Excerpt for Master Fixer by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Master Fixer

The Forevers Series: book 2
Featuring Jayne Wu

A Novel by G. Michael Smith

Agio Publishing House

Smashwords Edition

The Forevers Series

Book 1: Fixer 13

Book 2: Master Fixer

Book 3: Impostor

Book 4: (Coming Soon) omie 17

Agio Publishing House, Canada

© 2017, G. Michael Smith. All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher of this book. Some cover images © bigstock and shutterstock. Disclaimer—This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and events are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

The Forevers, Book 2: Master Fixer ISBN 978-1-927755-58-7 (paperback) ISBN 978-1-927755-59-4 (ebook)

Cataloguing information available from Library and Archives Canada. Agio Publishing House is a socially-responsible enterprise, measuring success on a triple-bottom-line basis.

To Cheryl Cameron who always has my best interest at heart.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Biome 3

Chapter 2: Roller Venom is Nasty Stuff

Chapter 3: Taken

Chapter 4: Imprisoned

Chapter 5: Getting Prepared

Chapter 6: Quite the Piece of Work

Chapter 7: A Hairy Situation

Chapter 8: A Slave or a Spy Take Your Pick

Chapter 9: Saved by Sergio

Chapter 10: A New Prison

Chapter 11: Hair and Testing

Chapter 12: Contact With Poppy

Chapter 13: The Interview

Chapter 14: New Friends Possibly

Chapter 15: There are Brain Waves and Then There are Brain Waves

Chapter 16: Rocks and Probes

Chapter 17: Chatting With Chloe

Chapter 18: Not So Polite Discussions

Chapter 19: Not So Special After All

Chapter 20: Worms

Chapter 21: Fatigue and Fear

Chapter 22: Running Again

Chapter 23: Travel Plans

Chapter 24: Again Running

Chapter 25: HUB Prison

Chapter 26: In and Out of Solitary

Chapter 27: Gen Pop

Chapter 28: When is a Rose Not a Rose?

Chapter 29: The Horticultural Center

Chapter 30: Breaking Out Wu Style

Chapter 31: Out and About

Chapter 32: In and Out of the Woods

Chapter 33: Safe in Space

Chapter 34: Goodbye, Poppy

Chapter 35: Wu is Now in Charge, Sort Of

Chapter 36: The Bloc Hed Den

Chapter 37: Spike is Back

Chapter 38: Commander Wu

Chapter 39: Reconnaissance

Chapter 40: Death and Destruction

Chapter 41: Rescue and Run

Chapter 42: Plans

Chapter 43: Recruiting Chloe

Chapter 44: Taken

Chapter 45: End Game

Chapter 1: Biome 3

The Swarm would arrive in 89 years. This was not a lot of time to complete the biome ships and send the best of mankind to the stars.

Technology was accelerating. Much progress had been made. Much more was needed to escape the wall of rocks that was rushing inexorably toward the solar system. Earth would not survive. That was a given. But perhaps, with a lot of work and a lot of luck, the human race might live and grow on other planets in the galaxy.

It was a year ago today that Jayne Wu arrived on Biome 3. A drop of sweat rolled down her forehead and onto her nose. It hung there and swelled to an almost impossible size. She could not wipe it away. She was inside a protective suit that isolated her from the potential nastiness in the jungles of Biome 3. Jayne shook her head and the drop of sweat flew from the end of her nose, splattered on the faceplate of her protective suit and was unceremoniously sucked away by the suit systems. She sniffed and snapped shut the moss-covered access panel in which she had been working. She heard a sucking sound as the panel door sealed itself against any foreign matter that might harm the inner workings. Jayne’s repairs were simple. Locate the designated access panel, set the repair tent over the panel, enter the tent, open the panel and complete the required repairs. She had completed the task and was about to remove the sealed tent when she felt a shiver run up her spine. Something was out there watching her.

She breathed slowly and listened. The feeling that flooded her mind grew stronger and more ominous. The repair tent wouldn’t provide a lot of protection from the dangerous creatures of Biome 3 but it should have alerted her of any potential dangers. The tent’s systems should have identified any dangerous flora or fauna in the vicinity.

Jayne paused and then shrugged her shoulders and pressed the button next to the tent door. With a zipping sound the tent retracted into a small package. Jayne looked around for the source of her feelings but could see nothing. She bent down on one knee, glanced quickly down at the tent package, picked it up and slipped it into her pouch, all the while scanning the path for movement. There was nothing.

Jayne spoke into her suit recorder, “Repair completed. Replaced damaged IC component. Returning to Biome Central.”

She returned the way she had come, along a small path to the point where she had parked the floater. It was a small transportation unit fitted with an anti-gravity device. It could float about a metre from the ground and travel 10 to 15 km/hr. It was an indispensible fixer tool.

She removed the tent and a few tools from her pouch and placed them in the floater tool compartment. She touched her helmet and the faceplate retracted. The sterile air of the suit was replaced by the humid jungle air. She breathed deep. She climbed aboard, initiated propulsion and headed down the path. Her feelings of imminent danger dissipated as she zipped along. She looked ahead through breaks in the jungle foliage. She was 20 metres from where the path widened and joined a larger and busier tract. She pressed the accelerator on the floater. It jumped forward. At the same moment a crackling sound and the smell of ozone filled the air.

A shimmering ball of yellow and orange static electricity spontaneously appeared, hovering over the floater’s rear drive compartment. The whirr of air that usually accompanied a skimming floater, abruptly stopped.

