Chapter 1

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The year 2986.

From the moment I rolled into the Waitaks on my black Mantis and saw them, I felt a shift, as if the scab of the old, dead earth beneath me itched. Pakeha. They were real. The dead living outside the pure orbs of the Lotus Cities. This place, spoken of as if myth, manifesting like the rotted sunset.

I dialled my Domes full and waited, still as a hunting spider in the cracked moonlight, not that such a thing still existed. I was Nori and I could out wait anything living. They were scared, hiding behind the wounded eyes of diseased houses, ghosts shielded by mottled concrete walls. I ached to round them up, take them back to the Elders, proof that we must work harder to eradicate those that threaten our resources, our short lives. But I was Nori. I had discipline and so I held back.

The Dome600psi bulged from my face, projecting green stats only I could see into the air. They jacked into my senses so I could hear the pakeha whispers, insect, Nori, hide.

Still I waited, boots sprouting from the muddy earth, more solid than the rotting foundations around me. I leaned back on my bike, casually thumbed the release button at the base of my protective body-shell. Traditionally we Nori are genderless but I suspected these creatures would sense weakness in a female. That it would draw them out. The helmet smoothly slid backwards into the layered carapace and my hair snaked out.

Just a women.

What does it want?

Sex.

Hands down Glow.

Illegals - give them Jamie. A guffaw.

A girl slipped out behind a wall, skinny, blonde, dirty, like them all, eyeing me peripherally. I analysed her markings, mottled lemon on her pale skin. I pondered these words we used, archaic phrases from a world long lost. I'd looked up lemons when I'd first gained clearance for the archives and there it was, a bright yellow growth, like a tumour, nothing at all like the washed out imitation of Nori skin these pakeha displayed. Our gardeners had never been able to recreate citrus.

The girl hiccuped and disappeared. That got my attention. Found her, hidden in plain sight. Some trick of her stance, the light, made me want to overlook her but the Domes trapped her silhouette in a glow of green, heart rate slowed down and erratic. I pretended her trick worked, and waited some more. Any longer and this would get insulting. They knew as well as I did that I shouldn't be here.

We could steal it, strip it down, it would feed us for a year.

The response: No. That voice got my attention, dark and rolling, like I'd imagined the storms we could see but not feel inside the Lotus Cities.

After a respectable face-saving period of time, Weixiang sauntered up to me, unofficial leader of this grimy rat-pack, as dark and rolling as his voice.

"Hey bitch – what you looking for?" He enquired good-naturedly in TeJapMan. No offence was meant, this was the way you greeted strangers round these areas. His voice carried clearly in the chill night air.

"By the looks of things – you," I said, low and husky. More whispers.

She sounds like a man. I zoomed in on the girl, Jamie, still blending with the walls. Do I now?

"Oh yeah?" said Weixiang. A dramatic wink at the scruffy bystanders and tug at one of his mud-brown curls said it all. I wanted it, and he was ready – for the right deal of course.

"What you paying?"

"What you asking?" I said rapid-fire.

"How about those pretty sunshades sista?" He dipped his head at my Domes.

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