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Kyle had been up and down in a groggy, drugged-up state a few times, but he didn’t remember any of it clearly. His face was bandaged. It hurt less. There was someone in the room with him, going through his things.

He sat up.

The man was examining his orange radio and the fake Harrani ID. “Kyle Crane, huh? Interesting.” He glanced over. Before Kyle could pry open his stiff mouth, he reached into a pocket and held up an identical radio. “Name’s Amir.”

“Wha…?” Kyle shifted himself up on his pillows. “Man, you went through my stuff?”

“Brecken’s orders, ‘Mr. Crane’. Wanted to make sure you weren’t a ghost from Rais. Word to the wise, I have some inside knowledge as to who you’re impersonating, and you might want to change your alias while you still have time. He showed up in the Tower yesterday, covered in muck. Hasn’t said who he is yet. Seemed a bit out of it.”

“What?! Are you sure?”

“Local boy? Black tattoo? Definitely not secretly some kind of MI6 Special Forces Black Ops bullshit?”

Kyle leaned back and groaned. “That’s probably him. Fuck, this day fucking sucks.” He shielded his eyes from the sunlight streaming in the window. “What time is it?”

“About 10 a.m. You’ve been in a coma for a week."


"Don't worry, you woke up sometime yesterday, so you'll be fine. I’ve been giving our employers daily briefings on your condition. I haven’t told them about your other problem, though. In case you need to take some action that we don’t want on paper.”

Kyle groaned again and sat up. It was clear he was going to be groaning a lot. “What are you here for?”

“I’m sorry?”

“I’m here to stop some guy from publishing an incomplete cure that’s gonna murder millions of people. What’s your job? What are you here for?”

Amir turned his face away as he stowed Kyle’s radio back into the drawer. “That’s nothing to do with you.”

“Come on, man.”

“No,” he said as he stood and began walking out. Kyle stiffly turned his head to follow him, rubbing the back of his neck. “I promise it’s important and it’s to help Harran, and it won’t get in the way of what you’re trying to do. And that is it. Now, I’ll get somebody to bring you food.”

He opened the bedroom door, and a second later he was on the ground next to the bed, pinned under a red-haired figure who was holding a knife. Kyle blinked and swung his legs off the bed.

“Hey, what the—”

He found himself looking into the barrel of a gun, and beyond that, a pair of hard gray eyes.

“Hands up.”

He leaned back a bit and put up his hands. “Whoa, man. Shit.” His whole body had just gone cold, leaving a burning pit of heat on the injured part of his face. “No need for that.”

“Get off me,” grunted Amir from the ground, his arms uselessly splayed out. The man ignored him. He observed Kyle, this time turning his head enough that Kyle could see the black curls beside his left eye. “What’s your real name?”

Kyle swallowed hard. “My name’s Kyle Crane. I swear.”

The eyes considered this. Blinked. “That’s ridiculous.”

“Like, Crane Pharmaceuticals? From Chicago?”

“You’re GRE trash. Like him.” The knife pressed deeper into Amir’s neck, and Kyle saw it draw blood. Amir’s teeth showed, but he didn’t make a sound.

Kyle started forward. “Hey, man. Put down the gun. You don’t need to hurt him.”

“I saw him uploading files from Zere’s trailer. Trying to hijack his findings. GRE’s looking to turn a profit off us while they keep us stuck in this hellhole. They don’t consider the Antizin they manufacture and drop charity. They consider it an investment.”

“Hey, man! That’s not true.” He raised his hands a little higher. “I work for them, okay? I do. I’m here to keep some guy who might be your boss from killing millions more people, okay? You’ve got it wrong!”

“I heard. And I don’t. There is no toxic partial cure. There is no cure.”

“You don’t know that,” grunted Amir, rotating his shoulders.

“Look around you. Look at Harran. The only way to stop this place is to open every door, trash every closet, torch every inch of the sewers and the caves. And that’s never going to happen the way the GRE is keeping things. They have the money. They could send an army to liberate us. They could send five. They don’t.”

Kyle shook his head. “Listen, man, maybe you’ve got a point. I honestly don’t know. I’ve only been awake here two hours. But I gotta tell you, you’re coming off completely crazy right now.”

“I see it as self-defense. You know the man you were sent to impersonate is still alive. So you kill him, and keep it off paper. Like your friend said.”

“What? No! Fuck, are you shitting me? Do I look capable of killing anyone?”

