He’s back from the dead… and he’s not the only one.
The city-state of Denver is tightly controlled. High-tech methods of food manufacturing
and firm restrictions on reproduction keep the population stable. But even here, in this
regimented society, violence is never too far away…
It was supposed to be a simple job. At least, that’s what Hans Ricker was expecting when
he agreed to deliver a mysterious package for five-hundred dollars.
He was not expecting to get torn limb from limb while making the handoff. Nor was he
expecting to emerge from a coma fourteen months later in the mile-high Denver General
Hospital, his original organs replaced with regrown tissue. And he definitely wasn’t expecting to find himself entangled in a police investigation – one which takes a dangerous turn when an armed man tries to assassinate Greta “Grit” Ricker, Hans’ estranged sister and head of Denver’s security forces.
Shadow Life follows Hans Ricker as he sets out to find the person responsible for the
multiple attempts on his and his sister’s lives. Pairing up with “Onyx,” a powerful Denver crime lord, Hans hunts down leads across the Midwest. From the overpopulated religious commune of Salt Lake to the mountains of Colorado, Hans and Onyx fight for their lives against drones and lab-grown human constructs, gradually unravelling the mystery of who wants them dead, and why…
Shadow Life is a high-octane adventure set in a deeply layered near-future world of
complex political arrangements and fascinating new technologies, a must for fans of science fiction and cyberpunk.
|Publisher:||Hades Publications, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.68(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
He opened his eyes, startled. The bland normalcy that greeted him approached the surreal. He was propped up in a small bed with a deep mahogany footboard. The headboard was likely of the same material, but, as he was currently unable to move his head, he would make no assumptions. A window made up the whole wall to his left, the view dominated by immense vertical farms. Great glass spires filled with the machinery of the new agriculture, enough to feed the population of millions, with food left over for trade with other city-states. Bridges seemingly made of crystal connected them together every dozen floors, landing pads sticking out like misshapen ears.
Beige walls. Beige floors. Beige curtains. Beige sheets. About the only thing in the room that wasn't beige was a small viewscreen showing a stream of numbers and graphs that could have been anything from stock market figures to vital stats.
A hospital then, the assumption based on a dawning realization that he had somehow survived. He wasn't counting out dying just yet, though, mostly because of what he could, and couldn't, feel. He could feel his feet and hands, move his fingers and toes, though only just. His stomach felt slightly hungry, his lungs breathed easily, heart pumping calmly, any elevation due to the strangeness of his current environment. More importantly, and critically, other than a slightly dry mouth and some mild discomfort from some kind of restraints on his hands, feet, and head, he felt no pain. Last he knew his guts had been spread around a small, empty apartment, blood covering ancient blue shag. If he was really still alive, and he still couldn't quite assure himself of that, then he was thoroughly confused ... and pissed off.
He pulled weakly on the restraints. It did no good, but it didn't matter. He'd never been able to handle any sort of restraint, physical or mental. When he pulled hard enough he noticed the viewscreen numbers started to scroll faster and turn slightly red; even harder and a speaker set in the ceiling began to beep softly. How fast could he get them to scroll? Could he get the beep any louder? Pulling against all the restraints simultaneously produced the most satisfying results. He balled up his abdomen and legs, pulled as strongly as his weakened state would allow. He had no illusions about breaking the restraints; he just hoped he was annoying somebody.
The door opened and a man entered. He didn't appear to be a doctor. No white coat or green scrubs, just a tweed suit and loafers.
"Those restraints are designed to stop psychiatric inmates in the midst of a psychotic episode, pulling on them like that is just going to bruise your limbs." He turned and tapped the screen, causing it to go black and the beeping to stop.
His snappy retort was stopped by a coughing fit.
"Really, Hans, pulling on your restraints to get my attention was unnecessary. There's a call button right underneath your right hand."
Hans did not try to respond this time. This man had the advantage of knowledge and freedom over him, and Hans would not participate in this glib charade.
"There is a water tube just to the left of your mouth. I'm going to release your head. Don't drink too quickly, as your digestive track is not accustomed to food and water yet." The man tapped the screen again and Hans could move his head. He found the water tube and sucked mightily on it. After three large gulps, his stomach revolted and sent most of it back up over the sheets covering him, and, in his partially prone position, nearly drowning him. He lay coughing and staring petulantly at the ceiling.
The man laughed heartily.
"If you're trying to kill yourself, I can bring a morphine pump or something equally efficient. There's no need to drown yourself."
Hans' choked epithet elicited another laugh. The man sat in an unseen chair by the headboard.
"I was told you were a bit strong-willed, and I know you're confused by your current situation. I'm here to answer your questions. My name is Doctor Laud."
"You are currently on the fifty-sixth floor of Denver General. The hospice wing, though you are no longer dying, as you may have discovered. Before you ask, you are not a prisoner. Those restraints are there to keep you from rolling over and suffocating yourself. You've been in medical stasis while we repaired your injuries."
"How long?" Hans was stupidly pleased that he had managed to choke out two words back to back without coughing.
