The Supernaturalist Chapter 1

Cosmonaut Hill, Satellite City, Northern Hemisphere. Soon. SATELLITE CITY: THE CITY OF THE FUTURE, proclaimed the billboards. A metropolis completely controlled by the Myishi 9 Satellite hovering overhead like a floating man-of-war. An entire city custom constructed for the third millennium. Everything the body wanted, and nothing the soul needed. Three hundred square miles of grey steel and automobiles. Satellite City. A supercity of twenty-five million souls, each one with a story more heartbreaking than the last. If it's happy-ever-afters you want, stay away from the city of the future. Take Cosmo Hill, for example, a nice-enough boy who had never done anything wrong in his short existence. Unfortunately, this was not enough to guarantee him a happy life, because Cosmo Hill did not have a sponsor. And in Satellite City, if you didn't have a sponsor and they couldn't trace your natural parents through public-record DNA files, then you were sent to an orphanage until you reached adulthood. And by that time you were either dead, or the orphanage had fabricated a criminal record for you so you could be sold to one of the private labour prisons. Fourteen years before we take up the thread of this story, baby Cosmo was discovered swaddled in an insulated Cheery Pizza envelope on Cosmonaut Hill in Moscowtown. The state police swabbed him for DNA, searched for a match in the Satellite mainframe, and came up blank. Nothing unusual about that -- orphans turn up every day in the city. So the newly christened Cosmo Hill was dipped in a vaccine vat and sent on a tube to the Clarissa Frayne Institute for Parentally Challenged Boys. Freight class. Satellite City was not part of any welfare state, so its institutions had to raise funds in any way they could. Clarissa Frayne's speciality was product testing. Whenever a new modified food or untested pharmaceutical product

was being developed, the orphanage volunteered its "no-sponsor" charges as guinea pigs. It made perfect financial sense. The orphans got fed and cleaned, and the Frayne Institute got paid for the privilege. Cosmo received his schooling from education software, his teeth were whiter than white, and his hair was lustrous and flake-free; but his insides felt like they were being scoured with a radioactive wire brush. Eventually, Cosmo realized that the orphanage was slowly killing him. It was time to get out. There were only three ways out of Clarissa Frayne: adoption, death, or escape. There was zero chance that he'd actually be adopted -- not at his age. Truculent teenagers were not very popular with the childless middle classes. For years, he had cherished the dream that someone would want him; now it was time to face facts. Death was much easier to achieve. All he had to do was keep on doing what he was told, and his body would give up in a matter of years. The average life expectancy of an institutionalized orphan was fifteen years. Cosmo was fourteen. That left him with less than twelve months before the statistics said his time was up. Twelve months to plan for the final option. There was only one way he would get out of Clarissa Frayne alive: escape. At the Clarissa Frayne Institute for Parentally Challenged Boys, every day was basically the same. Toil by day, fitful sleep by night. There were no days off, no juvenile rights. Every day was a work day. The marshals worked the orphans so hard that by eight p.m. most of the boys were asleep standing up, dreaming of their beds. Cosmo Hill was the exception. He spent every moment of his waking life watching for that one chance. That split second when his freedom would beckon to him from outside an unlocked door or an unguarded fence. He must be ready to seize that moment and run with it. It wasn't likely that his chance would come on this particular day. And even if it did, Cosmo didn't think he would have the energy to run anywhere. The no-sponsors had spent the afternoon testing a new series of antiperspirants. Their legs had been shaved and sectioned with rings of tape. The flesh between the bands was sprayed with five varieties of antiperspirant, and then the boys were set on treadmills and told to run. Sensors attached to their legs monitored their sweat glands, determining which spray was most effective. By the end of the day, Cosmo had run ten miles, and the pores on his legs were inflamed and scalded. He was almost glad to be cuffed to a moving partner and begin the long walk back to the dormitory.

