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A young man is walking along a square park growing in a long canyon-like formation with peculiar edges, as if someone was stirring some reddish cream and trying to make a dome with it, but the roof kept constantly falling off. Whoever was that cook, he or she decided to leave the “walls” as is: round, as a skateboard ramp with torn-like edges. The sunlight coming through the walls added reddish hints to the sycamores here and there, making the environment look mystifying.

Under the man’s feet one can see old railroad: rails are mostly intact, albeit rusty, but wooden sleepers were mostly decayed and overgrown by grass and weeds. Along the path of the railroad there is building, that served as a stop for whatever machines, that came by this road. Its symmetrical platforms on both sides of the road are connected by metal ladders arcing over the road and branching into second floor, where all the services besides the ticket-boxes were stationed.

The man reaches the stop and hears steps behind him. He looks behind to see another man dressed in camo pants and hoodie with the hood covering his face. The camo-man is running towards the man with a big backpack and a small over-the-shoulder bag hanging on his belly. He smiles to himself and uses a small jackknife to cut that bag’s strap and take it for himself. He pushes the man down while at it, hoping that the policewoman following him will stop to help him.

She does not. While passing by a quick professional glance revealed to her, that the passerby was unharmed, and the bag will be returned to him as soon as she catches the thief. Thus, she follows the runner on to the left platform and the ladder, ignoring passerby’s shouts:

- Hey! Give my bag back!

Passerby gets back on his feet, sets the backpack straight and runs after the two strangers. Since the backpack is heavy filled with quite a few things meant for a long journey he can’t run that fast and getting up on the platform is a pain for him. He has very little hope of catching up to the strangers, but still steps on the clanky stairs and the left, into the wide room filled with old desks and assortment of usual office stuff scattered all over. The dusty yet moldy smell makes him want to sneeze.

To the left side of him he hears some cursing and finds a woman standing outside on sort of balcony. Continuing to curse she jumps. Dazzled, the man looks down and sees how she lands across a 2 meter gap between the balcony and the canyon wall right on the said wall, right where its edge is conveniently lower, and slides down the arc. Thinking, that dawdling here or trying to go back and around the wall will be a waste of time, the passerby takes a few steps back to get some momentum and jumps forward. Soon he realizes, that this was a bad idea after all, since at the end of his jump his backpack pulls him backwards and instead of landing on his feet he cracks his head against the stone of the wall losing consciousness from the impact.

Passerby’s body starts to slide down, backpack gets caught on protruded stone and unwilling passerby slips out of the backpack straps and onto the ground below. Hearing the commotion behind them, both policewoman and thief stop. Cursing her own luck, the policewoman runs to the civilian, to check what’s wrong with him and if she can help. Meanwhile the thief notices the backpack hanging on the wall and runs up to grab it, the second unexpected treasure of the day.

- Wait! Stop right there! – the policewoman yells almost ready to run after the thief, who has become slower, but she forbids herself this action: there is a small pool of blood gathering under the civilian’s head and thus she can no longer leave him. “This will be a pain to report” – she murmurs as she nonchalantly tears part of her light-blue shirt to make a headband to help stop the bleeding. She also calls the incident in asking for ambulance, but know all too well, that they may take quite awhile to get here, since they are overloaded now.

When the man opens his eyes, he sees the sky colored pastel red with clouds outlined in violet. He sits up and sees a Hispanic woman with dark hair combed into ponytail sitting on the ground near him. She notices his movement and leans towards him trying to analyze his reactions with her hazel eyes. The man barely follows her plump lips to understand what she is asking him:

- Sir? Are you alright, sir?

- My head is ringing a bit, - answers the man while touching the back of his head. He feels something sticky there and checks his hand to find some dark blood on it.

- You fell pretty hard and looks like there is a fracture, most likely a concussion as well. I’ve stopped the bleeding for now, but we better get you some proper medical attention.

