The morning masses streamed by the carefully scrawled letters of the freshly plastered warning. The Murderous Prince, they called him. If they only knew. I stepped into the street, uncaring about the rushing carts and horses that darted around me as I made my way to the Infamous wall, full of posters overlayed by more posters. Nobody knew how long the wall existed been or when it became more than just a normal steel wall but it’s been full of posters for as long as I can remember.
As I neared the wall and all of its posters I read the ironic words again. Murderous. I scoffed as I rolled my eyes. Jax was as murderous as a baby bird. Whoever wanted him though, they wanted him badly enough to roll out the welcome wagon to every bounty loving hunter in Capere.
The poster stood out against its faded counterparts of rushed sketches and hasty incentives. But his, his had the best incentive yet. For the person who brought the Murderous Prince to justice, they could name their prize. It was rich coming from a corrupt system of angelic enforcers. They’d no doubt kill both Jax and the hunter who brought him in but that wasn’t my problem. My only problem was making sure nobody found the baby bird in the first place.
It wouldn’t be hard for someone to identify Jax since the artist who did his poster took care to get him just right. It almost reflected Jax’s likeness perfectly. They got the small bump in his nose, the crooked set of his mouth, his hooded eyes, and even the faint scar at his right temple. Nobody noticed subtle scars like that, not enough to remember to put on a poster anyway, which meant Jax had a story with my name on it.
Ripping the poster down, I shoved it into my pack and merged with the morning movers till I could slip into a side street. The main ones were riddled with people, and the wider alleys weren’t much better, but the smaller ones made moving around under people’s noses alot easier and alot faster.
“Welcome to Ferra! Where we only accept the ugly, the bad, and the intolerable. Come in and be cured. Oh-” the forced warmth faded as quickly as the polite tone and fake smile. “You lookin’ for somethin’?”
“No.” After rummaging through my bag, my fingers finally brushed over the corner of the poster. Pulling it out, I slid it over the polished woodtop. “How much?”
Claryn leaned over the paper till his nose hovered over Jax’s poorly drawn one. The simple movement caused a low familiar mechanical hum – the tell-tale hum of how much we traded away for survival. Not wanting to just stare, I looked away to give him time to gather what information he could. I wanted to ask when was his last tune-up but Mechas didn’t like to talk about what made they give up what made them human. Even if he was a willing Mecha, he had his reasons. The same way I had reasons for being a bounty collector.
Capere wasn’t a place to call home. It was a place you survived. Those who weren’t hunted or fawned over struggled and adapted. If you wanted more, you traded up with whatever you could get your hands on. Scavengers used their treasures, families used their children, some, like Claryn, used parts of their own body.
Remembering the last time I fell to desparation, a shudder crept down my spine. If it wasn’t for Jax, I would be another Mecha. I owed him. It wasn’t the best position to be in but it was better than being a pawn of the Oversight.
“Jax L. Adams. Eighteen, five-ten with curly, chest-nut brown hair. Distinguishing features are a flat nose, scar at his temple, and a fake eye. Information on the boy is $500. Bounty is…”
“What?” I asked, hurrying over to him. “Bounty is what?”
We both stared down at the sketch. Negotiable meant he was more than just wanted, he was needed. It meant that whoever got their hands on him could ask for anything. They could finally….Live.
“Tell anyone and I’ll trade your parts.” I looked up and met Claryn’s unsually sneer. “I mean it. I know plenty of Scavengers who wouldn’t mind dismantling a Mecha.”
“Not even a hum.”
He wasn’t the most trust-worthy Mecha but he was the only one I could rely on to hate giving in to the upperups like the rest of us, even if he was a Mecha.
“Got any fuel?”
“Depends.” Claryn leaned over the counter, his eyes twinkling in curisority. “What yuh want it for.”
Shrugging, I shoved the poster into the privacy of my bag. “To burn a thing or two.”
“You know where he is.”
Claryn’s sneer was back. It made the hairs on my arm stand up and my skin crawl. He didn’t work for A.O.I. or any of the upperups but he still talked to someone. “Guess not.”
“Round back. Check under the dumpsters. I might have tossed some by accident.” He winked, making me shudder, but it was worth it. I got free fuel and a sure way to get in contact with Jax without the uppers figuring it out.