Beatnik

by Yudhanjaya Wijeratne

First published in Chronicle Worlds: Crime and Punishment (Future Chronicles 21)

“But I am a blasted tree; the bolt has entered my soul; and I felt then that I should survive to exhibit, what I shall soon cease to be – a miserable spectacle of wrecked humanity, pitiable to others, and intolerable to myself.”

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein


One

Beatnik woke to the sound of darkness.
It was that whine, that endless keening of sensors struggling to reboot themselves. Ghostlike static skirting the system, that sharp skewer of light –
And he was online again.
“HALT,” he blared in a voice that cracked across the dry air like thunder.
The woman was a hundred, maybe two hundred meters ahead. She threw another EMP grenade, but this time he batted it out of the way with the reflexes of a man once burned and several times shy. It bounced off a side alley and detonated, taking out several badly hung neon signs.
His ancillary senses whined as he rolled to his feet. Pressure. Pain. Temperature. The smell of soy sauce and dried garbage. Darkness crept around them all.
“HALT OR YOU WILL BE FIRED UPON.”
She showed absolutely no sign of stopping. He righted himself and ran after her. Servomotors whined. Muscle analogues screamed warnings. Alley trash flew. He crossed the gap between them in a flash – one stride, two strides, ten – and there she was, screaming in panic and scrabbling on the ground, cowering before the long metal arm of the law –
She looked familiar, somehow. Something about the face. The angle of the jaw. He hesitated, puzzled.
And then they hit him. The darkness grew arms, legs, a mouth, and devoured him whole. Her face remained, trapped, screaming, and then it, too, faded out.


It was supposed to be the perfect crime.
Logistics ops were always the worst at protection. They relied on strength of numbers. Among the near-infinite numbers of vape juice and baby products and low-calorie lunches flying around the probability of you, the criminal, finding that one high-value asset was too remote to even bother computing. And because a heavily guarded package would only send a signal as to its contents, they’d long since decided not to bother. Try finding the signal in the noise.
Unfortunately for them, they’d never met a guy like Beatnik, that quietly slick boy in the beat-up Indialeather jacket. Beatnik knew the numbers. Knew where the seething mass at the warehouse turned into the long tail of last-mile delivery.
On Thursday Beatnik had a chat with Razza, the bloke who owned Emporio Arcadia, showed him this limited stock of action figures from that mecha show. Messenger. Only 12 in stock in the entire warehouse. High-quality, handmade stuff, the kind of geek gear that eventually became collectors items and sold for tens of thousands of dollars. Razza cocked an eyebrow at Beatnik – none of the Gleam Street Gang had enough cash to buy one of these, but after a hit too many on the bong, Razza put in the purchase.
The rest was simple. Beatnik called Cho. Cho called her drug dealer, who knew a guy who knew a girl who apprenticed in the Brazilian workshop that made the collectibles. She had absolutely no trouble making sure each of the little robots had ten grams of the purest Allure sitting in a fake capacitor in their chestpieces. The stuff was easy to get in Baronaseria; it was getting it across the border that was difficult.
It took maybe three days to set the whole thing up. The goods would be picked up from the workshop. Then shipped along with six million other packages across the border. The same volume game played against criminals like Beatnik would play out against the customs; in six million packages, what were the chances of you finding 120 grams of plastic-like powder?
After that it was just a matter of tracing the delivery to the last mile, hitting the right three drones – now down to a choice of three – and making off with the loot. Razza would put in a refund request and tell the logistics corp the items never arrived, thereby absolving himself of any blame. The theft would drive up the value of the Messenger collectibles. And they’d have shipped 120 grams of the finest party drug known to man.
It was, as Beatnik explained to Cho, a win-win-win situation. You couldn’t walk away from stuff like that.
“Don’t like it, squire,” said Cho. “Too many moving parts.”
Beatnik paid no attention. The heist unfolded in his mind. John would take the first drone. Fake an accident Fake injury. Marten and Coy would take the second, faking a street fight that went south. Jessica would nick the third delivery right from Razza’s doorstep – she had a plan involving some stolen fetish gear that’d make her look like a street trick boosting packages.
Beatnik would be backing them all up with a rented IMSI catcher. Spoof the communications tower, catch the drones’ warning signals and failure reports, and make sure they went exactly nowhere.
He planned and re-planned the heist, his nerves thrumming, his mind caught halfway between disbelief and excitement. This was actually happening. Job like this would get the Gang noticed. Would get him noticed. Would definitely give him enough cash to put himself through college.
Choreography, he thought, looking at his plans for the umpeenth time. Like one of those old Sammo Hung movies. Every move precise. Every kick, punch, thrust, exactly where it should be. And the outlaw hero takes it all.
He never knew who talked. Maybe Cho, maybe Razza himself. In hindsight, it should have been obvious: in the next three days the Gleam Street Gang were invited to no less than five different parties. Not the street kind, either, the kind with fancy cars and high rollers. The only time the Gang came anywhere near a party like that was when some rich kid wanted a last-minute delivery to keep the night going.
Chatter unfolds like a ripple in a pond. And where enough ripples bounce off the edges and meet each other you get a standing wave, the kind of signal that flares bright on the detection botnets.
Thus it was that a smiling, seven-foot cop just so happened to meet John, stopping him for “a safety check on your jetbike, squire.” John’s license was expired. He was carted off off.
Marten and Coy and the rest of their gang were stopped by another pair of smiling, seven-foot cops who were concerned about gang violence “just up ahead, squires.” Their priors were checked and found significant. They, too, were taken away.
And Jessica barely moved ten steps before a concerned cop car pulled up to her and offered her a ride “through this rather unsafe neighborhood, dame.” She offered to kick him in the unmentionables, and was hauled off for a day.
There was a knock on the window on the van where Beatnik sat, sweating. It was a warm night, and dark; the streetlights hung unused, as they had for decades.
Beatnik rolled down the window. A seven-foot cop stood outside, buttons gleaming on his black uniform. Several bystanders hooted. A gentle chant of “Gene-cloned-pig! Gene-cloned-pig!” rose from the sidewalk.
The cop opened the door gently and peered past Beatnik. At the illegal signal catcher. An arm shot out, piston-fast, and pulled Beatnik to the curb. The world tilted and spun. The cop was no longer smiling.
The bystanders decided that maybe today wasn’t the day to protest police violence after all.
The unsmiling cop squatted down beside Beatnik. His scarred face and eyelenses filled the world. An inhuman hand reached out, whirring faintly.
And that quietly slick boy in was no more.


