SFWRITER.COM > Identity Theft
by Robert J. Sawyer
Finalist for both the Hugo and Nebula Awards.
First appeared in Down These Dark Spaceways, edited
by Mike Resnick and published by the Science Fiction Book Club,
Also available in other formats for your reading pleasure.
The door to my office slid open. "Hello," I said, rising from my
chair. "You must be my nine o'clock." I said it as if I had a
ten o'clock and an eleven o'clock, but I didn't. The whole
Martian economy was in a slump, and, even though I was the only
private detective on Mars, this was the first new case I'd had in
"Yes," said a high, feminine voice. "I'm Cassandra Wilkins."
I let my eyes rove up and down her body. It was very good work;
I wondered if she'd had quite so perfect a figure before
transferring. People usually ordered replacement bodies that, at
least in broad strokes, resembled their originals, but few could
resist improving them. Men got buffer, women got curvier, and
everyone modified their faces, removing asymmetries, wrinkles,
and imperfections. If and when I transferred myself, I'd
eliminate the gray in my blond hair and get a new nose that would
look like my current one had before it'd been broken a couple of
"A pleasure to meet you, Ms. Wilkins," I said. "I'm Alexander
Lomax. Please have a seat."
She was a little thing, no more than a hundred and fifty
centimeters, and she was wearing a stylish silver-gray blouse and
skirt, but no makeup or jewelry. I'd expected her to sit down
with a catlike, fluid movement, given her delicate features, but
she just sort of plunked herself into the chair. "Thanks," she
said. "I do hope you can help me, Mr. Lomax. I really do."
Rather than immediately sitting down myself, I went to the coffee
maker. I filled my own mug, then opened my mouth to offer
Cassandra a cup, but closed it before doing so; transfers, of
course, didn't drink. "What seems to be the problem?" I said,
returning to my chair.
It's hard reading a transfer's expression: the facial sculpting
was usually very good, but the movements were somewhat
restrained. "My husband oh, my goodness, Mr. Lomax, I
hate to even say this!" She looked down at her hands. "My
husband ... he's disappeared."
I raised my eyebrows; it was pretty damned difficult for someone
to disappear here. New Klondike was only three kilometers in
diameter, all of it locked under the dome. "When did you last
"Three days ago."
My office was small, but it did have a window. Through it, I
could see one of the supporting arches that helped to hold up the
transparent dome over New Klondike. Outside the dome, a
sandstorm was raging, orange clouds obscuring the sun. Auxiliary
lights on the arch compensated for that, but Martian daylight was
never very bright. That's a reason why even those who had a
choice were reluctant to return to Earth: after years of only
dim illumination, apparently the sun as seen from there was
excruciating. "Is your husband, um, like you?" I asked.
She nodded. "Oh, yes. We both came here looking to make our
fortune, just like everyone else."
I shook my head. "I mean is he also a transfer?"
"Oh, sorry. Yes, he is. In fact, we both just transferred."
"It's an expensive procedure," I said. "Could he have been
skipping out on paying for it?"
Cassandra shook her head. "No, no. Joshua found one or two nice
specimens early on. He used the money from selling those pieces
to buy the NewYou franchise here. That's where we met
after I threw in the towel on sifting dirt, I got a job in sales
there. Anyway, of course, we both got to transfer at cost." She
was actually wringing her synthetic hands. "Oh, Mr. Lomax,
please help me! I don't know what I'm going to do without my
"You must love him a lot," I said, watching her pretty face for
more than just the pleasure of looking at it; I wanted to gauge
her sincerity as she replied. After all, people often
disappeared because things were bad at home, but spouses are
rarely forthcoming about that.
"Oh, I do!" said Cassandra. "I love him more than I can say.
Joshua is a wonderful, wonderful man." She looked at me with
pleading eyes. "You have to help me get him back. You just have
I looked down at my coffee mug; steam was rising from it. "Have
you tried the police?"
Cassandra made a sound that I guessed was supposed to be a snort:
it had the right roughness, but was dry as Martian sand. "Yes.
They oh, I hate to speak ill of anyone, Mr. Lomax!
Believe me, it's not my way, but well, there's no ducking
it, is there? They were useless. Just totally useless."
I nodded slightly; it's a story I heard often enough I
owed most of what little livelihood I had to the local cops'
incompetence and indifference. "Who did you speak to?"
"A a detective, I guess he was; he didn't wear a uniform.
I've forgotten his name."
"What did he look like?"
"Red hair, and "
"That's Mac," I said. She looked puzzled, so I said his full
name. "Dougal McCrae."
"McCrae, yes," said Cassandra. She shuddered a bit, and she must
have noticed my surprised reaction to that. "Sorry," she said.
"I just didn't like the way he looked at me."
I resisted running my eyes over her body just then; I'd already
done so, and I could remember what I'd seen. I guess her
original figure hadn't been like this one; if it had, she'd
certainly be used to admiring looks from men by now.
"I'll have a word with McCrae," I said. "See what's already been
done. Then I'll pick up where the cops left off."
"Would you?" Her green eyes seemed to dance. "Oh, thank you,
Mr. Lomax! You're a good man I can tell!"
I shrugged a little. "I can show you two ex-wives and a
half-dozen bankers who'd disagree."
"Oh, no," she said. "Don't say things like that! You are
a good man, I'm sure of it. Believe me, I have a sense about
these things. You're a good man, and I know you won't let me
Naïve woman; she'd probably thought the same thing about her
husband until he'd run off. "Now, what can you tell me
about your husband? Joshua, is it?"
"Yes, that's right. His full name is Joshua Connor Wilkins
and it's Joshua, never just Josh, thank you very much." I
nodded. Guys who were anal about being called by their full
first names never bought a round, in my experience. Maybe it was
a good thing that this clown was gone.
"Yes," I said. "Go on." I didn't have to take notes, of course.
My office computer was recording everything, and would extract
whatever was useful into a summary file for me.
Cassandra ran her synthetic lower lip back and forth beneath her
artificial upper teeth, thinking for a moment. Then: "Well, he
was born in Calgary, Alberta, and he's thirty-eight years old.
He moved to Mars seven mears ago." Mears were Mars-years; about
double the length of those on Earth.
"Do you have a picture?"
"I can access one," she said. She pointed at my desk terminal.
I nodded, and Cassandra reached over to grab the keyboard. In
doing so, she managed to knock over my coffee mug, spilling hot
joe all over her dainty hand. She let out a small yelp of pain.
I got up, grabbed a towel, and began wiping up the mess. "I'm
surprised that hurt," I said. "I mean, I do like my
coffee hot, but ..."
"Transfers feel pain, Mr. Lomax," she said, "for the same reason
that biologicals do. When you're flesh-and-blood, you need a
signaling system to warn you when your parts are being damaged;
same is true for those of us who have transferred. Admittedly,
artificial bodies are much more durable, of course."
"Ah," I said.
"Sorry," she replied. "I've explained this so many times now
you know, at work. Anyway, please forgive me about your
I made a dismissive gesture. "Thank God for the paperless
office, eh? Don't worry about it." I gestured at the keyboard;
fortunately, none of the coffee had gone down between the keys.
"You were going to show me a picture?"
"Oh, right." She spoke some commands, and the terminal responded
making me wonder what she'd wanted the keyboard for. But
then she used it to type in a long passphrase; presumably she
didn't want to say hers aloud in front of me. She frowned as she
was typing it in, and backspaced to make a correction; multiword
passphrases were easy to say, but hard to type if you weren't
adept with a keyboard and the more security conscious you
were, the longer the passphrase you used.
Anyway, she accessed some repository of her personal files, and
brought up a photo of Joshua-never-Josh Wilkins. Given how
attractive Mrs. Wilkins was, he wasn't what I expected. He had
cold, gray eyes, hair buzzed so short as to be nonexistent, and a
thin, almost lipless mouth; the overall effect was reptilian.
"That's before," I said. "What about after? What's he look like
now that he's transferred?"
"Umm, pretty much the same," she said.
"Really?" If I'd had that kisser, I'd have modified it for sure.
"Do you have pictures taken since he moved his mind?"
"No actual pictures," said Cassandra. "After all, he and I only
just transferred. But I can go into the NewYou database, and
show you the plans from which his new face was manufactured."
She spoke to the terminal some more, and then typed in another
lengthy passphrase. Soon enough, she had a computer-graphics
rendition of Joshua's head on my screen.
"You're right," I said, surprised. "He didn't change a thing.
Can I get copies of all this?"
She nodded, and spoke some more commands, transferring various
documents into local storage.
"All right," I said. "My fee is two hundred solars an hour."
"That's fine, that's fine, of course! I don't care about the
money, Mr. Lomax not at all. I just want Joshua back.
Please tell me you'll find him."
"I will," I said, smiling my most reassuring smile. "Don't you
worry about that. He can't have gone far."
Actually, of course, Joshua Wilkins could perhaps have
gone quite far so my first order of business was to
eliminate that possibility.
No spaceships had left Mars in the last ten days, so he couldn't
be off-planet. There was a giant airlock in the south through
which large spaceships could be brought inside for dry-dock work,
but it hadn't been cracked open in weeks. And, although a
transfer could exist freely on the Martian surface, there were
only four personnel air locks leading out of the dome, and they
all had security guards. I visited each of those air locks and
checked, just to be sure, but the only people who had gone out in
the last three days were the usual crowds of hapless fossil
hunters, and every one of them had returned when the dust storm
I remember when this town had started up: "The Great Fossil
Rush," they called it. Weingarten and O'Reilly, two early
private explorers who had come here at their own expense, had
found the first fossils on Mars, and had made a fortune selling
them back on Earth. More valuable than any precious metal; rarer
than anything else in the solar system actual evidence of
extraterrestrial life! Good fist-sized specimens went for
millions in online auctions; excellent football-sized ones for
billions. There was no greater status symbol than to own the
petrified remains of a Martian pentaped or rhizomorph.
Of course, Weingarten and O'Reilly wouldn't say precisely where
they'd found their specimens, but it had been easy enough to
prove that their spaceship had landed here, in the Isidis
Planitia basin. Other treasure hunters started coming, and New
Klondike the one and only town on Mars was born.
Native life was never widely dispersed on Mars; the single
ecosystem that had ever existed here seemed to have been confined
to an area not much bigger than Rhode Island. Some of the
prospectors excuse me, fossil hunters who came
shortly after W&O's first expedition found a few nice specimens,
although most had been badly blasted by blowing sand.
Somewhere, though, was the mother lode: a bed that produced
fossils more finely preserved than even those from Earth's famed
Burgess Shale. Weingarten and O'Reilly had known where it was
they'd stumbled on it by pure dumb luck, apparently. But
they'd both been killed when their heat shield separated from
their lander when re-entering Earth's atmosphere after their
third expedition here and, in the twenty mears since, no
one had yet rediscovered it.
People were still looking, of course. There'd always been a
market for transferring consciousness; the potentially infinite
lifespan was hugely appealing. But here on Mars, the demand was
particularly brisk, since artificial bodies could spend days or
even weeks on the surface, searching for paleontological gold,
without worrying about running out of air. Of course, a serious
sandstorm could blast the synthetic flesh from metal bones, and
scour those bones until they were whittled to nothing; that's why
no one was outside right now.
Anyway, Joshua-never-Josh Wilkins was clearly not outside the
dome, and he hadn't taken off in a spaceship. Wherever he was
hiding, it was somewhere in New Klondike. I can't say he was
breathing the same air I was, because he wasn't breathing at all.
But he was here, somewhere. All I had to do was find him.
I didn't want to duplicate the efforts of the police, although
"efforts" was usually too generous a term to apply to the work of
the local constabulary; "cursory attempts" probably was closer to
the truth, if I knew Mac.
New Klondike had twelve radial roadways, cutting across the nine
concentric rings of buildings under the dome. My office was at
dome's edge; I could have taken a hovertram into the center, but
I preferred to walk. A good detective knew what was happening on
the streets, and the hovertrams, dilapidated though they were,
sped by too fast for that.
I didn't make any bones about staring at the transfers I saw
along the way. They ranged in style from really sophisticated
models, like Cassandra Wilkins, to things only a step up from the
tin woodsman of Oz. Of course, those who'd contented themselves
with second-rate synthetic forms doubtless believed they'd trade
up when they eventually happened upon some decent specimens.
Poor saps; no one had found truly spectacular remains for mears,
and lots of people were giving up and going back to Earth, if
they could afford the passage, or were settling in to lives of,
as Thoreau would have it, quiet desperation, their dreams as dead
as the fossils they'd never found.
I continued walking easily along; Mars gravity is about a third
of Earth's. Some people were stuck here because they'd let their
muscles atrophy; they'd never be able to hack a full gee again.
Me, I was stuck here for other reasons, but I worked out more
than most Gully's Gym, over by the shipyards and so
still had reasonably strong legs; I could walk comfortably all
day if I had to.
The cop shop was a five-story building it could be that
tall, this near the center of the dome with walls that had
once been white, but were now a grimy grayish pink. The front
doors were clear alloquartz, same as the overhead dome, and they
slid aside as I walked up to them. At the side of the lobby was
a long red desk as if we don't see enough red on Mars
with a map showing the Isidis Planitia basin; New Klondike
was a big circle off to one side.
The desk sergeant was a flabby lowbrow named Huxley, whose
uniform always seemed a size too small for him. "Hey, Hux," I
said, walking over. "Is Mac in?"
Huxley consulted a monitor, then nodded. "Yeah, he's in, but he
don't see just anyone."
"I'm not just anyone, Hux. I'm the guy who picks up the pieces
after you clowns bungle things."
Huxley frowned, trying to think of a rejoinder. "Yeah, well ..."
he said, at last.
"Oooh," I said. "Good one, Hux! Way to put me in my place."
He narrowed his eyes. "You ain't as funny as you think you are,
Lomax," he said.
"Of course I'm not," I said. "Nobody could be that funny.
I nodded at the secured inner door. "Going to buzz me through?"
