First the bad news. Due to events–a funeral (not mine), a wedding (unfortunately not mine), and illness (still not mine), the final edits of the book were further delayed. Now the good news. Despite these delays, Recursion is now up for pre-release on Amazon! Everyone will be able to pre-purchase the book now and get their Astra-fix automatically downloaded on April 20th.
As an apology for the last delay (and since the pre-release blurb gives this plot point away), in the meantime here’s one more chapter. Enjoy.
“The National Public Safety Act would force all breakthroughs to reveal themselves to the government, whether or not they ever intended to use their powers publicly. It would force them to continually ensure that local law-enforcement knew about them. It would force them to prove that they weren’t dangerous. It’s gun-registration with powers as guns, so every breakthrough will be on a government list when it decides to ‘contain’ them!”
Hard Talk Radio Show caller.
“I’m, me. Shell?” She’d have made more sense reciting a limerick. “What’s going on? How could I be anyone else?”
Then there were two Shells. Four Shells. Eight Shells as she kept on multiplying until, turning in the air, I floated in the middle of a sphere of virtual Shells. None of them looked happy.
“Oh, let me count the ways,” they said in freaky chorus. “I’m me but I’m not, and that’s just one. Want to guess another?”
“I’m me. Stop that!”
“No, you’re not. Not since last week. Who are you?” The Shell-sphere kept getting denser, the chorus deeper.
“Stop! Shell! Stop.” I fought down rising panic. If something was wrong with Shell, what could I do? There weren’t any quantum-neural computer engineers in this year. “Nothing’s changed! What are you talking about?”
Then she was singular and right in front of me. “You don’t know. Your respiration, heartrate, pulse, vascular dilation—you don’t know, you’re not hiding anything.”
“My what? You can measure all those things?”
Her arms stayed folded, but the hard line of her mouth softened. “Your brain knows all those things, it’s sensory input, so I know through our link. Sorry, I had to check.”
Still not making sense. “Check that I’m me? When did that become a question?”
“It’s not a question.” Now she just looked miserable. “I just didn’t know if you knew.”
“That I’m not me?”
She shook her head. “You’re not.”
Okay. At least she was calm. If this was just some mistake on Shell’s part, not a quantum-ghost delusion, then I could work with it. We could break it down together. “Why? I mean, how? How do you know I’m not me?”
She took a breath. “It’s a lot of things together. A week ago, your sleep cycle changed. Completely. Like flipping a switch.”
“That? That’s got to be Chakra. She did something.”
“Nope.” She shook her head again. “You know better than that—you can feel when Chakra manipulates your chakric aura. She couldn’t have done anything behind your back.”
I blinked. I did know that. Why hadn’t I thought of that? “Okay, what else?”
“You were borderline clinically depressed before that. You aren’t all giggles and sunshine now, but a week ago I was wondering if the doc was going to have to put you on meds.”
People get better. I didn’t say it; Shell knew that, so if she wasn’t being delusional she had to be talking about something else. “And?”
“Your speech changed.”
“You called me Shell as a nickname, before. Now it’s my name, the only one you ever use. There’s other markers—I can map every one of them. And there’s your skills.”
She rolled her eyes. “Hope, your ‘fight,’ yesterday? Sure, I spotted the power-type, but you’ve never met a gravikinetic before. They’re not exactly common. You haven’t even read any reports about what the stronger ones can do to real estate just by being them. I checked. But you knew. You knew what it meant before I or Blackstone had a chance to tell you.”
“And your whole response last night was way off. You were proactive from the beginning—requesting Chakra’s backup just in case? And asking to call the shot yourself the second you knew how dangerous the situation was? You didn’t hesitate for a second.”
My mouth opened, but where were the words? “Shell . . . Shell, that’s just experience. A lot’s happened. I’ve grown.”
“Not that much, not this fast, not last week. And this morning? Yesterday was your first crime-scene exercise, but today? When you realized we were looking at another one, you detected. Like someone who’s been trained, knows what to look for, what it means, and what to do next.”
She ran fingers through her red mop. “You know, I even did a motion analysis, after what I saw at the warehouse? All your training sessions with Ajax were recorded, so I mapped how you move. Now your style’s got new elements in your workout. Like you’ve been training with a new teacher. Which you haven’t yet. And you’re faster. Your response time is better. Not so anyone else would notice but, hello? Computer brain, here? I know your moves. Down to a zeroth of a meter, of a second.”
All I could think of was the utterly cliché “So, what are you saying?”
“That you can’t be you. Which, I’m sure you can see, is freaking me out.”
“But I can’t not be me, Shell. We’re connected. The quantum-neural link in my brain, wouldn’t you have noticed if someone had, I don’t know, swapped me out?”
Nodding, she didn’t look any happier. “That’s why I haven’t said anything. I just kept piling up observations because it’s impossible. But it’s true.”
“Okay, then lets . . .” I looked around, realized we’d just been hanging here in the sky above Chicago to argue my reality. A news helicopter chopped the air, flying by less than a mile from us on its way somewhere. “Let’s take this somewhere else.”
The roof of the Sears Tower seemed appropriate, but didn’t give me any more perspective. Touching down and sitting on its edge, I remembered all the conversations I’d shared with Atlas here. I remembered the crushing grief. Which wasn’t crushing me anymore. When had it stopped?
Like Shell said, I wasn’t all “giggles and sunshine” yet. But the dark cloud was gone and even sitting here, in a place I’d avoided, didn’t bring it back.
Suddenly I wasn’t worried about Shell anymore.
