Wilhelmina Winters, Fifty-One

Wil’s eyes scanned the page without absorbing any of the words upon it. Her mind was with her ears: anxiously straining to hear movements from her parents’ room. All seemed quiet, but her father was not the noisy type.

She carefully adjusted her position on her bed, attempting to make it look as though she were comfortably reading and had not just landed after a hurried rush down the hall. Being further into the book would help, but she had to read it for English class and didn’t want to skip ahead.

Wil sighed. The few sentences she’d managed to swallow had not given her many hopes for its content so far. She’d expected more from a book with a title about killing. So far, the author had written about two kids in a boring town with a father for a lawyer who didn’t like it. One had a broken arm, but they blamed Andrew Jackson for it?

She heard the door at the end of the hall open. “To heck with that,” Wil whispered, then flipped the book open to the middle and pretended to be absorbed.

Her bedroom door opened to reveal her father, tiredly blinking in the light. Wil looked up and pretended to be startled.

“Dad!” She said. “What are you doing home?”

Rob rubbed his hand on the side of his gruff face, gathering thoughts for words. “I didn’t sleep last night, so I called in sick.”

Wil couldn’t ever remember him doing that, unless he was so sick he couldn’t get out of bed. If he didn’t work, Rob didn’t get paid. She looked at him in surprise.

“I, uh,” Rob began. He was still rubbing his face. He looked unsure about what to say. His eyes looked around Wil’s room, at the book she was holding. Finally, he met his daughter’s gaze.

“Cynthia and I want to talk to you,” he said. His eyes looked at her sadly, then turned to look toward the living room. “I’ll go see if she’s ready to talk.”

Wil sat up and moved to follow him. “No, no,” her father gestured tiredly. “You wait here. Keep reading your book.” He smiled a bit, then left.

Wil heard his slow tread down the hall. He was much quieter without work boots on. She turned the pages back to the beginning, where she’d actually been. Low mumbling (her father’s voice) answered by higher, softer pitches (her mother) was picked up by her left ear. As usual, a coughing fit began.

Subconsciously, Wil tensed up. She tried to tune her surroundings out and tune her reading in. Jem? Dill? Wil thought. Who named these poor kids?

“Wil?” Cynthia called from the living room.

“Coming, Mom!” Wil answered. She closed the book gratefully and rolled off her bed. Straightening her coat, scarf, and hair; she realized she still had her gloves on. Hopefully, her father hadn’t noticed. She slipped them off and put them into her pocket, then headed down the hall.

Skinwalkers, XXII

A very hurried citycross led Nathan and Shin back to Ware Tech, back to Check In, and back in front of any humanoid’s least favorite supervisor.

“What took you ladies so long?” Choms leered as they entered. Not one of the room’s occupants laughed, but the odious man never needed outside confirmation of his incredible wit.

Nathan ducked his head and shrugged. He felt out of air, and moved past Choms and a few peers to deposit their gear. Shin, on the other hand, straightened. The graying storm cloud of despair moved aside and glorious midmeal light shone upon his face.

“We gotta go back next shift,” he explained, flippantly. Choms immediately puffed up in fury. Just before he released his usual torrent of inaccurate, angry reprimands; Shin added, “Oh, and I need to quit. See you never!”

He cheekily patted the spluttering Choms on a sweaty shoulder, then spun around and skipped a bit to his locker. Nathan stood by the bench, torn between shock and hilarity. His friend looked up and they shared a very brief moment of incredulous amusement before –

“Whaddya mean QUIT?! There’s formals, you dirk!” As Choms erupted into an ever-swelling wave of profanity and indignation, Shin calmly activated his locker and dumped his satchel in the bottom. Nathan winced at the sound of the autodrill and drivers impacting the metal; his friend seemed even happier.

Shin slammed the door so forcefully that Nathan saw his reflection wobble in his own locker door. Oblivious, Shin strode purposefully up to the still-shouting Choms; said, “I’ll need my depart charge.”

Their flustered supervisor literally shook with rage. Words now eluded him as that area of his small mind became engrossed in processing a reaction to Shin’s request. Nathan could watch Choms’ thought process through varying skin hues and feature contortions across the ugly man’s face.

After a full moment, Choms managed to activate his tablet. A moment more, and he’d fumbled open Shin’s work record. The instant Shin saw the prompt, he scanned his comm beneath the sensor. The paltry paycycle loaded; Shin’s work permissions simultaneously disabled.

