The Double Human

James O'Neal

Tor Books

ONE
Tom Wilner watched in silence as each family walked
through the entrance to the housing development on the south­ern edge of the Lawton District, his waterproof windbreaker beading up with droplets from the constant drizzle. His ser vice pistol felt like an anchor on his hip.
Steve Besslia said, “This is a shitty assignment.”
Tom Wilner shrugged. “Watching people move doesn’t sound that tough to me.”
“I know, I know, you don’t have any Irani ans shooting at you or Bosnian car bombs but just standing  here with our thumbs up our asses is boring.”
“Do you really want the alternative to boring?” Wilner had seen it and was perfectly content with boring.
“I don’t know, Willie,” started his friend, Steve Besslia. “None of ’em look too happy to be down  here.”
Wilner cast a sideways glance at the uniformed cop and said, “Would you like it?”
“What’d ya mean? I am here.”
“I mean forced to relocate like this. I don’t blame them one bit; especially when there are no jobs down  here, no entertain­ment and it’s too cold and rainy to even go to the beach.”
“Government is paying for the move, providing free hous­ing and a stipend for two years. You and me moved on our own, work sixty hours a week and pay for our housing.”
Wilner shrugged. It didn’t matter that Florida was no longer the sunny garden spot it had been when he was a kid. He liked it here. This was where he was raising his kids and they had all lived together as a family. For a while at least.
A young woman with brown, stringy hair stomped up to them and looked at Besslia. “You the Nazi assigned to shoot us if we complain?”
Besslia shook his head. “No,  ma’am, I’m  here to shoot the gators if they try and grab a kid.”
The woman’s eyes widened. “What kind of hell have they sent us to?” She hurried away, shouting, “Sara, Kenny, where are you?”
Besslia smiled and said, “Used to be the tourists around here that you could mess with. Never thought new faces would be so rare.” He looked at Wilner. “At least you don’t get those kinds of comments as a detective. No one even knows who you are unless you badge ’em or draw your weapon.”
Wilner shook his head. “You know it’s not like the old days. Not enough people to cause too much trouble. They’re always happy to see a cop; particularly this close to the Quarantine Zone.”
Both cops’  V-coms started beeping in unison, so they knew it was a police call. Their newest communication units incor­porated police radio, video communicator, mail ser vice and a GPS locator ser vice as well as a host of information ser vices available to the police and public.
The Double Human
Wilner .ipped his open .rst and heard the bland, clear, un­accented voice of a dispatcher.
“Any unit in southern Lawton zone. Call of assault on or near the Eastern District boundary just north of Miami Quar­antine Zone.” The message repeated twice more.
Besslia said, “Let’s go.”
“One of us should stay here as assigned.”
“You kidding? When’s the last time we got a call like this?”
Wilner looked up at the dark sky. It was dif.cult to tell day from night anymore. He had not seen the sun in three weeks. He didn’t bother answering the patrolman, instead he started jogging toward his  government- made issued hive, which was a hydrogen- powered vehicle.
Besslia trailed him, jiggling and clanking his duty gear, his heavy pistol slung low on his leg for easy access while riding his big  Hive- bike.
Wilner knew the only populated streets in the area where the assault was taking place and cut under the decaying remnants of the old Interstate 95. He used his  V-com to tell Besslia to cover the approach from another angle, shouting, “Steve, cover the back, I got the front door.” He punched the accelerator and felt the newly issued vehicle respond well. Sometimes the pro­duction hives  were sluggish, which earned them the nickname “Hindenbergs.” When the government started competing with the private carmakers, the one thing they eliminated was speed and fuel regulators. His tires screeched as he turned onto the unmarked road where several old but clean apartment build­ings stood. Most of the residents either had government subsi­dies to live in such an unpopulated area or worked at jobs in the southern part of the Lawton District. A few  were smugglers who specialized in crossing the border into the Miami Quaran­tine Zone.
As he approached the front of a  four- story building he caught sight of a woman jumping up and down, waving her arms.
Wilner jumped the old crumbling curb and brought the big cruiser to a halt next to the front door. Before he was even out of the vehicle, the woman was shouting, “He’s killing her, he’s killing her.”
“Where?” Wilner drew his big,  11- millimeter,  police- issued autopistol.
The woman, panting now, gulped out, “Second .oor.”
Wilner didn’t wait for any more information; he was inside the lobby of the building scanning for stairs. He had not grabbed his backup weapon. He now kept an unlawful energy weapon in the car. In the marines they had called the handheld version of the weapon a “.asher” and now that was the street name for any powered,  light- beamed guns. Events of the past few months had taught him the value of the extra .repower and the truth was the streets  were full of these surplus military weapons.
He took the stairs two at a time and then slowed by the second- .oor door. He raised the gun in front of him and caught his breath.
He felt his pulse slow and then he burst through the door. The long, wide hallway was empty so he started moving for­ward quickly, scanning the rooms, most of which had no doors. About half of the apartments had someone in them. He heard a noise and froze. It came from in front of him. Instinctively he crouched and edged forward, gun up and following the movement of his eyes.