Suddenly powerless, the floater dropped nose first in front of a rotting log that lay across the path. Jayne was tossed, head over heels, off the floater. She landed flat on her back with her legs from knees to feet draped over the log. The faceplate automatically snapped closed with the jar of the landing.

As Jayne mentally scanned herself for injury, dread filled her. She realized that this was not a log but one of the most dangerous creatures of Biome 3. It was a roller.

In an instant the creature rolled away from her and then rolled quickly back over her legs, pinning them to the ground. Almost immediately she felt the pressure. The roller began to flatten out, pressing her lower legs firmly to the ground as a million root-like tendrils sought an entrance into her suit. As it flattened, the roller slowly slithered up past her knees, locking her legs in place.

A roller resembled a dead log across a path. It waited for its prey to step on it. The roller was so named because it would roll away from its prey and then quickly roll back over and press whatever creature it had captured into the ground. A roller’s needle-like tendrils are tipped with a tranquilizer and a digestive acid. Once drugged, its prey typically would calmly wait for the beast to suck out their juices until all that was left were bones and hair. But Jayne was not typical.

Jayne look around the small clearing. She could not believe she had been trapped by a roller. During her training she was taught how to set a roller off by jumping onto it and then jumping quickly to the side. A roller took a long time to reset. It would flatten itself to the ground while its needle-like suckers searched for the prey it hoped it had caught.

She scanned the edge of the jungle. She could see nothing but she could feel a presence. She heard a rustle of foliage behind her. She twisted her head trying to see who it was.

“Help me, please!” called Jayne. There was another rustle and then nothing. She was not sure anyone had been there. She knew the fixer suit would protect her, but only for a short time. The roller crept up her legs and Jayne instinctively put her unprotected hands on the moving edge. The pain was searing and she pulled her hands away. The tips of her fingers and part of her palms oozed blood from a thousand stings. The pain quickly began to fade as the tranquilizing venom took effect.

The roller, sensing a source of food after it tasted blood, flattened faster and moved up Jayne’s thighs. She touched the communicator on the jaw of her helmet leaving a smear of blood behind. It was a mayday signal that would set off an alarm in Biome Central and would alert them of her peril.

She spoke calmly, “I am pinned by a roller. I figure I have about 8 minutes. My hands have been…” she paused looking for the right word. “Compromised. Once it reaches my chest it may be able to press all the air out of my lungs or failing that, crush the faceplate of my helmet. Please hurry.” The roller venom was making her head swim.

Jayne held her arms straight up from her body. As she felt the blood on her hands trickle down her wrists, she reflected on her training. She had gotten sloppy. Gloves were to be worn at all times. The problem with the gloves was the size. Even the smallest were too big for her hands. She could not work with them on and she had forgotten to replace them after completing the repair. She tried to move her hips but the movement was sensed by the roller and it clamped even harder on her legs and oozed inexorably upwards.

Biome Central crackled in her helmet, “It will take us 12 minutes to get to you. If you wiggle the roller will move faster. I know this is hard advice to accept in your situation but please relax and be a still as you can. We are on our way.”

Jayne slowly filled her lungs and slowly exhaled through her nose. She had not felt this afraid for a very long time. The fear was opening old memories of imminent death. Jayne remembered what she felt when the old woman, Dr. Winter Bancroft, had tried to take over Jayne’s mind and rewrite Jayne’s thoughts and memories with her own. She remembered ‘the push’ that would slow time so she could search the eternal list of possibilities and find the answer. Once found she would push the chosen potential action until it reached the probability of one; until it was real.

Jayne searched now, but the swirl of possibilities was filled with mist and smoke. The venom the roller had injected into her hands had muddled her brain. She started to smile and fade as the roller pressed down on her ribs. She filled her lungs and tried to hold the air inside. Her head was spinning.

She threw her hands back over her head as far as she could. Her ribcage slipped from the roller’s grip and she sucked in air. At the same time she felt her feet come free of the roller’s grip. It had reached the maximum spread, releasing her feet to move up over her ribs. Jayne instinctively wiggled her feet; a little at first and then harder and faster. She felt the roller’s grip on her chest ease and it moved back to her feet and locked them in place once again. Jayne breathed and held her feet as still as possible. Once again the roller released her feet and moved over her chest, restricting her breathing. Once again Jayne wiggled and twisted her feet as violently as she could. The cycle continued as the roller oozed down and locked her feet in place while Jayne filled her lungs with air.

She did not know how many times she had teased the roller to allow her to breathe. She knew she would be rescued if she could just keep the cycle going.

Her feet came free once again but the venom injected into her hands had done its work. She forgot the importance of kicking her feet. She forgot she needed to breathe.

Her mind drifted to thoughts of GravBall and the HUB. She mumbled, “Pass me the ball. Pass me the ball,” and raised her hands over her head.

At the moment she lost consciousness, Jayne was vaguely aware of somebody or something grabbing her wrists.

Chapter 2: Roller Venom is Nasty Stuff

The flora and fauna of the biomes was developed to mimic what might be encountered on the planets the biome ships were destined to colonize. The developers embraced a highly contentious philosophy. This philosophy created very dangerous creatures on the biomes. The developers considered the probable destination planet habitat and the gravity in the development of these plants and animals. They wished to prepare the biome inhabitants for the scope and degree of dangers they would surely encounter. The omies would need to have a highly developed sense of caution.

Jayne woke. She opened her eyes but she could see nothing in the complete darkness. She felt something over her face and instinctively reached up to touch it but her hands felt like boxing gloves. The right one touched her face before she expected it to and pain pounded in her hand. She wiggled her fingers and quickly realized that was a bad idea as the pain swelled from her hand, up her arm and crashed in waves across her torso. She moaned and froze with her hand held perfectly still above her body. She was afraid to move any part of her body in case the pain came again.

