She didn’t feel a pulse, and he wasn’t breathing. He was dead; the dumb kid was dead. But River wasn’t about to call the authorities. Her little 27-hour tea shop enjoyed the best Net connection on the planet because she’d tapped into the government hardline by digging down to it through the basement. It made her shop a hot spot for anyone wanting unrestricted access to the non-Party worlds—good for business, bad for nosey detectives.
This dumb punk was jacked into a virtual—had been for days. Had it been a week? She assumed he’d been unplugging during the day to eat and drink, and presumably sleep, but here he was, laying dead on her shop floor at 04:30—too late for the law abiding, too early for the scum. River had been working nights since her pregnancy started keeping her up, letting her wife split the day shift with the hourlies. The doctor had said it wasn’t uncommon, but she didn’t know why that should matter.
Regardless, she had to move the body.
The boy—River thought of him as a boy, but he was probably in his early twenties, same as her—was lanky and dressed only in a faded yellow t-shirt, sweat pants, and sandals. She squatted and grabbed him by the wrists, dragging him toward the basement stairs in back. He lost a sandal on the way and she made a mental note to retrieve it. When she reached the stairs, she maneuvered around her belly and heaved him down into the gloom. It made a ruckus like he’d hit every step twice, like a drunk Slinky on an escalator.
River climbed down after him and found his jack laying on the floor, popped from his head. What could have been so enticing—so stimulating—that he’d sat in a tea shop without unplugging until he croaked? She picked it up and looked around as if someone might be watching. The baby kicked, and she rubbed her stomach.
River clicked the jack into place at her nape.
She was transported. Oh my God…