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?”
“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.”
Cecilia blinked. A fear tears dripped down her cheek. “I did,” she said. “The attacks — she said she was training them, but she never said what for –” She wiped hurriedly at her eyes.
“Are you sure?” said Felton. “I don’t think you’re holding out, but maybe she mentioned something in passing — I want you to think. Try and remember.” His voice had taken on the soothing quality he sometimes used with witnesses when he thought they were in fact holding out. But Cecilia just shook her head.
“She didn’t tell me anything! She just locked me up underground and talked about Father and all the amazing things they would have done. The army wasn’t in the woods anyway.” She sniffled, ran the back of her hand across her nose. “I don’t remember. I don’t want to remember.”
Goddammit, there has to be more —
“You don’t have to,” Henry said. He put a hand on her shoulder, felt the bones beneath her skin. She lifted her head. Her hair fell across her eyes. Henry forced himself not to look at her antlers.
“We’ll stop for tonight,” Henry said. “Find you a place to stay where Rohn can’t get you.”
The hell are you doing, Levens?
Felton didn’t say anything, just glared at Henry from across the room.
Henry ignored them both.
“Does that sound okay?” he asked. “You can get some food, some sleep — and we’ll talk tomorrow.”
Cecilia nodded. Henry straightened up. He looked at Felton. “Do we have a place for her to stay?” he asked. “A guard detail? Something?”
Felton regarded him with dim eyes. “I don’t know,” he said.
“I’ll ask Minette.” Henry turned back to Cecilia, his mechanized body flush with tenderness. “Thank you,” he said. “For helping us.”
Henry wound up taking Cecilia back to her place in Capital Hill himself. None of the other cops wanted to babysit a genetic freak. They’d do it if the captain demanded it, but even he seemed more keen to toss her in a jail cell for the night, rather than treating her like a witness.
At first Henry volunteered Felton’s apartment, but Felton dimmed his eyes and shook his head. “I don’t have food,” he said. “Or a shower.”
Cecilia was renting a room in one of the mansions built into the side of the hill. It was old, crumbling, and because of the upgrades Henry could see the overgrown garden sprawling up around the broken-down fence, despite the night’s moonless darkness. Henry stepped out of the car first, pulling his gun. He didn’t see anyone or sense anyone, though. He and Cecilia strode quickly up the walkway, then around the side of the house to the back entrance. Cecilia’s hand shook as she unlocked the door. It opened into a dank, narrow hallway that turned into a dank, narrow staircase. Henry went up first.
Her room was small and clean, with a bed in one corner and a small humming refrigerator in another. A hotplate sat on the desk.
“Are you hungry?” Henry said. “I’m sorry, we could have stopped somewhere –”
“I don’t really feel like eating.” Cecilia sat down on the bed and took off her shoes, dropping them one at a time to the floor. She pushed her hair up with both her hands, like she was trying to cover up her antlers. “I’m going to take a shower, if you don’t mind. It’s down the hall.”
Henry frowned. “I’ll sit outside the door.”
Cecilia didn’t answer at first. Then she said, “I’d appreciate that.”
She walked over to the dresser and pulled out a nightgown, a robe, and a pair of towels. She wrapped one towel up around her head.
They left the room, Cecilia locking the door behind them. Henry sat down in the hallway, badge and gun both out, listening to the sound of running water. Rose-scented steam curled out from underneath the door, spreading over the place where years of steam had stained the carpet. Music thudded from somewhere on the first floor. Laughter from behind one of the doors down the hall. But Henry never saw anyone else.
When Cecilia came out nearly every part of her was wrapped up: her head in the towel, her body in a thin white robe.
“Thanks,” she said.
Henry pushed himself up. He slipped his badge back in his pocket. “My pleasure.”
They went back into her room. Cecilia pulled a rickety wooden chair away from the table and gestured towards it. Henry sat down. He kept his gun out. Cecilia crawled under the faded quilt of her bed.
“I can stay up and keep watch,” Henry said.
“After everything that happened today?” Cecilia asked. “Aren’t you exhausted?”