She breathed slowly—as the pain in her hand faded, the rapid pounding in her head increased in intensity. She heard footsteps and her heart rate jumped until it was beating in unison with the throbbing in her head.

She slurred the question, “Who’s there?” Her lips would not move so her words were annunciated with her tongue in a parched mouth.

“Don’t talk and please don’t try to move,” spoke a soft and consoling voice. “You are at the medical center of Biome Central. We are preparing you for transport. You received a massive dose of roller poison. The antidote has made your eyes extremely light sensitive, hence the light mask. Your hands received quite a dose of digestive acid from the roller. We have fitted you with leach gloves to stimulate regeneration of your finger tips. Here, sip this.”

Jayne felt a tube in the corner of her mouth and instinctively sipped water. She held it in her mouth and let it slowly trickle down her throat. She sipped more and as the liquid slipped down her throat it seemed to carry away some of the throbbing pain in her head.

She tentatively filled her lungs with air and as she exhaled the words followed, “Where are you taking me?”

“Oh, you are heading planet side. It seems you are more important than you look. You are headed for…” the voice paused, “…some specialized medical center on the west coast. I’ve never heard of it. But we omies of Biome 3 are seldom privy to much that happens on the planet.”

Jayne moved her hand and moaned.

“The medication I just gave you will help with the pain. I am going to remove the light mask. Most of the sensitivity will have dissipated by now. Keep your eyes closed.”

Jayne felt the mask being removed from her face. The air cooled her moist cheeks. Her eyelids were being swabbed. “Can I open them now?” she asked.

“Yes. But slowly. If you feel any sharp pain just close them again and it will fade. Let light in a little at a time,” she ordered. “I see from your chart that you are a tetrachromat. You may see more than the rest of us but the downside is that you are also more sensitive to light and after a dose of roller poison I imagine the pain would be excruciating.”

Jayne slowly opened her eyes to blurs of color. The pain was sharp but she pushed it aside and blinked rapidly trying to clear her vision.

A smiling face slowly coalesced to a sharp focus. It was a face typical of the omies of Biome 3. This biome had been designed to expedite human evolution and enhance survival on the destination planet. One of the genetic modifications was intended to improve the immune system. Alligator genes were used to take advantage of one of the most powerful immune systems on planet Earth. Some unforeseen side effects of these gene splices resulted in changes in the dermis of the natives of Biome 3. Their skin was smooth and translucent. There were scale-like formations visible under the epidermis. These were clustered mostly around the eyes, nose and mouth. When a Biome 3 omie smiled, these scale-like formations took on a phosphorescent quality and glowed with a light of their own. Jayne stared at shifting pinks and greens around this omie’s eyes. It was startlingly beautiful.

“May I have my VID (Visual Identity Designator)?” asked Jayne. “I think it was in my pouch.”

“Everything had to go through sterilization. I will see if your VID survived but there is no way you can use it,” said the omie pointing at Jayne’s hands. She turned and exited the room.

Jayne’s vision was much improved and she scanned the small room. It was a typical emergency medical service room equipped with a single bed and some electronic monitoring equipment. Jayne’s eyes came to rest on her hands. It looked like she was wearing gauze boxing gloves. They throbbed. She did not move her arms or fingers, fearing a new wave of pain. She was wearing a hospital gown and was covered with a white sheet tucked tightly under the mattress. She tried to move her legs but the sheets seemed to hold them firmly in place. She tried to wiggle her toes as she stared down at the sheet that covered them. Nothing moved.

She tried to move her legs again and realized she could not feel anything below her waist. Fear welled up in her and she inadvertently moved her arms and fingers. The pain that triggered was a screaming banshee in her brain and everything went dark.

When Jayne opened her eyes she knew immediately that she was no longer in the medical center on Biome 3. The gravity was different. The gravity was now Earth normal. Her eyes were the only part of her that she risked moving. She did not want to experience the monster pain that had caused her to blackout.

She scanned and saw, what she assumed, was a medipod. She was in a medipod. The room beyond was in semi-darkness and slightly distorted at the edge of her vision where the transparent cover curved over her. The medipod was illuminated from the inside. Anyone in the room could see her perfectly.

Jayne took stock of her situation. She breathed a ragged breath and felt a tube in her nose. She gagged a little. The tube went to her stomach. She tried to lick her lips but her tongue was dry and swollen. She tried to move her head slowly from side to side but it was either locked in place or she could no longer move it.

She remembered the last moment in the medical center on the biome. She had tried to move her legs and they were paralyzed. She tried to move her arms now and willed herself to lift them up into her line of vision. Nothing happened. She could not move them. Panic flicked its tongue and she felt her heart begin to pound in her ears. She tried to breathe but even the air seemed to fight her and the panic reached a crescendo.

Was she was going to die in a medipod? “How ironic,” she mused, retreating into her mind. That ironic thought triggered a bubble she had left unexplored since her last encounter with the Forevers. It was forming now and she relaxed into it. Time slowed. The microseconds between the mad pounding of her heart stretched out to near infinity. Jayne had the time to search the possibilities. The foam of possibilities churned and occasionally one would escape the melee and Jayne would study it. She would nudge it to see where it would carry the moment if it were real. She did not know what she was looking for but she did know why she was looking. She did not want to die and if she did nothing she was sure she would die in this medipod, completely paralyzed with a tube up her nose. She was looking for a way out. She saw something that shouted out to her. It said, “I’m the one. Pick me. Push me.”

