written by Victar, e-mail
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Chapter 12: Puppet Strings

   "Return me to being what I was."
   "Nothing can ever return to being what it was."

         -Barbara Hambly, Dragonsbane

February 10, 2018
6:05 p.m.

         You better appreciate this.
         I made time on pitifully short notice for you. What is it with you, anyway? Why can't you keep a regular schedule? You just expect me to clear out space in my calendar whenever you feel like it; sometimes you even walk right up like you're the most important thing in my life. I'm sick of it. I'm sick of you.
         Where do you think you're going?
         I said I was sick of you. I did not say you could leave. Not when I already pushed my dinner date back an hour - and it had to be pushed back, not forward, because talking to you after any meal would be a waste of good food. Now get back here and get this over with!
         What do you mean, start with my escape from the Mishima syndicate? That's not where I left off! How would you know what happened in between, unless-!
         You've been talking to Lee, haven't you?
         Getting his side?
         What has he been telling you about me!? He'd better not have given you a screwed up account of what really happened!
         Oh, shut up.
         You're in no position to make that call. I told you from the beginning, don't judge me! You don't know what it's like. You haven't been there, you scrawny, spindly little wimp! You've never been trapped inside your own head, absolute slave to whatever wants to control you! You don't know what it's like!
         Shut up. No, I - yeah, I remember, I was there - just shut up. It's different. At least you could still feel, you could fight back against it-
         Fine. FINE!
         We'll do it your way. For now.
         And you really better appreciate it.
         So. I escaped from the Mishima syndicate.
         What a load of crap.
         'I' didn't escape from the syndicate, because 'I' wasn't in control of my own body. Lee was. He manipulated me like a puppet on strings; it was no different, I'm telling you no different from when Heihachi and Abel made me their Cyborg Army slave. Just a changing of the guard.
         I was not going to put up with this.
         Oh sure, Lee had made some vague promises about freeing me from that disconnected void inside my own skull. Said something about how he was a Guardian, like that's supposed to put me at ease?
         It did make me wonder about him, though.
         It's screwy. I never really paid much attention to the bullshit I used to hear in church, and that was a long time ago. We're talking when I was a kid. Eight or nine or whatever. Stopped going after the Great Invasion, never went back. But the screwy thing about Lee is that when he first took control of my body, he stopped me from killing an innocent girl. So when he says he's a Guardian, the first thing that pops in my head is this old sermon from God knows when, and I get the idea he's a Guardian Angel.
         Not my Guardian Angel, of course. If I ever had a Guardian Angel, he sure fucked up his job on my life. But maybe, you know, Lee was the Guardian Angel for that girl. Or for that Mishima syndicate pretty boy, Jin Kazama. Except he didn't have either of their names right. What kind of idiot Guardian Angel doesn't know his charges' names?
         Lee's own name also bothered me. 'Lee Chaolan,' he called himself. In the Hong Kong underground, 'Chaolan' is slang for an insider who's a traitor to his 'brother' gang members. And I could sum up history's infamous 'Lee Chaolan' in two words: war criminal.
         Make that three words: dead war criminal.
         Which goddamn better rule out him being an angel. I mean, the real Lee Chaolan wasn't just any war criminal; he was one of the top-level bastards who sold out the Earth in the Great Invasion. Second-in-command to his badass brother, Kazuya Mishima himself. The God of the sermons I used to hear would never make a monster like Lee Chaolan into one of His holy angels. He would have sent the traitor to burn in Hell, two firepits over from Judas.
         To make it even more confusing, pretty boy Kazama didn't think Lee was a human being, dead or alive. Instead, I remember some crackpot theory about Lee being a leftover computer program. I didn't know what was real, and I didn't care. I just gave this 'Lee Chaolan,' whoever or whatever he was, four hours to put me back in control of my own body. Now his time was almost up, and he still wasn't in any hurry to get started.
         I tried to motivate him.
         He could feel it when I 'yelled,' and 'hit' the nothingness that held me. It bothered him. A lot. I knew because he kept bitching at me to-
         Stop that! he insisted, like a clucking hen. We're not free of the Mishima syndicate yet-
         GET ME OUT OF HERE!

         Ever try to scream without a voice? Or pound without real fists? The lack of sound or touch echoes in your head. The pressure builds, packing tighter and tighter. I couldn't feel it, couldn't feel pain or pressure or anything else, but I knew Lee could, and I knew I was pushing him closer to the breaking point.
         Just a few more minutes! We've cleared the south exit; if we can only get past the outer grounds-
         This time, something other than me interrupted him.
         I saw, through eyes I didn't control. Didn't get a good look; it was dark outside. But there was a thin, human figure. Male. Probably a teenager. I could hardly make out any color; his leathers, stringy hair, and slanty eyes were all shaded grey and black in the shadows. Only the skin of his face and arms stood out, ghostly pale in the smattering of moonlight that spread past covering clouds. He saw us at the same time we saw him.
         Lee said, "Wait."
         The teenager coiled like a poisonous snake.
         "I know you," Lee murmured. He stepped closer to the kid, until they were hardly two yards apart. "You're..."
         "Stay back or die," the kid spat.
         Lee stopped his advance. "Hwoarang. It is you."
         Funny name, that. Sounded Korean, if I were to guess. I'm not sure it was a real name, though; Lee called the kid 'Hwoarang' the way other cops used to call me 'Snake Eye.'
         Hwoarang's face got tight like a hunting beast's.
         "Those eyes. I know those eyes." He chambered one hand in a fist, close to his body, and accusingly jabbed the finger of his other hand at me. "Show yourself! Show me who you really are!"
         "That may not be-"
         "Show me now or I'll have your blood!"
         Bryan, this is not a safe place for shape-shifting, but I can't ignore him. And if I don't comply with his request, the resulting altercation could hurt one or more of us-
         I don't care! Just GET ME OUT OF HERE!
         All right. And I'll start work on your predicament after this is dealt with.

         Lee changed.
         Of course I couldn't see what he turned into. He was using my body, after all, just like the last time. But the whites of the kid's eyes stretched ridiculously wide, like he'd jammed his pointing finger into an electric outlet.
         "No," Hwoarang gasped. "You - you died with your damned brother!"
         "WHAT are you!? You haven't become one of my kind! I can't smell the curse on your blood!"
         "I have been appointed a Guardian of the Grey Kingdom."
         "Their standards have fallen into the dirt," Hwoarang snorted. "What happened, a strike?"
         "Guardians, by definition, do not labor for reward."
         "Stop parroting their slogans! You sound like they burned away half your soul!"
         "I would hardly call it half."
         It was bizarre. Here was this kid who must have grown up after the Great Invasion, and he was talking to Lee as if they had a history. Something was so screwed up that it sidetracked my attention, and I demanded to know, What's going on? Who is that kid?
         He was one of our foot soldiers, during the Great Invasion. Slave to Commander Baek Doo San. My brother Kazuya and I controlled Hwoarang through our contract with Baek.
         That would've been over twenty years ago. He's just a teenager.
         He does not age as a mortal would. He is a vampyre, one of the unliving slave caste originally created by true vampires to serve their vile whims.

