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Strange Bedfellows

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Rachel Duncan did not believe in luck, any more than she believed in god, human rights, or leggings as pants. And yet she could not have planned this better if what could only be called luck had not just spared her the necessity of doing so. Of course, there was the minor matter of the gun pointed at her with shaking hands, but projectiles had rather lost their terror after Sarah Manning had put a pencil through her eye.

“Evelyn.”

The erstwhile star of Neolution stood just inside the doorway of her hotel room, livid. It occurred to Rachel that she should have a chat with security about this later. Letting a clearly unstable accused murderer walk right into her room with a handgun was hardly what she was paying them for. Evie Cho drew in a breath to say something predictable, but Rachel held up her hand. She only had about 20 minutes to persuade her, and that left no time for excoriations. “Yes, yes, yes, I ruined your life, et cetera. I’m surprised you haven’t figured it out by now. Really, Evelyn, I expected better from the architect of the Brightborn studies.”

Evie spluttered for a moment before spitting “What the hell are you talking about?”

Rachel rolled her eyes and sauntered in the direction of the minibar. “What kind of CEO would I be if I were to allow the destruction of one of our most valuable assets over a PR foul-up?” She scoffed and began extracting all the necessary accoutrements for martinis from below the bar. “The board may be that short-sighted; boards typically are. By nature they are incapable of seeing beyond next quarter’s dividends. Do put that down, won’t you. We both know you’re not going to use it.” Rachel could feel Evie reaching for some coherent protest as to her willingness to shoot her in the head. She concentrated on stirring their gin. “You’re not going to use it, because you don’t want to die, or go to prison, or have your work fade away in disgrace. All of which will happen if you do.” She pretended the sound of the gin pouring from the shaker into the glasses masked the furious and incredulous noises her companion was making behind her. “Especially considering the ghastly state of healthcare in the prison system,” she said, popping open the jar of olives. “I can’t think that anyone with your particular needs would find their notorious stinginess in that department terribly comfortable.”

When she turned around, a martini in her hand, Evie was still holding the gun. Rachel walked over to her, unperturbed. If anything, Evie was even more angry than she had been when she’d gotten here, but all the strength of it had dissipated. Rachel looked steadily into her flashing eyes. She placed one finger on the barrel of the shaking gun and pushed in firmly down. Evie did not resist. Good. Rachel offered her the martini. “Take this. You’re going to need it.” When she was satisfied that her would-be murderer was not going to let the drink fall from her hands, Rachel returned to the bar to fetch her own. “I understand you are furious at me for exposing you like that, but really, Evelyn,” she paused to sip her gin. “Destroying project LEDA would have been signing my death warrant, and I had thought you were familiar enough with the corporate side of Neolution to avoid such a foolish misstep.” Rachel perched herself on the somewhat tacky chair beside the bar. A sleek office chair behind a glass desk would have been preferable to set the tone of the conversation, but, sadly, this hotel had no suites which offered that amenity. “Have a seat, Evelyn. I want to talk about your future in Neolution, and what it will take for you to secure it.” A brief war took place on Evie’s face between her rage and her lack of any reason to believe Rachel on the one hand, and her desperation and drive to continue her work on the other. As predicted, her drive won out. Evie sat.

Rachel began her proposition. “Your security clearance was never high enough for you to know this, but we have properties off the grid, fully equipped with research facilities and an endless supply of enthusiastic test subjects whom no one would miss. Obviously, your,” she covered a stammer with a contemplative sip of gin. It angered her. She could not afford to show weakness in front of an enemy, even a defeated one. “Unfortunate situation will not allow you to live in society, or your involvement to be known, and the highly public nature of your little fall from grace will make your ever venturing off the premises impossible. Your contributions would have to be entirely anonymous, and entirely directed by me, as the board’s representative. We will, of course, deliver the not at all surprising news of your sudden suicide to the press tomorrow, once you are safely in transit.”