She nudged it. She inspected it and smiled at her stupidity. She wanted to chastise herself but the smile in her head told her it was pointless. She pushed the possibility into existence. The bubble shrank and disappeared. The possibility she had chosen said, “Relax, you are not going to die. Someone will come soon.”

Jayne’s heart slowed and the pressure in her ears faded. She could hear the alarm sounding outside the medipod. A few moments later the room was filled with medical personnel. The medipod lid opened. The nose tube was removed. A straw was placed in her mouth.

“Sip slowly,” a voice commanded.

Jayne sipped and tried to speak. But all that came out was a rasp.

The voice understood and said, “Don’t speak. I will tell you all that has happened as soon as we are finished. Relax. Breathe.”

Jayne concentrated and the tension ebbed from her body. Many hands were reaching into the medipod from both sides. She could not see what they were doing. She realized that she could not feel what the hands were doing. The panic swelled but she pushed it aside and waited. She closed her eyes and waited.

The two minutes that passed seemed like a century. Jayne’s mind drifted back to the roller and to before the roller. She had found the bad circuit and replaced it. She had run the required diagnostics and all had checked out perfectly. She remembered the feeling of being watched. Someone had been watching her. She remembered getting on the flier and heading down the path. She remembered the smell of ozone. She remembered seeing an orange ball of electricity form over the floater engine. It was a high static pulse. The realization of what had happened bloomed in her mind. It was an EM pulsar.

Someone had deliberately disabled her floater with an EM pulsar while she was travelling down the small path. She remembered the rustle of jungle behind her. Someone wanted to take her. She wondered if the roller was part of the plan. She doubted anyone could plan for the roller to do what it did. No, she decided, the roller was not part of the plan, if fact the roller had foiled the plan. But who would do this? Why would they do it? Jayne considered the Forevers. They had not bothered her for nearly two and a half years. She had completed her apprenticeship and requested an assignment to Biome 3. Everything since had been exquisitely predictable and relaxingly simple. She had chosen not to spy for the Sentinels and Professor Greenway, aka Poppy, and he had respected her wishes and run interference. She would chat with Poppy as long as the Forevers and the Sentinels were not on the agenda. She had spent all her free time preparing for the masters exams. She had written them the previous month and had just this week completed the oral and the practical sections. She had done as well as she was able. She was expecting to pass. When she did she could, pretty much, write her own ticket. She could go and do anything she wanted. She had her eye on working planet side on the development of the new propulsion designs for the biomes. She had some ideas she wanted to run in simulation. To do that she needed access to a Big Blue Cray. This was the latest quantum system computing network developed in the HUB where she had first studied to become a fixer.

Jayne felt all the hands let her go. She opened her eyes. She whispered at the blur of faces looking down at her, “Will someone please tell me something. Please. Am I paralyzed? Am I going to die?”

She blinked her eyes rapidly to improve the focus. The faces looking down at her were smiling.

“You are not going to die. The paralysis is temporary. You got a huge dose of roller venom. You are very lucky to have survived,” said a mask-covered face.

A different face spoke, “The fixers who rescued you had to use a high voltage charge to get the roller to release you. That exacerbated the effect of the poison. We decided to keep you unconscious so you did not have to endure any more pain than necessary.”

“Welcome back,” said the first voice. “We were going to move you before you woke up so as not to cause you any avoidable discomfort. We will move you now if you think you can stand a little jostling.”

“When will I be able to feel my legs?” asked Jayne.

“You should be up and about in a couple of days but your hands will take at least a few months to heal,” said the first voice as she slipped the mask off of her face. The woman smiled at Jayne. “My name is Dr. Hashimoto. I will drop in on you a little later and see how you are feeling.”

The doctor left and Jayne heard a whirring sound as the medipod cover retracted and it became a glorified gurney. She was pushed down a hallway and into a hospital room with a single bed. The attendants lifted her from the gurney and into the bed. They fussed over her for a few minutes as Jayne drifted into a fitful sleep.

Chapter 3: Taken

The science behind connectome scans was constantly expanding. It now took a Super Quantum Cray just to analyze, organize and coordinate the masses of data that represented the human mind. The concepts of long- and short-term memory were expanded to arrays that were at least 1,000 levels deep. The constructs held in that bit of gray matter were also constantly changing as a person developed and experienced the world. Connectomes were constantly changing and so the scans had to be constantly updated. Their purpose was often contentious. Many scientists were of the mind that these scans were of little use. Only occasionally did a person suffer from an injury that required their mind pattern to be updated or replaced. Most of the time an injury to the brain was so severe it made a connectome scan useless. That did not stop the extremely affluent few from embracing any science that might increase their life span.

“Just one more bite,” coaxed the attendant. He held a forkful of food in front of Jayne’s face and waved it back and forth.

Jayne was sitting with her forearms propping her bandaged hands upright on the table in front of her. The plate between her elbows was still full of food. “I don’t want anymore, thank you,” she said as sweetly as she could muster. If the attendant could have read her mind he would not have been happy. Jayne was thinking very nasty thoughts with the attendant as the prime focus.

“You have to eat. Doctor’s orders. That venom took a lot out of you and you have to get your strength back. Just 5 more bites,” he said in a singsong voice as he waved the forkful of food from side to side.

Jayne could no longer hold her anger at bay. She spoke slowly and harshly, “I am a fully fledged master fixer. I am not a child. Please put the fracking fork down and go away.”

Jayne stood up and walked over to her bed. She held forearms and hands vertical in front of her. She backed up to the bed, jumped up, landed on the bed and quickly twisted into a lying position. Her hands were still held vertical in front of her. She reached up to hook each bandage to the hanging support bar. Now she could relax her arms.