"Only to be rid of you," said Huxley. So pleased was he with the
wit of this remark that he repeated it: "Only to be rid of you."
Huxley reached below the counter, and the inner door an
unmarked black panel slid aside. I pantomimed tipping a
nonexistent hat at Hux, and headed into the station proper. I
then walked down the corridor to McCrae's office; the door was
open, so I rapped my knuckles against the plastic jamb.
"Lomax!" he said, looking up. "Decided to turn yourself in?"
"Very funny, Mac," I said. "You and Hux should go on the road
He snorted. "What can I do for you, Alex?"
Mac was a skinny biological, with shaggy orange eyebrows
shielding his blue eyes. "I'm looking for a guy named Joshua
Mac had a strong Scottish brogue so strong, I figured it
must be an affectation. "Ah, yes," he said. "Who's your client?
"A bonnie lass," he said.
"That she is," I said. "Anyway, you tried to find her husband,
this Wilkins ..."
"We looked around, yeah," said Mac. "He's a transfer, you knew
"Well," Mac said, "she gave us the plans for his new face
precise measurements, and all that. We've been feeding all the
video made by public security cameras through facial-recognition
software. So far, no luck."
I smiled. That's about as far as Mac's detective work normally
went: things he could do without hauling his bony ass out from
behind his desk. "How much of New Klondike do they cover now?" I
"It's down to sixty percent of the public areas," said Mac.
People kept smashing the cameras, and the city didn't have the
time or money to replace them.
"You'll let me know if you find anything?"
Mac drew his shaggy eyebrows together. "You know the privacy
laws, Alex. I can't divulge what the security cameras see."
I reached into my pocket, pulled out a fifty-solar coin, and
flipped it. It went up rapidly, but came down in what still
seemed like slow motion to me, even after all these years on
Mars; Mac didn't require any special reflexes to catch it in
midair. "Of course," he said, "I suppose we could make an
"Thanks. You're a credit to law-enforcement officials
He snorted again, then: "Say, what kind of heat you packing
these days? You still carrying that old Smith & Wesson?"
"I've got a license," I said, narrowing my eyes.
"Oh, I know, I know. But be careful, eh? The times, they are
a-changin'. Bullets aren't much use against a transfer, and
there are getting to be more of those each day."
I nodded. "So I've heard. How do you guys handle them?"
"Until recently, as little as possible," said Mac. "Turning a
blind eye, and all that."
"Saves getting up," I said.
Mac didn't take offense. "Exactly. But let me show you
something." We left his office, went further down the corridor
and entered another room. He pointed to a device on the table.
"Just arrived from Earth," he said. "The latest thing."
It was a wide, flat disk, maybe half a meter in diameter, and
five centimeters thick. There were a pair of U-shaped handgrips
attached to the edge, opposite each other. "What is it?" I
"A broadband disrupter," he said. He picked it up and held it in
front of himself, like a gladiator's shield. "It discharges an
oscillating multifrequency electromagnetic pulse. From a
distance of four meters or less, it will completely fry the
artificial brain of a transfer killing it as effectively
as a bullet kills a human."
"I don't plan on killing anyone," I said.
"That's what you said the last time."
Ouch. Still, maybe he had a point. "I don't suppose you
have a spare one I can borrow?"
Mac laughed. "Are you kidding? This is the only one we've got
"Well, then," I said, heading for the door, "I guess I'd better
My next stop was the NewYou building. I took Third Avenue, one
of the radial streets of the city, out the five blocks to it.
The building was two stories tall and was made, like most
structures here, of red laser-fused Martian sand bricks.
Flanking the main doors were a pair of wide alloquartz display
windows, showing dusty artificial bodies dressed in fashions from
about two mears ago; it was high time somebody updated things.
Inside, the store was part showroom and part workshop, with spare
components scattered about: here, a white-skinned artificial
hand; there, a black lower leg; on shelves, synthetic eyes and
spools of colored monofilament that I guessed were used to
simulate hair. There were also all sorts of internal parts on
worktables: motors and hydraulic pumps and joint hinges. A
half-dozen technicians were milling around, assembling new bodies
or repairing old ones.
Across the room, I spotted Cassandra Wilkins, wearing a beige
suit today. She was talking with a man and a woman, who were
biological; potential customers, presumably. "Hello, Cassandra,"
I said, after I'd closed the distance between us.
"Mr. Lomax!" she said, excusing herself from the couple. "I'm so
glad you're here so very glad! What news do you have?"
"Not much," I said. "I've been to visit the cops, and I thought
I should start my investigation here. After all, your husband
owned this franchise, right?"
Cassandra nodded enthusiastically. "I knew I was doing the right
thing hiring you," she said. "I just knew it! Why, do you know
that lazy detective McCrae never stopped by here not even
I smiled. "Mac's not the outdoorsy type," I said. "And, well,
you get what you pay for."
"Isn't that the truth?" said Cassandra. "Isn't that just the
God's honest truth!"
"You said your husband moved his mind recently?"
She nodded her head. "Yes. All of that goes on upstairs,
though. This is just sales and service down here."
"Can you show me?" I asked.
She nodded again. "Of course anything you want to see,
Mr. Lomax!" What I wanted to see was under that beige suit
nothing beat the perfection of a transfer's body
but I kept that thought to myself. Cassandra looked around the
room, then motioned for another staff member also female,
also a transfer, also gorgeous, and this one did wear tasteful
makeup and jewelry to come over. "I'm sorry," Cassandra
said to the two customers she'd abandoned a few moments ago.
"Miss Takahashi here will look after you." She then turned to
me. "This way."
We went through a curtained doorway and up a set of stairs.
"Here's our scanning room," said Cassandra, indicating the
left-hand one of a pair of doors; both doors had little windows
in them. She stood on tiptoe to look in the scanning-room
window, and nodded, apparently satisfied by what she saw, then
opened the door. Two people were inside: a balding man of about
forty, who was seated, and a standing woman who looked
twenty-five; the woman was a transfer herself, though so there
was no way of knowing her real age. "So sorry to interrupt,"
Cassandra said. She looked at the man in the chair, while
gesturing at me. "This is Alexander Lomax. He's providing some,
ah, consulting services for us."
The man looked at me, surprised, then said, "Klaus Hansen," by
way of introduction.
"Would you mind ever so much if Mr. Lomax watched while the scan
was being done?" asked Cassandra.
Hansen considered this for a moment, frowning his long, thin
face. But then he nodded. "Sure. Why not?"
"Thanks," I said. "I'll just stand over here." I moved to the
far wall and leaned back against it.
The chair Hansen was sitting in looked a lot like a barber's
chair. The female transfer who wasn't Cassandra reached up above
the chair and pulled down a translucent hemisphere that was
attached by an articulated arm to the ceiling. She kept lowering
it until all of Hansen's head was covered, and then she turned to
a control console.
The hemisphere shimmered slightly, as though a film of oil was
washing over its surface; the scanning field, I supposed.
Cassandra was standing next to me, arms crossed in front of her
chest. It was an unnatural-looking pose, given her large bosom.
"How long does the scanning take?" I asked.
"It's a quantum-mechanical process," she replied. "So the
scanning is rapid. But it'll take about ten minutes to move the
data into the artificial brain. And then ..."
"And then?" I said.
She lifted her shoulders, as if the rest didn't need to be
spelled out. "Why, and then Mr. Hansen will be able to live
"Ah," I said.
"Come along," said Cassandra. "Let's go see the other side." We
left that room, closing its door behind us, and entered the one
next door. This room was a mirror image of the previous one,
which I guess was appropriate. Standing erect in the middle of
the room, supported by a metal armature, was Hansen's new body,
dressed in a fashionable blue suit; its eyes were closed. Also
in the room was a male NewYou technician, who was biological.
I walked around, looking at the artificial body from all angles.
The replacement Hansen still had a bald spot, although its
diameter had been reduced by half. And, interestingly, Hansen
had opted for a sort of permanent designer-stubble look; the
biological him was clean-shaven at the moment.
Suddenly the simulacrum's eyes opened. "Wow," said a voice that
was the same as the one I'd heard from the man next door.
"How do you feel, Mr. Hansen?" asked the male technician.
"Fine," he said. "Just fine."
"Good," the technician said. "There'll be some settling-in
adjustments, of course. Let's just check to make sure all your
parts are working ..."
"And there it is," said Cassandra, to me. "Simple as that." She
led me out of the room, back into the corridor.
"Fascinating," I said. I pointed at the left-hand door. "When
do you take care of the original?"
"That's already been done. We do it in the chair."
I stared at the closed door, and I like to think I suppressed my
shudder enough so that Cassandra was unaware of it. "All right,"
I said. "I guess I've seen enough."
Cassandra looked disappointed. "Are you sure don't want to look
around some more?"
"Why?" I said. "Is there anything else worth seeing?"
"Oh, I don't know," said Cassandra. "It's a big place.
Everything on this floor, everything downstairs ... everything in
I blinked. "You've got a basement?" Almost no Martian buildings
had basements; the permafrost layer was very hard to dig through.
"Yes," she said. "Oh, yes." She paused, then looked away. "Of
course, no one ever goes down there; it's just storage."
"I'll have a look," I said.
And that's where I found him.
He was lying behind some large storage crates, face down, a
sticky pool of machine oil surrounding his head. Next to him was
a fusion-powered jackhammer, the kind many of the fossil hunters
had for removing surface rocks. And next to the jackhammer was a
piece of good old-fashioned paper. On it, in block letters, was
written, "I'm so sorry, Cassie. It's just not the same."
It's hard to commit suicide, I guess, when you're a transfer.
Slitting your wrists does nothing significant. Poison doesn't
work, and neither does drowning.
But Joshua-never-anything-else-at-all-anymore Wilkins had
apparently found a way. From the looks of it, he'd leaned back
against the rough cement wall, and, with his strong artificial
arms, had held up the jackhammer, placing its bit against the
center of his forehead. And then he'd held down on the
jackhammer's twin triggers, letting the unit run until it had
managed to pierce through his titanium skull and scramble the
soft material of his artificial brain. When his brain died, his
thumbs let up on the triggers, and he dropped the jackhammer,
then tumbled over himself. His head had twisted sideways when it
hit the concrete floor. Everything below his eyebrows was
intact; it was clearly the same face Cassandra Wilkins had shown
I headed up the stairs and found Cassandra, who was chatting in
her animated style with another customer.
"Cassandra," I said, pulling her aside. "Cassandra, I'm very
sorry, but ..."
She looked at me, her green eyes wide. "What?"
"I've found your husband. And he's dead."
She opened her pretty mouth, closed it, then opened it again.
She looked like she might fall over, even with gyroscopes
stabilizing her. I put an arm around her shoulders, but she
didn't seem comfortable with it, so I let her go. "My ... God,"
she said at last. "Are you ... are you positive?"
"Sure looks like him," I said.
"My God," she said again. "What ... what happened?"
No nice way to say it. "Looks like he killed himself."
A couple of Cassandra's coworkers had come over, wondering what
all the commotion was about. "What's wrong?" asked one of them
the same Miss Takahashi I'd seen earlier.
"Oh, Reiko," said Cassandra. "Joshua is dead!"
Customers were noticing what was going on, too. A burly
flesh-and-blood man, with arms as thick around as most men's
leg's, came across the room; he seemed to be the boss here.
Reiko Takahashi had already drawn Cassandra into her arms
or vice-versa; I'd been looking away when it had happened
and was stroking Cassandra's artificial hair. I let the boss do
what he could to calm the crowd, while I used my commlink to call
Mac and inform him of Joshua Wilkins's suicide.
Detective Dougal McCrae of New Klondike's finest arrived about
twenty minutes later, accompanied by two uniforms. "How's it
look, Alex?" Mac asked.
"Not as messy as some of the biological suicides I've seen," I
said. "But it's still not a pretty sight."
I led Mac downstairs. He read the note without picking it up.
The burly man soon came down, too, followed by Cassandra Wilkins,
who was holding her artificial hand to her artificial mouth.
"Hello, again, Mrs. Wilkins," said Mac, moving to interpose his
body between her and the prone form on the floor. "I'm terribly
sorry, but I'll need you to make an official identification."
I lifted my eyebrows at the irony of requiring the next of kin to
actually look at the body to be sure of who it was, but that's
what we'd gone back to with transfers. Privacy laws prevented
any sort of ID chip or tracking device being put into artificial
bodies. In fact, that was one of the many incentives to
transfer; you no longer left fingerprints or a trail of
identifying DNA everywhere you went.
Cassandra nodded bravely; she was willing to accede to Mac's
request. He stepped aside, a living curtain, revealing the
artificial body with the gaping head wound. She looked down at
it. I'd expected her to quickly avert her eyes, but she didn't;
she just kept staring.
Finally, Mac said, very gently, "Is that your husband, Mrs.
She nodded slowly. Her voice was soft. "Yes. Oh, my poor, poor
Mac stepped over to talk to the two uniforms, and I joined them.
"What do you do with a dead transfer?" I asked. "Seems pointless
to call in the medical examiner."
By way of answer, Mac motioned to the burly man. The man touched
his own chest and raised his eyebrows in the classic, "Who, me?"
expression. Mac nodded again. The man looked left and right,
like he was crossing some imaginary road, and then came over.
"You seem to be the senior employee here," said Mac. "Am I
The man nodded. "Horatio Fernandez. Joshua was the boss, but,
yeah, I guess I'm in charge until head office sends somebody new
out from Earth."
"Well," said Mac, "you're probably better equipped than we are to
figure out the exact cause of death."
Fernandez gestured theatrically at the synthetic corpse, as if it
were well not bleedingly obvious, but certainly
Mac nodded. "It's just a bit too pat," he said, his voice
lowered conspiratorially. "Implement at hand, suicide note." He
lifted his shaggy orange eyebrows. "I just want to be sure."
Cassandra had drifted over without Mac noticing, although of
course I had. She was listening in.
"Yeah," said Fernandez. "Sure. We can disassemble him, check
for anything else that might be amiss."
"No," said Cassandra. "You can't."
