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DEATH WARMED OVER Shambles into Bookstores

Published August 29, 2012 in Writing - 2 Comments

The first book in my “Dan Shamble, Zombie PI” series hit US bookstores yesterday.  The non-US eBook version will be available worldwide in about a week.  I will have copies at my dealer’s room table at DragonCon, or you can order an autographed copy direct from me (no extra charge for the signature) at AnderZone Shop, including bundles with CLOCKWORK ANGELS.

SINGLE DEAD DETECTIVE SEEKS CLUE

Ever since the event known as the Big Uneasy unleashed vampires, werewolves, and other undead denizens on the world, it’s been hell being a detective—especially for zombie PI Dan Chambeaux. Taking on the creepiest of cases in the Unnatural Quarter with a human lawyer for a partner and a ghost for a girlfriend, Chambeaux redefines “dead on arrival.” But just because he was murdered doesn’t mean he’d leave his clients in the lurch. Besides, zombies are so good at lurching.

Now he’s back from the dead and back in business—with a caseload that’s downright unnatural. A resurrected mummy is suing the museum that put him on display. Two witches, victims of a curse gone terribly wrong, seek restitution from a publisher for not using “spell check” on its magical tomes. And he’s got to figure out a very personal question—who killed him?

For Dan Chambeaux, it’s all in a day’s work. (Still, does everybody have to call him “Shamble”?) Funny, fresh, and irresistible, this cadaverous caper puts the P.I. in R.I.P.—with a vengeance.

An original short story, “Stakeout at the Vampire Circus,” will be available in November; Book 2, UNNATURAL ACTS, in January 2013, and Book 3, HAIR-RAISING, in May 2013.

 

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Painting it Clockwork Angels Red!

Published August 27, 2012 in Writing - 2 Comments

Let’s paint Facebook and Twitter red: CLOCKWORK ANGELS red!

Already more than a hundred fans have changed either their Twitter or Facebook avatars to the cover of CLOCKWORK ANGELS: The Novel.  And we’re just getting started!  Can you help us out? Copy the cover image below and use it on your own page.

US/Canadian fans: If you change your avatar for at least two weeks, I’ll give you a *free* pdf of my short novel VEILED ALLIANCES, the prequel to my “Saga of Seven Suns” science fiction epic (Neil Peart’s favorite of my works, other than Clockwork Angels, of course.)  [Outside of US/Canada, sorry—I don’t have the rights to distribute the .pdf.] Send an email to anderzone [at] wordfire.com with your Twitter or Facebook page URL, and I’ll email you the pdf of Veiled Alliances.

Don’t stop thinking big!

And don’t forget you can order copies of CLOCKWORK ANGELS—autographed by me, no additional charge—from AnderZone Shop.

 


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Toronto Premiere of CLOCKWORK ANGELS and FanExpo

Published August 25, 2012 in Writing - 1 Comment

I arrived in Toronto Thursday afternoon for this weekend’s exclusive pre-release of CLOCKWORK ANGELS: The Novel. I was picked up at the airport with a warm welcome from Erin and Sarah from ECW Press, who took me immediately over to the ECW offices where I signed copies of the book for special accounts and did an interview for Quill & Quire (you can read the interview here.)

That night, at the flagship Chapters store I gave a talk and did the first-ever signing and release for the novel to a nice crowd.

Afterward, I went out with my friend Mark Lefebvre from Kobo for some fine craft beer in Toronto (Mark had done thorough investigation beforehand). Next morning I did some writing, another interview, then took a tour of the Kobo offices before heading off to the FanExpo in the Toronto Convention Center.

At Kobo, with an appropriate wall quote

with Mark Lefebvre at Kobo

In the afternoon I met up with my friend Jonathan Flamm and ECW at the FanExpo, where we got our badges, signed some books at ECW, walked the show floor.  For my formal autographing session I had a lot of fans who brought Star Wars books, X-Files books, Dune books, and especially Clockwork Angels.  I had 15 copies of Resurrection, Inc, and sold all of them (I should have brought more!)

So, it was a long and busy day, time to relax—with a fine celebratory dinner.  The entire staff of ECW joined Neil Peart and me at a fine restaurant to toast the release of what is surely the best steampunk fantasy adventure novelization of a rock album ever!

