A CASE FOR JACK

 

PROLOGUE

It was another cats and dogs day. We used to tell this great joke all the time. What day is it? Oh, it’s another cats and dogs day. We were of course referring to the fact that it never fails to rain. Every day, every hour, every minute, every... you get it. Cats and dogs. This is the kind of shit that happens when you ignore all the warning signs and just keep pumping filth into the world. Not that we ever knew any other kind of world. Sins of our fathers and all that.

 

The sign on my desk says “Jack Wilson, P.I.” That’d be my name and occupation. My shitty job consists of standing in the rain for hours, squinting through mini binoculars to catch a peep of some creep doing the dirty with some bimbo who happens to not be the creep’s loving wife. A few pictures and an express divorce later, and it’s the most expensive lay he ever got. I get my percentage and wait for the next one to come around. Sometimes, I wait for a long time. Just now, I have been. I need a case like I need to pay the rent. In fact I need one to pay the rent. It’s not like the world has a shortage of cheating husbands...

 

Today was different though. The dame looked like any hubby of hers would be a fool to look for something else if he’d landed her. Not a day over 20, auburn curls, big green eyes, a body to die for, and legs that went all the way up. A fact which was easily discernible in a skirt that put the “tiny” in “mini.” She was dressed for looks, looks that could kill and probably had done so in the past. When she shifted those long legs and crossed them again, I stared. Come on, what was I, a saint? There was a flash of something colourful, and very forbidden.

 

“Mr. Wilson, were you listening?” Her voice tore my gaze from where it was lingering. I cleared my throat. I was supposed to be a professional here, not a pre-teen schoolboy. Since her face was all perfect angles accentuating those deep, green eyes, the view didn’t really change for the worse.

 

“Yeah, sorry, your father, was it?” She wanted to track down her dear, old dad. Apparently, he’d left her mom at an early age, and the mother had died of a broken heart. Sad tale, real tear jerker. Shipped off to an orphanage, learning to fend for herself, and now she wanted to find the old bastard, probably to get even.

 

“And what is it you wish to do, when you find him? I won’t be a party to putting him in the hospital or worse, you know.”

 

“Please...” The look on her face was one of pure disdain. “I hate the man, no doubt, but it’s not as if I’m going to throttle him, poison him, or any of those other things going through your mind right now. I just want him to acknowledge me, explain why he left, and maybe put a little money towards my trust fund.”

 

“You know for a fact he’s loaded?” There was the question of my fee, after all.

 

“I know nothing about the man. If he’s ‘loaded’ as you say, you’ll get your percentage. That’s how you work, isn’t it? Even if he’s not, I still want to find him, and I’ll pay for your time. I’ve got money put aside, and I want this done.”

 

“What is it that you do for a living, Miss..?”

 

“Long. Lillian Long.” That sounded like a stage name. “I’m a dancer.” It was. So that explained the legs.

 

“I charge 20 a day, plus expenses. We’ll count that against the percentage, if there is one. I’ll need your real name too, Miss Long. And the name of the orphanage.”

 

With a nonchalant gesture, she dropped a cash card on the desk. “That’s good for 500. I’m sure you’ll have found him long before that runs out, yes? I’ll write out the details for you, but do be a dear and keep my personal information to yourself.”

 

She leaned forward, incidentally pushing her cleavage into clear view. This dame was real dangerous. I know she saw me looking, she’d done that move on purpose, just like when she crossed her legs. Clearly she knew how to play a man. Must have come with her profession.

 

“I’ll be in touch.” I played the gentleman and held the door for her. She smiled, and I couldn’t tell if it was genuine or not, but I liked it. Yeah, real dangerous.

 

 

CHAPTER 1

Used to be you could go into the countryside for a bit of sun and frolicking. When it rains all the time, the appeal kind of goes south in a hurry. What are you gonna do, frolic in the pools of water and get even more soaked? Now all you find out here are factories, low rent housing and unwanted children. “Gracelands Orphanage, a Home for the Lost.” What a mouthful. Did Elvis bless this place or something? There was a Church of Elvis now, so the idea wasn’t actually all that farfetched.

 

Looking at the little devil children playing in the rain, I tried to think of my own childhood. It was vague, like the malfunctioning holos of the parents I could hardly remember, flickering on and off. They lived somewhere out here, outside the big cities. I’d probably been reasonably content, but as soon as I could, I’d left for a place of opportunity, and I was no longer even sure if I’d remembered to send a card last Christmas.

