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It was still dark in Lower, the light from Upper just barely beginning to filter down through the grates onto the streets below, but Esther Rose had been awake for hours. Esther finished getting ready and donned her coat, pulling it tight around her shoulders, and slipped out of her apartment building alongside her granddaughter, Amy. She walked Amy to the train station, giving her a kiss on the cheek as she boarded the train for work at the bank, and then shuffled back down the stairs to catch a cab.

She sat with hands folded in the back seat of the cab, watching the streets pass by one at a time. She had grown up in this part of Lower, and she knew every corner, every piece of graffiti that was covered up by newer splotches of paint by new busy hands every few months. There was one in particular that she liked, a bright blob of pink and yellow that adorned a building about two blocks from the office. The meaning of the symbol escaped her, but the shape and color of it never ceased to bring a smile to her face. She didn’t mind not understanding the meaning when it brought such happiness, such comfort, after such immeasurably long nights.

She exited the cab and took a deep breath before approaching the heavy door lit by the white and red neon sign above it. It took her a minute to unlock each of the bolts and slides that Jack had installed on the door. She had joked that she needed to clock in fifteen minutes early just to take into account how long it took her to get in the building. It was a joke not only because of the excessiveness of security, but because Jack wasn’t nearly organized enough for her to have a time card. Half the time she got paid in four or five random chips that Jack had lying around instead of a true timechip.

Hanging her purple coat on the coat rack she had recently bought for the office, she stopped off first to start the coffee kettle. It was the night after one of Sleepless in Satellite’s new episodes, so it was more likely than not that Jack would need caffeine first thing. After a second of thought, she also dug around in her bag to produce a couple of painkillers, placing them beside the mug that she had fished from Jack’s office and cleaned.

Esther sat at her desk, looking around the small space with a gentle smile, and waited. As the scent of coffee filled the small office, she heard the sound of Jack’s alarm clock from upstairs and her stumbling feet across the ceiling.

It was a comfortable routine. Esther had long ago learned the value of a routine. It was a salve for shaking hands, tired eyes, and sleepless nights. At the other side of any nightmare lay the dawn, the familiar streets with their bright graffiti, and the presence of the woman who Esther could always count on to comfort her fears, be it indirectly.

The door at the top of the steps opened, and Esther took a deep and welcome breath. Jack’s voice was still groggy with sleep, gritty with her hangover.

“Morning Esther.”

“Good morning, Jack.

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