00:00 Sat 30 Jan 1993. Updated: 00:00 07 Jul 2007
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The bus pulled into the terminus. I took my bag from the overhead rack and walked off the bus out into the city. My watch read 22:24. Light from glaring neon signs bathed my face as I walked to my hotel. The city was dying, but in this part of it I could feel its life. I was glad to be back, and happy that the city and I had both survived our time apart.

I reached the hotel and checked in. In my room I threw my bag on the floor and phoned a pair of friends who lived in the Village. They were having a party and invited me over. I said I’d be there in a while or so. I flopped on the bed and looked at the nightscape, not tired at all. It was great to be home. I threw a few cantrips for the hell of it, causing flames to dance on my hand and balls of light to veer around the room. I put on my walkman to let music pulse through my mind, and the lights and flames winked out. I got up and left for the party.

I switched off the walkman to hear the city as I walked. Car horns, people talking and walking, an occasional dog bark or cat wail. Some music, in the distance. Jangling of coins and keys. I grinned. I was on a high, like I was mainlining the city’s essence.

“Out of your territory, tripper.” A hand grabbed my arm and jerked me roughly sideways, into an alley. Two more arms pushed me, stumbling, past a group of people and further into the alley.

“Waaay out.” Black-haired to the shoulders, heavily painted leather jacket, tight white jeans, gun, round-faced, smiling. The others mutter laughing assent.

Another day, or another place, and I would have tried escape. Talking, running, climbing, creating diversions, even teleporting. There were about 15 of them, and I would have fled in some fashion.

But not tonight.

I whisper words. Power surges through me and I extend my arm towards the leader. The crackling blue sphere covers the intervening space and his shoulder joint is vaporized, his arm connected to his body only by two thin strips of flesh. He falls to his knees, then on his face. A chain-wielder swings at me as I craft protection. The chain hits my newly-formed shell. It falls from limp fingers and rattles on the cold ground. I incant further and extend five lines of energy from my left hand to the head of a rockerboy with an SMG. The others flee as he silently burns.

I picked up the leader’s pistol as the intoxicating power began to fade from my body. Such a show of strength should have left me tired out, but I felt fine, exhilarated. The pistol was a Sunbeam “Madison” M2015 rapid fire pulse laser pistol. A US Army officer’s weapon. I put it in my pocket and left the alley.

After a pleasant walk of about twenty minutes I reached the party. Jerry and VZ lived on the top floor. I stepped over a punk and a tekette fucking at the bottom of the stairs and went up.

Magic. What is it? A something defined only by its indefinability. Of course, the only reason it is indefinable is because we have evolved the wrong terms of reference. True, even those well versed in magical lore cannot explain exactly what magic is. But, on the other hand, even the most knowledgeable scientist cannot explain exactly what matter is either. Magic is no more mysterious than any other discipline, but Man has moved far away from it, making it seem unbelievable. Unbelievable perhaps, but effective nonetheless. What it is and how it works are not known at anything more than a very speculative level.

Magic is not simply a series of formulae involving specific movement of the hands and the uttering of certain words. While these formulae (spells) help regulate the flow of magic through the mage, they do not cause the flow. Someone with very little magical power performing the actions of a spell will achieve nothing where an archwizard would shatter mountains. (Such archwizards are thankfully extremely rare.) A connection with magical power must be achieved before any results are possible. Where, and what, this power is is a matter of much debate. Some claim that it is all internal, emotional; others claim that it is an alternate dimension that can be tapped. I believe that it is a combination of the two, that inner power must be found before the energy, which exists outside this plane, can be accessed. My reasons for this belief are as follows:

a)The power cannot be all, or even mostly, internal. That much energy could simply not reside in a human.

b)Before anyone can use magic, they must go through a process which involves breaking down internal barriers. These barriers are preventing the utilisation of inner power that is used to break through external interdimensional barriers.

c)When using magic, you feel like a conduit, a circuit conducting energy—unless you are performing minor tasks for which personal energy is sufficient.

d)A mage can see in others the energy used when spellcasting and when not. When not spellcasting, a mage shows a small degree of energy. When spellcasting, a mage shows a huge amount of power coursing through them.

e)Computers cannot use magic. They can do the rituals, incant the formulae, but all to no avail. This indicates that there must be some energy coming from the caster, some energy unique to humans (or at least living beings).