If he thought he could do so without losing a limb this time, Nathan was sure Shin would have patted Choms again. “I’ll exit you,” Nathan offered, closing his locker and coming forward. He and Shin moved around Choms, who was still trying to get his voice to function.

Nathan activated the door just as Choms finally burst out with, “You’ll need to return that liner, you know!”

Shin stopped at the doorway, turned, and looked Choms right in the eye. He removed a pocketlight and ignited the tiny concentrated flame. Without breaking eye contact, he slit his company liner from knee to collar. He capped the pocketlight and stepped out of the charred-edge fabric.

A useless shell and acrid stench were all Shin left behind, as he gleefully left in only the skin birth gave to him.

 

Continued from Skinwalkers, XXI.

Wilhelmina Winters, Fifty

Fresh, warm air with a hint of sterility met Wil’s chill-kissed senses as she opened the door into Number 2. She walked into the dimness gratefully, just remembering to retrieve her key before shutting the door behind her. Jakob made it his habit to keep her key if she forgot it in the lock.

Stopping to listen and look intently, she smiled as the sounds of her mother’s presence reached her from the couch: soft sighs of a shadowy sleeper, almost synchronizing with the methodical mechanized sighs and beeps of the IV machine.

Today began the weekend. They would have two complete days together.

Wil paused. She realized her father was at work till late. Jakob was at school till later. Now was the perfect time for a search.

The room was dark; the humming refrigerator and erratic heating provided ample background noise.

A hand clothed in darkness moved deftly, feeling for any obstacles as its owner hushed across the floor. Her dark body barely rustled the air it passed through. She was as silent as the night, as deadly as sharpened steel.

In an eye’s blink of time, she reached the hall. As she suspected, the woman sleeping had not stirred. No one knew Agent W was there. That was preferable, sometimes.

Her gloved hand moved to the wall, lightly guiding her secret path to the room at the end. She could see the door’s outline, then the frame, then the door; then she was pushing gently into complete blackness.

It was then W realized her penlight still rested under the bureau of the Iranian Prime Minister’s military commander. The late commander, she reminded herself -and she smiled. It wasn’t much of a smile, but it was all that was left after what the past decade had done to it.

No matter. She gently closed the bedroom door behind her back, then flipped the overhead light switch on. The glare was overpowering at first, but W adjusted quickly.

She blinked and scanned the disheveled and cluttered furnishings. The floor was littered in laundry, papers, shoes, and medical apparatus. The desk and dressers squeezed uncomfortably around the unmade bed. The bed was scattered pillows, more laundry, and lumpy masses of blankets.

One of the larger lumps began moving and emitting sounds of awakening. Wil quickly switched off the light, fumbled for the doorknob at her back, then rushed from the room before her father woke enough to recognize her.

 

Continued from Forty-Nine.

Skinwalkers, XXI

A full shift later, Nathan and Shin followed their less-than-ebullient guide back through the lift and out the service entry. It left them in the alley, returning inside after commenting on how happy it would be to endure their company next shift as well.

Next shift, Nathan realized, he’d need a new partner. He and Shin stood amongst the other unwanted garbage of Carapace and swung their tired limbs in the premeal air.

“Gotta get back to Chomsy,” Shin said, after a bit. He smiled ruefully. “I need that last load if I don’t wanna walk back to The Virginias.” They started back through a shadowy cityscape, their path lit by building glows and occasional autoads.

*Low on load? Fastcred’s here to help* crooned a male voice of exactly the right tone and timber. Nathan couldn’t help but feel reassurance, almost a calming, as he walked through the visual and heard its words. He stopped just past the autoad’s glow. Confused, Shin halted beside him.

“Shin,” Nathan began. “Have you tried -” He stopped himself. Suddenly aware, suddenly suspicious, he scowled at the embedded adsensor they’d just activated.

“Ayight?” his friend asked. Nathan did not respond. “N? Nathaniel?”

“That was different,” Nathan finally answered.

“Oh?” Shin sounded curious, but wary. “Let’s keep walking -a bit guttery.” Nathan glanced up; they shared a look. Together, they continued down the citypath, intentionally walking nearly in the deserted street.

“So?” Shin prompted. His slipshods barely gripped the walkedge; he exaggerated the effort required to balance.

Nathan smiled at his friend’s antics, but could not be moved to full-out laughter. He felt deeply shaken, even violated. “I think,” he said, and could not find the right words. “I think that wasn’t sensory.”

