Author: Jenna BlackCover & Summary:
Sixteen-year-old Nadia Lake comes from a high-class Executive family in the Corporate States. Her marriage has been arranged with the most powerful family in her state, which means she lives a life of privilege but also of public scrutiny, followed everywhere by photographers, every detail of her private life tabloid fodder. But her future is assured, as long as she can maintain her flawless public image — no easy feat when your betrothed is a notorious playboy.
Nathan Hayes is the heir of Paxco — controller of the former state of New York, and creator of human replication technology, science that every state and every country in the world would kill to have. Though Nadia and Nate aren't in love, they've grown up close, and they (and the world) are happy enough with their match.
Until Nate turns up dead, and as far as everyone knows, Nadia was the last person to see him alive.
When the new Nate wakes up in the replication tanks, he knows he must have died, but with a memory that only reaches to his last memory backup, he doesn't know what killed him. Together, Nadia and Nate must discover what really happened without revealing the secrets that those who run their world would kill to protect.
Nate awakened, gagging and choking, as a long plastic tube was removed from his throat. He tried to open his eyes, then quickly shut them again when something wet and sticky dripped into them. He wanted to wipe whatever it was away, but something was wrapped around each of his wrists, holding them down.
What the hell . . . ?
He struggled to free himself, but his limbs felt sluggish and weak, and he wasn’t getting anywhere.
“Take it easy, sir,” a male voice said, and then someone wiped Nate’s face with a steaming hot towel and he was able to open his eyes.
He was in a sterile white room, sitting in a coffin-shaped vat of slimy green goo. Tubes and wires connected the vat to a terminal in the wall. He blinked in confusion. The last thing he remembered was coming to the Fortress for his monthly backup. How had he gotten . . . ?
The thought trailed off in his mind as he realized what waking up in this tub of goo meant.
“Oh, shit,” he whispered. His head spun, and he feared he was going to be sick. “I’m a Replica.”
He looked at the white-coated lab tech who had wiped the slime from his face, a forty-something Employee with brown eyes and discreetly graying hair. The lab tech gave him a single nod of confirmation, then continued unhooking Nate from the machinery that had created him.
If Paxco had gone to the enormous expense of creating a Replica, that meant the original Nate Hayes was dead.
“What’s the date?” Nate asked, holding back panic as his brain tried to process what was happening.
“March fourteenth, sir,” the lab tech said. “Now hold still so I can get you out of there.”
Nate closed his eyes and took a deep breath, his heart hammering. He’d gone in for his backup scan on March 1st. As a Replica, he had all of Nate’s memories up to the date of that backup, but anything that had happened between then and now was gone, erased by Nate’s . . . death.
“I’m dead,” Nate murmured under his breath, trying the words on for size.
“You’re very talkative—and very reluctant to hold still—for a dead man,” the tech said drily, and Nate forced his eyes open once again.
Legally and practically, he was Nathaniel Edison Hayes, even if he was only a lab-created Replica, born in this vat of primordial ooze, constructed as a perfect facsimile of his original by the proprietary technology that made Paxco the richest and most powerful of the Corporate States. He tried a few tentative stretches, concentrating hard on the sensation of his muscles bunching and releasing. His joints were stiff and a little achy, like he’d been lying unnaturally still for hours on end, but the sensations were familiar. Normal. He still felt like himself, as far as he could tell.
The tech finally finished unhooking Nate from the mechanical womb. Nate felt weak and shaky as the tech helped him climb out of the ooze, which sucked at him as if reluctant to let him go. He wiped at the goo that clung to him, shuddering at the feel of it against his skin. Some of it glopped off onto the floor, but he was still coated with slime. Panic tried again to take over, but he shoved it down to be dealt with later.
“There’s a shower in there,” the tech said, steadying him by holding his elbow.
Nate shook him off. He could stand by his own damn self.
“What happened to me?” he asked, unable to wrap his brain around the idea that he had died. He’d have said this was a practical joke, if anyone he knew had that kind of sense of humor. How could he be a lab-created Replica of a dead guy and feel so normal?
“Your father will brief you after you’ve showered and dressed,” the tech said, glancing at his watch. “He’s scheduled to arrive at five o’clock, so you have half an hour to get ready. Do you need any help?”
Nate frowned at him. “I’ve been taking showers by myself for quite some time now,” he said, trying for a tone of dry humor. His memory insisted he’d taken a shower a couple of hours ago, right after he’d eaten breakfast and before he’d come to the Fortress for his backup. But these memories were from two weeks ago, and they weren’t really his, they were the real Nate’s. The real Nate who was dead.
Nate shook his head. He’d drive himself nuts if he let himself think about it too much.
“As you wish,” the tech said with a shrug. “I’ll be right out here, so give a shout if you need anything.”
“I need to know what happened to me,” Nate said.
“Your father will explain when he arrives, sir.”
Nate sighed. Patience had never been one of his virtues, but the tech had no doubt been ordered to keep his mouth shut. “Will you at least tell me whether it was an accident?” Surely it was an accident. Nate did enjoy taking risks, and if one of those risks came back to bite him, it wouldn’t be a complete surprise.
The tech hesitated, then lowered his voice. “It wasn't an accident.”
* * *
Half an hour later, Nate felt a lot more like himself, the slime scrubbed from his skin and hair, his mind clearer, the panic mostly subdued. He’d examined himself closely in the bathroom mirror, and everything was just like he remembered it, down to the tiny tattoo on his ass he’d gotten for Kurt. (And because he enjoyed thinking about the fit his father would throw if he ever found out about it.) No doubt the tech had seen it, since Nate had come out of the ooze stark naked, but Nate doubted he would go blabbing about it.