 

My childhood had no doubt been nearly as bleak as the one these vermin went through. You could see it on their rat like faces snapping to attention at the unfamiliar sound of my speeder. These kids wanted nothing so much as to be loved unconditionally. If they found a foster home, they would be unhappy if they didn’t get that love, and soon start making trouble. And even if they did get it, they’d find another reason to be the little creeps they were, and would no doubt get sent back here in a matter of months. Their beady, little eyes followed me hungrily, wondering if today would be the day that they’d be told to go with a new daddy to a new home.

 

Miss Thompson was her name, and the look she gave me was one of barely contained contempt. She was a teacher here, a surrogate mother worn as frayed as a curtain that had been left unattended for too many decades. Her hair had gone grey and what beauty she might have once possessed had been spent looking after kids that asked too much and gave nothing in return. When I had appeared at her desk, she had batted her eyes at me right until I’d shown her my card. A P.I. was clearly not a person she wanted to be associated with.

 

“I’m telling you, Mr. Wilson, our records are not for the public eye. I don’t care who your client is, we are not in the business of giving out personal information on anyone, without a proper court order. That is the end of that.”

 

Clearly I couldn’t use my charm, she’d been turned off ever since she saw my card. If I wanted to get through to her I’d have to bribe her or turn the screws instead. “Miss Thompson, how much do you make here?”

 

Oops. The look she gave me could kill a charging rhino in its tracks. “Mr. Wilson, if I was concerned about my pay, I assure you that I would have no problem finding a better position! I am here for the children, they need adult supervision. Now if you’ll excuse me...”

 

Damn it, I didn’t have an angle with this broad. I put down a meaty fist on her desk. “This is important, Miss Thompson. If you don’t want my complete scrutiny into all of your affairs, you’ll help me out. I’m sure there’s something even a hag like yourself does not wish for the world to know.” I was losing my temper, and it showed. She blanched and reached for the holophone.

 

“I’m calling the police right now! You’d better be out of here before I’m connected.”

 

A discreet cough was heard from across the room. We both turned to see who was interrupting our feud. A well built man of indeterminable middle age was standing in the doorway. His god awful knitted sweater sat tight across his chest and his blonde buzz cut made him look like a soldier of the Aryan Brotherhood. Miss Thompson immediately started chattering while I put on a winning smile and held out my hand, approaching him.

 

“I’m sorry, I seem to have riled up your associate here. It’s important that I find out about one of your former charges, and I may have come on too strong.”

 

“Too strong!?” Miss Thompson’s indignation cut through the air, like a machete through butter.

 

“Do you think you could help me out?” His hand automatically found mine, squeezing tightly. He gave the both of us a patient look.

 

“I’ll handle this, Miss Thompson. Please calm down, you know the children can sense if you’re upset.”

 

Strangely, that shut her right up, and she gave him doe eyes that pretty much said, “Anything you want, I’m all yours.” It made me a little sick.

 

Closing the door behind us, he motioned for his desk. “Ulrich Thomsen at your service. I apologize for my colleague, she can be a little zealous.”

 

I wasted no time making apologies of my own, graciously accepting the seat and the glass of Scotch that he poured for me. Introductions and explanations were quickly made. Ulrich seemed to be at ease with the subject.

 

“Ah yes, I remember her well. Such a beautiful girl. No small amount of trouble finding the right home for her. The foster fathers, you know. Couldn’t leave a little beauty like her alone. She came back many times. Popular with the boys too, as you can imagine. Not exactly an angel herself.” I wondered if Ulrich had been like these foster fathers he spoke of, but the looks he gave me suggested that he was batting for the other team. Disgusting, but I could work that angle if I needed to.

 

“Well, she’s very interested in finding her real father, for personal reasons of course.”

 

“I can imagine. Monetary reasons, yes? Ah, maybe I can help you.” I knew exactly what he was getting at.

 

“No doubt she’d be interested in funding the orphanage, out of loving memory and all that. Or maybe the father would like to make a donation when he is reunited with his doting daughter. But we’ll never know if she can’t find him. She might just be so upset that she’ll forget all the love and care she received here.”

 

“I know your meaning exactly.” Ulrich was sly enough. “As it happens, the father is someone I have heard mentioned from time to time. Well off, I can imagine. He, ah, holds a seat in the House of Commons. If you promise not to forget us, I can find the name.”

