Excerpt for Impostor by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

impostor

The Forevers Series: book 3
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 3: Impostor ISBN 978-1-927755-60-0 (paperback) ISBN 978-1-927755-61-7 (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. Version 02


Dedication:
To Cheryl Cameron for her commitment to read everything and tell me the truth.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Black and Ugly

Chapter 2: Research and Discovery

Chapter 3: The Takeover

Chapter 4: Jayne Makes Herself at Home

Chapter 5: Cosplay

Chapter 6: Getting into Character

Chapter 7: Dinner With Dr. William Thurston

Chapter 8: The Party

Chapter 9: The Disagreement

Chapter 10: New Plans

Chapter 11: Preparation

Chapter 12: The Gravball Suite

Chapter 13: Gas Aftermath

Chapter 14: Meeting Sentinel Central

Chapter 15: Training

Chapter 16: Prison Visit

Chapter 17: The Garden Party

Chapter 18: Back Home

Chapter 19: Reflection

Chapter 20: Get a Job!

Chapter 21: Interview With HUB Central

Chapter 22: Never the Twain Shall Meet

Chapter 23: Facebots

Chapter 24: Bang Crash, Crash Bang

Chapter 25: On the Dome

Chapter 26: Biome 7

Chapter 27: Caught, But Not

Chapter 28: Lies

Chapter 29: Spy vs Spy

Chapter 30: Private Plans

Chapter 31: Get Thurston

Chapter 32: An Invitation from the Prolocutor

Chapter 33: A Not Unwanted Companion

Chapter 34: Destruction and Discovery

Chapter 35: Spaced

Chapter 36: A Brush With Death

Chapter 37: Expropriation and New Plans

Chapter 38: Plans

Chapter 39: Thurston, Dearest

Chapter 40: Manipulation

Chapter 41: More Plans

Chapter 42: The Sting

Chapter 43: Contained

Chapter 44: Realizations



Chapter 1: Black and Ugly

Connectome science was largely considered to be in its infancy—only an unscrupulous, secretive, brilliant few has made any real advances. Legitimate researchers at the universities were still working on the basic process of capturing and recording a full human mind. New tech in this field wasn’t developing quickly because the main focus of all official research was on saving the entire human race from extinction through the biome project. Building tools to possibly save a few individuals was considered frivolous, even unpatriotic.

There were others who saw developing this tech as a way to generate significant amounts of credits. The more credits you had, the greater your personal chance of survival—if the rumor about a highly specialized biome being built was true. That biome was purportedly smaller but much more sophisticated. It was said to be reserved for those who could afford the price tag, and who wanted to live forever. Biome 13, as it was called in those places where no one ever spoke of credits, offered a viable possibility given this group had 80 years or so to get it ready before the Swarm obliterated Earth. Of course, those fabulously rich people somehow had to live that long….


There were two minds in Jayne’s body but only one of them knew of the other and that one had to be careful for it was a secret she must keep. Jayne wanted to survive and the secret was pivotal to that survival. She would tiptoe around in the darkness when the body and other mind were sleeping, but never in the daylight. She had to cover the tracks of her night forays and leave no hint of her passing. All the while she must spy and search for the way and the opportunity. Escaping would not be easy. The battle would not be bloodless, that is if a dying mind could bleed. At the very least it would be messy.

Jayne prayed she would find the way soon. She knew that this body was sick. She was sick. Her mind was sick. It was disconnected from all that was real. Without reality a mind starts to consume itself. The thoughts reach out to touch something—anything—to make contact with the real world. There are only so many times it can endure coming back empty. Winter Bancroft had been in charge of her body for an eternity, or so it seemed to Jayne.

Jayne had sent a message to Rose. Why hadn’t she come? Perhaps the messengers had failed. She had not checked lately. Tonight Jayne would look to see if the nanobots she hacked on that last day were still viable, still waiting to be activated. Lucky, her office AI, would understand the message immediately. All Rose and the others would need to do was to go into her office and sit down. Lucky was such a blabbermouth he would tell them immediately….

Perhaps they already knew and they still could not find her. The transmission of the nanobots was strong and would certainly be picked up in the normal course of things…. Maybe Winter Bancroft was living in a Faraday cage. If so, she would have to go out sometime or what would be the point. After all she had this brand new body…. But the body was sick. Why was the body sick? Why was Winter’s new body sick?

Jayne wanted to push out a bubble but that was impossible. She only had control of this little section of her own brain. Why is this body sick? Jayne knew she had to stop talking about her own body as if it did not belong to her. It was her body. She had to find a way to get it back.


.


Winter was in bed. It had been nearly a month since she had been awakened in this new body. This was the body she had coveted ever since she had read the files on the diminutive thirteen-year-old girl who had been accepted to the fixer program on HUB…. She could not remember the number. One of the HUBs anyway. She had even gone to meet her. No, not to meet her but to inspect her. She did not want to know anything about the girl’s personality. That might cause her to show weakness. She just wanted to know if this young girl’s brain was adept enough to handle her. After all, she was one of the smartest people on the planet. It was important she say alive so she could help the world survive.

Winter sat up. “Rubbish,” she thought. She was not doing this to help the planet, she was doing this to help herself. Once that was done then perhaps she would give the planet some of her time. “I don’t have to lie to myself.”

