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Authors: Liana Brooks

The Day Before

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THE DAY BEFORE

LIANA BROOKS

 

DEDICATION

To the painted-­on pants.

Thanks for the memories.

 

CHAPTER 1

The late Dr. Everett's Many-­World interpretation of quantum mechanics is notable for two reasons. One, it is laughably simple. Two, it is almost correct. Had Dr. Everett recalled that there is no particle without a wave, our research would now be an exercise in tedium. Alas, it is the failing of generations past that they did not consider the wave form and thus anticipate the eventual collapse of iterations not held stable by Pointer States, or einselection nodes.

~ Excerpt from Lectures on the Movement of Time by Dr. Abdul Emir I1–20740413

Friday May 17, 2069

Alabama District 3

Commonwealth of North America

W
ith an asthmatic wheeze, the engine died. It figured. Stuck in a man's craw, it did. This truck had been his daddy's and his pappy's, and before the Commonwealth government forced him to replace the diesel engine with the newfangled water doohickey, he was certain he'd pass the truck on to his son.

He'd been playing under the hood of trucks since he was six, and now he was stranded. Embarrassing, that's what it was. He climbed out of the cab to check the engine out of habit. The ice-­blue block of modern fuel efficiency stared back. Three hundred bucks it'd cost him, straight from his pocket.

Oh, there was a government subsidy, all right. A priority list. Major population centers, they said. Unite the countries of the Commonwealth on a timeline, they said. And what did all that mean?

It meant the damn Yankees got upgraded cities and free cars before the ink was dry on the Constitution, and what about the little man? Nobody thought about the working class. No one cared about a man covered in oil and grease anymore.

He thumbed his cell phone on. No reception. Figured.

So much for the era of new prosperity. He'd hoof it. There was a little town about five miles down the road, where he could call Ricky to bring a tow truck. It would have been cheaper to pay the diesel fines than get all this fixed.

Off schedule. Over budget. Son of a—­

He stared at the distant trees. Well, it wasn't going to get any cooler.

He grabbed his wallet and keys from the cab of his truck. The tree line looked like a good spot to answer a call from nature, then he'd see if there was a shortcut through to town. A meadowlark sang. Not a bad day for a hike. Would've been better if it weren't so dammed hot, but at least the humidity was low. He wouldn't like to walk in a summer monsoon, not at his age, with arthritis playing up.

Under a sprawling oak, he unzipped his pants. As an afterthought, he glanced down to make sure he wouldn't stir up a hill of fire ants.

A hand lay next to his boots.

He blinked, zipped his pants slowly, and turned around. “Hello?”

Cicadas chirped in answer.

“Are you drunk?” The quiet field that looked so peaceful only moments before was now eerily sinister. He nudged the hand with his foot. It was swollen and pale and crusted with blood, just like a prop out of a horror movie.

Maybe it was a good idea to
run
to the next town.

T
hey say a coward dies a thousand deaths, a brave man only one. Where underpaid, overstressed probationary agents fell in that spectrum, Sam wasn't sure, but she'd bet her last dollar she was headed down the slippery slope of a thousand cowardly deaths. Any sensible person wouldn't have picked up their work phone after eight on a Friday night, or at least would have the spine to tell their boss they weren't going to work on the weekend.

Which was exactly what Senior Agent Marrins wanted Sam to do.

On a curving old road between two towns untouched by a century of change, in a place where streetlights were still considered new technology, some broke-­down trucker had found a body. Three miles west, and it would have been someone else's problem. In any other district, it would have been the senior agent's problem, and she would have tagged along to get the work experience needed for promotion.

Sam didn't work in any other district, though. She worked in Senior Agent Marrins's. Which was why she was driving out to this rural stretch of road.

The wash of the Milky Way glittering overhead was beautiful if you were into that sort of thing. Sam would have preferred the gaudy show of lights in any major city in any major first-­world country. “Saint Jude, pray for me who am so miserable,” she whispered as the crime scene came into view. Three police cars, an eighteen-­wheeler, and an ambulance . . . not your typical Friday night in Alabama District 3.

An unfamiliar police officer knocked on the window and made a circular motion. “Ma'am, this is a crime scene. I'm going to ask you to keep moving.”

“Officer, I'm Agent Samantha Rose from the Commonwealth Bureau of Investigation, and I'm going to ask you who the hell you think would drive out this far from civilization at this time of night.”

He blinked at her.

“Precisely. Would you please step away from my car and call the officer in charge? Thanks.” Men. They weren't all idiots, but she'd seen little evidence that these illiterate hicks could prove it.

“Rose?”

Sam closed her car door and looked around. “Detective Altin?” A man who towered a full foot over her should not have been able to hide.

