Mars, the red rock people come to burn away their lives by slow degrees. Or those who want to find something that they can’t on Terra. Not since the Inward Turn took control; made it sterile and safe. Mars is the ideal place for dreams and drugs. And nightmares.

I was in the slums of Tharsis because of one of those people. A girl, Kali Cognolotti had come to Mars for something. Could have been a chimera change or drugs. I had sought her name out and come to the Hobo Ritz. A dirty little place in Tharsis most avoided. Rumors and whispers led me to a blackjack doctor named Greene, who operated out of the Ritz. A blackjack doctor was someone who didn’t have a real medical license, or in the case of Greene, had one and lost it for patient death and malpractice. Green appeared from out of nowhere when I addressed the secretary. I was blindsided by a stunner in Greene’s thin lithe hands.

I shook my head, though it was still pounding from the stunner that Doc Greene had hit me with before running the fuck off.  I stumbled through the corridors of the blackjack doctor’s office, eyes unable to focus on much beyond the point of my Smith&Wesson Durger plasma burner.  The smell of antiseptic and bile invaded my nostrils as I staggered farther into the facility.

I tried to follow the sound of his retreating steps. I looked down shattered corridors of steel and brass. The drip-drip-drip of the water collected in the various places from condensation and other foul fluids. I held my burner out, ready for anything.  I kept my eyes moving constantly, checking each shadow and doorway as I moved forward.

I saw a flicker of movement, the damn bastard had used a holo-cloak and was three feet to my right instead of in front of me.  When I went to make a grab for him he slid out a side door and was able to get away before I could lay hands on him.  He ducked into a back alley behind a Tharsis market and now I was looking for him again, a needle in a fucking haystack.But that is pretty much my life since I took on a case a year ago. When my partner died and I was left alone. With no leg man, I missed Drake at times. And his wife, Tess even more. She had gotten caught up in the case that had killed her husband, Drake a year ago.

Guy was killing chimeras–humans that blended their DNA with that of animals. Sometimes for cosmetic effect. Or like Drake and Tess, permanent ones whose grandparents had been used in the Eugenic Wars. The image of Tess’s snakehead body, presented in my bed with two slugs buried in her chest waiting for me when I got home still haunted my thoughts once and again.

I pushed the image of Tess from my mind, instead thinking of another girl, Kali Cognolotti. She’s a Terran that came to Tharsis for the thrill of it, the want and desire to revel in the jazz clubs, the liberal sex and drugs that Tharsis was known for. Fucking tourists. At least that was according to her parents. They had given me a thousand credit retainer to find their daughter. She had broken off contact three days ago. It had been some tough few days to track down the leads without Drake, yet I still had a few people to talk to from my skiptrace days. Found she had come to Dr. Greene to start the process of being a Chimera.

I wasn’t sure if her parent would have wanted their daughter back after that. They were Terrans and I had seen the look on their face in the vid call, knowing I was a clone really rankled them. Made me smile when I told them, “Call me Four,” when they asked for “Mr. 4Pollack.”

Yeah, I’m a clone. The numeral before my name indicates what incarnate I am. I’m kinda different from the other incarnates of Pollack. A detective on Terra about a hundred years ago. There was no room for me on Terra once I was cloned. The Inward Turn saw to that.

There was the clang of a pipe down the way. I shifted to the side of the wall, burner down. Could be nothing, but no need to take chances. Clones didn’t have unlimited lives. There was something called the Accords with the Eugenics Wars. Clones were limited to nine lives. I was the fourth and didn’t want to take unnecessary chances. I edged around the corner and whipped up the pulse gun into the face of a homeless man. He let out a shout, lashed out with a hand and hit my gun hand which knocked my sidearm away from him. He then turned and ran a short distance to dive behind some crates.

“Hey, old man, I–”

A bolt of plasma shot past me. I ducked behind the corner as two more plasma bolts struck the steel wall I was behind. The burner he used had a low charge. The little bolts of plasma splattered on the steel wall and didn’t punch through.

“What the hell!”

“Get outta my tunnel!” The old man shouted.

“Listen I’m just trying to get by,” I said.

“Yeah, you’re trying to get my tunnel. It is mine! I claimed it.”

“Listen you old fool, I’m after someone,” I said. “Let me go, I’m trying to find a girl.”

“You’d say anything to get my tunnel. I know you know your mind melter don’t work on me. My helm protects me.” I could see the traces of silver on his head that made me shake my head.

I didn’t have time for this guy. There were times I wanted a stun setting on this thing. There was another splat splat splat of plasma hitting the wall. Even though it was two inches thick and the plasma was weak, but it was starting to get though. Plus the steel wall was starting to heat up from the barrage. The acrid smell of heated up metal assaulted my nose.


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