Excerpt: FREEBORN


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Movement ripped Katia out of her imaginings. A man in a baggy shirt passed her bench. Even though the day was cool, large patches of sweat darkened his armpits. He couldn’t hold his head still. He kept checking over his shoulder. Frightened. Infected.

“You see him, Katia?”

“Yeah. He’s got to be a mark.”

“I agree. You ready to snag him?”

“I am.”

“Be careful.”

Katia stood, leaning on her cane. She broke into a quick hobble to close the gap between them. The infected man glanced back at her. Picked up his pace. Forget the cane! Just get to him before he reaches the scanner.

Katia stood upright, and shifted her weight to take off in a sprint. Adam yelled in her head, “Katia, abort! Candystripers!”

A pair of figures flashed past her. They corralled the man an instant later. He tried to run, but one of the assassins landed a roundhouse kick to his gut, slamming the man to the concrete.

“Stay down, parasite!”

“Haha! Look at him. All infected and bleeding from the mouth.”

The man writhed on the cement. Clutching his belly. Gasping.

“Pl—please,” he begged between inhales. “Don’t k—kill me.”

“Katia! Get out of there!”

But she couldn’t move. She was transfixed. Had to watch. Stay within earshot.

The Candystripers circled the man.

“Let’s see,” said one of the assassins. “I’m gonna bet he’s…eight days infected.”

“No way!” said the other. “More than that. A lot more. I’m gonna go with fourteen days.”

“You’re hyped up on Ambrosia! No way he’s been hiding for that long.” He kicked the man in the ribs. “Have you, parasite?”

“I’ll bet you fifty debits. Whoever’s closest without going over: wins.”

“You got it, chump! Check him.”

The high-bidder pulled out a portable detector. The low-bidder lifted the man’s shirt with the toe of his shoe. His partner slammed the needle into the man’s stomach. A moan. A red light.

A holo-screen projected into the air. The high-bidder read off the stats. “Felix-2190. Crop 03. Infected. Sixteen days. Ha! I told you!”

“Lucky guess,” said the loser. He pointed his gun. Fired two quick shots. One to the man’s infected gut. One to his head.

“Adam?”

“Yeah?”

“I can’t wait until those assholes get infected.”

***

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