“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.”
“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.
The mad scientist’s house was full of weak winter sunlight and motes of dust and nothing else. She’d even taken down the blue curtains from the windows. Henry and Felton stood in the hallway between the kitchen and the living room, Henry rubbing at the hangover pounding in his temples.
“There’s nothing here,” said Officer Minette. “I’d bet there hasn’t been anything for a long time. The whole stakeout was a bust.”
“Keep looking,” said Felton.
Office Minette frowned.
“No one can clean house this easily,” Felton said. “You haven’t even found the lab yet. Keep looking.”
Officer Minette turned on her heel, muttered something about how a fucking robot could. Felton didn’t respond. Henry closed his eyes against the glare of the houselights. Footsteps echoed off the walls. For a moment, he felt himself drifting away, half falling asleep. Then his head jerked and when he looked up and Felton was staring at him with those bright fake eyes.
“You drink too much,” Felton said.
“Thanks,” Henry said. “You ask Cecilia out yet?”
“I’m telling you, she likes the metal. Ask her out.”
Henry squinted at the shadows of officers moving through the house. The scuffed hardwood floors amplified the noise of the investigation. If they could find just a scrap of skin cells, a piece of hair —
“Hey,” said Henry. “We check the shower drains yet?”
“Yes, Henry,” said Felton. “We have.”
Henry sighed. He turned and headed into the kitchen. He was tired of feeling useless. He was tired of standing next to Felton. He was tired.
The kitchen had already been swept. Completely clean, of course. Henry ran his hands along the underside of the counters. Maybe his upgrades would find something the other officers hadn’t. Certainly was about time they did something useful.
He opened up the refrigerator, closed his eyes against the rush of blue-cold air. For a moment his hangover subsided. His upgrades sparked inside him. Concentrate. If only he could concentrate —
Henry slammed the refrigerator door and whirled around. His vision went sharp. He saw red trails of warmth left behind by the other officers. He saw the hollow space behind the cabinet doors.
He had no idea the upgrades could do this. No idea he could do this.
Henry walked back out into the hallway, keeping his eyes trained on the walls. All solid. Felton glanced up at him. “What are you doing?”
“I’m looking,” said Henry. “Shut up.”
He followed the perimeter of the living room, then slipped into the bathroom, the master bedroom. And that’s where he found it. In a patch of sunlight in the middle of the floor, he saw the ghostly outline of the secret passageway leading down to the lab. The hollow space beneath the floorboards.
“Felton!” he shouted. “Have Boyd bring the damn crowbar in here! I think I found something.”
He didn’t dare move. He kept his eyes trained on the spot on the floor, that pale outline wavering in and out. His head throbbed. Felton whirred into the room, Boyd following behind him, black crowbar slung over his shoulder.
“What is it?” Felton asked.
“In the floor,” Henry said. He outlined the space with his foot. “Start tearing it up.”
“How do you know?” asked Boyd.
“Because I’m a goddamned cyborg. Do it.”
Boyd sighed, swung the crowbar into a crack in the floorboards. Splinters of wood scattered across the room. The crowbar sunk down deep, didn’t hit cement like Henry half-expected. Boyd grunted a little in surprise: must have had the same doubts. Henry didn’t blame him. He swung the crowbar again. Henry dropped down to his knees, started pulling the boards up by hand.
Stairs. Narrow, rickety stairs, winding down into the dank underground darkness.
Felton’s eyes lit up bright green. He turned to Boyd. “Officer Levens and I are going down first. I don’t want anyone getting hurt. You understand?”
Boyd nodded, his eyes narrow. They all hated taking orders from a robbie. Henry knew the feeling. But it was the robbie’s case.
Felton started down the steps first. Henry nodded at Boyd before following. The stairs creaked under their weight. Henry stepped cautiously, feeling with his toe, not wanting to crash through. Felton trotted down without hesitation.
The stairs descended into a big open room, just like Henry expected, just like he’d seen a hundred times before in a hundred different lair-houses. A pair of weak overhead lights flickered on as they stepped into the room, illuminating the dirt walls, the low-hanging ceiling reinforced with planks of wood and a few steel bars. Stainless steel cabinets and work surfaces. All the equipment had been cleared away, of course.
Henry snapped on his gloves and began to open the cabinets. All empty. He was aware of Felton standing in the center of the room, his head rotating slowly as he scanned for evidence. The green lights in his eyes flashed like a beacon.
“There’s something here,” Felton said. “Not in the cabinets. It’s buried.” He pointed at a spot in the dirt floor. “There.” Then he knelt down, began scooping up clumps of dirt with his silver hands. Henry dropped down beside him. Tried to focus his upgraded eyes on the spot in the floor — there was something there. A low rectangle. He couldn’t make out much more than that.
