This is actually four chapters being reduced (from 14,500 words) down into one (about 6,500 words now). The first part (before the "#") was already shared on the Phoenician Series blog as a Sample Sunday last week. I've been working all week at finishing up the edits to get the rest of the plot points summarized or removed. I don't want to keep spoilering the book on that blog before I publish it in December, so I'm snippeting here...not that anyone couldn't figure out I'm running both blogs since I keep mentioning it :) Let's just pretend for marketing purposes that it makes sense.
There's no character introduction in this chapter since it takes place almost 75% of the way into the book and you'll already know who all the players are if you've been reading the whole book. For those of you who are new to the Phoenician Series books, or reading this as your first sample of that book, click here to open a text file (in a new window) with a summary of the book to this point (spoilers included). Alternatively, you can read most of the earlier chapters on Authonomy (only need to register if you want to comment). Of course, if you just want to get to the snippet already, click through the jump-break now. ^_^
Disclaimer re formatting: this is a copy/paste directly from MS Word into Blogger. It is what it is: FREE and a DRAFT. Enjoy it for what it is.
[[ Excerpt from Conditioned Response, Book 2 of the Phoenician Series - Chapter titled "the test" will not really be chapter ten. ]]
The thought invaded the solace of her trance.
(Shayla, it is me. Charlie. I can tell you are aware of me, but that knowledge frightens you. I waited until you entered Tzao Ten so you would be relaxed. There is no danger. You will not black out again.)
A part of her consciousness focused itself and tried to comprehend the invasion. At one level, she knew she was still in the meditative trance of Tzao Ten, she knew she was conscious and sitting in lotus on a bed in Joshua Caine’s home. She could even sense Raif sitting next to her, watching over her, as he often did.
She felt safe.
At another level, it was as though she were asleep, dreaming of standing in the middle of a vast nothingness that stretched out into forever and only the sound of Charlie’s voice stood between her and the edge of the nothingness. She felt drawn to his voice and yet, couldn’t tell where it came from, in which direction to turn to reach it.
She felt lost.
She hadn’t even paid attention to the content of the message at first, but now it started to sink in what Charlie had said. Something about blacking out. No, something about not blacking out. Again. No danger now, so did that mean she could relax her mental guards and…and what? (Shayla, it is safe. I promise you. Let down your guard. Do not be afraid to let me in. Try to relax, just sense your surroundings and then, when you can feel your way, come to me, answer me. I am maintaining the contact between us and I will stop you before it becomes dangerous.
You cannot go beyond the link. I promise you. It is safe now.)
Now? Had this thing harmed her before? No, not thing. Charlie wasn’t a thing. Raif called him a thing but Charlie was someone she could trust. She knew she could trust him. Slowly, cautiously, she forced herself to relax, to open up, to embrace the vast nothingness and be drawn into it. She felt him taking her in, embracing her, engulfing her, becoming one with her. She let herself join with the nothingness that was Charlie—and that’s when she knew what was wrong. She tried but couldn’t stop what happening. She knew it couldn’t go on, couldn’t be allowed to continue to its logical conclusion, not without someone here to control it. That’s what the Seven Chiefs did but they weren’t here now. She was alone with Charlie. How could she have been so foolish?
Joshua tried to give Cory his full attention but it was hard to focus knowing that the Phoenician woman and his two samples were just up at the top of the stairs. Besides, Cory was droning on about his biological data as though Joshua actually cared about such things. If Cory were talking about anything other than the status of the samples, Joshua would have told him to shut up and go away already, but this was important—and now Joshua wasn’t even paying attention.
Andrew would have paid attention. Andrew loved details even when they pertained to biological data. Andrew was the rational one, the software expert. He liked to analyze everything. Joshua didn't like to analyze. He liked to do.
It was almost ironic that Joshua, the hardware engineer was the emotional one. Joshua hated all of the biological discussions. They were messy and uninteresting and didn’t apply to anything he’d ever built anyway so it was all he could to just patiently wait for the report to end without wringing the life from Cory Jansen's throat.
These days, for Joshua Andrew Caine, it was all he could do to stay resolved into one functional person just half of the time.
Cory flipped through notes he’d taken—on an actual sketch-n-shake notepad, no less!—and shook his head. “I can’t tell what caused that specific defect, but it’s irreparable, just like the others. Bottom line, he’s terminal.”
“How long?” Joshua asked as the door to his study opened and William stepped one pace into the room, then stopped to assess the conversation he was interrupting. Joshua said, “I thought I locked that.”
“You did.” William said and closed then locked the door behind him. “I’m interrupting but are you nearly done, Cory? My news—well, it can wait but I can’t.”
