“What’s going on with you anyway?” she asked, turning back to him. “You haven’t slept well in a week, and now you’re falling asleep on the job? Where have you been going at night? If you’re gambling again, so help me…” she trailed off.

“It’s nothing,” he said. “Just some small side games. It’s not like last time, I promise. Mostly, I’ve been doing odd jobs, favors for some old friends. I need to make some scratch fast, and it’s the only way to get it in time.”

“What could be so important that you have to nearly kill yourself for it? You know I’m covering the rent on that hovel you found. Did you get on the wrong side of the loan sharks again?” Her face was waxing between genuine concern and outright rage.

“No. Honest, no sharks. No debts, aside from the usual ones.” he said. “I’ve got a plan, Famke. No, don’t get that look. This time it’s solid, it’ll work for sure. And I’ll have more money than I’ve had in my life. We can move on up, you and me both, get a place in the Rose District, get away from this factory.”

“No, Holden. Don’t do this to yourself, to me. It’s always one scheme or another with you, always one more way to get rich quick. You want money, do what we all do: actually work for a living. And that starts with actually keeping your job, which is going to be hard to do if you’re falling asleep on shift. There are thirty men waiting right outside that would push you into that vat to take your place. You want to get away from this factory, keep doing what you’re doing. But it won’t be to the Rose District, it’ll be to the deep mines. Or the bottom of the bay.”

“Trust me, Famke,” he said, “you’ll see. I’ve got a sure thing.”

“You two!” a voice boomed at them from the catwalk. “I don’t pay you to lollygag and lay about.” Foreman Tulg glared down at them, his metal leg gleaming. That was the thing everyone noted about Tulg. He had lost his leg in a factory accident several years ago and had worked his way up the ladder despite his disability. Each step of that ladder had brought him new power and a shinier, more impressive replacement. The current model was bright steel with florid acid etchings down the side, simulating the muscles he no longer had. He wore it as a sign of pride, a symbol that he would not be taken down, would not be moved. He was a solid man, and he wanted that reflected.

Unfortunately, his glare was as cold as his replacement limb, and since his ire could see them out on the street, both Famke and Holden yelped out a quick “Yes, Sir!” and dove back into their work, but not before Famke shot Holden a sharp “we are not done talking about this” look.

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