Dead and Alive Page 1


HALF PAST A WINDLESS MIDNIGHT, rain cantered out of the Gulf, across the shore and the levees: parades of phantom horses striking hoof rhythms from roofs of tarpaper, tin, tile, shingles, slate, counting cadence along the avenues.

Usually a late-night town where restaurants and jazz clubs cooked almost until the breakfast hour, New Orleans was on this occasion unlike itself. Little traffic moved on the streets. Many restaurants closed early. For lack of customers, some of the clubs went dark and quiet.

A hurricane was transiting the Gulf, well south of the Louisiana coast. The National Weather Service currently predicted landfall near Brownsville, Texas, but the storm track might change. Through hard experience, New Orleans had learned to respect the power of nature.

Deucalion stepped out of the Luxe Theater without using a door, and stepped into a different district of the city, out of light and into the deep shadows under the boughs of moss-robed oak trees.

In the glow of streetlamps, the skeins of rain glimmered like tarnished silver. But under the oaks, the precipitation seemed ink-black, as if it were not rain but were instead a product of the darkness, the very sweat of the night.

Although an intricate tattoo distracted curious people from recognizing the extent of the damage to the ruined half of his face, Deucalion preferred to venture into public places between dusk and dawn. The sunless hours provided an additional layer of disguise.

His formidable size and physical power could not be concealed. Having endured more than two hundred years, his body was unbent bone and undiminished muscle. Time seemed to have no power to weather him.

As he followed the sidewalk, he passed through places where the glow of streetlamps penetrated the leafy canopy. The mercurial light chased from memory the torch-carrying mob that had harried Deucalion through a cold and rainless night on a continent far from this one, in an age before electricity.

Across the street, occupying half a block, the Hands of Mercy stood on an oak-shaded property. Once a Catholic hospital, it closed long ago.

A tall wrought-iron fence encircled the hospital grounds. The spear-point staves suggested that where mercy had once been offered, none could now be found.

A sign on the iron driveway gate warned PRIVATE WAREHOUSE / NO ADMITTANCE. The bricked-up windows emitted no light.

Overlooking the main entrance stood a statue of the Holy Mother. The light once focused on her had been removed, and the robed figure looming in darkness might have been Death, or anyone.

Only hours earlier, Deucalion had learned that this building harbored the laboratory of his maker, Victor Helios, whose birth name was legend: Frankenstein. Here members of the New Race were designed, created, and programmed.

The security system would monitor every door. The locks would be difficult to defeat.

Thanks to gifts carried on the lightning bolt that brought him to life in an earlier and more primitive lab, Deucalion did not need doors. Locks were no impediment to him. Intuitively, he grasped the quantum nature of the world, including the truth that on the deepest structural level, every place in the world was the same place.

As he contemplated venturing into his maker’s current lair, Deucalion had no fear. If any emotion might undo him, it would be rage. But over these many decades, he had learned to control the anger that had once driven him so easily to violence.

He stepped out of the rain and into the main laboratory in the Hands of Mercy, wet when he took the step, dry when he completed it.

Victor’s immense lab was a techno-Deco wonder, mostly stainless-steel and white ceramic, filled with sleek and mysterious equipment that seemed not to be standing along the walls but to be embedded in them, extruding from them. Other machines swelled out of the ceiling and surged up from the floor, polished and gleaming, yet suggesting organic forms.

Every soft noise was rhythmic, the purr and hum and click of machinery. The place seemed to be deserted.

Sapphire, primrose-pink, and apple-green luminous gases filled glass spheres. Through elaborate coils of transparent tubing flowed lavender, calamine-blue, and methyl-orange fluids.

Victor’s U-shaped workstation stood in the center of the room, a black-granite top on a stainless-steel base.

As Deucalion considered searching the drawers, someone behind him said, “Can you help me, sir?”

The man wore a gray denim jumpsuit. In a utility belt around his waist were secured spray bottles of cleaning solutions, white rags, and small sponges. He held a mop.

“Name’s Lester,” he said. “I’m an Epsilon. You seem smarter than me. Are you smarter than me?”

“Is your maker here?” Deucalion asked.

“No, sir. Father left earlier.”

“How many staff are here?”