“So, let’s say you’re right about all of it. How could I have been switched without you noticing? Maybe,” I swallowed. “Maybe I’m still me but I’ve been ‘adjusted’? Somehow? Or swapped mentally, a new ‘me’ in the same head? Like a split personality? Do the Future Files say anything about this sort of thing?”
Shell answered slowly. “You know I can’t say anything about your pre-California potential futures. But no, there’s nothing like this. Does anything feel out of place to you? Different? You noticed your dream-pattern shift. You stopped waking up a total mess. Is there anything else?”
“Not really. Just—” No. No.
I made myself remember to breathe. Breathing made me feel real, made the world feel real.
“What is it?”
“Last night’s dream,” I choked. “It wasn’t—it was good, I didn’t think about it, really, when I woke, I didn’t—” Shell couldn’t see my dreams, any more than she could read my thoughts, and oh how I wished she could right now. Because it was a memory, and it was impossible. “I need to go home. I need to go home now.”
Going home meant returning to the Dome to change into civvies, then driving. The city had cleared the streets after yesterday’s snowfall and traffic out to Oak Park was light, but comparing the twenty-minute drive to the one minute it would take me to fly when I needed to be there now almost had me pounding the steering wheel. Almost. I’d have needed a new steering wheel.
The knot inside me unwound a little when I saw our grand old Victorian. Not that I’d expected the house not to be there, but just seeing it made my suddenly questionable reality feel more real. Dad had shoveled the snow before leaving for the office, and I parked in the driveway.
“Honey?” Mom called from the kitchen as I came in the side door. Graymalkin padded over to wind himself around my ankles as soon as I finished toeing off my shoes, and I picked him up and went to find Mom. She looked up as I walked into the kitchen, hands not stopping as she chopped. The makings of a five-star salad lay arranged on the counter in front of her.
“Hello, sweetheart. Would you like some lunch?”
I shook my head, cuddling Gray. “Not hungry, thanks. Home for the day? And how’s . . . how’s Mrs. Robinson?”
“We closed the office for a snow day. Mrs. Robinson’s fine. A little lonely, but I saw her at the garden meeting yesterday.”
The knot unwound some more. “That’s good. Did you fight?”
She laughed. Mom and Mrs. Robinson co-chaired the St. Christopher’s Garden Committee, and arguments between them over the layout of each year’s new plantings had been known to get epic. At least as epic as people who’d been good friends and neighbors for more than two decades could get.
“No, dear. And how are you?”
That was the most she’d ask about yesterday, and I put Gray down and hugged her from behind. Only now, after I could breathe again free of my dark cloud, did I think of how hard that had to be.
The Fort Whittier Attack had been her worst nightmare. Hers and Dad’s—as a Sentinel reservist, he’d known Atlas and Ajax for ten years, trained with them. Two friends had come home from L.A. in boxes, and I’d come home a shadow of myself.
“I’m fine, Mom.” I kissed her cheek and she put the knife down to reach up and squeeze my arm.
“That’s good. Do you want to talk about it? Will you talk to somebody?”
“I have to, before they’ll let me out for anything but emergency aid again.”
“Good. Are you staying for dinner, then?”
“I don’t know. Maybe?” I reluctantly let go, reaching past her to snatch a juicy cherry tomato and pop it in my mouth. “Right now I’m going to make some calls and study.” I didn’t say just what I’d be studying.
“Then you’ll stay long enough to see your father?” Not a request.
“Yes, Mom.” I snagged another tomato and headed upstairs.
I went right to my bedroom closet. A minute’s search and I found it, the black dress I’d worn That Day. Sitting down with it on my bed, I felt its wispy lace edging and remembered.
My dream last night hadn’t been of the January funeral. That day, with the horses and the coffins, the bagpipes and the speeches and the black, black grief, hadn’t been any part of my dream. It had been another funeral, Mrs. Robinson’s funeral.
And it hadn’t happened, yet.
I knew Mrs. Robinson almost as well as Mom did. She was our neighbor and we shared a gated fence. Since her own children were all grown, she’d adopted a grandmotherly regard for me and my brothers. Arron and Josh too, but me and Toby especially. She’d even baby-sat me sometimes. My brothers had all been unreliable sitters.
And I’d worn this dress for her funeral mass at St. Chris’.
Closing my eyes, I heard Father Nolan’s comforting words again. Faith is the belief that there is something more. That beyond death there is something else. Justice for the wicked. Forgiveness for the penitent. Love for the forsaken. Reunion with all our dead.
Mrs. Robinson had been lonely because Hank, Mr. Robinson, had died two years ago. Sitting in the pew I’d cried for myself, because I’d miss her, but they’d been happy tears, because of the message. Because I knew he wasn’t waiting for her anymore, they were together again.
Wiping my eyes, I set the dress aside and focused on the memory those words and that feeling, tried to remember the world around them. Fall. It had been fall? At the cemetery the air had been crisp with the promise of frost. But in the service—beside me had sat. . .Shell? Real, and present, holding my hand? The impossibility of that almost threw me out of my memory. But there was also Jacky, and . . . Ozma?
Oh . . .
It was like pushing on a stuck door, only a crack of light to see by as I heaved, and then resistance just vanished and I fell forward into one impossible memory after another. Into a future that hadn’t happened yet.
“So, did it work?” Shell sat beside me. “Because your heartrate just spiked.”
I stared at her, seeing Galatea and Shelly, too. Of course I was calling her Shell now. I’d forgotten her future’s other half. I’d forgotten the Shelly’s, my training and experience, my team. I’d forgotten but I hadn’t really forgotten, not even the ghost-pain in my shoulder, and now I remembered everything.
Everything except how I’d gotten here. “Shell . . .”