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Hello, Gorgeous!

MaryJanice Davidson

  Hello, Gorgeous!

  MaryJanice Davidson


  BRAVA BOOKS are published by

  Kensington Publishing Corp.

  850 Third Avenue

  New York, NY 10022

  Copyright © 2005 by MaryJanice Davidson

  Printed in the United States of America

  This book is not for Scott Gottlieb.


  Once again, I’m shocked to find out I don’t write these books by myself. Friends and family are mentioned on my acknowledgments page in lieu of royalties.

  As always, thanks to my husband, Anthony, for tirelessly reading and listening and reading some more, usually with that dratted purple pen in one hand. He not only reads rough drafts, he comes up with story ideas! I’d better check and see if Minnesota is a community property state…

  Thanks also to my sister, Yvonne, for always giving me the straight poop (I will call a girlfriend to hear what I want to hear, but I will call my sister for the truth), and also to Denise and Crystal, who always buy my books and do a credible imitation of liking them as well.

  Thanks also to Cathleen, for thinking up Mother-in-law Jeopardy.

  Extra-special thanks to the world’s greatest proofreader, Karen Thompson, and all the gang over at Loose-ID Publications (, who are nice enough to pretend not to mind when other writing obligations prevent me from writing another story for them.

  Finally, thanks to my editor, Kate Duffy, who was not remotely afraid when I told her my plan for a cybernetic sorority girl.

  “The person who designed a robot that could act and think as well as your four-year-old would deserve a Nobel Prize. But there is no public recognition for bringing up truly human beings.”

  — C. John Sommerville

  The Rise and Fall of Childhood

  “We can rebuild him. We have the technology.”

  — The Six Million Dollar Man


  Nine days after she died, Caitlyn James woke up in a private hospital in Minnesota.

  This was problematic, because her last memory was of passing out in the backseat of a Miami limo.

  It was a private hospital room, in itself a miracle in these days of HMOs and accountants making medical decisions. One such accountant was in the room with her. He was leaning over her bed and moving his lips. He had thinning blond hair, rimless glasses, and was wearing an utterly spotless lab coat. No name tag. No hospital name stitched over his pocket. She dubbed him Egghead #1.

  She squinted at #1, and as if someone were turning up the volume in her head, he slowly became audible.

  “… everything’s all right. You’re in a branch of the O.S.F. in Minneapolis, Minnesota.”

  “Minnesota?” she rasped. No hangover, that was something. A miraculous something. She was reasonably certain she and her girlfriends had been mixing Kahlua and tequila. Or had it been tequila and Baileys? They’d been mixing something with, chocolate milk…

  She sure felt like she could spit cotton though. Her mouth was as dry as the desert. She reached for the shiny cup beside her bed, but it crumpled in her hand. Dammit! She’d do anything, lay anything, for a glass of water.

  “Minnesota?” she tried again, clearing her throat.

  “Yes. There were special circumstances and we had to airlift you here.”

  I. Am. So. Thirsty. “Sorry, I wasn’t listening. What?”

  “We had to airlift you here and—and there are some things I need to go over with you.”

  “What day is it?” Rent was due on Monday, and she’d be damned if Old Lady Shea was going to nail her with another fifty-dollar late fee. Like the woman needed more money to bury in her chive patch. “The day… what—what time is it?”

  “It’s October thirty-first. Halloween,” Egghead #1 added brightly, as if looking forward to a brisk round of trick-or-treating after work. “Just after lunchtime, in fact. If you’re hungry, I could—“

  “Hallo—” She cut herself off, shocked. The party had been on the twentieth. Her twenty-fourth birthday. She and a bunch of her sorority sisters had rented a limo and driven from Minneapolis to Miami. Things got a little blurry after her sixth pina colada. They got even blurrier after the Kahlua-Baileys-chocolate-milk mixture.

  Where were her friends? Why was she still here? Had there been an accident?

  Oh, God… had there?

  She grabbed Egghead #l’s lapel, meaning to pull him closer so she could get some answers. Instead, to her surprise (and, doubtless, Egghead’s), he sailed right over the top of her bed and crashed into the wall above her, then fell directly on her. For a wonder, there was no pain, just the annoyance of being smothered by a squirming accountant.

  Caitlyn sat up, startled, pushed Egghead #1 off her, ignored his groan as he tumbled to the floor, and noticed a curious thing: no IVs. No bandages. No soreness. She wasn’t even dizzy. Thirsty, yes. Hurt, no.

  So why was she still here? And where was here?

  Suddenly, shockingly—by far the most startling thing to happen to her so far, and it had been a weird five minutes—there was something on her eye.

  Target pulse rate: 142. Target blood pressure: 140/120.

  Chance of target engaging in deceit: 92.628%


  Correction: there was something in her brain. Something in her brain that thought this fellow on the floor was lying to her… or getting ready to.

