This AU is a fusion based on Tana French's crime novel The Likeness, and also borrows some elements from its predecessor In The Woods.
I'm not sure how much this is needed but I'm adding a note to clarify that when "UCD" is mentioned in this story, it's supposed to stand for Undercover Division. I realized this could be confusing because it more commonly abbreviates University College Dublin, which happens to be referred to pretty often in The Likeness because the main character first went undercover posing as a UCD student.]
There is a saying that gets passed around with the tone of old wives' tales, that everyone in New Dublin has a secret. Aside from a load of henpecky mantras about where to always bring a raincoat, it's really the only saying we have.
New Dublin was born a couple generations before me, during the colonization boom of what some would say was the most naive phase of Terran wanderlust. If you've ever been to the actual Ireland, you know it's one of the most well-preserved areas on Earth, all natural pastoral ease that goes beyond pretty and "quaint" into something that demands a certain respect from anyone who visits it. I guess it was the mild threat of the country becoming too trendily populated that led someone to decide to build up a brand new Dublin on some unclaimed region of a planet called Niori in the Orion sector. Dublin itself as opposed to Ireland's more rural areas has been thoroughly contemporary for a very long time, so I imagine the little cottage villas built to match the green fields and wooded resorts were modeled after a much older version of the capital than anyone alive even remembers.
There was no forethought made of the fact that Niori is located perfectly to be a back door to the most violent areas of Orion itself, and immigration came in gradual flashes of debris from one planet to the next, some people seeking various types of refuge and others trying to lay claim on what was initially perceived as a growing economic land mine. About twenty years after New Dublin's genesis, this assumption had proved to start holding a lot of water: Terra had to evaluate again and again that they couldn't be expected to offer frequent service to a planet that had started out as nothing much more than a vacation spot, and the residents were forced to set up actual interplanetary commerce so that the resources wouldn't dry up, leaving it more or less orphaned and independent.
The city is the only one I have ever seen that gets bigger and noisier from the inside-out rather than stretching thin at the edges. Everything at the center is your idyllic but sinister snap of cold rain in late summer, trees that reach to the corner of your eye and even occasional honest-to-god farmlands. I've never seen a sheep, but we don't pay import prices on wool, so I'd have to get back to you on that. These areas are still popular for all kinds of recreation businesses, but a lot of the visiting families don't bother venturing out from the middle to the loud ring of far more populated and also more crime-filled danger zones. A tourist couple I chatted with at a diner said they were on their way through the scenic route to the farther vessel station, and I'd said, "Trust me, there's nothing to see."
Residents of ND are funny things. Unless you have a dumb idea of fun, there isn't much you can get from living in New Dublin that you can't get somewhere else, but once you come here it's hard to leave, and I've never known anyone who can easily explain why. The downsides have no charm to compensate, but there is a certain formidable personality to the city, like you think it would laugh at you on your way out the door if you didn't at least stick around long enough to see what it has to show you. That's the best I've come up with to describe it: It's got something waiting for everybody.
I have seen and heard of the most wickedly uncanny things here, and there are times when I think we do have our secrets like dark little gems but that they aren't living inside of us. The city has them clutched somewhere, and one day we come across some loose stone or a wobble in the floorboard or the noise of hollowness under something hard, and in one cool overturning moment, she shows us ourselves. I've never been superstitious but I suppose I'm a man of instinct, and on top of that I am a detective, so I tend to think there's something to this.
As for what type of detective, there were times when I've been asked this and only been able to smartly reply, "A good one." When I was still a patrol cop, I had no specific ambitions laid out besides working up to something that didn't require wearing a uniform. This was until I broke into the big leagues much sooner than seeming quite the right age, the whole thing resulting from a call for an undercover operation that I was basically dared to submit my records for despite the fact that there was probably no way I would be considered (my buddies at the time had a strange idea of partying, and I know I was actually drunk when I submitted the application).
It was all the more surreal that I actually got called in for an interview when I heard the operation had been passed over to Christopher Pike's supervision. I hadn't met him but I knew that people took him very seriously, and while you'd think I would've started sweating up some plan about how I should try to sell myself the best I could, I didn't realize how much I truly wanted the job until three minutes into the interview. I actually had the nerve to tell him as much. But after less than half an hour he'd already decided I had something he needed and told me that we would start going through the motions until he started to worry I couldn't handle what was coming and then thank me for the time. He never worried, though, and less than a month later I was mediating drug sellers downtown. I made it through three months of that without fucking up and then Chris pulled me so he could put me into a higher job infiltrating a trade gang that had connections through the entire sector and was involved in everything from illegal weaponry to person trafficking.
Altogether I worked in undercover for just under two years before deciding to transfer, and my reason for wanting to leave is so simple most people don't believe it.