Woman looks attentively at how the man looks around him: they are near the same wall, obviously, but it’s the only distinct thing near here. The rest are just a regular road with quite low traffic and some residential buildings across it. The man has light brown hair, that can look almost blond under certain light, bangs covering forehead, amber eyes with some visible capillaries, thick nose, and angular jaw. Despite certain masculinity right now he looks almost like a lost child, which is to be expected.

- Sir, sorry to repeat this, but how are you feeling? What is your name? I am officer Matilda Castillo. And you are?

- I… I am Burton Wyndham. And I feel…

He pauses coming to a strange realization, that the ringing in his head… He hears it but does not feel it. He places arms on his chest and then belly – nothing. He thinks, that, perhaps, this is because of the windbreaker, and unzips it, but no – still nothing.

- Mister Wyndham?

- I… Do not feel anything.

- You mean, that you are not in pain?

- No, I mean that I do not feel anything at all. I mean the ground here. It should be dusty and cold to the touch, right? But I do not feel it.

- Do you have that condition, where people do not feel anything?

- No, not as far as I remember, at least.

- What do you mean by “as far as I remember”?

- What… Ah… What I am doing here? Do you know?

- No, sorry. I was chasing a pickpocket, but he stole your bag while passing near you, and seems like you decided to follow in our footsteps and… Hit your head.

- My bag… Right. I also had a backpack, - Burton looks around frantically.

- I am sorry, Mister Wyndham, while I was tending to your wound the pickpocket decided to haul it with him. Was there anything of import in it?

- I… Am not sure. Definitely had spare clothes and some protein bars, but… I can’t remember anything else.

Woman stands up and helps Burton do the same. He feels as if all his muscles were replaced by cotton. He notices, though, that he does seem to feel something, at least he does feel the touch of the officer, but it’s muffled, as if it’s coming from somewhere far-far away.

- Miss… Ca… Castillo, right?

- You can call me Mattie.

- Mattie. Mattie, ok. What do we do now?

- Well, I think the best thing would be to get you to the precinct for now. I’d love to get you to the hospital first, but it’s farther and knowing the situation, it’s unlikely we will get an ambulance car here anytime soon. Same for police dispatch, too.

- Situation? What kind of situation?

- Ah… it’s a bit of a complicated matter, but the thing is that we are a bit overloaded and understaffed right now. But do not worry about it, you will get proper treatment and we will do our best to find your bags as well. For now, let’s slowly walk toward the precinct. Feel free to lean on me.

Burton feels light while walking but because of lack of any sensations in his body, it’s quite disorienting for him and he has to periodically look at his own legs to reconfirm, that he is, indeed, moving them. He avoids leaning on Mattie, though, to not cause her any discomfort. Furthermore, he does notice how her shirt is torn revealing her girly abs, that he finds attractive. He thinks, that if he touches her, he may get a reaction, even though there will be no physical sensation. After all this is not only physiological thing, but also psychological. And since he does not seem to be able to properly feel himself even, he may get in an embarrassing situation.

While walking Mattie contacts her precinct, warning them, they will be coming to them on foot and ambulance call can be cancelled and redirected. What baffles Burton during this call is that she is speaking Spanish and he understands it, even though he is unsure he ever learnt it in the first place. Or did he? Perhaps this is just another thing that he seems to have forgotten?

- Mattie… It may be a bit weird to ask… But where exactly are we?

- What do you mean?

- I mean, what city is this?

- Oh, guess that hit was strong, indeed. This is Golcester. Do you remember where you were going? What was your destination?

- I don’t. I think I took a wrong turn and ended up in that… Canyon or whatever.

- You mean The Tinge?

- The what?

- The Tinge. It’s what that canyon-like thing is called. Don’t know if you remember, but it was a huge thing 20 and something years ago, when a meteorite fell down here, but somehow it did not just land in one spot, as they usually do. It scraped the land for little shy than 10 miles leaving this canyon-like thing. Someone though it would be funny to call it “Tinge”, as in “aftertaste”.

