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Chapter 1

The darkness was near complete, and as the lights flicked off in house after house, the city outside the domes fell into a rare silence. It swept over the city like a great wave, starting at the docksides, and then sweeping inward. Few sounds broke the hush, and even fewer voices rang out against the darkness of the night.

This rare quiet went almost unnoticed, except by the three rather paranoid men currently kneeling in an alley next to a branch of Paradigm Banking.

"Oy, you hear that?" whispered the shortest of the men. He stood at the front of the alley, keeping an eye out for an indication that they had been noticed. He was sweating nervously, despite the chill of the evening... a novice to the criminal world.

"Hear what? I'm too busy earning my share of the green." This came from one of the two men crouched over a small grate in the back. Both wore shabby overcoats, but the one turning each of the screws wore the uniform of a security guard underneath. The other, a rather scruffy looking man, merely grunted, as if his words were not worth wasting on such foolishness.

"It's so quiet. Are you sure we won't get caught? 'Cause my wife would kill me. She thinks I'm out bowling. And this alley really isn't that dark..."

"Relax. I've pulled this job before and haven't got caught yet. Just give us a minute and you'll be back to your lady, with enough dough to keep that apartment you two just moved into."

"Oh. Okay. I trust you guys."

"That's good." With that statement, the crooked guard finished with the grate. He slipped inside while the other two men guarded the alley from sight. The nervous man quickly darted his head back and forth, looking for anyone. He peered into shadows, yet failed entirely to notice anything odd about the large black car at the other end of the street. In fact, he wondered for a second why such a nice car would be parked here, outside the domes. But his attention was quickly caught by the sound of the grate being put back in position.

"I've got the goods... now let's scram." The crooked guard handed one of the two plastic bags, now stuffed with money, to his silent partner. The nervous man began to sweat even more.

He narrowed his eyes at the guard. "So, uh, where's my share?" But the look in the eyes of the other two brought quick realization... they weren't going to pay him. He turned to run, but the guard whipped out his pistol and aimed at the man's back. It was an easy shot.

He never fired. Roger Smith leapt from around the corner, kicking the gun out of the man's hand. "I'm sorry, gentlemen, but I've been hired to stop the repeated robberies at this bank, all of which occurred without attracting the attention of security with the robbers managing to avoid all cameras and trip wires. Now, I believe you'll surrender?"

The men both charged at the same time. Roger grabbed one by the arm and threw him into a wall, knocking him out of the fight. The silent man had now pulled a knife, which he thrust at Smith, only to have his knife hand grabbed and his wrist broken. He fell to the ground nursing his wound.

The Negotiator walked calmly back to his car. The passenger side window slid smoothly down, to reveal R. Dorothy Wayneright, staring straight at him.

"Really, Roger. Was it necessary to wait until the last minute?" The words were spoken in a flat, emotionless tone.

"Of course, Dorothy. First, I caught the crooks red handed. Secondly, the third man was an innocent type and he has successfully evaded being arrested. Finally, it satisfied my urge to be dramatic." Roger grinned after finishing the last part.

Dorothy turned her head forward. "I suspected as such. The police have been contacted and will arrive shortly."

"Well, then I suppose they can handle the rest. We will be picking up our payment from the owner of this chain. His dome should be less than three minutes away."

"That timing would only be correct, Roger, if you failed to drive in your usual erratic way. I find your tendency to follow a wandering most perplexing."

Roger smiled at the android again. "I don't think I can explain the pleasures of driving to you. You must experience them for yourself."

At this comment, Dorothy turned her head to face Roger; a small whirring sounded at one of her eyebrows raised. She turned back to face front, and said nothing.

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