"I'm afraid it's necessary," said Mac, looking at her. His
Scottish brogue always put an edge on his words, but I knew he
was trying to sound gentle.
"No," said Cassandra, her voice quavering. "I forbid it."
Mac's voice got a little firmer. "You can't. I'm legally
required to order an autopsy in every suspicious case."
Cassandra wheeled on Fernandez. "Horatio, I order you not to do
Fernandez blinked a few times. "Order?"
Cassandra opened her mouth to say something more, then apparently
thought better of it. Horatio moved closer to her, and put a
hulking arm around her small shoulders. "Don't worry," he said.
"We'll be gentle." And then his face brightened a bit. "In
fact, we'll see what parts we can salvage give them to
somebody else; somebody who couldn't afford such good stuff if it
was new." He smiled beatifically. "It's what Joshua would have
The next day, I was siting in my office, looking out the small
window. The dust storm had ended. Out on the surface, rocks
were strewn everywhere, like toys on a kid's bedroom floor. My
wrist commlink buzzed, and I looked at it in anticipation, hoping
for a new case; I could use the solars. But the ID line said
NKPD. I told the device to accept the call, and a little picture
of Mac's red-headed face appeared on my wrist. "Hey, Lomax," he
said. "Come on by the station, would you?"
The micro-Mac frowned. "Nothing I want to say over open
I nodded. Now that the Wilkins case was over, I didn't have
anything better to do anyway. I'd only managed about seven
billable hours, damnitall, and even that had taken some padding.
I walked into the center along Ninth Avenue, entered the lobby of
the police station, traded quips with the ineluctable Huxley, and
was admitted to the back.
"Hey, Mac," I said. "What's up?"
"'Morning, Alex," Mac said, rolling the R in "Morning." "Come
in; sit down." He spoke to his desk terminal, and turned its
monitor around so I could see it. "Have a look at this."
I glanced at the screen. "The report on Joshua Wilkins?" I said.
Mac nodded. "Look at the section on the artificial brain."
I skimmed the text, until I found that part. "Yeah?" I said,
still not getting it.
"Do you know what `baseline synaptic web' means?" Mac asked.
"No, I don't. And you didn't either, smart-ass, until someone
Mac smiled a bit, conceding that. "Well, there were lots of bits
of the artificial brain left behind. And that big guy at NewYou
Fernandez, remember? he really got into this
forensic stuff, and decided to run it through some kind of
instrument they've got there. And you know what he found?"
"The brain stuff the raw material inside the artificial
skull was pristine. It had never been imprinted."
"You mean no scanned mind had ever been transferred into that
Mac folded his arms across his chest and leaned back in his
I frowned. "But that's not possible. I mean, if there was no
mind in that head, who wrote the suicide note?"
Mac lifted those shaggy eyebrows of his. "Who indeed?" he said.
"And what happened to Joshua Wilkins's scanned consciousness?"
"Does anyone at NewYou but Fernandez know about this?" I asked.
Mac shook his head. "No, and he's agreed to keep his mouth shut
while we continue to investigate. But I thought I'd clue you in,
since apparently the case you were on isn't really closed
and, after all, if you don't make money now and again, you can't
afford to bribe me for favors."
I nodded. "That's what I like about you, Mac. Always looking
out for my best interests."
Perhaps I should have gone straight to see Cassandra Wilkins, and
made sure that we both agreed that I was back on the clock, but I
had some questions I wanted answered first. And I knew just who
to turn to. Raoul Santos was the city's top computer expert.
I'd met him during a previous case, and we'd recently struck up a
small-f friendship we both shared the same taste in
bootleg Earth booze, and he wasn't above joining me at some of
New Klondike's sleazier saloons to get it. I used my commlink to
call him, and we arranged to meet at the Bent Chisel.
The Bent Chisel was a little hellhole off of Fourth Avenue, in
the sixth concentric ring of buildings. I made sure I had my
revolver, and that it was loaded, before I entered. The
bartender was a surly man named Buttrick, a biological who had
more than his fair share of flesh, and blood as cold as ice. He
wore a sleeveless black shirt, and had a three-day growth of
salt-and-pepper beard. "Lomax," he said, acknowledging my
entrance. "No broken furniture this time, right?"
I held up three fingers. "Scout's honor."
Buttrick held up one finger.
"Hey," I said. "Is that any way to treat one of your best
"My best customers," said Buttrick, polishing a glass with a
ratty towel, "pay their tabs."
"Yeah," I said, stealing a page from Sgt. Huxley's Guide to
Witty Repartee. "Well." I headed on in, making my way to
the back of the bar, where my favorite booth was located. The
waitresses here were topless, and soon enough one came over to
see me. I couldn't remember her name offhand, although we'd
slept together a couple of times. I ordered a scotch on the
rocks; they normally did that with carbon-dioxide ice here, which
was much cheaper than water ice on Mars. A few minutes later,
Raoul Santos arrived. "Hey," he said, taking a seat opposite me.
"Fine," I said. "She sends her love."
Raoul made a puzzled face, then smiled. "Ah, right. Cute.
Listen, don't quit your day job."
"Hey," I said, placing a hand over my heart, "you wound me. Down
deep, I'm a stand-up comic."
"Well," said Raoul, "I always say people should be true to their
innermost selves, but ..."
"Yeah?" I said. "What's your innermost self?"
"Me?" Raoul raised his eyebrows. "I'm pure genius, right to the
I snorted, and the waitress reappeared. She gave me my glass.
It was just a little less full than it should have been: either
Buttrick was trying to curb his losses on me, or the waitress was
miffed that I hadn't acknowledged our former intimacy. Raoul
placed his order, talking directly into the woman's breasts.
Boobs did well in Mars gravity; hers were still perky even though
she had to be almost forty.
"So," said Raoul, looking over steepled fingers at me. "What's
up?" His face consisted of a wide forehead, long nose, and
receding chin; it made him look like he was leaning forward even
when he wasn't.
I took a swig of my drink. "Tell me about this transferring
"Ah, yes," said Raoul. "Fascinating stuff. Thinking of doing
"Maybe someday," I said.
"You know, it's supposed to pay for itself within three mears,"
he said, "'cause you no longer have to pay life-support tax after
I was in arrears on that, and didn't like to think about what
would happen if I fell much further behind. "That'd be a plus,"
I said. "What about you? You going to do it?"
"Sure. I want to live forever; who doesn't? 'Course, my dad
won't like it."
"Your dad? What's he got against it?"
Raoul snorted. "He's a minister."
"In whose government?" I asked.
"No, no. A minister. Clergy."
"I didn't know there were any of those left, even on Earth," I
"He is on Earth, but, yeah, you're right. Poor old guy
still believes in souls."
I raised my eyebrows. "Really?"
"Yup. And because he believes in souls, he has a hard time with
this idea of transferring consciousness. He would say the new
version isn't the same person."
I thought about what the supposed suicide note said. "Well, is
Raoul rolled his eyes. "You, too? Of course it is! The mind is
just software and since the dawn of computing, software
has been moved from one computing platform to another by copying
it over, then erasing the original."
I frowned, but decided to let that go for the moment. "So, if
you do transfer, what would you have fixed in your new body?"
Raoul spread his arms. "Hey, man, you don't tamper with
"Yeah," I said. "Sure. Still, how much could you change things?
I mean, say you're a midget; could you choose to have a
"Sure, of course."
I frowned. "But wouldn't the copied mind have trouble with your
"Nah," said Raoul. The waitress returned. She bent over far
enough while placing Raoul's drink on the table that her breast
touched his bare forearm; she gave me a look that said, "See what
you're missing, tiger?" When she was gone, Raoul continued.
"See, when we first started copying consciousness, we let the old
software from the old mind actually try to directly control the
new body. It took months to learn how to walk again, and so on."
"Yeah, I read something about that, years ago," I said.
Raoul nodded. "Right. But now we don't let the copied mind do
anything but give orders. The thoughts are intercepted by the
new body's main computer. That unit runs the body. All
the transferred mind has to do is think that it wants to
pick up this glass, say." He acted out his example, and took a
sip, then winced in response to the booze's kick. "The computer
takes care of working out which pulleys to contract, how far to
reach, and so on."
"So you could indeed order up a body radically different from
your original?" I said.
"Absolutely," said Raoul. He looked at me through hooded eyes.
"Which, in your case, is probably the route to go."
"Damn," I said.
"Hey, don't take it seriously," he said, taking another sip, and
allowing himself another pleased wince. "Just a joke."
"I know," I said. "It's just that I was hoping it wasn't that
way. See, this case I'm on: the guy I'm supposed to find owns
the NewYou franchise here."
"Yeah?" said Raoul.
"Yeah, and I think he deliberately transferred his scanned mind
into some body other than the one that he'd ordered up for
"Why would he do that?"
"He faked the death of the body that looked like him and,
I think he'd planned to do that all along, because he never
bothered to order up any improvements to his face. I think he
wanted to get away, but make it look like he was dead, so no one
would be looking for him anymore."
"And why would he do that?"
I frowned, then drank some more. "I'm not sure."
"Maybe he wanted to escape his spouse."
"Maybe but she's a hot little number."
"Hmm," said Raoul. "Whose body do you think he took?"
"I don't know that, either. I was hoping the new body would have
to be at least roughly similar to his old one; that would cut
down on the possible suspects. But I guess that's not the case."
"It isn't, no."
I nodded, and looked down at my drink. The dry-ice cubes were
sublimating into white vapor that filled the top part of the
"Something else is bothering you," said Raoul. I lifted my head,
and saw him taking a swig of his drink. A little bit of amber
liquid spilled out of his mouth and formed a shiny bead on his
recessed chin. "What is it?"
I shifted a bit. "I visited NewYou yesterday. You know what
happens to your original body after they move your mind?"
"Sure," said Raoul. "Like I said, there's no such thing as
moving software. You copy it, then delete the original. They
euthanize the biological version, once the transfer is made, by
frying the original brain."
I nodded. "And if the guy I'm looking for put his mind into the
body intended for somebody else's mind, and that person's mind
wasn't copied anywhere, then ..." I took another swig of my
drink. "Then it's murder, isn't it? Souls or no souls it
doesn't matter. If you shut down the one and only copy of
someone's mind, you've murdered that person, right?"
"Oh, yes," said Raoul. "Deader than Mars itself is now."
I glanced down at the swirling fog in my glass. "So I'm not just
looking for a husband who's skipped out on his wife," I said.
"I'm looking for a cold-blooded killer."
I went by NewYou again. Cassandra wasn't in but that
didn't surprise me; she was a grieving widow now. But Horatio
Fernandez he of the massive arms was on duty.
"I'd like a list of all the people who were transferred the same
day as Joshua Wilkins," I said.
He frowned. "That's confidential information."
There were several potential customers milling about. I raised
my voice so they could hear. "Interesting suicide note, wasn't
Fernandez grabbed my arm and led me quickly to the side of the
room. "What the hell are you doing?" he whispered angrily.
"Just sharing the news," I said, still speaking loudly, although
not quite loud enough now, I thought, for the customers to hear.
"People thinking of uploading should know that it's not the same
at least, that's what Joshua Wilkins said in that note."
Fernandez knew when he was beaten. The claim in the putative
suicide note was exactly the opposite of NewYou's corporate
position: transferring was supposed to be flawless, conferring
nothing but benefits. "All right, all right," he hissed. "I'll
pull the list for you."
"Now that's service," I said. "They should name you employee of
He led me into the back room and spoke to a computer. I happened
to overhear the passphrase for accessing the customer database;
it was just six words hardly any security at all.
Eleven people had moved their consciousnesses into artificial
bodies that day. I had him transfer the files on each of the
eleven into my wrist commlink. "Thanks," I said, doing that
tip-of-the-nonexistent-hat thing I do. Even when you've forced a
man to do something, there's no harm in being polite.
If I was right that Joshua Wilkins had appropriated the body of
somebody else who had been scheduled to transfer the same day, it
shouldn't be too hard to figure out whose body he'd taken; all I
had to do, I figured, was interview each of the eleven.
My first stop, purely because it happened to be the nearest, was
the home of a guy named Stuart Berling, a full-time fossil
hunter. He must have had some recent success, if he could afford
Berling's home was part of a row of townhouses off Fifth Avenue,
in the fifth ring. I pushed his door buzzer, and waited
impatiently for a response. At last he appeared. If I wasn't so
famous for my poker face, I'd have done a double take. The man
who greeted me was a dead ringer for Krikor Ajemian, the holovid
star the same gaunt features and intense eyes, the same
mane of dark hair, the same tightly trimmed beard and mustache.
I guess not everyone wanted to keep even a semblance of their
"Hello," I said. "My name is Alexander Lomax. Are you Stuart
The artificial face in front of me surely was capable of smiling,
but choose not to. "Yes. What do you want?"
"I understand you only recently transferred your consciousness
into this body."
A nod. "So?"
"So, I work for the NewYou the head office on Earth. I'm
here to check up on the quality of the work done by our franchise
here on Mars." Normally, this was a good technique. If Berling
was who he said he was, the question wouldn't faze him. But if
we was really Joshua Wilkins, he'd know I was lying, and his
expression might betray this. But transfers didn't have faces
that were as malleable; if this person was startled or
suspicious, nothing in his plastic features indicated it.
"So?" Berling said again.
"So I'm wondering if you were satisfied by the work done for
"It cost a lot," said Berling.
I smiled. "Yes, it does. May I come in?"
He considered this for a few moments, then shrugged. "Sure, why
not?" He stepped aside.
His living room was full of work tables, covered with reddish
rocks from outside the dome. A giant lens on an articulated arm
was attached to one of the work tables, and various geologist's
tools were scattered about.
"Finding anything interesting?" I asked, gesturing at the rocks.
"If I was, I certainly wouldn't tell you," said Berling, looking
at me sideways in the typical paranoid-prospector's way.
"Right," I said. "Of course. So, are you satisfied with
the NewYou process?"