But she had not felt very good ever since she had been awakened by William. He kept telling her that this was normal. It took time for a body to adjust to a new master.

She asked him if he felt this sick in the beginning and was irritated at his response. She remembered his exact words, “I never got sick. Perhaps Ranovich was more like me than you are like Jayne Wu.”

What the hell did he mean? Did he think the illness was caused by some incompatibility? Jayne was sweet and lovely while she was bitter and twisted, and this body did not like bitter and twisted? Well, too fracking bad. She liked being a caustic bitch and this body might as well get used to it. She was, after all, all that it had.


.


Jayne was privy to Winter’s thoughts whenever there was a spike of dopamine in her brain. An increase in the amount of this neurotransmitter seemed to open up pathways to the quarantined area where Jayne secretly resided. Initially Jayne considered this a real benefit, since she could keep tabs on everything. Whenever Winter was thinking thoughts that gave her pleasure, the dopamine spiked.

Winter had some particularly nasty thoughts that obviously gave her pleasure. Jayne soon realized the nastiness was more than she could stomach. Just the previous evening Winter had stared at a young man who brought her the evening meal. He was new. She smiled luridly at him and licked her lips in a provocative manner. That was not horrible but it did make Jayne cringe. The disgusting thoughts that followed were difficult to endure. They were violent images of Winter, in her old body, whipping the young man and laughing with each of his screams.

Jayne rationalized that this was better than seeing her own body do those horrible things. Then it occurred to her this was a possible source of her body’s illness. Winter’s mind had not internalized her new physicality. A part of her still thought she was in her old body. This dichotomy was making Jayne’s body sick.

“Good,” thought Jayne, “at least I can consider the body as truly mine.” That was a start. The quarantined area in which Jayne resided was not one single section of her brain but a number of areas randomly situated all over the cortex. They were connected via what Jayne called locked-down pathways—neural pathways that had no direct connection to the rest of the brain’s conscious self. Jayne had not created this hideaway with any conscious awareness of the actual biology—it had been an instinctive defensive action triggered by Winter Bancroft’s first foiled attempt to commandeer Jayne’s body. Jayne, however, knew the pathways were there and was able to open a doorway to the quarantined area to preserve a record of herself during Winter’s second, successful body takeover.

Winter did not know of the locked-down pathways’ existence. As long as that held true she could never locate the part of Jayne that was still in her head.


.


Winter got out of bed. She walked across the room to the small lavatory. Every step she took was precarious. She had difficulty controlling this small body. Every time she took a step there was something wrong. Either the floor felt like it was undulating, or the start of any movement was slightly behind the command to do so. Her new brain told her the movement was complete when in fact it was not. She stumbled and grabbed out for the door she was approaching. She felt an urge to vomit. She steadied herself and the urge faded. She turned and began the trek back to the bed. She grabbed her VID from the table beside her bed and called Thurston.

“That smug bastard better be able to fix this,” she thought as her woozy head hit the pillow. She lay and waited. He did not arrive and with each passing second she got angrier and angrier. By the time he stepped into the room she was seething.


.


The dopamine levels spiked. For Jayne it was like staring through a window into a darkened room and someone suddenly turned on the lights. She could see and hear clearly the events happening in the room.


.


“How are you doing, my love?” cooed William Thurston.

Winter sat up in bed. The quick movement sent her head into a spin. She screamed with frustration and her anger faded in the wake of her helplessness. “This is not working. Fix this, William. I cannot take it anymore.”

“We need to understand what it is we are trying to fix. I have gone over your scans and the logs of the recording process. Everything seems to be within normal parameters. The only thing I noticed was the left-over space.”

“What fracking left-over space? You are talking to the top neuroscientist on this doomed rock, not some nursery baby.”

“Winter, my dear, you have to stay calm. Nothing improves when you get this way,” soothed Thurston as he let a tiny smile slip onto his face. He regretted it and replaced it with a look of concern. It was, however, too late. She had seen it.

Winter stiffened. “If I could get out of this bed I would start by smacking that grin off your stupid face. You used to be handsome but now you are worse than ugly. You are mediocre.”

“I was not mocking you. I was just trying to make you feel better,” lied Thurston. He bit his lip to avoid showing his true feelings. He was really enjoying being in charge. He liked the fact that she had to depend on him.

“Frack you, you bastard,” she screamed and then suddenly softened. “Bill, please help me,” she whispered.


.


Jayne intercepted a series of thoughts and images that expressed Winter’s true feelings. She saw Thurston, in his new body, chained to a wall while Winter, dressed in black latex, was whipping him.

Jayne cringed at the obviously bizarre nature of their relationship. The emotion she felt nearly leaked out of the secure pathway. She blocked the leak and in the process saw that the welling of emotion had enlarged her quarantined space. All Jayne felt was an increase in room. In actuality one of the pathways had expanded and commandeered a web of neurons nearby. The data they contained suddenly became a part of Jayne’s memories. It was something about a child named Chelsea. She was an friend of Winter’s when they were children. Jayne felt another rush that she squashed. She realized she had actually stolen some of Winter’s memories. Jayne knew she lacked most of the information she’d collected in her own memory. It was almost all gone. She had been unable to save it. In its place in her brain there were all the memories and experiences of one of the Earth’s top neurobiologists. The trick was to access the right bits. She had to find a way to fully restore her own brain dominance and memories, and purge this intruder.