“They wouldn’t have sent you in if they thought you weren’t.”

Amir suddenly bellowed, and the next thing Kyle knew the man from the photograph had hit the ground. The knife clattered off the wall. Amir spun and rose, and Kyle saw that he had ripped off a handgun he had duct-taped to the underside of the bed. Before either of them could shoot, Kyle was stumbling between them, arms out.

“Wait, stop!”

Amir’s neck had a long, bloody gash from the knife. “Crane! Get out of the way!”

“No! Nobody is killing anybody! Jesus! We’re a humanitarian outfit! And you! If you’re better than us, shouldn’t you have higher standards? Put the guns down, both of you!”

He looked between them. The stranger’s gray eyes slowly moved between his own as though searching for a lie. Amir’s were steady.

Slowly, without rising from the ground, the stranger adjusted his grip off the trigger. He held his other hand up, like I’ll put it down when he does.

Kyle turned toward Amir, about to speak, when he saw his finger start to tighten. He flung himself into Amir’s arm. There were two gunshots that sounded like one. One of them punched a hole through the cheap plaster wall, spraying Kyle’s face with dust. The other one made Amir jerk to the sound of shattering glass.

Kyle toppled chestfirst onto the bureau, knocking the wind out of him, and struggled up. Crane was still lying there, a shell casing on his pants. Amir was on the ground, the top of his head blown off. A breeze came through the shattered window. He could hear alarmed chatter and running feet from out in the hall.

The red-haired man looked almost thoughtful. “He was probably a great operative.”

Kyle didn’t feel as horrified and overwhelmed as he felt he should. The corpse looked so… artificial lying there on the floor. It was hard to process the sprayed blood and pulpy gray matter as actually coming from a human being. He realized he had seen so many gunfights in movies that he was just thinking of Amir’s body like a stage prop.

“What the fuck have you done?”

The gray-eyed man shrugged, putting the casing back in his pocket. Kyle saw him engage the safety. “Why’d you stop him? That was a stupid thing for you to do.”

Kyle had no words. “…Murder is a pretty big fucking deal! Fuck!” Delayed nausea rose up, and he clapped a hand over his mouth. After a moment it fell again. “God.”

Someone pounded the door. “Hey! Open up!”

“Situation’s contained!” called the tattooed man. “Amir’s dead!”

“Fuck! Did he turn?”

The hard, distant eyes focused on the peeling plaster ceiling. “You should go get Dr. Lena!”

Faintly, he heard muffled conversation outside. Kyle raised a shaking hand to his face and took a few steps toward the hallway. “I’m gonna go tell them exactly what you did. I’m gonna get Brecken right now.”

“You do that,” said Lt. Crane, without moving from the floor. “You’ll take an express trip out the window, same as the last GRE agent they found trying to destabilize the Tower.”

“That’s bullshit.”

“The Global Relief Effort does not have the gleaming reputation here it does elsewhere. Ask anyone.” The grey eyes shifted to Kyle and back to the ceiling. “Why did you try to stop your friend? You realize I’m your enemy, right?”

“I’m not a killer,” Kyle said firmly.

An edge of sarcasm crept into his disconnected calmness. “Of course not.”

Kyle took another look at Amir’s blown-apart skull and retched slightly. “Fuck you then, asshole.”

His finger tapped his leg. “But you did actually save my life back there. So, I’m willing to keep your secret for now.”

“I’m so goddamn grateful.”

“The doctor’s here!” yelled the voice at the doorway. “Now open the fuck up or we shoot!”

“I’m coming!” called Kyle.

The doctor he vaguely remembered from being brought here was standing with a gaggle of guards with rifles. “Who’s injured?”

He took a deep breath. “Amir was working for the GRE. We found out and he tried to kill us.”

They exchanged dark looks and pushed into the apartment hall. Doctor Lena blocked them at the door to the bedroom the second she saw the mess.

“All of you, stay out! Amir’s infected, this room needs to be quarantined and scrubbed. You.” She pointed at Crane, who was still sitting in the same position on the floor.


“Do you have any open wounds?”

“I’m already infected, ma’am. Number 108.”

She turned to Kyle. “And you?”

“Um.” He fumbled groggily for the scrap of paper they had safety-pinned to his breast pocket. “102.”

“Fine, go into the bathroom and shower. Seraf, get them some other clothes.”

