Debt Collectors Part 1
Max’s hair fell forward, getting in the way as she contorted her neck in an attempt to read the numbers on the collar. She blew a strand away from her face, just to have it fall back down.
No matter how she twisted, she couldn’t see the display. She would’ve asked the guy in the seat beside her, but he currently rocked back and forth in a near-catatonic state. His number read 87575:39:43.
The lights in the cabin dimmed. Max strained again, finally catching the reflected numbers in the dark window: 129375:43:24.
She kicked the back of the seat in front of her. The flight attendant’s sharp eyes snapped her way. With a flick of the woman’s hand, a jolt coursed through Max. Then the world faded to black.
An obnoxious ringing dragged Max out of sleep. She reached for the nightstand to turn off the retro windup clock that ran by mystifying, interdependent gears. But the sound didn’t stop. She cracked open one eye, then the other, orienting herself. The night before, she’d decided a mix of alcohol and Trance would bring clarity. It always seemed like a good idea until it wasn’t.
In her bag all the way across the room.
She looked at the time on the face of her ancient clock: 6:30 AM. She’d only been in bed for 3 hours.
“Uhh.” She flopped against the pillow. But the phone kept ringing — it wouldn’t stop until she made it. The world spun as she swung her feet onto the floor. The polished concrete was frigid, letting her know the heat was still turned off. She tiptoed across the icy floor, grabbed her bag and scooted back into bed, tucking her feet under her. She dug around for her phone, finally pulling it out of the depths. Her thumb hovered over it to swipe it into silence when she saw the message from Orin, one of her lunch mates: Call in sick. Collectors at office this morning.
Max’s shoulders sank. She lay down and pulled the blanket over her head, blocking out the grey light creeping through the tall windows — she’d had to stop splurging before she got the blackout add-on. She stayed buried for a minute, then took a deep breath and threw the blankets off, shivering as she crawled out of bed. The world tilted and her stomach twitched. She held onto the smooth resin chair as she dug her cleanest jeans and T-shirt out of the laundry basket, giving them a sniff to make sure they passed the test.
Once dressed, she went in search of breakfast — whatever else it did, Trance made her ravenous.
Leftover pizza or dried noodles topped with canned oranges.
She set coffee to percolate in the antique chrome coffee maker, then snarfed the first slice of pizza while standing at the granite counter top. The counter had been one of the things that had sold her on the place — gray and blue with flecks of gold.
Halfway through her second slice of pizza, the door buzzer sounded. Max put down the slice she held in one hand and the mug she held in the other as her gaze slid to the door. She always remembered to trip the security switch, no matter how Trance-addled she was. Some habits learned while living on the edge remained ingrained for life.
Last night was no different. She swiped her phone to open the feed from the camera. Two men stood there, one glancing left and right along the hallway, the other glaring at the door. They both wore black suits, too tight for their broad shoulders, looking like uncomfortable middle managers. Except for the tattoos and ass-kicking boots.
Max sprinted back to her bedroom, barely avoiding the glass sculpture in the hall, the one she’d bought for its whorls of blue and green, filling in for the ocean view she hadn’t quite been able to afford.
The buzzer sounded again. She pulled on her boots. One more statutory ring before they could break the door down. She threw her phone in her bag, grabbed her leather jacket and opened the window.
The icy wind off the delta cut through her when she stepped onto the fire escape, and she wished she’d thought to throw on a hoodie.
Looking up then down, she headed up, taking the stairs two at a time. A bang sounded from below as she reached the top and hauled herself onto the roof. Whether or not it was her door giving way, she wasn’t sticking around to find out. Instead, she ran across the roof and shimmied down the fire ladder on the far side, relying on muscle memory from a childhood as a street punk. She dropped into the alley near where her motorbike was nestled in its carport, contentedly charging.
The street was nearly deserted as she wheeled her bike out. No traffic to hide in — the night shift hadn’t ended and the daytime commuters were just waking up. Even the lights of the DeltaPort were dim.
No morning launches were scheduled today. There’d been fewer launches overall lately as fewer cargo caravans braved the latest hostilities in the never-ending battle between the Universalists and the Libertines for control of the New Territories. For a time when they were kids, she and Cass had daydreamed about running off to become caravan guards, fighting interplanetary pirates. But theirs was a Universalist city, and that was not seemly work for a woman. And most definitely not suitable for a street urchin.
But just because no one was on the street didn’t mean no one was watching. Max lowered the mirrored visor on her helmet and eased the carport door closed behind her. No point in giving the two goons any hints to where she was going or how. They’d figure it out soon enough anyway.
Shortly after she did herself.
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