Spinning, Shin tried his balancing trick backwards. His flailing arms and waving legs did not match his serious expression. He raised an eyebrow; queried, “Then what was it?”

Nathan slipped a bit on the edge. Regaining the path, he mumbled, “It influenced me.”

Shin took a misstep and stumbled dangerously close to an autodrive strip. Recovering, he climbed back out of the street and next to his preoccupied friend. Another autoad flickered to life and they jumped aside as if burned.

*Drink your meals the natural way.* Symphonic music swelled and a grassy, beast-less Outlands scene played. The projection became encapsulated in a virtual bottle, which poured into a virtual glass. *LIVE has everything you need, for a charge that’s hard to believe.”

Nathan and Shin uncharacteristically watched the ad to completion. It flickered off, returning two sobered expressions to building-light darkness. Shin turned to Nathan. “Might be a good thing to die in a cave after all.”

 

Continued from Skinwalkers, XX.

Wilhelmina Winters, Forty-Nine

Wil was last to reach the minivan. She slid open the side door and climbed over seats to sit in the back row.

Besides an encouraging smile after a brief glance up from her phone, Reagan pretended she and Wil did not know each other any more than they had before Wil was listed as “talented.” Wil knew the group wanted anonymity, but that didn’t prevent a sudden, small, hard lump of self-consciousness from forming in her stomach as Reagan acted obliviously.

They moved out toward home. Wil watched the gray, February landscape of commercial suburbia flash past the minivan windows. Why do they pretend they aren’t friends, except at lunch yesterday and today? She wondered to herself. Surely, the secrecy didn’t matter if everyone in the school saw them all eating together.

With that in mind, she pulled a notebook from her backpack.

Next, she withdrew half of a pencil. She tried to write, but found the tip was broken. Sighing, she dropped that pencil back in the backpack and rifled around some more. After withdrawing the same broken tool twice more, she remembered her pen was inside the folder from History class and took that out instead.

She glanced at the other passengers, and even Mrs. Crandall. Vic was engrossed in their English reading assignment; Reagan and Jorge interacted with their screens; and Mrs. Crandall was eating chips from a crinkling bag, reading a celebrity gossip article on her phone, and occasionally looking out of the windshield. Eric was looking steadfastly forward, though Wil thought she’d seen him move a few moments before she’d looked up.

With waning ink, Wil scrawled a hasty message. Then, keeping her eyes on the back of Eric’s head, she dropped the note discreetly into Reagan’s lap.

Reagan casually dropped her hand down to cover the note. After a minute, she looked at her midsection and read it quickly from a carefully-cupped hand. Wil heard Reagan sigh. Reagan rotated her head a bit to stretch her neck, then grabbed a pen from her pocket and wrote something under the original message. Looking around the car and out the window nonchalantly; she yawned, stretched her hands to her shoulders, and dropped the note back on Wil.

Impatiently, Wil picked up the note and read it. Under her own, “Why all the secrets if we eat lunch together?” Reagan had scrawled what looked like, “Speciel meetings for you.”

Wil sat in her seat, blank-faced and blinking. She didn’t even notice Eric glance back at her quickly. She barely saw another wad of paper -this one purple- drop over Reagan’s shoulder and onto Wil’s boots.

Copying Reagan’s subtlety, Wil stretched down to pick up the paper, then smoothed it out quietly across her legs. Reagan’s handwriting spelled out, “Sorry. I was supost to tell you details. Sorry.”

The minivan screeched the turn into their complex, forcing everyone to one side as their bodies stretched at their seatbelts. It bumped gratefully into a parking stall and Mrs. Crandall remembered to put it into Park before turning off the engine and getting out.

Eric, Vic, Jorge, and Mrs. Crandall exited. In the brief few seconds they were inside together, Reagan looked right at Wil and said, “I have a paper to give you, but I lost it. Stephen is supposed to sneak it to you Monday. It will explain everything.”

Reagan grabbed her things and got out. Following suit, Wil took her backpack and lurched outside. Again, she thought she saw movement; but Reagan and Jorge were almost to their street corner, Vic had almost reached her building, Mrs. Crandall was absently staring at her phone with her mouth open, and all she could see of Eric was his curling red-blonde hairs on the back of his head. He was looking elsewhere again.

Wil shook her head and walked to building four.

Eric turned to watch the retreating figure of Wil and her black scarf blowing behind. She and it disappeared around the nearest building. Sighing, he turned back to the car to retrieve his bag. His eye caught something else moving, but through the open door of the minivan. Moving forward, he saw two notes -one purple- lying on the floor of the car. The slight wind caught at their edges, gesturing to him.

