When Jaden returned to the Splitter Complex, his footsteps echoed in the commodious quarters. The half-dozen other splitters he lived with were seeing patients in their offices on the lower floors of the tower. Baqer, the tech, the closest thing Jaden had to a friend at the center, was probably down in the lab with the other tech guys. And of course Jaden had beaten Kim home.
Jaden found it slightly unsettling to find his home empty and quiet. The rooms usually thrummed with activity. The Corporation ensured that no one had unproductive time on their hands. He shouldn’t be there. He’d head directly down to the offices—as soon as he grabbed something to eat.
As he browsed the pantry for something to sate his appetite, Jaden’s arm hairs prickled. Someone was watching him.
“You missed the auditors.”
Jaden turned to see his rival, Reth, leaning against the door frame. A muscular sixth-generation splitter from an affluent family, Reth was his nearest competitor in the race for the Ripper Squad position. Whereas Jaden wore his hair long in order to partially cover his splitter interface, Reth shaved his head to make his more pronounced.
“Uh, right, dude. Are they coming back?” Jaden asked.
“Uh, you could have called the center. Or told them I was there, or something.” Jaden rued the words before they were out of his mouth. He certainly hoped the auditor didn’t see him with his first repeat client in five years. Not a propitious way to start out a job interview.
“Who says I didn’t?” Reth said, smirking as he ran his hand over the stubble on his head.
Jaden rolled his eyes. He couldn’t help it: Reth’s spurious insinuation irked him. Reth was lucky that Jaden had put aside his dark past. The thirteen-year-old Jaden Emory would have been pounding the jerk by now.
What the hell—the eighteen-year-old Jaden might start pounding him anyway.
“Sound a little flustered there, Emory. Something not go right at T.D.C.?”
“What—do you know something about it, bro?”
“I do now,” Reth said, clearly pleased his little subterfuge had gotten Jaden to admit something was wrong.
Jaden turned and dug into the pantry shelves for a snack. “Don’t you need to go shave your legs or something, Reth?”
“You wouldn’t be this peevish if you hadn’t screwed something up at T.D.C. Great timing, Emory. You were able to show your best face to the auditors.”
“You didn’t dispatch them to T.D.C. and you know it, so shut your piehole.” He grabbed the nearest object, a bag of potato chips, and threw it at Reth, who caught it effortlessly with one hand.
They both heard the front door slide open and high heels click across the foyer toward the kitchen. It could only be Kim.
Reth seized the bag of chips and popped them open with a single motion. Chips flew all over, and he let the bag fall to his feet just as Kim stormed into the kitchen.
Jaden rolled his eyes. He hated it when Kim used that expression.
“He threw them at me,” Reth said, “and the bag popped open.”
“Yeah, right.” Jaden remarked dryly. “As if I’d risk giving that bald head of yours a chip-induced trauma.”
Kim sighed. “So you admit you threw them at Reth. What am I, a daycare manager? Is the child-to-adult ratio too high here, or something? Clean this blast up—no, in my office first.”
Jaden sighed in disbelief. He was going to get in trouble because of this dissembler?
“In my office, Jaden—now,” Kim said, turning.
“Don’t forget to take your hair with you,” piped Reth.
“Now, Jaden,” Kim asserted.