Tuesday, April 12, 2005


The sheriff fiddled with the papers in front of him. “So, you're his brother?”

“That's correct.”

“I ask because, well, you seem so much younger. If you don't mind my saying so.”

“I'm older than I look.”

“Well-preserved, eh? Congratulations, sir. Now, your brother--” A fleeting look of disgust crossed the sheriff's face. “There's a man who hasn't lived right. Evidently.”

“The bail papers are in order?”

“Oh yes, perfectly.” The sheriff stood, keyring dangling from his hand. “Excuse me, sir. We'll bring him right out. You understand, you can't go back there.”


The sheriff disappeared into the dark hallway at the back of his office. The man in front of the desk waited quietly, not fidgeting. He looked fortyish, grey showing at the temples, face unlined and calm.

He heard voices, the clang of a metal door. Two pairs of footsteps. The sheriff reappeared, followed by a stooped, grey-haired figure.

“Gareth,” said the man in front of the desk. “Been a long time.”

The man addressed as Gareth blinked, and stared. “Clay? Clay!”

“He's all yours, sir,” said the sheriff, not so much with distaste as with the suggestion that he was too professional to show distaste.


“That was stupid, Gareth. Transgression is one thing, but breaking civil law is another entirely.”

“I know, I know.” Gareth sighed fretfully, running his hands through his hair. “Do you know how hard it is these days, to find something that breaks boundaries enough to create any real power, without actually being illegal? I mean, shock-jock radio kept me going for a while, but... well, look at me. I'm aging, I can't hold it off. You look exactly the same as the last time I saw you.”

“You should move. I told you that years ago. Someplace where people are... more easily shocked. Where social values are more conservative than civil law.”

“That's why I came here.” Gareth waved at the fields they were driving past. “Small towns, rural communities... I thought it would be better.”

“Not good enough. They have radio and television out here too, you know. You need to leave the country.”

“Yes... I suppose you're right,” sighed Gareth. “It's just, after all this time...”

“It's stupid to stay,” said Clay. “You can't afford to be stupid, Gareth. You put all of us at risk. Suppose no one had been able to come bail you out? What do you think they'd have thought, when you ran out of power and started to age before their eyes? What would they have made of a six-hundred-year old corpse?”

Gareth shuddered. “There's no need to rub it in. Besides, you're taking it too seriously. They haven't the imagination to make anything of it-- other than maybe a sidebar in the National Enquirer.”

Clay sneered faintly. “A sidebar in the National Enquirer. You-- one of the oldest, most powerful beings on this planet--”

“That's enough--”

“Anyway you're wrong. This is the Information Age. The county medical examiner would have shipped you off to the state university. Some publication-hungry tenure-tracking physiologist would have written you up, sent tissue samples all over the country, gotten the medical-research institutions in on the act-- exactly what we've all been so careful to avoid all these years. And you risked that-- for what? To scandalize a handful of people? Did you get any real juice out of it?”

“You can see the answer to that,” muttered Gareth.

“Yes. You look terrible.”

“Thanks so much.”

Clay pulled over to the side of the road. Sunflowers towered golden overhead; corn rustled in the field opposite. “Get out for a second.”

Gareth opened his door and stepped out. The verge was gravel, giving way to bare ground under the flowers. Dry leaves crackled under his feet. Clay came around the car and gestured toward the field. “We're going to do a transfer of power and I want to be out of sight of the road.”

“A-- oh, Clay, that's not necessary. I mean, I'm grateful, but---”

“Don't thank me. It's necessary. You can't go on like this, Gareth.”

The two men walked into the sunflowers together. The road was invisible behind them within a few steps. Gareth pushed between stems, shielding his face. “Is this far enough?” He turned, and Clay fired his gun, twice.

Gareth's eyes bulged in shock. He sank to his knees. “Clay...”

“Sorry, Gareth. You put all of us at risk. We can't allow that.”

“Not... the reason...”

“No? Well, you're right.” Clay walked closer, muzzle aimed at Gareth's head. “Murder is still a transgression. Fratricide is even better. This will keep me going for a long time, Gareth.”


Clay fired a third time. Gareth crumpled to the ground and pitched over on his side, eyes open and staring on either side of the bullet hole.

Clay knelt over his brother's body, drawing a deep breath. “Ahhh...”

After a moment he stood. “You didn't have much left, did you, Gareth? Shame. Still, I'm good for a while.” He turned back towards the car, absently running a hand through his coal-black hair.

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