“I think I am done. It’s bad news all around.” Cory said and let out a heavy sigh, shaking his head wearily.
“Not quite.” Joshua bit out. “I asked you how long?”
“Oh, right, well, it’s hard to pinpoint but at his current rate of decay, I’d guess that you outlive him. He probably won’t last another twenty years.”
“And you think I will?” Joshua laughed.
“I think he’ll start to degrade at an exponential rate in the next five years. After that, whether it’s from a heart attack, a stroke or maybe just—whatever kicks in first, it’d be a mercy to kill him now while he still thinks he’s healthy and fit. He’s not even up to standard Proctor fitness levels right now if my readings are correct. I’m amazed he’s still meeting performance standards. Being produced on the standard production line, without any special—”
“You’ve already tried blaming the process, Cory. Repeatedly. Let’s move on. Isn’t there something you can do to repair the damage now?”
“It’s not just damage from the standard reproduction process. His actual design was still flawed. I wasn’t finished and now, short of redesigning his DNA in vivo, no, there’s nothing I can do. It’s just too late, Caine. Twenty years too late.”
Joshua looked to William, standing at parade rest just inside the door, patiently waiting his turn. It was comforting to have him here on nights like this. He had to wonder what he’d do if this kind of error were ever to occur with one of William’s redesigns. Joshua didn’t think he could go on alone, without his right hand man.
“All right, Cory, thank you. William, please tell me you have better news about the repro—the other one, what’s his…Brennan.” His memory was slipping more and more often these days, especially when he got upset. He needed to stay calm. Joshua needed to cede control to Andrew.
“In fact, I do.” William took two steps forward, looked to Cory who shrugged and sat down in the chair next to the Administrator’s big desk. William said, “Good news and bad news but the bottom line is the repro, Brennan, is potentially salvageable. One hundred percent if my analysis is correct. The bad news is it will take a significant investment to conduct the salvage activity. Both time and resources. He’s completely lacking any mental training from what I can tell and he’s suffered an immense amount of mental damage due to repeated Adjustments. We really shouldn’t have transferred that technology through to the Council. Their applications are completely unregulated. It’s reprehensible what kind of damage was done to his mind. He’s a virtual roadmap to the abuse perpetrated—and he’s no different than half of the other Proctors. They’re all subjected to this.”
Joshua nodded. “I’m sick of hearing about our mistakes tonight. May we please address the Adjustments abuse problem later? Tell me the good news.”
“It’s phenomenal, actually. By some stroke of luck, he was bored while we waited out the surgery. I convinced him to allow me to take a scan, just to pass the time, you understand.”
“Wait, what kind of scan? Genetic or—”
“Memory.” William said and smiled widely. “I have a high-resolution map and,” William shook his head and smiled broadly. “I don’t know how it all got in there but someone stuffed his head full of your memory map.”
“It’s you, Josh. I’ve seen your map often enough, you know. I’d recognize it at a glance and in my sleep. It’s yours, he’s you, a perfect repro just…disconnected. He’s not done growing—you were right, he was a preemie, probably decanted with a year to fourteen months’ growth left—but those memories have been maturing. From what I saw on that scan, it’s all normal—except for the damage done by the Adjustments. Mentally, he’s been damaged, rearranged to such an extent, he has no idea the information is even in there. But physically, he’s in perfect condition, none of the damage we saw in the older one. The repro can be salvaged and trained. With proper assistance, I’d say we could salvage him without any invasive treatments at all. Just a few years’ intensive education. He needs to learn how to think, how to access all of that data in his head. You must have noticed it when you got him to speak. He’s not all there.”
Joshua muttered, “Yes, I noticed, though he doesn’t speak much, does he? I don’t think Raif lets him. I’m not sure what’s going on there,”
Cory leaned forward, extending his hand to William. “That’s remarkably good news. Do you have the scan there?” William handed him the data panel. “I’ll need a new scan of the other one, the older one, um, Raif.” Cory looked over at Joshua then started scrolling through the data panel to see William’s results.
Joshua Andrew Caine tented his hands in front of his face and using his index fingers, smoothed out his moustache in a habitual move. He didn’t take his eyes off William. He asked, “Is it really me, Cory? Do you concur?”
“Could be. I’d like to do a bit more testing but…yes, I think he is. This looks like maybe ninety percent of your map, not the whole thing. I’m already finding gaps just glancing it—”
“But most of it’s there.” William insisted.
Cory nodded. “Yeah, definitely, and we could easily salvage from this. The physical changes are subtle and artistic. That older one—”
“Raif.” Joshua interjected.
