In the Night City, the children ruled. Most of them weren’t taken care of, and they ran the streets, gangs of them, skateboarding on starlight and sliding recklessly down moonbeams. Once in a while, the Council tried taking control, cracking down on the lawlessness that had settled into their city, but every effort ended in failure. The children adapted to the new rules and found one loophole after another until the system broke down and they had free reign once more.
The smallest, most exclusive gang was also the strongest. The Secreteers, they were called. The boys and girls who belonged to the Secreteers wore masks over their mouths, symbolizing their abilities to be silent, to keep and ferry secrets. It wasn’t a uniform, though, and each mask was different. One girl tied a pink bandanna around the lower half of her face. A boy, young enough not to worry about ripping out any tender whiskers that might grow on his upper lip, strapped his mouth shut with thick, black electrician’s tape. An androgynous little thing, with golden ringlets and overlarge ears, had a pacifier firmly placed between his or her plump lips.
“Those are the kids you want to join,” Sheila whispered, perched on a lamppost, watching a Secreteer zoom across the Night City air in bright pink roller-skates. Sheila scratched her shoulder where a stray feather was poking her. She shifted, fixing the costume wings she wore over her worn blue t-shirt.
“Why would I want to join them? They work all the time, don’t they? Working isn’t fun.”
“You’re an idiot.”
Royal, a little kid who’d come into the Night City with a weird birth mark shaped like a crown on his forehead and no memory of what his name was, swung like a monkey underneath Sheila. He was still in the acrobat phase, getting used to the low gravity of the Night City.
“Look at me!” he shouted, and Sheila looked down in spite of herself. He was swinging on a rope he’d found somewhere, and he’d tied a sort of ring in it, which he was now using as a handhold to help him do somersaults in the air as he pushed off the post with his feet over and over again. “This is awesome!”
“You’ll get used to it.” Sheila kept watching the house across the street, waiting for her target to appear in the window. She wasn’t here to play games. Royal was a newbie, and she was his babysitter – doing her duty, like everyone had to – and that was fine, but she had to concentrate, too. It was also painful, being reminded of that dreaminess that she and everyone else had had at the beginning, the awe of what you could do in the Night City that you couldn’t do before.
“Can we go get food? I’m hungry.” Royal hung his legs up in front of her and swung upside down, his blue-black hair looking spiky and his face becoming full of unfamiliar shapes.
“Not yet. When I’m done here.”
“But what are you doing?” he whined.
“Wait and see.”
“But I’m bored!”
“Shh – here we go!” Sheila saw a woman in a purple dressing gown appear in the window. She looked outside, seeming to wait for something, and Sheila launched herself down from the lamppost, twisting the air around her on the way. By the time she’d arrived at the window, anyone not in the Night City would see her as a cat. She mowed, pawing at the window, and the woman smiled and opened it, letting her in.
The moment she slid inside, Sheila let the illusion around her unwind. Before the woman could scream, though, Sheila had already passed a hand over her eyes and pressed her cool lips on the woman’s cheek. She whispered in her ear, “Go back to bed. Everything is alright.” The woman blinked, her eyes heavy, and walked back to bed.
Sheila watched her go and went to the window to wave Royal inside after her.
“Don’t touch anything.”
“Because it’s not good for us. Most of this isn’t in the Night City.”
“Then why are we here?”
“Because we’re looking for something that IS in the Night City, dumbo. Something that got in here when someone who lives here picked it up or bought it or I don’t know what. But it doesn’t belong to them. It belongs to us. So we’re taking it back.”