I’m delighted to be here today. Honestly. But I must confess, I had a hard time getting any of my characters in Afterlife: The Resurrection Chronicles to respond to my e-mails or phone calls. I guess now that the book is out, they think their work is done. I should have known that Chaz would be the one to come through. From Day One, he’s been willing to tell me more than he should. I’m surprised the mugs haven’t caught up with him yet, after all the ink I’ve spilled on him.
But like I said, Chaz came through. It took awhile. I had to buy him some whiskey—not that black-market crap either—and we had to meet in a jazz club. There, in between the smoke and the strains of a second-rate blues trio, I heard about the time he met up with Spring-Heeled Jack. I had my recorder on, though he didn’t know it, so the rest of this in his words…
Sure, I’ve heard the legends. Who hasn’t? But it all sounded like some super-hero mumbo jumbo, more like something a voodoo queen would conjure up from shadows and skeletons. So when Lieutenant Skellar called me and told me about the latest string of crimes, claiming that they fell into my jurisdiction, well, I wasn’t happy about it. From what he said it sounded more like this was one of those black market clones. You know, the kind with super-human-and-then-some strength. I’m might not be proud of Fresh Start, but nobody can touch the work we do.
So, Skellar waltzes into my office, shows me VR footage of what this clown has done. If I hadn’t seen it for myself, I would have laughed at him and told him to go play with himself. But, I could tell this was for real. I sat up, paid attention. When the footage was done, I played it again. And again.
Some toad-faced looser in a black market clone was jumping, high as a three-story building, running away from a pack of mugs like a rabbit. A couple of mugs tried to stop him with a douse of liquid light, but they missed him every time. And the scariest part was when I enlarged the image and looked at his hands. His fingers curved into metallic claws. And they were covered in blood.
“So what’d this joker do? Kill somebody? Why’s he running?” I asked.
Skellar shrugged, typical mug reaction. He obviously didn’t care. He just wanted this moron caught. By me. Immediately.
“This is a black market clone. We don’t make crap like this,” I said, trying to get out of it. This guy gave me the creeps. Every time he hopped, it looked like all of his joints loosened up and his limbs lengthened. I was beginning to wonder if he was human or something else.
“Doesn’t matter,” Skellar said, picking strands of jive-sweet from between his teeth. “Article 5, section 16 a: Any clone found creating a disturbance is subject to recall by—”
I held up my hand, inadvertently showing him my Babysitter tatt. Not that he need to see it. “Yeah, yeah, I know the law. I also know it doesn’t apply to Fresh Start.”
“And I know it’ll take your fancy-pants lawyers three weeks to sort through the fine print. Meanwhile, I can shut down your plants. All of ‘em.”
I mumbled a few choice words under my breath. Then I agreed. We set up a plan, over café au lait and beignets, with the soulful notes of Billie Holiday playing in the background. That night, we gathered up a smattering of mugs and Babysitters and we all met down in the Quarter, close to the last sighting of this freak. The wind was blowing in from the Mississippi and I was wishing that I’d worn a jacket when I saw movement out of the corner of my eye.
Sure enough, it was him. Dried blood on his hands and face, and he was limping now. I wasn’t surprised. It doesn’t take long for these counterfeit clones to run out of juice. We started chasing him, a couple of the mugs trying to shout out his rights—which were pretty limited right now since we all thought he’d committed a capital—and somehow I ended out in front.
That’s when I realized that all of this could have been a set up. I’ve never have trusted Skellar. I know how he feels about Babysitters. He’d just as soon retire me as talk to me. Fact that I’m a One-Timer and don’t agree with every Fresh Start practice doesn’t matter to him.
So there I was, leading the pack with this Spring-Heeled Jack bouncing all over the place. We were dogging him into a trap. Down the street, past a row of shotgun cottages and a cluster of dolled-up prostitutes, right toward an alley. And he fell for it.
Probably too tired to think straight. I mean, I saw it coming, I knew he wasn’t going to get away. Not alive anyway. Not with that blood all over him. Who knew what he’d been up to and if we injured him in any way, he’d just download into another clone somewhere, then start this damn chase up all over again.
So I stopped it. Right then and there. Tossed a two-finger wad of liquid light at his midsection, right when he was turning the corner. He went down in a sizzling tumble of light, started twisting and convulsing, his eyes rolling back in his head and spittle running down his chin.
“Damn it, Domingue!” Skellar yelled at me. “I told ya, we want this cockroach alive!”
He was dying, sure enough, but I was ready. I’d worked out my own resolution to this legendary monster. I slammed a containment cap over his skull and cuffs on his twitching arms. Then I called one of the Fresh Start techs and in a heartbeat he had a car there, ready to haul this load of broken flesh back to the plant.
“You can’t let that beast download!” Skellar screamed when the tech and me pulled away.
“You shoulda thought about that when you called me in for this job,” I said, leaning my head out the window as our car spun over the rooftops. I wasn’t about to take a chance on this guy downloading unless I was there to supervise it. In fact, I already had the perfect clone picked out for him.
Skellar stopped by my office about an hour later, madder than a gutter punk when he gets his face stitches. I laughed. Pretended to care about all the legal crap he was spouting. I led him down the hall, into a windowless room.
“He’s all yours, lieutenant,” I said. Then Skellar saw the goon and he grinned, ear to ear like a jack-o-lantern. I’ve got to admit, Skellar does appreciate a good joke. And there it was, sprawled out right in front of us.
Good old Spring-Heeled Jack himself, safe and sound in his brand new clone. Except this one didn’t have any legs.
His jumping days were over. Courtesy of Yours Truly.
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