Five in the morning, again. Most people who have any brains are asleep in their beds, dreaming of the better world that they will never reach and unconsciously cursing the thought of the day to come; another day of hard toil, long hours and the depressing places they work in to come as soon as their alarms ring. The sun will rise on another horrible November morning without giving out any heat or hope to the trudging men below. They march the streets, pack into the trains and trams and pass through the inter-zone gates; unaware of the life up in the higher towers.

I sit alone in my apartment in one of those high buildings and watch the light from the rising sun sift through my curtains; insomnia is a bitch that way. This is about the eleventh morning in a row without a wink of sleep and if I wasn't feeling it before I am now. My doctor told me that it's delayed reaction to stress and not enough fresh air; as if. About ninety percent of my job is active work and running around; I've just been neglecting the sleeping pills my shrink told me to take a few years back. I was being a good boy with them and all too; I just heard one of the guys at work saying that sleeping pills were damn addictive and if a guy wasn't careful he could end up overdosing and dying in his sleep. So naturally I decided to see if I could manage without mine for a couple of weeks. Hell, I found out I could live without them just fine.

Sleeping, on the other hand, was another matter altogether. If my old man finds out how nasty I'm being to my body he'll blow a gasket for sure; I might miss work if I'm not careful and that would really tick him off royal.

As a growl from my stomach tells me to get up and get to my boxy kitchen for something resembling breakfast a bell sounds from somewhere below; the end of the nightshift and the start of the day shift. It's times like now I really appreciate my big-shot job; it stops me from being one of those drones down there on the surface and below. It means my hours are flexible and my pay has a considerably larger amount of zeros at the end of it too. Not that I'm the greedy type; it's just that my chosen career path doesn't have much in the line of security, insurance or retirement fund.

A lot of the stuff is illegal or dangerous and if it ain't one of those two it's reporting to the big boss himself (A pleasure reserved mainly for me) and the 'Extra Jobs' that officially never happen. The secret stuff is guaranteed to be more dangerous, definitely more illegal and secretive. That's why I'm the only one who takes care of the really big secret stuff and that's also why my pay checkhas considerably more zeros at the end than the rest of the goons in my line of work.

I have to admit it's a sweet little deal, once the danger's over of course, and the benefits are pretty awesome too; I got promoted above the others a few months back. I get to order them around instead of the reverse (Which it was until my promotion) and now the goons don't dare to call me 'Kid' anymore for fear of losing their jobs. The boss trusts me, (which rocks) the guys put up with me because I buy drinks for them every Friday night when I'm not off on another Extra Job and the rest of the world can go to hell for all I care. The funny thing is, I sort-of am a kid in all honesty. I've been at this job for two sweet little years and I'm seventeen years old right now.

This job - as I said before - is very dangerous; involving guns, Extra Jobs and police raids and I volunteered myself into that when I should have been setting my sights on exams. But when the boss came over to me and promised me a job with pay and a place to stay too I jumped at the offer. The cops never knew because of an 'error' in my registration when I got adopted all those years back; I never knew the details, or how much money had to be given up by the boss for it to happen, but all I know is that I can legally carry a gun at all times without any sort of license and the cops won't look up.

They all know me by now because I've taken a part of their job for them (useless bastards weren't doing it right anyway) and I've been hauled by the cops a couple of times for losing my temper with a few other guys from down in the zones. It's easy enough to see that the cops are just dying for a reason to arrest the whole lot of us, boss and all, but they need a reason first, and it has too be strong enough to smash the wall of money that the boss put up in front of them too. Until then I can kick back, shoot off the malfunctioning or illegal robots and do those extra little jobs that the boss sets aside just for me and that earn me extra.

As I half-heartedly flip eggs in a frying pan and boil up some water for coffee the bell sounds again; I didn't know it rang before because of the sleeping pills. Now I loathe it and I have this feeling that I'm going to hear it every morning from now on even if I get back on my sleeping pills. If so I'm going to have to find a reason to destroy the damn thing or at least move to another apartment; maybe one nearer to

my work.

The eggs are burnt, damn; I never learned how to cook properly. Hence, most of my meals come out of a microwave or a restaurant. It's a bummer to be living the life of a slob bachelor at the sad age of seventeen. Most kids at my age are living with their parents or at college, begging mommy and daddy for a car or whatever. My comfort in not having that kind of family-orientated stuff is having a six-figure-average pay for the working year plus extras.

After a truly horrible breakfast and a hot shower I'm beginning to feel human again. I attack my hair with a comb and get dressed for work. Then it hits me: my alarm clock hasn't even rung yet. I check the clock in the hall: ten to seven. Oh Jesus, my alarm goes off in twenty-five minutes; just wonderful. Nothing to do, again; perhaps I'm just cursed to never have a properly normal week. Still, spare time is spare time and I have plenty; I'm not expected at work for another hour and forty minutes. I ponder the possibilities: TV has been out of the question ever since they changed the only thing they showed in the mornings to Astro Boy, I don't get homework, if I put music on between the hours of eleven at night and ten in the morning I get lynched by the neighbours and I just can't be bothered turning my computer on.

