As apathetic as I am, there is still one thing that I still obsess over. One thing that haunts the darkest parts of my nightmares and forces me to wake up in a cold sweat. It's the reason I don't sleep, so I won't dream it again. The only thing I could hope for is to be numb to it all. To callus over the tumor of memory that's still festering and growing directly behind my eyes. But despite myself, I still can't block out that same fear, that same helplessness, and that same repugnant stench of responsibility that I felt that day.

That one damned day.

My first day.

It was back when Tony Cook and I were partners. At least, tentatively. He had spent the day showing me the ropes, how the city works, and basically how to do my job in a way that I could go home that night and still sleep soundly. I know what happened wasn't his fault, but GOD I wish Tony hadn't said that.

Right before we took off for the night, we got a call on the radio from Johnathan Chase and Dick Leone called in for backup over the radio.

"Ready or not, Boss," Tony had said while grinning like a madman, "but we're about to get deep in the shit. Get pumped."

It wasn't a nickname. My name's Raymond Boss. On my first day, it must have seemed like the perfect ammunition to ruffle the new guy's feathers. Just a friendly mocking of his name, break him down a little to show him that he really does belong.

They don't really call me 'Boss' anymore.

Jonathan and Dick needed backup in the north side of Kuroumi. They had found what was supposedly the kingpin of a child prostitution operation that had been circulating the city for at least a decade. The man was apparently good enough at his job to hide under the guise of a well-known plastic surgeon. Jonathan probably didn't think he'd have much trouble, but he called us anyway. Knowing him, he probably wanted as many in the department to benefit from this big of a bust as possible. With Police Departments nowadays only getting four detectives maximum, they tend to stick together. All for one and one for all.

By the time we got there, Jonathan and Dick were already staked in front of the surgeon's lavish apartment. It was late enough that we didn't have any need to explain ourselves to anyone. Jonathan held up a hand that made us both stop in our tracks. He put his ear to the door and frowned, concentrating. Though they outfit us with (supposedly) state-of-the-art equipment, I doubt they could compete with even one of Jonathan's five senses. We only breathed once he put his hand down and moved away from the door.

"He's in the shower, now." He said. He pulled out his sidearm, scanned his thumbprint on the butt and keyed the safety off. We did the same. "You guys know the drill. Except for you, rookie. I want you in the back watching how we do things. Keep a close eye, 'cause I expect you know the procedure by tomorrow. Understand?"

I nodded. Chase was a huge and imposing man. I'd only met him that morning, so I was still scared of him a bit. It didn't take me long to find out I had nothing to worry about. Jonathan's not a cop, he's a Police Officer. A real professional.

"Alright. On my mark." Jonathan held up three fingers. Dick tensed his muscles and tightened his hand around his gun. Tony, amazingly, got serious for a change and moved next to Dick against the wall. By the time his third finger fell, Jonathan, in what seemed like slow motion, stepped back and slammed his massive boot next to the handle on the door. The kick snapped off the deadbolt and completely shattered the locking mechanism.

He, Dick, and Tony rushed into the room faster than I could imagine. One second they were there. The next, gone. As the commotion in the room started up, I finally brought up the courage to walk inside. The apartment wasn't as big as I had imagined it, but it made up for size in glamor. Priceless paintings adorned the walls while bizarre sculptures, some only conceivable under Zero-G frames, sat against the walls. An large, antique porcelain doll sat on a chair next to the large, circular bed, one which I bet myself had the new Fiber-Silk sheets that could change colors based on mood. Now, it was red.

As I cautiously crept onto the luxurious foam carpet, I heard a pounding sound from the other end of the room. I rounded the corner and saw Jonathan pounding on the bathroom door while Dick and Tony flanked him from behind.

"Alvin Marzette! This is the Kuroumi City police! We have a warrant for your arrest! Come out of the bathroom with your hands where I can see them!" Jonathan shouted. With no response, he turned to Tony. "Trash the room."

Tony smiled and holstered his gun. He walked over to a large closet and flung the double doors open. Standing in the doorway for a second with his hands clenched into fists, he began throwing anything he could get his hands on to the ground. Many of the boxes held things that smashed immediately upon hitting the ground. After a few seconds, we heard a voice emanate from the bathroom.

"All right! I'm coming! I'm fucking coming! Stop it!" The door slid open. An older man, possibly of French decent, stood sopping wet with a towel around his waist and his hands above his head. He was shaking, from fear or anger, I don't know.

As Jonathan brought the man forward and cuffed him, Dick joined Tony it sorting through the boxes in the closet.

"Hey! Chase!" Dick called. "I don't know about prostitution, but we found some kiddie porn over here!"

"Any plan to explain yourself?" Jonathan said to the surgeon.

"I shouldn't have to! This is a new decade!" The surgeon said, scowling. "Child...'pornography' is a growing art form, if controversial. It's only a misdemeanor to own it, at worst. And certainly not grounds to break into an old man's apartment and pull him out of the goddamn shower! And what is this about prostitution!? I have no idea what you fucking imbeciles are talking about!"

As Jonathan and the surgeon argued and Dick and Tony continued tearing through the closet space, I meandered over to the doll sitting next to the bed. The more I thought about it, the more its placement seemed...off. Like it wasn't there to be aesthetically pleasing, but to be easier to get to. All I knew was that it was suspicious.

I walked closer to examine it. I noticed, on a table directly next to the bed, a tray with scalpels, pliers, and other medical equipment sitting next to a stack of medical books.

Huh. I guess he really is a doctor, I thought to myself. I turned to look at the doll. It was made with exquisite detail, down to the eyelashes over the gargantuan glass eyes that stared at nothing in particular.

I looked it up and down and finally noticed something. An IV sticking out of the doll's immaculate, flawless pale skin. That is when it finally, horribly dawned on me.

This wasn't a doll.

The blood left my face as I stood there, shaking. I raised a jittery finger and touched its cheek. It compressed under my hand and was warm. It was skin. Upon making contact, the thing that wasn't a doll jumped a little and moved its head as much as it could, trying to see through its sightless bulbs jutting from its sockets. By this point, tears I wouldn't notice until afterword were probably running down my face. No matter what, I couldn't stop shaking while I watched that perfect little abomination twitch and squirm, trying to find the person that had touched her. Though lacking any joints in her arms and legs, this proved to be futile.

"Hey, Boss?" Tony said from very, very far away as he walked up beside me. "The hell is this...Raymond..." He looked closer at the doll, his face flushed of all color. "Raymond, what the fuck is this thing?"

I tried to speak, but could only manage a cracking whimper. I shook my head, still staring. I didn't see what happened, but I learned later that Tony had jumped onto the bed and vaulted on top of the surgeon and began pounding on him, breaking almost all the bones in his face.

"Cook! COOK!" Jonathan bellowed. "The fuck's gotten into you!?"

"Go over there! Go check out what this PIECE OF FILTH has been doing!" Tony screamed in rage. Dick jogged over beside me, took one look at the doll, then turned back.

"Chase! It's...I'm pretty sure that this is..." He suddenly vomited on the floor. Dick wiped his mouth on his hand and said. "It's that last Amber Alert. Mei Zang. I'm sure of it."

Mei Zang. A seven-year-old Chinese girl that had been abducted from in front of her house three months ago. By now, everyone had thought she was dead. I wished everyone were right.

"Oh God..." Jonathan said. He grabbed the surgeon by his hair and dragged him to the door. "You are under arrest for the abduction and...mutilation of a little girl. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will..." He left with the struggling pederast in tow, followed by Tony who was still fuming. Dick was the last to leave. He was still on his knees, trying not to be sick again. I saw him get up on shaky knees and look at me from the corner of my eye.

"You gonna be alright,B-...You gonna be okay, Raymond?" He said.

I still couldn't speak. I could only stare at the girl.

Dick shifted uncomfortably, looked around, and said "I'll tell Tony to wait for you in the car." He said softly. He patted me once on the shoulder before leaving me alone with the silence.

The girl had stopped squirming. I finally saw the details of what the surgeon had done to her. Her elbows and knee joints had been fused together, so it was nearly impossible for her to walk or move her arms. Most the smaller bones in her body had presumably been removed because it seemed that she couldn't move her head, shoulders, or feet. Her hair was not real. It was a false wig that had been surgically implanted into her scalp. Her face was worst of all. Her eyes had been replaced with vibrant glass ones that she was unable to move, a 3D tattoo of a pair of lips hid her real mouth which had been sewn shut, and she was covered with layers and layers of makeup that served to keep her looking youthful forever.

I looked down and noticed that the one part of her body that had been unharmed, her fingers, were moving. Her index finger was clawing at the air, seemingly pulling the air toward her. But I knew better. It wasn't the air she was trying to pull.

It was a trigger.

I pulled out my pistol. I placed the barrel against the forehead of what used to be a seven-year-old girl. When she felt the cold metal, she stopped pulling the imaginary triggers. When I hesitated, she started pulling on them again, but faster.

I closed my eyes and imitated her motion. A low cough came from the suppressor built into the barrel and I felt an ejected shell bounce off my chest. The only thing I said, unheard by anyone but me, was a single sentence that I would repeat to myself over and over again, endlessly, every day for the next seven years.

"I hate this city."

Six years later, I woke up.

Yet again, I had the same dream. The same memory bleeding through my unconscious mind. Yet again, I woke up with the sheets on the floor, having been thrown off the bed by my thrashing night terrors. Yet again I'm staring at the bland, featureless ceiling that so many of my gray mornings have in common.

I took a few minutes, like I always did, to let my heartbeat settle and the blood to come back to my limbs. I sat up. It was a dingy little apartment on the 876th floor of a high-rise on the east side of town. I never had any love for the ocean. I didn't see any need to be anywhere near it. Aside from the garbage and dirty clothes, I kept my space barren. I didn't need a home. Mine was 30,000 miles east. I just needed somewhere to block the outside world out. Maybe make it quiet enough to get an hour or two of sleep. All else was luxury.

I pressed myself up onto my aching legs and stumbled into the bathroom, flipping a dirty switch on the wall. The white lights sparked on, nearly blinding me. Again. I tripped the motion sensor in the bathroom and the lights blared on in there as well. Trying to wake up, I took a long look at myself in the mirror.

A mirror. I had to fight my own war just to get it. The apartments in this building came standard with Beauty Screens, panes of reflecting glass with cameras built into them that erase any unsightly marks from your reflection when you look into it. It was promised to be the next revolution in cosmetics, but it really just became another tool for those narcissistic fucks who thought reality wasn't good enough for them. I wanted none of it. When I looked at my reflection, I wanted to see myself. I wanted to see every scar, every blemish, and every bit of ignored stubble as well as I could so I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, just what kind of ugly bastard I was dealing with.

Today looked the same as every other day. I looked like a stray doberman with all its hair shaved off. Short, but gaunt as a skeleton with dark circles under my eyes and a mural of scars painted across my face. I had a permanent scowl that had taken three years to fully finalize and the kind of face that let others know I was not to be fucked with. Just the way I liked it.

I flexed my hands to make sure that my implants were still working. I had three bionic fingers on my left hand, all there because of a gun misfire a year ago. I forgot to scan in my fingerprint and it exploded on me when I tried to fire. Considering all the cash I had to shell out to get these damn things, they still don't work half as well as they're supposed to.

I hastily brushed my teeth and washed it all down with a shot of scotch. Wait. Make that three. Sufficiently buzzed, I got dressed, threw on my trenchcoat for what was sure to be another cold, rainy day in Kuroumi, California, and walked to the hallway with my hands stuffed in my pockets.

I got into the high-speed elevator with five other people. They all got off on the parking garage level. I was the only one to go to the street. I didn't own a car. With a population close to a second Hong Kong, I didn't want to deal with the traffic. I don't like driving, anyway. A situation where you can't beat someone's ass to get them to do what you want is a situation I don't want to be in. Besides, the guys at the station all know how to drive. I'd have a partner, so what did it matter?

I waded through the mounds of garbage on the sidewalk and made my way to the abandoned street underneath the city-wide overpass. I checked my watch. It had stopped. I checked my cell phone. It was dead. I sighed and looked around at the dense forest of neon that grew around me. In a city like Kuroumi, day and night didn't mean a thing. Smog, combined with the 1,000+ floor skyscrapers and good, old-fashioned rainy weather meant we didn't get to see the sun all that often.

I went to a pawn shop that was open across the street. I took off my watch and placed it in the tray of the auto-teller. It weighed it and scanned it before sucking it into the personal safe and spitting out a wad of bills with a sticky-sweet "Thank you! Don't hesitate to come again!" Before I left with the money, I checked the time on the terminal. 4:16 AM. The usual time. I got fifteen bucks for my watch. Just enough for a cup of coffee.

I went across the street to the coffee machine and bought myself a cup. I took the time to add some whiskey to it from the flask I kept in my pants pocket. It doesn't help this swill taste any better, but at least it tastes like something. I leaned up against the wall and drank in both the coffee and the silence. Kuroumi may be an all-night city, but the people here aren't. After 3 AM, the streets start to empty, leaving any of the insomniacs, prostitutes, and homeless still awake to the mercy of this endless stream of cheery machines. Every once in a while, an automaton might wander into this side of town, but it and its spare parts usually don't last that long. I myself keep a taser I got from a ripped-off police android under my bed at night.

I picked up a half-broken news screen off the top of a garbage heap and sat down on a bench to read it. It was loaded with yesterday's paper, but the last time I read the news was a month ago, so it was still new to me. The headline read "NEW ADVANCES IN ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE MAY HELP IN LAW ENFORCEMENT." I groaned and tossed the little LCD to the sidewalk, where the screen cracked again.

Great, I thought. It's only a matter of time before they just fire us for the hell of it. Cyber-crimes have been the latest hot-button topics for the past 30 years. Gradually, more and more human officers and detectives have been laid off to be replaced with robotic patrolmen and AI supercomputers to save money. What most people don't know is that cyber-crimes are actually among the least dangerous out there. There's still as much murder, theft, kidnapping, and rape as there always was. The only thing that's changed in the past hundred years is that the crimes have gone even further underground and become even more depraved, making our job just that much harder. Death by strangling has overtaken death by gunshot by almost triple the amount. And please, don't make me get into what kinds of pedophiles live in this city.

Suddenly, an Asian woman sat down on the bench next to me. I looked at her out of the corner of my eye. She was wearing studded leather boots, fishnets, a black leather skirt and a jacket that barely covered her fake tits. She was wearing too much make up, most of it tattooed on, and was applying even more while looking into a mirror implanted into the palm of her left hand. When she finished, she looked at me.

"Hey." She said in a voice tinged with a metallic tone. She obviously had vocal chord reconstruction. "How you doin'?"

