Welcome to the launch page of my new science fiction romantic mystery novella, DeeDeck Design!
In this story, Dr. Moira Bannen discovers that her intergalactic transfer has gone horribly wrong and it was not
an accident. Only luck and the quick work of a transfer tech has saved her life. With the help of security expert,
Jackson Coltier, she tries to unravel the mystery of the murder attempt before it can happen again.
You'll find chapters 1 and 2 on this page, plus links to subsequent chapters below.
Fresh chapters will be added periodically, so remember to check back often! When the story
is complete, the whole novella will be offered as a download for a small fee. Enjoy!
The anxious voice seemed to come from far away, muffled and distorted by distance. She struggled to make sense of the words, to put them in some logical order. Was that her name? And what was that ringing noise?
“Doctor, you have to wake up now. Please, please wake up!”
She recognized that voice from somewhere, but didn’t think it normally sounded so…terrified. Male, young, habitually deferential—yes, she knew him. Couldn’t remember his name, though.
But I know my name, she thought with muddled relief. Moira Bannen; I’m Moira. She tried to say it out loud, but the only sound she managed was a garbled moan. That seemed to be enough for her anxious companion, though.
“Oh, thank the Void… Doctor Bannen? Can you open your eyes?”
Can I? She gave it a try. Blurred color and light peeked into her dark world, disorienting to the point of nausea. She didn’t give up, though, stubbornly blinking until the shapes sharpened and began to make sense. A face hovered over her, narrow, young, and drawn with worry. She still couldn’t name him, but the face was familiar.
“Wh-what…?” she managed to whisper, appalled at the effort it took. And there was something wrong with her voice.
“Doctor, there was a—a problem with your transfer. There wasn’t time and I didn’t know what else to do. I know it’s not the ideal situation, but—”
She closed her eyes with a pained frown, unable to follow what he was saying. A problem? Transfer? Where was she, and what was she doing here?
As if the question was the spring to a trap door, the answer dropped neatly into her consciousness. She was here on assignment for the Department of Disease Eradication and Control. The DDEC had sent her to this sector to investigate reports of a swiftly spreading, deadly disease. This place was one of the great intergalactic transfer stations, Beta 1 of the Bode’s Galaxy. She’d scheduled a transfer of her psychic pattern from her original body in the Milky Way Galaxy to a clone of herself in this galaxy. The fastest way to fly.
But a problem? The trap door had no answer for that.
“What…?” she tried again, with similar results. Why did her voice sound so rough, even at a whisper?
“I’m really sorry, ma’am. If I’d just had more time, I could have found a more compatible match. But there was an unprecedented surge in the buffer. We were losing your pattern and I had to—well, it was this or let you die. I’m sorry to say your clone didn’t survive.”
She was dead? That didn’t make sense—dead people didn’t normally have conversations. She shook her head in confusion, and then realized what she’d done. Motion was possible. That meant she was in some body, if not her own. Yeah, that was a problem.
The young man was wringing his hands, watching her with large, traumatized eyes. With good reason—it was his decision that put her here, wherever—whoever—here was.
“Who…?” she tried to ask, and stopped with a grimace. Seriously, she needed some kind of lozenge. She’d never sounded this bad even in her worst bout with a cold.
“You do remember who you are?” the man asked with fresh anxiety, his smooth forehead folding into wrinkles of concern.
She nodded, waving a hand to dismiss his question and rather thrilled that she could do both things at the same time. But the glimpse of the hand she was wielding gave her pause. It seemed distorted, or maybe her vision still hadn’t cleared. What kind of clone had he put her in? She checked the downward arc of the limb, bringing it to her face for inspection. And received the greatest shock of her life.
The hand wasn’t distorted. It really was that large, with thick, blunt fingers and fine, dark hairs on the back. Not to mention calluses, by the Void.
Reaching out, she caught the front of the transfer tech’s tunic in that big, hairy fist and yanked him closer. “You dumped me,” she snarled in a low, guttural voice, “in a man?”