Kyle let himself be shunted into the bathroom. No hot water here. He tilted his head and let the sound of rain drown out the world.

In medical, they were taken behind privacy curtains and examined for bites, then promptly turned out with a brusque, “You’re clear.”

Outside in the hallway, survivors were cleaning the floor, carrying items back and forth on handtrucks or in their arms, and drilling holes in the ceiling for some kind of electrical thing. Items were stacked in piles in the hallways, but never left there for long. Crane shifted from foot to foot, looking uncomfortable about standing there idly.

“Well, I need to go upstairs and talk to Brecken,” said Kyle, heading for the stairs. “You may as well come with. Just in case you change your mind about selling me out.”

“And what if I decide I’m sick of your face?”

Kyle smiled winningly. “Then I guess I can just walk onto the roof and have a nice private discussion with my boss about how you just killed one of our men.”

He saw the muscle pulse in his jaw. He shouldered Kyle aside on the way to the stairs.

The apartment marked Headquarters was a top-floor suite with a dizzyingly high balcony. A television showing zombie-survival PSAs was on. Brecken wasn’t there. Instead, there was a teenage boy with some heavy-looking goggles and a band shirt over his long-sleeved yellow runner uniform.

“So, I heard Amir was some kind of undercover operative for the GRE. That’s some heavy shit.”

“Where’s Brecken?” the red-haired man demanded.

“Out on a mission. So, who are you two? Quite an impression to make on the first day.”

Kyle stepped forward. “I’m Kyle Crane.”

“Good to meet you, man.” He held out his hand.

Kyle took it. “And this is also Kyle Crane.”

“Heh. I like you.”

“Do we look like we’re joking?” Other Kyle’s face was hard and flat.

The kid looked from one of them to the other. “I mean, you gotta be.” He chuckled disbelievingly, looking from one to the other. “What are the odds?”

“More calculated than you might think,” Other Kyle muttered darkly.

“It’s real,” said Kyle. “I’m the American Kyle, and he’s the Harrani Kyle.”

“Call me Crane.”

“Alright. So, I’m Kyle, and he’s Crane.”

“Okay.” The kid grinned. “So, Solid Snake and Guy Fieri hunt zombies. I’m Rahim Aldemir. You probably know my sister better. Not like that,” he added warningly.

“I wasn’t going to say that,” said Crane.

“I was,” said Kyle.

“You two are gonna be out running, right? Help us take back the city?”

Crane nodded firmly.

Kyle shrugged. “Sure. Anything we can do to help.”

Rahim rubbed his hands. “Alright. First things first, you gotta learn how to run. Brecken and Jade are always out leading missions, so it always falls to me to train the newbs. So, up to the roof!”

“Wouldn’t we want somewhere flat and open to learn how to run?” asked Crane.

“Smartass. Not that kinda running. You’ll see.”

What space there was on the roof was completely dedicated to soil beds and trellises of hydroponics, complete with two large water tanks on rough plywood stands. A single radio tower stood in the center, with Alfie, the resident electrician, precariously perched atop it, making some kind of repairs to the dish. Several of the survivors tending the plants waved at Rahim. One of them pitched him a fresh date from the other end of the roof, and he caught it one-handed before it could sail off into the air.

Chewing, he pointed to a yellow construction crane that spanned to a nearby half-finished building among the constructions that ringed the plaza.

“My handiwork,” he said with visible pride. “Got the whole thing cleared out, just me and the Revenant. We use the roof as a gym now.” He hauled himself up on the top and waved an arm. “Come on! It’s the only way across!”

Kyle grinned and rotated his shoulders. “Aw yeah.” He ignored the heat of the metal under his hands and how it made his face hurt more. Totally worth it.

Crane approached more dubiously, looking at the girders. Rahim waved him up.

“C’mon, man, you’ve gotta be right at home. A Crane, on a crane!”

A corner of his pale mouth twitched grudgingly, and he hauled himself up after them.

The walk across was dizzying. Wind pushed threateningly at them, and the crane creaked ominously. Rahim hopped off the end, and pointed down to an unfinished corner of roof that appeared to drop down to a half-constructed room with a thick layer of garbage bags. It had to be at least five meters.