Hans' eyes widened.
"I have seen very few people recover from the injuries you sustained. We had to replace nearly forty percent of your internal workings. New heart. New lungs. Two new kidneys. Twelve feet of small intestine. One third of your liver. A completely new pancreas. It takes quite a while to grow these things, and you being conscious would have been a hell of numb paralysis while the machines kept you alive."
Hans kept silent at this news, suppressing anger by staring out the window. The sun sat low behind the buildings. He didn't know which way the window faced and the buildings obscured possible mountains, so he did not know whether this meant morning or evening. He'd lost over a year, and did not expect to assimilate this knowledge well or quickly. More importantly, the system had ignored his express wishes. His medical file spelled out explicitly that he was not to be revived or rebuilt.
"The decision to keep you alive was not mine," Laud predicted his thoughts. "You were nearly killed under highly suspicious circumstances in which you were the only survivor. This is all the information to which I was privy. I imagine others will want to talk to you."
Hans rolled his eyes. The doctor chuckled again.
"That is for later, however, and entirely up to me. I am your doctor, not your jailor. Let's get those restraints off."
Laud walked over to the screen again, tapped it. Hans' hands and feet were free. He began weakly checking that everything was in place. Doctor Laud laughed.
"Never fails. I've been rebuilding people for forty years. Women always check the face first. Men go straight for the jewels."
Hans moved his hands quickly to his sides. Doctor Laud turned and continued.
"We have managed to rebuild almost forty percent of your body to optimum efficiency, with a minimum of scarring. All your organs are essentially your own, making the possibility of rejection infinitesimal, but brand-new. Based on the state of your old lungs, you might consider ending what was obviously a heavy smoking habit."
"I was greatly looking forward to destroying another set."
"Well, I'll see you again soon then." The doctor's smile showed no sign of sarcasm, though he may have winked, it was hard to tell. Hans had no physical craving for a cigarette, though whether that was because of medical meddling or from being nearly dead for fourteen months was hard to say. He planned to get a pack as soon as possible anyway.
"Did I also get the penis enlargement?"
"Your penis sustained almost no damage, and should function normally. Seeing as how you never had any work done previously, I assumed you'd want to retain the familiar." Another possible wink.
"So, I'm as good as new, maybe better. Does that mean I can get the hell out of here?"
"There are a couple of things currently preventing your exit. The first is that, while they should be in working order, it will be a few days yet before your muscles are able to support and transport your weight. It's a side effect of the stasis we had you under."
"And the other's your bill?"
"Your rehabilitation has already been paid for."
The doctor shrugged. "All I know is that your bill has been handled. Also, certain agencies that have power over our funding would prefer you stay here until they can talk to you."
Hans huffed and laid his head back.
"However, because I am your doctor, I have full discrepancy over when that may be."
"You are not a prisoner."
"Of course not, I'm just not allowed to leave."
"At the moment you would not be able to leave anyway."
"Is that door guarded?"
Hans just stared.
"Yes, there is currently a man monitoring your room."
"What kind of ID is he carrying?"
Another shrug. "He hasn't shown me any."
"Don't you think you should have asked?"
"If he was not authorized to be here the central computer would have let us know."
"Another soul with complete trust in his machines."
"I take it you don't trust computers."
"You can't trust something that has no reciprocity."
"True enough, though computers do have something that makes them very trustworthy."
"A distinct lack of humanity."
Hans desperately had to take a piss. He'd been informed that, though somewhat un-natural feeling, the bed was designed to absorb any waste products, whisk them away, and disinfect. But he was damned if he was going to lay there and piss his bed like a child. Modern medical convenience would have to take a back seat to his dignity.
He could see a door about four feet to his left, in the wall behind his head. He hoped it led to the bathroom, because, after the effort it would probably take to get there, he was going to piss on whatever was inside. His arms were working at about half efficiency, and he still had very little feeling in his legs. Laud had informed him that it would be another forty-eight to seventy-two hours before it all came back, but Hans was planning on beating the timeline and getting out of this pit as quickly as possible.
For now, he'd start with demanding his essential male right to pee standing up.
Step one. He'd have to either climb over the bed railings or lower them. The only controls he knew of were at the viewscreen across the room. A quick search of the side and headboards revealed no obvious way to lower the railing. Climbing it was.
Hans was surprised by the effort that it took to even turn on his left side. The sheet covering him bunched under his abdomen, applying extra pressure to his bladder. The urgency increased greatly. It was a near thing, but he continued to hold.
A little shifting and pulling got the sheet out from under him. A quick yank and he was uncovered, mostly. He had nothing on underneath. He was about to drag himself naked across the floor. What was that about dignity?
After a little manipulation, Hans managed to swing his right arm over the rail and get a grip on the lower bar from outside. His plan was to pull himself over and ... well, he actually hadn't thought any farther than that. He guessed if he could get past the tipping point gravity would handle the rest.
A quick initial pull did little. Half strength was being generous. He pulled harder. It felt like his whole lower half was just a pile of wet socks. Stronger pulling, still no luck. Hans tried to rock back on his left shoulder a little to gain momentum. That helped a little.