You might be surprised how much acting is involved in operations; when I was on the Murder Squad later on I liked how there was an almost sadistic craft to knowing what to do in an interview room. You have to be able to make somebody believe that you'd love to go out and have a beer with them in different circumstances, or that you're one second away from punching their lights out—whatever gets you a confession. But in Undercover I found myself confronted with an instinct that didn't hold me back from doing the job, but still made me realize I had to get out: I don't like to lie. Maybe it was naive of me not to be prepared for how many lies you have to tell to a lot of good people on the way to getting the truth from just a few bad ones, but once you've been inserted into a person's life, once you've eaten hors d'oeuvres off their kitchen tables and gotten drunk with them and brought flowers to their wives to apologize for the wine stain on the carpet, it all starts to feel a bit too cannibalistic.
This didn't mean I was bad at it; I was never one of the idiots who forgot that for every second of anything from a business deal to a poker game you're really standing in an iron maiden and that anyone around might not hesitate to shoot you in the nuts if you say something he doesn't like. But for me, one level of what was going on was no more real than the other. When I caught myself realizing I'd never made any friends I knew as well as I knew the fuck-ups I was trying to get evidence on, I figured there wasn't much longer I could take the job.
Once an exit opened up, my settling into doing homicide after that for over a couple years felt like a fatefully smooth transition. Later on I remember my mom rolling her eyes with familiar exasperation when I told her with some vague explanation that I was switching divisions yet again, but it was different with Murder. I loved that job and I didn't want to leave, but I had to, after Operation 86 happened.
On the page, there wasn't anything uniquely tragic about the case: A married couple showed up slaughtered in one of the resort forests, leaving behind a couple girls and an ambitious architecture collaboration that would never be finished. In my lowest moods I find myself almost wishing we'd never gotten farther than the four-week snag when it looked like our leads were all drying up. In the end, we solved it, but we didn't resolve it. The guy who pulled the trigger got put away, but there were other strings attached, the deeper evil apparent to us but neatly arranged just far enough outside of admissibility to cut right free.
I'm sure I get my fair share of snide remarks about how I got spooked off the squad because it was nothing so traumatizing as a shoot-out or another cop getting killed, but that case shook things out of me I never thought I could lose track of, and when they were gone, I was too far beat to even feel like I wanted them back. For lack of a better idea I transferred onto the Domestic Violence unit where I've been training this sharp and earnest rookie from Russia, making next to no friends, and generally trying not to become a tragic cliché.
I want to warn you right off the bat that just because I am a cop, that doesn't make me the good guy in this story. If there is even one singular bad guy in the whole mess, it isn't me either, but don't get ahead of yourself and think that all of this is necessarily mine to tell.
In my shame and in my defense, this is what I've got: I did a lot of lying and it's impossible to say what could make up for it or if I did, but I tried. And I loved.
The night that all of this got started I was at the police department's gym. It was the end of the week, so the place was mostly filled with the veteran shut-ins as well as a couple younger officers who were probably making a point of not going out for a drink after a stressful week. I fell somewhere between the second category and having nothing better to do.
I was done and heading to the shower when I saw that my personal comm was flashing blue from the side pocket of my bag; I was making a face at seeing I'd been commed no less than nine times since I'd left my stuff in the locker and didn't have a chance to check the IDs before it was already chirping a tenth call. I picked up. "Kirk."
At the end of the aisle two officers came by laughing and I would've had a hard time hearing, but there was mostly vague static after what I thought was the sound of someone's breath hitching. Just that gasp and no reply.
"Hello?" I tried.
The call ended. Whatever was so important, it must have been someone with a wrong number. My other hand was busy getting out my change of clothes, and I ended up tossing the communicator aside to deal with it later if they called back again, walked off to the showers.
The damn thing was beeping again when I came back, and I answered impatiently, "Yes? Hello?"
"Bones," I recognized. "What's up?"
"Hey, are you okay?"
"Why would I not be okay?" I'd heard an edge to his voice and instantly got worried. "What's wrong?"
"It's just..." Bones took a second, like he was almost interrupted by something. "Dammit, man, I don't know where to begin. Look, I just got called out here to look at a body..."
I went still. Bones was a very good friend of mine, but our list of mutual acquaintances was a pretty short one. I tried to work my mouth into asking who it was, but all that came out was a limp little curse.
"Oh—No, it's not like that, it's not anyone we know."
My hand scraped up into my hair. "Christ, Bones."
"Sorry. At least, I don't think it is..."
"Listen...Wait, hold on a second."
I rolled my eyes as I could tell Bones was tilting his mobile comm, listening to someone who was talking a mile a minute; I was boredly trying to profile the type of crime scene from the atmosphere of the exchange. Off-home homicide was my hunch. After almost a minute of this I started impatiently tapping my foot.
"Hey, aren't you Kirk?" This came from a young officer I saw around the gym a lot but had never met in the field; he was hesitating at the door of the locker room and had apparently failed to note that I was on the comm, or didn't care about being polite. "Weren't you one of the guys on that case, uh, the March couple?"
I shook my head. "Nope."
"Didn't you used to be Murder? I swore that was you." He shrugged and then crassly shared, "Heard your partner got a bit of a hard-on for a suspect and screwed up big time."