“Right, Raif made physical changes to the design for this, uhh, Brennan’s design and I like what I’m seeing. Brennan seems to be a stable design, even if slightly off spec. He’s got more than another year, maybe eighteen months to full maturity. I’d like a chance to take a closer look, do another scan to confirm the genetic similiarites didn’t kick in any subroutines, you know, check all the possibilities. I think we’re a go with this one, though. We could retrain him by the time he’s physically a match.”
Joshua let out the breath he’d been holding. “He won’t need any genetic adjustments? The changes Raif made are compatible?”
“Yeah, sure, better than my original ideas about finishing off the design. He’s got some artistic flair in here. Like that. I wouldn’t have done that.” Cory said absently. He was sliding through the data on the pad instead of really paying attention. Joshua hated it when Cory half-ignored him this way. “Now this is strange. Looks like Brennan’s got some other stuff in here. I think he’s got some of his uhh, Raif’s map in here, too.”
“I’ll need to rescan them both. Raif’s not too pleased with me right now but I’m sure I can find a way to convince them both to allow me a scan before they leave. Progenitor’s rights and all.”
Cory put the panel down on the desk and eyed Joshua. “Why’s he got it in for you? I noticed that in the surgery. What’d you do to piss him off?”
William muttered, “Much.”
Joshua glared up at William, who smiled in return.
Cory cursed under his breath. “You hit on her? You had what, one hour? Are you incapable of meeting a woman and not having sex with her?”
“It wasn’t like that Cory.”
“No? Were you just hoping she’d kill you? Phoenicians and humans aren’t compatible—for a lot of reasons, starting with the fact they incinerate us with a thought. You keep trying to relive that first death by fire and one of these times, you’re gonna succeed.”
Joshua dropped his folded hands to the desk and examined his fingernails. “I should certainly hope not. Once was quite enough. Besides, I used a dampening field. She couldn’t have killed me even if she’d tried.” He said that to assure himself as much as the others.
Andrew had been burned alive, conscious to the bitter end, but Joshua had survived, or most of him had. Together they’d made a whole man again, if they could just manage to stay whole—or finally both die at once. Joshua asked, “So Brennan could be trained in what, two, maybe three years?” William cleared his throat and Joshua looked up at him. “No?”
“More than two or three years, Josh. Let’s make a five-year plan for Brennan. He hasn’t had any real training. You said you don’t want to wipe him clean and start fresh, but will we be changing his name later—”
“No.” Joshua said flatly. He’ll keep his own name. He’s had a life for three years. We can’t wipe him clean and start again. That’s practically murder. We’ll have to…recruit him.”
“Like a stranger?” William asked and Joshua nodded. “Then we should get started tonight or first thing in the morning. There’s a lot to—”
“No. I said recruit, not kidnap. We’ll have to convince him to come back alone—of his own free will. Every choice from this point forward must be of his own free will. He is absolutely to be treated like a…like an Administrator but… we’ll let Stafar decide how to place the man during his indoctrination, but first we have to get him on board.”
William shook his head, “That activity had better stay above my pay grade.”
Cory asked, “How are we going to recruit him if we let him keep his own personality intact?”
“I’ll manage it. I’ll have the conversation. I’ll make the first contact. In fact, no one but me will discuss this or anything else about our organization with him. Either of them. Are we clear?”
Cory nodded without even looking up from the data pad. William gave a terse, “Clear.”Joshua felt relief wash over him. Even if they didn’t know every detail of how they would be accomplishing it, he now knew what role Brennan would play in the greater scheme of things. Brennan was going to be Joshua’s exit strategy. At long last, the next time someone killed Joshua Andrew Caine, he would actually stay dead.
Raif tried not to jump to conclusions when Shayla’s breathing changed, but sitting there next to her on the bed, it would have been impossible for him not to notice it. Her breath got heavier, more strained, even caught in her throat and he couldn’t deny it. He knew the sound too well. He yearned to hear her make sounds like that but not here, in Caine’s home and certainly not with an audience. He glanced over to check on Brennan, happily busy at the far end of the room making himself a sandwich. Good.
Raif didn’t know what that AI was doing inside her head but he didn’t want to share. He definitely didn’t like the idea of that thing getting her sexually aroused like this. He didn’t want that thing to have her. He wanted her for himself. He shouldn’t want her like this and wouldn’t admit it to her or anyone else but he couldn’t deny it to himself, not with the case of blue balls he was developing. If she kept moaning like that, he was going to have to get up and walk away—while he could still walk—maybe escape into the hallway where he wouldn’t have to hear it anymore. Problem was, he’d promised he wouldn’t leave her side. Of course, Brennan would still be here and could probably cover if necessary.