Magic, then, is a tapping of a type of energy that resides in humans in small quantities and in some other plane in large quantities, that humans can tap using the small personal energy and utilise by causing it to flow through them and while doing so manipulating it to function in the manner wished.

It is an exhilarating experience, but a dangerous one. Causing that amount of energy to flow through the human body/mind can be very damaging. Performing magic tires a mage out very quickly, but the temptation is always there to keep going even when exhausted. Doing that is a sure path to (almost literal) burnout. Over a long period, using magic and ignoring damage to oneself will result in some form of malaise, whether a personality breakdown or severe physical debilitation.

Magic is addictive, similar to a very powerful drug but more dangerous, though also much more controllable. Giving up magic is hugely difficult for two reasons: the attraction of the casting experience itself, and the attraction of the power magic can bring. Few ever give up willingly.

The rewards are high for those who can control it, both in the sense of casting prowess and of not letting it rule you. Pleasure, money, enlightenment, power—all there for the taking.

—James Seeker, 5/23/2017

The apartment was crowded. Tekkers, rockerboys, hopsters, retropunks (who said that punk was dead and were trying to revive it), punks (who said punk was alive and well), corporation men in leather gear, students from NYU, lots of indefinables. I saw VZ sitting by the window. A corporate was trying to pick her up. She appeared vaguely interested. Her eyes and hair were currently orange and black respectively, a good combination. She was about 32, had a nice body and a nice face, not too worn by various forms of substance abuse. The corp guy had a nice body too, but his face was too wide. Nice eyes though. I looked into him and snorted. If VZ was looking for a good fuck she wasn’t going to get it from this guy. His energy levels were shot, especially sexually. Looked like he’d been under a lot of stress. Tsk, tsk, must not’ve been watching the Nikkei last week. I went over to them and made him feel very uncomfortable. He left immediately. VZ looked at him in surprise, then at me, saying “Shit, Seeker, you’re bad luck. I thought that guy was after me for sure. No great loss, but that was a bit sudden.” I just smiled. She asked me where I’d been, how I was, the usual. After the meaningless preliminaries we talked about who was around. I wasn’t looking for anyone in particular, but wanted to know in case anyone piqued my interest. No-one did, and we got on to what had changed while I’d been away. Not much had, except the Jaguar/Tizzer war had died down. I said bye, leaving VZ to look for a guy (or whatever).

I scanned the party, looking for a free girl. I saw a few that interested me—a walking cliché tall blonde, a medium-height blonde with a great body, and a green-haired retropunk with the nicest ass this side of Milwaukee. VZ had disappeared, so I looked for Jerry to introduce me. He was talking to a co-ed about how observation of black holes had shown that reality is totally malleable, given the right amount of energy. I cut in at an opportune moment, was introduced to the co-ed, said a brief hello (we both wanted to get on with the hunt) to Jerry and got him to introduce me to the retropunk. She was the singer with a (surprise!) retropunk band, and lived nearby in the Village (a plus for tonight). Her name was Rachel (but she liked to be called Roz) Donovan and she seemed interested. I told her that I was travelling around, drifting while finishing a degree course, and then started into the routine of stories from on the road. I don’t think she had any choice but be captivated, as I wasn’t keeping my magic under control too well. Still, I would’ve gotten her anyway. The power was still flowing in me, and I felt I could do anything. We kissed, and it was pretty much evident that I was going to fuck (and that’s not all) her tonight (and not just once or twice, either). I love this city.

I decided I really should stay at the party a little longer, so we didn’t go to her apartment just yet. We wandered around, saying hello to people I knew, talking briefly with my better acquaintances. Some of the dealers looked like they were going to pressure me, until they saw my eyes. I wondered if Jerry and VZ got anything for letting them operate in the place without any trouble. Probably. After we had gone around most of the room Roz was eager to go, and I needed a release, so we ambled over towards the door.

“Hi, James. That is you, right?”

Oh shit. That voice. Only she called me James. I turned around, letting go of Roz.

Tracy Nalton.

“How are you, James? I haven’t seen you in a long time.” Accent not too sexy, not too ‘nice’ but pretty much perfect, long silky black hair, beautiful body, beautiful caring face, emerald eyes, smile. That smile!

