She heard the news about the Resistance working a uniform and a tray at one of the casinos in Macau. It hadn't been her first choice, but there was a short list where a person who could map the immediate future would make the kind of money she wanted to, and casinos were on it. She'd gone in expecting to stay for a couple of months while she worked out something better, but she was on her eighth month and counting because reading the future in all the neon and glitter was harder than she expected. And half the time it gave her a headache, these days. She used to be better than this.
Jiao ducked into a bathroom to refresh her makeup and get her bearings on the next few hours. Right now all the guests were happily playing their penny slots or losing money at the tables, but in another twenty minutes or so going by the strength of the vision, there would be a big winner. A whale would pay off, and she intended to be there when he won. Or shortly before, serving him a drink so that he'd remember her favorably.
She'd managed to get quite a nest egg for herself that way. But it wasn't enough, not yet, to get her where she wanted to go. Where she told herself she wanted to go, because the truth she didn't admit to herself was that she had no idea where she wanted to go.
"Jiao?" One of the other girls poked her head in. "Honey, you'd better get moving, it's not break time yet."
"I know, I know," Jiao put her makeup compact away and the vision faded, though she tried to keep hold of the details. "I'll be right out." Drink. Table by the ridiculous palm and with the lady in the purple dress. Twenty minutes.
It was a living. Not the best she could manage, but at least it was food and a place to crash and a steady paycheck. With a little extra. She'd thought for a day and a half after that last conversation with the other Watcher that she might go to one of the other Families and offer their services. And then she woke up sweating in the night dreaming about how her father had hit her, and the other men in the gang had leered at her, and decided she didn't want to work for any of the Families again. Not unless they could guarantee her safety in ways her own family never had been able to.
No, from now on, Jiao worked for Jiao, and whoever paid her ridiculous sums of money. She could work with that.
Only the ridiculous sums of money weren't coming in and wouldn't come in until she could build herself a reputation as someone other than the Watcher who hadn't seen the Family's takedown coming. Dammit.
The Macau home was smaller than she was used to, much smaller. A one-bedroom apartment with a shower-only bathroom and a kitchenette, paint peeling from the walls and rust spots on most of the out of the way parts of the metal surfaces, but it was hers and hers alone. The privacy was more than she'd ever had living with her family. She could have afforded better, but she wanted as few identifying marks around her as possible in case there were Watchers on her tail, and she was saving her money for Los Angeles. Rent was an expenditure she could afford to cut down on.
She dropped her keys and cash-purse and identification into a little dish on the kitchen table, started poking around in the fridge for something to eat. The one disadvantage to having a shower instead of a full tub was that she couldn't curl up and soak after a long day, but once a month she treated herself to the bath houses, and that made it all right. For tonight, a basin with hot water and salts. There was a gentleman at the casino that she called Papa Lotus because he was sweet on her and he always wore an ugly lotus tie. He was always buying her bath salts, lotions and perfumes. One of the less stinky bath salts would do, a quarter of a pack in a basin of hot water and she could at least rest her feet.
Of course it was in this undignified position of being in her work blouse and underwear with her bare feet tucked into a basin that she got the vision of Agency men coming into her apartment within ten minutes or so.
"Damn!" she swore. "Dammit, dammit," and spilled the water in her haste to get some clothes on. Weapons first. It wouldn't change anything, she'd seen them kicking over the basin into the spattered droplets that were already there.
But gun first. Guns, one handgun and one derringer that fit into her backpack. All the cash from her cigar box, sweatpants, she had a backpack full and ready to go already just in case anything like this happened. Footsteps outside her door.
"You weren't supposed to be looking for me," she snapped over her shoulder as she climbed out onto the balcony, and over the ledge from there. "You were supposed to be looking for that stupid girl Watcher."
She hadn't done anything wrong. That stupid girl had stolen Agency property and wandered off with it and two others to do who knew what to whom. Topple governments or abduct innocent people with her Pusher and hold them for ransom, Jiao didn't know and she didn't care. And now she was being hunted by the Agency because she'd been seen near them. It wasn't fair.
She went three balconies over, with the wind flapping at her bare ankles and chilling her fingers, before she finally crawled over to the ledge and safety. Eighteen floors up, she wasn't a Mover, she couldn't survive a fall like this. But she'd paid special attention to who was living where on her floor. This apartment was empty.
While they ransacked her apartment she forced open the patio door, unlocked the apartment door and closed it quietly behind her, then slipped on her shoes again and started to walk. Calm, sedate, mind carefully blank. One dark-haired young woman looked like all the rest from the back, with a pack slung over her shoulder. If she kept going, she'd be out of the apartment before they found her.
And then she'd track down that girl Watcher and punch her in the face for sending the Agency after her. Or try and find out what it was they wanted. Or maybe she'd just disappear.
Yeah. Disappearing sounded good. Again.
Buses were best for evading Watchers. She knew that one from experience, and she had more experience than most of the Watchers the Agency could field. Or that was what she told herself anyway, and it had to be true because she hadn't been caught yet.
"Bus pass, please," at the ticket window. Get one of the multi-day passes, ride around for a few hours, no destination clearly in mind. It was expensive, having to do that, having to buy several different tickets for the inter-city buses and then pick one at random just before she got on the bus, but it was keeping her alive. And she still had some money.
Tucked away in an alley, though, she leaned her head against the wall and tried not to scream her frustration. The Agency had been on her tail for two weeks now, and she was no closer to figuring out why or what had happened. She'd burned all of her contacts, or the stupid bitch Watcher had done it for her. Her family was dead, and she still couldn't think about that too hard. She had no way of getting into the Agency and finding out what was going on, and her visions were telling her nothing.