"Sure, yeah. It's everything they said it would be. All the
"Thanks for your help," I said, pulling out my PDA to make a few
notes, and then frowning at its blank screen. "Oh, damn," I
said. "The silly thing has a loose fusion pack. I've got to
open it up and reseat it." I showed him the back of the unit's
case. "Do you have a little screwdriver that will fit that?"
Everybody owned some screwdrivers, even though most people rarely
needed them, and they were the sort of thing that had no standard
storage location. Some people kept them in kitchen drawers,
others kept them in tool chests, still others kept them under the
bathroom sink. Only a person who had lived in this home for a
while would know where they were.
Berling peered at the little slot-headed screw, then nodded.
"Sure," he said. "Hang on."
He made an unerring beeline for the far-side of the living room,
going to a cabinet that had glass doors on its top half, but
solid metal ones on its bottom. He bent over, opened one of the
metal doors, reached in, rummaged for a bit, and emerged with the
"Thanks," I said, opening the case in such a way that he couldn't
see inside. I then surreptitiously removed the little bit of
plastic I'd used to insulate the fusion battery from the contact
it was supposed to touch. Meanwhile, without looking up, I said,
"Are you married, Mr. Berling?" Of course, I already knew the
answer was yes; that fact was in his NewYou file.
"Is your wife home?"
His artificial eyelids closed a bit. "Why?"
I told him the honest truth, since it fit well with my cover
story: "I'd like to ask her whether she can perceive any
differences between the new you and the old."
Again, I watched his expression, but it didn't change. "Sure, I
guess that'd be okay." He turned and called over his shoulder,
A few moments later, a homely flesh-and-blood woman of about
fifty appeared. "This person is from the head office of NewYou,"
said Berling, indicating me with a pointed finger. "He'd like to
speak to you."
"About what?" asked Lacie. She had a deep, not-unpleasant
"Might we speak in private?" I said.
Berling's gaze shifted from Lacie to me, then back to Lacie.
"Hrmpph," he said, but then, a moment later, added, "I guess
that'd be all right." He turned around and walked away.
I looked at Lacie. "I'm just doing a routine follow-up," I said.
"Making sure people are happy with the work we do. Have you
noticed any changes in your husband since he transferred?"
"Oh?" I said. "If there's anything at all ..." I smiled
reassuringly. "We want to make the process as perfect as
possible. Has he said anything that's surprised you, say?"
Lacie crinkled her face. "How do you mean?"
"I mean, has he used any expressions or turns of phrase you're
not used to hearing from him?"
A shake of the head. "No."
"Sometimes the process plays tricks with memory. Has he failed
to know something he should know?"
"Not that I noticed," said Lacie.
"What about the reverse? Has he known anything that you wouldn't
expect him to know?"
She lifted her eyebrows. "No. He's just Stuart."
I frowned. "No changes at all?"
"No, none ... well, almost none."
I waited for her to go on, but she didn't, so I prodded her.
"What is it? We really would like to know about any difference,
any flaw in our transference process."
"Oh, it's not a flaw," said Lacie, not meeting my eyes.
"No? Then what?"
"It's just that ..."
"Well, just that he's a demon in the sack now. He stays hard
I frowned, disappointed not to have found what I was looking for
on the first try. But I decided to end the masquerade on a
positive note. "We aim to please, ma'am. We aim to please."
I spent the next several hours interviewing four other people;
none of them seemed to be anyone other than who they claimed to
Next on my list was Dr. Rory Pickover, whose home was an
apartment in the innermost circle of buildings, beneath the
highest point of the dome. He lived alone, so there was no
spouse or child to question about any changes in him. That made
me suspicious right off the bat: if one were going to choose an
identity to appropriate, it ideally would be someone without
close companions. He also refused to meet me at his home,
meaning I couldn't try the screwdriver trick on him.
I thought we might meet at a coffee shop or a restaurant
there were lots in New Klondike, although none were doing good
business these days. But he insisted we go outside the dome
out onto the Martian surface. That was easy for him; he
was a transfer now. But it was a pain in the ass for me; I had
to rent a surface suit.
We met at the south air lock just as the sun was going down. I
suited up surface suits came in three stretchy sizes; I
took the largest. The fish-bowl helmet I rented was somewhat
frosted on one side; sandstorm-scouring, no doubt. The air
tanks, slung on my back, were good for about four hours. I felt
heavy in the suit, even though in it I still weighed only about
half of what I had back on Earth.
Rory Pickover was a paleontologist an actual scientist,
not a treasure-seeking fossil hunter. His pre-transfer
appearance had been almost stereotypically academic: a round,
soft face, with a fringe of graying hair. His new body was lean
and muscular, and he had a full head of dark brown hair, but the
face was still recognizably his. He was carrying a geologist's
hammer, with a wide, flat blade; I rather suspected it would
nicely smash my helmet. I had surreptitiously transferred the
Smith & Wesson from the holster I wore under my jacket to an
exterior pocket on the rented surface suit, just in case I needed
it while we were outside.
We signed the security logs, and then let the technician cycle us
through the air lock.
Off in the distance, I could see the highland plateau, dark
streaks marking its side. Nearby, there were two large craters
and a cluster of smaller ones. There were few footprints in the
rusty sand; the recent storm had obliterated the thousands that
had doubtless been there earlier. We walked out about five
hundred meters. I turned around briefly to look back at the
transparent dome and the buildings within.
"Sorry for dragging you out here," said Pickover. He had a
cultured British accent. "I don't want any witnesses." Even the
cheapest artificial body had built-in radio equipment, and I had
a transceiver inside my helmet.
"Ah," I said, by way of reply. I slipped my gloved hand into the
pocket containing the Smith & Wesson, and wrapped my fingers
around its reassuring solidity.
"I know you aren't just in from Earth," said Pickover, continuing
to walk. "And I know you don't work for NewYou."
We were casting long shadows; the sun, so much tinier than it
appeared from Earth, was sitting on the horizon; the sky was
already purpling, and Earth itself was visible, a bright
blue-white evening star.
"Who do you think I am?" I asked.
His answer surprised me, although I didn't let it show. "You're
Alexander Lomax, the private detective."
Well, it didn't seem to make any sense to deny it. "Yeah. How'd
"I've been checking you out over the last few days," said
Pickover. "I'd been thinking of, ah, engaging your services."
We continued to walk along, little clouds of dust rising each
time our feet touched the ground. "What for?" I said.
"You first, if you don't mind," said Pickover. "Why did you come
to see me?"
He already knew who I was, and I had a very good idea who he was,
so I decided to put my cards on the table. "I'm working for your
Pickover's artificial face looked perplexed. "My ... wife?"
"I don't have a wife."
"Sure you do. You're Joshua Wilkins, and your wife's name is
"What? No, I'm Rory Pickover. You know that. You called me."
"Come off it, Wilkins. The jig is up. You transferred your
consciousness into the body intended for the real Rory Pickover,
and then you took off."
"I oh. Oh, Christ."
"So, you see, I know. Too bad, Wilkins. You'll hang or
whatever the hell they do with transfers for murdering
"No." He said it softly.
"Yes," I replied, and now I pulled out my revolver. It really
wouldn't be much use against an artificial body, but until quite
recently Wilkins had been biological; hopefully, he was still
intimidated by guns. "Let's go."
"Back under the dome, to the police station. I'll have Cassandra
meet us there, just to confirm your identity."
The sun had slipped below the horizon now. He spread his arms, a
supplicant against the backdrop of the gathering night. "Okay,
sure, if you like. Call up this Cassandra, by all means. Let
her talk to me. She'll tell you after questioning me for two
seconds that I'm not her husband. But Christ, damn,
"I want to find him, too."
"Who? Joshua Wilkins?"
He nodded, then, perhaps thinking I couldn't see his nod in the
growing darkness, said, "Yes."
He tipped his head up, as if thinking. I followed his gaze.
Phobos was visible, a dark form overhead. At last, he spoke
again. "Because I'm the reason he's disappeared."
"What?" I said. "Why?"
"That's why I was thinking of hiring you myself. I didn't know
where else to turn."
"Turn for what?"
Pickover looked at me. "I did go to NewYou, Mr. Lomax. I knew I
was going to have an enormous amount of work to do out here on
the surface now, and I wanted to be able to spend days
weeks! in the field, without worrying about running out of
air, or water, or food."
I frowned. "But you've been here on Mars for six mears; I read
that in your file. What's changed?"
"Everything, Mr. Lomax." He looked off in the distance.
"Everything!" But he didn't elaborate on that. Instead, he
said. "I certainly know this Wilkins chap you're looking for; I
went to his store, and had him transfer my consciousness from my
old biological body into this one. But he also kept a copy of my
mind I'm sure of that."
I raised my eyebrows. "How do you know?"
"Because my computer accounts have been compromised. There's no
way anyone but me can get in; I'm the only one who knows the
passphrase. But someone has been inside, looking around;
I use quantum encryption, so you can tell whenever someone has
even looked at a file." He shook his head. "I don't know
how he did it there must be some technique I'm unaware of
but somehow Wilkins has been extracting information from
the copy of my mind. That's the only way I can think of that
anyone might have learned my passphrase."
"You think Wilkins did all this to access your bank accounts? Is
there really enough money in them to make it worth starting a new
life in somebody else's body? It's too dark to see your clothes
right now, but, if I recall correctly, they looked a bit ...
"You're right. I'm just a poor scientist. But there's something
I know that could make the wrong people rich beyond their wildest
"And what's that?" I said.
He continued to walk along, trying to decide, I suppose, whether
to trust me. I let him think about that, and at last, Dr. Rory
Pickover, who was now just a starless silhouette against a starry
sky, said, in a soft, quiet voice, "I know where it is."
"Where what is?"
"The alpha deposit."
"Sorry," he said. "Paleontologist's jargon. What I mean is,
I've found it: I've found the mother lode. I've found the place
where Weingarten and O'Reilly had been excavating. I've found
the source of the best preserved, most-complete Martian fossils."
"My God," I said. "You'll be rolling in it."
Perhaps he shook his head; it was now too dark to tell. "No,
sir," he said, in that cultured English voice. "No, I won't. I
don't want to sell these fossils. I want to preserve
them; I want to protect them from these plunderers, these ...
these thieves. I want to make sure they're collected
properly, scientifically. I want to make sure they end up in the
best museums, where they can be studied. There's so much to be
learned, so much to discover!"
"Does Wilkins know now where this ... what did you call it? This
alpha deposit is?"
"No at least, not from accessing my computer files. I
didn't record the location anywhere but up here." Presumably he
was tapping the side of his head.
"But you think Wilkins extracted the passphrase from a copy of
"He must have."
"And now he's presumably trying to extract the location of the
alpha deposit from that copy of your mind."
"Yes, yes! And if he succeeds, all will be lost! The best
specimens will be sold off into private collections
trophies for some trillionaire's estate, hidden forever from
I shook my head. "But this doesn't make any sense. I mean, how
would Wilkins even know that you had discovered the alpha
Suddenly Pickover's voice was very small. "I'd gone in to NewYou
you have to go in weeks in advance of transferring, of
course, so you can tell them what you want in a new body; it
takes time to custom-build one to your specifications."
"So, I wanted a body ideally suited to paleontological work on
the surface of Mars; I wanted some special modifications
the kinds of the things only the most successful prospectors
could afford. Reinforced knees; extra arm strength for moving
rocks; extended spectral response in the eyes, so that fossils
will stand out better; night vision so that I could continue
digging after dark; but ..."
I nodded. "But you didn't have enough money."
"That's right. I could barely afford to transfer at all, even
into the cheapest off-the-shelf body, and so ..."
He trailed off, too angry at himself, I guess, to give voice to
what was in his mind. "And so you hinted that you were about to
come into some wealth," I said, "and suggested that maybe he
could give you what you needed now, and you'd make it up to him
Pickover sounded sad. "That's the trouble with being a
scientist; sharing information is our natural mode."
"Did you tell him precisely what you'd found?" I asked.
"No. No, but he must have guessed. I'm a paleontologist, I've
been studying Weingarten and O'Reilly for years all of
that is a matter of public record. He must have figured out that
I knew where their fossil beds are. After all, where else would
a guy like me get money?" He sighed. "I'm an idiot, aren't I?"
"Well, Mensa isn't going to be calling you any time soon."
"Please don't rub it in, Mr. Lomax. I feel bad enough as it is,
and " His voice cracked; I'd never heard a transfer's do
that before. "And now I've put all those lovely, lovely fossils
in jeopardy! Will you help me, Mr. Lomax? Please say you'll
I nodded. "All right. I'm on the case."
We went back into the dome, and I called Raoul Santos on my
commlink, getting him to meet me at Rory Pickover's little
apartment at the center of town. It was four floors up, and
consisted of three small rooms an interior unit, with no
When Raoul arrived, I made introductions. "Raoul Santos, this is
Rory Pickover. Raoul here is the best computer expert we've got
in New Klondike. And Dr. Pickover is a paleontologist."
Raoul tipped his broad forehead at Pickover. "Good to meet you."
"Thank you," said Pickover. "Forgive the mess, Mr. Santos. I
live alone. A lifelong bachelor gets into bad habits, I'm
afraid." He'd already cleared debris off of one chair for me; he
now busied himself doing the same with another chair, this one
right in front of his home computer.
"What's up, Alex?" asked Raoul, indicating Pickover with a
movement of his head. "New client?"
"Yeah," I said. "Dr. Pickover's computer files have been looked
at by some unauthorized individual. We're wondering if you could
tell us from where the access attempt was made."
"You'll owe me a nice round of drinks at the Bent Chisel," said
"No problem," I said. "I'll put it on my tab."
Raoul smiled, and stretched his arms out, fingers interlocked,
until his knuckles cracked. Then he took the now-clean seat in
front of Pickover's computer and began to type. "How do you lock
you files?" he asked, without taking his eyes off the monitor.
"A verbal passphrase," said Pickover.
"Anybody besides you know it?"
Pickover shook his artificial head. "No."
"And it's not written down anywhere?"
"No, well ... not as such."
Raoul turned his head, looking up at Pickover. "What do you
"It's a line from a book. If I ever forgot the exact wording, I
could always look it up."
