THE TEAR CATCHERS

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Chapter 21: Fallkirk's Revenge

Detective Fallkirk tilts his head back and carefully squeezes the bottle until an artificial tear blooms from the eye dropper. He lets one fall into the corner of each of his bloodshot eyes, blinking a couple times before looking across the table at me.

“Sorry, these late nights are killing me,” he says, taking a sip of his coffee. “Not that I’m complaining. It beats sitting alone in an empty nursery all night.”

“Doesn’t your wife miss you, Detective?”

“You’d have to ask her. She walked out on me two months ago, haven’t seen her since. Took all the baby clothes with her, the toys and the diaper bags. Left me the rocking chair, though. I do love that rocking chair.” Fallkirk stares down at his shoes, trapped in a far-off memory. “I told her I wouldn’t let our daughter die, no matter what the cost, no matter who I had to strong arm. That’s the promise I made.”

“I’m sorry that happened.”

“You know something? I believe you.” His eyes lift to meet mine. He removes a badge from his coat and strings it around his neck. “You’re different than the rest of them, Tessa. I don’t know the science behind it, an extra copy of this, a missing copy of that, but whatever it is, I hope you don’t lose it.”

I slide my arm across the table and put my hand over his. “It’s not your fault. The world let her down, not you.”

“When you’re a parent, the two are one and the same. You have a remarkable brain, Tessa, but there’s still so much you don’t see, and you won’t be able to, not until you’ve reached my age.” Fallkirk draws away his hand. “It’s good you came to see me. I was starting to think you forgot about our earlier conversation. Things are bad out there. The protestors have been marching outside your estate all day. It surprises me you were able to get out.”

Fallkirk could flip a switch at any time, and the wall behind him would dissolve into transparent glass, just like the last time I sat in this interview room. No telling what might be waiting for me on the other side this time. I sympathize with Fallkirk, but I don’t trust him. He’s resourceful, and he won’t stop until he gets what he wants.

When he realizes I’m not going to respond, Fallkirk changes the subject. “The whole city knows Tearcatcher DNA is responsible for this outbreak. I don’t know what happened. Somebody in this division must have opened their mouth when they shouldn’t have.”

“I wonder who that was.”

“Guess we’ll never know,” he says, his brain overriding the impulse to smile, but just barely. “The important thing is you’re here now. We can collect a blood sample and figure out a way to stop this infection. Maybe even slap your baby brother with the homicides of a thousand first drafts while we’re at it. Whaddya say?”

“The DNA didn’t come from me.”

“Dammit, Tessa!” Fallkirk slams his fists on the table, overturning the coffee cup. “Why are you still protecting him? Your brother, Atherton Rivegan, the same kid who branded your neck with a… what did you call it?”

“The mark of separation.”

“The mark of separation, beautiful. He made you an outcast in your own family. He tried to execute your boyfriend in the middle of a crowded street. Why can’t you smarten up and see who he really is?”

“I’ve cast aside my illusions. I know exactly who he is, but the DNA didn’t come from me, it’s from an unsanctioned Tearcatcher child. And the only way to get to her is through James Redfair.”

“Congressman Redfair? The future governor of our province?” Fallkirk leans back in his chair and folds his hands behind his head. “This, I’ve got to hear.”

“The patients I saw in that hospital ward, they didn’t buy their DNA from black market dealers, they were test subjects. They all fit the same genetic profile. Look at their medical files,” I tell him, pulling up the patient records on the table projector.

“I’m very good at what I do, Tessa, I looked at their histories. Yes, they were all seriously ill, but none of them had the same disease. They were sick and desperate, and some low life dealer convinced them he had the cure for whatever ailed them. They’re salespeople, it’s what they do.”

“They all suffered from different illnesses, but each of their diseases can be traced to the same genetic abnormality: a mutation at the TPR37 pathway. The same mutation that’s eating away at the brain of Melanie Redfair.”

“The Congressman’s wife?” Fallkirk plants the chair back on the floor. “How did we miss that?”

“The largest contributor to Redfair’s campaign is a company called Pre-gen Biochemical. They have a laboratory just across the river in Talfair.”

“She could be there right now, a little girl that could put a stop to all this.”

I look down at the table, letting Fallkirk absorb everything I just told him. The spilled coffee branches like nerve endings across the table, eventually running back into a pool beneath the cup where it started.

Fallkirk springs out of his seat. “Wait here.”

“Where are you going?”

“I know a magistrate who owes me a favor. She’ll get me a search warrant, and we can be at Pre-gen in less than an hour. I’ll have someone take you home.”

“The only home I have left is Greymore, and if we don’t find a cure, I’ll lose him, too,” I say, trailing him into the hallway. “You need me, Detective.”

“We have our own scientists, Tessa, they’re more than capable of reverse engineering this child’s DNA.”

“I’m sure they are, but they can’t do it as fast as me.”

Fallkirk stops and pivots to face me. Everything I’ve been through, the humiliation, the joy, the heartbreak, I force it all into my eyes, hoping it’s enough for him to see I’m not lying. Redfair will have an armed security detail, he says, and things could get messy. I tell him I can handle it, my whole life’s been messy.

