Cloud Nine

Flight’s the most common ability, the superpower equivalent of brown eyes, the sort of thing they don’t even bother to make you register for. Just one less thing to worry about, if you got it. Easy to pick up on, too — babies fall all the time, except for the ones that don’t. Hard on the parents, a little, but what the heck, they leash regular toddlers, too.

Cloud Nine washes windows.

She likes the solitude of high altitude, the closeness of the glass, the faces on the other side gabbling at her. It’s meditative work, the sort of thing where you put on some music and go on autopilot, working your way across and down, over and over again, forever. She’s part of a team of seven, six cleaners and one platform, working the Kaiser tower, a 102 story needle of glass that useta was the tallest thing this side of the river but nowadays is just one giant among many.

Still needs to be cleaned, though.

Takes them four months to clean the whole tower, and by the time they’re done with the first floor it’s time to soar back to the top and descend again. It’s not easy work, but it’s steady. She pauses, takes a sip of coffee from the thermos strapped to her chest, watches the sunrise. It’s still night down on the street, but up here the sirens and the gunfire and the scuffling have all faded away. She waits until the sun touches the tip of the old, useless zeppelin dock, then swoops away to clean up the city, one window at a time.

The Thinning Blue Line

Accidents, it was always accidents: a patrol car spinning out into a lampost, a gun fired into a partner instead of a citizen, a bad fall down the station steps, a plague that tore through guards and spread to the officers.

The paranoia didn’t truly set in until the numbers kept climbing and uniforms kept dying, but who could you point to? Who could you blame for the heart attacks in the office and the relieved widows at the funeral? They closed ranks, bunkered down, stopped patrolling, avoided everyone but themselves. But even then—the overdoses in the evidence room, the asphyxiations on commissary sandwiches, the heat stroke as they dithered fully armed outside the schools—they were dying faster than the city could replace them.

When the retired and the recruited began dying, they started to panic. “Cursed,” muttered the city, and deputized anyone off the Board who wanted to go pro in desperation—to the scandal of Team One, though a spate of broken necks and shattered pelvises ended that soon enough, too. Nobody with any standing wanted anything to do with it, anyway; stick around long enough and you start to have suspicions about which side of the line is the right one.

WHAT NOW, said the headline over a black page, and in his second floor apartment Balaam the Jinx, the cleanhanded, a perennial zero at the bottom of the Ombudsman’s list, chuckled to himself. “Only as god wills it,” he said, and folded the paper neatly.

A Generation Born of Fathers


Dreams of children, of a thousand tiny velvet feet dancing upon his back. Broad back, wide as a barn, fifty teams of children could vie at handball upon its smooth expanse. Clever-handed, his children, and deft. Eyes of oil. Builders, like their mother, he hopes.

Watches. City streets and highways like rivers of light. Currentless in the early hours. Speaks to his children, holds them close to his cheek, warms them with his turning blood. Astir in the sac, close to birthing, he sees faces, eyes, bodies, limbs rise to the meniscus. Traces their hands, their clever, many hands.

High crimes and misdemeanors. Murders and treason, betrayal and adultery: compassion, generosity, creation. Sings it to his children, all, all. Let them make their own. Take revenge, make love.

Stays. Watches. Broods. Plans a future yet to be, thread spooling out past his death, a legion of heroes grown fat and mighty on the thick meat of his heroic frame. Eyes milky, but strong enough. Let them eat and run; chance will sort the rest.

Letters of Marque and Reprisal

There isn’t anything much in the way of classes or certification or any of that; what would be the point? The Omsbudman certifies the prize and disburses the award and lets the coyotes worry about the unfit. Poor yellow dogs, they are always hungry.

It’s not a crowded field. Most are thieves and saboteurs, sneaking guns away and melting them down for iron. Small fry, a virtue of their inescapable invisibility; this should be his level.

Teeth and blood and scar tissue: the hungry ones whet themselves sharp on adrenaline and luxury and prowl Northwest and Grand looking for the idle and the dangerous. They are allowed no edged weapons, no deaths, no guns of any kind, no partnerships. Crime Alley survives, as does International, as embassies of violence, eruptions of the foreign, the invader: designated hunting grounds.

The Biker hates them, in their too-flash costumes and their bullet-proof skin. They build their houses beyond the city proper, in the hills and hoarded trees; his sympathies are all with the fox, never the hounds.

Mild-Mannered Reporter

It’s all a matter of legwork.

He files records requests, traces ownerships and chains of command, ambushes mid-level managers with a camera and a press pass, tails dealers with his camera hung discreetly at his side. He gets 10,000 words out of it, and there’s a wave of arrests that follow. There’s some talk he might be up for a Pulitzer; this is the third year in a row an article of his has shaken up the metropolitan underworld.

They set his place on fire while he’s asleep, for all the good it does. He walks out through the flames and puts his fist through the window of the car the hit squad is camped in. It’s a rare, glorious moment, the kind he never allows himself, and he savors the terror and the wonder written on their faces. This naked man, this burnished god licked clean by fire, glass and metal crumpled in his fists.

He follows after them lazily, 200 or so feet up, until they dump the car and go to ground. He makes a note of which warehouse they went into, and reminds himself to see what the City Clerk has on it in the morning.

Back at the apartment, the fire department wraps him in a blanket while he gives his report to the police. They want to take him to the hospital for observation, but the detective has a quiet word with the EMTs.

“Sorry about that, Clark,” he says. “New crew.”

“It’s okay,” Kent says. “Just doing their job.”