David Bernard lies in a recovery room in the medical facility on Robert Thorpe’s private floating island. This means, among other things, that he is currently hooked up to some of the most sophisticated diagnostics and monitoring equipment the world has never seen—so advanced that the phrase hooked up to is inaccurate, because the sensors that monitor his vital signs don’t require human contact to function. The only equipment physically attached to the man is an IV bag. Everything else is remote.
Artemis LaFleur sits in a padded chair next to Bernard, staring at a monitor, frowning deeply. He has the utmost faith in Dr. Thorpe’s equipment—it far surpasses anything he could have designed—but the readings don’t make any sense.
He glances up as the recovery room door opens, and nods briefly as a middle-aged Asian man wearing scrubs and a hairnet steps into the room.
“Oh.” The man sounds mildly surprised as he focuses on Artemis. “Doctor LaFleur. I didn’t realize you were still here.”
“Doctor Shào.” Artemis returns his attention to Bernard’s monitor. “I’d intended to greet the others, but I’m… perplexed.” He waves toward the monitor, sighing in annoyance. “I don’t understand what I’m seeing, and until I do I’m reluctant to leave him in this condition.”
“Oh?” Doctor Shào glances at the monitor, frowns, then walks to the foot of the medical bed. He waves a hand over the right corner, and a small rectangle emerges from the base, extends to about waist-height, and unfolds into a keyboard. He types a few commands, and the monitor flips through various diagnostic displays, switching from screen to screen in rapid succession. Shào reads each quickly, and with the press of a final key the monitor display returns to its default, and the keyboard re-folds and retreats back into the base of the bed.
Shào shakes his head. “He doesn’t appear to be in any serious danger, but… I thought you said he was undergoing mutationis?”
Artemis nods. “I am absolutely certain it began the night before last.”
“His elevated temperature will have to be monitored,” Shào says. “And his blood pressure. But I’m reluctant to prescribe anything at this point.”
“I agree,” Artemis says. “And I am absolutely convinced he is cocooning. Despite evidence to the contrary…”
He looks at the monitor again and shakes his head.
“He should present as a coma patient. Very little brain activity, with the notable exception of discernible and prolonged theta rhythms. But that's not what he's doing.”
“If all I had to go on were the brain scans,” Doctor Shào says, “I'd assume he was sleeping. But he doesn't wake up.”
“No,” Artemis says. “He doesn't.”
They both stare at the patient in silence.
“Well,” Shào says, “I still need to finish my rounds—“
“Of course,” Artemis says. “I’ll have you paged if there are any significant developments.”
Shào nods once. “I’ll be back later this evening. We’ll discuss it further then.”
Artemis gives a half-nod, his brow furrowing as he focuses on Bernard’s face. Shào shrugs, then steps back through the recovery room door into the hallway beyond. Artemis settles back into the silence, and starts working through the problem once more.
Shào is an excellent doctor, but he’s not qualified to handle this. I doubt anyone is, to be honest.
He grimaces, mildly irritated, as the recovery room door opens once more.
“Your rounds were not as compelling as this problem, I see.” Artemis keeps his voice dry.
Artemis turns his head to see Jack Barrow, dressed in a tight-fitting pair of sweat pants and a tank top t-shirt, looming in the doorframe.
“Jack. Sorry. I didn’t expect to see you down here this evening.” He turns slightly to let Jack know he’s welcome to enter.
“The plan was to wait till tomorrow,” Jack says. “I figured you were gonna want to keep an eye on the Lieutenant. He did something messed up, didn’t he?”
Artemis raises an eyebrow. “What makes you say that?”
Jack shrugs. “It’s magic, Artie. Is there any other kind of something?”
Artemis concedes the point. “He’s done something spectacularly foolhardy. Now he’s cocooning.”
Jack inhales sharply. “No shit?”
“What’d he do, get bitten by a magic spider?”
“It’s considerably more abstract than that, but yes.”
Jack thinks it over. “Well if it doesn’t kill him, maybe it’ll help us.”