Raoul shook his head in disgust. "You should always use random
passphrases." He typed keys.
"Oh, I'm sure it's totally secure," said Pickover. "No one would
Raoul interrupted. "Your passphrase being, `Those privileged to
be present ...'"
I saw Pickover's jaw drop. "My God. How did you know that?"
Raoul pointed to some data on the screen. "It's the first thing
that was inputted by the only outside access your system has had
"I thought passphrases were hidden from view when entered," said
"Sure they are," said Raoul. "But the comm program has a buffer;
it's in there. Look."
Raoul shifted in the chair so that Pickover could see the screen
clearly over his shoulder. "That's ... well, that's very
strange," said Pickover.
"Well, sure that's my passphrase, but it's not quite right."
I loomed in to have a peek at the screen, too. "How do you
mean?" I said.
"Well," said Pickover, "see, my passphrase is `Those privileged
to be present at a family festival of the Forsytes' it's
from the opening of The Man of Property, the first book of
the Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy. I love that phrase because
of the alliteration `privilege to be present,' `family
festival of the Forsytes.' Makes it easy to remember."
Raoul shook his head in you-can't-teach-people-anything disgust.
Pickover went on. "But, see, whoever it was typed in even more."
I looked at the glowing string of letters. In full it said:
Those privileged to be present at a family festival of the
Forsytes have seen them dine at half past eight, enjoying seven
"It's too much?" I said.
"That's right," said Pickover, nodding. "My passphrase ends with
the word `Forsytes.'"
Raoul was stroking his receding chin. "Doesn't matter," he said.
"The files would unlock the moment the phrase was complete; the
rest would just be discarded systems that principally work
with spoken commands don't require you to press the enter key."
"Yes, yes, yes," said Pickover. "But the rest of it isn't what
Galsworthy wrote. It's not even close. The Man of
Property is my favorite book; I know it well. The full
opening line is `Those privileged to be present at a family
festival of the Forsytes have seen that charming and instructive
sight an upper middle-class family in full plumage.'"
Nothing about the time they ate, or how many courses they had."
Raoul pointed at the text on screen, as if it had to be the
correct version. "Are you sure?" he said.
"Of course!" said Pickover. "Galsworthy's public domain; you can
do a search online and see for yourself."
I frowned. "No one but you knows your passphrase, right?"
Pickover nodded vigorously. "I live alone, and I don't have many
friends; I'm a quiet sort. There's no one I've ever told, and no
one who could have ever overheard me saying it, or seen me typing
"Somebody found it out," said Raoul.
Pickover looked at me, then down at Raoul. "I think ..." he
said, beginning slowly, giving me a chance to stop him, I guess,
before he said too much. But I let him go on. "I think that the
information was extracted from a scan of my mind made by NewYou."
Raoul crossed his arms in front of his chest. "Impossible."
"What?" said Pickover, and "Why?" said I.
"Can't be done," said Raoul. "We know how to copy the vast array
of interconnections that make up a human mind, and we know how to
reinstantiate those connections in an artificial substrate. But
we don't know how to decode them; nobody does. There's simply no
way to sift through a digital copy of a mind and extract specific
Damn! If Raoul was right and he always was in
computing matters then all this business with Pickover was
a red herring. There probably was no bootleg scan of his mind;
despite his protestations of being careful, someone likely had
just overheard his passphrase, and decided to go spelunking
through his files. While I was wasting time on this, Joshua
Wilkins was doubtless slipping further out of my grasp.
Still, it was worth continuing this line of investigation for a
few minutes more. "Any sign of where the access attempt was
made?" I asked Raoul.
He shook his head. "No. Whoever did it knew what they were
doing; they covered their tracks well. The attempt came over an
outside line that's all I can tell for sure."
I nodded. "Okay. Thanks, Raoul. Appreciate your help."
Raoul got up. "My pleasure. Now, how 'bout that drink."
I opened my mouth to say yes, but then it hit me what
Wilkins must be doing. "Umm, later, okay? I've I've got
some more things to take care of here."
Raoul frowned; he'd clearly hoped to collect his booze
immediately. But I started maneuvering him toward the door.
"Thanks for your help, Raoul. I really appreciate it."
"Um, sure, Alex," he said. He was obviously aware he was being
given the bum's rush, but he wasn't fighting it too much.
"Yes, thank you awfully, Mr. Santos," said Pickover.
"No problem. If "
"See you later, Raoul," I said, opening the door for him.
"Thanks so much." I tipped my nonexistent hat at him.
Raoul shrugged, clearly aware that something was up, but not
motivated sufficiently to find out what. He went through the
door, and I hit the button that caused it to slide shut behind
him. As soon as it was closed, I put an arm around Pickover's
shoulders, and propelled him back to the computer. I pointed at
the line Raoul had highlighted on the screen, and read the ending
of it aloud: "`... dine at half past eight, enjoying seven
Pickover nodded. "Yes. So?"
"Numbers are often coded info," I said. "`Half past eight; seven
courses.' What's that mean to you?"
"To me?" said Pickover. "Nothing. I like to eat much earlier
than that, and I never have more than one course."
"But it could be a message," I said.
There was no easy way to tell him this. "From you to you."
He drew his artificial eyebrows together in puzzlement. "What?"
"Look," I said, motioning for him to sit down in front of the
computer, "Raoul is doubtless right. You can't sift a digital
scan of a human mind for information."
"But that must be what Wilkins is doing."
I shook my head. "No," I said. "The only way to find out what's
in a mind is to ask it interactively."
"But ... but no one's asked me my passphrase."
"No one has asked this you. But Joshua Wilkins must have
transferred the extra copy of your mind into a body, so that he
could deal with it directly. And that extra copy must be the one
that's revealed your codes to him."
"You mean ... you mean there's another me? Another
"Looks that way."
"But ... no, no. That's ... why, that's illegal. Bootleg
copies of human beings my God, Lomax, it's obscene!"
"I'm going to go see if I can find him," I said.
"It," said Pickover, forcefully.
"It. Not him. I'm the only `him' the only real
"So what do you want me to do when I find it?"
"Erase it, of course. Shut it down." He shuddered. "My God,
Lomax, I feel so ... so violated! A stolen copy of my mind!
It's the ultimate invasion of privacy ..."
"That may be," I said. "But the bootleg is trying to tell you
something. He it gave Wilkins the
passphrase, and then tacked some extra words onto it, in order to
get a message to you."
"But I don't recognize those extra words," said Pickover,
"Do they mean anything to you? Do they suggest anything?"
Pickover re-read what was on the screen. "I can't imagine what,"
he said, "unless ... no, no, I'd never think up a code like
"You obviously just did think of it. What's the code?"
Pickover was quiet for a moment, as if deciding if the thought
was worth giving voice. Then: "Well, New Klondike is circular
in layout, right? And it consists of concentric rings of
buildings. Half past eight that would be between Eighth
and Ninth Avenue, no? And seven courses in the seventh
circle out from the center? Maybe the damned bootleg is trying
to draw our attention to a location, a specific place here in
"Between Eighth and Ninth, eh? That's a rough area. I go to a
gym near there."
"The old shipyards," said Pickover. "Aren't they there?"
"Yeah." I started walking toward the door. "I'm going to
"I'll go with you," said Pickover.
I looked at him and shook my head. He would doubtless be more of
a hindrance than a help. "It's too dangerous," I said. "I
should go alone."
Pickover looked for a few moments like he was going to protest,
but then he nodded. "All right. I hope you find Wilkins. But
if you find another me ..."
"Yes?" I said. "What would you like me to do?"
Pickover gazed at me with pleading eyes. "Erase it. Destroy
it." He shuddered again. "I never want to see the damned
I had to get some sleep damn, but sometimes I do wish I
were a transfer. I took the hovertram out to my apartment, and
let myself have five hours Mars hours, admittedly, which
were slightly longer than Earth ones and then headed out
to the old shipyards. The sun was just coming up as I arrived
there. The sky through the dome was pink in the east and purple
in the west.
Some active maintenance and repair work was done on spaceships
here, but most of these ships were no longer spaceworthy and had
been abandoned. Any one of them would make a good hideout, I
thought; spaceships were shielded against radiation, making it
hard to scan through their hulls to see what was going on inside.
The shipyards were large fields holding vessels of various sizes
and shapes. Most were streamlined even Mars's tenuous
atmosphere required that. Some were squatting on tail fins; some
were lying on their bellies; some were supported by articulated
legs. I tried every hatch I could see on these craft, but, so
far, they all had their air locks sealed tightly shut.
Finally, I came to a monstrous abandoned spaceliner a
great hull, some three hundred meters long, fifty meters wide,
and a dozen meters high. The name Mayflower II was still
visible in chipped paint near the bow which is the part I
came across first and the slogan "Mars or Bust!" was also
I walked a little farther alongside the hull, looking for a
Yes! I finally understood what a fossil hunter felt like when he
at last turned up a perfectly preserved rhizomorph. There was an
outer airlock door here, and it was open. The other door,
inside, was open, too. I stepped through the chamber, entering
the ship proper. There were stands for holding space suits, but
the suits themselves were long gone.
I walked over to the far end of the room, and found another door
one of those submarine-style ones with a locking wheel in
the center. This one was closed, and I figured it would probably
have been sealed shut at some point, but I tried to turn the
wheel anyway, just to be sure, and damned if it didn't spin
freely, disengaging the locking bolts. I pulled the door open,
and stepped through it, into a corridor. The door was on
spring-loaded hinges; as soon as I let go of it, it closed behind
me, plunging me into darkness.
Of course, I'd brought a flashlight. I pulled it off my belt and
thumbed it on.
The air was dry and had a faint odor of decay to it. I headed
down the corridor, the pool of illumination from my flashlight
going in front of me, and
A squealing noise. I swung around, and the beam from my
flashlight caught the source before it scurried away: a large
brown rat, its eyes two tiny red coals in the light. People had
been trying to get rid of the rats and cockroaches and
silverfish and other vermin that had somehow made it here from
Earth for mears.
I turned back around and headed deeper into the ship. The floor
wasn't quite level: it dipped a bit to to, starboard,
they'd call it and I also felt that I was gaining
elevation as I walked along. The ship's floor had no carpeting;
it was just bare, smooth metal. Oily water pooled along the
starboard side; a pipe must have ruptured at some point. Another
rat scurried by up ahead; I wondered what they ate here, aboard
the dead hulk of the ship.
I thought I should check in with Pickover let him know
where I was. I activated my commlink, but the display said it
was unable to connect. Of course: the radiation shielding in
the spaceship's hull kept signals from getting out.
It was getting awfully cold. I held my flashlight straight up in
front of my face, and saw that my breath was now coming out in
visible clouds. I paused and listened. There was a steady
dripping sound: condensation, or another leak. I continued
along, sweeping the flashlight beam left and right in good
detective fashion as I did so.
There were doors at intervals along the corridor the
automatic sliding kind you usually find aboard spaceships. Most
of these panels had been pried open, and I shone my flashlight
into each of the revealed rooms. Some were tiny passenger
quarters, some were storage, one was a medical facility
all the equipment had been removed, but the examining beds
betrayed the room's function.
I checked yet another set of quarters, then came to a closed
door, the first one I'd seen along this hallway.
I pushed the open button, but nothing happened; the ship's
electrical system was dead. Of course, there was an emergency
handle, recessed into the door's thickness. I could have used
three hands just then: one to hold my flashlight, one to hold my
revolver, and one to pull on the handle. I tucked the flashlight
into my right armpit, held my gun with my right hand, and yanked
on the recessed handle with my left.
The door hardly budged. I tried again, pulling harder and
almost popped my arm out of its socket. Could the door's tension
control have been adjusted to require a transfer's strength to
open it? Perhaps.
I tried another pull, and to my astonishment, light began to
spill out from the room. I'd hoped to just yank the door open,
taking advantage of the element of surprise, but the damned thing
was only moving a small increment with each pull of the handle.
If there was someone on the other side, and he or she had a gun,
it was no doubt now leveled directly at the door.
I stopped for a second, shoved the flashlight into my pocket, and
damn, I hated having to do this holstered my
revolver so that I could free up my other hand to help me pull
the door open. With both hands now gripping the recessed handle,
I pulled with all my strength, letting out an audible grunt as I
The light from within stung my eyes; they'd grown accustomed to
the soft beam from the flashlight. Another pull, and the door
panel had now slid far enough into the wall for me to slip into
the room by turning sideways. I took out my gun, and let myself
A voice, harsh and mechanical, but no less pitiful for that:
My eyes swung to the source of the sound. There was a worktable,
with a black top, attached to the far wall. And strapped to that
Strapped to that table was a transfer's synthetic body. But this
wasn't like the fancy, almost-perfect simulacrum that my client
Cassandra inhabited. This was a crude, simple humanoid form,
with a boxy torso and limbs made up of cylindrical metal
segments. And the face
The face was devoid of any sort of artificial skin. The eyes,
blue in color and looking startlingly human, were wide, and the
teeth looked like dentures loose in the head. The rest of the
face was a mess of pulleys and fiber optics, of metal and
"Please ..." said the voice again. I looked around the
rest of the room. There was a fusion battery, about the size of
a softball, with several cables snaking out of it, including some
that led to portable lights. There was also a closet, with a
simple door. I pulled it open this one slid easily
to make sure no one else had hidden in there while I was coming
in. An emaciated rat that had been trapped there at some point
scooted out of the closet, and through the still partially open
I turned my attention to the transfer. The body was clothed in
simple denim pants and a T-shirt.
"Are you okay?" I said, looking at the skinless face.
The metal skull moved slightly left and right. The plastic lids
for the glass eyeballs retracted, making the non-face into a
caricature of imploring. "Please ...," he said for a
I looked at the metal restraints holding the artificial body in
place: thin nylon bands, pulled taut, that were attached to the
tabletop. I couldn't see any release mechanism. "Who are you?"
I was half-prepared for the answer, of course. "Rory Pickover."
