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You've got to love this guys bedside manner...



O’Brian Gunn


            I am Jesus Christ.

            At least to them I am. They touch the soles of my boots, I take them into my arms, and they are whole again. Then they pay me. Jesus was paid once, right? A Bible is hard to come by these days, so I wouldn’t know. Not that I would care to anyway. The only thing I care about right now is the woman sitting across the table.

            “How do I know you won’t just take my money and sprinkle some smelly powder and wave incense through the air?” She waves her hand through the air. Her veins are verdant lightning bolts cracking across her arms, neck, and forehead.

            “You don’t pay me until I patch you up.” I flick my Zippo open, touch flame to my cig, inhale, exhale, and a pile of red smoke barrels through the air.

            The cocktail waitress stops by. I point at my empty glass. She nods with a synthetic smile and scuttles off.

            “So what ails you, Miss...”

            She shakes her head, or at least she tries to. Mid-shake her head starts spasming, twitching, and she becomes generally discombobulated. I smother a laugh behind a lungful of Alphrosnic tobacco.

            “The BT Virus?”

            She starts to nod, stops, and says, “Yes. I was in the Mentanet when I opened the wrong file. Next thing I knew someone was digitizing the contents of my brain, can’t even remember my own--” her hand shakes violently “--name.”

            “How long?”

            “Infected for eighteen hours.”

            “Gonna be dead soon.” The cocktail waitress returns with my drink. I take it and dip my head. That’s as close as I get to saying thank you.

            “I know, that’s why I came to you.” Her words are a high-pinched hiss. She throws a nervous glance over her shoulder. People in the bar could care less. They’re used to me and the people I bring in. There’s an understanding in the air. I’m the one that put it there.

            “Are you always this callous to your...clients?” She grabs her drink and downs it before it sloshes and shakes from her hand.

            I throw a glare over my specs. “I’m not the one dying, lady. Now, if you want to continue to live and think me a heartless brute of ill-repute, then hold your hands out.”

            She holds out a hand.

            “You do know the difference between singular and plural, don’t you?”        

            She holds both hands out.

            When she glowers at me I see that the pupils and the whites of her eyes are coated in black with neon green characters written in digitized ink scrolling down her eyes. This woman only has two hours to live. I shove my smoke in the corner of my mouth and get to work.

            I take out my pocket knife, flick it open. Of course she jerks back.

            “Wha...Are you going to cut me?”

            “Thas the only way I can heal you,” I say around the cylinder in my mouth.

            “What if you have--”

            “All diseases transmitted through the blood were cured five years ago. In order for me to cure you I have to bleed into you. The good stuff’s in my blood.”

            Her fingers curl like wilting flower petals. They smell just as sweet.

            “I don’t know if--”

            “Lady, you’re gonna be dead in an hour.” I blink.

            She blinks. And she puts her hands on the table soaked in alcohol.

            I touch the blade to her palm and make a delicate incision. I do the same to her other palm and to both of mine. When blood starts to dribble out like a thing unleashed, I press our palms together and our blood mingles. Then I heal her.

            First, I keep her blood from pouring out of the cut. I go into her arteries and veins and it feels as if my blood, her blood, is being shredded and gnawed apart by the virus. I follow the scattered paths of pestilence, burning the virus from her system as I do, and stop at the blood flowing to her brain. The virus burns hottest here. I feel the decay burrowing into her body, soaking into it like poisoned sunlight. It makes me shudder and quake and sweat in my own skin and I know that she must be doped up on---yes. I can feel a faint smudge of nascacin in her system to dull the pain. The virus is eating through it like candy.

            I throw myself deeper, almost drowning in toxins and broken blood cells. I brush the source of the virus surrounding the chip at the base of her brain that allows her to connect to the Mentanet. The virus is a familiar one, one that works in chains. I grab hold of a few links, my body jerking as I take a bit of the virus into myself, and penetrate them down to the core to the moment of conception. It fights and thrashes against me like the devouring beast that it is, but I am stronger and take a drag on the cigarette in the mouth that I can no longer feel. My blood is like a star shooting and slicing through viral chains. I overload it with artificial light and store-bought love and machine-gun diligence and pretty soon the thing is unraveled. I soak every drop of her blood in antibiotics and increase her white blood cell count before I follow the reverse path to my own arteries and veins, drawing dissolving remnants of the virus into myself as I do.

            I open my eyes and take my hands from hers, the cuts on our palms zipping shut.

            The lady rocks back in her chair, her eyes now a startling shade of green. She lifts her arms and sees her veins are veins instead of twisting lines of poisoned poetry.

            “Oh, my, my--” Her jaw comes unhinged.

            “Yeah, speechless. I get that every time.” I take the SiphonSlider from my pocket and lay it on the table. “I also get paid every time.” I take my currency card from my pocket and slide it into the slot on the SS. “If you would oblige me.”

            Elation shines beneath her skin, smothering her ire, and she slips her card into the other slot. The LCD screen comes to life and rattles off our names and account numbers. She touches her name: Eloise Dictana.

            “How much?” Eloise asks.

            “Ten thousand credits.” I pinch my cig between my index and middle fingers as I sip my drink. Ice clinks as I stare at her over the rim.

            “I don’t have that much money.” An ugly dent batters the middle of her forehead.

            “You have enough money to afford a Mentanet chip and nascacin painkillers. Trust me, ten thousand is a drop in the bucket for you.” I nod at her drink. “And if you wanna look dirt poor, don’t order two glasses of Trissjoie.” I sip at my cheap Byroqdu.

            I can feel her blood warm, but not from the virus this time. She opens a window on the SS, keys in the amount and transfers it to my account. A line of arrows trail from her end of the screen to mine and both the machine and my heart give a content little chime.


            Eloise snatches her card out as I calmly retrieve mine.

            “I find out your money’s funny I put the virus back in your blood, only this time I lace it with something truly nasty.” I look up at her as she stands. “Remember the Silent Syndrome scare in ’06?”

            The blood I just healed drains from her face. She leaves.

            I finish my cig, smash it out, and reach for another. The singer on stage is belting out something about poisoned love, and don’t I know it. I like to think of it as more that love poisoned me, poisoned all of us. At least it would if I ever tried the junk. Not to say that I have anything against love, just that I don’t see the point of it. Too much work and not enough pay. Women today are worse than they were when the sun was still burning. Crazy beautiful broads. I throw back a drink. Here’s to women and poisoned love.

            I notice the guy standing there with a beer sweating in his hand, watching the stage without watching the stage. He’s doing the nervous/impatient shuffle or maybe he just has to pee really bad.

            He does the thing where his eyes pan in my direction, slip and trip over me before looking over his shoulder. He brings an empty bottle to his lips for the third time.

            I squint at him through the bloody haze of smoke, half of his face exploded in the stage light and the other doused in murk. “You gonna stand there acting shifty all night?”

