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This is the eighteenth time Nate Ford lives after dying.



The first time Nate Ford died, they just dragged him out back after the ID scan showed he had no living relatives in the city.

They just dragged him out back, shoved him to his knees, put the gun against his temple and pulled the trigger.

He wishes every death could be that clean.


Nate doesn’t remember the second time.

There’s just a black hole where the computer’s screen used to be, and a black hole in his memories.


Nate always wakes alone in his apartment, the smell of grease and oil leaking up the stairs.

He always dies surrounded by security, deep in the Institute, a manic laugh in his ears over the rush of time sliding backwards.

It always seems like he’s playing a game he didn’t ask to start, doesn’t know the rules of, and would really like to stop.

And it always takes three weeks from waking to dying.

(Except the seventh time. That time it took two weeks, because that time he walked the tracks beneath the city – just to see what would happen when the train hit. The only thing that happened was that someone else saw what was happening. And because he saw, he started playing.)

(Except the thirteenth time. That time it took one week, because that time that other player showed up early. He tracked Nate down, held him down, laughed at the barely human sounds he drew from Nate’s lips until he died and he woke and everything started over.)

(Except the sixteenth time. That time it took four weeks, because that time he left the Institute alone, never went near the computer; packed his bag and lived the whole time on the streets, under store awnings, down in the subways. It took him a week to track Nate down, accuse him of cheating, and crucify him screaming in the basement. Nate’ll never be able to look at a nail gun again. Or a crowbar.)

It always takes three weeks from waking to dying. Three weeks where nothing changes. Three weeks where the news is the same, the weather’s the same, the accidents are the same, the food’s the same.

Everything’s the same.

(Except that’s not entirely true. The dinosaurs, after all, showed up after the tenth time - the burning time, the time that keeps him awake most nights now, the time he used to announce he was playing too. Nate knows, because he threw Nate to them, alive and kicking, the eleventh time. The dinosaurs showed up, and the dinosaurs stayed, and that was a change.)

But overall everything’s the same.

The sun rises. The poison clouds roil overhead, tinged golden through the greenhouse glass.

People live and move and breathe.

And he dies.


This is the eighteenth time Nate Ford lives after dying.

This is the eighteenth time Nate Ford lives after dying, and already it starts different.

It starts with the scent of coffee.