         I don't believe this shit. When did my TV show switch channels from Touched by an Angel to Buffy the Vampire Slayer?
         Aloud, Lee continued, "Would you please tell me your purpose in approaching the Mishima syndicate?"
         Hwoarang's eyebrows lowered. "First, you answer something for me."
         "As you wish."
         "Why didn't you tell Kazuya what I was?"
         "For the same reason that your master Baek kept the secret. My role in the Mishima syndicate's atrocities pushed me to the brink of madness. I did not know how to stop the slaughter. All I knew was that exploiting your blood would only make it worse."
         "Don't expect me to be grateful."
         "Never." My field of view humbled itself, and I got a good look at dried-out winter grass stalks crumpled in the cold earth. "I am deeply sorry for the wrongs that I have inflicted upon you."
         "Sorry enough to get out of my way?"
         "I can't do that until I know your intent."
         "Jin Kazama's soul is under my protection." My field of view looked up, meeting Hwoarang's dark eyes.
         Hwoarang's lips spread in a menacing smile. His long, fang-like canines gleamed pale and severe in the moonlight. "It's not his soul I'm after."
         "You would be well advised not to challenge me. Unliving or not, you are only a man."
         There was still another shift in my view: rising from the ground, bracing itself, ready. A blazing flash instantly gathered itself into a long spike of pure white energy. The energy took the shape of a long sword - a sword made of light, not metal. It shined on a bloodless, youthful face, watery-red hair like wind-blown hawk feathers, and eyes the color of churned mud. Lee held his weapon in my hands, only the hands weren't mine; their black gloves had shape-changed into slender bare knuckles, with fingers almost thin enough to belong to a woman.
         A funny feeling settled on my mind. Not exactly pain. It was more of a piercing brilliance. Like forgetting to wear shades for your morning drive to work. When the sun rises right in front of your damn windshield, it's probably doing permanent damage to your eyes, and all you can do is squint.
         I hate bright light.
         Get rid of that thing! I snapped to Lee. You'll attract attention!
         I must have the Truth. The way he said that - absolute, no compromise. Just from his tone, I knew he wouldn't listen no matter how much I bitched at him. All Hwoarang did was make one veiled threat against pretty boy Jin Kazama, and Lee's sanity went out the window.
         Hwoarang's evil smile turned into wary, straight-lipped caution. He didn't look so eager to attack anymore. Hey, do you blame him? Try seeing it from his point of view. At the least, he was up against a shape-shifter with an energy sword. At worst, he was facing a Guardian Angel.
         No man can defeat an Angel. I remembered that from one of the old church sermons.
         "If you really want to protect Kazuya's brat," Hwoarang growled, "then set me free of my curse."
         "I do not know how to help you." Sorrow. Remorse. Sympathy. So much that I could've puked.
         "Yes, you do."
         "I am not going to kill you. Too much innocent blood already stains my hands."
         "There is no other way!"
         "I can't believe that. There must exist some means to restore your humanity, without destroying you in the process; the Universe could not be so cruel as to decree otherwise. Do not despair."
         "Don't you tell me what to do or not do!"
         "In the meantime, I could grant you my protection, provided that you are willing to swear to the Oath of the-"
         "No! I won't be your slave again! I WON'T!"
         "I would neither wish nor seek to control you as a slave."
         "It doesn't matter what you 'wish'! I-"
         Something cracked in the kid.
         He'd been acting tough before, and he did a pretty good job of hiding how he really felt. But now it broke apart. Maybe it had something to do with the light of the sword, how he cringed like it was burning him. "...I... I can't take any more of this... I just can't... four hundred years of being a slave over and over again..."
         Hwoarang trembled. He sank to his knees before Lee - not out of respect or begging or anything like that; it was sheer weakness that brought him low. "I've tried to avoid being a monster, when I could. It doesn't help. Doesn't stop what I am, or what people use me for. It has to stop. It has to. I... I'm..."
         Hwoarang dug his fingers into the dirt. He bowed his head, hiding his face. His speech slowed to a low, throaty rhythm with static pauses.
         "I'm here because Jin Kazama invited me. He said I could come, and he'd use the syndicate to find me a cure. I don't think he can do it, but I'm... I'm here anyway. It has to stop. He's my best chance for making it stop. I'm not here to attack him, I swear. I'm not sure I could kill him in a fair fight; I've tried twice, but he's just a little stronger than I am. Please let me through. I can see you've somehow opened a way inside, but it won't stay clear for long, will it? Please..."
         The sword before my eyes lowered. My perspective shifted.
         Lee was stepping to one side.
         You really gonna eat his bullshit? I asked. Just out of curiosity, that is. Didn't actually care one way or the other.
         He can't lie to me when I hold the Sword of Truth.
         Oh, really?
         I wonder if I should've said something more.
         I'm a cop. I've interviewed plenty of suspects off the street. Enough that I know when a story has holes in it, or when a skel is holding something back. I saw the things Lee didn't see, his lie detector sword be damned. I saw how Hwoarang deliberately hid the look on his face, and I heard how carefully he chose each word. Too carefully.
         But it wasn't my problem. The Mishima syndicate and everyone in it could go to Hell; dammit, they were the bastards who made me into a puppet on strings in the first place! After what they did to me, I wasn't in any hurry to do them a favor. Since when is spite one of the seven deadly sins, anyway?
         I don't know. Maybe I should have spelled out my suspicions to Lee. Maybe it's a sin that I didn't. But don't you judge me. Don't you dare judge me like you think you're God. If Lee had put me in control of my own body, dammit, I wouldn't have let Hwoarang through. I would've kicked his undead ass. And yeah, I would've had the spine to give him the mercy killing he wanted. Saved us all a lot of grief.
         I wasn't in control, though. Lee was. He made the call, and he screwed it up. And I hear pretty boy Kazama screwed it up well before then. He also had a chance to ice Hwoarang, didn't he? He had it, and he chucked it. So you just think about that, before you ever think of judging me.
         Hwoarang didn't waste another second hanging around. He sprinted for the syndicate, past a checkpoint with missing guards, and under glitching security cameras. Pretty boy Kazama had gone to such lengths to help his Cyborg Army prototype escape; now, he was going to get a surprise replacement for his trouble.
         The idiot.
         Not that I cared. I only cared about one thing.
         GET ME OUT OF HERE!
         Aaargh-! Lee's sword vanished from my hands, which clutched at my forehead. The black gloves were back. Looked like I'd broken whatever magic trick he used to mess with my body. Not yet - we're not safe here-
         I don't care! I WANT OUT!
         At least let us depart these grounds! What good will it do to have your motor control restored, if the syndicate recaptures you?

         You have less than a half-hour left. And you better deliver on your promise!
         Ah, my express promise was to try my best to help you within four hours. It may take me longer than that to completely succeed-
         GET ME OUT OF HERE!

         As you wish, but I need your cooperation! You must cease fighting me, else there is little that I can accomplish!
         Yeah, right.
         I hated him for stalling, but I did back off while he controlled my escape from Mishima syndicate territory. Didn't manage to track his route. He ran quick and quiet in the dark, weaving detours around the sights and sounds of other people. There was more than one press crew or police car at the edge of my vision, sometimes. The whole city was hyped up over Toshin-Nina's recent killing spree.
         Just how many innocent people did she murder, anyway?
         I said innocent people! Not syndicate security, and especially not Tekkenshu goons. Calling Heihachi's elite hit squad 'innocent' is like saying I used deal peppermint candy. What, is your train wreck of a heart not pumping enough blood to make your brain work right?
         Uh-huh. Only a dozen civilians dead? From the way everyone was panicking, you'd think it was the Great Invasion all over again.
         Anyway, Lee still wasn't traveling like he was in any hurry to help me out. More like he had another destination in mind, and he'd put the whole idea of restoring my motor control on the back burner. After I'd endured as much of this crap as I could, I said, Where the hell are you going, anyway?
         Tokyo Mishima General Hospital.
Did he think he could fix me there?
         To find Detective Lei Wulong.
         I felt something, when he said that name.
         An emotion that wasn't mine.
         It had been lingering in the back of my mind all along, I think. But it was pretty subtle; I'd been slow to separate his feelings from my own before. Now, though, I caught a strong sense of his personal misgivings. Doubts. Suspicion.
         Suspicion of Lei Wulong.
         Oh, I knew Lee was pissed off because Wulong murdered Kazuya Mishima, or something. I was listening when the pretty boy told Lee about that. I didn't know why Lee got so upset about it, though. Didn't he turn traitor on Kazuya, near the end of the Great Invasion? Then why would he be mad at Wulong for killing Kazuya? Was it because Lee never got to cut Kazuya's throat himself? But if that really was the reason, then why didn't I pick up on any bad vibes whenever Lee said Kazuya's name?
         No, whatever sibling rivalry Lee and Kazuya might've had, it was ancient history compared to how Lee thought of Lei Wulong. What Lee felt was close to hatred. Not quite the same. There was an internal wall, a stopping point that deliberately kept his buried resentment from exploding into outright hate. Hell, that's how I first knew the emotion was Lee's and not mine. I flat-out hated Lei Wulong, no second thoughts, no holding back. Lee was just a little different.
         Hey. You ever have someone else's emotions in your head?
         It's one thing to have their voice speak to you inside your skull; not really all that different from normal talking. But to actually feel the presence of something, some state of mind that is not you - God, it can totally screw you up. I don't know how the pretty boy telepath deals with it, because it's taken me long enough to get used to just Lee.
         And at that moment, I didn't want to put up with another second of it.
         Your four hours are up, I told him, threateningly. Now get me out of here. Get me out!
         Half of my consciousness has been assigned to the task since we crossed the syndicate's perimeter. To assign more of my consciousness-
         GET ME OUT OF HERE!
         -would render your physical body insensate while I work-

         -are you certain you wish to take that risk?
         GET ME OUT!