- Wasn’t there a railroad there?

- Indeed, there was. The moneybags were so happy with such a straight trench dug up for them, that they quickly utilized it for connection to San Pedro to the south, so that then we could get connection with Tucson and Phoenix through them. But it did not work out, in the end.

- Why?

- Something about magnetic forces and stuff, which are supposed to be the reason for how the meteorite fell, like its trajectory got bent. Those forces affected the electricity supplies, it was unstable. But don’t take my word for it. I was a little space nerd back then, so could explain some stuff about meteorites in general, but the physics involved in this matter were over my head. Better get a proper scientist for this.

- There were a lot of trees there, is it a park now?

- Kind of. Some nature activists planted trees here and there, and they grew quite nicely there. It’s not officially a park, as far as I know, but authorities do “protect” the place regardless, so no littering there.

For a few minutes the two walk in silence, then Mattie asks if Burton is hungry. She states that they still will need around an hour to get to the precinct, but there is a cover market nearby and she know of a stall there, that makes great hot-dogs. Burton is a bit hesitant about wasting more time there, but Mattie insists: she feels at least partially responsible for his wound and having some food, that she will be paying for, will help with recovery. Burton feels like he ahs no choice in the matter and agrees.

The market is situated in a building looking like an airplane hangar. While pacing towards it, Mattie explains, that there was some rich guy who collected helicopters. When he passed away, his collection was distributed among local policemen, medics and firefighters, although, they are use in extremely rare and urgent cases, since it’s too expensive to maintain them. And the hangar, that was used to store them initially is now used as a market for local produce.

As the get closer to the entrance the noisier it gets. Working hours has ended for most 2 hours ago, at least, but for the sellers in the market – this is the best time to make their living. And chat, obviously. Besides noise there are smells as well: baked goods, meat, spices. They mixed into unnatural concoctions, that made people salivate even if they were not hungry. Burton realizes that he would really appreciate something hot and juicy right about now and feels glad, that they did come here.

Mattie asks Burton to stay at the entrance, so that he would not overexert himself, let alone get lost in the crowd. While she goes to the stall she previously mentioned, the wounded stares at a newspapers and magazines stall. For some weird reason there are also bags of chips here. Burton thinks to himself, that he would not mind some Tyrell’s, although that would probably make him even hungrier. He looks at them absentmindedly, while trying to calm himself, as anxiety starts to crawl across his skin.

Burton is not able to pinpoint the source of that anxiety. He acknowledges, that loss of his bags, wound on his head and this accident overall is a bad thing and it should make him feel down, but anxious? Why? Was there something important in the bags, that he forgot about when he hit his head? Or was he actually hurrying somewhere and is now worried, that he will miss the appointed timeframe for a meeting or some opportunity? Or is it something else?

His thoughts turn to how Burton understood Spanish when Mattie spoke it. He is pretty sure that he never learnt the language. But how did he understand it then? Maybe the phrases sounded similar to English somehow and that’s why he grasped their overall meaning? Or maybe these were some simplistic words, that he unconsciously learned while watching some movie or TV series with Spanish voice-overs? But it does not make much sense to him.

While thinking all that with a puzzled look, Burton feels as anxiety is replaced by some other feeling. Not fear exactly, but still a feeling of danger, and it seems to be coming from…

- Hey, comrade! I’m surprised to see you here.

…direction of this voice.

Burton turns to face the man calling out to him. The owner has an imposing figure with chest almost twice as wide as and 2 heads taller than Burton himself. He is wearing military boots, dark-brown jeans and light-grey shirt clutching his oversized pecs. Burton thinks that it would not be surprising to see some tattoos there. Perhaps some pigeons with olive branches or something. Man’s hair is very short, most likely, cut with a machine, and it’s hard to understand what color it is at this length and light. His face is almost like that of American soldiers on old posters, but with rounder chin, which is also covered by stubble. His blue eyes have a slightly playful glimmer in them.

