The door to my virtual office exploded inward in a shower of well-rendered wooden splinters, smoke, and debris. The dying remnants of broken anti-intrusion code crackled and popped around a smoldering hole. I closed my eyes as a blast of hot air washed across my face, coughing in the chemical smell.

I was busy regretting my decision to render the physics in such minute detail as Officer Cinden Xiao strode in through the wreckage. “Wainwright! I need your help out in the physical. We’ve got a robbery on our hands and the CEO is stonewalling me.”

I wiped crud off my face with a sour look. “You do realize the door was unlocked, don’t you?”

“Yeah, well, I had this shiny new code ram I wanted to try out. Not my fault you didn’t leave it open. Doesn’t this office get broken into more often than not anyway?”

“Just because everyone else does it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. So who got robbed?”

She brought up a visualization of a combined office and manufacturing space that looked like it was near the Oakland docks. “Company called Quickvolve. They have some revolutionary new method to mature clones in a matter of minutes instead of days. I’ve had them under surveillance whenever I could get the assets for about a week now.”

“So what did they steal?”

“Would you believe four fully grown Tyrannosaurus Rex clones, along with a bunch of military hardware?”

I stared at her for a minute. “Dinosaurs.”

“And guns. No, I have no idea what they were planning to do with them either. They must make an impressive demonstration of rapid growing though.”

“All right, I’ll bite. Why do you need my help?”

She brought up a visualization of a butler-like delivery drone with some kind of tumorous brain-like tissue clinging to its head. The sickening mass pulsed wetly as the floating robot wobbled and blurbled in confusion. “Whoever did it used a bunch of these to pull off an elaborate multi-stage heist and get away clean. I need someone to access their cores and tell me exactly how the robbery went down.”

I frowned, looking over the biological hack job. “Neurological cyberbiotics aren’t my specialty. Liz or Raj would be a much better choice.”

“Neither of them can show up looking like the Grim Reaper himself, and frankly I don’t know them as well. Consult them if you have to, but I had to get a warrant just to get the CEO to admit anything got stolen at all. I want to scare her straight.”

“Hmm. Hard to turn down Grand Theft Dino. It’s not every day someone steals fifty metric tons of carnivorous predator, after all.”

“Uh huh. Have I grovelled sufficiently or not? The clock’s ticking.”

I sighed. “Fine. I’ll suit up and head out. Send me your location.”

“About time.” She glanced briefly to the side as a toy robot fell off the shelf and shattered on the floor. “Man you went all out on this simulation. Gonna have to bust in here more often.”

“Why not be the one polite person who knocks before entering?”

“Doesn’t sound like something I’d do.”

Xiao grinned, disappearing in a twinkle of pixel dust. I cleared the Fleet Week schedule I’d been examining with Flapjack, flashing him that I’d look at it more later. There were some special events planned this year. A drone hypercarrier and two autonomous hunter-killer subs arrived sometime today along with a surprise appearance. Flapjack was fonder of gawking at military hardware than I was. My engineer half loved to soak up every detail and revel in the coolness of it all, but my more pragmatic side was bothered by the idea of being on the wrong end of that kind of power and the blind trust it engendered.

I exited the sleepernet sim, waking up in the special induction chair in my office. Going into the virtual was something like putting your body to sleep and living in an active, conscious dream. As one of the principal engineers, I could actually put myself into a semi-trance to see both worlds at once, but it was easier to go all the way under if you wanted to get work done or fully immerse yourself in something.

Still, some things can only be done in the physical. I quickly put on my grav suit, covering myself in combat grade lexar armor and powering up the various field boosters I used to both analyze and manipulate the world. The suit itself was designed to look like the specter of death, complete with a weaponizer scythe and a hood to hide the glowing eye slits around the skull-like mask. Hypocritical of me, I suppose, to purposely project power and intimidation while criticizing the Armed Forces for doing the same thing. We both presupposed we were the good guys.

I fired up the Cavallino, letting loose a howl of complaint from the fusors. Like all exotic Italian cars, it didn’t like to get up in the morning. It creaked through its stabilizer tests before rising up to hover a few meters above the floor. I blasted out of the garage, lifting off to a couple thousand meters and leaving a trail of startled wildlife behind me. I studied what was known about Quickvolve’s technology and business as I flew. There wasn’t much to tell. Their technology was more or less a mystery and it would surprise me if they had more than three or four employees. The rest of the operation was mechanized. About the only thing I learned was that they were clearly aiming to get acquired by industry giant Bioxx.