Felton pulled the object up out of the dirt — a shoebox, wrapped in a sheet of plastic. He pulled off the lid.
It was empty save for a bundle of old black-and-white photographs bound together with a rubber band.
“Holy shit,” said Henry.
“We don’t know these belong to our girl,” said Felton. “They could have been left behind –”
Henry slipped the photographs out of Felton’s hand, eased off the rubber band. The top photograph: a Christmas tree ringed with packages, smears of white threading through the underdeveloped image. Henry shuffled through the pictures. A shot of the house with a car parked in the driveway. A vegetable garden. A woman, her hair wrapped up in a kerchief, squinting up at the camera with a baby in her arms. Their mad scientist? Maybe. He pulled out the last picture.
Then he stopped. It was a photograph of a man, tall and lean, leaning against the wall of the house, his hand pressed against his forehead, a little girl in a sundress and a cloche hat sitting at his feet.
“What is it?” asked Felton. “Did you find something?”
“Yeah,” said Henry. He flipped the photograph around. Felton regarded it with his usual blank expression.
“Emmett Margum,” he said.
“That’s not a coincidence,” said Henry. “No way.”
Henry and Felton had busted Margum a little over a year ago, the last bust before Henry got his upgrades. Margum had been behind a prostitution ring, one that traded in genetic fantasy: women spliced with jungle cats, women with mermaid’s tales, that sort of thing. They’d raided the lab he had built out in Snoqualmie Forest. A major coup for the department. A major coup for Henry. That bust was part of the reason he’d gotten the upgrades at all: any man who could bust Emmett Margum was sure to make Homicide if he just has a bit of circuitry winding up with his blood veins.
“Let’s take it in,” said Felton. “Looks like we have a visit to make.”
That night, Henry and Felton went down to the bowling alley. “Come on, man,” Henry said. “One celebratory game. Besides, I need a break. The upgrades only do so much.”
“I suppose,” Felton said. “One celebratory game would be acceptable.”
Henry breezed into the alley with his bowling bag slung over his shoulder, still feeling elated over the find from earlier. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to see Cecilia, if seeing her teased-out hair and her smudgy eyes would heighten his excitement or destroy it.
Turned out it didn’t matter. They had some kid behind the shoe counter, skinny and pimply-faced, his hair greasy with pomade.
“Maybe she’s off tonight,” said Felton.
Henry ignored him, just paid for their one celebratory game and then collapsed heavily on the bench to switch out his shoes. He felt himself deflate. He was suddenly aware of the upgrades lying dormant inside himself.
He ordered a beer, rolled a split. Didn’t pick up the spare. Henry cursed under his breath and stalked over to the bench. Felton rolled a strike.
Halfway through the game — Henry was winning, although only barely — Henry stood up as Felton lifted his ball from the return.
“I’m gonna get a beer,” Henry said.
“Okay,” said Felton.
“No, I mean, I’m going to go over to the lounge.”
Felton lit up his eyes, then strolled up the lane, ball dangling awkwardly at his side.
Henry rubbed his hands through his hair. His palms had begun to sweat. He didn’t walk over to the lounge, but to the shoe counter. The kid glanced up from the comic book he was reading. The decontamination stick lay unlit beside him.
“Where’s Cecilia?” Henry asked.
“Cecilia. The girl who’s usually working tonight.”
“Oh.” The kid shrugged. “I don’t know, man. I just started two days ago. They called me, said their usual didn’t show.”
Henry frowned. He thanked the kid and headed toward the lounge. Felton watched him from beside the ball return, and Henry could feel those glowing eyes following him across the room. As if Felton cared about Henry, about Cecilia, about anything but whatever the Commissioner had programmed into him.
The light in Letang’s office burned yellow behind the slatted blinds hanging in the window. For a minute Henry stood in the empty lounge, then walked over and rapped on Letang’s door. Detective work.
Henry slid the door open. “Hey, Metal Man,” Letang said, not glancing up from the stacks of papers scattered across his desk. “How’s business?”
“You know,” said Henry.
“Cleaning up the streets?”
“Something like that.”
Letang nodded. He leaned back in his chair. Dark rims around his eyes. Apparently no one got any sleep anymore.
“What happened to Cecilia?” Henry asked.
“Good question. I ought to send you out on the case.” Letang laughed. “Didn’t call in, didn’t show. It happens though. Can’t pay ’em enough.”
The upgrades lurched suddenly. Henry coughed against the back of his hand. Excused himself and headed back to the lane. He’d never wanted a beer.
