Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Dez pulled the bike up to the edge of the tree-line, the electrics going quiet automatically. In the distance, mile-high lamp standards flooded the distribution center with artificial daylight, even in these early hours. Long haulers, fresh off the intercontinental, sat waiting to be broken down into short-hop transports. Autonomous skips skittering like cockroaches into the city with their cargos.

Dez had enough power from the solars to get down there, but he’d need to find fuel if he was going to get out again.

An almost forgotten itch permeated his body, miles of combat mesh-weave under his skin picking up the transient power and data traffic that hung heavy in the night air. He’d been turned off for so long it would take some time before the feeling faded back into normality and the urge to tear open his skin and carve out the implants abated.

He was coming back. Slowly.

He eased the bike onto the gentle downward slope of the field, building up as much kinetic energy in the flywheel as the battery could manage before shutting everything down and allowing inertia to propel him down towards the outer rim. Without power, without any data signature the security software would ignore him like they would a coyote, or any other inconsequential predator. Even the edge dwellers transmitted a pulse, but he was a ghost.

Coasting between a long string of fuel tankers, he turned into the space between two of them and braked to a stop. Uncoiling a siphon line from the main tank of the bike and hugging the side of the truck, Dez moved up to where he could read the display from the tanker’s internal scale. He stuck the tap to the underside of the tank, the end-cap sealing automatically as the bore twisted its way through the multiple layers of alloy, slowly enough to not risk a spark igniting the field.

While it drilled, Dez skirted back to the edge of the tarmac and collected an armload of rocks from where the paving system had pushed them when it first cleared the ground. Humping them back to the tanker he waited until the fuel drill stopped whirring, made a mental note of the tanker’s load weight, then placed the first of the rocks on the shrapnel guards surrounding the wheels and watched as the weight climbed slightly. He breathed deeply, slowly opening the tap to start the fuel transfer to the bike. When the digits on the display approached their starting point, he added another rock, repeating the process until the bike’s main tank and saddle-bags were full, then he stopped, disengaged the tap line and watched as the tank’s self-healing membranes closed the hole behind him.

At some point the tanker would be moved, the rocks would be found, or fall off and alarms would go off, but Dez would be miles away by then.

The cowling of the bike soaked up what little energy the overhead lamps provided, the charging circuits the only thing Dez dared leave alive while he straddled the bike and propelled it manually, the tires of the bike and the toes of his boots making nearly no sound on the smooth glasphalt surface.

Reaching the edge of the pack of parked transports, he slowed, keeping up some momentum as he surveyed the gates. Waiting until a transport negotiated the turn from the terminal building to the exit, he fired up the main drive and plastered himself flush to the tank, head low behind the faring. The engine screamed as he shot through the gap just ahead of the hauler’s cab where the barriers receded and out onto the night highway. Any alarms were left far behind as he leaned the bike deep into the curve of the onramp to the intercontinental, then disappeared through the traffic of the long rising straight.

At this speed he would make the coast before the sun went down again, and there he’d be able to find someone to light his hardware back up.

The itch under his skin receded into a familiar flutter, an awareness he only now realized how much he’d missed through recent years.

Rest time was over, there was work to be done.