“Ry!” her best friend, Lux, exclaimed, rushing over. Her hair, cut in jagged bangs, was ash-blond this week. “You made it! I was worried you weren’t going to come.”
“Sorry. Got caught up,” Rylin apologized.
Andrés snorted. “Had to get a little transmission in before the concert?” He made a crude gesture with his hands.
Lux rolled her eyes and pulled Rylin into a hug. “How are you holding up?” she murmured.
“Fine.” Rylin didn’t know what else to say. She felt a confused pang of gratefulness that Lux had remembered what day it was, mingled with irritation at the reminder. She caught herself toying with her mom’s old necklace and quickly let go of it. Hadn’t she come out precisely to avoid thinking about her mom?
Shaking her head, Rylin let her gaze roam over the rest of the group. Andrés was leaning back on the bench, stubbornly wearing a leather jacket in spite of the heat. Hiral stood next to him, his deeply bronzed skin gleaming in the setting sun. And on the far side of the bench was Indigo, wearing a shirt that she’d barely managed to turn into a dress, and sky-high boots.
“Where’s V?” Rylin asked.
“Providing the fun. Unless you were planning on bringing today?” Indigo said sarcastically.
“Just partaking, thanks,” Rylin replied. Indigo rolled her eyes and went back to messaging on her tablet.
Rylin took plenty of illegal drugs, of course—they all did—but she drew the line at buying or selling. No one cared much about a few smoking teenagers, but the laws were harsher on dealers. If she ended up in jail, Chrissa would go straight to foster care. Rylin couldn’t risk that.
Andrés glanced up from his tablet. “V’s meeting us there. Let’s go.”
A blistering wind tossed a few stray pieces of trash along the sidewalk. Rylin stepped over them, taking a deep, bracing breath. The air out here might be hot, but at least it wasn’t the recycled, oxygen-heavy air of the Tower.
Across the street, Hiral was already crouched at the side of the Tower, sliding a blade beneath the edge of a steel panel and peeling it back. “All clear,” he murmured. Their hands brushed as Rylin stepped into the opening, and they exchanged a look; then Rylin was stepping into the steel forest.
The sounds of outside instantly vanished, replaced by the low hum of voices and drugged-out laughter, and the whoosh of air cycling from the bottom of the Tower. They were in the underworld beneath the first floor; a strange, dark space of pipes and steel columns. Rylin and Lux walked softly through the shadows, nodding at the other groups as they passed. One cluster was gathered around the dim pink glow of a halluci-lighter. Another, half clothed and sprawled out on a pile of pillows, was clearly about to start an Oxytose orgy. Rylin saw the telltale gleam of the machine room door ahead, and started to walk a little faster.
“You can all go ahead and thank me now,” came a voice from the shadows, and she almost jumped. V.
He wasn’t as tall as Andrés, but V had to weigh at least twenty kilos more, and it was all muscle. His broad shoulders and arms were covered entirely in inktats, which danced across his body in a swirling chaos; shapes forming, breaking apart, and reforming elsewhere. Rylin winced at the thought of inking that much skin.
“Okay, guys.” V reached into his bag and produced a stack of bright gold patches, each the size of Rylin’s thumbnail. “Who’s in for communals?”
“Holy shit,” Lux exclaimed, laughing. “How did you score these?”
“Hell, yes!” Hiral high-fived Andrés.
“Seriously?” Rylin asked, her voice cutting through the celebrations. She didn’t like communals. They induced a shared group high, which felt somehow invasive, like having sex with a bunch of strangers. The worst part was being unable to control the high, putting herself entirely in someone else’s hands. “I thought we were smoking tonight,” she said. She’d even brought her halluci-lighter, the tiny compact pipe that could be used for almost anything—darklights, crispies, and of course the hallucinogenic weed it had been created for.
“Scared, Myers?” V challenged, after a moment.
“I’m not scared.” Rylin drew herself up to her full height and stared at V. “I just wanted to do something else.”
Her tablet vibrated with an incoming message. She looked down to see a text from Chrissa. I made Mom’s baked apple bites, she’d written. In case you want to come home!
V was watching her, an open challenge in his gaze. “Whatever,” Rylin said under her breath. “Why the hell not?” She reached out to grab the patches in V’s hand and slapped one on her inner arm, right by the elbow where her vein was close to the surface.
“That’s what I thought,” V said as the others began eagerly reaching for the patches.
They stepped into the machine room, and suddenly all Rylin could hear was the electronic music. It slammed angrily into her skull, obliterating any other thought. Lux grabbed her arm and began jumping hysterically, shouting something unintelligible.
“Who’s ready to party?!” the DJ exclaimed from where he stood perched on a coolant tank, an amplifier spreading his voice throughout the room. The space, hot and close with cramped bodies, erupted in screams. “All right,” he went on. “If you’ve got a gold, put it on now. Because I’m DJ Lowy, and I’m about to take you on the most insane ride of your life.” The dim light reflected off the sea of communal patches. Almost everyone here was patched up, Rylin realized. This would be intense.