If the marshals caught a no-sponsor on the ground after lights out. These rooms were actually sections of cardboard utility pipe that had been sawed into six-foot lengths. serviced each pipe. slept. . Jam-packed full of fun. young princes. And a thousand illegal ones. Each boy had an assigned space in the dorm. "Five minutes to lights-out. The boys knew that the marshal had a hundred legal ways of making a no-sponsor's life miserable." The no-sponsors relaxed once Redwood had gone. If the lights went out before he reached it. and the silence of discipline was replaced by the groans and sobs of boys in pain. he could be stranded on the ladder. where he ate. Cosmo climbed quickly." Redwood didn't have to finish his threat. "Now. and passed whatever leisure time the no-sponsors had. boys. feeling the boy behind closing in." said the marshal. the entire contraption swayed like an ocean liner. pressing against the boy ahead with his head. boys.Marshal Redwood ushered the boys into the dorm. Cosmo reached his level. Cosmo . is a busy day. ignoring the pain in his leg muscles. a ten-mile run would seem like a Sunday stroll compared to the punishment they would dish out. as usual. The pipes were suspended from a network of wires almost fifty feet off the ground. and began climbing." said Redwood's voice over a network of speakers. His pipe was near the top. After a few minutes of feverish climbing. keying his code into the dorm door. which he toyed with constantly. As a matter of fact. Redwood resembled a waxed gorilla. A narrow walkway. Cosmo touched his leg gingerly where a particularly acidic spray had actually burned the skin. I bet a few dinars on the outcome. Each step brought fresh stabs of pain to his tendons. barely the width of his hand. Once the pipes were occupied by orphans. . "Tomorrow. "There's a game on tonight that I am very interested in seeing." Three hundred orphans turned immediately to the dozen or so steel ladders. So if you know what's good for you . grinning. "Sleep well. unlocking one pair of cuffs at a time. with the exception of a red cowlick. Nobody wanted to be stranded on the dorm floor once the ladders were retracted." said Redwood. "Climb the ladders. but he climbed on.

The meal packs had been tested a few years previously by the no-sponsors for use by soldiers in the field. Ten seconds later. There must be a better life. Cosmo answered the knock with one of his own. gripping a rail on the underside of the walkway above him. he thought glumly. at this very moment. Clarissa Frayne discouraged actual face-to-face communication between the boys. feeling the gum bottle's moisture seeping into his forehead. using most of it to wash down the crisp bread tray. not bothering to wonder what was in the meal. he told his brain. laying it across his head like a facecloth. claiming that the luminous packs caused internal bleeding. No living in the past. Surely people were laughing. His pipe was four columns across. Not tonight. and the water bottle from a semi rigid gum. landing on the foam-rubber mattress. Someone knocked gently from the pipe above. Then he turned the gum bottle inside out. Cosmo swung inside. and also edible. His own parents. The network was opening up. saving the management a few dinars. He could be from anywhere. The nosponsors had developed a system of communication that allowed them to converse without angering the marshals. people were talking openly. Real laughter too. on the grounds that . The trays and water bottles were luminous. Dinner. brown eyes. not just the spiteful kind that so often echoed around the orphanage halls. Brown curly hair. Cosmo ate slowly. freckled brown. Somewhere. He didn't want to play the parent game. It was Ziplock Murphy. unleavened crisp bread. light skin. which meant that the orphans could eat after lights-out. He didn't want to think tonight. Cosmo saved the water for last. then pulled back his mattress. A sick yellow glow lit the interior of each pipe. but the sleep that he had yearned for was proving elusive.slid across carefully. Shut up. Wondering about it would only add one more worry to his list. Cosmo lay back. Who were they? Why had they abandoned him on Cosmonaut Hill? Maybe he was Russian. He had to believe that he would escape Clarissa Frayne before the meal packs could do him any lasting damage. signalling Fence in the pipe below. The tray was made from a rough. Look to the future. The meal had been thrown in earlier by a marshal in a cherry picker. Why had they abandoned him? Cosmo transferred the gum bottle to a red strip on his leg. The orphanage bought up the surplus and fed them to the orphans every single day. the lights went out. It was impossible to tell from his features. The army had discontinued use of the meal packs following several lawsuits by soldiers.

But tonight all he could think about was that moment when freedom would beckon to him. or the antiperspirant will make you sicker than those Creeper slugs. The entire lattice of pipes shook with their efforts. Cosmo followed the Chemist's advice. Word came back in under a minute. Cosmo among them. "The Chemist says spit on your hands and rub it in. This is nearly as bad as the time they had us testing those Creeper slugs. He loved to watch medical programs on TV. and the other into a hole overhead. And friendships could lead to unity. "Antiperspirants. The fact that the pipes were all touching. Cosmo dug his nails into a seam in the cardboard pipe and pulled out two small tubes." "I tried that too. Forty no-sponsors. followed by a sixty-kilobyte questionnaire. "About our legs?" The Chemist was the orphanage name for a boy three columns across. or at least listen to one of Ziplock's yarns. along with the acoustics of the hall. had just spent the day at a music company watching proposed TV spots for computer-generated pop groups. Both had been fashioned from mashed gum bottles and crisp bread." said Fence from below. and was the closest the nosponsors had to a consultant. Cosmo could hear no-sponsors whispering a hundred yards away." The sound of boys spitting echoed through the hall. And being ready when it arrived. then lay back. Cosmo. The spit has some kind of salve in it. Which sim-singer . Cosmo's chance at freedom came the very next day during a routine transfer. I was throwing up for a week.friendships might develop. meant that voices traveled amazing distances through the network." grunted Cosmo. letting a hundred different conversations wash over him. maybe even revolt." Comments and suggestions snuck through the holes from all over the pipe construct. "Hey. though. Cosmo screwed one into a small hole in the lower surface of his pipe. "I put my gum bottle on one. Ziplock's voice wafted through from above. Sometimes he would join in. then baked on a windowsill. but it's not helping. "What does the Chemist say?" asked Cosmo. Don't lick your fingers. How are your legs?" "Burning.