I slid the Cavallino down to fly a couple meters off the surface of the Bay, enjoying the twin tails of wake the roaring fusors kicked up behind me.

I found Xiao standing out in front of the glass-doored lobby of the Quickvolve office, waving around a holographic warrant while a well-dressed woman flanked by neckless muscle in expensive suits blocked her entry. I recognized their CEO Genevieve Powell from the research I’d just been examining. If her bodyguards had names, they weren’t public.

I made a real show of flaring the fusors and blasting the group with grav wash before dramatically settling to a parking hover. I leapt out of the car with the field boosters in my suit on full, making everyone squint. Xiao wanted a vulgar display of power, and I was happy to oblige. No one knew the full capabilities of our cars and grav suits, so these sorts of flashy displays inflamed the imagination. The uncertainty on their faces showed it had worked.

I glided over to tower over Xiao’s shoulder. She jerked her thumb at me. “And here is my court-appointed investigator. A theft of this magnitude is a matter of national security, and the warrant makes clear that we are to be given unrestricted access to your facility to investigate.”

Powell glanced at me warily, collecting herself. “And as I have made clear, officer, these circumstances are highly unusual. I have no intention of letting this vigilante into my facility, let alone without an escort. Where are your supporting officers? Why is this not under federal jurisdiction? For that matter, I’m not even clear how you found out about the incident in the first place. This is an internal matter and we will handle it as such.”

Xiao stepped up into her face, making the guards tense and reach for their weapons. A quick flash of my hooded eyes stopped them short.

“I’m starting to lose my patience here. I can have this place crawling with enough federal investigators to measurably stress your floors if that’s what you want. Maybe we need to perform sentience threshold tests on your hacked drones as well? Who can even say what else they’ll find once they start looking? Surely a lower profile incident response is in your best interests.”

Powell surrendered to the inevitable. “Our head of security is mildly indisposed after the events this morning. I suppose another pair of eyes can’t hurt. I expect you to sign a non-disclosure agreement, though.”

Xiao brushed past the CEO. “Not gonna happen. But you have our word that your case will be treated with the utmost discretion.”

Powell glared at her. “I suppose that will have to do.”

The hired muscle gave me the stink eye as I ambled past. “How ya doin?” I growled through the voice distorter. It only deepened their scowls.

The lobby was richly appointed in the current fashion of holographic projectors showing scenes of serene forests and frolicking fauna. Several variations on deer-like herbivores pranced through a mix of traditional trees and colorful engineered foliage designed to clean up the soil and keep the atmosphere breathable. In an center, a large cabbage-like bulb with “Quickvolve” spelled out in its veins squirmed and writhed as it blossomed open, birthing a new, fully-grown cow-like pasture animal. The other wildlife celebrated like they were about to break out into song while the newborn gave them an empty stare. “Quickvolve - As Fast As You Can Imagine!” fluttered up out of the withering bulb, disappearing into the ceiling like a flock of doves.

I tried not to injure myself rolling my eyes. Once past the large conference room the hallways had the same threadbare, secondhand look of startups everywhere. Behind the office space, enormous concrete warehouses loomed. Powell’s heels clacked on the concrete floor as she led us back to a small storeroom.

“I suppose you might be the most help back here. Our chief bioengineer has been unreachable since the incident, so we’ve been unable to properly analyze these droids. The security feeds have also been tampered with or destroyed outright. If you want to effectively assist us, you can reconstruct exactly how the robbery was conducted.”

I glanced into the room, where close to a dozen service drones of various sorts burbled and hovered around. They crashed into each other from time to time with a loud clang, apparently unaware they had done so. All of them were muttering to themselves in the high pitched beeps and warbles they used to communicate amongst themselves.

The first question, to me anyway, was why the perpetrator grafted neural tissue onto circuitry to alter the robots’ programming. Rewriting non-sentient drone hardware was designed to be straightforward, and they were intelligent enough not to need the extra flexibility of bona fide biological matter.

It added to my sneaking suspicion that this was an inside job. Rewriting the drones would be child’s play for me. But for a biological engineer? You often default to the tools you know the best, and their chief engineer was curiously absent right now. Smelled conspicuous.

Xiao and Powell stood in the doorway watching me herd the bots into groups. I turned back to look at them. “Who is your chief bioengineer?”

