2100 hours, December 15, 2103
New London, British Region, the European Union

He moved through the crowded New London streets anonymously, a young man non-descript enough that most people didn't even register his existence. He was of average height, with dark coloring from a trace of Romani blood, and dressed in clothing that was not tattered but wasn't particularly nice either. His name was Henry Wheeler, a blue-collar construction worker, just off work and looking for a drink and a meal - more for the drink.

He shivered as a particularly bitter breeze whipped past him. His jacket's onboard sensors picked up his shivering and automatically flicked up the collar and tightened around his frame. It would have been better if he'd been able to afford one of those coats with their own temperature-regulation system, but money was a little tight.

He turned into a smaller, less crowded road. It was in bad repair, the streetlamps flickering on and off rather than staying lit, and the permacrete surface pitted. He walked through shifting shadows, alert for any suspicious nearby movement. But luck was with him tonight, and he was able to go his way unmolested. He stopped in front of a small square building that looked like it was hastily slapped together from whatever materials the owners found handy. A holo-emitter above the doors projected a holographic tree, its branches waving from side to side in an imaginary wind, letters forming an arch above them. 'Last Tree' they read, though the holo-sign flickered more than the streetlamps did.

Henry rolled up his left sleeve and pressed his thumb against the microchip embedded into his left forearm. Instantly he was online, the World Wide Web projecting itself directly onto his optic nerves, creating a 'screen' which only he could see. He used his Net connection to look up the bar in front of him. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it had no entry. An unregistered establishment, then.

He hesitated, but in the end decided to go in. An electronic chime sounded as he pushed open the doors, drawing the attention of every patron inside. The inside of 'Last Tree' was surprisingly well-lit and clean, uncharacteristic of unregistered businesses, and Henry had to squint against the sudden brightness. The attention of the patrons ended when they found nothing interesting about him.

Henry made his way to the bar, plonking himself unceremoniously down on a stool. "One Red Horse, dry," he told the expresionless barkeeper, laying down a five-cred wafer as he did. The barkeeper nodded and whisked the cred wafer away, returning within a minute with both his drink and his change. Henry sipped the amber drink slowly, letting the slow burn of alcohol on an empty stomach fill his senses.

He glanced up idly as the lights began to dim - not the sudden darkening that spoke of malfunction, but rather something that seemed anticipated. "What's happening?" he asked his neighbor.

"Show's about to begin," the older man, apparently a patron of 'Last Tree', said, turning in his seat to face the front of the room. Henry followed suit, seeing a young man - just a teenager, maybe - walk to the front. There was no stage as such, just a small area of floorspace free of tables. There was a stool, and the boy perched himself on it, propping an actual guitar on his knee. The bar was beginning to silence, everyone's attention caught on the oddly self-contained boy. He had this strange quality about him that attracted attention, but not in a flashy way - in fact, the very opposite. As if there was light being hidden somewhere inside him, and you looked at him trying to find it or something. As if your mind was trying to realize something profound about him but couldn't because it was too profound.

Henry wondered for a moment on his uncharacteristically poetic thoughts, and then decided it was the beer on an empty stomach that was doing it.

The boy, his head bent so that pale brown hair fell over his face, drew a hand over his guitar strings, releasing a burst of sound. The room was too small to have echoes, but somehow Henry felt the notes reverberating again and again in his bones. He noticed that he had been holding his breath, and let go in a gust of air. The bar was absolutely silent now, and when the boy began his song the sounds seemed to etch themselves into the air, leaving trails that Henry almost felt he could reach out and touch.

The sky is dark tonight
World's a little grayer than it used to be
The sky is dark tonight
See the old man looking out a young man's eyes
Waiting for his turn to die

Henry was surprised by how much the last two lines struck him. He knew all about old men looking out the eyes of young men; he knew the age in eyes of children in his neighborhood, where you could be a parent or guilty of first-degree homicide by the age of eleven; where babies fell asleep not to lullabies but to the roar of the streets, with red siren-lights splashing against the wall, in drawers stuffed with clothing rather than in a crib. He knew it, because he had seen it in his own eyes as a child.

Time kills all the memories
An enemy you can't face
Duty doesn't fill the void where family used to stay
Remembered but forgotten
Just movies playing in your mind
Why don't I care that I don't care about what was mine?