Moira watched the young tech stutter and panic for a full minute, before she let him go with an aggravated hiss. “All right,” she interrupted. “Start at the beginning.” Now that she wasn’t trying for higher registers, her new voice had smoothed out a bit, but she was still dismayed by the depth and very male rasp of it. What in Creation’s name had happened?
He ran a shaky hand down his crinkled tunic and took a deep breath. “M-ma’am, as far as I know, this kind of thing has never happened before.”
“No kidding,” she snapped, sending him a withering glare. “Body hopping with someone’s transfer would cause quite a stir, don’t you think?”
He blanched, and then two small spots of red appeared high up on his cheekbones. “I-I know what I did wasn’t protocol, but you would have died otherwise. Your pattern left your original and crossed the Void without a problem, but when it entered our station buffers, there was a surge in your clone’s transfer system unit. It shouldn’t have affected the buffer capacity for your pattern, but somehow the surge in the TSU got through the safety measures and damaged the buffers. Your pattern started to degrade and…and there wasn’t time to think. I-I just picked the nearest TSU to your own and imprinted you on the resident clone. Then I started revival procedures and came straight here, to see if you were okay.”
Falling silent, he stared down at her, chewing his lower lip and shifting his weight back and forth like a pendulum of anxiety. The tragic gloss to his large eyes made Moira feel like a sadist for yelling at him. Still, she’d never heard of anything remotely this bad occurring with galactic transfers. The occasional clone damage or death, sure—the TSU technology was notorious for finickiness and susceptibility to human error, and had been subjected to stringent review over the years. But clones could be regrown, and the transfers themselves had never been affected.
“Listen…ah, what’s your name again?”
“Jaime,” he mumbled, ducking his head as his face reddened.
It didn’t sound familiar, but maybe she’d never known his name. She preferred to believe that possibility rather than consider the alternative—that the degradation of her pattern had caused some loss in her memory. Or her personality, her very self.
She swallowed hard before continuing. “Listen, Jaime, it’s not that I’m ungrateful to be alive. I guess I’d rather be in this…this body than dead, so I really appreciate what you did for me. But how could this happen?”
“I don’t know,” he said to his shoes, a frown creasing his brow. “It shouldn’t be possible. There are safety measures in place, redundant pathways, fail-safes, isolating systems. The surge should not have affected the buffers. But ma’am…” He looked up, meeting her gaze with troubled eyes. “I don’t think it was an accident.”
“Are you saying somebody sabotaged the transfer system?”
“Not the whole system. Just your TSU, Doctor.”
A sense of unreality had her gaping at him. “Are you—are you saying someone tried to kill me?”
He blanched again, as if the words had physical weight and power to wound. “I can’t say for sure without doing a full diagnostic. I—we would need to investigate, examine the equipment and software…”
A buzzing sound off to Moira’s left interrupted him, and he sent a quick glance over his shoulder before shooting her a wobbly smile. “Excuse me, I’ll be right back. You should try to move around a little, if you feel up to it.”
He moved away, and Moira lifted her head for a survey of the room. It was the usual neutrally colored revival area, with a discreet medical unit, a seat for the attendant, a sanitation alcove and the bed she was lying on. Besides the exit and the communication unit Jaime was hunched over, nothing else interrupted the bland, homogenous atmosphere. It might seem impersonal and clinical, but the sight was gratifying anyway. She didn’t have the sensory difficulties that some people had to endure when waking up from a transfer, but this was a different body and her new eyes were soothed by the lack of color and sharp contrast. Maybe it had been a while since the owner of this clone had used this body.
Curious, Moira brought both hands up for inspection again, moving with slow care as she registered the unaccustomed weight of these new limbs. Flexing the thick fingers, she rubbed the calluses with a perplexed frown. Most people who could afford a galactic transfer did not have to do the kind of heavy labor that would produce calluses. This body also sported muscular forearms and even more muscular biceps. Who was this man?
