The silt and concrete of the bottom of the canal gives way to a rockslide, sloping upwards to that murky dividing line between water and air. The rocks feel less like thumbtacks in the weight-reducing embrace of the water. Climbing steadily and slowly, all that I see with my eyes and mind, are where to next place my paws.

'Thirty-two, and terrified of the dark murky shadows between the rocks of the Jetti. Ah. . nothing has changed.'

The idol thought brings to mind all those fishing trips me and my friends went on, all those years ago.

'Arron, Dawson, . . where are you now? Are you having fun? Enjoying life to the fullest?'

The surface approaches.

'I don't think I have. I think I wasted it, wit- . . no. No I haven't wasted it, I just haven't done all I could have. I had fun. I spent the last ten years reading, gaming, eating, and running. I could have done so much more, yes. But, . . heh, I don't think I regret it.'

My head slowly breaks the surface of the canal, algae and other unidentifiable slime sliding off my ears, but coating my face.

'Hmm. Disgusting.'

Blinking a few times, I thank whatever deities exist that I still have some approximation of eyelashes.

The sky is starting to paint itself with the orange of dusk, I need to hurry. I hurry as quietly as I can to get up the prickly-just-as-painful-the-first-time rocks, get through the small line of grass and bushes, cross the one-way road, and drop down behind the slope, bushes, and trees of the other side.

I'm trembling, I'm out.

The river looks beautiful to me.

I take a minute to just, sit. Sit and stare out over the water, hidden behind the lip of the road, out of sight from wandering eyes, its almost like hiding from my parents again on Kwajalein. There are fires across the river. I can't see them from here, but there is far too much smoke.

'What is this?'

What the fuck is happening? What happened to me is clearly not an isolated thing, I see fires across the river, I am a-a-thing.

'. . . Ugh, I'm getting worked up over something that's already happened. Keep moving forward Dustin. Where do I want to go now? I can't drive my car; I don't have a phone or my wallet. . . My house. I need to get to my house.'

Walking along the bank of the river, I'm out of sight of the Plant and its patrolling guards. It dawns on me; It's going to take a long time to get home. I know the way home, I feel full, or. . at least almost full.

I think I can make it. After that, what can I eat?

Head hanging low, I start to walk.

I think the adrenaline substitute wore off; I feel exhausted mentally, emotionally. Just putting one paw in front of the other is a bit of a struggle. The jeddi is annoying, in that I have to walk the line between rough rocks, and the grass/gravel of the smoothish road atop them without being seen over the lip of the road. It's an annoying tedious walk that has me crouched the whole time and feeling like I'm walking on thumbtacks more often than not.

'The forest,'

The forest. That place I explored years ago when I was a younger kid. Trees, grass, thick undergrowth, the chirping of birds, the clicks, drone's, and buzzing of insects. All are familiar to me, but It's been so long that they might as well be new.

'It is new, two lost feet of height really makes a difference. Or is it also my eyes? Or this body itself?'

'sigh'

Crunch crunch crunch. The noise of paws on leaves.

The chirping of birds in the trees, it's nice. Relaxing, refreshing.

'I feel. . . at peace.' Ahhh, Oh! Huh, my sense of smell has changed.'

I suppose I should have expected this, the passing trees smell, less than good.

'I hope I don't just like the smell of nuclear material.'

Scrunching my eyes and my symbol in disgust, I rrreeeeaaallllyy hope metals and plastics at least smell I don't know, neutral.

After at least ten minute's the smell becomes ignorable, and creep factor increases by at least twelve levels. Because the sun went down, it's pitch-black in the woods, and I am blind to the world more than ten feet away from me, because I glow.

'Fucking, flashlight glare. . . thing. FuC%!'

*C(Le*

A small green lightning bolt forks off my symbol and grounds itself on a tree.

I just stare at it for a moment.

Then I just keep walking, because I can't deal with anymore supernatural bullshit right now.

. . .

. . .

I don't know how long I've been walking.

. . .

Everything looks the same.