 

Continued from Forty-Eight.

Skinwalkers, XX

Nathan found most of hardware upkeep monotonous and repetitive. Given his and Shin’s current location inside Carapace, however, his senses were acutely more strained. He stole a glance at his friend. Shin wore the same introspective expression he’d modeled at Check In.

Nathan withdrew a tray and bowed over it with his currentmeter. Under cover of verifying a key bus, he studied Shin more closely. His friend sighed as he worked at a pace that would shame a lamed elder. His brows drew together; his face drew together. A small storm cloud hung over Shin’s dreary, hunched form. Nathan set his personal anxieties about Carapace aside.

“So, what’s itching you?” He casually asked.

He was rewarded with the nearly silent *clink* *clink* of a circuit board against metal side mounts and the eternal hum of machines and fans. Shin exhaled loudly, then answered, “Nothin’, Nathaniel. Thanks for asking.”

They finished a rack. Five down, thousands to go, thought Nathan. He and Shin stood and stretched their arms and legs before squatting in front of Rack #6. Each man removed a tray and began inspecting it.

“I’m not buying that,” Nathan said, in between trays.

“Good,” Shin quipped, shaking a tray slightly toward him. “‘Cause you can’t even afford a capacitor on this.”

Nathan laughed. “Nice.” They worked in computer silence once more, before he tried again. “You know what I meant. You look like my Grams at a deathing.” He glanced over and caught the end of Shin’s smile, just before it sunk back to its habitual frown.

They stretched, then opened Rack #7. “I gotta leave,” Shin mumbled. Nathan almost didn’t hear him.

“What? Why?”

*Clink* Hmmmm *Clink*

“Are you running?” Nathan asked. Shin didn’t seem the sort to be in trouble, but one never knew these days. Even he, Nathan, had gotten tangled in some less than legal dealings recently.

Shin coughed out a bitter laugh. “Nah, N. I just ran out of charge.” They each withdrew another tray from the tower. “The place is getting deactivated tomorrow,” he explained from a pretend-close scrutiny of the circuitry in his hands.

“Oh,” Nathan said. “Sorry.” The housing in the city may not have been picturesque, but he knew eviction black-marked one’s record for years. They worked their way through racks 7 thru 10 without adventure. “What are you going to do?”

Shin shrugged and returned a tray to its rack. “Go back home, I guess.”

“Oh.”

“Probably get stuck in a shaft before payment.”

“Oh? The mines are that bad, huh?”

Shin didn’t answer; just smiled sadly. “I’ll send you a shiny rock before it happens,” he offered.

Nathan forced a laugh, attempting a lighthearted sound. “All right, Shin,” he said. “But if it’s not shiny, I demand an in-person replacement!”

 

Continued from Skinwalkers, XIX.
Read to Skinwalkers, XXI.

Wilhelmina Winters, Forty-Eight

She walked the course she often trod alone,

Perceiving little more than faceless crowd.

A shadow trailed beyond her body’s own,

As silent as the roiling mass were loud.

 

“Wil,” it spoke, out from obscurity.

Its target jumped and yelped in real surprise.

“It’s me,” Hope said, unnecessarily.

As Wil saw, true, Hope’s smiling face and eyes.

 

“I know you have but little time,” Hope said,

She turned and walked along the hall with Wil,

Matching Wil in gait, balance, and tread,

Causing Wil to marvel at such skill.

 

They reached Wil’s locker ere she e’en knew it.

She spun the combination absently.

The presence of Hope flustered her a bit,

Although, Wil thought, she should feel diff’rently.

 

“I’ve had two thoughts about your case,” said Hope.

Wil glanced at her, up from the task at hand.

She tried to meet Hope’s gaze, while fingers groped

And dial turned; its tri-code numbers scanned.

 

“The first I recommend is just to wait,”

Hope said, “Although that may be hard to do.”

Wil’s face showed doubt and restlessness innate;

Her patience never lasted long, she knew.

 

“I find my parents tell me what I seek,

When given time enough to organize,”

Hope said. The locker opened with a creak,

And Wil withdrew her backpack, books, supplies.

 

“The second, if you’re sure you want to look,”

Continued quiet girl with piercing glance,

“Is think where you hide what you don’t want took:

Beneath a pillow, bed; or drawers, by chance?”

 

Wil nodded, then asked anxiously, “Oh, but-

How do I move, and not make so much sound?”

