• The world was a blaze of colours and lights, and sounds—oh who could ignore the sounds? Traffic, and people talking, and that screeching electronically generated music that all the kids loved. How could they not love it? Did they ever even hear anything else? And the people smiled and they were happy. Of course they were happy. They were smilin', weren't they? Weren't they laughing, and holding hands, and kissing each other with so much passion?
    Wasn't this happiness?
    Could it be anything else? You don't laugh out of fear! You don't hold hands and kiss passionately out of uncertainty for the future! You don't smile, even while your heart is breaking.
    While your heart is breaking…
    Something else was breaking. It was hard to tell just what it was. Maybe it was the sky fallin'—after all these years, finally breaking and falling down in big, oozy chunks. Maybe it was facades cracking, tumbling. Maybe it was just California breaking away from Nevada and tumbling down into the sea. Who could tell? People don't have wings; they can't get a bird's eye view on these situations. They can only guess.
    And guess they would.
    People love to guess. It's their favourite thing in the whole wide world. They love it even more than ice cream. Love it even more than sex. And that's sayin' somethin', because if there's one thing people really love, it's sex. And guessing. Which means for sure there are two things that people really love. Three, actually, because people certainly like seeing other people suffer. And that's their second favourite thing. So, in the order of things people love, it goes guessing, and then seeing other people suffer, and then sex. Then it's ice cream. And after that, it's breathing. Those are people's priorities.
    And guessing is top priority. The truth, however, is the last priority. At the very bottom of the list.
    Supposing there had ever been a god—and I'm not supposin' that for one second, I swear—but just, y'know, just supposing there ever had been a god, I'm sure he would have looked at the list of mankind's priorities and that would have been the moment he picked up his hat, slung it on to his head so that the shadows obscured his face and said, "Good night, folks—I'm out!"
    God would have worn a hat. Maybe a fedora. I'm never certain about things, but I'm certain about this. If there had ever been a god—just supposin'—he would have worn a hat. Maybe a bowler. Something classy. Not a fez. God would never wear a fez. If he hadn't already checked out after the incident with mankind's priorities, I'm sure he would have started turnin' people into pillars of salt for wearing a fez. God hates the fez, and so do I.
    Not to say I'm god, or anything resembling god. I'm just a guy, y'know. You know how that is, don't you? Sure you do. You're just a guy, too. You're not god, either. Supposin' there was a god, he'd be him, and we'd still be us, and maybe once or twice, one of us would buy him a drink at that little dive on Bishop Street. Not 'cause he was god, but just 'cause we're decent sort of people, ain't we?
    Aren't we? I never know how that grammar thing goes. They kicked me outta school when I was fourteen. They said to me, 'Jimmy, you need to stop carving your name in the desks.' I told them no, I wouldn't. You wanna know why I told them that? It was 'cause Jimmy wasn't even my name. Maybe I should've carved my name into the desks. I should have.
    But there you have it. Kicked out of school for carving some one else's name into the desk, and sent to live on the streets, with the rats and the trash, and the sounds—all that electric music, sounding like a synthesizer's death screams.
    I know what you're thinkin'. You're wondering who Jimmy was and why I'd carve his name into my desk, aren't you? Well, the reason is…
    I dunno. I guess there was no reason. Is there ever a reason? Psh. I thought reasons were always an after thought, weren't they? …or is it 'aren't they'? I can never tell.
    Anyway, Jimmy was just a boy in my class. We didn't talk much, but I liked him a whole lot. He wasn't a smart guy. He was about average intelligence, I guess. But he was neat to look at. He was one of those ModGen kids—y'know the ones, the modified genetics people. He had his DNA spliced with some tigers or somethin' when he was just a little cell in a Petri dish. His parents had that kinda dough. Me, I was a foster kid. My parents didn't even want me, much less want to fuse me with lions and pumas and stuff.
    But, yeah, so far as I know, they let Jimmy stay in school. Even though it was his name all over that desk instead of mine.
    Guess they figured it was who did it what mattered, and not the end result of the deed. Never got that. Never understood.
