It's almost midnight, and Jacob Seraphim is going cross-eyed surfing through the CrimeNet database. There are a lot of small bounties and a lot of small time criminals. It's been a while since anything major came up. It doesn't look like that's going to change, but Jacob keeps searching. The insurance company is threatening to drop their coverage, and the hospital is demanding to be paid. Kaine's last operation was the most expensive one yet, not to mention the lengthiest and most frightening. Jacob thought the hospital ought to eat the cost. They were the ones who decided to try the cybernetic piece of shit they put in Kaine's chest. It was a lucky thing that Kaine was still in the recovery room from having the thing implanted when he had another vision and that Jynx had warned them just minutes before the cybernetic heart exploded in Kaine's chest. Only there hadn't been enough time to prevent it. Jacob and Gloria spent countless hours pacing the waiting room floor that night. Jynx had to be sedated after trying to enter the operating room. Now the hospital had the gall to demand money for almost killing Kaine.
"Fucking bastards," Jacob mutters. He leans back and rubs his bleary eyes.
Gloria comes up behind and drapes her arms around his shoulders. "Go to bed," she says.
"Not 'til I find something," Jacob says.
"They'll upload new ones in the morning. Come on."
"Are they okay?"
"I think so. They're both asleep. I had a hell of a time getting Kaine to take his medicine. They're starting to do that whole teenage defiant thing."
"Already? They're only twelve."
"It feels like they were just born yesterday."
"You know, I wonder sometimes if we're doing the right thing. Maybe he wasn't meant to live. And he can't go on like this. The visions won't go away. The doctors are never going to make him a heart that won't stop. He'll spend his whole life in operating rooms with his chest cracked open. That's no way for a kid to live. And Jynx ..."
"Can you imagine life without him, though?"
"No. I love him. But it just seems cruel sometimes."
"And what do you think Jynx would be like if he didn't have his other half?"
"Let's go to bed, Jake."
"You awake?" Jynx asks.
Kaine doesn't answer at first. He's busy fighting off the nausea from all the medications he has to take. "Yeah," he says after a while.
"Are you okay?"
"I think I remember feeling better than this at some point."
"I wish they'd stop doing this to you."
"Yeah, me too."
"And I wish they'd put your real heart back in. We're not exactly the same if they keep putting fake hearts in you. I don't like that."
"Me either. I tried to tell the doctor my real heart was better for me, but I don't think he listened."
"Tell Mom and Dad."
"They won't do another surgery for a while anyway. It'll probably kill me."
"What about the machine?"
"I don't know. It makes extra brains or something. So like, if someone real important dies, they can make another one, and it's like they never died."
"So if we made a copy of you, it'd still have visions and heart attacks."
"I dunno. I guess. But you can make more copies."
"Wouldn't they be like ... less real? I mean, you make a bunch of copies of something and the copies just aren't as good after a while. They get all smeary and faded."
"We'd never really have to die. We could just keep copying each other over and over until the thing comes out of the dark corner and eats the universe."
"Don't say that. It makes me feel weird when you talk about that."
"But I've seen it. It comes crawling out of the dark corner with all these green tentacles with suckers on the undersides, and it's got this big mouth with a little beak, and it's all full of sharp, slimy teeth. Then it crawls through the universe chomping on planets and stars and black holes, and it grows the more it eats, and then next thing you know, there's no universe. Just the thing."
"Kaine, stop it. That's creepy."
Kaine laughs. "What are you worried about? It doesn't happen in our lifetime. It won't happen for billions of years."
"We'll be here if we keep copying each other."
"I think I'll be tired of living at that point. That's a lot of years."
"But the copies won't think that. They won't know they've been here for billions of years."
"But the universe will need to be eaten after that long. Things don't grow or change if the dead parts are still attached."
"So it's gonna be dead."
"Mostly dead. Not all dead, just mostly dead. Which means slightly alive."
"And the new universe will be where?"
"In the ?"