"You're thinking of somebody else, pal," I said with just the right amount of blatantly fake cheeriness that meant he needed to back the fuck off. I reached to grab a cigarette out of the case in his hand without asking as I walked by, beating him out of the doorway.
Bones was back on and saying, "Hey. I think you should come out here and get a look at this."
"Why? Man, what the hell is going on? You need me to look at the body? Who's handling the investigation?"
"Just—" An interruption; that other voice again, and Bones grumbling something at it before he got back on. "I think you should come out here. We're across from Green Station, between the museum and that little diner, it's uh—"
"Peggy's. I know where it is. Bones?"
"This better be good."
My only personal vehicle is a vintage-styled motorcycle that's long and sleek and just barely big enough to handle two people. It winds nicely in and out of traffic, but with the prevalence of rain in this city I'm the only cop I know who owns one. For that there have been some half-assed attempts to slap a nickname on me related to my mode of transportation, but nothing ever stuck.
I was pulling the bike up close to Peggy's and at first it didn't smack of crime scene at all; but then I saw farther down between the buildings. The wide alley was cleared and lined with crime scene tape, and under one of the shadowing awnings of the old library I saw the deliberating gaggle, Bones' profile noticeable among them.
After lazily slinging my helmet over my handle and walking up, I spotted the figure leaning against a lamppost who seemed to be talking loudly into a mobile. He was just then hanging up, and when he turned, noticed me and nodded in my direction, I slowly fell into an astonished grin.
"Christopher fuckin' Pike," I exclaimed. "The hell are you doing here?"
"There's that son of a bitch," he announced when he saw me, then added for the sake of reminiscence, "James T. Kirk, the great fake drug pusher...What's this I'm hearing about you being in DV?"
It had been a year or more since I'd heard from Pike. He had more than enough skills and experience to play my favorite game of subdivision musical chairs, but I highly doubted he'd ever want to transfer out of UCD, and that gave me a bad feeling. Instead of answering his question, I was dropping my voice low and stepping in close enough to say, "Jesus, it wasn't one of your guys...?"
That put Chris right into a strange expression, like I'd said something that was almost funny. Even though I couldn't decipher that, it made me a bit relieved. I was expecting him to get half-offended and correct me by pointing out that informants don't end up dead under his watch, thank you very much, but he wouldn't have had a chance before Bones came rushing over, clapping an arm over my shoulders like he hadn't seen me in months. Something about the look of him got me uneasy again.
"Seriously," I said, my brows furrowing. "Are you alright?"
"Ah, hell," Bones replied as if to mean he was just fine, but there was something too nervous in how he was looking at me that set me on edge.
"Okay." I couldn't help sounding a little irritable. "What the hell's going on?"
Chris said, "Trust me, you really just need to see for yourself. Put your hood up for me, will you?"
I was moving to do it without really thinking, then patiently mumbling, "What the fuck, Chris?"
It made me flinch in surprise when he reached and scrubbed it farther down almost over my eyes, only saying, "It'll save us time."
"Well, you know how I feel about wasting time," I said blandly, then looked quickly over to mouth, What the fuck? at Bones, who gave me nothing, just shaking his head in an overwhelmed way and seeming to agree that Chris had a point about something.
I was working uneasily back to my initial suspicions about this, and it was worse now with Chris apparently thinking I shouldn't be identified at the scene. Some of these jobs went on for years, and I probably knew a couple cops who were still under, but I didn't want to work up my nerves by going through any actual lists or faces.
The techs let me under the tape without bothering to check for ID after recognizing Chris. The forensics team floated away from the point at the sight of us too, and once they were pretty far away, Chris motioned that I could take off the hood.
There was very little light in the alley; I suspected they'd deliberately kept it that way to dampen down the curious attention of any bystanders. Everything had the watery profile formed by moonlight bouncing off puddles, deceivingly peaceful like something out of a movie with a couple kissing under an umbrella. But my eyes were drawn right into the distant but nearing blot that was there like a line ripped out of a mural: the body.
It was lying not quite perpendicular to the buildings, but the form seemed to slice lightning all the way across the gravel from one wall to the other. The head was looking away from us but I immediately distinguished it as probably male: broad-shouldered with short light hair that did a little lick in the wind like a moth hopping against a lamp. I didn't realize until I was lagging slightly behind Bones and Pike's more impatient paces that I'd slowed a little. It made me pick it up with irritated anxiety; I was done with the suspense and wanted to just get this over with, no matter how ugly it was going to be.
I was apparently still used to thinking like a homicide investigator, because the first thing I assessed was the damage, the way he was lying. His jacket was of a light gray and it was easy to quickly notice the tangled stain of blood smack in the middle of the torso: a stabbing, it looked like. (I wouldn't have ruled out a gang-related attack—phasers are standard technology for law enforcement or anyone who can legally own one, but while archaic gun models are easier to get in the black market, sometimes small-time murder is still done more old-school than that.) The position was sort of twisted like a thrown rag—bodies go like that sometimes when the victim is still struggling but too shocked to really move their legs—and I would have to move around to look at the upper torso and face. His left arm was mostly jammed behind his back, but on the other side the position was almost an imitation of a man relaxed on his bed: the hand rested on the ground and his head tucked sort of boyishly right behind it.
