2. Smoke

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On the instruction of Zahra Morgenstern, head of product for Triclave International, Lily kept her smartlenses in all afternoon and into the evening. Tonight was to be her first official home trial. Lily was still nervous about the device, but so far, she hadn't found much to complain about. As promised, Second Sight was delivering quite an interesting visual experience. Everything looked fresh and crisp and new, beating and pulsing with life. It felt like she'd lived her whole life in a dark cave and had finally been given a chance to step out into daylight.

On the drive home from work, giving in to a sudden whim, Lily pulled off the tollway onto an unfamiliar side street. This part of town was not nearly so well lit as the elevated zipways and plazas she was used to, but for Lily, it may as well have been broad daylight. She found herself approaching Yancy Park, a little patch of forest in the midst of the city. The perfect place to put Second Sight through its paces.

The park was officially closed for the night, so Lily pulled into a homeplex across the street, in a space reserved for "future residents." Nobody would care. The whole area was dead anyhow. Up and down the street, the only signs of life she could detect were behind closed doors—faint pulsing lights inside their homes, all unaware of Lily's presence. It was truly amazing what Second Sight provided. This confidence, this sense of mastery over her surroundings. She'd never even realized how much she needed it.

Getting into Yancy Park was easy; only the parking lot was fenced off. As Lily passed under the barren limbs of live oaks and cedar elms, she stared up through the branches at the full moon. When she shifted her focus to that single light source, everything else darkened. When she looked away, the scene returned to its former clarity. The effect was mesmerizing.

She closed her eyes and watched the darkness brighten to a neutral gray. The musty ozone smell of the city vied for dominance with varied fragrances of earth and vegetation. It was up to the wind to decide the victor. And then suddenly, she smelled smoke—stale and acrid and oppressively heavy, as if emanating from unwashed clothing.

"Hey, wump," growled a hoarse voice behind her. Startled at this intrusion into her reverie, Lily spun around to see a roughly dressed woman with a black stocking over her face and head. And she was holding a knife. Grinning through the fog of her makeshift mask, the woman continued, "What you got for me?"

Lily couldn't think straight. This was her first mugging—or whatever this was—and she didn't know how to react. "I— I don't have any cash," she stammered. "You can check my—"

"Nobody got cash no more. Just give me whatever jewelry you got, and we square." The mugger gestured with her knife, pointing it toward Lily's emerald engagement ring.

"That's all I've got, and it's not worth much. Maybe a hundred credits. It's just the sentimental value for me because—"

The mugger laughed. "A hundred creds? Maybe that ain't much to a one-percenter like you, but it sound pretty sheen to me. Give it here."

Lily complied. What else could she do?

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