Jayne stared at the ceiling.

“I’ll bring you some dessert a little later,” said the attendant calmly.

He did not seem bothered in the least with Jayne’s behavior. He gathered up the dishes, placed them on cart and wheeled it out of the room.

Jayne continued to stare at the ceiling. The plaster was old and stained. She looked for faces in the shapes to stop from feeling like she would go insane. She found a dinosaur with a huge head and shadow teeth. Her eyes followed the tail that morphed into a snake with the head of a clown. The clown had a gigantic nose. Jayne stared at the nose. There was a small shiny nostril. Jayne stared at the small shiny nostril of the make-believe clown in the plaster. She quickly looked away and her pulse rate jumped. Someone was watching her.

The shiny bit was only a few millimetres in diameter and Jayne knew it was the lens of a camera. Someone was spying on her. No one had paid her any attention ever since all the nanobots had been removed from her system. That was more than three years ago. She thought of the silver star that had injected her with nanobots designed to spy on her and control her. She thought of the Forevers. They had left her alone ever since the death of Dr. Winter Bancroft. She was the old woman who tried to destroy Jayne’s mind and replace it with her own. Jayne knew there were still bits of the old woman effectively quarantined in her head. She had not looked at them for over a year. Now someone was spying on her and she wanted to know who was behind the secreted camera.

Maybe the memories the old woman left in her head would give her a clue. Jayne breathed deep and relaxed her body. Any tension left in her arms faded as they sagged from the bar hanging in front of her. She slowly opened the part of her mind that held the thoughts and memories that did not belong to her. She was cautious, half expecting a spring-loaded monster to jump out and take over her mind. She took precautions. She built a wall around the existing walls that held those alien thoughts. She opened the door. The box seemed empty. She looked into the cracks and crannies. Suddenly words exploded in her head. “YOU LITTLE BITCH!” reverberated in her mind.

Jayne quickly slammed the door shut, involuntarily jerking her hands down. The bandage tore and her body started to spasm with pain and fear. A part of the old woman was still waiting; waiting in her head; waiting to pounce and continue where she left off before her banishment. Jayne puffed out air and as the pain faded from her hands an odd smile crept over her face. She had confronted the monster and won. Again she had won. Jayne knew she needed to do more than confront. She knew she needed to control. When she was in control she could safely explore and use the monster in her head. Exactly how to do this was not clear. Jayne smiled again. She knew an answer would present itself. It always had. It always would. After all she was lucky. She was very lucky.

Jayne slipped off of the bed, holding her throbbing hands out in front of her. With her elbow she pressed the emergency button on the wall near the head of her bed. She leaned back against her bed and waited. Her hands throbbed.

The door burst open and the attendant rushed in. “Are you alright? Are you in pain?” he asked.

“No and yes,” Jayne said quietly. “I accidentally banged my hands and I need something for the pain.”

The attendant looked at his VID. “It is nearly time for your evening meds. I will get them for you. Do you want anything else while I am out? Some food perhaps? I saw some chocolate cake in the kitchen. I could bring you a piece.”

“No food but I would like my stuff. Have they sent it down from the biome yet? I really want to get out of this silly nightgown and into some proper clothes,” said Jayne. Her encounter with the thoughts of the old woman made her think of the Sergio Partelli. It was a suit of suits. It could become anything from an evening gown to a space suit. It had saved her from the Forevers once and she was sure it would come in handy if the shiny spot on the clown’s nose turned out to be a malevolent spy camera.

“I will see what I can do. No guarantees,” he answered. He finished re-bandaging her hands and exited the room.

Jayne sighed and impatiently awaited his return. The meds would let her think without being assaulted by the stabbing pain in her hands and fingers. She closed her eyes and waited while the pain pounded, keeping time with the beating of her heart. She heard the door to her room open but took her time opening her eyes. Then she heard a loud thump and looked out at an attendant and two workers she had never seen before. They were in the process of setting up some equipment in the corner of her room. Jayne watched for a moment and then asked, “What is that? What are you doing?”

The attendant held up a large scribe sheet and looked at Jayne. “Just following orders,” he said waving the scribe sheet. He smiled.

The other two men continued to unpackage some sort of device over in the corner. It lay flat on the floor below her field of vision. Just as the attendant turned to leave, one of the workers unfolded a cloth sheet and flipped it over the equipment. The workers gathered up the packing material and left the room.

Jayne was curious what they had put there. She was about to unhook her arms from the support bar, risking a new flash of pain, and have a look at whatever it was when there was a firm knock on her door. Jayne lay back and waited. The knock came again. Jayne cleared her throat and rasped, “Come in.”

An older man, slightly stooped at the shoulders, stepped into the medical room. His face was scrunched with irritation. He snarled at Jayne, “Why the Swarm did you not call me the moment you got here? I had to find out from the Nwebbies (web news sources).”

He stopped abruptly and stared at her. “How the frack are your hands? Are you ok?” He strode to the bed and reached out to touch her bandaged hands still hanging from the bar above her bed.

“I won’t be if you touch my hands,” she grinned. “Hey, Poppy, how about a smile? I will be good as new in a couple of weeks. I was going to call you but I didn’t want you to overreact. I figured I would inform you after the fact.”

Poppy, aka Professor Greenway, was the only real family Jayne had ever known. He was her protector, mentor and confidant.

“Overreact! This is not overreacting. If you want overreacting, just try and argue about my plans for you,” he stated flatly. “First you are getting moved from this…” he stopped and looked around the room, “21st century hole. I have arranged for a special transport tomorrow. You are going to one of my oceanic green belts.”