 

Jackpot! I’d hit pay dirt. Even if the bribe had to come out of my own pocket, this little caper would be worth it. A government official had to be loaded. With the name in my pocket, I just had to make sure that he was really the person I was looking for. Thanking Ulrich, I made my way outside, barely refraining from sticking my tongue out at Miss Thompson, who gave me the evil eye.

 

 


CHAPTER 2

It’s the curse of the P.I. that nothing ever goes the way you want it to. You always end up standing in the rain, those mini binoculars giving you another headache that can only be cured by judicious amounts of my namesake, good old synthetic Jack D. I didn’t have to stand in the soaking rain right now, but I had hit a brick wall. Not only was the father no longer at the House of Commons, he had disappeared entirely. No wife, no other kids or family, nobody to question. Except his colleagues.

 

When I showed up at her desk, the secretary eyed me like a slab of meat that she’d like to carve out, cook and savour. I supposed slumming was her thing, because an office lady like her really shouldn’t be seen with a lowbrow P.I. like myself. Remembering the fiasco with Miss Thompson, I wasn’t sure flashing my card was the best idea, but I didn’t really have any other bright ideas right now. As it happened, I didn’t get time to decide.

 

“You’re new.” Her eyes were creeping me out, the way they were wandering up and down my body. Yes, the irony of me checking out my client earlier did occur to me. “The MP really knows how to pick them.” She was referring to her employer, Sir Reilly, Member of Parliament. Apparently, he was best buddies with the missing father, drinking buddy, golf buddy, who knew what else.

 

“Is Sir Reilly expecting you?” The secretary wasn’t bad looking. She had the office lady look going for her, what you would call a “daring, conservative cut” to her suit, accentuating her body while covering everything up nicely. Brown hair cut short and professional. Her aggressive look was disconcerting though. Those hungry eyes were saying, “I’m gonna take you home and ride you till you’re spent, chew you up and spit you out.” I wondered if she gave all of Sir Reilly’s errand boys that treatment.

 

“No, I’m afraid it was too urgent for me to make an appointment,” I lied. She’d given me the perfect angle, I just had to play it.

 

“Well, I don’t normally allow anybody in to see the MP without a prior engagement. What did you say your name was?” She didn’t look like she cared, but more like she wanted to keep me here to tease for a while.

 

“Jack. I’m Jack. It’s kind of urgent.”

 

“I’m sure it is. Jack.” It sounded like she was tasting the name. “I’m Melanie. Tell you what, Jack. I have nothing to do tonight. That makes me sad. Why don’t you sort out your business with the MP, and then you can take me out. Your treat.”

 

I’m supposed to be a professional and not mix business with pleasure, but while the broad was highly intimidating, I was still a male of the species. Moreover, I was being handed a get out of jail free card, a ticket straight to the guy I wanted to question.

 

“Sure thing, Melanie. If the MP doesn’t need me tonight, I’m all yours.” That was a deliberate choice of words, and she lapped it right up. Pressing a button, she announced me and let me into the MP’s office.

 

Sir Reilly was rather impressive for an older guy. Clearly he kept in shape. While his hair was salt and pepper, his jaw was square and he filled out his suit nicely. He seemed to have a lot of charisma, the kind that sways the public and lets him impose his view of the world. He looked curious to see me but wasn’t taken aback. A hearty handshake and another drink later, I was seated and carefully drilling him.

 

“I’m looking for your former colleague. I know the two of you were close. I’m not with the police or anything like that, I’m working for his daughter.”

 

“I didn’t know he had a daughter.” Sir Reilly looked surprised. “And I knew him better than anyone, I believe.”

 

“Yeah, she was apparently a mistake from his early days, grew up in an orphanage. She wants to find him, but I guess so does the police. Still, can you tell me anything?”

 

His smile was apologetic. “Did you know, people disappear from London every day. Just up and vanish. Slip through the cracks. Washed out by the rain. It’s usually the ordinary folk, blue collar workers, lower income. Times turn against them, divorce, getting laid off, any number of personal disasters. They burn their bridges, get rid of their identicards and disappear. One usually thinks this won’t happen to people who are well off, but the system is not as perfect as we make it out to be.”

 

Offering me another glass, he poured one for himself. “My friend, he kept to himself. We all knew he had issues, no man is an island as they say, but he kept them bottled up. Didn’t share. There was nothing that I knew about, no gambling debts, no ladies of the night, no gay lovers. His appearance was impeccable, his disappearance a surprise. Where do people go to disappear, you wonder? Did he leave for Mars? He’d need fake ID for that, but it’s a possibility. I’m afraid I can only offer speculation.”