"No, don't say that. It's creepy. I get like cold chills when you say shit like that."
Kaine says nothing and puts his hand over the bandages on his chest. He feels the ridges of the staples used to close him up and of the scars from all the other operations. The synthetic heart pumps steadily. He had wanted the cybernetic heart to work, just so he could say he had a cyber-part. It would've been cool to have that in common with the last Shaman, too. He really just wants his own heart back in his chest. It's in a freezer in the hospital, waiting for the doctors to figure out what's wrong with it. Nothing's wrong with it. It's a perfectly healthy, though slightly damaged, organ.
Jynx rolls over on his side. He watches Kaine for a minute. He doesn't think a copy would be the same. They wouldn't share their memories, for one. He thinks a copy might be less stable, too. A copy probably wouldn't be able to talk about the thing that comes out the dark corner of the universe and give him cold chills. "So where is the thing again?" he asks.
"That's on Salvation. How are we gonna get there?"
"We'll go with Dad tomorrow when he leaves to go after the bounty."
"I don't think Mom'll like that."
"So we'll sneak onto the ship."
"Dad would catch us."
"We'll think of something."
Jynx flops over onto his back again and stares at the ceiling. Softly glowing stars and planets orbit on the surface of the ceiling, projected there from an old lamp that had belonged to their great grandfather. It's an odd machine, and no one really knows where it came from. Firefly told him it was made in Texas, but he's never heard of Texas. He curls himself into a ball and shuts his eyes. "You awake?" he asks.
"No," Kaine says. "Are you?"
"Why did God do this to us?"
Kaine doesn't answer.
"It's mean. She's gotta know how mean it is."
In the dark, Jynx doesn't see Kaine's eyes turn pale blue. "Trust me," Kaine says.
Jacob logs into the CrimeNet database as soon as he wakes up. The system comes up sluggishly as the new files are loaded. He makes a pot of coffee and waits. Gloria gets the twins up for breakfast. Jacob listens to them complaining. Eventually, Jynx slinks into the kitchen with his hair sticking out at every possible angle.
"Hi, Dad," Jynx mumbles. He slumps down in a chair at the table then puts his head down on his arms.
"Hi, Jynxie. You sleep okay last night?" Jacob asks.
"Kaine gave me bad dreams again. He was talking about the creature that eats the universe."
Kaine shuffles into the kitchen behind Gloria and sits down next to Jynx. His empty stomach threatens to eject all the pills he just swallowed. "You started it," he says.
"Did not," Jynx says.
Gloria puts her hands on her hips. "Boys," she says.
"But Mom, he did start it," Kaine says.
"As far as I'm concerned you both started it, so if you don't stop, you'll both be in trouble."
The CrimeNet homepage finishes loading, and Jacob logs in. He notices that Kaine's hair is sticking out in exactly the same way Jynx's is. Their similarities never fail to amaze him. He would have never thought two people, even identical twins, could be so alike. Their differences amaze him even more. It's not like their twins sometimes. It's more like they're mirror images. Jynx is right-handed. Kaine is left-handed. It's as if they've chosen to mirror each other that way, though. Where one of them is weak, the other is strong. They don't want to be apart from each other. They even dress the same on purpose. Jacob thinks they enjoy confusing people that way. When he passes them Talon's guns and Ryan's knives, he has no doubt that they'll be the best bounty hunters the universe has ever seen.
"Have you found anything yet, Dad?" Jynx asks.
"Not yet," Jacob says.
"What about on Salvation?"
"Haven't checked. I need to stay here, though."
"But Dad, he's worth a hundred billion stars, and that's twice what the hospital wants," Kaine says. "That'll pay for the next one, too."
Gloria drops an egg on the floor. "Fuck," she says. She'll never get used to hearing her sons just say things like that. She almost wishes they wouldn't say anything at all, but she's tried to teach them to be honest. In some cases, silence is as bad as lying.
Jacob and his sons giggle at her swearing. "You shouldn't talk like that around the boys, hon," Jacob says.
