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The face floats serene against the black, his one hand raised. The other makes a fist against his ribs, elbow cocked out in martial artist's stance; but never has a high-step man held poise as sharp as this, nor as deadly. A moment's thought can call out photons flooding from that hand's space, which blink up to gamma as they're lased across the gap which separates us.

I wait and feel his pulse. Small wavelets in the air bring the thump across to me, to where my own hands lie by my sides - I would not succeed in bringing them quickly up, even if (after all these years) I could somehow make myself perform the kill. So there we sit, and watch across the few poor feet of lane, until he sighs and lets his upraised hand fall back. Not all the way, but down; down to the level of his waist, and (gesture loud) he turns his palm down to to the ground.

Now both of us are out of line. If I were to jerk upright just now, then so would he; while one of us might win the game, more likely would we find that twins in aspect, so in time - and each would die, the gamma bursts eradicating us as we help the lane's space heal, excising one another from the room. When gone, the spatial wound would knit, but who's to say what then? Not us, for we'd be worse than dead - made never were.

"Do you have the cards?" His voice is calm, so calm for this unnatural staring match. I feel as if we seek (in study of each others' face) the telltale signs of coming action - the crease of swordsman committing to his fate, betrayed by muscles physical and real. I force my eyes back from their quivering focus on his hand and smile, the rictus bland but all that I can offer now.

"I'm sure I do."

"May I see them?"

"If you let me put a hand inside my coat."

He laughs. "These aren't guns, you know. The moment your hand goes inside your shirt you will in fact be more vulnerable than I. I have no problem with you reaching there - but please, for both our sakes, be slow."

I nod, and curl my activ hand to cup the air. As the hard-edged plane vanishes from my stance, he loosens more; I slowly push the withdrawn hand into my jerkin top and feel the ragged oblong there. I raise one eyebrow, and he nods; at which I pull the pasteboard stack into the stilled and sudden room.

He takes in breath, a ragged suck at air that gives away what calm of face and stance has so far hid. I slowly fan the cards before him, red and black and golden icons of the Grid spun out in a graceful arc. He drops both arms completely, sits on the floor. I sink down too, and flip the cards as I fan them back. The deck whole once more, I pass it on to him; he takes it in a dream, his null hand reaching into his clothes as well with absent-minded ease. I twitch, just once, which draws a grimace of apology, but then he hands out his own to me. I take them from him, fan them out as he does the same for mine. Two by two and lotus-legged, we sit upon the lane's cold floor and examine our forbidden memories.

I look up at him. "These are not the same as mine."

A laugh. "Of course not. I'm much more handsome than you are, why would the cards be identical?"

I laugh with him, forgotten easy thing, idle talk. I spread his deck across the floor in front of me, at which he fans mine out to match. They do have the same width of field; from where I sit the count's the same. It's the icons which each of our careful eyes will catch, the pictures warped and stolen. In my hand, in front of him, the nine of Stalkers waits; I pick out a nine from his deck and examine it. Not Stalker, nor Beater, nor Old one, nor Ace; his has a blue-and-green sigil there (count of nine) but rather than a stylized Ship it has a worn and simple face. "What suit?" I ask, as I hold it out.

He leans forward to see the card, my face showing slight concentration beneath his brown-and-silver hair. "The nine of Fools. And yours?" He plucks the Nine from inside my deck to hold it side-to-side with his; awaits my answer with head cocked aside.

"Nine of Stalkers."

He purses lips, looks down. "Stalkers. These, then - with the broomsticks...ah. Hunt. Beaters?"


The grin could be called stolen, but it's good to see it once again; mirrors hide themselves from us, and I haven't seen my face in years.

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