“Perhaps,” Artemis says, allowing Jack to hear the doubt in his voice. “But this process, whatever it is, is only cocooning on a superficial level. It doesn’t follow the course I expect, which means I don’t know what it will—“
“Artie.” There’s an edge to Jack’s voice that he doesn’t usually show, not even to his friends. “I didn’t come down here to talk medicine.”
It’s a tone of voice that says I’m very worried about something important and when Artemis hears it he immediately gives Jack his full attention.
“Sorry, Jack. Go on.”
Jack looks around, steps into the room, and shuts the door behind him. “How private are these rooms?”
“Normally not very,” Artemis says.
Jack nods. “Figured. Thorpe’s a brain like you. He’d have the whole place wired for sound at least, and if he wasn’t monitoring it he’d invent some robot friends to do it for him.”
“That’s a bit harsh,” Artemis says. “He’s not exactly known for his support of the surveillance state.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Jack says. “I’m not saying he’s a bad guy, Artie, he’s just really smart, and this is his playground. He built this place from the ground up, right? That’s the impression I get. It’s his little private country. Of course he’s going to want to keep it safe, and with the enemies he has he’s going to monitor everyone. They probably sign forms agreeing to it.”
Artemis smiles admiringly. “I’ve long admired your knack for cutting to the chase and seeing things as they are. You’ve no idea what a setback it’s been, not having you around.”
Jack frowns. “I know a little. Artie, I only had time to follow up on one of the names you gave me, but it was a hell of a visit.”
“Give me a moment.” Artemis reaches into a pocket and pulls out a small cube about the size of his thumb. He sets it on the table next to David’s bed and squeezes the sides. A red light at the top blinks rapidly.
“All right,” Artemis says. “We can speak freely now.”
Jack squints down at the small blinking cube. “That jammed Dr. Thorpe’s network?”
“Heavens, no. That merely emits a signal asking Dr. Thorpe to respect our privacy for as long as it’s active. There’s no effective way to stop him from listening in if he really wants to, not here. We are relying on goodwill and proper manners, I’m afraid.”
Jack’s frown deepens, but he shrugs. “If you can’t do it, then I guess I can’t either. Unless I wanted to wreck the place. Which I don’t.”
“Which name?” Artemis thinks back to the names he’d given on both lists.
“Mike Boyle,” Jack says. “Top of the green.”
Artemis breaks into a fond smile. “Another man I should have tried harder to keep. I hear he runs a restaurant now.”
“Not any more,” Jack says.
Artemis feels something cold in the pit of his stomach. “Tell me.”
Jack sighs. “Artie, as soon as I mentioned ‘Haruspex Analytics’ he shoved a bunch of papers in my hands and then he blew his brains out. He was scared of them.”
Artemis takes a deep breath to maintain his calm. He doesn’t remember Boyle scaring easily. “Why?”
“He wouldn’t say,” Jack says, “but I read what he gave me. He found overlap between Haruspex Analytics and your people.”
Artemis nods. “I suspected that. It’s the only way they could have scared off my informants.”
“No,” Jack says. “It’s more than that. Based on Boyle’s analysis, they effectively control your group. All your lieutenants belong to them. Your informants work for them. Your infrastructure ties back to them.”
Artemis shakes his head. “That’s not possible.”
“Boyle decided it was. Which meant, in his analysis, that you were either being played for a fool or you were in on it from the ground floor. He was tilting pretty hard in the direction of you being in on it. He figured you were too smart to be played like that.”
Artemis nods slowly. “And what do you think, Jack?”
Jack stares at him as if he’s considering the question for the first time. It’s not the first time—of that Artemis is certain. Since the moment Jack read through Boyle’s analysis, whatever it was, he’s been chewing over the possibility that Overmind has been manipulating everyone toward some unknown end game.
Finally Jack shakes his head. “It’s not you.”
Artemis relaxes, just a little.
“I mean, you could do it,” Jack says. “You’re smart enough. Driven enough. But for that to be true your long con would have started with me some thirty years back. It’s not the way you operate.”
“I’m glad you believe that,” Artemis says.
“But now I gotta ask you a question,” Jack says. “And it’s a question that I honestly never thought I’d hear myself ask you, under any circumstances. Artie, is there any chance in hell you have an evil twin?”