Everybody wants to live forever, but some people shouldn't live at all ...
After a near-fatal car crash, Royce Vandeweghe wakes up to find he's one of the first patients to undergo a radical new procedure: a full-body transplant. Convalescing years later and suffering from waking nightmares, he answers the door at his Long Island home and meets Delta Devlin, a New York detective. She sees things nobody else can-visions created by a mutation to her eyes-and meeting Royce sets off an unraveling chain of events ...
Royce becomes Devlin's prime suspect in a string of grisly murders. Desperate for answers, he tracks down the grieving widow of the man whose body he now inhabits. Out of time, and perhaps his mind, they spiral into a world of black-market body parts and billionaires where nothing can stand in the way of living forever-not even death itself.
About the Author
Matthew Mather’s books have sold millions of copies, been translated and published in over twenty-five countries, and optioned for multiple movie and television contracts. After starting his career at the McGill Center for Intelligent Machines, Matthew worked in ventures ranging from nanotechnology to cybersecurity before becoming a full-time author of high-concept speculative thrillers.
Read an Excerpt
Such a beautiful day to die. The man took in the view over Long Island Sound, the sun low enough on the horizon to spit pink into the clouds and a chill returning with the creeping darkness.
"Excuse me, sir?" A young woman in a fleece top and jogging sneakers approached. "Do you know which way to Kings Park Bluff? This is Nissequogue State Park, right?"
"You live around here?" the man asked.
He spun a key with an orange plastic handle around on his finger.
"In New York," the woman replied. "First time out here. So is it that way? Or back where I came from? I got turned around."
The man looked back and forth up the beach. "It's that way. Look, up there. You can see the edge of the cliff. Next to the asylum." He pointed behind her, indicating the way with the orange key.
"Asylum?" She turned and held up one hand to follow his.
"I'm sorry," the man whispered.
As she faced away, he slipped the steel wire around her neck.
The woman's hands went straight to her throat. She tried to scream, but it was too late. The wire cut into her windpipe. He swung around, grunting with the effort, and lifted her up onto his back. Her feet dangled off the ground. He watched the darkening clouds on the horizon while her body spasmed for a few seconds before becoming as peaceful as the scenery.
What a beautiful day.CHAPTER 2
SURGICAL WING OF EDEN CORPORATION MANHATTAN, NEW YORK CITY
"What do you mean?"
Blue eyes came into focus. A mane of gray hair, a huge beard. Soothingly familiar but alarmingly unknown. "Buddy, take it easy," the man said.
Hidden lights glowed in fuzzy eggshell white.
A new face appeared. Angular features. Green eyes this time. "Tell me your name," New-Face said. The accent was foreign. New-Face scowled and spewed out a tumble of words at unseen recipients before asking again: "Do you know your name?"
My name? What is my name?
The question echoed from one side of empty mind-space to the other. The answer tickled the back of the throat — a too-distant taste of the past, gulped back by the terrifying nothingness.
The word rolled out by itself, a stray rock fallen from unseen heights, whispered as if from someone else's lips.
These two words were more confident — still whispered, but attached to a bloom of recognition coloring the empty canvas of the mind. I'm Roy, he thought. Relief tingled his scalp, but then ... Is that right? That's not my name, is it? Am I Roy?
"Good. Very good," New-Face said. "That's right, and I am Dr. Danesti —"
"Roy, it's me. My god, baby, this is all my f —"
"Please, Mrs. Lowell-Vandeweghe." Dr. Danesti held up one hand, his fingers spread wide.
Roy's head was propped up. He tried to turn it but couldn't. Tried to shift his body. Nothing. Panic trickled into his veins. Where am I?
After a few long seconds, he recognized the woman's voice. That's Penelope. Penny. My wife. He rolled his eyes as far right as they could go and caught a glimpse of her cropped blond hair. His wife and the gray-bearded man and the doctor hovered close.
Three more people were at the back of the room.