Clockwork Angels: The Novel will be officially released across the US and Canada on September 1, but as an exclusive I will have copies available at DragonCon next weekend in Atlanta.  The book should be on sale in the UK by the second week of September.

“In a world where I feel so small, I can’t stop thinking big.”

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A Taste of RESURRECTION, INC.

Published August 22, 2012 in Writing - 0 Comments

My first novel RESURRECTION, INC. (originally published in 1988) has recently been reissued in eBook and in hardcopy.  This book was inspired by the songs on the Rush album “Grace Under Pressure”—Someone to talk to and someone to sweep the floors; no swimming in the heavy water and no singing in the acid rain; suddenly, you were gone from all the lives you left your mark upon; are we the last ones left alive?; every muscle tense to fence the enemy within; one humanoid escapee, one android on the run; blind images flashing by, like windshields toward a fly….

I see my novel, characters, and situations when I listen to the songs.  You can order autographed copies from our webstore AnderZone Shop, including bundles with Clockwork Angels.  EBook downloads in all formats from WordFire Press.

Enjoy the first two chapters:

1

The two Enforcers found the dead man in the street, long after curfew. The city’s night hung around them, tainted with a clammy mist caught between the tall and dark buildings. The smell of fresh blood, smoke, and the sweat of close-pressed bodies drifted upward into the air.

The slain man was naked, spread-eagled inside a geometrically perfect pentagram drawn in blood. At each of the five corners of the pentagram burned candles of black paraffin, made to look archaic with artifi­cially molded runnels of wax along the sides. A wide knife wound hung cleanly open in the center of the victim’s chest, like an appalled extra mouth.

With a throb of its rear jets, the Enforcers’ armored hovercar descended to the flagstones. As the engine purred its way into silence, Enforcer Jones, a tall and thin black man, emerged from the craft. He hung back uneasily, remaining near the hovercar. “Neo-Satanists again!” he muttered under his breath.

The other Enforcer, Frampton, agreed. “Yeah, they give me the creeps.” Belying his words, he went eagerly forward, amused and confident.

Weapons bristled from pockets and holsters on the Enforcers’ white body armor; tough helmets with laserproof black visors covered their faces. In the mercifully brief four weeks Frampton had been assigned to him, Jones had never seen his partner’s face, yet somehow he imagined it would wear a stupid boyish grin, maybe some scattered pimples, maybe curly hair. Frampton seemed to think all this was fun, a game. It didn’t mat­ter, though—they weren’t friends, nor would they ever be. Other Enforcers had a real camaraderie, a team spirit. But this would be Jones’s last night patrol anyway.

“Think I should put out the candles?” Frampton asked.

Jones moved away from the hovercar, shaking off his revulsion of the pentagram, the blood sacrifice. “No, I’ll do it. You see to his ID.”

Frampton retrieved some equipment from the hovercar while Jones stepped forward, methodically squashing each of the five black candles with the heel of his white boot. In the distance, through gaps between the massive squarish buildings, he could see the running lights of another patrol car moving in its sweep pattern.

Frampton made a lot of unnecessary noise as he carelessly tumbled equipment onto the flagstones within the pentagram. He picked up one of the scanner plates and pushed it flat against the dead man’s palm. The optical detectors mapped the swirls and rivulets of the man’s fingerprints, searching for a match in the city’s vast computer network.

“Nothing on the Net about him.” Frampton doublechecked, but came up with the same answer again.

“Figures,” Jones said.

“Ever wonder how the neo-Satanists manage to get people who aren’t even in the databases, every time? Weird.” Frampton sounded breathless. He was always trying to make conversation. Always.

Jones turned an expressionless black visor toward his partner for a long and silent moment. He wanted to act cold, wanted to be gruff with the other Enforcer. It was too late to make friends now—better just to keep up the act for one more night. “How do you know they don’t just alter the data on the Net?”

Frampton considered this in silent amazement. “That would be awfully sophisticated!”

“Don’t you think this is sophisticated?” Jones jabbed a hand at the body, the candles, the pentagram. “Enforcers sweep this area every five minutes after cur­few. You know how strict it is, how closely patrolled and the neo-Satanists still managed to get him out on the street, draw the pentagram, light the candles, and then vanish before we could get here.”