.


“I am trying to do just that. You will have to be patient.”

“You know I am not good with patience. Please tell me. Tell me about the ‘left-over space’.”

“Well,” started Thurston, “When I ran comparisons of the last series of connectome recordings and their subsequent implantations, I noticed there were variances as to the amount of data being implanted and the amount of space available. You remember when we first tried to use a blank—a body grown in the lab that had no experiences—the results were catastrophic. I think we used Bernard’s scan. It was like this brilliant mind became severely intellectually challenged. We discovered that a brain without real world experiences was only able to perform autonomic functions. The neurons were there but the connections were not. There was no room for Bernard inside the brain.”

“Of course I remember. It was, after all, my design. You were just the hack who did the grunt work.”

Not to be goaded, Thurston continued, “Well, in most cases, including mine, there was a balance between the size of the scan and the room in the brain. It seems that most intelligent people have the same number of neurons in the cortex along with the requisite connections.” He paused, and he savored what came next. “Well, in your case, the brain and the scan did not match very well.”

“You mean part of me did not make it? Perhaps I misjudged the intelligence of this girl. That explains why I am having so much trouble. This puny brain is simply inadequate.” She looked up at Thurston. “So, what do we do about it? We will have to find someone new. I vaguely remember a seventeen-year-old in one of the biomes—yes, Biome 6. Do you think we can get her?”

Thurston placed his hand on Winter’s hand. His first urge to pop her arrogant bubble had faded. This was not going to be pretty, so he softened it. “Winter, you know that I have always loved you….”

She cut him off. “Cut the crap. Are you telling me that someone else got the girl from Biome 6? If so, I am sure we can find someone else.”

“No, that is not it,” Thurston jumped in. “In your case there was a high percentage of space left over in this girl’s brain after we finished the scan. You were always right in that she was brilliant but you were wrong if you thought that you were her equal. Please don’t feel bad because I do not know of anyone who could be this girl’s equal.” He watched Winter’s face pale and he rushed on. “Think of all you can learn. You, for all intents and purposes, are her. You have the best that human biology can offer.”

Winter seemed to gather for an all-out assault. “You mean to tell me that that little bitch is…” She could not bring herself to finish. Her new body sagged and she said nothing.

Thurston sat beside her. He reflected on the memory of the first time they had tried to transfer Winter’s mind into Jayne Wu. He would have to tell Winter what happened, and about the following months, because the scan he used for this second transfer had been recorded before the first attempt. In the middle of the first transfer Jayne had done something to stop it from happening. This resulted in Winter’s death. Jayne had turned her into a bubbling mound of protoplasm by somehow causing all her cells to become pressurized and burst. Then again, maybe he would never tell her the truth. She had accepted his explanation that she had died quietly in her sleep just after her last connectome scan.

The room went quiet. There was no sound except the occasional sniffle from Winter. Thurston was unsure if she had picked up a bit of a cold or she was actually crying. Winter reached for a tissue from the side table and wiped her nose. She turned and looked at Thurston.

He smiled wanly and reached out for her hand and held it. “Winter, love, what do you want to do?”

She quickly turned to him. The braid that Jayne had carefully cultivated whipped around and slapped her in the face. She reached up and grabbed it. She held it out and stared at it. “You can get me a sharp pair of scissors. I hate this fracking braid. I am going to cut it off and then I am going to figure out a way to fill up all that space in this brain. According to her files this girl could do very interesting and powerful things. I want that power.”

Winter grabbed Thurston’s hand that was gently holding hers and proceeded to bend back his pinky finger. Thurston winced in pain and pulled his hand away. “That is just a little reminder of who is in charge here. Now tell me how you were able to get that new brain of yours to do that telekinesis thing.”

Thurston was conflicted. He did not know whether to allow her to dominate him again or not. He had gotten used to making his own decisions but here she was, ordering him around again. Perhaps this was a mistake. Maybe he should have left well enough alone. Maybe he should have left Jayne alone. He could be out here making credits and living the good life.

He did not care a fracking damn about the Swarm or the coming of the end of the world. He had plans to use this new body until he found an equivalent, or even better, one in someplace like the Wilderlands or Biome 6 or 7. Those two were a lot like Earth. Then he could forget about the Forevers and head out to the stars on his own. The name, Forevers, made him smile. Of course, that is not what they called themselves. They had named themselves the Omega Group. He needed certainty but the Omega Group was not telling anyone if they would be accepted onto the private biome. Everyone who was part of the original group had an equal chance and that was just not good enough. He needed more—after all there was a lot of planning involved and he was not about to put out everything he had for someone else to get his seat. If he planned it right, he could set up a secret lair in one of the caves on one of the other biomes and install all the required equipment to continue his research into connectomes. He would perfect the process. With his knowledge, he could become the leader of the biome and as he got older he could have a son who would take over when he died. Just before that happened he could actually become his own son. He could set up a dynasty—like the Egyptian Sun Gods. If he played his cards right he might still be around when the rock he lived on arrived at the new planet. Why would he stop there? He could, with ten generations of experience, simply continue to build power. He could live forever.

