The Exo formally known as Mary-Lou Welles testified on my behalf. She gave the court the guff about Snyder hiring me to find his partner gone M.I.A with the Dobereiner’s lamp. Said I was sent out on a fools errand, that my actions had only been instigated by the deceased. And considering there were no shots fired and no proof of foul play in the death of Lon Snyder the court bought it. They had no choice but to rule it as an accident. All charges against me were dropped. I was free to go.

I figured they were all in on it. Knew about the Exos and their plans to replace man. But what the hell.

I shrugged.

Hal apologized for setting me up. I told him the best kind of rat always covers its ass and I couldn’t blame him one way or the other. Most people look out for number one, anyway. How was I any different. My aim was always to do the work. To go through the motions and pick up the pieces along the way. That in itself is a selfish act.

I never saw Bixby and his boys again. They must’ve went underground when the shit went down. Good riddance. As for me I got back to work. I had to.

The world hadn’t changed much afterward. There were still cases coming in. New leads on old snail trails. Muck found among us. Well, that’s as much as I’d expect. And I don’t expect much. Not when it comes to revolving doors. But I felt different. Part of me could see a little clearer into the workings of this thing. Small fragments of light slightly shimmering out the corner of my eyes. It’s better than nothing. Some people go their whole lives worshipping objects that never bare fruit and die with a hungry just to get a lick of glory.

The Volks’ was still in the shop so I took a page out of Bertram’s playbook and bought a bus ticket. Took the ride. It’s a good way to keep your nose off the ground. There’s plenty of action when there’s people around. I could see it on their faces. They knew like I did that we were undeserving of Bertram’s gift. Whatever it was. The old lady sitting next to me who smelt like old shoe and masked by too much perfume. The guy in rags with drool dangling from his chin. Even the kid with headphones on speaking in rhyme to the empty space before him. And maybe we’ll never be worthy. That’s fine by me. So long as I know it. It’s not my place to say who is deserving of what. It is only up to those who give who deem those worthy. And if it were by chance for the good all men, so much for the better. It starts in the heart of all sentient beings. The mind and soul moving in the same direction. All minds. All bodies.

I was going over a few equations for another case like some rundown Hercule Poirot stained in cigarette smoke and reeking of whiskey. I was looking at all the angles, played with this, moved that, when a sliver of light cut across my eyes. I looked up. The light had reflected off what looked like an hourglass in the hands of an old man. The object like the man was antiquated. Out of place.

I took out my flask. Took a hit. Then got up and moved towards it.

As I got closer I was able to make out the object. Between two bowls of glass there was a silver body. Etched into the silver was a name: Prometheus.

I took a seat beside him. The old man turned and looked at me. I’d seen those eyes before. The look of great distances in them.

“Where you headed, pops?”

“Huh? Me?”

“Yea, you.”

He looked around. Stared out the window for a minute.

“Oh . . . Um . . . Well, I don’t remember.”

He laughed like a little kid.

There was certainly some confusion working in that brain of his. Scrambled egg thoughts fried through the years of being overcooked. Though he was lost there were still signs certainty. 

“That’s some fancy urn you got there.” 

The old man looked down at the object in his hands.

“It’s a lamp.”

“A lamp?”

“Yes. But not just any old lamp. It’s a magic lamp.” 

“Yea? You have any wishes left? I could use one or two.”

“No no no. Not like that. In this lamp is all the fire there has ever been, and ever will be. Forever.”

“Does it work?”

“Of course it works. What are you an idiot. Did you not just hear what I said about forever.”

I remembered my dream then. The serpent and my soul. I sensed there was a connection between dreams and reality. There was something to the diluted feelings that linger in the waking. Like we’re supposed to remember something. Something forgotten long ago and all that remains is the stain of some distant mystery.

Bertram Welles worked his magic and brought the thing to life. A small gentle flame emerged. It was a beautiful thing.

I pulled out a smoke. Stuck it between my lips.

I leaned in.