He was giving this serious consideration when she started glowing. An aura of blue-white light formed around her and Raif studied her face through it. He didn’t know what her face looked like during sex but he decided, this wasn’t it.
Something was wrong. Very wrong.
“What the fuck?” Raif looked up to find Brennan standing at the end of the bed biting into his sandwich, brow furrowed as he gave Shayla the once-over. “I know Phoenicians are different but that is one fucked up way to have sex, Raif. That is what she’s doing, right?”
“That’s what I’m trying to determine—and stop talking like that.”
“Why? Can she hear us?”
“Possibly. Hopefully. I need to bring her out of this, Brennan.”
“What, you mean she doesn’t usually do that?”
“No, she does not and I’m not sure what to do about this.”
Brennan nearly choked on his food as he laughed and chewed at the same time. “I know you know what to do when a woman makes a sound like that. I’ve heard the stories—but I can take care of that for you. She would definitely not be a hardship to—”
“Shut. Up. And no thank you. I’ll handle it myself.”
“Yeah? Can I watch?”
Raif gave Brennan a look that said he not only wouldn’t be watching, but if he didn’t change the subject, he wouldn’t be experiencing it himself again either.
“Hey, I haven’t gotten laid in three days. Give me a break, Raif.”
“Julia kick you out of bed so soon, did she?” Raif couldn’t help but feel a little smug at the idea even though he knew it wasn’t true. “There’s something very wrong here, Brennan.”
Brennan stuffed the rest of his sandwich into his mouth and dropped the plate onto the night table before downing a glass of water. Raif tried shaking the bed next to her but it was already too late. That wasn’t going to be enough to bring her out of this. Worse, the blue-white aura making her glow was now eminating heat—burning heat. The kind of burning heat that had melted half of Collier’s face away. If Raif touched her barehanded now, he knew he’d burn his hand—or worse.
Brennan asked, “So now what do we do?”
“Go get some wet towels. Drench them in cold water. Don’t wring them out.”
Brennan took off towards the bathroom and Raif leaned down on the bed, a hand on either side of her. He pressed sharply to bounce the bed again. He shouted her name, right into her face, pleading with her, but the glow actually brightened. He switched to Phoenician and tried reasoning with her but nothing was working. The heat wave coming off of her was starting to flush his face, just inches away from hers. He was amazed to find himself tempted to kiss her. If he made contact, flesh to flesh, she could kill him, but now he understood why Collier had done it anyway. He was still considering it when Brennan returned, his arms full of wet towels, dripping down his legs.
Raif hopped off the bed and grabbed two then wrapped them around his hands and wrists like mittens. “Get ready to pull me off if that glow brightens anymore.”
Brennan dropped his pile at his feet with a splat and eyed Shayla worriedly as he tucked the towels tightly in around Raif’s wrists.
“It’s pretty bright now, Raif.”
“I know. I can still do this but I haven’t got much time left.”
Raif crawled back across the bed on his knees. Shayla remained sitting in lotus, her posture in contradiction to the rhythmic sounds she was making. The aura around her was glowing a bright blue-white now. He’d probably only have one shot so he braced himself then grabbed her by the shoulders and gave her a few hard shakes, shouting at her in Phoenician again.
Steam sizzled off the point of contact and he could feel the cool, wet towels heating up and drying off. He snatched his hands back and shook off the towels before they burned his hands inside of them. Brennan patted at his hands with a fresh, wet towel. The cool water soothed and he dreaded having to go at it again but he’d burn his hands to the bone for her if that’s what it took.
He managed to get a new set of wet towelled mittens wrapped around his hands, and had just crawled back over to her on his knees when she opened her eyes. She looked Raif in the eye, breathless and confused. The blue-white light glowed back at him from behind her long lashes, as though she were lit on fire from within. He was still close enough he could feel her breath when she parted her lips to exhale.
He tried not to think about kissing her but his gaze dropped to her mouth reflexively, betraying his lust. She looked puzzled for a moment, then a look of horror spread across her face.
“Raif, what did you do to me?”
Raif stumbled back, nearly fell off the bed and would have had Brennan not caught him. Raif told Shayla, “Nothing! I swear, I didn't do anything. Did I?” He looked up for Brennan to confirm his innocence.
Brennan helped Raif stand on his own two feet and picked up another wet towel from the floor, saying, “He was just trying to wake you up, Councillor.” Brennan dropped the cool, wet cloth onto Raif’s hands then asked her, “And are you all right now, Councillor? Do you need…anything?”
Raif snatched his burned hands and the wet towel out of Brennan’s grasp with a condemning clearing of his throat. Brennan’s eyes lit up with a thankfully silent smile.
