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"Moggle," Aya whispered. "You awake?"

Something moved in the darkness. A pile of dorm uniforms rustled, as if a small animal were stirring underneath. Then a shape slipped from among the folds of spider silk and cotton. It rose into the air and floated towards Aya's bed. Tiny lenses gazed at her face, curious and alert, reflecting starlight from the open window.

Aya grinned. "Ready to go to work?"

In answer, Moggle flashed its night-lights.

"Ouch!" Aya squeezed her eyes shut. "Don't do that! It's vision-wrecking!"

She lay in bed another moment, waiting for the spots to fade. The hovercam nuzzled against her shoulder apologetically.

"It's okay, Moggle-chan," she whispered. "I just wish I had infrared too."

Lots of people her age had infrared, but Aya's parents had this thing about major surge for uglies. Like most crumblies, they liked to pretend the world was still stuck in the Prettytime.

The only surge Aya had ever gotten was an eyescreen, which was only to make sure she never missed her parents' pings. She clicked her tongue and it flickered to life, layering the city interface across her vision.

"Uh-oh," she said. "Almost midnight."

She didn't remember dozing off, but the tech-head bash had started two hours ago. It was probably crowded by now, packed enough with surge-monkeys and manga-heads that nobody would notice one extra ugly snooping around.

Besides, Aya Fuse was an expert at being invisible. Her face tank was proof of that. It sat unmoving in the eyescreen's corner: 451,396.

She let out a slow sigh. In a city of a million, that was total extra-land. She'd had her own feed for a whole year now, had kicked a great story juts a week ago, and was still anonymous.

Well, tonight was finally going to change that.

"Let's go, Moggle," she whispered, and slipped out of bed.

A gray robe lay in a shapeless puddle at her feet. Aya pulled it over her dorm uniform and tied it at the waist, then sat down on the windowsill. She turned to face the night sky slowly, easing one leg, then the other, out into the cool air.

She glanced at the ground fifty meters below.

"Okay, that's dizzy-making."

At least no monitors were skulking around down there. That was the kick thing about a thirteenth-story room -- no one expected you to sneak out your window.

Thick clouds hung low in the sky, reflecting work lights from the construction site across town. The cold tasted of pine needles and rain, and Aya wondered if she was going to freeze in her disguise. But she couldn't exactly throw a dorm jacket over the robe an expect people not to notice.

"Hope you're all charged up, Moggle. It's drop-time."

The hovercam drifted pas her shoulder and out the window, settling close against her chest. It was the size of half a soccer ball, sheathed in hard plastic and warm to the touch. As Aya wrapped her arms around Moggle, she felt her earrings tug and tremble, caught in the magnetic currents of its lifters.

She squeezed her eyes shut. "Ready?"

Moggle shivered in her arms.

Clinging to the hovercam with all her strength, Aya pushed herself into the void.

by by Scott Westerfeld

  • Genres: Adventure, Science Fiction
  • hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Simon Pulse
  • ISBN-10: 1416951172
  • ISBN-13: 9781416951179