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As a kid, Jensen was not immune to the lure of Halloween. What kind of boy didn't enjoy dressing up, playing pretend, and letting their imaginations run wild? The costume shop surrounding him brought back memories of brighter, innocent days. Plastic bags were stuffed to bursting with costumes, pictures of what was within were modeled by people on the front. There was a faint smile on his face when he first entered the costume shop. It wasn't a Halloween themed place, unlike his memories of similar establishments back home. There were no skeletons or ghastly decorations for sale, only costumes.

There were a trio of young girls giggling and making suggestions for one another on the other side of the store, and Jensen suddenly felt childish for being here. Not only were he a grown man browsing costumes - all of which were ridiculous options - but also because it served to remind him exactly why he was here at all.

He sighed and swallowed his embarrassment, but still studied the floor as he passed by the girls on his way to the wall of masks at the back.

He had to crane his neck back to see them all: every shape, color and size were here from the simple black-eyed zorro masks to elaborately molded monstrous heads. Suddenly, the ridiculousness of the situation slapped Jensen across the face, and true to inner monologue, his cheeks flushed hot. He put his hands in his coat pockets, and stood there like a deer in the headlights, frozen with infinite options.

The strips to wrap around his eyes and temples seemed the least flamboyant, but as Jensen studied how he looked in the mirror, he knew his mouth and retinas were too exposed. If he were ever caught on camera, facial recognition software could likely identify him quickly. He spent enough time in the scanner during booking to guess how sensitive the technology was.

He put the mask back and looked for an equivalent with built-in lenses. The next one he grabbed was built with a stretchy-lyrca material that felt as though would breathe well. Lenses covered the eyes, they weren't colored or darkened, so seeing at night wouldn't be a problem. He didn't intend on walking the streets of Moscow, masked, in the light of day.

It fit like a ski-mask and covered his face to the neck. When he turned to gauge how well he could actually see, he found one of the girls, who was apparently trying on a scandalous mermaid costume, seashell bra and all, had come beside him.

He stepped back instinctively, "I'm sorry,"
he said, though he wasn't sure why he was apologizing. She had dark red hair and a pretty smile, but she looked at least ten years younger than him.

"Great mask," she replied, "Are you spiderman or something?"

Behind the mask, Jensen felt himself frown. A quick examination in the mirror explained it, though. The eyes were white lenses shaped like long, wide slits across his face. The mask itself was black, but printed with a sort of webbing he'd attributed to flexibility in the material. It did kind of look like spiderman.

He turned back to her, "Yeah, I guess I am,"
and pulled the thing from his head. His hair frizzed around his face in the unmasking.

He turned it over in his hands, checking the price, and trying to get up the guts to actually go through with the purchase.

Next thing he knew, the girl was handing him a yellow version of the same mask. "This one's great, too." The same webbing design covered the lycra, but the lenses were black rather than white. Yet somehow, they didn't filter the world with darkness as he expected. It was like a two-way mirror, light from within, dark from without.

He took the offer, and for some reason, really liked the suggestion. Yellow was cheerful. "Thanks,"
he replied, and turned to go. Her friends came up about then, and attempted to draw her off to the fitting room with them. She spun about, mermaid tail and all, and disappeared behind a curtain of giggling.

Jensen shook his head and went to the register.

That evening, he was sitting in a diner, new purchase still in the sack on the seat beside him. He picked at his food and kept looking into the world beyond the windows, trying to drum up the courage to wander out into it, and procrastinating by flipping through news stories.

When he saw a report of a shooting in a costume shop, five dead, and a body fallen in the center of it all, mermaid tail splattered with the gunshot wounds, he hung his head in shame. Moments later, he grabbed the mask and stepped out into the night.
After six blocks of walking without a destination, Jensen realized this plan was not well thought out. He was also cold, and although he zipped up his coat a little higher, it did little to help.

He passed plenty of people. Sure it was night, but cities like Moscow never slept. The twenty-four hour restaurant that he likened to a diner was good evidence. Another characteristic of enormous cities was crime. Dallas had its share of neighborhoods that were no better than the one currently surrounding him. Although back in Dallas, Jensen would never have been caught dead in those kinds of places; not publicly caught in those kinds of places, he painfully corrected himself.

It was strange to find himself in the exact opposite scenario. A man going out in search of crime had to question his sanity. There were probably websites that described crime rates by neighborhood in the form of a heat map. Something to research like that might have been a good investment in time.

