Read The Ghost in the Doll (Fox Meridian Book 6) Online

Authors: Niall Teasdale

Tags: #AI, #fox meridian, #robot, #police procedural, #cybernetics, #sci-fi, #artificial intelligence, #bioroid, #action, #detective, #science fiction

The Ghost in the Doll (Fox Meridian Book 6)

The Ghost in the Doll

A Fox Meridian Novel

By Niall Teasdale

Copyright 2016 Niall Teasdale

Amazon Kindle Edition

 

 

Contents

Part One: Where the Heart Is
Part Two: Vitam Novam
Part Three: The Doll Factory
Part Four: The Luxury of Living

 

 

Part One: Where the Heart Is

Topeka, Kansas Belt, 27
th
March 2061.

Fox Meridian took a deep breath, trying to force herself to relax, set a smile on her face, and then walked out through the passenger door of the vertol she had flown in on. Her father was waiting for her beside a car he had probably borrowed to pick his daughter up from the airfield and she wanted to look as though everything was all sunshine and roses. It was not, and he knew it.

‘You’re looking well,’ Jonathan Meridian said as she walked up to him. ‘I was expecting something a little more battered, maybe.’

‘Yeah, well… Let’s leave all that until we get home, huh? Then I don’t have to do it twice.’

Jonathan nodded. ‘That is a good idea. That all the luggage you’ve got?’ He nodded toward the small bag she was carrying.

‘Uh-huh. Fabricators are a wonderful invention and, to be honest, I don’t have all that much suitable for Topeka weather.’

‘It’s March. Almost temperate.’

Fox looked up at the sun, high in the sky. ‘Dad, it’s pushing twenty, Celsius. New York is barely in double figures.’

‘Better get you out of the sun then, before you melt.’

‘Not much chance of that.’ Which was
very
true given her current state, but she was saving all that for when she got home. ‘Still, I want to get home and tell you both the news, and then I can get on with the resting part of this.’

‘We’re both happy you wanted to take your medical leave here.’ He took her bag from her and tossed it into the back of the sedan before opening the passenger door for her.

Grinning at him, Fox waited until he got in the other side before saying, ‘Have you been practising being a gentleman for all these political dinner parties I’m sure you attend now?’

‘We don’t. Many of them anyway. Uh… Your mother… has been upset since we heard what happened. She’s going to be a bit emotional about this.’

They did not know the half of it, but… ‘I kind of figured she might be. How are you two doing? How’s the Watch doing?’

‘Good, aside from worry, and rapidly improving.’ Jonathan paused for a second, and then clearly decided that the Watch was a safe topic for now. ‘I won’t say the first few weeks weren’t testing, but people are starting to trust that the Watch
is
going to be able to handle things when NAPA shuts down. There have been one or two reprimands, but mostly for failing to keep up with paperwork. No one’s reported any problems with undue use of force or favouritism. I think things are working out pretty well.’

‘How about the investigations side of things?’

‘Nothing major’s come up. A few robberies of one sort or another. We called in Ray Rogers just to support a percentage of the investigations really. He’s happy with the way the Watch officers are handling minor stuff like that and those support vests are working perfectly.’

‘Good,’ Fox said. ‘I’m supposed to be out here taking it easy. I’d hate to have to kick anyone’s butt.’

‘No butt-kicking required. Don’t worry about it.’