“I don’t think so,” said Crane almost primly, the same second that Kyle hurled himself off the ledge onto space. He caught a glimpse of Rahim’s shocked face before he tumbled through the air and landed with a massive whoomp on the bags, completely knocking all the wind out of his lungs. It didn’t feel like garbage in there, it felt like Styrofoam or packing material. For a second, his body was numb from shock as the impact rippled through him. Then he had skin again, and he sat up. His organs weren’t happy, but it didn’t feel like anything was broken. From what seemed like much farther up, he saw Rahim and Crane lean over the railing. Rahim was laughing uproariously.

“Oh my god, man, oh man, oh fuck, are you alright? I’ve never had anyone do that before. That just made my day!”

Kyle staggered up and waved. “I’m okay! I’m alright!”

“Okay! We’ll be taking the stairs to you!”

He stood and brushed himself off as the others disappeared. When they appeared in the doorway, Rahim clapped him on the back as he helped him off the garbage bags. “I was just gonna say, don’t trip. But I guess you were ahead of me. Since we’re here, we may as well start with climbing.”

He showed them the climbing, vaulting, and sliding, and put them through their paces a couple of times. Kyle had actually done parkour back in college, and it all came back to him fairly quickly. Crane had spent the last few months taking the test before the lesson, and understood what Rahim was talking about physically even though he didn’t know the terminology. He was quieter and faster if still a little weak from hunger, but he hesitated between far jumps or when obstacles were set with foam “spikes”, and when Rahim came toward him imitating a zombie he would always temporarily abandon the objective in favor of securing his own safety. Kyle, meanwhile, got far more scrapes and falls, and definitely more fake bites, which Rahim marked with charcoal. However, he pronounced both of them nominally fit for runs.

“I’m surprised,” Kyle said to Crane as they were cleaning themselves off with buckets of water. “I thought you’d be braver.”

“You’d be wrong. I know how mangled the human body can get before you die.” He dumped some on his hair. “And out here, no doctors, no hospitals. So yeah, nothing is more important than me. Mission can go fuck itself.”

Kyle shrugged, ignoring the throbbing pain in his face. “I guess I’m already gonna need reconstructive surgery, so what the heck. May as well go for gold.”

Crane gestured. “Can you even see out of that eye?”

He reached up, touched his eyelid, and winced. “Yeah, now that the swelling’s gone down I can see pretty good. Doctor Lena says the eye itself is fine, it’s just that most of the skin around it got torn off. So I’m probably gonna have bad periphery on this side for a few months.”

“I’m still trying to figure out how you survived that. Once they pull you down like that, the pain paralyzes you. The zombies rip you apart.”

“I had a bulletproof vest. Bought me a couple seconds for the adrenaline to kick in.”

Crane glanced at him and bit of a smile raised at the corners of his mouth. It was impossible to tell if it was sympathetic or nasty. “I bet you wish you had a motorcycle helmet. I know that’s top of my list.”

Kyle laughed, a little uncomfortably. “You’d look stupid.”

“You mean, considering that rotting and covered in pustules is currently the hottest trend in fashion?”

Rahim appeared, his scrawny teenage arms flapping his shirt. “Yeah, the whole point of staying alive is to not get infected if you can, right? They’re not gonna keep dropping Antizin forever, and when they stop, man, we’re all so fucked. Most of the people who are still alive have gotten bitten or scratched up.”

Kyle touched his face again, but now he was cold all over. “So, I’m already dead.”

“That’s right,” said Rahim cheerfully, and Kyle sensed a similar disconnect behind his eyes to the one behind Crane’s. “You just don’t know it yet. Hopefully they will find a cure before then and we can all go home.”

They were making their way back across the crane when Kyle started feeling a little dehydrated. He was reaching for his water bottle when his arms suddenly seemed to… stop working. He lost a few seconds. When he came to, Crane was laying him next to one of the soil beds.

He sat up. “What the fuck just happened?”

Rahim squatted next to him. “Fuck, you scared the shit out of us."

"What happened to me?"

"You miss all the PSAs? You had a seizure. They’re reminders that you’re still infected. Be glad your friend’s here, he grabbed you before you could fall off the crane.”

Crane shook his head bitterly. “I regret it already.”

Kyle stood, shakily. “God. Am I… are you all safe? Am I gonna turn?”

“No, you’ll have at least one more day of seizures, fever hallucinations, and coughing blood before that happens. You’ll want to visit Dr. Lena for another shot of Antizin. It won’t cure anything, but it’ll suppress the symptoms. Best we can do for you right now. Stop by Storage on the way, you won’t get another seizure before then.”

