Hellbender by Laurie R. King Page A

Book: Hellbender by Laurie R. King Read Free Book Online
Authors: Laurie R. King
people might not’ve known with her, and certainly not right off. Still, I could tell the second she walked in. Makeup and surgery might hide the surface, but there’s a kind of all-over flexibility that just shouts out when you know what you’re looking at. And when you don’t know—well, let’s just say that a lot of this girl’s type make a good living out of how they move.
    “Harry was more obvious than me. He even had little lines where his gills almost came up. And because he lived in a rough neighborhood, he came in for a lot of grief.”
    I nodded, keeping my face straight.
    “A social worker took him away from his family after his second broken arm. Mom and Dad heard about him, and first fostered him, then adopted him. So Harry was my big brother from the time I was three.
    “Harry’s bright—really bright—but he decided early that he wasn’t going to take any more crap, from anyone. When he was a teenager he got into a lot of fights, although after he got big, the kids stopped trying to pick on him quite so much. But he refused to make any concessions, never had any treatments, wouldn’t even do The Surgery.
    “Oh,” she said, with a pretty trace of blush rising across her cheeks. “I didn’t mean, that is, I didn’t intend—I’d never criticize what others choose to do.”
    That drink was looking better. Might help with the room, which was suddenly feeling a little cold.
    “Who would?” I agreed, giving a little shrug to show how disinterested I was.
    A little frown line came into being between those pretty eyes. “But . . . I mean, surely you’re one, too?”
    “One what?” A stupid thing to say, but she’d taken me by surprise. It’d been a long time since someone made me that fast. Most people took me for a young guy with a slight skin condition. I’d even perfected a stiff walk that made my heels jar all the way up to my neck and gave me a backache, but helped me pass.
    “One of us . A . . . SalaMan.”
    I was born in the second decade of the millennium. Oh, I spent a few years in a freezer first, then a lot more years in legal limbo before the case finally wound its way through the courts to give me a birth certificate, but conception took place when that oh-so-clever shit-bastard of a grad student stirred up some DNA to see what would happen, and I figure conception is when I began.
    When Elizabeth Savoy came to my office that Tuesday morning, I’d been breathing for thirty-one years, although I only looked twenty. And sometimes felt fifty.
    Interesting fact: People don’t know just how many of us there are. Oh, you may think you do, and you can bet Uncle Sam does, but it didn’t take very many bombings and riots before even the government could see that playing things down might be a smart idea. Once the Supremes turned in their decision regarding our human status, the feds were ready, and pretty much everything about us went away: numbers, characteristics, identities. There’s even the occasional Web rumor that says we’re nothing but a myth, which is fine with me.
    As far as the government is concerned, the only time we’re the least bit different from any other citizen is when we want to be. From the start, they swore up and down that they’d set up the records so even they didn’t know who we were unless we chose to come to them. Which was hard to believe, but at least they kept their hands off us. We’ve all been counseled; we all know that it’s a good idea to take any medical problem to one of their specialists rather than wonder if our local GP knows what he’s looking at; we’re all aware of the standing offer of money, shelter, and a lifetime of protection if that’s ever what we want. And if we don’t, well, we got a handshake and a wish for good luck, which is more than most of our fellow citizens get.
    I had to wonder how my client had found me. I didn’t exactly have a shingle out saying “ SalaMan Investigations.”
    About a quarter of my

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