Dead and Alive Page 2

That was Ripley’s private name for Victor Helios. Many of the others referred to him as Father, but Mr. Helios became infuriated when he heard them use that word.

They weren’t their maker’s children. They were his property. He had no responsibility to them. They had every responsibility to him.

Ripley ate the entire ham, all the while reminding himself that the Beekeeper had a brilliant plan for a new world.

The family is an obsolete institution, and it’s also dangerous because it puts itself above the common good of the race. The parent-child relationship must be eradicated. The sole allegiance of members of the New Race, who were born from the tanks as adults, must be to the organized community that Helios envisioned, not to one another, but to the community, and in fact not to the community but to the idea of community.

From one of two walk-in refrigerators, Ripley retrieved a fully cooked two-pound brisket of beef. He returned with it to the stool at the kitchen island.

Families breed individuals. The creation tanks breed worker bees, each with its specific function to fulfill. Knowing your place and the meaning of your life, you can be content as no member of the Old Race ever could be. Free will is the curse of the Old. Programmed purpose is the glory of the New.

The swarm was the family, the hive was the home, and the future belonged to the horde.

With his fingers, he shredded the brisket. The meat felt greasy. Although the beef was well-cooked, he could smell the blood in it.

No matter how much he ate, Ripley gained not a pound. His remarkably efficient metabolism kept him always at his ideal weight.

Overeating, therefore, was not an indulgence. Ultimately, it was also not a distraction. He couldn’t stop thinking about Werner, the security chief at the Hands of Mercy.

Hours earlier, Werner suffered what the Beekeeper described as “catastrophic cellular metamorphosis.” He stopped being Werner, stopped being by all appearances human, and became … something else.

Upon his creation, designed to be a physically imposing security specialist, Werner had been given selected genetic material from a panther to increase his agility and speed, from a spider to increase the ductility of his tendons, from a cockroach to ensure greater tensile strength for his collagen…. When Werner suddenly became amorphous, those feline, arachnid, and insectile forms began to express themselves in his flesh, first serially, then simultaneously.

Mr. Helios had called Werner a singularity. This calamity had not occurred previously. According to the Beekeeper, it could never occur again.

Ripley was not so sure about that. Maybe nothing exactly like what happened to Werner would happen again, but there might be an infinite number of other calamities pending.

As a chief lab assistant to the Beekeeper, Ripley was too well-educated to be able to repress his anxiety. In the creation tank, by direct-to-brain data downloading, he received a deep education in the physiology of human beings as nature made them and of superhuman beings as Victor Helios made them.

None of the Old Race could metamorphose into a beast of many natures. This grotesque fate should have been just as impossible for one of the New Race.

Werner’s transformation suggested that the Beekeeper might be fallible. The Beekeeper’s surprise at the change in Werner confirmed his fallibility.

Having finished the brisket without either satisfying his appetite or quelling his anxiety, Ripley left the kitchen to roam the halls of Mercy. Mr. Helios had gone home. But even in these post-midnight hours, in a maze of labs, Alphas conducted experiments and carried out tasks according to their maker’s instructions.

Staying largely in the corridors, for the first time nervous about what he might discover in the labs if he entered them, Ripley eventually came to the monitoring hub serving the trio of isolation chambers. According to indicator lights on the control console, only Isolation Room Number Two was currently occupied; that would be the luckless Werner.

Each room featured six closed-circuit video cameras offering different angles on that space. A bank of six screens allowed the simultaneous monitoring of all three holding facilities or gave a half dozen views of a single chamber. Legends at the bottom of all the screens indicated they were now tuned to Isolation Room Number Two.

The floor, walls, and ceiling of the twenty-by-fifteen-foot windowless containment cell were constructed of eighteen-inch-thick, poured-in-place, steel-reinforced concrete. They had been paneled with three overlapping layers of steel plate that, with the click of a switch, could deliver a killing charge of electricity to the occupant.

The Beekeeper sometimes created exotic variants of the New Race, some of which were intended to be warriors, living death-machines that would assist in the efficient obliteration of the Old Race when at last the day of revolution arrived. Occasionally, problems with their prenatal programming left these creatures undisciplined or even disobedient, in which case they needed to be sedated and transferred to isolation for study and eventual destruction.