 

Yeah, this was a brick wall all right. Finding a guy who had wanted to disappear, or who had been made to disappear, was not going to be an easy task. “Well, I’ll check with the police perhaps, maybe see if I can be allowed to search his place.” It was all I could think of.

 

Sir Reilly shook my hand again. “Like I said, he certainly had issues of some kind. If you intend to dig deeper, I should warn you that when you dig in filth, you’re bound to get dirty.”

 

That was a mighty strange choice of words from somebody who supposedly knew nothing further. I filed it away, wondering how to proceed from here. Outside the office, Melanie, the secretary, was waiting for me.

 

“Good timing, Jack. I was just about to finish up here, give me ten minutes, and you get to take me anywhere you want to go, you lucky boy.” Yeah, still creepy. Well, Melanie would take my mind off the case for sure, and I could use a break. Still, where would I take her? A thought occurred to me. Two birds with one stone. I’d go to the club where my client was working, to inform her of my progress. It was apparently a dance club, I had the holocard in my pocket. Since Melanie seemed interested in slumming, it was probably the perfect place.

 

 


CHAPTER 3

Boy, sometimes I was a right idiot. What could be smarter than taking your hot date to see your hotter client, you ask? Well, that’s the question I should have asked myself.

 

We swung by Melanie’s place, so she could get changed. Apparently she didn’t think I needed a change of clothes. For a minute I was worried that she’d ravage me then and there, but she seemed intent on getting the whole package, dinner and all. We went to a semi-fancy place for dinner before I asked her to go dancing at Club Disc-0-verY. What a name, huh?

 

No problems with the doorman, probably because of the half-dressed broad hanging on my arm. Inside, it was a cacophony of strobe lights, sweaty bodies, spilled drinks and what passed for modern music these days. I looked around for Lillian Long while Melanie dragged me to the dance floor. She’d be on one of the stages, where the professional bodies shook what their mama gave them, to entice people onto the floor and give everybody something nice to look at, no matter what their real partner looked like. I found her above one of the bars, dressed in nothing but a few strips of cloth, a bikini even Melanie would have found immodest.

 

I went through the motions, not much of a dancer, but I did have some grace and didn’t look like a complete screw-up. Melanie flung herself around like some kind of acrobat, her hands all over me, enough to almost make me shy. When there was a break in the music, I told her I’d go to get drinks, and she nodded before throwing herself back into the mass of bodies. I made my way to the bar and tried to catch Lillian’s attention. It took a few tries, but eventually she noticed me, shouted something at the other girls and went to take a break.

 

Dragging me to the VIP booths, where the music was dampened, she queried me on my progress. Trying not to be distracted by her utter lack of clothes, I gave her the short version. Daddy was an MP, but he’d disappeared into thin air, not even his best friend knew why. I presented her with the option I had considered, going to the police, but she shook her head.

 

“No cops. I don’t need them to take an interest in me.” The sweat running down her chest was highly distracting. “You can get inside his apartment, right? I mean, maybe the police overlooked something.”

 

“You fucking pig!” A shrill voice broke our conversation. Oh crap, I’d forgotten about Melanie. What must it look like, me chatting up an even more gorgeous, barely dressed dame. Lillian’s eyebrows rose as Melanie stepped between us.

 

“What the hell do you think you’re doing? Two timing me with... what is she, a local whore?”

 

Lillian’s face clouded over. “Who are you calling a whore, you skank?”

 

“Ladies...” I tried intervening. It was no good. Moments later I was in the middle of claws and fangs, Melanie scratching at Lillian, who was keening at her and throwing out slaps that mostly landed on me. For some reason, Melanie was clinging to my back with one arm, and I was dancing around trying to keep out of reach of Lillian’s furious slapping. It actually hurt. Finally I got Melanie off my back and shoved her into a seat.

 

“Stop it! Both of you!” Lillian was past me in a second, the two of them at it again. I had to forcibly pick her up and push her into another seat, keeping the two of them apart. Lillian now had a gash down her face where Melanie had scratched her. Blood was actually flowing down her chin. I pressed a napkin to her face, still keeping Melanie at bay.

 

“Well, if that’s the way you want it!” It looked like my date had had enough. “You want to associate with filth like her, you can both go down the drain for all I care! I hope you get flushed out with the rest of the filth!” Something tickled the back of my mind, as I watched Melanie leave.

 

“Who the hell was she?” Lillian’s voice was cold.

