Month: August 2012

Farrago – Part 3

Looking for Part 1? Click here to read the beginning of Cassandra Rose Clarke’s novella Farrago.

Henry sat down at the interrogation table. Cecilia’s hands were folded in her lap and she looked up from them as Henry’s chair scraped across the floor. She’d washed the makeup off her face, but the antlers still jutted out of the tangled mat of her hair.

“I want to help you,” she said.

“That’s good,” said Henry. The heart mechanism was clicking inside of his chest, measuring out his heartbeats. He was aware of Felton standing in the corner, watching, recording, analyzing. “Why don’t you repeat what you told me in the car.”

Cecilia nodded, and then she said it again — Emmett Margum was my father.

“Explain what you mean by that,” said Felton.

Cecilia looked over at him, her eyes bright. “He created me. That was how Mother — Naomi Rohn, she’s the one you’re looking for — always said it. She told me I was created in a test tube, grown in a vat.” Cecilia blinked. Henry heard a whisper in the back of his head — Checking on Naomi Rohn now. I’ll let you know what we find out. Officer Minette. Everything in the interrogation room was completely still, but Henry knew there must be a flurry of motion outside its wall, as the officers listening in reacted to that name.

“Thank you,” said Felton.

“You’re welcome.” Cecilia looked down at the table again. “What else do you want to know?”

“Why was Naomi Rohn at Margum’s lair? Has she been there since the bust?” What Henry really wanted to ask was, Why were you at the lair?

Cecilia shook her head. “She went there a few weeks ago to hide. She didn’t think you’d make the connection — she didn’t know about the photographs. That’s why she didn’t take them with her. I put them there, a long time ago.”

Henry didn’t say anything. His heart mechanism clicked away.

“She knew you were watching the house in Ballard.” Cecilia lifted her head shyly and looked Henry right in the eye, then looked back at Felton. “I didn’t tell her, if that’s what you were thinking.”

Henry had been thinking that, and he looked down at his hands in response. He wanted a drink.

“How’d you get to the lair?” asked Felton.

“Mother brought me there. She kidnapped me after she heard you had talked to Father — to Emmett Margum. I didn’t think she knew I was back in town, but apparently she did, she’d known for a long time, she just didn’t — didn’t care.” Cecilia shrugged. “They never cared about me, either one of them. I was just a test — a test experiment? To see if they could do it. Splice together people and animals. I ran away as soon as I could.”

“Why’d you come back?” said Henry. He felt Felton staring at him.

“Ran out of money,” said Cecilia. “And some people found out about me –” she gestured toward her antlers — “I wanted to come home but I didn’t have one, you know? I couldn’t go back to them. But I still felt safer here, I know it’s stupid, but — I came back and rented a room in Capitol Hill. I was in California before,” she added, looking up at Henry. “In case you needed to know.”

“Why’d she kidnap you?” Redirecting the conversation back to the investigation, even if he did want to know more Cecilia and California.

“I don’t know. She said she knew I’d been talking to you, but then she just left me there when you showed up. I think the real reason was that she was lonely.” Her voice grew smaller, and it trembled in the emptiness of the interrogation room. “Ever since he went to jail. You have to understand — Father used his DNA to make me. I think she missed him.”

Cecilia pressed one hand to her eye, where a line of tears glittered in the harsh light. Officer Minette’s voice flooded into Henry’s brain. The name’s real but we’ve got nothing on her. The address listed is for an apartment complex that burned down five years ago.

Cecilia opened her mouth to speak, but Henry held up one hand, not wanting to miss Minette’s information.

Other than that and a picture, there’s nothing on her. No arrests, no traffic tickets — hell, she doesn’t even have a license number listed. See if you can find out anything else from the girl.

“What are you doing?” Cecilia asked.

“Nothing,” said Henry. “I was listening to someone.”

Cecilia brow’s wrinkled. Felton stepped forward, pressed one silver hand against the table.

“Have you heard reports about monster attacks out in Redmond?” he asked. “The suburbs?”

Cecilia nodded.

“Do you think that’s your parents’ work?” A slight hesitation before the word parents, one Henry only noticed because of the upgrades.

“I know it is,” said Cecilia, and this time Henry imagined the silence that had probably fallen outside the interrogation booth, as Officer Minette yelled for everyone to shut the hell up and listen. “She told me about it. She’s been creating an army. She didn’t tell me why, just she was building an army — literally building, the way they built the whores, the way they –” She stopped.

