The following is a work of fiction, and not appropriate for all readers.
When Cameron Duncan admitted me, Syd, and Eddie into the row house he shared with his wife Brenda, he did so with a claw-hammer still clutched in his other hand. Brenda, meanwhile, still gripped a carving knife she had grabbed from the kitchen. Neither of them would have been a match for men with shotguns, but it would have been hypocritical of me to criticize given my own habits.
Cameron was taller than me, and slim with long-fingered hands better-suited to a piano than a hammer. Brenda was what Eddie would have called a ‘happy medium’: medium height, medium build, medium-length brown hair with brown eyes, neither pale nor dark, and a friendly manner once she had put away her knife that suggested that she spent most of her time smiling and laughing. Her mood was somber today, however, as her husband put away the hammer he had picked up so that he would not be taken without a fight.
It was Brenda who asked the question that was surely on both their minds. “They’re not coming back, are they?”
“Not if they have half a brain between ’em,” said Syd before I could say anything. His heavy hand came down on my shoulder. “This guy drove ’em off himself, without even drawing his sword. Now he’s got me and Eddie. All we need is a D’Artagnan, but I think she’s busy today.”
“What we need,” I said, “Is for the two of you to pack clothing and other necessities for at least a week away. Once I’ve asked you some questions, my friends are going to take you to a safe house where they can more easily keep you safe.”
“So, they will come back?”
“Not this bunch from the local Transmaniacon MC,” said I, reiterating what Sid had already said. “But this wasn’t their idea. They’re getting orders through a succession of relays, and whoever’s behind this might send others.”
“We could let you remain here,” said Eddie, “Maybe even use you as bait, that would mean adopting a defensive posture and endangering your neighbors while waiting for the opposition to make a move. Morgan wants you in a safe house so that you’re off the board and out of harm’s way.”
“And what will you do once we’re in this safe house,” asked Brenda. She stroked Cameron’s hair absently. “Won’t you still be waiting for whoever’s trying to take Cam to make a move?”
“No.” I had been examining the house as I spoke to its occupants. I had wanted to get a feel for the Duncans before I started asking questions, but they were not all here. “Yours is a triangular marriage, isn’t it? Where’s your third?”
“Frank’s in Toronto introducing Barbara to some of her grandparents, aunties, and uncles,” said Cameron. “I’ve got a husband as well as a wife. Do you have a problem with that?”
“Not at all.” Even if I found the arrangement objectionable, duty would have demanded that I keep it to myself as long as all of the participant were consenting adults and there was no evidence of abuse. However, the only problem I had with the absent spouse and child was their absence. Their capture and use as hostages would complicate the situation. “Eddie, I need you to track down Frank and Barbara Duncan. We need to bring them under cover as well.”
“Got it.” Eddie’s fingertips were already brushing his ear as he stepped outside. No doubt he was texting Malkuth already to make arrangements.
Meanwhile, there was the matter of figuring out why the Duncans needed a fertility clinic. “I was told that the problem started when you sought help in conceiving a child.”
“Barbara is my daughter and Frank’s,” said Brenda. “But I wanted a child from Cameron, too, and we hadn’t been able to make it happen. So we went to one of Ohrmazd Medical’s clinics to make sure he wasn’t –”
“Firing dud rounds?” Sid’s phrasing might have been a bit crude, but his tone was compassionate. “Got a cousin whose wife left him when they found out the problem was on his end. It’s rough.”
“First thing they did was genetic tests,” said Cameron. “Brenda’s tests came back fine, except that she’s got the allele for cystic fibrosis. Frank didn’t, though, so Barb’s just a carrier like Brenda. But I’m –”
I had not noticed Brenda’s departure until she returned with a manila envelope in her hands. She held it out to me as if it were unexploded ordnance. “These are Cam’s lab results. Thought I’d grab them before I started packing. It might be easier if you just read them. Maybe you know something about lifthrasir?”
As a matter of fact, I knew nothing of the sort outside of my cursory exposure to Norse mythology, but there was no need to advertise the fact. Tapping my temple with a fingertip to indicate my implant1, which I had just used to ask my household daemon Astarte to get me a summary of legendry concerning the lifthrasir and einherjar, I said, “I can give these back after I’ve scanned them.”