When Beatnik woke again, it was to a sterile white. White floor, white walls, white light, white men in lab coats fussing over him.
“That’s another body down, squire,” said the doctor. He struggled to remember the name. Cho? Cha? It took a while.
“They had EMPs,” he said mustily. He had to cycle the thought several times before his mouth actually spoke the words.
“That wasn’t what took you down,” said Cho. “Someone drove a tank into you. Several times. Then they cut you in half and pulled the plug on you.”
One of the masked apprentices sniggered.
“Whoever the hell they are, they’re getting bolder,” he said, angry now. “Last month was ghost flares. Now EMPs? Where the hell they get this equipment from?”
Cho shrugged. “Resistance ain’t pretty, squire,” he said philosophically. “Lots of Army guys running stuff these days.”
“They can do that on some other’s beat.”
Cho pushed him back down. “Wait,” he said. “New body, last I had in storage. Needs a power core. Backup isn’t enough to run.”
“How long?”
“Hour, maybe two. I’ve put in the request. Getting a bit hard to find parts for your type.”
It took ten hours. It wasn’t the quartermaster’s fault, or the engineers’, or any of the others Cho railed at. Maybe it was the fault of General Dynamics, for designing that power core in such a way that it would be obsolete within three years of active field tests. Maybe it was the fault of the requisitions department, or whoever had run it thirty years ago, when they made the decision to buy the cheapest civilian parts for the most important of things.
Some things he could fight. Some things he couldn’t. Practical realism, as they used to say in leadership camp. It came with time. So instead he watched Cho and his various assistants hang up body after body from damaged police officers, welding, disassembling, running diagnostics. Every so often Cho would shake his head and a steel carcass would be wheeled off to the scrap room.
“New program,” said Cho during his tea break. “Guy goes down, we can’t get him back up, they strip his brain and set it up in a bunch of modified civilian machines. Whatever’s around in the impound lot. Cheap hardware, plug-and-play shit.”
“Sounds like cost cutting.”
“Yeah, bean-counters and their damn budgets,” said Cho morosely. “Listen, you gotta take care of that body, squire. Last one I have. You go down again, all I got left is the scrap program. And between us, it’s not a great process, squire. The ones I got coming out don’t remember a thing. The shock just tears them apart, you know? Mentally. You don’t want to go down that road.”
“I’ll be careful,” Beatnik lied.

