Syndicate Helios, Section 2

Climbing down a floor off the balcony is easier with two hands, and by the time I make it there I’ve strained my stitches. The sliding door is locked for the first time in 6 weeks, and I don’t look at going down another three floors with any excitement.

I’m too far down on the ground scale for M-stitches to work worth shit. My stitches are the old fashioned kind with slowly dissolving thread. And no, we’re not lucky, just on the downslope. Well, my dipshit of a brother is far enough down to be his own fucking clean room, but I’m just at the point to dissolve the cheap minor M-lock the landlord had installed given a stick of ash and 45 minutes—by comparison the mech lock takes 15 seconds.

An enthusiastic dog is on the other side, so I pull the metal grate off the air conditioning unit up as a guard when I slid the door open. The dog throws 40 kg at me, pushing me back into a crouch against the balcony and then jumps over and licks my face. Apparently he’s friendly.

I sound out his name from his tag—the word is in roman letters so I fudge the ending. “Pa. n. za.” “Panza, sit.” He ignores me and continues to lick my neck. I stand up as smoothly as possible while shifting grate and dog off. My shoulder screams at me as I do so, leaving me out of breath by the time I lurch to my feet.

The inside of the apartment is stacked with boxes. Only the computer and tv equipment are out and set up, their cords piled up along the edge of the room. Panza follows me through the apartment, his tail wagging. The hallway has a door off its hinges leaning against the wall. The bedroom contains a mattress set up like wall to wall carpet with bags of clothes tossed in the closet. The bathroom has two toothbrushes, two sets of shampoo in the shower, and three q-tips with eyeshadow on one end in the garbage.

Male. Young. Nerd. Stubborn. Has a girlfriend who does not live here.

Since it’s the middle of the afternoon on a Tuesday, a free beer, a handful of painkillers, and a sit before I haul myself to the clinic seems the best option.

When Panza perks up from his place on the couch, I realize I’ve overstayed my welcome. There are only two ways out, door and balcony. There are four knives in a plastic tray to the right of the sink, but that requires crossing the hallway in front of the opening door. There’s a flimsy wooden broom leaning on some boxes behind me. I remain seated. No need to appear more hostile than needed to the new tenant, and if I’m going out the fast way, I’ll need my strength.

A male voice, speaking what sounds like English. “Panzaru?” There’s an emphasis on the r-sound at the end that I can’t catch. Panza looks at the doorway but doesn’t move. Lazy dog.

“Welcome home,” I say for lack of a better response.