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Somewhere above the waste the sun beats futilely on the wall of toxins with clenched fists. Down below the sky changes color slightly, reflected flame changing albedo with the backlight clouds. Fortieth street is behind me as I flow uptown. There are no crowds gathered; no cars rush, and the street is quiet. In the middle of the intersection of Forty-second and Madison, a Cop sits silently with its signals hanging loose and forlorn. I hear voices. The fear returns.

Motion ceases instantly, the world freezing in around me as a squirrel's, long time since I saw one but I remember the inquisitive fearful pop motion as it played across a singed sward in the park. The avenue caresses me as I lie across a manhole, and flicker it through myself. Four of them round the corner, empty-faced. One carries food; the odor is strong through the paper sack he holds and the other three surround him, reduced to bodyguards of their sustenance. Power surges beneath, the shock is strong and the surprise no less as City's muscles flex beneath my gut. The manhole quivers, and I feel the flicker betrayed as eyes swing to my frozen form. I gaze back from behind a web of optic lies, protected thankfully from the full locking of our stares. Point man motions the others, who stop; he advances slowly, displaying the short sword he bears. I do not move. Staring at him, I feel mode wanting it, and feel the calculations start. Wondering, as usual, how they were emplaced within me, I rise from the ground as Mode breaks and kill him, emptying his brainpan onto the cold concrete. I suppress flicker with an effort of will and dash the optic blindfold from my face, chromatics running down my cheeks as rain. The others stare, and flee; Mode moves to chase and I beat it down. I sit, and the blood washes from me in a sudden hot downpour from the sky. I raise my eyes to it, wishing for the pain, but there is none. I cannot hurt. I cannot die. I cannot heal.

On Fiftieth street I meet another, seeing only the delay of his Shell, watching as the image of the drunken lamppost flickers infinitismally with the movement of my head. I nod, and wash the flicker; an answering ripple of not-quite-color delineates a manshape before me. We drop back to crawl and slide away from each other in the City's dance. Fifty-seventh street calls to me from the West, its broken vista opening before me as I scurry across. A wall of flame rises at Broadway, barricades packed with steel, stone, flesh and flame. From behind, the wink of proscription; the gun flashes, a distant cousin of the flicker, causing the pavement near me to dimple with the flat spang of impact. The blands wait, watching as I dart sideways. They rule there. Behind the wall, sounds, confusion; I feel Mode locking down and turn my head so as to see them while immobilized. As Mode takes me down into the gutter, fetid water flowing past my collarbone, I see a bland crest the barricade with gun in hand. He looks towards me. Not at me; Mode won't let him. The gun is held at the ready, both his hands wrapped around it in a prayer for the dead that lie beyond his wall. I feel Mode wanting him. I feel flicker dissecting him. I do not move; Mode has not broken.

He clambers down the slope of debris expertly, sliding across without injury. Another rises into view behind him. I hear City's frustration. Beyond the wall, City lies exposed, its Shell broken and its guts torn up. The subway doesn't run there anymore.

His gun quivers, betraying tension. I watch the muscles of his wrists stand out in fear and excitement, unknowing of the closeness of his death. Mode holds me and I beat against it, its excitement leaking into me at the nearness of his blood and the dullness of his Shell. Mode breaks at the instant he locates me; the street rotates lazily away as the gun speaks. I feel the brief slap of kinetics across one knee as my hands rise and flicker laughs out. His time ends. Mine does not. Above, the other guard shouts and unleashes forbidden hell across the street, dancing eager marbles that sing of broken cohesion and doom. Mode takes me, then, pulling me back down the block and into the manhole in a broken choreography of evasion and maneuver as his rounds fail to connect. I feel them strike around me and nudge their way into City.

As I lower myself into the depths of City and the approving darkness, I feel the last bullet strike the back of my head. Flicker stops it a tenth of a millimeter later, the kinetics transformed into a splash of illumination around the darkness of the manhole. Broken wiring and dripping fluids leap at me in the strobing reaction, then there is only the thud of my fall and theplink as the spent round drops beside me. Hissing at the loss of color, I slide across the floor and into the tunnel that calls to me. The pain in my head is comforting, urging me on into the underdark.

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