“Marcus was killed three weeks ago. Someone spot-bombed his car.” For just a moment, she looked tearful and, whether she was crazy or not, the sight momentarily tugged at his heart. “They didn't find enough to bury.”
“We can’t assume his brain went the way the rest of his body did?”
She ignored his remark. “I think the Federation was behind it.”
Oh, great! So she has a government-persecution complex on top of everything else. Silently, he wondered if this was a punishment of some kind. Out of all the investigation agencies on the planet, why did she have to choose his to bring her delusions to?
“The Federation?” he echoed, thinking just how stupid he sounded.
“There were Marshals everywhere immediately afterward. One of them found something in the wreckage. I saw him put it in a small plasticon-baggie.”The picture she was painting displayed itself luridly in his mind…twisted remains of what had been an automobile… black uniformed agent holding a soft, bloody object in his hands. “Later, when I asked him about it, he denied having found anything but I know better. It was Marcus’ brain. I know it was.”
A hand brushed at her eyes.
“How can you be so sure?”
“Marcus told me!”
Uh-oh! She’s worse off than I thought. Definitely certifiable, positively winged-out. Maybe dangerous?
Slowly, Luc’s left hand inched toward the red Emergency button in the telephone console on the left side of the desk. One tap and the med-techs at the local psychiatric hospital would be alerted; they and their air-borne ambulance could be here in three minutes, armed with tranquilizer guns and restraining gear. He had a moment’s regret at what he was about to do, but the girl definitely needed help. And not from me.
“I wouldn’t do that!” She saw the movement. His hand stopped, but as he started to deny the action, she placed her own on the little purse resting in her lap. “You might not like what would happen if I give this a squeeze.”
“What’ve you got in there?”
A bomb? Some type of poisonous gas in a capsule which would break when pressure was applied? He wasn’t going to do anything to find out. He placed both hands in the center of the desk, one over the other.
“Miss Powell, just tell me what’s so important about your boyfriend’s brain that someone would want to steal it?”
“It’s a positronic brain, Mr. Kai’Leel.” With her hand still on the purse, she relaxed a little, settling herself as she went on, “Let me explain.”
“Please do.” He almost bit his tongue as he realized she might think he was being sarcastic. No matter what she said or did, he had to keep her calm, get her out of here, and then call the Psych-Unit. At the same time, he took a deep breath, nostrils crinkling slightly as he inhaled the girl’s scent. A very pleasant female fragrance, clean, none of the usual vile perfume to insult his senses. He could detect worry, anxiety, even fear, but none of the emotion-twists madness always wrought in a person's chemical makeup. That’s definitely confusing.
“Marcus is an android,” she began.
Oh Lord! She’s one of those women preferring synthetic men to real ones. Luc couldn’t keep the surprise or speculation out of his cat’s-pupiled eyes. She was so young, not more than twenty-two. He wondered if she’d ever had a human lover.
“An EHR-One, to be exact.”
“Never heard of that model.”
“No reason you should.” She shrugged. “It means Exact Human Replicant. He was the prototype and only one created.”
Luc tried to look suitably impressed, heavy brows dipping to a V over his eyes. He feared all he succeeded in doing was to appear threatening.
“His creator was Robert Adler...”
“The roboticist?” A flash of memory; something unpleasant involving Adler. “Wasn’t he killed by one of his inventions? Yeah…some supposedly super-perfect robot commissioned by the Federation?” His voice trailed away as she nodded solemnly.
“Dr. Adler had a terminal illness. Something no one has found a cure for. He felt it was a more humane and fitting ending than waiting to die, and—” she sighed as if being forced to admit something distasteful. “—Marcus followed orders well.” That statement was followed by a rueful laugh. “And why not? He was a Federation Contract Man.”
“Wait a minute. If he works—worked—for the Federation, why would they kill him?”
“Because he was going to quit.”
Luc moved one hand. Immediately, her own tightened on the purse. He pointed at the computer terminal on the desk. “Just want to check something. Okay?”
She made a permissive gesture.
Typing in a code, he accessed the Federation Agency Rolls, specifically the list of agents, both the Breathers, as the human ones were called, as well as their artificial counterparts. Since the decision two centuries before to remove all flesh-and-blood officers from Covert Operations and all other areas involving physical danger, the identities of all operatives had become a matter of public record, though the Synthetics were the only ones listed by both their “real” and code names. Because the assassins were non-human, the information couldn’t endanger them. They could’ve appeared in public wearing placards stating I am a Federation Killer, and it wouldn’t have mattered.
The Synthetics had also developed an unusual Code of Ethics; they began to notify their victims of their impending deaths, with the information that if able to evade for a specific length of time, the sanction would be lifted. So far, no one had managed to survive so what would happened if anyone did was unknown.
Some people actually thought the fact that an agent’s target would be aware of what was happening made The Game a little more interesting. Bookies accepted bets on how long a victim could run and where he’d be when terminated; progress was announced on the daily news; the results were documented on worldwide television.
A few assassins had actually become global heroes as they kept the Galaxy, baseball, and Mom's apple pie safe from hostile take-over., alien or otherwise.
“What’s your boyfriend’s last name?”
“Adler, after his creator.”
He typed in the two words. In a moment, he looked back at her. “There’s no Marcus Adler listed, deactivated or otherwise.”
“There wouldn't be.”
She gave him a quiet, triumphant stare. “Have you ever heard of Moondeath, Mr. Kai’Leel?”
Of course, he had. Everyone had heard of Moondeath…the Federation’s ultimate killer, with a perfect record, the only assassin whose identity was a well-kept secret. No one knew his human name or what he looked like, and because of that, he’d achieved near folk-legend status among the civilian population, as well as making millionaires out of several men who’d bet their every tangible bit of property on his kills.
If Marcus Adler was Moondeath, and Moondeath was now defunct... She certainly had his attention now. “Maybe you’d better tell me everything.”