Thurston’s desires sprinted out of his mind until he felt an urge to bellow out a maniacal laugh and reach over and wrap his fingers around Winter’s new neck and strangle the twisted life out of her. Instead he reached into his lab coat pocket and took out the small pressure injector containing a sedative. He leaned over Winter and reached to kiss her on the forehead. At the same time he pressed the injector against her neck and tapped the trigger. He leaned back to see her shocked expression but the sedative had already begun to take effect. He watched her eyes close as she drifted into unconsciousness. He pulled up the blanket to her neck and sat back in the chair beside her bed. He had some thinking to do.


.


Jayne felt the sedative hit her bloodstream. There was no time to stop it. She slept peacefully, tucked away in a secret place in her own brain.

Chapter 2: Research and Discovery

Understanding something as complicated as a human connectome was still a work in progress. There were three major aspects: reading the brain in such a way so as to collect its essence; recording the data in a digital form so as not to lose that basic essence; and sending the data back to another brain in a specifically organized fashion. There had been great advances in the first two areas. Sending the data back into another brain suffered many setbacks. The receiving brain had to conform to many aspects of the originating brain’s physiology and neural capacity. If it did not match up then the body either rejected the new mind or the mind was unable to function in the new brain. A bad match ended either in death or insanity.


Each day Winter became more and more adept at controlling her new body. Each day, with each success, she became less angry. She could walk without stumbling. She could modulate her voice so that she sounded more like a young girl than an old woman. She felt that her memories were all intact. There were some very strange events that puzzled her. One day she heard some music and suddenly everything she could see turned pink in varying intensities and hues. When the music stopped everything returned to normal. When she tried to recreate the event, nothing happened.

She wanted desperately to do some of the things that she knew Jayne had done but there was nothing. This was a body that seemed to be like any other common body. There was nothing special about it. At least that is what Winter concluded. Perhaps this girl’s claims that she could do nothing out of the ordinary was actually true. Perhaps all those recorded anomalies about her being able to control matter were bogus. William Thurston still claimed the girl could generate gamma brain wave bursts he could detect. He even claimed she had been able to visit him with her mind. She had appeared to him when he tracked her to the government facility that housed the probe project. He said it was not a figment of his imagination. Her consciousness had actually been in his ship watching him. He spoke to her and then she disappeared.

Winter laughed. She decided that there was nothing special about this girl. If there was she would have found it by now. She decided to accept this and just get on with creating a new place for herself in the scientific community. The first order of business was to alter her appearance and history so she could go wherever she wanted without someone thinking she was Jayne Wu.

She had spent a great deal of time and credits creating a new identity. She smiled at her cleverness. She created a great grand-niece who was her namesake. Her great grand-niece had not been raised in the nursery like the common people. The fabricated history showed she had been raised and educated in special schools and had excelled at university. She was a neuroscientist just like her great grand-aunt. She did not have to work her way up because she had inherited a fortune. She could do whatever she wanted. “And by god, she would,” thought Winter.

She had set Thurston to the task of creating a series of events that would explain the death of the original Jayne Wu. She did not want anyone looking for the girl—they might stumble on what really transpired. Some time would have to pass in order to give the phony events credence; putting out a story too quickly might draw suspicion which was just not acceptable. So for now Jayne had disappeared while trying to save her friend. She could die next month and her body never found or better yet, Winter would provide just enough blood so that the remains would be identified as Jayne’s. Once Jayne Wu was dead, Winter Bancroft could go about living her new life in this fantastic almost-18-year-old body.


.


Each day Jayne explored her situation. She was here inside her own head but she was not in control. She knew she had to find a way to get control before she went out of her mind. She smiled a mental smile at her little joke. She actually wanted to get out of her mind, at least this part of it. She needed to find a way to gain control and soon. She could expand her space by creating or stealing some dopamine. A flood of the chemical would push out the boundaries and allow her to take over more neurons. The last couple of times she had performed this little trick the neural synapses were empty. She had taken nothing from the bitch in her head. She knew she had to be careful. If she exposed herself too soon, she was sure Dr. Thurston would find a way to expel her permanently. That could not happen. She would not let it. Therefore, caution was the order of the day.

She had found the best time to go out foraging for the information that would help her understand the biology and the chemistry she needed to evict Winter permanently was when Winter was eating. It seemed that the old woman enjoyed this much more that Jayne herself ever did. Whenever Winter was eating, Jayne felt she could take more liberties. She was not sure why but it worked.

Winter was always in a good mood in the morning as she was eating. Jayne figured it had something to do with brain chemistry. One of these times she expanded her quarantine and captured a huge chunk of data. She quickly realized that she could not just steal it. She would have to copy it. If each theft remained undetected, she would remain undetected. She quickly did just that but as she retreated she felt some of her thoughts escape and flood Winter’s conscious mind.


.


Winter turned to Thurston. They often had breakfast together. She bit into a piece of banana and shook her head. “I just had a thought about the foods that are high in tyrosine like this banana. Tyrosine is essential in the manufacture of dopamine. I keep thinking of dopamine and I have no idea why.”

“You’re a neurobiologist. Seems to me that you might think of that particular chemical occasionally or are you suggesting something abnormal? If you are, I am not following. What has dopamine got to do with anything?”

Winter shook her head. “Weird. I have been having some strange thoughts lately.” She looked up at Thurston. “Have you finished planning Miss Wu’s demise? I have been looking at some faces. I have found a couple that I like. I was hoping to avoid any that required bone alteration or repositioning. The healing time is much longer. I will keep this dark hair. I don’t want to bother with changing hair color every three months. But I want to keep it short.” She reached up and pulled the shaggy hair out from her head. “I probably should not have cut off that braid but c’est la vie. Want to help me choose a new face?”