Two


He had no intention of being careful.
It was a minute’s work to requisition support: six JURIST drones, one of those old military durafiber ponchos, and a FLUNKY turret that shot neurachem grenades. He didn’t particularly like the turrets – they were bastards to deploy and friendly fire was a real problem – but they did put out enough gas to put a small army into medically induced comas.
The new body had a hitch in the left arm. It irritated him. He almost dropped the turret twice.
Bosewick was waiting for him outside the precinct steps.
“Ho, Beatnik. Rather heavily dressed today, aren’t we?”
“Just a routine cleanup.”
“I’m sure. I’m going to tag along. Our Doctor Cho thinks you might be a little hasty.”
“Bosewick, all due respect, but you’re not equipped for this.”
The gene-cloned cop, his hair now lined with salt and pepper, took in all ten feet of Beatnik.
“Of course not,” he said. “I’m equipped to enforce the law, make citizens safe, not whatever commando tomfuckery you boys do now. “
“Spare me the bloody lecture, squire. Your soft-as-hell methods don’t work anymore. You been out lately? Seen the streets? Old Gleam Street Gang used to ride motorbikes. Now they’ve got a tank. An actual fucking tank.”
“That’s the problem, Beatnik,” said Bosewick. The man’s flesh-frame moved slowly, the cop exoskeleton running on low power. “They let your generation out back when all this shit was shiny and new, you fellows did a few high-profile smash-and-grabs, and now you think that’s the only way to solve crime. Now you get your undies in a knot when they come at you with army surplus shit. Cop and criminal, arms race, you boys don’t see the irony.”
It had taken Beatnik years to get used to Bosewick. The way the man’s voice, once carefully tuned for the perfect “Step back, sir,” kept cracking on the high notes, like a boy reaching puberty. The way he slipped into lectures like he was still some rookier riding shotgun. The last of the gene-cloned cops on Gleam Street, dishing out lessons that no longer mattered.
“You want to take the car?” he said, placating.
“Nah, let’s walk. Might as well hold your hand through one last beat before I retire.”
“Retiring? What, voluntary?”
“They’re sending us back to the city,” said Bosewick morosely.
Beatnick said nothing. They both knew what happened to cops who were retired to the city. First the surgery, if you happened to have flesh on you. Then the long, slow melding of flesh into whatever new system they wanted a brain for. Years later you might show up as a quartermaster, or a base air traffic controller, or . . .
There were always those rumors about the turrets.
“Of course,” said Bosewick, his voice cracking on the highs again. “No guarantee I’m any good to them, they might just bring out the old syringe and give me a bit of sleep at last.”
They clunked on in silence.


It had been like this for the first ten, twenty years. Bosewick and Beatnick, gene-cloned superstar and his pesky young protege.
The first two years he spent flinching at every gunshot. The next two he spend learning that he could never keep up with Bosewick and the Gen One cops, so matter how hard he tried. The next five, six, seven years he spent weathering the insults, the casual smirks, the implications of being Bosewick’s ‘Pet’.
But then Gen Two came along. And it turned out that when they stripped the flesh away and dumped the rookie in a metal suit . . well. He’d spent ten years trying to outthink what he couldn’t outrun. He was good. Slick, they called him. Had style. Thought a few moves ahead of the game. And now it was Beatnick and Bosewick, not the other way around.
There were issues. Sometimes they ran out of bodies; sometimes Beatnik crawled out in old dust-can sparring bots; sometimes Bosewick bent over, coughing, when that Gen One accelerated growth crap gave him an extra dose of cancer. They were never as fast as, say, Anya Hailukar and her revolving cast of proteges. But Gleam Street remained clear. Gleam Street remained clean.
Until the resistance came along.
Who threw the first stone? Bosewick blamed it on the social media marches, the ResistBrigades cooked up by college students with nothing better to do that fight or fuck the next four years of their life away. Hailukar used to say it was the government’s fault. Tolerating the intolerant. Letting cancer thrive on the body civic. The resistance was white blood cells leaking out, she said, after decades of infection: could they be blamed for attacking everything they saw?
He had learned not to take sides in these arguments. The practicality of it was that a bullet didn’t really care who fired it, what they had gone through in their lives, the systemic injustices, the political context. A bullet went in at one end and went out the other. Their job was to stop the bullets flying. He counted their wins by the number of brothels and late-night woks still standing, by the number of ATMs left unhacked, by how many power grids and supply chains fell this week. As far as he was concerned, they were the real resistance, the last enforcers of the order in a world gone to hell.