“I don’t count much. Numbers confuse me. I heard once—eighty staff. So Father isn’t here, now something’s gone wrong, and I’m just an Epsilon. You seem like maybe an Alpha or a Beta. Are you an Alpha or a Beta?”

“What’s gone wrong?” Deucalion asked.

“She says Werner is trapped in Isolation Room Number One. No, maybe Number Two. Anyway, Number Something.”

“Who is Werner?”

“He’s the security chief. She wanted instructions, but I don’t give instructions, I’m just Lester.”

“Who wants instructions?”

“The woman in the box.”

As Lester spoke, the computer on Victor’s desk brightened, and on the screen appeared a woman so flawlessly beautiful that her face must have been a digital construction.

“Mr. Helios, Helios. Welcome to Helios. I am Annunciata. I am not as much Annunciata as before, but I am still trying to be as much Annunciata as I am able. I am now analyzing my helios, Mr. Systems. My systems, Mr. Helios. I am a good girl.”

“She’s in a box,” Lester said.

“A computer,” Deucalion said.

“No. A box in the networking room. She’s a Beta brain in a box. She don’t have no body. Sometimes her container leaks, so I clean up the spill.”

Annunciata said, “I am wired. I am wired. I am wired into the building’s data-processing system. I am secretary to Mr. Helios. I am very smart. I am a good girl. I want to serve efficiently. I am a good, good girl. I am afraid.”

“She isn’t usually like this,” said Lester.

“Perhaps there is an im-im-im-imbalance in my nutrient supply. I am unable to analyze. Could someone analyze my nutrient supply?”

“Self-aware, forever in a box,” Deucalion said.

“I am very afraid,” Annunciata said.

Deucalion found his hands curling into fists. “There is nothing your maker won’t do. No form of slavery offends him, no cruelty is beyond him.”

Uneasy, shifting from foot to foot like a little boy who needed to go to the bathroom, Lester said, “He’s a great genius. He’s even smarter than an Alpha. We should be grateful to him.”

“Where is the networking room?” Deucalion asked.

“We should be grateful.”

“The networking room. Where is this … woman?”

“In the basement.”

On the computer screen, Annunciata said, “I must organize the appointment schedule for Mr. Helios. Helios. But I do not remember what an appointment is. Can you help, help, help me?”

“Yes,” Deucalion said. “I can help you.”


WHEN THE PIZZA-DELIVERY GUY, looking for the Bennet house, made the mistake of going to the Guitreau place next door, Janet Guitreau surprised herself by dragging him into her foyer and strangling him to death.

Janet and her husband, Bucky Guitreau, the current district attorney of the city of New Orleans, were replicants. The bodies of the real Janet and Bucky had been buried weeks previously in a vast garbage dump in the uplands well northeast of Lake Pontchartrain.

Most of the New Race were not replicants. They were originals, fully designed by Father. But replicants were crucial to taking control of the city’s political apparatus.

Janet suspected that some significant lines of code had dropped out of her program, and Bucky was inclined to agree with her.

Not only had Janet killed without being told to do so by her maker, but she felt good about it. Actually, she felt marvelous.

She wanted to go next door and kill the Bennets. “Killing is wonderfully refreshing. I feel so alive.”

Bucky should have reported her to Helios for termination. But he was so in awe of her audacity and so intrigued that he could not convince himself to phone Father’s emergency number.

This suggested to both of them that Bucky, too, had dropped some lines of his program. He didn’t think that he could kill, but he was excited by the prospect of watching Janet destroy the Bennets.

They almost rushed next door. But then the dead pizza guy in the foyer seemed worthy of further examination, considering that he was Janet’s first.

“After all,” Bucky said, “if you were a hunter and this guy were a deer, we’d take a hundred photographs, and we’d cut off his antlers to hang them over the fireplace.”

Janet’s eyes widened. “Hey, you want to cut something off him, hang it over the fireplace?”

“That maybe wouldn’t be smart, but I would for sure like to get some snapshots.”

“So you get the camera,” Janet said, “and I’ll look around for the best backdrop.”

When Bucky hurried to the second floor to retrieve the camera from the master-bedroom closet, he discovered the Duke of Orleans watching the foyer from the top of the stairs.

