By Alex Fauth and Michael Surbrook

The street looked different to David. He couldn't exactly place why, at least not initially, and then it hit him. The street looked "clean." Not that it was a pristine example of urban living, but that for the most part the street wasn't a battered and debris-filled mess like most of the streets he'd seen in the Zone. The trees, if not exactly trimmed, had been cleared of dead wood, while the street itself was clear of rubble. It even had few vehicles parked along the curb—jury-rigged conglomerates that looked to have been pieced together from who-knew what all. David had to admit, the idea of a car with a chimney was a new one to him.

At the moment Sandra was talking over the subject of housing with what passed for the local landlord. He was a tall man, with a thick head of gray hair and a beard. Faded tattoos crawled up and down his tanned arms. David carefully avoided making eye contact with him.

The apartment building looked like many he'd seen in the Zone. Although still standing, it had obviously seen better days. There were boarded-over windows and the exterior had a battered look to it. On the roof was a series of solar collectors and two omnidirectional wind turbines. He'd seen a lot of those in this part of the Zone and the constant hum of the blades made for an underlying layer of sound that thankfully became unnoticeable after a short time.

Inside the building looked to have been heavily rebuilt. All the carpet was gone, leaving behind bare wood flooring. The walls showed signs of being patched while a lot of doors had been removed. Exposed wiring showed where fixtures had been removed, and in some cases the wiring had been ripped out as well. However, the building was dry, which was a plus.

David followed Sandra down the hallway, as she discussed such matters as rent and the like. He listen in a distracted way, pausing to glance out a window as the landlord indicated the sprawling garden that covered the back lot. The smell through the open window was one of rich earth, animals, and rotting vegetation. David did his best not to gag.

The lack of lights made the building's interior a lot darker than David expected, and he spent quite a bit of time trying not to rip over anything. Fortunately the halls were mostly clear, although the stairs gave him some trouble. He sourly noted that Sandra and the landlord deftly maneuvered themselves about without a second thought. Finally, the three stopped in front of an aged wooden door, much to David's relief.

"This is the place," The landlord said in a low voice, before opening the door. He stood back and invited the two of them to go through.

The room was exactly what Sandra had expected it to be. Four bare walls and a bare floor. Well, not quite. There was a small bathroom, a kitchen, and a bedroom. Your typical 20th century one-bedroom apartment. However, the glass in the windows was gone, either removed or smashed out at some point in the distant past. Thick wire mesh had been nailed over the windows, letting in air, but also rain and cold. There was a light fixture in the ceiling of the kitchen, and it even worked, as Sandra found out when she flipped the switch. The rest of the place was empty with not so much as bedframe to liven things up.

Sandra walked into the room and gave it a quick once over, before turning back to the landlord and David. "Well it's pretty much what I had expected. I guess there's no water here, right?"

"We've got cistern on the roof and collection barrels under all the rain spouts." The man pointed at the ceiling and then the window. "Or you can get it from down the street where they've got a filter." He turned off the kitchen light. "We don't get a lot of power, but you can have around two to three hours a night. More if the sky's been clear or the wind strong." Sandra glanced at the bare floor. She'd have to get some sort of stove for the place. Damn, another expenditure.

"So what do you think, Dave?" She asked.

"Uhm..." David looked around trying to digest what the man had just said. Two to three hours of power a night? Water from rain spouts? Did the toilet even work? "You're joking right? People live here?"

"We'll take it" Sandra said, seemingly ignoring anything David had said.

"Got a deposit?" The landlord asked casually.

"Sure." Sandra took the shotgun off her shoulder. "Will this do? I've got shells for it."

The man nodded and held out his hand. "Name's Alan. Glad to have you aboard. Either of you know anything about solar collectors, turbines, or gardens?"

David blinked. "I'm a computer programmer."

Alan shrugged and jerked his thumb in the direction of the building's back lot. "Now you're a farmer. You live here, you can either pay the rent with goods or services. The shotgun's good for a deposit and the first month or so, but after that you're gonna have to pitch in and pull your own weight. Understand?"

"Have fun, Kid" Sandra grinned.

"M-me?" David replied, stammering. "Aren't you going to dig in the garden as well?"

"I have a job." Sandra replied. "And a steady, regular source of income." Well, not quite, she thought to her self. But I can make money here, which is more than he can do. "So while I'm the breadwinner in this couple, you can dig in the garden."

David was speechless.

"Thanks for that, Alan." Sandra said, turning back to the landlord. "When do you need him for the garden?"

"By nine, if you can. We like to get an early start. We've got a lot of stuff ripening and needs picking. After that, well, you can learn how to keep the turbines running."

"I'll make sure he's there." Sandra said, grinning. David gulped. "Thanks, mate." Alan grunted and left.

"So what are you going to do for income?" David asked. "I mean we need a bed and food and something to sit on and--"

Sandra cut him off. "Its all okay. I have a job. I can provide for furniture, part of the rent and some food. The rest is up to you. You dig the veggie garden and it's all equal."

David took this in. "So what do you do for a living?"

"Didn't you guess by my little performance against the gang back there?" She asked. "The razors didn't give it away? I'm a Street Sam."

"A..." David thought for a minute. "A Street Sam? You mean, like in the sims?"

"Sims?" She had to think about it. Of course. The trillion or so Street Samurai sim games out there. All most all of them would have a stupidly handsome guy or stupidly goregous girl running around with their shirt open fighting zillions of nebulous "baddies". Poor guy had probably been thrown by the fact that she wasn't stuipdly beautiful, with perfect hair and make up. And her top was done up. "Yeah, something like that. A hired gun. A razorgirl. A sam. You know... off people, do dirty deeds, kidnappings, blow stuff up for money. That's what I do."

"Oh." David said quietly, defintely not sure what to make of this.

"Don't worry about it." Sandra replied. "If there's nobody chasing after you specifically then there's probably no price on your head. Which means that you're safe for now." She grinned. "Relatively speaking."

"Thanks... I think."

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