Only members of the Enforcers Guild were allowed on the streets of the Bay Area Metroplex between midnight and dawn. Jones didn’t fully understand the actual reasons for the curfew—he’d heard rumors of a war taking place somewhere, but he had yet to see any signs of battle. Other, more sensible people cited the occasional violent riots caused by angry blue-collars who had been displaced from their jobs by resurrected Servants.

Jones himself had participated in some of the mock street battles staged by the Guild after dark. Nobody really got hurt—the damage usually included no more than a few blasted palm trees, a handful of scorched tile rooftops, and plenty of noise in the streets. But it all sounded terrible and dangerous enough to the general public huddled in their living quarters that they would always feel grateful for the protection the Guild offered. Besides, it gave all the Enforcers something to do.

Earlier in the night, Jones and Frampton had captured a chunky Asian man cowering under the over­hang of a darkened business complex. The man had been trying to hide, not knowing where to go—as if he had a chance of avoiding the Enforcer sweeps.

Frampton had pulled out two of his weapons and started toward the unfortunate man, but Jones restrained his partner and listened while the chunky man babbled an explanation. He and his wife had argued, and he had stormed out of their apartment, either for­getting about the curfew or not caring. Now his wife wouldn’t let him back in, and the man had been trying to stay out of sight until dawn.

Sheepishly the Asian man keyed his password into the Net terminal mounted in the armored hovercar; his ID checked out.

“You know what we have to do now,” Jones said from behind his visor.

The man swallowed and hung his head in dejected horror. “Yes.”

“All your Net privileges are revoked for a week. Sorry. Curfew is curfew.” The Asian man sulked behind the restraining field in the back of the hovercar while Jones and Frampton escorted him home.

Without the Net recognizing his identity, the man would effectively be a non-person for an entire week: he would not be able to buy anything, make person-to-person video or voicelinks, call up entertainment, or even enter his own home unless someone else let him in.

The man’s wife looked frightened but not surprised when the Enforcers arrived to escort her husband back into the dwelling; she didn’t look pleased to see him, and the prospect of having to do everything herself for the next seven days seemed to make her angrier yet.

Back at the murder site, Frampton opened the refrigerated, airtight compartment in the rear of the hovercar and then returned to the slain man in the pentagram. “Give me a hand here?”

Jones bent to take the body’s cold, naked feet while the other Enforcer gripped the dead man tightly under the armpits. Jones could feel the rubbery flesh of the victim’s ankles even through his flexsteel-mesh gloves.

Frampton made a deprecating snort as he looked at the mouthlike wound in the dead man’s chest. “Well, it’s off to the factory for you, my boy. I bet you’re going to miss all this excitement after your transfer, Jones.”

Transfer generally equated with punishment in the Enforcers Guild, and Jones had screwed up several days before, during a rare daytime stint on the streets. He had frozen for a moment; let his conscience whisper a few words in his ear, when he had seen a rebel Servant break from her routine and run.

All Servants were reanimated corpses, dead bodies with microprocessors planted in their brains to make the bodies move again. This allowed them to walk and talk and do what they were told. It was much cheaper than manufacturing androids from scratch to do menial and monotonous tasks.

But despite her shaved head, the lifeless pallor of her skin, and the gray jumpsuit-uniform all Servants wore, Jones had difficulty convincing himself that the rebel Servant wasn’t human, that she was already dead and merely reanimated, that she didn’t matter.

The Enforcer found the Guild’s reprimand ironic: Starting tomorrow, Jones would be switched from his easy post-curfew beat to full-time service at Resurrection, Inc., where he would escort newly resurrected Servants to their assignments.

Well, at least it would get him away from Frampton and his constant inane chatter.

They placed the slain man in the back compartment of the hovercar, folding his arms and legs to fit him into the cramped space. Holding a miniature Net keypad in his hand, Frampton punched in data about the discovery. “Verify cause of death,” Frampton said. “Single wound, no other apparent bodily damage, no identity information on the Net.”

Jones glanced at the wound in the man’s chest. “Concur.”

