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Part 8 of 9
Shades of Gray
Author: Brian Kay

Gray stopped by the S.R.K. liquor stand that was near Fat Harry's noodle bar. He waited on the short line, staring blankly ahead. He had just finished assisting the cops at the crime scene that was now Chow Woo's. His preliminary statement was given and documented with the right people. Inspector Young made an appearance at the scene and congratulated him for the fine job. Young told him not to worry about the inconclusive reading from the Voight-Kampff. He covered all bases and acted within the scope of his job. He recalled Starke's presence at the scene. She stood on the sidelines, watching everything with the same air of studious intensity that was her trademark quality. Young told him that there was more for him to do and don't get too drunk, he may need him in the next few days. He spat on the ground as Inspector Young left in the spinner with Starke. He was finished with killing. Finished with being a blade runner. He guessed that Starke wasn't done with her role of being Young's lackey whore as she piloted the spinner skyward.

"Next."

The harsh voice brought him back to the present.

"Quatloo."

He handed the large women a fist full of bills and left with the bottle, neglecting to receive his change. He walked by Fat Harry's and saw the large man seated at the far end of the noodle bar. He walked over to him and sat down on the empty stool next to him. The bullish man with the buzz cut scraped his chopsticks together and dug into his food. Eddie unscrewed the cap to the bottle and brought it to his lips and gulped heartily. He wiped his mouth with his sleeve and gave his take-out order to the waiter. The large man leaned over to Eddie and whispered to him. The large man then leaned back and continued to eat his food. Eddie got up and paid for his food and proceeded to leave.

The waiter called out to him, "Hey, you forgot your bottle."

Eddie Gray kept on walking, not looking back and said, "I'm not gonna need that anymore."

Hannah Starke gulped down the fiery liquid and set the glass down on the table with a heavy thud. The booze burned her throat, almost making her gag. She found it not to be repulsive, but in a perverted way, she found it refreshing. She hadn't consumed alcohol in a long time and this certainly wasn't top-shelf, but it made her feel alive. She sat on the large, cheap sofa, stretching extravagantly. She yawned and tilted her head up at the ceiling. She was experiencing emotions that she hadn't felt before, or she thought to herself, emotions she did not let herself indulge in. They were conflicting emotions: sorrow; anger; and pity.

And they were all connected to Eddie Gray.

She closed her eyes and tried to remember her past, but it was getting harder and harder to penetrate the mist that shrouded her past life. She thought that it was indeed time to unshackle herself from the chains of her past and look toward the future.

Hannah grimaced.

The future was as cloudy as the past.

She snatched the glass from the table and finished the rest of the burning liquid. She threw the glass against the wall. Bits of shattered glass exploded in all directions. That's what she felt like; bits of her being pulled in all directions.

She liked to be in control.

Especially of herself.

She got up off of the sofa and slowly walked toward the piano. She sat down on the piano bench and delicately touched the keys. She had never felt sorry for anyone in her life. Now she felt sorry for Gray. She had planted devices in his conapt that recorded his every waking minute. It was part of her "assignment", but she never fully understood why.

Until now.

She had been contacted by her "mentor" who had gained access to her conapt while she was taking a shower. The smarmy little bastard was insufferably pleased with himself when she stepped out of the bathroom clad only in a towel. She was momentarily taken back and that made the son-of-a-bitch gloat even more. She wasn't going to give in to the little shit, so she sat on a chair, the cloth straining to hide her considerable feminine attributes. The short man sat on the couch opposite her, lit a cigarette, and proceeded to lecture her in a condescending tone. He had chastised her for not performing her assignment within acceptable levels. He told her that her lack of motivation for this particular assignment was appalling and that she had to make amends for her failure to gain any significant ground concerning Eddie Gray. She told him that there was nothing worthwhile to report, that Gray was a burned-out ex-cop waiting to self-destruct. She didn't want this creep to know what she really thought of Gray, and the information she did obtain. She was going to keep all that to herself. The oily man took the cigarette out of his mouth and used it to indicate to Starke to look at the folder on the coffee table. She picked up the folder and scanned its contents. She felt the world around her shrink, where only the printed words on the papers she held had any significance. She looked up from the documents and saw the bastard smiling at her. He told her that it was true. Eddie Gray's adopted daughter Claire was a Replicant.

He blew out a lungful of smoke as he explained to her that some corporations, mostly in the far-east, had designed Replicants for couples who were venturing off-world, and who could afford it, that would satisfy their need for a child. The little man continued to explain that this type of Replicant manufacturing was conducted with the assistance from various "black bag" ops with ties to the U.N. These corporations had little governmental regulations to hamstring their research and production abilities. Eddie Gray's daughter was created to fill the need of off-world colonists who wanted children, but were either unable to reproduce or unable to produce a viable offspring because of the harsh conditions of off-world life. His daughter was placed into his life to test the child-child's ability to function in a family-type environment. Eddie and his wife Jean had served in the U.N. in some official capacity and Eddie was later employed by the NYPD, so it made monitoring them very easy. Eddie Gray's fateful encounter at the warehouse was an unexpected but convenient way to take his daughter away from him and back to a "secure" facility. It seemed that not only was "Claire" adapting to her family environment beyond expectation, but she was growing as well.

Physically growing.

The news stunned Hannah, but she refused to let the little man know how it affected her.

He stubbed the cigarette out on her coffee table and lit another one. Starke just stared at him, biding her time. He continued his "lecture", telling Starke that there had been a "compromise" at the facility and some members of the "agency" had absconded with the child-child. He also said that they had plugged a number of "leaks" and that she was going to be contracted to shore up the rest of the security breaches. The file contained information that Eddie Gray and certain "rogue" agents were planning to take the child-child out of the city, but the intelligence failed to answer the question where. Starke was to "neutralize" Gray and the other rogue agents and deliver the child-child to a secure location. The time frame was exceedingly short and she had to act forthwith.

She recalled how the swirl of emotions had hit her.

It made her sick to her stomach. And she liked it.

She had accepted the assignment, because if she didn't take it, another would, and they would make it painful for Gray. There was some information as to where Gray and these so-called rogue agents would meet. She had little time to act. She felt like she was caught in a web of lies and death, the more she continued to struggle, the more she would get bogged down and devoured.

She knew what she had to do and she felt more alive that she had in her entire, miserable existence.

The ad-blimp lit up Eddie Gray's conapt with its intense, bluish searchlights. Hannah shielded her eyes from the probing beams, the lights shocking her, forcing her to surface from her deep thought. She had come to his conapt to dismantle the recording devices. She knew that he had gone underground and would never surface again, as long as he had the wherewithal to do it. She got up from the piano bench and walked slowly toward the door.

There was one thing that haunted Hannah Starke. It was what the little bastard said before she leapt off the chair and pummeled him into unconsciousness with her bare hands. She and the child-child named Claire were the penultimate creations of men and technology.

She belonged to no man, or his technology.

She was a product of herself.

She only wished she could believe it.

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