Authors: Kerry Carmichael
This is a work of fiction. All
characters and events portrayed in this book are either products of the
author’s imagination or used fictitiously.
Copyright 2013 by Kerry
All rights reserved.
thanks, gratitude and general eternal indebtedness to:
Open Vein Novel Writers: George Berger, Cathy Businelle, Lisa Preston, Julia
Ungai, Courtney Vevea – and especially Rhiannon Ellis and Rebecca Roque.
you guys, this project never would have crossed the finish line.
Writing Excuses podcast crew: Brandon, Dan, Mary and Howard.
for sharing your knowledge and success with the rest of us.
incredible wife and family: Darlene, Ethan, Riley and Tyler.
the reason for continuing.
1: The act or process of going on
after suspension or interruption.
2: Postponement or adjournment to
a later date.
3: Medical process
developed in the
century by which a biologically deceased individual is resurrected with all
memories and personality intact. The process uses a genetic clone imprinted
with the neuromap of the deceased. Banned in 2083 by the Moratorium Act
following a backlash of public concern. Continued individuals are sometimes
referred to by the slang term “retread.”
English Dictionary, 2088
Something was wrong inside. Broken.
Michelle knew some part of her had torn
loose, leaving only a sickening, unfamiliar ache in its place – like a rag doll
that had lost some vital bit of stuffing. The notion she should be afraid
skittered across her consciousness, but she couldn’t focus long enough to
remember why. Thoughts were hard to come by in the thick blackness that
She opened her eyes, and the darkness
dissolved into a blurry shape, the indistinct outline of a ball or balloon,
streaked in red and white. Her eyes felt wet, and she reached to wipe the
moisture away with the back of a shaky hand. It came away covered in sticky
crimson. She blinked, and the red and white balloon in front of her resolved
into the image of a bloody airbag, hanging half-deflated from the center of a
steering wheel. A silvery glint drew her eye. A broken pendant in the shape of
a butterfly sat wedged in the steering column’s pivot joint, one wing missing.
Awareness returned, and with an effort
Michelle lifted her head to peer over the wheel through the shattered
windshield. Rising steam obscured her view, but she made out the other car,
resting at an odd angle just in front of her. Too close in front of her. Its
smashed windshield sat where her own car’s hood should have been, and she saw
no sign of anyone inside. The night air hung thick with the smell of gasoline.
A thought took shape in her mind.
I need to get out.
Reaching to unfasten her seat belt, she felt
surprised when nothing happened. Annoyed, she looked down to find out why, and
it took her a moment to process what she saw. The twisted metal of the door
enveloped half of her arm, pinning it against her body. Her left leg lay hidden
beneath the crumpled ruin of the dash.
The thought came again, laced with a
growing sense of panic
. I need to get out!
Taking a deep breath,
Michelle gritted her teeth and jerked her arm in an effort to pull free. Someone
screamed then – a raw, visceral cry – as waves of electric agony washed across
her, engulfing everything.
Jason Day started the first morning
of the fall semester the way he did every morning – with a search for good coffee
and a dead woman. Sandwiched between a photonics shop and a Thai bistro just
off campus, Java 101 served an Ivory Coast blend like warm silk, so the coffee wasn’t
a problem. The woman was a different matter.
“You look like hell, kid.” Across
the table, Alex Richman sipped from a steaming cup, grimacing in satisfaction
behind the shiny black ellipses of his smartglasses.
“Late night.” Jason allowed
himself an inward smile, ignoring the muddy gravel feeling last night’s Cuervo
had left inside his skull. A couple of years ago, watching the ten o’clock news
before bed would have qualified as a late night. Now here he was, fighting
through foggy memories and a hangover on two hours’ sleep.
But it felt good to feel
terrible. It felt good to feel
He keyed an order in through the
table’s photoscreen, and the 3D menu faded from the air. The shop’s interior
was laid out as a semicircle with several tiers, increasing in height from
center to sides. Groups of tables and booths, most of them full, nestled into
each level in a cozy, conversational arrangement. The setup reminded him of a stadium-style
lecture hall. Except this one was decorated in the same earthy colors and
understated lighting that had been the hallmark of trendy coffee shops for
decades. “So what have you got for me, old man?”
“The usual stuff. Bioprints from
all the typical feeds, plus a few more sources we’ve added to the digital pile.”
