Today criminals can change identities with a fake passport or driver's license. But tomorrow...
The old guy on the table didn't look capable of hurting anyone, much less killing them. That was good. My rep depended on it.
The wires retracted into their housing in the wall, which melted back into its Dali camo. Disintegration of the Persistence of Vision, this time. Last time it'd been the Last Supper, making the lapsed Catholic in me feel kind of creepy. Jesus' eyes in my back, staring me down as I checked the hotline to find her voice there. "Help me." It always started like that. I decided I should probably edit the Last Supper out of the playback loop when I got the chance.
I glanced at the guy's brain and the worms were busy doing their thing, crawling on the contacts, converting the metal to gray tissue. In about ten minutes there would be nothing on a medical scan of this guy's head to show that he'd been plugged into a dumper, nothing abnormal in his head at all -- just a few patches of dead tissue. Normal for a senior citizen.
I zipped him up, glued the rug down -- standard old-man-white-with-a-touch-of-yellow hair -- and wheeled him into the wake-up room, full of doctor-esque toys. I even had a salt shaker dressed up to look like a medical instrument. Sarcasm is my middle name. John Sarcasm Smith, you'll understand if I don't shake hands, but I've gotta wash the blood off first. Which I did, at a stainless-steel basin.
He woke up in about an hour and I told him not to drive for at least four days -- you just can't force-learn everything when you get a brand new body. I told him to walk six blocks west and catch a cab.
Four hours ago he'd been a devastatingly gorgeous redhead with three corpses on her conscience and the bad fortune to have left blood on the last victim, enough for a tight-scope genotype. Watching him walk away, I wondered if he'd notice the absence of breasts and how it made his back hurt less. At least he didn't have the swaying hips of the last female-to-male I'd done.
I watched my work walk away, then I went into the house and called Cardinal Points, telling them to send a cab to the twelve-hundred block of Parkwest.
I used to work for lockheed, and if that means nothing to you, then you haven't been keeping up with USASF declassification.
I was on the team working on the interhook, the biomechanical interface between pilot and craft. I was one of the middle-level techs on the bio side of things, with a high enough security clearance to have more than a faint idea what I might be doing. My specialty was biological memory storage. The sky over White Sands was full of warbirds, mainly old-stock F/A-23 Bloodhawks and EA-91 Eagle Eyes. The planes weren't the experimental part of the project; the pilots were.
Yeah, you say, I read about it in Popular Whatever, so what? But this was sixteen years ago, long before anyone outside of a tight circle of Aerospace Force brass knew what was going on. I didn't really know; I guessed at some of it but I told no one. The death penalty was in effect; it was wartime, remember?
What war? The Big Fizzle. The one where we were gonna kick some serious Second Soviet ass, except they crumbled. Hard to believe we took 'em seriously again, ain't it? But there you go again, forgetting historical context.
Anyway, the pilots were the experiment.
My phone rang.
My phone never rings. No one has the number. I've got a device over the output on it that prevents my name and number from ever leaving my house.
So my phone rang and I thought, Shit.
I answered it, though. What else am I gonna do? If it's cops they've got a lot of nerve, warning me, and if it's anyone else I wanna know where they got the number.
"Sorry, I don't know any--"
"Cut it," he said. "Don't bother ducking. It's Genera."
Genera? Vaguely familiar -- "Hi." Nobody's called me Philip since I quit answering to it. Fourteen years ago.
"I understand that you've got a business going. Profitable."
"Never mind that. I need your services."
"Go through the usual channels."
"Wait on a--"
I unplugged the phone. Ten minutes later I plugged it back in and it was, of course, ringing.
"What, goddamn it?"
"Philip, that was rude. I've never had to use the redial on this phone, you know that?"
"It works. Regardless, I need your services. A friend of mine requires a body."
"This better be secure. The phone."
"Of course it is." Genera -- now I remembered. Cop, ex-cop. Couldn't remember his real name, not right now. I'd done bodywork for him once. But how'd he get my number? It didn't matter. Not right now, anyway.
"All right," I said, "I'll bite."
"Well, duh. Male, female? I need an age, height--"
"I've got a blueprint for you. How much?"
"Remember last time?"
"Add four hundred percent."
"All right." My price had actually only gone up three hundred, but I figured he owed me for the phone call. The personal touch, you know?
The sky was gray and i should have known something was going on just from that. I'm omen-driven; things that look wrong sometimes have special significance for me. Red sky at night, sparrows take flight. I'm still kicking myself.
But I don't wanna give too much away.