He edged his way to a set of steps leading into some sort of office building, overhead, the windows were dark. It was long past normal working hours, and the place didn't seem the sort to employ third-shift workers.

He sat within the bubble of his coat and drew his legs up under him. He was instantly warmer just by sheer proximity of body heat upon itself as he fumbled about with the outdated iScreen to do some browsing. His fingertips brushed the folded up mask stored in the same pocket, and a little wave of nausea fluttered his stomach.

Someone yelled in the distance, but it was the sounds of a group having fun rather than cries for help. A few cars rolled past him, likely unaware he was even there.

He didn't know what to put in the search bar. How do you find crimes in Moscow?

Crime rate! That was the phrase he was subconsciously seeking. A pop-up lifted itself into view, an advertisement for a motorcycle branding he recognized from years ago. Didn't realize they still made these, he thought, briefly nostalgic, and subsequently X'd out of the ad. The map returned full view, and overtook thoughts of days long gone. He was about three blocks from a red zone: rape, murder, break-in, gang firefights. It was exactly the kind of place he was looking to find.

The sounds of the city echoed on while he studied the layout of the neighborhood. Yells from the group in the distance were replaced by the whistle of a lumbering train barreling the other direction. It was odd how he felt so isolated, surrounded by millions of people.

He continued to read articles by the light of the screen alone, but the reports of tragedy were always written after the fact. There'd be no way to help anyone then. Hospitals were full of cameras and screens. As a preacher he was in ICU all the time, visiting the sick and wounded. To stand surrounded by monitors, electrodes, leads and lights, he remember feeling helpless, gripping the rails in heartbreak, as though needing to do something more than sympathize.

He needed to find these people before they went to the hospital, before EMT's were in route, maybe before they were ever in need of a doctor in the first place. In the movies there was always someone listening to police communications. If he figured out how to tap into something like that, there was always the lingering problem of getting in and out of the location before the police arrived. Spiderman could swing between buildings, but Jensen only had his two legs, and while he ran track in high school, he doubted he could out-pace a cop car.

A distant rumble of engines lifted his eyes from the screen. The noise groaned as engines, more than one, roared closer and closer. He blacked out the screen as the yellow lamps of headlights came around the corner. The noise was deafening, but first one, then another, and finally twelve or more motorcycles sped past like black bullets. He put his hands over his ears, but found himself watching the red lights until they were out of sight.

That gave him an idea. He almost smiled to himself as he dropped the screen in a pocket and aimed for the metro. He needed someone who knew what they were doing, and he had just the person in mind.
The nearest metro station was several blocks away, and included some backtracking toward the diner. With every passing block, the city roused from the slumber of before. The faces of buildings were covered in uplighting. More people stalked the sidewalks or criss-crossed the street between cars.

He nodded at a pair of guys leaning against a doorway. The orange glow of lit cigarettes pulsed every so often when drawn to their mouths. The first said something in his native tongue, and the second chuckled as he flicked ash at Jensen's feet. Jensen put his head down and walked on.

At an intersection, he looked around at the various storefronts while waiting for the light to turn. An electronic's shop caught his eye. The window display looped holographic images, advertisements, both for brandings and for the technology itself. He subconsciously pat the pocket holding the iScreen and folded up mask, and turned to let himself in rather than continue to the metro stairwell.

Bright lights and electrified music blasted his senses. The walls and ceiling of the shop were covered in screens, some projected, others glass mounted. The counter was topped with a complete surface touch pad. A man was leaning against it, twiddling what looked like chop sticks, but was instead engaged in some sort of game with players unseen. After Jensen's eyes adjusted, he wandered over, hoping the man would pause without him having to interrupt.

"What do you want?" He asked without looking up from the game.

Jensen smoothed the frown from his expression and placed the iScreen on the touch pad counter top. It immediately recognized the hardware, and synchronized with the store's purchasing catalogue.

"I want something that scans police activity,"
he said.

The worker took one good look at Jensen and laughed. "What do you want that for, boy?"

Jensen's brow furrowed. The man was trying to be intimidating. "Do you sell anything like that or not?"

"Yeah, we do. One second."

The worker put down the chop sticks and sorted through a range of options for Jensen to try out. He demonstrated the different applications. "There's this one, works like a radio. This one has a search feature to pick up specific keywords that is communicated between the two links. This one has an integrated map feature."