But it didn't sound anything like the Rory Pickover I'd met: the
cultured British accent was absent, and this synthesized voice
was much higher pitched.
Still, I shouldn't take this sad thing's statement at face value
especially since it had hardly any face. "Prove it," I
said. "Prove you're Rory Pickover."
The glass eyes looked away. Perhaps the transfer was thinking of
how to satisfy my demand or perhaps he was just avoiding
my eyes. "My citizenship number is 48394432."
I shook my head. "No good," I said. "It's got to be something
only Rory Pickover would know."
The eyes looked back at me, the plastic lids lowered, perhaps in
suspicion. "It doesn't matter who I am," he said. "Just get me
out of here."
That sounded reasonable on the surface of it, but if this
was another Rory Pickover ...
"Not until you prove your identity to me," I said. "Tell me
where the alpha deposit is."
"Damn you," said the transfer. "The other way didn't work, so
now you're trying this." The mechanical head looked away. "But
this won't work, either."
"Tell me where the alpha deposit is," I said, "and I'll free
"I'd rather die," he said. And then, a moment later, he added
wistfully, "Except ..."
I finished the thought for him. "Except you can't."
He looked away again. It was hard to feel for something that
looked so robotic; that's my excuse, and I'm sticking to it.
"Tell me where O'Reilly and Weingarten were digging. Your secret
is safe with me."
He said nothing. The gun in my hand was now aimed at the robotic
head. "Tell me!" I said. "Tell me before "
Off in the distance, out in the corridor: the squeal of a rat,
The transfer heard them, too. Its eyes darted left and right in
what looked like panic.
"Please," he said, lowering his volume. As soon as he started
speaking, I put a vertical index finger to my lips, indicating
that he should be quite, but he continued: "Please, for the love
of God, get me out of here. I can't take any more."
I made a beeline for the closet, stepping quickly in and pulling
that door most of the way shut behind me. I positioned myself so
that I could see and, if necessary, shoot through
the gap. The footfalls were growing louder. The closet smelled
of rat. I waited.
I heard a voice, richer, more human, than the supposed
Pickover's. "What the ?"
And I saw a person a transfer slipping sideways
into the room, just as I had earlier. I couldn't yet see the
face from this angle, but it wasn't Joshua. The body was female,
and I could see that she was a brunette. I took in air, held it,
And she turned, showing her face now. My heart pounded. The
delicate features. The wide-spaced green eyes.
She'd been carrying a flashlight, which she set now on another,
smaller table. "Who's been here, Rory?" Her voice was cold.
"No one," he said.
"The door was open."
"You left it that way. I was surprised, but ..." He stopped,
perhaps realizing to say any more would be a giveaway that he was
She tilted her head slightly. Even with a transfer's strength,
that door must be hard to close. Hopefully she'd find it
plausible that she'd given the handle a final tug, and had only
assumed that the door had closed completely when she'd last left.
Of course, I immediately saw the flaw with that story: you might
miss the door not clicking into place, but you wouldn't fail to
notice that light was still spilling out into the corridor. But
most people don't consider things in such detail; I'd hoped she'd
buy Pickover's suggestion.
And, after a moment more's reflection, she seemed to do just
that, nodding her head, apparently to herself, then moving closer
to the table onto which the synthetic body was strapped. "We
don't have to do this again," said Cassandra. "If you just tell
She let the words hang in the air for a moment, but Pickover made
no response. Her shoulders moved up and down a bit in a
philosophical shrug. "It's your choice," she said. And then, to
my astonishment, she hauled back her right arm and slapped
Pickover hard across the robotic face, and
And Pickover screamed.
It was a long, low, warbling sound, like sheet-metal being
warped, a haunted sound, an inhuman sound.
"Please ..." he hissed again, the same plaintive word he'd
said to me, the word I, too, had ignored.
Cassandra slapped him again, and again he screamed. Now, I've
been slapped by lots of women over the years: it stings, but
I've never screamed. And surely an artificial body was made of
sterner stuff than me.
Cassandra went for a third slap. Pickover's screams echoed in
the dead hulk of the ship.
"Tell me," she said.
I couldn't see his face; her body was obscuring it. Maybe he
shook his head. Maybe he just glared defiantly. But he said
She shrugged again; they'd obviously been down this road before.
She moved to one side of the bed and stood by his right arm,
which was pinned to his body by the nylon strap. "You really
don't want me to do this," she said. "And I don't have to,
if ..." She let the uncompleted offer hang there for a few
seconds, then: "Ah, well." She reached down with her beige,
realistic-looking hand, and wrapped three of her fingers around
his right index finger. And then she started bending it
I could see Pickover's face now. Pulleys along his jawline were
working; he was struggling to keep his mouth shut. His glass
eyes were rolling up, back into his head, and his left leg was
shaking in spasms. It was a bizarre display, and I alternated
moment by moment between feeling sympathy for the being lying
there, and feeling cool detachment because of the clearly
artificial nature of the body.
Cassandra let go of Pickover's index finger, and, for a second, I
thought she was showing some mercy. But then she grabbed it as
well as the adjacent finger, and began bending them both back.
This time, despite his best efforts, guttural, robotic sounds did
escape from Pickover.
"Talk!" Cassandra said. "Talk!"
I'd recently learned from Cassandra herself that
artificial bodies had to have pain sensors; otherwise, a robotic
hand might end up resting on a heating element, or too much
pressure might be put on a joint. But I hadn't expected such
sensors to be so sensitive, and
And then it hit me, just as another of Pickover's warbling
screams was torn from him. Cassandra knew all about artificial
bodies; she sold them, after all. If she wanted to adjust the
mind-body interface of one so that pain would register
particularly acutely, doubtless she could. I'd seen a lot of
evil things in my time, but this was perhaps the worst. Scan a
mind, put it in a body wired for hypersensitivity to pain, and
torture it until it gave up its secrets. Then, of course, you
just wipe the mind, and
"You will crack eventually, you know," she said, almost
conversationally, as she looked at Pickover's fleshless face.
"Given that it's inevitable, you might as well just tell me what
I want to know."
The elastic bands that served as some of Pickover's facial
muscles contracted, his teeth parted, and his head moved forward
slightly but rapidly. I thought for half a second that he was
incongruously blowing her a kiss, but then I realized what he was
really trying to do: spit at her. Of course, his dry mouth and
plastic throat were incapable of generating moisture, but his
mind a human mind, a mind accustomed to a biological body
had summoned and focused all its hate into that most
primal of gestures.
"Very well," said Cassandra. She gave his fingers one more nasty
yank backwards, holding them at an excruciating angle. Pickover
alternated screams and whimpers. Finally, she let his fingers
go. "Let's try something different," she said. She leaned over
him. With her left hand, she pried his right eyelid open, and
then she jabbed her right thumb into that eye. The glass sphere
depressed into the metal skull, and Pickover screamed again. The
artificial eye was presumably much tougher than a natural one,
but, then again, the thumb pressing into it was also tougher. I
felt my own eyes watering in a sympathetic response.
Pickover's artificial spine arched up slightly, as he convulsed
against the two restraining bands. From time to time, I got
clear glimpses of Cassandra's face, and the perfectly symmetrical
artificial smile of glee on it was almost as sickening.
At last, she stopped grinding her thumb into his eye. "Had
enough?" she said. Because if you haven't ..."
Pickover was indeed still wearing clothing; it was equally gauche
to walk the streets nude whether you were biological or
artificial. But now, Cassandra's hands moved to his waist. I
watched as she undid his belt, unsnapped and unzipped his jeans,
and then pulled the pants as far down his metallic thighs as they
would go before she reached the restraining strap that held his
legs to the table. Transfers had no need for underwear, and
Pickover wasn't wearing any. His artificial penis and testicles
now lay exposed. I felt my own scrotum tightening in dread.
And then Cassandra did the most astonishing thing. She'd had no
compunctions about bending back his fingers with her bare hands.
And she hadn't hesitated when it came to plunging her naked thumb
into his eye. But now that she was going to hurt him down there,
she seemed to want no direct contact. She started looking around
the room; for a second, she was looking directly at the closet
door. I scrunched back against the far wall, hoping she wouldn't
see me. My heart was pounding.
Finally, she found what she was looking for: a wrench, sitting
on the floor. She picked it up, raised the wrench above her head
and, and looked directly into Pickover' one good eye the
other had closed as soon as she'd removed her thumb, and had
never reopened as far as I could tell. "I'm going to smash your
ball bearings into iron filings, unless ..."
He closed his other eye now, the plastic lid scrunching.
"Count of three," she said. "One."
"I can't," he said in that low volume that served as his whisper.
"You'd ruin them, sell them off "
"Please! They belong to science! To all humanity!"
Her arm slammed down, a great arc slicing through the air, the
silver wrench smashing into the plastic pouch that was Pickover's
scrotum. He let out a scream greater than any I'd yet heard, so
loud, indeed, that it hurt my ears despite the muffling of the
partially closed closet door.
She hauled her arm up again, but waited for the scream to devolve
into a series of whimpers. "One more chance," she said. "Count
of three." His whole body was shaking. I felt nauseous.
He turned his head to the side, as if by looking away he could
make the torture stop.
A whimper escaped his artificial throat.
I found myself looking away, too, unable to watch as
It was Pickover's voice, shrill and mechanical, shouting.
"All right!" he shouted again. I turned back to face the
tableau: the human-looking woman with a wrench held up above her
head, and the terrified mechanical-looking man strapped to the
table. "All right," he repeated once more, softly now. "I'll
tell you what you want to know."
"You'll tell me where the alpha deposit is?" asked Cassandra
lowering her arm.
"Yes," he said. "Yes."
Pickover was quiet.
"God forgive me ..." he said softly.
She began to raise her arm again. "Where?"
"Sixteen-point-four kilometers south-southwest of Nili Patera,"
he said. "The precise coordinates are ..." and he spoke a string
"You better be telling the truth," Cassandra said.
"I am." His voice was tiny. "To my infinite shame, I am."
Cassandra nodded. "Maybe. But I'll leave you tied up here until
"But I told you the truth! I told you everything you need to
"Sure you did," said Cassandra. "But I'll just confirm that."
I stepped out the closet, my gun aimed directly at Cassandra's
back. "Freeze," I said.
Cassandra spun around. "Lomax!"
"Mrs. Wilkins," I said, nodding. "I guess you don't need me to
find your husband for you anymore, eh? Now that you've got the
information he stole."
"What? No, no. I still want you to find Joshua. Of course I
"So you can share the wealth with him?"
"Wealth?" She looked over at the hapless Pickover. "Oh. Well,
yes, there's a lot of money at stake." She smiled. "So much so
that I'd be happy to cut you in, Mr. Lomax oh, you're a
good man. I know you wouldn't hurt me!"
I shook my head. "You'd betray me the first chance you got."
"No, I wouldn't. I'll need protection; I understand that
what with all the money the fossils will bring. Having someone
like you on my side only makes sense."
I looked over at Pickover and shook my head. "You tortured that
"That `man,' as you call him, wouldn't have existed at all
without me. And the real Pickover isn't inconvenienced in the
"But ... torture," I said. "It's inhuman."
She jerked a contemptuous thumb at Pickover. "He's not human.
Just some software running on some hardware."
"That's what you are, too."
"That's part of what I am," Cassandra said. "But I'm also
authorized. He's bootleg and bootlegs have no
"I'm not going to argue philosophy with you."
"Fine. But remember who works for whom, Mr. Lomax. I'm the
client and I'm going to be on my way now."
I held my gun rock-steady. "No, you're not."
She looked at me. "An interesting situation," she said, her tone
even. "I'm unarmed, and you've got a gun. Normally, that would
put you in charge, wouldn't it? But your gun probably won't stop
me. Shoot me in the head, and the bullet will just bounce off my
metal skull. Shoot me in the chest, and at worst you might
damage some components that I'll eventually have to get replaced
which I can, and at a discount, to boot.
"Meanwhile," she continued, "I have the strength of ten men; I
could literally pull your limbs from their sockets, or crush your
head between my hands, squeezing it until it pops like a melon
and your brains, such as they are, squirt out. So, what's it
going to be, Mr. Lomax? Are you going to let me walk out that
door and be about my business? Or are you going to pull that
trigger, and start something that's going to end with you dead?"
I was used to a gun in my hand giving me a sense of power, of
security. But just then, the Smith & Wesson felt like a lead
weight. She was right: shooting her with it was likely to be no
more useful than just throwing it at her. Of course, there were
crucial components in an artificial body's makeup; I just didn't
happen to know what they were, and, anyway, they probably varied
from model to model. If I could be sure to drop her with one
shot, I'd do it. I'd killed before in self-defense, but ...
But this wasn't self-defense. Not really. If I didn't start
something, she was just going to walk out. Could I kill in
cold ... well, not cold blood. But she was right:
she was a person, even if Pickover wasn't. She was the one and
only legal instantiation of Cassandra Wilkins. The cops might be
corrupt here, and they might be lazy. But even they wouldn't
turn a blind eye on attempted murder. If I shot her, and somehow
got away, they'd hunt me down. And if I didn't get away, she
would be attacking me in self-defense.
"So," she said, at last. "What's it going to be?"
"You make a persuasive argument, Mrs. Wilkins," I said in the
most reasonable tone I could muster under the circumstances.
And then, without changing my facial expression in the slightest,
I pulled the trigger.
I wondered if a transfer's time sense ever slows down, or if it
is always perfectly quartz-crystal timed. Certainly, time seemed
to attenuate for me then. I swear I could actually see the
bullet as it followed its trajectory from my gun, covering the
three meters between the barrel and
And not, of course, Cassandra's torso.
Nor her head.
She was right; I probably couldn't harm her that way.
No, instead, I'd aimed past her, at the table on which the
faux Pickover was lying on his back. Specifically, I'd
aimed at the place where the thick nylon band that crossed over
his torso, pinning his arms, was anchored on the right-hand side
the point where it made a taut diagonal line between where
it was attached to the side of the table and the top of
The bullet sliced through the band, cutting it in two. The long
portion, freed of tension, flew up and over his torso like a
snake that had just had forty thousand volts pumped through it.