            He jerks with the reflexes of a bullet dodger. “Sawhat?”

            I point at the empty seat. He shuffles and sits, staring at the rings on the table.

            I raise my hand and ask the waitress to bring him another beer.

            Tobacco makes love to my tongue. “What can I do you for?”

            “You’re Santino Guine...right?”

            “Call me San, and yeah.”

            “And you’re a...a...” His fingers flick.

            “A BloodBurner.” I tap ash. I can see this isn’t going to be easy, like trying to coax light from a black hole. “What’s your name?”

            “Victor.” He pronounces it Victa. Victor accepts the beer and takes a slug.

            “What can I do for you, Victor?” The first thing I do for him is slow his blood from thwak thwak thawking at his veins. He calms instantly.

            “ ’S my wife.”


            “I think that she’s--” slug o’ beer “--that she’s cheatin’ on me.”

            I rip into a mint leaf. “What makes you think that?”

            “When you been married to someone for ten years you notice these things.”

            I shrug. “Wouldn’t know.”

            “She told me that she was goin’ to visit her sista up in those new floatin’ islands off the Eqitian Coast, you know, the ones with the miniature volcanoes and the...the..” He looks at me, brows hijacked to the sky.

            “The artificial weather control, yeah. Hear it’s real nice.”

            “Rightright. Well anyway, I fly up there one night to surprise her.” His look sullies and sours. “Only when I get to her sister’s her sister ain’t there. But what I do find is my wife with her legs in the air and Paragon puttin’ it to ’er.”

            “Your wife is having an affair with a metahuman?”

            “I think Paragon would qualify as the metahuman. Guy kept us safe from that invasion a couple years back when those aliens with the bat wings wanted to put the Earth on the interstellar market. Can still see him tearing through those ships like they were mist with his bare hands. Then I saw him tearing at my wife’s clothes with his bare hands.”

            This is the part where I reach over, console him, and tell him everything is going to be okay, that he’s better without her. Instead I drink and light up another BeLour.

            “And this is the part where I come in.” I snap my Zippo shut.

            “Yeah, I want to kill ‘em both.”

            I stare.

            His face seems to dissolve. “Oh, do-do you not..” He sticks his thumb out and slices it across his neck with a little noise out the side of his mouth.

            “I do. Just wondering how you plan on killing someone that can rip you to molecules with one hand.”

            “Don’t believe the hype about that guy. He may be strong as all get out, but he can die just like any other no good shyster.”

            “So what you want me to do?”

            He leans in. “I want you to amp up my blood. Make me, like, friggin’ superhuman, superstrong so I can kill this guy. Can you do that?”

            I nod. “Yeah, but the effect will only last a few hours. Any longer than that and your body will rip itself apart.” I run my finger down the condensation coating my glass.

            “Thas cool, thas cool.” His head bobbles. “I know where the guy hangs his hat, been followin’ him the past few days.”

            He scratches at his shaved head and glances around the bar like he’s worried that Paragon is hiding somewhere. I focus on his heartbeat. He’s nervous, but he isn’t lying. I reach for a clean knife.

            Shck. I flip it open.

            Victor flips out.

            “The hell? Calm down, man, I was only--”

            “I have to put some of my blood in yours in order for this to work.”

            The tension tears from his face like gauze. “Oh, oh. Ok.” He pulls down his collar, exposing the thick vein in his neck.

            I bang my head against the back of the booth. “I’m not a vampire.” His mouth starts to flap. “Just hold out your hands.”

            Thankfully he knows the difference between singular and plural.

            Four cuts on four hands. Blood is spilt and shared.

            I slip into his bloodstream and zoom in on the bits and bricks of DNA that make up Victor. There’s the potential in all humans to become metahuman, I’m living proof of that. It’s as simple as waking up a few genes and a putting one or two others to sleep. Fate spins its wheel and decides to either give you a voice that can make mountains weep or a body that can withstand a thermo-nuclear blast. I flick a few genes on, and with my not-sight I see his body brimming with thrumming energy, molecules shifting and becoming new and fantastic. I dull the synapses in the nervous system that control the physical limitations of humans, the mental commands that keep us from hurting ourselves. With his new amped up genes he won’t need them, at least not for a few hours. As I withdraw I “turn up” his blood, allowing him to heal faster and giving him more endurance.

            I come back to myself and Victor is in the throes of a genetic reawakening.

            “Holy...Wha...Yeah,” he dribbles. He flexes his hands open and closed as if they are new and unfamiliar, and in a way they are. “How do I know it worked?”

            I point over his shoulder. “See that guy?”

            He looks.

            “He owes everyone in here, except me, some kind of payment. Don’t think anyone would mind if you threw him across the room.” I watch as he slides from his chair, walks across the bar and with no preamble whatsoever, hauls Cecil away from the pretty girl at the hovering pool table by his cracked leather jacket and chucks him across the room. Cecil pinwheels his skinny little arms as he arcs perfectly through the air, shooting over the stage, tables, and the array of chairs toward the back before he slams into the far wall.

            Silence cracks.

            Cecil gets up in a woozy, drunken daze and waves at the crowd.

            Victor comes back to me, his grin on hi-beam. “What do I owe ya?”

            I slither out of the booth, sliding my card through the table reader and paying my tab. I polish off my drink while pocketing my cigs and my lighter. “I open the news screen tomorrow and see Pargon’s dead mug splashed across the front panel and we’ll be even.” I stuff my hands in my pockets, unlit cig dangling from my lips. “Ever since that schmuck cut into the pharmaceutical ring I had a few months back I’ve been hopin’ someone would hang him by his cape.”

            I leave the bar, knowing that I’ve just helped a man commit murder. I’ll tell you when I start to give a damn.




            The night stretches out across the sky like a celestial corpse.

            The skyway is choked with flying cars, contrails of falling stars, and clouds are busy slicing moon bars. The city is ripe and bursting with blood made from happy-go-unlucky people, hovering automobiles streaming through heat-blasted streets and winking neon acts as the heartbeat of night, pumping us all through a network of silver skyscraping arteries.

            A man walks with two moon-faced geishas on either side, trailing kimonos flowing and glowing along the dingy streets. Somehow they manage to keep the garments clean, maybe they spray them with Teflon. The women are beautiful and expensive and genuine. They will not love you or me long time, and five dolla will not make you holla. Not that anyone uses the dollar anymore. It was worth less than zero ten years ago.

            I head uptown, walking in interspersing pools of halogen and murk with my hands stuffed in my jacket pockets against the cold. I pass under light when the shield slides up next to me, a throwback fedora slanted on his head.                  

            “Evenin’, detective.” I don’t look at him. I never look at him.

            “San.” He is tall where I am short, handsome where I am average, honest where I am lying and law-upholding where I am law-...bending. “Keeping out of trouble tonight I hope.”