“My brother Howard. He is… not a public figure. Howard has a disfigurement that requires him to use a hermetically sealed hoverpod. He’s the most gifted creator I’ve ever known. But to be honest, it would be like him to throw a tantrum and give us the silent treatment for losing his precious creations.”

I wasn’t sure I believed her, so I didn’t answer. She confirmed my suspicions by rationalizing further. “Our relationship has been strained of late. We’ve had a bit of a disagreement about the timing and viability of some of our work. You understand about family, of course. Sometimes disagreements get blown out of proportion.”

I turned my attention back to a combination of the droids and the security footage, working to re-create the sequence of events. The first question I had was about the neural tissue. Was it human? I certainly hoped not.

In fact, it was. I’d never seen anything like it. I fought the urge to scuttle away from them in horror. I tried not to throw up as I ran some simple self-awareness tests. “These bots are using human neural tissue. It looks like a utilitarian growth. I don’t think they’re sentient but they need to be euthanized as soon as possible.”

Powell had the good grace to look uncomfortable, but couldn’t quite pull off surprise. “That’s disturbing.”

Xiao shot the CEO a filthy look. “More than disturbing. Growing human brain tissue outside of limited scientific facilities is punishable by firing squad.”

“I assure you we’ll get to the bottom of it. We do have a license for medical disorder research. But we never bought the equipment.”

I let Xiao do her thing and started working out how they pulled off the heist itself.

First things first. I categorized the different types of drones. There was a food delivery bot. A surprising number of maintenance and biomonitoring machines. Two or three all-purpose security specialists.

Okay. Their first task would be to spoof the automated monitoring systems. A quick exploration of the food delivery drone indicated it had delivered a meal to the chief security officer this morning. Not long after that, several security feeds went inactive for suspiciously timed maintenance, left unremarked by the security guard, who had promptly passed out from something in his breakfast.

That took care of the automated surveillance systems. There were still the cyberbiotic tank monitors, which would be keeping track of the health and well-being of the thunder lizards themselves. Surprisingly, they indicated that their tanks were occupied and healthy. The sensors were limited, clearly intended as an emergency alarm to supplement human monitoring. Nonetheless, they said that there had been no significant change for several days.

I turned back to the doorway. “What’s in the tanks?”

Powell shifted uncomfortably. “It’s probably best if I just show you.”

She led us down the hallway to the large poorly lit warehouse in the back. Four six meter tall vats appeared from the shadows, cloudy water stretching back some thirteen meters. While each held a long, fleshy mass inside, it didn’t bear much of a resemblance to a dinosaur. I ran some quick tests on the tanks, using the human operated interface to get a better look at their contents. I found the light switch, which didn’t so much illuminate the tanks as highlight their grim shadows.

Inside, bafflingly, each vat contained a long, tumorous mass of flesh and organs haphazardly strewn together. I stepped closer to study one. Some of it looked lizardlike, some of it looked human, and some I couldn’t identify. As it shifted around in its tank, I realized its skin was made up of green, scaly masses shaped like human butts. Gimpy Tyrannosaurus arms protruded from the mass to give us all the finger from time to time. Periodically, the butts farted into the water, creating frothing bubbles.

I turned to Powell, whose eyes were wide staring at the creature. “How old is your brother?”

She stiffened, turning to me. “I hardly see what that has to do with anything.”

Right. According to the tank logs, this flesh had been here for at least a week. I quickly realized that the log entries had an artificial randomness pattern to them. A quick comparison to genuine data showed that the fluctuations fit an algorithmic pattern starting about six and a half days ago.

“How quickly could these tanks grow something of this size?”

“At full speed, with this level of uncertainty and complexity? About an hour, give or take.”

“When was the last time you saw the dinosaurs?”

“I just saw them yesterday morning. I like to come in here to see how they’re doing. I’ve grown… rather fond of them.”

Xiao glowered at her. I spent some time poring over the logs, trying to work out how they managed to exfiltrate that much flesh without any of the other systems noticing, keeping the mass of flesh inside the vats constant.

The answer was so stupidly elegant it took me a moment to work it out. Some of the biomaintenance droids grew additional flesh to patch the creatures inside the tanks when they weren’t filling in right. Maintenance droids were employed to clean up the unthinkable amount of potent excrement a growing tyrannosaurus would produce.

