The stylus shifted about in D'Anna's grip, tracing exacting lines across the pages of the notebook she carried. Her knuckles stood out against her skin as they caught the light of the overhead, gold-alloy joints smoothly shifting with every line. She followed the edges of the coat she could see displayed from her memory, laid out onto the page like a digital ghost; lines of data bled into the image of the man whose coat she was sketching, appearing here and there, and even onto the page with the scratch of her stylus.
It was a touch all her own, and one she happily let play out into every one of her sketches.
Her attention wasn't much on the flickering of the lights over her head, nor the sound of the railway, but on the door across the street, and her book in her hands-

It was easy to let the world fade into a blur as she worked, tuning out the chaotic noises of the city that marched to its unseen clock. Every click of the signal light brought a new wave of sound through the city's massive tunnels. Passengers rode by on the rails, cargo runners ran along the other line, and people walked over the crossings to get where they needed to go, and then it all died down as the lights clicked again and the wave...passed.
A moment goes by and the light clicked again as more people came,
the cargo runners racing by,
and then they all walked across the street-

-her eyes glanced back and forth from page to street, the coat in her sketch, the image loaded in her memory, both matched the man that walked up to the door. Metal silently whirred to life in her eyes as she watched the man with the coat unlock the door - stylus scratching down the code - and slip inside.
It looked like the info she got from Tanu was right on the mark, now she just needed him to show her who she was looking for.
Her thumb brushed over a name written on the same page - Rosi - as she tucked everything away, the lights clicking as she crossed over to the other side, and slipped through the door after the man she'd been tailing for days. Something that gets so much harder in a straight and narrow corridor.
Even from the brief glimpse that her eye managed to catch as he slipped through the door - she had to strain the optical functions of her eyes' circuits - she knew there wasn't any place to hide if he happened to turn around. She just had to hope the man kept walking.


It was cold in the hall, both their breath fogging in the air. The man tugged the green fabric of his coat tighter across his shoulders, the pale gray that wrapped his arms and waist catching the white light of the overheads. That kind of coat wasn't too uncommon with mechanics, but D'Anna could see a white synthsilk scarf poking out over his coat collar. That kind of fabric wasn't cheap...
The man was owned, whether he admitted it or not. That scarf was as much a collar as a comfort, paid for by whoever stood over him. But that didn't matter in the moment-

Another door slid open, the engineer paying more attention to his data card than the hall, or D'Anna behind him as he stepped inside.
And that's when he paused.
The door,
she kept it from closing, the silence grinding his heel to a stop.

Her hands tucked away into the pockets of her red coat, she was quick with her words as he turned around, "sorry sir, this is a mechanic's shop, yes? I'd like to commission some work for my employer."

-what mattered was the job.

With a hand adjusting his scarf, he looked her up and down with a cautious frown. If he knew she was lying, he didn't show it. He kept looking at her wrap-tunic, eyeing the synthsilk fabric with a thoughtful tug of his scarf. She had thought about throwing that tunic away,
but sometimes it paid to keep it around.

His voice was slow and rough, like pipe smoke, "what sort of work, ma'am?"

He lit up the shop tables that lined the one wall of his workshop with a single wave of his hand, the lights revealing the long and narrow shape of his workshop, the ceiling slightly curving over their heads. He pulled open his coat as he started to scan through the various parts - machine, electronic, and cybernetic - laid out like books on a shelf. Everything had its place like he was proud of his work. He probably was, but that wasn't what she was looking for.
He picked up an eye from the table, the gold-alloy iris shining up at him as he turned to look back at her.

"A mech, my employer needs one for house work." She explained, her gaze following the eye in his hand, thankful for her gold-tinted glasses.

He slowly started to walk over to his tool case at the end, rolling the cybernetic eye in his hand.

"Model?" He tossed the part towards D'Anna, eyeing her over his shoulder.

She caught it on reflex, ignoring the gleam in his eye and self-satisfied smile as her joints shined in the light of the overheads. He was catching on a little too quick for her liking.