“Uh, I ,hi, um, Tracy, uh, how are you?” Pain. Shocked hurt at seeing her, speaking too fast. “I’m fine, James, how are you?” She could see I didn’t want to talk to her, was pained by that. She always had wanted to be friends. “I’m not too good, Tracy, I’m still fucked up ’cause somebody ripped out my heart. Wonder who that was?” That hurt her. Good. She deserved it. I loved her, and all I ever got from her was “I really like you ” and that was always followed by a “but”. Why couldn’t she have given me a chance? Nope, she was always with dickhead jocks and fucking class presidents. Jesus, she made me such a cliché. But I was no wimpy nerd, with no hopes past astronomy. I had such power! She staggered back, her fear showing and I suddenly realised all that had shown in my eyes, amplified by barely latent sorcery. I had sworn never to affect her in any way with magic, fuck it. Rage and guilt swirled in me and I turned away, headed for the door. Roz followed. I don’t know what Tracy did.

I got out of the apartment, away from the suddenly claustrophobic and loud party. How could I have been so stupid? I slumped on the stairs.

“Hey, Seeker, you okay?” Now that was a fucking stupid question. “What the fuck do you think? Do I seem okay?”

She was silent for a while, sitting beside me on the stairs. I knew she was going to speak again, and I waited so I could lash out at her. How could Tracy be so cruel to me? Friends! I still loved her, but also still hated her for not giving me a chance.

“Hey, Seeker, look, if you wanna talk, I’m he—”

“What the fuck would I talk to you for? I got you for a fuck, ’cause you had a nice ass, that’s all. If I’d wanted to talk I’d've got a girl with a brain.”

She got up, her eyes tearing over. “Well, fuck you then, asshole!” She went angrily down the stairs. “You wish, slut! Why don’t you go down to 42nd, you can get three guys at once for thirty bucks!”

I couldn’t take sitting there on my own, so I went out to get some alcohol. Tequila seemed a good idea.

The city was garish and blaring as I walked. I tried to shut it out as best I could, got to the store and bought two bottles of tequila. I took some swigs of it and felt a little better. I took a different route back, I don’t know why.

As I walk through an alley I pass a guy burbling to himself, obviously tripping. I look into him. Well, well. He’s taken acid, and is close to being through. Not very close, but I could fix that…I concentrate, this made difficult by the tequila, give him some energy, and guide him in the right direction. If he was having a bad trip, tough luck, because now all his eyes are open. Oh well. The world won’t miss the mind of an acidhead. I go on down the alley. As I leave, I hear him cry out. Too bad.

Back at the apartment I avoided Tracy and started getting drunk. The tequila was strong and I had some coke as well—there’s a first time for everything—and time started to blur. I tried to fuck some girl, some white girl but I couldn’t manage it and then she shouts at me and then i throw up into a wastebasket and then out the window but the stars the stars are burning i shout and some woman hits me and everything is red and sick and but staggering into VZ’s bedroom a big Korean on her get thrown out up the stairs the roof the stars are gone i love her but the stars are burnt away.

21:25 17th June 2015

I finally got up the courage to ask her. And she knew! I could tell by the way she reacted that she already knew! And the bitch didn’t help me, didn’t try to make it any easier for me. I asked her today, in Math while Carlson was out. She said no, she “liked me but not like that” fucking usual bullshit just wanting to avoid any kind of scene. Pretty stupid place to ask her, asshole—I mean, Math period isn’t exactly an ideal time to (almost) tell someone you love them. I didn’t tell her that, I just asked her out. I was so fucking sombre, no wonder she fucking said no. Who would go out with a guy who asks you like he’s asking you to a funeral? So stupid! Not exactly eloquent either—“Um, Tracy, I, uhh, look, there’s a movie on tonight, The Vegas Deal, I mean, would you like to, um go to it? I mean, with me?” Why didn’t I add in “duuuhh” a couple of times as well, just for effect? But she knew, why couldn’t she have made it easier for me? I’ve been trying to get her to talk alone for I don’t know how long, but could never do it, all she had to do was meet me one of those times, and it could have been so much easier. Anything would have been better than Math! And she just tells me that she’d “like to be friends but” and then Carlson comes back in and the fucker spots me, asks me about the problem he left with us. I couldn’t even remember how to start it, even though it was easy. Then at the break she waves to me with a half-smile, says bye and just drifts away. She doesn’t leave anything behind, just wafts out of the room like she’d never been there, except that I was almost crying. I keep trying to talk to her for the rest of the day, but she’s always doing something with her friends—that stupid nattering gaggle of girls whose purpose seems to be to make me incredibly uncomfortable about her. Couple of sudden incurable cases of piles wouldn’t be too bad there—wonder if I could do that yet. Fucking bitches—look down on me now, but you wait. And why do you look down on me? There’s nothing wrong with me! Maybe I’m too smart, won’t play your stupid games, idiotic rituals.