         There was more than just irritation driving me now. There was justifiable paranoia. In making a beeline for Wulong's hospital, Lee had practically confirmed that he had no real interest in helping me. He had his own agenda, starting with revenge on Lei Wulong. I wanted revenge on Wulong too, but it was my revenge, and I had to be in control of my own body to get it.
         I had to have control.
         No more delays. No more runaround.
         I didn't hold back anymore. Instead of just pounding, I clawed and shrieked and threw every violent thought I had, all at once. It made him stumble. He crouched and folded up in the filth of a dingy alley. My view of the world blacked out.
         A different vision replaced it.
         Darkness. Darkness everywhere. That's how it started; just an inky well of dark, except for a soft glow coming from no obvious source. The glow was like moonlight without a moon, in the starless night of my private Hell.
         I looked down at myself, and saw hands, feet, a body. But it wasn't my real body. I wasn't in control, not yet. I knew because I still couldn't feel more than a fuzzy idea of pressure, or space. Instead of actually touching the flat surface of a floor underneath me, it was more like the hazy notion of a 'floor' was all that kept me from drifting through the void.
         And you want to know the really screwy thing?
         I was dressed as a street cop.
         Completely outfitted in the deep blue working uniform I used to wear, before I got promoted to Detective or accepted into the IPO. Even had a gun at my hip, and the old silver badge pinned over my heart.
         "What the hell is this?" I muttered. "Did wardrobe just prep me for a guest shot on N.Y.P.D. Blue?"
         "In realms of the psyche, you are as you perceive yourself. It is common for mortal souls to perceive themselves as they once were, shortly before they died." Lee's gritty smoker's rasp sounded from behind me. It wasn't exactly a physical voice, but close enough.
         "What are you talking about? I hung up this damn suit eight years ago."
         "My condolences." He sounded like he really meant it, too.
         I glared at him. He was seated with his back to me. It was still the first look of any kind that I got of this guy. Kazuya's picture is pretty common in the history books, but you'd have to hunt around to find a snapshot of Lee Chaolan.
         He was pretty scruffy.
         It was weird. I mean, I guess I didn't really expect him to look like an angel. He had denied being an angel before, so maybe all that Guardian Angel stuff about him was only in my head? But if it was, then - well, shit.
         This guy's a war criminal, right?
         I suppose I expected him to have on a military uniform and carry a whipcord, or something. Instead, he was dressed like a street punk. Worn blue jeans, black leather belt, boots, sleeveless black vest, and get this - the back of his vest had a unicorn on it. The white silhouette of a goddamn unicorn, rearing on its hind legs.
         Aren't unicorns supposed to be for little girls?
         The bizarre part is, he was working at a computer terminal. Keyboard, monitor, hard drive, wooden desk and swivel chair, sort of like the setup in Abel's lab. When I looked at the glowing computer screen, though, all I saw were rows of meaningless numbers and symbols. Lee and his workstation were the only things in that dark place besides me. Everything else was just blackness and an invisible floor. The computer's main power cord stretched into the shadows and disappeared; I didn't see an outlet or anything.
         On closer look, this computer wasn't exactly like Abel's. There was one difference: it had another unicorn icon pasted on its side. Same goes for the desk. Rearing unicorns carved in it.
         Abel's setup never had any unicorns, I was sure of it. Lee must have added them to this insane dreamworld. Like a personal touch. I swear, it had 'preteen girl' written all over it.
         Oh, shit. What if he's gay?
         Not that I'd care, normally. How people like to fuck each other is their own damn business. Except that this bastard was in my body. A gay man in control of my body - no, that was not something I wanted to think about.
         I had to get rid of him. I had to. Just as soon as I escaped this black void in my head.
         "This is what you're doing to get me out of here?" I said, folding both arms behind my back and strolling closer. "Working on a computer?"
         "It is a metaphor," he answered, without turning around.
         "Uh-huh. Is what the pretty boy said about you true? Are you really a computer program?"
         "Only in the sense that all intelligence is."
         "What the fuck kind of answer is that? And look at me when I'm talking to you, dammit!"
         Lee stopped typing and turned toward me.
         I've been a detective for eight years. I'm trained to handle surprises without blowing my cover. So I managed to keep my cool when I got my first look at his face.
         It was still a shock.
         His short, layered hair was pure silver, and dipped a little over his auburn eyes. You could see the thin, dark lines of his eyebrows through his bangs. But his face - God! Vicious, ugly black scars ran down from his eyes like sick tear-trails, twisted his cheeks, crisscrossed his neck and shoulders, his unicorn vest hung open and I could see more jagged, charcoal stripes on his bare chest. Looked like third-degree burns, all of them. His throat also had a different type of scar, tracing a long crescent across his windpipe. Not from fire, or an edged weapon; it was ligature marks, done by something thinner and stronger than human fingers. Like he'd been garrotted.
         Most disturbing of all, though, was the long gash running down his left inner forearm. I'd seen a cut like that once before. On a teenage girl who'd taken a razor blade to herself. And I mean the right way, slicing lengthwise down her vein instead of across her wrists. You cut yourself the right way, deep enough, and no 911 call is going to make it in time to prolong your miserable life.
         I didn't just have to get rid of this bastard; I had to get rid of him fast. One look at what he'd done to his own body, and I knew he couldn't have any good ideas in store for mine.
         Lee raised a blackened eyebrow, slightly.
         One last thing about him freaked me out. He wasn't breathing. He was just sitting there, no sound, no chest movement, nothing. As if I needed any more reminders that he was dead. When did I get sucked into Nightmare on Elm Street?
         I resolved not to panic. So telling him to face me was a bad idea; it could have been worse. Hell, for someone who'd been dead twenty years, he didn't look all that horrible - not like a rotting zombie or anything. He might even have been a real pretty boy himself once, before the scars.
         Still gave me the creeps, though.
         "You haven't seen yourself yet, have you?" Lee mused.
         "In a mirror, I mean. Not since your last shootout in Hong Kong."
         "What difference does it make?"
         "Not much, I suppose. Only a shallow soul would presume to judge another based solely on appearance." Lee turned back to his computer.
         Hey. Did that dead man just crack wise at me?
         I wanted to punch his messed-up face, but I couldn't attack him yet. I needed him to finish his work.
         But then what?
         I wondered if it was really going to be that easy. Did Lee honestly intend to get me out of this black void? Would he be content to go away after that? I didn't think so. Lee might put on a nice enough act, but his help came with strings attached. He wanted to use me, and I didn't want to be used. Not anymore. Not by anyone.
         So, Lee was my enemy. Sooner or later, I'd have to fight him for control over my own life.
         In the meantime, though, I figured I'd better pretend to be nice. Get whatever help I could out of him, while I could. Then I'd turn on him, and if I played my deception right, I'd have the advantage of surprise.
         But for now, maybe - just maybe - I could try to learn more about him. It's always good to know everything you can about your enemies. Makes their weaknesses that much easier to find and exploit.
         "You care if I ask you something?" I drawled.
         "Please feel free." His tone was calm, friendly. That was good. It meant he didn't know I was on to him.
         "How did you die?"
         "Burns, internal hemorrhaging, cardiac arrest." He said it casually, like he was talking about movie choices on pay-per-view.
         "Weren't you also strangled?"
         "This?" He absently touched the ligature marks crossing his throat. "Never, ever wear a chain necklace in a street fight."
         "And the razor cut?"
         "It was a knife, not a razor."
         "Did you do it to yourself?"
         "Well... yes." He spared me a sidelong glance. "Are you apprehensive of me because I attempted suicide?"
         "Of course not," I lied. "Sorry. Didn't mean to upset you."
         "Not at all, and I do understand why you would feel alarm. I swear to you that despite my past, I have no desire to harm you or your body."
         "That's a relief." Lie number two. "But, are you saying the knife was just an 'attempt'? You didn't actually kill yourself?"
         "Ah, well, that is subject to interpretation. I was not the immediate agent of my final destruction, yet I knew that if I betrayed my brother, I would not survive. He had warned me of the death-link he put in my body - what is it?"
         Shit. It's been too long since I played this game. Got to concentrate harder on keeping what I think off my face.
         "Just that I figured out why you're so hot to get Lei Wulong," I said, deciding to fall back on the truth this time. "This 'death-link' Kazuya hexed you with worked like a domino effect, didn't it? He dies, you die. Right?"
         "In essence, yes."
         "Uh-huh. So, Wulong didn't just murder your brother. He also murdered you."
         "I do not know that, and neither do you," Lee insisted, taking his eyes off me and rigidly fixing them on the computer screen. But an uncertain rustle crept into his raspy voice. I was on to something.
         "Maybe Kazuya was never Wulong's real target, ever think of that? Maybe Wulong was out to get you the whole time."
         "I don't think so."
         "Why not? Wulong knew about your death-link, didn't he?"
         "Well... yes, he did. But-"
         "You ever do anything to piss him off?"
         "It's a long story."
         "Did you kick the crap out of him? Waste his friends? Steal his woman?" Please God, let it be over a woman.
         Lee stopped typing again, but this time, his fingers froze in the middle of a keystroke.
         "Jun-chan," he whispered. A woman's name. He'd mentioned her before. Hell, I could've told it was a woman's name from the way he let it linger on his lips.
         Thank you, God.
         At least now I knew the pansy wasn't gay. He was just a girly sissy boy.
         "When Wulong discovered I was Jun-chan's fiancé, he... he had such a look on his face... I thought he would turn into a demon then and there."
         "Did he threaten to kill you?"
         "Yes... but the circumstances were-"
         "Screw the circumstances. He said he was going to kill you, and he had a damn good reason to see you dead, didn't he? You were competing for his woman."
         Lee sighed.
         You ever see a dead man sigh? It's the damnedest thing. He's sitting there, not breathing. Then he slowly takes in a breath and lets it out, deep and meaningful like. Then he goes back to not breathing again.
         "My crimes are a matter of historical record, as are my brother's. Almost any human being would have had an overwhelming motive to hate either of us," Lee stated.
         "But it wasn't 'any human being' who was with your brother when he died, right? It was Wulong. Only Wulong. No other suspects."
         "Even if he was responsible, that does not necessarily imply he committed premeditated murder. He may have acted out of self-defense. He may not have had any other choice."
         "Come on. The legendary hero of the Great Invasion? The untouchable martial arts master of a thousand styles? We're talking Lei Wulong Super Police, here. You really think he wasn't good enough to take Kazuya without killing him?"
         "My brother was a powerful fighter... the King of the Iron Fist."
         "Wake up and face facts. Wulong had motive, means, and opportunity."
         "That... still isn't proof..." The weakened, hesitating rebuttal was almost as girly as he was.
         Enough needling; time to switch gears and offer a little camaraderie. "Tell you what. When you make up your mind to take revenge on Wulong, save a piece of him for me, will you? The bastard set me up to be killed."
         "Ah, no, that isn't true. Perhaps he set you up to be arrested, but he never tried to destroy you."
         "I inhabit your body, Bryan. Part of me continually monitors your physical condition, including your psychogalvanic skin reflex. You can't lie to me without my knowing it. Although I do appreciate your prior attempts to spare my feelings, just the same."
         Oh, shit. Maybe I should've seen it coming, but I didn't. Completely blindsided. How could I plan to get rid of Lee if he knew what I was thinking?
         Or did he?
         "Can you read my mind?"
         "Technically yes, I have that ability. In practice, please rest assured that I would never compromise your privacy without good reason. I'm in immediate contact with just your physiology and general emotions. I hear your express thoughts only if you specifically direct them to me."
         "You don't necessarily have to address me by name; all you need is the desire for me to hear, and I will hear. It's how you and I were able to communicate, earlier."
         The season finale cliffhanger is: do I believe a word of this shit?
         If it was true, then I might still have a chance to get rid of Lee. If it was a crock, then Lee was telling me lies to get my guard down, and no matter what I plotted against him, he'd know what I was thinking before I did.
         What's that?
         Yeah, I knew Lee claimed to be a 'pathological truth-teller.' So? I figured that was just one more lie. But I had to believe he was honest about how he wasn't constantly reading my mind. Otherwise, I was doomed no matter what.
         "There," Lee suddenly pronounced, taking his hands off the computer keyboard and stretching his interlaced fingers in satisfaction. "It is ready."
         "You're getting me out of here?"
         "The settings are in place. You will have control over your body once more-"
         "Get me out of here, damn you!"
         "Not so fast."
         Lee swiveled toward me in his chair, crossing his right leg over his left like a damn woman.
         "Before I empower you, Bryan, there is one final requirement to make. You must swear to the Oath of the Guardians."
         "The Oath is very simple: to serve and protect mortal souls. Give me your word that you will abide by this code, and I will set you free."
         Lee steepled his hands, waiting.
         I said, "Fuck you."
         For the first time, I saw just a shred of annoyance on his face. It was refreshing. Like I was finally chipping away at his polite sissy act.
         "I beg your pardon?"
         "You can take your 'Oath' and stuff it up your-"
         "What do you find objectionable about the Oath of the Guardians?"
         "Why are you so hung up on making me swear it?"
         "Because if I grant you your freedom, then I am responsible for what you do with it. I can't empower you in good conscience unless I know for certain that you do not intend to repeat the wrongs of your past. Your release is conditional upon the provision that you no longer menace any mortal soul, including your own. Especially your own."
         This sick bastard cut open his own arm with a knife, and he had the gall to accuse me of hurting myself?
         "What makes you think you have any business talking to me like that?"
         "The needle tracks on your calves."
