We’re excited to share the cover and preview an excerpt from Re-Coil, a high-concept science fiction standalone from J.T. Nicholas that muses on the societal and personal dilemmas of immortality through an endless supply of replacement bodies…
Re-Coil publishes February 2020 with Titan Books.
Out on a salvage mission with a skeleton crew, Carter Langston is murdered by animated corpses left behind on this ship. Yet in this future, everyone’s consciousness backup can be safely downloaded into a brand-new body, and all you’d lose are the memories of what happened between your last backup and your death. But when Langston wakes up in his new body, he is immediately attacked in the medbay and has to fight once again for his life—and his immortality. Because this assassin aims to destroy his core forever.
Determined to find his shipmates and solve this evolving mystery, Langston locates their tech whiz Shay Chan, but two members are missing and perhaps permanently killed. Langston and Chan are soon running for their lives with the assassin and the corporation behind him in hot pursuit.
What Langston and Chan ultimately find would signal the end of humanity. What started as a salvage mission just might end up saving the world.
I hated waking up in the body shop.
Consciousness and acclimation were slow processes, and the first thing I became aware of was that I was aware. Which felt odd, and somehow wrong. Next came the sensation of laying on something hard and cool. But the sense was muted, faint, more of a memory of what it felt like to rest upon something hard and cool than doing so. That was the extent of sensation, and I knew that, for a while at least, it was all I was going to feel.
An ancient poet from Earth’s past had once written of shuffling off the mortal coil as an analogy for death. Humanity had taken it a step further, though. Technological advances theorized that the mind, the essence, some said the soul, of a person could be digitized and preserved, given that a large enough reservoir of storage space was available. The advent of quantum computing provided the raw storage and processing needed to turn that theory into a reality, taking humanity one giant leap closer to immortality. The rest was easy.
Cloned tissue produced new shells, new coils, in which the mind could be inserted. Genetic engineering ensured that those coils were as perfect and purpose-built as any machine. And so, humanity, still unable to break the boundaries of our own solar system, effectively obtained immortality. Of course, it was never that easy, not with people being people. In the early years, with every aspiring biotech company trying to pump out home-grown coils as fast as possible to make a quick credit, the quality control had been nothing short of abysmal. And the issues went beyond the simple cosmetics and capabilities of a given coil. Improperly grown coils suffered from… call them wiring problems. The wetware of the brain, if not grown slowly over years to very specific and demanding standards, caused compatibility issues with the cores. The results weren’t that different from any number of violent psychoses.
That’s when the various polities stepped in. Most of the megacorps had a certain degree of extraterritoriality, but they were at least nominally subject to the will of the governments of Earth, Mars, Luna, and the various habitats and stations scattered throughout the system. When those governments acted in concert, even the corporations had to bow to their will. A set of standards was established and a new corporate entity, a new monopoly, was formed. BioStar was given the sole rights to create coils and held to the exacting standards. There were still errors of course, coils that didn’t quite meet spec, but most were built as solid as the human form could be. Of course, limiting the supply to a single company, coupled with the growth time required for stable coils, mean that there was always a queue for getting put into a new coil and that, unless you had the top-of-the-line insurance policies, you pretty much had to take whatever body they stuffed you into.
Which brought its fair share of problems, but they weren’t really the ones I was concerned about at the moment. Getting a backup of your mind shoved into new flesh had its own drawbacks. It took a while to acclimate, to really feel like the new coil was yours. But, more importantly, you accepted a certain data loss, as some termed it, between the time you had last backed up and the time you were re-coiled. For the ultra-rich that changed coils like the rest of us changed clothes, that might only be a few minutes. Pop into your local coil center, pick a new body, do a quick backup, and be inserted on the spot. For those of us who could only afford the most basic backup insurance, which provided for new coils only in the event of advanced age or death, that lost time normally measured in weeks, and in rare cases, sometimes as long as years.
How long, Sarah?
Agents were backed up in almost the exact same way as people, storing a copy of the AI at the point in time when the person was having their backup done. But AI’s didn’t have the shock of adaptation to a new coil, or the emotional baggage of realizing that, somewhere, some-when, a version of them had just been wiped out of existence. The question was vague, but since it was the question asked by most people when waking up in the body shop, AIs were programmed to handle it.
It has been sixty-three days since this instantiation was created.
I was still too new to my coil to register the physiological responses to surprise. My stomach didn’t drop. My heard didn’t race. My mouth didn’t go dry and no sweat broke out on my body. Nonetheless, a cold, numbing sense of surprise flooded my mind, and for a moment all I could do was try to mutter, “Sixty-three days?”
The words were unintelligible, barely sounds at all, since I still had little control over my new vocal cords or lips. But they were, apparently, loud enough to catch someone’s attention.
“Awake, then, are we?” The words were cheerful, almost chipper, and full of a brisk professionalism that just screamed medtech. They had a crisp, vaguely British edge to them. “Well, you’ve no doubt already queried your agent and learned that your re-coiling was just a bit, how should I put this… unusual? We’ll give you all the details once you’re a bit more, well… you. In the meantime, I need you to open your eyes. Do you think you could do that for me?”
I’d been through this a half-dozen times before—salvage was a dangerous business, after all, and it wasn’t the most dangerous business I’d ever been involved in. The question should have been perfunctory, but there was a note of actual concern behind those words. What had happened to me?
I drew a deep breath—at which point, I suddenly became aggressively aware of the fact that I was breathing. That resulted in a brief, panicked moment where my conscious mind struggled with the autonomic responses of its new coil. It was a lot like I imagined suitless exposure to vacuum would be—wanting to breathe, struggling to breathe, but at the same time, being somehow unable to, despite seeing and feeling nothing that should prevent it. It passed quickly, leaving me momentarily panting.
I concentrated on my eyes, on opening the lids. They felt heavy, not from lack of sleep, but physically challenging, requiring an effort of muscle and will to manipulate. Slowly, ever so slowly, they parted, revealing a blurry and bleary world about me.
Excerpted from Re-Coil, copyright © 2019 by J.T. Nicholas