"Do you want me to stay, sir?"
The guard was on the young side, and he looked sullen and mean. Starsky couldn't blame him. No one with any seniority would want this job. And no one with any sense would want to be in the same room as... that.
"Naw, I'll be fine," he replied, with affected nonchalance. The guard -- it said only 'In Training' on his nametag -- nodded in an almost military fashion. He wore a Family of Purple Hearts pin.
"We've coded your voice for the standard commands. You can remind it of that, in case it gets aggressive." He said that with a certain amount of relish, making Starsky frown, uncomfortable.
"Thanks." He didn't think it would come to that, but what did he know anymore, really?
He entered the room, and he waited for the door to click shut before taking a step forward. There was a plastic chair, brought in from the employees' lounge for him. He didn't sit. He rolled forward on the balls of his feet, tensed for action.
The thing on the cot stirred and said in a tone that was falsely cheerful, "What took you so long?"
The light blue eyes looked huge in the face that had gotten so much thinner. The hair had been shorn to baldness. They'd dressed the thing in a pair of puke-green shorts -- for the modesty of those who had to look at it, of course. It didn't need 'em, surely.
Starsky studied with an analytical eye what had once been his best friend.
He noted the smoothness of the bared skin, the well-proportioned (ideally proportioned?) body. He noted how the muscles shifted under the skin, and how the individual tiny hairs moved, with the slow rise and fall of the chest -- powering the heart that beat with a rhythm that Starsky had once cherished.
Every additional detail drew Starsky farther from his cold perusal. Anger filled him drop by drop. He wanted nothing more than to beat this... this imposter to a bloody pulp.
Did what ran through this thing's veins count as blood?
He knew it could bruise. He'd seen it bleed. He didn't know if it could die.
The thing shifted forward where it sat on the edge of the naked cot. "Partner?"
"Don't you fuckin' call me that!" Starsky snapped.
The facsimile of his friend flinched all over, hard enough that the grade one polysteel restraints around its wrists jumped. The faint tinkle of the motion alarms echoed slightly in the bare three by three meter cell.
"You wanna know why I'm here? It's not to save your ass." He grabbed the chair and turned it around to straddle it backwards. He was afraid if he didn't sit, he'd give in to the urge to slap the stunned expression off that specter-pale face.
"Dobey's in a lot of hot water right now. IA's investigating the whole department, but the CIA is up his ass. Edith's going out of her mind. They can't believe that he wasn't protecting you. As our commanding officer, they think he should've known."
I thought I knew you better than anyone in the world, and I didn't know, he didn't say out loud.
"But I told them he's innocent," the thing exclaimed, losing that scared look for the first time. It frowned down at the floor. Its bare toes -- each of the tiny bones and nails flawless -- clenched. "I swore a statement."
"You think a statement from you is worth the atoms it's recorded on?"
"He never did anything wrong. They can't just ruin a man like that." It ran the knuckles of its fists over its forehead. "What the hell am I saying? Of course they can. They'll do anything, the sadistic, paranoid, ..."
"Hey!" Starsky cut him off. Then, just because he could, he said, "Code six-two-three: shock." He made the 'k' a separate lone syllable, the way you always did for voice recog -- the same way he ordered his coffee in the mornings: 'blac-kuh'.
"AaaaAAAAAHHHHH!" the thing cried, as it twisted in sudden agony. It fell back on the cot, arching into an inhuman bow. Its hands clenched around the restraints that were also its source of pain, convulsed by electric shock, but making it look like it was clinging to an illusionary lifeline.
The standard three seconds passed, leaving it panting.
Surreptitiously, Starsky wiped his sweaty palms against his shirt sleeves, keeping his arms casually crossed atop the back of his chair. He'd forgotten that Turings got stronger shocks than human prisoners did.
Starsky could hear the sound of heavy breathing, like the beginnings of a sob. But when it finally lifted its head, its eyes were dry. "Wh-What do you want?"
The way it lay curled up on its side, Starsky could see the bottoms of its scuffed, dirty feet. He remembered a time -- seemingly an eternity ago -- when he had tenderly held that spasming, pain-filled body and tried so hard to soothe away the hurt that was eating up his partner from the inside.
What a joke.
"You make 'em do that to you often?" he asked, suddenly darkly curious. "You make them hurt you?"
"So you're a good boy, huh? You 'cooperate'?"
It shuddered. "It's not my fault... None of this."
"Yeah?" Starsky stood and approached it, stopping just outside the range of the restraints. "Get up," he barked. He couldn't talk to it while it looked like that.
