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  • Home > Keri Arthur > Penumbra     

    One

    Samantha Ryan placed her hands on the front of her boss's desk and said, "I want a transfer, not more of your damn excuses."

    She knew that speaking to your boss in such a manner generally wasn't a good idea, especially when he was the man in charge of both the Special Investigations Unit and the more secretive Federation. A man more inclined to kill first, and ask questions later.

    Not that she thought he'd kill her. He had as much interest in finding out who and what she was as she did. But he certainly could make her life hell, which was precisely her current situation.

    She leaned across and added, "Sir," a touch sarcastically.

    Stephan Stern, the boss in question, raised one blond eyebrow, as if mildly surprised by her outburst. An outburst he'd known was coming for months. "You know I don't want to do that."

    "I don't honestly care what you want anymore. This is about what I want." She pushed away from the desk, unable to stand still any longer. Damn it, she'd spent more than half her life with her head basically in the sand, cruising through life rather than participating, and she'd had more than enough.

    The time had come to get greedy, to think about her wants, her desires, for a change. And what she wanted right now was not only a more active personal life, but a working life that involved more than a broom closet. "Transfer me back to State, let me resign, or find me another partner. As I said, I don't care. Just get me out of the current situation."

    Her angry strides took in the length of the beige-colored office in no time. She turned to face Stephan. His expression was as remote as ever. But she'd learned very early on that Stephan was a master at hiding his emotions—and that that dead face was just as likely to mean fury as calm.

    "I prefer to leave you with Gabriel. I still believe you two will make a formidable team."

    She snorted softly. "That has never been an option, and I think you and I realize that now."

    It wasn't as if she hadn't tried, for God's sake. But her damn partner was still going out of his way to exclude her from everything ranging from investigations to chit chat. Access to the SIU's vast computer system just wasn't worth all the frustration and unhappiness.

    Especially since she was getting jack shit in the way of information about the past she couldn't remember. Hell, her dreams were providing more information than the SIU's system.

    Only trouble was, how much could she actually trust the dreams?

    How much could she trust the man who constantly walked through them?

    She didn't know. Nor did she have anyone she could talk to about it—and that was perhaps the most frustrating thing about this entire situation. She needed to get a life. Friends.

    People she could trust and talk to. Hell, even a pet would be better than going home alone to a soulless hotel room every night.

    "I prefer to give the situation more time." He crossed his arms and leaned forward against the desk. "However, I do have another option that might suit us both."

    She met his gaze. His blue eyes were sharp, full of cunning and intelligence. A shark by nature, and the reason he ruled the SIU and the Federation, rather than his twin, Gabriel.

    Of course, that also meant she was beating her head against a brick wall where Gabriel was concerned, because Stephan was always going to look after his twin's interests first. Even if said twin didn't appreciate his efforts anymore than she did.

    She came to a stop in front of his desk, and couldn't help feeling like a fish about to be hooked. "What might that be?"

    "You remember Dan Wetherton?"

    She nodded. Gabriel had found a clone of Wetherton in the trunk of a car after some goons had Gabriel beaten up and then kidnapped him. To what aim, no one knew. Nor did anyone know why the clone had been killed. The real Dan Wetherton— who was a minister with the current government—was still very much alive and well.

    "Well, as it happens, it wasn't a clone Gabriel found that day. It was the original."

    She snagged the nearest chair and sat down, interested despite her wariness. "I was under the impression no one could create a clone that exactly duplicates the mannerisms and thoughts of the original person. That they may be genetically identical, but are nevertheless different." She hesitated, frowning. "Besides, the newspapers reported the find and the subsequent tests. He was declared human in all scientific results."

    "And a clone isn't?"

    She grimaced. Clones were human, no doubt about that.

    But whether that fact actually gave them humanity was a point of contention between the scientists and the theologists.

    "Having only met one clone, who at the time was trying to kill me, I don't feel qualified to answer that particular question."

    Amusement touched the corners of his thin lips. "The test results were altered by a party or parties unknown long before we got them. We just released them." He picked up a folder from his desk and offered it to her. "These are the originals.

    Have a look."

    From past experience she knew it was pointless to ask how he'd gotten hold of the original papers. Stephan worked on a need to know basis—and generally, that meant the less every one knew, the better. She doubted even Gabriel was privy to all his secrets.

    Not that Gabriel himself worked on a caring, sharing basis.

    Not with her, anyway.

    She leafed through the information inside the folder. They included the genetic tests on both Wetherton and the clone, the coroner's report, and Wetherton's medical history.

    "Wetherton had cancer," she said, looking up. "Incurable."

    "Which the current version no longer has."

    She threw the folder back on the desk. "If you know he's not the original, why release the press report saying he was?

    And why not simply kill him?" Which is what they'd planned to do originally, before he'd been declared human.

    "Because we wanted to know why he was cloned. And where he was cloned."

    "But not who had cloned him?" Did that mean they suspected that the ever-present, but never found, evil they called Sethanon was behind Wetherton?

    "We find the where and we'll find the why. But there is only one suspect as to the whom."

    "The military is experimenting with genetics. They might very well be playing in the cloning minefield, you know. There's no reason why Wetherton can't be their boy."

    "No, there's not."

    His voice made it sound doubtful, and yet she had a vague notion she'd hit the nail on the head. That for some weird reason, he just didn't want to acknowledge it. "And what about the replacement parts industry? Have you checked to see if they have started developing fully-formed beings, or is that just too obvious?"

    His expression became briefly annoyed. "We never overlook the obvious."