See, you'd love to run home
But you know you ain't got one
Cos you're living in a world
That everyone's forgotten
But you...

Now this part Henry didn't know about. His world was the world of countless others, of the vast unwashed majority. Too many people knew his world. But he did know that there was something very sad in the way the boy sang the words, yearning more poignant and hopeless than he had ever felt. 'But you...' Lonely. It was lonely.

Choke down all your anger
Forget you're lonely, son
Don't you know that loneliness never killed anyone?
Watcher, watch, but don't touch
The Light burns what the Dark doesn't take
And the night is just as long as the day

Now the words were beginning to blur together, maybe because by now Henry was downing his second Red Horse. But he wanted to remember the song - somehow he felt the words were important, he didn't know how, but he felt it - so he concentrated. Even so, the words spun around in incomprehensible paradox. What was that bit about watchers? Who? Watching what? TV?

'The Light burns...' You could hear the capitalization of some of the words. And what did he mean anyway? '...what the Dark doesn't take...' Well, that was depressing. As if all that was left in the world was one hard choice over another.

And why was he taking the lyrics so seriously?

See, you'd love to run home
But you know you ain't got one
Cos you're living in a world
That everyone's forgotten

Now he was repeating the part that had suggested such sadness to Henry earlier; but now there was anger in it too, frustration might be more the word.

Did you know the universe is a joke
Played by those who rule it
And no one's laughing
Because everyone's ruled by someone else
...someone else...

Henry suddenly fought the urge to laugh. He raised his glass to the boy in a mock-toast, getting some odd looks from people around him. Well, he had nailed it directly on the head. He remembered his grandda telling him that a universe with a sense of humor was the scariest thing he could imagine. Henry hadn't understood it then, but he had puzzled over the words since, and hearing something like them in a song...well.

The boy caught sight of Henry's mock-toast, and he raised his head. He gave a quick flickering smile to Henry, the corners of his lips just twitching upwards. His eyes were blue - pale blue, like blue glimpsed from beneath layers of translucence.

The sky is dark tonight
World's a little grayer than it used to be
The sky is dark tonight
See the old man looking out a young man's eyes
Waiting for his turn to die

The song ended. For a moment silence remained, before they gave the boy a round of applause. Not a standing ovation, but then something like that would have seemed... wrong for the song. The boy stood and began packing the guitar away, and the audience's attention wandered back to whatever they were doing before he had began.

***

He exited through the side-door, not waiting for money or payment as many other performers might have. He didn't need it; he only sang to remember the tradition of music that had been his family's. His voice was as good as it had been in childhood, only deeper - although he had used a small magic to make sure his vocal chords had grown the way he wanted them to. He didn't feel guilty about it, though he might have as a child - it was using magic for himself. But it had been many years since that vow, and now it took a lot to make him feel guilty.

He stepped out into the New London night. He glanced for a moment into the sky...but there were no stars to be seen. There hadn't been air clear enough for stargazing for over twenty years now. He raised his left arm to the sky, forearm bared, so that the circle-and-cross scar on it faced the sky. Then he lowered it, a momentary salute to stars unseen done.

He turned and waved to Henry, who stood at the doorway watching him. Then he walked off into the night, his dark-clad figure disappearing in a very short while.

Henry never saw him again, though he would always remember that song.

***

Author's Note
Well, this is pretty oblique. Not in a good way either. (shrug) I'm a little surprised at myself, since I finished it in one night. It's extremely rare for me to finish fics, you know. (glances sheepishly at various fic projects)

This is an experiment more than an actual fanfic - as you can see, it has very little of the true spirit of the DiR Sequence. I wanted to write some sci-fi, and Will seemed to want to insert himself into the story. Since I presume he will be alive long after everyone else is dead, and could be alive in a year suitable for sci-fi settings, I gave in. The song he sings is adapted off the Goo Goo Dolls' ' Broadway ' and I really was thinking of him when I was scribbling it.

Regarding 'Out of Bounds'...I have hit such a major writer's block on it that it isn't funny. I think I may have to revise some, if not a lot, of the series before I can work on it again. There are too many dangling plot threads that I don't think I can develop anymore - I'll have to trim these away (although I will try to tell the readers what I had intended) and set the story so that it's actually heading towards a plot. My apologies. ^^;;