Evie huffed bitterly and shook her head before gulping her martini. Rachel wondered whether her problem with this plan stemmed more from the lack of credit she would receive for her work, or from having to cut contact so gruesomely with her family. As Evie had never seemed the sort for sentiment, she assumed it must be the former. How refreshing it might have been to have the opportunity to work with someone so similar and yet so unrelated to her, had circumstances been different.

“Your work on genetic manipulation will continue in concert with project LEDA. Susan’s sentiment has always clouded her judgement on that project, and we both know that combining gene-editing bots with clones would produce tangible results much more quickly. Pursuing both avenues separately has robbed us of countless breakthroughs. Your pointless competition with Susan has been a frivolity that I intend to remedy. But, as I’m sure you’ve surmised, such a golden opportunity comes with a price.”

“Because going down in history as a baby-murderer who killed herself in disgrace isn’t enough of a price,” Evie muttered, glaring darkly at her olive. It wasn’t clear whether she’d intended Rachel to hear her. It also wasn’t relevant.

What was relevant was how to phrase what she was about to ask. It would not do to have Evie get ideas about the nature of the request, still less for her to infer anything fundamental about Rachel from them. The issue was a sensitive one, from whatever angle it was approached. Rachel had only ever found a necessity so regrettable once before, when Aldous Leekie had ceased to be useful. And yet there was no way around it. Ferdinand had to die. His reaction towards her loss of sensation and how that would need to alter things between them had determined it. She could no longer trust him. He had shown that his regard for her had its limits. His devotion had been enjoyable and most useful, but now that Sarah’s pencil had popped the illusion of her he’d built for himself like a balloon, it was dangerous. Conditional loyalty which felt itself betrayed was mercurial, violent. Now that she could no longer control him the way she had (and she would not stoop to do so if she could get no enjoyment from it herself), he would turn on her eventually, no doubt with his signature flair. So Ferdinand had to die, sooner rather than later.  And thanks to Evie’s impeccable timing, Rachel wouldn’t have to accomplish the unpleasant deed herself.

“I will require a demonstration of your loyalty in exchange for commuting your sentence,” said Rachel. “No doubt you will harbour resentment towards me for exposing you. And while your options for betraying me will be severely limited, they will not be entirely eliminated. And I won’t insult you by assuming this little misunderstanding will break your will.” Rachel took another sip of her gin. “And so in order to guarantee your wellbeing and the continuation of your work, you will need to perform something for me.”

Evie stared at her in expectation of being told what exactly this attached string was for precisely thirty seven seconds (Rachel counted) before demanding “So what do you want me to do?”

For a fraction of a moment, Rachel considered humoring her, giving her the option to choose. But she could see in her eyes that Evie, under all the fury, still saw her as a specimen, a failed experiment in need of termination so that progress might march on, just another LEDA clone. And that was unacceptable. Rachel smiled. “As I said, this is meant to be a demonstration of your loyalty, and as such, the details ought not to be a matter of importance in your agreement to it. So,” Rachel plucked the olive out of her still half-full glass and popped it into her mouth to disguise another momentary lapse. “Do you agree to the terms, or don’t you, Dr. Cho?”

Across from her, Evie’s face hardened. Rachel wondered if perhaps she had overstepped and underestimated either her drive to continue her work or her rage or both. “Fine,” Evie said at last, stony-eyed and full of venom. “Now what is it. That you want me. To do.”

Rachel took a luxurious draught from her glass, savoring the taste, the chill and burn of it as she swallowed, the bright rush as it hit her bloodstream. She did love making people wait. “In about ten minutes, a,” she had to pause again. Luckily, this one could be written off as her being deliberately careful in her choice of appellation. “Gentleman will arrive from topside. When he does, you will kill him.”

Evie laughed incredulously. “I’m sorry. You want me to shoot someone from topside in your hotel room in exchange for a private lab?”