Cassandra's eyes went wide in astonishment that I'd missed her,
and her head swung around. The report of the bullet was still
ringing in my ears, of course, but I swear I could also hear the
zzzzinnnng! of the restraining band snapping free. To be
hypersensitive to pain, I figured you'd have to have decent
reaction times, and I hoped that Pickover had been smart enough
to note in advance my slight deviation of aim before I fired it.
And, indeed, no sooner were his arms free than he sat bolt
upright his legs were still restrained and grabbed
one of Cassandra's arms, pulling her toward him. I leapt in the
meager Martian gravity. Most of Cassandra's body was made of
lightweight composites and synthetic materials, but I was still
good old flesh and blood: I outmassed her by at least thirty
kilos. My impact propelled her backwards, and she slammed
against the table's side. Pickover shot out his other arm,
grabbing Cassandra's second arm, pinning her backside against the
edge of the table. I struggled to regain a sure footing, then
brought my gun up to her right temple.
"All right, sweetheart," I said. "Do you really want to test how
strong your artificial skull is?"
Cassandra's mouth was open; had she still been biological, she'd
probably have been gasping for breath. But her heartless chest
was perfectly still. "You can't just shoot me," she said.
"Why not? Pickover here will doubtless back me up when I say it
was self-defense, won't you, Pickover?"
He nodded. "Absolutely."
"In fact," I said, "you, me, this Pickover, and the other
Pickover are the only ones who know where the alpha deposit is.
I think the three of us would be better off without you on the
"You won't get away with it," said Cassandra. "You can't."
"I've gotten away with plenty over the years," I said. "I don't
see an end to that in sight." I cocked the hammer, just for fun.
"Look," she said, "there's no need for this. We can all share in
the wealth. There's plenty to go around."
"Except you don't have any rightful claim to it," said Pickover.
"You stole a copy of my mind, and tortured me. And you want to
be rewarded for that?"
"Pickover's right," I said. "It's his treasure, not yours."
"It's humanity's treasure," corrected Pickover. "It
belongs to all mankind."
"But I'm your client," Cassandra said to me.
"So's he. At least, the legal version of him is."
Cassandra sounded desperate. "But but that's a conflict
"So sue me," I said.
She shook her head in disgust. "You're just in this for
I shrugged amiably, and then pressed the barrel even tighter
against her artificial head. "Aren't we all?"
"Shoot her," said Pickover. I looked at him. He was still
holding her upper arms, pressing them in close to her torso. If
he'd been biological, the twisting of his torso to accommodate
doing that probably would have been quite uncomfortable.
Actually, now that I thought of it, given his heightened
sensitivity to pain, even this artificial version was probably
hurting from twisting that way. But apparently this was a pain
he was happy to endure.
"Do you really want me to do that?" I said. "I mean, I can
understand, after what she did to you, but ..." I didn't finish
the thought; I just left it in the air for him to take or leave.
"She tortured me," he said. "She deserves to die."
I frowned, unable to dispute his logic but, at the same
time, wondering if Pickover knew that he was as much on trial
here as she was.
"Can't say I blame you," I said again, and then added another
"but," and once more left the thought incomplete.
At last, Pickover nodded. "But maybe you're right. I can't
offer her any compassion, but I don't need to see her dead."
A look of plastic relief rippled over Cassandra's face. I
nodded. "Good man," I said. I'd killed before, but I never
"But, still," said Pickover, "I would like some revenge."
Cassandra's upper arms were still pinned by Pickover, but her
lower arms were free. To my astonishment, they both moved. The
movement startled me, and I looked down, just in time to see them
jerking toward her groin, almost as if to protect ...
I found myself staggering backward; it took a second for me to
regain my balance. "Oh, my God ..."
Cassandra had quickly moved her arms back to a neutral,
hanging-down position but it was too late. The damage had
"You ..." I said. I normally was never at a loss for words, but
I was just then. "You're ..."
Pickover had seen it, too; his torso had been twisted just enough
to allow him to do so.
"No woman ..." he began slowly.
Cassandra hadn't wanted to touch Pickover's groin even
though it was artificial with her bare hands. And when
Pickover had suggested exacting revenge for what had been done to
him, Cassandra's hands had moved instinctively to
Jesus, why hadn't I see it before? The way she plunked herself
down in a chair, the fact that she couldn't bring herself to wear
makeup or jewelry in her new body; her discomfort at intimately
touching or being intimately touched by men: it was obvious in
Cassandra's hands had moved instinctively to protect her own
"You're not Cassandra Wilkins," I said.
"Of course I am," said the female voice.
"Not on the inside, you're not," I said. "You're a man.
Whatever mind has been transferred into that body is male."
Cassandra twisted violently. Goddamned Pickover, perhaps stunned
by the revelation, had obviously loosened his grip, because she
got free. I fired my gun again and the bullet went straight into
her chest; a streamer of machine oil, like from a punctured can,
shot out, but there was no sign that the bullet had slowed her
"Don't let her get away!" shouted Pickover, in his rough
mechanical voice. I swung my gun on him, and for a second I
could see terror in his eyes, as if he thought I meant to off him
for letting her twist away. But I aimed at the nylon strap
restraining his legs and fired. This time, the bullet only
partially severed the strap. I reach down and yanked at the
remaining filaments, and so did Pickover. They finally broke and
this strap, like the first, snapped free. Pickover swung his
legs off the table, and immediately stood up. An artificial body
had many advantages, among them not being woozy or dizzy after
lying down for God-only-knew how many days.
In the handful of seconds it had taken to free Pickover,
Cassandra had made it out the door that I'd pried partway open,
and was now running down the corridor in the darkness. I could
hear splashing sounds, meaning she'd veered far enough off the
corridor's centerline to end up in the water pooling along the
starboard side, and I heard her actually bump into the wall at
one point, although she immediately continued on. She didn't
have her flashlight, and the only illumination in the corridor
would have been what was spilling out of the room I was now in
a fading glow to her rear as she ran along, whatever
shadow she herself was casting adding to the difficulty of seeing
I squeezed out into the corridor. I still had my flashlight in
my pocket; I fished it out and aimed it just in front of me;
Cassandra wouldn't benefit much from the light it was giving off.
Pickover, who, I noted, had now done his pants back up, had made
his way through the half-open door and was now standing beside
me. I started running, and he fell in next to me.
Our footfalls now drowned out the sound of Cassandra's; I guessed
she must be some thirty or forty meters ahead. Although it was
almost pitch black, she presumably had the advantage of having
come down this corridor several times before; neither Pickover
nor I had ever gone in this direction.
A rat scampered out of our way, squealing as it did so. My
breathing was already ragged, but I managed to say, "How well can
you guys see in the dark?"
Pickover's voice, of course, showed no signs of exertion. "Only
slightly better than biologicals can."
I nodded, although he'd have to have had better vision than he'd
just laid claim to in order to see it. My legs were a lot longer
than Cassandra's, but I suspected she could pump them more
rapidly. I swung the flashlight beam up, letting it lance out
ahead of us for a moment. There she was, off in the distance. I
dropped the beam back to the floor in front of me.
More splashing from up ahead; she'd veered off once more. I
thought about firing a shot more for the drama of it, than
any serious hope of bringing her down when I suddenly
became aware that Pickover was passing me. His robotic legs were
as long as my natural ones, and he could piston them up and down
at least as quickly as Cassandra could.
I tried to match his speed, but wasn't able to. Even in Martian
gravity, running fast is hard work. I swung my flashlight up
again, but Pickover's body, now in front of me, was obscuring
everything further down the corridor; I had no idea how far ahead
Cassandra was now and the intervening form of Pickover
prevented me from acting out my idle fantasy of squeezing off a
Pickover continued to pull ahead. I was passing open door after
open door, black mouths gaping at me in the darkness. I heard
more rats, and Pickover's footfalls, and
Suddenly, something jumped on my back from behind me. A hard arm
was around my neck, pressing sharply down on my Adam's apple. I
tried to call out to Pickover, but couldn't get enough breath
out ... or in. I craned my neck as much as I could, and shone
the flashlight beam up on the ceiling, so that some light
reflected down onto my back from above.
It was Cassandra! She'd ducked into one of the other rooms, and
lain in wait for me. Pickover was no detective; he had
completely missed the signs of his quarry no longer being in
front of him and I'd had Pickover's body blocking my
vision, plus the echoing bangs of his footfalls to obscure my
hearing. I could see my own chilled breath, but, of course, not
I tried again to call out to Pickover, but all I managed was a
hoarse croak, doubtless lost on him amongst the noise of his own
running. I was already oxygen-deprived from exertion, and the
constricting of my throat was making things worse; despite the
darkness I was now seeing white flashes in front of my eyes, a
sure sign of asphyxiation. I only had a few seconds to
And act I did. I crouched down as low as I could, Cassandra
still on my back, her head sticking up above mine, and I leapt
with all the strength I could muster. Even weakened, I managed a
powerful kick, and in this low Martian gravity, I shot up like a
bullet. Cassandra's metal skull smashed into the roof of the
corridor. There happened to be a lighting fixture directly above
me, and I heard the sounds of shattering glass and plastic.
I was descending now in maddeningly slow motion, but as soon as I
was down, Cassandra still clinging hard to me, I surged forward a
couple of paces then leapt up again. This time, there was
nothing but unrelenting bulkhead overhead, and Cassandra's metal
skull slammed hard into it.
Again the slow-motion fall. I felt something thick and wet
oozing through my shirt. For a second, I'd thought Cassandra had
stabbed me but no, it was probably the machine oil leaking
from the bullet hole I'd put in her earlier. By the time we had
touched down again, Cassandra had loosened her grip on my neck as
she tried to scramble off me. I spun around and fell forward,
pushing her backward onto the corridor floor, me tumbling on top
of her. Despite my best efforts, the flashlight was knocked from
my grip by the impact, and it spun around, doing a few complete
circles before it ended up with its beam facing away from us.
I still had my revolver in my other hand, though. I brought it
up, and, by touch, found Cassandra's face, probing the barrel
roughly over it. Once, in my early days, I'd rammed a gun barrel
into a thug's mouth; this time, I had other ideas. I got the
barrel positioned directly over her left eye, and pressed down
hard with it a little poetic justice.
I said, "I bet if I shoot through your glass eye, aiming up a
bit, I'll tear your artificial brain apart. You want to find
She said nothing. I called back over my shoulder,
"Pickover!" The name echoed down the corridor, but I had
no idea whether he heard me. I turned my attention back to
Cassandra or whoever the hell this really was. I cocked
the trigger. "As far as I'm concerned, Cassandra Wilkins is my
client but you're not her. Who are you?"
"I am Cassandra Wilkins," said the voice.
"No, you're not," I said. "You're a man or, at least,
you've got a man's mind."
"I can prove I'm Cassandra Wilkins," said the supine form.
"My name is Cassandra Pauline Wilkins; my birth name is Collier.
I was born in Sioux City, Iowa, on 30 October 2079. I immigrated
to New Klondike in July 2102. My citizenship number
"Facts. Figures." I shook my head. "Anyone could find those
"But I know stuff no one else could possibly know. I know the
name of my childhood pets; I know what I did to get thrown out of
school when I was fifteen; I know precisely where the original me
had a tattoo; I ..."
She went on, but I stopped listening.
Jesus Christ, it was almost the perfect crime. No one could
really get away with stealing somebody else's identity not
for long. The lack of intimate knowledge of how the original
spoke, of private things the original knew, would soon enough
give you away, unless
Unless you were the spouse of the person whose identity
"You're not Cassandra Wilkins," I said. "You're Joshua Wilkins.
You took her body; you transferred into it, and she transferred
" I felt my stomach tighten; it really was a nearly
perfect crime. "And she transferred nowhere; when the
original was euthanized, she died. And that makes you guilty of
"You can't prove that," said the female voice. "No biometrics,
no DNA, no fingerprints. I'm whoever I say I am."
"You and Cassandra hatched this scheme together," I said. "You
both figured Pickover had to know where the alpha deposit was.
But then you decided that you didn't want to share the wealth
with anyone not even your wife. And so you got rid of
her, and made good your escape at the same time."
"That's crazy," the female voice said. "I hired you. Why
on on Mars would I do that, then?"
"You expected to the police to come out to investigate your
missing-person report; they were supposed to find the body in the
basement of NewYou. But they didn't, and you knew suspicion
would fall on you the supposed spouse! if you were
the one who found it. So you hired me the dutiful wife,
worried about her poor, missing hubby! All you wanted was for me
to find the body."
"Words," said Joshua. "Just words."
"Maybe so," I said. "I don't have to satisfy anyone else. Just
me. I will give you one chance, though. See, I want to get out
of here alive and I don't see any way to do that if I
leave you alive, too. Do you? If you've got an answer, tell me
otherwise, I've got no choice but to pull this trigger."
"I promise I'll let you go," said Joshua.
I laughed, and the sound echoed in the corridor. "You promise?
Well, I'm sure I can take that to the bank."
"No, seriously," said Joshua. "I won't tell anyone.
"Are you Joshua Wilkins?" I asked.
I felt the face moving up and down a bit, the barrel of my gun
shifting slightly in the eye socket as it did so. "Yes."
"Well, rest in peace," I said, and then, with relish, added,
I pulled the trigger.
The flash from the gun barrel briefly lit up the female, freckled
face, which was showing almost human horror. The revolver
snapped back in my hand, then everything was dark again. I had
no idea how much damage the bullet would do to the brain. Of
course, the artificial chest wasn't rising and falling, but it
never had been. And there was nowhere to check for a pulse. I
decided I'd better try another shot, just to be sure. I shifted
slightly, thinking I'd put this one through the other eye,
And Joshua's arms burst up, pushing me off him. I felt myself go
airborne, and was aware of Joshua scrambling to his feet. He
scooped up the flashlight, and as he swung it and himself around,
it briefly illuminated his face. There was a deep pit where one
eye used to be.
