Zoey flew through a gauntlet of elbows and tumbled through a revolving door. She emerged onto a noisy sidewalk full of rumpled people waiting for cabs to drift past in the molasses ooze of traffic outside the terminal. She thought about flagging down a cab herself, but in this traffic, her pursuers could just lazily stroll up and yank her out of the back seat.
Instead, Zoey ran into the street, weaving and juking across six lanes of gridlock, clutching tightly her box full of annoyed cat. She dodged behind a steampunk van covered in copper tubes, wooden panels, and clockwork gears, only to almost get run over by a Coca-Cola delivery truck, its side panels playing a looping video of animated polar bears frolicking in the snow and urging everyone to drink Coke on Christmas. She shuffled between a customized pickup with a naked holographic woman dancing in the bed and a Vespa scooter that was straining under a trio of young Middle Eastern men. She finally emerged on the other side of the street and hurdled a stinking pit where men were trying to repair an oozing sewer line, only to have her left foot land in a patch of wet cement, marring a stretch of unfinished sidewalk. She stumbled and fell and Stench Machine thrashed and hissed as his crate bounced, no doubt realizing how much better off he’d be on his own. Zoey ignored the yells of an enraged work crew, clambered to her feet, and pushed through the first door she saw.
She smelled grease and curry, and found herself in a packed McDonald’s bearing signs in both English and Hindi, glossy ads on the doors promising beef-free burgers made of fried vegetables and Indian spices. She shouldered through the EMPLOYEES ONLY door to the kitchen and bumped past harried Indian teenagers working a row of deep fryers, then crashed through another door and emerged into an alley that served as an open market of street vendors selling knock-off purses, prepaid phones, and AK-47s. She wove her way through chattering customers and vendors haggling in sprays of rapid foreign words.
She took a corner and saw a crowd up ahead, thick enough to disappear into. The people were milling about in a city park, clumping around a scattering of steaming food trucks. There was a bandstand nearby and somebody was packing up gear, the aftermath of a concert in the park that must have just ended. Zoey cast nervous glances over her shoulder and headed for where the crowd would be dense enough to swallow her. She ran, sweat freezing on her face, feeling like her lungs had sprouted razor blades. She shouldn’t be in this bad of shape, she had quit smoking when she was fifteen.
Zoey excuse-me’d her way through a bunch of laughing black people around a picnic table having what appeared to be a birthday party, and tried to blend in. She scanned the crowd. A dozen college kids ran back and forth in wired-up glasses, playing some open-world video game, throwing magical fireballs at each other that only the other kids in glasses could see, dodging real makeshift tents where homeless people lived. She saw giggling Japanese girls in parkas who looked like tourists, a group of Indian kids around a park bench eating fried curry balls from insulated McDonald’s boxes, and a pair of old homeless men arguing about something. Most of the rest of the crowd was lined up in front of food carts selling kebabs, pizza cupcakes, and ice cream churros. Nearby there was another cart selling baggies of weed, to help perpetuate the cycle of junk-food commerce.
Zoey decided to keep moving, putting more crowd between her and the street. She passed a group of drunk guys circled around a roped-off area where a chubby frat boy was menacing a confused, heavily sedated bear. She eventually found an empty park bench that was displaying a video ad along the back featuring a man in a skull mask holding a huge knife, advertising his services as a vigilante for hire, hostage negotiator, and bail bondsman. She plopped down on the bench and sat Stench Machine’s crate at her feet. She tried to think.
She had no ability to leave the city, short of just walking—obviously she wasn’t getting back on a train (ever, again, for the rest of her life) and she had no means to rent a car, not with her credit. She also had no place to stay—she literally didn’t have enough limit left on her credit cards to pay for a room, even with the cash advance Will Blackwater had used to lure her out here (and they were probably having a good laugh about that, too—for a measly five hundred dollars they had gotten their hostage to come right to them). She could try hitchhiking along the highway out of town, hoping some stranger would get her out of the city without also murdering her or demanding sexual favors as payment, but the odds of that were even worse than usual—her face was all over the news, and she had some kind of a bounty on her head. She had an urge to call her mom, but what would she do? Drive the ten or twelve hours from Colorado, on a suspended license, in a beat-up Toyota that, oh wait, was now a fish habitat under a frozen pond?