“Surprise me and, in answer to your first question, no I have not decided yet. I am prepared to take advantage of a space accident but nothing has come up yet. If I get her DNA in or on some fiery debris, we can make it look like her body was totally consumed, leaving a smattering of blood behind to identify her.”

“I would like it to happen soon. I have been feeling better lately and I want to get back to my lab.” She grinned. “I mean, I would like to explore my great grand-aunt’s lab. By the way, have we gotten any updates on the completion date for Omega Prime?”

Thurston narrowed his eyes, looked at her and, almost imperceptibly, shook his head.

Winter snapped back at him, “Don’t be such an idiot. No one could possibly hear us. This place is secure, so answer my question.”

In response, Thurston picked up his VID and touched the screen. “It is not totally secure all the time. There are a lot of communication requirements. Everything is encrypted but that does not mean total security. This ship is subject to many scans. I don’t want an accident.” He set down his VID. “There. I have locked everything out but the ship will balk if we are scanned. Orbital protocols demand that we submit to any government scan. If we block them, they have the right to board and search the ship. I assume you would not like to be discovered quite yet.”

“OK, OK. How long do we have?”

“We have until the ship detects a scan. It will sound an alarm and open the system up to the scan. So if you hear a loud klaxon, please stop talking. I don’t want to be expelled from Omega Prime. It took a long time to get considered as a passenger on that biome and I don’t want you to frack it up.”

“Well, well. That new body has really upped your confidence. But I would like you to remember that I paid for that consideration. If you speak to me again with that tone, I’ll have to show you who is in charge.” Winter made the sound of a whip and flicked her hand as if she were wielding one.

There was a brief klaxon sound as the ship opened up to a scan. Thurston stood up and walked out of the small apartment without saying a word in response.

Winter smiled and laughed quietly to herself. She reached out and picked up a piece of fresh melon from the table and greedily ate it, not bothering to wipe away the juice that dribbled down her chin.


.


Jayne felt a rush of hormones. She was prepared. Winter’s thoughts went to her knowledge of human neurology and something else that Jayne did not recognize. She opened the quarantine, grabbed and copied whatever Winter was thinking. She did not attempt to analyze any of the thoughts she was receiving. The last time she had looked at the new data before the quarantine was closed Winter had experienced a rerun. If that happened again it might raise suspicion. Jayne slammed the door to the quarantine before any of her own thoughts could escape. She would have to wait until Winter Bancroft was sleeping before she could look at what she had captured. If anything leaked out, it would seem to be just part of a dream sequence and not arouse suspicion.


.


Jayne’s sense of the passage of time was distorted. Sometimes it seemed as if a whole day were a second and other times a second dragged out for what seemed like days. She thought this was due to the lack of sensory cues. She really had no access to her own senses. The creation of this quarantine was rushed. She never thought that she might have to spend months inside a prison of her own making. It reminded her of solitary confinement she had once experienced in the HUB prison. Only this was much worse. It was starting to affect her sanity.

Later, as Jayne looked at what she had stolen, the word insanity bounced around like a rubber ball in a zero gravity cage. It kept coming back at her until she stopped and asked herself why. Why was she fixating on this thought? Suddenly a way out appeared to her. At first it was a ghostly apparition but became more solid as she looked at what she had taken. She knew days had passed in just a few seconds. Insanity. She would drive Winter Bancroft insane. She would slowly take over under the guise of healing. It was a way but she would need to exercise caution. Insanity was not something to take lightly. The how was all about dopamine. Flooding anyone’s brain with dopamine and not allowing it to be reabsorbed would seriously alter their behavior. It might just do the trick. Schizophrenia. The word kept popping into Jayne’s thoughts. Winter was asleep so she was exploring some of the information she had captured. Excessive amounts of dopamine can lead to a psychotic break very akin to schizophrenia. This was a statement she took verbatim from Winter’s memories. She needed more information. She decided to go out and get it while she had the chance.

Jayne opened up the quarantined section of her own brain and in a totally reckless action, she flooded out. Suddenly her senses were alive. She could hear and smell and feel. She could only see blackness and the occasional splash of color. Then she did something she thought she might never do again—she opened her eyes and could see the entire room. She was no longer on a ship because this bedroom was the most opulent she had ever see. The bed itself was huge. It was strewn with dozens of pillows and cushions. She ran her hands over the sheets. They were so slippery smooth and cool that Jayne could not believe they were actually sheets. Suddenly the reality flooded over her. Winter was asleep and she was awake. She was conscious of everything as if she had taken over. She sat up. There was no response from Winter. Winter was still asleep. Temporarily Winter was the sleep consciousness and Jayne was the awake consciousness. All thoughts of dopamine and creating insanity in herself simply vanished. That was no longer necessary. All she needed to do now was to slowly grab more and more neurons while Winter was sleeping until the scales were tipped in her favor. Once that happened she could simply do what she had done before. She could take control of her own brain and put old Winter Bancroft into quarantine. Once she had her there Jayne would take everything from her; all her memories and all her knowledge. Then she would crush all possibility of her ever taking over this brain that did not belong to her.

