Jon Smith opened the door of his apartment, stepped inside, closed the door and locked it....then sank to the floor, his back against the door.
He pulled his knees up to his chest, wrapped his arms around them in an attempt to stop his shaking.
It didn't help.
Breathing hard, he got up, pulled off his belt and dropped it into a nightstand drawer, walked to the kitchenette, opened the refrigerator, stared inside.
He started to reach for a beer, then stopped.
He closed the fridge door, turned and opened a pantry. Reaching into the back of the top shelf, he pulled out a squarish glass bottle half-full of brown liquid, stared at it.
....then put it down on the counter, went to the closet and began undressing.
A half-hour later, he had showered, put on a t-shirt and worn pair of shorts, sat at the small table.
He picked up some bills, looked at them, dropped them to one side without opening them.
Clasped his hands, and dropped his head, his eye closed....looked up to turn his head and look at the bottle on the countertop again.
He got up, took a glass from the cabinet, poured an inch of the brown liquid into the glass....then tilted the bottle again to fill the glass the rest of the way....took the glass with him as he sat on the edge of his bed, put the glass on the nightstand.
And stared at it.
Without pulling back the covers, he lay down on the mattress, stared at the ceiling, then turned over to face the wall.
He had rounded a corner and seen the boy, Quake, in his usual stance, hands extended in front of himself, fountains of dirt spewing vertically upward, zombies at the center of each geyser. As he always did, he had run forward to help the child, using his claws to good advantage on the boy's behalf. "Hey, Buddy," he had called over his shoulder, was gratified to see the boy nod to him, the shadow of a smile touching his lips.
He let the boy lead, as he always did, following the child's path. He asked no questions, they only spoke when it was necessary to coordinate their attacks.
As they sat resting between battles, he pulled a candy bar out of one of his pouches, handed it to the boy, whose eyes lit up when he saw it. Jon smiled to himself as he watched the boy wolf down the chocolate.
He had never understood the feelings that the child always triggered. It always seemed so sad to him, so poignant, this small boy apparently alone in the world. He had followed the boy one day to his contact, no longer at City Hall, and asked some searching questions. The contact had known hardly more than Jon did....one of his contacts had passed the boy on to him, and he treated the boy the same way he would any other hero, with the same courtesies.
Quake wasn't the only child hero that man worked with.
The only times Jon tried to ask Quake questions, the boy had simply gotten up and walked away.
The boy had finished his candy, wadding the paper and tossing it over his shoulder, licking his sticky fingers. He had gotten up again, and strode off purposefully, Jon following.
An Eidelon had been giving them a lot of trouble, and Jon had resorted to using some of his inspiration drugs to stay on top of the fight. At the last moment, after all of his minions had been knocked unconsious, the zombies once again inert, the Eidelon had turned and run, and Jon had taken out after him, blood boiling in the heat of battle.
He had chased him down the street and into an alley.
When he returned, after dispatching the Eidelon, he couldn't find Quake.
He began to search the surrounding area, calmly. It wasn't the first time they had gotten separated, and Jon knew the boy knew how to take care of himself, most of the time.
He had turned into another nearby alley when he rounded a dumpster, and found a group of about twenty zombies, handlers, and a couple of Eidelons for good measure, all huddled around a prostrate form on the pavement.
The body of a child. A child dressed in black t-shirt and jeans.
One of the reapers had just finished handing a boy's severed head to an Eidelon, who looked up at Jon and then ran.
Jon had looked down at the headless body....and screamed.
Blackness rose from the pavement, blinding him to everything around him. He was vaguely aware of pain, and thrashing at something, but nothing more.
The darkness hadn't left him until he was standing outside his own door. He had no memory of how he had come to be there.
He had turned around, and run back to the alleyway. As always, there was only a blood pool as mute evidence that Jon's memory wasn't playing tricks on him.
Zombie handlers were thorough....and efficient. It didn't take them long to dismember a body and carry away the parts for their experiments.
He had roamed around the alleys and streets, calling out out both "Quake!" and "Buddy!"
And had gotten no answer.
He stared at the wall, trying to remember what had happened....and failing.
He would have to wait until the morning to go to Quake's contact, ask if he had seen the boy since the previous evening....and suggest that he talk to the police if he hadn't.
He sat up, picked up the glass, and drained it.
He walked a landscape of madness.
Geysers of earth spewed upwards around him, trapping him, drowning him in liquid soil. He thrashed, his hands trying to force their way through the muck. He tried to extend his claws, but they wouldn't obey him.
Then he looked down and saw that he didn't have any arms.
And fell. Fell until he hit, with bruising impact, a concrete surface.
And looked up again, to see an Eidelon standing over him, pointing at him, as a Reaper raised his cleaver.
He looked frantically around, seeking a means of escape. The only thing he could see was the headless body. That of a child....a boy.
A different boy.
Jon woke up shrieking, tears streaming from his one good eye.
Copyright terraforming.com, November 26, 2012