"An RC-N unit, I asked a few other shops, and most of them pointed me here. My employer doesn't mind if you have to reset its core." She said, keeping her voice gentle as she set the eye on the table, walking about the shop. "Do you have one?"
"Yeah," he quietly opened up the case in the corner, eyeing her as she walked towards a door with a mirror across from him. She watched in the reflection of the mirror as he walked up behind her with the core resetter in hand. "I came into one recently."

She glanced at the prongs as she turned, her eye reading a charge that could knock most people flat, even an android like her. She slowly squared her footing, her other hand curling into a fist as she drew it from her pocket. He squeezed the resetter's trigger, the prongs letting loose a spark of energy, as he looked right at the circuit pattern of her eye.

"I heard, sir. After all, you kidnapped them." The man's eyes widened, sparks arcing along the prongs as he lunged for her.

She had to be fast. A quick punch into the inside of his arm, golden knuckles slamming into muscle, had the tool tumbling to the floor, arcs of energy flying off the prongs as bright as the overheads.
She drove him away from it, another punch to the button of his chin sent him stumbling back, the rattle of his head stunning him for a moment.
And a moment was more than enough as she lunged forward, stepping like a boxer as she hooked an arm under his ribs. With her whole weight she pulled him off his feet, D'Anna driving him into the floor with a cry from the engineer sprawled at her feet, dazed.
She hauled him up by shirt and scarf, her joints whirring as her hand gripped him tight. He grabbed her wrist with both hands, shoes scrambling against the floor as he tried to stand.

"You kidnapped an RC-N mech right from their home," she kept her voice a soft-spoken threat, knocking his footing with a firm shake that ripped his collar. "They're behind that door over there, yes or no, sir."
"Yes," he gasped, finally getting his footing again, barely, "i-it's locked."
"Your data card's the key right sir?" She shook another yes out of him before throwing him into the floor again. She grabbed his collar and dragged him to the work table, harshly propping him against the leg.
She yanked off his scarf, the engineer groaning as she tied his hands to the table behind him, "w-wait, wait!"
She dismissed him with a shake of her head, "don't worry sir, I'm sure you'll get out in an hour-"
-maybe three, if she was being honest.

His data card wasn't hard to find, no one's was really. Everybody either had it on their hip, the inside of their coat, or in a pocket. She paused at the card, a softer green than his jacket, but it was the white emblem etched into the plastic circuits that caught her eye. An oval with two flattened sides, a square diamond cut out of it.

"Mr. Archer." She frowned at the symbol on the card, curling her hand into a fist, "nice choice for a boss, sir."


The card reader droned out a few small tones before the door slid open to reveal five different mechs, each tucked away into storage stalls along the wall of the small side room. All manner of models turned to look out at her, held firmly in place with straps and bolts.
It seemed the shop was busier than she thought.
D'Anna clenched her fists tight as she walked down the line, the light flickering on over her head.
Just how long had this guy been taking mechs?

The mech she was looking for started to move, a domed head with simple eyes looking her up and down. The lights of their eyes pulsed softly, blinking as they studied her.

"You must be Rosi," she hummed, fumbling with the bolts that held them in place.
The straps were slow to unwind around them, their voice piping up as she worked, "you...know my name?"
She gave them a small smile, "somebody misses you, a lot. There's a sweet lady who's been looking for you."
As the last strap came off they pulled free of the cubby, arms turning and clicking in wide-open shoulder joints. Thin hands turn against their wrists, testing and flexing, "you know Cole?"
"She asked me to find you," she met Rosi's eyes as they looked down at her, eyes whirring and clicking as they adjusted in their head.

Their head pivoted,
following her as she started to free the others.

"I...thought no one would find us." Rosi said, their words slow,
confused.
"Well, I found you," she grunted as she tugged the straps off another of the mechs. "Just - come on - need to get you home-"

Rosi looked around as the other mechs started to step out of their storage cubbies, looking just as confused as they felt. Rosi's hands clenched at their sides.

"-what about the others?" They asked, grabbing her shoulder, "they were here before me. What will you do? What will happen to them?"
D'Anna sighed and laid a hand on theirs, turning to face them, "Rosi I...have a friend. I can take them there, they'll be safe, at least for now anyway."
Her hand clutched theirs tight enough that her nerves ached - the sound of the servos in her knuckles barely even noticed - and with a breath, she continued, "I'm not going to leave them here. You have my word."

