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Senji

“Do you understand what this means for science?” says Hawthorne, fizzing with excitement.

Senji glares at him, probably. “This isn’t a fun project. How did you manage to give me frictionless skin?”

“Except on your hands and feet!” says Hawthorne. “A breakthrough!”

“I can’t sit down without an infinite wedgie.”

“The Slip ‘N’ Slide potential alone!”

Senji tries to rub the bridge of his nose and fails. “I liked it better when you only experimented on yourself.”

“You said we were drifting apart,” says Hawthorne, hurt. “This is a meta–”

“IT’S NOT A METAPHOR I WANT MY EYEBROWS BACK,” says Senji.

Hawthorne

Hawthorne’s taken to walking around with a syringe of oxytocendorphin jammed into his skull.

“Jesus!” says Senji.

“What?” says Hawthorne, following his gaze, trying to crane his head around to get a look at the back of his own head. “Oh! Right. Say, would you mind giving that plunger a little tap?”

“That’s disgusting!”

“Fine,” grumbles Hawthorne, backing up until it bumps the wall. “Oooh,” he adds, eyes glazing.

“Aaagh!”

“Look, I just streamlined the process. The old way was a clumsy cargo cult!”

“What process?” says Senji.

“Love is addiction,” says Hawthorne. “Addiction is love.”

Senji has nothing to say.

Senji

“This could all be put to rest,” says Hawthorne, “with a valid death certificate.”

“Here!” says Senji, propping up his netbook. “Factcheck.org. Scans of the document. Pictures of the seal.”

“Oh, you can’t trust Photoshops,” says Hawthorne.

“Here’s video of people handling it.”

“Occam’s Razor. We must not needlessly multiply death certificates!” says Hawthorne. “Only physical evidence–”

“You’re beginning an argument that leads into a distrust of all information from your senses,” says Senji.

“Do you know what that means?”

“Descartes already explored–”

We’re still inside the game!” gasps Hawthorne, thrashing, fumbling for the goggles and the IV drip.

Hawthorne

The laser/dinosaur-based phone tree proves unreliable.

“Look, just fire your dorsal blasters at the styracosaur and the edmontonia,” Hawthorne says. “Then they bounce lasers off the pteranodons! A very simple relay!” The diplodocus gronks in wild panic. Senji has to drag him out from under its feet.

“Walnut-brain!” Hawthorne shouts.

“Have you considered that maybe–” Senji begins.

“Yes, yes, they’re anachronistic. The pachy’s firing at a dimetrodon, for heaven’s sake! That’s what I get for going through a third party.”

“–you should just use phones?

“Less awesomeness per dollar,” sniffs Hawthorne, as the diplodocus takes out a bus.

Hawthorne

“I’ve had a change of will you GET out of the WAY,” Hawthorne explains.

“I’m not going to let you cannibalize yourself,” grunts Senji.

“I’m hungry!”

“Eat a graham cracker!”

“I told you, I’m an animist!” Hawthorne pants, still struggling to reach the stovetop. “I refuse to consume of any unit of spiritual life! Autotrophy is the only ethical choice!”

“You don’t even know the proper cooking temperature for human meat!”

“Only because you won’t let me experiment!”

“Fine!” Senji steps back. “Fine.”

Hawthorne puts his hand in the frying pan.

“That is really hot!” he says, like a nonchalant bat.

Hawthorne

“Well,” says Amovar, “I’d put chainsaw teeth on the locomotive, obviously.”

“Humdrum!” brays Furtenstein. “Pedestrian!”

“I wasn’t finished,” snaps Amovar.

“I’d try a bit of macromillipede biotech myself,” says Hawthorne. “Infinite legs skittering down the rails, poison tail and so on.”

“Far-fetched! Unlikely!”

“You’ve yet to offer anything yourself,” says Amovar sourly, and squints against the dust of the 3:13. “I’d also make the whole thing a particle accelerator–”

“But would you make it run on time?” quips Sanjay.

They stare at him.

“It would take a different kind of madness altogether,” murmurs Hawthorne, “to even try.”

“Pervert!” says Amovar.

Senji

“Vampirism,” says Hawthorne. “Contagious.”

“Okay,” says Senji.

“Zombies. Contagious.”

“Well, yes.”

“Werewolves.”

“Were-everythings, now,” says Senji uneasily. “Since you generalized the virus.”

“Exactly!” Hawthorne does a little dance. “I thought too small! One recombinant agent creates a host of rapacious metanthropes. The solution? A second virus! An army of their natural enemies! Frankensteinitis!

“Aside from that being a horrible idea,” says Senji, “the only time Frankenstein’s monster met the Wolfman was in movies, wherein he was portrayed as peacef–”

“Wrong!” says Hawthorne, slaps two bolts on his own neck, and hits himself with a stun gun.

“Ow!” he says, later.

Hepzibah

“We were lupine-only,” says Nurse Rusch, “until some mad Hungarian generalized the virus. Now we take all kinds.”

“And it’s treatable?” says Hepzibah. She’s still weak, leaning on her IV as they amble the halls.

“Therapy can reduce outbreaks from thirteen to four a year, but more importantly, we provide community.” She smiles with a hint of moustache. “People who’ll understand your condition. We have chiropterines like yourself, ophidioforms, pseudolphins, entomorphs…”

Hepzibah peeks in a door and freezes.

“Oh.” Rusch bites her lip. “Should have waited for that. Mr. Alvarez is our only werejellyfish.”

Hepzibah leans over and vomits moths.

Senji

Senji thinks, then moves his left fist up six inches.

“Left only goes diagonal!” snaps Hawthorne.

Senji rolls his eyes and pulls back. “Look, I don’t know who gave you the idea for ‘chessboxing,’ but–”

“BrutoChess 5000! I told you! That other name is copyrighted.”

Senji groans. “That doesn’t mean you can’t say it out loud, Hawthorne.” He drops his gloves, pops out his mouthguard and turns away.

“You don’t know!” Hawthorne says. “Their ears are everywhere!”

“Is that why you did this to the dog?” asks Senji, as Pajamas trots in, whining and trying to shake off his thumping headphones.

Senji

“One washer of clean dishes,” Hawthorne says, “and one always dirty! A buffer system! No more piles in the sink, no more damn cabinets!”

“Some people like cabinets,” Senji says.

“Some people like this!” screams Hawthorne, and thumbs EJCT.

Acceleration pins Senji’s head down. The air’s cold; his eyes water. His chute deploys just in time to swing him crashing through French doors.

“You poor man!” says the father at the table.

“Let’s get those cuts cleaned!” says the mother. “You’ll be fine.”

“Then we can play games!” says a child excitedly.

He was right! is all Senji, astounded, can think.

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