She told him she'd destroyed it. But she hadn't, of course.
"Look." She deliberately changed the subject. "I can fix that scar for you while you're under."
The grip on her arm tightened. She thought she'd pass out from the pain of it. Skanky-smelling drops of red-brown sprayed her face. "Leave my scar alone."
"All right." Some people were like that. Proud of their physical deformities. "Let's get you under the machine."
She pulled her arm back again. This time he let her break free.
Something hard pressed into her stomach. She looked down. It was a weapon.
"The exchanger," the scarred stranger said.
Nika should never have accepted help from Eaglehawk Company, back when she realized Alejandro would never let her go. 'This' was what happened. She forced her breathing to slow. "I destroyed it."
She should have taken him into the main studio. There were more things there she could use to defend herself.
"If you destroyed it I have no reason to keep you alive."
Nika stepped back. "You really should let me put you under. You'll die from internal bleeding otherwise."
"I estimate I have four hours before it becomes debilitating." Nika would put it more at two, but she didn't argue.
"I have time to get to a hospital and have it fixed." He smiled. His scar twisted the smile and turned it into a leer. Blood rimmed each tooth. "What I can't do is get it fixed and do the job I have been paid to do at the same time." His voice hardened. "I always deliver on my contracts."
"Don't ask" had been Nika's policy ever since Alejandro's boss had started sending his people to her to be fixed. But a job, plus an exchanger, didn't add up to anything good.
She hated surrendering her body to this. She didn't trust any of them. Not since Alejandro. Not knowing how her body might be used.
"You want to borrow my body so you can go and do this job." Probably a murder. They were the sort of people Alejandro worked with.
"While you fix mine."
She forced her voice to be calm. "It seems to me all the benefits go your way. What do I get out of it?"
"How about your life?"
That was a given, although she rather doubted it would be part of the bargain. Anyone who pulled a weapon on her and wanted to use the exchanger was unlikely to leave her alive.
She still had her escape-from-Alejandro plans in place, though she'd never had to use them. But she couldn't escape while this man was conscious.
"I don't do this sort of thing for nothing. It's a hundred thousand credits if you want to use the exchanger. I want payment up front."
She held up the scanner. For a moment, she thought he would haggle. He had better not. She'd charge ten times that for the use of the exchanger if it were legal. And that was without her body being one of those exchanged.
He finally took the scanner, allowed it to read his iris and fingerprints, and accepted the charge.
She couldn't stop her smile, and hoped he interpreted it as relief.
Her scanner was something she'd invented herself after one too many dodgy dealings from Alejandro's friends. Scarface didn't know it, but now she had a record of the details the biometric scanner required for identification. She'd fix that when she fixed his body. This was the last time he'd be able to use that account. Not until he got access to a first-class hacker.
It also gave his name. Tamati Woden.
Ice slid between her shoulder blades. Alejandro and his friends had talked about Tamati "Scarface" Woden. No wonder he didn't want her to fix the scar. It was his trademark. Rumor was that Tamati's scarred face was the last thing you saw before you died.
And you did die. Tamati Woden left no witnesses. He'd once killed a high-ranking executive from Brown Combine and murdered the witnesses while they stood. Two of the witnesses ran. Tamati had tracked them down and murdered them, too.
There was no question. Tamati would kill her after he'd finished his job.
She hid her shaking hands. "Come into the main studio. The exchanger is built into the large machine."
He followed her in.
Her back itched.
"On the bed," she said.
It was a good idea to be on the bed for that, too, but she didn't argue, just pulled the headsets out. "You might want to lie down."
Bastard. It was his body she would inhabit, and 'she' didn't want to be standing up when the change happened. She knew how disorienting it was. Still, if he wanted to be contrary, so would she. She placed the tiny nodes around Tamati's head—one on either side of his forehead, one behind each ear, one at the top of his spine—and checked that the connections were stable.
She repeated the process on herself, and didn't warn him about the dizziness or the disorientation he would experience. Or how strange a tall man like him would find it in a shorter body like hers.
She'd get her body back bruised. The first time she'd swapped with Alejandro he'd bumped into a lot of things because he hadn't taken into account her curves. After a while he'd gotten used to them, come to like them rather too much. So much so that she'd offered to give him his own, which had led to their second-last major fight.
This time her curves were smaller, but it didn't take much to misjudge.
She set the connections. "Ready?" And she flipped the switch before Tamati could get out the "Wait" he'd started to say.
A flash of blue, white, then gold. There was the usual moment of disorientation where her brain interpreted things at a different height and in a different color than what she was used to. The room smelled strongly of blood. His body's blood. Her blood now. Then the pain centers kicked in and she dropped the weapon Tamati had been holding to clutch at her stomach as she realized how much she hurt.
Her thoughts were fuzzy.
"How many painkillers have you had?" It was a wonder he could walk, let alone talk.
Tamati dived for the weapon, misjudged the distance, and planted himself nose-first into the floor.
He stood up, weapon in hand, stepped back, and waved the weapon in her face.
Nika ignored him. She concentrated instead on the slow, steady movements she needed to make until this body became familiar to her. Everything was obscured by the haze of painkillers Tamati had taken. How had he gripped her arm like he had? She felt leaden and heavy.
Tamati waved the weapon under her nose, unsteady, but enough in control that it could kill her. "Fix my injury while I am away. I'll be back in two hours."
"It will take four hours to fix the knife wound. You've lost a lot of blood." A genemod machine was fast on the basics, like repairing damaged bodies. It was only when you tried to change a body that it took time.
"Don't try killing my body in the interim." He leaned close. "I know that when one of us dies, the other returns to his own body. That's how it works, isn't it?"
Nika nodded mutely. That was the theory, although she'd never tested it. Otherwise, the bodies automatically swapped back after twenty-four hours.
A bigger worry was that Tamati would consider her body dispensable, and let her be killed on his job.