Zoey let Stench Machine out of his crate. He prowled the area around her bench, hoping to find a bird to eat. He wasn’t much of a hunter, so when he saw that no birds had died of natural causes within five feet of the bench, he just gave up and lay down in the dirt. Zoey picked up the cat, hugged him and tried to think of what to do. She glanced around. The Bank of America building that loomed over the park was wrapped in a thirty-story-tall animated weather forecast, showing cartoon rain drifting down over the next week. The Hilton next to it was one big promotional video boasting about their heated rooftop pool. The office building next to it carried a feed of the local news, which first covered the aftermath of some kind of small explosion (shots of shattered glass and debris surrounded by startled onlookers) but then cut to video of Zoey’s big, dumb face. Zoey groaned and stupidly tried to pull the knit cap down further, as if obscuring her eyebrows would make her anonymous. She glanced at the people around her, seeing if anyone was paying attention.
The building was showing a clip of her walking off the train, just minutes ago. Then it cut to her doing the trick with the whiskey, then to video from inside the train car, the news grabbing the Blink feed from one of the people who had walked past her and Jacob on the way to the restroom. There were some cheers nearby in the park, and Zoey thought for a moment they were cheering her up on the screen, but she turned and saw the frat boy had the bear in a headlock. The bear seemed mildly annoyed—
Zoey froze. The feed up on the screen was now showing her, sitting on the park bench. Then it cut to another view, from behind. Then another, closer. It suddenly dawned on her that she had just tried to disappear into a crowd in a world where half of the crowd was wearing live cameras.
Every stranger was staring at her now. Clutching her cat and leaving its crate behind, she ran.
Through the crowd, across the street, and into an alley full of pantsless women in heels, wigs, and imitation fur coats. She rounded a corner pawn shop with a sign boasting that they would pay $75,000 for a human kidney, and headed toward the only spot on the landscape that wasn’t bathed in light: a roped-off construction zone around a low, oddly shaped building. She climbed over orange barriers and ducked behind a huge metal roll-off bin full of construction debris. She peered back the way she came . . .
Lights, hovering about ten feet in the air, creeping toward her. It was a whizzing device the size and shape of a flying barbecue grill, with twin blue beams piercing the darkness, sweeping the ground for its target.
ORDER THE BOOK!
The lights hit Zoey’s hiding spot and she ran, the drone tailing her, probably already reporting back to her father’s mob, or the vigilantes, or the hobo wizards, or some other faction of thugs who also wanted to capture her and do unspeakable things. She plunged into the darkened construction site, tearing through yellow caution tape, shoes alternately sinking into sucking mud, then crunching through shards of broken glass that coated the ground. Looming ahead of her was a brick structure that looked like an apartment building that had been tipped onto its side. Exactly that, in fact, right down to useless sideways balconies and an ornate main entrance mounted fifty feet off the ground, its shredded awning flapping in the breeze.
Zoey saw faint light coming from an unglassed window low enough for her to climb into. She clambered her way through, entering what she thought was destined to be the most inconvenient building in the history of architecture. Stench Machine had finally had enough and thrashed out of her hands, darting toward the light at the end of the hallway that Zoey had climbed into. A sideways hallway—Zoey was standing on a painted wall, to her left was a tiled floor, to her right, light fixtures and acoustic tiles. She moved gingerly down the hall, stepping around open doorways at her feet. Above her was an identical row of numbered doors that only a gymnast could enter.
From behind her came the glare of lights and the angry bee hum of four rotors—the drone was following her in. Zoey jogged deeper into the absurd sideways building, kicking debris that had landed on the floor/wall—chunks of furniture, broken table lamps, a shattered toilet. She tripped over a fire extinguisher box and nearly plummeted into one of the floor doors. The drone was right on her now, and Zoey scrambled back to the emergency box, yanking the fire extinguisher free. She advanced on the whirring drone and, letting out a karate yell, swung the fire extinguisher. She knocked the little bastard right out of the air in a shower of sparks and chunks of shattered plastic.