One of them, a large African American man sitting in a corner chair, asked, "What do you remember, Roy?"
And that's Atticus. The dark-skinned man in the rumpled suit was Atticus Cargill. Their family lawyer. His bald head reflected the overhead lighting. A wide nose, flattened off-center from some offense given or received, slouched over his thick white bristle of a mustache.
The lawyer sagged forward in his chair and wheezed as he stood, but then, he was huge. Six and a half feet and at least three hundred pounds. Mostly fat, but enough of it muscle. A Marine, served in Vietnam — something he never let Roy forget.
"Do you remember what happened?" Atticus asked again. More insistent this time.
Standing beside Atticus was Roy's mother, and the other guy with her looked familiar. Drops of memory spattered onto his mind. A policeman? Right. That other guy was Captain Harris from the East Hampton Police Department. He was always at the parties, waiting by the entrance.
Dr. Danesti shushed them. "Do you remember who I am?" he asked.
I know you, Roy thought, but he couldn't mouth the words. A wheezing rattle of air through a constricted windpipe. Are those my lungs? He tried to breathe deeply but felt nothing. Still-smoldering fear tightened its knuckles around his brain stem.
"Blink once if you can hear me," Danesti said, his voice rising in pitch.
Roy blinked once, twice, three times in rapid succession. An alarm sounded. A white-clad figure materialized to his left, then disappeared just as fast. Languid ooze settled into his mind. The room went quiet again.
He remembered what he was trying to remember. He muttered, "You're my mother's doctor."
"That's right." Danesti's voice regained its calm. "And now I am your doctor."
And the shaggy-beard man is Sam. Samuel Phipps. My best friend. The cool ooze filled more of his brain, the familiar patina of drugs sliding over his mind's eye. "Am I paralyzed?" The question came without fear now.
If yes, then turn the machines off, his inner voice urged. Kill me. Make it painless. Or maybe painful. You deserve some pain. He frowned. "What did you say before? About a transplant?"
"Relax, buddy," his friend Sam cooed.
"But what did you say?"
Roy's wife stepped away, raising her hand to her mouth. Her watch hooked the bedsheet, and she managed to pull it halfway off him, exposing his right arm, torso, and right leg and foot. He focused on his big toe. Except that it wasn't his big toe. His eyeballs rolled left. The leg. That hand. Was he hallucinating? The room seemed to swirl, sucking the air from his lungs.
Dr. Danesti gently spread the sheet back over him. "We had to perform an aggressive surgical procedure to save you."
"What did you do?" Roy strained, but he still couldn't move anything except his eyes. He darted them back and forth. Up and down. Side to side.
The beeping machines quickened in tempo, their beat faltering into a staccato arrhythmia.
"We call the procedure a body transplant."
"You were crushed in the accident." His wife leaned over him and kissed his cheek. A tear slipped down her face. "There was no other way."
The doctor added matter-of-factly, "We replaced your body with a donor's. You are very lucky, one of the first —"
"What do you mean, donor body?" Roy's eyes swiveled down as far as they could in their sockets. Black dots raced and coalesced in his vision, the machines' stuttering beeps merging into a single high-pitched whine.
"Nurse," Danesti called out. "Nurse!"
Roy's mind dropped backward into the maelstrom churning behind consciousness.CHAPTER 3
A flash, white-hot, bright enough to leave a floating yellow afterimage in Roy's eyes, lit up the rain drenching the backyard. Then came the air- shattering boom.
"The storm's right on us!" Roy's father yelled, one hand shielding his face from the tipping deluge, the other holding his son close. "Do you understand?"
Roy wagged his head up and down in mute fear. Trembling, his clothes wet-stuck to his stick-thin limbs, he clung to the warmth of his father's body. Another stuttering lightning flash, the tearing-splitting crack of thunder right on top of them this time. His father let go and ran doubled over, his blue oxford shirt soaking dark.
