“What’s she doing here?”

The ConCom shuffled their feet, staring at the floor. One ventured, “We figured you’d need some company.”

“Hey, Temptress Moon,” Lexia said. “How’s it going?”

I flinched at the sound of my old Mayhem name. Stats spilled across my mind: Temptress Moon had been a neutral good Paladin of Balance, Fourteenth Echelon, with a Voice of Barding and a persistent aetheric life-link. Practically divine, almost unkillable.

Almost…except for an obscure resurrection-blocking poison distilled from the bark of the Tree of Vile Tidings. Administered by my then girlfriend. For fun.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” I said.

The ConCom collectively hemmed and hawed, pretending they hadn’t expected any unpleasantness. As if Lexia’s betrayal of me wasn’t legendary on the Mayhem boards.

“We can’t have you going alone,” one said. “Not with that much money. We know it’s a little…awkward, but Lexia’s the only one who could go on such short notice.”

I nodded slowly. She’d always hated Stargate.

“You’re armed, after all,” another spoke up. “And she’s not.”

“You’re sure of that?” I said.

They all turned to stare at her.

I sighed. “Let me guess, she said she wasn’t.”

Lexia rolled her eyes, but pulled off the Peacekeeper jacket, its plastic snaps clicking between her fingers. She tossed it to me, kicked a small backpack across the floor in my direction, then turned slowly in place. All she wore now was a black T-shirt and a pair of jeans, too tight to hide a weapon. She’d been working out, I noticed.

I rifled the backpack: wallet, cell phone, another black T-shirt, and a bottle of my favorite vodka. The bottle made my mouth dry for a moment; I’d promised the ConCom to stay sober on the way down.

Then I saw the pair of handcuffs labeled: Remember these, T-Moon?

My stomach flipped, but I didn’t let anything show on my face, just zipped the backpack up and searched the jacket. Nothing but two Amtrak tickets and pocket lint.

The public address crackled and screeched, then told us that the Silver Star was pulling up on Track One.

I could have told the ConCom no right then, gone back to my apartment for forty-eight solid hours of jonesing Jaffas and dodgy Dial-Home Devices. But suddenly my own DHD was out of order. Maybe it was just the chance to break out some +2 firepower in the real world. Or maybe something twisted inside me wanted to be trapped on a train with the woman who had killed me.

Lexia saw me hesitate. She smiled and yanked a black leather briefcase from one of the ConCom.

“I’ll carry the treasure.” Her tongue flickered across her lower lip. “Just like old times.”

I gave the ConCom one last glare, then followed her to the platform, preparing myself for twenty-seven hours of angst and nerves and the dredging of long-buried anger. Not the mission I’d expected, not at all. But at least this way one worry was gone….

No way would I fall asleep on the way down to Florida.

Our roomette aboard the Silver Star was not Amtrak’s finest. The size of two London phone booths stuck together, it smelled bluely antiseptic, like the water in an airplane toilet.

We settled into the two seats, facing each other, our ankles almost touching. Lexia instantly rebelled against the small space, flicking on and off the lights, discovering cup holders and coat hangers concealed in the walls. She fiddled with the small table beside her until it unfolded, astonishingly, into a toilet. Hence the blue smell.

I set the briefcase on the floor and rested my feet on it. When the station outside began to slide away I relaxed a little, feeling safer in motion. But Lexia was hovering now, fussing with her backpack up on the luggage rack.

“Sit down,” I said.

“And fasten my seatbelt? This isn’t a plane, T-Moon.”

“Lucky thing, too.” I breathed deep to feel the reassuring pressure of the PPK’s holster against my chest, the Taurus strapped to my ankle. Guns and planes don’t mix, so when carrying briefcases full of cash, slow and steady wins the race.

As long as slow and steady stays locked and loaded.

The conductor knocked on the door, asking for our tickets, and Lexia started fucking with him. She asked how long till New York City, and he sputtered until she laughed and admitted we were on the right train, headed down to Miami. She chattered as he punched and tore along perforations: asking questions about the “sleeping arrangements,” half-flirting, pretending she and I were lovers who’d just been in a fight, sowing confusion.

Once he was gone, Lexia slid the roomette’s door shut, locked it, and drew the blind that hid us from the corridor. She finally settled in the seat across from me, staring out the window.

But twenty seconds later she was bored, nudging the briefcase with one foot. “Maybe we should look inside.”

“Forget it.”

“Don’t you want to see what fifty-seven thousand dollars looks like?”


