Hellbender by Laurie R. King Page B

Book: Hellbender by Laurie R. King Read Free Book Online
Authors: Laurie R. King
own genes come from a species called Hellbender, a big guy that’s about as ugly as most of his kind (although at least the name was cool—what if our DNA came from mud puppies or—God help us—“seepage” salamanders?). That lunatic grad student Joey Handle had to’ve been a genius, because he tweaked and balanced and played God with the stuff of Cryptobranchus alleganiensis and Homo sapiens to make himself a race of Others, in a way no one else has yet.
    Or anyway, did so enough to prove to himself that he could. No one knows if he ever intended to warm up all his frozen embryos and see if we twitched, or just flush us all down the drain. I suspect the latter. But before the boy genius could decide, Reverend Tommy Bostitch’s mad followers took over the lab, not really knowing what was there other than it was something sinful. That’s where they found us, and before you know it, they’d gotten it into their well-meaning little brains that what God wanted them to do was give us life.
    Reverend Tommy’s men were bad enough, but the women who fell for his spiel? I mean really: How nutso do you have to be to volunteer your womb to grow what for all you know will turn out to be a monster? Religious nuts just get my goat. Even though I owe them my existence.
    Mom was one of the lucky ones, sort of. First off, I lived, which most of Handle’s Children didn’t. Then, she wasn’t one of Reverend Tommy’s direct followers, so she didn’t die with the others in the raid a few years later. And to top it off, I looked enough like a human baby that people didn’t shriek and run when they saw me. But she volunteered to be implanted only the one time. And she had to’ve blamed me for the divorce. In any case, hers and mine wasn’t exactly a cuddly relationship. I’d guess it’s hard for a pure mammal to feel all maternal toward a baby that feels a little bit cool and maybe a touch slimy—as my client said, some of us were more blatant than others.
    But for some reason, the first round of implants didn’t put a complete halt to the birthing program. If it had, we’d be a lot fewer of us, and we’d all be the same age.
    About a year after the embryo theft, the first of us were born. About a month after that, the government caught on that something weird was going on. And from there  . . . well, by the time I was eighteen, the courts had decided that I was a citizen.
    Once I’d had some work done, I could pass. I could even sleep with women without them freaking out, since I’d had what my client delicately called The Surgery (although I was still sterile, like all the others.) And in the eight years I’d had my PI shingle out, I’d had only one SalaMan client, and he came in my door by accident.
    So as you can guess, I wasn’t exactly happy about Ms. Savoy.
    I jerked open my desk drawer and took out the bottle and two shot glasses, filling both to the top. I tossed mine down and filled it up again. To my surprise, Ms. Savoy picked hers up and swallowed half of it without a blink.
    Maybe she wasn’t quite as prim as she looked.
    “Okay, so your brother Harry’s gone missing,” I said, bringing us back to the subject at hand. “Have you filed a missing-person report?”
    “Yes, although the police really weren’t interested.”
    “They told you that he’s a grown man, he can go away if he wants, I know.” My license meant that I had to pay attention to the rules of what a PI could and couldn’t do. I had a buddy in the department, but I didn’t like to ask Frank for too many favors. “You say your brother’s a guy who’s not at all interested in passing. You think that’s related to his disappearance?”
    “One has to wonder,” she said. I had to agree, “ one” did—every year or so there’d be another set of headlines about a SalaMan who pushed a Salaphobe’s buttons and got himself beat up, or worse.
    “Yeah, activism can be a dangerous hobby. What was he into when he

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