m/m science fiction
dystopian science fiction

Chapter 3: Decision

He let me out an exit that he assured me no one would know about, and then I was on my own with no idea what to do. I tapped my chip as I turned towards a shadowed section of the street, hoping I would be able to stop and take stock of my situation without attracting too much attention. The path my agency had given me would at least take me past safe areas, but they had assumed I would leave the building in approximately the same place I had entered because that’s where his escorts normally left. They weren’t normally interrupted by yakuza sagents.

I was on the other side of the large complex and unsure how to get to that side safely. I needed to check my map and there was no way to do that without stopping and drawing attention to myself. I reached the shadows and moved to the side of a building, leaning against it and hoping to look inconspicuous as I keyed the information.

“Not sure where you are?” a woman asked.

I blinked and looked at the yakuza sagent in front of me. I had been so focused on the map I hadn’t noticed her approach. I tensed, but not too much. Sagents usually went out of their way to help each other. That wasn’t always the case but she had helped me so far. I knew I couldn’t pretend to be an escort, and it sounded like I couldn’t pretend to be from the Drops either.

“This isn’t where I expected to be,” I said with complete honesty.

“I’m surprised,” she said, looking around. “He let you out in a dangerous area. I guess he thought you knew enough to get out of here as quickly as you could. It’s dangerous to stay in one place so I’ll walk you out. Where are you going?”

I started following her down the street, knowing she would take me to a safer area and then lead me in circles until I told her my destination if it was really too dangerous. I couldn’t answer her yet because I had no idea where I was going. I needed to find somewhere safe to stay but I couldn’t find it with her at my side because she was yakuza. Sagent or no, her loyalty to her agency came first. Of course, I didn’t know which neighborhoods to look in for safety because I didn’t know where the yakuza was strong and where they weren’t, and I had no clue who the other agencies in the Drops were or how to identify and avoid them. It was a pretty precarious situation and I thought about returning to Destiny. It would be easier.

 “How did you find me?”

“Other people are watching the safer exits. They would signal me if you appeared there. I wanted to talk to you,” she explained, then pulled out the green chip I had seen in the judge’s room. It had to be the same one. “You left this.”

I was on high alert now. Sagents helped each other but not like this.

“I’m sure it’s worthless now,” I ventured. There was no way she would give it to me unaltered. She shrugged.

“It’s not as valuable. I took out some information. But I didn’t change anything. There’s still plenty that will keep you in your agency’s good graces.”

I studied her. She wasn’t lying, so I held out my hand. My agency hadn’t taught me to wear a kimono, but they had taught me to conceal information in one and I swiftly hid the chip.

“Where are you going?” she repeated.

“I’m not sure where I’m going,” I said.

“Your agency didn’t tell you how to get back? I can show you to the elevators if you want. Do you have another meeting with him?” she asked. There was no expression on her face and I couldn’t tell what she thought about that. “You should return to Destiny to wait. You’re pretty obvious here. When is your meeting?”

“Soon,” I said, but I hesitated about where to go. Instead of giving a location, I indicated that we should continue walking aimlessly.

I had the chip. I knew that once I gave my agency the chip they would cancel my second visit with the judge. He would be a valuable ally but if the yakuza was already targeting him, then even if he turned to our side temporarily because of me, he would stay with the yakuza in the long run. The chip gave them all they needed to know and it was highly unlikely I would find a more valuable chip on my second visit. There really was no reason for the second visit.

Except that the judge had made my body sing. Only one other man had pleasured me to the point where I had actually lost control. I wanted to see the judge again. I wanted to spend more time with him. I was scared because before, when my agency had found out how I felt about the first man, they had put such a high price on visiting him that I could never accept assignments to see him again. I knew that if I returned to Destiny now, I would never be allowed to the Drops again. Ever. They might even take action against the judge. I still didn’t know for sure if the first man was alive or whether my agency had killed him. Sometimes it weighed on me heavily. I didn’t want the same worry about the judge.

 “How long have you been with your agency?” she asked.

It looked like we were in a nicer part of town and, as I had suspected, I was seeing some of the same buildings and we were mostly turning in the same direction. We were making loose circles while she waited for my instructions. I knew if I waited too much longer my decision would be made for me. My agency had arranged transport back on a specific elevator at a specific time so I wouldn’t be hassled or targeted. I wasn’t allowed to go at any other time. If I missed it, I would have to remain until they arranged another safe trip.

“A couple of years,” I said. She nodded as if she expected the answer.

“It’s important to stay on good terms with your agency. You should go back to Destiny to wait. It’s dangerous for you here,” she said. “Once the yakuza find out someone like you is here, they’ll come after you.”

“You haven’t already told them?”

“I wanted to make sure you left before I told them. I still want to make sure you’re gone, even if you plan on coming back.”

