That was the price. Thirteen dollars and thirteen cents. The woman behind the counter looked down at the number glowing on her register and then back up at the man in front of her. "I'm sorry sir, I don't think I added that up correctly."
"That's quite alright." The man chuckled and handed her a chit for twenty, "Here, keep the change. I'm not superstitious, mind you, but you can't be too careful."
"Uh, certainly sir. Thank you!"
The woman opened the cash drawer and swapped out the change, pocketing the rest. The man walked to the end of the counter as the woman greeted the next customer in line. He picked up his coffee and pastry, and exited the cafe through the side door, stepping out into the wet city streets. He counted the number of floor tiles between the counter and the door.
That was always the price. And, to be true, it was a small price compared to some others. Vampires needed to drink far more often than that, and werewolves had that nasty moon condition. The priests in the churches were always denying themselves one pleasure or another all in the name of piety. Wizards had to study—nothing about their magic was easy. But him? No, for the man it all came easy.
The spinners whizzed by, barely kicking up any water from the road’s surface. That is one blessing of this era, the man mused, not having to get soaked from cars passing you in the street or stepping in horse dung. He was glad he’d lived long enough to see this era. As he waited for the light to change, he glanced at the number of cars stopped in front of him.
But thirteen? Thirteen was easy. Thirteen people a year. That was the price the beast had asked. To kill just thirteen people a year was all the beast required in exchange for the power the man had received. And it was so easy.
He rounded the corner and looked up at the large government-run hospital before him. It looked like any other hospital, except, of course, where a police spinner had crashed into it. People were walking around putting up do-not-pass tape, emergency barriers, and cleaning up the wreckage. He could have taken a taxi into work today but he liked to walk, even when it was raining. And it was almost always raining here in Angelus. Walking reminded him that he had been alive before there were alternatives. As he approached the building, he counted the number of steps up to the foyer.
Thirteen was almost ridiculously easy. In the beginning he had been a bounty hunter, and then an executioner. But the West stopped needing those a long time ago, along with cowboys and cattle rustlers. The non-lethal methods of modern police made that career path undesirable... well, at very least the paperwork did. He had tried that for a while in the late 20th Century... but he was always being demoted and disciplined and being put on traffic control. Getting chewed out by the chief was not as fun as TV had made it out to be.
"Good morning Doctor," the receptionist smiled pleasantly as he walked in.
"Good morning Alice," the man replied as he passed by, handing his wet coat and hat to an intern. "Thanks Jeffery."
"Not a problem Doctor," Jeffery replied, "How is the missus today?"
"Oh you know, the rain always makes her so cranky."
"But Doctor, it's always raining here in Angelus," Alice inquired.
"And don't I know it!" The doctor smiled in response, his joke eliciting a bit of laughter from Jeffery who had gone into the coat room.
"Good one, Doctor." Alice smiled, "You've got more some more patients up in the ‘special’ wing."
"Ah, well, it's nice to feel loved and needed you know," the doctor said as he pushed the button for the elevator. Stepping inside, he pressed the button for his office floor.
So he had decided to be a doctor. Now THAT made his job a lot easier. And now no one questioned his wealth or his lifestyle, because his power made him one of the top surgeons in the world. He had written a couple of books, sat as executive chair on the most prestigious medical journal, and was even on H-Oprah once. Although he preferred the clones' show instead of holo-version, the clones had been out doing aid in Africa. Again. He wondered if the world would ever be put together. But he knew better. He knew the beast. He knew why.
But oh, he never killed any of his patients. But sometimes he would do his rounds, and other doctor's patients would die. Sometimes one of the vegetables in the basement would pass away quietly. And so he always had an air-tight alibi. Even if someone did notice a pattern they would be tossed off as crazy. After all, the doctor spent his day saving lives in the operating room. Why would he be doing anything else? No, any accuser would be laughed out of the hospital. And that's why he liked it here.
He looked up at the clock—thirteen past the hour.
He folded up his napkin, tossing his cup and crumbs into the trash. The beast would always send these reminders. He would do things like make the cash register spit out wrong numbers, make the doctor glance up at the clock every hour at thirteen past. These reminders were a comfort to the doctor in a way: the beast was still supplying him power. So much power. But the beast reminded him of the cost of failing to pay the price....
"Doctor?" One of the nurses poked her head into the office, breaking the doctor out of his reverie. "We need you in the ICU."
"Yes, of course," the doctor stood up, put on his lab coat, and stepped out into the hall. "Who is my first patient for the day?"
"Clade. Military grade." The nurse flipped open the e-chart, "Came in last night with the spinner."
"Ah, I was wondering if that was our friends over at XSWAT. They never bother filling out paperwork before hand." The doctor smiled.
"Yes, but the Clade is having a bad reaction to one of the meds, and Dr. Bradkin isn't sure what to do." The nurse replied curtly, missing the doctor's joke.
"Of course, Bradkin. You know, if he was in charge of this hospital they might as well re-brand it as a morgue." The doctor pushed open the door to the ICU.
"Jeeze, Doc." The clade on the bed shouted, "Took you long enough. Whatever brain-dead lackeys you've got in here are trying to kill me! I feel like my shoulder is on fire and they won't do anything!"
Thirteen. Thirteen cc/hour.
"Easy there." The doctor began adjusting the flow of medicine, "That should do the trick, my good clade, they just set it too high."
And as for you, the doctor placed his hand on the shoulder of the clade. You'll need to come out. The doctor checked the bandage, noting the black tendrils wriggling in it. Tendrils that only he could see. Come with me, my pretties. The doctor closed his eyes and shuddered as the tendrils slithered out from the wound and into his body, being absorbed into the doctor's essence.
"Are you OK Doctor?" The nurse asked with concern on her face.
"What? Oh yes, I'm fine. Just a bit chilly in here. Do you feel better now?" He asked the clade.
"Yes, much, all the burning is gone. Thanks Doc," the clade replied.
"No, thank you," The doctor smiled. "Without XSWAT, this city would be in much worse shape. I'm just doing my part to keep you in good health Tyger. And besides, you're one of my most frequent customers!" The doctor chuckled as he checked the rest of the roster.
Yes, yes that will do nicely, the doctor mused as he began walking down the hall. The boy in room 413 had leukemia, but the numbers indicated he would live. Poorly educated parents, good, good. No one would suspect anything.
He pretended to cough and drew a black tendril from his throat, placing it on his clipboard. The invisible and incorporeal sliver of evil shuddered at being removed from its host's warm body. With a mental command and showing it the picture of the boy in the e-charts, the sliver wormed it's way through the ventilation shaft.
Thirteen was the price, and it was so easy.