Henry noticed that she still had the towel wrapped around her head. He thought about the antlers she kept tucked away, day in and day out, the way he kept all his wires and circuitry tucked away beneath his skin.
“No.” Henry hesitated. “I’m fine. I’ll just need, ah, an outlet.” He looked down at his hands. His heart mechanism clicked and clicked clicked.
“Oh,” said Cecilia. “Oh, you’re a — of course.” She slid out of bed and walked across the room and knelt beside the refrigerator. “There’s one back here.” She shoved her hand behind the refrigerator. “I just have to unplug the hotplate — there.” She stood up. “You can move the fridge if you need to.”
“Thanks.” Henry rarely charged himself. He’d done it a couple times, right after he got the upgrades — it gave him a lot more energy than sleeping. But sleeping made him feel human. He preferred to sleep.
For a moment Cecilia stood by the refrigerator, not moving. Henry looked up at her.
“You can take off the towel.” He spun his hand around his head. “I don’t care.”
“Oh.” Cecilia touched the side of her towel tentatively. “Are you sure? It makes a lot of people uncomfortable –”
“I make a lot of people uncomfortable,” said Henry. “It’s fine.”
She gave him a sad-looking smile, then tugged on one end of the towel so that it seemed to unravel. Her wet hair fell around her shoulders. Her antlers gleamed. She dropped the towel to the floor. Henry wanted to wrap his arms around her waist and pull her onto his lap. He wanted to kiss each point of those antlers.
“I like them,” Henry said, and then immediately regretted it, because Cecilia blushed and looked down at her feet.
“I wish I did,” Cecilia said.
Henry had no response. The upgrades churned around, grinding and sparking because they did not know how to handle embarrassment and sadness and desire and confusion.
Cecilia climbed back into her bed. She pulled the blanket over her knees and then pulled off the robe and tossed it on the floor. Henry remembered the tail.
“Go to sleep,” Henry said. “You’re safe here.”
Cecilia looked at him for a few seconds longer. Her hair was beginning to dry, frizzing in the heat of the radiator.
“I’ll get the lights,” Henry said.
He stood up, cut across the room, hit the switch. The room fell into darkness. Henry adjusted his vision. The glowing blur on the bed that was Cecilia said, “Will you be able to see the outlet?”
“Yes,” said Henry.
He waited until he was sure she was asleep, her breath soft and rhythmic. Then he pulled the refrigerator away from the wall and slumped down on the floor. He sliced open the skin on his left hip and pulled out the cord coiled up there. When he plugged it in, energy shot up from the base of his spine into his brain, and he was wide awake. His entire body flushed with power. He did not think he would ever have to sleep again.
He charged himself for four hours, and when he was done, he sat in the chair and counted the seconds between Cecilia’s breaths, over and over, like a computer.
The next morning, Henry bought Cecilia breakfast at a restaurant at the top of the hill. She ordered a stack of pancakes and a pair of sausage patties and some scrambled eggs and ate it so fast it was like she hadn’t eaten for days. Henry just had a coffee. He was still buzzing from the charge last night; he didn’t need food or water. He didn’t want it. That was always what frightened him the most about charging himself. Not wanting those things that made him a man.
“I’m going to take you back to the station,” he said. “We have paperwork to fill out.”
Cecilia nodded and sawed off a piece of pancake with the edge of her fork. “I have some more information,” she said, not looking at him.
Henry shifted in his seat.
“I’m sorry,” she said, and this time she lifted her eyes. The seemed to glow in the pale morning light seeping through the windows. “I was just so exhausted yesterday — and confused — ” She dipped the piece of pancake into a puddle of syrup on her plate. “And scared.”
“It’s fine,” said Henry. “I won’t let anybody give you shit for it.”
She smiled at him. She had her hair back up in a bouffant, hiding the antlers.
“I figured you had something else anyway.”
“Because you’re a cyborg?” She whispered the word cyborg, stirred the pancake around her plate.
“No. Because I’ve been doing this a long time.”