“Well,” Hope thought, “Just try to sneak somewhat,

And, use distracting noises all around.”

 

So speaking, shadow nodded once, then left,

Melting subtly as she had advised

Among the crowds. So, leaving Wil to theft

Or patient wait -whate’er she would devise.

 

Continued from Forty-Seven.

Skinwalkers, XIX

The corridor Nathan and Shin entered was light like the aftermeal air outside, but without ambient smog and fumes. Carefully mirroring his friend, Nathan took a deep inhale of pure air. Shin looked back at him, and they shared a smile.

“Now, that is tasty,” Shin commented. They proceeded down the enclosed hallway, breathing drawn-out intakes every few steps and grinning like addicts.

Soon they reached a terminating wall. There did not seem to be an access pad of any sort. “Hello?” Nathan called, glancing at edges and corners in case of surveillance. He saw none.

“That’s odd,” Shin said. He rubbed his chin, though Nathan could see that his facial hair had been burned within the last week.

Just then, the wall swung inwards in a sudden and violent manner. Nathan caught a shadowy, disapproving form before intentionally dropping his eyelids partway closed. He lowered his shoulders, hunching slightly, and leaned against the glowing wall. Shin did not notice. He stared at the humanoid apparition like a mental, fixated on his own surprise.

The shadow spoke. “Ware Tech, I hope.” Its androgynous tone gave nothing away of its feelings besides the usual contempt for laborers. Nathan heard a shift of heavy feet on tile as the person walked away. As he and Shin followed, it added, “You idiots never try opening the door.”

Nathan and Shin shuffled along. They knew better than to answer their guide. They valued employment more highly than personal honor.

Although the hulking human shape leading them took up most of the hallway, Nathan was able to see that their path ended in a polished wall just ahead. Accordingly, they stopped upon reaching it. “Jo, is that a plant?!” Shin exclaimed. Their guide, ignoring this further proof of idiocy, removed a comm and ran it behind the fern Shin had just noticed.

*Ding* sang a pleasant note, and the wall opened to reveal a lift. They entered, just behind their guide. The wall closed. They rode in semidark silence for a long, silent jiff. Another chime drew the lift door to the side, revealing a darker, colder hallway.

The Carapace representative took the lead again, though Nathan hardly saw the point. This corridor held no exits nor entries; it existed solely for leading laborers like him and his friend down its burrow-like length, to terminate in one possible place.

Sure enough, the unnamed employee led them to the inevitable end: a set of green doors. Nathan hadn’t seen real, industrial doors since his childhood. The ones before him glared from metal-grid windows set in green metal sockets. They resembled the shed doors of the only doctor’s office in the small community Nathan had grown up in. Having little population and little funding, the doctor had resourcefully run his entire business from that shed.

Without hesitating, their large guide activated the door with its comm. They all entered, and all stood for at least a moment in awe. Racks and desks and shelves and hooks held row after row of hardware. The entire room hummed and whirred to the stirring samba of a million cooling fans.

The overweight overseer gestured to a far cluster. “You’ll start there,” it said, then folded its arms expectantly.

“Oh. Of course,” Shin answered, when Nathan did not.

He and Nathan lifted their satchels more securely over their shoulders and proceeded to the suggested cluster. “This won’t be easy,” Shin mumbled.

“Nope.”

“Bet we can’t even listen to streams.”

“Probably not.”

Nathan and Shin reached the cases The Lump had more or less indicated. Sighing their usual preamble, they got to work.

 

Continued from Skinwalkers, XVIII.
Read to Skinwalkers, XX.

Wilhelmina Winters, Forty-Seven

The deep, depressing bell toll still echoed in the cold cement-lined world outside when Wil pushed out of Mr. G.’s cubicle. He’d released them early, for him, which had granted the class a thirty second head start.

She walked down metal stairs and headed toward the main building. Quick, solid footsteps replaced the reflected sounds of the bell. Wil turned to see Art coming after her. Although he’d made amusing faces at her every time she’d accidentally -or, increasingly, intentionally- looked back at him, Wil had forgotten about him once excused from class.

“Hey, Wil,” he said amiably, once he joined her. He walked with her as if they had always walked together. Wil marveled at the sensation of friendship, of being sought out.

“What do you think about the group assignment?” He asked.

“Oh,” Wil replied. She’d also forgotten about that. She was so accustomed to no one volunteering to work with her, that she had mentally written off worrying about it. Mr. G. would attach her to some unwilling group once he asked which group everyone was in at the next class period.