He looked at the puzzlement on Jayne’s face . “It is my new term for a Greenway safe zone. I am getting to be ancient and so I have something very important to discuss with you.” He grinned. “I have a couple of meetings to attend today. Be ready for pickup tomorrow.” He turned, stopped and turned back. “Oh, I almost forgot. I need to give you this.” He held up a small pressure injector.

She looked at him quizzically.

“It is just a few nano-identity bots. Nobody gets into one of my green belts without them.” He reached down and pressed it to her upper arm. It hissed. He quickly dropped it into his pocket. “There. I have scheduled a full connectome scan as soon as you arrive. The last one is over a year old. I have modified your VID. I have installed a series of entangled connections directly to me. These connections cannot be blocked or hacked. Their security is absolute. To access them just speak the phrase ‘Poppy’ followed by a number from 1 to 10. I have already gathered your other stuff, including Sergio, and for Swarm’s sake eat something. If you get any thinner you will disappear.” He turned and left the room.

At the mention of food Jayne’s stomach rumbled. “I must be getting better,” she thought. “I’m hungry.” She looked expectantly at the door, hoping her attendant would return. She was rewarded almost immediately. The attendant entered with her pain meds in hand.

“I don’t mean to be a prima donna but I am really hungry all of a sudden. Is there any chance I could get something to eat?” Jayne asked politely.

“No problem. What would you like?” he asked as he gestured for her to open her mouth. She complied and he place two small pills on her tongue and offered her a sip of water from a straw. Jayne sipped greedily and swallowed the two pills.

“I would love a super soy burger with hot sauce and yam fries. Is that possible?” asked Jayne sweetly. Jayne was not fond of meat.

“The older gentleman who just left made it worth my while to get you anything you asked for. So yes, that is possible. I’ll be right back.” He grinned and left the room. Jayne heard him mumble to himself, “Must be nice to have powerful friends.”

Jayne was about to close her eyes and let the pills ease the pain that was again mounting in her hands when she heard another knock on her door. The door opened and a face peeked around the corner.

“May I come in?” asked the face.

Jayne sighed and thought, “Company will keep my mind off the pain until the meds kick in.” She said, “Come on in.”

Jayne stared at the girl as she entered. She was stocky and blonde and wearing the standard hospital patient’s robe. She had a large bandage on one cheek. Jayne recognized the face but she could not put a name to it. Her face scrunched into a question.

The blonde girl spoke, “I’m Bridget. TwoB. You must remember. GravBall. In the HUB. I played for the Crimson Stompers and you played for some other team. I don’t remember the name. You beat us a couple of times and we beat you a couple.” She came closer to the bed. “What happed to your hands?”

Recognition entered Jayne’s eyes. “Yeah. BB. Big B. As I remember we were not friends. In fact I think you wanted to punch my face in every time we met.”

“Yeah, I remember. I did want to punch your lights out. But that was before. After my training I got posted to one of the spavator counterweights 1000 k up. Been there since graduation. I was out fixing one of the stabilizers when I got unlucky. A tiny fragment of some long forgotten piece of space junk ricocheted off the anti-grav field and did this.” She pointed to her bandaged face. “The only good thing about it is that I get to choose my next posting. What about you?”

“Got stung by a roller in Biome 3,” said Jayne, not elaborating.

“Ouch. I heard you were in here too so I thought I would look you up. I thought we might forget the past and be friends. It is so boring in here that I am going crazy. I have some surgery coming up so I can’t leave.”

“I am leaving tomorrow so we won’t have much time to strike up a friendship. Sorry. Maybe next time we meet,” said Jayne unconvincingly.

“Yeah, next time,” responded Bridget.

“Hey, could you do me a little favor? Tell me what that is in the corner,” asked Jayne. “I am a bit tied up here.”

“Sure,” said Bridget and she walked over to the corner of the room. “It is covered with a tarp.” She reached down and pulled the tarp to the side. “It looks like a portable PUT (Pedestrian Unit Transport).” She looked closer. “It is one of those new streaming PUT pads that sends a series of passengers in one burst. This looks like it is military grade. What is it doing in your room?” she asked and looked questioningly at Jayne.

Suddenly there was an intense white light pulsing from the PUT pad. Bridget stared at it. At the same moment the attendant entered the room with a tray of food held out in front of him. The attendant’s mouth dropped open as the first black-suited man stepped off the PUT. He wore a black helmet that fit like a latex mask. He held a needler in his right hand and a large knife in his left. He was followed by two others, carrying a vertical transfer pod.

Jayne stared as the actions unfolded. The pain meds had dulled her reactions. She conjured a bubble to slow down the passage of time in her head. If she could create the bubble she could slow time and search for a response. In a pulse of infinite time she could explore the myriad of possibilities and find the one with the greatest potential and push the possibility of occurrence to a probability of one. She could save herself if only she could….

In slow motion she watched the man with the needler fire the weapon at the attendant. She watched the attendant fall forward and the food tray tumble in the air spewing yam fries as it went. The tray hit Bridget on the head just as the assailant thrust his knife into her throat. The image of BB’s surprised expression seared itself into Jayne’s mind. The man turned toward Jayne before the knife was completely clear of Bridget’s falling body. He whipped the blade through her neck and around toward Jayne. It cut the cloth hooks that held Jayne’s arms up to the support bar. Miniature droplets of Bridget’s blood sprayed from the blade of the knife as it sliced through the cloth. Jayne’s hands fell to her lap and the pain screamed in her brain. The mist of blood sprayed her face and blurred her vision with a red haze. The mind bubble collapsed without a possibility.

