or support me at Patreon. Your patronage gets you additional scenes, sketches, drafts, and notes. Your support will allow me to keep writing. Read the next chapter on Friday, March 25th.