The Title

by David Caldwell

Black and White: Part 06.

An Unexpected Guest

A confluence of thoughts and emotions waged an internal struggle, warring for dominance, fiercely vying for her undivided attention. With each violently colliding into another, she didn't think, couldn't think, rationally. Perhaps if she could, she would have thought twice before opening the conapt door; given pause, studied the security monitor a bit more intently. A sense of caution was not one of the thoughts going through her chaotic mind.

It was more than likely going to be a bullet.

She saw the barrel of the gun inches from her forehead. It seemed to be a yawning, cavernous black hole. She closed her eyes, waiting for the inevitable. Something hard hit her in the stomach. A burning sensation spread throughout her abdomen. She crumpled to the floor gasping for air. Her overwrought mind communicating to her body that she had been shot in the belly, not the head. She was waiting for the flow of blood. Hands frantically groping to push in her entrails if they oozed out of the wound. She writhed on the ground, her brain felt as if it was freezing; then beginning to splinter and crack. Her assailant moved quickly through the conapt, searching each room. Strong hands suddenly grabbed under her arms and unceremoniously dumped her on the couch.

The cloth belt on her robe became undone allowing the garment to open up. She was in too much pain to worry about the sudden exposure of flesh. Her attacker pulled up a chair and sat opposite her.

"Enough with the histrionics, you'll live." the voice was flat, emotionless.

She opened her eyes and immediately looked at her stomach. No gaping hole. No flopping, bloody intestines to push back in. A fist-sized red, now slowly turning purple colored contusion was her only wound.

"What do you want?" she gasped.

Her attacker leaned forward, removing the dark-lensed glasses and casting off the fedora as if it were one fluid motion. Blue eyes burned with an intense, unnatural clarity.

The pain in her stomach seemed to diminish, replaced with the icy twinge of fear.

"You know who I am? I think so, guessing by the expression on your face. That's good. Then you also know why I am here. Which is also good. Saves us both the formality of introductions and time to play catch-up." Also, judging by your attire or lack thereof, you weren't expecting a female caller, were you? Boyfriend? Illicit lover? Husband? Hmmm?"

"None of your damned business, bitch." her voice was defiant, but weak.

'Oh, sorry to inform you, my dear, but I have made your life my business."

"My husband is a cop. He'll be home any minute." It was a feeble threat, but it was all she had.

"Good, then he'll know exactly what to do when he comes home to find his living room a crime scene."

"What do you want Starke?"

"Ah, you even remember my name. I'm flattered. First, I wanted you dead. Then I decided to I wanted a reason as to why you didn't help me. Some answers to my questions. After that…. well…. we'll see what happens." Starke shifted in the chair and laid the pistol on her thigh.

The woman on the couch stared at the pistol for a moment and then spoke. "If I helped you, they would have tracked your connection to my vidphone, hunted me down and then 'retired' me. A simple decision, really. It was a matter of my own survival." As her voice wavered, its sardonic tone lost none of its resonance.

"I see. Well, I'm fairly proficient in electronic subterfuge, very proficient as a matter of fact, and I doubt they would have traced my call. I worked for the same organization you did, my dear, except I was in Special Branch, so I know all their tricks."

"Ah, I see, so do you know who you are then, my dear Starke? You have the temerity to come here to judge me? My life? Hah. How does it feel to kill? Ever put that machine on yourself? Find out exactly who you are?"

Starke fixed her gaze on the woman's dull brown eyes.

'I know who I am."

"Yes, I suppose you think you do. However, I think the more appropriate question, the more astute question would be, what are you?"

"Cheeky banter like that will most assuredly hasten your demise." Starke said. Anger had crept into her voice.

"Ah, struck a nerve, have I? Anger a new emotion for you to deal with? You see, I know something about your life, Starke. You're not the only one who's done their research, eh?"

Starke was silent for a moment. She then raised the pistol. "This conversation is pointless. I think I'll go with my original plan and pump two bullets into your head."

Starke stood up, her right index finger curling around the pistol's trigger.

The woman on the sofa threw her hands up in front of her face. Her defiant posturing quickly melting away to reveal a mewling, waif-like woman-child.

"Okay…OKAY! You want me to confess my sins to you? Do you want to hear it from my lips? Is that it?" she wailed as spittle flew from her mouth.

Starke slowly sat on the chair, the gun level with the trembling woman's chest.

"Yes, Doctor. Proceed." Starke replied coolly.

The woman blinked. She hadn't been called doctor for quite some time. She absently looked at her heaving chest and realized her breasts were fully exposed. She quickly covered herself and cinched the robe tightly. She spoke quickly and softly.