He who had been Werner did not appear on any of the screens. The six cameras covered every corner of the chamber, leaving nowhere for the thing to hide.

Strewn around the room were the dismembered remains of Patrick Duchaine, one of the Beekeeper’s creations who had been sent into the isolation room to test the capabilities of the Werner thing.

A transition module connected the monitoring hub to Isolation Room Number Two. At each end of the module was a massive round steel door made for a bank vault. By design, both doors could not be open at the same time.

Ripley looked at the vault door on this end of the transition module. Nothing on Earth, whether natural-born or made by Helios, could get through that two-foot-thick steel barrier.

A camera in the isolation room revealed that the inner vault door remained shut, as well.

He doubted that the Werner thing was loose in the building. The instant someone saw it, an alarm would have been sounded.

Only one possibility remained. At some point, the inner door might have cycled open long enough to allow the creature into the transition module before closing behind it. In that case, it waited now behind not two steel barriers, but behind one.


BY THE TIME Bucky and Janet Guitreau reached the front porch steps of the Bennet house, they were rain-soaked.

“We should have used an umbrella,” Bucky said. “We look strange like this.”

They were so excited about killing the Bennets that they had not given a thought to the inclement weather.

“Maybe we look so strange they won’t let us in,” Bucky worried. “Especially at this hour.”

“They’re night owls. This isn’t late for them. They’ll let us in,” Janet assured him. “We’ll say a terrible thing has happened, we need to talk to them. That’s what neighbors do, they comfort one another when terrible things happen.”

Beyond the French windows and the folds of silken drapes, the front rooms were filled with soft amber light.

As they climbed the porch steps, Bucky said, “What terrible thing has happened?”

“I killed the pizza-delivery guy.”

“I don’t think they’ll let us in if we say that.”

“We aren’t going to say that. We’re just going to say a terrible thing has happened.”

“An unspecified terrible thing,” Bucky clarified.

“Yes, exactly.”

“If that works, they must be amazingly trusting people.”

“Bucky, we aren’t strangers. They’re our neighbors. Besides, they love us.”

“They love us?”

At the door, Janet lowered her voice. “Three nights ago, we were here for barbecue. Helene said, ‘We sure love you guys.’ Remember?”

“But they were drinking. Helene wasn’t even half sober when she said that.”

“Nevertheless, she meant it. They love us, they’ll let us in.”

Bucky was suddenly suspicious. “How can they love us? We aren’t even the people they think we are.”

“They don’t know we aren’t the people they think we are. They won’t even know it when I start killing them.”

“Are you serious?”

“Entirely,” Janet said, and rang the doorbell.

“Is the Old Race really that easy?”

“They’re pussies,” Janet declared.


“Total pussies.” The porch light came on, and Janet said, “Do you have your camera?”

As Bucky withdrew the camera from a pants pocket, Helene Bennet appeared at a sidelight to the left of the door, blinking in surprise at the sight of them.

Raising her voice to be heard through the glass, Janet said, “Oh, Helene, something terrible has happened.”

“Janet killed the pizza guy,” Bucky said too softly for Helene to hear him, just for his wife’s benefit, because it seemed like the kind of thing you would say when you were having fun, and this was as close to fun as they had ever known.

Helene’s face puckered with concern. She stepped away from the sidelight.

As Bucky heard Helene opening the first of two deadbolts, he said to Janet, “Do something spectacular to her.”

“I hate her so much,” Janet replied.

“I hate her, too,” Bucky said. “I hate him. I hate them all. Do something really amazing to her.”

Helene disengaged the second deadbolt, opened the door, and stepped back to admit them. She was an attractive blonde with a pleasing dimple in her right cheek, though you couldn’t see the dimple now because she wasn’t smiling.

“Janet, Bucky, you look devastated. Oh, God, I’m afraid to ask, what’s happened?”

“Something terrible has happened,” Janet said. “Where’s Yancy?”

“He’s out on the back porch. We’re having a night-cap, listening to some Etta James. What’s happened, sweetie, what’s wrong?”