And then the playback started up, a movie screening against the back of his brain. Henry saying, We’re going after a mad scientist. All the light draining out of Cecilia’s features.
A lady mad scientist. No, that didn’t make sense. Henry knew mad scientists — he’d brought enough of them in. They didn’t work in bowling alleys for their cover. They didn’t stare at score screens like they wanted you to think everything was okay.
But it couldn’t be a coincidence. Henry stopped believing in coincidences a long time ago.
“What’s the matter?” Felton said. “Where’s your beer?”
“Cecilia,” said Henry.
Felton’s eyes lit up. Henry grabbed his ball from the return, strolled up to the lane, rolled a strike. The clatter of pins hitting hardwood soothed him. A little.
Emmett Margum sat in the interrogation room, his back straight against the chair. Henry stood on the other side of the mirror, arms crossed, watching as Officer Minette gestured at him with her cigarette. Margum didn’t move, didn’t open his mouth. He’d been locked up for less than a year and already he looked like all the life had oozed out of him. Gray skin, patchy brown hair, a three-day shadow.
“One of us is going to have to go in,” said Felton.
“No way,” said Henry. “No way he’s gonna talk to us.”
“I think you’re wrong.”
Henry frowned. Officer Minette leaned back in her chair, dropped her hand to her side. Anger lines radiated out from the corners of her mouth, illuminated by the sallow fluorescent light.
“She hasn’t shown the picture to him yet,” said Henry.
“Hasn’t got it,” said Felton. He reached into his coat, pulled out the photograph from the mad scientist’s house.
“What the hell? You nick that out of evidence?”
“I told you, he’s only going to talk to us.” Felton paused. “I can get robot on you about it, if you want. I’ve got statistics. His sort prefers to work with machines.” He tucked the photograph back in jacket. “You could do it too, if you used that robot brain of yours a little more.” Then he hit the release for the door and stepped into the interrogation room.
Henry’s upgrades started to burn. He clenched his hand into a first. Inside the interrogation room, Officer Minette scowled at Felton before pushing back in her chair. Margum’s eyes followed Felton across the room. He grinned, showing all his teeth.
“What the fuck, Levens?” Officer Minette burst out out of the room. Smoke from her cigarette billowed into the air. “Fucking robbies. You two think ’cause you’ve got all that metal in your brains –”
“Shut the hell up,” Henry said — calmly, even though the upgrades had his body rioting.
Officer Minette gaped at him.
“You can’t talk to me like that,” she said. “You or that clanker in there.”
“He’s talking.” Henry turned away from her and stood close to the window. His anger started to fall away. Margum was leaning forward over the table. The picture lay between him and Felton and Margum stared intently at the robot as he spoke. Henry hit the intercom button.
“–Like I’m gonna turn her in. But yeah, it’s a woman. And let me tell you, you thought you hit the big time nabbing me, but you sure as shit didn’t.”
“Damn,” said Henry.
Officer Minette walked up beside him. She lit another cigarette. Her face had become a mask. Henry ignored her.
“We could come to an arrangement,” Felton said.
“We could,” said Margum. He grinned again, ran his tongue over the ridge of his teeth. “But we won’t. I’m not talking.”
“You’re talking now,” said Felton.
“Just ’cause I like you.”
And then Margum leaned back in the chair. The handcuffs scraped against the table.
Henry knew. That’s all they were getting.
“I want to go back to his lair,” said Felton. They were in Henry’s office. Margum had been locked away again. “There’s more to this.”
“I agree,” said Henry. He ran his fingers over the soft, pale skin of his underarm. Human skin. Not metal, not synthetic. “But I don’t think we’ll find it out at the lair. Not anymore. That was nearly a year ago.”
Felton didn’t reply. “It’s the only lead we’ve got,” he said. “This connection between the two of them.”
Henry nodded. He rapped his fingers against the desk and wondered how many more mad scientists he had to bust before he made Homicide. Ten. Twenty. So many it wouldn’t matter anymore.
“I’ll fill out the paperwork,” he said.
Three days later Henry and Felton rode out to Margum’s old lair, deep in the forest. Mount Rainier loomed above them. Rain fell in mist and shadow across the windshield of the car and the heater breathed out spots of fog on the glass.
Henry kept expecting it to look familiar, the shaggy fringe of pine needles, the ferns dried-out and dormant for the winter. But it didn’t. It was all just a forest.
