“Hey, chucha, you gotta bag?”
There’s a twigger, probably an MV by the look of him, hunched up in the alley. He sees me. I curse myself for taking the shortcut. I knew better. I hate this part of Tengzan City, and I’ve only got one charge in my stinger. Maybe one and a half. Maybe.
I walk on, not breaking my stride. Don’t make eye contact. Not like he’s going to do anything. He’s too far gone, even if he is MV.
“Imma twigged hard, chuch. C’mon, just a bag. Stick me up, yeh?”
“Sorry, I don’t stick,” I lie, though I don’t have a bag. Not at the moment, and if I did, sure as Mao’s ghost I wouldn’t be giving it away. But neither do I need to deal with some hard-case right now.
I edge just far enough to the side to slip past him, but not so far I risk brushing the alley wall. My forearm itches, just below the elbow.
“Come on!” he yells at my back. “Half a bag! Just a dip!”
Step, step, step. My stride like the steady drip from the faucet outside my hole-up.
“Bootstole!” he curses. “Puta!” But I know nothing short of the all-over itch will make him move from that spot, and he’s not there yet. Not if he’s still speaking in sentences.
The alley births out onto Ling-wehr Strasse, crawling with wheels, roach jonnies, trickers, even a stray dog. Can’t remember the last time I saw one of those.
I turn left, hop onto the back rim of a passing wheel. The nav tells me to get off, but fuck it. I’m too far off-grid for it to tag me. And anyway, I’m only going two streets.
My stop. Up six ladders casually welded to the wall but which haven’t collapsed yet. Into the hall. I pause for my IR, but the hallway’s clear. I code my door open, code it closed on the other side, and I wait.
I scratch at my arm. I know I shouldn’t, but I can’t help it. The itch only moves down into my palm where I know I can’t scratch it away.
I lean against a box, watching the door. Minutes pass. I don’t try to count them.
The door chirps. I’m on my feet, a handful of greasy yuan chits coming out of my pocket before I can even see who it is.
But it’s Soong-ban, right on time, his thin, hairy face magnified by proximity to the cam.
I code open the door, holding out the money.
“You got my bag?”
He nods. “Thou’ CC,” he says. He takes the chits and places the bag in my waiting hand. The weight of it makes me feel inversely lighter.
“Need a stick?” he asks.
I shake my head. “I got it.”
He leaves. I code the door closed again. Already the itch is going away.