“Wolf’s Clothing”

This story is a very loose prequel to Crashland, featuring a guest appearance by my two favourite PKs on yet another mission to solve all d-mat crime (there’s a lot of it).

0145AU_Twinmaker10_Page_2 - smaller“Wolf’s Clothing”

Simon took as much care as anyone could have, but he knew the peacekeepers would catch him eventually. He was, therefore, quite ready for them when they came bursting through the front door of his apartment in Queens, weapons drawn.

There was no point erasing the evidence. Obviously they knew what he had done. Perhaps they had dubbed him the Cancer Killer, or the Tumor-nator, either of which he would be happy with since he targeted the morally weak and corrupt, the rot of society. His tally stood at only one so far, murdered from the inside out by genes subtly tweaked in transit, but his work had only just begun. There would be more.

It was amazing what you could do with a matter transmitter, given the know-how and the will.

Simon was in his secret back room when the PKs came for him. He didn’t need to lift a finger. At the unplanned intrusion the door slammed shut between him and them, and a rising whine drowned out their demands. The room was a d-mat booth in disguise. He smiled as the machines went to work, taking him apart and taking him far away.

He blinked–

–and found himself in another body entirely, that of an elderly woman with aching knuckles and a full bladder. He wouldn’t have chosen this destination, but that was the entire point. His escape had to be random in order to avoid being traced. The concealed booth had removed his mind from his body and inserted it into the wider transport system, where it had been swapped for another entirely by chance, belonging to someone who happened to be travelling at exactly that moment. Back in his apartment, the PKs were probably kicking down the door and arresting a very startled woman now trapped in his own abandoned shell.

That would keep them busy. But he couldn’t afford to be complacent.

“Protocol Thirteen,” he told the booth, avoiding meeting the eye of his temporarily borrowed body. The booth was a standard one, mirrored on every surface, sending images of his stolen face to infinity. The code words were immediately detected by the worm he had planted in the system, which repeated the process.

Another blink–

–and he was inside a tall man who badly needed to sneeze.

“Ah-choo! Protocol Thirteen.”

This time a young boy holding the hand of his mother. His palms were sweating, probably out of nerves. Simon remembered being scared on his first jump too. Not without reason, he supposed now. There were bad people out there, wanting to do children harm. Was he now one of them . . . ?

No. And there was no time for regret, he told himself firmly. This could all be fixed later, given the chance. He had no way of knowing exactly what was happening back in his apartment, but at some point soon the PKs would be on the move again, bringing in the person they might still mistakenly think of as “him”. The more he jumped, the more likely he was to end up where he wanted.

“Protocol Thirteen,” he said in his temporary little-boy voice.

“What’s that, darling?” asked the boy’s mother, but the booth was already working around them, and he was on his way.

Seventeen jumps it took. Seventeen jumps before the protocol delivered him to a booth in which he was standing next to his own body. He stared at it in wonder and triumph. Perfect! His former shell was hunched, utterly broken, shackled by a short length to his new wrist. Red-rimmed eyes stared blankly at the ground.

Only with the greatest effort did he stifle a laugh. This was precisely where he needed to be–inside the body of a peacekeeper investigating his own crimes! Now, all he had to do was sweep up the trail he’d left behind, and after a suitable interval begin cleansing the world once more.

Grinning, he looked at the mirror in front of him, keen to see what he looked like now.

And saw his own face staring back at him.

He looked glanced at the figure beside him, then back into the reflection. Definitely him, both times. He was shackled to himself, the pair of them reflected over and over again, forever. And the eyes of his original body really were empty. There was no one in there at all.

“Protocol Thirteen!”

His cry came too late. The mirror was splitting, the booth opening, and there were the peacekeepers in a wall in front of him, weapons pointing at him, not the empty husk at his side. Simon backed up until he was pressed against the mirrored glass, unable to run any further, but not yet able to admit defeat either. How had they known? How?

A short man with Asian features pressed forward, closely followed by a giant of a woman with short blond hair, who cut the tether between him and his hollow double, the lure that had been his undoing.

“Look at that surprised face,” the woman said, tugging him roughly out of the booth. “Can I tell him, Inspector?”

“I see no reason not to, PK Sargent.”

The blonde woman grinned down at Simon. “You have to get up a whole lot earlier than this to catch us off guard. DNA corruption, duplication, interpolation–we’ve seen it all before. Three times this month alone. How does that make you feel?”

Three times, Simon echoed in his mind. He hadn’t known. If he had, he might have been more careful. But . . . that was the whole point. Of course.

He closed his eyes and wished he could die.

“Heaven help us,” said the blond as they led him away, “if these lone crusaders ever start talking to each other . . .”


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