Cosmo was paired with Ziplock Murphy as a cuff partner.did you prefer? Which sim-performer was cool? Cool? Even the company's computers were out of touch. "Medics use that stuff in war zones to seal up the wounded. Kids rarely said cool anymore. Not only did Ziplock not learn his lesson." continued Ziplock. Frayne marshals loaded the no-sponsors into a truck after the session. One of the marshals shot my entire head full of anaesthetic first." Ziplock said animatedly. A mark of shame. Myishi 9 was simply getting too heavy for its engines to support such a low orbit. But nobody complained. the Irish boy had talked too much to the wrong person and got the ziplock from a food baggie superglued over his mouth. "You ever try breathing only through your nose for an entire day? I panicked a few times. A day watching music videos was infinitely preferable to more chemical tests. maybe because Cosmo was the only one who even pretended to listen while he talked. It took weeks for the blisters to heal. But there had been trouble with the Satellite lately. They pour it straight onto the wounds. Too many beers the night before. I'll admit it." In the cab. but now he had something else to talk about. . Ziplock was okay. They could have been banging six-inch nails into my skull and I wouldn't have minded. except that he talked too much. Once. in case you're worried. "I didn't feel anything. His pendulous belly spoke of too many beers almost ever night. the TV brains said. This was how he had earned his orphanage name." Cosmo nodded without much enthusiasm." Cosmo rubbed the flesh beneath the cuffs. The bulky redhead had bad breath today and a worse attitude. as one of the marshals threaded the cuffs through the restraining ring on the seat. Too many addons. Cosmo barely read the questions before checking a box with his digi-pen. "What's the delay?" shouted Marshal Redwood. Ziplock seemed to forget that he had told this story about a million times. the pilot was uplinking the truck to the navigation section of the Satellite. with actual rubber tires instead of plastic treads. All the no-sponsors had a ring of red flesh around their wrists. He preferred music made by real people to pixel-generated pop. "They don't call it superglue for nothing. There was even talk of some companies' aerials snapping off and burning up. The vehicle must have been a hundred years old. "They had to use boiling water to get the bag off my face.

Being a smart mouth doesn't win you any prizes in this city. "You think I'm joking. sir. It isn't smart to mess with me. The truck lurched from its spot in the parking bay. okay. "I heard that about you. cranking it up a few more notches. Redwood was not a man to push over the edge. "You know something." The Satellite saved Ziplock's neck. More hysteria than humour. There were stories about him." Redwood lifted Ziplock's chin until their eyes met. "I heard you don't like the paperwork. on account of some of the words have more than three letters. A guiding . No-sponsors had gone missing. beaming down a transportation plan before Redwood could tighten his fingers another notch. make a line. Francis? That's the first clever thing I've ever heard you say. You'd do it. because I do whatever I please. "What's that." The sentence was followed by a high-pitched giggle. "You think I wouldn't do it?" "No." Ziplock should have left it there. or worse. But Ziplock couldn't stop. or my boot is going to make a line to your butt." "It's the Satellite. it just gets you hurt. "I can't get a line. You've got that look in your eyes. A warning. Even the psycho kids were afraid of Redwood." "Well. Redwood transferred his fingers to Ziploc's throat. I hate paperwork." shouted the pilot. but he couldn't." Redwood tugged harder on Ziplock's chin. The only reason I don't get rid of a dozen of you freaks every day is the paperwork. Francis? What did you hear?" Cosmo tugged on the cuff chain. squeezing casually. The words were spewing out of him like agitated bees from a hive."If I'm late again tonight. "Morons like you never get it. rolling onto the main highway. Cosmo realized that Ziplock was headed for the psycho ward. if he lived that long. Agnes swears she's moving to her sister's. Francis?" shouted the man." Ziplock snickered just loud enough for Redwood to hear. sir. boxing Ziplock on the ear. It isn't smart to mess with a man who's got that look. His big mouth wouldn't let him.