When the search warrant arrives, I pile into the back of an armored air transport, squeezing onto a bench between two of Fallkirk’s officers, their muscles popping beneath their body armor. They take turns peering down at my chest, rotating their necks like interconnected gears, gazing straight ahead when I swing my eyes in their direction, then back to my t-shirt as soon as I look to the other. One of them holds a weapon with an extended tip, for long-range executions, I assume. The other must do his killing face-to-face, because his is a short blunt instrument. There must be a genetic difference that drew each man to his role, but if there is, I can’t see it in their eyes. I have no weapon, but I have Greymore locked in my brain to sort out the chaos. I zip the front of my sweatshirt and pull the hood tight around my face, chewing on the drawstrings.

The officers all around the cabin busy themselves with their rituals: checking their laser sights, strapping on vests, and slapping each other on the helmet. Going to war is a puzzle to me. People try to quantify it, but the variables are too imprecise. I have Greymore on my side, but the Congressman has his wife. We have the fates of thousands of infected first drafts resting on our shoulders, they have the hope of a better life for the whole province on theirs. We have training, weapons, motivation. Maybe theirs will be more. I ask Fallkirk if I can approach them one more time and try to negotiate a peaceful resolution, but he says there’s no more math to be done. The outcome has already been decided, all we can do now is play our parts in the equation and hope that it all computes in our favor.

Outside the window, the city’s history rolls past me. The synth club where Greymore and I first met. The tattoo parlor where we gave form to our feelings. The plaza where we first kissed, and the tunnel where we almost perished. It’s as if someone were playing my memory scan and left the fast forward switch on. The rain beading on the glass turns it all into a dreamlike work of impressionism, like one of Greymore’s paintings. That’s what this last year has been, a hazy flash of insanity and wonder.

The pilot throttles back on the propulsion. Pre-gen Biochemical draws into focus as we descend. A dull, grey building with four stories, none of it marked with any signs. The carrier lurches to a stop and hovers above the curb, swaying the officer beside me into my shoulder. The tip of his gun brushes against my knee. I glance sideways and find him staring at me, waiting for my reaction. I narrow my eyes at him, and he slides it away.

The bay doors split open, pelting us with rain. A light on the roof turns from red to green, sending them all charging out the back. Fallkirk tells sergeant long barrel to wait here with me, until we get word the building’s safe. Perfect. I stare through a circle of glass and watch them creep to the door in well-rehearsed sequence. The rain strikes their helmets at an odd angle. I trace the skewed pattern to a spot in the sky where the rain seems to collect for a moment, as if squeezing through an invisible filter, before continuing its fall at a slower rate.

“We’re being watched,” I say, trying to iron out the fear in my voice.

“What? Nah, the captain did a scan,” the officer says, raising his chin and opening one eye at me. “There’s no surveillance around that building.”

“He was looking below, not above. There’s a drone up there.”

“I don’t see it,” he says. In all fairness, it would be difficult to see the drone with his gaze fixed on my gluteal muscles. I reopen the bay doors, hesitating for a moment as the rain stings my eyes. “Hey, get back here, you’re gonna give them away.”

Fallkirk crouches in front of the arched entry, raising his hand at the team assembled behind him, then dropping his fingers one at a time. Three, two, one… “Farllkirk!” I shout. He glances back at me, following my finger up into the sky. Behind him, the door flies off its hinges. An energy pulse spirals through the air, knocking the team off their feet one by one, flattening the trees and street lamps between us like an invisible tidal wave.

My legs shake beneath me. The energy pulse grows wider the closer it gets. Wider, but also weaker. I turn my back to it and kneel, waiting for the impact. It sweeps me clean off the ground, spinning me through the air a couple times and dropping me on my back in the middle of the street. Beside me, I hear it do the same to the air transport. The armored panels scrape the pavement with a high-pitched wail, collapsing one of the engines and smearing the bay doors with blue flames.

I pull open the bottom hatch and climb into the cockpit. The turbine slaps the wall, throwing fire onto the bench where sergeant long barrel lies motionless. I slip my hands beneath his vest and drag him into the cockpit, the fire spreading its angry veins through the cabin behind us. The hatch is way too small to push him through. I stuff him into the pilot’s seat and pull the harness around him, then strap myself into the copilot’s seat above him, reaching for the control panel. My fingertips graze the ejector as the flames heat the back of my seat, but the switch is beyond my reach. Guess they don’t make pilots in my size.

I release my harness, flipping the ejection switch as I fall. Sergeant long barrel launches out of the cockpit and skids across the ground in a burst of light. The sudden flux of air swells the fire behind me. I wiggle out through the hatch as the transport explodes, brightening the sky with rolling flames.

When the sergeant wakes up, I can tell him I was right about that drone. A limo glides to the front of the building, where four blurry figures emerge from the mangled doorway, one of them holding a baby pod. The smallest of them steps over the officers rolling at his feet and stares at me, before ducking into the limo. Even in the dead of night, I recognize him. The fresh scar on his cheek gives him away. We’re too late. Phoenix got here first.

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