I pulled away from her grasp, sinking back into my seat, my gaze dropping from hers. I saw fresh Celtic squiggles on her arms, and more muscles than I remembered. But despite tattoos, workouts, and green-streaked hair, Lexia hadn’t changed much in the last year. This close, she still smelled the same.
I turned to the scenery blurring past. “Nice time to glorify stealing, when we’re babysitting eighty-four grand of someone else’s money.”
“Nice time to change the subject.” Lexia stood up, stretching. “Shit, I need a drink.”
One hand on my shoulder, she pulled her backpack down from the luggage rack, its straps flailing around my head. I heard the top of the vodka bottle spin—a sharp sweetness spread across the roomette’s antiseptic smell.
She took a long drink, then sat and offered me the bottle. The liquid sloshed languidly with the train’s motion, and the glass frosted with condensation; she must have packed it straight from the freezer. Tempting, but I shook my head.
Everything she’d said so far made me trust her even less.
“You think you’re Robin Hood, don’t you?”
She shrugged. “We share an alignment, him and me. Delicious chaotic goodness.”
“Hardly,” I said. “He’s neutral good. And you, my dear, are chaotic neutral.”
She turned to watch the scenery, shaking her head. “You still don’t know why I killed you, do you?”
“To bring chaos to the established order?” I said. Back then, almost unkillable, Temptress Moon had ruled in Mayhem. A cold, pale queen whom all had feared, even as they loved her. “And for fun, I suppose. Not much good came of it, certainly. From the message boards I’ve read, Mayhem’s been a slaughterfest since she died.”
“Mayhem a slaughterfest. What a tragedy.” Lexia took another drink. “Perhaps we’re laboring under different definitions of good.”
I shook my head. “Don’t take the easy way out, Lexia. Murdering your boyfriend doesn’t count as good under any moral framework. And neither does stealing this money.”
She looked down at the case, a smile forming on her lips. “Well, that’s one way to illuminate the issues under discussion.”
“Why not define our alignments in terms of this mission.” She kicked the briefcase. “For example, why did the ConCom call upon you, Mr. Famously Neutral Good, instead of getting someone lawful?”
“That’s obvious,” I said. “Lawful good also takes the money to its rightful owner, but he won’t bring a gun across state lines. He follows the laws of the land, even if that risks getting robbed.”
“Fair enough. So what does lawful evil do?”
I leaned my head against the window. The glass was cool, pulsing with the rhythm of the tracks. “That one’s trickier. If I’m lawful evil, I can’t break my word, but I don’t want any good to come of my actions.” I chewed my lip for a moment, in no hurry to answer—we had about twenty-six hours to go, after all. “So I promise to take the money down to Miami, but in ambiguous terms, like one of those contracts with the devil. So I steal it and use the proceeds to start an evil cabal—a well-organized one with a strict internal code.”
Lexia shook her head. “Two problems. One: eighty-four grand doesn’t buy a lot of minions these days, so your cabal is small and lame. Two: the ConCom is composed entirely of aspies with level-twenty powers of nitpicking. Before they hand over any money, they make your lawful-evil ass swear to an ironclad agreement to deliver it.”
I shrugged. “So I deliver the money, but then convince the hotel owner to use it in a scheme to foreclose on several orphanages. All very legal.”
I closed my eyes for a moment, seeing the invisible whiteboard again. “Okay, Lexia, you do true neutral.”
“That’s easy: true neutral takes the money to Tijuana, has a draz of a time on someone else’s dime.” She raised a hand to ward off my protest. “Unless, of course, we’re talking druidic neutrality. In which case she steals the money and gives it to the Florida Marlins.” She snorted. “Because balance is everything.”
“You always did find balance boring, didn’t you?”
“Except when it’s falling apart, T-Moon. Chaotic neutral goes to you.”
“No way,” I said, “I did the first two, and you’re the chaotic neutral one in this roomette.”
“I’m chaotic good, you fuckwit.” She took a drink. “But were I chaotic neutral, I’d start by taking this train in the wrong direction. And when I get to New York, I take the briefcase to Grand Central Station at rush hour, pop the latches, and fling it all oh-so-high into the air.” She gestured with the vodka bottle, which sloshed with delight. “Then I watch that lovely dance ensue.”