“To Resurrection, Inc., right?”

“Yeah.”

Frampton dropped his voice slightly. “Man, I hope that never happens to me.” Because of the dark visor, Jones could read no expression on his partner’s face.

Jones closed the compartment and set the controls for quick-freeze. A hissing noise filled the air. He knew exactly what Frampton meant, but he asked anyway, “What? You don’t want to be a neo-Satanist sacrifice, or become a Servant?”

“Neither one.”

 

2

On the sixth underground level of Resurrection, Inc., the technician placed the body from Vat 66 onto a clean inspection table. The body’s arms moved loosely, still dripping, almost cooperating as the tech rearranged them. Four days of conditioning had left the muscles free of rigor and the dead brain ready for imprinting as a Servant. The room smelled so strongly of chemicals that the tech’s eyes and nostrils burned, even after his two years of working there.

On the pocket of the tech’s nonporous lab smock, he had carefully laser-stenciled his name, “Rodney Quick,” so no one would steal it. This was unnecessary, since Rodney Quick was generally the only human to spend an entire shift on Level Six anyway; the rest of the workers were Servants—bald and dressed in their characteristic gray jumpsuits—and certainly no Servant would dream of stealing his lab smock. But the stenciled name made Rodney feel important and easily recognized by anyone who might take notice of his work.

Rodney straightened the body’s pliant limbs while drops of vat solution trickled into drainage grooves cut in the polished table surface. The tech hummed to himself as he found a roll of shredded duo-sponges and dabbed the remaining solution from the body.

Thick but limp brown hair hung straight down from one side of Rodney’s head, while the hair on the other side tapered back drastically, leaving the area above his ear shaved clean. He stood a few inches shorter than anyone who had ever tried to intimidate him, and his watery blue eyes flicked too often from side to side. The gold-plated stud in his left nostril and the two silicon fingernails on his right hand should have been stylish.

Adjusting the bright overhead lights, Rodney let the glare wash down on the naked body, illuminating the open sacrificial wound in the center of the man’s chest. Beneath the inspection table, sharp-angled shadows crowded on the floor, responding with

grotesque exaggerations to Rodney Quick’s every move. He was reminded of the monsters he had imagined under his bed-unit when he was a child.

The pre-Servant from Vat 66 had just finished several days of initial prep for resurrection, soaking in a solution of scrubber bacteria that removed all the lactic acid from the muscles and purged the dead body of waste and undigested food. As a last step before bringing the body to the inspection table, Rodney had drained all the blood vessels and refilled them with saline solution in preparation for the synBlood.

Rodney slipped a pair of magnifying goggles over his eyes and bent down to inspect the wound in the man’s chest. His own shadow lurched across the prone body, but Rodney didn’t notice because of his drastically reduced field of view. The tech could see that the wound was fairly clean; the tissue had been hacked and the veins and arteries roughly severed, but Rodney didn’t think it would be difficult to make repairs.

He measured the chest cavity and, leaving the table unattended, went searching for an appropriate synHeart. In the resurrection room other Servants wandered about, performing preprogrammed tasks, checking dials and monitoring vats, meticulously jotting down information. Rodney always felt the irony of having Servants assist him here on Level Six—it seemed a bit like having cattle help out in a slaughter­house.

The technician stopped at the door to the organ-supply room, keyed in his request to the Net terminal mounted by the door. Moments later, with a puff of cryogenic mist, the door slid open and a flashing light indicated the location of an appropriate cardiac pump. Rodney removed the synHeart and, as he walked out of the clammy-smelling storeroom, he was tempted to toss the organ into the air and try to catch it when it came back down. But he restrained himself—as always, Supervisor might be watching.

“Out of useless death, we create Service to mankind,” said the inscription above the elevator doors—a quote attributed to Francois Nathans, the head of Res­urrection, Inc. Rodney suddenly noticed the quote again after two years of working in the lower levels, and he wasn’t quite sure whether to take it with a lib­eral dose of seriousness or irreverence.

