[Part 4] 22:53:43 // 03-JUN-2042 - Continued

Updated: May 24


He picked the gun back up, found the electric safety switch, and flipped it off. It whined as it powered up. He stood and scanned the room, trying his best not to think about what he’d do if he had to pull the trigger at someone.

With the windows now clear, the city glowed below him. What must it have been like to live this high all the time, a pampered angel in the clouds? It would be easy to forget you were only human.

Dodge skirted through the penthouse, stepping over scattered furniture, trying not to disturb anything. As he gave another corpse a wide berth he realized that, eventually, someone would discover all these bodies. This was about to become the most famous murder scene in history. Every piece of forensic equipment in the country would be running over the whole building in a matter of hours, if not sooner.

Then a sickening thought twisted his guts. Between the surgeries and the weight he’d lost, Dodge had changed his appearance as much as possible, but he couldn’t change his DNA. Someone would be sure to find traces of it.

In the original plan, no one was even supposed to notice Klaxon’s genetic code had been sampled, let alone open an investigation that might identify who the thief had been. Entropy would have learned Klaxon’s DNA had got out eventually, but it wouldn’t have been until sometime in the distant future, and by then they would have found only Len’s phage eating away at their records. There would be no digital evidence at all, and any physical traces would have been vacuumed up or wiped away by months of housekeeping. The only thing anyone might conceivably remember was an unremarkable reporter who didn’t actually exist.

It had been an airtight plan, buttoned up neat enough to temporarily drown out the parts of his brain screaming at him not to go through with it. But now time wouldn’t pass. No housekeepers. No cleaning. There was a high probability a forensic sniffer would already be able to uncover enough evidence to identify his presence here. He had fallen in the hallway, scraped his hands across the carpet. Brushed the walls. Manhandled that corpse.

Dodge’s DNA was public record, someone had posted it to the link a few years ago. Hell, people still sold minimalist greyscale posters of his base pair sequences like it was a mug-shot. If the feeds were to expose his presence at the Needle, it wouldn’t take long for the Paradise Mind to figure out Dodge and Montrose Dodgson were the same person. They knew he was coming here, and what he looked like now. His cover would be completely blown.

His vision rippled and he almost fell.

But he wasn’t done yet. He’d just have to stick to the plan and clean up after himself instead of waiting for housekeeping. After he located Klaxon, he’d find a bottle of cleaner, spray everywhere he’d touched, and hope the chemicals deteriorated his DNA enough to make it unidentifiable.

That could work. Maybe.

A strong disinfectant, like an oxygenated bleach. He wished he’s thought to bring his DNAway spray bottle. That would have done the trick, but he hadn’t wanted to risk carrying in anything more than he needed to. There’d be something though. Even superstar households needed to sanitize.

It was going to be okay, he just had to be extra careful to limit contact with anything else.

Figuring he could stay calm for another few minutes—as long as he tried not to think about what he was doing or what might happen, Dodge left the living room and entered an enormous kitchen, big enough for a team of chefs to prepare a seven-course dinner for a state visit. While he was there he stepped over to the trough-like sink and slid the panel underneath open with his toe.

Jackpot.

He grabbed a bottle of oxygen-based antiseptic sterilizer and sprayed under the sink and the cupboard door with couple bursts of the metallic orange-smelling chemical. He imagined the double helix of his DNA strands snapping and twisting apart like frayed twine as the cleaner dissolved its bonds. He’d go back and cover his tracks on the way out.

Spray bottle in one hand, gun in the other, Dodge continued through the dining room, past a dozen glass-walled conference rooms studded with holo-presence projectors, and ascended a metal-slat staircase up to the second floor of the penthouse.

It contained bedrooms and bathrooms and workrooms. The workrooms were lined with racks of antique electronic recording gear, holo-camera equipment, computer consoles, and one even with a full digital studio. On the other side of the floor, six bodyguards were dead in front of a set of stone doors. The guards had all been shot with their guns still holstered—except one. She had managed to pull her weapon. A brown oval of bone jut from her chest where the killer’s bullet had blown through her armor.

Dodge picked around the bodies, pressed the bottom of the spray bottle against one of the doors and pushed. It swung open easily, revealing the stairs that led to the master suite—which he’d already seen once on an episode of Bedrooms of the Stars. But now he was going to see it in person.

The circular room at the top of the stairs was empty, except for a big round bed on a raised dais, two end tables, and Klaxon Overdrive, face up, eyes still open, lying spread-eagled on the duvet. Dodge’s heart bounced against his ribs as he tried not to notice his cheeks tugging on a relieved smile.

A massive hole was punched through Klaxon’s torso. It looked like most of his blood had soaked through his white robe and into the bed under him. There were no other bodies.