The logs showed that each of the four dinosaurs took a sixteen ton dump over the course of an hour earlier this morning. There was another artificial gap overwriting the growth logs at the same time, along with a precipitous drop in the amount of protoflesh and catalyst available flagged as an inventory error during routine auditing.

The biomaintenance droids simply grew the tumorous flesh in place at the same speed the maintenance bots retrieved their excrement, which turned out to be the dinosaurs themselves. A classic case of replacing the genuine item with an artificial one, done carefully to not set off the biomass alarms.

And then, they rolled the “crap” right out of the building, pausing briefly at the military production section where they took on even more weight. So what exactly did one do with that much dinosaur output?

Why, they dumped it straight into the Bay, of course. It was hard to even think of all the laws that broke. I stopped counting around a dozen. They all paled in comparison to unauthorized use of human neurological tissue anyway.

“Did you realize your brother was dumping their excrement into the Bay?”

She glanced at Xiao, whose stare had turned murderous, before gulping and looking back at me. “No, of course, I had no idea. Our legal team would have all resigned on the spot.”

“Yet you knew exactly how long it would take to grow the new flesh. You looked in on the dinosaurs every morning. My guess is that down that hall, we’re going to find a hole so large you have a warning fence around it, along with a chemical trail that the bots can’t entirely cleanse.”

Powell deflated a little. “Look, we’re a startup. Compromises have to be made. We can’t always do things as correctly as we’d like.”

Xiao looked down the hall toward the exit to the Bay. “Are you telling me what I think you’re telling me?”

My mind reeled. “Yeah. They dumped the dinosaurs out the poop chute.”

She rushed out, heading for the front door. “All squads, all squads. Extreme biological hazard has been dumped into the Bay. How much time until USS Preston and her escorts get here for Fleet Week?”

I swept around to follow her, my cape flowing behind me. “Lock the room. And don’t go anywhere. You’re in enough trouble as it is.”

Powell turned pale. “Of course.”

I caught up to Xiao in the frolicking lobby. The cow thing followed my motion with its head mindlessly. “How long?”

“They’re passing under the Golden Gate right now. The Roughmechs are making a special appearance on the flight deck. I doubt this timing is a coincidence.”

“Me either. I’ll start a search immediately.”

She gave me a wry look. “Pretty sure you can’t outrun the sheer amount of surveillance equipment that just landed in my lap. But sure, make yourself feel better.”

I made a point to blast her in the face with grav wash as the Cavallino screamed into the sky, heading west over the Bay. She winced against the gust of wind, hair flying everywhere. I felt some small measure of satisfaction for my broken office door.

The drone carrier and its submarine escort were magnificent, unfurling themselves after collapsing various sections to fit under the bridge. The Roughmechs stood in a line down the center of the deck, painted in traditional Marine formals with gleaming swords. Genuine Marines in the same attire lined the deck, standing at attention.

The Roughmechs were something like the Marine version of the Blue Angels, ten meter tall militarized construction robots that fought in gladiator-style displays. Their perfect posture and crisp polished metal uniforms evoked instinctual feelings of pride and patriotism drilled into my brain since I was a child. The white cap, the black uniform with its medals, the blue pants with their red stripe. Magnificent.

They were utterly impractical in combat, serving either as enormous targets or an egregiously inefficient way to mount weaponry. Still, the giddy child within me who loved giant robots couldn’t help but gape. My virtual office was full of models, after all. And watching them fight was quite a spectacle.

Crowds had gathered on the shore to watch the arrival. Xiao smugly sent me an overhead feed of the four tyrannosaurs speeding under the water, living torpedoes leaving frothing water in their wake. Each wore armor that bore a resemblance to the angular matte black panels of the first stealth equipment from the late twentieth century, with glowing gold eyes leading the way. They wore backpacks with a bulbous cylindrical hydrofusion propellant unit on either side.

In the center of their backpacks, a long barrel stretched most of the length of their bodies. They crackled underwater with sparks and flashes of electricity, fed by two massive magazines of shaped metal cartridges behind the barrels.

“Are those dinosaurs packing railguns?”

Xiao grunted. “Sure looks like it. Preston is ignoring my broadcast warnings. You wanna get their attention for me before they start knocking robots off the deck with hypervelocity shells?”

I considered for a minute. “Getting involved with an attack on the military in full parade is about the last thing I want to do. But I’m not sure how else to do it.”