Certain criteria had to be met before Rodney could even begin the resurrection process, and Enforcers didn’t always know what they were doing when they brought the bodies in. Rodney rejected some of the pre-Servants if they had been too badly mangled, or if rigor had set in too firmly. A potential Servant generally had to be the victim of a sudden death—if a person died from a debilitating disease or old age, the machinery of the body would already be damaged. And Rodney Quick was not about to spend all his waking hours restringing ganglia, growing compatible muscle fiber, popping in a junkyard of synEyes, synLivers, synLungs—no thank you. The company wasn’t quite that desperate for pre-Servants. Besides, the whole process had to be cost-effective or it didn’t make good business sense.

Any death from an accident, or poisoning, or even cardiac arrest was fair game, though. The Enforcers brought in even marginally adequate bodies, anyone they found dead, whether after the curfew or during the daytime, whether dead in bed or killed during one of the street riots. Sometimes Rodney wondered what kind of hold Francois Nathans had on the Enforcers Guild to make them cooperate so easily, especially when Nathans publicly criticized the Guild for forcing its “protection” on all of them.

Any inadequate pre-Servants, along with other discarded bodies, were shipped off to be converted into animal feed for the great Midwestern agricultural wasteland. Oh, sometimes families whined about not having the body of their loved one for whatever funeral rites they desired, but Nathans and his partner Stromgaard Van Ryman had won a major victory by battling—both legally and morally—to convince the public that the dead were a major resource to be used for all mankind. What a terrible waste, they asserted, to stick a body uselessly into the ground just so a few family members could cry over it.

Rodney brought the synHeart back to the table and, adjusting the local room temperature to keep himself from perspiring, took a deep breath. He lowered his magnifying goggles, arranged his tools, then set to work. He used arterial sealants, capillary grafts, and cellular cement to lock the cardiac pump firmly in place. Every half hour or so, a parade of pain marched up and down his stiff back.

The technician worked alone, in silence, and when he finally eased the tiny battery pellet into the

syn­Heart’s chamber and made ready to close the chest wound, he mused over how amazingly easy it had been for him. His spine ached, and his fingers felt stiff, but he felt proud at proving his skill again. Let Supervisor try to deny that he was one of the best damned technicians in all of Resurrection, Inc.!

Though both of Rodney’s parents had been bluecollars, he himself had fought above all that. It could be done, if you had the ambition and the drive. He had spent his teenage years in terror, knowing that he was doomed to follow in his parents’ footsteps of manual labor—tedious blue-collar work that required no brains, no skill at all. Then even that bleak future had been stolen from him by the Servant revolution.

But Rodney had had enough years ahead of him to plan a little, to realize how he would have to adapt to survive in a rapidly changing new world. He had pored over the resources of the Net, isolating himself, focusing his teenage world on the bright pixels. He had ex­pended all his effort to climb a few rungs higher on the ladder of success, until he finally reached a position where he could feel important: Main Technician on Lower Level Six of Resurrection, Inc.

But now, with Servants rapidly replacing people in many blue-collar jobs, the lower rungs in the ladder of success had begun to disappear—and Rodney Quick found himself back near the bottom again through no fault of his own.

Rodney’s father, a former employee of a factory that manufactured shampoo and soap products, had been killed in one of the early anti-Servant riots, receiving the full force of an Enforcer’s scatter-stun. Rodney’s mother, tossed out of her job as a dishwasher at the Sunshine cafeteria, now lived off the blue allotment, a special fund garnered from a tariff on the pur­chase price of Servants. His mother now wandered the streets with the other aimless and apathetic blues who had no training and no hope for any other type of em­ployment. Competition was vicious for the remaining jobs, and Rodney’s mother didn’t have the stamina or the enthusiasm to fight for something she had always thought would be hers by default. Nor did she want anything more to do with her son, claiming that the stink of Resurrection, Inc. clung to him and that it re­minded her of her husband’s blood.

Rodney finished the synHeart operation on the pre-Servant and sealed the dead man’s chest, taking care to make the skin seams match.

He then rigged up a slow-pump that began the long and delicate process of refilling the blood vessels with synBlood.

Rodney clasped his hands behind his back in a Napoleonic pose and walked away from the pre-Servant on the table, leaving the pumps to do their work. He inspected the entire resurrection room like a commander surveying his troops. Occasionally human subtechnicians assisted him with inspections and operations, but most of the time Rodney remained the only human on Level Six.