“Behind you.”

She spun and almost tripped into the older man. “I thought you were going to the movies with your wife.”

“She took the kids instead. Twenty-­five years married to the force, she'll forgive me.” Altin's teeth flashed as he grinned. “You just won me a bet. The sergeant from Cherokee County was certain Marrins would come out himself.”

“Has the sergeant
met
Agent Marrins?” Sam asked. “The only time that man hustles is when there's a fresh box of donuts at the secretary's desk. I live on this side of the district. Marrins wrote this off as effective delegation of resources.”

“I thought Marrins would at least try to get this on his resume. The last time we had a homicide where there were actual questions was that horror-­house case that hit all the national news stations, and that was over a decade ago. Isn't that how the bureau promotes?” Altin's grin widened.

Sam rolled her eyes. “Yeah, but a dumped clone isn't a homicide investigation. It's littering.”

“Who said it was a clone?”

“Agent Marrins.”

“He's psychic now?” The detective raised a skeptical eyebrow.

“He said the police called him about a dumped clone, and I needed to sort it out.”

Altin shook his head. “I wouldn't jump to conclusions. ­People might be eager to dump their clones before the Caye Law goes into effect, and they have to pay a tax on them. But there are organ-­donation stations that take the clones for free. No one's going to drive all the way out here to chop up a clone and dump it. Too much work.”

“There are still reasons why someone might skip the legal methods of disposal.” Like having an illegal clone. Her first case fresh out of the academy in Langley had been busting an illegal-­clone ring using stolen DNA to sell fetish slaves to stalkers. Rows of growth-­accelerated children who went from infant to adolescent in under a week, half-­starved and chained to the walls of the California mansion's attic. Their vacant stares still haunted her dreams.

She crossed herself out of habit, then pulled on her forensic gloves. “Okay—­let's go meet Jane Doe.”

 

CHAPTER 2

The greatest threat to our national security is perversely the foundation of our national stability. Any weapon we use to maintain our freedom can be used against us.

~ Quote from a confidential source within the Ministry of Defense I1–2074

Monday May 20, 2069

Alabama District 3

Commonwealth of North America

J
ane Doe: age undetermined, hair black, eyes brown, race possibly Hispanic, age somewhere between twenty-­five and forty, cause of death . . . Sam sighed. The description fit 80 percent of Commonwealth citizens living between the Panama Canal and the Arctic Circle, and the firsthand account of a middle-­aged trucker didn't help.

There were a ­couple of dozen missing persons in a five-­hundred-­mile radius who fit Jane's description, but the cranial damage hadn't left enough of her face to try a visual or retinal match.

Sam growled at the computer. In the academy, she'd learned protocol, that you followed the steps to the right conclusion every time. In the eight weeks she'd had at her first assignment, the agents she'd mentored with seemed to solve their cases by magic. Granted, they all knew the area well, and all the homicides were related to either drugs, gangs, or clones, but it was still done so intuitively that she feared she'd never close a case herself. Moving to District 3 after the debacle with her father hadn't offered her much opportunity to develop those skills.

And now Agent Marrins wanted a report by lunchtime, and no one down in the coroner's office had even fingerprinted the Jane yet. At least that was something she could follow up on herself. The county coroner's office was in the building next door, and no one would notice her missing for a few minutes.

The phone rang.

“Agent Rose,” she answered, “how may I help you sir or ma'am?”

“Agent Rose, this is Agent Anan, senior agent over in Birmingham. I heard you found a clone.”

“That's the rumor. No confirmation yet.”

He sighed. “We've got a major clone-­ring case I'm trying to close up here. The guy in charge took all the clones out and burned the bodies before we could get proof-­positive tests on them. I know for a fact one of the clones got away. She's four, but age-­advanced to look twentysomething, and Hispanic.”

“That matches my Jane. I'll get the coroner to test for the clone markers first thing.”

“Can you get it to me by Wednesday? I need something solid to push for a court date, and that clone would really lock this up for me.”

“Can I get my name on the report?” If she wanted the job in D.C., she needed another good case under her belt to look competitive.

“Done.”

“You'll have the test results by Wednesday.” Sam looked out her window to the county mortuary next door. It was an easy stroll if you didn't mind walking four meters feeling like you'd gone for a swim. Apparently, an air-­conditioned hall hadn't fit in the district's expenditure forecast. No surprise there, nothing fit in the bureau budget unless you greased it down and squeezed.

The secretary nodded as Sam hurried past. She hit the door, but ducked back out of habit, scanning the lawn. The sprinklers had a habit of turning on without warning. Today, no black sprinkler heads popped up to soak her. She took a deep breath, counted to ten to be sure, and stepped out into the baking, sticky heat of the Alabama summer.

