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Part 3 of 9
Shades of Gray
Author: Brian Kay
Night fell on this part of Manhattan like a predator with a voracious hunger, eager to completely devour its prey. The darkness enveloped everything in its inky black expanse. The ad blimp was a solitary presence in the air, its search lights cutting through the darkness, striking the surrounding conapts like blue-tinged spears. The recorded voice droned on about the chance to begin again in the off-world colonies. The ad blimp continued on its pre-programmed course, to harass another portion of Manhattan's populace, who were not in the least bit inclined to go off-world, but simply to survive.
The rain had only briefly abated, and began to fall from the sky with a renewed vigor. A distant rumble of thunder gently reverberated off the plasti-glass windows of the conapts, making its presence known, informing the already rain soaked population to brace themselves for more foul weather. A lacerated bolt of lightning knifed through the blackness, momentarily illuminating the interior of the modest conapt, sending shadows scurrying to the corners of the room. The body on the large, inexpensive sofa was motionless. A frosted bottle of cheap Chinese liquor was clutched loosely in the hands of the man on the couch. He appeared to be in some type of funerary repose, fully clothed in jacket and tie.
The "corpse" suddenly opened his eyes and abruptly sat upright. He was vaguely aware of a presence in the room. He slowly scanned the conapt, taking in the "arranged" clutter of the room. His gaze fell upon the ESPER in the far corner; the grid pattern on the screen was giving off an eerie bluish hue. He reached to his left side and unsnapped the holster and slowly pulled the bulky, black handgun from its faux-leather cradle. The gun was half out of the holster when he suddenly froze. The presence had suddenly appeared a few feet in front of him. He instantly became aware of the odor of charred flesh. It assaulted his nostrils and he began to gag. The presence now loomed over him, a tall shadow that smelled of death. He knew this things name.
A low wailing filled the room and the Graham-thing lunged at Eddie Gray, blackened skeletal fingers hungrily clawed at him. He shrieked and brought the handgun to bear on the Graham-thing's head and pulled the trigger, screaming incomprehensively.
The cheap bottle of liquor fell to the floor, some of its contents leaking onto the worn carpet. Eddie Gray bent to retrieve the bottle and brought it to his lips and gulped down the remnants of the bitter Chinese liquor. He rubbed his face and shuddered. It was the same nightmare he had been having for the past year. He held his face in his hands for a long while, trying to sort out the thoughts that flooded his mind. The warehouse debacle had effectively ruined his career with the NYPD. The departmental investigation found him guilty of failure to supervise with gross negligence. He weathered the political storm that followed as best he could. The suspension and demotion were all part of the process that he accepted. He knew certain political forces were calling for more stringent punishment. There was talk of him being criminally indicted for his actions. He had decided to resign from the NYPD before they could act on anything remotely criminal.
His wife, Jean, suffered a nervous breakdown from the firestorm of controversy that swirled around her husband, eventually filing for divorce in absentia. His newly adopted daughter, Claire was unceremoniously whisked into the care of the State, until proper foster parents could be located. He was declared an unfit parent because of his role in the botched warehouse arrest operation. He felt not only was his life shattered, but that he had a hand in destroying the lives of not only his detectives, but their families as well. He gritted his teeth when his thoughts focused on the Replicants who were seeking refuge at the warehouse, courtesy of the U.R.F.F. They had rigged the place with strategically placed explosives to detonate and destroy the building in case of they were discovered, incinerating any evidence that may fall into the "wrong" hands. The damned skin-jobs had taken over that particular cell and ran it as a clearinghouse for networking with other hunted Replicants, all along being abetted by their na´ve, human sycophants.
To Eddie Gray, the inevitable course of action was to become a Rep. Detective with the N.Y. Metro Blade Runner Division. The BR Division was loosely under the auspices of the NYPD, but it was considered the bastard, red-headed step-child of the NYC law enforcement community. They were killers, bankrolled by the City of New York. The NY Blade Runner Metro Division operated almost as a separate entity, to the consternation of the local politicians. Some administrative changes were made to appease the city's politicos. Rep Detectives were now salaried employees, albeit lower paid then their civil servant police counterparts. This was in response to "soften" the mercenary, bounty hunter like aspect of the job, easier for the populace of NYC to accept, who still considered the police a necessary evil. The bounties were reduced, and labeled "productivity incentive awards." Each repdetect was loosely partnered with another, so as to cut down on some of the cutthroat practices of other rep-detectives "acquiring" another's bounty and to hold each of them accountable for the other's actions, as a tool to weed out potential corruption.