“She didn’t tell you why?” Henry leaned forward over the table. “But she said she was doing it? She said she was responsible for the attacks in Redmond –”

“Yeah.” Cecilia shrunk back a little in her chair.

Holy shit, said Officer Minette. I just came in. Did she —

Henry pushed her out of his head. “It’s okay, Cecilia, we aren’t going to let anything happen to you. Tell us everything you know.”

Farrago – Part 2

Looking for Part 1? Click here to read the beginning of Cassandra Rose Clarke’s novella Farrago.

“It’s a woman.”

Henry slumped at his desk, ran his hand over the scattered paperwork. Felton stood beside him.

“A woman is just as capable of manipulating genetic makeup as a man.”

“Not really a matter of intellectual capacity.” Henry rubbed his forehead. “I just can’t picture a woman doing it, is all. That kind of meanness.”

“This does help us,” Felton said. “Certainly narrows the field.” He paused. “You did well in there. I know how squeamish you are about the up–”

“There isn’t a single lady scientist on file,” Henry said.

Felton paused. Henry didn’t look at him. “I’m aware of that,” Felton finally said. “But she can’t hide behind her sex any longer.”

Henry leaned back in his chair, listened to it creak beneath his weight. He rubbed at his jaw, the stubble scratching his palm.

“She’s gonna clear out the house,” Henry said. “Have we got a warrant on it yet?”

“Still waiting. Should have it soon, though.”

“Shit. Figures.”

“We’ve got men down there, still watching the place. Haven’t seen anything.”

Henry sighed. Felton stood too close to him. He thought he felt the air buzzing, some faint output from Felton’s systems. Or maybe it was his own network of wires and circuits. He looked down at his arm. A lopsided rectangle of a scar, pink and faint. It’d be gone by morning.

“I think Cecilia’s into you,” Henry said. Felton dimmed his eyes but otherwise said nothing. Figures. “You should ask her out for coffee.”

Before Felton could reply — assuming he had any intention of it, who the hell knew with robots — Henry grabbed his coat and headed into the cold gray mist outside. Felton didn’t follow him. No one did.

Henry walked three blocks down to the bar on the corner, a shabby little hole-in-the-wall that changed names every couple of months but kept the windows tinted so people driving by on their way home from work couldn’t glance over and see their neighbors. When he stepped in the smell hit him like a punch, sour beer and stale cigarette smoke and the musty damp of winter. At least no one looked up from their drinks. It was that kind of place.

The bartender smiled a little when he approached, like she recognized him from those first few weeks after Melanie left, when he came in here every night, before he took up bowling again.

“What can I do you for?” she said, even as she reached for the stack of whiskey tumblers. Whiskey on the rocks. Terrible for human and machine both: the circuits webbing out inside him, the liver nesting shriveled and worn against his ribcage.

The bartender handed Henry his drink, then returned to wiping the counter with a damp dishrag. Henry sat down at a booth in the corner. The ice clinked against the glass. He leaned his head against the booth’s cracked red plastic. Studied the patterns etched into the lamp hanging overhead.

When he closed his eyes, he saw Melanie, he saw Cecilia.

Melanie left because of the upgrades. It wasn’t a secret: she told him, flat out, as she packed her clothes in that round blue plastic suitcase he bought her for their fifth anniversary. Bruises ringed her wrist like a bracelet. He hadn’t been angry when he grabbed her, just excited, brimming up with love and lust and the upgrades hadn’t understood either. And he wasn’t used to his strength yet.

“I can’t deal with this,” Melanie said. She never cried, not once, not in the entire time that their marriage dissolved. Every time she spoke her voice rang flat and tinny. That hurt him most of all. “I don’t want to worry you’re going to kill me every time you touch me.” She didn’t look at him. Her hair swung across her face as her hands plucked up another blouse, another skirt, another pair of stockings, rolling them up tight and tucking them into the suitcase.

And Henry hadn’t done anything but watch, because the upgrades were pulling apart his insides, wanting him to fight. He trembled in the corner, sweat beading out of his pores. He dug his nails into his palm until he drew blood, and when that wasn’t enough he tore his skin to shreds. And then he had watched her walk away.

