The questions and paperwork hadn’t ended that night, but had continued into the next day. He and Erin had been put up by an unknown, but not unguessed at benefactor in the High Valley Hotel. Now he was down at the station wading through another series of questions.
Fosters sat in on the interviews. As always his presence made him shudder inwardly. Dak knew that Fosters had died long ago and even as Mace had done for a year, his former coworker was the host for a new Jumper. Dak thought he could tell a few differences between Mace’s and this new Jumper’s mannerisms, but the rest of the precinct was certainly oblivious, with the exception of Matthews.
Matthews was to only other non-jumper that worked for the Skinjobs. He wasn’t as willing as Dak, but since the only other option would be him getting Jumped, he was able to abide.
Dak brought the younger man along for the ride. He was heading to a Market arms dealer who owed him a favor. They were going to try to chance a lead on this the unknown blaster model when Erin called.
Terror ruled her voice. “Dak, you have to help me. I went back to the apartment to get a few things. I thought it would be safe. I was so wrong. I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
Matthews was already radioing in a call for officers to head that way. “Erin where are you now?”
“I’m hiding. It’s the same one Dak. He looks the same. I have to go. I can’t talk. He’ll hear me.”
The line went dead. Dak had already changed his route and raced through the crowded streets of New Cluster back to his apartment.
They arrived in record time and they had only clipped one other auto and maybe a biker. Guns were drawn long before they reached his floor. The doors opened onto death. At least one Enforcer had already met his doom. His headless form had painted the hall in blood and bone. The second officer had only made it a few feet further. He laid on his side against the wall his whole middle gone.
Matthews eyes went wide and that’s when the shooting began. It was the same big blaster as before. Matthews was hit in the first volley and went down. He was still screaming, so Dak hoped he would live. He spread open the width setting on his gun, until it would spread the beam into a cone. This weakened the effects, but made it hard to miss anything within the walls of his quickly deteriorating apartment. He dived forward onto his stomach just as the killer came into view.
It was the same man as before.
He pointed the giant blaster, but Dak got the shot off first. The cone hit him. The bald man growled trying to fight off the effects. He stumbled back a step and the gun went off, the explosive blast only missing Dak’s head by inches. Dak fired again, this time his opponent went down.
Much as before, he began to weep and melt, creating a second foul stain in Dak’s living room. Erin dashed into the room, for a moment she looked unsure, but raced toward him. “I was so scared, Dak.”
He hugged her quickly, but then said, “Matthews is down.
It could have been worse. He had been hit through a wall and the shot to his arm wouldn’t cost him his limb if only barely.
He sighed. More paperwork and interviews would take up the rest of the day and he wasn’t an inch closer to finding out who was behind this.
* * *
Eventually, he was allowed to go. Refusing an armed escort he and Erin left the station. Even the short walk to his ride left him seeing eyes everywhere. New Cluster raised around them gray and bleak. Everything was concrete and trash. The only thing feeling real was the woman’s hand in his, even though he knew part of Erin was fake too.
A meeting with the Doctor proved difficult to arrange. Erin burned through favors, but he agreed to meet them at midnight. Base Jumper stayed on alert, and the Doctor refused to met them there, instead picking a location with an industrial address. It turned out to be some sort of chemical plant. The smells drifting out of the rusty ash gray building let him know that he didn’t want to be there, long before he reached the side entrance.
A few workers moved around and perhaps some others who were guards. One these men, who looked big enough to eat Erin for lunch, took them to some offices lining the back of the plant. Stained iron cauldrons held bubbling mixtures of questionable nature. They smoked and stank horribly leaving a rusted residue on the tongue.
The room looked simple. Old terminals mixed with new. Forms were held in plastic cubbies along one wall. Reports and folders were spread out over a worn desk before him. Maxwell looked much as before. White suit. Red scarf around his pale neck. For this meeting they had traded Mace for two even huger guys, which left Dak wondering where this Doctor found such Neanderthals? Also with him was a girl way to young to be wearing such a short scarlet dress. She sat on another chair, regarding them coldly. He shuddered, not caring to speculate whether Maxwell was using his boyish looks to date some impressionable teen or if some equally perverted Jumper liked to play little girlie.
“Since you called for this emergency meeting, why don’t you begin Mr. Dak?”
“As you know, Erin and I have found ourselves within this assassin’s sights twice now. I have also killed him twice, although strangely. I seem to be the next on his list, so the way I figure it, you can either tell me all you can to help or you’ll be down two …agents.”
He went over what had happened and let Erin fill in a few of the gaps. “I’ve heard of some speculation down these lines, but have never seen such a thing myself. This Grafter is not only gifted but also innovative. It must have a trigger that somehow causes the cells to collapse and break apart. When you stunned it, this enacted this response. No one will ever question this man. Then he is cloned to begin again.”
“But not with the same consciousness?”
“Well, yes and no. If someone had the proper training or desire before the Jump the new body could contain that same desire.”
“It would be either fool or fanatic.” Erin said joining the conversation. “Although it would seem the same to us, the original person is dead and nothing changes that fact.”
“You mean you can make new people. Clones that don’t even need to be Jumped into?”
The young girl laughed. “That was what we learned to first. It was learning how to Jump which was difficult.” So she was a Jumper. This left Dak somewhat relived. He hated pedophiles.
“So is this guy is a fanatic-“
”Or somehow tricked into thinking his incarnations will really be him,” Erin quickly added.
Dak looked at her for a moment. “Then these people, whoever they are, could just make new clones of this killer until the lights go out.”
“It’s not as simple as that, but with enough resources you are essentially correct. Although the reason they can only send one at once is without the proper training most men go completely mad with any exposure to themselves.”
“The way I see it, this is really your problem. I or maybe Erin just happened to be next on the menu. So it’s in your best interested to make sure this thing doesn’t get any farther than us.”
“Of course. I value all of my employees.”
“Good. I’m glad we are on the same screen. Now I think it’s the time where you tell everything that you know that could possibly help me take this bastard out…. permanently.”
Continued Next Week