Dodge set the spray bottle on the floor, tucked the gun into his waistband, and then carefully stepped over to the dead superstar. He took his case off his back, knelt, and unpacked what he thought was the most brilliant part of the whole plan. Part of the deal with interviewing Klaxon meant Dodge wasn’t allowed to get closer than two meters, which made the prospect of gathering a sample of his DNA tricky. Klaxon was kept in a genetic exclusion bubble so strict Entropy had even required the President to wash immediately after shaking hands with Klaxon at the G13 meeting. It was the only way they’d allow Klaxon to have unprotected skin contact. Not even the President was trusted with Klaxon’s DNA.

But Dodge had figured away around that.

He’d stripped the guts out of a portable holo-camera and replaced them with an extension of his nanotech research at the University, but he had modified the cell-sized robots to sail the holo-capture recording beams, land on their target, enter the skin and execute their programming: read Klaxon’s DNA and transmit out a copy of the code. All he had to do was point it at the target and hit the record button, and he’d have sampled Klaxon’s DNA without breaking the two meter rule. But at this point a hypodermic needle would have worked just as well—or even better, soaking a cloth in the pool of blood and stuffing it in a plastic bag.

Still, he had gone through all the trouble to make the camera. It was a work of art, and this would be the only chance he’d ever get to use it.

His time designing it had been a bit like being back at the University again—where he had lost himself in the lab, playing with nucleic acids, carbon nanotubes, and genetic resequencers for nearly ten years as he and the team worked on bridging the signal gap between organic neural impulses and artificial nano-filaments. He’d been content—and, he thought, doing something important for the world. He’d figured after his career was over someone might one day name an airport after him. Instead they stole his life’s work, and saddled him with the blame for the replactor scandal, left him with the need for a new face.

Not that he was holding any grudges.

He set the collector on the bed, well within the two meter limit—no point making things more difficult than they needed to be—and pointed it at Klaxon’s white-shrouded body. The motion sent a cloud of tiny feathers into the air and Dodge watched as one came to rest on Klaxon’s face. He resisted the urge to brush it away. After checking the targeting system, Dodge pressed record and released the nanites toward their target.

Nothing to do now but wait.

With the initial shock wearing off, this gruesome and inconceivable situation was far better than having to pretend he was reporter. Most days he didn’t talk to anyone. Life was easier that way—people were stressful.

Len was the only one he ever really hung out with, and only if they stuck to topics like the vagaries of the link or old movies. Nothing remotely meaningful.

Dodge gazed down again at Klaxon’s face, taking the opportunity to get an unrestricted look at him. Not many people were allowed to get this close. Even though the megastar appeared on the feeds almost constantly, public glimpses were exceedingly rare. He had the power to change people’s lives, but only from within waving distance—his genetic sequence was that well-guarded. Another downside of modern celebrity life Montrose Dodgson was blamed for.

Most of the time Klaxon Overdrive was treated like a sort of demi-god, something above and beyond mere human, but lying here, stripped of the power of his graceful charm, beguiling intelligence, and ever-present entourage, in the tranquility of death, Klaxon Overdrive wasn’t anything special. Not particularly handsome, his allure had been generated by his fusion-powered personality, his exponential rise in fame, and how he had used that fame to manipulate those with power into helping the world’s huddled masses—all while keeping Entropy’s best interest in mind.

His face was instantly identifiable, but without the power animating it, it was nothing more than sallow flesh.

After months of research, Dodge knew as much or more about this man than any of his fans—which, admittedly, was only what Entropy wanted them to know—but up close Klaxon possessed a familiarity that transcended his fame, like the uncertain recognition of passing a forgotten childhood friend on the street. The smooth contours of Klaxon’s lifeless face reminded Dodge of someone, or somewhere, but his already overtaxed brain refused to provide details.

Then he realized he was staring. 

Dodge forced himself to look away and took a minute to survey the room—when would he ever again be standing at the very top of the tallest free-standing structure ever built? The only people higher than him right now were air passengers and astronauts.

Apart from its height, there wasn’t much to Klaxon’s boudoir, just a simple bed and two metal side-tables surrounded by windows. Completely minimalist. But who needed to waste money on furniture and décor when you had the sky as your wallpaper and servants to attend to your every whim?

The side table nearest him was empty and the other one held only a single floating sphere, rotating slowly in place. He glanced over at the camera. The progress lights showed the procedure was already more than three-quarters done, far quicker than in testing. But the camera was right next to Klaxon’s body. Not having to account for travel time, that made perfect sense. Only a few minutes left.

 Since it was the only other object in the room, Dodge went around the bed to have a closer look at the odd hovering ball. It rested on shimmering waves, like a reverse mirage, and the hairs on his arms rose as he approached.

It didn’t appear to be much more than a plain silver sphere, spinning a few inches off the table—until the bright green countdown display spun into view. In the time it took the ball to revolve once, the numbers dropped from 4:56 to 4:40. The next revolution showed 4:24.

It wasn’t a clock. Dodge angled his head, watched it spin around once more, then his stomach dropped as he realized what he was looking at. What else could a strange object counting down to zero at the end of a trail of death be?

It was a bomb, and based on the timer, he had a little over four minutes of molecular cohesion left to him.