Fox looked out the window as the sedan hurried north into the city. Thinking about it, kicking someone’s behind might have done her some good. ‘I won’t.’ There were plenty of other things to worry about…

~~~

Andrea Meridian started crying as soon as Fox stepped out of the car, bolted forward, and wrapped her arms around her daughter’s neck. There was mumbling and wailing which Fox was fairly sure was in no language previously heard on Earth: words were certainly hard to make out anyway.

‘Mom… Mom… Mom, do you think we could maybe take this inside before my shirt dissolves?’

Andrea let go, backed up, and punched Fox in the shoulder. ‘I have a right to be upset after what happened to you.’

‘Well, yes, but don’t you want to save some for when you’ve heard the full story?’

‘I thought we had…’

‘Clearly not, Andrea,’ Jonathan said, walking around the car. ‘I need to take this back in a bit, but I’d like to find out what we weren’t told before that.’

Fox nodded. ‘You could start by telling me what you
were
told so I don’t have to go over it all again.’

‘Ray Rogers came over to tell us you’d been kidnapped,’ Andrea said as they migrated toward the house. ‘I was worried, very worried, but he said that Palladium was putting every resource into finding you.’

‘He didn’t hold back,’ Jonathan added. ‘He told us it was that Grant guy, or they thought it was. There was going to be a time limit on finding you alive, but that it was likely as much down to how long you could keep going and we knew you were strong.’ He paused. ‘Kitchen or lounge?’

‘Lounge,’ Fox said.

‘Coffee? Something stronger?’

‘Not right now. So I assume they told you they’d found me?’

‘Kit was keeping us up to date from New York. Mostly it was “no news right now, sorry,” but then she dropped us a message saying she’d located your general area, and then it was “we found her!”’

‘And then Jackson Martins called from Japan!’ Andrea said, sounding as though this was tantamount to a personal message from God. ‘He… didn’t hold back either. He told us you were in bad shape, but he assured us he would make sure you came out of it okay.’

‘Called us again from New York,’ Jonathan said. He pointed at the chair he usually used, indicating that Fox should sit there, and then took the sofa beside Andrea. ‘He said you were getting worse, but he was taking you up to some research station on the Moon because it had the latest equipment. That man
really
thinks the world of you.’

‘Yeah, well…’ Fox sat down. It felt kind of like the hot seat of an interrogation, but… ‘I saved Terri, twice. I think he overcompensates, but he doesn’t.’

‘I can see his point. We got a list of injuries. We assumed there was going to be some cybernetics involved. How much did they have to replace?’

Fox forced a smile. ‘Okay. They told you about the coma?’ There was nodding. ‘I developed a brain haemorrhage, and there was damage to my brain stem along with the severed spinal cord further down. Grant also used an experimental nanodrug on me to accelerate my healing while he was… Well, he used it too much and it trashed my natural ability to heal. So, I was crippled below the waist, my body was basically operating only because they patched me into a life support system, I wouldn’t wake up, and my body wasn’t actually healing.’

‘Oh,’ Andrea said, eyes wide.

‘Yeah. Jackson took me up to Jenner. Uh, that’s our research station in the Jenner Crater, on the far side. It’s where we do our
really
secret research. Terri was already up there working on something I can’t tell you about, and Jackson discussed some options with her.’

‘I understood Teresa Martins was an AI specialist,’ Jonathan said, frowning.

‘She is, mostly, but she has some fairly novel software projects aside from her normal AI stuff and Jackson wanted her to consider one of them.’

‘A software project?’

‘Yeah. Well, software, nanotechnology… Terri did the operating software for the Yliaster system, which is all nanomachines. But… Look, they had a few options, but none of them were exactly safe. The brain damage was pretty severe and the cybernetic technicians were pretty unsure about some sort of spinal implant working. They’re working on a medical application of Yliaster which could have done the repairs, possibly, but they’re nowhere near ready to try it on a living human. They considered freezing me until they could have it ready, but cryogenic technology isn’t exactly a sure thing yet…’

‘But you’re here,’ Andrea said. ‘You look… like nothing happened to you. Just the same as you did. They must have done something.’

Fox looked down at her hands. ‘It’s called Project Akh. Using ultra-high-definition MRI and nanomachines, they map out every neuron, every connection in someone’s brain. Then they compile all that data into a database and Terri’s written software which can… execute