"Oh, like they've never heard that before," Gloria says.
"That's what you always tell me."
"I've got a raw egg in my hand. Would you like me to smear it on your face?"
"No. 'Cause then I'll have to go take a shower, and you three will eat everything before I'm done."
"Then listen to your stomach, dear."
Jacob turns his attention back to the computer. "So. Who is this that's worth so much?"
Kaine shrugs. "I don't know his name. I just know what he looks like. He's supposed to be hiding in this tech lab in Sarasota. He's kinda old, bald and wrinkly. Like a really old rat."
"That sounds like Dr. Von Herron," Gloria says.
Jacob nods and starts surfing through the wanted posters for Sarasota. Dr. Uwe Von Herron has had a long history of trouble with the authorities on account of his radical experimentation with human genetics. While not necessarily illegal, the experiments cause a lot of ruffled feathers when they're made public. Von Herron has on occasion obtained subjects and equipment illegally, but Jacob can't imagine what Von Herron could do to warrant a bounty of one hundred billion stars. He finds the poster for Von Herron and reads the write up to himself. "Wanted for grand larceny, kidnapping, assault with a deadly weapon, murder and gross misconduct against human nature," the poster says. There are links to a few news articles that detail Von Herron's latest experiments. Von Herron was apparently stealing frozen eggs and sperm from fertility clinics and exotic animals from zoos. He was trying to figure out ways to create super humans with the strength, agility and heightened senses of certain animals. Apparently, he succeeded, and then the creature he'd created went on a rampage. He turns the screen around to show Von Herron's face to Kaine. "Is that him?"
"Yeah," Kaine says.
"But you need to be watch out for his son."
"The creature that got out. He calls it his son, it's not really. It's dangerous because it's scared."
"I'll keep that in mind. I'll need to leave today, though."
The twins look at each other and take identical deep breaths. "We wanna go with you," Jynx says.
"Absolutely not," Gloria says.
"But Mom --"
"I said no, Jynx."
"But Mom, we hafta go," Kaine says.
"It's too dangerous," Jacob says.
"We'll be careful."
"Why do you have to go?" Gloria asks. She doesn't really want to hear the answer. She knows Kaine saw something that makes the twins think they need to go. They've gone with Jacob before, chasing criminals who were fully capable of killing children. Von Herron is a different kind of criminal. He's not likely to run if he knows he's been caught, but the thought of some radically altered creature chasing down her sons makes her uneasy.
The boys look at each other as if deciding what to say. "There's a machine in the lab," Jynx says.
"It makes copies of people by scanning their brains," Kaine says.
"We wanna use it to see if it can make a heart that won't stop."
Gloria flips pancakes and says nothing.
Jacob scratches his cheeks. He can't help thinking that maybe Von Herron can help Kaine. As soon as he thinks that, he feels Gloria's eyes burning through the back of his skull. He looks over his shoulder. She's scrambling eggs. "Let me and Mom talk about this after breakfast," he says. "Okay?"
"Okay," they say. They aren't disappointed, but they aren't hopeful either. It's out of their hands.
After breakfast, Gloria tells her sons to go play outside. They get dressed and go out to the backyard. Kaine isn't supposed to be doing anything more physically demanding than reading, but he's gotten to the point where listening to the doctors seems like a waste of time. So he and Jynx play basketball, and Gloria is amazed at how unaffected Kaine seems to be by the recent operations.
"I'm starting to think all those doctors are nuts," Jacob says as they shower.
"Why? Because what they're doing is only making things worse?" Gloria asks.
"Well, that and they don't seem to realize that they're making things worse."
"I think it's time they fix his own heart and put it back in."
"I think so, too. There's no reason not to. It's probably built for this."
Gloria frowns. "But he still won't ..."
"Who knows? Maybe ... maybe God has a way to change that."
"Then what the hell is She waiting for?"
"I don't know."
"I don't care what he is or what kind of powers he's got. I just want him to live. It isn't fair that he has to go through all this."