Shayla said, “I’m not sure.” She put her hands up and covered her face a moment, then pulled her hair back off her face and seemed to be searching herself for the answer. A knock came at the door and Brennan went to answer it again. As before, it was Caine. Raif was pleased to hear Brennan’s impatient tone matched Raif’s own feeling on the man’s return.
Joshua said, “Is everyone all right in here?” He looked pointedly at Shayla then winced when he spotted Raif, standing at the foot of the bed cradling a wet towel gingerly between his damaged hands. “There’s a problem with the link.” Joshua said, returning his attention to Brennan. “That wasn’t a question.”
Raif said, “I’m sorry if the shouting woke you.”
“Oh, I wasn’t asleep and although I heard the shouting, I’m here because Charlie told me there was a problem with the link.” Joshua returned his attention to Shayla. “Is it resolved now?”
She shrugged. “I’m still not sure.”
Raif looked at her now. “What actually happened, Shayla?”
“Was I shouting?” She asked.
“No,” Raif told her. “That was me.”
She looked at his hands, bright red from first-degree burns with a few spots he’d guess were second-degree. He was going to need some burn gel even if the pain hadn’t yet kicked in. She asked, “Did I do that?”
“No,” He told her, keeping his voice soft. “I did it to myself.”
“No! Not like Collier.” He assured her. “You didn’t know this time. I made the choice, Shayla.”
Joshua said, “I’d like to help you with that.” When Raif looked over, he found the man staring not at him, but at his burned hands. “Please let me. I have a particular…sensitivity to burns of that sort.” Joshua turned to Brennan and said, “There’s a silver MedKit in the loo.”
Brennan asked, “The loo?”
“Bathroom. Under the sink, in the back, a small silver box, should have a red biohazard mark on it.”
Brennan looked to Raif for direction and Raif nodded for his Heir to go get the box in question. He definitely needed to treat the burns sooner than he’d thought. The pain had really settled in. Once Brennan cleared the doorway, Joshua walked slowly over to them, maintaining eye contact with Raif. Slowly, Joshua sat down in front of Raif, on the edge of the bed next to Shayla, a full arm’s length away.
Joshua stared at Raif’s hands, held up in front of Raif with the wet towel draped over them. It was clear the injury bothered Joshua more than it did Raif, though Raif had to admit, each minute that passed the pain worsened. He’d never been burned before. He’d broken bones, been stabbed and had his throat half-sliced but this was definitely worse.
Finally Joshua turned to Shayla and asked, “What was it that went wrong, Shayla? Charlie wasn’t specific but he made it sound important.”
“It was, I guess, but it’s hard to explain. I’m still trying to figure it out for myself.”
Brennan came back out with a silver box in his hands. “I couldn’t figure out this latch.” He held the box out to Joshua.
Joshua said, “There’s a pad underneath the latch, do you see it?” Brennan tilted the box and nodded. “Careful about tilting the box. The contents aren’t really secure in there. Just press in on the pad and—”
The box popped open and Joshua sucked in his breath then laughed and bit down on this lower lip to stop himself.
“What’s so funny?” Raif asked him.
“May I?” Joshua put his hands out for the box and put it down on the bed between himself and Shayla. The contents were all a jumbled mess. He sorted through them and pulled out a tube, read the label then tossed it back in as he explained, “Well, the lock does a genetic check. It’s not really a Med Kit.” Joshua looked up at Raif then quickly at Brennan. “It is now, but it was originally designed to be—”
“I don’t believe it.” Raif cut him off. “That’s an organ transplant container. I didn’t think any still existed. They were outlawed with their hermetic seals and genetic locks. It was deemed illegal that only the donor and his genetic heirs could open it.” He turned to Brennan. “And you just opened it.”
“So? He told me to.”
Brennan didn’t understand the point Caine was making, but Raif did—and he didn’t like it. Joshua smiled to himself and rummaged through the box until he came up with another tube and a roll of what looked like a wide-weave muslin. He smiled up at Raif and said, “It hasn’t held genetic samples in—well, I can’t remember the last time. May I have one hand, please?”
“I can take care of it myself. Just give me the burn gel.”
“It’s not really burn gel. Please, it’ll be easier if you let me.” Joshua held out his free hand and Raif felt Shayla’s silent gaze so he succombed, dropping his left hand, palm up, into the man’s open palm. It was strange to feel this man, whose genetic print was the basis for Raif’s own existence, cradling his hand and treating his wounds. Raif didn’t want to admit any connection to this man.
Joshua squeezed out a thick layer of the gel onto Raif’s damaged skin and put the tube down, then spread it out lightly, evenly using his own index finger. Without taking his eyes off the work, Joshua asked, “Shayla, can you describe what you were doing? Maybe I can figure out what went wrong.”
