By Taylor Knight

“Ow! Geez, are you trying to kill me?!”

Perhaps Jedediah could have phrased his words better, but when techni-fingers peel flesh that close to the brain stem, a person can become rather agitated. The back of his head was shaved clean of its blonde hair for surgery, and though his nerves had been mostly numbed, he remained fully conscious during the procedure. His eyes stared straight ahead at the dark, black walls of the CyberWare Emporium, a shop in the undercity of New Jackson, and one of the last bastions for black market tech.

The woman operating on him, Siris, managed to keep her techni-fingers still even as she snarled in his direction.

“If you’d quit wiggling like a child, this wouldn’t sting so much.”

Her pale face was peppered with freckles, and her wavy brown hair contained pink highlights that informed others she was different, special even. Her golden eyes continued to carefully survey the opening in Jedediah’s skull, and she began implanting the requested chip when the man’s mouth opened again.

“This has to work, doc. It’s my last option,” Jedediah uttered, hands motionless beside him as he tried to focus on something worldly, something other than the past.

Siris assured him it would work, her voice conveying a level of professional confidence that would ordinarily be enough to ease anyone’s mind, but not Jedediah’s. Instead, she heard groans escape his throat as he thought of the very thing he wanted to destroy.

“You ever think talking about it would help?” Siris asked.

The comment sent Jedediah into a downward spiral; it was like he was there all over again. There, on the crummy streets of the upper levels where a young girl clung to life in a back alley. She had been all alone, starving for at least a day when he found her. Jedediah was no father, but he was no heartless scoundrel either, so he took the girl home with him. Though tired and hungry, she appeared so full of life when he brought her back to his humble shack in the undercity, where dirty razor vests laid scattered about in the ten-foot living room. She had the biggest blue eyes, and the widest of smiles. Her black hair was mucky from her time in the streets, yet she never seemed to notice how disheveled she appeared. Jedediah asked about her family, to which she responded there was none. At least, none she wished to talk about. Later, he learned of her single, drunk father who had thrown her out a window, and that was the end of that relationship. And so he took her as his own. There was something about the girl that seemed to light a spark in his life that he had been missing for so long.

Her name was Aizza, and from the moment he met her, they were inseparable. Well, almost inseparable, as there was one thing Jedediah had neglected to tell her: he was a fixer, a private contractor who did the dirty work of others for honest pay. Sure, he knew it was dangerous to keep a child around, and even his friend Dara said as much. Of course he didn’t listen to her, a woman wise beyond her years but clumsy as all getup.

So he went on caring for Aizza, and though it was difficult, he realized he had never felt more joy than those months spent with her. Never before had he felt like his world revolved around another, an individual so helpless, yet so full of life that she in turn filled him with life as well. Then, the talk came.

“I’m scared,” Aizza, who was nine at the time, said when Jedediah came home late one night. “What if you get hurt out there?”

Jedediah took a knee by her side, ruffled her hair with his hand, and shook his head. “I won’t, baby girl. No one’s tougher than yours truly.”

Aizza looked to the ivory cannon on his hip, and tilted her head. “What if someone sneaks up on you?”

Jedediah barely stifled a laugh when he heard her. “Sneak up on me? Kiddo, this is the fastest gun in New Jackson you’re talking about. Nah, never gonna happen.”

He was wrong.

On a brisk autumn day, Aizza stepped outside her small, single-roomed schoolhouse, the only one for miles, when she saw Jedediah standing near the street with a smile on his face. He had the day off. She skipped on up to him, and the pair walked back home through the crowded, trash-ridden streets of the undercity. As they passed through an alleyway, one of thousands, Jedediah’s ears perked up at the sound of a cocking revolver.

“Don’t move, fixer,” a cold voice came from behind the pair. The man’s tone was well controlled, cool, collected, like he had done this a hundred times over.

Jedediah felt Aizza freeze up alongside him, and his mind emptied all emotion. He whipped around, hand to his pearly white cannon, and fired. He felt heat burn across his chest, and sneered in the fallen man’s direction as triumph set in. Then, he heard a gasp. Turning, his eyes went dead at the sight of Aizza, her white dress made red from blood. Jedediah dropped his gun as he reached down to grab her toppling body, and picked her up in his arms before racing to the nearest med center he could find.