         Lee uncrossed his legs and leaned forward, resting his hands on his knees. "Again you forget, Bryan; I share your body. I know its secrets. You have been abusing heroin for at least several months. Abel kept your body on intravenous methadone maintenance, but that's gone now. You will be detoxifying over the next few days. The good news is that I'm applying part of my Power to drastically suppress your withdrawal symptoms. You do not want to know just how sick you would be right now, without my help. But before my help can do you any good, you must resolve to stay away from the poison. From any poison."
         "You..." I clenched my fists. "Like you're one to talk! You're a chain smoker yourself; I can hear it in your voice!"
         "Death cures all addictions." The way he said that - like the slam of shutting a prison cell. I had to break eye contact before I could put together a mumbled retort.
         "It hasn't cured your attitude."
         "You are going to be clean, Bryan. And you are going to swear the Oath to stay clean."
         "You have no right to tell me what I'm going to do."
         "I'm a part of your body now, Bryan. To abuse it is to abuse me, and I will not tolerate being abused."
         "So why don't you leave?"
         "You would die."
         "You need me to stay alive. I substitute for part of your nervous system, among other functions."
         He was lying. I was sure he was lying.
         "So?" I said, calling his bluff.
         "Why are you so uncaring about your own life?"
         "Why don't you take over someone else's body?"
         "All ethical restrictions aside, I doubt it would be possible for me to spiritually possess another person. Only the most extraordinary circumstances have allowed me to exist within you, and it is unlikely that they can be duplicated easily, if at all."
         "Uh-huh. You don't want to let me go because you need to use me as your puppet."
         "I was hoping we could negotiate an alliance for our common survival and mutual benefit."
         "And all I have to do is swear your precious Oath?"
         I glanced down at my police uniform. Brought my right hand to the badge pinned over my heart, and detached it from the dark blue fabric.
         Stood there for the better part of a minute, just looking at it.
         Then I crushed it in my fist.
         The fake silver shield crumpled like tinfoil. I let the misshapen piece of scrap fall at my feet, and ground it into the floor with my heel.
         "I'll see you in Hell first," I spat.
         Lee looked genuinely confused. "Why are you unwilling to take the Oath?"
         "You get me out of here, you bastard. You get me out of here now. No deals. No conditions. Now."
         "Is it merely stubbornness? Or do you have a reason that you are reluctant to say aloud?"
         "No more questions! I said now and I MEANT NOW!"
         Lee's eyebrows lowered. He studied me like he was trying his damnedest to figure me out.
         The self-righteous son of a bitch.
         "Last chance before I kick your ass," I hissed. "Get. Me. Out. Now!"
         "This realm is your psyche, and you are only a mortal," he answered, calmly. "You can't threaten me with violence here, not in any significant sense."
         Oh, yeah?
         I belted him in the mouth.
         His head snapped to the side from the whiplash. But he didn't bleed, didn't cry out. Didn't look any worse for wear. Didn't even look startled. Turned his face right back toward me and said, "You just can't take my word for anything, can you?"
         "Get me OUT OF HERE!" I screamed, grabbing his vest and yanking him out of his chair. "Get me out or I'LL KILL YOU!"
         "Grey Kingdom forbid," he muttered, rolling his eyes.
         That did it.
         I tore into him. Booted him in the chest with a front kick, kneed him, punched his face three times, and he still wouldn't bleed, wouldn't even flinch, I whipped a high kick that should have knocked his teeth down his throat and it didn't happen. Sucking in my breath, I grappled his torso. Used my hold to heave him off his feet and over my head. Slammed his back into the floor, yelling my concentrated hatred right from the gut.
         He never raised a finger to resist. Never reacted in pain. Never even showed a bruise. When I tried to stomp on his chest, he faded into nothing, and I ended up pounding that damn ghost floor.
         "Rrrr," I growled, turning around to see him standing behind me.
         Lee folded his arms. The look on his face was just like my high school history teacher, when I flunked out of her class.
         That really did it.
         "RAAUGH!" I roared. Barreled at him with kicks and body blows, finally crouched on one knee and twisted myself in a corkscrew to wind up for a supreme overhead smash, swung my fist with enough force to crack open a living man's skull. None of it even fazed him.
         "Let me know when you remember how to talk in words," he suggested.
         That was the last straw.
         I drew the gun at my hip and fired four rounds into him. He never even showed a bullet hole.
         "What is wrong with you!?" I demanded, throwing my piece down in disgust. "If you're so invincible, then show it! Fight back! Do SOMETHING! Don't just eat it like a - like a damned WOMAN!"
         "Is that an insult? Grey Kingdom. How dare you call me a nurturing, sensitive caregiver with a tendency toward emotional introspection?"
         "Because more violence would only further harm your psyche." Lee glanced around at the black void. "It's already so wounded that darkness occludes your ability to love, or trust, or objectively perceive the world. But there is a glimmer of light left within you, a memory of the good soul you used to be. You can resolve to build upon that light, or you can bury yourself in darkness. I want to help you resurrect the virtue in your soul, but the choice has to be yours."
         Nice speech, I thought to myself. Good delivery.
         Especially since it was all a pedantic load of crap.
         "You stop talking like you know a damn thing about me," I spat, pointing at him. "You're not in this to help me. You just want to use my body like it's your own!"
         "Perhaps you do not realize that I am sworn to the Oath of the Guardians myself. It is my duty to serve and protect your soul, as surely as any other."
         "Oh, yeah? Then prove it! GET ME OUT OF HERE!"
         "That might qualify as serving you, but not as protecting you. Not until you're willing to swear the-"
         "I'm not swearing anything to a Nazi like you!"
         That got him.
         I mean, that really got him. Like a solid blow to the gut.
         It's screwy. Sticks and stones couldn't break his bones, but one snarled word practically crippled him. He stopped in mid-sentence, and stiffened from sudden pain. Not physical pain. Something even stronger.
         I just found the bastard's weakness.
         "That's right," I continued, eager to hurt him more. "You were the Heinrich Himmler of the Great Invasion, weren't you? Organized and ran your smart little Mishima syndicate death camp, right down to dotting the i's and crossing the t's. And now you think you can sell me 'virtue,' like you're one of God's holy angels?"
         I'm telling you, it was even better than smashing his ribs.
         "No," he whispered, hanging his head and covering his eyes with one hand. "Never..."
         "'Never' is damn straight! You can keep me locked in here, or you can kill me, but the one thing you can't do is order me around like I'm one of your murdering Gestapo!"
         He folded his other arm over his midsection and hunched his shoulders. Bet you anything he was hiding girly tears.
         I'd almost won this. Time to finish him off.
         "You have no right to hold me here, like you used to chain and torture your victims. And you have no right to tell me what to swear, what to believe, like the propaganda lies you used to feed your troops! Let me out, you blood-soaked monster! Let me out now! NOW! LET ME OUT-"
         His outline blurred in the darkness, dissolving to silver spots on black.
         I opened my eyes.
         Sat up from where I was sprawled. Looked down on myself. This time I saw camouflage pants, a black T-shirt, black gloves, and plain brown shoes. Not much protection against the cold of a brisk winter night, but I didn't care because for the first time in months, I could feel the cold.
         I was back in the real world. I could feel.
         I could feel!
         Hard concrete under my knees, gusting wind on my neck, dryness in my mouth, grimy dirt on my forearms - I could feel everything! When I brought in my black-gloved hands, I could feel my own face. I had control of my body again.
         I had control!
         I had my body back! I had control!
         But I couldn't celebrate yet. Lee was there, too.
         He crouched next to me, still dressed in that punk girly unicorn outfit. In the real world, though, he didn't look very solid. I could see right through him, to the dirty bricks on the far side of the alley.
         "There is something you must understand, Bryan. Although you have not sworn the Oath of the Guardians, I will still hold you responsible for its terms. If you ever violate the spirit of the Oath, then I will personally enforce the consequences. Do you comprehend my meaning?"
         "You're still here?" I grunted. "You've done your job. Now get lost." I moved to shoo him away.
         He grabbed my wrist.
         Just seized it in his right hand, his spirit-fingers locking in a grip of steel. "Do you comprehend my meaning?"
         The wind stirred. It blew an empty 'ChocoLove' candy bar wrapper, skittering right through Lee's ghostly form to rest against my foot, and he still held my wrist like he was as real as I was.
         "What?" I gasped. "How-?"
         "I am keeping your body alive. My influence within it is what allows you to perceive me. I will use that influence against you if your actions leave me no other choice."
         "You're not keeping me alive. You're not even inside me right now."
         "On the contrary." He held up his other hand. With a cold shudder, I saw five slim, silver threads literally growing from his fingers, puppet strings feeding into both sides of my neck. I tried to yank the threads out, but they stayed firmly stuck.
         "Get these things out of me!"
         Lee sighed. "Would you rather be buried or cremated?"
         "I'd recommend cremation. That way, no one will be able to recover Cyborg Army data from your remains."
         "Shut your mouth, you-"
         "Or perhaps you'd prefer to stagger around for ten minutes and drop dead in the street? Let whoever finds your body worry about its disposal?"
         "I don't need you, dammit!"
         "You just don't understand, do you? You don't understand how badly you were hurt in that Hong Kong shootout, and you don't know what Doctor Abel had to do to save you. Let's go through the details one more time, all right?
         "According to Abel's files on Prototype Alpha of the Cyborg Army - that's you - a Hong Kong Tekkenshu task force preserved your body in portable cryogenic suspension. Abel assumed you were brain dead. In fact, you probably have lost a severe quantity of brain cells; it would explain your impaired ratiocination.
         "You were a wreck. Several of your internal organs were damaged or destroyed. So was part of your spinal column. Your body is not completely human anymore, not in the strictest literal sense of the word. You are a cyborg. You have several kilograms of biotechnology inside you, ranging from cybernetic relays in your brain to a drastically revamped digestive system.
         "Your own nervous system has been virtually ruined. Abel used neuro-nanotechnology to reconstruct and substitute for what's missing. A command pulse from the Mishima syndicate used to control your voluntary nervous system, and regulate your involuntary nervous system. I have replaced that signal. Do you understand what this means? Without me, you are not just quadriplegic; you can't even breathe on your own. You will very probably need me for the rest of your life. The only question is whether it's going to be a long life, or a short life."
         'A short life'?
         The bastard was threatening me!
         Lies. He had to be lying about all this. It didn't make sense otherwise. I had control of my own actions now, didn't I? I could move and breathe just fine. Lee was mixing lies with threats, trying to get me to believe him so I wouldn't drive him out of my body.
         Just how was I going to get rid of him, anyway? I had to be careful. If I pushed him too far without a solid plan, he might make good on his threat to kill me. This was a tough problem. Making it worse was that I'd already tipped him off about what I wanted to do, dammit.
         Then again, maybe it wasn't too late to ease up a bit. Pretend I believed him. Try to get back some of his trust. Which would be extra tricky, since he as good as had me on a lie detector, but I could work around that. I just had to watch what I said to him.
         "Fine," I grumbled. "I'll... try not to bitch at you as much."
         "That would be nice," he returned, dryly.
         Lee's ghostly form faded away, along with his puppet strings. Vanished into nothingness, just like that. But he wasn't gone. The real puppet strings weren't gone. I could feel his calm, quiet presence delicately resettling in the back of my head. A presence that I knew wasn't me because it was so damn calm and so damn quiet.
         Now what?
         What the hell was I going to do? Continue the rest of the way to Tokyo Mishima General Hospital, and take my revenge on Lei Wulong? While I liked the idea, it wasn't what I wanted most of all. What I wanted was to get rid of Lee. But how was I going to do that? An exorcism? He'd never stand for it.
         Besides, I was in unknown territory. I'd never been to Tokyo before, didn't know the language, sure as hell didn't know where to find an exorcist, couldn't even look one up in a phone book because I wouldn't be able to read a goddamn phone book-
         Wait a second.
         The 'ChocoLove' candy wrapper had lodged under my shoe. I picked it up. Flattened it out. Looked at it close.
         'ChocoLove' wasn't written in English. It was in Japanese letters. Katakana, you call it. Actually spelled out 'cho-ko-ra-bu,' if you want to get technical. I knew all this without thinking about it, and I've never studied katakana in my life.
         "What the hell?" I muttered. "How can I read this?"
         Lee answered my question, talking quietly in my head. You have immediate access to most of my nondeclarative long-term memory, including my language skills. Didn't you notice that you could understand my entire conversation with Jin, even though we were both talking in Japanese?
         Oh, really?
         Now that's convenient. Better than convenient. It's - hmm.
         I had an idea, but I couldn't test it while Lee was watching me. It was just a little something I filed in the back of my mind. The beginning of a plan. This just might work, if I could get a chance. Things were finally beginning to go my way.
         Yeah, right.
         Lee's subsided presence suddenly became a blaring alert. Bryan! Behind you!
         "Huh?" I mumbled, looking over my shoulder. Which is about when I began to hear the footsteps.
         Heavily armored footsteps.
         Mishima syndicate Tekkenshu, Lee identified, worriedly. At least five of them. I was afraid of this.
         A floodlight shined from down the alley. Didn't reach me, not yet. But its passes were coming closer.
         Oh, shit.
         I climbed to my feet and silently eased away from the searchlight. There was only one way I could go. The windows of the nearby buildings were all boarded up and ten feet off the ground; maybe I might've gotten inside anyway, but not quickly or silently. Goddamn it, wasn't there some other detour out of this broken-down slum?
         Bryan. Give me control.
         Lee's demand was urgent, mixed with growing fear; I could feel it. I knew he wasn't afraid for me, though. He was afraid my body would be destroyed, because without it, he was nothing but a ghost.
         Shut up, I thought back, not daring to use my voice.
         I've learned enough about your body to safely assume my true form. I can fly us away from here, but first you have to release your control!
         I said shut up!