Henry paid for Cecilia’s food and drove back to the station. Officer Minette and Felton were both waiting for them by his desk. Officer Minette was sitting in his chair, and when they walked in, she jumped up, said, “Well? What took you so long?”
“She needed her rest,” said Henry. “She’s got some more things to tell us.”
Officer Minette tried to keep her face as dispassionate as Felton’s and failed.
“I’ll meet you in the interrogation room,” she said. “Ten minutes.”
Once again Henry found himself face to face with Cecilia, the light glaring across her face, washing out her features. This time Officer Minette was in the room with him instead of Felton. Henry was pleased that Cecilia didn’t seem to notice; he realized that, because of the electric charge, he was able to think of Cecilia and focus all his attention to the case, simultaneously. Had he been able to do that when he charged before? He couldn’t remember.
“She has another house,” Cecilia said.
Officer Minette leaned forward but didn’t say anything.
“I don’t know if that’s where she went,” Cecilia said. “And I don’t know the exact address. But it is in Redmond –”
Henry thought of the monster attacks. Housewives mauled outside the market, their designer dresses in rags.
“Are you sure?” said Officer Minette.
“Of course I’m sure,” said Cecilia. “I don’t know the number but it’s on 73 1/2 Street.”
Henry took a deep breath. “Is it a lab?” he asked.
“I think so. I’ve never been there, I’ve just heard her talk about it. The house on 73 1/2.”
“This is good.” Officer Minette turned to Henry. “How fast can we do the paperwork to get out there?”
Henry listened to the Felton’s voice whispering in the back of his head. “He’s already filed it,” said Henry. “Right now.”
“Fuckin’ robbies,” said Officer Minette, grinning.
Henry glanced over at Cecilia, who was looking back and forth between the two of them as they spoke. Her eyes were big and golden beneath the sweep of her hair.
“We’ll keep you at the station,” Henry said. “You’ll be safe here.”
She didn’t say anything, just nodded.
There were fifty-two houses on 73 1/2 Street. Three of them were abandoned. Henry printed off a list with the names of the owners for the remaining forty-nine. None of the names were Naomi Rohn, nor Emmett Margum. No Cecilias, either. Henry expected this, and because of the flush of power from his charge he didn’t feel discouraged, either. He sat down at his desk and decided to think like Felton. Which meant running the names through the computer part of his brain until a pattern either emerged or was broken.
It took ten minutes, and Henry had the address. It belonged to Amir M. Nuagom. The computer in his brain rearranged the letters. Amir M. Nuagom. Naomi Margum. It was so obvious.
They rode in unmarked vehicles to the house on 73 1/2 Street. The rest of the officers wore tactical gear, helmets and bullet-proof vests. Henry did not. He’d begun to suit up before they left, out of habit, and then he remembered. It wasn’t necessary. So he slunk away and charged himself in an outlet in an empty meeting room.
Felton had found him. He didn’t say anything, just stepped into the room and let the door click shut behind him. His eyes glowed in the darkness. For a moment Henry felt a rush of shame at having been caught, but the strength from the charge pressed it down. Besides, it was just Felton. Just another robbie.
It was drizzling in Redmond, the world gray and indistinct. The houses on 73 1/2 Street were all tidy little boxes that looked indistinguishable in the dim half-light of the afternoon. Felton drove past Amir M. Nuagom’s house. Blue curtains fluttered in the windows.
“We’ve got her,” said Henry.
They parked three doors down. The other officers were crawling out of their vehicles, slinking over the dead grass of the Nuagom lawn. Henry stepped out of the car. The dampness in the air was cold against his skin, settling the electricity that crackled through his veins. Officer Minette moved up the walkway, dressed in civilian clothes, a pair of jeans and a cream-colored sweater, a clipboard tucked under her arm. She rang the doorbell to the house.
Henry reached down and clicked the safety off his gun.
The world came to a stop. Henry listened to his heart mechanism clicking him into calmness. He adjusted his vision so he could see in the drizzle. The door swung open. He could hear Officer Minette speaking as if she were right beside him.
