In a future without death, revenge lives forever.
After dying with his wife in a horrible car accident, Finsbury Gage has been gifted a second chance. He's alive, immortal, and wearing a perfect new body, but all he can see is the face of the man who destroyed his life. He'll do anything to hunt this man down—throw away his career, betray his friends, even sacrifice his humanity—and his trail of wreckage will spawn a monster like the world has never seen.
Months later he'll wake again, with the taste of asphalt still fresh on his tongue, but this time wearing a stranger's face and hiding under an assumed name. In his head only moments have passed, but the life he knew is long gone: fired from the Police Service, the prime suspect in a mass murder with ties to an immortal gang lord, and worst of all, something desperate wants into his mind. To discover who he is—and who wants him erased forever—Finsbury Gage will be forced to dive into a dangerous underworld of plastic minds and enhanced bodies and discover the truth of who he became. But will he be able to live with himself when he does?
Discover Lost Time, the sci-fi action-thriller that imagines a future of hackable brains, supercharged bodies, and minds that can think at the speed of light. A future without death, where nothing, and no one, is as they seem.
One criticism that is often levelled against indie fiction is that it can be uninspired. Fledgling authors take up familiar story tropes, arrange them in familiar ways, and then wonder why readers don't flock to their books in droves. But sometimes, an author can find a new spin on the familiar, and Second Skyn is just such a spin. We've all seen the story of the hero whose consciousness is backed up on a computer drive and later re-animated into an unfamiliar world of the future. But what if he's reanimated the Tuesday after his death and charged with the murder of his wife? And then, what if later that same day he's reanimated again, only this time under the secret identify he used for surfing porn, and given the chance for revenge? I'll tell you what happens: awesome happens. Two versions of the same man, both investigating the same murder from different ends. And only one of them can live. – Jefferson Smith
"Absolutely brilliant read! This is definitely a new author worth watching and I am waiting for his next offering."– Amazon Review
"I have been unable to stop reading one after another of this series…I loved all the twists and turns and the concepts in this world, as well as the characters."– Amazon Review
"Mashup Alice in Wonderland, Blade Runner, Total Recall, The Matrix and smatter it with some Larry Niven and you'll start to get a feeling for how many tracks this collection will have you on.. all at the same time and all at breakneck speed."– Amazon Review
PART 1: SECOND SKYN
... | Late Afternoon. October 8, 2057.
I've been here before.
This is how I died.
I'm back in the car, Connie beside me. We're taking the long way home from Mom and Dad's, chasing the fading autumn light. I told the autonav to find a scenic route back to the city, and it charted a lazy, zigzag path along densely treed side roads that'll add an extra hour to our trip, but we don't mind. We're in no hurry.
Connie, her passenger seat partially reclined and pushed all the way back, has slipped off her sandals and absently drums the toes of her right foot on the dash, each tap launching rainbow pulses from the depths of her nails. Her face is turned away from me, lost in the passing blur of leaves—the violet beech, the tawny maple, the luminous yellow birch. Only a hint of her nose and the curve of one freckle-kissed cheekbone peek out from behind the loose twists of auburn hair that cascade to her shoulders.
The hem of her blue and white orchid-patterned dress—the one she bought beach-side the morning after we hopped to Cuba and married in the all-night chapel just outside the Havana airport's security duct—is bunched midway up her pale thighs, and rising.
She's swinging her left knee back and forth, slowly back and forth, tapping my leg at the apex of each arc, following some lazy rhythm only she can hear, and as she does, the fabric of her dress keeps rising. Little by little. Bit by bit.
Her cheek twitches with the flicker of a smile. She knows I've noticed. Her hand drops to the seat between her legs.
Neither of us says anything. We're enjoying these last few moments of quiet, content to be alone with each other for a few minutes before our lives resume and we're back to scrawling quick notes in passing on the bathroom mirror.
Visits home aren't stressful exactly, but Mom has waited for a grandchild for thirty years, and she's stopped hiding her impatience. She wants us to see a specialist, get the process underway already, but with the reJuv treatments keeping us all healthy there's no reason for heroic measures. Not yet at least. We want it to happen naturally. We'll keep trying the old-fashioned way for another year or two, then we'll see.
We've got time.
I lean forward to pick some music, and there's a welcome pressure on my thigh, a spreading warmth—Connie kneading my leg through the fabric of my jeans. She leans closer, strengthens her grip.
Other than the double-sized AV up ahead—probably hauling a late harvest from one of the lake farms—the nav shows clear roads all the way down to the highway, not another car in sight. The way the pilot's been driving, we'll be past the big automated truck before the next bend and then it'll be easy-running for another thirty minutes. I'll take over when we hit the outskirts of the city. Deserted country roads are one thing, but I don't trust the pilot in real traffic. I know what the stats are, autopilots versus human drivers, and I don't care. We're safer with my hands on the controls.
Besides, at our age? Thirty minutes is way more than we'll need.
She reaches up, brushes the hair from her face. Her eyes catch mine and her dimples emerge as she spreads her lips without showing any teeth. It's a smile most people read as bashful. But I know it means she's about to get her way.
Maybe this'll be the time we finally make it happen.
The road rises, curving around a stand of thick trees that hang out over the asphalt. The AV is directly ahead, its articulated, high-backed cargo shell scrapes through the overhanging branches. The pilot accelerates, trusting the clear nav means it's safe to pass, ignoring the double yellow that would have cautioned a human driver from overtaking around a blind corner.
