Chang

From the Journal of Dr Rynhold Beck

Chang is dead. It was on a night such as this a mere six weeks ago that as I sat in this very chair and wrote in this very journal the bastard kicked in not only my door but very nearly my ribs as well, and now he lies here dead. And I say good. Damn my oath, he and his filthy Tong a disease eating away at this place. They are aggressive parasites bent on devouring their host, thy suck the blood, the very life itself out of the people here. And now one of them lays dead on my operating table. Again I say good. I don’t know who did it, maybe Chang’s killer is a thug every bit as cruel and vile as Chang himself, but tonight there is one less brute loose on the streets to prey upon the poor and weak and vulnerable.

One thing I will say about whoever did do this to Chang, he must have been very strong indeed for from the state of Chang I’d say that with Chang holding a knife, the killer grabbed his forearm and quite literally snapped the bones in two before twisting the ruined limb around and stabbing Chang with the knife he still held. It was a single, deliberate wound and the knife was buried up to its hilt in his chest where, whether by luck or design, the knife did not pierce the heart and kill him immediately, but rather sliced open a ventricle and caused the chest cavity to flood.. The pressure of the blood around the lungs was sufficient to stop them from expanding thereby causing Chang to die of asphyxiation as well as massive blood loss. A nasty, brutal and unpleasant death but, and may God forgive me for what I am about to write, one I’m almost happy to have befallen one such as Chang.

Still, I think I may well have rather bigger issues to ask God for forgiveness for, wouldn’t you agree? Oh I know I stopped believing a long time ago, but does one ever truly stop believing or is it closer to the truth to state that what drives non-believers such as myself is a desperate and furious need not to believe. After all, once life turns against you and conspires to present you with an event of such magnitude that the love you once had for the notion of a Creator laying behind all of life’s joy and happiness lies shattered in the deepest pits of your heart, do you really have any choice but to turn away from the face of cruel, uncaring God in disgust and hatred?

In truth I do not know the answer to this, but I feel sure that were God to exist my actions of late would have pushed me as far from him as Hell is deep. Suicide is said to be a mortal sin (although I’ve seen enough in my forty years to convince me it is, at times, a necessary one) but what then is reckoned of un-death? If taking one’s life is to steal from God, then is snatching it back from his capricious embrace yet another crime against him?

When I… well, when I did what I did two nights ago I wanted nothing more than the peace and silence of not being, but where I found myself afterwards was far worse than anything I have experienced anywhere on any version of Earth. The rage and the anger that lay on the other side from this world were a terrible thing to behold, indeed I scarcely even now bring myself to think about them, let alone put them down on paper. And yet despite that I can feel no joy at Miss Belfire’s actions, however well intentioned they were. To use such arcane knowledge, such hellish methods and dark secrets to pluck me from the grasp of the Reaper can not come without a price and I fear that price may yet prove to be very indeed.

To be continued…

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Links to other blogs and stories:
1) All Dr Beck’s Journal Entries can be read here.
2) All the “Gang War” posts can be read on my blog here and over on the Steelhead Ning here.
3) The latest “Gang Wars” Story So Far recap can be found here.
4) All my “Mutations” posts can be read here.
5) Chang was first encountered in Dr Beck’s surgery here.

Gang Wars: “Lose the body…”

Han Hong looked down at The Voice busily examining the body of Chang and, as ever, said nothing. No one knew if Han Hong was actually mute or simply chose not to talk but no one in the Tong had ever heard him say a word and not even the boss or his colleague, currently sniffing the handle of the knife jutting from Chang’s chest, had heard him utter anything above a small sigh but then even a sigh from a giant can have the desired effect, and Han Hong was by any measure a giant. Standing well over eight and a half feet tall and with a slight stoop forwards, everything about the Korean Goose was huge, from his leering moon face and barrel-chest, to his shovel-hands and massive feet he towered over most people, but next to him the already diminutive figure of The Voice seemed impossibly small.

The Voice, apparently finished with the corpse, looked up at Han and shock his head, “Chang may have been a smart as a boulder, but he was as tough as one too. Whoever did this was good. Strong. Fast. Would you be so good as to take a look and see if our mystery man was kind enough to leave us with a view of his soon to be dead face?” Han nodded slowly, a small solemn motion which gave the impression of a funeral director being asked to close a casket for the final time by a grieving widow, before kneeling next to the body and taking Chang’s head in his hands. His huge thumbs pulled back the corpse’s eyelids and the silent giant began to stare intently into the glassy, dead orbs.