Rosi looked at her for a long time, longer than most people would be comfortable with. It was a look that asks too many questions,
makes people think,
makes them wonder what a machine might be thinking about,
and they don't like being reminded that a house servant,
a mech,
a hunk of metal meant for labor,
can think.

"You surprise me," was all Rosi said.
D'Anna gripped the hem of her coat, thumb trailing down the once white synthsilk that draped across her shoulders and along its edges, all long since dyed red. She met their gaze with a warm smile, irises glinting in the light as she spoke, "in my business, that's a good thing."


The Gardens were always warm, humidity dripping from the machinery that moved the air through the cavernous spaces of the city. Sunlight from the solar shaft shined off the semi-reflect lenses of D'Anna's glasses, her coat flapping in the currents of air that wound through the main path. She shaded her eyes with one hand, letting the circuits adjust to the natural light-

"-so it's already morning, huh?" She muttered under her breath, knocking her glasses up as she pinched the bridge of her nose.

She would never get used to seeing so much green in one place. Tons of greenery wound its way around concrete and metal alike, cleaning the air for the rest of the city. But that wasn't all it did.
She could see people tending gardens that grew along the walls, harvesting the fruits and leaves that thrived in the natural light.
Flowers bloomed along the sides of the pathway she walked, a riot of colors that wound their way on every path, and every stall of a bustling marketplace. She could see traders getting their wares ready,
gardeners gathering their harvest for sale,
and engineers readying their equipment,
and all of them were waiting-

"Looks like a smuggler drop's coming," D'Anna mused, looking up at Rosi with a smile.
Rosi gave a sage nod,
letting the moment hang there for one beat, and another before looking back at her, tilting their head as they spoke, "smuggler drop?"
She looked up at the massive airshaft that climbed towards open sky, "we should...probably tuck in somewhere, don't want to get in the way, trust me."
They looked back to their fellow mechs, the four of them giving Rosi a questioning look, only for them to just splay their hands in a small, helpless gesture.

Rosi felt as lost as the rest of them.

Her eyes scanned around for a moment, circuits whirring as they focused, and refocused around the space before finally finding what she was looking for: a pattern of golden yellow diamonds trailing along the wall.
That wasn't where the path was last time,
she'd have to ask about that later.
She waved for Rosi and the others to follow her, other hand firmly in her coat pocket as her eyes traced from one diamond to the next. The Gardens continued to hum excitedly all around them, building to something that she knew all too well.

Her eyes scanned left and right,
racing along the trail until finally settling on a familiar door,
tucked away,
hidden in the cover of branches and vines was a small alcove,
a door with that same golden yellow catching her eye.

And it was then that she heard the rumbling, the electric hum of engines-


-bell tones rang out all around the shaft as several aerial craft started their descent, whipping the wind into a small frenzy as they hovered. Men and women barked orders as machines creaked and groaned, landing pads sliding out from where they had been hidden away among the plant growth.

A voice crackled out all around the Gardens, "starting the clock, ninety minutes."

Screens flickered to life all around the markets and platforms,
ticking down on every minute-

-90-

The moment one craft landed down on the pads the smuggler crew went to work,
opening panel after hidden panel.

-87-

Others opened their cargo bays as they started to touch down, barkers and crewmen leaning out to announce their wares.

-81-

Mechanics raced out to meet them,
selling their work to the crews.

-and the clock ticked on, counting down the window till sector security would take notice.


D'Anna flashed a brief smile as she watched everyone go to work, bringing goods, smuggled or not, to trade and sell. Before she had...come here, she had never seen anything quite like this. Chaotic and alive, filled to the brim with imagination and energy. Now, she could hardly imagine any other sight that brought a smile to her face quite like this.

She turned to Rosi and the others, one hand still in her coat pocket while the other opened the door.
"That," she said with a nod to the organized chaos all around them, "is a smuggler drop."

Himari was probably hard at work already.