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Part 7 of 9
Shades of Gray
Author: Brian Kay

Eddie Gray adjusted the bulky handgun in his holster. The butt of the weapon was digging into his side, causing him to wince every time he moved. He preferred the older model blaster he had strapped to his hip. It was a cannon compared to the newer models out there, but he liked the weight and feel of the gun.

He also liked it because it put very big holes in Replicants.

He gnawed on the cigarette, frowning when he bit into the paper, and spat out the tiny leaves of tobacco and filter. He confronted Chow Woo earlier, outside of the club, and laid everything out. Chow was dumbstruck at first, then insulted and then angry. It took every fiber of his being to calm down the ranting club owner. Eddie had explained to him that this was business, nothing personal. He had also tipped off Chow that he was being watched and that he should lay low. Eddie didn't give a damn about some P.D. investigation. Chow seemed to quiet down more and appreciated Eddie's "candor". He had told Chow to tell Chen that he was from the I.N.S. and that this was a routine psychological test, part of new, sweeping immigration procedures. That Chen was just a randomly chosen subject, that nothing was going to happen to him. Chow shook his head vigorously, but to no avail. Eddie Gray towered over the diminutive man and thrust his hand on his weapon, telling Chow that this had to be done, if not, he would have to shut down the club and bring in all sorts of agencies, most of which would love the opportunity to shut him down for good. Chow was backed into a corner and had no choice but to acquiesce to his demands. Chow had informed him right there that their friendship and business relationship had suffered an irreversible setback and could not continue. He nodded grimly and Chow was off, shoulders slightly bent, like the weight of the world was on his shoulders.

The room was decorated with intricate, lushly colored and detailed wallpaper. There were tiny wind chimes suspended from the ceiling, gently swaying from the breeze created by the ventilation ducts, their soft chinking the only sound in the room. John Chen sat rigidly in a chair opposite Eddie Gray, the VK machine almost a living presence on the table in front of them. Eddie glanced at the data on the VK and unbuttoned his jacket, his hand on his stomach, the butt of his gun millimeters away.

Chen spoke. His voice soft. "Did I do well, sir?"

Eddie studied Chen for a moment. The data was borderline. He scratched his head with his left hand, keeping his right hand close to his gun, and said, "So far, so good, Mr. Chen. I may need to ask you some more questions. Are you up to it?"

Chen smiled and said, "Yes. May I smoke? Would that be a problem?"

"It won't interfere with the rest of the test. Please, go right ahead."

Chen removed a cigarette form the pack that was on the table in front of him. His movements were slow and deliberate, but they possessed a certain theatrical grace. He reached into his trouser pocket and Eddie caught a glint of metal in his right-hand. The motion was fast, in stark contrast to his previously deliberate movements.

Eddie Gray leapt up from the table, pulling the gun from his holster and pointing it at a startled Chen.

Chen was now staring down the barrel of the ominous weapon. He hissed, like a cornered feline, and pushed off the chair, slamming it against the wall.

Eddie fired the weapon with one hand. The recoil of the weapon was immense and the gun jerked in his hand. The shot went higher than he had anticipated, striking Chen in the right shoulder, sending bits of blasted bone and bloody flesh into the air.

Chen howled. It was an inhumanly painful wail that filled the entire room.

Chen staggered back and tried to regain his footing, shrieking unintelligibly, staring at the red fluid that oozed out of his wound. He charged ahead waving his left-arm, screaming in Cantonese. He gripped the edge of the flimsy table and flipped it over, the Voight-Kampff machine crashing to the floor. His eyes were ablaze with a murderous ferocity as he came at Eddie Gray.

Gray stumbled back slightly, then brought the gun to bear on Chen with both hands, and fired three rapid bursts.

The REPKILLER slugs bored into Chen's flesh. His blood spattered against the ornate wallpaper. Bits of flesh hit the wall and then slowly slid toward the floor, viscous smears trailing behind.

Chen's horribly savaged body slammed into the back wall and then toppled over, coming to rest in a twisted jumble on the floor.

Eddie Gray walked over to the smoking corpse on the floor. He could hear shouts of excitement coming closer. He knelt down to recover the weapon that was in Chen's hand.

The metallic object in his hand was not a weapon at all. It was a lighter.

Eddie's stomach lurched and he quickly stood upright, his head spinning. There were voices at the door, a jumbled mixture of broken English and Chinese dialects. He couldn't make out what they were saying.

He didn't have to.

The screams he could understand. It was the universal language of anguish.

Chow Woo rushed by him and knelt at Chen's body, his hand covering his mouth. He shivered uncontrollably, tears streaming down his face.

He was muttering something to himself, but Eddie couldn't understand what it was. He kept his gun pointed to the ground; he didn't want to holster it just yet, because of the crowd of people by the doorway. Gray walked over to Chow and said in a low voice, "I'm sorry Chow. For all intents and purposes, he was a Replicant. My putting the machine on him was just a formality. You couldn't have known. Chen was an advanced model of Replicant. There was no way around this. It was either me or somebody else who would have retired him. If it was someone else, who knows what could have happened."

Gray shivered.

That little speech was more for him than it was for Woo.

Chow Woo's voice was broken by sobs as he spoke.

"Edward...how could...you do...this? Chen was a good man...honest, hardworking... He was from my province...we shared stories about our...birth home... He had pictures, letters...vidiscs...this is all a lie!"

"I wish it were Chow, but its..."

"You...LYING SON OF A BITCH..." Woo screamed at him, spittle flying from his mouth.

He covered his face in his hands, muttering "Lies...lies...lies..."

A second cry of utter agony filled the room. Myla ran to Chow's side and knelt down on the ground and began to cradle Chen's head, rocking back and forth.

Eddie Gray felt as if a sledgehammer had hit him in the back of his skull. A lugubrious howl of pain emanated from Myla that brought tears to his eyes. He looked around him and saw the workers that had now gathered behind him. He searched their faces for answers. One kitchen worker, clad in stained white overalls, jabbed a finger at Myla and said to Eddie, "She come to this country with Chen. They come here to work. Chen help get her place to live. He like family to her."

He couldn't take it anymore. The possibility that Myla could be a Replicant because of her association with Chen; that Chen may have been human; that maybe the intelligence he had on Chen was flawed. It was too much for him to comprehend right now. He holstered his gun and turned to leave. The crowd of workers parted for him at the last possible second, coldly staring at him as he went by them.

He heard a shriek that cut through him like a white hot knife.

It chilled him to the bone. To the very core of his being.

It was Myla screaming.

"MURDERER!" "MURDERER!"

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