Closing the front door behind him, Bucky said, “A terrible thing has happened.”

“Oh, no,” Helene said, sounding distraught. “We love you guys. You look stricken. You’re drenched, you’re dripping all over the parquet. What happened?”

“An unspecified terrible thing has happened,” Bucky said.

“You ready with the camera?” Janet asked.

“Ready,” Bucky replied.

“Camera?” Helene asked.

“We want this for our album,” Janet said, and did something more spectacular to Helene than anything Bucky could have imagined.

In fact, it was so spectacular that he stood dumb-founded, the camera forgotten, and missed getting a shot of the best of it.

Janet was a runaway locomotive of rage, a log-cutting buzz saw of hatred, a jackhammer of envy-driven cruelty. Fortunately, she did not kill Helene instantly, and some of the subsequent things she did to the woman, while spectacular in themselves, were sufficiently less shocking that Bucky was able to get some cool pictures.

When she finished, Janet said, “I think I’ve dropped a few more lines of code from my program.”

“It sure looked that way,” Bucky said. “You know how I said I thought I’d enjoy watching? Well, I really did.”

“You want Yancy for yourself?” Janet asked.

“No. I’m not that far along yet. But you better let me get him inside from the porch. If he’s out there and he sees you like this, he’ll be through the porch door and gone.”

Janet was still drenched but now not only with rain.

Comfortable rattan furniture with yellow cushions and rattan tables with glass tops furnished the spacious screened porch. The lights were lower than the music.

In a white linen shirt, tan slacks, and sandals, Yancy Bennet sat at a table on which were two glasses of what was most likely Cabernet as well as a cut-glass decanter in which more wine breathed and mellowed.

When he saw Bucky Guitreau, Yancy lowered the volume on Etta James. “Hey, neighbor, isn’t this past your bedtime?”

“A terrible thing has happened,” Bucky said as he approached Yancy. “A terrible, terrible thing.”

Pushing his chair away from the table, getting to his feet, Yancy Bennet said, “What? What happened?”

“I can’t even talk about it,” Bucky said. “I don’t know how to talk about it.”

Putting a hand on Bucky’s shoulder, Yancy said, “Hey, pal, whatever it is, we’re here for you.”

“Yes. I know. You’re here for us. I’d rather Janet told you about it. I just can’t be specific. She can be specific. She’s inside. With Helene.”

Yancy tried to usher Bucky ahead of him, but Bucky let him lead the way. “Give me some prep, Bucky.”

“I can’t. I just can’t. It’s too terrible. It’s a spectacular kind of terrible.”

“Whatever it is, I hope Janet’s holding up better than you.”

“She is,” Bucky said. “She’s holding up really well.”

Entering the kitchen behind Yancy, Bucky closed the door to the porch.

“Where are they?” Yancy asked.

“In the living room.”

As Yancy started toward the darkened hallway leading to the front of the house, Janet stepped into the lighted kitchen.

She was the crimson bride of Death.

Shocked, Yancy halted. “Oh, God, what happened to you?”

“Nothing happened to me,” Janet said. “I happened to Helene.”

An instant later, she happened to Yancy. He was a big man, and she was a woman of average size. But he was Old Race, and she was New, and the outcome was as inevitable as the result of a contest between a wood-chipper and a woodchuck.

Most amazing of all: Janet did not once repeat herself. Her vicious hatred of the Old Race was expressed in unique cruelties.

In Bucky’s hands, the camera flashed and flashed.


WITHOUT THE LASH OF WIND, rain did not whip the streets but fell in a heavy dispiriting drizzle, painting blacktop blacker, oiling the pavement.

Homicide detective Carson O’Connor and her partner, Michael Maddison, had abandoned their unmarked sedan because it would be easily spotted by other members of the police department. They no longer trusted their fellow officers.

Victor Helios had replaced numerous officials in city government with replicants. Perhaps only ten percent of the police were Victor’s creations, but then again … maybe ninety percent. Prudence required Carson to assume the worst.

She was driving a car that she had borrowed from her friend Vicky Chou. The five-year-old Honda seemed reliable, but it was a lot less powerful than the Batmobile.

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