            “You know me, only walk in humble neighborhoods.”

            “Too bad you don’t live in one.”

            I grin. We step onto the waiting hovering platform that will ferry us across the White River. Three more people and what I hope to be a dog (with genetic breeders going crazy it’s hard to tell) try to hop on. The good detective flashes his holographic badge. Three more people and what I hope to be a dog blow away with the wind.

            The waist-high bars slide together like chomping teeth as the platform awakens in a wash of light, sound and warmth. We undock from the magnetic moors with the smallest shiver and float over the lapping waters with the frozen wind in our faces.

            “Saw you sliding out of Moonshine back there,” he says, thumbing the brim of his too-tight hat up and looking at me. It must give him a headache, yet he wears it anyway.          I lean and rest my forearms on the bars, looking down at the pristine white water, caps of beige neon cresting the waves. “They made a good mojito. Know how hard it is to get a mojito in this city?” I light up the BeLour in my mouth, cupping my hand over the sputtering flame like it’s something precious. At one time it was. “Have an easier time finding an iceberg on the sun.” Red smoke rolls. “Back when we had a sun.”

            “The Simul-Star’s lighting us up just fine. But don’t you run your little business out of Moonshine?” The detective stands next to me, back resting on the bars with his elbows braced behind him.

            “What business?”

            He responds with a glare.

            I look at his twitching cheek. “You got something against all BloodBurners, or just me?”

            “Don’t even try to flip this, San. BloodBurners are the best thing that could happen to the race of man. You can heal a person as well as yourself of damn near anything with just your blood, boost the immune system to superhuman levels, and from what I understand you could do it all for a week straight and not pass out.”

            “Or,” I chuckle, “You could drag your feet through life sipping mojitos and dodging detectives with hats that belong in a noir flick.” I tap ash over the edge. “That why you’re always on my ass, detective, ’cause you want me to stop wasting my so-called gift and give back to a city that only seems to take from me?”

            “I want you to stop breaking the law that I break my back to uphold.”

            “They have muscle enhancers now. Get some, be easier on your back.” The river has captured my eyes.

            “No one is willing to testify against you and I can’t prove that you’ve helped to facilitate multiple homicides...yet.” He puts his face in mine, breath warm against the cold. “People protect you because you help them, heal them, but at a price some can’t afford. I consider you to be one of the many motes of dust that I sweep up everyday, you’re inconsequential, a small detail.” I hear the grin in his voice. “But you know what they say.”

            “They say plenty of things, bout the both of us. But you being a detective I get the feeling you’re gonna suss it out for me.”

            “They say the devil’s in the details, San. You’re twisted. And I happen to be very good at knots.”

            I rub my palm across stubble. “I could stop or reverse the flow of blood in your body, make you vomit up the stuff until you die, make your heart explode, or simply yank every red drop from your pores.” I shrug an ice cold sholder. “But I don’t. Know why?” I put my mouth near his ear, cigarette nearly searing his skin. “ ’Cause I’m a law-abiding citizen.”

            The platform comes to a halt. The bars slide away and I step off. “Shouldn’t go hunting ’til you know what you’re bagging, detective. And even if you do you better make sure you got the right equipment to take ‘em down.” I don’t bother to turn around. “Night, detective. And happy hunting.”

            The cold breeze sets razors against my skin like the devil’s caress and I can taste the promise of snow. There’s always something in the wind.

            Detective Smallson has been a chancre on my ass for sometime now. He is a blistering shaft of light blinding me, like God giving me the accusatory finger. I want to break God’s finger. He’s knows that I use my BloodBurning for things that are considered unsavory by some and merely  a means of income by others, mainly me. Smallson can’t pin anything solid on me...yet, but I know it’s only a matter of time before I wind up behind bars. And when that happens I will not struggle and I will not fight. But I won’t make it easy for him. Smallson doesn’t deserve easy. He has to earn his quarry.

            My phone shatters the ice around my frozen fixated thoughts.

            “San here.”

            “Santino, Doctor Gunther. Where are you?” Her tension slides down my ear and into my gut like liquid spikes.

            “Just stepped off the Syran Bridge, headed uptown.”

            “I need you at the hospital. Right now.” I can all but see her hands wringing the phone.

            “All those years at med academy not working for you?”

            As usual she ignores my barb. Smart woman. “We’ve just received a patient with The Burning Touch.” She sighs. “He’s only in stage one, but something’s wrong, his progression isn’t standard. Near as I can tell he was hopped up on some kind of psychoactive drug before he was brought in.”

            “I’ll catch a tele-beam.”

            “What? Santino, you can’t afford to travel on a tele-beam. Just sliding one mile puts a gravity well in upper class wallets.”

            “Didn’t say I was paying for it. Hope the hospital has some kinda deal cut with the transportation department.”


            I snap the phone and my sympathetic ear shut. Gunther knows to call me at her own peril. Universal health care is better in this country than in most, but that just means there’s more of an opportunity to exploit the kindness of the foolish men and women running things. BloodBurners have become a precious and valued commodity and I’d have to be a fool not to realize this simple fact. The things we can do take half the time of ordinary medical procedures and are one-hundred times more effective. Draw your own conclusions.

            I could help people out of the goodness of my heart and not expect anything at all in return. I could gorge myself on comforts and riches galore, live on the Eqitian Islands and have a small volcano for a backyard. The diamond is glinting and glimmering in the dirt at my feet, but I don’t pick it up. I don’t pick it up because I belong in the dirt, with the dirt, as the dirt. I am the dirt.

            This isn’t a dream and I am not a dreamer, I am a realist. There will always be those that are purely good and those that are purely evil. Then there are those that are purely gray, those that stand in the middle, the twilight. I am the smear of black and white, the shaft of light hanging at the very edge of the star threatening to be consumed by the dark, empty space. I am stuck between Heaven and Hell. And I don’t mind at all.

            Necessary evil is just that, necessary.

            And that is why it’s necessary for me to take a tele-beam in order to reach the hospital in time to save a life. Gunther and the hospital aren’t paying for my ride, they are paying for a chance, a coin toss. She is so blinded by the light that she can’t see into the darkness.

            White snowflakes flutter down from a black sky.




            Digidune Memorial Hospital rests in the center of Gideon City. It rises ten stories tall and treats and cares for anything from digital dementia, cyborg rehab, to psionic cognitive disorders. Dr. Sophia Gunther is the chief of staff and one of the world’s top leading experts on blood disorders. I make all of them look like two-year-olds handing out prescriptions scribbled in crayon.

            I step out of the tele-beam, blinking neon sparks from my eyes and checking to make sure all of my parts are where they should be. Teleportation deconstruction can be treated on the fifth floor.