watching the city beyond the glass. We're not real people to him. slotting into a corresponding groove in the highway. He knew from experience that soon his windpipe would shrink to the diameter of a straw and he would whistle when he spoke. This life just drives me crazy. "Redwood is crazy. The truck shuddered violently. "You must feel it too. "I can't help it." he rasped. tears in his eyes. or a moody teenager like yourself?" Cosmo looked away." hissed Cosmo. you can count on it. "We're locked in. Cosmo raised himself to the cuff's limits. "The Satellite. We lost our link!" . It visited him most nights as he lay in his pipe listening to the cries around him. The pilot was on his feet. It was a superstrong steel-based polymer that was supposed to stay cool in summer and warm in winter. "The junk just comes out of my mouth." Ziplock nodded. Pig-iron buildings." Cosmo knew that feeling well. flashing past grey apartment blocks. repeatedly punching his code into the uplink unit. straining to see. what's going on up there?" he said. He knew that neither of them fit the likely adoptee profile. watching the marshal continue down the aisle. "Keep a lid on it. Something had rear-ended them. but managed to do exactly the opposite. I'm too happy to inflict pain on you now. "You've got the luck of the Irish. Cosmo? You think anybody is going to adopt a borderline psycho kid. but Ziplock had always managed to pretend that today was the day his new parents would show up. Ziplock. "Hey." called the pilot. Cosmo rested his forehead against the window. Redwood was thrown to the floor's plastic planks. "Ten minutes to the Institute. Francis." Redwood released Ziplock's neck.rod extended from below the chassis." Ziplock drew a greedy breath. which was why the locals referred to Satellite City as the Big Pig. But later. Not that the material was actually pig iron. Denying that dream meant that Ziplock was teetering on the brink of crackup. They were in the projects now. rubbing his tender throat. when I'm in a foul mood.

man. "Ziplock! Francis. Cosmo glimpsed a delivery minivan careering off the highway. The marshals were generally out for the count. lifting the truck from its groove and flipping it onto its side. "Agnes is gonna love this. After a time the impacts blended together like the final notes of a frenetic drum solo. leaving a thirty-meter trench in the vehicle's wake. Ziploc's hysterical laughter was almost as piercing as the shards of glass. The spicy doors of ginger and soy mingled with the smells of machine oil and blood. They were struck again: sideswiped this time. Redwood struggled to his feet." The pilot paled. accompanied by resonating thunderclaps. Steering wheels were only used in rural zones or for illegal drag racing in the Booshka region. They eventually came to rest after smashing through the window of the Dragon's Beard Chinese Restaurant. still here. slewing off the highway in a cascade of sparks. The truck revolved a half turn. "I think it's broken. are you okay?" "Yeah. or staring at whichever limb was pointing the wrong way.No link! That meant they were out here on an overcrowded highway with no pattern to follow. Chunks of asphalt collapsed beneath the onslaught. a few were worse. Every window smashed. Redwood and the other marshals were scattered like so many leaves in a storm. "Oh. Redwood gingerly touched a swelling nose. Huge dents appeared in the panelling. no-sponsors were groaning and yelling for help. raining crystal rainbows. bumper mangled. The pilot was lost in a haze of glass and wiring. crushing the cab like a concertina. Cosmo could not tell how many times other vehicles collided with the truck." The boy sounded disappointed. The impact was tremendous. "Go to manual. Either that." . Throughout the bus. saved by the restraining cuffs. Minnows in a sea of hammerheads. Cosmo hung on-what else could he do? Beside him. Cosmo put one foot on a windowsill. Use the steering wheel. Some were injured. taking the strain off his arms. More than likely he had never wrestled with a steering wheel in his life. you cretin." he moaned. The choice was taken away from the unfortunate man when a revolving advertisement drone hit them head on. Cosmo and Ziplock dangled from their chairs. this is it!" shouted the Irish boy.

"The way I see it. Ziplock was a bit slow to catch on. inserting his swipe card into the cuff ring." But it was too late. You don't stand up for yourself. "I ordered you to stop. An invisible line had been crossed. Hill. A fat drop of blood slipped from one nostril. Cosmo had been shrink-wrapped once before. In the midst of all the chaos. falling through an empty window frame. but you wouldn't listen." Redwood sighed dramatically. "It's a pity. "What are you talking about. he was an altogether more dangerous individual. But unfortunately. happens to me!" "Okay! Okay! I didn't say anything. When he came back out. crouching on all fours like a pit bull. sir. sir." The marshal reached over. standing slowly to face the dangling boys and running a pocket comb through his precious red locks. The . I'll teach him. Ziplock. "Marshal Redwood."Oh. You get that nose fixed up. catching his cuff partner in the ribs. Once the slug hit a solid object. "What did you say?" The marshal spoke slowly. The cellophane was porous enough to allow shallow breathing. "Shut up. He had spent a week in a body cast as a result. "I had no choice but to shrinkwrap you." he said." said Ziplock. Redwood? There's nothing wrong with our cuff ring. What happens to you. Cosmo elbowed Ziplock aside. He's just an idiot." In spite of his quick mouth. making sure every word came out right. dangling above Redwood's frame. all wars have collateral damage. but had been known to squeeze so tightly that it cracked ribs. Mr. because I always liked you." Shrink-wrap was security-speak for the cellophane-virus slugs that the marshals loaded their gas-powered rods with. "Every cloud has a silver lining." Redwood froze. Francis didn't mean anything. his nose whistling slightly. and you tried to escape." Redwood patted Cosmo's cheek. Look!" He tugged the cuff to demonstrate. the virus was released and coated the target with a restrictive layer of cellophane. Marshal. well. Redwood retreated into himself. "is that your cuff ring snapped. Nothing at all. Let me take care of it. Cosmo swung his foot across.

