The Second Cataclysm

23 walked down the corridor, not looking up as he eagerly perused the new release of Retrieved Electronics from Markadel. People avoided him, some with exclamations, some with tolerant smiles. His feet knew the route better than his head and would take him home safely, so he didnít pay any attention. As he got into the Fifth Level district, fewer people were around to encounter him. The area 23 had chosen to live was pretty well deserted, most of it still in ruins from the devastation of the O-Storms 15 years ago. The people had crowded into the lower sections of Island City, and were slow to return to the surface. But 23 had helped design the Energy Shields (even if he was only a student assistant at the time) and had complete faith in their ability to withstand the meteor-fuelled storms that tore across the planet. And he just had to get away from his brothers!

"TwoThree!" A yelp of pain was overshadowed by a growl that echoed down the corridor.

23 looked up in surprise, dropping the datasheets. "Twenty-Two?" he called, taking rapid steps closer. A slight figure appeared from the shadows and ran into him, bowling them both over. 23 helped steady his brother, who was clinging to him and crying in short, hiccuping breaths. "It's okay, itsokay." 23 quieted him with a soft, reassuring voice, while looking around to see what had scared his brother. I hope that lion didn't escape from the zoo again. Pardon me: The Species Preservation Habitat.

22 had stopped making noise and was crying silently. A shape moved in the shadows down the street, and 23 squinted. It came closer, and 23's mouth dropped open. "Cheryl?" he asked when he had his breath back. His friend from the Hawkins University moved closer, hesitantly.

"Craig..." Cheryl's normal vibrant contrello was roughened with pain. She tried to clear it, and spoke again, "Craig. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to--"

Cheryl was cut off as 22 looked up and saw her. Immediately, he started keening in a high pitch, releasing his hold on 23 and curling up in a fetal position. Cheryl's face twisted in a grimace of pain, her hands raising to cover her ears. "No..." she whispered, then shouted, "No!!!"

23 scrambled up, his attention torn between his brother and his friend. He moved protectively in front of 22, while desperately trying to understand what was happening. Cheryl had been growing strange in the last few months. 23 was no stranger to personality disorders, growing up with his family as he did, but Cheryl's symptoms didn't match anything he could think of. And there had been her sudden impulse to start working out in the gyms... I liked you as you were -- plump, but with a sense of self that was so you... Cheryl, what happened? "Cheryl?" 23 spread his hands in a hopefully reassuring gesture, but spoiled it by slapping one hand down as 22's keen grew louder, "Shh! Twenty-two..."

With 23's attention focused back to his brother, he missed seeing Cheryl's approach, and didn't see her until she was next to him, her eyes streaming tears, her face rigid with pain. Her blow knocked him tumbling down. His head hit the edge of a building and his vision was eclipsed with blinding light. He heard a cry of pain from 22, then nothing.

"Easy... Take it easy, man. You have a nasty head wound here."

23 groaned, opening his eyes, "Twenty-two..." He struggled to sit up, "Cheryl!" His sight focused on the sight of a tarp covering a man-sized lump near him. A limp hand protruded from under the tarp. 23 shoved his own in his mouth in horror. Oh my brother... An animal-sounding roar made both 23 and the man helping him flinch back out of reflex.

"Shit! She's awake! Valdoon -- grab that stunner!"

Confusion reigned for a few moments, and 23 heard electrical buzzing sounds, and saw blue light flare far down the street.

"Okay. Now get the cuffs on her!"

23 turned to the man next to him, "What happened?"

The lean dark-caucasian rocked back on his heels, "Well, actually we were hoping you could tell us that."

[Miscellaneous talk and explanations as they relocate 23 and the stunned Cheryl to a medical lab and other people arrive to discuss the situation.]

A memory filtered through 23's bruised mind, and he watched the tall Corporal with his eyes narrowing. "I know you."

"Humm?" The Corporal looked up, his pale blue eyes reflecting curiosity, but nothing more.

"Valdoon." 23 tried out the name on his tongue, the syllables wrapping themselves around with bitterness.

"Oh." The pale eyes reflected weariness and lost interest, "Yes, my dad invented the Youth Drug. Can we get back to business?"

"Thomas Allen Valdoon." 23 stood up, his muscles trembling in rage. "You bastard!"

"Huh?"

23 launched himself at the man in pure, blinding rage. He never really knew what happened next, but it had to have been his messed up coordination reflexes again, because 23 knew he never even got close to the Corporal.

When the world faded in again, he heard voices.

"Nope, I swear I don't know him."

Somebody noticed he was awake, "Take it easy, man. Hey, calm down!" The last was said somewhat panicky as 23 struggled to sit up again.

The Corporal 's face focused, as the Corporal backed away with a pacifying hand held up, "Hey man. What's your beef? I don't know you."

23 closed his eyes and focused his anger, then opened them again. "No. You don't know me. But you're the cold-hearted, shit-eating bastard that broke Tamlynn's heart! Do you know what a mess you made of her life? She's my second-best friend in the whole world and you are a complete and total smeghead!" He turned his head and saw the wall next to him. At that distance, he couldn't possibly miss, even with his damn coordination. 23 slammed his fist into the wall and felt the wave of pain rush over him as several bones broke.