The thing must have sensed he was serious, because it pushed itself laboriously back to a sitting position. Its eyes stayed thankfully on the floor.
"You think about this," Starsky commanded. "Everything they do to you, you deserve it. But what they're doing to Dobey, and his family, he don't deserve. And if there's even the smallest piece of Ken Hutchinson inside you, you'll do something about that."
It was shaking its head. "I don't know what more I can say. Dobey's innocent. Of course he is. He didn't know. Nobody knew."
Starsky thought about letting his fists uncurl, but decided to leave them. "Then tell me the rest of it."
"The rest of what?" That voice sounded so tired. Defeated. It never sounded like that. Should never. Starsky wanted to punch him. It. He was nearly close enough. Just one step.
"Who are you working for? What're they planning?"
"I'm not working for anyone. Why can't anyone believe me?" It looked up then, and it had the nerve to look bewildered. Betrayed.
"Because you're lying, you stupid tin can!" He couldn't help it anymore. He drew one arm back.
The thing flinched back from him, and that made Starsky even more mad. He didn't let the blow land but he kept his fist cocked, shaking with leashed rage. "You want us to believe that Mr. and Mrs. Hutchinson were just a pair of stupid innocents?"
Its lips compressed. "Don't talk about my parents that way."
Starsky lowered his arm. "Funny," he taunted. "I thought you didn't get along so well with your folks."
It winced but didn't look away. "They weren't stupid, and they weren't traitors. They were decent people who made a difference."
"Jesus, Starsky. You know me. Am I lying to you right now?"
Starsky couldn't meet that steely gaze. "I don't know you at all," he muttered to the wall.
"That's a ridiculous thing to say. We've been friends for--"
"My friend is dead!" That impatient, patronizing tone was too much to bear. For a moment, it'd almost seemed he'd had his partner back. He couldn't take it. "Hutch is dead, you hear me?"
It stared back. Its face had gone blank like a mask. Starsky had seen his partner shut down this way before, numerous times. Maybe this was actually the thing's normal state.
"I'm here, Starsky. This is the me that you've known since day one. Whether you believe it or not isn't up to me."
Starsky didn't want to believe it. He wanted to think that his friend had died in some accident, so that he would never have to look at this thing again. He certainly didn't plan on coming back after his mission here was done.
"I need you to give me some names. Something concrete we can check." His voice was iron-bound so that it wouldn't shake.
"I'm not a spy. How many times--" It clamped its mouth shut and closed its eyes, in that 'give-me-patience' gesture that Starsky had seen hundreds of times before. "I was an orphan. My parents rescued me. That's all I know."
"An orphan, huh?" he said, with deliberate scorn. "Thought they pumped you out in factories like pocket compilers."
The thing went rigid. "You know that's not true."
His partner had always been the most open-minded person Starsky had ever known. He'd defended tin cans before, in just the same way he defended genome 'tards and multisexuals. Starsky hadn't ever seen anything dangerous -- or revealing -- in it.
"Fine," he said, losing any semblance of frivolity. "Tell us who your real parents were."
"My 'real' parents were Richard and Katherine Hutchinson."
"You know what I mean!"
"And you know that I have no idea! I was a baby, for god's sake. I don't even remember ever not being with my mother and father."
"What about others? You can't have been the only one. MPs cleaned out dozens of tin cans from this county alone. You don't think some other bleeding heart fools took in some of you? Did your folks meet up with other" -- he sneered -- "'adoptive parents'?"
"I don't know! I was just a kid! I didn't know what I was until I was ten. Before that, I was playing baseball, going to school, just like you or Huggy or--"
"Not like me," Starsky cut him off, angry. "I ain't kept a secret like this all my life. Don't think I could."
The thing's gaze turned piercing, that look that saw Starsky's heart.
"I wanted to tell you," it said, its voice soft. "So many times."
Starsky backed away a step before he could think. "I, I need names--" he insisted, trying to recapture that hard anger.
"What would you have said if I had?"
It was Starsky's turn to close his eyes. But unlike Hutch, he wasn't calming himself. He was just running away.
"I don't know," he was forced to admit.
"I asked you the same question before. You remember?"
"Don't you bring John into this. That was completely different."
"He was a man with a secret that he couldn't share with you, despite how close you were."
"Exactly. He was a man. Not some walking pile of parts."
"I'm a biological construct. I can bleed and hurt and die just like anyone else."
"You're a robot! You're a fake!"
"I know I lied to you. But only because I couldn't help it."
"What, because it's in your nature?"
"Because of prejudice and rampant phobia! Look where I am now just because some idiots at my parents' funeral said they suspected."