Nate dressed in the stylish dark business suit that had been left for him, though he skipped the tie and shoved it in his pocket. He was more relieved than he could say to find the antique oval locket he always wore under his shirt stashed in a bag with his phone, wallet, and other personal effects. As far as anyone knew, the locket was a gift from Nadia. There was even a photo of her inside, and she’d always played along with the fiction. But in truth, it was from Kurt—Nate didn’t want to know where the money had come from, because a solid gold antique locket was definitely outside Kurt’s price range.
The tech—whose name, Nate discovered when he had enough wits about him to ask, was Gregson—led Nate to a small conference room deep in the heart of the Fortress. Getting into the Fortress required enough security checks to discourage all but the most determined, but only a handful of people had clearance to set foot this deep inside, where the Replicas were made. The technology behind the Replicas was the most closely guarded secret in the universe. No one had duplicated Paxco’s success, and without access to the extraordinary mind behind the technology, no one ever would.
Nate was not surprised that his father hadn’t yet arrived. Nathaniel Sr. would never miss an opportunity to make a subordinate wait, and he always made sure Nate knew he was a subordinate.
Gregson left Nate alone in the conference room with a cup of foul-tasting tea that was supposed to help him regain his strength faster. After one sip, Nate decided he’d regain his strength at his own pace.
The tea had stopped steaming by the time the conference room door opened and Nate’s father stepped in, followed closely by Nate’s second-least-favorite person in the world, Dirk Mosely, Paxco’s chief of security. A product of the Chairman’s Basement reclamation project, Mosely was fiercely loyal, dangerously intelligent, and a sadistic bastard who enjoyed his work far too much. He was frighteningly good at his job—which was to uphold the law, except when the law got in his way.
Nate stood still as his father looked him up and down with a frown of concentration, examining him for flaws. Nathaniel Sr. was a pro at finding flaws. He frowned at the open collar of Nate’s shirt, but he could hardly have been surprised that Nate had forgone the tie.
“It never ceases to amaze me,” Nate’s father said finally as he gestured for Nate to take a seat. “Such a perfect likeness.” If he felt any grief over the real Nate’s death, he was doing a great job of hiding it. But Nate had never really mattered to his father as a person, merely as an heir. And thanks to Replica technology, that heir still existed even though the person was dead. Not that Nate was bitter about their relationship or anything.
As far as Nate knew, he was only the third human Replica ever to be created. The technology was only about ten years old, and the astronomical fee Paxco charged for storing backups and creating Replicas assured that only the wealthiest of the wealthy were able to afford the privilege. Not to mention the considerable number of governments, moralists, and religious groups that considered Replicas an abomination, the ultimate example of playing God.
“What happened to me?” Nate asked, remaining on his feet just because his father had gestured for him to sit.
His father gave him a disapproving look as he sat at the head of the table, adjusting his chair so it was just right. Another little power play, letting Nate know he wasn’t getting answers until he sat down as ordered.
Grinding his teeth to keep from saying anything that would annoy his father and cause further delays, Nate pulled back a chair and sat, clasping his hands in front of him on the table like an obedient schoolchild.
“What happened to me?” he asked again, meeting his father’s cold gray eyes. He suppressed a shudder as he realized nothing had happened to him: it had happened to the real Nate Hayes. But damn, he felt like the real Nate Hayes.
“You were murdered,” the Chairman said, no trace of emotion in his voice.
“Murdered,” Nate murmured, hoping he sounded surprised despite Gregson’s tip-off. He shook his head. “Murdered.” The word tasted sour in his mouth. How could someone possibly have murdered him? Nate knew he had a gift for rubbing people the wrong way—it was a gift he cultivated with great care—but he couldn’t imagine ever annoying someone so much that they would kill him for it. And it wasn’t like killing him accomplished anything, when he was sure to be brought back as a Replica. It seemed a hell of a lot to risk for very little reward.
Mosely, standing behind the Chairman’s shoulder, took over explaining. “You were last seen last night, leaving the reception with Nadia Lake. She returned to the reception alone. Presumably, you argued.”
Nate had to think a moment to figure out what reception Mosely was talking about. Then he remembered today’s date, and realized the big state wedding must have been the day before.
The implications of Mosely’s words sank in, and Nate’s eyes widened. “You don’t think . . .” Nadia wouldn’t hurt a fly, no matter how badly they’d argued. He shook his head. “There’s no way I was murdered by a sixteen-year-old girl,” he said, almost laughing at the absurdity of it.
Mosely shrugged. “She isn’t a suspect, though of course she is being questioned. You were found stabbed to death in a hall closet at the mansion just after midnight. There were no witnesses to the murder itself, but three people confirm seeing a man who matches the description of Kurt Bishop fleeing the hallway in an agitated state with blood on his hands. They didn’t stop him at the time because he was holding his nose, and they thought he had a nosebleed. Only after the body was found did they realize they let a killer escape. His current whereabouts are unknown.”
Tomorrow is Excerpt 5 with Dee (Dee's Reads).
Jenna Black is your typical writer. Which means she's an "experience junkie." She got her BA in physical
anthropology and French from Duke University.
Once upon a time, she dreamed she would be the next Jane Goodall, camping in the bush making fabulous discoveries about primate behavior. Then, during her senior year at Duke, she did some actual research in the field and made this shocking discovery: primates spend something like 80% of their time doing such exciting things as sleeping and eating.
Concluding that this discovery was her life's work in the field of primatology, she then moved on to such varied pastimes as grooming dogs and writing technical documentation. She writes paranormal romance for Tor and urban fantasy for Bantam Dell.
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