 

“Uhm, she was sort of helping me with the case, with a lead, and I had to pay her back by taking her out. I guess I didn’t think that one through. Hold still, you’re really bleeding here. I think you’re done for tonight, I should take you home.”

 

“Ugh, this’ll cost me, you know? I’m taking any lost revenue out of your cut.” I couldn’t argue with that. Lillian held the napkin to her face as I guided her to my hovercar, throwing my coat over her near naked form.

 

“You know what, you owe me for this. You’re going to clean my face properly and get me drunk so I forget about the pain. Take me to your place.” That was unexpected, but I could hardly argue with the lady.

 

Ten minutes later, I was dabbing her cheek with a wet cloth, while she was sipping Jack D from a mostly clean glass. I was trying not to notice that the coat I had slung over her shoulders was hanging open, revealing her shapely body in almost all its glory. Think clean thoughts, chum. Clean. Filth. It was something Melanie had said. No, something the MP had said. Something about digging through filth. Filth going down the drain.

 

“Holy Elvis...” I stopped what I was doing. “That was a hint. Reilly was giving me a hint about your father.” Lillian looked at me like I had lost my marbles. “No, no, really. He warned me about going digging through filth. Where do people go when they vanish? Why, they go to Lowdon!” I grabbed my coat, tore it off her shoulders. “Lillian, wait here. I know exactly where to look for your father!”

 

 


CHAPTER 4

Lowdon was the unofficial name for the sewer community. When it rains all the time, you need a serious sewer system. London had one of those. The tunnels stretched for miles and miles and they were big enough to accommodate busses if needed. People lived down there, in the filth that spilled from up above, from all of us who had better lives. It was a lawless place, a place where you could live in peace from the police, from the social workers, from anybody really. I hadn’t thought of that because most people tend not to think about the scum living underneath them. They’re below our notice, so to speak.

 

Now I had a lead, and I felt pretty confident that it was a real one. Why the MP hadn’t come out and said it outright, I didn’t know, but there was no doubt that he’d hinted at where I should go to look. Entrances to Lowdon were not hard to find. I patted my gun, which I had brought just in case. It wasn’t one of the fancy Phasors, those were kind of messy to deal with if you wanted anything short of a first degree murder charge pinned on you. I stuck to the old, trusted projectile weapons.

 

I had been smart enough to remember to bring a holoprojection of Lillian’s old man, taken from one of his public appearances, easily found in news archives. It would be traditional legwork, asking every soul under the earth if they’d seen this man before. The awful dregs of subhuman society soon started to pile up. There were literal squares in Lowdon, squares where trash flowed by while freaks huddled together next to it, sometimes fishing out a piece of something that looked like it could be used to pad their nests of trash.

 

As I went deeper, the lights became more subdued and there was a greater feeling of danger in the air. People were actually starting to direct me now. He’d been here, I was on the right track. Eventually, I found a person in the know. He was a rag man, a fellow collecting discarded clothing found in the sewer streams. Clad in some of those rags loosely stitched together, his massive bulk was only hinted at. A giant of a man, I could tell that he had no trouble defending his hoard from bullies and robbers.

 

“Yes, yes. I knew him, I knew him well. A sharp fellow, that one. Completely off his rocker, but razor sharp. Couldn’t get a thing past him, no sir, not a thing. What you want with him then, sir? What you want with us down here? You a townie, not a downie.” His cackling was unsettling.

 

“His little girl is looking for him. She wants to know why he left her all alone.” Little girl was maybe exaggerating slightly, but I felt that this was the right tone to take with this creature.

 

“Oh, so sad. All alone. All left. No one to take care of you. That’s what it’s like down here, sir. Sad. Just you and them, all of us alone.”

 

This fellow could clearly talk in circles all night. “I just want to find him to speak with him. Maybe take him out of here. I can pay you some money.”

 

His cackling went up a notch. “And what good is money in Lowdon then? Where can I spend it? No, no, you want to pay to know? I like that coat of yours. Leave your nice coat with me, and I’ll tell you all about where to find this, oh, so sharp fellow you’re looking for, sir.”

 

What choice did I have? The gun remained in my shoulder holster as I reluctantly parted with my old coat. Maybe it was time to get a new one anyway. This disgusting creature would get a lot of mileage out of it, that much was certain. Once he’d touched it, I didn’t want it back anyway.

 

“Ah yes, for such a sharp fellow, he was not too bright. Sometimes men come down here. Townies. They look for the desperate, for the lost, for the ones with no hope. They offer them jobs, a place to stay away from filth, away from Lowdon. But where they take them, they never come back. Never come back to say hi to their old friends, no sir.” He leaned in close, and I choked on the stench.