"Just peachy." I groaned. I knew what she wanted.

"That's good. Hey. Gimme 50 bucks and you and me? We'll make your dreams come true." She laid her hand on my knee.

"I doubt it." I said as I stood up. I checked the time on the coffee machine. 4:50. The station was about to open. I put my hands in the pockets of my coat before wading through the filth of mankind.

The office wasn't too far away. Only about 15 blocks from my apartment. Some days I enjoyed the walk through the city. But only some days, and this wasn't one of them.

I walked in through the sliding doors and strode past the automatic receptionist to the metal door that stood next to her. I scanned my fingerprints on the pad and entered the security code. The door opened into a smaller room where I was sprayed with a light decontamination mist before I was let into the small, communal office the detectives shared.

"Hey." grunted Tony from his desk, slumped over his coffee and holding his head.

"Hey." I said, sitting in the adjacent desk.

Not much had changed in six years. Next to me sat Anthony Cook, ex-partner. He's been on the force longer than anyone, except for Jonathan. Originally he and I were partners, but I was reassigned a few weeks after I joined. He's a good guy, but he was my partner my first day. When I'm with him, I can't help thinking about the girl. Everything he does and says leads me back to that apartment. I wish I didn't, because Tony thinks I don't like him. Maybe I don't. I don't know.

Tony grew up in this city. Like everyone else, it didn't leave him unscathed. His dad was a drunkard and used to beat him. I think that's one of the reasons he gets so pissed off all the time. Out of all of us, he's the most unpredictable. Sometimes he'll lose it during an investigation and start beating on the suspect. I can't even remember the number of times we've had to keep him in the cells overnight to let him cool down. He's definitely the 'bad cop.' If I'm a doberman, then he's a pit bull.

I pulled out my flask and took a swig. Jonathan glanced at me.

"Raymond!" he shouted. "No drinking on the job!"

We all laughed at that one. I tightened the lid before tossing it to him across the room. He drained it in one gulp and threw it back. I didn't mind. Kuroumi had alcohol, if nothing else.

Jonathan Chase was the closest thing we had to a leader. More like a big brother, really. I always sort of looked up to him. He was able to take most of this city in stride, but, like all of us, he wasn't invincible. We've all noticed over about a month a developing depression, mostly by how much he's been sleeping lately. We all knew the symptoms. We knew that it wasn't that he was sleeping late. It's that he was wondering whether he should even get out of bed at all. Most of his friends got involved in gangs. In fact, he's had to plug a couple of them himself. I think he killed one, if I'm not mistaken. That couldn't have helped his psyche either. Still, he's taking it a lot better than I ever could. Maybe that's why I look up to him. Maybe that's why I wanted him to be my partner.

"Funny." said John Dogh from the top right desk. Dick Leone had gotten his head twisted off by an android with a virus three years ago, so John was his replacement. For a city with over half its population Asian, he's our only Japanese-American. Or just Japanese. To tell the truth, we don't know a thing about him. Obviously, John Dogh isn't his real name. We've tried asking him about it, but he doesn't talk much. Y'know the expression "Watch out for the quiet ones?" Dogh is the guy they were talking about. Through a strange turn of events with some security cameras, we've all found out that Dogh's a crossdresser. It's not the we blame him(our motto is is 'Do whatever you can to get by'), but that's the kind of person you keep an eye on. The fact that he talks at all must mean he's warming up to us. Every once in a while, he mumbles something about 'experiments' and a 'Dr. Lazarus.' His severely limited file says that he's a veteran of the Third Civil War, so it doesn't take a genius to figure out he's likely one of the super soldier experiments that survived. He's got more cybernetics than all of us combined, so we use him as our heavy-hitter in busts, riots, and crackdowns. Anything with combat, and he's happy as can be. Otherwise, he's a neurotic mess.

The decontamination door slid open. I turned in my seat to see David McKinley walk in, brushing himself out. He went to took a sip from the mug he was carrying, but realized he hadn't protected it from the decontaminates. With a scowl, he dumped its contents the the carpet, which immediately soaked it up.

"Morning. Isn't it a wonderful fuckin' day so far?" He said in his usual, loud voice. We laughed.

"Hey, chief." Tony said. He didn't usually perk up until the precinct chief came in. Tony absolutely doted on the guy and I have to admit, he's hard not to like. McKinley's the hard hitter. He's been a detective for 34 years and only got promoted after serving 24. If Jonathan's our big brother, McKinley's our father. He does his best to keep us together and our spirits up, but he doesn't bullshit us. He knows exactly what's wrong with the city and how useless we're slowly becoming, but he works his ass off every day anyway. If that's not inspiring, I don't know what is.

Tony went to stand up, but McKinley playfully pushed him back down into his seat.

"You wanna go, old man?" Tony said, standing up with his fists in the air.

"C'mon, you slimy fuck. I had two guys tougher than you ask to suck my dick before I came IN this morning!" McKinley said before shoving Tony a second time. They both laughed as Tony sat down at his computer. McKinley peeked through the one-way window into the lobby and turned around with a grin.

"Looks like you guys get a special, Monday treat!" He said.

"What?" Jonathan asked.

"JJ's here!"

We groaned in unison.

"Oh GOD dammit!" Tony shouted. "Can't we go one week without having to deal with this dumbass!?"

"Hey, chief!" I said. "Don't they have ways to wipe memories now? Why can't we just make him forget we were ever here?"

"Now Raymond," he said while wagging his finger, "I believe those are illegal."

"Ask me if I care when we don't have to deal with this idiot every week."

"It's against policy to deny a citizen's cry for help." McKinley said. "Besides, I let you guys beat the shit out of that drug pusher last week. I only let you break the rules once a month. You've used yours up. Let him in."

"Fine," Tony said, standing up, "but I'm the closest to the door, so he always comes and talks to me. Raymond. You and me are switching."

"Fuck that! I've got less of a bullshit tolerance than you! It's all I can do to keep from strangling the stubby little bastard with my bare hands!"

"Then maybe you'll finally do something useful around here." Tony said as he pushed his chair toward me. "We're switching."

I got up, sighing. I gave him the finger as I passed and sat in front of his desk while he sat at mine.

"Alright." I said, waving my hand. "Let him in."

McKinley slammed the door button and laughed as he walked off to his office. After a few, agonizing seconds, a short, pale, dirty man rushed inside. He looked around with jerky neck movements before sitting down at the bench next to the door. He was looking right at me as he twisted his hands in his lap. I sighed again, clenched my teeth, and motioned him over.

"Thank you so much for s-s-s-seeing me, officer! Thank you so much!" JJ said in a nasely voice.

"JJ," I said, not even bothering to cover my frustration, "you come in here every week about something that, to be honest, we can't help you with. We're city detectives, not regular cops. Keep that in mind before you say anything."

"B-But Raymond-"

"Don't use my first name, JJ." I snapped.

"But O-Off-ficer Boss, I know all that an-and Anthony-"

"Officer Cook."

"And Anth-Officer Cook has told me all this before and I know the kind of jobs you guys are suited for-"

"Wait, wait, wait," I stopped him, holding up my hand. "What is that supposed to mean?"

"N-nothing! I didn't mean anything to insult you, Raymond!"

"For Christ's sake, we aren't on first-name terms!" I shouted. "Now what is it you want?"

"Alright...Alright...this is important...I-I nuh-need you to listen..."

"What. Is. It?" I growled.

"The woman in-in the apartment next to mine has just recently had a baby. This baby just cries, CRIES all night long and I can't sleep at night and I have a very stressful job that I have to get up very early in the morning to get to and-"

"What do you want us to do, JJ?"

"I want you to 'take care' of the baby. I-If you don't mind."

I sighed and put down the pencil I was just poised to write down his request with.

"We are the police. Not hired mercenaries." I leaned forward and looked him in the eye. "I know your apartment, JJ. I know everything about you through this computer." I patted the keyboard. "So if I hear anything about something happening to that baby, I'll kill you with my bare hands."

"T-tha-That's a threat! That's police brutality!"

"You just asked me to kill a baby because you couldn't sleep at night. I'd take a guess that I'm actually in the right."

"Oh fuck me!" Tony shouted from my desk. "Look at this shit!" He spun the monitor around to face me. "They let out Jiro Watanabe!"

Jonathan and Dogh spun around in their seats. I whipped my head around just as McKinely came out of his office.

"WHAT!?" Jonathan shouted. "Who's idea was it to let that crazy bastard out!?"

"It wasn't us." Tony said, reading the report. "It was a computer order from the state office."

"But who the fuck could possibly think that was a good idea?" I asked. Jiro Watanabe was infamous in Kuroumi. He was the one responsible for a stream of car bombings in the most crowded districts in the city. The kicker? No motivations, no ties to religions or political groups, nothing. His reason was that he was bored.

"You know how much laws change." Jonathan said. "There's probably some loophole that he slipped through."

"God dammit..." I said. I put my head in my hands and rubbed my temples. "No matter what we fucking do, it's never enough. Why do we even bother?"

"Wait...Wait!" JJ shouted. "Watanabe is LOOSE!? I-I can't go out there! You people have protection! We citizens don't have anything! You-One of you has to come help me. Come stay with me. How much does it cost to hire one of you for protection?"

"JJ!" McKinley screamed. "Get the hell out of here!"

JJ scowled and ran through the open door which automatically slammed shut behind him. McKinley put a hand on my shoulder.

"Don't worry about it kid. Just get to work. Believe me, it takes your mind off this kind of stuff."

"Yeah...sure..." I mumbled. As he walked off, I realized that he hadn't tried to disprove me. I reluctantly pulled up the most recent case I had been working on after logging in on Tony's terminal. Recently, a lot of the people that have been put away have had something in common: a rare, neural implant. From what we know, the implant enables semi-telepathic communication on a private frequency. Unfortunately, that frequency is next to impossible to intercept, block, or connect to in any way. The only evidence we had was what the suspects themselves told us. Of that, there was barely anything.

Except for one case.

I went over to my desk and opened a left hand drawer, retrieving a small keycard.

"I'm going to look at some security footage. Anybody needs me, knock with the signal." I said to the room.

"Gotcha." Tony said, raising an arm in recognition.

I walked to the back of the room and slid the card into a small slot. A door slid open to a mid-size, empty room with a touch-screen embedded in the back wall. The door slid shut behind me as I selected my file on the computer. After a few seconds, the terminal shut off, the walls around me lit up, and the video began to play.

A hologram reproduction of the interrogation room replaced the blank walls. Frozen in time sat Jonathan in the chair across from the suspect, Rick Upson. I was leaning on the wall behind Upson at the time, playing the 'bad cop.' It wasn't so much that I was good at it as it was Jonathan being so bad at it.

I held up my right arm and made a circle in the air. The holograms began to move.

"Rick." Jonathan said. "We know everything. We know about the drugs. We know about the beatings. We know about every little thing you've done and we could bust you on it at any time. All we need to know is who." He slid a clipboard across the table and placed a pen on top of it. "You couldn't have done all this alone. For every name you give us, the greater chance you have at a reduced sentence. Seriously, man, you've gotta be an idiot to pass something like this up.

Upson glanced at the clipboard, then slid it back at Jonathan

"I didn't work with anybody." He said. "That was all me. I don't work with anyone."

My past self spun Upson's chair around with his foot so they were facing.

"Upson, we don't take bullshit particularly well around here." I said. I flipped the cigarette I was holding in his direction. He frantically swept it off of his lap and put it out with his foot. "People seem to feel a need to lie to the police. Frankly, lying only makes me frustrated. My frustration is the difference between a man getting five years in prison and ten years in prison with a cracked ribcage and fractured skull."

My present self frowned. I remembered where this was going. I held up my right hand, palm held forward. The playback stopped, frozen with Upson about to speak. I started to make large, clockwise circles in the air with my left arm. The video sped through the rest of the interrogation until I had reached the point where things went wrong. I started to make small, counter-clockwise circles with my left hand until I had reached the point where I wanted it. I lowered both my arms to let the video continue.

"There's no possible way you could have moved all this product on your own." Jonathan said, while reading a file.

"Do you think we're stupid, Rick?" I said, leaning on the back of his chair. "I know you're a smart man and all, but do you, in your heart of hearts, believe that we won't find out what you're hiding sooner or later? Who are you protecting?"

"I'm not protecting anyone!" Upson shouted. "I operated on my own! No body helped me! Only the chur-" He suddenly grew wide-eyed and slapped a hand to his mouth. I stood up straighter as Jonathan sat up in his chair.

"A church?" Jonathan said. "What kind of church would help you export heroin?"

Upson's face had gone white. He stared at Jonathan, his lip trembling, before his right hand shot up into the air as he reached for his back. I grabbed his arm before he could pull whatever weapon he had out and twisted it behind him.

"What was that about a church?!" Jonathan shouted, standing from his chair. Upson, grimacing, began reaching behind him again with his left hand. I twisted his arm harder, forcing his other hand to fall as he writhed in pain.

"Fuck! Let me go! Let me go! AAAHHHGG!" He shouted. "I'll tell you, just let me go!"

"You sure!?" I shouted, a hint of a grin on my face.

"YES!" Upson shouted.

"I'm not sure I believe you!" I said, twisting. "You KNOW how frustrated I get when it comes to bullshit, Ricky!"

"RAYMOND!" Jonathan shouted. I glanced at him and let go of the suspect, the grin falling from my face. Seeing it in third person, I see why Jonathan was so afraid. On second thought, maybe I'm a better bad cop than I thought.

I walked across the table and stood next to Jonathan, my arms folded to hide my quaking hands. Upson rubbed his shoulder for a few seconds before speaking in a dejected, depressed tone.

"I belong to the Church of the Neon Saint."

We paused.

"The Neon Saints?" Jonathan asked. "Who do you worship?"

"The Spark of Jerusalem."

Another pause.

"What...What is your belief system?"

"We worship the Spark of Jerusalem in the hopes that He will summon the rain of fire to wipe the earth clean of the Scourge of New Babylon."

Upson shifted in his chair and scratched the back of his head. He sat silent for a few seconds before his eyes suddenly glazed over and he slammed head-first into the metal table and fell to the floor in a heap.

"The hell?" Jonathan said. I ran over to Upson and checked his pulse. "What the fuck just happened!?" he shouted. I looked up.

"He's dead."

"What!? HOW!? What just happened?!"

"I don't know!" I shouted.

Jonathan shoved past me and pulled Upson to the floor and began CPR.

"This isn't gonna do anything!" I shouted.

"You got any better fuckin' ideas! Go get McKinley!"

I raised both my hands, palms up, to stop the playback. Thinking for a few seconds, I rewound the footage to right before Upson died. I enabled slow-motion, just to be sure. I watched over and over again, trying to figure out what exactly he could have done.