The lair signs started up when they’d been on the narrow, twisting dirt road for about thirty minutes: nothing obvious, of course, but Henry knew what to look for. Squat metal vents poking out of the thick ground cover of dead pine needles. An old cracked mirror propped up in the sparse branches of a Pacific dogwood, put in place a long time ago to catch the sun through the tree’s leaves and direct certain visitors to the entrance. No sun that day, of course, but they didn’t need the sunspots. Felton had the way memorized from their previous bust.
Henry leaned his head against the cold window, watched the jostle of the scenery as the car thumped over the wet road.
“Nearly there,” said Felton.
Henry nodded. Then he noticed a smudge of movement out in the woods, a frail wisp of smoke or steam or —
“Stop the car,” Henry said.
Felton looked over at him. “I’m sorry?” he said.
“Christ, just stop the car. I thought I saw –” Henry leaned close to the glass and rubbed the fog away with the fabric of his coat. Felton slowed the car down.
“There!” said Henry. He jammed his finger against the window. One of the vents poked out of the ground cover, but this one was trickling out a thin white stream, spreading like cotton against the misty backdrop of the forest. “You see it? Someone’s down there.”
Felton stopped the car and killed the ignition. For a moment he sat, his hand still resting on the steering wheel.
“It must be an itinerant,” he said. “They pass through these woods.”
“Bullshit. No hobo’s gonna set foot near a lair. They’re not stupid.”
Felton didn’t respond, just kept his hand on the steering wheel, his eyes dimming and brightening.
“It couldn’t be this easy,” Felton said. “She’d know better than to hide out here.”
“Maybe not,” said Henry. The glass had fogged up again and he wiped it clear with his sleeve. “Or maybe she doesn’t care.”
“We have to go back. Call for backup.”
Henry nodded. Felton turned the ignition, jerked the car into reverse.
Then: a trio of bangs. Gunshots. Henry and Felton both flung themselves down. Henry yanked his gun out of his holster. Felton wasn’t allowed one.
Another gunshot. Henry heard the sharp metallic ping as it struck the side of the car. A patter of footsteps. Voices. Henry lifted his head, gun cocked, upgrades charging.
A face, long and narrow. A woman’s face. Pale hair darkening in the rain. She banged on the window with the butt of her gun and the glass cracked.
“Fuck,” said Felton.
Henry took a deep breath. His upgrades burned his insides, turning all his muscles to molten metal, heat and machinery and factories and progress. He tucked his gun back into its holster and swung himself up just as the woman outside the car slammed her own gun through the window. Her gun struck him on the side of his face, below his left eye, but that didn’t matter, because the reinforced metals woven through his bones took the impact without pain or hesitation.
Broken glass left spiderweb cuts across his arms, his face. Henry grabbed the gun and pulled it through the window, bringing the woman with it. She howled, wrenched the gun out of his hands.
She got us all upgraded.
Henry opened the door, kicking it out with both his feet. He heard Felton clambering out behind him. The woman faced Henry, the gun’s barrel a dark hole in the center of her chest. She wasn’t bleeding. Her eyes glowed pale green.
Felton came to Henry’s side and threw his hands up over his head. His right palm flashed his badge. Henry didn’t move, just kept his eyes trained on the cyborg-woman, all his body functions normal, good to go, ready for action.
“Get the hell off this property,” the woman said.
“We’re cops,” said Felton.
The woman turned her head, spat in the ground. Henry yanked his gun out from under his jacket and fired once at her leg. She stumbled backwards, her rifle tumbling to the ground. Felton dashed forward and picked it up and clutched in his silver hands like holding a gun was the most natural thing in the world for him. The woman glared up through the tangle knot of her hair, the glow of her eyes tracing patterns in the misty air. She laughed.
“Not going to be that easy,” she said.
Another gunshot rang through the woods, upsetting the stillness. The woman’s neck snapped back. Bits of metal cascaded across the damp ground. The woman was still laughing but her laughter stretched out and distorted and she collapsed, kicking out her legs. Wires spilled out of her neck. Henry glanced down at his gun. He hadn’t fired.
“She was a robot,” said Felton. His voice sounded flatter than usual. “No sentience. I tried to save her face. I have a feeling that’s what our mad scientist looks like.” He nodded toward the cyborg-woman, the robot-woman. Henry felt coldness creeping up around his spine. He’d been fooled. He had never seen a robot so realistic before. Even the ones that looked human didn’t look that human.
Felton had dropped the woman’s rifle on the ground beside her as he trundled towards the entrance of the lair. Henry slid his gun back into its holster. There as a rustling up in the trees and then cold rain fell across the top of his head, across the broad stretch of his shoulders.
Felton stopped in his place, head swiveling. Another scream, high-pitched and frantic. Henry jogged up beside Felton. The entrance to the lair was only twenty feet away, but in the silvery slant of the rain it was difficult to make out. Henry adjusted his vision and the entire world took on a green hue, as if it were spring and the forest were alive again.