I came to a stop and she did too. It was far too dangerous for me to stay in the Drops. It was too much of a risk. I couldn’t even imagine how they would punish me. But I simply couldn’t bear the thought of going back. Not yet. Maybe I would pretend to miss the elevator and then remain until they arranged another one. Maybe that would be all. But I couldn’t go back yet. I toed the ground. I wasn’t going back.

“I thought you were brand new but you’re not,” she said, reassessing me. “I bet you had another agency before your current one. I guess you’ve just never been in a group like that.”

I flushed, embarrassed that my lack of control and my inexperience with the situation had shown so clearly.

“If you go back to Destiny, will you take jobs while you wait?”

Her voice was light and curious, but I could tell it was an act. I knew she had a reason for asking, but I wasn’t sure what it was so I didn’t have a reason to lie.

“If they have some in the local area, yes. I’m not going to travel far but I’ll take any they have nearby that meet my criteria.”

“So you do have criteria,” she said, sounding a little relieved. “How many jobs would you take?”

I shrugged. “It’s just a couple of days. I would let my handler decide. She knows my limits.”

“You’re probably still working off the initial investment your agency put into you,” she observed. “I assume you’re working full-time. When was your last vacation?”

My eyes narrowed and I looked at her. It was completely true that I was working full-time. For sagents, full-time meant at least one assignment per day. All new sagents stayed on this schedule while repaying the enormous costs of training, and sagents who had higher costs of living, like me, remained on that schedule. But the idea of vacation was bizarre. Sagents didn’t get vacation until very, very late into their careers, if at all. I hadn’t realized she was that old. No wonder she recognized how inexperienced I was. My first agency had made it clear I would never get vacation, but my second agency put it into my contract: seven days a year starting after thirty years of exemplary service. More than I had ever imagined and more, I knew, than a lot of sagents received. But if she knew I was at the very beginning of my career, why was she asking about vacation?

“I don’t get vacation yet,” I said.

“So if you stayed here a couple of days, you would essentially be taking a vacation,” she said. “Even though you would be putting yourself in extreme danger.”

I hadn’t thought of it like that. It was true, though. I would be staying for my pleasure only, to avoid them and to see the judge again. There was almost no other way to describe it. She reached out and touched my shoulder, a move to indicate the seriousness of her next question.

“Are you willing to anger your agency and your handler, ruin your current assignment, and risk your physical safety by remaining in a place where you know your enemies are hunting you and your agency can’t protect you, just to have a couple days of relative freedom?”

I very briefly closed my eyes to think, but there was no need. I already knew my answer. I pushed her hand off my shoulder.

“It’s only a couple of days,” I said. “I’m staying.”

She stared at me, then started moving again, this time with purpose. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to follow, or if she was leaving me to fend for myself. Then she gestured for me to join and I hurried to her side.

“I’ll take you to a safe place,” she said. “Well, I’ll take you nearby and tell you how to get there. I can’t go near it. No one from the yakuza can. You’ll be safe there.”

She led me through various parts of town as I tried to keep a mental map of where we were. Walking in circles, though, had completely thrown off whatever sense of place I had here so I could only track where we were going from where we started walking. I would have to check my map once I reached safety and just hope it was somewhere near a safe path back to the judge’s complex. I couldn’t let my agency know where I was or they would just come and take me. They couldn’t track me directly in the Drops, I knew, because the constant, low level of microbes prevented my exact location from being transmitted. While they hadn’t told me that, I had overheard my handler worrying about it.

We reached a shadowed street and the sagent pointed forward into a brightly lit neighborhood. Rather than the neon lights that lit many of the neighborhoods we had passed through, this neighborhood had streetlamps with golden light glowing down. The buildings only stretched a couple of stories and were made of fauxwood planks, painted in cheerful colors with white trim. Flowers and trees lined the streets. It was a very nice neighborhood and people patrolled regularly, either for pleasure or to keep unwanted people away. She pointed to the building second on the left.

“There. Just- Whatever you do, don’t lie. If you can’t tell them something, say that you can’t tell them. I doubt they’ll have problems with you,” she said, eyeing my hair and kimono. “Maybe they can teach you to wear that better, too. After you’re done in the Drops, don’t stay longer than you have to. Don’t talk to anyone on the way out, don’t go anywhere, don’t do anything. Just leave.”

“Thank you,” I said, grabbing her hand. “You’ve helped me a lot. If you’re ever in trouble in Destiny, use these digits. They go to my chip only, not my agency. I’ll help if I can.”

I told her my private digits, numbers I had only given to my sister, my parents, and one other sagent before. The other sagent was dead now. She clasped my hand and nodded solemnly, then vanished back in the shadows. I took a deep breath and headed towards the well-kept neighborhood.

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