Jensen stopped him.

"That one. A map feature and keyword search, I want that one."
The salesman shrugged and started pulling the appropriate sales figures together. The app cost almost as much as the entire iScreen was worth, but to run it he had to upgrade the device to a newer operating system, but when he walked out of the garish shop, he was quite a few dollars lighter.

He spent a few minutes configuring the app after the purchase. It needed to triangulate his location as well as filter by keyword: "Injuries sustained".

Earbud in hand, he turned back to the salesman before leaving. "Know anywhere to buy a cheap bike?"

The man looked him up and down again. "What are you looking to get?"

Jensen thought for a second. "Light. Agile, but quiet. Good in the city."
As Jensen continued, a grin slowly drew across the man's face.

"I might know someone for you," he said with a grin that said he thought he was in for a night of profiting off one slow-talking, soft-spoken Texan.

Little did he know, no red-blooded Texan was worth his salt if he couldn't haggle his way into a good deal.
Yefim Pokrovskii pulled up the ramp that led to the back side of a waste water treatment facility. In the distance, the surface of Moscow River was a black road tonight beneath a crescent moon. His bike rumbled over the slats of wooden bridges constructed half a century ago, and after passing the final vodokanal, he signaled to the boys inside the treatment center to open the warehouse doors.

He walked the bike into park, kicked down the stand, and dismounted. "Privet, boys," he said with a laugh.

Two of the four men waiting around were flipping cards. The third looked up from a Wallet screen. The last, Boris, the oldest of the five men, with jagged gray hair and square, mechanically shaped jaw, was finishing off the last of the vodka. In the background were rows of huge tanks dug into the earth churning pools of dark water.

Yefim scratched his scalp when he pulled a black helmet from his head. Boris was the night foreman. The two jokers with cards were his underlings, and the final man was Yefim's brother, Avdei, who left his Wallet behind and came to greet him.

"When's he coming?" Avdei asked.

Movement caught Yefim's eye from the camera on his brother's Wallet screen. A taxi had pulled up to the front of the facility, and a scrawny American labored out the back seat. He looked around, and although his face was half-covered by curls, Yefim knew it was him.

He pointed at the screen

"Its payday, boys," he said.

Avdei smirked and signaled to the card players. "Bute, Simos. Bring him round here. Our man wants to buy a motorcycle." They tossed back the last of their vodka, shoved out of their seats and stalked out of sight.

Yefim and Avdei joined Boris, who finally glanced up and grumbled. "If there's blood, I don't want it on my floor."

Yefim shrugged. "Fair enough, Boris."
Jensen studied the sign above a pair of very dark doors. One of the letters was dark, but the name of the facility was obvious enough. He looked to his left and right, and a shudder crawled over his skin. This couldn't be the right place.

Maybe the driver brought him to the wrong plant? He turned to ask, but the car sped away. Jensen jumped into the cloud of diesel fume, but waving his arms did him no good. The man was gone.

Jensen blew out a sigh from his cheeks. The place was dead; not a sound chirped in the distance. He was reaching for his Wallet when the doors flung open in front of two heavily built men.

He took a step back without realizing it, eyes wide. He didn't know whether to be afraid or relieved.

"You are Jensen?"
The one on the left asked. He had a thick, smokey accent that rumbled from deep in his chest. The other was tight lipped and said little.

Jensen nodded, "Yes, I am. I guess I'm in the right place after all."
He slipped the Wallet back in his pocket. The way the second man watched him do it made Jensen tell himself to not turn his back on him. "And you are?"

The first pulled open the door. He gestured that Jensen enter while introducing himself. "I am Khigir."
He flipped his eyes toward his companion. "This is Asmik."

Jensen passed through Asmik's shadow as he followed Khigir inside. He looked up on the way and offered an uneasy smile. "Jensen, pleased to meet you."
Asmik didn't shake his hand.

"Um, where's Yefim?"
Jensen asked as they crossed through what he gathered to be a small lobby.

"Around back. I show you if you follow."

This was likely a very bad idea, but the Plant offices seemed legitimate enough. Though they were cold and dark, there was evidence of ongoing work in the daytime. If Yefim had nefarious intentions, they would have met somewhere more isolated.

Khigir pushed open a steel door that led into a cavernous aluminum building. Large tanks of water were churning as far as the eye can see. Jensen rubbed the back of his neck. This room was definitely isolated.