            I snub out my BeLour on the way in and check the directory to make sure they haven’t changed the layout since the last time I was here. Wouldn’t do to head to the wrong floor and have some poor schmuck die on my account. That and I really don’t want to have to foot the bill for the tele-beam if I screw up.

            Mutations - Eighth Floor.

            I take the levi-vator and arrive in less than five seconds.

            The sliding doors part and a giant palm of sticky heat presses against my body. The Burning Touch. The floor is empty and I’m assuming they’ve evacuated it in case the patient reaches critical, explodes like a dying star and kills everyone on the eighth, ninth and seventh floors. I eye the tiny camera I know is nestled in the corner of the levi-vator. It blinks at me. I must have been expected, otherwise I wouldn’t have been allowed on this floor.

            I step off and hear the crackling of flames and the screams of a burning man.

            I head to the XMU, Xtreme Mutations Unit, and see that the entire room has been cleared of all equipment except a cage/barrier/box/safety cube containing the victim/patient/poor soul. The man’s blue eyes are yawning wide with fear and hints of pain. Neon green flames have burned off every layer of skin, reducing him to a slick mass of writhing, contorting violent red muscle strapped to an upright operating table as if on display. Every now and then the burning man will expel a brilliant burst of green flame from his body that splashes and lashes against the flame-retardant polymer. Black smears of the fire’s kiss stain the clear walls.

            “San, there you are.” Gunther walks up next to me, standing a foot taller with her black hair pulled back in a severe bun. A few strands have escaped in all the fiery madness and sweat dapples her brow. Heat curls and flicks around the room like a tail.

            “Tell me what I’m looking at.”

            “Caucasian male, thirty-three years of age that was brought in five hours ago. As you can see he’s afflicted with The Burning Touch. Preliminary tests showed signs of XO3 in his blood stream along with the mutation. We tried to administer a shot of nitroleapate, but he burned through it almost immediately.” Her head shook. “His temperature spiked at three-hundred degrees soon after that, started vomiting flames along with bits of his organs. Next thing we know the dermis was completely burned off. Twenty minutes ago he began giving off tremendous blasts of heat and flame.”

            “Have you tried to give him anything using the robotic arms?”

            Gunther presses a button on the nearby console. A panel in the ceiling slides away and a mechanical arm whirrs down. It’s burned off at the elbow.

            “Usually a patient diagnosed with this mutation reaches this stage within ten hours and the flames are blue, not neon green. I figure it has something to do with the XO3 in his system.” 

            “Stuff will seriously mess you up if you take too much.”

            “Probably what caused this particular strain of the mutation in the first place.”

            The burning man opens his mouth and releases a gout of green flame along with a tortured, jagged glass scream.                         

            She looks at me and her eyes place the weight of the cosmos on shoulders that will not bear it. I mouth the words as she speaks them. “Can you help him?”

            I smile and look at her.

            The expression of worried pleading is ripped away like a bandage, leaving the wound fresh and bleeding. “San, we can discuss payment--”

            “Right now.”

            She grabs me by the jaw, fingernails pinching my skin, and jerks my head at the burning man. “This man, Benjamin Kunay’al, will be dead in one hour, maybe less, if you do not help him. I know how you operate, Santino Guine, your BloodBurning has burned your soul away. But please do not tell me that you’re willing to stand there and watch this man die, horribly, until I can pay you.”

            “You know I never ask for much.” I look at the burning man. I do not blink and I do not care. Maybe my soul has been reduced to ashes blowing in the wind.

            “The point is that you ask in the first place, you unscrupulous coward!”

            I jerk my chin from her hand just as a doctor in a soot-stained coat comes at me, motions tight. “I demand that you save this man right now, you selfish prick,” he tells me. Like he knows me.  “You have the cure for countless diseases flowing in your veins and it’s sheer--”

            My fingers curl into a fist that curls into a barreling punch of headless knuckles and pistoning muscle cut by years of street fighting and bar brawls. The punch pops him in the mouth and I feel a few teeth graze furrows over my knuckles before they are knocked out and he is knocked back on his butt.

            “Don’t get in my face again, white coat.” I put my hands in my pockets, feeling the small tears in my skin heal themselves as I look at the burning man. “Give me twenty bottles of vorzepantamine and I’ll heal this guy.”

            “There’s no way w--” the guy with the missing teeth starts. He seals his split lips at Gunther’s look.

            “Grady, get the man fifteen bottles of vorzepantamine.”

            Grady scurries off.

            I grind my teeth together. “You suddenly forgot how to count in med school? I said twenty.”

            “I have seven other patients that need that medicine, Santino.” She steps closer. “Right now those seven lives hold greater precedence than this man. I want to, and I will, do everything in my limited power to save Benjamin’s life, but not at the expense of seven lives. So fifteen bottles is all that I can spare.” That and an eyeful of malignant malice.

            “Think that makes you a utilitarian, Gunther.”

            “That makes me a doctor, but so be it, we all have our mantles to wear.”

            “Bear.” I adjust my glasses.


            “Bear, we all have our mantles to bear. When you think about it, how many of us are really in control of our responsibilities? You just wake up one morning and want to be a doctor and hematologist? Maybe you really wanted to be a lawyer but couldn’t pass the bar exam or a hero but wasn‘t born with the right gene sequence. Or a BloodBurner but you hated the sight of blood.”

            The room is silent except for the occasional crackling flame.

            “I’m not going to stand here and validate my occupation or my existence to you. Either heal this man or get the hell out of my hospital and leave this to the base apes in the doctor’s coats.”

            “I do that and ol’ Ben here gets snuffed out.”

            Her eyes slide shut. “If he dies at least I tried. Can you say the same?”

            “Do I want to?” A smirk slithers across my mouth. “Trying. Even a five-year-old knows that’s an empty word.”

            A blast of heat, flame, and screaming. 

            “Alright, alright,” I mutter. I take off my jacket. Don’t want it to burn. “Let me in.”

            She goes to the nearby console and thumbs a switch. The clear polymer flows away like water in an opening large enough for me to step through. It slides back in place once I’m on the other side.

            It’s even hotter on the inside. Bullets of sweat shoot from my forehead, slip down my nose and soak into my shirt. It feels as if all the water in my body is drizzling out of my pores. I take off my steam-gripped glasses and put them on the floor.

            “Nonono,” the burning man pleads, flames swelling and leaping up out from his esophagus. “You can’t--you shouldn’t be in here. I could kill you.” Raw muscle glistens in the light. I should be shocked and disgusted and afraid, but I am not.

            I step closer. “It’s cool man.” I wipe a sweaty arm across my sweaty forehead and it does no good. “Well it’s not cool, but--” I shrug, “--you know.”

            He struggles in his bonds and the upright bed jerks as if it wants to jump and snap at me. “Just get out, buddy, just get out.” He sobs, tears instantly misting away to steam. “I’m gonna die here. Please, just get out.”

