Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

As the relative calm of midnight in the projects was broken by a series of tightly spaced explosions, Tiberius knew he’d made a serious, and perhaps fatal mistake letting their prey separate him from his brother.

Tiberius shifted his weight onto the balls of his feet as he ran, water torn from puddles streaming out behind him. Weapon in hand, he followed the sound through an alley onto the next block, his breath measured, heart rate barely rising.

In the street to his left, a crumpled mass confirmed his fear. Gaius. Tiberius hugged the wall, slowing as he closed the distance. On the ground a few feet from his fallen brother lay a cluster of discarded alloy cylinders; casings from mechanical ignition rounds. They weren’t scanning for those, an error they wouldn’t repeat.

Gaius curled face down in a pool of his own blood. The hunted had shot him in the back; the work of a coward, or the very afraid. They’d almost had him, they were this close.

Tiberius knew they’d be alone now, the prey would have taken the opportunity to distance himself from here. For both, this was a time to regroup.

Gingerly lifting his brother from the asphalt and sitting behind him, Tiberius pulled Gaius to his chest. Steadying his head between his hands, he polled his fading synaptic field, lifting the entirety of his brother’s experience since last they’d synchronized. He felt the chase, the anticipation of confrontation, sudden searing pain through his back, and finally, death. As he felt his own heart rate plummet, he pulled back, letting his brother go.

Hoisting the limp mass of the fallen man over one broad shoulder, Tiberius began the long walk home. “He ain’t heavy,” Tiberius spoke out loud to no-one, and smiled.

Once in the relative safety of their loft, Tiberius lowered his brother gently into a cavity in the floor. Opening a series of valves he watched as fluid sluiced in through the open rim. While the cylinder filled, he wandered into the kitchen, retrieved several cartons of supplemental protein and carbohydrates, and drank them while locking down the room. Fire doors crawled down the walls; heavy insulated alloy barriers turning the small apartment into a vault. The network inside isolated itself; from the outside periodic news feed queries would maintain the impression of active occupation, and a grocery order to be placed in a few weeks would ensure there would be supplies when needed.

Preparations complete, Tiberius removed his clothing, showered away the dirt and blood of the hunt, then climbed down into a second cavity in the floor adjacent to that of his brother.

Through the glass, Tiberius watched the nanotech already breaking down Gaius’ corpse, exposing raw muscle and bone to the soup of proteins and enzymes surrounding him. Placing his own hands into contoured pads, he surrendered to the process. Fluid quickly filled the tank, and he barely shuddered as it flooded his lungs. The nanotech, gelling the fluid around him, oriented his brother’s still cooling hands into the identical contours mirrored on the other side of the glass. With a blueprint to follow, the deconstruction of Gaius focused, tearing down only what needed to be repaired, or rebuilt.

Tiberius allowed himself to drift into a meditative trance. In a few weeks, his brother would be whole again, his memories restored from their unique system of backup. They would share a meal, and then they would go hunting again. Now the contract was secondary, their primary motivator was much more personal.

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