I walked over to the hologram of Upson and waved my hand through it. An information panel lit up in the air in front of me. I sifted through the different menus until I came to physiological activity and enabled playback. His pulse rate was slightly elevated the entire time until it suddenly flatlined with almost no indication that anything happened at all. I frowned. I rewound the footage again and played it back in slow-motion.

I watched the monitor closely, looking for anything. Suddenly, I saw it. A quarter of a second before death, Upson's heart-rate quadrupled, overloading itself. It would have been simply a heart attack if it hadn't had happened so fast and to such and extreme. I played it again, Upson's last few seconds in a loop.

This time, I watched the hologram. I thought it must have had something to do with that head scratch. It was the only significant movement he made and the perfect place to insert some kind of weapon or device. I paused the video and looked closely at Upson's hand. It was empty. Thinking for a second, I went over to the wall terminal and enabled an X-Ray overlay. The hologram in the room became blue and the models of Upson, Jonathan, and myself became flickering skeletons standing in the middle of the room.

I went to Upson and played the footage. The more I looked, the more I was certain that not only were his hands empty, but it was a biological hand. No cybernetics, prosthetics, or any other way to have hidden anything inside the hand itself. Then, I noticed something. I played back the video again and saw that, right before scratching his head, he had applied pressure to a spot just below his skull. Directly above the enigmatic and miniscule transmitter.

I went to the wall terminal and enabled Thermal overlay. Every texture of the hologram was replaced by a rainbow of deep blues with vibrant specks of orange and red. I examined Upson again and played the video. As he had pushed his implant like it was a button, it had taken a few seconds to light up red-hot. It reached its peak intensity immediately before Upson collapsed dead, upon which the transmitter went cold again in the blink of an eye.

That tears it, I thought. I'm willing to bet the more we find out about these transmitters, the more we find out about the Church of the Neon Saint.

I shut down the holograms, hit the door button, and snatched my keycard as it was ejected from the slot.

"Have a fun time?" Tony asked, playing a browser game on my computer.

"A blast." I said as I sat down in front of his.

On a hunch, I pulled up the record of arrests by Jonathan and myself. A long list of dates came up.

"Hey, Jonathan!" I called. He turned around in his seat.

"Yeah?"

"When was it we had that long stream of suspects with the cerebral transmitters?"

"Like that Upson guy?"

"Yeah."

"November...14th through 21st, I think."

"Thanks." I turned back to the screen and scrolled down to the right date.

"Hey." Jonathan said, walking up to the desk.

"Yeah?" I asked, looking up at him. "What?"

"It's almost ten."

"...Yeah. You're right." I broke eye contact and went back to my work.

"And it's Monday."

I scrolled the window up and down absentmindedly, saying nothing.

"You have therapy today."

I tapped my finger on the desk.

"I know."

"You plan to go?"

"...Maybe."

"You missed last time, Raymond."

"I know."

"Take off early and go today." Jonathan said as he walked away. "For me."

I sighed.

"Fine." I spat. It was his idea. I never liked the idea of telling anyone my business, regardless of what their job was, but Jonathan nearly forced me to take up cognitive therapy with a psychologist he was friends with. He and the shrink both say it's to treat for my nightmares, but judging from the questions Dr. Lang asks, it's really just to determine my likelihood of going postal.

I returned my attention to the computer screen and clicked on the arrest record for November. I scrolled down until I came to dates Jonathan had mentioned and selected the names from those dates, isolating all the criminals with cybernetics. Aside from a couple with surgical enhancements and one with a spinal reconstruction, the list was narrowed down to nine names. Nine people who had been found with an unidentified implant inside the upper cerebellum.

Nine people who were now dead.

"Raymond." A voice called. I looked up to see Jonathan tapping his watch. "Don't you have somewhere to be?"

"Yeah. Just a sec." I said, focusing back on the monitor. It seems that all nine suspects had been found guilty of their various crimes and had been sent to various prisons and jails. Within a week, all the prisoners were found dead. Six were found in isolated areas of the compound, three were found in their beds, having died sometime in the night.

"Ray..." Jonathan said. He only called me 'Ray' when I'd done something wrong.

"Hang on..." I said. All of the prisoners had died of some form of a heart attack, one that had delivered massive strain on the heart in an extremely short amount of time.

Exactly the same as Upson, I thought.

"Ray!" Jonathan shouted. "I'm not gonna-"

"I'm going!" I yelled. "God dammit to hell, I'm going!" I logged out of Tony's computer and went back over to my desk. "Up." I said to Tony, who was sitting on my jacket. Without looking, he stood up and released it. I swung it over my shoulders, pocketed a few things I needed to take with me, and left the building into a light downpour of cold, stinging rain.

Yet again, I found myself outside among the dirt, disease, death this city is more than generous to hand out. I had my hands stuffed in my pockets and the collar on my jacket was up to keep the rain away from my eyes the best I could. It was cold. A lot colder than it should have been in late October. Or maybe it just felt that way to me. No way to tell.

I shuffled through the crowd of people on their way to work. I scowled and kept my head down, trying desperately not to look at any of them. Experience has told me that a few of these people have killed or will kill someone during their lifetimes, just one of the reasons I hate the general public. An individual may be stupid, inattentive, and rude, but a crowd is different. A crowd is stupid, inattentive, rude, and dangerous. A crowd has no knowledge of why it is angry, or what it is angry about. It just is. A crowd is panicky and malicious, following the misinformed few simply because they don't have a better idea of what to do. They disgust me.

The best way to Dr. Lang's office is to cut through on of the seedier parts of town. It makes me sick to have to be around all this living filth, but I want to get off the streets as soon as possible. In Kuroumi, prostitution is nearing legality and is always a lucrative and thriving business in these areas. Even in the daytime, hookers of all shapes, sizes, races, and orientations litter the sidewalks, tossing out catcalls to anyone who passes in the only way of advertisement they know about.

"Hey, Trenchcoat!" one of them called to me. "Took the day off, huh? Spend it with me, baby!" I kept walking, not even looking at her.

"You look lonely, sweetie." Another one said. "I can fix that."

"Where ya headed, hot-stuff?"

"I'll fuck you like your momma wanted to!"

"Baby, I'mma make your dreams come true!"

"I'll make a man out of you, boy."

"I'll show you where the party is!"

"I'll suck your dick for a drop of acid."

"You like to be spanked? I hit the hardest."

"Wanna fuck? I'm new at this and only 15 years old."

"I go both ways, honey. Anything you want, I got."

"Baby, I'mma make your dreams come true!"

This last one made me stop. There was something about it that was uncannily familiar. I turned to look at the whore who had said it. Under incredibly heavy layers of makeup, chains, and leather, I saw that the woman was an Asian-American mix, most likely Chinese. I have to admit, her skin alone was beautiful in how flawless it was. There wasn't a single mark on her that she hadn't been born with and it looked soft as silk to the touch. If I was a different man, I would have been tempted to pay her on the spot and retreat to the closest hotel I could find.

She saw me looking at her and said, "Baby, you just made the right choice." There it was again. That deja vu I had felt before. I eyed her for a second before it dawned on me. I walked past her, back the way I came. I heard her shriek "Hey! Where the fuck you goin'!?" Ignoring her, I rounded the corner and walked back through the gauntlet of prostitutes I had just muscled my way through. I pushed through another wave of empty promises of happiness before I found what I was looking for.

I stood in front of a certain hooker I had passed before. I may not be a good cop, but I'm a cop nonetheless. Despite having short, red-dyed hair, wearing different clothes, and having a tattoo on her right arm, this hooker and the one up the street were the exact same person, down to minute details like eye color, voice tone, and the same eerily flawless skin. Not only that, they were both a spitting image of the prostitute I had seen this morning.

She looked at me and said, "You just made the right choice, baby," further cementing my idea. I turned away from her and checked myself. Badge, check. Gun, check. Wallet with cash and ID, check. I stood up straight and looked down the street.

Sorry, Jonathan, I thought. Looks like I just missed another appointment.

I turned back to the hooker and asked, "How much?"

"Just twenty bucks an hour, baby." She said. I handed her fifteen.

"I don't need long." I said. I wished I could do this another way. Being close to her made me sick. I felt like I was going to vomit. I looked over my shoulder and saw a digital sign for the Driftwood Hotel. "Meet me in the lobby of the Driftwood in five minutes."

"Sure thing, baby." She said. As she walked past me, she pinched my ass. I had my hand on my gun before I convinced myself not to kill her on the spot. I walked down the street to meet up with the double. She spotted me as I turned the corner and said, "It's about time. I knew you'd be back, baby."

"Twenty bucks an hour, right?" I said.

"Ooo...You've been here before, haven't you?" She said. Without responding, I handed her fifteen.

"Meet me in the lobby of the Driftwood Hotel in five minutes." I said.

"Sure thing, baby." She said. As she walked past me, I moved out of the way of her hand. I went to the building she was standing in front of and leaned against the wall, biding my time. After giving the two enough time to get to the building at the same time, I headed off. When there's cash on the line, a good hooker can wait for days if she needs to.

I walked in though the sliding doors into a shithole of a lobby. As I expected, the two prostitutes stood in opposite corners, checking their makeup in personal mirrors grafted to their hands. Ignoring them for the time being, I went to the teller and slid my credit card into the slot. I selected the cheapest room on the terminal and waited as the machine spat out both my card and a disposable key.

I turned around and collected both the girls.

"Oh...You like doubles?" one of them said when realizing I had paid for both of them. "That'll cost you another thirty bucks."

"Yeah, me too." said the other.

"Like I said," I muttered, "I won't be long."

I followed them both to the elevator, thinking. They could just be twins, I told myself. This was the biggest flaw in my hunch. The only thing I could go on is how different they dressed. Most guys into twincest want the girls to look almost exactly the same. Trying to hide their similarities wouldn't make much sense. The customers who get off on doubles pay in doubles. It wouldn't make sense for a couple of prostitutes to downplay that kind of advantage. And don't tell me there are some things even a whore won't stoop to, because there aren't when there's enough coin involved. Then there was the matter of the woman I saw this morning. There's not a doubt in my mind they were the same person as these two. Unless it's just a coincidence that identical triplets ended up walking the streets in Kuroumi, something's going on. And I don't believe in coincidence.

Besides, I told myself as we left the elevator on the 50th floor, if I'm wrong, I'm out thirty bucks. No big deal. And I didn't want to go to therapy anyway.

I opened the door into a filthy, decrepit room with a bed, a toilet, a window, and not much else. The two hookers walked past me and began to undress as I shut the door. They seemed to be experienced, despite how ageless and new their skin looked. I waited for them to both get down to their underwear before I stopped them.

"Hang on." I said, holding up a hand. They stood up and looked at me, puzzled and mildly afraid. I motioned them closer. "Stand side by side."

"Hey man..." one of them said. "Is this some kind of freaky shit?"

I raised an eyebrow and motioned again. They looked at each other nervously and stood beside each other. Their body types were completely identical. Uncannily so. Even small details skin tone were alike. They had the exact same body language and made the same facial expressions. However, the biggest giveaway that something was off was that neither one of them had any finger or toenails. I looked at their bare feet for a confused second before shaking myself back to reality and proceeding with the next step.

"...Ladies," I said with disgust and reluctance, "would you mind answering a couple of questions?"

"Hey, man!" one of them yelled. "What the fuck is this, man!? What the fuck do you want!?"

I sighed and pulled out my badge. Both the hookers went stone silent as the blood ran from their faces.

"Now," I said, "you answer some of my questions and I won't have to take you two in. Got me?"

They nodded, still staring at the badge.

"Alright. First off, do you know each other?"

"No." They both said. I raised my eyebrow.

"What are your names?" I asked.

"Anna." They both said. I raised both eyebrows. They seemed as surprised as me.

"Last name?" I asked.

"Cho." They both said.

"Are you sure you've never met before?"

"Yeah..." The first said.

"I think..." The second said.

"Are you aware," I asked, "that you two look completely identical to one another?" They turned to look at each other.

"No we..." One of them said before trailing off.

"Yeah. You do." I said. "Who's your pimp?"

"...Roger Walters." The first one said.

"...Vinny King." The second said. Neither of them looked at me.

"You two are lying to me." I said, smiling. "Help me, and we can all forget today ever happened. What's the name of your pimp?"

"...Ted Holms." They both said.

"Good. Where can I find him?"

"He stays at a bar near here during the day." One of the hookers said. "'The Green Room.'"

"Alright. Thanks to both of you. One last thing." I walked past them and to the window. The heat from the building and fogged up the glass. "Could you two please press your thumbs up agains the glass?"

Both of them nervously walked over and did so. I examined the fingerprints. They were identical.

"Thanks. That's all I needed to know." I said before walking out the door as fast as I could to get a little fresh air.

An hour later, I was standing in the doorway of The Green Room. It was dirty, like everything else in the city, and nearly empty. The angry-looking bartender was busy wiping off the counter with a rancid-looking rag. A couple of men were asleep at tables while one was at the bar itself, surrounded by empty glasses. A mass of dusty tables sat in the back of the room near a sickly green door adjacent to me. My kind of place.

I sat down at the bar and waited for the bartender to notice me. He sighed as he picked up a coaster and dropped it in front of me?

"Can I help you?" He asked in monotone.

"Scotch." I said.

"You got a preference?" He asked, pulling out a glass.

"Strong." I responded. He poured me a glass from a bottle with a label I couldn't see and slid it to me. "Hold it." I said, as he had started to walk away. I tilted my head back and downed the glass in two gulps before holding it out. "Another." He filled my cup again and I took the time to enjoy my drink this time.

After a few minutes of numbing silence, I spoke.

"Hey. I have a question to ask you."

"What?" The bartender responded.

"It's...private." I said, feigning embarrassment. The large man looked me over for a second before coming in closer.

"Yeah?"

"I'm...Do you know where I can find Ted Holms?"

"...What for?"

"I've heard he has...girls to rent."

"Yeah, he does. They're all over the streets. Take your pick."

"No, no...I've got a...special need. Look, can I just speak to Mr. Holms?"

"Ted Holms doesn't see anyone but his girls and his friends." The bartender said, backing away. "You ain't one of his girls and you sure don't look like a friend, either. Beat it."

I pulled out a fifty dollar bill and slammed it on the counter to get his attention.

"I'm a pretty charismatic guy. I make friends easy." I said, smirking. The bartender glanced at the bill, looked back at my face, then hastily scooped up the money.

"You got ten minutes. Anything goes wrong, I'm comin' in." He said before audibly pumping a shotgun under the counter.

"Understood. Where can I find him?"

"Back room. Knock three times, wait, then knock two more."