. . .

'Ok,. . . Ok. Keep walking, find the highway, get home. Simple.'

Easy enough to say, more difficult to do. But this isn't the first time I've pulled an all-nighter.

My eyes curve in a bit of humor at my not-quite-a-joke, then switch back to watching the ground. Don't want to trip.

Glow from the fires in the distance aside; I have another problem.

Myself.

I've been up at least 20 hours by now, and don't really feel mentally tired. Physically tired; yes, but mentally? Just, weirdly strained. It's getting bad now, really bad.

'I. . I-'

A sharp pain sends me to the ground.

The outside world fades away, and all I can perceive is myself. I don't know how long I'm stuck like that, but, but I think I'm starting to see my insides? Starting as I blurry mass of blobs, slowing clarifying as I try to make sense of what I'm looking at.

The centerpieces of myself; The heart and the brain. The brain is still located in my head, but it fills more of it now, and is spherical, . . ish. And it has holes now. My heart Is located in my chest, behind my symbol, centered on the blue dot in the middle. It is a reactor core. It has an ongoing nuclear reaction inside that I just know, keeps me going. How to describe it; control rods manifest themselves in and out of it in a pattern that gets weirder the longer I look at it, constantly vibrating from the energy it's channeling, and it changes. It changes slow, but it changes. The organ my heart floats in the center of is absolutely saturated with nuclear energy, which then flows through tubes that extend throughout my body, which are in my bones. My bones are hollow, and filled with liquid nuclear energy. I have approximately three other organs.; My dick, and two identical crystal/flesh things in my stomach area that I think, filter out waste?

The more I focus on my insides, the more I wanted to nudge things to work a little differently. So they start to. My bones change a bit, the circulation changes to be. . better. And the headache fades a bit.

After I don't know how long, I realize that as cool as rearranging your insides is the world doesn't stop while you do.

Coming back to myself, I see that thankfully I haven't been ambushed, but the events of the last, . . fuck I don't know how many days finally overwhelmed my usual apathy.

It starts as imaginary heavy breathing.

'But I don't breathe anymore.'

It moves on to dry heaving.

'But I don't have a mouth anymore.'

The darkness that simply must hide other monsters seems to close in-

'Ah- ahh-ugh, ah, ah, wh-. . .'

I felt tight, shaking, twitching at things that caught the corner of my eyes, I didn't know what was happening, until it all seemed to collapse in on itself and-

"#NU(^E N*!?1"

CRACK-CK-FFUUSSSSSSSSSSShhhhh. . .

As an incandescent web of bolts, a blast of energy leaps from my heart, to my symbol, to the world. For two seconds that felt like two hours, I watched power, MY power, reach out through the inky black of night, and scar five trees with glowing green forks of chaos. I have no fucking idea what I did to those trees, but they are changed in some way.

The panic attack sets in good and proper then, and I run as fast as I can away.

'Away from what? You can't outrun yourself.'

I don't think, I don't stop, something's out there,-

The bushes and undergrowth approach quickly and with no warning in my mad dash from my nightmares. Trees springing out from the black beyond my circle of light, the noises of bugs, birds, and other things disturbed by my passing, the sheer total darkness.

I don't know how long I ran, but eventually I tripped due to a change in ground composition.

'Wha- Oph, ah, fuck-'

Tumbling head over tail, I end up on my side, on what I realized was the road!

Scrambling up, and looking around to make sure I wasn't about to get hit, I scrambled to the grass.

'. . . Alright. Alright, nothing caught me, probably nothing is following me. Just keep walking Dustin.'

And so, I did. Emotionally exhausted, I walked and walked till a road sign loomed out of the night in front of me.

'. . . I could kiss you.'

I really would if I still had a mouth. This beautiful green gift from the infrastructure gods tells me highway 72 is five miles ahead. I know that highway! I take it to work, all I need to do is make the correct turn and follow it till I reach Madison.

With a bit of that odd emotion called happiness mixed with hope, I press on into the night.