With some effort, she levered herself up onto her elbows for a panoramic view of the body she was occupying. The white robe she was used to seeing upon awakening was present and accounted for. What she wasn’t used to seeing was the broad, well-muscled chest straining the cloth and the thick, hairy legs sticking out the bottom of the robe. And those feet!
She felt a wave of revolted disorientation sweep over her. She closed her eyes, reminding herself that this was not her body. She had not suddenly morphed into a big, hairy beast—she was still Moira, and this weird excursion was only temporary. And it had better be very temporary, by the Void!
“How are you feeling?” Jaime asked at her side, startling her.
“I’m all right, just a little…ah, unsettled by this.” She gestured at the masculine length stretched out in front of her with a little grimace of distaste.
Jaime nodded, his expression solemn. “It must be very strange.”
“You have no idea,” she sighed heavily. “So please tell me that the replacement clone I requested a few days ago is ready.”
“Yes, that clone is finished.”
Relief had her collapsing onto the bed. “Oh, thank you. Just stick me back in the TSU and get me in my own body, please. As soon as you can.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am, but…” He started shifting back and forth again, and Moira felt a sinking in her stomach. “W-we aren’t doing any transfers until we can be sure it’s safe. Those equipment checks and diagnostics I mentioned earlier…it’s for your own protection,” he added hastily, taking a quick step back from the bed.
Her sudden urge to strangle him must have shown on her borrowed features. “Look, I can’t stay in this body. What about its owner? Did you get his permission to hijack his clone?”
He ducked his head, fingers plucking at the front of his tunic. “There wasn’t time,” he said softly.
“That can’t be legal. And the longer I stay, the worse the offense! At least get me out of this body. The DDEC needs to authorize any intergalactic jumps I make, but you can hold me in the buffers until they—”
“Doctor Bannen, we can’t!” the tech exclaimed, his eyes wide and pleading. “The buffers were compromised. We can’t be sure that your pattern wouldn’t begin to degrade again. Please, we need to clear the systems first and run tests to make sure everything is working right, before we can try it.”
She knew he was right. It was logical to be cautious, especially if there was a possibility that this wasn’t an accident. That didn’t make it any easier to accept. She brought a hand up to rub her eyes, but changed her mind when she saw that massive paw.
“Fine,” she said, trying for a reasonable tone, but it sounded more like a snarl. “How long?”
“I don’t know. It depends on what went wrong.”
He looked down at his feet and said nothing. Not a good sign.
Moira swallowed hard and tried not to think about it. “All right. I need to let the DDEC know what’s happened and this clone’s owner should be informed as soon as possible. The longer we wait, the worse it looks to the liability and ethics commissions. And the authorities should be notified, in case this was sabotage.”
Jaime was nodding in enthusiastic agreement, eyes clinging to her. “Yes, ma’am, as soon as possible. Somebody is already in contact with the DDEC, and we’re trying to reach the owner now.”
“And the authorities?”
“M-my boss thinks we should get more information before jumping to any conclusions.” His expression was pinched, and Moira wondered if he’d gotten in trouble for suggesting sabotage in the first place.
“Well, it sounds like you people have things under control,” she said in her best soothing tone. At the moment, he was her best source of information, and she didn’t want to alienate him any more than she already had. She was usually better with people—it was a requirement in her job—but this situation was just a smidge unique.
He brightened and nearly smiled. “We’re trying, ma’am. You should move around now, finish reviving the body. Do you need to relieve yourself?”
It was a question they always asked upon waking a transfer, so Moira answered automatically as she levered herself up onto an elbow. “No, I’m okay for now….” Then the implications set in and she looked up at the tech with dawning horror. “Oh, no.”
At some point, unless they fixed the systems in short order, she was going to have to get very personal with this body. As a doctor, she wasn’t normally squeamish, but handling a patient in a clinical setting did not prepare her for manipulating this man’s form in such an intimate way. And without his permission, no less. This situation was going to go from bad to worse in a hurry.
Moira started swearing and didn’t stop for a long while.