- So, what are you doing here? Taking a break? – asks the man with heavy accent, possibly Russian.

- Ah… Something like that, - answers Burton reluctantly. Pits of his memory serves him the last name of this man – Orlov – but that’s all. He can’t recall his first name, his occupation or any details of their relationship.

- Good for you, comrade. I would not mind a break myself, although in some more tourist-friendly place if you get my meaning.

- Yeah, I do. I think. – Burton does not get what he means, but somehow starts to feel even more uncomfortable, than before.

- Do you want to have a drink later and catch up? – asks Orlov, while placing his paw on Burton’s shoulder. Burton starts to mumble something, but is interrupted – Not tonight, though: I have some work to do still and it will take a while. Sorry to cut this short, comrade, but hope to see you around soon.

Orlov pats comrade on his back and starts to walk away, but then stops for a moment to throw over his shoulder, that Burton did a nice job to lose the accent. This puzzles Burton even more, but he is glad, since the sense of danger subsides and evaporates completely, once he hears Mattie’s voice:

- Who was that? A friend of yours?

- Not sure. He definitely knows me, and I think I know him, but can’t remember anything.

- No reason to worry about it on empty stomach for now. Here, try this – Mattie hands something to Burton, that looks more like bread with some unclear stuff thrown on it.

- I thought, you mentioned hot-dogs.

- Yup. That’s a hot-dog.

Burton take the bread from Mattie’s hand and looks closer: unlike with regular hot-dogs that he is used to seeing, this has the bun cut not to its full length, but with around 2 centimeters of bread left on each side. The bun also a but larger and darker, that usual and it seems like it has been warmed a bit, too. On the bun Burton sees lots of diced pickles and tomatoes, some onions, a lot of mustard and some green liquid as well.

- I do not see the sausage…

- It’s in there, under the veggies. Trust me, it’s good.

Burton takes a bite.  He feels freshness of the vegetables, then smoked taste of slightly fried bacon and juiciness of the sausage. Bread itself is nothing special, but juices from vegetables, fat from sausage make it moist and helps him provide a good smooth texture, that is than replaced with spiciness of mustard and a few moments later…

- Oh, it’s hot.

- It has a special sauce made from jalapenos. Not the regular salsa, that is usually used in Phoenix and such, but more like a mustardy thing, smooth on initial taste with savory aftertaste that comes at you right after the mustard, turning each bite into a multi-layered story.

- Are you a saleswoman on the side?

- No. Just know the cook and it is a good hot-dog.

Burton nods agreeably, as he takes another bite. Jalapenos sauce brings him close to tears, but the overall composition of the dish makes him forget everything about the previously filled anxiety. Perhaps, he was just hungry, and the hot-dog hits the right spot.

Once the hot-dogs are eaten, the two continue onto the precinct. They go in silence at first, but Burton decides to break it by asking the question, that has been bugging him since they started walking:

- So… What is that situation that leaves local police and medics understaffed and unable to spare ambulance or dispatch cars?

- It’s nothing that special to worry yourself over.

- I’m not worrying, especially after you treated me to such good local cuisine, but I am curious. I understand, that Golcester is not that big, and has limited resources, but still. Or is this a restricted information?

- No, not restricted, but it’s a bit… Strange, I guess. At least if you have not faced it yourself. And people tend to not believe such weirdness.

- Now I am even more curious. So, what’s the issue?

- It’s – Mattie makes air quotes, - zombies.

- You have the dead coming out of their graves?

- No. Hence the air quotes. Once again, this topic is more for scientists, but the very short of it is some research center in Phoenix devised a cure for cancer around 6 months. Well, potential cure, that is, they needed testing. Due to that weird magnetism I’ve mentioned earlier, Golcester has quite a few cancer patients, mostly mild cases, though, so the center reached out to our populace and a lot of them agreed to test this cure. And while it did help with the original symptoms, it also had some side-effects, that were not expected: some of the tester got a blueish tint to their skin and, bruise quite easily, while sometimes bleeding a lot, they get slower because of the fatigue. So… As result they do look a bit like zombies.