“Excuse me, ma’am, but do you have time for a survey –”
The door slammed shut.
Officer Minette turned and threaded back down the path. She walked to the next house. Met Henry’s eye, despite the distance and the rain. Held three fingers. It’s her. Move forward.
“Let’s go,” said Felton.
He began down the sidewalk. Henry followed. Officer Minette disappeared into the back of one of the vehicles parked a few houses away. Henry pulled out his badge. He rapped on the door.
Shouting from inside the house. The upgrades had Henry’s entire body wound up. Henry knocked one more time, yelled out that it was the police. No answer but the sound of scrabbling on the other side of the door. Henry glanced at Felton and nodded, and Felton pressed his hand against the door’s lock. A cracking sound and it broke open. Henry pulled out his gun, held it aloft. Felton pushed the door and it swung into the foyer, into darkness.
Henry crept in. The foyer was empty except for puffs of grey dust, and there was a tinny smell in the house, like blood and antiseptic. The computer in Henry’s brain regulated all his movements: it told him when to move, where to look. And he let it. Because the computer in his brain was him. He and the computer were the same.
A flash of shadow at the end of the hallway. Henry turned, gun pointed. Felton was beside him, sliding along the wall.
Another shadow. A few seconds of stillness, of silence — then the shadow leapt out into the foyer, snarling. Henry fired once. The shadow collapsed to the floor, its ribs moving in and out. Henry had shot it in the shoulder. It was a woman, but also a jaguar, and also an eagle. Like Margum’s whores only ferocious instead of seductive, scarred instead of beautiful. The shadow made a hissing noise, not like a cat but like a snake, and Henry took a few regulated steps backwards. Blood soaked into the carpet. Felton’s eyes glowed bright white. Analyzing.
There was a crash from somewhere back in the house, the sound of cop-voices barking orders. Henry pushed past Felton into the living room. The assault team was spilling through the windows. He ignored them. The computer ignored them. He ran into the hall, realizing with a start that he was following the scent of something — of the shadow, the woman-jaguar-eagle-snake. He had hardly noticed it at first, that smell like straw and red meat, like rainwater and musk, but now it was all he could smell. It radiated off the walls. It tangled up in his clothes, in his hair.
He ran down into the basement. The light changed. It was clean, inescapable, Arctic. Five more shadows — not shadows at all down here, but he couldn’t stop thinking of them that way — fell upon him, teeth and talons and stinging poison. But it didn’t matter. The metal in his arms was stronger. The poison didn’t taint his blood. He fired his gun, incapacitating one of them. He knocked another across the back and it went howling and skittering across the floor. Blood seeped through the fabric of his shirt — it wasn’t his blood. He wasn’t even tired. He punched and kicked and flung bodies into the lab equipment and when it was done, when there was not a single shadow left, it was like he hadn’t done anything at all.
Naomi Rohn stood at the other end of the room, a pistol trained at his chest.
“You’re under arrest,” said Henry.
“I know where to shoot to kill you,” she said. “Cyborg.”
He lifted his gun and fired. The shot caught her in the leg. Her own gun went off, the bullet whizzing past Henry’s left ear. She fired again and hit him on his side. The suddenness of it jolt him — there wasn’t pain, not really, more like a jolt of electricity that shot through his body and left him vibrating and breathless for a half a second.
He darted forward and kicked the gun away from her. Two more cops appeared in the doorway, their faces masked with dark plastic. They stopped. One of them dropped his gun, then lifted it again, quickly, as if he hoped no one had seen. Henry handcuffed Naomi Rohn. She spat on the floor, then glared up at him through the tangle of her hair: pale blonde, the same as Cecilia’s.
More cops were spilling into the lab, some preparing to gather up evidence, others yanking Rohn to her feet. Henry leaned against a far wall and pressed his fingers to his side. Blood seeped out, warm against his skin. It didn’t hurt, and already he could feel his body healing itself, tingling like all his limbs had fallen asleep and were now waking up.