"You sayin' you don't support the laws of this nation, 'Detective'?"
"Come off it. How many times have we bent the 'laws of this nation' or outright broken them, for what we knew was right?"
Starsky froze, uncomfortably aware of the recorders inside the walls. It was all well and good for this thing. It had nothing to lose anymore.
"Sorry," it said immediately, subsiding. "I didn't mean that. I was always the one playing maverick and white knight. You tried to stop me."
That was a blatant lie. It was always Starsky flying off the handle. As for playing white knight. Well. Both of them had had a little problem with that.
It made Starsky suddenly furious that this 'biological construct' was seeking to protect him. Did it think Starsky couldn't stand behind his own actions?
"You know that's not how it was. What're you trying to pull?"
"I'm not pulling anything. I'm just telling the truth here. You're a good cop, Starsk. No one can find fault with you."
"Shut it with the compliments. I just got done clawing my way out of a Conspiring With A Turing charge. You trying to get me right back into that cesspool?"
The thing locked onto him with Hutch's cool eyes. "Is that what this is?" it asked. "They put you on me, to pump me for info? Was that the only way to get rid of the charges?" It seemed to retreat into an icy calm. "You never would have come to see me otherwise, would you? You just wanted to shove me in some box in your head and never think about me again. Pretend I never existed. After all these years...
"But you still have your job to hang on to. Your mother and Nicky still need you. Maybe they even threatened them a little, huh? Just to get you in line quicker. That was the only thing left that could make you come see me. Is that about right, partner?"
Starsky could only glare, covering up his fear, which must be stinking up the tiny room. The thing had nailed him on every point.
They stared at each other for an infinity.
Finally, it sat back. "Oh wait. Your partner's dead, isn't he?" it said mildly. It seemed to look thoughtful for a moment. "If he's dead, then I guess I'm the one who killed him."
"What?" Starsky said, startled.
"Well, sure." Its voice was airy. Teasing with an edge of mean. "He's dead. I took his place. Might as well have smashed all his bones and bashed his head open."
"You're--" he stuttered. "That's not funny."
"Just like your old man, huh?"
He couldn't breathe. No.
"Beaten to death, like in the bad old days. They did it historically accurately, too, didn't they? Used old-fashioned lead pipes." It smiled in satisfaction. "Thing of beauty. Like kids hitting a piñata, you said."
"Shut up, you--!"
"And the Turings who did it just laughed at you. Turings like me, right? My buddies." It lifted its legs and crossed them into a parody of a lotus position, half-closing its eyes. It licked its lips. "Mmmm, wish I'd been there. Could've watched you shit your pants and cry like a useless baby while your daddy was tortured and murdered right in front of you."
He leapt forward in a rage, white bees buzzing behind his ears, his fingers clawing for that hatefully familiar face.
In a flash, he was face down on the cot. His legs were tangled somehow and his arms wrenched painfully back. Wrestling collegiate champion, flashed through his mind.
The hands switched to his throat, and Starsky knew this was it if he didn't move. He thrashed out and managed to get half turned around, but it wasn't enough.
The pressure on his vulnerable throat squeezed down. He could see the wild, completely alien beast gloating down at him.
"Code six-two-three!" he managed to yell around the inexorably increasing pressure, his strength augmented by fury and real fear. "Kill! Kill! K--" His teeth were grimaced around the 'k' of the third repetition of the command, to be used when in lethal danger from the prisoner...
...when something made him stop.
The fingers around his throat shuddered. "What?!" the thing snarled.
"Hutch," he gasped out. "What are you doing?" He could still talk, he realized. The thing could have crushed his windpipe and neutralized the kill command, especially now while he hesitated. But it hadn't.
"Finish the code, you stupid bastard!" The feral look bled into a confused one. "Goddammit." Now panic. "Goddammit, why?" Hopelessness.
Starsky stared back in incomprehension. He did not speak.
The hands moved down to his chest. They gripped his shirt, and the head, denuded of those golden locks, dropped onto Starsky's shoulder.
"Starsky. I'm sorry. Oh god. Please. If you ever cared for me at all... I can't live like this. I'm in hell. And this isn't even... You know they'll send me to testing once they're done with me. Even on the brain-dead Turings they manufacture for it, it's nothing but institutionalized torture. God, Starsky. I'm so scared. I've never been this scared in my life."
He reached up and touched his hand to that downturned cheek. Then to his own tongue.
Hutch's tears were salty.
Indistinguishable from his own.
The door crashed open, and two guards burst in, armed to the teeth.