A figure burst out of the entrance. A woman, tall and lean, with a long narrow face. For a moment she paused, and Henry made out the two bright dots of her eyes looking straight at him.
Then she turned and ran.
“Fuck,” said Felton. He leapt after her, his strides longer than what’s natural. The woman — the mad scientist — disappeared into the undergrowth. So did Felton. Henry jogged after him, but then he heard another scream, the same as before, coming from the woods just beyond the entrance to the lair. He whirled around, feet slipping over the wet pine needles, the patches of dark mud.
Somewhere in the distance, the whir-patter of a personal flyer. The rain threading through the trees nearly drowned it out. Henry cursed.
Another scream. Different from the others. Throatier.
Henry pulled out his gun and moved forward. Steam curled up from the vents in the ground. Rain soaked through his jacket and his wet hair fell heavy into his eyes.
A branch snapped. Henry stopped raised his gun, peering out into the green mist.
She appeared out of the woods, hair hanging in thick ropes around her shoulders, a pair of short, two-point antlers protruding out of the top of her head. She crept barefoot over the ground, thin white sheath dress plastered transparent to her body.
Henry dropped his gun. He took his vision back down to normal. Water threaded down the side of his face.
Cecilia stopped a few feet away from him. She shivered and Henry, forgetting the possibility of danger, forgetting they stood on top of a mad scientist’s lair, dashed forward and wrapped his coat around her shoulders. He caught the swish of a tail curling around her left thigh, dark and sleek, but it was covered up by the jacket. Cecilia look up at him. Her black eye makeup smeared in her lashes, ran in thick stains over the inclines of her face.
“The cop,” she said. “From the bowling alley.” She blinked. “Henry.”
“What are you doing out here?” Henry asked. “It’s not safe,” he added stupidly.
“Is she gone?”
Henry bit his lower lip. He heard the crash of underbrush behind him and when he glanced over his shoulder it was just Felton, his eyes flat and dark with failure.
“Yeah,” said Henry. “She’s gone.”
Henry drove back into the city. Cecilia sat in the back seat of the car, her chin tucked onto her knees, still wearing Henry’s jacket. Felton sat in the front seat and didn’t say anything, just kept his eyes dark and his hands folded. The robot-woman’s head was tagged and shoved into a plastic evidence bag, sitting at Felton’s feet.
Every now and then Henry glanced up at the rearview mirror, just to look at Cecilia. again, to look at the dark antlers growing up out of her hair.
Once she caught him, their eyes meeting in reflection, and she put one hand on one antler, as if she was checking to see that it was still there.
“I’m not with them,” Cecilia said when Henry pulled onto the highway, her voice shattering the oppressive, rain-drenched silence.
Henry glanced in the rearview mirror. Cecilia was staring out the window, the patterns of raindrops reflecting on the skin of her face.
“You might want to wait,” he said. “Until we get to the station.” He hesitated. “Remember, you can get a lawyer.”
“I mean,” she said. “I was with them, kind of. Emmett Margum was my father.”
Felton twisted his head to look back at her.
“He made me,” she said.
Henry’s hands began to shake. The upgrades. He pulled the car over to the side of the road and shut off the engine. Rain battered the roof.
“He made you,” he said. He turned around in his seat, put his hand over the headrest.
“Yeah,” she said. She looked at Felton, her eyes huge beneath the rim of smeared makeup. “Like Northwest Robotics made you.”
Felton didn’t answer. He turned away from her.
Something coiled up inside Henry. It wasn’t the upgrades. Immediately, he straightened himself in his seat, looked hard at the steering wheel.
For a long time they sat in silence. The rain picked up, turned the entire world gray. No cars passed by on the highway.
“You’re the little girl in the photograph,” Henry finally said.
Cecilia stared at him. “You found my pictures,” she said.
“Let’s go,” said Felton. “We shouldn’t be having this conversation here.” He turned back to Cecilia. Henry started the engine. His upgrades vibrated inside of him.
“We can offer you protection,” Felton said. Henry stared at the road as he drove along. The rain left filthy streaks across the front window. “If it’s necessary.”
Cecilia didn’t answer right away. The wipers slid across the windshield, thumping against the glass.
“That would be good.” Her voice sounded far away. “I never helped them. You gotta believe me.”
“We’ll see,” said Felton. He paused. “Why don’t we talk about this at the station? Sound good?”
Cecilia waited a long time before responding. Then she said, “Okay.”
Continue on to read Part 3 of Cassandra Rose Clarke’s Farrago.
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.