The urgency in his bladder was peaking. It was now a race between his own strength and the inevitable. Hans tightened his fingers into a death grip on the bar and leaned back for one more try. With a grunt, he threw himself at the bar and pulled as hard as he could manage.
Three things happened simultaneously.
He pulled his body on top of the railing, far enough that he pitched over the other side of the bed and landed askew on the tile flooring beneath. Pain shot through his left wrist as it twisted underneath him. The door to the hall opened and a cross- looking nurse came in. She began yelling at him when she saw him topple over the side. Then the inevitable won. As the urgency faded, Hans hoped that the floor had the same disinfectant abilities as the sheets.
The nurse brought in what looked like a small, articulated forklift to help him back into bed. Its arms were padded and warm. When the nurse, whose nametag alternated between the name "Toni" and an animated hologram of a smiling bear, finally got him situated and covered, she began checking him for injuries. He winced when she manipulated his wrist.
"What were you doing, Hans?"
"I was trying to take a piss."
"The bed is perfectly capable ..."
"Yes, I know, the bed is designed to whisk away all piss and shit and wipe my little tushie for me, but that's hardly dignified now, is it? Have you guys starting selling these things to the masses of useless trolls out there yet? They could just intake and excrete without ever leaving the comfort of bed. Why ever do anything else again?"
"But, Hans, you've been ..." she stammered.
"Yes, I know. I've been destroyed and rebuilt. I'm fucking Lazarus, or maybe just a broken scooter. Well, I didn't ask you to rebuild me, did I? In fact, I believe my file said specifically to not rebuild. You'll excuse me if I don't seem grateful for having my wishes tacitly ignored. And don't call me Hans. "
The silence that greeted his outburst was the first moment of genuine pleasure Hans had felt since awakening. He could tell from the sour look on her face it wasn't going to last, though.
"And what, exactly, should I call you, if not your name?"
"You can call me Mr. Ricker, or patient number whatever, or bastard."
He could see she was tempted by the last suggestion.
"Well, Mr. Ricker, I'll have Doctor Laud in shortly to see what we can do about that wrist. In the meantime ..."
She walked to the console and tapped on the screen a few times. The restraints returned to his head and feet.
Hans had three visitors that night.
The first made himself known through a sharp pain in Hans' hurting wrist, yanking Hans out of an uncomfortable doze.
"Sorry," Laud pushed at the sore spot again, watching Hans' eyes as he did so. Hans refused to give him another sign of pain. "I don't think it's broken. Try not to do anything strenuous with it for a few days and it should be fine."
The windows had tinted themselves black. A soft glow came from light strips running along the seams of roof and wall. Hans stared at Laud with what he hoped was menace, but it had little effect.
"Is there anything else you'd like to do to me while I'm here and helpless. Poke my eyes? Smack me in the nuts?"
"No, I think the wrist will be enough."
Laud set Hans' aching wrist down, but continued to stand quietly at the side of the bed.
"Somethin' on your mind, Doc?"
Laud's mouth opened, then shut. He took a deep breath, let it out slowly, eyes turning to the windows. Eventually his body followed, walking over to the wall and tapping a recess in the corner to make the windows transparent. A jumpcraft flew past outside, transporting some VIP from rooftop to rooftop.
"Who do you think runs this hospital, Mr. Ricker?"
"The computers. They run everything here."
"Where is here? This hospital?"
"This hospital. This city-state. This country, whatever's left of it."
Laud nodded, but did not turn around.
"You don't live in the city, do you?"
"Not when I can help it."
"I thought not. "
Hans wanted to turn and relieve a crick in his neck, but Laud had not released his restraints.
"You may be correct about the computers running the country, even the city-state, but I must correct a misperception on your part as to who runs this hospital."
"Is this where you give me the 'I alpha, you beta' talk?"
"Oh no, Mr. Ricker, I assure you, I do not run this hospital. Neither do the administrators, nor the board of directors, nor even the computer systems."
"If you're going to start getting religious on me, I'd really rather ..."
Laud's laugh cut him off. "No, Mr. Ricker, no god either."
"The nurses run this hospital, Mr. Ricker. They feed and clothe and wash and dispose. They provide comfort where needed. They handle nearly every necessity that keeps a place like this running. One will not get far abusing their good will, doctor or patient."
"So, this is about Toni?"
"Maybe you can explain to me, Mr. Ricker, why, when I arrived for my evening rounds, I found Ms. Juarez sitting at her desk with running makeup and red-rimmed eyes."
"If she's gonna cry about something like that, maybe she's not cut out for this."
"I can assure you that her credentials and skills are as good as they come, or she wouldn't be working on this floor."
"Has she had an emotional evaluation?"
"To prove what? That she has compassion? That she cares about her patients? That she is a human being? That her feelings can be hurt?"
For the first time during his lecture, Laud turned and looked at Hans.
Excerpted from "Shadow Life"
Copyright © 2017 Jason Mather.
Excerpted by permission of Hades Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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