Grace emerged from the Frawley as the sun lit the top of the buildings. She smiled as she faced east, her belly full of nuts and unseasonal fruit. Her old academy clothes, black and lightweight, were still good for exercise if nothing else. Grace started to run.

For the first kilometer, Grace passed no one. She was getting used to the rhythm of her feet hitting the pavement when her ptenda beeped. She brought her arm up and saw Raj smiling back at her.

“You’re up early,” he said, his voice ringing clearly in her dermal dot.

“Yeah,” she said between breaths, “got a few hours before my first assignment.”

“I wanted to show off my new toy,” he said. Raj turned his head and pointed to his right temple.

Grace squinted into her ptenda. “What’s that? Mosquito bites?”

“We don’t have biting insects in Port Casper.”

Best news she’d had all day. “Then what is it?”

“It’s my new gray grafty. Like it?”

Grace frowned. She didn’t understand the desire of mechflesh to upgrade their bodies. “Raj, you of all people have enough mods. Don’t tell me that’s hooked up to your brain.”

“Exactly, Grace. The grafty gives me increased storage, the ability to access the communication nets, and the regulation of conscious states. With this, I should be able to keep in contact with you at all times. Watch.”

Grace saw the words, good morning, Grace, appear in front of Raj’s smug expression.

“From that frown, I can tell the message is received,” Raj chuckled, more to himself than about her. “So, what’s your first assignment?”

“I got the order to meet somebody on New Haven this morning,” she said, panting. “I have no idea who this guy is, but I’m supposed to act as his protector.”

“What’s his name?” Raj said.

Grace wiped the sweat from her forehead. “Rendilon Gobi.”

She watched Raj turn to his left. “Tim?” he said.

The second kilometer ticked by and she saw a handful of others out for exercise, too.

“Rendilon Gobi is Vice Minister of Patents.” Tim’s voice was much fainter. “He’s held the post for the past seven years.”

“Does he work for ITB, too?” Grace asked.

“No,” Tim said. “It is against the law for ministers to have any job or interest outside the compstate. A minister can visit a private firm, but only in an official capacity.”

“It’s odd you would ride protector for a minister,” Raj said.

“These orders came directly from my new boss,” Grace said. “Maybe it’s standard fare for a newly hired protector. Free compstate oversight, and all.”

“Yeah, probably,” Raj said, a smile forming on his face. “But wouldn’t it be great if you got an order to kill the guy?” He chuckled. “Wouldn’t be the first time a protector received an illegal order.”

“I’m too fresh out of academy to be corrupted,” Grace said, laughing. “I haven’t even been bribed, yet.”

“You’ll have to stop tonight for dinner and let us know what all the intrigue was about,” Raj said.

“An excellent idea,” Tim added.

“I’ll let you go, Grace. Enjoy the run,” Raj said.

“Thanks, bye.” Grace watched his image vanish on her ptenda. She straightened her neck and decided, with a wince, that she’d just talk through her dot from now on.

The third kilometer brought her near the spaceport. This time, she was able to marvel at the roiders, grizzled unmodified humans and gleaming steelbacks both. In the past, people had postulated that automation would remove the need for manual labor. But the desire for simple, cloistered life and the mechflesh revolution had spun that prediction on its head. Grace supposed, in that way, the roiders had a lot in common with cloisterfolk.

Grace turned back toward the Frawley as a deep rumble punctuated a liftoff at the port. Already she was less startled, and didn’t bother to look up. The smells, sounds, and sights of Port Casper were beginning to feel like home.

Corey OstmanPort Casper