It turned out the hackers were exactly where he’d thought they’d be: the alley behind the old warehouse on Dharma Avenue, near the night market. The drones found them first, sliding their vision into his consciousness with an ugly slickness.
A dirty expanse of concrete. Cracked earth shadowed by the buildings that shot up to the sky, decked out with neon trash lights like Christmas ornaments. SPA 24/7 FRESH BODIES WEEKLY. AMARASINGHE’S CURRY. NOODLE WOK. ROOMS FOR RENT ROOMS FOR RENT. DRY CLEAN, only the R had fallen out and it was just DY CLEAN now.
And there, in the middle, the corpse of what had once been his. A thick blue-and-grey body, now cut into pieces and stripped to the circuits, with wires sticking out like intestines. On it, hunched, the woman. Yelling out orders to puff-faced kids – street kids, all of fifteen going on fifty. Hauling parts off by the cart. Cop bodies made for good dough.
As always, ghost memories scratched at the back of his mind. Something about the way those kids moved. That girl, in the beat-up leather jacket. But then he saw the Gleam Street tank, legs sprawled like a grotesque insect, watching the proceedings. Its main turret was crooked, split six ways to Sunday and rusted over.
“Evidence first,” whispered Bosewick.
Beatnick nodded. The JURISTS flew together, split apart, circled. Every face was captured, every gait profiled.
And then it was hammer time.
They rolled in fast and loud, just like protocol always told them to. Stealth on the streets was a joke; whispers could cross a block faster than a cop strapped to a jetcoper. It was sirens, loudspeaker, the works, or not at all. So Beatnik turned on the sirens, and Bosewick cranked up the radio. Darkness Comes by Golemkind blasted out, the faux air-raid siren perfectly catching the police wail.
Bosewick’s cracked voice wailed warnings into the night, amplified into sheer raw noise by Golemkind’s lead guitarist. The turret, its targets acquired, scuttled off the boots, drilled itself into the ground, and began firing. The car screeched across the concrete, cutting through the dead wood of the night market stalls, and into the Gleam Street Gang.


The last time he had been in a fight like this, a real fight – that must have been ’53, the Corderline University riot. Sixty armed students up front. History department. They’d laughed until they realized that the pseudoPhDs knew all about the phalanx, the testudo, the art of funneling a larger force into corridors. They fought street and dirty – broken bottles, metal shards sharpened into swords, car doors carefully trimmed into shields and painted with the lime-green RESIST scrawl.
Behind the historians came the hackers. Gleam street rats. Hoods and improvised EMPs and radiocast viruses that took over the drones, piggybacked into officer comms and burned screaming madness right into their cores. Sikes, Janardi, Ocasio. It wasn’t a good way to die. Beatnik took hackers out by the dozens, leaping from rooftops with crushing power, turning human bodies into so much spaghetti and ketchup underneath.
Someone actually hit him pretty hard – a historian with an electrospike, ramming him from back to groin like a perverse Vlad Dracul. He’d had no choice: the self-destruct mechanism was the only way out. He’d smiled to himself into those last few seconds and turned that block into a flaming crater. Rest in pieces, chums.