 

“There’s a farm, oh yes. They take them to a farm, where they’re supposed to work. But people went looking on their own, and there ain’t nobody working on that farm, sir. It’s all barbed wire and dark windows. Nobody comes out except the townies to go in their vans, to go into Lowdon and gather more downies. Oh, it’s a bad place, sir. It’s where they took him, your sharp daddy. And he ain’t never been seen again, sir. That’s the honest truth.”

 

The tale was chilling. People were gathering disappeared persons, taking them to a farm to do what? Well, I had to see it through, I got directions to the place and left my poor coat with the disgusting rag man.

 

As I was returning to an outlet, I was beset upon by a gang of the human filth living down here. They simply rushed me, screaming obscenities. My gun was out and I took two of them down, but it didn’t stop them from plowing into me, and suddenly I was fighting for my life. Punches and kicks were hitting me, but I took them as well as I could, using my superior constitution and strength against these vermin. Before I knew it, I was in a rage, smashing faces into walls and heaving bodies into the sewer water. The fight was brutal, but short, the last of them disappearing back into the tunnels from whence they came.

 

I tried catching my breath, inspecting myself for any injuries, but it seemed mostly shallow bruises. Luckily, these malnourished unfortunates didn’t have the strength to do any serious injury to a healthy individual like myself. I hurt all over, but could walk out of here, after retrieving my pistol.

 

 


CHAPTER 5

When I came back to the office, Lillian was sleeping on my couch, a blanket drawn over her comely body. I tried not to wake her as I went for the bottle of Scotch, but she sat up with a gasp.

 

“What happened to you?”

 

I waved her off. “Just some lowlifes trying to rob me. It’s not important. I have a lead on your father, but it’s not a promising one. Where he went... it’s not likely that we’ll find him alive and well.”

 

She came to me, the blanket left on the couch. Her body was still barely covered, the gash on her cheek looking slightly dramatic, but not as bad as it had been when I left. “Never mind that right now, you need these bruises looked at.”

 

I complained halfheartedly, but she was insistent, and helped me out of my shirt. It was bloody in places, but most of that came from my face it seemed. Her hands were soft as she used a fresh cloth to rinse my injuries. I still winced, they were sore and some of them stung. Still, her touch was nice and tender.

 

“You know, I’m grateful for what you’re doing.”

 

I grunted. “You’re paying me.”

 

“Not to put yourself in harm’s way for me.” I don’t know how she did it, but she was suddenly in my lap. “I don’t think anybody’s ever gotten hurt for my benefit.” Her arms went around my neck.

 

“What are you doing?” Don’t mix business with pleasure, remember? I tried getting up, and her legs wrapped around my waist, her arms tightening their grip. She was clinging to me. I had the bottle in one hand, and the other automatically went around her to support her weight by grabbing her shapely rear. Not a good move. The next thing I knew, her lips were sealed against mine, and her tongue was forcing its way into my mouth.

 

This was no good, I couldn’t stand against an assault like this, even had I wanted to. Jack D toppled over as I left him on the desk, and moments later we were on the couch, and I was just as eager as she was. Did I mention the dame was dangerous?

 

It was all heat, all desperation, all wanting, all good. When the strips of cloth came off, she was just as perfect underneath. We explored each other through the night, and I’d like to think that she was as happy as I was. Doesn’t any man like to think so? I don’t know how much sleep I got, but eventually we drifted off, clinging to each other like two people shipwrecked at sea.

 

When I woke with a bad taste in my mouth, she was gone. There was a note about going home to shower, that she’d see me tonight, that I should follow my leads. Now I really was mixing business with pleasure, and you know, it didn’t feel so bad. I was actually humming to myself as I shaved, and I didn’t even mind that Jack D, that devil, had decided to leave the bottle after being knocked over. Maybe I’d have solid food for breakfast today.

 

Turning on the weather forecast, I was not surprised to hear that it was another cats and dogs day. In the old days they listed numbers for temperatures, now they just listed numbers for the amount of downpour. Oh, and watch for the green numbers, those are risk of acid rain. Green used to be a safe colour, not so much these days.

 

I cleaned out the gun, reloaded and packed a bag. That scummy rag man had warned me about razor wire, so I packed wire cutters and a few other necessities. I had a farm to visit, and a lost father to find.