    I think Jimmy's called Jim now. He's a grown man—has to be. I'm a grown man. We were the same age. I mean, unless he's dead, there's not a whole lot he could've done to not be a grown man. I think about him sometimes, Jimmy. I wonder if he's still neat to look at. Those ModGen kids, I see them all the time now. I didn't back then. Back then, it was just Jimmy. There were a few others, but they weren't so neat to look at as Jimmy was. He was somethin' else. If you'd have seen him, you'd understand my fascination.
    Those straight white teeth of his—so sharp. And his skin had these swatches of colour runnin' across it—stripes, y'know? And he had this weird facial structure. Like a big cat that was morphing into a human, but sort of froze in-between. Christ, he was fascinating to look at. I'd spend hours staring at him in class. And he'd look up and catch my eye—and he had these crazy yellow eyes, like a devil or somethin'—and I'd have to make pretend that I hadn't been starin'.
    But I did. He was so neat to look at, Jimmy. I couldn't help it. But, it wasn't just the way he looked that made me stare.
    It was the why.
    Why would someone want their kid to look like that? I'd seen Jimmy's parents before. They were normal people. They weren't freaks or nothin'. They didn't have an especial love for tigers, or whatever it was Jimmy was.
    They just spliced their baby up with a panther or somethin', just 'cause they had the money and the technology was new.
    I think about that a lot, y'know. I have a lotta time to think. Graveyard shifts as a security guard don't do much to occupy the mind. I work for an advertising company, y'know. Who would break in there? What are they gonna do, use the copy machines? Switch out one of our ads with their own?
    Nah, I don't do a lot of guarding. Mostly I just sit behind the desk with my music set on, listening to that music what they can put directly in your head. I used to have one of those music players, a few year back, and I swore I'd never trade my headphones in for a music set. But, the technology got cheaper, and when I could afford it, I did. I don't get much of a choice in what they play, now. It's mostly that electronic junk. I kinda miss my old player. But, hey, it was new technology, and y'can't just hang behind somethin' like that.
    And that's my answer, I think. To the question about Jimmy's parents. They're well off, and they go to the doc, and they say, 'Hey, Doc—can't you mix us up a baby? Fred here's shootin' blanks, and Betty's as barren as Russia after the big Nuclear showdown!'
    So the doc says, 'Sure, Fred. Sure, Betty. I can give you a son. Or, I can give you a little tiny god.'
    Because, supposin' god exists—and I'm just supposin'—why wouldn't he be part cat? Cats know somethin'. Somethin' we don't. That's whycome when you push them off a building they don't get hurt. They learned it a long time back that gravity's not quite right, and if they choose not to let it hurt them, well, they're not quite wrong.
    So, then, Jimmy's parents, who aren't yet his parents, well, they say, 'Sure, that sounds peachy. It sounds swell. But would you mind tellin' us just what you mean?'
    And the doc, he'd look at them and—oh, it's just so ridiculous, y'know, that he can give your kid a tail and whiskers—but, he'd look at them all serious and junk, and he'd tell them, 'Your baby can be a cat. Not all the way a cat. That's stupid. But he could be a cat boy. And he'd be stronger and faster and jump higher and have sharper senses.'
    Who wouldn't want that?
    I bet you want that. You wish your parents had enough dough to make you a cat boy, don't you?
    I want that…
    So, Jimmy's parents say, 'Yeah, sure, Doc! That's keen. I'd like that. We'll call him Jimmy, 'cause it's a normal name and he's just like everyone else.'
    Except he wasn't.
    But that was peachy, about the strength and speed and jumping and senses, and how he could be the best athlete in the world with his cat-man body.
    Except he wasn't.
    Jimmy wore glasses. He was horrible at sports. He was uncoordinated, and that weird tail of his always got in his way. And I'd watch him. I'd watch him sit around reading at lunch-time break. Alone. Outcast.
    I was an outcast, too.
    I never really spoke to Jimmy. I watched him all the time, though. I don't know why I never spoke to him.
    Chalk it up to a visceral fear. Man evolved in the jungles of Africa, y'know. That's what they say, but I don't know nothin' about it. But, I do know there are tigers in Africa, and those suckers'll eat you.
    Well, there were tigers in Jimmy, too. So how did I know that they wouldn't eat me? Because he was human?
    Like that ever stopped it from happening ever before?