Just when I stepped around to look at the body head-on, there was a second when I got impatient again. I was close to petulantly remarking that I didn't know what the hell I was supposed to be looking for. And then Chris got out his flashlight and flicked it on, directing the beam right up over the head.
Think of every cliché in the book: I was slammed headlong into every disembodying, this-isn't-real feeling you can imagine. I very literally thought that I was about to wake up and head into the shower shaking my head out of this, rolling my eyes at the supposed symbolic implications. I was gripped at the shoulder by a cold hand insisting that I was not standing where I was standing, that I was about to simply tremble away in the wind, because I was dead.
He was me. He did not just look like me: He was, in every single angle and pigment, me. He had the length and color and visible texture of my hair, my thick long brows. My big mouth, the stretched point of my jawline. The body, now that I was really looking, was a carbon copy of my bone structure. He even looked like he'd weigh just the same. I felt a nauseated tingle that rang through my teeth, and I found myself senselessly and immediately grateful that the eyes were closed.
At some point Bones had come up next to me; I don't know if I looked like I needed an arm to keep from falling over, but his hand went carefully to my shoulder and I was kind of jolted back into thinking properly, turning my face to look at him and Chris. Bones was shaking his head, looking like he'd been through being stunned but was amazed by it all over again.
"They say everybody's got a twin somewhere," he muttered. "But this...No way. It couldn't be a cousin of yours or anything?"
I shook my head, barking out a strange-sounding laugh.
Chris added, "And we know you can't be adopted or..."
I saw Bones' expression as he realized what Chris meant: The circumstances of my birth got a lot of public attention and even though it's not a story I really enjoy telling, most people who get to know me hear it as some point in time. The short version is that I chose a hold-up at a little corner store as a fine time to start getting born, and my mom went into labor right next to the ice cream freezer. My father, in the midst of attempting to explain all the panic to a nervous half-drunk crook, was shot and killed just before the law got there, and I was born just a couple hours later to a newly grieving mom.
You would probably assume this had some seriously devastating effects of long-term emotional complication, and I don't really have any other upbringing to compare it to, but I think we did about as alright as a family as we could have after that. My mom was of course deeply sad at times, but in ways that I could only realize when looking back much later were about my dad. I didn't think about the vague ghost of my father all that much, though it did occur to me when I was eleven to suggest that we should start celebrating my birthday a few days early. I think the most important hold his death had on me didn't come until pretty late in my life, because—and it has taken me years to even admit this—it was a big part of the reason I became a cop.
In any case, even if the possibility of my mother pulling a fast one on me and me apparently having some separated sibling out there wasn't almost humorously absurd, it's pretty obvious that the news at the time would have sensationalized the whole thing twofold if my mom had bravely delivered more than one baby that day.
"Please," I flatly implored, "please tell me no one thought to contact my mother."
"Somebody definitely might have." Chris was holding up something I'd only just now realized he'd had: something enclosed in evidence plastic. "But then they started searching the body, and things got weird."
I slowly reached and took it from him. It was an ID badge, the old laminated kind people often have at college. I stirred back into that surreal feeling just from looking at the mug photo, blinking at it for a second.
And then I read the name: William Kenley.
For a second I thought that I was going to laugh, like I figured it was a joke, but Chris wouldn't joke about this. I looked straight at him, my mind completely wiped of anything for a second before I decidedly said, "Bullshit."
I could tell that Bones had no idea what was up; he had an expression like he'd been impatiently trying to wrangle it out of Chris long before I'd gotten here. "What?" he snapped at me. "What's the big deal?"
I was pacing anxiously around now, one hand going through my hair. I opened my mouth and shut it one time, not knowing where to start, before I pointed to the body and stammered out to Bones, "Will Kenley does not exist."
Years ago Pike and I had pulled him out of the air, we'd made him up, for my second undercover job. We had outlined his entire life, his family, his relationships, his reason for coming to New Dublin, all in the course of a long afternoon over half a dozen cups of coffee. Every seam of his personality had been tailored for the setting, which needed somebody just stupid enough to get up to their knees in a drug scandal but protective of his own wits, the type pushers valued as fresh dealing meat because they could at least trust he wasn't going to sample the goods. We enjoyed the irony of Will Kenley's simple-boy allure almost with an over-indulgence; he was like a kid that's so stupid even his parents will affectionately admit it.
I got so into creating Will, probably a hell of a lot more than I'd needed to. I didn't stop at being instrumental because I'd felt he needed to be as real to me as he was to anyone else. I invented all kinds of secrets for him, going so far as to download types of pornography that I myself would never enjoy and which I hoped, for Will's sake, no one else would ever find. I put subtext into this person; I was often curious as to whether any of his friends picked up on the fact that his relationship with his siblings wasn't as great as he claimed, or that he tipped food service better when he was in a foul mood than he did when he was having a good day. I got laid three times as often as I usually did when I was Will Kenley, and got slapped or punched in the mouth ten times as often. Will was made to be the last person you'd expect because he was far from charismatic, he was crude but likable, and he thought he could get away with just about anything. You might understand why, after I looked at the ID, there was a blank and stupid split second in which I understood that he had finally gone and done something dumb enough to get his ass killed.