“We could be in a group,” Art said. He glanced at her face, then added, “It would be convenient since we’re in the same class. I could get the two guys by me to work with us, too.”

“Okay; if you’re sure,” Wil replied, hestitantly. She knew Art was intelligent and very interested in History. She didn’t want to let him down by naturally being the opposite of him in those areas.

Art laughed. Wil liked his laugh.

“Don’t worry!” He said. “I think it will be fun.”

They reached the door. He pulled it open for her, with a flourish. “Lady deWinter,” he formally announced, while bowing.

Wil laughed, then scuttled into the building quickly. He caught up to her again. They walked through the crowded school, amidst the hubbub of end-of-day socializing.

“So, m’lady,” Art continued, “Have you any ideas for the project?”

Wil thought, then blushed. “I don’t remember the topic, actually. Sorry.” She was sorry. Unless she wrote things down, or cared about them, she usually forgot.

“Ah,” Art said. “I may need to re-think this group, then.” Wil looked at him in panic, but saw that he was grinning in a teasing way.

He stuck his right hand over his heart and intoned deeply, “The topic is Famous Battles of the American Revolution.”

He and Wil reached a hallway juncture. His locker was down to the left, while hers was to the right. Art waved to Wil, then started down his hall.

She saw him stop, turn, then walk a few steps backward as he called, “Think about it, WIL you?”

 

Continued from Forty-Six.
Keep reading to Forty-Eight.

Skinwalkers, XVIII

Nathan’s worried thoughts fueled a helpless anxiety. They chased each other round his head like feral Outlands beasts of some sort, snarling without reason or satiation.

“Look out!” Shin exclaimed, grabbing at Nathan. He managed to grasp at enough of Nathan’s thin upper arm to stop his oblivious pace, just as a large transport swung a sharp right directly at their toes.

*Cheerp!* *Cheerp!* Called the trafficsection signal, as the exhaust from the retreating vehicle still rose in the putrid city air.

Nathan exhaled; turned to his friend. “Thanks.”

“Yep.”

They crossed. “It’s just further proof that the autodrives aren’t perfect,” Nathan noted as they walked down the citypath.

He glanced back at Shin, and was rewarded with a half-smile; a, “Nope.” A moment of even treading later, Shin added, “They still don’t solve stupidity.”

Nathan, who’d nearly been enveloped in his worries again, was a bit slow to hear the truthful tease. He stumbled, and turned a quick look to Shin. Shin’s eyes seemed focused on their path ahead, as he grinned broadly. Nathan took the moment of distraction to punch his friend’s shoulder.

“Ow!” Shin reacted, surprisingly pained. Quickly, he covered with a playful laugh. He pretended a return punch; but, Nathan noted, with his other arm.

*I only use sultronous* a sultry female autoad crooned. Her image dropped the towel it had barely been wearing to begin with. *Because I need my skin touchably soft.*

They walked through her without comment, stopping at their last crossing. Shin stole a quick glance at Nathan. “Did you feel something at that last one?”

Nathan considered. “Yeah,” he realized. “I thought they weren’t going to add sensory to the street ads, though.”

“Well,” Shin answered, nodding at the ever-present street dwellers, “Guess they’ll learn.”

“Yeah,” Nathan repeated. His friend’s comment drew him back to when sensory modifications had first been introduced. Every advertiser had clamored to use them and the citypaths had been saturated in perfumes, breezes, and flashing lights -until the dwellers systematically cannibalized them for parts. One sensory mod covered a week’s worth of hits from the right vendor.

“If they’ve got a way to get around it,” Nathan posited, “we ought to look into it. I could use new slipshods.”

“And I could use a hit,” Shin replied.

They walked to the other path, past two buildings, then stopped. Shin gave a low, appreciative whistle at the sight of the monolith before them. “Check that shade,” he marveled. He tilted his head back, attempting to see where Carapace’s grey pinnacle reached grey-clouded sky.

“C’mon,” urged Nathan, turning away.

Regretfully, Shin abandoned his scrutiny. Together, they stepped to the neighboring alley. As with most of their assignments, the service side was less impressive than the streetside façade. Still, this one was cleaner and more secure than most.

Adjusting his satchel, Shin approached the access door. After groping around various pockets, he found and withdrew his comm. Nathan watched him place it on the sensor; watched the familiar green activation light.

The entry slid open, and they went inside.

 

Continued from Skinwalkers, XVII.
Read to Skinwalkers, XIX.