Minutes passed.

Some of the younger Tong members shuffled, bored. The Voice looked up and scowled. To a man they stopped, tightly holding their breath less they incur his wrath and cause him to give them a message.

Minutes passed.

The silence was suddenly broken as Chang’s skull bounced dully off the wooden floor. Han stood up, unfolding his giant frame like some form of complicated origami structure, and looked down at his small companion.

“See him?” The Voice asked. Han nodded once and pulled a sketch book and pencil from his coat pocket. Drawing quickly with a practiced and skillful hand., he sketched out the final thing Chang ever saw – the tattooed man who had killed him. Under the picture he wrote out, word for word, the last words Chang heard. The Voice scanned them slowly. He looked up at Han, fury burning behind his eyes, “We need to see the boss and we need to see him now!” he hissed through gritted teeth. Han nodded slowly and turned to walk out of the warehouse back to the cannery. The Voice paused to take one last look at Chang before following. As he left he barked an order at the young foot soldiers “Lose the body then get the word out – we are looking for someone called Jonny O. I want him. I want him alive. Alive, you hear!” The young thug gulped and nodded quickly as The Voice stalked out into the night.

“What should we do with him?” one asked.

“The pigs?” another answered.

“Not the pigs, man. Too slow. How about the river?” a third said.

“How about the sea?” said the fourth.

They looked at each other and smiled. “I’ll get a boat, you guys get some rope and weights.”

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Later, as dawn broke over Steelhead and the first of the large fishing trawlers set off out of Shanghai’s harbour into the open ocean, a small boy sat watching the lines trailing out behind his fathers skiff. His father had rowed them out as the sun had set and they had spent the whole night moon fishing, although for very little reward as the all but empty baskets testified. Suddenly the bells began to ring, not just one or two, but all of them as all the lines went taut and the boat tipped slightly in the water. The boy looked at his father and the father looked back. Whatever they had snagged it was big…

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To be continued…
All the “Gang War” posts can be read on my blog here and over on the Steelhead Ning here.

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Links to other blogs and stories:
1) Chang was first encountered in Dr Beck’s surgery here.
2) The Voice was first encountered in the tale “Goodunnit” here.

Gang Wars: Jonny O Comes To Town

Meili closed the door of the empty house behind her for what she knew would be the last time. Her entire family were gone now, first Li Fe then Chi Yun, Xao and now dear Xan. Only she remained, alone after even the doctor had spurned her, turned her away, thrown her out. She found herself with nothing and no one. no one except her employer. She had feared her plea for help would go unheeded, maybe even drawing punishment down upon her , after all had it not been her brother Xao who had tried to kill the Lady (and if Meile hadn’t have been in the retinue that morning, he probably would have succeeded)? But in the end her fears were unfounded; the Dragon Lady had been kind, had held her hand and spoken softly as Meili wept for her lost family, had granted her a small room in the hotel. As Meili left to gather the last of her things from her old house in Shamian’s slums, the Lady had looked strangely at her and said “Do not weep too deeply my child. Time, though ever hungry, is not as powerful as it thinks.” When Meili had begged forgiveness for not understanding these words, the Lady merely smiled sweetly and said “Hurry back, my dear there’s a storm coming and I would hate to see you caught up in it.”

And so Meili, the few possessions she owned packed into two cotton bags, closed the door on her old life once and for all and set off to cross the squalor of Shanghai’s slums for what she hoped would be the last time. She looked up at the only shard of sky she could make out between the crowded roof-lines that ran through the slums like a jagged tear; twilight was creeping in (night always seem to come to the slums faster than the rest of Shanghai and it never seemed too quick to leave come morning) but there was no sign of a storm, the Lady must have been mista…

“Hello pretty one,” the man’s voice stopped her thoughts dead and she looked sharply around to see who it belonged to. In the gloom of a doorway a cigarette crackled and its glowing tip lit up the face of a young Chinese man, handsome she thought, but dangerous. The cigarette dimmed and his face vanished back into the shadows, only the red tattoo of a dragon that crawled across he cheek seemed to remain glowing in the darkness.