I met Genera -- turns out William Carlyle is his real name -- in a small restaurant that served Szechuan food. I had something green with too much curry. Soy sauce on it didn't help.
"So where'd you get my phone number? And where'd you get my name?" Genera looked pretty much like I remembered him. The hair had gone gray, the stomach had expanded, but hey, same deal with me. I allow myself to look middle-aged. It helps me blend into my 'hood.
"Your name was easy. They've got a file at the PD."
"You're cop again? I have a gun, you know."
"Yeah, but you didn't bring it."
Damn, he was slick. I hadn't even seen him scan me. Unless he had a cohort, which was unlikely.
"And no, I'm not cop. They just have, um, unimaginative passcodes."
"Oh." I shoveled green-black rice into my mouth; tried to, but I'm bad with chopsticks. "The blueprint."
"Yeah. Actually, you should already have it."
"In your computer."
"Fuck that. You couldn't have hacked it, it's not connected." Quite deliberately, I might add.
"No, but it is powered on."
"Uh-huh," trying to see his point.
"That's all my hackboy needs."
"Check it and see."
At least he paid for lunch.
It was raining when I pulled in back at my house, and that was just another omen. The weatherman, lying bastard, had called for clear and sunny the rest of the week. There was a niggling feeling in my hindbrain that told me that something was off here, but I sat down at my computer anyway. The words floated in front of my eyes:
Warning -- New File in Tree: "genera/gotcha ashole." Disposition?"Get a hackboy who can spell," I said out loud.
Disposition? it repeated. I wished I'd bought voice chips that didn't sound like Majel Barrett.
"Clear it and then run it," I said.
A pause. File is clean. Not viral, at least not in any way that Majel could find. Running. File is a standard image file with text attachment.
Deep breath. "Go," I said.
The image was a 3V of a male, 172cm tall, age about thirty-nine. Everything was pretty average in size and shape; the text said that he was to have green eyes and thinning brown hair. You'd pass him on the street and never know he'd been someone else days ago.
The body was easy enough. I went into the back, through the hidden door, and grabbed a beer and a blue-labeled test tube. Then I went and sat on my veranda, the rain drumming on the green corrugated plastic above me, and watched the slanting gray as it obliterated any visibility out there, musing over the last time I'd been given a really hard one.
Green eyes, brown hair, that was easy. Thinning brown hair, I'd have to work in a gene for male pattern baldness. Fine, easy. The challenge was gone. But it was still big goddamn money, you betcha. That was why I was still doing it, I think.
I decided I'd give him a mole, too. On the left foot, just above the heel. Gotta sign it somehow.
The sky was clearing later on when I came back up out of my fugue. I do that sometimes, get lost inside my head, thinking about the engineering. My beer was warm and flat and still half there, and the sun was setting. I finished the beer and went down to the lab.
In four days he was born, a tabula rasa for me to imprint Genera's friend into. The new genotype is precisely that, a brand new genotype, not in the police records or anyone else's, for that matter. They're all grown from clones, but I tinker with them enough to make them all unique.
And the cloning is only the least illegal part of the whole deal.
I dialed my hotline and listened to Genera saying he was ready when I was. At least he hadn't called me again.
We met at a Greek place up the street and around the corner from the curry-intensive Szechuan place. I ate something I could pronounce and Genera ate something I couldn't.
Halfway through I told him I was ready. He said his hackboy was fourteen and so it was no wonder he couldn't spell. I told him that was pathetic and he handed me the rest of my money, cash, in the time-honored black briefcase. I named a place for the pickup and told him I didn't want to see his ugly face again. He grinned and told me that wasn't what his women said. I left.
I should have killed him, but there was no quiet way to do it. Plus all I had was my taser.
Besides, I didn't know.
The body was lying on the table. The guy I was transferring told me he'd never heard of this shit before, if it wasn't for Genera it'd just be a matter of time before the rape-murder cops got him on the genotyping. I hate hearing shit like that. I'd as soon not know about what a client did. Guaranteed it's gonna be bad.
So I told him to lie down and attached the electrodes to his forehead, the sleep inducers.
When he was asleep I wheeled him to the real lab, opened up his skull, shoved the metal transfer contacts in, and told the Dali to dissolve and gimme the wires.
The actual transfer is computer-controlled; once I connect the wires, I might as well have a beer. I never do. I feel like I should at least supervise, even though if anything goes wrong I still have to depend on the computer. My reflexes are nowhere near fast enough, and neither is my mind.
So I hit the switch and watched the green lights flicker. Nothing went red, or even yellow. That only happened once, a red, and the computer caught it in time. No troubles.
