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The Lost
by Darrell Whitney


The Metro-Link rattled on through the eternal night of the Drasgow undercity. Now and again it dipped into a tunnel, but in truth there was no difference between the two conditions. Whether the roof was two feet overhead or two hundred, it didn't matter. The train and its passengers were trapped in Nightside, just like the millions of others who resided in the undercity.

Nightside had once been merely the city of Drasgow, set on an artificial island in the middle of the sea. Then, it had outgrown itself, no room left for the industrial parks, resource centers, and people that crammed themselves into the bold new world of steel, concrete, and plastic. The engineers had rung in, saying expanding outward would not be cost-effective, so instead they built up. The Drasgow regional government and its corporate allies had stacked a whole new city on top of the first. Those with wealth, with influence, went upstairs, followed quickly by the middle class, the white-collars, the merchants, the artisans. Left behind were the working poor in the better neighborhoods, and the urban refugees in the rapidly decaying Core, the central area of the city where no light managed to filter in from the edges.

People still came to Nightside. They came from the country and from other cities, in search of work or the golden glory that the archopolis was supposed to hold. They found nothing but the same trap the natives had found. Even the king predators of Nightside were as trapped as the lowest ranks of their prey; leaving would mean abandoning their money, their power, all the things that made their lives bearable to them. Then there were the truly hopeless, without the money to survive or even the citizen ID, the record of their existence that would let them obtain a regional passport and a ticket out. The Link was filled with the faces of despair, of a burning need that eclipsed simple avarice, or just a grim numbness in those who had gone beyond hope or fear or dreams, those for whom even taking their own lives to end it all was too much of an effort to bear.

Gabriel sat, alone in the car but for three others: the punk kid with the twin lines of hair running down his shaved scalp from brow to neck, one blue and one green, his eyes unfocused and jaw slack; the old woman whose thin hands trembled on the small electronic case in her lap, a wire running from it to an adhesive patch on her left temple, a faint trickle of spittle flowing from the corner of her mouth; the fat man in battered clothes, canvas poncho the color of old bone over rags layered to cover for each others' holes, dirt caking hands and face. The four of them the refuse cluttering the last car of the midnight train. Not that midnight meant anything in Nightside's eternal evening.

Now and again Gabriel would take off his wire-rimmed spectacles and polish them on a cloth. They didn't need it; the lenses were scrupulously clean. His action was an overt sign of weakness, an invitation to anyone who had violent impulses to try their chances. He gauged each of his fellow passengers whenever he did this, observing their reactions and readying his own. Then, he'd replace the glasses when nothing occurred.

He didn't need the spectacles to improve his sight; in fact, they did the reverse, lowering a faint veil into place that reduced the very edge of his sight into a soft, gentle blur. Gabriel saw far too well at times, and the hard, cruel sharpness where most people saw nothing at all gave rise to stabbing pains behind his eyes. The lenses reined in that too-clear vision, brought it back to merely ordinary levels and kept the ache from building.

Gabriel didn't think his sight was at all normal, and he wished he could remember why, who had burned the raptor's sharpness into his gaze. Had it been the same one who had seared out of his brain the ability to relax, to be at ease rather than constantly judging threats, evasive routes, attack forms and defenses? Only when he wholly lost himself, be it in chemicals or the wet, yielding flesh of another could Gabriel put aside for brief, shining moments the battlefield that was his life.

He wished he knew who to hate for that.

Gabriel had measured his fellow travelers and judged them to be incapable of being a threat, of initiating violence. They were barely there to the extent of being able to incite it in others, let alone to perform it themselves. He was therefore not surprised when the doors opened at the next stop.

Good clothes, this one. Not tailored, but well-fitted and adjusted to a form that was hard rather than soft, but the artificial hardness of the gymnasium and the biosculptor's scalpel, a hardness that was soft still, at the heart. Clean-shaven face. Sharp-cut hair.

Hungry eyes.

The eyes passed over Gabriel and his borrowed, utilitarian garb. They passed the shaven-haired boy and his dreamy smile, the one born of dreams given by the tablet once wrapped in the folded paper clenched in his left hand and dissolved under the tongue. They lingered on the woman, whose body twitched in response to the machine in her skeletal hands.

They settled upon the dirty, ragged man, who stared straight ahead into nothingness, needing no outside assistance to lose himself.

A tongue emerged, glistening and pink. It wet the lips in rhythmic sweeps, around and around. Feet moved boldly, with purpose. A hand went to a pocket. What emerged was a testament, bright metal splashed with rusty stains, each a different story that a man could linger over lovingly in the faceless walls of a faceless corporate apartment. Each a reminder he was more than a function that could be unplugged and replaced by his neighbor, more than codes of data strung together--birth, education, employment record. A reminder that if that data was erased, rewritten with another's name, that something would change.

Gabriel's fingers caught a wrist, twisted, sensed the breaking of bone. A howl from the newcomer, not pain, no--triumph.

"Someone cares," he whispered with glee. "You came for me, came to trap me. You know me."

He pivoted, knife in the other hand spearing low at Gabriel's belly. Gabriel's eyes flickered. His hand scythed down. In an instant, a choice was made.

The edge of his hand connected with the back of the neck. Bone snapped again. The spinal column tore. The hungry eyes grew misty with death.

Gabriel did not know if it was an act of cruelty, or mercy.

He returned to his seat. The ragged man, and later, when he could rouse himself, the boy, went to the body. Meseta notes and coins, access cards, chronometer, earring, silver pen-case, all vanished.

At the next stop a uniformed woman met Gabriel, her face worried, her gaze concerned, caring. As it had been when she'd first come to him.

"Four, all in the same car, one each week," she'd said. "None of them a registered citizen. All homeless, mentally ill, or metachem users by the look of them. It's as if he takes the ones so close to the bottom that they're barely human." She'd looked down at the blue uniform she'd still worn, and spoke with frustration at her own helplessness. "No resources available for investigation, they say. The system won't extend itself to help those not a part of it."

The money she'd pushed into Gabriel's hand wasn't enough for what she was asking and they'd both known it, but he'd decided that it was after all.

"Is it--?" she asked him.

"It's over," he agreed.

"Who? Why?" She still cared about the answers, Gabriel decided. She didn't understand that they didn't matter. He hoped that she never did.

The sweepers were supposed to take the biocode--fingerprints, retinal scan, genetic data--of a body before they removed it to be recycled into organs for those who couldn't afford cloning. This was Nightside, though, and they rarely bothered. Easier just to tag it, date, time, unregistered without checking and move on.

"Nobody," Gabriel said. "That's who. And why."

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