Chapter 5

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Runt's body quaked gently as he looked up at the stars. Anxiety was busily tying knots in his mind, reminding him that time was short and his strength was shorter as he fought in vain to calm himself down.

Even in the blackest of nights, there was just nowhere to hide from the monsters inside.

Runt crossed his arms tightly ahead of himself and leveled his vision back on the sidewalk. He was just approaching the door of one of the university buildings, one of the few that was still lit up and unlocked.

The redeye session.

Runt shouldered open the glass door and kept plodding in. He had been planning to attend this session, but with every ounce of his computer's processing power occupied, he had no other choice. The only other place he could go to get free processing was here.

Runt paused just outside a second set of doors and just breathed for a minute. Nausea tickled the pit of his stomach as he drug his fingers across his datapad and swallowed. There was a lot resting on his shoulders. More than he should have been trying to handle in the first place, let alone without pills. But there was no turning back now. He pulled the datapad out of its case quickly and sharply, trying to surprise his anxiety, trying in vain to sneak by its watchful eyes and accomplish his tasks in peace.

He opened a message app and hastily typed something to Quixxa.


Please remember my pills. Still planning on meeting at the usual spot?


He sent it, nervously re-reading the words as he did so.

He hoped she had those pills.

With that, Runt pushed open the next door and slipped inside.

Runt curled his datapad tighter against his chest and glanced around the massive and well-lit room. White walls dripped with cable and wires like vines in a jungle, while hydraulics under an artificial cockpit howled trying to imitate the maneuvers a student in the simulator was inputting into the controls.

He was a little late to the redeye session.

"Hey, look who decided to show!"

Runt turned his head, already smiling. A handful of students were gathered around the observation consoles, their faces bathed in the blues and oranges of the display graphs and data feeds. Runt's professor, Captain Stevens, was at the center, looking at Runt with a grin.

"I didn't think you'd show up, Runt." He said, nodding at him once. He returned his attention to the screens, analyzing the student's performance. "Coffee's over there, vodka is in the fridge next to it." He said, motioning with his left hand.

Runt looked over his shoulder to where the professor was pointing. Coffee sounded good. Liquid stress relief.

He needed some of that.

As he turned towards the coffee, preparing his palate, he let his right hand drag across his pocket, double checking that he still had his data drive there.

The back of his hand found the hard lump in his pocket.

That'd be a fun little caveat to explain to the professor if he caught Runt.

He stopped at the coffee pot, imagining the conversation...

"Oh, sorry professor. I'm just trying to get my only friend, who happens to work in the Pink market, a new identity so we can escape off world without getting killed by terrorists."

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