Asmik bellowed a string of words in Russian, but among them Jensen recognized his own name. A second later, Yefim appeared, arms spread as wide as his grin.

"Jensen! My friend!"
He strolled forward and clapped Jensen in a burly hug. The smell of vodka hung on his breath.

Despite that, the man's mood was contagious, and Jensen felt his anxiety fade with the deep exhalation of relief.

Yefim steered him toward the cold night air looming around bay doors thrown open at the end of the warehouse. Once there he found an older gentleman in a zipped up jumpsuit slumped over a table. Across rested a pristine black bike helmet. An empty vodka bottle was beside him. He was thumbing a shotglass in one hand and spinning the point of a knife with the other. The name on his chest patch read Boris. The set of his jaw tightened when he looked up. Jensen glanced at Yefim, but there was no acknowledging the older man's presence. Jensen decided not to bother him.

"She is more beautiful than I said, am I right!?"
Yefim led on, laughing, and showed him toward what was actually a rather dirty bike parked just inside the warehouse doors. He hadn't washed it for a potential buyer. Then again, Jensen could see through the grime, and this had been very short notice. He forgot about the old man and strode forward.

Pieces of black chrome shone through the grimness of the exhaust. Black, blue and green paint streaked down the side of a rocket built with aerodynamics in mind. The seat was low and curving and favored a bent position for the ride. The controls hummed with power-saving mode. The speedometer and other dash controls were lit with a pale orange that glowed like a distant sunset. Just looking at it and he could feel the rush of air against his face, and see the slant of the horizon tilt with every banking curve.

Yefim leaned toward him, "You like."

Jensen smiled, "It's fantastic."
He pulled a folded over clip of money from an inner coat pocket. Even with large bills, it was a hefty lump.

But Yefim didn't pull the cash from his hand. Instead, arms crossed, he looked away to where Khigir and Asmik waited.
"We agreed on bank transfer, not cash."

Jensen shook his head, "You can count it. It's the same amount."
He offered the cash once more. Why would he want a bank transfer?

The sound of a metal chair screeched across cement floor. Without looking at any of them, Boris stood and left. The shotglass was downturned, the bottle empty, but the helmet and knife remained.

Yefim raised a hand, and Khigir stepped forward. Asmik cracked his knuckles as a sinister grin slid across his lips. Jensen felt the blood fall from his face. There was no sound but that of the ever-churning water sloshing in its tanks.

He slowly returned the cash to his pocket. "It seems I've made a mistake."
With the regret flooding hot in his throat, so also did the sad joy of the Gift grip his heart. His voice was a whisper, "Please don't make me turn it against you."
The Gift spun on the edges of his sight, a sphere of pressure and force that coiled tighter and tighter. His palms curled up until his nails dug painful into his skin.

They didn't care for his plea. Khigir slapped his hand across the knife and rushed him. Asmik curled his fists into clubs and swung low.

Jensen squeezed his eyes shut and cried out. From arms thrown wide he unleashed what he had built. It crushed him to one knee. Blood-curdling screams filled his mind, and he threw his hands over his ears.

It was over and his heart was pounding. He warily opened his eyes. The scene around him lifted his brows in awe. He slowly rose to stand.

Khigir and Asmik were thrown at least twenty feet away, sprawled on their backs. They groaned and rolled weakly around. The table was upturned. The vodka bottle was no where in sight. The helmet rolled up against Yefim's leg where he lay crumpled.

Standing over the man that tricked him into this set up, Jensen rubbed his own hair from his forehead. Light and blessings slid through his fingers, beckoning like a whisper on the wind to be put to use. He knelt and the moment he touched Yefim's unconscious face, he felt every organ inside as through they were his own. The heart was steady. The mind stunned.

Jensen wrapped the man's injuries with the Gift, and for the moment, his spirit mingled with the wider spread of the universe beyond. It was astounding, and he knew Yefim would recover.

At peace, Jensen released the connection with a slim smile. He sat back on his heels and grabbed the cash from his pocket. He dropped it on Yefim's chest.

"I'll take care of her."
With the promise, he grabbed the helmet. Yefim was already stirring by the time Jensen strode to the bike.

Boris peeked back in as Jensen sped out. The old man cast a long, flat gaze around the space, shrugged and disappeared.
Edited by Jensen James, May 4 2014, 09:42 PM.

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