Raif heard Brennan laugh behind him, covering it with a cough. He told Shayla, “You don’t have to say anything, Councillor.”
“I’m trying to help.” Joshua insisted. Joshua finished spreading the gel and said, “Don’t move your hand. I’m not finished with that.”
“Take your time. I’m not going anywhere.”
Shayla finally spoke up. “I think I know what went wrong—or started to go wrong. It’s hard to explain though. It’s a thing between a Phoenician man and a Phoenician woman and…it’s not something done alone like this.”
“No?” Raif was pretty sure what she’d been doing before had not be done alone but it was nice she was phrasing it that way. Maybe she still didn’t think of Charlie as a person, even though she called the thing by name.
Joshua laid a strip of stiff gauze-like material over Raif’s palm and gently eased it into place using the thick gel as a cushion. As he worked, he said, “You’re talking about a Joining, Shayla, aren’t you? I didn’t think you could do that without assistance from the Seven Chiefs.”
“You know about Phoenician Joinings?” She asked.
“A bit, so that is what you were doing?”
“Not on purpose. How do you know about that?”
Joshua sighed and looked up at Raif, “Try that out. Can you move your fingers?”
Raif cautiously let his fingers curl in over the gauze Joshua had placed on his burned hand. He flexed his fingers again. “There’s no pain. That burn gel—”
“It’s not burn gel, it’s a dermis generator with a topical analgesic. Here, let’s do the other one.”
Raif started to hold out his other hand then stopped. “She asked how you know about Phoenician customs.”
“Yes.” Joshua said and took Raif’s wrist then picked up the tube of gel again. “I’m not trying to be evasive, Shayla, but…well, I gave my word I wouldn’t discuss it. Let’s say I agreed that the past would only exist in the minds of those who chose to recall it—and I agreed not to recall it. I’m having a hard time recalling a lot of things these days so it’s not much of a burden to forget something on purpose.”
Raif watched Joshua spreading the gel in an even layer over his palm and wondered why this man was being so diligent in his care and handling of his Heir—or Heirs, if one included Brennan by corollary. “Who exactly solicited this agreement from you? And when was this?”
“I forget.” Joshua looked up and met Raif’s gaze, letting his eyes crinkle with a quick smile. “Not really but…” He went back to his ministrations, laying out a strip of gauze. “A gentleman named Thuvius was quite adamant that I should forget everything I learned while I was there. I assume you know the man.”
“Yes.” Raif said, thinking of the youngest of the Seven Chiefs. The man was adamant about everything. “Obviously, you learned quite a bit. When were you there?”
“Oh, before your time.” Joshua glanced over at Shayla. “Before either of you was born.”
Shayla said, “I would still have heard about it. Why haven’t I heard about an Outsider before Raif spending time among us?”
Joshua shook his head and said, “I suppose because I’m not the only one who conveniently forgot about it. I’m not sure how they do that little trick, but your Seven Chiefs, Shayla, could teach us a thing or two about memory management.”
“Mem—I never thought of it that way.” Shayla sat back, folding her legs under her and played with a lock of hair. Raif recognized the posture. She was thinking something over, to herself.
Raif asked, “What is it Shayla?”
“Just…” She looked up at him. “Your situation. I wonder if they could help.”
“I’ve had enough people messing around in my head, thanks, but we’ll leave the Seven Chiefs out of this one.”
Joshua asked, “What exactly constitutes messing around in your head—if you don’t mind my asking.”
“I mind and if you’re just about done there—” Raif tried to pull his hand back but the man still had his wrist in a firm grasp.
“I’m not quite done, and I’d like to help. You might be surprised at what resources the Administrator has access to these days. I understand Brennan here got a glimpse of some of our special access earlier this evening.”
Raif turned to look at his Heir and the younger man shrugged then understanding flashed. “You mean that memory scan Harrington took?”
“Yes, that’s what I meant. There, you should be all better by morning. Try not to use your hands as much as possible, at least for the next thirty minutes, until this sets. Two hours would be better.” Joshua looked over at Shayla, still lost in her own thoughts, then back up at Raif. “You know, if you’re having trouble with your memory—”
“Nothing I can’t manage.”
Shayla spoke up. “What if you can’t?”
“What if he can help, Raif? I don’t know if I can fix what Kindi did. What harm can it do to hear him out?”
Raif couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Are you ordering me to let him—do whatever the fuck it he thinks he’s going to do.”
“Excuse me.” Joshua held up one finger and asked Shayla, “Did you say Kindi? He’s been Adjusting Raif?”