Seventy different vats rose from floor to ceiling, dispersed in perfect geometrical order around the room. Some of the vats were for the initial bath of scrubber bacteria; others were for the solution of genetically volatile bacteria to perform the finishing touches before reanimation. Intermediate holding chambers of mud-thick silvery paste were sunk into the floor between some of the vats. At any one time Rodney could prepare over a hundred different Servants for resurrec­tion.

While grooming himself for a position at

Resur­rection, Inc., Rodney had used the Net to research the scattered history of Servants and the corporation. After many abortive attempts to build a serviceable, human-looking android, researchers had given up in despair at the insurmountable task of manufacturing something as sophisticated as the human body. Even the few almost-successful android attempts would have been prohibitively expensive to mass-produce—and if an­droid labor was going to cost more than even Union workers, why bother at all?

But fifteen years earlier, Francois Nathans had realized that a nearly inexhaustible supply of almost androids lay waiting to be used: the perfect machine of the human body, discarded at death but often still completely serviceable with only a few minor repairs. Rather than trying to mass-produce bodies from inanimate materials, and then recreate the delicate intercon­necting mechanisms of muscles and bones and tendons and sensory organs, Nathans argued that it made more sense to find a new “engine” to put into these already built—but no longer functional—machines, instead of doing everything from scratch.

The sophisticated microprocessor embedded in a Servant’s head linked into the brain, following existing contours, stimulating the neurons, simulating life. Attached to the proper ganglia, the microprocessor acted as a controlling motor, a new engine for the dis­carded machine. A special “Command” phrase bound all Servants and made them obey humans, locking their reflexes and forcing them to follow instructions.

As far as Rodney was concerned, Servants weren’t real people; the tech couldn’t possibly think of them as such. Sure, the bodies moved, and Servants could respond when you talked to them, but no real person lived inside. Servants retained their language skills and some basic knowledge—pretty much anything that happened to be residing on the surface of the temporal lobe when they died. Servants varied, too. Some were like blundering zombies who needed explicit instructions for almost everything, but others held a residual intelligence and could actually respond almost conver­sationally.

But no Servant had a memory of its past life—all of that had been erased either in death or in the resurrection process … or maybe the microprocessor just couldn’t reach deep enough to catch hold of those memories. It didn’t matter. Despite the artistry Rodney Quick put into the creation of his Servants, they were all just pieces of equipment: machinery, appliances.

Certainly not people.

Rodney stopped and gawked at the body of a well proportioned young female floating in one of the final baths, weighted down by heavy spheres tied to her waist, wrists, and legs. The front panel of the vat was transparent, and although she hung suspended in the thick golden-colored solution, Rodney could imagine all her details to perfection. She had already been shaved and trimmed, but Rodney still remembered when she had come in, dead from self-inflicted poison. She’d had thick red hair, beautiful … almost the color of blood. Rodney kept records of all such details.

It seemed that every time he tried to start a relationship with a woman, an honest-to-goodness human being, she always broke it off. Handlers of the dead had been despised and shunned throughout history, though in modern times people claimed to be more enlightened about such things. Undertakers and morticians, sextons during the Black Death, gravediggers, the eta in Japan, “resurrectionists” in the nineteenth century illicitly providing dead bodies for medical research. How the hell was he supposed to fight against leftover cultural sentiments?

Rodney sometimes wondered if spending his teenage years sweating over a Net terminal, trying to escape from the other jobless blues and into a real occupation, might have left him socially inept … not quite able to relate to others in a meaningful way. He dressed styl­ishly, according to illustrations in all the Net periodi­cals. He tried to be funny, compassionate, interesting—yet women seemed so volatile, so unpredictable, with so much capacity for hurting in them.

Servant females, on the other hand, never said a harsh word. Rodney placed his fingertips against the warm glass of the finishing vat and stared at the naked body of the once redheaded female, watching as she moved slowly in the gradual convection currents of the amniotic fluid. His own breath began to condense into fog on the side of the glass.

“What, exactly, are you doing, Mister Quick?” A woman’s voice: deep and thick, uninflected but carrying a symphony of overtones that made Rodney’s blood congeal.