- Ok. Let’s assume this is real, and I do not have a reason to not believe an officer of the law here, but how does that affect your workload?

- Some of the testers are not that fatigued or rather… They are quite agitated and… Unhappy with the results they got. Or just have severe mood swings, I dunno. The point is they cause a lot of trouble, often injuring people. In fact, that pickpocket I was chasing, is one of those zombies. Remigio Perez. He got fired and was unable to find a new job due to his skin, so he decided to try pickpocketing with varying success.

- Due to skin? Is he?..

- Pardon. Due to his blue skin. Or blueish. We rarely get any issues on races base here, maybe a few drunk fights, but that’s it. Problem with his blue skin is that it clearly shows that a person has some kind of cancer, meaning they can’t hope for long-term relationship, so employers do not want to bother with such… Candidates.

While discussing issues of the skin color Mattie and Burton reach the precinct. It is an ugly building: just like a big brick placed onto another one, even bigger and painted beige. No though was put into its design. On the other hand, Burton thinks, it’s not like a police station needs design. On the first floor of the precinct they are met by reception desk, where receptionist girl greets Mattie. Mattie asks her where a lieutenant is (in Spanish, Burton notes) and, after receiving confirmation, that he is in his office, she asks Burton to wait a bit and points to the left of the reception desk.

Burton sees a narrow corridor leading to a closed door with tablet “Private” and plants on each side of it. Along the left wall there are 3 wide benches and 2 men sitting on one of them. Along the right one – a door with tablet “Detective Octavio Waterman” and 2 more benches. Burton sits on one of them to the right of the door. The two men sitting across him are twins, by the looks of it in their mid-forties: dressed in dark red checkered shirts and classic blue jeans, with caps on their heads and fluffy, albeit already greying, beards on their chins. The only difference between them is color of the skin: one of them has a blue tint.

The zombie notices curiosity in Burton’s gaze and asks to confirm it. Burton hesitates for a moment, but still asks:

- How… How does this work exactly? I mean, why is it blue?

- Well, I have one those blood cancer stuff, - said the zombie with heavy accent, almost as if he was from Alabama or somewhere close to that, which perfectly matched his farmer-like clothes. – Leukemia. Nasty thing, I tell ye.

- Sorry, “have”, not “had”? – Burton interrupts.

- Yes. It’s still there, just… Slowed down, I guess. For me it was mostly extreme fatigue, headaches, and tummy aches.

- And dots. Do not forget the dots. – His brother adds.

- Yep, and the dots. Had little red dots all over me body. Some of them were a bit itchy, too. I can’t say it was bothering me much, but doctors said, that it will be progressing further and me brother here convinced me to participate in the tests. You, uh, heard about the tests?

- To an extent, yes.

- Them wise guys created some sort of drug, that was supposed to attack cancer cells. And I took that injection along with some good pay, too.

- Did it work?

- It did. At least at first. The aches were gone for sure, but I was still a bit fatigued. Did not worry me none: we all need time to recover. But doctors said that it was not good and turned out that now the drug was eating my healthy cells too, which would cause similar symptoms to what I had. And now I have to do weekly injections of… What’s yer name?..

- Something with “silver”, – the twin helps.

- Yes, indeed. It does not matter what’s the name. It’s expensive, but institute covers the costs.

- What does it do exactly? – Burton asks.

- Slows down the original cure, from what I gather. And that’s the reason the cancer itself is still there. Or at least that’s what the wise guys tell me.