"Yeah, but look at the way he handles it." Jacobs puts his hands on Gloria's shoulders. "Remember, Shaman is an oracle, too. There's no telling what She's said to him. Maybe he knows something we don't. We have to trust him and trust God."
"What about this human copy machine?"
Jacob shampoos his hair as he thinks about it. "It won't work."
"Should we tell them that, or let them try?"
"If we tell them that, they'll think we're just trying to keep them from going."
"But if they try, and it fails ..."
"I think there's another reason for them to go."
"I can't believe you'd even consider letting Von Herron do anything to him."
"I'm not. I just ... I mean, maybe ... I don't know. I think they should go."
"But Kaine got out of the hospital two days ago, Jake. It hasn't even been a week since they did the last operation. The doctor said he wouldn't be able to do anything for at least a month."
"Looked like he was winning the basketball game. And you know Jynx isn't letting him win. I think he's fine. They aren't the same as everyone else. There's no reason to think his recovery time is going to be what the doctors say."
"All right. But I'm going too."
The city of Sarasota on Salvation is home to many of the leading companies in the tech industry. MacGates Computers has a factory and corporate offices there. Crylon Inc., which makes equipment for cryogenics labs, is also there. Xavier Psionics, an up and coming company on the cutting edge of human brain research, has a small lab there. There are countless others, ranging from equipment manufactures to pharmaceutical companies to software developers.
There are just as many failed ventures as there are successful ones, and there are many abandoned laboratories and warehouses. Dr. Uwe Von Herron is believed to be using the lab of a defunct company called Esterhazy Interdimensional Research and Development. Whatever they were doing, it proved too expensive, and the company folded, leaving behind a lab full of unusual equipment that they couldn't sell off. It's all proved very useful to Von Herron.
The front door of the building is ajar when the Seraphim family reaches it. It's almost as if Von Herron expected company. There are no lights inside and no windows. The air is chilly, and a strange smell wafts on the currents from the air ducts. The halls are like a maze, but Jynx and Kaine take the lead and seem to know where they're going. Jacob and Gloria follow.
Something in the shadows growls at them. The twins stop. A pair of red eyes glares at them.
"It's Dr. Von Herron's son," Jynx says.
"His name is Joseph," Kaine says.
Claws click on the linoleum as Joseph steps towards them. In the weak light of Jacob's flashlight, they see that Joseph is a combination of human and some kind of lizard. His skin is scaled and pale green with black diamond shaped patterns on the sides of his head and on his massive shoulders. He has long claws on his hands and feet, and his head is horribly misshapen, as if his genes couldn't decide between the animal and the human. In his slightly elongated mouth are double rows of small sharp teeth. A red forked tongue pokes out of his mouth as he approaches the visitors. The twins don't move, so Jacob and Gloria don't move either.
Joseph crouches in front of Kaine and looks up. His tongue flickers towards Kaine's chest, still full of sutures, staples and bandages. He raises one clawed finger, and it hovers over the spot. He makes a questioning sound in the back of his throat.
"No," Kaine says. "It's not a real heart. My real heart is sick."
Joseph taps the claws of his other hand against his chest.
"You, too, huh?"
"Can we see your dad?"
Joseph nods again, gently wraps one hand around Kaine's wrist and the other around Jynx's wrist and leads them through the maze of hallways to a lab where Von Herron waits for them.
Von Herron is sitting on a stool and carefully inserting a number of thin needles into a fat silver tube. He looks up when they enter the room. "Welcome, my friends," he says as he stands up. "I am surprised you weren't here sooner."
Joseph lets go of the twins and slinks over to Von Herron. "Thank you, Joseph," Von Herron says. He rubs Joseph's head affectionately.
"We aren't really here for a friendly visit, doctor," Jacob says.
"Oh, I know very well why you've come, Mr. Seraphim. I've been expecting you." He taps his temple. "I've been expecting you for quite some time."
"You have visions, too?" Kaine asks.