Supervisor crossed her arms over a deep-purple sleeveless tunic edged with random lines of silver thread. Standing above Rodney’s height and built somewhat stockier, she seemed immensely tall in her own personal presence. Her long bluish-blond hair had been pulled into three even braids, neatly splayed and pinned to the back of her purple tunic. A primary Net keypad had been tattooed on the palm of her right hand. Supervisor’s eyes had a pearly, distant look to them, but hard lines on her brow and around her lips quickly destroyed any dreamy look she might have worn. Though she stared directly at him, Rodney felt as if Supervisor watched him with many more eyes than just the two on her face.

One of the few humans who could act as a walking Interface with the Net, Supervisor lorded over all the lower levels of Resurrection, Inc. Her brain carried a remote gateway processor, implanted so that she could directly connect to the Net. Interfaces were rare and highly valued, so Francois Nathans had arranged to effectively own Supervisor, protecting her and doing everything to keep her happy. Consequently, Supervisor encountered no interference when she acted out her managerial fantasies on her human underlings.

She enjoyed harping on Rodney in particular, or so it seemed to him.

“I asked what you are doing, Mister Quick.” The flatness of her voice didn’t change, but Rodney could hear a thread of surprise that he had not immediately answered her question.

“I am inspecting the vats, Madam. To be sure the Servants haven’t made mistakes in their tasks.”

“Servants do not make mistakes if their instructions are clear,” she said.

“You’re right, Madam. I was making sure my instructions were clear.” Rodney clenched his fingers into a fist.

“Why aren’t you keeping careful watch on the pre-Servant from Vat 66? Everything is routine?” Supervisor’s voice had the barest lilt at the end, only enough for him to guess that she had posed a question.

“Yes, um, everything’s routine, Madam. I’m pumping the synBlood in right now, and then he’ll go to the secondary vat. You’re welcome to inspect my surgery—you can see I took utmost care while installing his new cardiac pump. I’m sure you’ll find everything satisfactory.”

“Since you are involved, Mister Quick, I expect nothing more than ‘satisfactory.’ You are incapable of better.” She huffed, then continued. “The pre-Servant from Vat 66 now has a new designator, a name. You will henceforth refer to him as ‘Danal.’“ She paused, and then spoke again. Her gaze bored into him. “I will give you a warning, Mr. Quick. Francois Nathans himself has expressed an interest in this particular Servant. After resurrection is complete, Danal is to be presented to Vincent Van Ryman, who is also most interested.”

“Van Ryman? But … isn’t he the neo-Satanist priest?”

“That is his business, not yours,” Supervisor snapped, raising her voice only a little, but the relative difference was enormous. “Your point of concern is that Mister Nathans is extremely interested. Therefore your performance on this resurrection will have a direct bearing on your own future existence. Think on that carefully, Mister Quick, before you become too dis­tracted by female anatomy.”

Rodney swallowed. “Yes, Madam. I, um, understand perfectly. I won’t let you down.”

“I have no confidence in you whatsoever. You cannot let me down.” Supervisor turned curtly and walked across the room to the elevator shaft, seeing yet not seeing with her pearly Net eyes.

Shaken, Rodney retreated from the female’s vat and hurried back to the inspection table, where the slow-pump droned as it continued to exchange the inert saline solution with artificial blood. Rodney used his magnifying goggles to recheck for any minute leaks around the seal of the chest wound. Satisfied, he removed the goggles and stepped back to look at the pale and motionless body stretched out under the harsh glare of the overhead lights.

A part of him hated this place, but he couldn’t think about leaving. Sometimes, though, he had to unleash his rebellion in little ways. Smirking, Rodney patted Danal’s cold cheeks in mock paternal affection. He muttered to himself, “Such tender loving care for a corpse!”

He swallowed in a dry throat, looking around to see if Supervisor had seen him. She always moved silently, maliciously, in her spying. He didn’t see her, but that meant nothing—when linked to the Net, she had access to all the ears and eyes of the entire network.

The other Servants moved about their mindless tasks. The vats bubbled and the slow-pump hummed, but everything else was quiet. Lower Level Six seemed suddenly alien to him, and Rodney felt vulnerable and alone.

 

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