At one of the last apartments with an open door, he peeked around the old wooden frame. Another sound came from inside.
In the back of his mind, Wilner wondered where the hell Besslia was. He should have pulled up by now.
Wilner couldn’t wait. He slipped into the open apartment silently and slid along the wall, the next room in the sights of his duty pistol. He turned and eased down the hallway toward the open bedroom door. Shadows moved inside the room at the end of the narrow hall.
His pulse increased now as he consciously tried to control his breathing. He paused momentarily at the door, then stepped in with his gun pointed at the .gure crouching next to the bed.
The scene stunned him for a second. After all he had  seen— combat in Iran, ethnic con.ict in the Balkans, murders  here and over in the Quarantine  Zone— this image froze him.
A man with short graying hair looked down at a naked woman, laid out neatly on the bed with a slight trickle of blood leaking out onto the white sheet from her neck. Wilner couldn’t see his face clearly. The shocking part was the loving care with which the killer was now stroking her hair. It had a hypnotizing effect.
Before Wilner could bark out an order to freeze or just .re his gun, the killer’s head snapped up and he pounced with in­credible speed and surprise, throwing his  whole body at Wilner as the gun went off. The bullet .ew wide and high and the killer’s momentum bounced him off the larger detective, spring­ing him down the hallway.
Wilner, stunned, shook his head clear, took one more quick glance at the body on the bed and followed the killer.
He raced down the hallway after the fast, agile man but as he came toward the front door of the apartment he ducked a chair that .ew at his head.
The polymer chair fractured into a few large pieces on the wall just above Wilner’s head. Holding one piece like about, the killer swung hard and knocked Wilner’s gun to the old, rotting hardwood .oor.
Wilner twisted and threw a low kick into the man’s leg, then grabbed a piece of the chair and himself and aimed at the killer’s head. Instead he struck the man’s shoulder, the jagged edge ripping his old cotton shirt and drawing blood.
The killer sprang back, turned and darted down the hall­way to the stairs.
Wilner stood up, a little unsteady, scooped up his pistol and stumbled as fast as he could toward the stairs. By the time he was out the front door he saw Besslia pulling up on his Hive- cycle.
He stepped out to the front of the porch and froze.
At the bottom of the steps the woman who had directed him to the second .oor lay on the ground, now still in a soak­ing wet dress, Her arms and legs poised neatly along her body. He saw the blood mixing with a puddle next to her neck. She had the same kind of wound as the woman upstairs.
This bastard was quick.
Besslia was off his bike and running toward Wilner when an old pickup truck thundered from the rear of the building, blasting through the front yard of the apartment building and bumping over the curb into the street.
Wilner raced to his car in seconds. As he jumped in he shouted, “Call it in, Steve. Two dead. Chasing old truck, I don’t know the make. Prewar for sure.” He didn’t wait for a reply.
The tires of his hive screeched as soon as they made contact with the street. He fiicked on his concealed blue lights and siren. Not that there  were many cars to chase out of his way. In fact he had not used the lights in more than a year.
It took a minute to catch up enough to see the truck’s tail­lights as he headed south. He got on his  V-com as he tried to close the distance with the ancient,  gas- powered pickup truck.
“Dispatch, this is UPF 536. I’m in pursuit of a suspect headed south on Highway Six.” He checked to make sure he had called out the right road. He knew it used to be called U.S.- 1 years ago but now it was the just called “Six.”
Wilner hoped the call would go to the National Guards­men on the quarantine border. He figured that was where this guy was headed. With Besslia staying at the scene, there would be no UPF backup for miles around. Wilner’s right arm ached where the killer had struck him with the broken chair but it  wouldn’t help him escape. The UPF detective was pissed.
The truck took a hard right turn, almost .ipping on one side. Wilner took the same turn. Just as the truck was com­ing up on one of the checkpoints manned by the military, the killer swerved hard along the canal. The door .ew open and the killer jumped out of the moving truck and rolled into the wide canal.
Wilner slid up behind the truck and hopped out.
National Guardsmen  were already firing from their check­point on the bridge into the water with their assault rifles, making artifcial waves with the volume of fire.
Wilner scanned the surface of the canal, not wanting to get too close to the bullets piercing the water. He saw no sign of the fleeing man. Just the water ripped by rifle fire.
After a minute of sustained .re he heard a sergeant calling, “Cease- firre,  cease- fire,” to the six guardsmen who  were still pointing their weapons in the direction where the killer had last been seen.
Wilner stepped up to the edge of the canal, his pistol hang­ing in his right hand, pointing down at the ground. All he saw was the dark, muddy water of the last canal in the southern United States with no clue to the fate of the killer he had just chased.
 
Excerpted from the double human by James O’Neal.
Copyright © 2010 by James O’Neal.
Published in May 2010 by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.