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Lachlan and Sam walked together toward the town, now without their dog in tow. Nancy had been so taken with the dog that it had almost felt criminal not to leave him with her. Besides, they’d agreed once they were out of Nancy’s earshot, a lone woman her age needed more protection than two young men close to their physical prime.

She’d been so grateful, she’d filled a tote bag with supplies and food, mercifully not including any of her homemade jerky.

Lachlan didn’t really want to know what kind of meat that stuff had been made of. In this place, there probably weren’t any options that wouldn’t have horrified him.

Nancy had also let Sam keep her jacket, albeit a bit reluctantly.

The food she’d provided wasn’t exactly a gourmet picnic, but the can of flat diet cola and bag of stale, painfully salty chips they were passing between them at least eased some of Lachlan’s hunger and got some of the taste of jerky out of his mouth.

“Do you think maybe you could stop hogging the chips?” said Sam.

“Nah,” said Lachlan as he tilted his head back and emptied the crumbs of the bag into his mouth.


“There are at least ten more packets of those crummy chips in the bag. Think fast.” Lachlan reached into the bag and tossed some chips to Sam.

He’d expected Sam to fumble and drop the chips–it was why he’d thrown the chips instead of just handing them over–but Sam’s hand snapped out almost automatically, snatching the chips from the air with surprising precision with his good hand.

“Nice catch, Samurai. Maybe I should be calling you ‘Ninja’ instead,” said Lachlan. “And here I thought you were one of those kids who got picked last in gym class.”

Sam was staring at his hand, a surprised expression on his face.

“Um, hello? Earth to Samurai. I was talking to you.”

“Huh,” said Sam.

“Huh, yourself,” said Lachlan.

“As much as it pains me to give you the satisfaction of being right, I got picked last in gym class every time,” said Sam. “I choose to devote my time to intellectual efforts rather than mindless physical pursuits.”

“I desperately want to shove you into a locker right now.”

“Whatever you say, Dr. Chicken,” said Sam. “Hey, can you throw me another bag of chips?”

“Tsk. And you said I was hogging them.”

“I’m not hogging them. I just want to see something.”

Lachlan reached into the bag and tossed another packet of chips. Sam snapped them out of the air without dropping the chips he was already holding.

“Impressive for a man who doesn’t devote his time to physical pursuits.”

“Impressive and unusual,” said Sam. “I usually can’t catch anything, let alone with my left hand. Once, when I was a kid, my uncle made the mistake of trying to play catch with me.”

“Oh? And what happened?”

Sam winced. “Let’s just say it was a mistake he never repeated.”

“Turn around,” said Lachlan.


“I want to try something. Call it a scientific experiment.”

Sam stopped walking and turned his back to Lachlan.

“A scientific experiment requires a hypothesis and a control and–“

Lachlan tossed another packet of chips at Sam. Sam reached behind his head and caught it.

“Fine,” said Lachlan. “My hypothesis is that something very weird is going on with you.”

“That’s a terrible hypothesis. It’s imprecise, it doesn’t have empirical basis, it–“

“I’ll be more specific then,” Lachlan interrupted. “Your fingers were fucking eaten off, you drenched both of us in your blood, you passed out, I thought you were in a coma. Now you’re up and walking around like everything’s all hunky-dory, catching packets of chips like some kind of chip-catching wizard? None of that is fucking normal.”

Lachlan’s sudden burst of real annoyance caught even him off guard. Up until this point, Sam had annoyed Lachlan in kind of an amusing way, but for some reason, he didn’t find any humor in this. He’d been trying to show a little bit of genuine concern, and Sam was nitpicking about the scientific method.

“Whoa, okay,” said Sam. “Excuse me. What do you care, anyway?”

I care because I don’t completely hate you as much as I thought I did. I care because even though you’re annoying, I don’t want anything else bad to happen to you.

“I don’t care,” said Lachlan. “I’m just saying.”

“If you don’t care, then don’t say anything,” said Sam.

“You have to admit that none of what I said was normal.”

“Nothing in this place is normal.”

“That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to figure out what’s going on with you.”

“I thought you didn’t care.”

“I don’t care, I just think it’s a good idea to–“

“If you don’t care, then why are you still talking?”

Lachlan felt another rush of irritation. He placed the diet cola can on the ground and closed the distance between himself and Sam, grabbing the other boy from behind with one arm. With his free hand, he reached into Sam’s pocket, retrieving the notepad and pen. He let go, holding them above his head, just out of Sam’s reach.

He was kind of surprised that had worked. After all, he’d watched Sam struggle free of Falcon’s creepy brothers without much trouble.

“Hey!” said Sam. “What gives?”

“A scientific investigation starts with an observation,” said Lachlan.

Still holding the notebook high above his head, he craned his neck up and wrote as he spoke.

“Observation: In a matter of hours, Sam healed from a traumatic amputation of two of his digits and developed vastly improved reflexes and coordination.”

“Give that back!”

Sam turned around reached for the notebook, and Lachlan stood on his toes and stretched his arms to hold it farther away. They were close enough together that he could feel the warmth from Sam’s body, and standing in the frigid air with his shirt in tatters, it wasn’t the worst feeling in the world. One of the bags of chips brushed the notebook.

“You know, you’d really have an easier time taking back the notebook if you put the chips down, short stack.”

“Shut up,” said Sam, reaching for the notebook again, still holding the chips. “You’re barely taller than me.”

“Oh, please. I’m not even wearing shoes and I have at least two inches on you. Anyway, the next step is to formulate a question. Question: What the fuck is going on with Sam?”

Sam stood on his toes and reached for the notebook. He probably would have been able to take it if he hadn’t been holding the chips.

“That’s a very unscientific question.”

“Okay, Mr. Smart Guy, you try formulating an appropriately scientific question whilst someone’s getting up in your face, waving chips around, and trying to grab your notebook.”

“Fine,” said Sam.

Still not letting go of the chips, Sam leaned into Lachlan and reached up, snatching the notebook and pen from Lachlan’s hands.

“Let’s see. An experimental question should be specific and testable.”

Sam frowned at Lachlan expectantly, almost as though he wanted him to try taking back the notebook. Lachlan returned the expectant look with one of his own.

“Well, Samurai?” said Lachlan. “Go on. Let’s hear that earth-shatteringly brilliant question.”

“Um,” said Sam. “Specific and testable. Your observation was actually surprisingly half-decent, so maybe building off of that… something like ‘are my advanced healing and improved reflexes the result of exposure to an alternate reality?'”

“Perfect. Exactly what I would have said had you not been rudely distracting me by waving chips in my face.”

Sam smirked and rolled his eyes.

“Of course it was.”

“So, what’s next? We need a hypothesis. Any bright ideas, Samurai the Science Guy?”

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