Roy hesitated before sprinting forward, arms and legs pumping in a flood of adrenaline. From the driving rain appeared a red-and-brown woman. A bright red dot hovered over her. He ran around her, following his father's yells. The streaked walls of the greenhouse materialized out of the gray blur; behind it loomed the skeletal branches of late-autumn trees, the smell of dirt and dead leaves thick in the air.
* * *
"Jesus! Are you awake?"
The image of the rain faded, the red-and-brown woman disappearing last, replaced with the dim outline of Roy's prison. The hospital room. He recognized the voice. "How long have you been here?" he said.
"Half an hour."
In the dim light, Samuel Phipps's bushy gray beard and mustache twitched around his ever-present grin. That was the Sam magic. The man was always smiling — an energy that made him fun to be around, as if something exciting was always about to happen.
But even he couldn't make any of this fun. Three months stuck in this bed, each waking minute like an hour, each day a year without escape.
"Is Penny still here?" Roy asked.
"She left when I arrived," Sam said in his faintly southern accent. His family had come from South Carolina when he was a kid.
Roy closed his eyes tight before opening them again. He couldn't wipe them himself. Squeezing them shut was the best he could do. "I was dreaming."
"My father, that old house on Mott's Point. Near where you lived on Long Beach."
"Sold that thirty years ago, didn't you?"
"My dad did. I loved that place."
"I remember your mother hated it. Right under the flight path of JFK."
And for Roy as a kid, that had been the best part. He remembered lying on his back in the grass by the water, imagining the cargoes of business-suited men off to negotiate exotic deals in those massive aircraft that somehow levitated into the air. How in the world could something so huge disappear into the clouds? When he got bored watching planes, he'd hunt for crabs under the rocks by the dock. A perfect world for an eight-year-old boy.
Strange, the things he could remember now — and the things he couldn't. Bright canvases of memory between black rifts of nothingness.
"So a dream about your dad — dead twenty years — makes you dance like a bean on a hot tin roof?"
Roy didn't understand the expression, but then, half of what Sam said didn't make sense. "I was asleep on the twentieth anniversary of his death." March 12 of every year, he marked the day. This was the first time he'd missed it.
"You were in a coma. I'm sure he'd understand."
"It's the implants that make me jump around when I'm asleep."
"Electronics stuck in my legs, arms, back, head. When I'm asleep, they get stimulated — gets me moving around to keep from getting bedsores."
His friend smiled as if it were funny, to hide the uncomfortableness. That was what friends were for, but then, strangers did the same thing. Maybe it was just that nobody liked the uncomfortable things — the reason so few people came to visit in hospitals. The awkward silences, the forced smiles. The empty platitudes.
Or maybe it was just the friends and family Roy had.
He looked down at the alien finger attached to the alien hand attached to the alien body stapled to his neck. He'd gotten used to the shape and color of the donor body, but the smell — how did you get used to someone else's smell in your nose?
This body — barely able to move, opiates pumped into its veins the only relief for the pain — perspired a lot under these sheets, but even the sweat wasn't his. Didn't smell the same. It had a slick tang that gave him headaches, enveloping him, drowning him in its sickly-sweetness. How the hell was he supposed to get used to that?
Roy turned his head an inch — a small, hard-won victory. "Suzi, could you bring up the lights and fade the wall?" he said to the digital assistant that routed all his requests.
"To fully transparent?" a disembodied female voice asked.
Roy signaled his response with a feeble nod.
On command, the recessed lighting glowed bright in daytime colors, and the window wall to the foot of the bed faded from black to smoky to clear. Directly in front of them, due west, the top of the Rockefeller Center loomed into view three blocks away, the pregnant clouds above it almost at eye level. Beyond that stretched the rest of the New York skyline, with gray patches of the Hudson River peeking out between the buildings down Fifty-Third and Fifty-Fourth Streets.
Eden Corporation's New York offices took up the top floors of 601 Lexington Avenue in the heart of Manhattan. The fifty-eighth floor, almost eight hundred feet above street level, was the rehab wing of Eden's transplant surgical unit.