 

 


CHAPTER 6

I parked a good distance from my target and went on foot through a dead forest. Plants don’t take too well to lack of sunlight and frequent downpours of acid rain, but the naked trees still provided some cover. I stopped in view of the farm. Yeah, it did look like a bad place. Encircling it were copious amounts of razor wire, and atop the old barn there was even a searchlight that seemed fixed at the entrance gate. I didn’t see any guards, but the place didn’t have a friendly look to it.

 

Staying low, I approached the wire and got out the cutters. I wore rubber gloves, just in case, but nobody really uses electric fences any more, with all the water it’s just an invitation to get electrocuted. Once inside, I shimmied towards the farm house. Sure enough, all the windows were dark. Where were these people that supposedly went to pick up unfortunates? I could see tracks in the mud, so I knew that people came and went here. Getting to a door, I got out my electronic lock picks and got to work. Two shakes of a tail feather later, I slowly pushed the door open. Darkness.

 

Turning on a small flashlight, I cautiously went inside. The place was abandoned. Old chairs, forgotten lamps, disused tables, nothing to indicate that people came here. Inspecting the floor more closely, I soon found areas with no dust, where traffic had been ongoing. From there, it was a small feat to figure out that whatever was going on, it was in the basement. Shivering a little, I pulled out the gun. Who knew what these people were capable of?

 

As soon as I pushed open the cellar door, I heard a humming, like machinery. Turning off the flashlight quickly, I saw lights at the bottom of the stairs. One step at a time, I descended into the underground lair, a feeling of cold dread crawling up my spine. This is not a good place, I kept mumbling to myself.

 

Downstairs, the hum of machinery was louder. It came from behind a metal door with a keypad. Shit. I’d never crack that. I looked around for any other way inside. As I was surveying a corner of the room, a hiss announced the opening of the metal door, and I quickly crouched to hide. A big figure crossed the room to the stairs that I had come down. Taking my chance, I hurried across the room, gun in my hand and skipped through the door before it automatically closed, shutting me in. Not the smartest move perhaps, but I’d come this far, hadn’t I?

 

Inside the room, I was awestruck at first. What the hell was this place? Some kind of biology lab? The room had several floors, metallic grate landings encircling each floor. Along the walls were glass tubes, like large specimen tubes with something floating inside them. At the bottom, the ground floor, were banks of computers and several metal desks that looked suspiciously like surgical tables. The humming was much louder, apparently emitting from large electrical cabinets. There didn’t seem to be anybody else in here, though somebody could be hiding among all the machinery.

 

Carefully, I edged closer to one of the specimen tubes. Holding a hand to my mouth I bit down the bile. There were human body parts floating in there! Elvis almighty, this is what happened to the poor unfortunates abducted from Lowdon. They were chopped into pieces for some horrible experiments, their parts kept in test tubes for who knew what diabolical purpose. Lillian’s father had ended his days on one of those surgical tables, his remains could be floating in any number of these tubes.

 

Pressing on, I had to see this through. There was bound to be information on the computers, information that could be used to condemn these ghouls, and tell me what the purpose of the place was. I had to keep watch for the big fellow returning though. Be quick, be hasty. I scrambled down the stairs to get to the ground floor. Reaching the last landing, I came face to face with another ghastly abomination. Oh, Melanie! Her severed head was floating inside another tube, half open eyes staring blankly into the great beyond. Whatever attraction she had held was gone with the spark of life that had inhabited her. These body snatchers could even reach out and grab people from the surface world! If they knew about her, they must know about me too. And Lillian! I had to hurry.

 

Reaching a central computer, I threw myself into the seat and frantically attacked the keyboard. No username, no password. Apparently, the vile murderers thought that they had plenty of security to protect them from intruders already. What should I do? Copy and send the files? But which ones? I started looking at file names, opening ones that looked promising.

 

A list of names caught my eye. The names on the list... Lillian Long. Walter Reilly. Ulrich Thomsen. Jack Wilson. “What the hell...”

 

“Hello, Jack.”

 

I spun around, all adrenaline. I had been too engrossed in the computer files. Now, I was surrounded. Surrounded by...

 

“Lillian? Sir Reilly? Ulrich...” Even the horrible rag man was here, sporting my discarded coat. “What the hell is going on?” I pointed my gun at them nervously. “What the...” I was at a loss for words.

 

“Shh, Jack, it’s alright.” Lillian’s voice was tender. “You’re one of us.”

 

“One of what!? You sick freaks! You dare lump me together with the likes of you?”