"Argh!" Okay, one scream. That drew no attention, because people in this section of town made strange noises all the time. Her scream caused one man to pick up his shopping trolley and throw it, scattering several other people of various types. But he went back to muttering and the passage of traffic resumed, flowing around him in a wide berth for the next several minutes.
Jiao jumped and pulled out her gun. Not as smoothly as she would have liked, the barrel caught on the edge of her purse and it took her a second or two to steady it, during which she must have looked ridiculous. The woman leaned deeper into the wall and looked unimpressed.
"What do you want?" Jiao asked. She wasn't afraid, she couldn't afford to be afraid and she had no reason to be; this woman didn't dress like an Agent. In point of fact she dressed like an idiot, mismatched striped gloves on her hands and a skirt with a peach-colored crinoline underneath. She looked like she'd come from a punk ballet performance. "Who are you?" Not that she expected a real name.
The woman shrugged. "It doesn't matter who I am. What matters is that I know who you are, and that I found you. Which should make you very nervous."
And it did. All of a sudden it did, quickly enough that Jiao took another step back and considered firing. If she was lucky she'd kill the bitch on the first shot. "You're a Pusher."
"No, actually..." the woman held up her hands, shrugged, and Jiao's gun moved off center. "I'm a Mover. I know that because you're on the run, you've got a go-bag and you're only carrying cash, and because you're Jiao from Hong Kong. Cassie gave us a description."
There wasn't much point to aiming a gun at someone who could fling your bullets back at you. Jiao lowered it fully, though she kept her finger along the trigger guard. "What do you want, and how can I give it to you so you go away?" The longer they stayed here, the more nervous she was about getting caught.
The woman smiled. "Well, you might not want to when you hear what I have to say. Cassie wants you on her team..."
"No." Jiao turned and walked away. There was no way on earth she would work with the girl who had killed her family, who'd left her to the Agency and who was probably responsible for the Agency coming back for her in the first place. "Better luck next time!"
"Are you sure?" the Mover called after her. "You won't last on your own."
It wasn't a threat. It was a truth, Jiao knew it, the Mover knew it, anyone at all familiar with Jiao's situation probably knew it, which was why the other Watcher had made the offer in the first place. Maybe there was an opportunity somewhere in the beginning that she had missed, or she could sign up with the Agency if she was stupid and suicidal. They were counting on that, she decided. The Agency ran people down and made them desperate enough to take any offer. Jiao wasn't that desperate. Yet.
She turned to face the Mover, this time from several meters away. "You can't promise me I'll last with you, either. You guys are crazy, going up against the Agency like that."
"We have our advantages." The Mover didn't step forward, at least. "You're pretty good at evading a tail, it took Cassie a while to track you down. And we need all the help we can get."
It did feel good to have someone have some faith in her abilities, even if she didn't want it to. Her father had always said she wasn't as good as her mother, wasn't as good as that other Watcher, wasn't as good as the enemy. For years, he'd said it, which only made her angry and push harder to see things accurately, quickly. She told her friends it made her a better Watcher. It didn't, but she needed to believe that in order not to hate him.
And now the girl who was responsible for her family's death was telling her she was good, skilled, and that she needed her help. Jiao shook her head. The world was too strange, sometimes.
"What would you need me to do?" she asked, stepping forward so they didn't have to shout between each other. "I'm not saying I'll do it. But I'll think about it."
The Mover smiled, crooked but with genuine warmth. "Here," she passed Jiao a phone. "Just keep this, for now. We'll let you know when it's safe."
Jiao deflated, because of course they had to take precautions against Watchers, it wasn't as simple as go here and do this. She took the phone. "Blank," turning it over in her hands. "Full up?"
"Full minutes, you'll have to buy cards after that, but we're thinking that won't be a problem for you."
No, probably not. Jiao slipped the phone into her pocket and put the gun back in its holster and the holster back into her purse and when she looked up to ask the Mover something, "How do I contact you..." the Mover was gone. Jiao looked up on the rooftops just in time to see the edge of a peach crinoline and black overskirt disappearing around the corner. "Of course. Just like that."
Jiao pressed her fingers to her temples, both because of the headache and in an effort to concentrate enough for a good vision. Joining the Resistance was suicide. Her parents had always said so. The Agency left the Families alone because there were too many of them, but the Resistance was only made up of special people. And there weren't enough Resistance fighters to do enough damage to the Agency to get them to pay attention, let alone anything else.
That might be changing, though. Between what happened in Hong Kong and what she'd heard in Macau. She could admit that all the rumors she'd heard about Resistance strikes on Agency targets had to amount to something.
The phone made an uncomfortable weight in her pocket. She rummaged around, shifting everything to her backpack but her cash and her gun. At least it wouldn't be a constant reminder that she'd been recruited by the enemy. By Cassie, not the enemy, Cassie was just another Watcher girl trying to survive. Jiao leaned her forehead against the brick wall of the building and sighed. If she was going to work with this girl and her Resistance friends, she had to let go of some things. Like vengeance. And blame for that fucked up mess in Hong Kong.
She squinched her eyes shut, harder, ignoring hot tears that wanted to fall. "I'm sorry, Father," she whispered. It hadn't been hard, before. It hadn't been grief, it had been fear and panic, and she's cried for herself. Now she cried for her murdered family, and the tears didn't want to stop. "I'm sorry, I don't have a choice."
And that, too, was a lie. She did have a choice. She was choosing the Resistance.