All the while, he remembered telling her everything was going to be okay. He had seen worse and told people less, but they had all mattered little to him compared with Aizza. Liquid formed at the corners of his eyes as he ran, and upon rounding a street corner, spotted the med center a hundred feet ahead. “You’ll be alright,” he said, trying to smile with the hope of keeping her spirit alive. To his surprise, Aizza’s expression was not one of pain or suffering, but rather one of emptiness, like her spark had already been snuffed out. As the pair drew closer, her eyes suddenly looked up to Jedediah.

“Dad.”

The man’s eyes went wide, and he nearly stopped in his tracks.

“I forgive you.”

She was dead before he walked in. All that remained was the death certificate.

Jedediah’s body was still for the remainder of his operation, until Siris finally leaned back to wipe the sweat from her brow. “Well, I reckon you’re all set. Just need to—”

“Great!” Jedediah exclaimed, nearly popping out of his seat with excitement at the prospect of forgetting. “How do I do this?”

“The dial on the back left side of your neck, but it—”

The man was too eager too soon, and began fiddling with the device before hearing Siris out. He felt a tingle in the back of his neck, followed by an eruption of sparks. His nerves kicked back into gear, and he let out a cry of agony as he fell forward in his seat.

“You alright?” Siris asked, cocking an eyebrow at the hunched over man before her.

Jedediah sat up, his head tilting in various directions as he body began to twitch. His eyes looked in every direction, but everything looked the same to him. Nothing. “I… I can’t see.”

Siris scratched the back of her neck, an aura of anxiety about her before telling him the device connected to his nervous system, and still needed calibrating. “If you’d have been patient with me, you would’ve realized—”

Jedediah shot up from his seat. “I can’t see!”

“Must’ve struck your optic nerves,” Siris remarked.

Jedediah turned, jabbing a finger in the direction he believed Siris to be. “Can you fix this?!”

The woman threw her hands up. “I’m not an eye surgeon, Jed. You’ll have to see someone else.”

The man became indignant, furious his only hope had backfired in the form of blindness. And despite his lack of sight, he could still see Aizza clearly. He could see that fateful day in stunning definition, like it was happening all over again. He had not forgotten, rather the memory was like a favorite on a list that kept replaying. Yet, without the ability to see the world around him, Jedediah was forced to call on the only person he could think for help: Dara.

She was a pleasant woman for an ex-fixer, one of dark skin whose bright, emerald eyes always seemed to light up a room. Perhaps that was why she had been so bad at her job, people could spot her from a mile away. Her amber hair had once cascaded down her scalp to her shoulders, but without eyes, Jedediah could only speculate at her appearance. The woman had no qualms about chastising him all the back to his shack, where she proceeded to set him down on his rickety couch. She sat across from him in the old recliner Jedediah had received as a gift from a local contractor, a man who tried to have him killed a year later when enough chips came his way.

Dara scolded the man. “You are so impulsive, Jed! Never listen to people, and this is what happens.” Her lecture ceased when she heard the man sniffle, and noticed tears forming in his eyes.

“You’re right,” he uttered, leaning forward with his hands facing up in his lap. “It’s what got Aizza killed, after all.” His head fell to his hands as he collapsed inward. “I tried to forget her… this was my last option, Dara, and it backfired. I’ve got nothing, and this is the final nail in my coffin.”

“Don’t talk like that,” Dara tried to reason. “You can still—”

“Still what?!” Jedediah snapped, rising from his seat before stumbling forward. His hands went out to his sides in an effort to balance him, and he tilted his head in the direction Dara’s voice emitted from. “I can’t cook, can’t drive, can’t hold a gun, can’t do my job, and can barely walk now!”

“But you’re still standing, aren’t you?”

Jedediah shook his head the woman’s optimism before collapsing on his couch, with its back leg snapping shortly after, causing him to tip to one side. “If only she were still standing with me.” He began to cry, tears seeping between his fingers as they tried to hide his face from Dara. “But she’s gone, reduced to ashes forever.”

Silence followed, and the man knew his friend had something to say, she just lacked the confidence to say it. “I don’t think she’s gone. Not forever, at least.”

Jedediah laughed between tears, not because of joy, but because he thought the woman crazy. “This about that good luck charm you got after you quit being a fixer?”

He heard her grab hold of the object around her neck, and then her voice followed. “It’s no charm, it’s a symbol.”

Jedediah shook his head as he felt their conversation shift, though any conversation seemed better to him than the one about his dead girl. “The symbol of a dead man.”