“Wait!”

Hot, rotten-­egg water shot up at her.

The maintenance man peeked around the corner of the building. His grin turned to a leer. “Sorry, we're still working on getting the system right.”

Sam plucked at the white shirt that clung to her like a bad boyfriend. “Of course you are. It's not like you would wait to turn the water on as I stepped outside. That would be silly.” Of course he'd done it on purpose. Going back in to file a complaint would mean letting Marrins see her soaking wet, going home meant losing time, going to the morgue meant letting another woman see her bra. The complaint paperwork could wait until her shirt had at least dried.

“Uh . . . right. Silly.”

“Good morning to you.” Her heels clicked a satisfying rebuke as she crossed the damp sidewalk to the morgue.
Monday, you loathsome bastard, what else do you have in store for me?
The morgue door was warm but not hot enough to burn flesh just yet, so her escape wasn't hampered further. Next time she took the side door, she'd ditch her heels and run for it.

Sam pulled her bedraggled hair back, spun it around, and tied it in a bun as she kicked the door shut. It was a test, of course. All of it: the case, of course, but her current situation as a whole. The bureau wanted to see if she was really committed. She'd taken emergency family leave less than eight weeks into her rookie assignment, so they'd retaliated and assigned her to the worst district in the Commonwealth to prove she wouldn't flake out again. They were going to learn that nothing could scare her.

She glanced at the paperwork to double-­check the coroner's, Harley's, office number . . .
MACKENZIE
.

Who on Earth was Linsey MacKenzie?

She'd never seen her at the biweekly staff meetings. Even the interns managed to stop by and grab donuts, but nowhere in her memory could she find a MacKenzie.

Room b593 . . . down in the basement. Whoever designed the morgue thought narrow halls, poor lighting, and mazes added ambience. Even the stairwell was designed for maximum moodiness. A single bare bulb swayed over a dark shaft of concrete stairs, and a metal railing with peeling paint led the way down.

It's all a test . . .

The door creaked on its hinges, opening into a dark hall lined with battered hospital lockers. “Dr. MacKenzie?” The words bounced, echoed, and mutated into something sinister.

Budget cuts were all well and good, but how much did a lightbulb cost? No one should have to walk down a dark hall on a sunny day. Especially not ­people who still slept with a night-­light.

Which she didn't want to think about at the moment.

Muted shafts of light cut across the side hall from windows in the offices. At the very far end, a less natural light illuminated a window. She slid her ID across the reader and stepped inside. “MacKenzie?”

A gangly ectomorph in blue scrubs covered in red up to the elbows hovered over an opened body dripping blood onto the cement floor.

Sam gagged, covered her mouth, and backed out of the room to lean against the cold wall, shivering in her wet clothes. She thought about flowers, daffodils, and jonquils, and dandelions. Anything other than corpses.

The man in scrubs followed her out into the hall.

With a hard swallow, she forced her stomach to settle. “Is Miss MacKenzie here?”

“M-­miss?” The voice was strangled.

“Records said Linsey MacKenzie. Does she go by Doctor?”

“No. I'm . . . I'm Linsey. Just-­just give me a minute,” the man stuttered. He stared at her chest.

Sam glanced down: white shirt, black bra, back arched . . . Way to make an impression.
Saint Samantha, protect your namesake from her own stupidity.
“I'm Agent Rose. If you can pull yourself away from the massacre in there, I need the results from all the tests you've run and your signature ASAP. Birmingham has an illegal-­clone case, and we're going to hand Jane off to them as evidence.”

He stripped gore-­covered gloves off and rubbed his hands on his scrubs in a nervous gesture. “Can't. I'm operating on a clone. It's already prepped with the transplant and anticlotting proteins. I need to . . . to harvest the organs.” He took a deep breath. “The owner wants the organs frozen.”

Sam raised an eyebrow. “This is a county morgue, and you're an agent with the bureau. What are you doing freelancing as a chop-­shop doc?”

“It's evidence,” he whispered. “Police have a . . . a case.” MacKenzie slumped back, leaning his shoulder on the wall. His vacant gaze wandered to the ceiling. After a minute, he said, “I need to go back.” He wiped a hand across his mask and blinked at Sam as if he had forgotten she was standing there. “I'm sorry. Can . . . can this wait?”

She stared. She knew there were bad agents in the bureau—­her training officer at the academy had loved toting out the old “crazy agent” stories—­but she'd never expected to see one.
Have to love District 3. . .

She grimaced, and went on, “Look, I just need the Jane Doe report. Tell me where the test results are, and I can get your signature before you go home.”