Flooring the Cavallino, I barely made it out in front of the hurtling underwater dinosaurs before they were in optimal firing range to rise above the water. It wasn’t clear to me what to do after that. I didn’t have time to drop on the deck to get their attention, assuming I wouldn’t become a thorough demonstration of the anti-aircraft capabilities of a modern hypercarrier long before I made it that far. I was no match for the dinosaurs in a straight out fight either.

But wait. Assuming these cyberbiotic weapons were programmed by the same bioengineer that pulled off the drone heist, they likely paid much more attention to the neuro than they did to the hardware. That meant I could spoof their positioning equipment, convincing them they were closer to the carrier than they were.

A quick hacking blast later, and the dinosaurs soared to the surface, extending wings to start their attack. They took some time to adjust to the incorrect range before the air boomed with four thunderbolt ultracapacitor discharges, sending gleaming shrieks of metal pounding into the Roughmechs. They staggered, superheated metal shards streaking away from the impact points. The crowd, assuming this was part of the demonstration, went wild.

The stealthwing tyrannosaurs dove at the carrier in formation, sending the Marines on the deck running for cover as the Roughmechs drew their swords. Some produced shields and others produced rifles. It wasn’t clear to me why the carrier didn’t shred them on the way in with its area defense weapons. Maybe they weren’t powered up, or shooting them would pierce the illusion that this was a planned surprise as part of the display.

The dinosaurs crashed into the deck with booms and roars, firing more railgun shots. One mech took a direct hit to the gut and flew backward off the edge, dropping its sword as it sailed into the water. The other shots went wild as the robots closed the minimum firing range to their attackers. At this point, the dinosaurs opened their mouths to show a vast array of metal-tearing teeth along with high-power emp cannons in place of their tongues. One Roughmech found itself hefted up by its midsection and bit in half by massive dinosaur jaws. Its peaked white cap launched straight up into the air, leaving a trail of smoke as its pilot ejected. Another mech was ready with its sword, driving it all the way up the tyrannosaur’s gut into the middle of its skull. Blood splattered on the deck as it collapsed onto the sword.

While I was as fascinated by the performance as the rest of the crowd, something bothered me. If I wanted to create a distraction, and I had four giant lizards at my disposal, this is how I’d do it. But a distraction from what?

The chief bioengineer. Howard. No one was looking at his office and manufacturing headquarters any more. He couldn’t possibly have thought these creatures would do significant damage to an aircraft carrier. But they sure would keep Xiao’s surveillance team occupied.

I hauled the Cavallino about and howled at top speed back toward the Quickvolve complex. Sonic booms cracked and the water sprayed behind me in an enormous tail as I broke all the rules to get back there as quickly as I could. I’d pay the fines later.

Nothing was obviously wrong on arrival. I dropped out the bottom of the car as it passed over the parking lot, rolling to a crouch before the glass lobby doors. Inside, the two guards were spasming on the floor clutching their heads, blood coming out of their ears. I drew my weaponizer staff, forming a shield bubble on my arm as I sneaked inside.

Toward the back, where the tanks lived, I heard voices. Genevieve Powell’s voice had none of her usual control in it, taking on a pleading tone that chilled me.

“Howard, please! I don’t understand. What are you doing?”

The response came from a prepubescent voice with a strange burble to it. “Finally bringing Quickvolve to the purpose of its existence. Using it to manufacture myself a new body.”

I came to the corner and carefully peeked around. Genevieve was on the floor, scuffed and frightened, propped up on her elbows. Towering over her was an insectile black machine, looking like a cross between a metallic spider and a praying mantis with a bulbous dome at the head. I couldn’t see inside the dome, but she was looking directly into it.

“But that’s the point of its existence. We invented a novel new technology. Bioxx is close to signing a letter of intent to acquire the company. After a couple years working with them, we’ll have enough money to go overseas and find a doctor with experience manufacturing human flesh. I thought that was the plan?”

Howard stepped closer to his sister. “Bioxx wants to steal my technology and squeeze both of us dry. I never intended to sell these capabilities to a soulless corporation who would screw us over without a second thought. Don’t you see? I did this for you. I’ve been a burden to you since the day I was born. More so after our parents died. Every day I saw the pained expression on your face as you tried to pretend we were normal. Now I can see my freedom in a matter of hours, not years. We can finally live a normal life. Together.”

“Then why are you attacking me?”

