It was raining in downtown Washington, of course, but not with any real conviction: a limpid, bored rain, the kind of rain that comes between major showers when the sky is having a rest and can't be bothered working at the entire rain business. I lit a cigarette. I might have sought shelter, but the overhangs that still covered the rusted slidewalks were shadowy places, haunts of drunks and beggars, and I found the damp less foul than the prospect of company. It wasn't one of the deadly rains.
I took a drag from my cigarette and glanced sideways and down at the girl. She was huddled on the bench I stood beside, head down, tense all over from the effort of not touching more of the filthy bench than she had to. I was, in my black leather trenchcoat, relatively dry, but the water running off her thin institutional clothing did not seem to bother her. I dismissed her and continued scanning the streets. The empty eyes of the abandoned, sagging buildings were impenetrable to me; anyone could be watching, squatters, gangs, cops - or no one. The flooded street was empty, save for one man slogging his way towards me, and him I knew by his walk; the overhangs above the long-dead slidewalks shelter for dozens of wary eyes, but none that threatened me, so far as I could tell. Washington was quiet, except for the drip of the rain and the soft sounds of a scuffle somewhere in the shadows - as quiet as the dead.
I shook my head restlessly and turned, looking up past a rain-etched memorial to the tower. No one watched me from there; the clean white sides were unblemished by windows. From the top shimmered the familiar silver-white hand, the strand of DNA it gripped turning in an endless holographic cycle. I flicked ash from my cigarette and looked away.
The sloshing of footsteps, which had been growing closer, stopped; followed by a slight splash, as if something had been tossed to the ground.
"About time, Havenot," I said, without turning.
"Charming as ever," said Havenot. I turned. Brown eyes regarded me ironically from beneath a hood dripping with rain. "I assume your hit went well?"
"Too well," I said, stooping to retrieve my gear bag without fully taking my attention away from him. Not that I distrusted Havenot in particular, but it never paid to become careless. "Compliments to your hacker. I matched the description of the real fetcher perfectly, and never had a bad moment." I yanked the bag open. "It worries me."
"You mercs," said Havenot. "Paranoid as hell, every one." He glanced up at the tower and I saw his mouth twist; he spat on the street. "The good people of the world," he said. "You think they know when it rains in there?"
When I did not answer he looked back at me. "I didn't know you were a smoker, Chaos."
"I have the occasional itch." I retrieved my gunbelt and strapped it into place. In fact I did not like cigarettes, but kept trying to develop the habit out of a sort of morbid curiosity.
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