The shelf-cramped former apartment had been installed with a heavy security door and a thick steel padlock. Peering around through the grating, Kyle could see fully stocked shelves.

“I thought there was a supply crisis,” he muttered to Crane.

“There’s over sixty people in the Tower now. You’re looking at maybe a week’s worth of stuff for all of them.”

Kyle did some quick math in his head as he judged the dimensions of the rooms and the number of shelves the apartment would hold. “Bullshit. There’s gotta be stuff for months in there.”

“They take from the back, so you can’t see how much is left.”

“How do you know that?”

“Because I had to distribute limited supplies among scared civilians too.”

A disinterested-looking older man with a paunch shuffled to the front holding a clipboard. “Your numbers and Tower occupation.”

“Uh, shit.” Kyle checked his shirt, but the scrap of cloth had been removed.

Crane leaned forward. “Kyle Crane, 108, Kyle Crane, 102. Runners.”

“Spell that, please.” He scribbled briefly. “Thank you. If you need anything, please buy it from us before asking other survivors for it, it just makes everything easier for everyone. Bartering between Tower members is illegal except on Market Day, which is every Saturday at 3 pm in the common area here on the sixteenth floor. If someone claims that they have orders to borrow your stuff, refuse and report them to Security immediately. Any trades for important items like food, medication, and batteries need to go down in the Barter Book you’ll find taped to the common area wall. You cannot trade or trade for cigarettes, drugs, sexual acts of any sort, you get the picture. Hawking Antizin, whether it’s real or not, will result in Brecken kicking the shit out of you and tossing you out. Seriously, don’t end up like Yusuf.”

“Why can’t you barter other times?”

The man looked up at Kyle coldly. “Because a couple of the men were stocking up on medicine and using it to take advantage of frightened women. One of the guys used to be head of Security, before Karim joined up. Much good it did him.”

“They still around, or did you kick them out?”

“Neither, we killed them. Rape is not tolerated here.” He passed across a paper with a handwritten contract on it and several dozen signatures crammed below. “Please read and sign.”

It was everything he had already told them. Kyle signed his name on the back of the paper in English, Crane in Turkish.

“And you get a duffel. Please keep your medical supplies, a change of clothes, a backup weapon, maps, and other emergency items in the duffel. You must always be prepared to grab your duffel and be evacuated to the street or roof within ten minutes. We have evacuation, outbreak, and fire drills randomly assigned to floors every week, at any time of the day or night. You will be always notified if something is a drill. Please memorize the combination to your lock as soon as possible and try not to write it down. Please do not trade your combination with anyone or share bags with anyone. That is a great fucking way to get everything you still own stolen. Please write your full name on it so it can be identified if lost.”

“Can we choose the duffel?” Kyle asked excitedly.

“They’re all the same size.”

“But… color.”

The man shrugged and retrieved a wide, low plastic bin full of crumpled bags.

Kyle pointed at a dark blue one with red fire on it. “That one please.”

The man pushed it through the slot. “You?”

“I don’t mind,” said Crane woodenly, and accepted a neutral gray-green bag identical to most of the others.

“Alright then.” He picked up a second clipboard and did a quick comparison. “You’re assigned beds thirty-one and thirty-two, on floor eighteen, that’s the runners’ bunks. If you haven’t yet, you should stop by Medical on two for your weekly cheek swab.”

“A lot of maintenance around here.” Kyle scratched the back of his head.

“The busier people are, the safer they feel and the less chance they have to freak out. Trust me, when you drop by Signals and see your work schedule your head will hit the ceiling. Just because you’re a runner does not mean you won’t be up until three in the morning helping mop the floors.”


“Trust me, friend. It’ll help you sleep at night after the things you’ve seen.”

“This is exciting,” said Kyle as they mounted the stairs back to Eighteen. “Very organized.”

Crane let a compressed sigh slide through his teeth. “Oh, you are gonna be a bitch to deal with this time tomorrow.”

“What? They have their shit together, isn’t that good?”

“I’ve already been on their work schedule for two days, and my shoulders are fucking killing me. By the end of the week we will both be praying for death. At least they don’t assign us shit for the sake of making us feel like dirt, but it’s gonna come out the same way anyway.”

“And we’re gonna complain the whole way.”

“Oh, yeah, every step. If we didn’t hate Brecken’s guts he wouldn’t be doing his job.”