Henry drained the glass of whiskey, held the glass up over his head until the bartender nodded and poured him another. The rain had picked up — drops pinged against the roof, knocked against the darkened windows. Sounded like the whole world was falling apart. Melanie leaving, that he could understand. She married a man and he went and made himself half-machine. But figures the one girl he met since then, the one girl he thought about at night, listening to the heater rattle and huff in its corner as he fought back wave after wave of loneliness — figures she’d be a robbie-lover. One wanted a man, the other a machine. When you fall in between you get nothing.

And a lady mad scientist? Henry sipped at the whiskey, let it soften his brain. Before the upgrades, he couldn’t even have begun to imagine something that wild. Not anymore.

Farrago – Part 1

They had a new girl working the shoe rental. As Henry paid the twenty bucks for his three rounds (the owner liked him, liked that he was a cop, so he gave Henry a discount), the girl glided in front of the row of shoes, passing it over with the buzzing decontamination stick, the glow staining her hands pale blue.

Henry didn’t need to rent any shoes — he had his own pair, specially made, tucked away in his bag — but he lingered for a moment at the shoe counter anyway, until the girl glanced up, strands of her blonde hair falling across her eyes, which were, startlingly, the exact color of honey.

“What size?” she asked.

Her voice had a low thrumming quality to it. Her words reverberated off the side of her throat.  Henry shook his head, stammered a little.

“Sorry, I don’t — got my own.”

He jerked his bag up. The girl blinked at it and shrugged and then passed the decontamination stick over another set of shoes. Henry dragged his hand across the top his hair and trudged over to his lane. It was a Tuesday night in November, icy rain slicking across the city, and the alley was nearly empty. Just Henry at one end and a pair of teenage girls at the other end. He sat down on the bench and ordered a beer from the touchscreen and waited for his partner to show.

The last time he went to the cyberneticist they’d told him to lay off the alcohol, that it was corroding the bits of metal and plastic lining his stomach, and also they hadn’t exactly upgraded his liver, but he’d never listened to doctors before and he wasn’t going to listen to cyberneticists now. He traded out his scuffed black boots for bowling shoes. At the other end of the alley, pins clattered against the hardwood, and the two teenage girls shrieked and hollered. Henry leaned back over the bench. He craned his neck. The girl at the shoe counter slid in and out of view, her head bent low, the glow from the decontamination stick tracing the movement of her hands.

“Hello, Henry.”

Henry jumped. “Felton,” he said. “I didn’t see you standing there.”

Felton’s two glowing eyes brightened and dimmed. “Well, you appear pretty distracted.”

Henry chose not to respond. He stood up, pulled out his bowling ball — weighted for the bones of his steel-enforced arm, the finger holes measured against the span of his fingers and laser-cut for precision, the whole thing dyed dark green at his request — from its bag.

“Can’t start ’til I get my beer,” he said.

“Oh yes. I’m aware.”

Henry set his ball on the return and Felton did the same with one of Henry’s old cast-off balls — the in-house ones were all too light for him. As if on cue, the server-bot whirred out of the doorway to the lounge, a single bottle of beer on its tray. Felton followed its trajectory across the alley. He had told Henry once, at a bar, how he hated that the serverbots didn’t speak and Henry’d had no idea how to respond.

Henry and Felton were partners as cops, working together on Vice. They were bowling partners because Henry needed someone to bowl against now that he’d been upgraded. The guys down at the station kicked him out of the intramural league after the procedure, saying it wasn’t fair, he had too much of an advantage. The upgrades were supposed to get Henry out of Vice but all they did was get him out of the bowling league.

Felton bowled first and knocked over three pins. He wasn’t very good. Henry suspected he didn’t care enough to try, but he gave him pointers anyway.

“You need to swing your arm back more,” Henry said. He gestured with his beer bottle as he spoke. “Guide the ball with your thumb.” Felton rotated his head around and dimmed his eyes and didn’t respond.

Henry rolled a strike and swigged his beer in celebration. He looked over at the shoe rental, trying to be casual. The girl leaned across the counter. She wore her hair teased up and the lights caught on it so that her long narrow face appeared framed by a shimmering halo. Her hair made her look sophisticated, like she was about to leave for a holiday party. She stared at the score monitor hanging above the lanes but didn’t seem to really sae it.

“You’re being obvious,” said Felton as he picked up his ball from the return.

Henry laughed. He ordered another beer. “Like you know anything about it.”