            “Put a lid on that crazy talk, eh?” I lift my pant leg up and pull one of the many knives I have hidden on me.


            “Can you unclench your palm for me?”

            The place where his eyebrows used to be draw together. “What?”

            I point with the blade. “Your hand, can you open it for me?”

            His hand shakes, vibrates, and contorts, but it does not open. “I--I can’t.”

            “That’s fine. Is it okay if I cut you on your face?” Even to me it sounds threateningly stupid and a tad insane.


            “Benjamin, I want to try and heal you, but the only way I can do that is if I cut you, then cut myself and bleed into you. Do you know what a BloodBurner is?”

            The confusion seems to calm him. “Yeah.”

            “I’m one of them, name’s Santino. I want to try and cure you.”

            I see how many muscles it takes to smile. “You can do that?”

            I nod.

            He looks at the knife, then at my face as if the truth has been sliced into my skin and mixed in my sweat. He takes a deep breath, plumes of flame spouting from his nostrils as he exhales. “Go ahead, Santino.”

            I raise the blade and gently slice into the cords of muscle at his cheek. Blood wells, boils and cascades with steam. I slice into my palms. I bring my bleeding hands to his bleeding cheeks and for one glorious exquisite moment Benjamin “The Burning Man” Kunay’al and Santino “The BloodBurner” Guine are one. He begins where I end. I am the tick to his tock. We share the same reflection.

            His blood is lava and his every orifice is the mouth of the volcano. His blood burns me to glimmering bone and sets my world aflame. I churn through his veins and soothe his body temperature. The mutation fights me. This body belongs to it and I am simply something else to vaporize. I feel my body, my body, seize up with violence. I pour more of my blood, more of myself, more of Benjamin into our veins. And. Our blood suddenly quivers like a plucked string, vibrating with cool heat.

            All is still, the essence of ice and winter.

            I focus on the mutation, the foreign gene sequence that feels like a ball of spikes and sparks and crush it, gnash it between sanguine jaws.

            But the mutation will not be vanquished so gently, so quietly.

            The sun is reborn in these veins, heat so fantastic it sears the edges of time. Before I am cast out by the explosion I rapidly repair Benjamin’s body, building layer upon layer of skin, boosting his immune system, rebuilding organs and taking as much of the damage with me, into me, as I can, mixing and twisting our blood together until the mutilated mutation cannot tell which is host and which is intruder. 

            As I am blasted back into my own arteries and veins a final dying blast of fire explodes from my own body, an inferno pouring from my open mouth as flames fwoom from my skin, stripping away several layers.

            P A I N


            A G O N Y

            I look at my hands and see that they are black, skin sloughing off like dripping fat. My shirt is singed and tattered, leather boots melted and ruined, pants welded to my thighs.

            I don’t whimper. I don’t hyperventilate. I don’t go into shock.

            Instead I take the BeLour from the floor that I had tucked behind my ear, it must have jumped off while I was seizing. Constricted muscles shred and pop as I reach into a burnt pocket for my Zippo. A little blackened, but still wholly intact. As I light up I heal myself. Skin spreads pink and fresh and painful. Always painful. Flakes of dead black skin crack and crinkle as they flutter to the floor. As I repair myself I work my muscles, making sure that everything has healed properly. I will have to remove the bits of fabric burned onto my thigh later, but for now I numb the pain.

            Benjamin and the doctors watch with lips parted by fingers of awe.

            It will take a few hours to completely heal, but for now I look as if I only suffer from second-degree burns.

            I retrieve my specs and place a hand on Benjamin’s fleshy forehead and can sense that his body is recuperating splendidly. He will live.

            I turn to Gunther and the other doctors.

            Grady sees my face, gasps, and a bottle of vorzepantamine slips from her crooked elbow, smashing to the floor in a glittering puddle.

            I hope that I can sell the other fourteen at a high price.           




            The next morning I learn that Paragon was murdered last night, pummeled to death by a “yet to be apprehended assailant.” The unknown perp/Victa was seen fleeing from the Siroxu, a neighborhood Paragon frequented, on the back of a red atmo-cutter.

            I smile and smoke and sip as I read the news, pressing the button at the bottom corner of the flat screen to cycle through the 2D panels.

            A bulletin feed is suddenly broadbanded across the panel. The image is shaky and in it Victor himself is being politely escorted away with his hands held guiltily behind his back. His face is streaked with dried blood, blood that has now returned to mediocrity on  a bruised mug that will take days rather than minutes to heal. The camera juts into his face like a needle siphoning at his soul.

            “Get dat BEEP outta my face!”

            Off camera: “Victor Yoximer, are you the man that murdered the hero Paragon?”

            His eyes overflow with gleefully angry hateful regret bound by bogus bravado. Had the camera panned down we would have seen him pissing himself silly.

            “Yeah, I killed that BEEP-er. And I’d do it agin! Self-righteous son of a BEEP was boffin’ my BEEPBEEP wife! Lousy--”

            “Paragon is...was one of the most powerful metahumans in the world, possibly the entire solar system. As dictated by the law of the UL Prime Marquis all metahumans by law must register with the Accords of the Land. Now we’ve done some research and your name isn’t on that list. How is it that you were able to murder one of our nation’s most beloved heroes so easily?” The newscaster stabs into him with diplomatic decorum made just by the public’s love of a dead man.                  

            Victor smiles. “I had a lil’ help.”

            “From who?”

            He looks into the camera and all of the world has stopped and is now looking over my shoulder in insensate anticipation. My words fall like drops of blood on white: quiet, but shocking. “No.”

            “A BloodBurner named--”

            “You stupid son of a--”

            “Santino Guine.”

            There is a polite knock at the door before Detective Smallson and his buddies thunder into my apartment, shattering the security field scattered over the hydraulic door frame with a sophisticated device paid for by my own damn tax dollars. Glory and satisfaction shimmer in his eyes under the brim of his throwback fedora.

            The past comes up my esophagus like burning bile.

            But I know it’s only a matter of time before I wind up behind bars. And when that happens I will not struggle and I will not fight. But I won’t make it easy for him. Smallson doesn’t deserve easy. He has to earn his quarry.

            I throw out a clenched hand and the first guy that comes barreling through my door seizes up like he’s hit an invisible force field. I curl my fingers, clawing at blood and guts, and he collapses on his knees and starts throwing up gouts and bouts and buckets of sweet blood. All over my clean floor.

            The next guy whips out a stunner. My arm slashes at the air and he suddenly finds a vicious cut ripped in his beige shirt and chest and a perfect arch of blood flowing out as pain flows in. I slash again. Blood mists the air from the deep cut on his face. He’s still holding the stunner. Persistent little--

            “Don’t make me come in there, Guine,” Smallson calls from my mangled doorway. If I’m not mistaken I think he’s lounging, like a cat perfectly content in the sun, or a corpse in the grave. The last image makes me smile like a lunatic.

