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      Dark Lazurai

      The nightmare came as usual, and woke him in sweats and a blinding flash of light - also as usual.

      Right on his birthday. Their birthday.

      No prescription or alchoholic drink did any good. Didn't even give him a buzz.

      Long walks, working at some hands-on project - those were the ways he could eventually move his "birthday nightmare" out of his system.

      Every year it happened. The day his twin brother was incinerated alive by a government experiment purposely gone wrong.

      Something different this year, though. Bennie's skin was glowing as if he were the twin that burned alive.

      It didn't take long to realize he needed to get help - or he'd soon be ashes like his brother...

      Excerpt:

      I didn't remember much before the flash knocked me down.

      Just walking home to my tiny cabin after checking the cows and their pasture again.

      Then - WHAM!

      And when my vision cleared, I was flat on my back and everything I was wearing was singed. That whole front side felt hot. Somewhat charred. Crispy.

      On top of that, the day had started out overcast, cold and wet from a long overnight rain. So any flash just dried things out - except directly where I'd landed. Wet and cold backside, too-hot front side.

      The day could have started better, I'll give you that.

      Someone was standing in front of me. I saw the silver boots and jumpsuit first. Of course, I'm used to seeing work boots and dungarees around the farm. Or maybe tennis shoes when the weather was warmer.

      Metallic silver just got me curious.

      So my eyes roamed higher - and above her arms akimbo at her waist I found a concerned face surrounded with long white-blonde hair.

      "Oh, hello Star. Was that your flash I felt?"

      "Hi-ya John. Nope. Wasn't me. But I'm here to take you to that guy."

      Star wasn't much on social amenities, and that could be an understatement. Not that she didn't care, it was just that she had only been a human for a few years, having spent a few million (give or take) among the stars as one of them.

      I just laid there for the moment. Not comfortable, but wanting to check things out to see if anything got hurt in that flash.

      "You OK down there?" Star was still concerned, and it showed as a sort of frown.

      "From what I can tell, everything seems to be."

      At that Star put a couple of fingers into her mouth and whistled. Then yelled, "He's OK - and it's safe to come in now!"

      Tess shimmered in. Both she and Star reached down to help me up. As they did, the movement caused a few pieces of my clothing in front to fall away like so much ashes.

      Tess's little flying tesseracts (her "tessies") went into action and surrounded me with a little factory of weavers, replacing my existing charred pieces with a similar textured replacement. Red t-shirt became a red woven knit that was scratch- and thorn-proof. Blue dungarees and chore coat became sturdy all-weather replacements that were rip- and chainsaw-proof. Work boots became impenetrable and water-proof foot guards - but comfortable and light. Everything looked the same, but definitely felt like an upgrade all around.

      I was dry and comfortable again. Funny how the day can change in a moment. How little things can shift an attitude.

      Tess saw the delight in my face and smiled. "You're welcome, John. Those will be better Ghost Hunter gear for you. But don't worry, they'll still wash the same."

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