“Two of a kind, it seems, but he’s still alive to this day, Jed,” Dara said. “I’m sure she’s with him.”

The man shook his head again, but it required more effort this time. “How can you be so sure?”

“I can’t,” Dara admitted. “It will always take faith.”

“Faith in what?”

“Faith he can forgive you like she did.”

Jedediah’s eyes went wide, and he felt his heart strings tug as he remembered the last words she had ever said to him. “I can’t be forgiven.” He then began to list off his crimes: the lust, the greed, the envy, the pride he had all held for so long, and his wrath. It was his job as a fixer to steal and murder, and he had done both with flying colors.

“It’s still not enough to kill compassion,” he heard Dara say after he had finished.

Jedediah leaned back against the couch and sighed. His eyes glanced about the room despite their lack of vision, and he found himself giving in. With a look of reluctance, he leaned forward and outstretched his hand. “Give it.” He could feel the woman’s concern, yet persisted. “The symbol, please hand it over.” A moment later, he felt a cold object fall into his hands. It was small, thin, with two beams as its entire shape. His mind went to Aizza, the object pressed against his chest as he closed his eyes. “Alright,” he uttered in a soft voice to Dara, “I’ll believe, not for my own salvation, but because believing she’s out there, somewhere, safe and happy, is worth more to me than all the stars in the galaxy.”

With that, he was helped to bed, and fell asleep with the object clutched in his hand. It was not easy to drift away, but after an hour, finally his mind wandered. He saw nothing for a long while, and when he did, the characters appeared distorted. He wondered if he was already forgetting what things looked like, when blackness finally wiped away everything, and for a moment he was happy to be blind. He felt cold for a moment, when the sensation of grains between his hands caused him to shudder. There was no light, and yet the feeling was familiar.

“Sand?”

He crawled forward, and felt heat radiating from beyond. He continued onward, the cool sand making him more curious with each motion ahead, when he heard the sound of tidal waves. The noise of rushing water drew him from his position within the depths of darkness, and the heat he had been feeling ahead finally swept across his body. He could not see anything, because there was nothing to see when blinding white light filled one’s vision. He put a hand up to blot out the sun, and upon doing so, noticed waves to his left. It was an ocean, with the tide coming to wash across his toes on the edge of a beach. Everything felt so real, so warm and cold, so full of life, like he had so felt long ago, and he smiled. The world around him was beyond beautiful, far from the realm of delight New Jackson brought to his eyes, and he was so overwhelmed with emotion that he almost failed to hear the voice calling out to him. When it graced his ears, his body went as numb as it had in the emporium, and he looked toward the bright sun. A shadow was in the sand, and he traced it up to a small girl. She had the biggest, brightest blue eyes, and the greatest of smiles. Her black hair fell to her shoulders, and her skin was white as snow. The man could barely breathe as he looked to her.

“Aizza.”

His heart nearly stopped when the shadow of another moved up alongside her. He tried to see the figure, but its face was blotted out by the sun. It took him a moment before he realized the sun was the figure’s face, and a thousand stars of every color covered the sky beyond. It was no wonder he had trouble seeing. When the figure spoke, Jedediah’s trembling body crumbled to its knees.

“This man has committed great crimes against my world.”

Jedediah sat on his knees before the figure, every muscle in his body shaking as he felt the weight of his actions engulf him. His life flashed before his eyes, and he was filled with shame. Then, he noticed the figure turn to Aizza.

“His transgressions are great, yet you forgive him?”

Aizza looked up to the figure without a hint of fear, cocked her heard, and returned her gaze to the one before them. Her smile persisted. “I do.”

Jedediah’s eyes filled with tears, and in that moment he wished he had not been allowed to see from the beginning. Surely, it was easier to never see than to be overwhelmed by the sight of compassion in another. He watched the shining figure turn to him, and in his heart felt an inexplicable sensation of peace spread through him.

Though he could not see the figure’s face, he could have sworn it was smiling. “Then so shall I forgive him.”

Jedediah felt a mighty wind pass across his body, and the stars from every corner of the world grew brighter. His vision was blotted out by the light, and a moment later his head shot off his pillow.

His breathing was erratic, and he held Dara’s symbol close to his chest as he turned his head. Rays of light pierced the window of his cramped bedroom, and he saw the gray paint peeling from his walls. At this, he smiled. “I can see.” He leaned forward in his bed and began to cry.

“I can see.”