Burton leans back on the bench and notices a wanted poster on the wall across. Normally he would not pay much attention to it, but the similarity struck like a thunder: it was him. With shorter hair, well-cared lush beard and eyeglasses, but he would be easily recognizable near the poster. Poster does not say what exactly Burton is being wanted for and, in fact, does not even show his name or any details, as if it’s a poster from old western, but that does not help in reducing his anxiety.

The fugitive also starts to feel some agitation, that increases along with noises coming from behind the door to the left. He turns his head to the left to hear better, what is going on there. Burton knows that it is not polite to eavesdrop, but it may be important, if someone needs help or plans to arrest him. The sounds indicate that a person behind the door is slamming his fist against a table or some other wide wooden surface, some small things are falling to the floor, and it’s almost like the person is in pain.

Worried that it may be a heart attack or something similar, Burton stands up form his seat planning to get inside, but is interrupted by the door being torn off the hinges and slamming into the wall to the right of the zombie twin. Painful moaning is now clearly heard from the room and is followed by a man falling over and into the corridor. As he struggles to get up, Burton notices, that the man’s body looks very strange: it is as if all his muscles are contracting randomly, bulging themselves out. Burton cannot believe his eyes, but it looks as if there are slowly growing and even start tearing the clothes at the seams in some places.

The detective continues to moan and breath heavily as his stomach starts rumbling like crazy. He mumbles: “I’m so hungry” – and manages to finally get up on his feet but leans on the wall immediately. Octavio walks pass the reception and the girl station there, who is calling someone on the phone with a worried expression. Burton follows him, curious to see what will happen next.

Most of the cops have already heard the noise of the door getting unhinged, so they are standing near there desks following Octavio with their eyes. Some civilians are doing the same, while others a moving towards the exit. One of the cops approaches detective, who is slowly moving towards the back of the open space office, where one can see a vending machine. The cop reaches his arm towards Octavio, but detective slaps it away so hard, that you can hear crunching sound from that cop’s shoulder: it gets dislocated, as he looses his balance when twisting in place.

No one else tries to stop Octavio on his path, as he continues mumbling about his hunger and his stomach’s rumbling becomes constant, as if a running engine. Some more police officers are coming down from second floor using stairs to the left of the room. Once detective reaches the vending machine and leans on it, he tries to get his wallet out of the pocket, but contracting muscles are hard to control and it tumbles on the floor. Octavio gets down on his knees trying to catch the wallet to no avail.

One of the cops from second floor comes to him, crouches, and holds out his hand with a few coins on it. Octavio looks at the hand before him for a moment and then lunges at it, sinks his teeth right through the skin and into the meat and tears it away as a wild animal. The cop falls on his butt and starts screaming and crawling away from detective, that chews the meat thoroughly. Before he swallows it a couple of other cops grab him by the arms in attempt to constrain his movements, but he simply throws them away. Others try to that again but fail.

A loud bang echoes in everyone’s ears. Octavio stops for a moment, blood pours over his face from the bullet hole in the right temple. He turns his face towards the cop that shot him, starts making a growling sound that is stopped by another bang. Another hole is now present in the forehead a bit over the left eye. Detective falls to the ground as if a sack of potatoes, but his muscles keep twitching ever so slightly for minutes after that.

Octavio’s colleagues gather around him and discuss heatedly what is going on and what to do with all this. Burton sees like one of the cops, standing near Mattie, starts giving commands to everyone, trying to calm the situation. He does stay for long, though.

What Burton saw, gave him a sense of familiarity, as if he saw something similar previously. This feeling is nauseating, so he steps out to get fresh air. Blood is pumping in his temples and he cannot stand still, so he just goes. He has no idea where, just feels that he needs to walk and hopes, that it will calm him down a bit.

While the oncoming panic attack subsides after a few minutes of powerwalking the streets, his heart is still racing, and the brain pulsates following its rhythm. Burton notices a small circular public garden: a thick oak encircled by a low brick wall, 5 benches and green hopseed bush servicing as a meaty wall around the silent place. Between the benches there were 5 roads paved with simple dark grey stone, which also covered the floor around the floor, although placed in a more circular fashion to match the overall theme. There are no flowers here, but only some grass planted in the oak’s roots.