            “You can see the door’s open, detective.” I stop and reverse the flow of blood in the second guy’s hand, making it numb with needles and spikes. He drops the stunner and cradles his limp hand. “Your boys can attest that I’m a wonderful host. Right, boys?” The first guy throws up more blood and the second guy is shaking his hand like a baby.


            Something isn’t--

            I try to push and pull the Detective’s blood.

            He doesn’t have any.

            Not a drop. I try to explode his heart and there isn’t one to explode.

            A second later I feel something on my neck, something hard, cold, and reeking of metal and oil. Gun.

            “Spend less time grandstanding and more time sweeping this dump to make sure the guy you’re talking to isn’t a decoy while the real McCoy is sneaking up behind you.”






            The first thing I see when the darkness pulls away is Victor’s jittery ass sitting across the table from me. The universe has narrowed down to a cone of ivory neon with the two of us at the center. Victor’s eyes dart here and there, from nothing to nothing to me and back to nothing.

            I try and move my hands and find them cupped in cool metal that loves me so much it refuses to let go.

            “H-h-hey, Santino.” His smile is limpid and twitchy.

            “Nice last words.” I try and yank every drop of blood from his pores but I am too weak to do anything more than make him blush.

            He jerk-shakes his head, narrowing his little eyes. “You tryin’ ta mess wit my blood?”

            “I was trying to kill you,” I shrug, “Head’s still a banged gong.”

            “Look, man, I din mean ta sell ya out like that on sat-vision.” Spittle leaks from his fat lips. “Just that those reporters were jabbing those mics in my face...Ihaddasaysomething!”

            “So you belt out my name, give up the guy that was helping your stupid rump when he could’ve turned you in for conspiracy to commit murder?”

            He spasm-shrugs and it looks like he’s trying to scratch his chin with his shoulder. “I was friggin’ nervous.”

            “Didn’t look too nervous to me.” These cuffs are tight as hell.

            “I hide it well. And, hey, at least I didn’t tell ‘em everything. That back at Moonshine you amped up my blood for a few hours so I could go kill Captain Cleft Chin.”

            It’s still dark, but a light clicks on.

            As I’ve done countless times before, I look into the darkness.

            “They’re here, aren’t they?” I look at Victor. He whimpers.

            “Who you talkin’ ‘bout?” His eyes shuffle left and right.

            “Don’t play dumb, Victor.”

            And like that the mask cracks, crumbles, and creaks under the pressure. “Dumb? You callin’ me dumb? You’re the dumb mook BloodBurner that let ’imself get takin’ down by one beat cop, a single friggin’ beat cop! Who’s the dumb one now, uh? Who!”

            “Gonna kill you. Gonna put--”

            “--even channel blood to my grandpa’s limp--”

            “--so many diseases in your blood you’re gonna look like a damn--”

            “--so hardcore wit ya hands behind ya back, huh, as--”

            “I’M GONNA KILL YOU!”

            Anger makes blood rush to my head and I make blood rush to Victor’s head. I want him to choke on blood, become deaf with it, for his little atom-sized brain to drown in it.

            Then the light comes on in the interrogation room and Smallson is there at the edge of my vision like a phantom. The phantom raises his arm and a very-real stun gun is in his hand. I think I hear the blood pumping in his finger as it tightens around the trigger.






            My own blood pounding in my own head brings me back the second time. The world tilts and tumbles for a while until I shake my head and straighten things out. If only everything else were so easy.

            Smallson sits with his legs crossed at the knee and his arms crossed over his chest. He looks like a coverboy, effortless poise, classy wardrobe, and a face recognized as the universal example of beauty. I wonder if he will still be that beautiful in death.

            My arms are free. I try and lift them to conduct his blood like a symphony and find the musicians have forgotten about the performance. And that my arms have forgotten how to move. So have my fingers, toes, legs, ears, lips and anything in between. I can only move my eyes.

            Smallson smiles and tilts his head to the right. He’s still wearing that stupid too-tight fedora.

            In the corner is a woman with velvety brown skin, a beautiful bald head and eyes that glow white, purple, and blue while staring into me. Psion. A bona fide can-get-into-your-head-and-make-you-slit-your-own-wrists-and-enjoy-it psion.

            Damn doesn’t even begin to describe it.

            I look back at Smallson. He nods. “Telepath. Category A-3.” He unwraps himself and braces his elbows on his knees. “Right now she’s blocking the signals from your brain that control motor functions.” He blinks the smug glimmer from his eyes. “She’s also blocking you from your BloodBurning.”

            I blink rapidly.

            Smallson nods to the Mental Mistress. Her glowing flowing eyes seem to flicker and my lips have slipped their leash.

            “The hell do you want?” I spit out, hoping my words will become poison and kill everyone in the room.

            He reaches over to the table and takes something. I keep my eyes on his and don’t blink. Then he pulls a BeLour from the pack. He sticks the Belour between my lips, takes my confiscated lighter and thumbs a flame to brief life.

            I suck filterless ambrosia and am made calm. For now.

            He snaps my Zippo shut. “What makes you think I want something?”

            “You been on me like a bad suit for months,” I say around the cig. “You finally catch me and the first thing you do is stick me in a monochrome room with a brain blaster like we’re having coffee and cake instead of throwing me into a crater.” I try to shake my head and fail. “So you must want something.”

            He takes another one of my smokes, leans forward and touches the tip of his cig to mine, sharing my cherry as the brim of his fedora brushes my hair. He stares at me int...ently all the while. His eyes are very green. He leans back, red smoke trailing from his cracked mouth.

            “I do want something.”

            “Hmph.” The utterance is empty and seems to plummet in the air.

            “I want to cut a deal with you.” He sucks smoke. “Do this for me and I stop hunting you down.”

            “Promise?” Ash dribbles from my cig and I feel the heat through my blood-dappled slacks. Smallson leans forward and brushes gray-black particles from my lap.

            “Promise.” He puts his forearm on the back of the chair, posing, posturing.        

           “Hit me.”

            He gives me a knowing half-smile and I hate him for it.

            “Tell me.”

            He takes a deep breath of oxygen spliced with tobacco. “There’s a man in the next room named Arius. Arius has a...” He looks to the psion to provide him with a phrase for the thought she hears swimming in his head. She stays quiet. “Illness.” Back to me. “You see Arius has a demon inside of him, a murderous, monstrous beast that compels him to rend, bend, break, and kill anything in sight. A monster with such considerable strength that he makes Paragon look like a one-armed welterweight boxer. He’s also invulnerable to harm and could probably destroy five entire solar systems and not be winded. And for that reason Arius is forced to wear special shackles that suppress the demon, keep the voices out of his head. You can imagine the inconvenience this causes poor Arius, the looks people give him when they see the chains on his wrists, the difficulties of carrying on a normal life with the things limiting his reach. He--”

            “What do you want me to do, Smallson?”