Diners were hugging the walls. His chance had come. In a few more seconds the city police would arrive. The no-sponsors had heard of freshly prepared food. why would I do that?" Cosmo grabbed the marshal's nose." Ziplock stood his ground. "I want to spend my half a minute watching Redwood squirm. grabbing Ziplock by the elbow. This was it. Redwood drew his rod. "Use your imagination. "We have thirty seconds. "Now. "That's why. "I'm a reasonable man." Cosmo shook the glass from his clothes. it was an almost religious experience. Ziplock stuffed one into his own mouth. Sirens were already cutting through the engine hiss. and the tangy sauce saturated his tongue. ." Cosmo ran toward the rear window." They climbed through the broken window into the restaurant. He bit into the pancake. Cosmo was not stupid enough to refuse food. I prefer to live. "Let's go." Redwood's eyes filled with tears and he collapsed. and all avenues of escape would be shut off. dragging Ziplock to his feet. in case the truck decided to lurch another few feet. "You've got twenty seconds. twisting almost ninety degrees. no matter what the circumstances. writhing in the broken glass. Ziplock grabbed a couple of duck pancakes from a stunned diner's plate. but never actually tasted any before. checking the chamber." he said. if indeed they ever did? This could be the condemned boys' last meal. For a boy raised on pre-packaged developmental food. crumpling onto the carpet of glass. But he could not pause to enjoy it. Live or die.boys dropped two meters. dragging the Irish boy behind him." said Cosmo. Who knew when they would get to eat again. offering the other to his cuff partner. The searchlights from TV birds were already poking through the decimated front wall. "Why don't you give us thirty seconds?" Redwood laughed.

winding out of sight. Ziplock stuck his face into the outside air. "Let's go before he realizes that his reporters are runaway no-sponsors. but most were decorative plasma. plum sauce dribbling down his chin. squeezed together shoulder to shoulder. The main room had several windows. "Is it over?" "Not yet. "We will make it." Cosmo stepped through. We go up. A back door led to a narrow stairway. "The big shock is on the way. They took the stairs. and jade dragons lined the shelves. pulling open the triple-glazed react-to-light pane. Ziplock giggled. dragging Ziplock behind him." panted Ziplock. only one led to Satellite City. not sure if he wanted to get involved. "Excellent." he said. "We're never going to make it." "Heaven help us all. "A fire escape. We will. Possibly to freedom." The apartment was decorated with ancient Chinese artefacts. A way down.Cosmo ran toward the rear of the restaurant. "The earthquake. He wore a striped jumpsuit." The boys rounded a corner straight into a luxurious studio apartment. A waiter blocked their path. the cuff digging into his wrist. onto a metal grille. Redwood would be coming soon. and his hair was exceptionally shiny even by product-tester standards." Cosmo increased the pace." Ziplock held back. "Down is what Redwood will expect. possibly to a single-room dead end." the man squeaked. "Don't tell me the boy who irritates marshals for fun is afraid of heights?" . Cosmo popped the clip. "Up?" Cosmo pulled him through. A man's face peered out from beneath a large double bed. There was no time for conscious decision. "Hey." he said vaguely." replied Ziplock. if he was not already on his way. Suits of battle armour stood in each corner. retreating behind the fringe of a chintz bedcover. The boys skipped around the man before he could make up his mind. "I hope he doesn't get us before I finish this pancake." said the man.

That man made goldfish look smart. "Yeah. "Negative. Regulations. but in the centre of his forehead. "Okay. Back to business. For now. sucking the pain in and containing it. a block of pain battered him like a malignant glacier. Redwood found to his surprise that the root of his pain was not his nose. The no-sponsors are armed and have already fired cellophane slugs. Not that they were guilty of anything. Redwood? We thought you were dead. Maybe you could knock them around a bit first. well. Fred Allescanti was on duty back at base. Five minutes. He combated the agony using a trick from his army days. that way we get to test some of the new pharmaceuticals. Can you imagine the lawsuit Clarissa Frayne will be looking at if they wrap a civilian?" Fred did not answer for a few moments. best to pretend to follow the rules. But I've got a couple of runners." "That you. I'm alive. Redwood hid the throw-down rod inside his jacket. always looking for the upside. pallor washing his gaunt face. Doubtless he was checking protocol in the security manual." Marshal Redwood did not pass out." Redwood scowled. "I'll see what I can do. He unclipped a communicator from his belt." That was typical of the institute. You're supposed to stay with the vehicle. He trapped it there long enough to pop a pain tab from its plastic bubble in his medi-kit." Redwood lifted a rod from one of his unconscious colleagues. Those two were getting shrink-wrapped for sure." In the restaurant. Marshal Redwood. Those no-sponsors had thrown his authority back in his face. They're sending a truck for you." "I don't know. tops. A new batch of synthetic skin had just come in. Barely a minute later the pain receded to a dull throb behind one ear. but they needed people with wounds to test it. "I'm afraid of the ground. but nobody wanted to spend their evening . I'm leaving now in pursuit. Redwood. Still."No. Instead. He focused on the spot. "Redwood to base. patrons were escaping through a side door." replied Ziplock. Under control. He wasn't that lucky. Locate the white centre of the pain and concentrate on it.

