A little backstory on this chapter (as always).
This was one of the chapters which I used for the initial auditions for the narrator for the audiobook version. (I’ll tell you the other chapter when we get to it.) Why? Well, it has lots of dialogue between Cass and Ken, and since those are the protagonists I wanted to be sure their voices would be right.
It’s also a fun chapter, with lots of snappy banter, as well as a revealing chapter. More of Kendra’s hidden history and skills start to come to the fore. Cass also starts to step up her game again, after a few minutes of reaction in the previous chapter.
One comment I’ve received is how Cass and Ken seem to be much closer than Cass, Ken, and Derek, to which my answer is, naturally! Cass and Ken grew up together and were best friends through high school. Any relationship, compared to that, is going to be a poor second place.
Chapter 6: Sin City
‘We’re going where?’ objected Derek.
They’d left the café and were walking down the street, arm-in-arms. ‘We have to plan, and we can’t do it inside a cab. Those things record everything; haven’t you ever seen Taxi Love?’ Kendra had said, referring to a popular channel which showed nothing but live shots of people having sex in taxis all over the world. ‘It goes in the memory, it goes on the grid, and whoever is doing this knows where we’re going.’
‘They can hear us out here,’ protested Cass.
‘But it’s much more difficult to track a moving conversation on a busy street than inside a vehicle,’ Kendra rejoined. ‘Plus we can change direction or stop walking whenever we want. Trust me, if they’ve locked onto us, this’ll throw them off for a while. They can’t be sure if we’re meeting someone, making a drop, or just waiting. They have to keep their distance and watch.’
‘How do you know all this?’ said Cass, but Kendra didn’t answer.
‘We’re going to Vegas,’ she said instead, prompting Derek’s protest.
‘Vegas,’ she repeated. ‘It’s a Free City, so we don’t need passports to get in. Once there, we can lose ourselves easily in the crowds until we can change how we look. Then we can go to ground and see what we can find out. Besides, I have some contacts there from my days in the industry. Vegas was a great stop for promotions,’ she said, reminiscing. ‘In any case, we don’t have our passports; even if we did, we couldn’t use them for travel without getting on the grid. From here, that just leaves Vegas.’
‘Vegas is dirty and dangerous! I won’t permit it!’ insisted Derek.
‘You won’t permit it?’ Kendra’s tone was menacing as she stopped dead, halting the others. ‘Since when are you in charge? Just because you have a dick?’
‘In case you didn’t notice, we didn’t get married. Remember? That’s what this is all about?’ added Cass, coming to her oldest friend’s defense.
‘Dirty and dangerous is what we need right now,’ resumed Kendra. ‘Or do you think we should just go home and wait for the next wacko with a gun?’
‘No, no,’ he hastily retreated. ‘I’m not saying that! I just wonder – have you thought this through?’
Cass thought it time for a distraction. She took Derek’s face in her hands and kissed him thoroughly. ‘Babe, we can get married in Vegas. Tonight. If you still want to, that is,’ she added, casting her eyes downward.
That did it. ‘Of course I do!’ he exclaimed. He resumed walking.
‘Dirty pool,’ whispered Kendra.
‘Seemed necessary,’ shrugged Cass.
‘You know we can’t get married in Vegas, not with our real names.’
Cass’s face reflected her knowledge. ‘But he doesn’t seem to realize that. And at least he’s moving.’
‘True. And I’ll bet we can make him forget all about a wedding if we try.’
Cass giggled. ‘Probably.’
Los Alamos had an extensive public transportation network, and they were at a stop before long. The tram ride to the tube station was short and uneventful. They examined the departure times.
‘Okay, this is gonna be risky, but we have to do it.’
‘Do what?’ asked Cass.
‘We need to reproduce our passports. We can’t go back to the house and get them, but there’s a way to get duplicates at international terminals.’
‘There is?’ said Derek. Both women nodded in confirmation. Cass explained, as Kendra continued to study the schedule.
