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It spat me into the room.

After every session with the machine, I was drained, lifeless, some sea creature tossed up on the beach and gasping its respiratory tract raw in a search for the medium of life it was accustomed to. I tossed my fins now, made smacking noises with my mouth, and wiped at my head, which was clammy and cold. I made my way into the bedroom and collapsed onto the mattress without pulling the covers over me.

I tried to encourage pleasant dreams of Marcus Aurelius.

And of Harry. And of money.

But somewhere, quite far way, there was a voice calling to me, a voice which was like chains dragged across a stone floor, like yellowed paper cracking between my fingers. It said, "You're the one they sent for. I know you are. I hate you*"


The next morning, there were rumors of military disturbances along the Russian-Chinese border, and news dispatches from the scene said that Western Alliance troops had met in brushfire contact with the Orientals and that a joint report of American and Russian forces would be filed with the U.N. to protest alleged presence of j.a.panese technical advisors in the Chinese ranks.

The new Chinese horror weapon circling the tired planet had been named Dragonfly by the press. Trust those boys to be original. Or at least colorful. Or, perhaps, just first.

I paid no attention to it. Thus it had been since my childhood, one mini-war after another, one "incident" on the heels of the last, pompous world leaders spouting even more pompous declarations. A man is not constantly aware of his hands. A bird must sometimes forget the sky is there because it has become so familiar to him. Such it is with disaster and war. You can forget as long as it does not touch you, and you can live in better times. It takes a certain peripheral vision deficiency, but that can be mastered with but a small expenditure of time and energy.

I had oranges and tea for breakfast, which helped my headache.

Outside, the city crews had finished cleaning up the snow. The streets were bare, but the buildings and trees were smothered with whiteness. Fences became delicate laceworks. Trees and shrubs were conglomerations of icicles welded together by a frost-fingered artist. A bitter wind swept over everything, stirring the snow, whipping it against the neat houses, the sides of hovercars, and up my nose.

It was as if Nature, via the snowstorm, had tried to reclaim what had once been hers but was now lost to her forever.

Clouds, heavy and gray, betrayed the advent of yet another storm. A low flock of birds streaked north, some kind of geese or other. Their calls were long and cold.

I pa.s.sed by the broken store window where the howler had lain on its side the night before. It had been removed.

There were no police around.

I pa.s.sed by a church which had burned sometime after I had returned from the AC complex. Its black skeleton seemed leeringly evil.

At AC, t

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