Felton walked into the room. The overhead lights bounced off his body, throwing around dots of light. He nodded at Henry. Rohn spat at him as she was dragged past by a pair of armored cops. Felton didn’t even look at her.
“Nice work, Officer Levens,” he said.
Henry nodded. “You too.” He took his hand away from the wound. It was no longer bleeding. He peeled his shirt up to inspect it — but there was no wound to inspect. Just an ugly red scar which Henry knew would be gone by morning.
They kept Rohn in questioning for nearly three hours. When Henry came out, he felt not tired but drained, as if someone had pricked him and all his energy had flowed out to the world. When he went to his desk, he spotted Cecilia, sitting on the bench where they kept visitors, her head slumped against the wall.
Henry sat down beside her.
“Why’re you still here?” he asked. “We brought her in. You can go home.”
She turned toward him. “That doesn’t mean it’s safe for me.”
“The whole lair is on lockdown. They’ve got the assistants, the shadows –” He stopped himself.
“What? The shadows?”
“Yeah. The, ah, the genetic manips.”
Cecilia looked down at her hands. “I like shadows better.” She shook her head. “I doubt you got all of them. Although I’m not worried about them. They — well, they think of me as one of them, right?” She lowered her voice even though there was no one else nearby. “Because I am.”
“Then what?” said Henry. “What are you worried about?” He wanted to add, Tell me, I’ll protect you, because it struck him as romantic. But he kept his mouth shut.
Cecilia took a long time answering. “I don’t know.” She lifted her head, then, and looked him in the eye. “I spent so long being afraid. It feels weird to just stop, like I don’t know how.”
Henry thought about this. He thought about all the time that had lapsed since he allowed himself to be talked into the upgrades. Since Melanie left. All that time feeling sorry for himself. It occurred to him that maybe he didn’t know how to stop, either.
“Tell you what,” he said. “I’ll get another detail for you, for the next few days at least. I should have enough pull, after a bust like that.” He laughed.
Cecilia smiled at him, and her skin glowed. It made Henry think of Christmas lights, that warm, liquidy incandescence that wraps around you like a blanket. For a moment he wondered if it was another part of her genetic makeup — maybe a firefly — or if she was just that beautiful. And then he wondered why it even mattered.
They sat without speaking for a long time. The office bustled around them, all paperwork and ringing phones and shouts from desk to desk. Henry grew more and more sluggish. He stood up.
“I need to, um, take care of something,” he said. He pressed one hand to his head. There seemed to be static behind his eyes.
“Can I come with you?”
She was staring at him with her luminous Christmas-light eyes. Henry hesitated. He thought about the antlers wrapped up in the net of her hair. The tail hidden beneath the flare of her skirt.
They went into the same conference room where Henry had charged before the bust. Cecilia sat down in one of the chairs, and Henry didn’t look at her as he went through the ritual of plugging himself in: slicing open the skin on his hip. Pulling out the cord. Pressing the plug into the outlet on the wall.
He sat down on the floor, leaning his back against the wall, arms draped over his knees. He closed his eyes. It felt like the adrenaline after a workout. It felt like rolling a 300 game. It felt like someone kick-starting his heart.
When he opened his eyes, Cecilia was sitting beside him. He dropped his head against the wall to look at her.
“I didn’t hear you,” he said.
“You were distracted,” she said.
He thought he would feel ashamed, at having someone — someone alive, not someone like Felton — in the room with him, watching him, as he charged himself up. But he didn’t. Maybe he wasn’t as vulnerable as he thought. Maybe the upgrades protected more than just his body.
Eventually, Cecilia rested her head on his shoulder, and he could smell her hair, like roses and powdered soap. Electricity hummed through him. His heart mechanism clicked into operation.
After some consideration, both computational and human, Henry put his arm around Cecilia’s waist, and pulled her close.
Cassandra Rose Clarke’s short fiction has previously appeared in Strange Horizons and Digital Science Fiction, and her first novel is forthcoming from Angry Robot in the autumn of 2012. She is also a graduate of the 2010 Clarion West Writers Workshop.