They were in every pore. their skin was coated with micro beads of an electronegative halogen solution. Or I'm coming for you. The marshal's fierce eyes and pulped mass of a face made it seem not wise to obstruct him." "It had better be coming. No problem. state police. All you have to do is drag and drop the folders." Fred cleared his throat into the mike. the action bringing tears of pain to his eyes. two moving icons appeared on the small screen on Redwood's communicator. My number is right there under Personnel. is Bruce there? Put Bruce on. Fly off the . then e-mail their patterns to my handset." It was Redwood's habit to turn statements into threats. Listen to me carefully. "Fred. Even if the orphans stopped taking showers. In sim-coffee shops he was known to say. Every move they made was being tracked. which would show up on the Clarissa Frayne scanner. "It had better be hot. . Fred. And why would he be? Though the no-sponsors were not aware of it. insurance agents. Five seconds later. Drag the folders. . the idiots." Redwood thought this was extremely clever. Redwood did not seem overly eager." "Bruce got called out for a little situation in D Block. Whenever the no-sponsors took a shower. Punch up Cosmo and Ziplock on the tracker file. placing the fugitives on a fire escape outside the building. When Redwood clambered through the remains of the escape hatch. too. "Uh . Going up. Use the e-mail icon. Here it comes. people instinctively stepped out of his way. or even anxious. or I'll make it hot for you.answering questions from private security. For a man in pursuit of fugitives. the solution would take months to wear off. Redwood keyed the talk button on his communicator. Over the radio it sounded like sandpaper on soft wood. Send the Hill C and Murphy F tracker patterns to my handset. Got it?" Fred wiped his sweating brow. And these were not the kind of trackers that could be discarded. Fred. the tracker patterns?" Redwood ground his teeth." "Okay. "Dammit. What were they going to do? Fly off the roof? Redwood grinned. "I got it. escape was impossible. and lawyers. I'm all on my lonesome here.

"Let's go. That wasn't such a bad idea. Raindrops battered their necks and backs. Reaction with certain toxic fumes caused the water molecules to bond more efficiently until they fell to earth like missiles. but the boys were so cold that they barely felt any pain. Maybe they could make the jump to the next building. tarcoated felt. In Satellite City. "You think we can make it?" he asked. in the streets. like a submarine's conning tower." commented Cosmo. With every step the roof sagged alarmingly. Maybe not. After that they were banking on good fortune. and had to make do with keeping their eyes down and shoulders hunched. Traditional umbrellas were no longer sufficient. Maybe we can do that soon. as though God had turned off the water. "Someone up there likes us." They padded across the saturated felt. Security firms never responded to car call-outs during a rainstorm. and sparks spluttered from the cracked casing of a rooftop generator. And. As a landing pad. suddenly." Cosmo saved his energy for flight. the downpour stopped. Cosmo hooked his toes over the edge. a flat expanse of slick. The connecting building was one story down.roof. Cosmo. avoiding the brunt of the rainstorm. The rooftop was littered with the remains of a squatter camp. it left a lot to be desired." said Ziplock. . trying not to think about the drop. They were always set off by weather conditions or very foolish car jackers. The box's corrugated roof was buckling under the rain's onslaught. The roof was still one floor up. and in several spots the support girders were visible through sparse strands of felt. shaking the water from his hair. Ziplock and Cosmo did not have the luxury of umbrellas to help them through the current downpour. punctuated by a stairwell box. Just walk around without shackles. They hugged the wall. I always wanted to see the city without shackles on my wrist. Another characteristic of Satellite City's freakish weather. Ziplock was thrown against the fire escape bars by a flurry of drops. raindrops could take a person's eye out if he were foolish enough to look up during a storm. car alarms were activated by the mutant drops. "I can see the city. Cosmo rounded the final corner onto the roof. "It's a bit late for that. Below. and new rigid-plastic models were becoming popular in the Big Pig. Breeze blocks lay like discarded dominos.