Raif looked at his hands, now covered in delicate bandages. He calculated the odds of doing permanent damage if he tried to use his hands before the synthetic dermis had cured. He decided he was willing to risk it. He could take the man out from this position, standing over him, using his advantage of leverage and gravity. Then they just needed to get out of the building. Brennan had already proven their DNA would work as well as Caine’s. It could be done. Raif was just about to reach out and strangle the man when he stood up, thus defeating Raif’s only advantage. He could still take him. Maybe. Pain shot up his arm when he clenched one hand into a fist.
Shayla said, “Raif, please don’t. I know you don’t like this idea, but Charlie is telling me right now that there’s a good likelihood Joshua can help. He can at least help us identify precisely what Kindi was doing. I could use the help even if you don’t want it. I won’t let him do anything, just look. Please?”
Despite knowing he wasn’t ever meant to be a Proctor, his Proctor’s training burned a cold hole in his gut at the mere thought of refusing her request. Besides, he didn’t want to say no to her, ever, and it had nothing to do with being a Proctor—or whatever he really was supposed to be. He looked from her to Caine and back again. “I want it noted I object fundamentally but…” He let out a sigh of resignation and asked Caine, “What do you propose to do exactly?”
Joshua pointed to the Med Scanner on Raif’s hip. “If I may use that a moment?”
Raif lifted his arm. “Help yourself.”
“I won’t hurt you.” Joshua said. “But I really need one of you to tell me what exactly has been going on. What’s this about Kindi?”
Raif looked to Shayla. “Councillor?”
She said, “Don’t, Raif.” She slid off the edge of the bed, giving Raif and Joshua both a wide berth, and crossed the room as she went on. “Councillor Kindi appears to have conducted some Adjustments. We don’t know why. That’s what we need to know. What Kindi was trying to do and from that, we can extrapolate why.” She poured herself a glass of water and stayed on the other side of the room.
“All right. We can probably determine that.” Joshua said.
Raif laughed aloud this time. “With a hand scanner?”
“Oh, I think it all depends on the hands operating it. Trust me. Okay, let’s…you’d recognize your own map, correct?” Caine tapped at the Med Scanner as he spoke.
Raif hesitated. He didn’t know what Caine already knew about him or what Harrington had documented earlier when he’d scanned Brennan, but now Raif saw where this was going. If Caine scanned him, and compared it to Brennan’s memory map, he’d see that they were the same. Even Shayla didn’t know about this anomaly. He didn’t know how she’d take it if she found out exactly what was inside Raif’s head, not to mention the copy of it inside Brennan’s head. She already disliked Brennan enough. Finding out what Raif had done, even though it had been entirely accidental, would not endear the man to her right now.
“Shayla, may I ask a favor in this?”
“I haven’t shared either my memory map or genetic print with you and I’d ask you to let me keep that modicum of privacy.”
Shayla smiled quickly. “I don’t need to see anything. That’s kind of the point, Raif. I don’t know enough about Adjustments and reading memory maps to really understand it. That’s why I asked you to let Joshua help.”
Raif turned back to Caine. “Then just between you and me, I’d recognize my map, my print and everything there is to know about Brennan as well. Except, of course, whatever it was that you did to him earlier this evening when I was otherwise preoccupied.”
“We didn’t do anything.” Joshua insisted.
Raif looked over his shoulder at Brennan. “I don’t know. They took a scan. I don’t feel different. I never lost consciousness, anyway.”
Joshua said, “I swear to you, we didn’t do anything to him. I didn’t and no one else would dare, not without my prior knowledge and consent.”
Raif smirked at the man. “You really believe everyone does things only with the knowledge and consent of their superiors?”
“I believe William would not lie to me because we’ve been friends longer than you’ve been alive, and Cory was in surgery with us. No one else has had contact with you two. Deliberately. I’d also note this is your hand scanner. It came in with you. It’ll go out with you. I’m not trying to steal anything from you, just trying to help. If you—”
Raif nodded. “All right.” Raif craned his neck, tilting his head to one side. “Go ahead. Stick me.”
Instead of lifting the scanner to Raif’s neck, Joshua pressed it to his own neck, checked the readout and then turned it to let Raif read it himself. “Look familiar?”
Raif glanced at the readout. It was autoscrolling slowly by but he immediately recognized the map. It looked like his own, with extraneously data mixed in, augmenting his own map. “I don’t understand.”
“Let’s just do a double-check, shall we? Brennan, you saw the reading that William took earlier, correct?”
“Yes.” Brennan said cautiously and stepped forward, stopping at Raif’s side.
Joshua shifted the scanner in his extended hand to show Brennan the readout. “Could that be it?”