His partner was the enigmatic, aloof Hannah Starke, a blade runner who laterally transferred from the L.P.D. He never really gave it much thought as to why she came to NYC, she seemed to despise the cooler clime that was the northeast. He remembered first seeing her strikingly beautiful face, inches away from his own bruised mug, dreamily aware of her intense blue eyes, on that fateful day almost two years ago. She had been working a case that involved the U.R.F.F., and was executing a minor tactical assault of her own on some of the "artificial" inhabitants of that defunct warehouse. She managed to retire two Replicants before beating a hasty retreat as the building was being blown apart. He had surmised that she was none too happy with him almost negating her investigation, along with almost negating her existence when his team entered the warehouse. Now he was working in tandem with her, a pre-arranged marriage so to speak, husband and wife joined at the altar by the blood of those not human.
He shook his head, and forced himself off the couch and staggered over to the piano that was the centerpiece of his living room. He sat wearily down on the bench and gazed at the myriad of photographs that adorned the dust covered piano. They were mostly of his adopted daughter, Claire; some of he and his wife; and a few with all three of them. He set his gaze on a small photograph of Claire, encased in a silver, glass frame. She stared back at him with the same expression she wore most of the short time she had been with them. A look that was a combination of studiousness and sadness. But this photograph was special, because he could detect a faint smile that delicately played on her lips. He was informed by the adoption bureau that she had an unusually harsh and abusive upbringing and it was going to take a lot of time and energy and commitment to bring her "back." Eddie was prepared for the difficulties ahead, but his wife, Jean, was ill-prepared for the complexities of raising not only a child, but a child with a troubled past.
He rubbed his unshaven face, lamenting to himself on how he pushed Jean away, focusing all his energy on Claire, and neglecting the emotional and physical needs of his wife. She wasn't ready to play the role of wife and mother, perhaps she never was, but she had indulged him. She had reduced herself to a minor peripheral presence in his life. She was now gone; a ghostly apparition that was slowly fading into the dark corners of his mind. He softly touched the faux-ivory keys, reminded of the times Claire had touched the very same keys, lost in the spell she weaved whenever he had encouraged her to play. For a young child, her intellect was beyond her years; she quickly absorbed all that she was exposed to. She was special. Very special.
His mind hung on that last thought. Those very same words he thought were spoken by a large, bull-like man he had encountered at Fat Harry's noodle bar in south Chinatown sector. He had just gotten a stool, when the big man approached him, clad in an ill-fitting raincoat, sporting a buzz cut that screamed cop. When he spoke, Eddie Gray's world changed forever. The 'cop' informed him that he was part of the NYPD's intelligence unit, but that was just a cover for his true occupation. He was an 'agent' with the U.N.'s covert apparatus known as 'Special Branch'. Eddie had heard of the shadowy group when he was a soldier with the U.N.'s military service.
The bullish man continued to tell an increasingly astonished Eddie Gray all the details of the blade runner's life. He told him that his adopted daughter was very special indeed and that she was not in the care of foster parents who lived out of the country, as he was led to believe. That his adoption of Claire was a carefully orchestrated operation executed by the Special Branch. He informed him that she was close by, under the scrutiny of his fellow 'agents' of the Special Branch. He continued to tell him that she was well and that he and some of his colleagues had gotten a dose of 'religion' and were planning to expose the dark work of the Special Branch.
Eddie was speechless. The hulking man next to him knew too much of the particulars of his life to be a fraud or nut case. He believed him and was eager to know more. The stranger stuck his large face uncomfortably close to his and whispered to him to start making arrangement for exit visas, allocating significant amounts of cash, and plans to move quickly. He told Eddie that he would be contacted again when the final preparations were ready to be implemented. As quickly as the large man appeared, he was gone, lost in the convulsing mass of humanity that swirled around him.
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