"Yes, but they're nothing like yours. Yours are an amazing gift. Mine, the result of genetic mutations after centuries of my ancestors experimenting on themselves."
"You don't have heart attacks, then."
Von Herron smiles.
"What about the copy machine?" Jynx asks. "Where's it at? Can we use it? Do you think it'd work?"
"Oh, no," Von Herron says. "The cortical scan device hasn't been operational in years. There were many problems with it. You see, the copies, while stable in some areas, like brain function, cognitive abilities, that kind of thing, were very unstable in other areas. The bodies and other organs didn't last, and each copy further away from the original was progressively less stable. Therefore, I couldn't allow you to make a copy of your brother, even if it did work."
"But I am aware of your situation, and I feel that it is my true purpose to help you in any way I can. I believe that God has plans for certain paths to cross at certain points. And I believe that this is one of them. I've had to work very hard to develop a serum to keep Joseph's heart stable. The combination of human and animal DNA caused his heart to be considerably weaker. The animal heart was not built for such vast amounts of warm blood. I rebuilt it the best I could, but it was still unstable. So I created a medicine that would help. Not long after that, I began to have visions of you coming here to turn me in. So I created a different serum that would work for Kaine. However, it will not work on a synthetic heart."
"They'll put my real heart in next time," Kaine says.
"I'm glad to hear that."
"What will happen to Joseph?" Gloria asks.
"They will let me continue to care for him. They'll have no choice." Von Herron turns back to the table and slides a few more needles into the tube. He hands the tube to Jynx. "Now, all you have to do is take one of these needles out and put it in your brother's chest right where his heart is. The needle itself will dissolve completely and release the serum into his heart. It will make his heart beat again. Only do this when he has a heart attack. Can you do that?"
"What happens when we run out?" Kaine asks.
"I will continue to make this for you," Von Herron says. "Just let me know, and I'll send you more."
"And when you stop?"
Von Herron considers the question. Unless something very strange happens, he's pretty sure he'll outlive Kaine. "Hopefully, I can make enough to last long after I'm gone. And I can show someone else how to make it. Maybe by then you won't need it any more." He doesn't like the look on Kaine's face. It's as if the boy can read his mind. It makes him uncomfortable. Even if Kaine isn't reading his mind, he knows that Kaine understands what wasn't said.
"Are you sure about this?" Jacob asks. "You're giving my son some kind of experimental drug that's never been tested and sure as hell isn't approved. How do you know it'll work? How do I know you aren't trying to kill him?"
"Mr. Seraphim, I know what he is. What would I gain by killing Shaman? Sir, I believe in God, and I believe in her angels. As I said, I believe that this moment is my one true purpose. All that I've done in the past is seen as aberrant and cruel. I am not known for saving lives. Granted, my science has never been about saving people, but I do have that power. This doesn't erase my past, but it gives me hope for the future. Without your sons, many people are without hope. Taking that away is worse than any crime I've committed."
Jynx coughs and small white feathers tumble to the floor before they vanish in a sparkling light. Firefly whispers, "He is to be trusted." He looks at the tube in his hand. He doesn't doubt the doctor's intentions, but he wonders if the stuff will actually work. He looks at Kaine. Kaine shrugs.
"That wanted poster isn't real, is it?" Gloria asks.
"It's real," Von Herron says. "I hacked the CrimeNet system to create it. They'll pay it, and I'll gladly serve time for what I've done. Please, go ahead and call the authorities."
"Thank you, doctor," Jacob says.
Von Herron nods and smiles. Jacob puts in a call to the authorities who arrive at the lab ten minutes later. He's not sure he really understands what just happened. He collects the stars, and they return to Absolution. He decides it's best not to mention to the doctors what Von Herron gave them. They would take the needles away to study them, and when Kaine needed it, the serum wouldn't be there. He does eventually convince the doctors that Kaine's original heart is better than the synthetics. After that, all he and Gloria can do is wait for Kaine's heart to stop again.