Burton seats on one of the benches and covers head with his arms ignoring the mucky feeling of blood under his “bandage”. Unbeknownst to him the man he met before, Orlov, is sitting on a nearby, one bench over and is eating some chili con carne side-served with rice from a plastic container using disposable fork. The big guy notices Burton and after chewing in thought for a moment comes up to him:

- What’s wrong, comrade?

Burton lifts his head:

- Oh… You’re that guy. From the market.

- That guy? That hurst my feeling a bit. But I guess you did get this side-effect, as you predicted. Scooch over, let me sit.

- What side effect? – asks Burton freeing some space for Orlov.

- You know, from the drug, - answers Orlov heedlessly continuing to eat.

- What drug are you talking about?

- For the tumor in your head, - says the giant pointing the fork at Burton’s head. Seeing his incomprehension, he quickly puts it down: - It really did a number on you. Do you remember? I’m Isaac Orlov. Pinky?

- Pinky? – Burton pinches his nose bridge and closes his eyes. – Pinky. I think it sounds familiar. Pinky. Pinky… You broke your left pinky toe when you dropped a crate with some old engine.

- Yes, yes, that’s me! – exclaims Isaac. – We’ve been working together for almost 6 years now.

- Working on what?

- Uh… Different things. Most of them go above my head, since you are the brain of our operations, after all.

- Brain? – Burtons covers his head again, trying to concentrate and ignore the pulsation in the temples. – Brain, huh?

The man sits silently, and Isaac patiently waits for him. He was warned beforehand that the drug may cause temporary disorientation and even amnesia, but Burton’s brain should recover within a few hours, a day at most.

Burton twirls the word “brain” in his mind. Something that Isaac said sounds familiar, even nostalgic: tumor. He has a tumor in his brain? And drugs? Something starts to clear up in his mind, as if a fog is being removed. Drugs mean laboratory, white coats… Was he a scientist? “I am a scientist” – Burton reaffirms himself. Memories are slowly returning to him.

He is a scientist, indeed. Started with love for chemistry, but with time Burton became proficient enough in other fields as well, even some robotics. Obviously, experts would be better than him, jack-of-all-trades, but it was enough for his needs. But no matter how that proficiency in sciences made him better than others (as he thought, at least), it did not protect him from real life: he was diagnosed with medulloblastoma.

Burton started having issues with precision while working on some potential cancer treatments in Phoenix. He regarded that and sleepiness and exertion until he started vomiting almost every morning. The scientist was relatively calm, when he heard the diagnosis, until “inoperable” was added to it. It was too big and thus, at this stage, most likely, terminal.

He started obsessing with cancer cells now. The work he has been doing for the research center was mostly for the money, he had little interest in it himself, but now Burton had his personal life and livelihood at stake. He worked days and nights learning how cancer cells appear, what they are made off, what are their weaknesses. Covering the growing swelling of forehead with bangs and fueled with ever growing desperation and energy drinks he finally found a clue: amoeba.

Since Burton was looking for stuff related to brain, he firstly encountered naegleria fowleri, a so-called “brain-eating amoeba”, infection with which caused brain cells destruction, swelling and death. While amoeba mainly eats bacteria, it seems like under some conditions it may start to eat certain cells. Later on, Burton confirmed, that it was not the only type of amoeba, that could eat human cells, thus devised an idea to use them to kill cancer cells and even managed to get funding for development of the potential cure.

Burton was good enough in biology and medicine to know, that putting amoeba inside human body is generally not a good thing, though, so it’s not enough to identify those amoeba that will eat cancer cells and only them. Besides, what should you do with them when they eat all of the cancer cells? They may start eating healthy cells as well, after all. Scientist’s idea was to first introduce a large amount of amoeba’s so that they quickly eat the mutated cells, but then starts gradually killing them, while helping the body to get rid of them and recover properly.