‘Yes. Just before you get to Security, there’s a small office. For a pretty hefty fee, you can get a copy of your passport made on the spot. It’s all based on biological markers; there’s no way yet to counterfeit DNA, that’s why it’s used for the E-Deb system. Well, this takes it one step further.’
‘The only drawback – well, one of two – is that they’re clearly marked ‘For Temporary Use’. They expire in just a couple weeks,’ added Kendra.
‘What’s the other drawback?’ asked Derek.
‘Fifteen thirteen,’ said Kendra instead, pointing. ‘That’s our baby.’
‘That goes to Phoenix,’ said Cass. ‘Don’t you mean fifteen eighteen?’
‘I know what I mean,’ answered Kendra. ‘Watch.’ Boldly she stepped up to the kiosk and spoke her order.
‘Three, first-class. Destination Phoenix.’
The machine chittered. ‘Two hundred eighty six credits. Please place your hand in the slot.’ To the others’ surprise, she did so. ‘Payment confirmed. Enjoy your trip,’ finished the pleasant, though artificial, contralto.
‘I thought we weren’t supposed to be on the grid?’ asked Derek.
‘False trail,’ she replied. ‘Since we have to use the grid to get the temporary passports, Kendra Foster-Briggs just paid good money for three tickets. Most people will assume I won’t walk away from that. Just watch me.’ Fitting actions to words, she briskly walked off, toward the terminal.
‘But we don’t have the tickets!’ Cass said.
‘That’s your job. Except this time, we pay cash.’
Aware of the risks, Cass approached another bank of kiosks. Kendra gave her last bits of advice. ‘Don’t look at the sensors, look anywhere else. Don’t hesitate, and don’t let it scan you.’ She gave her a quick kiss. ‘You’ll do great.’ Then Ken stepped away.
‘Three, Las Vegas Free City.’
‘Class?’ asked the machine.
‘First,’ amended Cass.
‘Las Vegas Free City is outside the jurisdiction of the Sonoran Republic,’ droned the programming. ‘Travelers are advised that passports or valid class B travel permits are required for reentry to the Republic. Do you wish to proceed?’
‘Uh,’ Cass stammered, unsure. Then she remembered the plan, and after a quick glance at Kendra, she was reassured. Ken knew what she was doing. Ken would take care of her.
Now this kiosk chittered, and said, ‘Three hundred sixty credits. Please insert your hand in the slot.’
Cass shot a look at Kendra, mouthed, Now what? Kendra gave her a Go on motion, so Cass said, ‘I’m paying with cash.’
‘Insert payment below.’ A small drawer opened, illuminated from within. Cass dropped in four hundred-credit bills and it retracted.
‘Payment processed.’ Louder chittering. ‘Please take your change and your tickets.’ The drawer popped open again. She scooped up the contents and walked away.
‘We’re on our way!’ she exulted, proud of herself.
‘Won’t they think it odd we have no luggage?’ suggested Derek.
‘No,’ said Kendra. ‘Lots of people take day hops to Vegas, or go for a night or a show.’
‘Remember?’ prompted Cass. ‘We went last year?’
‘Oh yeah. I tried to forget about that trip.’ Derek had lost fairly heavily in the casino that night – a year’s salary for most people wasn’t too painful for him, but it embarrassed him to fail at anything. ‘But we had a bag.’
‘One,’ clarified Kendra. ‘Today, we each have a purse, and who knows what’s in a woman’s purse? Certainly a toothbrush and a change of underwear!’
‘If they even ask,’ added Cass as they walked to their gate. The terminal was quiet for once. ‘It’s none of their business, anyway. If they get too nosy I’ll -’
They never learned what she’d do, as a hand clamped down on her shoulder and she jumped.
Yes, I left it on a cliffhanger. Never expected to be serializing it! If you don’t want to wait for the next chapter, click the button below and you can buy the Kindle book for just 99 cents.
If you’re not convinced, that’s fine. New chapter next week. In the meantime, you can listen to the audiobook chapter as well below!