Felton’s ball landed in the gutter. “I know you should talk to her instead of stare at her.”

Henry drank the last dregs of his beer because because he didn’t have anything to say to that. Felton knew more about Henry than he should. He knew about Melanie, for example. The commissioner had warned Henry not to get too friendly — “Even if you are part robbie now,” she said — but it was tough, riding around with the thing everyday. Sitting with him during the stakeouts. Teaching him how to bowl. You had to talk about something.

Felton wasn’t even one of the ones that sort of look like people, although he wore clothes like one. He was sleek and silver and jerked around sometimes, especially when the temperatures dropped below freezing. His eyes lit up and while this mouth did move, the movement didn’t always synch up with his words. The commissioner said witnesses would let themselves get questioned by a robot, as long as they knew for certain. As long as they didn’t think the city was tricking them.

“But we still need to have a human around,” she’d said. “For insurance. You know.” This was last summer, the days all long and bright and hot. The box fan she’d set up in her office rattled against the closed window. The edges of papers lifted up from her desk. “Nobody else is willing to work with the thing. You’re the closest we got.”

Henry had wanted to say something. He wanted to point out that he’d only gotten the upgrades because they told him he could make Homicide that way. How they’d given him all that literature about the importance of the department having an edge in this world of robots and mad scientists, genetic engineering and artificial intelligence. But he hadn’t.

The Keeper’s Heart

This is the kind of Friend
You are –
Without making me realise
My soul’s anguished history,
You slip into my house at night,
And while I am sleeping,
You silently carry off
All my suffering and sordid past
In Your beautiful

– Hafiz

Yusuf had the largest hands of any man in the entire Hatay province. Even bigger, rumor had it, than Munah-the-Fisherman who had once wrestled a giant squid from out of the blue sea. Even grander some folk said than Coskun-the-Generous, who could hold eight ice creams in both his hand without crushing a single cone.

His hands had been revered since he was a small child. The Holy Man, in particular, had watched them with great interest.

‘He has Keeper’s hands,’ he had gushed. ‘Our village has not had a Keeper for over two hundred years. Yusuf is a blessing. He is a blessing to all of us.’

Yusuf’s mama had politely nodded. Yusuf was indeed a blessing. Her ninth such blessing in as many years.

As a child Yusuf was made to sleep in goatskin gloves and forbidden to play anything but Tavla and cards. It embarrassed him deeply to have such beautifully kept hands. The other boys had wild stories etched upon their skin; scars from fist fights and pide burns, brazen scratches from climbing trees. But Yusuf’s hands were soft and supple. They smelt of sweet rose oil.

‘You have Keeper’s hands,’ his mama said whenever he complained. ‘They do not belong to you my child. They belong to all of us.’

But Yusuf did not want Keeper’s hands; he wanted Skinner’s hands instead. Skinners made good money he’d heard, especially those with big hands like his.

Now when he was sixteen Yusuf was taken from his mama. Led away by the Holy Man up to Jebel Aqra.

‘Don’t despair,’ the Holy Man said as they walked the mountain’s ragged slopes. ‘Once you have become a Keeper you can come back home to us.’

He then left the boy on the bare limestone peak and returned back to the village.

Yusuf was gone for exactly ten years – one for each digit that spanned his great hands. At first he had stubbornly resisted becoming a Keeper at all, arguing petulantly with the gods that he would make a better Skinner. But as time passed, and his temperament slowly mellowed, his dreams of such menial work gradually ebbed away too and he began studying the Keeper’s Edict, carefully learning every word.

A Keeper is a chosen vessel whose hands are not his own. His only purpose is to hold the burdens he is given throughout his life. In the day he should keep them in his open hands but at night he may let them sleep in the crook of his arm. He should listen whenever they speak to him but never answer what they ask.

Remember you can never break what has been truly broken!

When Yusuf eventually returned to the village only the Holy Man and his mama could recognise his face. Gone was the boy with the unruly tongue and the frown of a put-upon. Instead was a man with black untamed curls who used his eyes to speak. Such beautiful eyes too; the colour of ripening almonds – with long, blinking lashes that fluttered like small wings.

Yusuf’s mama begged him to remain in the village but the years on Jebel Aqra had made him humble so he lived up among the mountains nearby. A cave not far beyond the village walls where the evening sky cast lavender shadows across his rock-strewn home.