Updated: May 24
A picture-in-picture with an ancient shot of Dodge popped up beside Jolene. His nose was wider and flatter, hair cut short, his cheeks sloping to a prominent chin. He was a different man now, but changing the way he looked hadn’t changed anything on the inside.
Jolene resumed, “Dodgson, the man notorious for creating replactor technology and responsible for the ensuing tragedies, disappeared nearly five years ago—”
Long-buried memories clawed their way free, releasing a fresh burst of repressed anger and a fountain of intimately familiar anxiety. He hadn’t created replactors, those dead-eyed automatons—he’d simply been part of the team that took the next logical step in neural interface research, combining specifically designed and rapidly grown animal bodies with off-the-shelf computer control systems and some clever technogenetics. It hadn’t even been hard.
His particular contribution had been the design and development of artificial nerves that communicated with organic ones, allowing the computer brain to control flesh and blood. Shortly after the team’s first successful test—a rat programmed to perform a traditional Indian folk dance that had it galloping around on its hind legs like it was pretending to ride a horse—the university funding committee had stepped in, co-opted their research and began licensing it out.
None of that had anything to do with replactors either. Replactors were what happened when some hack fleshmith with access to too much funding inserted the computer control technology into illegally printed human bodies. Most popularly, as it soon turned out, celebrity bodies.
Created with stolen DNA, the bioprinted and rapidly aged bodies were implanted with computer brains and rented out to adult films and soda commercials and low-watt link feeds. Even if genetically imperfect due to the poor quality of the source DNA, they looked real enough for as long as they were needed. So what if the bodies quickly imploded due to voraciously malignant cancer racing through them as their sub-standard, artificially aged cells went haywire. They lasted long enough to make money.
The first celebrity DNA samples were obtained through bribes to med-techs in Hollywood, and the trade soon flourished into a burgeoning underground market specializing in the procurement, exchange, and sale of all kinds of genetic material. The more famous and elusive the still-living celebrity and larger the sample retrieved, the bigger the bounty paid out. Blood samples were most common, fingers and toes less so. Organs brought a premium.
The Genetic Copyright laws and accompanying severe punishments were hastily enacted to stop it all. It became illegal to possess, obtain or replicate genetic material one didn’t hold a license to. Which also meant it was possible to sell or lease the rights to genetic material. Most entertainment contracts were covertly rewritten to include a standard waiver-of-rights to genetic ownership. If their lawyers were sloppy, professional entertainers and sports figures ended up signing away the DNA they were made of.
The world had blamed Montrose Douglas Dodgson for all of this. For the drive-by mutilations. For the deaths. For the narrowly averted war after a plan to create a legion of cloned soldiers was uncovered. But most importantly, for beginning the assault on the closest thing the majority of the world had actual religious figures: their celebrities.
No one even mentioned Dodge’s partners anymore—the others who had created the technology with him. Probably because Craig had killed himself, and Sinder’s family had bought her an escape. Dodge had been left holding the controls. Fucking replactors drove him from his research. From his identity.
From his life.
Eventually replactors were outlawed and soon fell off the public radar, replaced by the scandal of early onset geriatric afflictions appearing in the first batch of designer babies as they hit puberty, and then the release of the life-extension treatment reJuv. But while there was always something newer, he was still never forgotten. Or forgiven. He couldn’t leave his apartment without being hounded by random angry strangers or assaulted by thugs acting on behalf of seven-fingered link stars.
Unable to hide, Dodge had no other choice: he killed Montrose Douglas Dodgson before someone else beat him to it. After reconstructive surgery he assumed a new identity and faded into anonymity. It wasn’t easy to live without a digital history, everything these days was tied to your rep, but it was possible—if not entirely pleasant.
Not that becoming someone else had made his life any better. If anything, his anxiety had only increased. And now it was all back. The months of surgery and excruciating recuperation and living on the fringes of society had all been for nothing.
Just as quickly as the anger had risen, it departed, and left him helpless against the encroaching terror.
“—has learned that he may be responsible for a number of unsolved genetic thefts, ranging back to shortly after his disappearance—”
“How?” Dodge muttered, spiritless. He had worked so hard to keep his identity secret, and now it was all blown.
Len had stopped laughing and was wiping his broad face with his shirtsleeve. “With enough money you can find out anything, and money ain’t something Entropy is short on.”
“—forensic DNA tests by police department molecular analyzers have already confirmed that both these men, Klaxon Overdrive and Montrose Dodgson—as well as twenty-seven members of Mr. Overdrive’s entourage—were killed here tonight by a military-grade explosive device apparently placed by Dodgson. No one yet knows why Dodgson committed this horrible crime against humanity, whether espionage or terrorism or some yet unidentified reason, but rest assured, we here at Entropy.news will spare no expense finding out. Stay tuned for a retrospective look at the man who was Klaxon Overdrive, tracing his origins as he came from nothing to explode upon popular culture, springing from the streets to become the internationally revered figure he is today, including a special sneak peak at his latest movie, his latest what will now be his last ever, launching around the world in only a matter of weeks. Remember, at any time you can select the blue sun image in top left corner of your screen for unlimited access to the Klaxon Overdrive Goes Supernova retrospective, a collection of music, film and interviews, for only $99.99.”
The content stream ended and an advertisement for the broadcast they had just watched began. Len waggled his fingers in the controls and found the Entropy live feed. The wallscreen flashed to a shot of the devastated Needle from a circling drone.
Len swiveled around, pushed the orange curls from his eyes and gazed at Dodge.
“May I just say, for the record, it’s an honor to meet the man who unleashed replactors on the world. To think, I’ve been spending all this time with the guy who made so many star-fucking dreams a reality.”