Jayne felt herself being lifted from her bed and placed inside the vertical transport pod. Her hands were held by her sides while stabilizing straps zipped over her body, locking it in place. One of the assailants passed a syringe in front of her eyes and injected her in the side of her neck. The pod was closed and with it the sounds and the sights of the carnage. The drug worked quickly and everything faded to black.

Chapter 4: Imprisoned

The Swarm’s detection had been the major force behind the formation of the World Government. It had taken almost 50 years for the concept to be accepted by all the countries of the world. The most difficult problems came from the world religions. They were all afraid they would be ignored and swallowed up. In fact there were many attempts to do just that. Science was pushed to the fore and religion was demoted. Science was seen as an active way to save mankind while religion was a passive acceptance of what was to come. Many groups embraced the ‘end of days’ concept which resulted in mass suicides. Their numbers thus depleted, these subcultures steadily became less and less prevalent. They still existed but only on the fringes of society. Science became the one and only true god.

Jayne’s eyes fluttered open. All she could see was a smooth white ceiling and walls. She thought she was in her old quarters in the HUB. As her consciousness began to assert itself, the pain swelled. Her hands ached. Her head ached. Her mouth was dry. Her tongue was swollen. She moaned. She tried to move but she soon realized that moving was not a good idea.

A standard AI voice spoke from the walls, “Wu 302875106592253, your consciousness has been detected. Please remain still. A medical attendant will come to your aid in…” the voice paused then continued, “…three minutes.”

Jayne groaned and tried to move her arms. The voice spoke again, “You must remain still or you might damage yourself. The attendant will be here in two minutes and 47 seconds.”

Jayne croaked, “Where am I?” She tried to lift her head from the pillow.

“You are in bed. I have increased the urgency of your situation. The attendant will be here in seven seconds or less,” factually stated the AI.

Jayne heard the sound of a door retracting and then there was an attendant leaning over her.

“Please be calm,” said a soothing voice.

Jayne felt the pinch of a needle in her upper arm.

“That will help with the pain. Here is some water.”

Jayne felt a hand go under her head and lift her up to sip from the offered straw. She drank and sighed. The drug sucked her down like quicksand. She closed her eyes and felt she was slowly disappearing. She tried to fight back but an overwhelming need to submit pushed its way into her mind and slowly shut down all consciousness.

Upon waking Jayne watched the slow drip in an IV above her. Her eyes followed the tube down to where it disappeared from her vision. She thought about moving her head to see where the tube terminated but decided it was not worth the pain that surely would follow. The image of Bridget’s throat being slashed jumped unbidden into her mind. The man in the black body suit had killed her for no reason at all. Jayne pushed the image aside and took stock of herself, starting at her head and intending to slowly move down her body. When she perceived a slight vibration at the top of her head, she knew what that was; she’d experienced it twice before. She was being scanned. There was a cap on her head with small contact points swarming over it like ants on an ant hill. Her mental activities were being recorded.

With nothing she could do about the scan, Jayne continued her self-assessment. Everything else was in order except her hands but even they were far less painful that she last remembered. She tried to lift one arm but it was strapped down to her side. Everything she tried to move would not move. She was restrained completely. A panic rose in her and the bubble began to involuntarily form in her head. It swelled and she climbed into it. The possibilities swirled and time slowed. She began to inspect each possibility. She took the first one out of the morass but quickly dropped it as it required her to do things that were unacceptable. Killing and death were unacceptable except as a last resort. She looked at the second possibility and tried to lift it up and determine if it would help her escape from whoever held her prisoner. The possibility suddenly became extremely heavy. She felt a frantic buzz of the contacts on the skull cap attached to her head. The time suddenly sped up and the bubble burst. She could not hold it. All her thoughts became muddled. She tried to bring a new bubble into being but the harder she concentrated the more frenetic the contacts on her head became. It was as if they were responding to her mental effort. Suddenly Jayne realized that the contacts were in fact responding. They seemed to stop her from thinking and concentrating. She relaxed and began to meditate. The crazy buzzing of the contacts on her head began to slow. Once she was able to blank her mind the buzzing stopped. She breathed slowly and relaxed. Jayne heard the door slide open.

A unfamiliar voice, with a mocking lilt, spoke, “Well, that was interesting. What were you trying to do, anyway?”

Jayne’s first response was a surge of anger. The contact points began to whirr over her head, so she quickly held her emotion in check—they slowed and stopped. She decided that anger might give too much away. She had to be more careful in what she revealed to them, whoever they were. She said nothing. The voice had not come into visual range. They were being careful too.

Jayne realized that the skull cap covered with moving contact electrodes was doing more than recording. It was sending electrical pulses into her brain. The pulses disrupted her thoughts. They made it hard for her to concentrate. She spoke softly and slowly, keeping in check all the expletives that were fighting for a voice, “Who are you? Where am I? Why did you kidnap me?”

“My advice to you is to let all that go. Forget about questions. They will not be answered. Forget about anger. Forget about doing what you just tried to do. It will all be suppressed by the connectome mapping device on your head. As you have already experienced, it does more than record. It also transmits. Get used to wearing it. You will never be allowed to take it off. Your existence is completely under our control. Accept that. Take solace in the fact that you are now serving mankind in a way that a lowly fixer never could.” The voice oozed power.

Jayne just couldn’t help herself. She spoke in a neutral voice, “Yes, master. Your wish is my command.” She paused. “Just be careful what you wish for.”