With brown hair pulled back to a ponytail and a three-day beard that seemed
both unruly and unintentional, Alex appeared older than Jason, maybe in his
late thirties. But the difference was an illusion, the nickname a joke. If either
of them deserved the name “old man,” it wasn’t Alex.
Jason leaned forward. “New feeds?
How many?” Even through the fog of his hangover, the news piqued his interest.
“As of this run, we’re inside the
Department of Community Health, the Integrated State University System and
Metro Transit for four more cities.” Alex ticked each off on a finger. “Hell, I
even got into the D&S convenience store chain. All told, about 6.3 million
unique records in this batch.”
“Great. I’ll start scanning the
data tonight. I’ve got a new algorithm I want to try.” Bioprints brought top
dollar from private investigators, bounty hunters and anyone else interested in
tracking someone down. As long as they weren’t afraid to use information
acquired by extra-legal means to do it. Jason had no problem with the legal
issues – a little white-collar data theft felt trivial when his very existence
was outlawed. But one thing did complicate his search. The person he was
looking for didn’t exist anymore.
what the scan had read this morning – the same thing it always read. He’d seen
the words so many times they felt seared across his vision.
Maybe these new
feeds will have something.
He crushed the thought, or tried to, but a trace
stubbornly lingered, adding to the dull ache in his head. Ignoring it, he reached
into his pocket for the access point that passed for a computer these days – a slick
piece of photonics the size and thickness of an index card – and swiped a few
commands on its tiny projected photoscreen.
Alex did the same with his own AP,
initiating a file transfer. “You know, you might save yourself a lot of time
and money if you just let Chrysalis run your scans for you. They get all the
same bioprints from me. They’d notify you if they got a hit.”
The hacker had a point, but Jason
didn’t care. The search was too important, too personal to take a number and have
a seat in the waiting room. “I can be more thorough,” he said. “I’m only trying
to match a single bioprint. They have hundreds to worry about.” A pair of women
took a seat a couple of tables over. Sound didn’t carry far across the tiered
semi-circle of the cafe’s booths and tables, especially from their place tucked
away in one corner, but he lowered his voice anyway. “Besides, you’re not with
Chrysalis anymore, so why would you care? They’re so decentralized nobody knows
who’s running their searches, or who’s even in charge.”
“Nothing new about that, kid. And
you’re right – I don’t care, especially as well as you pay.”
Jason lifted an eyebrow. “I
thought I was getting the guy-who-saved-your-ass rate.”
“You would be.” Alex gave him a
thin smile. “If I had one.”
“Ivory Coast?” The aroma of
coffee beans intensified as a waitress in black set a tall cup in front of
Jason, followed by a plate of muffins in the center of the table. He waited for
her to make her way over to a table a couple of tiers down, then closed his
With a deep breath, he emptied
his mind of everything and
Not an outward motion, but an inward focus
– directed at the haze and headache that were the tequila’s parting gifts. After
a moment, his head cleared, the ache of his hangover subsiding.
and muscles coursed with energy, and for a handful of seconds his metabolism raced
a hundred times faster than normal.
Then it was over. As the last
aftereffects faded, he opened his eyes, and his stomach gave a loud rumble. The
sudden feeling he’d gone a day without food, maybe even two, didn’t surprise
him as much as it had when he’d first learned this…perk. He pulled the plate of
muffins to his side and stuffed a whole one into his first bite, filling his
mouth with piping coffee to wash it down. Alex said nothing, sitting quietly like
a skeptic waiting for the end of a mealtime prayer.
“Speaking of Chrysalis,” Jason
managed after he’d swallowed enough to talk, “What about this new competitor?”
enough to talk. “Do we know who they are yet?”
“Chrysalis is calling them
‘Viceroy,’ and I’m afraid not. They’re careful. Definitely the real thing,
though. We got another hit just last week. That’s three confirmed continuances,
so I guess they’re cranking out the retreads.” Alex took a sip of his coffee. “I
thought you’d view them more as ally than competitor, though. They seem to be
helping finish what Chrysalis started. We wouldn’t even know they were out
there if they hadn’t intentionally tipped their hand. I guess they’re trying to
with Chrysalis from the inside recognized the group’s symbol – a monarch
butterfly. Fitting that a group mimicking their activities should use a
creature best known for its uncanny resemblance.