“I… You… you startled me, sir,” Meili said trying to sound braver than she felt. Her eyes never left the shadows he inhabited, but her mind raced as she calculated all the possible exits and escape points from the alleyway.

The man smiled, his teeth a white flash in the approaching night, “Who? Little old me?” his Mandarin was strange she noted, perfect in some ways but she found it hard to place, as though he belonged to no where in particular. He stepped out of the shadows into the sliver of light. He was dressed like an American, she noticed, like one of the gamblers who drank in the bar above her Lady’s den. The tattoo on his cheek was exquisite but largely hidden by the long hair that hung loose, rather than in a braid she thought, from under a strange hat. He took another draw on his cigarette as he walked in a slow arc in front of her, his movements as graceful as a dancer, before tossing it into the mud and flashing her another wide smile, his eyes (blue she fancied but couldn’t be sure) twinkling mischievously.

“What… what do you want?” she asked, backing away slowly.

“Me? I only want the best things in life. Smiling children, peace between brothers, wonderful food,” he turned, taking his arc back the way he’d come rather than carrying on to circle her, all the while staying in her field of view, “and, of course, a beautiful woman to share it all with. Isn’t that what all men want, princess?”

Her mind flashed back to the previous morning, how he had all but thrown her out of his home, his life. “No,” she said, “not all men. Now if you excuse me sir…”

“Oh don’t leave!” he span on his heel, turning round and round on the spot three times before he stopped with a flourish and held out a single red rose. Meili looked at the dead flower with horror and the stranger’s smile faltered a little before suddenly snapping back, “Ahh, how foolish of me,” he threw the rose up into the air and grabbed at it and held out not a rose but a beautiful silk belt embroidered with red roses, “I’m sure these blooms are more to your taste, no?”

“Who are you to offer me such an impudent gift!” Meili demanded, her cheeks flushing hot.

“Just a passing fool captivated by the beauty of a goddess amongst mortals,” the stranger replied with a wolfish grin as he bowed low in the manner of a European. Meili took her chance and bolted down a narrow gap between ramshackle houses. “Beautiful lady!” laughed the stranger mockingly, “was it something I said?” She turned this way and that, between houses and down alleys, always heading towards the bridge that crossed to her Lady’s territory, but always sticking to the most indirect route she could think of until, with a start, she tumbled out into a wide alley near the warehouses at the water’s edge. From here she would be able to walk the around the edge of Shamian and to the bridge without having to pass the Bing Kong cannery. Of the stranger there was no sign, indeed there was no sound save that of her own laboured breathing. She took a moment to gather herself and check her two bags before setting off around the rear of the nearest warehouse.

The hands that grabbed her were large and strong. She tried to scream but a rough paw covered her mouth and she was pulled into the darkness of the warehouse. Inside she saw two shocked workers staring at her, “You two,” the voice behind her was cruel and, she recognised, belonged to Chang the ruthless Bing Kong enforcer, “get out and stay out if you want to live. My business is with this whore.” Her eyes were wide, imploring them to help but they lowered their gazes and ran away leaving her alone with the monster. He span her around, his hands gripping her shoulders, fingers digging into her slender arms as though he were trying to crush them, “You made a bad choice working for that bitch across the water. The boss don’t like his people working for his enemies. He don’t like traitors. Traitors like that stupid peasant brother of yours. Traitors like you.”

Meili was too scared to reply, to fight back. She looked up at the big, cruel face of Chang and felt tears of despair welling up. Chang smiled a broad, nasty smile and let his eyes play over his captive. “Boss wants you dead alright, but he never said I couldn’t have some fun first… this is my lucky day,” he sneered.

“I can see what you’d think that,” a man’s voice, playful and mocking, echoed from somewhere inside the dark warehouse. Meili’s eyes widened as Chang spun to look for its owner, “Who’s there?” he shouted “I told you two to piss off. This is Tong business. You better leave now, eh. Before you get hurt, eh.”

“No, no, really. Honestly I can see how you’d think that,” the mocking voice continued, dancing around and impossible for Meili to locate, “I can see how you would look back at the dishonourable stain you call your life and, finding yourself faced with this beautiful princess here, think ‘This is my lucky day’ but do you know what Chang?”