The faint bitterness in Cameron’s tone hardly surprised me. These papers reported the presence of junk DNA containing coded data that identified Cameron as one of these lifthrasir, provided a serial number, and marked him as having been manufactured by a corporation called Folkvangr.
No doubt these genetic tests results were unwelcome proof that he was not what he believed himself to be, an ordinary human being. Instead, he had been exposed as an impostor, an artificial being pretending to be a man. Perhaps there was a kindness I could offer him, a way to show him that he was not alone. “I want to show you something.”
Standing, I turned my back on him and lifted my hair away to expose the nape of my neck. “Do you see this tattoo?”
Apparently all einherjar had something like it. Beneath the globe and olive branch emblem of the United Nations and the rainbow bridge logo of the AsgarTech corporation was the following indelible text over a bar code.
Model 100, Number 666
Activation Date: 2082-06-06
Unlike Cameron, whose DNA was marked, I bore the mark of my artificial origins engraved in my skin for all to see. Even if I hadn’t gotten into heavy metal, I would still have worn my hair long to hide this announcement of my inhuman nature. The fine hairs on the nape of my neck stiffened as he made to touch the tattoo, something even Christabel had never dared. They relaxed as he thought better of it and withdrew his hand. “How long have you known?”
“I’ve known my whole life. Apparently I’m part of an experiment. AsgarTech paid my parents to raise me as part of a longitudinal study.”
“What the hell for?” Cameron was as aghast as I had been when I first learned I was part of an experiment. “What did your parents tell you?”
“They told me that artificial or not, I could be just as human as anybody else because people must to learn how to be people. It just doesn’t come as easily to some of us.” This was a lie; my parents never offered me such encouragement. But it’s a lie I tell myself and try to make true through my actions. I might be a weapon by design, but I was a weapon endowed with volition, with the ability to choose, and I choose to be a man. Ideally my own man, but I will settle for being a good man if I can manage it.
Cameron nodded, not knowing the truth behind my words. “My parents must have known the truth. They bought me from Folkvangr because they couldn’t have kids of their own, but never told me. Apparently that company is after me because they don’t want me reproducing without their permission since my DNA is proprietary. I guess the AsgarTech Corporation might go come after you for the same reason.”
“They’re welcome to try,” I said, meaning every word. If AsgarTech came after me or any children I might eventually have because of ‘proprietary DNA’ they will not be talking to my lawyer. They’ll be answering to my sword because I’ll not face them as an Adversary. They will face an army of one, and they will die, from the lowliest mercenary all the way up to Isaac Magnin himself.
I might have myself a word with Magnin anyway. The word used to identify what sort of artificial human Cameron Duncan was, lifthrasir, had the same Norse mythological associations as the word used for my kind. Just as the einherjar would fight in Ragnarok, “Lifthrasir” was the name of one of the people would survive the foretold end of everything and repopulate the world to come. At least, that’s what Astarte was telling me in the précis she had just sent me.
It was enough to make me suspect that Folkvangr and the AsgarTech Corporation were somehow connected. Perhaps the former was a subsidiary of the latter? It was worth a look if only to rule out the possibility. The problem is that Isaac Magnin is one of the living Old Masters in the fine art of bullshit. What the likes of Vermeer and Caravaggio could do with light and shadow, Magnin could do with truth and falsehood.
But first, I had to see what Claire wanted. Fortunately, it looked like Syd would be able to get the Duncans to a safe house on his own when I checked with him. “Easiest time and a half I’ve gotten all year,” said he. Hopefully it wouldn’t get harder.
more in Spiral Architect
|Spiral Architect: Chapter 1||in which Morgan is late because his day job won't let him go...|
|Spiral Architect: Chapter 2||in which Morgan gets yet another choice mission...|
|Spiral Architect: Chapter 3||in which Morgan begins to understand the stakes involved...|
|Spiral Architect: Chapter 4||in which Morgan finds an unexpected sense of kinship...|
|Spiral Architect: Chapter 5||in which Morgan agrees to help a friend in need...|