Erik Trinity had a system for buying drugs.

Always during the day. Fewer Alien Investigation and Removal agents prowling the streets.

Always in the open. Less chance of being pinned in.

And always in a crowd. Even A.I.R. avoided firing when innocents were around.

He knew this because he was an agent. Erik winced, hating himself. How he wished the drugs were part of an undercover assignment. But they weren’t. What he did was illegal.

If anyone learned of his extracurricular activities, he would spend the rest of his life in prison. But he refused to stop. He couldn’t stop.

Too many people relied on him.

Each transaction usually took less than two seconds. He walked one direction and the seller walked in the other. As they passed, they made their switch. Cash for Onadyn. Neither slowed, neither said a word. Just boom. Done.

Today had been no different. He already had several vials in his jacket pocket. His part wasn’t over, though. Now it was time to pass them to their new owners.

After checking for a tail and finding nothing suspicious in the laughing throng of people milling about and shopping in New Chicago’s pulsing town square, he hopped a bus to the Southern District, the poor side of town. Soon polished chrome-and-glass buildings gave way to crumbling, charred red brick that hadn’t seen much repair since the Human-Alien War some seventy years ago.

The streets became less crowded, and the people who occupied them less…clean. Both humans and Outers resided here, but Erik mainly saw Outers slumped against dilapidated walls—white-haired Arcadians, six-armed Delenseans, catlike Terans—either too sick or too weak to move.

Judging by a few frozen expressions, some were probably already dead. Erik’s hands clenched at his sides. What senseless deaths. Preventable and unnecessarily cruel. They so easily could have been saved.

Scowling, he exited at his stop. Warm sunlight instantly washed over him, attracted to the black jacket, T-shirt, and jeans he wore. Inconspicuous and forgettable clothing no matter who stood around him.

He performed another perimeter check. Still nothing suspicious. So close to being done, he thought, his relief so potent it overshadowed his disgust. He was always on edge until the last vial was out of his possession.

Get it done. Erik kicked into motion along the urine-scented sidewalk, hands in his pockets, head slightly down. He rounded a corner and heard a pain-filled moan. Don’t stop. Don’t look. Yet his gaze zeroed in on a young girl writhing in pain.

Keep moving, one part of him said. He’d seen hundreds of aliens die like this; he’d probably see a hundred more.

Help her, the other part screamed.

He had about an hour, tops, to get the Onadyn to its new owners and catch a ride home. Otherwise, his girlfriend would wake up alone and wonder where he was. And if Cara wondered, Cara would ask questions. She was an agent, too, so she knew how to suck every little scrap of information from him—information that would destroy him.

No, he didn’t have time for this. He crouched down anyway.

“Where are your parents?” he gently asked the girl.

“Dead,” she managed to rasp out. Her little body jerked, the muscles spasming erratically. Her eyelids squeezed together, cutting off his view of glassy violet eyes. She rolled into a ball.

Dirt smudged her from head to toe, and he could see lice jumping in her snow-white hair. She was Arcadian, probably no more than eight years old. Agony radiated from her. More than most adults could have handled. More than he could have handled.

“There’s no one else to take care of you?” he asked, already sensing the answer.

Her mouth floundered open and closed, but no sound emerged. She was struggling to breathe, no longer able to draw a single molecule of air into her lungs. His stomach knotted as her skin colored blue.

He didn’t have an ounce of Onadyn to spare, but he couldn’t leave her like this. Without the drug, which allowed certain alien species to tolerate Earth’s environment, she would die exactly as the people around her had died. And if that happened, her angel face would haunt him for the rest of his life.

Damn this and damn me. He looked left, then right. No one seemed to be paying them the slightest bit of attention, so he withdrew a clear vial from his pocket. He held it to her lips and poured at least a week’s salary down her throat.

He would have to buy more. Which meant lying to Cara (again) and spending money he no longer had (again).

Was it worth it?

Almost instantly, the girl’s color began to return, pale cream chasing away pallid blue. Her features smoothed and her body relaxed. A contented smile slowly curled the corners of her lips.

Erik sighed. Yeah, it was worth it. Knowing she would live—at least for a little while—he pushed to his feet and walked away. He didn’t look back. For once he felt like the agent he was supposed to be, rather than the despicable agent he’d become.


A few months later…

Have you ever stumbled upon a secret you wished to God you’d never learned? A dark and dangerous secret? A secret people would kill to protect?

I have.

And, yeah, I almost died for it.

My name is Camille Robins. I’m eighteen and in my last month at New Chicago High, District Eight.

It all began on a balmy Friday evening when my friend Shanel Stacy borrowed her parents’ car and picked me up…

“I can’t believe we’re doing this,” I said, already breathless with anticipation and nerves. I slid into the passenger seat.

“Believe it, baby,” Shanel said as she buckled into the driver’s side. With a few clicks of the keyboard, she programmed the Ship’s address into the car’s console, and we eased out of my driveway and onto the street.

Because sensors kept the car from hitting anyone or thing and because computers navigated the roads, we didn’t have to steer or even keep our eyes on our surroundings. We could chat and consider all the things that might go wrong at the famous nightclub.

Get caught lying to our parents—a possibility. We’d told them we were staying the night with another friend of ours. A friend we’d invented. Get thrown out—another possibility. We weren’t rich or fabulous like the usual patrons. Make fools of ourselves—the biggest possibility of all.

Neither one of us had style.

Shanel studied me, her intent gaze starting at my dark hair and stopping on my boots. Underneath, my toenails were painted blue to match my eyes. “Why do you look like you’re one second away from barfing on the floorboards?”