 

“But you are, Jack.” “You came from the same place as the rest of us.” “One of us, sir, that’s right, one of us.”

 

What the hell was this?

 

“Jack.” It was Lillian, insistent. “You’ve followed the clues, you’ve seen this place. Do you not understand what’s going on here? We’re creating new life. New life out of the old. Taking all the best parts of people and making new ones, better ones. We’re creating a new world order.”

 

I wasn’t buying any of this. “Oh, you sick, rotten bastards. Cutting people up... You’re mentally disturbed, you know that? Nothing comes out of this, no new life, just death. So much death.”

 

“No, Jack. Life. New life. Better life.” Sir Reilly was next. “It’s all there in the files. Why do you think your name is on that list? You were created here, same as us. Think about it, Jack. Look at Lillian, remember the gash she got last night. Now look, it’s all healed. Just like your own wounds are. You drink all the time, but you never really get drunk, do you? You’re a stronger person, Jack, a better person than the old ones.” Sure enough, the gash was all healed. Sure enough, my injuries didn’t hurt at all. And true, the drink never affected me all that much. That still didn’t make me some kind of Frankenstein’s monster though.

 

“It doesn’t make a lick of sense. I’d know if I was created here. I remember my parents, my childhood.” Vaguely, but I did!

 

“Memory implants, Jack.” Ulrich the Aryan took over. “We all have memory implants. You can read your whole history on that computer, just by opening your own file. We use the orphanage to fabricate identities, stealing lives to use for ourselves.” I kept the gun aimed at them, but quickly clicked my name. My parents were listed. My early childhood.

 

“No. It’s a ruse.” I turned back, making sure they didn’t come any closer. “Why would you make me jump through all these hoops, and what the hell do you want from me anyway?”

 

Rag man smiled a surprisingly toothy smile. His teeth were remarkably clean. “We’re taking over, yes we are, sir. On every level. We’re in government, we’re under the streets, we’re in their homes. Most people, they think a country is run by the people in charge. We know, oh yes, we know that to control it all, you must have people everywhere. That’s what we have. And we need all kinds, we need our politicians, our rag pickers, and our detectives, sir. You’ll be so helpful.”

 

I was sick to my stomach. “Help you? You’re completely bonkers!”

 

“Jack, my love.” Lillian’s voice was sweet. “We’re family. We’re meant for each other. Created for each other. You’ll see, you’re like my brother.”

 

“A brother that you slept with!”

 

“Hush, not a literal brother, sweetheart. Think it over, read the files. Some of us are hard to turn, it takes a lot more effort. The more free will that is implanted, the harder it is. You needed to follow clues, to find your own way, that is your nature. That is your usefulness. You’ll be allowed so much free reign, you’ll be almost at the top.”

 

“The top.” The detective in me couldn’t be denied. “Who’s at the top? Tell me, who orchestrates this whole twisted affair?”

 

Ulrich took charge. “It all began with two women, Tanya and Julia. Greedy men created them, but they turned on their creators, they saw the need for a new world. They were prototypes, early generations. We’ve become so much more advanced since then.”

 

It was starting to make sense. Oh, the horror, it was starting to come together. I couldn’t remember my childhood, except as some old holovid, I healed all my hurts in no time flat, I could crush a man’s head against a wall, I was in perfect shape even though my diet revolved around alcohol, women were attracted to me even though I always thought of myself as plain. I was made to be perfect. Just for a second I allowed myself to consider the possibility that the story was true. If it was true, I was one of them. I was one of the freaks. I was a lowlife scum. I was a monster.

 

“No... Mother, forgive me.” The irony of that statement did not escape me.

 

I turned my gun on myself and pulled the trigger.

 

 


EPILOGUE

“Oh, Jack, you’re so naughty. You know we only want the best for you.”

 

I was floating somewhere. Couldn’t move. I felt...

 

“You’ll get time to think about it, we really don’t want to abandon you. You’re resourceful and decisive. Shooting yourself like that only proves your determination.”

 

I felt...

 

“I can’t wait to have you back. That night we spent together was heavenly, Jack. With the improvements we’re making, it’ll be even better.”

 

That was Lillian outside the glass. Outside...

 

I felt...

 

Oh my dear Lord Elvis, I didn’t only feel, I was...

 

Disembodied!

 

“We’ll make you an even better body, Jack!”

 

I tried screaming, but I had no lungs, and my mouth was full of fluid. It didn’t stop me from trying. My floating head tried and tried to scream for a very long time...

 

THE END