I closed my eyes for a moment, visualizing it. The afternoon light flickered through the trees like a movie projector on my eyelids. “Wow, not bad. And you say that’s not your natural alignment?”
“Of course not.” She smiled. “I’m all about the greater good.”
“Yeah, right.” I opened my eyes and looked at the vodka bottle. “No poison in that bottle, I assume?”
She took a long drink, then held it up for me to check: The level had definitely gone down.
I reached for the bottle, which was as cold in my hand as a can of frozen orange juice. I took a sip, then a real drink. A little was okay, as long as I didn’t get too far ahead of her.
“You do chaotic evil,” she said.
“Whoa. So many choices.” I took another drink. “Steal the money, obviously…and then go through the Miami phone book and pick eighty-four random names, hiring a hit man to kill each one.”
“For a thousand bucks apiece?” She laughed and pulled the bottle away. “Those are some pretty cheap hit men.”
“All the better. Think how many innocents my cut-rate hit men will kill in their chaotic, unprofessional way.” I pulled the bottle back and took Swig Number Three, having decided to count my drinks. “So do chaotic good, if that is your real alignment. You steal the ConCom’s money and give it to the poor?”
She shrugged. “That’s a bit bland.”
“But you said Robin Hood was full of story!”
“Story is sticking a cocked arrow in some rich bastard’s face. So what’s the modern equivalent of that? How about I borrow the money and buy a couple of Stinger missiles, then shoot them at Rupert Murdoch’s Learjet.” Lexia sighed. “But I’m probably getting too sane for that, now that I’m all graduated and shit. Helping the ConCom fill downtown with seventeen thousand costumed geeks seems chaotic enough for me.”
She stared past me at the speed-blurred trees, her voice falling off a bit, and pulled the bottle back from me.
I frowned. Maybe Lexia did look a little saner, staring out the window like that, her hand tight around the vodka bottle’s neck. Almost philosophical.
I drank, counting Swig Number Four. The dining car was opening in an hour, and food would clear my head. But no more swigs after this one. It was going to be a long night of staying awake and watchful. Even if Lexia had grown too sane for shoulder-fired missiles, this was still the girl who had poisoned me….
I frowned, looking down at the bottle in my hand.
“What’s the matter?” she said.
“I just realized: You haven’t had any since I took my first drink. What’s up with that?”
“Not thirsty anymore.”
I tried to hold her gaze, but my eyes dropped to the bottle again. My stomach flipped. “Quit fucking with me.”
“I’m not fucking with you, Temptress Moon. You’re being paranoid.”
“With you around, paranoia is an entirely reasonable state of mind.”
She sighed. “Well…maybe I did sneak something into that bottle just before I handed it to you. And that’s why I haven’t drunk any since.”
I swallowed, my throat suddenly dry.
“That’s why your head’s muzzy,” Lexia went on. “And that dizziness creeping up on you? A precursor of worse things.”
I swallowed again, glaring at the bottle. The view was shooting past at top speed now, but the ride felt as smooth as if we’d stopped moving, the train resting on the track like a turntable needle on a spinning disk.
“Maybe the slightest hint of disassociation?” she said, leaning closer. “As if none of this is real?”
I shook the bottle. “What the fuck did you put in here?”
“Sucker!” Lexia leaned back, laughing. “You feel dizzy, T-Moon, because we’re drinking eighty-proof liquor on an empty stomach in a speeding train. And you feel disassociated because you’re a frakking geek, and we always feel disassociated.”
I clenched the bottle neck as tight as a club, then sighed. “Don’t do that shit, Lexia.” My mouth was insanely dry, so I took another drink. “I might shoot you.”
“You need to relax.” She held out her hand. “I’ll make you a deal. One more swig each, then we’ll go get microwave pizzas from the café car.”
I gave her the bottle, and Lexia held it steady for a moment, marking the level with one finger. Then she drank hard and measured it for me again—she’d knocked half an inch off. She handed it back. “Come on, wimp.”
“Okay. But pizza next.” I drank deeply.
When I was done, I capped the bottle and put it on the floor. The rattle of the train had settled into me, melding into my dizziness. I could feel the vodka in my veins, taking the edge off everything. Suddenly the briefcase full of cash under my feet didn’t seem so unnerving—it was just an object I had to take somewhere—and Lexia didn’t seem so dangerous.
I breathed out a slow sigh.
But she was staring at me.