John Cooper woke to feel his eyes taped shut, a tube down his throat. He went to raise his arms and felt bindings. Shit. He knew what this was. He'd seen it used on Cindy when she was brought back in Ruby's body. Unable to speak he forces his wrist around the bed frame and taps a nail against the metal three times.
"Sir, he's awake."
"Good, good, if you could soak off the eye tapes please Denise?"
Tapes? They'd stopped using the glue, good. Cindy had complained about the side effects of getting the glue on her eyes. John moves his head and instantly regrets it. If his eyes weren't already shut he'd have winced. A new surgery scar for Neural Lace no doubt. A second in how many days? He thinks hard about his last moments, recalls the car being side swiped by a massive lorry, his head moving sideways at speed and.. thankfully that last moment was missing. As he felt warm water being gently dripped onto his eyes he pictures the lorry front. He'd not had lace long before the accident but he'd already learnt that you could recall things in slow motion, pick out details you'd otherwise have missed. It looked like something out of Mad Max. No road legal lorry had steel plates welded to the front. He'd not seen it until it was too close. If it had a registration plate he'd not seen it. He feels his fingers and thumbs. They were different. A thick scar on his left index finger was gone. One thing was for certain.
He'd been murdered.
"John, I'm going to remove the breathing tube, keep very still." Moments later it was out. "There, can you breathe on your own okay?"
John takes a few good deep breaths, "Yes. Oh Christ." The pitch of his voice was way higher, squeaky. It hadn't broken. "How old is this body?"
"Luke? Let me see, nineteenth birthday due in a couple of months."
"And he sounds like this? What does he look like?"
"One thing at a time John, have patience. Denise, call Cindy in would you please?"
The doctor finishes soaking off the eye tapes. "You and Cindy in at the same time, that was most unexpected."
"Cindy? What happened?"
"Pulled from the sea again after she learnt of the accident. There's something a bit strange about that one."
"Her body was as limp and lifeless as they come before RM sets in yet she had a ruby pendant held tight in a clenched fist."
John smiled to himself. The ruby had been in his family for years, now it was hers. He frowned. "Same body? Is she okay now?"
"Yes, same body, she really just needed a new block and bringing around, we took the opportunity to give her the latest lace and interface. She woke up screaming saying she wanted to die. She calmed down a little when we said we had you in the next room. Try and sit up."
"No tubes down.."
"No. JPUH did that before rushing your body over. Luke's parents signed a release."
They hear the door open and footsteps. Cindy steps around the movable screen and screams.
"I.. I can't.."
"I put you in the coma!" She starts backing away.
"You mean Ruby?"
"Ruby, Cindy, we're one and the same person now. I'm sorry John." She flees the room, tears streaming down her face.
John sighs, "Fuck. That went so well. What does she mean one and the same?"
"Ruby's memories got into the lace backup, there was no easy way to separate one from the other."
"You said the sea. Did she.. "
"Go to take her own life? No, it was an accident, they were wading into the water to escape a falling house. She's a fighter."
"On the east coast she said. Land erosion."
"Oh. Did anyone get me clothes to change into?"
"A charity dropped some in, they're under the bed."
John looks at himself in the mirror. Luke's body was a massive disappointment. He clearly had a bad diet and got very little exercise. "This was the best available?"
"Unless you wanted to come back as a woman, yes."
"I'll admit to being curious in my youth as to what it would feel like, but no thanks."
Doctor Arakawa smiles, "I'm sure given a year or two you'll have it in good shape."
"Assuming he has the metabolism. Some people can eat all they like and never put on any weight, fat or significant muscle."
"As it's you we'll cover full blood works, let you know what you're dealing with."
"Thanks. Do we know anything about Luke?"
"Only what Ruby's father said. He liked raves, anything with his daughter about, took too many pills and overdosed."
"Shit. I want every test going then, I'll pay to fill in the gaps. If he's been abusing his body with drugs he could have done all sorts of damage that can't be seen."
"As I said, we'll do full blood works."
"Thanks. Any idea what happened to my things?"
"Keys, wallet, phone.."
"No idea, sorry. We'll need to make a call, we only got access to your lace data thanks to Cindy, didn't get to see a body."
"Oh. So you didn't get to back me up?"
"No. Cindy said whatever you remember of being John Cooper is down to the recollections you had when seeing your parents after we fitted lace the first time."
John's shoulders dropped. "Did you use the protocols to do a full wipe of Luke's memories?"
"Then I'm a dead man walking. A shadow of my former self. Can I use a phone?"
"Of course, dial nine on.."
"A mobile with Cindy's number. I don't remember it."
"I see. You think she'll be ready to talk to you already?"
"No. But I need access to my research, bank account, somewhere to live."
"Let me call her, I'll see what I can do."
"Denise, take some blood please, for every possible test."
John watches him walk out of the room, again looks in the mirror. "If only Captain America was true. Scrawny youngster to past self in minutes."
"I only got to see you dressed, when we worked on Cindy. Did you have a good body?"
"They didn't call me Six Pack John for nothing."
Denise smiles softly, "You have your work cut out then."
"That's a massive understatement."
The doctor returns, phone in hand, "Sorry John, she's rejecting my calls after a couple of rings, we'll have to give her a few days to get over the shock."
"Where on Earth do I go?"
Denise leans against the bed, "You could stay at mine, my eldest is traveling in his gap year."
"And you could use my Casada Power Board to help with your fitness."
"Could either of you loan me some money? I've no idea how I'd repay you at the moment. And I'm not calling my parents yet. I think the shock might give my father a stroke."
Doctor Arakawa pulls out his wallet, takes out a City Bank Mastercard. "Don't go crazy. The pin is 4377."
"There's an IBIS a short distance away if Denise's other boys prove too much. And you're welcome to sit at one of our PC during the day."
"I have other patients I must attend to. I'll write my mobile number down for you."
PostIt handed over John gives his friend a good strong pat on the back. "I have no idea how I'm going to repay you for all your help."
"It is I that is repaying you. Without you and Cindy I wouldn't be the UK's leading Neural Lace surgeon."
"It's missing from your memories?"
"Come back at eight o'clock and I'll take you to dinner, fill in a few gaps."