Chang, scanning the room for any movement, had released his grip on Meili to reach into his belt and with a sudden thrust flung Meili backwards and swung a huge curved knife around, stabbing at shadows. Meili hit a stack of crates and fell to the ground where boxes of folded cloth and canvas toppled on top of her. From beneath the pile she pulled at the material until she could see what was happening and saw Chang slicing wildly around. A subtle movement caught her eyes and she watched with mute fear as the owner of the mysterious voice silently appeared out of the shadows behind Chang, it was the stranger from the alleyway! With the stealth and grace of a cat, he moved up behind the Tong killer and hissed in his ear “The truth is Chang, it’s mine.”

Chang span round but the stranger moved and swerved, ducking under his high swipe, spinning on his heel and dancing around. Chang swung again but this time the stranger did not move and instead caught his arm and stopped it dead. There was a brief moment when both men were still and Meili, holding her breath in the quiet of the struggle, found herself willing on the stranger with all her might. Chang grunted once then screamed briefly as, with a sickening crunch the stranger bent his arm backwards and snapped the bones as if they were twigs. Chang staggered back but the stranger stayed with him and, with a deft twist, brought the ruined arm around with the speed of a mountain lion and buried the long knife hilt deep into the big man’s chest.

For a second or two Chang hung motionless as the stranger smiled his wide, white smile, his dragon tattoo almost burning like fire etched into his cheek. Meili didn’t dare move, didn’t dare make a sound. As the tong killer slipped to the floor, the stranger checked the fall, slowing it so he could more easily bend down close to the dying man’s face where he growled “Look at me Chang, you bastard. Look at my face. I know that tall freak will see this so look at me. I want him see me. I want him to tell your boss. Tell him freak. Tell him Jonny O’s in town. Tell him Jonny O’s coming for him. Jonny O’s coming for you all.”

And then he let go and, as though melting back into the darkness, he was gone. Long seconds stretched out before Meili dared move again and began to dig herself from under the pile of cloth and wood. When she was free she circled around the body of Chang, a dark pool of blood slowly seeping and spreading around him, the knife jammed into his ribcage like some strange growth, until he was no longer between her and the door. When she was clear she bolted, running outside into the dark alleyway, her heart pounding, her mind racing.

“Your bags, princess,” the stranger stood against the far wall holding her two bags out and smiling his wide, wicked smile.

She stood still, fear in her eyes, “Who… who are you? What do you want with me?”

The stranger didn’t move, just stood there holding her bags, “You asked me that before princess; children, peace, food and a beautiful woman to share it all with, remember?” he grinned, “As for who I am? Well you know that too now, but allow me to introduce myself. Jonny O at your service.” Again he bowed as though mocking the formal style of a European.

“Chang…” she said, glancing back at the door.

“Dead. And the world will sleep safer and happier tonight, don’t you agree?” He walked towards her slowly, confident but not, she thought, threateningly, and held out her bags. She took them mutely as he smiled and walked on by, back into the slums whistling a silly tune as he went. She stood, waiting for her breathing and heart to slow before she set off once more for the safety of her Lady’s domain.

“By the way,” she froze on the spot, he was as close to her as he had been to Chang when he killed him and she could feel his hot breath of her neck, “you have a nasty cut on your head. I’d say you should see a doctor, but given the fool we have maybe not, mmm?”

And then he was gone, his whistling echoing through the alleyways as she ran all the way to the hotel as though all the demons of the mountains were pursuing at her heels. A peel of thunder cracked through the night as dark clouds rolled in and started to pour big, heavy rain drops on the city below…

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To be continued…
All the “Gang War” posts can be read on my blog here and over on the Steelhead Ning here.

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Links to other blogs and stories:
1) Chang was first encountered in Dr Beck’s surgery here.

Gang Wars: A Meeting Of Gentlemen…

In the cannery the rhythmic clattering of cans rushing along to the hissing, breathing steam-cooker drowned out any hope of conversation between the gutters and packers who toiled away day and night to feed the world’s seemingly insatiable desire for Steelhead’s finest tinned salmon, yet even had the machines stood silent there would be no chatter between the workers less the three Tong thugs who were striding through the factory heard and meted out one of their feared beatings.

