“What family?” Michael, demanded. “He was cloned in a cauldron or some damned thing. He didn’t have family.”

With a solemnity not characteristic of him, eyes narrowed, Luke said, “He had us.”

The folds and flews of Jack’s hound-dog face were as they had been a day ago, and the jowls and dewlaps, all familiar. But this was not Jack.

“He had us,” Jack agreed.

As Michael reached cross-body, under his coat, to put his right hand on the grip of the pistol in his shoulder holster, Carson took a step backward, and another, toward the door.

The medical examiner and his assistant did not approach, merely watched in silence.

Carson expected to find the door locked. It opened.

Past the threshold, in the hall, no one blocked their way.

She retreated from Autopsy Room Number 2. Michael followed her.

Chapter 8

Erika Helios, less than one day from the creation tank, found the world to be a wondrous place.

Nasty, too. Thanks to her exceptional physiology, the lingering pain from Victor’s punishing blows sluiced out of her in a long hot shower, though her shame did not so easily wash away.

Everything amazed her, and much of it delighted — like water. From the shower head it fell in glimmering streams, twinkling with reflections of the overhead lights. Liquid jewels.

She liked the way it purled across the golden-marble floor to the drain. Pellucid yet visible.

Erika relished the subtle aroma of water, too, the crispness. She breathed deeply of the scented soap, steamy clouds of soothing fragrance. And after the soap, the smell of her clean skin was most pleasing.

Educated by direct-to-brain data downloading, she had awakened with full knowledge of the world. But facts were not experience. All the billions of bits of data streamed into her brain had painted a ghost world in comparison to the depth and brilliance of the real thing. All she had learned in the tank was but a single note plucked from a guitar, at most a chord, while the true world was a symphony of astonishing complexity and beauty.

The only thing thus far that had struck her as ugly was Victor’s body.

Born of man and woman, heir to the ills of mortal flesh, he’d taken extraordinary measures over the years to extend his life and to maintain his vigor. His body was puckered and welted by scars, crusted with gnarled excrescences.

Her revulsion was ungrateful and ungracious, and she was ashamed of it. Victor had given her life, and all that he asked in return was love, or something like it.

Although she had hidden her disgust, he must have sensed it, for he had been angry with her throughout the sex. He’d struck her often, called her unflattering names, and in general had been rough with her.

Even from-to-brain data downloading, Erika knew that what they had shared had not been ideal — or even ordinary — sex.

In spite of the fact that she failed him in their first session of lovemaking, Victor still harbored some tender feelings toward her. When it was over, he’d slapped her bottom affectionately — as opposed to the rage with which he had delivered previous slaps and punches — and had said, “That was good.”

She knew that he was just being kind. It had not been good. She must learn to see the art in his ugly body, just as people evidently learned to see the art in the ugly paintings of Jackson Pollock.

Because Victor expected her to be prepared for the intellectual conversations at his periodic dinner parties with the city’s elites, volumes of art criticism had been downloaded into her brain as she had finished forming in the tank.

A lot of it seemed to make no sense, which she attributed to her naivete. Her IQ was high; therefore, with more experience, she would no doubt come to understand how the ugly, the mean, and the poorly rendered could in fact be ravishingly beautiful. She simply needed to attain the proper perspective.

She would strive to see the beauty in Victor’s tortured flesh. She would be a good wife, and they would be as happy as Romeo and Juliet.

Thousands of literary allusions had been a part of her downloaded instructions, but not the texts of the books, plays, and poems from which they came. She had never read Romeo and Juliet. She knew only that they were famous lovers in a play by Shakespeare.

She might have enjoyed reading the works to which she could allude with such facility, but Victor had forbidden her to do so. Evidently, Erika Four had become a voracious reader, a pastime that had somehow gotten her into such terrible trouble that Victor had been left with no choice but to terminate her.

Books were dangerous, a corrupting influence. A good wife must avoid books.

Showered, feeling pretty in a summery dress of yellow silk, Erika left the master suite to explore the mansion. She felt like the unnamed narrator and heroine of Rebecca, for the first time touring the lovely rooms of Manderley.

In the upstairs hall, she found William, the butter, on his knees in a corner, chewing off his fingers one by one.

Chapter 9

In the unmarked sedan, driving fast, seeking what she always needed in times of crisis — good Cajun food — Carson said, “Even if you were Jack’s mother, even if you were his wife, even then you wouldn’t know he’d been replaced.”

“If this were like some Southern Gothic novel,” Michael said, “and I was both his mother and his wife, I’d still think that was Jack.”

“That was Jack.”

“That wasn’t Jack.”

“I know that wasn’t him,” Carson said impatiently, “but it was him.”

Her palms were slick with sweat. She blotted them one at a time on her jeans.

Michael said, “So Helios isn’t just making his New Race and seeding them into the city with fabricated biographies and forged credentials.”

“He can also duplicate real people,” she said. “How can he do that?”

“Easy. Like Dolly.”

“Dolly who?”

“Dolly the sheep. Remember several years ago, some scientists cloned a sheep in a lab, named her Dolly.”

“That was a sheep, for God’s sake. This is a medical examiner. Don’t tell me ‘easy.’”

The fierce midday sun fired the windshields and the brightwork of the traffic in the street, and every vehicle appeared to be on the verge of bursting into flames, or melting in a silvery spill across the pavement.

“If he can duplicate Jack Rogers,” she said, “he can duplicate anyone.”

“You might not even be the real Carson.”

“I’m the real Carson.”

“How would I know?”

“And how will I know if you go to the men’s room and a Michael monster comes back?”

“He wouldn’t be as funny as the real me,” Michael said.

“The new Jack is funny. Remember what he said about the dead old guy on the table having more personality than homicide cops?”

“That wasn’t exactly hilarious.”

“But for Jack it was funny enough.”

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