“Because I need to get you into a Quickvolve tank. I need a DNA-compatible womb and a synthetic incubator just won’t work. We’ll go to my secret laboratory where I’ve been perfecting the technique and after several hours of rapid-growth evolution, you’ll make me a new body and I can be free of this monstrosity for the first time in my life.”

Genevieve gasped. “You’re going to put accelerated protoflesh and enzymes into my body? That’s insane! I’ve seen the shortcuts you take in the lab. Did you think I didn’t know about all the stuff you dump in the Bay, let alone all the unsafe splices you think I’m not smart enough to notice? Who even knows what the short and long term effects will be, not to mention the strain of cramming a nine month pregnancy into less than nine hours?”

“We wouldn’t even be in this mess if you hadn’t carelessly tipped our hand to that bull-headed police officer last week. I can’t even sneeze without imagining some intelligence analyst saying bless you. There’s no time left. The cops are on their way. You’ll understand once it’s all over.”

He lifted her off the floor by her shoulder. “No! Stop! Put me down, you’re hurting me!”

I stepped out from the shadows, flaring my grav boosters to get his attention. “Put her down, Howard.”

He swiveled his dome head in my direction, and it was only by the grace of my mask that I didn’t flinch. Inside the womb-red chamber, a misshapen teenager floated, sloshing with the motion. It wasn’t clear what was more creepy, the sheer number of tubes piercing his skin, raising the flesh and flexing as he moved, or all the stretched mucus holding him in place.

“My name is not Howard.” A ring of panels irised open around the dome, revealing high-powered directional sonic weapons. “Call me the Howler.”

His piercing shriek burst through the acoustic shielding in my helmet, taking advantage of intimate knowledge of the human ear and the frequencies required to maintain situational awareness. The sounds mixed harmonically in my head, pain exploding into my skull in a reverberating blast. I slammed the audio receivers shut entirely, now hearing nothing but a high-pitched ringing noise. Genevieve passed out on the spot, crashing to the floor bleeding at the ears. Howler dropped her arm carelessly.

He scuttled up into the shadows in the rafters. My hearing was shot, and it would take me a few seconds to organize some kind of sound detection workaround in my sensor boosters. I cycled through various vision modes to try and find him, but apparently he was quite good at stealth as well.

I searched methodically for him among the dozens of pipes, valves, and vents routed along the ceiling. He hit my faceplate with a directional laser broadcaster. “Give up, sleeper. Either you let me take my sister and leave, or I’ll tear your body apart right through that useless armor of yours.”

To prove his point, he shot me with another sonic blast. I held up my shield bubble but the vibrations fooled its response systems into burning itself out well before it dispersed the energy. I tried to dive out of the way. The pitch shifted to target the crystalline elements of the grav suit and my body beneath them. My left leg took the full force of the blow, grav boosters shattering as my muscles went numb and my bones flared in agony.

But he was exposed after shooting. It earned him an emp blast from my weaponizer staff that he managed to mostly dodge. I saw an insect limb go limp. Howler briefly staggered before scuttling back into the mess of pipes.

Now I had a search area. I set up a shadow pattern analysis subroutine to track his movements. The gloves were off now. Howler may have been a teenager, but his armor was a genuine threat. I had to neutralize him before he managed to cripple me.

He pointed his laser broadcaster at my face again. I have no idea what he planned to say, as I fired an emp pulse down the line of sight so powerful that his entire chassis exploded with sparks and crashed out of the rafters with a sickening crumple.

I raced over to make sure he was still alive. The exoskeleton twitched and shorted on the floor. His dome and its life support equipment were grafted onto the front and appeared undamaged.

One deformed eye turned to stare at me, and I saw the wounded child inside. “Why? Why did you stop me? All I wanted was what was mine. What all the normal kids had. To be normal, even if just for a day.”

The pain in his voice haunted me. “We’ll find another way. We’ll fix you. It’s going to be okay.”

“It’s not going to be okay. It was never going to be okay. There is no other way. And now my chance is gone forever. I’m going to be like this until I die.”

He exploded in a wail of agony. His bawling chilled me to the bone. No child should have to endure what he had endured.

And no child should have been given the power and responsibility he’d shouldered.

Flapjack sent me a flash, interrupting my contemplation. “Hey, did you see that amazing dinosaur display? I think they’re going to be mopping up the blood for the rest of the week.”

I grimaced. “I’ll have to get back to you.”

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