The only open door on eighteen was labeled, “Signals”. A dark girl of maybe eighteen with short hair was sitting at the kitchen table, talking into a square black radio. The kitchen cabinets behind her held runners’ gear, including the yellow shirts.

“102 and 108, right?” she asked, barely raising her eyes from the radio and the notebook she was writing in. Rahim waved from the living room, where he was unboxing climbing chalk. He motioned wildly at the girl’s back and made multiple heart signs.

“You mind being a dyad? We don't have any strays at the moment.”

“Sure,” said Crane resignedly.

“Alright, you each get a shirt, a harness, a roll of duct tape, and some climbing shoes. They might look dorky, but they’ll save your life on those high walls. I’m Ayo, callsign Signals, I’m your mission control when you’re out there vaulting over zombies like a badass. When I give you an order, I expect you to follow it like it comes from the Scorpion herself, because it does. Occasionally she’ll be here herself instead of leading missions.”

“Are you a runner?” Kyle asked.

“Yes, I am. I am two months over the age limit now. Rahim over there still has a month before he’s old enough to graduate.” She stuck her tongue out at him briefly, and he flipped her the bird.

The radio crackled, and instantly her entire demeanor snapped back into place like a rubber band. She held up an imperious finger and put a hand to her headset. “Signals here. Stay calm, Ameer, I have it right here. Tell me where you are. Okay. Is he breathing?” She pulled a thick first-aid booklet toward herself and flipped through it. “Just his leg?.. Okay, good, you did good, Ameer. Do you have the cargo?... Forget it, no, Ameer, forget it, I need you to be my eyes on his leg.” She waved Kyle and Crane away. “Does any part of his leg look disjointed or deformed, or like anything’s poking out of his skin? Is his foot going blue, or his toes?” She listened for a minute. “Okay, that's good, it means the fracture isn't too bad. Okay, just like I taught you, just above and below the break. Keep him in position. Don’t mess with the bandage.”

Her voice drifted off as they went into the hallway. A runner sitting on a bench raised her hand tiredly to them in greeting as they passed.

Kyle slowed. “You okay?”

“Yeah, thanks. I’m just tired.”

“Hell of a job for a kid to have,” said Kyle, glancing toward the door.

The woman smiled tiredly. “That’s my daughter. She was in training to be a lifeguard.”

“That’s actually really cool.” He smiled, trying to signal that he was open to conversation, but he could see she was barely keeping her eyes open. “Take care.”

The woman laughed humorlessly. “Thanks, you’re sweet.”

They surveyed the small, nearly empty bedroom. Kyle dumped his bag by the foot of the bunk bed. “So, are you a top or a bottom?”

Crane placed his in the tiny, empty closet and shut the door. “Whichever is farther away from you.”

“Have fun being on top, then,” said Kyle, pulling his new bright-yellow shirt over his head. “Hey, if there’s only sixty-odd people in the Tower, why do you think we’re 102 and 108?”

“Because there’s been at least forty people who have died between now and then, obviously. They’d have to keep switching people’s numbers every time somebody bit it otherwise. It’s like a census.”

“Damn, that’s fucked up.”

“Thanks for so bravely stating the completely fucking obvious.” Crane pulled out his chart. “Right, going now. I’m on laundry duty in five minutes, and if you’re on time around here you’re late.”

Kyle went down to Maintenance, and was put to work helping repair an old boombox. Then he dismantled furniture, carried wood, counted packages of food cans for Storage, and helped with trash reclamation. By the time he was done with everything it was nearly sunset. He was just collapsing on his bed when his radio crackled.

Half-asleep, he put it to his ear. “Hello?”

“102. Kyle, right? Signals here. You ready for a mission?”

Kyle hauled his aching body off the bed. “I suppose telling you I woke up from a coma this morning isn’t gonna get me off the hook?”

He heard her chuckle. “No chance. You’re far from the first person I’ve heard say that, and Dr. Lena’s cleared you for duty. No idle hands here! Come on, report to level one and make me proud.”

Kyle started buckling on his runner harness, a mess of torso straps adapted from professional climber’s gear, with loops for some light tools and weapons, a couple of flares, and a lot of pockets. He sniffed himself and winced. “Alright, just lemme put on my weird shoes.”

“Hurry. You need to be back before dark. If you’re not, you’re good as dead.”

Kyle frowned. “I don’t suppose that’s hyperbole,” he said into his radio.

“For now, let’s go with that. I can brief you on the way.”