Normally the three brutes would have taken great pleasure in watching the workers shrink back from their approach in evident fear, but today they had other things on their mind. Today they had been called to see the boss and if the boss was here so were They; his generals.. As they approached the door to the meeting room Chang looked at Shayu and they booth looked at Fan, their unspoken leader. He looked nervous and that made them doubly so. Fan raised his hand to the door but the unmistakable voice of the boss said “Enter” before he had chance to knock, an unnerving trick at the best of times but even more so considering the boss was said to be stone deaf. Fan swallowed hard, beads of sweat forming down his spine as he pushed open the door and walked in.

The dark, smoky room wasn’t large, not really. Nor was it grand. The boss hated the small of fish so didn’t spend much time here, leaving the running of the crews to his two most trusted men, his generals; The Voice and Han Hong, the Korean Swan. These two most feared men stood either side of the boss who remained seated behind the simple table reading a slip of paper. Moments stretched out into forever as the three summoned enforcers nervously tried not to shift uncomfortably or in any way draw attention to themselves. Eventually the boss looked up and gazed at them with a look so inscrutable all three men felt their skin grow cold. “Report,” he said simply “What is happening outside in the harbour?”

Chang and Shayu glanced quickly at one another as Fan swallowed and started, “The demon seems to be dead, boss. The airship piloted by the robot sent troops into its lair, into the Dragon’s old railway car we blew up. The fight took the car into the harbour but the demon seems dead. I think the patrols will stop soon.”

“Hmmm, yes… the patrols. Despite their presence everywhere of late, the Dragon still manages to strike at our operations whilst our attacks go awry, is that not so?”

Fan’s eyes darted between the two generals behind the boss before returning to the old man himself, “Boss?”

The boss put the papers down and looked Fan directly in the face, “Let me put it this way. We have lost two warehouses, the ships no longer dock here and the merchants are beginning to think we are a toothless snake. Meanwhile the Dragon Lady suffers no such losses. Her dens are full, her clients many, her purse rattling. You were charged with killing her and look what that brought us, a head stealing-demon and so many Jager patrols we can’t even piss in the gutter without three green-skinned dogs watching us.”

Fan could feel the blood draining from his face.

“Now, before I ask The Voice to give you a very special message, I would like to hear what exactly went wrong with the bomb and what has been going wrong since. You have two minutes exactly and if I do not like what I hear by minute three you will be laying on the gutting tables happily ordering those peasants out there to skin you alive, do I make myself clear?”

Had the man stood in front of the boss been Chang there would be no doubt that the cannery boning knives would have been busy before the two minutes were up. Even Shayu, who was many times smarter than Chang, would have struggled to keep his composure. But the man in front of the boss was not Chang or Shayu but Fan and Fan may have been many things but one thing he was not was stupid, “I don’t think it’s a spy, boss. I’ve thought a lot about it but it doesn’t fit. The Dragon didn’t know about the bomb, she wasn’t warned. Shayu was watching and it was Xan himself who warned her. He shouted out at the last minute and tried to disarm the bomb. It seems he had a family member with the Dragon, working for her, and he moved to save her.”

“And the warehouses? The shipping?”

“That’s different boss. There’s someone new in town. No one knows who, but I think the Dragon has hired someone. She is keeping her distance yet attacking at the same time. I’ve been asking boss, Chang’s been banging heads, we’ve tried everyone but no one knows anything. And it’s not that they are scared boss, they just don’t know.”

“What about the steamer and the log? An accident?”

“No boss. No accident that’s for sure. I went up river to the burnt cowboy’s lumber yard and saw the chains for myself. They were cut with bolt cutters.”

“Does he have anything to do with it? Was he involved? Paid to look the other way maybe?”

“It’s possible but I’ll need to speak to him to be sure.”

The boss looked at him through the smoke, narrow eyes and unreadable face glowering out of the gloom. Fan’s heart was pumping like piston. Everything came down to this moment. If the boss believed him he’d live, if not… well not even running would help, not now, not with Han and The Voice here.