I wanted to smirk when I realized the probable reason Chris had come here in the first place. Alias names will often get flagged so that if you even end up in the emergency room your boss is the first person anyone calls. Out of either untidiness or some misplaced idea of nostalgia, Will had apparently never gotten shelved off of Pike's list.
I was still explaining some of the short version of all this while Chris went off to hand the ID back to whoever was handling hard evidence and had stopped to ask a favor from some other assistant, when I saw Bones' eyes shifting to the side and sensed that he'd been waiting until he could get me alone.
"Jim, uh." Bones scratched at his stubble and said, "There's something I should tell you."
"I don't know if you've noticed, but they're going to have to call somebody else in from Murder." He almost seemed like he was stalling. "The thing is, when they found the body...Spock was one of the guys who got called out here."
I let out a stiff quick sigh, waiting a second for something to ebb away. After a moment I asked, "He's already back on the squad?"
Bones just stood staring at me for a few seconds. "That's the first thing you have to say?"
"I mean, I figured he was off suspension by now, but after he—"
"Are you not listening to what I'm telling you? They knew it probably couldn't be you by the time I got here, cause there was the ID, and Joey Kelly swearing he'd just seen you less than an hour before. But Spock was one of the first people who even saw the body...I heard it wasn't pretty."
"Okay," I said, flat and impatient. I looked up to the sky and paced an anxious step back, being hit with the realization as I suddenly remembered earlier when I was at the gym: That first call I'd picked up on hadn't been Bones.
"Okay," Bones bitterly parroted. "It's just...hell, I figured if there was ever a time to finally just try giving him a call or something—"
"What for?" I snapped, suddenly almost wanting to shout. "Spock has got fuck-all to say to me, and I've got even less to say to him. Where is this even coming from? You've been just as pissed off at him for—"
"Jim." Bones had this deeply grave expression that was really starting to tick me off, talking as if I hadn't already grasped what he was saying. He emphasized, "He thought it was you."
"Change the subject," I said. "Now."
Chris saved me either way, coming up quickly behind me and making me mumble, "Ow" at the sharp prick at my scalp. I turned to see him wearing a latex glove and handing off a sample of my hair to one of the handlers, and caught on fast. Taking genetic samples through the whole lab routine was still a thing of the past here until they had to create some law that made it so that only a verified specialist could pronounce things a match, and you need to be science or medical to even have DNA analyzers on your forensic tricorders anymore. It makes some sense from a reliability standpoint, but the running joke is that the law is only around to create a couple jobs.
"They're running a clone check? Come on. He's my age."
"It's procedure, apparently," Chris said with a shrug. "Listen, you're welcome to dally off home, but I might have something to talk to you about later. Doctor McCoy, if you don't mind, I may need you for a couple more things. You will still be doing the autopsy?..."
Bones nodded, after a hesitation. Then he was looking puzzled, probably about the same thing I couldn't figure out.
"What, did they hand you the investigation?" I asked. "How is that even—?"
"We'll talk later." Chris gave a hard pat to the side of my shoulder. "Go get a nap or something if you need it; I could be pretty late."
I was happy to leave, so I just gave Bones a shrug, returning the slightly apologetic look he gave me, and zipped up my jacket. The body was still only some yards away, but I didn't give it so much as a backward glance. I wanted to get away from it as fast as possible.
Sometimes I think about the hugeness of New Dublin, the churning and ever-changing traffic of two different lives that meant that in all likelihood it had to take one of us dying for either to sit still long enough for the other to find him. I've always felt with an odd certainty that that was the only way we could have ever met, as if approaching him head-on would have been like managing to kiss my own elbow or squeeze myself into some parallel dimension. I was heavily steeped in the gloomy narcissism that accompanies anything like grief, and there was a part of me that believed at first that Will only existed because of what he could do to me.
I didn't get any sleep while I waited on Pike; I got home and got into the one pack of cigarettes I had lying around, put on some documentary just for background noise, and smoked about half a dozen.
Just when I was almost ready to give up on him, Chris came by. Bones walked in right behind him, impressively looking even a little more harried than he had earlier. Something new had to have come up.
Before either said anything I was ahead of them, heading over to the bar for a good cognac I wasn't likely to have a better occasion for. There was some decorative conversation and catching-up that was awkwardly stilted a bit by everyone pretty much wanting to get to the point, but eventually Chris made another crack about me working on Domestic Violence now, and I had to give him a warning smirk.
"Seriously, though," Chris, right after nodding thanks for the cognac, demanded, "what the hell are you doing working a job like that?"