Jayne felt powerful. “Why not do it now?” she thought. “I could do it right now. One little push and I could be inside a bubble. A few microseconds later I would find the best line of action.” Jayne pushed and a bubble formed over her and time slowed. The lack of the expected zillions of possibilities startled her. There was only one and it stood out as if someone had built a special tower just to highlight and present it as extraordinarily special. Jayne breathed it in like a magic vapor and the possibility became an almost perfect probability. The bubble burst. Winter had no connection to what had just happened and would never again control this body.

It was so simple. Sleep had made Winter Bancroft an unknowing victim of Jayne’s plan. Jayne’s mind swept like an eternal desert wind, picking out each grain of memory that was part of Winter. The monolith was crumbling one neuron at a time like removing a single grain of sand every nanosecond from a gigantic pyramid until there was nothing left but shifting dunes of memories. To be safe she placed each grain into the quarantine area. Jayne swept the sand into an indistinguishable mound of desert and tucked it away. She locked the quarantine. Most of Winter Bancroft’s objective memories were now accessible to Jayne. The rest—the subjective thought patterns that formed her personality—was safely locked away. For all intents and purposes Winter Bancroft was dead. She had literally died in her sleep.

Jayne scanned the last months of memories from Winter. She had moved back to her estate as her own great grand-niece. She had not told anyone except someone call Underhill that she was really still the original Winter Bancroft. The memories also told Jayne that Winter, in her new body, still maintained the old Winter’s attitudes and behaviors. Jayne guessed it was to be explained as ‘like great grand-aunt, like great grand-niece’. The rest of the estate employees had been replaced just in case anyone else might suspect the connection. It was obvious that Winter wanted to be someone else and be herself at the same time. It seemed to Jayne that she had succeeded.

Jayne smiled and got back into bed. She snuggled down between the shiny sheets, occasionally suppressing a giggle. The plan was so perfect that it sparkled like a pink diamond. She was inside. She was the perfect spy. All she needed to do was to play the part of Winter Bancroft. She hoped it would be easy.

She had everything she needed. She sat up quickly in bed and pulled the blankets up to her mouth and whispered, “Not everything. I will have to work at being evil.”

She smiled, flopped back down and fell into a contented sleep. After all, this was her bedroom in her house. Just before she drifted off completely she took a virtual memory tour of the mansion she now lived in so she knew where to go for breakfast.


Chapter 3: The Takeover

The latest rage in fashion was the use of nanobots for short-term body effects. There were the more common make-up bots that were injected directly into the face of the client. These bots could simulate any type of makeup like eye shadow, lip gloss, eyeliner, lash enhancers as well as control the skin tone of the entire face. These bots were still subject to the rules. They must not be able to self replicate and must die after a predefined period of time. These types of bots were really embraced by actors. Stage actors had become rather passé but were making a comeback in popularity. People were tired of virtual actors and wanted the real thing. Professional actors’ make-up bots could do more than replace make-up. They could instantly simulate tattoos, scars, jewelry, and even change the actual shape of the face. If you needed fat lips or a big nose, you could order them up with a swipe of your finger on your VID. Make-up nanobots were especially useful during action scenes. If the actor was scripted to suffer a cut across his cheek during a sword fight, the effect could happen instantaneously. By law these bots would cease to exist after 8 hours and their effects would disappear.


Jayne woke the next day feeling powerful. She now had complete control of her own brain. She felt relaxed and refreshed. Before she opened her eyes she reflected on what she should do next. She had two choices.

First option: she could bide her time and, when the moment was right, she could capture Thurston and end his control over her forever. This was the most attractive for she could make it happen very quickly. After all, she was in charge of this whole crazy endeavor. She could contact Dr. Pincet and Spike. They would come instantly. She would make sure Thurston would not have even an inkling what was to happen before it was over and he was back where he belonged—in a maximum security prison for the rest of his life.

Second option: she could let Winter’s whole scenario play out. She would not only get Thurston, she might even discover more about the biome called Omega Prime and the people who ran it. She suspected these were the elusive Forevers who had been the source of nearly all the bad things that had happened to her.

She opened her eyes knowing that she really had only one choice. She must let the scenario play out. She must stop them all. She must stop Thurston, the Consortium and the Forevers, once and for all. She would need help. She would need more help than Greenway’s organization could possibly provide. She needed HUB Central and she might need the Sentinels. But that would come after she had established herself.

Everything that Winter had known Jayne now knew. There were a number of information sets from her own fixer studies she would have to relearn as they were lost when she escaped to the quarantine in her own head but she was not worried. They could easily be assimilated as soon as the time and the information was available. For now she needed to become Winter Bancroft II. There was one thing she would not do and that was to change what she looked like in any permanent way. Jayne reached up and felt her short hair. Anger sparked in her at the loss of her braid. She pushed the thought aside and smiled. Since she was now in charge, Winter would just change her mind. She would change her hair style and color. Jayne would become a chameleon to conceal her real identity, just a Winter would have done, from anyone who might blow her cover. She popped out of bed and prepared to leave this room and head to breakfast.

She stopped at the door. Suddenly she knew this was wrong. She could not ever act like Jayne Wu. She must be Winter Bancroft pretending to be Winter Bancroft’s great grand-niece. This would be easier to pass off if this girl was just like her ancient aunt – a chip off the old block, so to speak. She searched her new memories and came up with the proper sequence of events on her first day back in her own body.