I built this stuff after the interhook project, ten years ago. I've used it nineteen times since then. I know it intimately.
The electronics are cobbled together from the flight system interface, the place where the plane dumps itself into the pilot. In the interhook, the pilot's senses are replaced. Taste, for instance, becomes fuel mix; a sweet taste is ideal, bitter is too lean, salty is too rich. Sight is suddenly the cartographic outlay of the terrain, the targeting system. The plane's skin becomes the pilot's flesh. Pain, depending on the type and location and intensity, can indicate a hull breach or a failing engine or a low fuel tank.
My use of this technology, as far as I'm concerned, is simply the next logical step. Dumping the personality of one body into another is actually a two-step process: first the original's mind is transferred to a buffer, a truly vast buffer, made up of a generally-inert cloned brain, and then the buffer is dumped to the new body. Two dumps for the price of one.
This is the most illegal part of my work; most of the technology I deal with is still technically classified. Don't ask me to tell you how I got it. I have no intention of giving a friend the death penalty.
When his green eyes twitched open he said, "Philip Cabrierre, you are under arrest. You have the right--"
"Genera, you shit," I said.
"--to remain silent, anything you say--"
"Dollhouse," I said.
"--can and will be used against you in a court--"
"Mambo," I said.
"--of law, you have the right to an--"
"Shitheel," I said.
"--attorney or an attorney program, if you cannot afford one--"
"F-stop," I said.
"--one will be..." He sort of trailed off there. First time I'd ever had to use the shutdown phrase.
In the interhook there is provision for a hypnotic trigger sequence. In the military it's generally used to induce a pilot to carry out his mission. You don't want a bomber pilot, say, to freeze up just because he's going to drop an H or three on a city full of innocents. So you say some words to him and he's yours, wide open, do anything you say. Drop them bombs, soldier. Then repeat the phrase to close him up again.
"Whose fucking idea was this?" I said, evenly.
"Captain Carlyle," he said.
Captain, huh? Genera, you shit.
They'd been after me for seven years, he said. Genera -- Carlyle -- had been a cop all along. They'd bought a bunch of people, not the least of which was that damned redhead I told you about earlier. They had me. This guy's voice wasn't smug, just matter-of-fact. I told him to quit breathing. When he turned that blue color I told him to start again.
Then I sat down and looked into his blank eyes. "You are now under my power," I said. "Your mission"--should you choose to accept it, as if he had a choice, wide open like that--"is to find and kill Genera. William Carlyle. You will go to your station house or wherever it is that you came from. You will act normally until you have the opportunity to kill Captain William Carlyle. You will take the first opportunity you see. Do you understand that?"
"Yes." His voice was flat and dull.
"State your name, rank, serial number, and mission for me."
"Sigvaldursson, Davis Anthony. Corporal. Zero one four three three one two eight dash seven B. I am to take the first opportunity I see to kill Captain William Carlyle."
"Good. Now give me a hand here, will you?"
I watched the wires retract and Cygnes réfléchis en éléphants come up. It was weird, lying there on the table while he did all the work.
"Okay," I instructed him, "now seal the scalp and kill the cutout switch." I heard the seal -- it never sounded quite so wet before -- as my forehead closed back up. Then all sensation was back and I had one hell of a headache.
I stood up anyway. "The blonde wig." I looked down at my new bustline and was impressed. He'd done a good job. Too bad I couldn't hire him on as permanent help. But he had other uses. "Yeah, that one." I'd have to get a hair graft later. The wig would do for now.
"Dollhouse," I murmured to him, "mambo, shitheel, f-stop," and then I walked away. I glanced back over my shoulder at him and he was rubbing his eyes, then eyeing my butt in the snug shorts I'd picked. Yeah, look real hard, boy. Just another drop-dead-gorgeous girl you'll never get to know.
That was two weeks ago. I've been watching the news, but I still haven't seen anything about Genera. Maybe the hypnotic suggestion doesn't work after the second code phrase.
Maybe I'll have to do it myself. I'll give Sigvaldursson another week, and then I think I'll buy a gun. Genera won't even see it coming.
I'm almost looking forward to it.
Pat Johanneson (firstname.lastname@example.org) was born in Winnipeg in the early '70s. He lived in a small town called Saint Rose, graduated with a degree in Computer Science from Brandon University, and still works as computer operator there.
InterText stories written by Pat Johanneson: "Chronicler" (v5n4), "Watching You" (v5n5), "Other Flesh" (v6n2).
InterText Copyright © 1991-1999 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 6, Number 2 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1996 Pat Johanneson.