Something burst out from the guts of the machine as it crashed to the floor, bundles wrapped in foil. Curious, she picked up one of the bundles. It was warm, the size of a burrito.
She unwrapped it.
It was a burrito.
She kicked over the broken drone, one rotor still whirring uselessly in its plastic housing. In bright yellow letters on the side it said:
FINE MEXICAN FOOD
DELIVERED TO WHEREVER YOU’RE STANDING
Below that was a phone number and a web address to place orders. The drone itself was painted the red, green, and white of the Mexican flag. It had a festive sombrero glued to the top of it.
She heard voices from down the hall.
Zoey turned, seeing no one. The faint words were echoing from the direction of the lights at the end of the hall. Zoey moved cautiously along the wall, which sloped increasingly to her left as she went, as if the whole structure had a slight twist to it. She whispered a call for Stench Machine, which she knew was useless even while she was doing it. She found the source of the light, pouring up from an open doorway in the floor below her. The top of a ladder was visible, obviously having been propped up there for someone to go down into the sideways apartment without falling in and breaking their neck. Stench Machine was perched at the edge of the doorframe, peering down inside.
Something grabbed the cat. In a blur, he disappeared into the opening below.
Zoey ran to him, glancing back one more time to see if anything or anyone else had followed her into the building. She reached the open door, crouched and peered into a lit chamber full of harsh shadows and debris. She yelled for the cat again, which again was stupid, because even if he responded he wasn’t going to climb a ladder (even if cats in general could climb ladders, she was pretty confident that hers couldn’t). So, she climbed down, and found herself in a broken, sideways dining room. There were shattered windows on the floor, showing off a view that consisted of nothing but impacted mud and dead weeds. Furniture was tossed around the wall. Above her, to the right of the door she had just dropped through, was a sideways kitchenette with a bar. Two large, filthy Latino men used the bar as a bench, their muddy work boots dangling over the black marble countertop. Zoey turned and saw four more men standing behind her. One was holding a sledgehammer, another a pickaxe, another a regular axe. The fourth, a stocky man with Spanish words tattooed on his forearms, cradled Stench Machine in one hand and held an unlit blowtorch in the other. They all stood in silence for a moment, under the dim glare of a work lamp that lit the room like a medieval torture dungeon.
The man who was holding her cat said, “You lost, Chica?”
She was just so, so tired. She gave the ladder a look but she wouldn’t make it up two steps before they grabbed her. As if she could leave without Stench Machine anyway.
Zoey sighed exhaustedly and said, “People are after me. I just need a place to hide. You guys got this . . . area here and that’s fine. It’s a big building, I’ll find another room. But that’s my cat. I’d like him back, please.”
The stocky man said, “We can’t let you do that.”
One of the other men said something to him in Spanish, and he answered in kind.
Zoey said, “Just let me have the cat. Please.”
“And then where you gonna go?”
“Somewhere else. Please—”
Her phone rang. Thinking that somehow this could be a rescue, she pulled it out. The hologram of Will Blackwater blinked to life once more, floating above the phone in the dim light of the room. Everyone around her reacted, and started bantering with each other in Spanish. The stocky man with Zoey’s cat let out a harsh laugh.
Zoey hung up on the call.
The stocky man looked her up and down.
“You’re not from around here, am I right?”
“And you got no place to stay? No friends, no family? That why you’re tryin’ to squat in a horizontal building?” Zoey didn’t answer. Instead she wiped tears from her face and thought about how much she just wanted to go lay down somewhere. So tired.
He said, “Make you a deal. I’ll give you a ride wherever you want to go. Maybe even give you something to eat. But you got to do something for us, first.”
Two of the men started talking to him in Spanish, talking over one another, insistent. The stocky man gestured with the blowtorch and said, “Callate.”
He turned back to Zoey and said, “And you got to do it for all of us.”