            The BeLour is like an exclamation point at his lips. “I want you to cure Arius, rip the demon from his veins, burn it out of him so he can be normal.”

            I am the representative of the state of confusion. “You want me to...cure, Arius?”

            Scarlet smoke scythes through the air. “Yes.”

            “Wouldn’t someone like her--” I tick my eyes to the beautiful bald broad, “be better suited to handle something like a cognitive disorder?”

            Smallson runs a finger down the perfect crease in his pants. “Tried that already.” He looks down. “Do you know how hard it is to get exploded brain out of the carpet, Guine?”

            “Actually I do.”

            “It seems as though Arius’s other self protects his mind from psionic intrusion. From what we can tell, this...oddity might be genetic, in the blood.”

            “Oddity?” The cig bobs in my mouth.

            “While I’d like for Arius to retain his above normal strength, invulnerability and dexterity, I’m also prepared to lose all of that for the sake of his happiness.” He smoothes a finger over his perfect eyebrow. “That which is pure must remain pure.”

            “That your code?”

            His perfect eyebrow twitches. “Could call it that. It’s what keeps me on the line.”

            “No matter how crooked it gets walking it.” Whether it’s a question or a statement I don’t know.

            He reaches for the fedora as his brow seems to melt in the middle. “Let’s not do this now, San.” His hand drops.

            I stare at him. “How does Arius feel about all of this?”

            He raises his eyes, thinly veiled. “He’s perfectly fine with it.”  

            “You want to bring Arius in here, let him speak for himself?”

            The detective touches a finger to the white table. “Send him in.” He bats his eyes, rolls his shoulders and looks at me. “Don’t be deceived by his appearance,” he tells me.

            The door to the pristine white room cracks open and Arius steps in, his every footstep a clinking, rattling testimony to the gleaming silver chains suspended from the thick manacles that capture his wrists. He is a sparse thing, short and somewhat muscular. His features are mousy as are his mannerisms; ducked head, pinballing eyes, and a twitchy little nose.

            “Arius, this is Santino Guine.”

            “Hello, Santino.” His inflection is infected with good cheer as he lifts his shivering chain links to wave hello. “Nice to meet you.”

            I skip the salutations. “Can’t do anything with my body all locked up.”

            “I want your word that once you’re free you won’t attempt to harm anyone in this room in any way.” Smallson’s words are punctuated with jabbing fingers on the tabletop.

            “My word isn’t worth the air I’m breathing.”

            “Swear it on your blood them, I know that’s worth more to you than your own life.”

            “My blood is my life, detective.” I look at innocent Arius with the demon peeking out at me from behind his eyeballs. “But I swear on it.”

            The air takes on weight. Smallson finally concedes, nodding his head at Sister Silent. Her eyes stop glowing and my body starts moving. My legs were starting to cramp. I get out of my hard chair and stretch, ashes sprinkling from my finished cig. I put my palms on the back of my head. “You know what I’m here for?” I ask Arius.

            He jerks his head in a nod. “David says you can get the shade out of my head.”

            I arch my eyebrow and it responds beautifully. “Shade?”

            Another jerk-nod. “That’s what we--I call it, the shade.”

            “Whatever.” I walk up behind him and he does not flinch. I look down at the shackles. They look thick and unbreakable, formidable and secure. He could snap my neck with them if he wanted. If I wanted. I put my fingers to his temples.

            “Don’t you have to cut into him before you can heal him?” Smallson asks from the background.

            “Not gonna heal him...yet. Just diving in to see what I’m working with. Now, if you don’t mind, could you please shut the hell up?”

            He shuts the hell up.

            I press my fingers to the manacled man’s temples, feel the blood pulsing at my fingerprints as if trying to tap their secrets into my skin. The world slip slides away to nothing as I go into Arius’s blood. Instantly I feel the barrier slammed down over his...self, almost as if the shackles have chopped off an arm, hollowed out his heart, or sucked out his bone marrow. I stumble into the shield and a gnawing buzz eats at my own temple like a drill. I suck in a breath. I go on. The pain will pass. Deeper I can “see” the genetic mutations in his blood. My blood-vision also allows me to see the countless medications packed into the scarlet stream. If not for his enhanced constitution the sheer stress of processing so much junk would be enough to kill him. The fact that he is functioning so well is a small indictor of how strong this guy is. I swim, analyze, poke, penetrate and postulate for half and hour before I settle back in my own skin.

            I turn to Smallson. “There’s nothing I can do for him.”

            This isn’t the answer written in his script. He snatches off his fedora, thankfully, and crumples it in a quivering fist. “The hell do you mean there’s nothing you can do for him? I brought you here to heal him, so heal him!”

            Calm holds me hostage. “Can’t.”

            “Why not?”

            “The amount of meds you got him on is like an ecosystem, I remove or change any part of it and it could bring the entire thing down.”

            “David?” Arius says behind us.

            “You’re the strongest BloodBurner in the Northern Terrasphere, no one can come close to some of the things you do. That bit you did with Yoximer, amping up his blood to superhuman levels? You know how many other BloodBurners, or scientists for that matter, have tried to do that?” He pauses and the air is saturated with conviction. “I finally plucked the fruit that was always just out of my reach. Now you heal him.”

            The sun has blossomed in the sky and I can see again.

            “You planned this.”


            “You could have brought Arius down to Moonshine anytime and asked for my help, but that goes against everything you believe in. An act like that would crack your shield, let the oil seep in and tarnish everything.”

            His upper lip curls. “I don’t truck with criminals.”

            “But apparently you cut deals with them.” I rest my rump on the table, reaching for a cig. I offer one to the psion. She stares at me. I shrug and light up. More for me.

            “Am I still sick, David?” Arius looks down at the thick shackles on his wrist, fingers scratching at them absently. Those fingers are flecked with blood, as are his cuffs. He’s tried to pry himself out of them before. “Am I better now?” Brown eyes drown in medicated sorrow and hopefulness.

            David Smallson goes to Arius and holds him, running his free hands through his hair and smothering his head with kisses. “Not yet, Ari. Not yet.”

            “You said he was going to cure me.” Arius lays his head on Smallson’s shoulder. “He was going to cure me.” The chain links clink as he clutches at the other man’s arm, gripping at a lifeline.

            “He will, baby, he will.” Smallson glares at me with the devil’s heat.

            And I feel my heart skip a beat. And another. And another.

            I look down at my chest and up at Smallson.


            “Yes. I’ve gone into his bloodstream, tried to flip a few chromosomes, repress a few...” he looks at the shackles, “chains. But nothing works. Not as powerful as you.”