Connie leans in to kiss me.
I move in to respond, but the moment is interrupted by the AV's flaring brake lights, two sudden scarlet strips slashing the windshield.
The automated truck lurches ahead of us. Shuddering tires hiccup smoke on the asphalt. A warning tone sounds and the dash pulses amber. The pressure on my thigh tightens—Connie squeezing hard enough to hurt.
It's too late to brake. The restraints grab us tight against our seats, and the pilot darts us into the oncoming lane, out and around the hard-braking AV. The truck swerves to the shoulder, catches gravel, fishtails.
I flail at the dash for support as we whip out to avoid colliding with its rear end, wishing I hadn't suggested an indirect route home. Wishing I'd reset the pilot from aggressive. Wishing I was driving.
I brace for impact, but force my eyes to stay open and watch as we squeak past the AV's bumper and glide back into our lane.
We both exhale at the same time, our sighs of relief loud in the small cabin. My heart's thrashing, my vision pixelated with adrenaline, but I start the process to disengage the pilot and retake control. Married time can wait.
Connie tenses in her seat.
A gasp—the last breath she'll ever take—catches in her throat. I pull my eyes from the dash, realizing only now why the AV jammed on its brakes and cut for the shoulder.
Careening down around the bend, directly ahead of us, is the angular front end of an armored TACvan.
I get one hand on the wheel and manage to cover the pads, but there's no response. The pilot won't give me control, not now. It's just seen the van too.
Bold letters scream at us from the windscreen, washing us in crimson light:
This isn't a warning. It's a conclusion.
The TACvan straddles the road, a six-wheeled kinetic missile rocketing toward us. I catch the barest glimpse of the driver's face through the van's narrow window, his features a blur, lost in shadow, and then he passes out of view, replaced by the imposing bulk of the massive military vehicle's jutting front end.
I wrench the wheel in one last desperate attempt to avoid what's about to happen but it spins through my slippery fingers. All I can do is watch.
Connie swallows a scream and her fingers bite deeper into my leg. I cover her hand with mine and in a squeeze try to tell her that everything will be okay. That I love her more than anything. That I'll always be with her, just like we promised. Just like we planned.
Even death won't keep us apart.
The bags deploy, blinding and choking, then the van hits with a dull plastic thunderclap that bursts with the ragged non-sound of sudden violence, heaves my organs into my ribcage, blasts us with shards of shattered windshield.
In the time it takes to blink through the glass slicing at my face, the matte-black wedge of the TACvan's bumper is cleaving through the dust-choked cabin and a huge cabled tire is squeezing down on the front end of the car.
Connie's mouth is wide, teeth bared, head thrown back, the tendons of her neck taut—but there's no sound, nothing but a concussive drone in my head and then her lower half is gone, chewed up by the relentlessly churning wheel.
I lunge out, try to grab her, but we're slammed from behind, compressed into the AV's front end. I'm thrown sideways, helpless as the van bites down and charges through, churning composite and electronics and flesh as it passes.
The car catches the road, spins me around to watch the van's rear wheels bounce and regurgitate a ruin of bloody debris.
In a second, everything we had is gone. Everything we dreamed of chewed up and spat out.
Connie is dead.
Another half-turn and what's left of the car flips, bounces with a hollow crunch. Something in my chest buckles. Pain spears through my abdomen. I barely feel it.
The pain wracking my body is nothing, a sliver under the skin compared to the anguish that tears at my head and my heart and my stomach and my bowels.
The horizon rolls back around.
A dark crunch. A smear of bright pink.
The car bounces again and I'm weightless, somehow free of the restraints, free of the tumbling wreck, a rag doll in the air with the autumn breeze cool on my cheeks, and then the earth rears up and slams into me. I rebound off the pavement and skid, dead-limbed. Bands of white pulse across my vision as my face scrapes off. The road grinds through my clothes, my skin, and deep into muscle before, finally, thankfully, I stop.
More pain hits. Pain so intense it immediately loses meaning and evaporates. But the agony inside only grows, the fire of loss consuming me.
I'm facing back the way we came now. The van's gone. Already. Already gone. Connie.
There's a shoe nearby. Brown. Tread worn at the heel, foot still attached. Most of a leg too. Wearing jeans. My jeans.
Connie's hand, bone and flesh raggedly severed above the wrist, clutches my thigh. Her wedding ring glitters in the sunlight.
The sight of it sparks something cold in the fire of loss raging within me, condenses to a frigid knot of anger spiked with bitter hatred for the man who did this to us.
For the man who took everything from us.
I try to roll, to get to my feet and chase the van down, but my body is smeared out around me. I'm not going anywhere, not now. Not ever.
I close my eyes, suck in a shredded breath, and hope death comes before the recovery team arrives.
The world bleeds to white, but a blink later I'm back in the car, Connie's terrified hand on my thigh, the van dead ahead, and the driver a wild-eyed blur through its narrow viewport.
The van tears through Connie.
Throws me from the mangled car.
I bleed to white.
Again and again I'm dragged through the last twenty seconds of my life until, after reliving Connie's death over and over, with every intimate second of her torment seared into me, every subtle nuance of her final scream etched into my brain, and an anger for the man behind the wheel calcified into pure, concentrated hatred, something finally changes.