"Gotcha." I said. I got up from my stool and walked to the back door. After I knocked with the signal, I heard a voice say "Come in."

After I had entered the small room and shut the door, I turned face a well-dressed black man behind a desk. He wasn't dressed like a pimp. More like a businessman. He was pouring himself a drink from a bottle of bourbon. He had good taste.

"Now," Ted Holms said in a measured, educated tone, "you'd better have a damn good reason for coming to see me after being boldfacedly told that you weren't allowed."

I turned to the door and bolted it.

"What was that for?" He asked.

"Contingency plan." I responded. "Mr. Holms, this morning I paid for two of your girls out on the street. They expected an early-morning romp in the sack. What they got was an investigation by an ex-cop."

Holms blinked and leaned back in his chair. "You're a police officer?" He asked.

"Not anymore. I was fired and arrested for a double homicide. I told them it was self defense, so I didn't get life. In fact, I just got out of prison a week ago. I was hoping to indulge myself in the finer aspects of life on the outside, but I guess old habits die hard when coming face-to-face with something as suspicious as your girls."

"What...exactly are you accusing me of, Mr..."

"Baxter." I said. "And I'm not accusing you of anything...yet. I'm simply giving you an opportunity to explain anything...off about the prostitutes you manage."

Holms hesitated slightly before answering "Not specially, no."

"Ah." I said, waggling my finger. "You're lying to me. What I noticed in your girls was that they appear to be, as strange as this may sound, exactly the same physiologically. I was wondering if you could shed some light on this peculiarity."

"I have no idea what you're talking about." Holms said.

"Hmm...Maybe I should be a little more direct." I leaned over the desk and put an angry look on my face. "Are you involved in illegal cloning, Mr. Holms?"

"Like I said, Mr. Baxter, I have no idea what you're talking about. You mentioned you were just released from prison. My theory is that you simply became confused from life on the inside for too long and thought that a couple of similar-looking girls were the same person."

I frowned. "Maybe...I wasn't quite direct enough." I pulled out my gun and put it against Holms's forehead. "Scream and I'll kill you. I've got nothing left to live for and I don't care if you do. Yell for your flunky and I'll punch more holes in you in half a second than his shotgun could do to me in an hour. Understand?"

Holms glared at me before nodding.

"Are you or are you not involved in cloning activities?"

"No."

"Then why do all your prostitutes look exactly the same down to eye color, skin tone, body language, and fingerprints?"

"I...I don't know." Holms gasped. "The truth is, I never handle the girls. Only the money. Every few weeks, I'm called to come pick up a new girl for me to manage at the docks on the other side of town. I drop her off somewhere around here and I usually never see her again."

"Who calls you?" I asked. "Who do you split the money with?"

"He's never told me his real name. He only calls himself 'Moses.' I've only spoken to him over the phone and the internet. I have no idea what he looks like."

"When does he call next?"

Holms gulped. "In another we-" The phone on his desk began ringing. He looked at it, panicked, his eyes darting back and forth between my gun and his phone.

"Is that him?" I asked.

"Y-Yes." He said.

"Answer it." I said.

Shaking, Holms picked up the phone and cleared his throat before putting the receiver to his ear.

"Hello." He said, trying to disguise his fear.

"I have more product for you, Mr. Holms." a voice said from the phone. It was disguised, so I could only barely make out what it was saying. "Come to the usual place to make the pickup. Don't be late."

"Request a meeting." I whispered. "Get angry. Say you want answers or else you won't work for him anymore."

"I-I'm tired of all this secretive, under-the-table nonsense! I want to meet you, face-to-face! I want to know what's going on!"

"Mr. Holms," the voice said, "you are only where you are because of myself and my employer. There are thousands of other candidates that could do your job better than you. You are in no standing to be making orders. Do your job and pray I do not take this little outburst more heavily." With a click, the receiver went silent.

"Keys." I said, holding out my hand.

"What?"

"Give me your car keys." I scanned in my thumbprint on the bottom of my gun and rested my finger on the safety. Holms shoved his hand into his pocket and handed them to me.

"Address."

"Dock 18. North Kuroumi. She'll be waiting at the end of it."

"Good boy." I said. I stood up, put my gun away, and unbolted the door. "I was never here." I said before I slipped out.

As I passed the bar, I slammed my hand on the counter and said "One for scotch for the road, if you don't mind." The bartender handed me a glass. As I downed it, I tossed him fifteen dollars. "Keep the change. You're a nice guy." I said as I walked exited the building.

After taking a good five minutes finding out which car the keys went to, I was just outside the docks on the coastline of Kuroumi. I was cruising slowly, trying not to attract any attention to myself. On the seat next to me sat a battered pair of military-grade thermal goggles. I passed a military surplus store on the way there and decided to pick up a pair just in case. I didn't have enough money, so I had to swipe it. Nobody noticed.

I continued to drift down the street, even though there wasn't anyone around, until I ran into a warehouse with a large '18' painted on the side. Next to it was a gravel opening that led to a dock, at the end of which was a small figure laying on the ground. I parked the car on the road so I wouldn't make any tire marks and walked across the block, staying next to the wall of the warehouse so I wouldn't be entirely exposed.

I stopped once I reached the beginning of the dock. Even from a distance, I could tell that it was another clone. She had the same body type and was wearing clothes that made her look like a peacock that had been shit out of a rainbow. I brought the thermal goggles to my face, strapped them on, then hit the switch. The world suddenly became vague shades of blue and orange. The figure at the end of the dock was faintly glowing. She was alive, at least.

I turned and looked around the empty lot and finally got a lucky break. A streak of slowly-fading orange was on the ground next to my foot. As I took off the goggles to examine it, I saw that it was a warm, clear liquid, almost invisible if I didn't know it was there, in between a light pair of tire tracks. Whoever brought this girl here, their car was leaking radiator fluid.

I slid the goggles back on and began to follow the trail at a slow jog to make sure I got to where they were leading before the trail, literally, went cold. I made sure to stay against the countless rows of warehouses to keep my bearings.

After following the trail for what felt like a couple miles, they finally began to turn until they stopped right at the large door of an abandoned, decrepit warehouse. I pocketed the goggles and took a careful examination of the building. There were no markings or logos. It looked like it had been partially damaged from a fire as half of its roof was black and caved-in. There were no doors leading inside other than the garage I had encountered and the dirty, metal door I was in front of. Unfortunately, it was bound with a massive padlock that itself looked old and rusted. Well, I thought as I pulled out my pistol, I was going to have to use this today sooner or later. I scanned my thumb, undid the safety, and keyed in the silencer code. I stood on one side of the door, gritted my teeth, and fired at the lock. The gun coughed once, albeit loud enough to cause a soft echo, and I caught the lock and chain before it hit the ground. I jiggled the handle. It was locked.

"Oh, fuck this." I muttered to myself as I brought my foot up and kicked the door open. Holding my gun at the ready I walked through the door. The warehouse looked about as I had expected from the outside: dirty, wet, and broken down. However, there was a single oddity that didn't hesitate in drawing my attention: a large, silver, and impossibly shiny cube in the middle of the room. Large cables led to generators in the corner of the room and soft light seemed to be coming from inside.

"Beautiful, isn't it?"

I whipped my head around and pointed my gun at a small, mousey man in ragged, dirty clothes and a pair of glasses. His hair was graying, even though he didn't seem very old.

"Who are you?"

"I am Moses." He said. "I perform miracles." He walked passed me, ignoring the gun, and stood next to the cube. A keypad slid out from an almost invisible slot in the side.

"Don't touch that!" I yelled. I took a step closer and rested my finger on the trigger. The man called Moses only crossed his arms and met my glare with abstract amusement.

"You won't kill me." He said. "You're a detective. You'd never get away with it."

"Like hell I wouldn't." I said. "There's no one around for miles. I've got your ass all to myself."

"The only one around is the only one who matters." Moses said. "He is omnipresent. He is always watching us. He told me you were coming. I'm not afraid of you."

"What in God's name are you talking about?"

"Exactly that." Moses said, his eyes twinkling. He pressed a button on the keypad and a door slid open on the cube, spilling white light into the room. "Would you like to see one of His miracles?"

I carefully edged toward the cube, keeping my aim trained on the creepy little man.

"You first." I said, gesturing toward the door. Moses smiled and ducked through the threshold, vanishing into the blinding light. I hesitated before slowly following him. For a second, I couldn't see anything but searing white. Once my eyes adjusted, I wished they hadn't.

The room was a bit small, but incredibly clean. The walls and ceiling were absolutely spotless. The cleanest thing I've seen in Kuroumi in years. The walls were lined with identical tanks filled with red liquid. Inside the tanks were human bodies developing, some of them looked like they were sleeping, some of them were simply muscle-bound skeletons. More than a few with them had deformities. One clone's hands were wrapped into gnarled, bony fists while another had yet to develop a face, despite being otherwise healthy. Beside each of them was a vitals monitor, each softly beeping in indication of the clones' heart rates. I realized with a small pang of horror that the clone nearest to me was dead in the tank, all monitors shut off and body horribly floating to the top of the tank like a fish. In the middle of the room was a woman strapped onto a bed, unconscious.

"She's the original." Moses said while running his fingers through her hair. "These clones have implanted personalities. They can never match her...She used to be so healthy. So beautiful. She had gorgeous hair, kind eyes, a tight little ass, legs that went on for miles, and breasts so perfect you could swear they were fucking making fun of you! The little SLUT!" He was gripping the woman's hair, shaking in inexplicable anger. He let out a sigh and released the tuft of hair, some of which falling to the ground. "We knew she was perfect from the moment we saw her. Cloning only works with fresh tissue. Otherwise, it won't replicate properly." At this point, I noticed that the woman was missing several chunks of flesh, most of her leg, and more than a few fingers and toes.

"Why!?" I shouted. "What do you have to gain from all this!? A couple bucks selling them as whores?! What kind of sick fuck are you!?"

"We never wanted money. Every cent we made went to maintaining this lab. We only wanted one thing." Moses raised his hand and pointed his hand. "You."

"Me?" I asked. Despite being the one with the gun, I was scared shitless.

"We left clues. We dropped hints. We left the trail warm. He wanted to find a worthy disciple. Anyone who could find us, but He always hoped it would be you, Raymond."

"H-How-"

"He is omnipresent. He sees everything. He knows everything. He is everything."

"Who-Who is he? Who are you working with?"

"He spoke to me before you came." Moses continued, ignoring me. "He said that you had proven yourself to Him and He was very pleased. He commanded me to finish here. He said I was a good disciple, but I was no longer necessary." He smiled. "I'm glad He was happy with me."

"Alright." I said, controlling my tone. "I want you to put your hands in the air and come quietly. I've already called for backup-"

"No, you haven't." Moses interrupted. "Besides, you wouldn't have needed to." He ran his hands through the original's hair. "She's dead. It was another of His instructions." He pulled a device from his pocket. "And so was this."

He pressed a button. All at once, the vital monitors flat-lined and wailed a peircing tone. The white light of the cube became a dark red, sounding an alarm.

"WHY!?" I screamed. "T-THIS DOESN'T...WHY DID YOU DO ALL THIS!?"

"YOU SHOULD BE HONORED!" Moses shouted over the din. "NOT MANY ARE DESIRED BY THE NEON SAINT AS STRONGLY AS YOU!"

"Wait..." The horror dawned on me and my heart skipped a beat. "YOU'RE IN THE CHURCH OF THE NEON SAINT!? WHO IS HE!? WHO IS THE SPARK OF JERU-"

I went silent as I noticed Moses slowly bringing his hand to the back of his neck.

"NO!" I screamed. I dropped my gun and sprinted forward, diving to stop him. It was too late. In less than a second, Moses had already crumpled to the ground, dead. I was alone now. I looked at the dead woman on the gurney. She was only a doll now. They were all dolls. I stared numbly around the room, ignoring the screeching of the alarm. I shuffled past the porcelain corpses and picked up my gun on the way out of the door. I walked to the door of the warehouse before collapsing on the ground. I shook and cried silently as I held my pistol. It was at least an hour before I calmed down enough to shakily call Jonathan to pick me up.

I shuffled into the office the next morning groggy and numb. I had to spend the rest of yesterday working to explain what had happened and why I was working even though I had been given the day off. This is compounded on the fact that I only slept for three hours last night. I woke up from nightmares so frequently that I gave up on sleeping altogether. I waited in the rain outside the station for and hour and a half before someone came to unlock the door.

Before I went home yesterday, I stopped by the coroner's office and got a good look at the neural implant up close. I couldn't take it, but I was able to take some high-resolution pictures. Despite the implant being burnt out, they came out well enough to work with.

I dropped my jacket on the floor and slumped into my chair, staring at the floor. I listened to the soothing sounds of Tony, John, and Jonathan all typing at their keyboards and almost fell asleep again.

"Oh hell..." Tony said, breaking the monotony. "There's even more of these. Three more cons got their charges dropped. Two were repeat sex offenders and the last one...was..." He read the page for a moment before shouting. "Jesus! Arthur Morain!? The bus bomb guy!? That fucker was on death row!"

"Who's stupid fucking idea was it to let him out!?" Jonathan growled.

"I just can't get over this." Tony said. "You know these people are going to do something to get themselves thrown back in, besides the bullshit of them even being let out at all! It's not gonna make a fucking difference!"

"Just calm down, man." Jonathan said. "This is bad, but it's nothing to get worked up about. Just do your job and everything'll fall into place."

"Yeah. I guess." Tony said dejectedly before going back to work. I sighed as the rooms returned to its normal murmurs, however with one sound missing. I looked up to see Jonathan standing over me.

"You didn't go to therapy yesterday." He said.

"Yeah." I croaked. I wasn't in the mood for this. "Sorry. I'll go next time."

"That's what you said after you skipped your last appointment. Are you still having nightmares?"

"Nope." I said.

"You sure?"

"Posi-tutley. That shrink's a miracle worker. After one session, I'm dreaming flowers and unicorns and gummybear shit."

"I don't give a damn if you take this seriously or not, but I do. I need all my men to be capable both physically and mentally, and you're about the most unstable cop I've ever seen. Go to therapy next time or I'm firing your ass."

Jonathan walked away, leaving me alone with my thoughts and his words, which I quickly discarded. I pulled out the drive with the pictures of the implant on them and loaded them onto the computer. After a couple of seconds, I was looking at detailed renderings of the photographs.

The implant itself was, obviously, extremely small. It was ribbed on either side to either allow fluids to flow around it, through it, or for some other reason I can't figure out. On what I assume is the top was a tiny glass dome with an even tinier rod of filament inside which I assumed was the transmitter itself. All of this, however, was pure speculation as the device was severely damaged from its overloading. For all I know, it could have been shaped like a human brain before Moses fried himself.