This was like Corderline in that strange ghost-like dreamfeel, but it was still completely different. The tank roared and leaped forward, trying to shelter its brood. Bosewick cried out a warning, but Beatnik, powered by that holy digital immortality, flipped himself out of the car and onto the half-closed tank hatch like a shotgun shell dripping with holy water. The demons cowered within – three of them wrapped in the stink of human flesh and cigarettes in that tiny, enclosed space. They barely had time to scream.
Phut phut phut, said the turret. Beatnik emerged from the tank, a metal giant looming in the smoke. The shells of sleeping gas glistened green and bounced off windows and cracked brick on their way down. They fell like green rain. He swiped left, right, kicked, punched, picked up and threw people with sickening crunches against the walls.
Phut phut phut.
“Three on foot, in pursuit,” said Bosewick, the wail of the siren and Golemkind peeling away in a screech of rubber.
Bodies lay strewn in the alley like discarded ragdolls. Raggedy gloved hands still clutched circuitry. A few, more resistant than the rest, staggered up to grapple with him. He kicked them aside, looming over the corpse he had once occupied.
The bastards had gutted it. The police visor was cracked, the faux face underneath exposed in all its lowest-bidder glory.
He winced and looked away. The JURISTS were pinging him: images, heatmaps.
“Reinforcements south,” he said, pointing the turret to the swarm of warm bodies pounding the pavement towards them.
A cough. He peered around the other side of the tank, suddenly alert. A blood-splattered face with wide eyes met his flashlight.
It was the perp. The woman who’d led him into that first ambush. Bosewick had driven right over her; her legs dangled uselessly, crushed to a pulp. Blood was pooling beneath the body. The pain must have kept her from going under.
“Ho, Beatnik,” she said, and shuddered. “Your friend did me in this time, eh.”
He knelt, puzzled. There was nobody else around; she was not a threat now. Underneath the blood and grim and green facepaint she looked familiar.
“I know you from somewhere?”
She coughed, spraying blood onto her white Tshirt. “Pigs forget the farm they came from, eh?” A hand scrambled in the dirt, came up clutching the leather jacket. It was coated in blood and filth. She thrust it at him and, apparently exhausted, screamed, eyes bright and burning with pain.
He took the jacket. It felt familiar. It felt like he knew how it would feel on his skin, if he could just put it on, as ridiculous as that sounded: he had no skin and this thing could barely fit on his arm.
The woman stopped screaming and hunched over, her breath coming in ragged gasps. Partly out of reflex, partly out of pity, Beatnik pulled out his pistol – the little SS. Silencer 303 – and leveled it at her. She did seem awfully familiar. “You have the right to remain silent,” he said. “Anything you do or say can be construed as intent to harm. Intent to harm -“
She stared at it, at him, then at it again.
“You’re not him,” she whispered, more to the gun barrel than to his face. “You’re just a fucking ghost, fucking software they keep reinstalling every time we take you down, eh, you wear his name on your uniform, like it means something, you bastard, you fucking computer -“
She spat blood at him. He fired. The bullet took her in the heart and she sprawled backwards, brown hair tumbling loose into the green mist. Only then did he remember her, that brown hair much shorter, spread out across their bed.
“Jessica?”
She stared at him, eyes accusing in death. He waited for her to wake up, to return in a different body, but the only one who came to him through that green mist was Bosewick, clutching a shot arm and grinning through broken teeth. His glasses had been shot off. The battle high was on him.
“Damn, squire. They’ll write that down as termination with extreme prejudice,” he whistled. “Resisting arrest?”
“Something like that,” said Beatnick thoughtfully, clutching his leather jacket. “Say, Bosewick.”
“Hunh?” Bosewick was scrabbling amongst the other bodies, taking photos of their faces.
“I think I know her from somewhere.”
“Jailed her before, eh? Or -” Bosewick grinned. “Did our rook find himself a friend with a metal fetish?” He sobered up when Beatnik stared at him and came over to look. “Yeah, I think I know her too. Troublemaker. Petty crime, drugs. Vanished a couple of years ago. She connected?”
Beatnik shook his head. “I don’t know,” he said. “I think she knew me, somehow.”
“These perps did shit up on us,” said Bosewick, and kicked a corpse idly. A boy’s hand flapped against the concrete pavement. “Come on, let’s get this documented. My last time on the streets, might as well get some good photos.”
Beatnik got to his feet, lurching like slightly, and called in the JURIST drones. Just before they arrived, his hands darted out, as if controlled by some lower impulse, and laid the perp down properly on the street. The green gas swirled around her, drifting gently across her hair.
Somehow that seemed familiar.