Killing of amoeba is nothing new: amebicides exist for quite some time now. The problem was efficiency. They will not eat cancer in a day, most likely a week and up to month, depending on actual situation. By that time, they will reproduce, and it’s required to kill them as fast as possible, but with minimum damage to the patient. Burtons found his answer in silver: there were some promising results using it in the past, but only in small doses. He increased the amount of silver and also combined several of amebicides to further increase the potency.

Then the tests began. And failed. Burton failed. Amoebas were killing and reproducing to fast and his new amebicide was not good enough, unless it was injected on daily basis, leading to argyria, that is turning skin blue. Granted the amount of cancer cells did reduce in most patients, but blue skin and low blood cells values did not make this solution viable. A lot of his colleagues were laughing at him now and wondered how this experiment even got approved.

That was thanks to Pinky and some blackmailing. Isaac was the only person, that stuck with Burton through this disaster, believing him. Scientist knew that the Russian guy was not very smart, and he got involved in this purely by chance, once his unit abandoned him in the region after some military exercises or whatnot, but he was, indeed, a good “comrade”. Even though, it did not prevent Burton being kicked out from the center.

It did not stop him. He continued his research and experiments. Burton found some alternative solutions to be used along with amoebas and silver. In a sense they all aimed and increasing cell proliferation and as result higher regeneration speed. Nothing even close to what you can see in comics and movies, but results were still quite significant: some wounds were healed in a few days, instead of weeks, and simple bruises – in mere hours.

Golcester had enough poor people with cancer, whom Burton used as his test subjects. He found failure more than once before they have filed enough reports to police, claiming he was scamming them. He found them stupid for doing so, since there was no scam: he never guaranteed success, after all. Regardless, he was no longer able to find subjects that easily and he required do to something with his own tumor, as well.

After meticulous analysis and dozens if not hundreds of mixtures he finally made one dose of an amebicide, that could cure him. Or help him properly survive amoebas after they deal with the tumor. It was risky, though, since amoebas will be planted into his brain, which is his livelihood. But there was no choice, but to warn Isaac of potential side effects, permanent or not, and risk it.

- And seems like it worked.

- How do you feel then, comrade?

- I did experience some disorientation, which lead me to The Tinge. Then I got robbed, which is unfortunate, since I had quite a few valuable chemicals in the bags. Then I fell and hit my head. Whether it caused the short-term amnesia or assisted it somehow is an interesting matter, but for another time. I was led to the precinct and saw how one of my previous attempts went haywire: remember there was that detective with melanoma? The proliferation serum was too strong, it seems, and his muscles started growing too fast, extremely fast, at that. All that tissue requires quite a lot of energy, which made him hungry and the hunger drove him insane in an instant, he bit off a piece of meat from one of the cops. I saw something to similar before, but not to this extent: if I remember correctly, that woman only gained some muscles in short term and that was it. Regardless, it overwhelmed me, I guess. Or rather… I think something changed in my brain. I was able to understand language I never learnt before and I also had some… Vibes. As if empathy turned to maximum for short bursts. Most likely, I had such a vibe back in precinct, that nearly caused a panic attack, that increased my blood flow, which in turn increased speed of regeneration of my brain tissue…

Isaac is not that smart, so he does not get most of Burton is saying. While the scientist is talking, Pinky finishes his chili and just sits there, listening to the rambling. When Burton pauses for a moment, the big guy asks:

- So, did it work? Are you cured now?

- I need to run some tests, obviously, including some tomography, but… I feel good. So, yes, there is a significant chance, that I am cured now. At least for the time being.

- Great news, comrade. What are we going to do tonight then?

- Return to our hideout, run tests, try experimenting with those “vibes” of mine, see if they can be controlled and used… And if they can… Take over the world.

- Sounds like a plan. Let’s go then.