    Of course not. She smiled slightly. Irritating Stephan might be akin to prodding a lion with a very short stick, but when she got even the slightest reaction, it was oddly satisfying.

    "The black market trade in clones is booming," she said.

    Of course, it was fueled mainly by humanity's desperation to cheat death. An incredible number of people seemed willing to pay the exorbitant prices the marketers charged and take the risk of attempting a cloning miracle—a new body in which to live when their own was no longer of use.

    But humanity was more than just a brain; it was also heart and soul. Medical science might be able to transfer flesh and brain matter, but how could anyone transfer a soul? Even if they could pin down what a soul actually was?

    Not that rules ever stopped anyone, especially when there was huge money to be made.

    And somewhere along the line, someone had succeeded in at least achieving part of the impossible—fully fleshed, viable clones who looked and acted like the original. Wetherton, and her ex-partner, Jack Kazdan, were proof of that.

    "His source is not black market. We're sure of that."

    She studied him for a moment, then changed tactics.

    "Wetherton's just been made minister for Science and Technology, hasn't he?"

    He nodded. "Two years ago he was trying to shut down many of the science programs, stating the money could be better spent on the health care system. Now he's in charge of the whole lot."

    "Why hasn't anyone questioned this sudden change of heart? Surely the press has noted it."

    "Noted a political back flip?" Amusement touched his lips again. "You're kidding, right?"

    Point made. Back flips by politicians were such an everyday fact of life that even the press had got tired of them.

    And the public at large simply ignored them, except when the flips directly affected their pockets.

    "What advantage would having a clone in such a position be to someone like Sethanon? I would have thought it would be more advantageous for him to have the Science and Technology division's development hindered rather than increased."

    "That question is not one we can answer."

    Not until they caught Sethanon, anyway. And he had proven as elusive as a ghost.

    "So, you've had Wetherton watched?"

    "Had an agent in his office for the last two months. She can't get close enough. Wetherton plays his cards very close to his chest."

    If the man was a clone, he'd have to. One mistake and the truth was out.

    "What does all this have to do with my wanting a transfer?"

    He smiled—all teeth, no sincerity. "The minister has recently received several death threats. He was given police protection, but the would-be killer has slipped past them on a number of occasions and left his notes. The minister now requests SIU's help."

    She regarded him steadily. "So who did you use to drop the notes? A vampire? Or a shapeshifter?"

    Amusement flickered briefly through his bright eyes. "The original threats were real enough."

    Yeah, right. There was just a little too much sincerity in his voice to start believing that statement. "Am I the only agent being sent in?"

    "No. You'll handle the night shift—it better suits your growing abilities. Jenna Morwood will do days."

    Morwood wasn't someone she'd met. "What's her specialty?"

    "Morwood's an empath and telekinetic."

    So she'd be able to see an attack coming by simply reading the emotions swirling around her. A good choice for this sort of work. "We the only two going in?"

    "Yes." He hesitated. "Wetherton has requested that the night watch stay at his apartment when he's there at night.

    Since the first two threats were hand delivered, I've agreed to his request. I want you to observe everyone he meets. Become his shadow and learn his secretes."

    A big task. "I doubt whether I'll learn much. Surely most of his business will be conducted during the day?"

    Stephan smiled grimly. "Wetherton has a surprising number of business meetings at night—and usually at nightclubs, where it's harder to get a bug in."

    "He'll be suspicious of me. He's not likely to trust me with anything vital."

    "Not for a while. It may take months."

    Months out her life and her need to find her past. But also months away from the stone wall that was Gabriel. Would absence make his heart grow fonder? A smile touched her lips. Unlikely. "What about time off? You can't expect either of us to work seven days a week."

    He nodded. "You get two days. Which two will depend on his schedule. Generally, it will be the days he spends home with his family. We have other arrangements in place there."

    The man spends two days a week with his family? That didn't quite jell with the caring father image he'd painted of himself over recent years. "A real family man, isn't he?"

    "Only since the original's death. Bought a nice apartment on Collins Street and now spends most of his nights there."

    She frowned. "Will I be alone with the man? At night, I mean."

    "Generally, yes."

    Oh Joy. "I hope you're not expecting me to share the man's bed." That went way beyond the call of duty. Though maybe Stephan figured she'd be a shoe-in for under-the-cover work given her current lack of a sex life.

    "No." He hesitated. "Though I should perhaps warn you that Wetherton has had an endless stream of beauties on his arm lately."

    Great. She was protecting a lecher. Then she frowned.

    Wetherton was somewhat ordinary in the looks department, though that in itself didn't mean anything. Some of the ugliest spuds in the world had beauties far and wide eating out of their palms, simply because of the wealth these men had, or because of their sheer, magnetic power. But from what she remembered of Wetherton, the man possessed neither of those qualities.

    So why the bevy of beauties? And how come it wasn't reported in the papers? Hell, any politician cheating on his wife was big news, let alone one doing the horizontal tango with a bevy of them.

    "Will the press buy our sudden appearance in his life? This sort of protection is usually handled by the Federal Police, not the SIU."

    "They won't question our appearance after tonight, believe me."

    The dry coldness in his voice sent chills down her spine.

    "What have you planned for tonight?"

    "A spectacular but ineffectual murder attempt. Wetherton may be injured, and will, of course, demand our help."

    "Who's the patsy?"

    Stephan shrugged. "A young vampire we captured several weeks ago. He'd been something of a political dissident in life, and afterlife has only sharpened his beliefs."

    And Stephan had been feeding his madness, aiming it toward Wetherton. Meaning this plan had been burning in his mind for some time. And that the picture was bigger than what he was currently admitting.

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