I squinted defensively. "What's so wrong with DV? It's—"
"—a very noble enterprise of law enforcement." Chris cut back a sip. "Which someone with half your qualifications could manage."
"Thankfully I have half of my qualifications." Bones and I exchanged a look as he comfortably claimed a seat on the couch. "So what have you got?"
"Well," Chris tersely began. "As of over an hour ago, the facts are that Will has no family listed under power of attorney, and his emergency contact got us one of the four people he was living with in a little house over at Brynock Place. So I went to pay them a little visit."
By now we had all situated in my living room, me and Bones on the couch while Chris was on the easy chair on the other side of the coffee table. When Chris hesitated, I felt a lot of tension from Bones all over again, and looked between them. "What?"
"Let me just start with this: It was a young woman who answered the door. I wouldn't have recognized her, but you can imagine I was a bit shocked when she introduced herself as Antonia Doyo..."
This time I couldn't summon any kind of outburst. "Toni," I finally said. "Uhura's Toni."
Toni Doyo, you've probably guessed it, shouldn't exist any more than Kenley ought to. I met her on my first undercover job, at first having no idea she wasn't just another criminal. Every once in a while Terran intelligence gets annoyingly charitable ideas about sending in one of their own for a job we're really supposed to do, but Nyota Uhura could understand pretty much any language you'd hear in the city and had the ears to eavesdrop on three different conversations at once, so I'd say they made a damn good call with her.
Due to the jealously exclusive way the NDPD deals with their operations, I figure it couldn't have been the only time we ever had our undercovers get crossed; I could have gone till the end without knowing Toni wasn't really Toni if it weren't for the time somebody spilled an entire beer on her shirt and she would have possibly been in serious shit if the third man hadn't been in the can and I hadn't been the only one around to notice the tiny outline of her surveillance comm nested right under her chest. I had Will handsy her into a corner like an asshole until I was able to mutter into her ear that she needed to borrow my sweater and oh-by-the-way-I'm-NDPD. In hindsight, this would have been an unbelievably stupid thing to take for granted if I hadn't already noticed some things that nudged at my intuition about her, that Toni Doyo didn't add up to a real thing; it takes one to know one, and I'd been looking for where the edges might peel. I got a stern lecture from Chris about being reckless, but he also brings it up whenever he feels like recommending my instincts to anybody.
After that she had some of her identity info transferred to our system and we generally tried to have each other's backs, but it was hardly a bonding experience as I still couldn't tell you more than a couple things about the real Uhura. As for her, she insisted on calling me Will even when it was just the two of us, the teasing implication being that I was more like my cover than I realized, and I don't think we ever even said a proper goodbye. Being reminded of her for the first time in a while in such a context was downright bizarre, like she'd barged back into my life as some anonymous waitress or lawyer or somewhere else she wasn't supposed to be.
"I can't imagine what this is gonna do to your head, but with the preliminary stuff McCoy was able to do, it's looking more and more likely that that clone check could come back a match," Chris said. "I didn't recognize any other names and didn't get to meet the rest yet, but if they all end up being somebody's alias...You realize this looks like some messed-up paper dolls kind of stuff?"
"Paper dolls" was just a label applied from local urban mythos, and hearing Chris use the term with seriousness made me realize what it could mean that this dead body had shown up in our lives. This stuff was only supposed to be as real as our ghost stories, but hell, people believe those too. The whole thing had all come, supposedly, from the claims of a couple criminals who got identified by victims and insisted, repeatedly, that someone else had to be running around who looked exactly like them. These people may or may not have used the actual word "clone," but local conspiracy theorists were more than capable of filling in the gaps themselves.
It had facetiously occurred to me before that if anyone was going to get this far this fast in cloning technology, it might as well be in New Dublin; we had a wide range of basement lurkers who had gotten bored of engineering new hallucinogens or phetamines and started tinkering with other forms of mad-science-type stuff with disturbingly inhumane results. I'm proud to say our legal system knew to be one step ahead of these types and had already made certain cloning projects not only highly illegal but extremely difficult to get away with if you had any hope of actually inserting your creation into society, because you simply couldn't get very far in this city without so much as a valid birth certificate.
But right in front of us was the fact that the joke was on us. Whatever criminal genius had somehow managed to replicate virtually perfect humanoid beings, seemingly out of mid-air, had also figured out how to turn the law against itself. Whether you were going into an undercover gig for five days or for five years, procedure called for very thorough documentation that was the most seamless fake identification you could possibly get. And fuck knows how somebody had managed to hack into our systems well enough to be able to simply pick off a bunch of shelved aliases for the purpose of tacking them onto genetic copies, but I had a feeling that had probably been the easy part.
"But he was my age," was the first thing I could say, even though I'd already pointed it out earlier.
My mind was scanning over it, trying to make sense of any of it. "They can't be clones. A.I., maybe? I mean, I'm assuming we're not dealing with a guy who looks like me walking around with the mind of a two-year-old. And that's just to name one of the problems."
Bones scoffed and said what I was already thinking. "Can't be all A.I. Judging from the wounds, Jim, I'd say he was pretty damn organic."