            I start to feel--I take the burning tip of my cig and jam it into the crook of the elbow. It burns, sears, and blisters my skin. And I let it. I will not heal it. I will not take the pain away. The pain is all I have. It is hollow and human and all that I will allow myself to feel for this man. I grit my teeth and focus on the sounds of sizzling skin and the smell of burnt flesh.

            “A wise woman once said that I burned my soul away, and I like to think that she’s right.” I shove the BeLour back in my mouth and take a quick drag. I think I can taste my skin. “It would explain a lot about me. I am heartless, I am cruel and I am unkind.” I spread my hands. “And I don’t care.” I put my hands on my lap. “But I am merciful.”

            I stand up, walk over to Arius cradled in Smallson’s arms and place my fingertips over his closed eyelids, soaking them in tears. I go in. I BloodBurn. I take my fingers away. Then I swipe the small device bulging from Smallson’s breast pocket. He goes haywire.

            “What are you do--Give me that, right now.” He reaches for the device with one urgent hand and keeps the other wrapped around the manacled man.

            I give him that, I press the single button on the small device.


            The sound is small and yet it fills the room like an explosion.

            A set of manacles fall to the floor and the crash is magnificently loud.

            Smallson’s body goes into shocked stasis, he does not twitch a tendon.

            “David?” The voice is ARIUS. The real Arius. The unchained Arius.


            Arius turns in David’s arms. He does not rend, bend, break or kill him. Instead, his hands fly to his face to see what his eyes no longer can. “David, I can’t--I can’t see you.” Fingers find lips.

            “I’m right here.” Smallson sets daggers on me. “What did you do to him?”

            “You said he would destroy anything in sight. Figure if he can’t see anything maybe the cranium conniver won’t come out and play.”

            “You made him blind?” He spits the last word out like something repugnant.

            “You want him like this or all cuffed up and confused? I can easily undo it.” I point at the pool of reinforced titanium on the floor. “Just make sure you put those back on fast enough.”

            “You healed me, David, you finally healed me.” Arius buries his head in the man’s shoulder, his mind putting the puzzle together even if some of the peices refuse to fit. I can live with that.

            I look at him and the words are in my eyes. This is what you wanted. Not how you wanted it, but there it is.

            His lips grind into a line and I think tears are glinting in the corners of his eyes. Or maybe it’s rage. He jerks his head at the door. I gather my things and glide toward the exit.

            I’m a step from walking out when I stop and tick my head toward the psion. A second later her nose starts to bleed. She wipes it away, looks at it and looks up at me. I feel her reaching for my mind, but jerk the stream of blood from her brain and she crumples to the floor clutching at her head. I leave.

            The disease I jacked into her blood will eat at her brain over the course of two months before it finally kills her. Death will be replete with fever dreams, pissing toxic blood, and violent stomach cramps.

            But she will still have her powers.

            Told you I was merciful.    




            Five months have passed.

            I am on the rooftop of the HoriZon Building looking over the city etched from space-age design. We are so far ahead, yet so far behind. Caught in the present future’s past.

            The night is cold and bitter as if it hates us all, gnawing at our bones with frost-bitten fangs and sucking at the sweet hot marrow beneath. I raise my body temperature a few degrees, giving the slicing winter winds the finger.

            The smell of Alphrosnic tobacco and my grandfather’s cologne lace the air.

            “Evenin’, detective.”

            “Guine.” He sidles up next to me, shadow of the fedora’s brim wrapping his face like gauze.

            “How’s Arius?” A man is being beaten to death by two hood rats in an alley below.

            “Fine. He’s getting outfitted for holo-optics in a few days.” The tall hood rat snaps the man’s arm clean while the short one laughs uproariously and points.

            “Holo-optics? Those are the things that tie into the brain’s visual nerves and allow a person to see a simulated image of the world, right?” The man howls in raw pain and the wind howls along with him.   

            “Yeah?” The detective blows red smoke and watches as the hood rats reach into their pockets. Metal glints in the sickly-yellow streetlight.

            “You do that and I kill the both of you.” If the man swallows the knife at his throat will make a neat hole.

            “I want Arius to be able to see again, even if it is only a simulation. That so wrong?” Apparently the short hood rat would like to skewer the poor man. He argues with the tall guy.

            “Has he killed anyone since...then?” The hood rats argue.

            “No.” Gleaming metal cuts through the air like silver lines.

            “Then why you wanna rattle his cage?” The hood rats are slashing at each other like gladiators.

            “I don’t, I just...” The beaten man watches, struggling to move. “I just want him to be able to see me.”

            “Before he rips your face off?” The taller hood rat is knocked on his back. The short one pounces.    

            “You’re so afraid that he would start killing people again that you would kill the both of us instead?” The knife is lifted. Plunge. Squish. The tall guy stops moving as blood starts flowing. Sweet blood.

            “Don’t give a damn about other people. He saw my face. Was five months ago, but I don’t want him knocking on my door asking how I’d like to die.” The remaining hood rat stands triumphant and his victim scuttles back on his butt.

            A smile decorates his words. “Arius isn’t one to hold a grudge.” The beaten man screams and holds his hands out like they will save him.

            I light up a cig. “Don’t even wanna know what kind of relationship you two have.” The hood rat kicks him about the head a few times, tracing jagged cuts with his heavy boots.

            “We’re good friends.” The knife crashes towards the man’s head.

            “I’ll bet.” The hood rat’s body suddenly locks up on him and the knife carves concrete.

            “We are. Everyone thinks we’re a couple. Humans live among the stars and can move planets with their bare hands, but still two men can’t show each other affection without people thinking they’re fruits.” The hood rat collapses and does not move. Massive heart attack.

            “Hmph.” I take a drag. “You broken yourself yet?”

            The street theatre is over and the detective looks up at the sky. “What?”

            “Five months ago you splintered your code, worked with me, the excrement at the bottom of your shoe. Must have jarred something in you to do that.”

            He is silent as the wind tugs at our clothes, drawing us toward the empty edge of nothing.

            “Must have jarred something in you to help the guy that’s been trying to drag you down from your little hill.” He starts to turn his head.

            “Don’t look at me.” He stops turning his head.

            We look out at Gideon City.

            “I--” His words are swallowed by the wind.

            I bring my BeLour to warm lips. “Yeah. Me too.”

            We stand on the roof of the HoriZon Building and watch and breathe and exist and understand. But we do not agree.

            I smash out my cig underfoot, turn, and head for the stairs.

            “Oh, Smallson.”

            He glances over his shoulder.

            B A M!

            He falls on his ass and tries not to cradle his suddenly very bruised, very hurting jaw. My knuckles throb.

            I walk away. “That’s for shooting me with that damned stun gun...twice.”

            I shove my hands in my pockets and embrace the stinging cold, the pain.

            The pain is all that I have. It is hollow and human and all that I will allow myself to feel for myself.

            It feels pure.

            And that which is pure must remain pure.