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"You want to kill remorts," he says, with a hint of amusement.

"They need killing," I tell him.

Remorts are the reactivated—the reborn—bioweapons of a previous age. And yeah, the corporate forces need to put them down. So I cuff the recruiter my enlistment information: medical records, fitness qualifications, military intake test scores.

Years ago I'd taken a wrong turn onto a one-way street and now this
—joining the Shiyogrid Armed Forces—is my only exit. I need to get out of the gutter and into the military before there's nothing left to save. I'd started training. I'd read every boot camp manual and watched every embed. I'd spent every spare scrip on a low-jacked combat sim that left me with a bloody nose and a migraine. I climbed the stairways of my tower for six hours a day, carrying packages in both directions. I'd even bought an antique Ambo swing-barreled assault rifle. Despite the introduction of cutting-edge Boaz rifles, Ambos remain the baseline military firearm, so I learned that weapon inside and out.

"Mm." The recruiter's lens shines with characters. "This is impressive."

My pulse pounds in my chest. I stay perfectly still, like I don't want to break the spell.

"While the military rarely enlists from Freeholds instead of corporate enclaves," he continues, "we make exceptions for people with exactly these qualifications."

"Good."

"However, you're not simply from a Freehold. There's no getting around your past. A warzone and a refugee camp? No. Corporate policy is clear. I'm sorry, Mar Kaytu. There's no way you'll ever join the military."

I swallow. "There's one way, san."

"Volunteer for the CAV corps?" His yellow-black hair recoils in surprise. "Well, yes, but nobody survives the CAVs."

"Six percent survive," I tell him. "Then they're inducted into the service."

"They're given the choice." The recruiter looks at me with sympathy—or maybe pity. "That's a one-in-twenty chance of survival, Mar Kaytu."

"Unless you let me enlist."

"I can't, I'm sorry. There's no reason to move forward with your interview."

My throat tightens. "Please. I'm begging you."

"I can't," he repeats.

"I know what I look like, I know what my file looks like. But I'm not my file. Take a chance on me. That's all I need. One chance."

He stands to leave. "I'm sorry."

"So am I," I tell him, and break his nose with the heel of my hand. Blood sprays. He cries out and raises his arms. I'm punching him again when a bubble explodes two inches from my face and hurls me
into darkness.


CHAPTER TWO

I'm a criminal now. Well, I'm a criminal again, for the first time since Vila Vela.

Nothing is illegal in a Freehold, but there are laws on corporate property. And there are punishments for breaking them.

If you're convicted of a crime in a corporate enclave—or on a corporate floor, for that matter—they don't imprison you with other criminals to hone your craft. They sure as gehenna don't pay for your room and board.

No, corporate prisons don't limit your environment. They limit your awareness of your environment.

They lock you in blinders. You serve a sentence in Perceptual Alteration technology, which edits your reality by removing trigger stimuli, erasing entire classes of people, objects, and interactions. Lenses and earbugs delete images and sounds from your experience in real time. Certain objects and experiences disappear from your world: weapons, substances, technologies. Entire human demographics.

Maybe you'll never see a beautiful face again. Maybe you'll never see your own face.

And every time you step over the line, the walls close in even more.

For the simple assault I committed, the mediators encourage me to accept a brief sentence in blinders. I refuse, because there's another choice if you're convicted of a crime.

You can volunteer for the CAVs.
...

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