I’ve got to see her tomorrow. Get her alone somehow, I’ll think of a way. Isn’t love supposed to bring inspiration? Just calmly tell her how I feel, just be calm, not fucking screw up. I love her, I need her. Won’t she see that?

A spider. A dead squashed huge green spider, with yellow lines on it. The lines…the lines were parts of letters, letters on a bag. They said NYC Garbage Collection. The spider was gone, replaced by creases in the garbage bag where I had rested my head. Whitish-grey glare from the tall streetlight next to the building. Night. My watch read 04:06. Pain lanced through my head as I remembered that I was on the roof of Jerry and VZ’s place. I started to get up to find a place to piss, then realised what had woken me up. Behind the drugged haze/hangover, deep unease. I ducked down behind the garbage bags. Light footsteps, voices. I peered over and saw two male figures.

I summon the effort to lightly look at them and stop immediately. The Kaldine. Vampires. They walk jauntily, talking to each other in the tone of old friends. When they reach the edge of the roof, they both get up onto the wall. Then one of them strikes a melodramatic pose and says theatrically “’Tis now the very witching time of night, when hell itself breaths out contagion to this world: now could I drink hot blood, and do such bitter business as the day would quake to look on.” The other laughs, then shakes his head and gives the thespian a playful punch on the arm. The orator fakes a pained look, and both of them are gone. I breathe deeply.

I looked around the rooftop. Nobody. I went in the stairwell door and staggered down the stairs, still queasy. There were still people awake in Jerry and VZ’s place but I couldn’t handle going in there. I got to the bottom floor without seeing anyone and walked out onto the street.

A parasitic feeling pervaded my awareness. The famous manhole steam looked like hot spray from festering wounds. The lights weren’t giving light, they were taking it. Dark buildings were temples to decay and sordid feeding. I staggered and collapsed as loud gunfire erupted from somewhere and people screamed. I managed not to vomit, picked myself up and went on. There were no taxis around.

Three guys walked out of somewhere in front of me. They were all armed and all dressed in black and yellow. Black and yellow, fuck, what gang was that? I remembered as they came closer. Jaguars.

“Hey, buddy, you don’ look like you feel too good” A threatening smile. Twice in one night? Shit shit shit I knew a Jaguar what the fuck was his name?

“Hey, buddy, we talkin’ to you.” Swimmer, Zidder, fuck I couldn’t remember.

“No, I’m okay. Just fine, thanks a lot.” Thinner, Zinner, Sinner. That was it. One of them said to the others “Fuck this, lets do’m” They took out weapons. I hurriedly said “Hell, I’m a friend of the gang, guys. What you wanna get me for? I ain’t got nothin’.” They didn’t look convinced and I added “I’m a friend of Sinner you know my man Sinner?”

They paused and one said “Yeah? What’s your man Sinner look like then buddy?”

“Big guy, muscled, black jeans with yellow spots, yellow trenchcoat. I know him y’know we’ve hung out a coupla times.” If that didn’t work goodbye Seeker. The laspistol was in easy reach but they’d get me first.

“Awright, man, we leave you alone.” They laughed and pushed past me. The adrenaline rush began to fade from my body, leaving me shivering and weakened.

I continued in the direction of my hotel, trying not to feel the grasping of a city that was going to bring a lot of people to the Abyss with it. I could hear echoing footsteps, distant muggings, mournful howls, dark rumblings. I had to get away. I tried to run but could only make a few strides. Why didn’t I know where Tracy was staying? I could’ve called her, apologised or something. Maybe if I had her number or address it could’ve worked out, just for a little while. Eventually, I don’t know how long it took, I got back to the hotel walking.

I got up to the room and phoned a taxi. I had to get out. I took the taxi to the intercity train nexus and bought a ticket for high-speed to Detroit, leaving at 05:45, not long to wait. I got on and it was an eternity before it left. I could feel the city clutching at me, pulling at me, urging me to get off the train, as it accelerated out towards suburbia. Then I was out, the city behind me and dawn breaking with gold-tinged grey light.

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