"But he couldn't be completely...There has to be some unnatural component, to age them up like that, that's the part that I don't..." I was shaking my head. "Why didn't you grill them? Are you saving it for later, I mean, did they seem emotional about him or did they—?"
Bones was sighing at Chris, who was leaning back in his chair. "That's something I came here to talk to you about."
"I felt around enough to have my doubts that this murder is just a mugging gone ugly. It might have been a little more personal; I know how you feel about profiling, Jim, but Gorman thinks this looks a little more motivated than that."
"Well, obviously," I muttered. When I got a couple cocked eyebrows, I said, "He had an old wristwatch. Those things are worth hundreds at the least. Hell of a thing to leave behind if it's quick money you're after."
Chris let out an affectionate scoff. "Right, the watch. There's also the fact that his wallet was completely untouched. And one of the first things we got out of Toni is that old Will said he was going to the library, so she couldn't understand what he was even doing on that side of town, which suggests it could be somebody he knew."
"Chris..." I was staring woodenly at the table, my voice tired and flat. "You can't really go questioning them before you know what they are. Chances are, whatever their situation is, they aren't going to take well to cops."
"Which is why I was hoping to try something a little...unique?"
"Oh, hell, would you spit it out?" Bones grumbled.
"Jim...Suppose I told Will's housemates that Will has been seriously assaulted and is in a coma at the moment? Would you know where I'm going with this?"
There was a pause. Then I said, "Oh Jesus Christ, you actually did that."
"We've got a case that looks like a clusterfuck of reluctant and potentially unreliable perspectives, not to mention the likelihood of turning up an eyewitness is next to nothing, and it could also be related to a clean-as-a-whistle cloning gig that we know absolutely nothing about. And we've got a detective who looks exactly like the victim, and has plenty of experience doing undercover."
"Just say it, alright." Bones almost shouted, "You want to use him as bait."
I, on the other hand, had started laughing, finally managing only to exclaim, "What?"
Chris chose to address Bones first. "Doctor, you need to realize Jim isn't necessarily in a safe place no matter what he does right now. Or had it not occurred to you that the person who killed this guy could have actually had the wrong man?"
This had occurred to me pretty quickly, and still seemed like a solid possibility. I couldn't think of anyone who'd met me while I did undercover who would have been still carrying a big enough chip to want to off me, but there could be a couple dozen domestic abusers running around who wouldn't say no to a chance to at least beat me to a pulp. I definitely hadn't been planning on mentioning this to Bones. While he was sitting there processing that new and troubling thought, I cut in.
"Look, if it's somebody who wanted to kill me, him running into this guy probably only decreases the chances that anything could happen to me now," I started with, to calm Bones a bit. "But come on, Chris, are you pulling my leg? We're trained to make up shit, not just pick up in other people's lives, how the hell could that ever work?"
"With most people, it would dive-bomb, but Jim? You were good. One of the best, even."
"Nuh-uh. No way. I know this pair of identical twins—one of them is a ballet prodigy and the other has two left feet. What if he's into watercolors, or he plays the harmonica or, I don't know, doesn't even have a semblance of a normal life, considering we don't even know where he came from?"
A raise of eyebrows let me know Chris had done the tiniest bit of research, probably by some odd and sneaky line of questioning masquerading as conversation. "He's a student. A history major. You can swing that better than most cops I know, can't you?"
"No. No, I cannot fucking swing it, Chris. Okay, I get it: All the pieces are in place for it to work, in a very theoretical action-movie kind of way—There's the fact that investigating attempted murder and actual murder is pretty much the same, that's sharp, I'll give you that. It stacks up real nice. Except for the fact that it's insane. What makes you think I'd do this just because—because I can?"
Chris rocked back into some brief cursing exclamation, and then he interrupted himself with, "Because you're Jim Kirk."
Pike had snapped. He wasn't shouting, but he's the type who can make the carpet strands stand at attention without having to raise his voice a notch. In only a second I'd shut my mouth with a trained instinct of respect, as if I'd been yanked three years back to our weekly briefings and it wasn't even occurring to me that he wasn't my boss anymore.
"Because it's so 'insane' that it's spectacular, and you should be beside yourself with how crazy it is because this is something completely new and it's fallen right into your hands. Instead you're shaking in your boots? What the fuck has gotten into you, son? You get one ugly case and you're practically ready to slide behind a desk, for Christ sake."
I could feel Bones at my side cringing up with that dreading look like a kid stuck with two infuriated parents, that instinct that somebody had just shot up the elephant in the room. My jaw was tensing as Chris and I stared hard at each other, and then I snatched up his glass and went over to the bar to mix him another drink, working in noisy blunt motions with my back turned to both of them.