“Well done Fan,” the boss said. Fan felt the relief swell inside him but daren’t for one second let it show. “You’ve confirmed what we know and suspect. The Dragon bitch has hired some foreign scum to do her dirty work. I want you to go and find out who they are and I want you to introduce them to my generals, do I make myself clear?”

“Yes boss,” Fan had no idea the hell how he’d achieve this. They’d lent on everyone, broken bones, cut off fingers. No one knew anything.

“Someone knows, mark my words. You just haven’t found them yet,” the boss said. Fan’s eyes widened in fear – could the old bas… the boss read his thoughts?

“Have Chang here find that peasant’s relative, the one who works for the Dragon. Have Chang show these people what happens when they side with the Dragon. And Shayu, have him visit the logger and find out what he knows.”

“And if he knows nothing, boss?”

The old man smiled, a thin cruel smile like a razor slicing through old leather, “Logging is a dangerous business don’t you think, accidents happen all the time. You have your orders. Report back in two days. Go.”

Fan nodded, quickly eyed the generals and spun on his heel to leave, “And Fan,” the boss said behind him, “If you disappoint me I shall have you climb into the steam cooker and boil yourself alive, do you understand?”

“Yes boss.”

Fan, Chang ans Shayu made their way out of the cannery as quickly as they could and with only a knowing look shared between them they set off on their errands aware of just how much was at stake should they fail.

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To be continued…
All the “Gang Wars” posts can be read on my blog here and over on the Steelhead Ning here.

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Links to other blogs and stories:
1) All my “Steal Head” posts can be read on my blog here and on the Steelhead Ning here.
2) All my “Mutations” posts can be read here.

Mutations: Chapter 5 – Night Callers

Hard at work into the night_001

Night had long ago set over Shanghai but Dr Beck had hardly noticed, engrossed as he was with the results of his latest tests. He sat at his surgery desk and scribbled hurried notes into his journal…

So busy. The fever is spreading through Shamian’s slums and I can’t stop it. I’ve looked at the slides, I’ve been out to the houses, I’ve done everything I can think of but I’m stumped, and whilst I sit here scratching my stupid head people – good people – are dying. I don’t know what to

Beck’s train of thought was violently derailed as the surgery door burst open, kicked almost of its hinges by a tong thug, “What is the meaning of this?” Beck shouted rising to his feet.

“You doctor, you fix!” the tong ordered with a wild look in his eyes. Behind him a second thug sporting a broken arm dragged a third whose flattened nose poured blood.

Beck hated the tong almost more than the Mechs, they were predators feeding off the misery of their own, condemning decent people to a life of fear and servitude. He didn’t care a jot about his oath, these animals didn’t deserve any help and he’d be dammed if he’d be bullied into giving them any. He stepped up to the thug, looked him straight in the eye and said “I will do no such thing, now get ou…”

The punch to his stomach smashed the breath right out of his body and he doubled over and fell to the ground, his mind spinning with nausea. “You fix bastard! You fix or kill you!”

“No,” Beck wheezed. The kick lifted him off the floor.

“Fix!”

“Nnnn” he managed to say, the pain was blinding. Another kick.

“You fix or we burn!”

“No. No fix, get out!” Beck hissed through gritted teeth.

The tong animal was wild with fury. He kicked over the desk, threw supplies across the room, tore a cabinet off the wall until the one with the broken nose spoke, his voice thick and pained. He spoke in mandarin and whatever he said had an immediate effect on the wild one who calmed down and turned back to the figure curled on the floor, “You fix or we burn family, understand? We burn Chinese.”

Beck looked up at the tong and knew from his eyes that he meant it, “You bastard,” he croaked, he had no choice and he hated it.

“You fix!”

Beck struggled to his feet, “Yes, I fix, I damn well fix,” he said, “and then you get the hell out of my surgery.”

Broken nose made a strange choking sound and it took a while for Beck to realise he was laughing, “You find something funny?” he asked, furious.

“This our town” the bleeding tong said spitting a wad of blood on the floor, “Mean this place ours too. Now fix or Chang start many fire, you understand Doctor Beck.”

It was not a question. Beck nodded sharply once and reached for his leather bag…

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To be continued…
All the “Mutations” posts can be read here.

Links to other blogs and stories:
1) The mysterious callers hail from Darien’s blog here.

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