“Whoa, that’s a lot. Thanks for telling me.”

I cleared my throat. Score one for Lexia.

“What if it’s not all there?” she said. “What if one of the ConCom borrowed some? Shouldn’t we count it?”

She reached for the case, and I lashed out with one steel-toed boot. She jerked back her hand, nursing two fingers between her lips. “Ow.”

“I didn’t touch you.”

“It’s the thought that counts.” She played dejected for another moment, then her eyes brightened again. “Seriously, though, the case felt too light. It made a clunking noise, like there’s a brick inside. Pick it up yourself.”

“We’re not. Opening. The briefcase.”

“They didn’t say we couldn’t. So why not?”

“Because I can’t imagine anything worse than being stuck in a tiny roomette with you and piles of someone else’s cash!”

I shouted the last three words, which seemed to still the train noise for a moment, and her eyes grew manga-sized. Tears flickered with the shadows of passing trees. “You don’t trust me, Temptress Moon?”

“Well spotted. You are, in fact, the last person I’d trust.”

“Really? Why?”

“Because you’re vain and self-centered and you do pointless, destructive things for fun. You’re chaos personified.”

She smiled. “Flattery this early in the journey, Temptress Moon?”

“Quit calling me that.”

Lexia leaned back, propping her feet up on the briefcase. “Oh, so that’s what this is about? You miss your little paladin girl?”

“Miss her? It took me two years to level her up, then gather all the artifacts I needed for that life-link!”

“But immortal is boring, T-Moon, and anyway, you enjoy grinding.” She nudged the briefcase again. “Did you hear that? There’s a brick in there, I swear.”

“Quit fucking with the case. Quit looking at it. I’m not letting you do to the ConCom what you did to me, okay?”

“A blatantly false comparison,” she said. “I quite like the ConCom, and I hated little miss Temptress Moon.”

I turned away and stared out the window. The backyards of people poor enough to live next to train tracks flashed past—weedy lawns and broken cars. “It was the Voice of Barding, right? Because it gave her a higher charisma than you?”

“I didn’t give a shit about that crappy Voice of Barding,” Lexia said. “It was your tepid alignment.”

I hissed out a slow breath through clenched teeth, feeling the dull twinge of old wounds. Here it was, said aloud at last: the underlying conflict of those last months of our relationship, in game and out.

“Neutral good is not tepid,” I said. “It’s the only real good, beyond the rigidity of law or the self-indulgence of chaos.”

She rolled her eyes. “Beyond relevance, you mean. Goodness all alone is just an abstraction. Where’s the story in neutral good?”

“Ever heard of Robin Hood? There’s a story for you.”

“Not this farko again.” She sighed. “Dude steals from the rich and gives to the poor. That’s definitional chaotic good.”

I shook my head, the old arguments rising inside me, one hand scrawling on an invisible whiteboard as I spoke, drawing an alignment matrix in the air….

“Robin Hood isn’t chaotic at all,” I said. “The Merry Men aren’t a bunch of fuckwits—they’re an organized group with a strict internal code. And when King Richard, the lawful frickin’ leader, comes back from the Crusades, Robin Hood restates his loyalty to the crown! He’s for the greater social good, whether achieved lawfully or chaotically. That’s definitional neutrality.”

Lexia leaned forward, crashing through the invisible whiteboard. “But when King Richard comes back, the story ends! Robin Hood becomes just another monarchist suck-up. It’s only when he’s embracing his inner chaos that he’s worth putting in a story. He’s probably waiting for the next evil sheriff to take over so he can start up another guerilla campaign.”

“Um, citation needed. In the actual, not-made-up-by-you story, Robin Hood isn’t pining for chaos at the end. He gets elevated to the nobility and lives happily ever after.” I raised my hands, balancing left palm and right. “And that’s because he’s neutral good: happy inside or outside the system.”

She grabbed my wrists and pulled them out of balance. “Cite this: All that Earl of Huntington crap doesn’t appear until the late fifteen hundreds, after a century of proto-Disneyfication. In the early tales, Robin Hood’s a frakking May Day character.”

I rolled my eyes. “Oh, great. Are we back to that semester you got all Marxist in AP History?”

“Not that May Day, the chaotic pagan one where they dance around the phallus. And however you try to neuter him, Robin Hood still robs from the rich—not the tax-hiking rich or the sheriff-aligned rich, any rich will do—and gives to the poor. And that is some pretty fucking chaotic social engineering.” She paused and frowned, her face only inches from mine. “Hey, are we in kissing frame?”