"I think we can make it. Cosmo's breath came in short gasps. Don't we. eyes wide. Tears were streaming down his cheeks. or a broken nose. "We surrender. I really think we can. Anybody who spoke like that either had a bad cold. You gotta be wrapped. Either of you. Marshal Redwood stood in the rooftop doorway. Marshal. gathering a bunch of his lapel in his fist. "You two are dumber than recycled sewage." "I don't think you will. It wasn't really a question. Redwood. We're on a rooftop. Perhaps that was what made him shiver. the craziness in his eyes shining through the tears. dropping it at their feet." said Redwood.Ziplock's reply was to rear back from the brink. "I can't get any . You're armed fugitives now. "Too late for surrender. You don't want any plastic going in there." Redwood took the throw-down from his vest. lips stretched in a huge grin." shouted Ziplock. You'd better learn from this one. Ziplock?" Ziplock was too petrified to answer. Water was dripping from his hair. hysterical laughter that had nothing to do with happiness. "This is the last lesson. He leaned the terrified boy over the lip of the roof." said someone in nasal tones." Ziplock began to giggle. Francis." he explained." The vat contained an acidic compound used to dissolve the cellophane. I can't take any chances. Cosmo was undeterred. "Please. Marshal. "I'd advise you to shut your mouth. It could be hours before they get us in the vat. What did you think? Going up would fool me?" Cosmo didn't answer. down between his shoulder blades. *** Cosmo and Ziplock turned slowly. Redwood marched over to Ziplock." "Do your worst. Redwood placed the rod against his forehead. Francis. "I know. "I took the elevator.

It was obvious what could have happened. Alive. Better to let someone else . ancient transformers. and he was facedown in the next building's rooftop generator. spinning them across the roof puddles like stones across a pond. and rust chips that fluttered around his head like bloody snowflakes. "Oh. His final word was to Cosmo. the next. "Don't move. "No. causing a fresh spurt from his tear ducts. They came to rest against a guardrail." he said. One moment he was pleading with Marshal Redwood. though. Cosmo's vision was filled with multicoloured wires. or screams. diverting ten thousand volts from the supply wires and into the two boys. I don't know about -.more scared than I am right now. and slipped over the edge. land and sky flipped. It was a simple lie." Ziplock moved again." Redwood laughed. dragging Cosmo with him. On their backs. Pain was proof of that. no air for shouting. Ziplock was moving. Schoolchildren have jumped from higher trees and escaped without so much as a twisted ankle. One too many cleanings had left it with the strength of wet cardboard. Definitely. The charge catapulted the boys from the generator. The marshal hurried to the stairwell. His arm jiggled. Cosmo's life did not flash before his eyes. he went over backward. so long as he did not stick around here to get photographed by some snoop satellite. Maybe he had heard. Redwood was left holding a rose-shaped bunch of material. and Ziplock was left at an angle he couldn't correct. sparks." Then Ziplock's jumpsuit ripped. The fugitives had been knocked from the roof by the rainstorm. "Sorry. In some considerable pain. It wasn't a long way down. There was no time for prayer. but alive. and believable. Both boys' patterns had disappeared from his tracker. But when Ziplock went over. Redwood peered down from above. Looking up. His partner's movement dragged the metal cuff across two exposed wires. maybe he hadn't. The generator could have shorted out the electronegative halogen micro beads in their pores. Cosmo would never know." Cosmo whispered. But most likely they were dead.

The hand settled on his heart and sucked. slowing with every breath. "They're looking. Shutting down. Two split from the group. All he could hear was his own heartbeat. and an oval head. he supposed. His entire body felt bleached by the electric shock. with smooth. He would be in the restaurant helping the injured when it happened. blue. Something was flowing from him in a starry stream. with a gang tattoo over one eyebrow. bucking the creature on his chest. swerving toward the injured boys. A Latina girl." . veering sharply downward toward the crash site. Hallucinations. but it held on effortlessly. maybe fifteen. The second creature flickered in the corner of his eye. crawling at amazing speeds with no regard for gravity.find the bodies. four slender limbs. Maybe two. Somehow the hand was pulling the pain from his body." said the second newcomer. Hairless and smooth. cradling his smoking head. Cosmo used the last of his energy to look down." said the first. He wanted to struggle -. Sparks rolled in its veins instead of blood. The more the creature sucked. like another blast from the generator. His spine arched in shock and panic. Cosmo felt his days and months slips from his body like water through a fractured dam. It reached out a blue hand. The creature was the size of an infant. Weightless. Life. Cosmo felt his heart skip another beat. Its features were delicate and impassive. faded. Missing beats. One settled on Cosmo's chest. Then things happened very quickly." His comrades scurried to the roof's edge.he tried to grab the creature. Watching him with large. Strange inhuman creatures appeared on the walls of the surrounding buildings. Cosmo did not have the energy to speak. but his muscles had turned to jelly. peering down to the street. You check below. expressionless eyes. The agony dipped. "I'll take them. His eyes played tricks on him. but they're not landing. What were these creatures? Fear sent a shiver through his chest. They hurtled over the lip of the building. The panic rose in him again. "Two here. only four. Three kids appeared on the rooftop. The creature was killing him. He knew what it was. They weren't medics of any kind -. thought Cosmo. the brighter its light became. The fire brigade are hosing the truck. "Too much water.that much was clear from their clothing and their ages -. a tall older boy clothed from head to foot in black. and was gone. Four fingers.but at least they were human. until its blue glow morphed to sunset gold. settling beside Ziplock. translucent skin. Two boys and a girl.