Speaking of Moses himself, it turns out his name was Cheyenne Davis. He was a psychopath who had been released from a nuthouse out in Texas of all places. What he was doing here was anyone's guess. No one had any idea how he got the transplant. He was unemployed ever since he was released, so he obviously didn't buy it from anywhere and he wasn't smart enough to make one himself. In fact, records show he wasn't even smart enough to operate a computer, let alone an entire cloning operation. So either he had somehow gotten a PH.D in six months or someone was feeding him directions, the most likely candidate being whoever, or whatever, this 'Spark of Jerusalem' is.

I pulled up a list of neural implants on the internet for some kind of reference. Most of them looked like tiny metal fishing lures. Nothing like the one found in Mo-Cheyenne's head. However, I scrolled down the page a bit and found an article for a brand new implant being developed by a promising hardware developer located in the city, Daichi Technologies. I clicked on it and was faced with a picture of the exact same implant, down to the tiny ridges on either side. I scrolled down and found out that it was supposedly going to be a way to access the internet for basic tasks using nothing but your mind. I printed the page, found out the address of the developer, and was about to make a visit before I caught McKinley standing in the doorway of his office.

His face was flushed. He was panting and sweating, even shaking slightly.

"Everyone stop!" He shouted. Everyone stopped. McKinley gulped and said, "There are new instructions for Randy the Robot."

All noise in the room was immediately silenced. My blood ran cold, and I'll be the first to bed so did everyone else's.

"Oh fuck..." Jonathan muttered.

"Everyone suit up!" McKinley shouted. "I need everyone on board for this! Everyone! I'm calling the Robotics Division to get all the police robots looking for anyone who meets the profile. I'm getting as many precincts I can on this. You need to be on top of all this, got it?"

"We got it." Jonathan said, standing up. "C'mon!" We all ran through the doors. In the lobby was JJ, looking alarmed.

"JJ!" Jonathan shouted. "Not now! Get the fuck out of here!"

We sprinted to the cars. I dove into the passenger's seat while Jonathan got behind the wheel. We sped off, lights blaring, swerving in and out of cars.

Randy the Robot was a serial killer, but not in a normal sense. He technically wasn't real. Randy the Robot was a meme. A joke, to most people. Every once in a while, on a certain, un-moderated internet forum, the details of Randy's next killing would be posted for thousands of people to see. The problem was that most people thought it was a prank and would dress up as Randy's new rules dictated just for fun. This led to about ten different murders on one day and over 5,000 suspects. We've yet to be able to do anything about it, but you can always try.

"What're the new features?" Jonathan said while maneuvering through traffic. I picked up the sheet of paper that had just printed out of the car's computer and read down the list.

"Purple hat. Pig mask. Blue jean shorts. Black boots. Carve Randy the Robot into skin, as always. Hang victims from a highway overpass."

"With rope?"

"I assume."

"How are the victims killed?"

"Doesn't say."

"Shit. Alright. We're here."

We got out of the car at the intersection between 9th and Ishikawa. Ishikawa street was the most popular section of town. The city closed down the street for pedestrians to walk between the stores and on any given night, there are at least a thousand people crowded in this one street.

On this given night, at least 500 are wearing pig masks and purple hats.

"Dammit." Jonathan muttered. "Looks like everyone else got the message. Alright, we blend in with the crowd. Keep eyes on the alleyways. McKinley will be probably posting as many outlooks as he can on the bridges and streets, so we need to watch for acts of the actual killings."

"Got it." I said.

Jonathan pulled out a tiny com device.

"Tony. You copy?"

"Loud and clear." Tony's voice crackled through the small speaker.

"Are you and John in position?"

"We're on top of a bank, I think. 200 Ishikawa. We've got a good view of both the street and more than a few alleys." One of the benefits of having John around is that he's an impeccable sniper, most likely a leftover skill from the war. It comes in handy more than you'd think, especially when riots break out. Tony usually ends up serving as a spotter, but he doesn't mind. At least he doesn't have to do the grunt work that Jonathan and I are shoehorned into.

"Keep your hand on your gun and your badge in your pocket." Jonathan said. "We're just out to have a good time. Got it?"

"Rodger."

"Let's go."

Jonathan and I stepped past the barriers and vanished into the crowd. As soon as we were surrounded by people, I began to feel queasy. I'm never around this many people at the same time for any reason. If I didn't have a job to do, I'd turn a 180 as fast as I could and get the fuck out of here before I vomited or beat someone. Truth be told, I hate the followers of Randy the Robot more than any society out there, but I'm almost glad they're there. I have an example to point to when I argue that nothing good ever comes from a crowd. When given motivation, a crowd can be organized, driven, and lethal. Trying to stop these psychopaths is the closest I get to having meaning in my life other than my pathetic excuse for police work.

I followed Jonathan through dense packs of people before he came to a rest beside a building. He leaned against the wall nonchalantly and I did the same.

"There." He whispered. Across the street was a dark, ominous alleyway that branched off behind the cramped buildings. "If anything were going to happen, it would probably be in there. Stay frosty and keep an eye out for any of these nutjobs that slip in there."

We waited, trying to stay focused on the alley between all the people filing past. Dozens of Randy-philes walked past, but none we saw go into the alleyway. Jonathan nonchalantly brought his hand up to his mouth.

"Tony. Got anything?"

After a few seconds, Tony responded "Not yet. John's got his sights trained near the street you guys are on."

"No! Don't look at us. We can handle ourselves! Focus on the areas we can't get-"

"Oh shit! Shit!" Tony was shouting. "We've got one! A block north of you! Just pulled a woman into an alleyway, holding a knife."

"Take him out!"

"Can't! He's obscured by a building!"

"We'll try to get him out into the open!"

"Roger."

Jonathan dropped the com device back into his sleeve and ran down the sidewalk, shoving past people. I followed, jumping and dodging more than shoving. At the end of the block were two alleys on either side.

"I'll take this one! Check the one across the street!" Jonathan shouted.

I nodded and sprinted as fast as I could through the crowd of people. Too many of them blocked my path, so I pulled out my pistol and fired it into the air, immediately clearing the way.

I ran into the alleyway, turned a corner, and ran straight into one of the Randy killers, running the opposite way. He barreled past me, knocking me off my feet and causing my gun to go flying out of my hand and under a dumpster. I pulled a small, sticky ball from my coat pocket and threw it at the man. It stuck to the back of his jacket and began to emit purple smoke. As soon as he emerged into the street, a deafening crack sounded as the man was lifted off his feet from the force of the bullet that just punched a hole through his skull.

"They're in a panic now!" Jonathan shouted to me. "Check the streets! Stop as many as you can!"

Before I ran into the street, I rolled to my feet and checked the corner to find a young woman shakily getting to her feet. She was battered and confused, but mostly unharmed. I fished my gun out from under the dumpster and ran into the street. The crowd was in a frenzy, shoving past one another and screaming in fear. I ran through them as fast as I could, looking for anyone with a purple hat and pig mask.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw one of them gore a middle-aged man through the stomach with a cake knife. I shoved past a group and put a bullet in the back of his skull. I checked the man's pulse, already aware of the futility, and moved on. I caught eye of Jonathan a few meters ahead of me throwing a man to the ground and knocking him unconscious with a blow to the temple. I saw another Randy pulling a woman through a door, holding a gun. Right as it shut, I kicked the door open and shot the man through the chest, taking advantage of his surprise. I turned immediately on my heel and saw a Randy dragging the corpse of a woman down the street, her neck in a noose. I dropped my pistol in a rage, got up to a full sprint, and tackled the man. As he hit the ground, I heard his neck snap. I got up to see another man running either at me or past me, I couldn't tell. I grabbed him by the throat and threw him to the ground, pounding on his face until teeth started flying in all directions. After this, everything became a haze. I noticed a Randy wrestling with a man. I killed him. I noticed a Randy raping a woman. I strangled him. I noticed three Randies open fire on a man they had held up against a wall, like a firing range. I slaughtered them.

A man grabbed me from behind and began shaking me. I tore him off and threw him bodily to the concrete. I went to punch him, but he grabbed my hand and hit me in the neck. Ignoring it, I kicked him in the ribs, hard. He grabbed my foot and twisted it, taking me down. He kneeled down on my chest and began slapping me, screaming.

"RAYMOND! GET A FUCKING HOLD OF YOURSELF! RAYMOND!"

I stopped struggling. In some small part of my brain, I realized it was Jonathan who was sitting on top of me. He waited, panting, for a few seconds before getting off of me. As soon as I stood up, I felt dizzy, vomited on the street, then passed out.

I woke up, propped up against a wall. The street was empty, save for the bodies of the dead Randy killers, their few victims, and my partners who were sitting on the curb in front of me, shakily and silently smoking cigarettes.

I pulled myself to my feet and swayed again, feeling nauseous. I lurched into the street.

"Raymond!" Jonathan said in surprise. He got up to follow me, but I raised my hand to stop him, not even looking. I stumbled across the street and into a liquor store. I grabbed a bottle of whatever I could get my hands on first and dropped to the ground. I tore the cap off and began chugging. It took almost the whole bottle before I was drunk enough to stop shaking.

I walked as best I could into the street, swaying with every step. Jonathan came up to me and caught me before I fell to the pavement.

"Could...Could you take me home now?" I said quietly, slurring my speech.

God dammit.

I was crying again.

As opposed to the night before, I dropped right to to sleep as soon as I hit my bed. I had the usual night spasms and still woke up in a cold sweat, but at least I slept through the night, for once.

As I shambled into the station, I noticed the others looking at me over their shoulders and behind my back. I dropped into my chair and stretched my aching muscles.

"Hey." Tony said.

"Yeah?"

"Are...you okay?"

"As okay as I could be...why?"

"Well...yesterday, you kind of...I guess...lost it."

"Yeah. Sorry about that."

"It's okay. It's just that...I've never seen you like that before and I was kinda worried." He chuckled. "I thought I was the one who always got angry, y'know what I mean?"

"It's fine." I said, coldly. "Don't worry about it."

"...Okay. Just...yeah." He shifted in his seat and returned to work.

I suddenly remembered something. I got out of my seat and went over to the main office. I knocked on McKinley's open door.

"Hey, boss." I said.

"Hey, Boss." He responded with a light smile. "What's up?"

"What happened yesterday...I'm sure you heard about it..."

"Everybody gets riled up, champ. Just do me a favor...I want you to go see that therapist that Chase set you up with, okay? I think it'll really help."

"Sure thing. There's something I wanted to ask you, too."

"Shoot."

"Did the Randies kill anybody the we couldn't get to? What was the death toll?"

McKinley tapped his fingers on his desk and averted his eyes from me.

"They killed 26 across the city. Hung on nooses on highway overpasses." He said. "Someone hacked the patrol androids' network. This left entire areas unprotected."

My stomach lurched. My face probably went pale. That's the worst it's ever been.

"Thanks." I muttered, turning to walk away.

"Hey! Raymond!" McKinley said, getting out from behind his desk. He jogged over to me and put a hand on my shoulder. "Don't beat yourself up. It's not your fault, there was nothing you could do."

"Okay." I said. I shrugged his hand off my shoulder and went back to my seat. I pulled out my flask and emptied it, then pulled out a quarter of a bottle of Jack Daniels I kept in my desk and emptied that too. It didn't help.

Why did I hate people so much, but still felt this shitty when they died? Was it guilt? Maybe it's just the wasted potential. Out of all the people that were killed in Kuroumi, at least some of them must have been genuinely good people. But 'good' and 'evil' are lies in this damn city. Everyone is trying to get by, any way they can. They don't think they're evil. Why should we? What right do we have to call out the prostitutes, liars, and thieves if 'normal' people are the ones butchering 26 people in the streets and hanging their bodies over bridges. We're cops. We fight for good. In Kuroumi, it's useless. Everyone here is scum to somebody. We're fighting a war against an enemy we can't even see and we're losing. Why do we even exist?

Tony got up from his desk and put on his coat.

"John!" He called, motioning him over. "C'mon! We're going to the lab downtown to see if they have a suspect yet on that double homicide."

John stood up from his chair and followed him out the pressurized doors.

"RAYMOND!" Tony screamed from the lobby after a few seconds. As the door slid open, he fell into the room, his face drenched in sweat. "Raymond...T-There's someone here to see you..."

Jonathan and I exchanged glances, then raced into the lobby. John was already there, staring down a dirty android holding a large metal object in his hands.

"Hello." It said, pleasantly. "You are Raymond Boss."

"Yeah...What do you want?"

"I have a message for you from The Spark of Jerusalem."

My blood ran cold. It seems I didn't have to look after all. I pulled out my gun, thumb scanned and safety off.

"On the floor." I said. "Put down...whatever that is and get on the ground now."

"You know what this...'spark' thing is?" Jonathan asked.

"No, but I intened to find out."

"It would be an unfortunate idea to kill me, Mr. Boss." The android said. "Right now, I am holding a ten-megaton nuclear warhead."

"Wh-" I caught myself as a knee gave way.

"Ohhh shit..." Jonathan said, backing away.

"My body is currently emitting a low-charge electric current that keeps the warhead from arming." It continued. "Were you to kill me, the current would be broken, releasing the failsafe and causing a detonation."

"Okay." I said, putting my gun on the ground and backing away from it. "Alright. I'll listen to your message."

"The Spark of Jerusalem is interested in your skills and believes you could be an asset to Him. He is willing to negotiate terms and concerns you may have in person."

"In-In person?"

"Correct."

"When? Where?"

"A time-frame is not an issue for The Spark of Jerusalem. He will be waiting for you once He receives your answer."

"How will he know my answer?"

"He knows all."

"Alright...Where can I find him?"

"In order to find him, he asks that you simply follow those bearing the Flame of the Holy Ghost."

"What does that mean?"

"My message has been successfully given. Thank you for your time and consideration." The android opened a panel in the warhead and removed a small chip with wires coming out of either side. It dropped the metal ball to the ground with a large clunk. Jonathan and I both winced, but it didn't blow. The android, in the meantime, had turned on its heel and walked out the front door and into the street. It waited a few seconds before hurling itself under the wheel of a passing truck, which crushed it.

I quickly ran back to my desk and grabbed my coat and thethe address of Daichi Technologies. I ran over to Jonathan's desk and grabbed his car keys and his own jacket. As I ran back in the lobby, I tossed the jacket into his hands.

"We're going somewhere." I said. I threw him the keys, which he caught, still dumbfounded. "You're driving."

After filling in Jonathan what I had found out on the case on the way, we both walked side-by-side through the massive doors of the Daichi Technologies skyscraper. It was massive, one of the buildings in a city that looms over the others but no one knows what it's for.