Crap, my life outside of work is boring as shit. I'm a goddamn bachelor, I shoot things for fun and all I can think about is work. Shit, I'm still hungry. Maybe I could go to one of those twenty-four-hour cafes down on the surface and pick up a proper breakfast; nothing stopping me. A quick rummage around in my wallet and pockets finds a few twenties and some coins; enough by far. With that in mind the day looks a little more bearable and I get optimistic. Maybe I can ask that girl from two floors down if she wants to come; I know she's having money problems right now and could probably use a helping hand right now. The guys at work tease me for not having a girlfriend and frankly some company might be pretty cool. I will then. I almost say that out loud to the mirror in my hallway.

I stride out, nearly forgetting to lock the place and head out for another day. Funny, in the elevator on the way down to her floor I almost get nervous; we've barely spoken before now and I doubt if she even knows my name. I know hers, I think. I just hope I don't mess this up. I knock her door - number 104 - and stare at the walls while I'm waiting; man, I hate waiting. It gives rise to other plans and it kills optimism and confidence like nothing else; by the time I hear movement inside her apartment I've lost all the assurance I had in my apartment.

I almost run for my life when I see her moving behind the frosted glass on the door, but no; she eventually opens the door. It looks like she hasn't slept in a while either. I ask her if I woke her anyway. She shakes her head and yawns right in my face. I pluck up my courage and ask her if she wants to come down for breakfast in the café since my cooker's broken upstairs. A broken cooker? Where the hell did I think of that from? It's so lame; I almost kick myself as she ponders the thought. She asks me to be honest about why I'm inviting her. I tell her I'm going for breakfast and I'd rather not be going alone. She snorts and laughs right in my face.

She then, rather loudly, says that she doesn't dig sad little trigger-happy Marduk boys. Before she slams the door in my face she calls me an immoral brat who's just watched I, robot and the Matrix too many times. Ow. That hurt. I'm actually rather shocked at that; if I wasn't I'd have either shot her lock out of spite or yelled something back to make myself feel better. I trudge off on my own to find a decent breakfast place.

Breakfast at this place is even worse than the stuff I failed to cook; the coffee tastes like robot oil, the eggs might as well be made of plastic for all the flavour they have and I'm not even going to touch the bacon for fear of my own health getting worse than it probably is already from the toast. It's even worse knowing that I just got turned down too. A couple of guys from my old school pass by, perfect; I could really go for a good punch-up right now. But no, they don't even recognise me; hell with this. Isn't anyone in this stupid city dumb enough to wanna fight me? I finish the parts of the breakfast that are edible and trudge off to work like one of the drones from the zones.

I'm half an hour early, even after taking the damn long way to work; I've gotta give my morning report to the boss guy before I can get to my normal work and that's never the best of fun, to put it lightly. I slouch around the foyer until it's time, checking myself out in the reflective walls to make sure I look respectable and generally being bored. The boss is ten minutes late too. He makes some comment about me being early for once (despite the fact that ninety-nine times out of a hundred or more I'm on time or early) and I follow him into his office.

I explain most of yesterday's doings to him, including the whole thing with the Sanderson XVII models that blew up, and he does his normal thing of only half-listening, straightening out the stuff on his desk and only really listening when I make a mistake. I happen to yawn rather loudly halfway through my report and he looks up. I excuse myself and I'm about to start again when he cuts me off. He asks me if I've been sleeping any more this week, I tell him the truth, (Not a wink in nearly two weeks and it's starting to drive me nuts) only slightly nicer put and missing out the 'going nuts' part. He asks if this is a problem; I tell him no.

"Listen up Rock," he says. "If this isn't a problem then don't let it become one. I've got a job for you. This one's slightly in advance, but still, this is a really important one. Seriously."

Now he's got my attention all right; he only mentions stuff in advance when it's big, really big. And big stuff means a lot of goings on behind the scenes. I ask him if it has anything to do with the ziggurat celebrations at the start of January; he snaps at me to keep my mouth shut. He also reminds me that he's not paying me to ask questions either.

"I just want this guy out of the way, when I'm done with him he's gonna know too much," he explains. "And you know what you're best at as much as I do. But don't put a scratch on him until I say. Understood?"

I tell him yes I understand. He tells me not to call him my damn father. We've been though this a thousand times, according to him at least and he doesn't want to hear me call him that ever again or it's officially coming out of my pay check. With a wonderful feeling of rejection coming in from all sides to accompany the nasty things that I had for breakfast I start the working day feeling only one way: crap. But, regardless, something's coming. Something big and important. This is make-or-break for all involved.