I started to bring the gun up and
And Joshua thumbed off the flashlight. The only illumination was
a tiny bit of light, far, far down the corridor, spilling out
from the torture room; it wasn't enough to let me see Joshua
clearly. But I squeezed the trigger, and heard a bullet ricochet
either off some part of Joshua's metal internal skeleton,
or off the corridor wall.
I was the kind of guy who always knew exactly how many
bullets he had left: two. I wasn't sure I wanted to fire them
both off blindly, but
I could hear Joshua moving closer. I fired again. This time,
the feminine voice box made a sound between an oomph and
the word "ouch," so I knew I'd hit him.
One bullet to go.
I started walking backward which was no worse than walking
forward; I was just as likely to trip either way in this
near-total darkness. The body in the shape of Cassandra Wilkins
was much smaller than mine but also, although it shamed
the macho me to admit it, much stronger. It could probably grab
me by the shoulders and pound my head up into the ceiling, just
as I'd pounded hers and I rather suspect mine wouldn't
survive. And if I let it get hold of my arm, it could probably
wrench the gun from me; five bullets hadn't been enough to stop
the artificial body, but one was all it would take to ice me for
And so I decided it was better to have an empty gun than a gun
that could potentially be turned on me. I held the weapon out in
front, took my best guess, and squeezed the trigger one last
The revolver barked, and the flare from the muzzle lit the scene,
stinging my eyes. The artificial form cried out I'd hit a
spot its sensors felt was worth protecting with a major pain
response, I guess. But the being kept moving forward. Part of
me thought about turning tail and running I still had the
longer legs, even if I couldn't move them as fast but
another part of me couldn't bring myself to do that. The gun was
of no more use, so I threw it aside. It hit the corridor wall,
making a banging sound, then fell to the deck plates, producing
more clanging as it bounced against them.
Of course, as soon as I'd thrown the gun away, I realized I'd
made a mistake. I knew how many bullets I'd shot, and how
many the gun held, but Joshua probably didn't; even an empty gun
could be a deterrent if the other person thought it was loaded.
We were facing each other but that was all that was
certain. Precisely how much distance there was between us I
couldn't say. Although running produced loud, echoing footfalls,
either of us could have moved a step or two forward or back
or left or right without the other being aware of
it. I was trying not to make any noise, and a transfer could
stand perfectly still, and be absolutely quiet, for hours on end.
I had no idea how badly I'd hurt him. In fact, given that he'd
played possum once before, it was possible the sounds of pain
were faked, just to make me think he was damaged. My great
grandfather said clocks used to make a ticking sound with the
passing of each second; I'd never heard such a thing, but I was
certainly conscious of time passing in increments as we stood
there, each waiting for the other to make a move.
Suddenly, light exploded in my face. He'd thumbed the flashlight
back on, aiming it at what turned out to be a very good guess as
to where my eyes were. I was temporarily blinded, but his one
remaining mechanical eye responded more efficiently, I guess,
because now that he knew exactly where I was, he leapt,
propelling himself through the air and knocking me down.
This time, both hands closed around my neck. I still outmassed
Joshua and managed to roll us over, so he was on his back and I
was on top. I arched my back and slammed my knee into his balls,
hoping he'd release me ...
... except, of course, he didn't have any balls; he only
thought he did. Damn!
The hands were still closing around my gullet; despite the chill
air, I felt myself sweating. But with his hands occupied, mine
were free: I pushed my right hand onto his chest startled
by the feeling of artificial breasts there and probed
around until I found the slick, wet hole my first bullet had
made. I hooked my right thumb into that hole, pulled sideways,
and brought in my left thumb, as well, squeezing it down into the
opening, ripping it wider and wider. I thought if I could get at
the internal components, I might be able to rip out something
crucial. The artificial flesh was soft, and there was a layer of
what felt like foam rubber beneath it and beneath that, I
could feel hard metal parts. I tried to get my whole hand in,
tried to yank out whatever I could, but I was fading fast. My
pulse was thundering so loudly in my ears I couldn't hear
anything else, just a thump-thump-thumping, over and over
again, the thump-thump-thumping of ...
Of footfalls! Someone was running this way, and
And the scene lit up as flashlights came to bear on us.
"There they are!" said a harsh, mechanical voice that I
recognized as belonging to Pickover. "There they are!"
"NKPD!" shouted another voice I also recognized a deep,
Scottish brogue. "Let Lomax go!"
Joshua looked up. "Back off!" he shouted in that female
voice. "If you don't, I'll finish him."
Through blurring vision, I thought I could see Mac hesitating.
But then he spoke again. "If you kill him, you'll go down for
murder. You don't want that."
Joshua relaxed his grip a bit not enough to let me escape,
but enough to keep me alive as a hostage, at least a little while
longer. I sucked in cold air, but my lungs still felt like they
were on fire. In the illumination from the flashlights I could
see the improved copy of Cassandra Wilkins's face craning now to
look at McCrae. Transfers didn't show as much emotion as
biologicals did, but it was clear that Joshua was panicking.
I was still on top. I thought if I waited until Joshua was
distracted, I could yank free of his grip without him snapping my
neck. "Let go of him," Mac said firmly. It was hard to see him;
he was the one holding the light source, after all, but I
suddenly became aware that he was also holding a large disk.
"Release his neck, or I'll deactivate you for sure."
Joshua practically had to roll his green eyes up into his head to
see Mac, standing behind him. "You ever use one of those
before?" he said, presumably referring to the disrupter disk.
"No, I know you haven't no transfer has been killed on
Mars in weeks, and that technology only just came out. Well, I
work in the transference business. I know the disruption isn't
instantaneous. Yes, you can kill me but not before I kill
"You're lying," said McCrae. He handed his flashlight to
Pickover, and brought the disk up in front of him, holding it
vertically by its two U-shaped handles. "I've read the specs."
"Are you willing to take that chance?" asked Joshua.
I could only arch my neck a bit; it was very hard for me to look
up and see Mac, but he seemed to be frowning, and, after a
second, he turned partially away. Pickover was standing behind
And suddenly an electric whine split the air, and Joshua was
convulsing beneath me, and his hands were squeezing my throat
even more tightly than before. The whine a high keening
sound must have been coming from the disrupter. I still
had my hands inside Joshua's chest and could feel his whole
interior vibrating as his body racked. I yanked my hands out and
grabbed onto his arms, pulling with all my might. His hands
popped free from my throat, and his whole luscious female form
was shaking rapidly. I rolled off him; the artificial body kept
convulsing as the keening continued. I gasped for breath and all
I could think about for several moments was getting air into me.
After my head cleared a bit, I looked again at Joshua, who was
still convulsing, and then I looked up at Mac, who was banging on
the side of the disrupter disk. I realized that, now that he'd
activated it, he had no idea how to deactivate it. As I watched,
he started to turn it over, presumably hoping there was some
control he'd missed on the side he couldn't see and I
realized that if he completed his move, the disk would be aimed
backward, in the direction of Pickover. Pickover clearly saw
this, too: he was throwing his robot-like arms up, as if to
shield his face not that that could possibly do any good.
I tried to shout "No!," but my voice was too raw, and all that
came out was a hoarse exhalation of breath, the sound of which
was lost beneath the keening. In my peripheral vision, I could
see Joshua lying facedown. His vicious spasms stopped as the
beam from the disrupter was no longer aimed at him.
But even though I didn't have any voice left, Pickover did, and
his shout of "Don't!" was loud enough to be heard over the
electric whine of the disrupter. Mac continued to rotate the
disk a few more degrees before he realized what Pickover was
referring to. He flipped the disk back around, then continued
turning it until the emitter surface was facing straight down.
And then he dropped it, and it fell in Martian slo-mo, at last
clanking against the deck plates, a counterpoint to the
now-muffled electric whine. I hauled myself to my feet and moved
over to check on Joshua, while Pickover and Mac hovered over the
disk, presumably looking for the off switch.
There were probably more scientific ways to see if the
transferred Joshua was dead, but this one felt right just then:
I balanced on one foot, hauled back the other leg, and kicked the
son of a bitch in the side of that gorgeous head. The impact was
strong enough to spin the whole body through a quarter-turn, but
there was no reaction at all from Joshua.
Suddenly, the keening died, and I heard a self-satisfied
"There!" from Mac. I looked over at him, and he looked
back at me, caught in the beam from the flashlight Pickover was
holding. Mac's bushy orange eyebrows were raised and there was a
sheepish grin on his face. "Who'd have thought the off switch
had to be pulled out instead of pushed in?"
I tried to speak, and found that I did have a little voice now.
"Thanks for coming by, Mac. I know how you hate to leave the
Mac nodded in Pickover's direction. "Yeah, well, you can thank
this guy for putting in the call," he said. He turned, and faced
Pickover full-on. "Just who the hell are you, anyway?"
I saw Pickover's mouth begin to open in his mechanical head, and
a thought rushed through my mind. This Pickover was bootleg.
Both the other Pickover and Joshua Wilkins had been correct:
such a being shouldn't exist, and had no rights. Indeed, the
legal Pickover would doubtless continue to demand that this
version be destroyed; no one wanted an unauthorized copy of
himself wandering around.
Mac was looking away from me, and toward the duplicate of
Pickover. And so I made a wide sweeping of my head, left to
right, then back again. Pickover apparently saw it, because he
closed his mouth before sounds came out, and I spoke, as loudly
and clearly as I could in my current condition. "Let me do the
introductions," I said, and I waited for Mac to turn back toward
When he had, I pointed at Mac. "Detective Dougal McCrae," I
said, then I took a deep breath, let it out slowly, and pointed
at Pickover, "I'd like you to meet Joshua Wilkins."
Mac nodded, accepting this. "So you found your man?
Congratulations, Alex." He then looked down at the motionless
female body. "Too bad about your wife, Mr. Wilkins."
Pickover turned to face me, clearly seeking guidance. "It's so
sad," I said quickly. "She was insane, Mac had been
threatening to kill her poor husband Joshua here for weeks. He
decided to fake his own death to escape her, but she got wise to
it somehow, and hunted him down. I had no choice but to try to
As if on cue, Pickover walked over to the dead artificial body,
and crouched beside it. "My poor dear wife," he said, somehow
managing to make his mechanical voice sound tender. He lifted
his skinless face toward Mac. "This planet does that to people,
you know. Makes them go crazy." He shook his head. "So many
Mac looked at me, then at Pickover, then at the artificial body
lying on the deck plating, then back at me. "All right, Alex,"
he said, nodding slowly. "Good work."
I tipped my nonexistent hat at him. "Glad to be of help."
I walked into the dark interior of the Bent Chisel, whistling.
Buttrick was behind the bar, as usual. "You again, Lomax?"
"The one and only," I replied cheerfully. That topless waitress
I'd slept with a couple of times was standing next to the bar,
loading up her tray. I looked at her, and suddenly her name came
to me. "Hey, Diana!" I said. "When you get off tonight, how
'bout you and me go out and paint the town ..." I trailed off:
the town was already red; the whole damned planet was.
Diana's face lit up, but Buttrick raised a beefy hand. "Not so
fast, lover boy. If you've got the money to take her out, you've
got the money to settle your tab."
I slapped two golden hundred-solar coins on the countertop.
"That should cover it." Buttrick's eyes went as round as the
coins, and he scooped them up immediately, as if he was afraid
they'd disappear which, in this joint, they probably
"I'll be in the booth in the back," I said to Diana. "I'm
expecting Mr. Santos; when he arrives, could you bring him over?"
Diana smiled. "Sure thing, Alex. Meanwhile, what can I get you?
Your usual poison?"
I shook my head. "Nah, none of that rotgut. Bring me the best
scotch you've got and pour it over water ice."
Buttrick narrowed his eyes. "That'll cost extra."
"No problem," I said. "Start up a new tab for me."
A few minutes later, Diana came by the booth with my drink,
accompanied by Raoul Santos. He took the seat opposite me.
"This better be on you, Alex," said Raoul. "You still owe me for
the help I gave you at Dr. Pickover's place."
"Indeed it is, old boy. Have whatever you please."
Raoul rested his receding chin on his open palm. "You seem in a
"Oh, I am," I said. "I got paid this week."
The man the world now accepted as Joshua Wilkins had returned to
NewYou, where he'd gotten his face finished and his artificial
body upgraded. After that, he told people it was too painful to
continue to work there, given what had happened with his wife.
So he sold the NewYou franchise to his associate, Horatio
Fernandez. The money from the sale gave him plenty to live on,
especially now that he didn't need food and didn't have to pay
the life-support tax anymore. He gave me all the fees his dear
departed wife should have plus a very healthy bonus.
I'd asked him what he was going to do now. "Well," he said,
"even if you're the only one who knows it, I'm still a
paleontologist and now I can spend days on end out on the
surface. I'm going to look for new fossil beds."
And what about the other Pickover the official one? It
took some doing, but I managed to convince him that it had
actually been the late Cassandra, not Joshua, who had stolen a
copy of his mind, and that she was the one who had installed it
in an artificial body. I told Dr. Pickover that when Joshua
discovered what his wife had done, he destroyed the bootleg and
dumped the ruined body that had housed it in the basement of the
Not too shabby, eh? Still, I wanted more. I rented a surface
suit and a Mars buggy and headed out to 16.4 kilometers
south-southwest of Nili Patera. I figured I'd pick myself up a
lovely rhizomorph or a nifty pentaped, and never have to work
Well, I looked and looked and looked, but I guess the duplicate
Pickover had lied about where the alpha deposit was; even under
torture, he hadn't betrayed his beloved fossils. I'm sure
Weingarten and O'Reilly's source is out there somewhere, though,
and the legal Pickover is doubtless hard at work thinking of ways
to protect it from looters.
I hope he succeeds. I really do.
But for now, I'm content just to enjoy this lovely scotch.
"How about a toast?" suggested Raoul, once Diana had brought him
"I'm game," I said. "To what?"
Raoul frowned, considering. Then his eyebrows climbed his broad
forehead, and he said, "To being true to your innermost self."
We clinked glasses. "I'll drink to that."
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