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Connected and disparate, lost and found, anyone and no-one all at once. No weapons or work tonight, no trade or transfers, as the ceiling faded through blue indigo violet and Aria leaned back into Rafe's arms, drifting.

Music pounded through the walls, the floor, the seats, felt as much as heard, forced synesthesia. The aura cast was euphoric and their own freqs elevated the experience to heavenly. Carefully selected states of mind, expertly programmed into cells, with the capacity to make anything more interesting. Temporary, always temporary, but divine while it lasted. Small sparks fired through Aria's nerves, setting off cravings for more, always more.

All the strangers wrapped in familiar faces were lost in their own worlds, worlds upon worlds, sharing the cast and topping up with their illicit personal enhancements. The cast was a legal and socially acceptable method of manipulating the collective state of mind. The freqs weren't legal at all and only some were barely socially acceptable, but no-one in the club was going to say anything about it. It wasn't that kind of place. Or it was exactly that kind of place.

Designing a good combination was an art and they were all artists, from the recreational to the professional. Aria noticed a few clients, only low-level distributors, but they knew better than to acknowledge each other openly. There was a time and a place for work, and this was neither.

Rafe trailed his fingertips along Aria's bare arms, the softest edges of a dream breathing against her skin. His hand grafts were perfectly healed with not even a scar. There was barely such a thing as irreparable damage these days, almost nothing left that couldn't be fixed or cured or polished back to perfection, but the price was high, no matter how willing you were to look the other way. Rafe saw it all from a few different angles though. So did Aria. It wasn't the sole basis for their relationship, but it was a good thing to have in common. It was a significant part of what connected them.

"Ari?" he said.

She caught his fingers and bent them back until his knuckles cracked. "No talking. First rule of Alt."

"As if this place has rules," he said. "And do that again."

She let go of his hands, on principle. "No."

He cracked his own knuckles. He'd talked before about how he could feel the current zipping along the microscopic seams between bio bone and tech bone. The memory drifted towards the ceiling. Red orange yellow green.

"Aren't you all about breaking rules though?" His voice wrapped around her, draping across her shoulders.

"Says the Authority agent scrambling his sensors so work doesn't find out about what he does in his spare time, or what kind of degenerate he does it with."

"Shh." He held a finger in front of her lips.

"Why? Do you see any other law in here? Do you ever?"

"No, but what I was going to say before—"

"Shut up and let me enjoy this."

"In a minute. Are you staying at mine tonight?"

"I don't want to have to get back in the morning. It's a hassle."

"It's not that far." Rafe was a talented negotiator, skilled and smooth, but you wouldn't have known it at that moment. He mitigated his own circumstances.

"It's still a hassle. Stay at mine."

"So you can kick me out tomorrow?"

"Oh please. Have you ever tried kicking you out of somewhere?"

"Fair point. But you know I'm going to drink your coffee and eat your food in the morning."

"You always do that." He always did and she always let him, the price she paid for the convenience of waking up in her own bed. Tension flashed through his chest and along his arms, her nerves wild with empathy, no barriers.

"Do you want to go out on the balcony for a bit? Or dance or something?" He was restless, like he was immune to anything that tried to slow him down, like his body fought against it at all costs. Maybe it always had. At least it had for as long as Aria had known him.

"I'm in the chill-out room because I want to chill out. But you can go if you want." She twisted around in his arms and kissed him. "Or you can stay here with me."

"You got me." He held her tighter. "I'll stay. Also, you're evil."

"You knew what you were getting into."

He stilled and settled into the sensations and they floated some more. Time passed. Minutes, eons. It was elastic, electric, hard to pin down, just time being time. The cast wore off gradually, as programmed, because no-one wanted to be dropped from a sweet aura without warning. That would have been a whole room full of bad for business and business was important.

Rafe stood up and pulled Aria to her feet, the inside of her body taking a few seconds to catch up with the outside. She detached her cell, then reached up to detach his. The drop from the freq was immediate and his breath caught in his throat. A ripple of vulnerability flickered across his face, beautiful, the way unexpected things tend to be. She wrapped her arms around him and leaned into his chest. Something about a warm embrace always took the edge off.

"Do you want to get a cab?" His words were gentle against the top of her head.

"I want to walk."

"You always want to walk."

"And you still always ask if I want to get a cab. We're up here too much. It's good to feel your feet on the ground sometimes, you know?"

"You keep telling me."

"Come on." She stepped away from the comfort of his body, took his half-bio half-tech hand in hers, and led him through the club to the exit. It had been years since she worked there, but she kept coming back. They all did. It was part of things. It would always be part of things.

They were the last ones left when the bullet lift hit ground. They were almost always the last ones left. The walked needed more flavour, so Aria took two more freq cells from her pocket, handed one to Rafe and attached the other herself. Reality shifted and breathed an extra layer of texture and mystery into their surroundings, into their senses.

Outside, the place was perfect, or they were perfect in it. In that instant, it was all good. It was what she needed. Light hardly reached there, so night and day may as well be the same. Time may as well not exist. Most people craved the heights, looking down on the clouds. That held its own kind of wonder, but Aria would always take the depths when she could have them, brushing her fingers against the foundations of the city.

Night leaned heavily into the corners of streets stained with secrets. Courage, determination and small shards of hope glittered in the shadows. Diamonds, sparks, flames becoming. Lights that led them to the next moment and the next, always forward.

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