Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Two hours ago, Pete had been pulled gasping from a tank of jelly. Now he sat in an immaculate office, wearing borrowed clothes with his employer staring him down from the far side of a granite slab desk top.

“Welcome back, Pete.” Terrence Carter, syndicate heavyweight and the man Pete ran data packets for. “I must say, you look better than you did the last time I saw you.”

Pete sat straight in his chair, tentatively rolling and flexing muscle that remembered thirty eight years of abusive mileage, but didn’t feel a days wear and tear. “What happened Terry, what’s going on?”

“You were running a very special package for me Pete, one we couldn’t copy, one we had to risk transporting as original data.” Terry paused, pulling at each of his white shirt cuffs in turn, evening their length against the dark fabric of his suit. “You had an incident Pete, for some reason you seem to have hidden my package from me. I don’t know exactly what went wrong in your head, Pete, but when we finally… recovered you, what remained of you no longer had my package installed. We want it back, Pete, I want it back.”

“What are you talking about? I don’t remember that, I’m not on an assignment yet.” Pete shook his head, his face a puzzled frown. Sometimes he had episodes if he stored data too long, there could be cross talk, and data fragments without context drifting in his head caused all sorts of unpredictable things, some unpleasant, but he couldn’t remember anything about this.

“Of course you don’t remember, you’re not the Pete that carried. We just finished growing you from the backup sample we took before we briefed the original you.” Terry pushed himself back from his desk, steepling his fingers. “We keep insurance in case things like this happen, in case we lose a good carrier, especially one with a package installed.

“So I’m a snapshot of myself, from before I left?”

“You’re a cleaned up version of the old you, rechipped and hot-wired to carry. You were the best we had Pete, so I was a little disappointed when you betrayed me.”

Pete ran a hand across the fresh stubble on his head. “What do you want from me now?”

Terry’s eyes narrowed to slits. “I want you to figure out where you put my package Pete, I want it delivered.”

“Wait a minute, if I’m a snapshot from before the briefing, I don’t have any memory of what happened later. That knowledge died with the original Pete,” he shuddered involuntarily, “I mean the original me.”

“True. You don’t know exactly what you did, but you can figure it out. Situational familiarity, behavioral predispositions, pattern predicability. Faced with the same objective, and in the same circumstances, you’ll know what you would have done, where you would have gone. Quite frankly, you’re the only one who can figure out what the hell you’ve done with my package, and I suggest you put some effort into doing just that if you want to get another day older.”

Pete regarded his employer as he weighed his options. He couldn’t help but wonder what bled out of the package he’d been carrying to make him want to risk crossing the syndicate. He also wondered whether he’d been dead when they’d found him, or if death had come later.

One thing was certain, he was being given a second chance, and a short leash. He’d better be very careful not to slip up again, one way or the other.

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