         The light hit me. There was no cover to hide from it. I heard the steady tromp tromp tromp of Tekkenshu troops. Yells. The sound of heavy guns being primed.
         I ran.
         Just sprinted for all I was worth, with the Tekkenshu herding me like a damn game animal. A scattering of gunfire blasted. I was lucky; they were too far away to hit anything, even with automatic weapons. And they couldn't run as fast as I could, not in that clunky Tekkenshu armor.
         The alley gave way to a semi-open street. Noise sounded to my left, so I blindly rounded a right and sprinted down the pavement as fast as I could move. There was a heavy, rumbling sound behind me. I made another right turn, down a sidestreet I hoped was too narrow for the source of that rumble to follow. Ridged oil drums and dumpsters with scrawled, spray-painted graffiti littered my way. I damn near tripped over one empty drum, knocking it over with a loud clatter, before the sidestreet became a dead end.
         This was bad.
         Bryan! Give me control for just a few minutes-!
         Real bad.
         Didn't I set you free just now? Can't you trust me to do it again, as soon as we've escaped?
         When I tried to double back, there was the sharp clack noise of a fresh floodlight being switched on, and this godawful brilliance hit me in the face. I shaded my eyes, and glowered at the aggravating glare.
         I hate bright light. Always have.
         Bryan? Answer me!
         Five Tekkenshu formed black, moving spots in the light. Each one carried a machine gun as long as my arm.
         You are not taking control of me again, I replied. Think of something else.
         They intend to
kill you!
         Ah ha. So there was another way out of this.
         Lee's evasive answer confirmed it. He deliberately didn't say that he couldn't think of anything else. He just stressed his fear in a last-ditch effort to panic me. To trick me into giving up control.
         Then I die, I thought back. Unless you've got a better idea.
         The source of the heavy rumble pulled up behind the Tekkenshu. It was a tank. A giant fucking mortar tank.
         I am not giving you control. Not even if it kills me.

