Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer

I can hear them inside, their voices loud and fast with teenage enthusiasm. This was a bad idea; I should never have taken the assignment.

“Look at that! Hyper-alloy combat chassis, full-spectrum vision, cross-frequency hearing, graphene augmented muscle strands. Mark eighteens were the best: “

“Yeah, but they got decommissioned like everything else. What happened to them?”

“I read that they got killed off or became freebooters.”

Not quite: the killing off bit is true. A lot of my kind got a little too fond of the murdering and destroying. There was no way they could be reintegrated into a society they left as humans.

I reach up and press the call pad.

“You gotta be kidding! Twenty minutes? Out here?”

A girl’s voice: “I’ll get it!”

There’s a chorus of negatives. Then a single male voice: “Not likely. Let me get it. Johnny, get the gat.”

Smart kid. You never know who’s calling out in the estates after dark.

The door opens a little way.

I smile and point at the face that appears: “The gat’s a good idea, but a simple chain catch gives you the time to react.”

“Oh crap.” His voice has gone quiet as his face pales in the glow of my optics.

“Good evening.”

“Don’t hurt the girls.”

I bring my insulated bag into view: “No intention of doing that. I’m just delivering.”

His eyes widen: “You’re kidding.”

With a smile, I half-bow: “Us mark eighteens have to fit in somewhere.”

He nods in comprehension: “Yeah. Nobody delivers out here, it’s too dangerous.”

Precisely. Neighbourhoods overrun with crime are getting civilised quickly. All of the services are being staffed by my kind. You can’t scare or threaten something that has walked through the burning cities of Tharsis, has held the line against the mechanised tigers of Betelguese or has carried the heads of his comrades back for Transit.

The door opens wider. I see a real fire burning and a mob of kids in Steelhead T-shirts.

“Good taste in heavy metal, ladies and gents.” The mark eighteens who formed that band found that celebrity made society ignore their occasional fits of devastation. It’s expected of rock stars. Lateral reintegration at its best.

The kid tucking the gat into his thigh-high pocket smiles tentatively: “You know Steelhead?”

I grin: “Served with two of ‘em during the defence of Kandyr.”

The girl, presumably the sister, rushes up holding out a condensation-dripping can of beer: “You wanna come in?”

With a smile, I use combat speed to extract the pizzas from the bag, put them in the hands of the lad reaching for them, sling the bag on my back, step inside the place while steadying the pizza boxes and pluck the beer from her hand.

“Love to.”

There are collective squeaks and sighs of awe. The first lad grasps the pizza boxes and kicks the door shut with his foot.

A boy with glasses watched my move over the back of the settee. He swallows before commenting: “That was surreal.”

I think I’m going to do well around here.

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