The voice began to laugh with mocking delight. “You are wonderful. I am really going to enjoy directing your preparation.”

“Preparation for what?” asked Jayne? She heard the contact points buzz. Again she felt like someone had stuffed gauze into her brain. Slowly the contacts stopped and her thoughts cleared.

“Think the wrong thoughts and that will happen. Get used to it. I think you will soon agree that it is to both our benefit for you to think the right things and stay mentally sharp. If you think the wrong things this system will be disruptive and you will feel like something just hit you over the head,” said the voice.

Jayne said nothing. Jayne thought nothing. She would wait until it all became clear. Clarity would dictate what she needed to do to escape this prison. She closed her eyes.

“Now, now, don’t sulk. You will need to communicate with me if we are going to work together and we have a lot to do. Our first objective is to prepare you for a showing. Once you are selected we can continue with your training.”

Jayne did not respond. The contacts remained still.

“Alright, I will leave you to digest what I have told you. Remember that you are never alone. We are always watching.” The door slid open and then closed.

Jayne was alone with her thoughts, she hoped. She smiled, “They are monitoring my brain activity but not my thoughts.” Tomorrow she would experiment. She needed restful sleep and to get better. When she felt better she would do whatever was necessary to escape. Her mind drifted to escape plans and the buzzing on her head started. She pushed all thoughts away and slowly drifted into sleep.

Chapter 5: Getting Prepared

As the World Government grew so the world criminal groups joined together. Their usual fare of weapons and drugs were still big money makers but the provision of other illegal merchandise came to the fore. Modified electronics such as Bloc Hed chairs with all the safety protocols disabled were sought-after items. One merger of criminal organizations became known as the Consortium. The Celtic symbol of the triskelion was their icon. One of their most successful products was also one of the most evil. They trafficked in human beings, especially children they stole from the biomes. Initially they were used for their organs. Later, with advances in connectome tech, the transferring of human consciousness into another’s body became their most profitable commodity.

Time slipped by. She had not left her quarters since her arrival. Jayne did whatever she was instructed to do. She ate and slept, defecated and exercised, and healed. There were no other demands of her, so far. Today she felt good, really good. The bandages from her hands were gone. Her fingers, though pink and tender, had begun to grow thicker dermis. The buzzing of the contacts on her helmet was only occasional. Jayne experimented and discovered that she could almost stop the monitoring by practicing a kind of meditation. She was a master fixer and had completed a meditation course. She was able to clear her mind and slow her heart. When she did this her oxygen consumption decreased dramatically. This technique was designed to be used in emergency situations and this was definitely an emergency. Jayne had also experienced two connectome scans. She made herself familiar with this new process. Modern science could capture and record the connectome of a human brain. The latest techniques were not foolproof. Errors often appeared especially involving neurological processes in the frontal lobe and the corpus callosum. It was also more difficult to duplicate neural processes that were expressed as gamma waves. Hyper gamma waves, expressing over 100 Hz, were almost impossible to record accurately. Jayne knew that mediation helped her express relaxed and reflective theta waves, and when this type of wave was present, the buzzings on the ever-present helmet were silenced.

Jayne was sitting cross-legged on her bed in a state of mediation and the helmet had been silent for the last 30 minutes. A part of her brain suddenly became aware that the door to her quarters had just slid open. Jayne felt her conscious mind shift to alpha waves. The frequency jumped but not enough to signal the helmet to start. Jayne was slowly relaxing again when a voice pushed her brain wave frequency to 20 Hz. Jayne opened her eyes and turned to the voice that she identified as her custodian. The helmet suddenly came alive.

The custodian stood near the doorway and said, “It is time for us to begin the preparation for the presentation.”

Jayne smiled. Smiling kept both her and her custodian calm. She knew that it was important to be calm. Answers to important question would more likely present themselves when calmness prevailed. “May I ask about the presentation?” she asked demurely.

“You may. But it is really not going to give you any more information than the preparation itself,” the custodian responded. “What would you like to ask?”

“I would like to know about the process,” stated Jayne. She was trying to be as non-confrontational as possible.

The custodian sat in the only chair in the austere quarters. “You will rehearse the action and behavior for your presentation. Other inductees will be part of your mock presentation,” he said.

The thought, “Prisoners, you mean!” jumped into Jayne’s head but she quickly squashed it. The resulting increase in action from her helmet was negligible and went unnoticed.

“You will find appropriate attire in the drawers under your bed,” he stated. “When you are dressed, please place your hand over the scanlock.” He indicated the scanlock to the left of the doorway. He stood. “I will escort you shortly.” The custodian left the room.

Jayne leapt to her feet. She had not left these quarters for at least 15 days. Going out excited her. Anything was better than the constant numbness of white walls and buzzing helmet contacts. She opened the drawer and took out a one-piece coverall. It was a plain grey. It was a perfect color for a prison. She put it on. She also put on the sneakers that were under the coveralls. Neither fit her properly. She had to roll up the sleeves and pant legs so she could use her hands and avoid tripping. She approached the scanlock and saw a bit of her reflection. The quarters did not have a mirror. Jayne wanted to see how she looked on her first trip out of her prison. She bobbed her head about in front of the reflective surface of the scanlock in an effort to see herself. She gasped. Her hand went to her forehead and she tried to stick a finger under the helmet on her head. She knew she had no hair. They had shaved it off before fixing the helmet on her head, presumably to ensure good contact for the helmet sensors. But knowing and seeing were two entirely different things. The braid that hung down her back for most of the life was gone.

Continue reading this ebook at Smashwords.
Purchase this book or download sample versions for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-31 show above.)