Three


He thought about her that evening, as they rode the police car back to the precinct, Golemkind and Gene Savior blaring out at startled traffic. Bosewick snapped his fingers, grinning out at the neon-lit night with a face full of worry and triumph and rolled together in one, the perfect gene-cop’s facade crumbling in the flashes between traffic lights, and Beatnick thought about the girl with gas in her hair, dead in a dark alley.
The office had set up some kind of farewell to Bosewick. it was a formal affair, meant to be a surprise, and as a result nobody really showed up: it was just the captain and the graveyard shift crew and the techs like Cho. Sad to see the last gene-cloned cop go, said the captain. Pioneers, changed how law enforcement worked.
Not really, said Cho’s eyes. Expenses. Long weeks setting up micronutrient baths and sewing skin back on every time one of them went down. Beatnik crept out before the end and parked himself on the precinct steps. Gleam Street glittered before him, all that noise and light and concrete and the beating hearts of thousands of people going about their lives, oblivious, and him and the police with their tanks and their guns and their drones, always in their heads, shepherding every step of the way. And he thought he saw her, etched in the light of the streetlamps and in the darkness of the corners.
“I’d give you a dollar for your thoughts, but we both know the dollar ain’t worth shit now,” said Bosewick’s voice behind him.
Beatnik turned. Bosewick had taken off his exoskeleton and put on his dress uniform; he seemed diminished. He was holding a beer.
“They tell you what happens next?”
Bosewick shrugged and tried to look nonchalant. “Looks like I might be giving this body up. They’ve got a new program of some sort, they want an old dog who’s been around a few times.”
“Painful?”
Bosewick shuddered. “Very.” He chugged his beer, winced, and came and sat beside Beatnik. “Last time I had one of these was twenty years ago,” he said. “Damn, what a waste.”
“Do you like it?”
“Tastes like horse piss.”
They chuckled and fell silent again, watching the city go by.
“Still thinking about that girl?”
Beatnik nodded.
“She may have known you from an assignment I put you on,” said Bosewick. “Back when those kids were just petty criminals. I had you infiltrate them, set up a little sting operation. Cho was in on it, too. “
Beatnick frowned. “I don’t remember this.”
“Long time ago, and before they gave you this body,” said Bosewick. “Back when we were trying to assimilate, you know, slip in agents that looked just like them.”
“How’d I do?”
Bosewick shrugged. “Everyone screws up the first go,” he said. “Think you went a bit native on us. Ended up setting up a nice trail to a drug-running operation. Think that’s around when you started insisting we call you by that stupid-ass name of yours. Beatnik.”
It was like something jarring loose inside of him, something long since buried under countless deaths and data wipes. Jessica. Now he remembered. The training. The drilling. The false IDs. The seduction. The set up.
Her hair spread out on the pillow, and her laugh filling his world, and him sitting in bed with a pit in his stomach, wondering if this was all worth it, if he couldn’t just forget the police, forget the training, and just live, taste the moment, and listen to her laugh forever.
He suddenly felt old, and tired beyond belief.
Bosewick finished his horse piss. “I’m going out to see the city,” he said. “One last beat.”
“Thought we did that today.”
“Yeah, well, crime never sleeps,” said Bosewick, making a show of getting up and cracking his knuckles. That look plastered itself on his face – half dread, half facade, a Potemkin village in human form. He took one step down, two, ten. Turned.
“Our lives are not our own,” said Bosewick carefully. “From womb to tomb we’re tied to others. Only thing you can do is choose what ties you get to keep. Delete the rest. Don’t let it fuck you up. Not all of us can do that.”
Beatnik thought about it and nodded. “See you on the other side of hell, Bosewick.”
“On the other side,” said Bosewick, and grinned. He walked off into the night, into the darkness of the city, a thin man in his cop uniform and a suit of smiling dread. Beatnik watched until the gunshots began, and averted his eyes.
Between us, it’s not a great process, squire. The ones I got coming out don’t remember a thing. The shock just tears them apart, you know? Mentally.
And then, eventually, he went back to Cho.
“So you remembered,” he murmured, his hands flying over desktop controls.
“You used to sell drugs.”
“You used to purchase ’em,” said Cho. “The two things I miss the most. The drugs and being a girl.”
“Bosewick won’t be taking the new program,” said Beatnik.
The white-coated doctor looked up just once, understood.
“I’d like to volunteer in his place.”
Cho gaped. His mouth opened and shut like a dying man. “You know how much damage that thing does to your brain?”
Beatnik thought about it. He thought about Jessica. The times he’d found her in her room, almost unconscious from the drugs. The way she tilted her head back when she came back and laughed at him, laughing at the almost-death. The way his heart leaped every time he found her, sprawled in a near-coma, the way it leaped again when she opened her eyes, the way it leaped yet again when he took her to bed. Life, death, rebirth, crime and punishment, his existence in a microcosm, mirrored in her dying eyes.
“I’d like to forget,” he said.

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