Duke was a handsome German shepherd, caramel-and-black with two white boots. Since the New Race versions of Bucky and Janet had come into his life a few weeks earlier, he had been confused and wary. They looked like his masters, but he knew they were not. He treated them with respect but remained aloof, withheld affection, which they didn’t want anyway.

As Bucky reached the top of the stairs, Duke padded away into one of the guest bedrooms.

Helios had considered having the dog killed when the original Bucky and Janet had been terminated.

But Duke was a New Orleans icon: He had saved two small girls from a house fire, and he was so well-behaved that he often went to court with his master. His passing would be a major human-interest story, and there might be a jazz funeral for him. This would draw too much attention to a pair of newly installed replicants.

Besides, the real Bucky Guitreau was a sentimental man who so loved his dog that everyone would expect him to weep uncontrollably at any memorial service. Generally speaking, the New Race was not good at faking grief, and any statue of the Virgin Mary was more likely to produce tears than were those born in the creation tanks.

With the camera in hand, the new Bucky hurried downstairs, where he found Janet and the pizza guy in the living room. She had placed the dead man in a plushly upholstered chair. She sat on the arm of the chair and, gripping a handful of the cadaver’s hair, held his head up for the camera.

They moved the corpse to the sofa, where Janet sat beside it, and then to a bar stool in the study, where Janet let the head loll against her shoulder as if Pizza Guy were drunk. They hauled the body to several other locations in the house, took some pictures with women’s hats on his head, then stripped him na*ed and dressed him in women’s underwear for a few more shots.

They never laughed through any of this. Members of the New Race were capable of producing convincing laughter, but their mirth was not genuine. They did what they did with the dead man because their hatred for the Old Race was intense, and this seemed like a good way to express that hatred.

The dog followed them on this photo shoot, watching them from the doorways of various rooms but never venturing close.

Finally, they stripped Pizza Guy na*ed again, tied a rope around his neck, hauled him over a transverse beam in the family room, and let him dangle like a big fish on a dock scale. Janet stood beside the corpse, as if proud of her catch.

“You know what I think we’re doing?” she asked.

All of this behavior had seemed as reasonable to Bucky as to her, though he didn’t know why. He said, “What are we doing?”

“I think we’re having fun.”

“Could this be what fun is like?”

“I think it could,” Janet said.

“Well, it’s more interesting than anything else we’ve ever done. What else do you want to do with him?”

“He’s getting a little boring,” Janet said. “I think it’s really time now to go next door and kill the Bennets.”

The original Bucky had kept two guns in the house. “You want to take a pistol, blow their faces off?”

Janet thought about it, but then shook her head. “That doesn’t sound fun enough.”

“You want to take a knife or that Civil War sword on the wall of my study?”

“What I want,” Janet said, “is just to do them both with my bare hands.”

“Strangle them?”

“Been there, done that.”

“Then what are you going to do with them?”

“Oh, I’ve got like a thousand ideas.”

“Should I bring the camera?” he asked.

“Absolutely, bring the camera.”

“Maybe we can put all these shots in an album,” Bucky suggested. “That’s what people do.”

“I’d like that. But we’re not really people.”

“I don’t see why we can’t have an album. In a lot of ways we’re similar to people.”

“Except that we’re superior. We’re the super race.”

“We are the super race,” Bucky agreed. “Soon we’re going to rule the world, colonize the moon and Mars. We’ll own the universe. So it seems like we could have a photo album if we wanted. Who’s to tell us we can’t?”

“Nobody,” Janet said.


ALONE IN THE INSTITUTIONAL KITCHEN at the Hands of Mercy, Ripley sat on a stool at one of the stainless-steel islands. With his hands, he tore apart a three-pound ham and stuffed chunks into his mouth.

The average man of the New Race required five thousand calories per day to sustain himself, two and a half times what the average man of the Old Race needed. Recently, Ripley had engaged in binge eating, packing in ten thousand calories or more at a single sitting.

The tearing was more satisfying than the eating. These days, the urge to tear things apart—especially meat—frequently overcame Ripley. Cooked meat served as a substitute for raw flesh, the flesh of the Old Race, which was what he most wanted to tear.

None of his kind was either permitted to kill or capable of killing—until ordered to do so by the Beekeeper.

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