         Okay, so I was taking a risk. A big one.
         It paid off.
         All right, Lee relented. I can use my Power to enhance your strength, and resist their weapons. But it may not work perfectly, and I can't sustain it for more than a minute because the drain on my essence is too high. It could take me hours to recover.
         I liked this idea.
         Just how strong can you make me?
         I don't know.

         The five Tekkenshu lined up in front of their artillery. One by one, they cocked their weapons and leveled them at me.
         Find out, I commanded.
         The Tekkenshu opened fire.
         It felt like flea bites.
         You think I'm kidding? No. Maybe it does sound like it's out of a Superman cartoon, but their bullets just bounced off my chest-
         BRYAN! Protect your eyes!
         -and my hands as I crossed them over my face, using them as a double barrier against bright light and bullets, and charged straight into the gunfire. When it became obvious their weapons weren't hurting me, the Tekkenshu scattered. A couple of them dived and rolled, in their hurry to get out of my way. The tank, pulling up into position, swiveled its main turret and blasted me with flaming mortar. All it did was scorch my shirt, and make me want to test the incredible new supercharge that surged through my blood.
         I jumped on the tank.
         Wasn't even thinking straight by then. Just completely caught up in the madness of it all, eager to put the fear of God into these Tekkenshu sons of bitches. They thought they could hunt me like a stray dog? Now it was their turn to feel the fear.
         I wrapped both arms around the tank's gun turret and pulled. Pulled hard. Harder. Pulled with more than epinephrine, more than Cyborg Army implants, pulled with incredible supernatural Power. Sparks and electric crackles burst from the tank's metal seams. I opened and shut my mouth from the sheer effort as I wrenched off the whole damn turret. Held it by the barrel like a giant club, though it was maybe three times the size and ten times the weight of a man.
         The Tekkenshu broke ranks and fled.
         Just threw their guns on the ground and hightailed it down the street. Even the two guys driving the tank hopped out and pounded the pavement for all they were worth.
         You'd think old man Heihachi's private militia would have better morale, wouldn't you? Maybe they would, on any other night. But only a few hours ago, Toshin-Nina had ripped apart their ranks. Slaughtered every soldier she could find, or who had the bad luck to get in her way. Which was probably why there were so few of them after me to begin with; they were shorthanded from their messy little war. And now I charged them, looking for all the world as invulnerable as Toshin-Nina was. My protection was only good for a minute, but how were they to know that?
         May as well give them a little going away present.
         I didn't have as much leverage as I wanted, standing on the tank, so I turned in a circle. Whipped the whole turret around me, building up momentum. There was a sharp counter-tug in my arms, like plucking on violin strings, when I let the turret fly after the Tekkenshu. It traced a slow arc, then hit the street in a gorgeous explosion of shrapnel and fire.
         What an incredible rush.
         I laughed from the joy of destruction. Couldn't help myself. Threw my arms wide and my head back, God, how I would have loved to have this kind of Power when I was a cop-!
         ...Bryan... no time for this... they might call reinforcements...
         "MuahahahahaHAHAHAHA- huh?" Lee's urgent murmur distracted my victory celebration. He didn't sound too good, either. Weak, fading, with long pauses.
         "You mean, they're not dead?" I squinted just in time to see the last of the Tekkenshu turn a corner and disappear. "Shit. That was you holding back on my throw, wasn't it?"
         ...not your fault you tried to kill... too much Power clouding your judgement...
         Well, no sense crying over spilled ammo.
         "Whatever you say," I shrugged, jumping down from the tank.
         "Now what?"'re wounded...
         ...sorry... I'm new at this...
         "I don't feel anything."
         ...pain receptors offline... hold still, I have just enough strength left to heal you...
         "Sure you do." Chasing after the Tekkenshu was probably a bad idea, considering what Lee said about reinforcements. That left hurrying in the opposite direction. See if I could use Lee's knowledge of Tokyo to find a safe hiding place. I moved briskly away from the wrecked tank.
         ...wait - stop! I can't do this if you won't keep still!
         "I'm fine," I dismissed, turning onto a street with a few storefronts. I'd probably have to book it; the sky was beginning to lighten up. Like dawn was less than an hour away. "You just shut up for a while."
         ...damn you... I can't let you ignore your own wound-!
         I stopped in front of a dirt-cheap restaurant. A sign in its glass window read 'CLOSED.' For the first time I could remember in an age, I felt hungry. Except I didn't have any cash on me, and if I tried to break in or steal anything, that could risk drawing the wrong sort of attention. Still, they might have some edible leftovers thrown out in back, if I was lucky-
         Pain receptors online!
         I staggered like a cripple.
         It throbbed in my right side. Sharp and fierce and raw, so deep it numbed my joints and choked my breath. I plastered my hands on that window; my palms squeaked on the glass as a white-hot spike pulled me to one knee, and that wasn't the worst of it. Oh, no. The worst was that, in the glimmering predawn, I caught a reflection of myself in the glass.
         God, I looked like Hell.
         Hey. I've never claimed to be the most attractive creature on Earth, to women or anything else. Why are women so hung up on looks, anyway? And don't you tell me they aren't, because you don't need to know how hard it used to be for me to get a woman. Not impossible, but hard.
         What I saw now was bad enough to scare off a hooker.
         Vicious, vertical scar cutting through my left eye. Swirling black brands on both sides of my neck. The front of my shirt was torn and burned from tank mortar; scraps of cloth framed a much bigger scar running all the way down the left half of my chest, and more bullet holes than I cared to count. Only one pockmark was recent, though - the one in my side, oozing a slow trickle of warm blood.
         It was almost enough to put me into shock.
         ...aaghkkk... Lee's internal presence spasmed. As much as I hurt, it was worth it to feel him writhe inside, as I half-stumbled around the restaurant front and out of plain sight.
         "You feel this too," I growled, reaching a niche behind the restaurant's dumpster.
         ...hkkk... hold still... please...
         "It's worse for you than it is for me!"
         ...what is wrong with you...
         "What's the matter, sissy boy? Have you been dead so long you forgot what real pain is like?" I possessing a sadomasochist...?
         "You stay out of my sex memories," I warned.
         Lee's already weak presence buckled with agony.
         I decided that now would be a good time to let up. Do what he wanted, for the moment. Let him think he'd achieved a false victory. He did say he could patch the hole in my side, after all, and I didn't want to bleed out.
         "Okay, you win," I grumbled, settling with my back against the dumpster and my knees drawn up tight. "I'm not moving. Go ahead, fix my wound."
         He didn't respond. I could feel him practically in a seizure.
         "Lee? Lee, snap out of it! Do your job, now!"
         ...pain... receptors... offline... The hurt faded away. I stayed put. Barely allowed myself to breathe.
         ...working... The sky lightened with time. I could feel him get fainter as the blood on my side clotted.
         ...done... Lee whispered at last.
         "You don't sound so good," I observed, with mock novelty.
         I heard a thud. Not a physical sound, just an echo from deep inside.
         My head was my own again.
         Lee's quiet presence in the back of my thoughts was gone. Poof. Vanished. Disappeared into thin-
         -no, dammit, no, not quite gone. Holding perfectly still like I was, if I closed my eyes, I could just barely feel... I guess you could call it a weight, more than anything else. But it was the weight of a feather. Less than a feather. Almost unnoticeable. If I hadn't known it was there to begin with, I would never have been able to tell the difference.
         Was his collapse for real, or just a trick?
         I decided to find out.
         Keeping my eyes closed, I reached inside myself. Thought of that dark, empty place with only a hazy idea of a floor. Framed it and held it in my head, until I opened my eyes again and I was there, like I knew I'd be.
         Lee was slumped over his computer desk.
         He looked totally out of it. Hell, I might've thought he'd dropped dead, if I hadn't known he was dead to begin with. I guess you could say he was sleeping. But that wasn't what really threw me.
         Lee looked... different.
         For starters, he wasn't dressed like before. Not in a street punk outfit. He was dressed like - like something out of medieval Europe, I'd say. Laced silver leggings. Short-sleeved chainmail longshirt - a hauberk, it's called - only the gleaming metal links had the consistency of cloth. And he had this white surcoat over the mail, like what knights used to wear in the Crusades. Basically a sleeveless, loose-fitting, knee-length cover shirt. Hell, it was practically a dress, except it had a slit down the middle front, from waist level to hem. A plain white sash knotted on his right side. That rearing unicorn, a black silhouette on white this time, decorated the surcoat where it covered his chest. Lee's arms were bare; his suicide scar was gone, and from what I could tell, the rest of his scars had disappeared too. His hair shined this extra lustrous silver; God, his whole body practically radiated a very soft light. And you want to know the biggest shock?
         He had wings.
         His clothing had tailored slots to fit them. They drooped, half-extended, spreading from his back and spilling down his sides. Amazed, I picked up his left wingtip and spread the whole thing out; it was practically as long as I was tall. It was shaped like an eagle's wing, broad and powerful. Not compact like a songbird's wing, or narrow like a sea gull's. The feathers were the purest, holiest white you ever saw, softer and finer than anything you could imagine. They could only be angel feathers.
         Lee Chaolan was an angel.
         He really was a goddamn angel.
         "What kind of God is there," I burst out, throwing down his wing, "if Heinrich Himmler can be an angel!?"
         Still no answer.
         Well, at least that proved he wasn't only pretending to be passed out. If he'd been awake, I'd have felt him flinch when I called him a Nazi, just like before.
         I don't believe this. You really have to ask me that?
         Of course I don't really think Lee is a Nazi. Didn't think it back then, either. I was only calling him that to make him react.
         I don't know. Maybe it does make sense to compare him to a World War II fascist. He was on the same side as the monsters who murdered a billion people in the Great Invasion, after all. He plotted to help make his brother the dictator of the world, or something like that.
         But even at his most despicable, Lee Chaolan never deserved Himmler's name. You want to know why I was really calling him that? Because I used to read it in a textbook, that's why. It got fixed in my mind when I had to repeat that history class. This book literally called Lee 'the Heinrich Himmler of the Great Invasion,' and the accusation stuck in my head long after I learned better. So I used the name on him without thinking about it. It's not something I've done since, and you better not do it either, or I'll kick your ass.
         Oh, don't make me gag.
         This isn't about any 'personal sympathies.' Himmler ran the death camps that murdered ten million people. Lee's death camp only killed around two thousand, not counting battlefield casualties. Big difference. Nine million, nine hundred and ninety-eight thousand lives big.
         Got that?
         Good. Now if only history would get it right.
         Where was I, anyway?
         Oh, yeah. Stuck with a semi-religious dilemma. How in Heaven or Hell was I going to get this angel out of my body? If I could have picked him up and thrown him out, I would have, but I already knew physical attacks were useless in here.
         Yeah, right. Even if I allowed myself to believe in it - which I could almost do, as long as I was already believing in angels - I had no idea how to use it. Which tied into my earlier idea of getting an exorcist to cure me. But where was I going to find one? In a church? Or a Shinto shrine, or a Buddhist temple, or something like that?
         Then again, maybe that wasn't such a good idea. It could be dangerous to wander around looking for holy men, when the Mishima syndicate was still looking for me. And it wasn't as if I knew anyone in Tokyo who had real magic powers-
         -was it?
         Oh, no. Oh, shit, no.
         I did know a real magic expert. Taki. And to think I always ignored her 'sorcery' mumbo-jumbo before. Not that she talked about it often, but once I was bored enough to ask her why she'd pasted these screwy Japanese-scribble paper strips all over my place.
         No. I was not going to Taki for help. Not over this. Not over anything. Absolutely not. There had to be another way, any other way. Besides, she was a loyal Mishima syndicate sandbagger; she'd just turn me over to them. It was what I'd do if I were her.
         Back to my angel problem, then. How was I going to get rid of Lee Chaolan? If I couldn't attack him or use magic, then what did that leave?
         Well, from what I knew of legends from the Dark Ages, the oldest cure for demonic possession was to torture the victim until you drove the demon out. Maybe that could work for an angel, too? I already knew Lee didn't like pain. Problem was, I didn't like pain.
         Shut up.
         Shut up, I said - I only said that to freak Lee out! I don't like feeling pain, and I don't like dishing out pain, unless it's to people who deserve it.
         Do yourself a favor. Don't act like you deserve it.
         Besides, even if I did torture myself, Lee still had ways to work around it. He could turn my 'pain receptors' on or off whenever he wanted. As for the actual damage, well, shit. I might have to kill myself before Lee would let me go. Not a risk I wanted to take.
         No, physical pain or injury just wouldn't do it.
         But I already knew of a pain that could hurt him worse.
         The one thing that really made him bleed was when I denounced his crimes. My earlier accusations weren't enough to get rid of him, but then, I was just blundering around with random slurs. The right words, with the right hurt, could put him in so much agony that he'd have to fly away forever.
         Psychological warfare. That was how I could fight him and win, but first I needed ammo.
         I needed his memories.
         That had been my idea, earlier - if I had an instant hook into his unconscious memories, such as stuff like the Japanese language, then I could probably get at the rest of his head also. He'd already admitted that he had a wire into my thoughts; why shouldn't I be able to reverse the connection? Just switch it around like VCR dubbing cables.
         Well, right now was as good a chance to try it as I was ever going to get.
         Then again, how was I going to read an angel's mind? Was it anything like scanning a Vorlon on Babylon 5?
         Ah, screw it. Here goes.
         I pried open one of Lee's eyes. If you can call it an eye. There wasn't any iris, pupil, or even an eyeball. The other eye was the same. He didn't really have 'eyes' at all; just subdued pools of white light. He still didn't wake up.
         I stared directly into the light.
         I want your secrets, angel or war criminal or whatever you are. I'm going to find out what hurts you the most. What makes you suffer. How to pour salt in the deepest wounds of your soul.
         Just what are you like on the inside, anyway?
         He hated to be alone.
         Except when he was flying. It was one of damn few things that could make him forget the loneliness, ease the pain of being abandoned. He loved heights, having the wind in his face, being in the air. Used to do hang gliding, paragliding, shit like that when he was alive. Relished flying around with his latest angel wings more than he'd ever admit out loud. Also used to like kite flying and kite-fighting, so much that he'd model new kite designs on his damn computer software.
         Hated to be alone.
         I was right about him being a massive chain smoker. He used to especially like menthols. Also used to drink, but only on holidays; he actually didn't care for the taste of booze. Never messed with any stronger drugs, either. Didn't even like caffeine; it made him edgy, and he used to have a nasty temper on his good days.
         Hated to be alone.
         Used to be a fighter. And a real looker. Prided himself on both, once. Was especially vain about his silver hair. Used to brush and neatly part it in front of a mirror, several times a day.
         Did I mention that he HATED to be alone?
         Shit. No wonder the prick was clinging to me so tightly. I'd really have to make him suffer before he'd see staying in my body as worse than being alone. I had to dig deeper, find out more about what hurt him the most.
         Just how much violence did he have in his past, anyway?
         Lots. So much that I had no idea how to begin sorting through it all. Like a giant DVD set with all the scene indexes messed up.
         Any sex?
         Mm, at least once. But even then, he had to get the girl drunk before he could sweet-talk her into it. With looks like his, he should've scored a huge string of Casanova-style conquests, and it wasn't there. What a waste.
         Well, this was all quite voyeuristic, but it wasn't what I needed. I didn't need his hobbies or quirks or sex life; I needed his pain. And I was going to have it, use it as a weapon against him, just as soon as I knew what really made him suffer.
         Pain... pain... searching for pain...
         Searching for...

