In this second novelette about crippled teenager, Abraham "Ham" Jones, and his tomboy partner, Zia Slate, the stakes are even higher. They have agreed to accept the memory weapons from their new guardian, Henry Lloyd, but with the power of the weapons comes the responsibility to follow "the right path." It's supposed to be simple: help one person at a time, but nothing in this harsh world is ever simple. It's a dog-eat-dog world where food is scarce and gangs rule the streets.
When Ham decides to go into the worst gang-ridden area of the city to save a little girl, Zia doesn't think it's a good idea. It's too dangerous, but eventually she agrees and the two set off in search of the girl. When Zia goes off to scout ahead, Ham's worst nightmare comes true. Zia is snatched by slavers. Can Ham find out where she has been taken and mount a defense to save her in two days before she is sold as a sex slave?
Damn. It happened so fast! I didn’t think anyone could sneak up on me like that. ‘Course I was lookin’ for that kid, the one Ham wanted to save, but I heard that goon one second too late. He grabbed my arm, threw me to the ground and put a knee in my back while he tied my hands together with a rough rope.
“Get the hell off me,” I said, grunting through the pain of being slammed onto the concrete.
“Shut your stinking mouth,” the big a-hole replied. He threw a bag over my head and dragged me to my feet.
I tried to scream, but he smacked me upside my head.
“That’s your last warning, sweet cheeks. Another sound outta you and I’ll slice yer throat. Leave ya dead in the streets. Maybe your boyfriend can find you then.”
Boyfriend? Does he mean Ham? This goon must have seen him. Ham, are you close? I need you.
The guy threw me in the back of some kind of van. I heard others inside, but I was too scared to say anything. That threat was too fresh in my mind. The thought of ending up dead in the gutter was something I didn’t want to think about. I’ve seen the bodies, dead in the streets. They get puffy and smell like rotten meat. After a couple days, you can’t even recognize them anymore. I didn’t want to end up like that, so I just shut my mouth. Ham would find me; I just knew it.
That’s when the van started moving.
I was so scared I thought I was gonna pee myself. The only thing that stopped me was that when Ham rescued me, he would laugh. I know exactly what he would say.
“You were so scared, you peed yourself.” He would laugh and laugh and never let it go. I held on to the sound of his laughter. I wouldn’t let this get to me, but who’d grabbed me? I had a couple ideas, but each one was worse than the one before. Another gang? Was someone after my knives? I’m nobody. Why bother with me?
I heard another girl crying beside me, so I scooted over until I bumped into her. She jumped and squeaked like a mouse, but no one came back and hit us so I figured we must be alone.
“Who got us?” I whispered.
The stupid girl started crying louder and harder, and I just knew someone would hear her soon. “Hey, shut the hell up before they come and beat us.”
That did it; she quieted right down. She must have already got her share of being smacked around, so I asked her again: “Who got us?”
“Slavers…” was the only word that escaped between sobs.
“Crap!” I inhaled sharply. Slavers took girls off the street to sell as sex slaves. I was in deep shit. Why me? I looked like a thirteen-year-old boy, for God’s sake. I had no soft curves or even boobs, yet. I didn’t even have my hair down today. Maybe they would realize when they looked me over that they’d made a mistake. Maybe they would just let me go.
Yeah, right. That’s about the time I really started to worry. Ham wouldn’t have any idea who snatched me or where I was taken. Who was left to save me?
The ride didn’t take long and, before I knew it, I was being dragged out of the van. Being blindfolded was the worst part. I had to wait until they took the hood off before I could see where I was or who had grabbed me.
“Oh, look what we have here,” the first voice said. I felt my knife being pulled out of my waistband. “You won’t need this where you’re going.”
“Let me see that knife,” a second voice said.
“Hey, I found it first. It’s mine.”
Then I heard a smack and a muffled cry.
“It’s mine now, a-hole; get these girls inside.”
I wisely kept my mouth shut during that little scuffle. I didn’t want them to see what kind of knife it really was or what it could do. Old Henry said memory weapons were rare and real expensive. Maybe if I could escape, I could get the knife back. Crap! Henry is going to be mad that I’ve lost it already. Today is definitely not turning out as we planned.
I silently cursed, knowing I should have waited for Ham to catch up to me. I shouldn’t have gone so far ahead looking for that little girl. I still don’t understand why she is so important to him. There are lots of lost kids out there that we could have helped today.
Rough hands grabbed my arm and yanked me forward. I heard a door creak open and I was pulled through. That’s when I heard it--crying, and lots of it. This new place smelled like old sweat and piss. It was so disgusting that I had to breathe through my mouth so I wouldn’t smell it. Last thing I wanted was to gag and puke inside this hood on my head.
The bag was finally pulled off. I was smashed up against a steel cage while my jailer took the opportunity to feel me up. I couldn’t help it; I flinched when he lifted up my shirt. His calloused hands were rough against my skin, and when he pinched my nipples hard, I cried out. I felt the tears come and I blinked furiously trying to clear my eyes.
“Well, well, well, looks like we got ourselves a virgie, boys,” he laughed, speaking to the other two men standing by the door. “This one is gonna require special handling. Go tell the boss what we got.”
Holy crap, I’m screwed.