To the right, the square-faceted pinnacle of 432 Park Avenue towered over them and into the clouds. At 1,400 feet, it was the tallest dedicated residential building in the world. He had heard that the penthouse alone, with its own lap pool and climate-controlled wine cellar, was worth most of a billion dollars. An Arab oil prince owned it. Half the remaining units were owned by foreign businessmen who left them empty most of the year. Roy and Sam had gone to a few parties in the building. Great parties — what he could remember of them.
Roy took a deep breath and concentrated, grunting with the effort. His right arm twitched and then, inch by inch, bending at the elbow, slid across the bedsheet toward his head. He did his best to aim a trembling index finger at his forehead, which he tilted downward.
Sam pointed at the arm as if at a tarantula that had crawled over the sheets. "Oh, my god. You moved that arm. You did that with your head? I mean, your brain? You moved your arm!"
"Look, there's implants in my skull," Roy said. "Can you see them?"
Sam leaned in close, his eyes narrowing.
"One in each temple, two in the forehead. The machines know when I'm asleep, even when I need to go to the bathroom."
"My smart watch knows when I'm snoozing." Sam brandished the device on his left arm. "It's the only way I know what time I got to bed after a late night."
"But it's not stuck into your head. When I fart, someone three rooms over jumps."
Sam grinned, the yellow-gray of his mustache widening. "Have you seen that body you're attached to? The muscles on it?"
Yes, Roy had seen the body. He had stared at it for hours: the stubby fingers, the strange hands that seemed as big as dinner plates.
"Hey, hey." Sam slid his chair closer to the bed. "What's going on?"
Roy had been body-numb when he woke up a few minutes ago, but the automated spinal tap dripping anesthetics had stopped when his brain waves tipped into consciousness. The buzzing, maddening pins and needles returned. He could control it, ask Suzi to administer a dose of analgesic — not an anesthetic, not to block it completely, but just an analgesic. It masked the pain, but it didn't let you forget about it.
He had become an expert in pain these past months. That was all he could get now when he was awake: an analgesic. Dr. Danesti said he had to take as much of the pain as he could bear, that it was his neural system trying to communicate with the donor body's. They had started him on this new torture regimen six weeks ago.
"That arm I moved?" Roy paused, clenched his jaw muscles and grimaced. "I can't feel it, but out there, two feet to its right?"
Sam held up a hand in the approximate location.
"I can feel my old arm, right there. Flares up like it's on fire from time to time, just to tell me it's gone."
Roy bared his teeth. He felt a jackhammer cutting deep into the side of his brain. "Phantom limb, the doc calls it. My old feet itch like mad, but I can't even feel these clubs."
"It'll get better."
"I can't feed myself. I'm spoon-fed like a baby. I piss myself. Sometimes, the only time I know I've taken a crap is when I smell the stink in my adult diapers. I'm so drugged up, I drool. Can't tell day from night, dreams from reality."
"You moved that arm. That's progress. We gotta work through this."
"We?" Roy laughed between barely contained sobs.
You shouldn't have bothered, should have just let us die.
He frowned. Us?
Me. And I can think of a few million reasons why my mother and Penny might be doing this.
Don't say that. That's not nice.
Christ, what's wrong with me?
"Three months, and I can barely budge fingers I can't feel. This body reeks. I can't ... You shouldn't have let them do this to me."
Roy's autonomic nervous system was making faster progress than the rest of his peripheral nervous system in fusing its neural machinery with the donor body. He had heard Danesti tell the staff doctors on their rounds. He was getting used to the medical jargon — no other choice, really, sitting here for weeks in the most solitary of confinements.
Sam said, "There is light at the end of this tunnel. There's been three before you —"
"And how did they work out?"
The first two had died.
"Shelby Sheffield, he's out of here."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Dreaming Tree"
Copyright © 2019 Matthew Mather.
Excerpted by permission of Blackstone Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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