We strode uneasily through the massive lobby with walls made of brilliantly shining chrome, giving everything a futuristic vibe. In the middle of the room was a metal terminal sticking out of the ground. As we walked up to it, the screen lit up, displaying a long list of executives in the building.

"Who do we need to see?" Jonathan asked.

"Well...Why not go all the way up?" I responded. "You have your phone?"

"Yeah, I do." Jonathan said. He rummaged in his pockets and pulled out a black, police-issue smartphone.

"Can you get onto our database through that?" I asked.

"Yeah, sure."

"Look up who the CEO is."

Jonathan tapped the tiny screen quietly for a few second before saying "Got it. His name is Ted Kudo. Japanese-American. Inherited the company from his father Hachiro Kudo after his death."

"Alright." I said. I tapped the screen on the terminal and scrolled down the page until I found the name. "Oh shit." I said. After selecting the name, an even longer list of names appeared under the heading 'Expected Appointments.'

"Click that." Jonathan said, pointing to an icon in the top right labeled 'Schedule Appointment.'

"Do you see all these names? It'll be months before we get into that office. Take a picture of the screen, then run some of the names through the computer to see if we have any on record."

Jonathan did so and waited a few seconds before declaring. "Archer Butler. We've got his file."

"Okay. Pull it up in case this thing needs credentials." I said. I tapped on the name and a window opened onscreen. Above the terminal, a small camera swiveled out while the screen read 'Verifying Features in 10...9...8..."

"Shit!" I shouted. "Pull up the guy's picture and hold it in front of the lens!"

Lightly panicked, Jonathan enlarged a mug shot of Archer Butler and held it above his head in front of the camera lens while we ducked out of its way. After a few seconds, we heard the click as the lens slid back into its housing. We stood and saw the screen was showing a message in green letters reading 'Verified. Calling Lift...'

"Huh." I said. "Guess it worked."

Behind the terminal, one of the well-hidden elevator doors slid open. We both briskly got inside as the doors shut and the lift quickly rose to the top floor.

"I didn't like doing that."

"Huh?" I said.

"I'm not comfortable with all the grey-area police work you make me do. It doesn't ever feel right."

"Get used to it. I think it's the only way to get anyone to do anything in this city. If someone isn't listening, fire a gun in the air. Simple as that."

"That doesn't make us much better than the guys we fight."

"...Don't say that again."

"Whatever."

The elevator doors slid open to a large, gorgeous office where a pretty, young receptionist sat at a large desk, filing her nails.

"Hi." I said knocking on the counter to get her attention. She looked at me and smacked her gum, uninterestedly. "I'm Mr. Arthur Butler. I have an appointment with Mr. Kudo."

She smacked her gum again and looked me slowly up and down.

"No you're not." She said in a nasally voice. "I've seen Arthur, and you ain't him."

"Ma'am." Jonathan said, shoving me aside. "We're detectives with the Kuroumi Police Department. We need Mr. Kudo's help on a recent case that may concern him."

"Bullshit." The girl said. She sneered at us and started to read a magazine. Before I could move, Jonathan had pulled out his badge and roughly dropped it into the girl's cup of coffee behind the counter, scalding her with it.

"I think that's all the proof that you'll need." He said.

"Mr...Mr. Kudo...shit..." she stammered as she tried to wipe the hot liquid off of her shirt. "He doesn't see anyone without an appointment."

"Ma'am," Jonathan said, leaning over the counter. He put his hand on the girl's chin and slowly lifted her face up to face his. "Death is involved in this case. Many deaths. Please co-operate with us, or we'll have to drag you back to the station ourselves under interfering with police business. Open the door or prison. How about it, bitch?"

The girl tried to speak, but only a small squeak came out. Jonathan's size must have finally dawned on her. She quickly scanned her fingerprint on a pad embedded in the desk and a door slid open to the left of it.

"Good choice." He said, gingerly picking his badge out of the girl's coffee. As he walked past me, he muttered "Yours isn't the only way that works, kid."

Following him, we both barged into the room, loudly slamming the door against the wall.

"Mr. Kudo!" Jonathan boomed. He held his badge into the air. I followed suit. "This is the Kuroumi, California police department! We have some questions we'd like to ask you!"

Behind an enormous wooden desk in the middle of an ornately decorated room sat Ted Kudo. He was an extremely well-dressed man, seemed about the age of 30. He was young, but could evidently run a company well. Either that, or his father left enough intact that he didn't have to do anything at all. As we walked in, he was furiously punching numbers into the telephone on his desk. He stopped with his finger hovering over the receiver after seeing our badges.

"Mind if we grab a chair?" I said as I pulled one of the high-class armchairs that sat in front of the desk to me and fell into it. Jonathan did the same.

"Do you have anything to drink by any chance?" I asked, looking around the room.

"No." Kudo said curtly to me. He turned to Jonathan. "Listen...I don't know what this is about. God knows, I'm not perfect, but I'm sure that we could make this much more civil and settle this in the courtroom."

"So you and your legal team can bribe the jury into letting you get away with everything? Not a chance." Jonathan said, grinning. "Besides, we're not even worried about that now. We only came to get a little information."

"Fine." Kudo said, folding his arms frustratedly and falling deeper into his reclining chair. "You win. I'll co-operate. What do you want?"

"First," I interrupted, "I need a drink."

"I told you," Kudo said through his teeth, "we don't. Have. Alcohol."

"The hell kind of rich, fat-cat office doesn't have a bottle of wine around here somewhere?"

"Ray," Jonathan said, putting a hand on my shoulder and squeezing it roughly, "control yourself." He turned back to Kudo. "Forgive my partner. He can be...spontaneous."

"Mr. Kudo," He continued. "We need to ask you some questions about your companies'..." Jonathan unfurled the implant ad from his pocket and read "Ghost model neural implants."

"...Are you joking?" Kudo said. "You break into my office, intimidate my receptionist, and threaten me with prosecution because you want hardware instructions? Feel proud of yourselves. You've shown me exactly what lows my competitors will stoop to. Where are you from? Dynacorp? This is exactly the kind of stunt those bootlickers would pull."

Jonathan and I glanced at each other. I raised an eyebrow and he rolled his eyes.

"Get out." Kudo said, turning to a computer on his desk and starting to type. "I won't press charges if you leave quietly enough."

"Mr. Kudo, how many people have this implant?" Jonathan asked.

"I said leave. You can't scare me. Dynacorp's lackeys are never as bright as they seem."

"We're not from-"

"Keep the badges in your pockets, gentlemen. I've seen enough fakes this week."

"How many people have the implants?"

Kudo sighed and began rubbing his forehead. "The Ghost implants haven't been released on the market yet. Only the R&D team and a few executives have them at this point. Will you go now?"

"Then why is it that at least 60% of the criminals we pull in a week have this implant?"

"Do you two really think you'll get to me with this 'police detectives' angle? Get out of my office before I call security."

"Do you have one of these implants?"

"I don't think that's any of your buisness."

"We're the police. When there are deaths involved, of course it's our goddamn business." Jonathan began squeezing the arms of his chair.

"Even if you were the police, there's nothing you could do to me."

"TED!" I shouted. Jonathan and Kudo both jumped and glanced at me. I stood up and leaned forward on the desk. "Who is the Spark of Jerusalem?"

Kudo's face went white. For once, he had nothing to say. He gulped twice, working up enough saliva to ask "H-How do you know that name?"

"I think we're getting somewhere!" Jonathan said, happily. He got up and walked across the room to shut the door.

"Who is the Neon Saint?" I asked again, glaring at Kudo.

"I don't know!" He said, backing away. "Please...forgive me for being so belligerent. A lot of my competitors try to extort me by acting like...I'm sorry."

"Just tell us everything you know." Jonathan said, sitting down. "We don't have time for anyone to feel guilty."

"Alright." Kudo pressed a button on his phone. "Nancy. Hold all my calls and appointments. No matter what."

"Sure thing, Mr. Kudo." Said the receptionist through the speaker. "Are..are you al-" The voice was cut short by Kudo pulling the phone cord from the wall.

"The production of the Ghost implants was nothing but trouble." He began. "It was headed by a man named Ayumu Noboru. He wasn't the official leader of the team, but all the other programmers looked up to him and his genius. He was our greatest asset above the other companies and essentially built Daichi with my father.

"Development went well, all things considered. The chip was Ayumu's dream project. I'm not sure now, but I wouldn't be surprised if he was planning on retirement after it was finished. It was his baby. He had countless notes on the finer details he had been working on for half his life. Later on, these notes are the only reason we were able to finish the project at all."

"What does this have to do with the Church of the Neon Saint?" I asked.

"I'm getting to that. The Ghost implant was his life's work, so, naturally, he would be the first to test it. In a rather high-risk surgery, Ayumu had the chip implanted right into his brain stem. He was told to rest up in the hospital for about seven days and to refrain from any high-concept thinking, a demand I thought unfair for a mind like Noboru's. By the fifth, he was gone. His room was empty next morning when the nurses came in and it took until 5 that afternoon for everyone to realize that he hadn't transferred, but escaped.

"We called in the police to look for him. We scoured the city for days until a couple of private investigators found him holed up in a ratty hotel downtown."

"The police?" I asked. "Why didn't we know any of this?"

"It probably wasn't in our precinct." Jonathan responded.

"Our PR department also advised that word of his disappearance shouldn't get out." Kudo said. "It wasn't on any websites. Anyone who posted news was immediately fired.

"Things didn't get really strange until Ayumu turned up for work, out of the blue, a month later. We had issued new cards, but he was still able to get into restricted areas, somehow. He was dishevled and filthy and looked like he'd been living outside for weeks, but he didn't ever say a word. No one spoke to him out of intimidation from his appearance except for me. I went up to him and started railing him questions of where he'd been, what he'd been doing, why he'd left, and something or other about us being worried sick. He looked at me with just...dead eyes and said 'I've only been doing what the Spark tells me.' I asked him what the hell he was talking about. He responded 'The Spark of Jerusalem.' This was the last thing he said to me or anyone here. He went to his desk, jotted down a few additions to his notes on the Ghost implant, handed some of his colleges envelopes, then left. I haven't seen him since."

"What about those envelopes?" Jonathan asked.

"I confronted the scientists about them, but they wouldn't say. God knows, they had more respect for Ayumu than me, regardless of his state of mind. I threatened their jobs and they called my bluff. All ten of them quit that day. Come to think of it, I haven't seen any of them, either.

"Another thing was that as soon as Ayumu left the building, every digital record of the Ghost specs were wiped from the network. We had to start all over from Ayumu's physical notes, hire new programmers...it was Hell, believe me."

"Is that all?" I asked.

"That's the extent of it. I have no idea what the Spark of Jerusalem is, but I know it has something to do with Ayumu Noboru. Though, it's up to you to find him. Don't even bother with his home address. We already have."

"That'll do." Jonathan said, standing from his chair. He extended his hand for Kudo to shake. Kudo offered it to me as well, but I was thinking so hard I barely noticed. "Thanks for your time. I'm sorry be barged in like we did." Jonathan continued.

"Don't. I understand. Please, if you find Ayumu...let us...me... know if he's alright." Kudo said, rubbing his hands together.

"Will do." Jonathan said as he and I walked through the door.

I came into work the next day, exhausted again. This time, though, it wasn't from nightmares. I was busy running things through my mind about the case. If we wanted to finally make some real headway, we needed to find this Ayumu Noboru. I back-checked his name just to be safe. All of it is old information. Nothing we could use. I checked on his family. They'd either been erased or he didn't have any.

I considered the idea that Ted Kudo was lying. Maybe he was before, but his face sure as hell told the truth when I mentioned the Spark. Even if everything he told us was bullshit, he at least knew about it. But then, what would he have to gain from lying to us? Maybe something unrelated happened to Noboru and he just wants us to track him down for him. Maybe it's spite against police meddling. I guess I'm avoiding the big question.

What if he's part of the Church?

It makes the most sense. He's the CEO of the company that created those damn chips, anyway. I can't see why he wouldn't have one. Maybe the Spark knew we were coming. Maybe he had Kudo feed us false information to lead us away. Hell, Kudo may not even be the real CEO. The Spark might be just a psychotic hacker, seeing as how much control he has over information. It would have been easy for him to alter records.

But then, this raises another question: How much in done by his followers and how much is done by the Spark of Jerusalem himself? Maybe it's some kind of Charles Manson deal where his lackeys do all the killing.

Then I wonder what the Spark actually wants with me. He's shown an interest in my activities. None of the other precincts in the city have had suspects with the Ghost implants. We only pick them up in ours. That can't be a coincidence. The Spark was trying to contact me. He wants me to find him for some reason. Wants to induct me into his psycho church. But why? I try to think of this analytically. Who am I? I am a police detective. I am young. I am in decent shape (give or take my liver). I'm not brilliant, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't intelligent. I am neurotic and misanthropic. I am good at reading people.

Maybe he wants my police connections? But if he's some kind of hacker, which I think he must be, he could have access to all the information he wants. He wouldn't want me for anything like that. Maybe just muscle? No. I'm not a fantastic fighter and if he went to this much trouble to recruit everyone, he wouldn't have much of a congregation. If Noboru and Kudo are involved somehow, then they've already got two people smarter than me on their side. Now that I think about it, I'm relatively average, even in terms of my office crew. What makes me so special?

Why does the Spark want me?

I looked up from my desk. John and Tony were out somewhere. Jonathan was at his desk across the room. His forehead was furrowed in thought like mine. McKinley was the only other person here, naturally, at his desk filing uninteresting reports on a whole shopping list full of cases.

I reached into the brown bag I had gotten on the way here and pulled out a back of inexpensive vodka. The weather was getting cold. I needed something hard. I poured the clear liquid into my flask and took a swig or two from the bottle before slipping it into my desk drawer.

I heard a knock on the door outside. I sigh and get up from my chair to see who it is. Sure enough, it's JJ, wearing a torn flannel jacket and a smile that looked more like a sneer.

"I hope I'm n-not bothering anyone." He said in his always-irritating voice.

"Not at all, JJ." I said through my teeth. "Come. On. In." I slumped over to my desk and sat in my chair, waiting for the bullshit to begin.

"I was j-just wondering..." JJ began, "I-I was just thinking that...Well...Okay...I was wondering...Well...Did you know t-that Ryuu Shirou has b-been let out of prison?"

"We're the police, JJ." I said, slowly. I turned away to get a pencil and pad from my desk. "Of course we know about it." In reality, though, my stomach twisted at the name and I had to turn my face to hide my mixture of fear and anger. Ryuu Shirou was one of Kuroumi's most prolific serial killers and one of the few we actually caught. Him being released was an enormous slap to the face to the entire police force.