Dodge closed his eyes. How was this happening? He was supposed to be rich and on his way to a blissful mind-wipe by now. Instead, he was right back where he was five years ago. He remembered what it was like: a constant nightmare that made the mere terror he felt now seem like a comfy bath.
“Explains why you’re so uptight, though, don’t it? Hell, for a while there I thought you might be a spy or something. But spies usually don’t have quite so many panic attacks, huh?”
Dodge was speechless.
“Makes no difference to me who you were then, but the guy you are now has got me a shit-heap of bad exposure. And as bad as it is for me, it’s even worse for you,” Len said, swabbing his sweaty pate with a towel, his tone uncharacteristically serious. “Once someone figures out you’re not really dead, there ain’t no one in the world who ain’t gonna to be looking for you. Luckily, you look a hell of a lot different now than you did then.”
Dodge finally burst. “Does it even matter anymore? Entropy can’t find me, can they? And the Paradise Mind, they couldn’t have tracked me here already, right? They don’t know about you, or where you live, do they? Do they?” The muscles in his neck were like bungie cords ready to snap.
“Maybe the cops stopped for a slice on the way over, how do I know? I got no answers for you.” Len had spent most of his life watching old TV and link serials, and he talked like it. “Settle down, you’re turning purple.”
Len leaned his bulk across the desk, balancing on his forearms. Dark spots swam in Dodge’s vision, blotting out Len’s face.
“Let’s make a list,” Len said, whipping up a finger. “The first thing you have to worry about is the Paradise Mind coming for your ass. They know what you look like now and they’re already into you for a ton of cash. And we’re all aware of exactly what their ‘life guides’ say about the sanctity of contracts. They knew you had help and there’s a chance they might find out it was me. It’s a very slim chance, but I don’t put much trust in the slim.”
“I’m—” Dodge had to inhale before he could continue. “I’m supposed to be dead. You saw it. I’m dead. Who’s going to be looking for me?”
“Smarten up. This is all a massive graft. No one could even think about getting a bomb past the Needle security scans without alarms sounding loud enough to wake dead cops, let alone get the chance to use it. And Entropy didn’t have enough time to assemble a crew, get the sniffers down there and not find your DNA all over the place, but since they’re reporting they did, you, my friend, have a very big problem.”
Why would Entropy do this to him? Because of the whole replactor thing? After all this time?
But they wouldn’t kill Klaxon Overdrive just to get to him. That would be absurd. Sure, he had stolen a little DNA here and there over the years, but it wasn’t like he was a war criminal or something. He wasn’t worth all this.
Len spat a burst of air through his lips. “All you have to say for yourself is ‘shit?’ I tell you that Entropy planned all this, blew up a billion dollar building, fabricated Klaxon Overdrive’s death, and made you the scapegoat—and ‘shit’ is the best you can do?”
“He was dead. As a fucking stump. There were corpses everywhere. I touched one. I ran my fucking hands over it. It was still fucking warm. Whatever it was, it was no fucking fabrication.”
“Take it easy. All that stress is going to pop something in your head.”
“If only,” Dodge mumbled. At least then it would be over.
“If you’re going to get worked up, get worked up over the right thing for once, would you? There’s something going on here that’s far bigger than you. No one’s going to do what Entropy did tonight just to get to you, you’re not worth all this—believe me.” Len grinned at him. “If that was all they wanted, they’d have nabbed you when you hit the security station on the way in. No, they wanted you dead in the Needle, and you’re not, and they probably don’t know you’re not—not yet, anyway. That gives us an advantage.”
How the hell did Len always stay so calm? He was constantly up to his giant neck in dodgy schemes—cracking pharmaceutical data havens, juicing rep scores, fencing DNA—and he never, ever, stopped smiling.
“Tell me what to do then,” Dodge said as he jumped up and slammed his hands on the desk. Len’s grin slipped to a smirk at the outburst. “I’m two fucking seconds away from degenerating into the need for permanent institutionalization and you’re barely taking this seriously. You have to help me. What are we going to do?”
“We?” Len responded with a raised eyebrow.
“Relax,” Len said, dropping the smirk. “I’m not going to leave you dangling. I’ll do some pokin’ around. If there’s anything to be found, don’t worry, I’ll find it. Somebody left tracks somewhere.”
Len must have noticed the tension drain from Dodge’s face because his tone slipped back into mocking.
“Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to do anything that will get me noticed, I don’t want to become known as Montrose Dodgson’s chubby hacker sidekick, but I’ll see what’s going on. This doesn’t happen without someone knowing about it. But consider this—if Entropy knew you were going to be at the Needle tonight, they also knew the cover I supplied was a fake. Which means, again, that slim chance they might trace this back to me.” He paused for a second. “If they come here—maybe just to ask some questions and see what they can scare me into saying—it will be hard to convince them I had nothing to do with this while you’re laying on my couch.”
Dodge nodded. As usual, Len was right.
“And I’ll start asking around quietly for a buyer.” He pointed to the collector hanging from Dodge’s neck. “The sooner you’re rid of the evidence, the better. Give me a few hours and I’ll see what I can do. If the sign’s off outside when you get back, it will mean I have company.”
Dodge nodded. Len was on it. Len would sort it out. There was nothing to worry about. Everything was going to be fine.
Len’s forehead wrinkled with impatience. “Well, what are you standing there starting at me for?”
“Okay, okay—I’m going, but do you have any suggestions on where I’m supposed to go?”
“I don’t give a damn where you go. But just to be safe I’d stay away from public places, men with guns and anyone in a bad suit. And whatever you do ... do I really need to say this? I do, don’t I? Dodge, don’t even think about going home.”