She pulled on an ornate rope that hung to the side of the head of her new bed. It was how the ancient rich called their servants. No sooner had she let the rope go than three girls, no older that Jayne herself, entered the room. They were all a little startled that Jayne has actually dressed herself. One took her by the arm and seated her in a hairdresser’s chair in front of a vanity. Jayne sat and stared at herself in the large oval mirror. Her hair was very disheveled.

Jayne frowned, “I want a blonde page boy look and I want some of the new nanobot makeup that I read about on the Nwebbies.” It came out like a polite request.

Jayne saw the girls glance at each other. Realizing her error, she changed her tone, “Now, for frack sake. What the frack are you little bitches waiting for?”

One girl quickly turned to leave and the others started with her hair. She was tipped back and her hair was washed, cut, dyed, and dried. Jayne looked back at herself in the vanity. She really liked her new look. “Good,” she said, “now the makeup?”

Just then the other servant girl arrived with a small case she opened and set on the vanity. “Miss Winter, I have the newest in nanobot makeup. The expert esthetician will be here momentarily. I do not possess the expertise to apply this new product.”

Jayne considered beginning a process of modifying Winter’s personality to be more like her own. She would make her dominant but forgiving. Jayne reflected and then decided it would be best to blend the old Winter personality with the new – at least in this house. She spoke, “I want you to know I appreciate someone who admits to their inadequacies. I appreciate it once. The next time it happens I will not be so polite. How long am I supposed to wait?”

The door opened and an older woman came in. She was apologetic, “Miss Winter, Giorgio will be here momentarily. May I show you some of the effects that the new makeup is capable of displaying?”

Jayne nodded her head. She recognized the woman as Underhill. This was the only person who knew of the mind transfer.

The woman continued, “The heaviest concentrations of nanobots are inserted just above the edge of your eyebrows to control the eye shadow effects, and inside your mouth at the edge of your lips to provide lip color. Those that control your facial skin tone will be injected behind your ear lobes. If you wish to actively modify the length of your eyelashes the nanobots will be injected into the corners of your eyes. All of this is painless. These newer facebots will require reapplication every couple of days. Do you have any questions?”

Before Jayne could even reconsider a short man walked into the room and spoke as he approached Jayne. “If this beautiful woman has any questions, I will answer them.”

He looked at Jayne as if he were inspecting a piece of machinery. He reached out and touched her nose. “Perfect. I am sorry, there is very little I can do to improve perfection. I can, however, make it more colorful. When I am finished it will shimmer with a radiance that will make every man and every woman, in whatever room is privileged with your presence, stare at you with palpable envy.”

Jayne grinned at his sycophantic words. She laughed out loud and then quickly frowned. “Shut the frack up and get it done.” She tilted her head back and closed her eyes.

After a quick shuffle of items her face was surrounded by a cloth. She felt a few pinches that made her wince and then it was over. She sat up and looked at herself in the vanity mirror. Nothing had changed. She looked exactly the same.

Giorgio spoke, “Please insert this into your VID and you will be able to control the bots to change your look anyway you wish.”

Jayne nodded. She realized she did not have a VID. At least she did not have Jayne Wu’s VID. She took the chip and said, “I will deal with this later. I am starving. I want breakfast.”

The older woman spoke, “Miss Winter, your breakfast is ready. Would you like me to accompany you and brief you on the latest events?”

“Please.” She stood up and walked toward the door, followed by the woman. Jayne suddenly felt she was out of character. Winter would not have said ‘please’.

She knew she had to be this horrible woman, but not for long. Winter Bancroft’s body was long dead. The mind that had inhabited Jayne’s brain was also dead. Jayne knew she had one last thing to take care of to make sure that she was never bothered by Dr. Winter Bancroft ever again. She would erase all traces of her connectome scans the first chance she got.

Jayne turned around suddenly and looked at the woman with as irritable an expression as she could muster and rasped, “I want the latest now, for frack stake. Speak.”

Jayne turned and listened to the woman talking to her back. She walked away quickly, catching only the odd word.

Jayne sat at a small table on a balcony overlooking a real garden. Food was brought to her by no less than three servers. They were all about to lift the lids to the breakfast. A moment of apprehensiveness skipped over Jayne’s face at the thought of what she might be required to eat. She would have to eat it if she were to maintain her cover. She prayed there was no meat from real animals. She breathed a sigh that she turned into a smile of appreciation when the lids were lifted. There was a vast selection of fruit, some warm scones and a selection of jams. The woman poured a cup of coffee for Jayne. Jayne picked it up and smelled it. She had never tasted coffee before. She took a tiny sip and knew immediately that she would never taste it again. The taste was so bitter and foul she could not believe anyone would pay to drink it. Coffee was expensive and difficult to get.

“Ma’am?” queried one of the servers. She held a small pitcher of cream in her hand and offering to pour some into the coffee.

Jayne set the coffee down and the server attempted to pour the cream. Jayne held up her hand to stop the girl. She knew that no amount of cream was ever going to make the coffee palatable. “Tea, please. Lemon and honey. Unlike my aunt, I do not like coffee.”

The girl simply nodded and walked away, presumably to get the tea Jayne had ordered. Jayne started to eat. She could not remember ever being quite this hungry. She suddenly craved eggs. Synth eggs would be preferable but she could stomach real ones. “I would like some scrambled eggs.”