"I was a Team leader in one of the many bio-research divisions of the U.N. Specifically, replicant bio-engineering and research. We conducted a multitude of research and lab work. We had almost limitless funds that came from governmental agencies and corporate donors alike. No one cared, especially the powers-that-be about the conflict of interest of my last statement. As long as the money came pouring in, we were only too happy to spend it. We were addressing the issue of replication with regard to children. Off-world life is tough, to say the least, and a significant percentage of colonists were experiencing a high rate of infant/child mortality. We began to experiment replicating children. Highly illegal, but who was to stop us? The U.N. controlled all of the off-world colonies, from administration to security and the colonists wanted a solution to their 'problem.' No oversight committee or watchdog organization to scrutinize us. We operated with relative impunity." The doctor had stopped talking. She was waiting for Starke to digest what she had just said. Starke remained silent. The doctor took that as her cue to continue. "We made significant breakthroughs, but we needed to conduct more research, so we began to procure 'unorthodox ' raw materials."

" 'Unorthodox' materials?" Starke said arching one eyebrow.

The doctor let out a long breath and replied, " We went into the field, to third-world countries, places where we could employ the necessary resources where, quite frankly, no one would give a shit."

Starke's hand tightened around the butt of her weapon. She spoke evenly, controlling the emotions building up inside of her. "So what I think you're telling me is that your so called 'resources' were human in nature. That you trafficked in human beings for your damned research?" I take it the words ethics, moral obligation, were not part of your vocabulary?" "What kind of----

The doctor flew into a sudden rage, drowning out Starke's voice.

"WHAT? YOU are lamenting to me about my lack of morality? That's rich, Miss Starke, especially coming from the mouth of a professional assassin. You sound like my fucking husband. He likes to use words like that. Well, those words are just that, words. They have no value today. They are the worthless currency of a realm long since dead and buried. You surprise me Starke, you are a walking, talking anachronism, just like my self-righteous bastard of a husband. You both belong in the past. Take a look outside of the window, missy, what do you see? A shining city on a hill? No, it's the rotting husk of a decaying metropolis upon a mound of bones. Welcome to Dystopia, sweetheart."

Starke narrowed her eyes at the woman. Her index finger resting on the pistol's trigger guard. She did not speak, which seemed to infuriate the already agitated doctor even more.

"What else? Huh? WHAT? You want to know every thing, well you fucking asked for it. Yes, I, WE trafficked in human beings. Children. Infants. Adolescents. Their fucking parents sold them to us! WE offered them a dignified end to their suffering. Life was oh- so- very cheap where we went, and we did what we did as humanely as possible. Some of these poor kids were the walking dead. With their help, we created children like your replicant child, Claire. Oh, don't look so surprised that I remember her name. I gave this project my all, my very essence; I even polluted my own womb to advance the critical work we did. My reward for all my effort? I get sick with some neuro-viral disease and I get hit with an unsatisfactory medical and psychological rating. Poof, I'm done. No thank yous, a bullshit medical pension and if I breathe a word about all this, 'retirement'." The doctor rubbed her eyes and continued. "So, about Claire. She was amazing. The prototype to end all prototypes. She was growing, functioning beyond all expectations. I could have done more, but I was shit-canned and I was not going to take that lying down. I knew they were going to ship her to another research group, so I arranged to have her 'liberated' and was going to sell her on the black market. I got my cut up front, and when the Special Branch security agents I used, no doubt friends of yours, extorted our mutual acquaintance, Eddie Gray, they were going to take the money, kill him, deliver Claire to a secret location and we were going to entertain interested buyers. That, as you well now, did not work out. I never saw them or Claire after that. I heard Gray was dead. I laid low, not making any inquiries, for fear I would be next."

"You are some piece of fucking work." Starke hissed.

The doctor was unfazed by Hannah's retort. She snorted, then spoke. "Yup. I'm a coward and when you contacted me to tell me about Claire's illness, it shook me up. I thought the door would break down any minute."

"You could have helped me, helped Claire, you selfish bitch." Starke's voice now wavered slightly.

"I could have, but it wouldn't have done any good. The illness you described to me was a genetic mutation that was non-reversible. I could have given you meds, but the cost would have been too high and it may have only prolonged her suffering. The time you had together was probably the best thing for her. I'm sorry."

Starke sat very still, her eyes never leaving the doctor's face. She was searching her eyes for a hint of remorse. If it was there, it was very faint. The time she spent with Claire was unlike anything she had experienced in her life. All the joys and bright moments were something she would never have again She would have to be content with memories. A crashing finality had hit her.

It was time to move on.

'Move on to where?' She thought. Starke closed her eyes; an image of Claire slowly came into focus. A smile on her face. Sounds now. Laughter. The ocean crashing against the sandy beach. Fading now. Blackness. Starke opened her eyes and then reached into her coat pocket, producing a tightly wrapped package, containing small glassine envelopes filled with a greenish-white powder.

"Ok, Doc. Here it is. I'm going to give you two choices. Option 1: I can shoot you, and maybe, just maybe, you might survive long enough until your husband gets home and calls for an ambulance. Slim to none on the odds that you'd survive, 'cause I'm a really, really, good shot. Or, option 2: Snort some of this stuff I got here. In the circles you travel in, I believe they refer to it as Cerebral Symphony. Where I come from, they call it MindFuck. Either or, just maybe, you might survive long enough until your--well, Doc, I think you get the picture."

"Not much of a fucking choice."

Starke smiled.

"Welcome to Dystopia, doctor."

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