Failing to see what was funny about this, Rachel elaborated. “No. That would necessitate both clean-up and cover-up, both of which would draw considerable attention. This will be a call of a… personal nature. He suspects nothing.” Rachel finished her martini and rose, walking over to the bedside table. “At some point during the encounter, I will ensure that he is tied and blindfolded. At which point you…” She opened the drawer, withdrew a small vial, and walked up to Evie’s chair. “Will place this in his mouth.”

Evie arched an eyebrow as she realized what Rachel was planning. “You want it to look like an accidental malfunction of his bot.”

“Yes. What a pity the instructions failed to mention ball-gags were to be avoided.”

Downing the rest of the martini in one gulp failed to adequately cover Evie’s disgust. Rachel chose not to notice. “Yeah. One problem with that,” Evie said when she’d recovered herself. “There won’t be any record of him receiving one.”

“How fortunate then,” said Rachel, perching herself on the arm of Evie’s chair, “that the records of leadership’s use of your little devices are currently being purged. Plausible deniability. You understand.”

Evie winced at Rachel’s casual talk of the destruction of her life’s work and then stood, clearing her throat. She handed her glass, empty except for the olive, to Rachel. “And where would you like me to wait while you, ah” she smirked. Rachel made a mental note to deal with this streak of insolence later. “Prepare my test-subject for me?”

“You’re trim enough. You should have no trouble fitting into the closet,” said Rachel as she dropped the martini glass into the room-service bin. She had only five minutes to prepare for Ferdinand’s arrival.

While her own success never surprised her, even in her new altered state, it was pleasantly unexpected how perfectly smoothly their little plan went. Ferdinand arrived exactly on schedule (Rachel found lack of punctuality repulsive) and flushed with news of their (her) coup. He had been in a mood to celebrate, and when she’d acquiesced he’d been so delighted that all his earlier petulant sourness and all his usual perceptiveness fled. She’d almost felt sorry for him, but naivety and stupidity were more apt to raise bile in her that compassion. He would have tied himself to the bed if that had been possible, he was that eager for her punishment. Her irrepressible glee had been easily explained as triumph in her success and eagerness for their sport. And after all she had been both triumphant and eager, and this would be sport to her. He hadn’t noticed a single thing was amiss until Evie stuck her fingers in his mouth. It occured to Rachel that she perhaps ought to have been insulted by that, that he couldn’t, apparently, distinguish between her and another in such a position. But then he’d been fooled by Sarah practically until her dreadful wig had come off. Rachel had watched, leaning against the wall, as Evie held the device in place with tweezers until it anchored, quite the feat with him squirming and trying to bite her. Pathetic. She’d wondered idly what would happen if one of those devices were swallowed, but didn’t have the opportunity to find out. The device had anchored in his cheek. Then Evie had had to go poking around for something to puncture it with (a weak spot in their plan, that they hadn’t seen to it she had all the tools she needed in advance). Ferdinand could have tried to shout for help then, but he was far too busy castigating Rachel. If only he’d been half so creative in preserving himself as he was in coming up with colorful pejoratives for her. Eventually, and with a true scientist’s disdain for less than ideal equipment, Evie decided the corkscrew would suffice. Rachel had been tempted to remove Ferdinand’s blindfold, so that she could watch his face as he saw death coming for him, so that she could watch him know that she’d won. But that would have been an indulgence. Even with his eyes covered, the work of the bot’s fail-safe on him was stunning. Again, Rachel felt that strange pull of similarity as she realized Evie was gazing down at her struggling specimen with much the same light in her eyes.

After he’d stopped thrashing in his bonds Rachel made them another round of martinis. She noticed with satisfaction that Evie’s hands no longer shook.

Evie raised her glass, that obnoxious mocking smile on her face. “May all our future endeavors together go so well,” she said.

Rachel gazed steadily back at her and found that she was actually looking forward to these future endeavors. She clinked her glass against Evie’s. “Chin chin.”