         ...I'm so hungry it hurts... I gnaw an apple core I found in the mud. It's brown and rotted and there's an ant crawling over it, but I'm weak and trembling and so desperate for food I shut my eyes and eat it blind. Its pitiful mass doesn't begin to fill the aching void in my gut, only makes the hunger hurt worse.
         If I can just steal some food, or money to buy food... I'm too old to beg, too young to work a job, not that any sane merchant would hire a dirty, scrawny, orphan scavenger like me. If I can just-
         Wait. There.
         That one. He's about my age, also on his own, and he's got to be a foreign tourist. He looks kind of weird, what with the bushy eyebrows and the jet black hair pointing in a crazy spike. He's also dressed way too fancy for this grungy marketplace. His face is different from everyone else's, narrower, more angular, and he talks to an art vendor with a measured, precise accent. He holds an elegant porcelain statue shaped like a beautiful woman, and he doesn't haggle over the price.
         Then I see him pay for it.
         He just flips out a roll of bills. A big roll. Of big bills. Peels off a massive wad of currency like it's newspaper wrapping. Doesn't even bother to count his change.
         This kid is not just any tourist. He's filthy rich, and all alone.
         Of course I have to steal from him. It's either that or lie down and die.
         Ignore the hurt in my stomach. Ignore the dizziness that makes it hard to walk in a straight line. Just approach, casually, like I haven't got his money in crosshair sights. I bump into him as if I've tripped over something, but it's only half a fake; I'm so weak I can scarcely stay upright, and I feel like I'm going to throw up that rotten apple core-
         There! I got his bank roll! Now if I can just get away without being noticed-
         I can't get away.
         I can't move.
         The kid's got my wrist in his hand, and his fingers might as well be an iron vise. With a strong tug, he drags me into his line of sight. His jet black eyes narrow, appraisingly, and he says, "I believe you have something that belongs to me."
         There's only one thing I can do: fight for my life. And I am fighting for my life, make no mistake, so I attack first and get the advantage. Knock the statue right out of his other hand, and he automatically moves to catch it before it breaks. He could just as easily buy another twenty statues, but he leaves himself wide open to grab this one before it hits the ground. I give a hard yank and it still isn't enough to make him let go of me, or maybe I'm too weak with hunger, I don't know. So I kick his face, just as the fingers of his other hand close around the statue's head. I get him in the nose; blood streams from his nostrils as he flops awkwardly in the dirt. Now he finally lets go and I can run, run with the money to buy food-
         -no, I can't run.
         I can't move.
         I can't breathe.
         A massive, burly hand wraps around my neck, lifts me clean off the ground, and fighting back isn't an option anymore. I was close to being out of breath when the hand grabbed me, and now I'm choking. Can't even get a good look at the towering monster that holds me like a play toy; he's a huge man, massive, terrifying, is this how I'm going to die? Strangled and miserable and so hungry it hurts-
         "Did this street urchin just best you in single combat?" The voice is deep, booming, horrendous; I'm grateful it isn't talking to me.
         I hit the ground, dropped like a piece of cheap luggage. At least now I can breathe, but getting up would be something else entirely.
         The kid's voice again. Stunned. Confused. I must've kicked him harder than I thought. "Father-"
         "Shut UP!" I raise my head to see the towering monster of a man strike the kid soundly on the cheek. "I did not raise you to be this WEAK! You are in perfect health; this gutter vermin is obviously famished. WHY did you fail against him!?"
         "I was - I was only trying to-" the kid clutches his statue, protectively.
         "Give me that!" With brute force, the monstrous man wrests away the sculpture, and dashes it to pieces.
         "NO!" the kid cries. It doesn't make sense. He didn't even blink when I stole his money, but now this one stupid object is ruined and he acts for all the world like he lost something precious. "Why do you have to destroy beautiful things!?"
         "I said SHUT UP!" I close my eyes, inwardly cringing from the vicious crack of the blow. If I can just crawl away from this tormented nightmare-
         I can't crawl.
         I can't move.
         A wooden clog presses on my back, pinning me in the dirt.
         "You had the temerity to steal from the House Mishima," the monster-man accuses me. "I should destroy you for that. And yet..." He casually grabs my tangled hair and wrenches my head back, glaring into my frightened face with his terrifying eyes. "Have you any family?"
         I stare back, mutely. When he lets go of my hair and repeats the question, it's all I can do to shake my head.
         "Very well. I am Heihachi Mishima. This is my son Kazuya. We are now your family." Heihachi transfixes his bruised son with a hateful glower. "This wretched piece of refuse has proven himself stronger than you are. You must train yourself harder; you are no son of mine until you have become strong enough to crush the likes of him. He will stay with us as a reminder. Now, get him cleaned and ready for our flight home. Do not lose him, or you will suffer." Heihachi stalks away.
         I throw up that apple core.
         I don't know what to do - I'm queasy and miserable and still shaking with terror, maybe I should try to run away again but I don't think my legs will carry me-
         "Do not be afraid," Kazuya says, gently.
         I don't get it. He should be angry with me, furious; he should yell at me or try to beat me like all the others who caught me stealing, but-
         "You truly are famished, are you not?" he sighs. "Well, you have a choice. You may come with me and live in a place where you will never be hungry again, or you may escape to the streets and starve. Which would you prefer?"
         The way he talks to me - there's something warm and reassuring in his jet black eyes. Something I can hardly understand. Compassion. Even though he's bruised and bloodied, he helps me stand up like he's my brother.
         Like he's my true brother...