that database to create an emulation of the original brain. It’s digitising a human, turning them into an infomorph. Uh… It’s a destructive process. I can’t go back. Even if my body was much use in its current state, it doesn’t have a brain for me to inhabit.’

‘Oh my God!’

Not looking up, Fox continued. ‘Jackson felt they had no choice. All the other options were bad. The process is experimental. I’m the first person to go through it, but they were sure it would work. It’s just that all the test animals they tried it on, except one, couldn’t cope outside a virtual environment. Terri was sure a human had the mental capacity to handle it and… Well, apparently I do, but…’

‘Oh my God,’ Andrea repeated and Fox looked up, dreading what she would see. Andrea looked horrified, her hands held up in front of her mouth in anguish. Fox’s heart sank, metaphorically speaking since she no longer had one.

‘So…’ Jonathan began. ‘What we’re looking at is some sort of android body?’

‘Yeah,’ Fox replied. ‘Computer in the chest to run the emulation software.’

‘My God, but they’ve come a long way on realistic skin. I’ve seen some of them in town and you can always tell. I mean… you’re my daughter and I couldn’t.’

‘Well, it’s–’

Andrea was suddenly leaping across the space to wrap her arms around Fox’s neck again. ‘Oh, my poor baby! What you must’ve been through!’

‘Uh…’

‘Let the girl breathe, Andrea,’ Jackson said.

‘She’s in a gynoid body,’ Andrea replied, still holding on. ‘She doesn’t have to. And it’s gynoid, not android. There’s a difference.’

‘Technically true,’ Fox said, ‘but it’s difficult to talk like this.’

‘You’re doing fine. I can’t
imagine
what it must be like. The first you knew of it was when you woke up? When they… started you up?’

‘Pretty much, yeah. I went to sleep in a hospital room in Tokyo and woke up in what turned out to be a simulation of my apartment, apparently all fixed. I was… a little unreasonable about it.’

‘Understandable,’ Jonathan said. ‘Still having some doubts?’

‘Yes.’

‘Also understandable, but I couldn’t tell. It’s not just the body, the very lifelike
gynoid
body. You move the same, sound the same, act the same…’

Andrea finally let go and returned to the sofa. ‘You
are
the same.’

‘Sam said the same thing,’ Fox said. ‘Though Sam noticed that I’m more flexible than I used to be, but he notices things like that. Kit keeps telling me she can’t detect a difference aside from the fact that I keep worrying over it. Jackson and Terri treat me just like they did except for the technical aspects. Marie… She was kind of avoiding me, which is one of the reasons I came out here.’

‘We’re not complaining,’ Jonathan said. ‘Marie will come around. She’s young, probably unsettled by this. She’ll handle it once she’s had a chance to think it over.’

‘I guess I didn’t give her much chance. You two are really okay with this?’

‘I’d prefer it hadn’t been needed, but I don’t care what kind of body you’re in so long as it’s
you
that’s in there.’

‘Agreed,’ Andrea said, ‘but they did do a remarkable job of replicating the original you. It does help, I suppose.’

‘Huh,’ Fox said. ‘Well, I sleep in a server while this thing recharges. Did they deliver it?’

‘Several MarTech technicians turned up to install a server of some sort in your room,’ Jackson said. ‘I’m glad we’d finished redecorating.’

‘That gets to stay here in case of visits. All I need to handle daily life. Uh, I don’t really need to drink and I can get by on very minimal food, but I can eat and drink normally if I want. It’s just… a bit wasteful.’

‘And you can’t get drunk.’

‘No, sadly, I can’t.’

‘I’ll get drunker for you,’ Andrea said.

‘But more importantly,’ Jonathan went on, ‘how secret is this?’

‘It’s not. I’m the poster child for Project Akh. It’ll be public knowledge soon enough. On the other hand, we’re not making a lot of noise about it yet. Uh, that’s partially because I don’t want to. I need to get used to it. It’s kind of weird. Most of the time, I feel like me. Sometimes I don’t.’

‘I’d imagine that’s natural. Hell, I’m still not quite used to this implant. I feel like a computer sometimes. It just pops things up for me when I think about them too loud.’

Fox grinned, this time more genuinely. ‘Finally went ahead with it then?’

‘And no matter what he says,’ Andrea said, ‘he wonders how he did without it.’

‘Yes, yes,’ Jonathan said, ‘I should’ve done it years ago, but my point is that it took some getting used to. Change does. Where is Kit anyway? You mentioned her and she hasn’t popped up to say hello.’

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