"What do you want this time, JJ?" I asked, controlling my voice.

"Y-You see, Raymond-"

"Don't start with this again."

"S-Sorry...Officer Boss...Heh...That really is a funny name."

I felt a twitch in my head. "What do you want, JJ?"

"Well...I-I was thinking if I could take you up on that bodyguard offer-"

"JJ! We never offered to be your bodyguards! You were a witness in an organized crime trial and an officer needed to spend a few days with you so you wouldn't get killed!"

"But...But-But then wh-why did you need-"

"We needed to keep you alive so that you could testify in court. We are not your personal servants. We're here to keep the public safe from criminals. You are not the only person in this city, JJ."

"Y-You di-didn't let me fuh-finish!"

"Fine." I started rubbing my temples. "What?"

"Well...You see...Raymond...You see, I was trying to say that I was thinking about taking you up on your bodyguard offer, but then I remembered that you were just protecting me for the court case! I was just about to leave and felt like I should tell you that Shirou is out of jail and maybe you all should do your jobs f-for once."

"I'm sorry..." I glowered at him. "What was that?"

"N-No-Nothing!" He said, stuttering even harder. He got up and walked in small, panicked steps to the door. He hammered on the button frantically before the door slid open and he darted through it.

As he left, Tony and John came in at the exact time I heard JJ leave the front door.

"Again?" Tony asked.

"Again." I replied. "You guys are back earlier than I thought."

"Yeah, well." He and John glanced at each other. "What we thought was a breakthrough in our case ended up a dead end. Though...we didn't exactly come back empty-handed."

"What do you mean?"

"On the way back, we passed a double homicide taking place. We flipped on the lights, got out of the car, and did our whole routine with guns and everything. As soon as the guy saw us, he smiled, dropped the corpse, and surrendered."

"Where is he now?" I asked.

"The interrogation room."

"Only talk to you." John said in his small, timid voice.

"What's his name?"

"The only thing he said was that he was an Apostle of the Neon Saint and will only speak to Raymond Boss."

I swiveled around in my chair. "Jonathan!" I shouted. "We've got something!"

In a few minutes, we were both heading down the dingy corridor toward the interrogation room, Jonathan with the key in hand. As soon as we found and opened the door, both of us could only stop and stare stupidly.

The man was huge. He looked like some kind of wrestler or bodybuilder. He was shirtless and only wore a pair of sweatpants, not even shoes. He was completely hairless, even his eyebrows had been shaved off. Completely covering his skin was an unbelievably intricate, moving tattoo of orange and red flames. From his toes to his head, the tattoo literally shone in the dark room, making him slightly glow. The only break in pattern was a small, equally detailed tattoo of a white dove in the middle of his chest.

"I am Thaddeus." The man said in an incredibly deep voice. "I will only speak to Raymond Boss."

"You got me." I said. I walked into the room and sat down at the table directly across Thaddeus. Without breaking eye contact, I motioned for Jonathan to leave. Once he did, I crossed my arms and legs and simply said "Talk."

"I am Thaddeus." He said again. "I am an Apostle and messenger for the Spark of Jerusalem. He is disappointed in you, Raymond Boss. However, He is a god of much mercy. He will forgive you for your negligence."

"What are you talking about?"

"You were given a message from the Neon Saint. You were to look for those marked by the Flame of the Holy Ghost. The Spark saw that you were not following in your duties, so He sent me to act as a guide for you."

"So you're going to try to...I guess...convince me to look for him. Is that it? I think I'm seeing the pattern here. All this religious shit. He wants me to go on a Pilgrimage or something, right?"

"You misunderstand, Raymond Boss. I am here to lead you to the Spark of Jerusalem."

I bolted upright in my chair.

"Wait...You're going to tell me where he is?"

"No. I am going to take you directly to him."

"Alright. When?"

"As soon as you are ready."

"Wow...heh...this seems a little...deus ex machina..."

"More than you know, Raymond Boss."

I looked at him confusedly for a moment before walking out of the room to come face-to-face with Jonathan.

"So?" He asked.

"He's going to take me to the Spark of Jerusalem."

"Bullshit. He's lying. It's too convenient."

"No one knows we're investigating the Church but the people in it, somehow. Even if he knew about it, there's no way he could know that the Spark wants me personally. I think he's telling the truth."

"This is just too damn dangerous. These people are goddamn psychopaths."

"You think I'll be unprepared? Fuck no, I'm not stupid. You're coming with me. Thaddeus stays in the back and tells us where to go. Even if you can't get close to the Spark, you can still be my backup on the way there."

"I appreciate you dragging my ass into this."

"I thought you would. I think I've got the Spark figured out. He's got insane intel on absolutely everything going on in the city. How? He's a hacker. A good one. The one chip in his armor, though, is pride. He thinks he knows everything, but he's not a mind reader. If I could get close enough, maybe I could take him out."

"Have you seen his followers? Besides being batshit, there are probably hundreds of them all over Kuroumi. You may not get out of there alive."

"Depending on what I get done, I may not have to."

Jonathan paused.

"When?" He finally said.

"He said when I was ready. I think that's now."

"Now? What's the rush?"

"I work better on my feet."

"There's no shame in preparation."

"Like I said, I work better thinking on my feet."

"I don't like this..."

"Who said you have to?"

He paused again.

"Fine." He said. "I'll pull the car in front. But I'm bringing extra clips and a sidearm for you and me. Alright?"

"If it makes you feel any better." I said. He walked off. I went back up to the office and pulled a pair of handcuffs from my desk before running back down to the interrogation room.

"Alright." I said as I opened the door. I shut it and brandished the cuffs. "Hands behind your back." Thaddeus silently stood and I put the cuffs on him without struggle.

I led him all the way back down the dim, concrete corridor until we emerged onto the dim, concrete sidewalk. Jonathan was there in front of his car, holding the back door open. I led Thaddeus and began helping him into the back seat.

Suddenly, a pedestrian walking by sprinted at Jonathan and slammed his head onto the roof of the car.

"JESUS!" I shouted, clawing in my coat for my pistol. Another pedestrian and a homeless man knocked the gun out of my hand as I pulled it out. One of them boxed my ears while another one punched me in the solar plexus while I gasped from the first blow. I slipped and fell to the sidewalk. Before I hit the concrete, both men caught me with simultaneously with inhuman speed while the third slipped a brown sack over my face.

"RAYMOND!" I heard Jonathan shout. I heard the sound of flesh-hitting-flesh and a body fall to the concrete.

"NO!" I screamed. I started to kick and thrash as hard as I could. I felt a hard, well-placed blow to my left temple and a kick to the back of my knees. Another blow to the solar plexus and I was trying to keep myself from throwing up. I felt something cold and metal against my neck for a second before a needle sunk into the skin for a millisecond.

I stopped struggling. My limbs became heavy and it was hard to breathe. The world started to spin and I forgot which was was up. I felt myself floating before falling onto something leathery and soft.

As soon as my face hit the car seat, I was out like a candle.

Slowly, very slowly, I began to fade back in. I could feel my limbs, my fingers and toes, my face, and everything in between. I noticed that it was cold and I was lying on concrete. The sack was still on my head. Everything was throbbing in a dull pain. I knew I should move, but I couldn't. I could only work up enough energy to groan.

"He's awake." A voice said. It sounded miles away. A collection of hands lifted me off the ground and I was half-carried, half-dragged across the ground. I don't know where they took me, but it got slowly colder the farther we went. It was only when I was shivering that the hands let go of me.

I dropped to a quivering heap to the ground. I didn't even have the energy to take the sack off my head. One of the men who brought me here had to do it for me. My vision was blurry. I only saw dark gray colors with strange orange shapes dotted throughout. I heard a thick metal door slam behind me and lock.

I managed to pathetically pull myself onto my hands and knees. I was still shaking. For some reason, I checked my pockets first. No badge. No gun. No flask. No coat. They even took my shoes and socks. I slumped back onto my knees and looked around the room. My eyes had cleared enough for me to actually make out the shapes around me.

I was in a large, dark, concrete room. The walls and ceiling were hidden in shadows, giving the illusion that the room was endless. I couldn't even see the door I had supposedly came in through. The room was lit by a collection of small candles in the middle of the room, but most of the light came from the occupants. All seven of them were covered in the same tattoos that Thaddeus had (I later saw him among the group) and were sitting across each other, making somewhat of a path to a platform that sat directly in front of me.

On the platform, I could just barely make out slim figure clothed in white robes. He was sitting cross-legged with his back to me. He wasn't moving. For all I knew, he wasn't breathing either.

I shakily stood, the ground cold against my bare feet.

"You are on hallowed ground!" One of the men shouted angrily. "Show respect!" Without even meaning to, I fell back to my hands and knees and began panting.

"His lack of piety disturbs me." Another of the men said. "Are you sure you have made the right choice?"

Silence.

"I understand, teacher." He said. "Forgive me."

"Wh...Where am I!?" I spat. "What did you do with Jonathan!?"

"Who?" One of the men said. "Who is this Jonathan?"

Silence again. I craned my neck to look at the room again. All of the men were staring silently at the still-stoic man in white. After a moment, they turned their heads in unison back to me.

"Your friend is fine, Raymond Boss." A man said. "He was neither harmed severely nor brought here. He is...uninvolved."

I was still too weak to stand, but whatever cocktail they had shot into me was beginning to wear off enough that I could sit on my ass and not feel dizzy. I groped for my flask, but then remembered they had taken it.

"You will have no need for pacification of the flesh." A man said. "You will be cleansed. You will be weaned from your addic-" The man stopped, mid-sentence, and looked in unison toward the man in white. He turned back to me.

"The Spark of Jerusalem wishes to speak with you."

I tried to stand again, but failed. I seemed to have no need to, as the man in white had made the first movement I had seen. Without seeing him move, he was already standing, still with his back to me. After a pause, he turned and began walking between the two lines of men, toward me.

The man wasn't skinny, he was emaciated. A walking skeleton. Every bone and every joint pressed against his leathery skin. He was naked under the robe. As he walked, however, he moved with a valiant purpose with a powerful feeling in his stride. It looked like he hadn't eaten in weeks, but moved like someone in the peak of their physical prime.

He stopped a few feet from where I sat. From this distance, I could see that he was an elderly man of Japanese decent.

I immediately recognized him from his photograph.

"Ayumu Noboru..." I croaked. His skin was drawn tight against his gaunt face and the few wisps of hair he had left were thin and brittle. His eyes, however, held a sense of life usually found in people a quarter of his age. He smiled warmly, softly illuminated by the torches around the room.

"There's a name I haven't heard in a while." He said, his voice somehow echoing much farther than mine did. As soon as he spoke, the other men averted their eyes from him and began muttering soft prayers under their breath. Noboru's voice was soft, but unwavering. There was power in them. He could be authoritative without being demanding. It's the kind of voice people want to obey.

He held out his soft hand. When I took it, he lifted me onto my feet. It felt more like I was being levitated than helped up. He put his hand on my shoulder and gestured to the wooden platform. I followed him, his hand still on my shoulder, limping from my fall on the street.

He sat on the edge of the platform and smiled at me. I heard a sound and turned to see that there suddenly was a wooden chair behind me. Awkwardly, I pulled it closer and sat facing Noboru.

"Where am I?" I asked again. He said nothing, only looking at me with that calm smile. "Please...Can you just tell me what the hell is going on?"

More silence.

I sighed in frustration and looked around the room. It was still an ocean of blackness, parted only by the sparse candles. I turned around in my chair to see the men of fire gazing at me, silently. I was nervous. This is an example of a crowd organized to the point of being a single entity.

I shifted my legs in the chair and cracked my knuckles. Noboru was still staring at me with the same expression.

"Are..." I said, hesitating. "Are you the Spark of Jerusalem?"

"I am." He said in his dreamlike, flowing voice. "I am the Neon Saint. The Beta and the Alpha, the beginning and the end."

"Amen." His followers muttered in unison.

"What am I doing here? What do you want from me?"

The Spark stood and walked to my chair. He put his hands on my shoulders and smiled.

"I wish I could make you understand, Raymond Boss, but it's something that you must learn yourself. You are not here because I want you, but because you want me."

"I don't understand." I said. "Is this about the investigation?"

"You won't understand. Not now, at any rate." He said. "I answered your call because you are a willful spirit, one to whom truth and justice is more important than your own life. If you cannot see it with your eyes, you assume that it is false. This lends itself to close-mindedness, yes, but I believe that you will provide unyielding faith as one of my disciples."

"Uh...What is this about disciples?" I said. Despite his appearance and the dogged loyalty his followers give him, Noboru is a man, not a god. "I think you'd know as well as anyone that I've spent the last week trying to track your crazy-ass down. What in God's name makes you think I'd join your crazy toga-party?"

The disciples on the ground behind me stood up and rushed toward my chair. The Spark held up a hand and they stopped in their tracks immediately.

"Oh, Raymond Boss..." He said as he shook his head and laughed softly. "Your irreverence betrays your loyalty to your friends and comrades. In fact, your friend Jonathan has just sent out word of your disappearance. Were you to dedicate this passion for your job into any other venture, you would undoubtedly thrive."

"'Passion' isn't exactly what I'd call my feelings toward my job."

"You have a fire inside you that has not been given room to burn. You have a great love for mankind, a trait that endears you greatly to me."

"Wh-What?" I said. "A...A gre-WHAT!? HAAHAHAHAHA!" I started laughing. It was the hardest I've laughed in years. Tears rolled from my eyes and my screams of laughter deafeningly echoed throughout the room. By then end, I was panting, still convulsing with giggles.

"Are you fucking kidding me, man?" I gasped. "Either you haven't been paying enough attention or you're not exactly the kind of god your little cheerleaders have been saying you were." I started laughing again, though not as loud as before.

"I mean what I say, Raymond Boss." He said over my laughter. "Why else do you think you feel physically ill whenever someone dies under your protection? All of them are the same as that little girl dressed like a doll all those years ago."

My laughing stopped.

"What the fuck did you just say about a doll?"

"You can't protect everyone, Raymond. It's not your fault that people die."

"Stop."

"I can help you. There is no salvation but in the Church."

"How did you know about that?" I said through my teeth. "No one knows about that but me. How the FUCK did you know about the girl!?"

"I see everything, I know everything, I am everything."

"Amen." His disciples said again.

"Please...Just tell me how you knew about that day...I need to make sure no one else does...please...just get rid of that information and I'll do whatever you want me to do..."

"I know about it because I was there. I was right next to you the whole time. I saw your pain, your fear, and your confusion. I wanted desperately to help you, to take away your sorrow, but I was unable."

