“So, this is the dump where Opal’s holed up,” scoffed Natty Mick. He smirked and then pushed his hand through his thick, black hair. He glanced up at the soft, fog-filled sky, and around the alleyway, the rusty, abandoned cars, pieces of furniture that looked like they had been tossed around as so much garbage. He looked at a tagged and graffitied wall at one end of the alleyway, the broken windowpanes in another. He shook his head.

He sighed and then stepped forward onto a rickety, wooden staircase, which wobbled slightly with each footfall. He stepped on the landing and glanced around. He walked to the wooden door, leaned forward, and pressed his ear against the door panel. He could hear a click and a light whirr. He stepped back, lifted his leg, and kicked the door panel.

The door crashed forward. He walked into the apartment and glanced around. A small, four-legged Vérkatros stepped into the room, postured itself as if to peer at him, and then turned around. Natty walked up to a couch. He looked down. On top of it was sprawled the person he was looking for.

“Little late to be hungover,” he said. “Imbibing in Varling substances a bit much, are we, Opal?”

“Fuck off,” mumbled Opal. “And you could have fucking knocked, asshole.”

“And miss all the fun doing Rive’s dirty work?”

Opal sat up. “So, she’s at it again. I told her the Sleeper Class Vérkatrae are fine….”

“I don’t really care what you told her,” said Natty, holding up his finger. “I’m just here to help things along.”

“Well, I don’t need your help. So, you can just fuck off and go back where you came from, for all I care.”

Natty clicked his tongue. “Rive won’t be happy.”

“Like I give a shit.” Opal stood up and stepped towards Natty, gazing into his black eyes, her expression burning. “She can’t tell me what to do.”

Natty smirked. “Not yet, my dear.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“Only that change is coming. And you, my little Slave, should realize that.” Natty poked her chest with a sharp, pointed finger.

Opal slapped Natty’s hand away. “You can leave now,” she hissed. She turned and walked toward a table, which stood at the center of the room. She rifled distractedly through miscellaneous metal objects that had been scattered about its surface.

“Not until I find out which Varling saw the Vérkatrae.”

Opal paused. She turned and faced Natty. “Who said anything about anyone seeing the Vérgatrae?”

“Nobody had to say anything. After what happened last time, it was quite evident that you were letting things slip.”

Opal flushed. “That was different...."

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