. Blond. branching into a million tendrils. Stefan." Ditto stepped away hurriedly. It must be an hallucination. The white bolts sank into the ghostly creatures' skin. and fired." Hallucination. but Cosmo did not feel the cold. He fired the device on the move: two blasts of pure electricity erupted from the barrel of his strange weapon." he said. Cosmo felt the charge going in like a sledgehammer through his ribs. . with a child's disproportionately large head. Ba-doom . he knelt beside Cosmo. We need to kick-start his heart. Then . White sparks flickered at the business end. Surely this was the last straw. Beating again. "Well.The first youth drew what looked like a torch from his shoulder holster. "A live one!" said the group's third member. For a second Cosmo thought he saw lifestream playing around his fingers. . "No dilation and irregular heartbeat." croaked Cosmo. The tall youth." Stefan pointed the weapon at Cosmo's chest. Ditto doused him with the contents of a nearby fire bucket. "You sure? This roof is wet. He needs a defibrillator. "The other one? No. He's gone. His heart. "Wow. . . His body could take no more. I don't have a defibrillator. Stefan. wasting his last gasp of air. fusing with the sparks already in there. checking his heartbeat and shining a light into one pupil. The creatures shuddered and convulsed. who seemed about six years old. Ditto?" Ditto placed a hand on Ziplock's chest. And past it. "No. Something else was happening. Each one traced a vein. He felt his hair straightening. "What about the other one. Not a peep. their skin swelling to bursting point. And again. loomed in Cosmo's fading vision. The effect was spectacular. dropping from his skin in burning clumps. which drifted away on the breeze." Stefan adjusted his weapon. twisting a ring on its base. tugging at the pores in his scalp. They both exploded into a dozen perfect spheres of light. Surely it must have broken every bone in his chest. His jumpsuit caught fire.

" And suddenly Stefan was half interested. Wrap me if he isn't. "You know." Stefan did not look back. "If you leave me. But he needs serious medical attention. holding the door open for his team." noted Mona. "Did you hear that? The creatures. "This guy's got the will to live of a hungry dog. we go through this every night. "Mona. We have enough trouble looking after ourselves. "they'll come back. "Who'll come back?" he said. ." Cosmo knew that Redwood would never allow him to reach the institute alive. Maybe it was an hallucination." Stefan sighed." They couldn't just leave him here." Cosmo drew his first breath in over a minute. The lawyers will find him. kid. Ba-doom. relieved that his gamble had paid off. "The creatures. He's a Spotter." "Pretty accurate hallucination. "Tough break.Ba-doom. "Sorry. They were sucking the life out of me. "Please." Cosmo coughed up some smoke." he rasped." Ditto clapped his hands. Stefan? Maybe he could make the sim-coffee or something. Stefan. "The blue creatures. Maybe one of us mentioned the creatures. "Take me." Stefan sighed. "Okay." Mona sighed. He holstered the lightning rod. Not after all this. His head is cracked open like an egg." Stefan shrugged. with electricity in their veins." The girl leaned over him. "Please. "We got him!" crowed Ditto. "It could be nothing. Cosmo struggled to stay conscious. sending blood pulsing to his brain." Cosmo's heart beat steadily now. I don't want them to find us too. striding across the roof.

"Okay. Stefan. We can open the other cuff at the warehouse." "A second. He's a Spotter. "Okay." Mona picked a clip from her hair. . Mona. He could have spoken then. "Let's go. Stefan hoisted Cosmo onto his shoulder. And anywhere was better than the Clarissa Frayne Institute for the Parentally Challenged. they would decide not to take him wherever it was that they were going." The Spanish girl examined the cuffs. But he didn't. we take him.Stefan nodded at Ditto." Cosmo hung there like a side of meat. afraid that if he pestered this tall young man. We can spare a second. Gimme a minute. Cosmo's brain decided that there was no room for this new feeling of relief and shut him down for repairs. Ziplock's wrist was free. In slightly more than a second. asked a few more questions. jiggling it expertly in the cuff's lock. not that it was any good to him now.