The rumor mill around law enforcement is more thorough than God could make it, so it didn't surprise me that Chris had a good idea what was really going on. I had accepted that ninety percent of the department had at least heard of me by this point simply because of Op 86, but only the odd moron ever approached me about it. Most people knew: Jim Kirk is not someone who you want to ask about that mess, don't even bother. That beast of a case had skulked right through me, left me wanting to tell all my trusty noble ideals to fuck off and feeling incapable of doing the job I once thought I'd been born for, and as if that hadn't been enough, it had had the wicked afterthought to tear off with the most important friendship I've ever had. There was a part of my mind constantly ready to catch on fire at the mere thought of any of it.
I was raw from an operation that had seemed specifically designed by some big sick force to slowly pull Spock apart at the edges. It was possibly partly because of his luck that something had really shaken me from the moment I saw Will's body. There had been a time when I'd thought that my partner and I were wound so tight that our fates were the same, and that by severing myself away before he could pull me down with him I'd dodged the bullet the city had clocked on me. But when I saw that body, I thought that it was still trying to get me the way that it got to him.
I had to hand it to Chris, though. There was no way I could have really explained to him how much of a line he'd crossed by bringing this up, and if someone else had waltzed into my home for a drink and then proceeded to toss all of this in my face because they thought I needed a good kick in the pants, I would have thrown him out within a second. But the fact was, he was right.
If this whole oddity had happened just over half a year ago, I would have been eating the whole thing up. At the crime scene I might have deadpanned that I didn't see the resemblance because I was clearly way more good-looking than the dead guy, or suggested that the squad call the case Operation Dead Ringer. Chris had always been a master at twisting people's arms, and in the span of less than a minute, he'd managed to make me go from being afraid of being tangled up with Will Kenley to being solidly worried about what was going to happen to me if I didn'ttake the case. And I knew even then how it would go: I could give him this whole run-around about how I was going to think about it and then probably spend what was left of the night speeding my bike around town in a gruff, indecisive stupor that would land me in the inevitable direction. Or I could cut the crap and take the job now.
When I went to set Pike's drink down and then sink slowly back onto the couch, I said nothing. I knew that Chris could read the bullet points of everything that had just gone through my head and that Bones could too if he tried hard enough, so I just waited for somebody else to talk.
"Isn't someone going to consider," Bones slowly put in, "how potentially barbaric this is?"
Pike said, "Pardon?"
"Jim was just asking a couple minutes ago if the others seemed to care about the guy? What if they do? You're just gonna do a curtsy and hop out when you're done after you've led them to believe their buddy's still alive?"
I tried not to, but I knew Chris and I were looking at each other with a sigh of resistance to that angle that would make Bones feel like we thought he was naive; compassion is part of the job, but ideally only in more global perspectives. I knew how badly a case could get bent over and fucked by too much emotional involvement, and I definitely wouldn't have any room for it if I was helping with this one.
"Depending on how things happen, we might not have to leak it to the kids that he died any earlier," Chris explained, and for a second I could only shake my head at how hard he'd already thought about this. "He could always slack off on taking his antibiotics or something. If it runs too far on time, we could have him go out on his own and allegedly get hit crossing a street..."
Bones just made a vague uncomfortable cursing noise.
"Can we not overlook that a guy just got stabbed to death?" Chris was a little more defensive now. "Say if it actually had been Jim in that alley. Would you be able to deal with some asshole making you think he was alive for a few more weeks if it was in the interest of getting the bastard who did it?"
Bones had submitted before Chris was even done. "Fine. I get it."
I did something between a smirk and an overly touched pout in his direction until he glared.
"I'm going to hold a preliminary meeting with all relevant teams involved, probably two days from now," Chris said calmly. "I won't put you down as committed yet. All you're agreeing to do is show up."
After a few seconds and a sigh, I nodded. "Sure."
"You're a fine man, Kirk," Chris said over-jovially, standing up to leave.
Bones stuck by after he'd left, but we avoided the topic of anything that had happened that night until his cab arrived. By then I'd gotten to that point where I was too close to morning to tell my body to sleep, so I wound up lying on my back on the couch, staring at the ceiling. The facts were kicking in.
I kept trying to bring up the image again of the body, reexamining it as if I would somehow spot an imperfect differentiation just from thinking hard enough about what I'd looked at. It doesn't make much sense, but the confirmation of this guy likely being a virtual clone hadn't made things that marginally stranger than it already was to know that Will had existed in the first place.
I've always known that I have a nice face. My mother did start boasting on from my preteen years that I was the handsomest kid in town and hell if I'm the kind of guy to call his mama a liar, so there, but I want to emphasize that what I never thought I had, what I was attracted to and tended to envy, was looking unique. I had always thought of myself as the kind of good-looking that gets into advertisements, that your eyes skim right over like wallpaper because there's nothing distinctive that really socks you in the eyes.
I felt surprised and foolish, then, about the fact that the idea of somebody else walking around wearing the same features provoked a ridiculous possessive streak in me. The thought of someone getting up this costume shaped like me and parading it for some possibly perverse use inspired something like revulsion. It ended up irrationally directed at Will himself, but I couldn't help it. The poor bastard's face was the only one in the equation; it was hard not to feel like he'd crept out of nowhere. I couldn't feel sorry for him.