“I’m not sure. Could be but…that’s moving kind of fast for me, I’m—Could I have the scanner?” Brennan held out his hand and Joshua dropped the little scanner into it. He tapped at it to scroll back and forth. “Yeah, okay, I recognize parts of this. I don’t actually understand it, but yeah, I recognize some of it. Is it the same because we’re related?”
“No.” Raif answered at the same time as Joshua. Raif asked Caine, “How’s that possible? And why do you seem remarkably not surprised?”
Joshua said, “I designed you that way and apparently, you had the same idea.”
“I made changes to his design.”
Raif chuckled. “Something tells me you’re not actually surprised to hear that either. I didn’t deliberately copy my memory map into his design. I wouldn’t even know how to begin attempting that kind of a transfer. Would you?”
Joshua smiled tightly. It did not reach his eyes. “First things first. I showed you mine, now if you would please, show me yours. Brennan, would you do the honors?”
Brennan was still holding the scanner and he waited for Raif to nod then crane his neck again. “Go ahead, Brennan. Stick me for him and hand it over.”
Brennan pressed the scanner against the side of Raif’s neck, tapped then checked the readout. “It looks different. From mine, I mean, and from yours.” He held the scanner out to Joshua.
Joshua took the scanner and looked it over, sucking in his lower lip and chewing on his beard as he did. After a moment, he cursed under his breath then looked up at Raif. “I’m so sorry. I had no idea.”
“Yeah, a few Adjustments aren’t going to kill me. As you keep saying, I’m not that easy to kill.”
“It’s more than a few Adjustments. I see…” Joshua tapped at the scanner a few times. “Over a dozen and I haven’t finished checking yet. I had no idea you were subjected to this level of damage. I thought—I didn’t know. I’m sorry.”
Shayla came back over, cradling her glass of water in both hands against her chest. “But it’s something we can fix, isn’t it?”
Joshua shook his head. “I don’t think so, not without—I’m not the expert who should look at this. In the morning, if you’d like, I can ask Cory to take a full scan, biochemical and memory. He’d be qualified to assess the damage and recommend treatment.”
Shayla looked up at Raif. He knew what she was thinking, even without her saying it aloud. They’d find their own treatment. She wouldn’t abandon him to some rich bastard’s personal physician. As the silence stretched on, Caine finally looked up and found all eyes on him.
“Here you go.” He tapped at the scanner then handed it back to Brennan before turning to Shayla again. “Shayla, are you sure you’re all right? No more issues with the link?” Shayla shook her head. “Then I suppose I should let you get some rest. It’s been quite the night of revelations.” Joshua looked Raif in the eye. “I really am sorry about your situation. If there’s anything that can be done, I’d like to help you get it done. Please see me if you need help getting access. I don’t want any administrative red tape getting in your way.”
“Shayla and I are used to managing administrative blockades. I’m sure we’ll figure something out.”
“Somehow, I’m sure you will. I’ll see you in the morning.”
Caine gave an archaic little bow and let himself out, quietly closing the door behind himself.
Brennan was the first to speak as he crossed to check that the door was latched. “Well, that was weird.” He turned around and looked from Raif to Shayla, then back and said, “Maybe I should stand watch in the hall?”
“No.” Raif said holding his hands up. “I’ll need your hands in here. Shayla, why would he think there were over a dozen Adjustments. Didn’t that AI of yours say there were only six?”
“About that. A little earlier, when Joshua was bandaging your hands, Charlie told me he’d re-examined your records using the access he now has to Joshua’s specialized AIs. Apparently, there’s a lot of medical technology the Institute has never transferred to the Council. I’m not sure what all of it means but Joshua wasn’t wrong. Charlie had already said,” She held up her left hand, displaying the shaklet that was the link to the AI, “He thought the number of Adjustments was closer to ten, or more, like Joshua said. There’s good news.” She smiled briefly.
“Wonderful, I can’t wait to hear this. What’s the good news?”
“Charlie thinks he’s found a new protocol for effecting repairs and he thinks he can use this link to help me do the actual Adjustment to the Adjustment. We can fix this, Raif, no matter what Joshua said. You believe me, don’t you?”
“I want to, Shayla, but I think we’re going to have to wait and see what happens when we get back. Are you really all right? The link won’t be a problem again, will it?”
“I’m fine. It was…an accident. It won’t happen again.”
“Then get some sleep. I’ll see you in the morning.”
He watched her crawl back up onto the bed and if Brennan hadn’t been standing right there, he’d have crawled up on there after her. Good thing they weren’t alone.
He kicked off his boots and stretched out on the couch, carefully placing his bandaged hands on his stomach. Caine had been right about two things: it had been quite the night of revelations and the couch was extremely comfortable.