         This - this is rattling, his memories are so intense it's not like playing a DVD anymore, it's like I'm in the DVD, I was looking to learn about his pain, not experience it, I don't want to relive his-

         My fiancée... the only woman I've ever loved... she looks at me with such fear and hatred, cringing on the floor and cradling the bruise on her face. I can barely comprehend why the ugly purple mark is there, what I've done to her, it wasn't supposed to happen like this. Doesn't she know how much I need her? She said she was going away, doesn't she understand how much that hurts? And now it hurts even more that she's frightened, she's angry, the way she looks at me. I didn't mean to attack her like that, and now her pain hurts like I've hit myself, I wish I had hit myself-
         "I... are you all right?" It's a stupid thing to say; of course she's not all right. I want to make it better, find something to take the hate and fear and pain out of her face, it hurts so much to see her hate me! "Come on, let me see-"
         "NO!" she screams, shoving me away. Just one week ago she whispered that she loved me, and now she flees without looking; outward-swinging doors slam open as she sprints away, and she may as well have driven a knife through my heart because I can't run after her, I can only crumple to the floor. I still don't understand how this happened, how I lost her, that I lost her, it hurts so much!
         "Jun-chan," I whisper, and choke on a sob.

         Something - something's wrong, I feel sick, I don't know how to hit the 'STOP' button, I'm losing track of a "me" that can look for a 'STOP' button, I have get out of this, I'm feeling too much-

         I underestimated my brother - he's returned stronger, tougher, more ruthless than ever. The kindness I used to see in his eyes is gone; there is only bloodthirsty rage and cold, calculating menace. He batters my legs, my ribs, my face, each new shock of agony feeds on top of the last. It isn't that he's oblivious to my screams; it's that he savors them, until I'm pinned and helpless and throbbing and hurting and utterly crushed, utterly broken.
         "You ask where I have been," Kazuya hisses, cruelly. "I have seen more suffering than you can comprehend, more brutality and murder than you can ever know. I have decided to put a stop to it. To this end, I have spent six years amassing my Power. And you - what have you done? Office paperwork? Have you been a humble syndicate clerk, blind and deaf to the atrocities committed every day, all across the entire world, just as you pretended to never notice what the man I despise to call 'father' put me through?"
         I can't give an answer. I don't know what I'd say if I could. My brother curls his fingers around my throat.
         There is a searing, white-hot blast. His electrical energy permeates my whole body. I jerk, reflexively, feeling the threat of its invading, impending death, held back only by Kazuya's whim-

         Get me out of this get me out GET ME OUT I don't know how to break out I'm trying to hold on to my own name but it's slipping all I can see or think or know is-

         Michelle Chang's tortured spirit stabs me with insubstantial knives, ever present, ever screaming. I close my eyes and I see her hateful fury, I open my eyes and I can still see her, hear her vision. Her howls and curses and accusations are all the stronger because they are true. Murderer she calls me, and murderer I am; I can see the wavering vision of dripping blood on my hands - her blood, and the blood of so many others. She senses my guilt, and tears into it with mad enthusiasm, using it as a weakness to cut open my soul, grip my senses with a reflection of her torment...

         I... can't...
         ...stop this...

         ...Kazuya's sorcery burns jigsaw scars in my flesh...
         ...Michelle's soul haunts my nightmares for days on end...
         ...Jun-chan looks at me with pitiless anger and declares, "I can NEVER love the likes of you!"

         It was a roller coaster ride through damnation. Jumping between memories faster and faster, fights and murder and torture and heartbreak, not always in sensible order but they all had one thing in common: pain. It went on and on, got worse, more real, more vivid with each new scene; my sense of self was completely gone now. I was Lee Chaolan, and I'm not going to tell you everything I felt.
         I've been in pain before, don't think I haven't. Shit, you know what I went through in that Hong Kong shootout. But even that was over in a few minutes. This was ongoing, concentrated agony, no breaks, no chance to recover, just gut-wrenching shifts from one scene to another and another and another and I don't like talking about it, either.
         I'll say this much, though. You don't want to know what it feels like to have your brother telepathically rip through your brain, like he's tearing pages out of a book. You don't want to know what it is to be so far gone you walk up to him, take your knife, and cut your own vein from wrist to elbow. You just don't want to know what that's like.
         And you don't want to know what it's like to be killed by a death-link. Knives and bullets are one thing; at least they don't eat you alive from the inside out.

         I was shrieking like a goddamn woman when I felt hands shaking me - see-through hands that shouldn't have been able to touch me at all. They were trying to shake sense into me; a voice was calling to me, calling a name that wasn't Lee's, but I couldn't answer, I couldn't say anything.
         "Bryan? Bryan, listen to me! What you're seeing isn't real, this is real, and you are Bryan Fury - hold on to that, hold on to who you are!"
         I was still mired in Lee's perspective, but I slowly realized I couldn't be Lee, Lee had me by the shoulders and he was talking to me. It was really him, punk unicorn outfit and everything, not a reflection in a mirror, and that meant I had to be someone else, I-
         Oh, God.
         I'm going to be sick.
         "Can you answer me? Please, can you answer? Do you know who you are?"
         "Sh... shut up," I choked. "Of... c-course I... know..."
         Lee let go of my shoulders.
         I felt sick.
         Really sick.
         Could barely keep my face off the ground. Shuddering all over like a damn kitten. I was back in the real world, back to seeing things with my own eyes, but the memories were still there. All of them. Every excruciating moment. They wouldn't go away, and they still haven't; I'm stuck with them for the rest of my life.
         But that wasn't my biggest problem.
         Lee's ghostly left hand closed tightly around the silver puppet strings feeding into my neck. His thin eyebrows dipped over his hideously scarred face. He said, "You... you were deliberately investigating my most painful memories. Reliving them for yourself."
         Oh, shit. He was on to me.
         "Did you have any idea how dangerous that was?"
         He knew I'd turned against him.
         "You almost killed yourself before your distress woke me up. Your heart stopped beating from the shock, and I had to restart it."
         If I were in any kind of decent shape, I might have been able to fight him, but I wasn't. I could barely keep from passing out. He was going to overpower me, and lock me up again.
         "I can think of only one reason why you would do such a thing."
         It was too late to pretend I was on his side anymore. He knew now. He knew what I was trying to do, and I was in no condition to fight him off. I was never going to have my freedom again, I was doomed, I'd rather die than go back to being his puppet, but I couldn't even-!
         "You care," Lee concluded, a warm, loving smile spreading across his scarred face. "You really care!"
         "I - I was beginning to fear this alliance wouldn't work. That you were going to fight against me until I'd have to give up on you. But you... you want to understand me... you want to understand so much that you'd put your own life at risk!"
         "Otouto!" he cried, hugging me.
         Little brother.
         He was calling me his little brother.
         No, no, NO I wanted to trick you but not like this! I am not your 'little brother,' I don't even like you, I want you out of my head, I want you out of my body-!
         "Don't be afraid," Lee reassured, hugging me like he would never let go. "I won't leave you. I'll take care of you. I'm rested; now it's your turn to sleep. I'll watch over you, I promise."
         I hate you, you screwed up angel.
         I hate you for taking over my body, I hate you for having the gall to tell me how I'm going to live my life, but most of all I hate you for being so - being so STUPID! I'm not your 'little brother,' I'm not your friend, I HATE you, you girly unicorn-loving sissy! I hate you, I hate you, I HATE YOU!
         I hate you, dammit...
         I hate you...
         *Sleep,* Lee said, and last thing I remember is this nagging feeling that I'd forgotten something important.

VIDEO TRANSCRIPT: Tokyo Mishima General Hospital
video surveillance cassette X0010544
Room 207-E
December 6, 2017
8:05 a.m.

The field of view shows a patient in a hospital bed. A breathing tube and an intravenous nutrition feed run underneath the covers, which are pulled entirely over the patient's body. Two female orderlies walk on camera, carrying white sheets and pillowcases.

ORDERLY 1: Aah-! That's terrifying!

ORDERLY 2: The worst of it is, that monster could still be out there. I've been on shift for twenty hours, and I still don't want to go home.

O1: I'm not leaving until I hear they caught that man.

O2: Not a man. A woman.

O1: What? I can't imagine-!

O2: It's been a horrible night. I've never seen so many trauma cases at once.

The second orderly looks at the patient bed, worriedly.

O2: I'm exhausted. If this one puts up a fight like he did before, I'm not sure I can handle him. Can you?

O1: Perhaps another injection of-?

O2: No. He's already had close to a lethal dose.

O1: If he really is that sedated, I can handle him.

O2: Good.

The second orderly addresses the patient bed.

O2: Now you listen here, all right? We're here to take care of you, and change your bedding. Don't make this hard on us.

No response.

O1: Is he conscious?

O2: Let's see.

The second orderly draws back the covers. There is no human figure underneath them, just bunched hospital pillows and undone restraints.

O1: Aah-!

O2: Oh, no. I knew we should have kept a guard detail on this one.

O1: How did he get free? And how did he get out - we were monitoring him, the camera is still running!

O2: It must have been during the panic. We had to pull everyone we could get to help, and security had their hands full. They still do.

O1: I'm going to lose my job-!

O2: Oh, hush.

O1: What are we going to do?

O2: The only thing we can do. We call security and tell them that Detective Lei Wulong has left his bed without supervision. He can't have gotten far, not in his condition. They'll find him.

O1: I don't know. I have this awful feeling that they won't.

End of Chapter 12: Puppet Strings