One of the other servers nodded, “Ma’am,” and left.

Jayne ate until she was so full she burped and patted her belly in a very unladylike fashion.

The woman stepped from the background and stood opposite Jayne. “May I continue?” she asked.

Jayne nodded.

“I have just received word that the new laboratory is nearly ready. It is state of the art. Some of the subjects are being prepared as we speak. The security procedures for transit have nearly been finalized. You will be able to start work there in a few days.”

“Where is it?” asked Jayne as she nibbled on some crumbs from the table top.

The woman tensed and looked askew at Jayne as if she was being tested. “Ma’am, I have no idea. I know the transport procedures entail a number of encrypted PUT jumps but that is all. As I recall you ordered a totally secret location known only by an air-gapped computer network.”

“Good.” She looked at the woman and lowered her voice. She spoke conspiratorially. “You know that I have been away for a while and I am just getting used to this new body so if I say or do something that you find odd, please tell me. And remember that the new staff must always believe I am Winter’s great grand-niece.”

“Yes, ma’am,” responded the woman, noticeably more relaxed.

“You mentioned subjects. I would like to review each one. I want all their files. Can you get them for me?”

“Yes, ma’am.” The woman held up the large scribe tablet she had been holding and swept her finger over its surface. “I have sent them to your VID. You may scan them at your leisure. Is there anything else I can do for you?”

“Yes. I want to know the location of my old connectome scans. I want to do another one from inside this brain.” She knocked on her head. “I want to run a comparison to see any changes have occurred. There is a lot that I cannot seem to remember. I suspect it is because my scan required more space that this brain had available. I am even forgetting what happened this last month. I need full access to everything including all of Dr. Thurston’s research.”

“That is already available any time you wish to access it. You were not really yourself up until this morning. You were, if I may be forthright, a little delirious.”

“I am not delirious now. I would like to go to my office and get down to work.”

“I will take you there now.”

“I am not an old lady anymore. I do not need to be coddled.”

In a few minutes she found herself sitting at an old-fashioned wooden desk. The chair was state of the art and fitted her body perfectly, constantly sensing any points of body tension and adjusting itself to ease the stresses. Jayne was alone and she explored. In the center of the desk was a VID of a type that Jayne had never seen before. She picked it up and it responded with a process of identification.

Finally the VID spoke, “Dr. Bancroft, I suggest you ask me to turn on the shielding before we continue.”

“Yes.”

“The office is now shielded from any known form of incursion. All of your actions are now subject to the latest encryption algorithms. You may do whatever you wish knowing that everything that enters or leaves this room will be indecipherable by any third party.”

“Good. Please shut yourself off. I do not wish any interruptions.”

“I do not recommend that course of action. I can only be helpful. I am not programmed to share anything that happens in this room with anyone outside of this room.”

“Do you keep a log of what transpires here?”

“Yes.”

“What if I ask you not to keep a log?”

“Then I would not keep a permanent log.”

“So you would keep a temporary log.”

“Yes. I would need that to accurately communicate with you in a meaningful way.”

“I am glad you are a perfectly honest AI. So now shut yourself off. This is not a point that needs further discussion.”

The screen on her VID showed an exit icon. Jayne touched it and the AI was gone. At least she hoped it was. AIs had been hacked before. She had done all she could to ensure that she could become Jayne Wu for a few moments and not be discovered. She picked up the VID and inserted the makeup chip. She played with the interface while she stared into a small mirror on the desk. After a number of tries she stared into the mirror and a garish circus clown stared back. She laughed and erased the make-up with a touch to the screen.


Chapter 4: Jayne Makes Herself at Home

The economic system of the world had been standardized in the wake of preparing for the arrival of the Swarm. It was defined as a meld of all the positive qualities of Socialism and Capitalism and dubbed Soccapism. It was a setting of limits that disallowed either of the respective parts from running wild. There were many historical examples of both destructive Socialism and destructive Capitalism. The twentieth century held examples of both. The end result of these two ‘isms’ gone bad was a total destruction of the middle class. In the end there were only a tiny percentage of very rich and a large percentage of very poor. The new order that came about with the discovery of the Swarm brought balance to the world. You could still become very rich but not at the expense of the majority. The more credits a company or individual earned, the more the society as a whole benefitted. Some saw the tax rates as exorbitant but they paid them. At least that was what the law demanded. It was not perfect. There were those who simply went underground. If, however, you wanted to live the good life, you would have to contribute in kind.


Jayne explored the office. There were some old-fashioned photographs of Winter Bancroft as a young woman. In all of them she was standing beside different young men who seemed to be more than friends. On the shelf beside the desk were a few models of the human brain and even a real brain soaking in some liquid preservative. Jayne shuddered at the thought. That was a brain of a person who was once alive, filled with thoughts and emotions. She started to visualize a person that the brain might have belonged to but then stopped herself. She knew she did not have time for such flights of fancy. There were also a pile of scientific scribe sheets containing the latest brain research. Jayne scanned them, her mind taking a picture that she would decipher and read later. The wall displayed various works of art from various periods. All were portraits. Jayne found them all depressing. She made a note to herself to replace them with flower scenes and dancers. She liked those things. Even holo posters of the latest GravBall players would be an improvement.


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