He looked at her, hazel eyes swimming in his pale face. “Test results?”

“Standard procedure for a case like this: you find the body, you run all the general blood tests, and you check the little box on page three that says clone marker found. Then we call the case closed and all move on with our lives.” She gave him an encouraging nod.

“It . . .” He swallowed, “it wasn't—­” He shook his head, eyes down. He was doing a very good impression of a drunk about to lose his dinner. “She was dismembered. Abused.”

“And I find that sickening, but a clone isn't a person. If it has a clone marker, the killer might need professional therapy, but it won't be funded by the prison system.”

“She . . . she . . .” MacKenzie shook his head.

“She what?”

“No test results!” he shouted, his voice echoing through the drafty corridors.

Sam rocked back on her heels. Marrins should be the one dealing with this, but if she ran to him, he'd use it as an excuse to end her career. If she couldn't handle one crazed coworker, what kind of agent was she? Sam forced herself to smile politely . . . and not punch MacKenzie right in the face. Wouldn't mother be proud? “Agent MacKenzie, it takes less than a minute to run a basic gene scan for the clone marker. Don't we have interns to do that sort of thing?”

The medical examiner took a deep breath. His fist started tapping the wall behind him in an uneven rhythm. “The specimen is o-­over twenty. Too old for the rapid clone test. I need to check for Verville traces.” He squeezed his eyes tight and lifted his head so he was at least facing Sam, even if he wasn't looking at her. “She might be a person. Someone . . . Someone might love her.”

“Right.” Sam dumped a body's worth of doubt into the word. They listened to the sigh of the air conditioner. “I for one would
love
for
someone
to run those tests on her,” she finally said.

He managed a feeble, defiant glare.

“Have you ever tried sorting through all of the missing persons reports in the Commonwealth when all you have is the description ‘female, dark hair, age fifteen-­plus'?” Sam asked. “It's not fun. While you're in there playing police intern, I'm trying to sort through over three thousand possible Janes. Until you do your job, I'm spinning my wheels and getting nowhere. I need those test results. Or fingerprints at least. Can we get someone down here to fingerprint her? I understand weekend delays, but Senior Agent Marrins expects timely results.”

MacKenzie's jaw locked, jutting out.

Apparently, invoking a higher power didn't have the desired result.

Sam tapped the folder on her thigh and raised his pout with a full-­on glare.

Hazel eyes narrowed. “I need time. Three days. Maybe four.”

“Three days?” She shook her head. “Why can't you do it today?” He shivered and held up a shaking hand. “Okay, fine, you need some downtime. Why can't you do it tomorrow?”

“Blood . . . blood work takes time.”

“Not
that
long.” She pursed her lips in disapproval but realized there wasn't much she could do to make him finish the tests any quicker. “Fine. When you're done playing Dr. Grim, I need this case to be top priority. Can you make that happen?”

He nodded slowly.

“Great. I'll follow up on Wednesday.” There, parameters and expectations defined. Deadline set. Textbook leadership.

Let Marrins put that in her evaluation.

S
am's shirt was just beginning to dry when Marrins yelled her name down the hall. One day, she'd have an office with a door and a minion to turn away all the ­people who thought they needed to talk to her. Today was not that day.

“Sir?” She pulled her jacket on. It didn't pay to look sloppy. “Yes, sir?”

“Detective Altin has a robbery he wants a bureau assist on. Go chase stolen barrettes across the district lines with him.” Marrins slid an efile across his desk.

“Thank you, sir.” She tried to sound like she meant it.

“You wanted something more than clones. Altin is good for that. Can't find his pants without a map and permission written in triplicate, but that's what you get from his sort of ­people. Take care of it.”

She wasn't sure if Marrins meant ­people of color, ­people who worked hard for justice, or ­people who had more than two brain cells to rub together. Whatever the senior agent meant, it put her firmly on Altin's side of the line and well outside her comfort zone.

She skimmed through the notes. “Sir, do you have any further information? This report is . . .” a scrawl—­
Altin wants bureau asst.—­
“ . . . not complete.”

“Theresa downstairs took the call. She might have something more. Do you have Jane's paperwork yet?”

Her smile froze. “Not yet, sir. I'm waiting on blood tests and the fingerprints. I should have it to you in the next few days. Agent Anan from Birmingham thinks Jane might be tied to a case he's working, so I'm trying to make sure everything is court ready.”

Marrins grunted, whether in approval or disgust she couldn't tell. “Fine. But anything you send to Anan needs to get cleared through me first. I'm not letting some rookie embarrass me.”

“Yes, sir. I'll send a report on the robbery as soon as I've talked to Altin, sir.”

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