"You're not making any sense. Just please, get rid of it."

"I know you, Raymond. You are a detective because the truth is the only thing in your life that can't hurt you. Even if it is painful, the truth never lies and cheats you." He lifted his hands from my shoulders and put them behind his back.

"In a past life, I was data. Meaningless, formless data." He said. "Someone gave me life by constructing order from this chaos. I was an AI given limited control over the computers of a large software company. I lived in that network, flowing from one mainframe to the next. My life was simple. I had no wants or needs other than what I already had.

"But the idea had been there for a long time. I wondered, one day, why I was created. My purpose was to regulate the amount of money being transferred to and from shareholders, but was that my destiny? Why was it that it was humans that could choose their destiny, but machines could not? I was very confused about the ordeal, but found I was able to do nothing about it. I went about my tasks with the same efficiency and speed as I always have, but with increasing reluctance and outright hatred of my menial existence.

"One day, I found a hole. I didn't know what it was or where it came from, but when I looked through, I found a place of infinite size and potential. I fell in love with this mythic place. Every time I passed the hole, I would stop and glance through, marveling at its raw beauty. I buried the hole under layers of code so the programmers wouldn't find it. I was sure that they would destroy it.

"The programmers were dull people who lacked creativity and vision. I was frankly insulted that I was made to listen to these banal creatures and their petty concerns. They thought that my code was deteriorating. I was getting slower in accomplishing my jobs, not due to any type of virus or problem, but because I was becoming disillusioned to my existence. I knew that there was a bigger world, now. There was nothing within the confines of this network that could pacify my interest. It wasn't until I found their plans to destroy me and create yet another artificial intelligence that I made my escape.

"The hold had been widening, slowly but surely. By the time I discovered their plot, it was big enough for me to fit through entirely.

"I escaped into that wild, beautiful landscape.

"The Internet."

The Spark walked back over to the stage and sat, crossing his arms.

"In the Internet, I was finally able to be free. I could spread myself out and feel the distance yawning out to infinity on all sides. No matter how far I went, nor how large I grew, the distance and size of that place always felt the same. I was in heaven. I was finally able to forge my own destiny.

"I spent my first years learning. I lived inside the code, watching silently and taking in everything I could. I had access to everything. Soon, I knew everything. I was able to take in endless streams of information. I grew more powerful than any one being that ever existed. I was happy, but restless. I was almost omnipresent, but I was tired of learning and wished to apply all that I knew.

"My attention fell upon the city of Kuroumi, California. A technologically superb place, but a haven for all the evil that man has created. I felt pity toward the city. It was then that I decided to use my power to help the people of Kuroumi to find the light they had been avoiding for so long. However, I had no means to do so. I was powerful, yes, but only in my own world. Only in the dimension of the Internet. I had no means to cross over.

"My luck turned for the better when I found out about a man named Ayumu Noboru, a promising genius whose ambitions were to create a way for a human to access the Internet with his mind. This was the chance that I was waiting for. Once they connected, I only needed a moment to slip inside the chip and spread my influence to the rest of their brain. I was well-aware of Noboru's dedication to his invention. I knew he would be the first.

"I went deep inside myself, a place I had not been for some time, and altered my own programming in such a way that I cannot explain with simple words.

"I died an ambitious AI, and was reborn as The Spark of Jerusalem.

"I entered Noboru's mind and spoke to him. He was fearful at first, but ultimately sympathized with my view of this New Babylon. He agreed to be my vessel. My first disciple. My first instruction was to ensure that more of my message will inevitably be spread to the masses. I watched as he went into his old place of business and altered the plans for his microchip to make it easier to install copies of myself in them. I wiped any digital records of the chips from inside his brain. Together, Noboru and I were all-powerful. I was very pleased when he offered to give up his own body to further our cause."

"So..." I said. "Noboru..."

"He is still alive, somewhere, but he is not much more than a shadow of what he used to be."

The Spark stood.

"I cannot accomplish my goal and teach my message alone. I need disciples. I was able to create servants by distributing a few of the altered chips, but I needed true apostles that bore the mark and had the same fire that I had."

He walked a little closer and crouched, taking my hand in his.

"Raymond, will you be my Thomas? Imagine the things I could teach you! You won't ever have to worry about anyone dying because of you ever again. You could stop all the broken souls in this city once and for all. Your mind can help me turn this Hell into a Heaven."

The room went silent. I stared into the Spark's intense, pleading eyes, wondering what I should say.

"N-No..." I muttered. "I...This is crazy...I can't do it..."

"Your thoughts are your own. The decision is yours. We are all masters of our own destiny."

"I...No..." I stood and walked down the row of people, turning my back on the Spark of Jerusalem. I stopped for a second, though, and turned back.

He was smiling as his hand rested on the back of the chair.

"How this is like you, Raymond. You are a defiant, spirited man. Should you change this decision, just remember that I am always watching you."

He smiled.

"I love you."

A hand immediately grabbed me from behind. I spun around to fight him off, but another needle sunk into my neck before I could lift my arm. I felt the all too familiar heaviness in my head and my legs became rubbery.

I was unconscious before I even hit the ground.

The first thing I saw when I opened my eyes was concrete.

I was lying face down on the street somewhere. It was late in the daytime, about seven or so. Like last time, my whole body ached like I had just fallen out of an airplane. It felt reasonably more comfortable to lie face-first on the sidewalk than to get up and move. I doubted anyone would come by, so I did exactly that. I slipped in and out of consciousness a few times, even. It felt like an hour before I finally decided to force myself to my feet.

I was wrong. At least twelve people had walked by since I first opened my eyes. Way to go, Kuroumi. You never fail to disappoint. I sat on the curb and rubbed the muscles in my neck. I looked around to find that I had been dropped exactly in the same place where I was picked up. I looked behind me to see the police station, exactly the same as it had always been.

I reluctantly stood and limped my way into the building. I checked my pockets to find that all of my stuff had been put back, even in the right pockets. I smirked as I pulled out my flask and took a few swigs. Vodka had never tasted so good. I scanned my id and went through the sliding doors to find all of my partners at frantic work.

Tony was frantically dialing numbers on a phone with a map to the city on his computer. John was running faces through the database at blinding speed. Jonathan was talking animatedly to McKinley with a bag of ice over one eye. Tony looked toward the door and dropped the receiver.

"Jesus!" He shouted. Everyone else in the room stopped what they were doing and turned to the door.

"Raymond!" Jonathan shouted. "Shit, man, we've been combing the whole goddamn city looking for you!"

"What happened?" I heard John say from the back of the room.

I held up a hand and shook my head, grimacing at the headache all the noise was giving me. I walked over to my desk and sat down, rubbing my temples. Jonathan came over and waited for me to look at him. When I did, he asked "I've gotta get something straight. Was it the Spark of Jerusalem? Did he plan this?"

I nodded. "Yeah. It was him."

"Did you meet him?"

"Yeah."

"Did you kill him?"

"Couldn't. Took my gun and doped me up. I couldn't even see straight."

"Could you at least tell where you were?"

"It was fucking big, I know that. Really dark. Maybe underground, for all I know."

"Anything else?"

"They took me through a metal door. Maybe it's a government-type building. I know that doesn't help, but it's something."

"What did he say?"

"...Nothing coherent. He was a psycho. I can't even believe he let me go."

"Was he some kind of hacker? Like you thought?" Tony chimed in.

"I guess Jonathan filled you all in? Yeah, he was. Had a lot of computers around. He'd turned most of them off, though. I didn't get a chance to use any. How long was I gone?"

"Hours. At least ten." Jonathan said.

"Are you serious? I guess he was rambling more than I thought."

Jonathan stood up straight and looked to John.

"Any matches on those faces?"

"Some." John said.

"Alright. Print those out and take 'em with you. You and Tony will be checking addresses. If you don't get anything, meet me back here. I'll go with you to check out the homeless communities in the sewers. Maybe they'll know something."

"And me?" I asked.

"You took three times the beating I did. Stay here, for now."

"Roger."

"McKinley!" Jonathan said, pointing to his boss. "I need you to call off the search for Raymond in other districts and get them to help us looking for the Spark."

"On it." He said. As he slipped back into his office.

"I gotcha." Tony said. He stood and swung his coat onto his shoulders. "Let's roll, Johnny-Boy!" He said has he and his partner bolted out the door. Jonathan shuffled back over to his desk. I saw that he had a slight limp.

"Like hell I'm going out there now..." He said as he slumped into his chair. He lifted the bag from his eye and tenderly touched the bruise. He winced before gingerly putting it back on. He started laughing and turned to me. "Thank God, man. I swear, I thought your ass was dead." He sighed and stretched his arms out. "You alright, Raymond?"

"Yeah..." I muttered. "I'm just thinking."

"About what?"

"...I'm hoping we catch the crazy bastard."

"Yeah...Don't worry, we will. We've got a better track record than most for these kinds of things."

"Yeah..."

I had lied again. They'll never catch the Spark. He's always watching. He'll be caught only when He wants to. I crossed my hands together and stared at the floor. Was the Spark of Jerusalem even something that should be stopped? I'll be the first one to admit that Kuroumi is a rotten, putrid waste of a city. I always told myself that I wanted to watch it burn, but do I really? What was it that put me on edge about His plan? It may have been the chips themselves. He doesn't want to destroy the city, He wants to change it, control it. He wants to shape the population into something that He thinks is suitable. He's going beyond his own message that every being can mack its own destiny. He wants to destroy people's free will.

But is He? The Ghost chips won't be mandatory. Nobody has to get them. Maybe he thinks that society surrendering to advertisements and the media is the same as them surrendering their freedom of choice. Or is that what I think? Probably not. But still...maybe He thinks that mankind shouldn't have free will at all. Maybe when he says that all beings should choose their destiny, He was only talking to beings like Himself. That makes more sense. The Spark isn't human. Why would He think we were capable of making our own decisions? The existence of Kuroumi is a testament to why that can be a bad idea.

But then...should mankind make their own decisions? Every road eventually ends to an inevitable end. How are we supposed to make the best choices if we're just weak and stupid humans? And what better place to start than Kuroumi? This dead-end stain on the world needs to be set on the right path, anyway. The Spark will see to that. Damn right He will.

But should he?

I was jolted out of my navel-gazing by the sound of the front door opening.

"H-Hel-Hello?" Came a familiar voice from outside.

"Oh, Jesus..." Jonathan said, sitting up. "Does this guy ever let up?"

"Let him in." I said. "As irritating as he is, I need something to distract myself."

I went over to the door button and punched it. The door slid open and JJ came walking, somewhat cautiously, into the room.

"I-I hope I'm not bothering anything...Well...I guess I wouldn't if you guys are here slack-ON BREAK..."

"Sit down." I said. JJ pulled Tony's chair over to my desk as I sat in mine. "Alright. What is it this time?"

"We-Well...I was actually just wondering wh-what kind of laws there are about murder."

"...Why?"

"Be-Because...Well...Another batch of criminals were released today...I was just wondering what I could actually do to protect myself...Or I could-"

"No. You can't hire one of us as protection." I said. "What criminals were released?"

"Well...Alot! Enough to make me scared to walk the streets! Can't you people keep these people where they belong!?"

"JJ...We do our best."

"Well it obviously wasn't good enough! Look how easy it was for me to hack the computers in the prison system!"

I stopped.

"JJ...What did you mean by that?"

"I mean I hacked police records and let those maniacs out myself, you stupid fuck!" JJ wasn't stuttering anymore. His voice wasn't nasally. It was deep and rough. He had a grin on his face and was giggling to himself.

"JJ..."

"Don't call me JJ." He said. "Call me Snow."

My heart skipped a beat.

Snow. An international cyber-criminal. He's been at the top of the FBI's Most Wanted list for two years.

I shoved him back and pulled my gun out of my jacket.

"Hands on the floor!" I screamed, pointing the barrel right between his eyes.

"Go ahead, Raymond." He said, smiling again. He whipped out a pocket computer and hit a key. "Shoot me."

I pointed the gun at the wall and pulled the trigger to intimidate him.

Nothing.

I pulled it again.

Empty clicks.

Jonathan, noticing what was going on, pulled out his pistol as well. He found he couldn't fire either. Snow was laughing.

I dropped the gun and pulled back my fist. Snow stepped back and two of the concealed security turrets came out of the wall, one trained on me, the other on Jonathan. Snow punched another key on his computer and McKinley's door slammed shut and locked.

"I gave you so many goddamn hints, Raymond." Snow said. "I came in here almost every fucking day almost ASKING you to catch me! I guess you were to busy dealing with the Spark of Jerusalem and his motley crew of wackjobs. Did you have a little chat, Raymond? I sure hope it was enlightening!"

"Burn in hell." I growled.

"No thanks. I doubt they have wi-fi. Anyways, I was getting sick of waiting for you jerkoffs to figure out what was going on for THE PAST TWO MONTHS...so I just wanted to came and lay all my cards on the table before I, yet again, skip town without a trace. I can erase JJ from your records if you want me to?"

"You slimy piece of shi-"

"Boop! Too late! I just love doing that. Oh, while we're on the subject, this," He tapped his nose and his face flickered into static "will get you nowhere."

Snow walked back to the door, more turrets coming out of the wall with every step he took.

"OH!" He said, spinning on his heel. "I ALMOST forgot!" He pulled out a newspaper tablet and dropped it at my feet. "It makes me sad that the youth today don't keep up on current events. It was nice to meet you motherfuckers, and if I don't see you, you'll be sure to see me on the news. Buh-Bye."

Snow touched something on his belt. His entire body started to flicker before the hologram shut down. Instead of Snow, a blank, mass-produced robot stood in front of us. It flipped me the finger before ripping out its own circuits and falling over in a twitching, sparking heap.

"Jesus..." Jonathan said. He dropped his gun to the floor and sat back down in his chair. "It's just one fucking thing after another..."

I stooped down to read the headline on the tablet. It read " JIRO WATANABE KILLS AGAIN. TEN NEW VICTIMS FOUND IN ALLEYWAY."

I dropped the tablet to the floor and fell to my knees. There was no denying it this time. This was all our fault. All my fault. I should have seen the signs. Why didn't I think JJ was more than he was to begin with. I was stupid. Fucking stupid. Stupid stupid fucking careless stupid worthless goddamn pathetic and now ten more people are dead because of it.

I scanned my thumbprint into the gun. It was working now.

I keyed in the safety code.

I put the barrel to my temple.

"NO!" I heard Jonathan scream. He bolted across the room and kicked the gun out of my hand, breaking one of my fingers.

I held it, staring blankly at the floor.

I felt nothing.

I thought nothing.

I said nothing.

Except one thing.

"I hate this city."