  “Why is there a picture in my head?” Before he could answer, she had another one for him. “What the hell is going on?” She was more puzzled than angry. Anger would come later.

  “There are a few other things I have to tell you,” #1 groaned from the floor.

  Part One

  Chapter 1

  —Original Message—

  From: Donald Carlson, head of O.S.F. Research, Development, and Experimentation

  To: The Boss

  Sent: Monday, September 01, 4:01 PM

  Subject: Recent Acquisition

  Subject was acquired at 0110 hours today via one of our private ambulances. Subject is a Caucasian female in apparent good health, except for being clinically dead, with an alcohol blood level of .20. Subject is seventy inches tall and weighs one hundred seventy pounds. No birthmarks or apparent scars; however, subject has a tattoo on her lower back in dark blue ink that reads CAVEAT EMPTOR. Subject has shoulder-length dark blue hair (presumably dyed) and light blue eyes (Dr. Miller likens them to the color of the deep end of a swimming pool, but then, he’s always been a poetic freak). Subject was in a car accident at 0105 hours with five other females of roughly the same age. Subject got the worst of it because another car hit the side of the limousine in which she was riding. Three of the other five have been released with minor injuries; two have broken bones and are currently recovering at Miami General Hospital.

  Subject has no immediate family; parents were killed (irony here, Boss) in a car crash when Subject was thirteen. Subject’s last known relative, a paternal aunt, died eighteen months ago.

  Basically, Boss, she’s legally dead and we can do whatever we like with her.

  —Dr. Don

  —Original Message—

  From: The Boss

  To: Dr. Don Carlson

  Sent: Monday, September 01, 2004 4:11 PM

  Subject: Re: Recent Acquisition

  Sounds promising. What about her friends?

  —Original Message—

  From: Donald Carlson, head of O.S.F. Research, Development, and Experimentation

  To: The

  Sent: Monday, September 01, 2004 4:01 PM

  Subject: Re: Re: Recent Acquisition

  They think she’s still in Florida and are unlikely to discover otherwise—a bunch of former sorority girls. Not exactly the sharpest knives in the drawer… plus, they all went to a state school. No problems there. We can tell them she died (which is the truth, frankly) or we can tell them she’s going to be in the hospital for a few more weeks or we can tell them she turned into a bird and flew away.

  Come on, Boss. Give me a green light. This one’s perfect.

  —Original Message—

  From: The Boss

  To: Dr. Don Carlson

  Sent: Monday, September 01, 2004 4:11 PM

  Subject: Re: Re: Recent Acquisition

  Go. Update me hourly.

  Chapter 2

  Two months later St. Paul, Minnesota

  “Jimmy! Dude! I heard you were dead!”

  Caitlyn set down her daiquiri and looked over her shoulder. My, my. Look what the cat coughed up. Her old college roommate, Stacy Gwen, had just walked into the bar. Although Caitlyn normally distrusted people with two first names, she made an exception in Stacy’s case.

  “For the zillionth time,” she said, patting the empty barstool beside her, “don’t call me Jimmy.” She paused, not sure what else to say. She hadn’t seen Stacy since the fateful limo ride in October. “What’s up?”

  “What’s up, she says!”

  “Also for the millionth time, it’s so disturbing when you talk about people in the third person.”

  “Oh my God, I totally cannot believe you’re here!” Stacy seized her and pulled her into a hug, nearly yanking Caitlyn off her barstool. Surprised, and touched, she hugged her friend back. “So bizarre! You, like, pulled a Houdini after the limo crashed. I mean, we were going crazy! I was going crazy! I mean, hello, what is up with that?”

  Caitlyn settled herself back on the stool, bit into her strawberry garnish, and considered what to say.

  Well, Stace old girl, I’ll tell you how it was. You’ll like this this one. Seems that the limo driver had been helping himself to cocaine, which he chased with tequila shots. And the six of us in the back were so blitzed, we didn’t notice.

  Wait, it gets better. So the moron crashed into the First National Bank of Miami, setting off about a zillion alarms, and, since none of us was wearing seat belts, cracking the shit out of the rest of us. Pretty dumb about the seat belts, I know, so don’t start.

  Then another car came by and hit my side of the limo, further cracking the shit out of yours truly. I mean, up until then it had been a reasonably cool evening.

  Then this lame government service, who’d been watching and listening to police bands all over the country for a month or so, heard and came to the hospital where we were being worked on. And they picked me, because I was the most banged up. And they flew me to their secret government installation. I know how it sounds. I died a couple of times on the way, but they brought me back.

  And they made some… um… changes.

  And now I’m supposed to work for them, do you believe that shit? They did things to me and I’m supposed to thank them and become a government employee. Except I don’t want to, because I didn’t ask for any of this.

  And they don’t like that. Not at all.

  So here I am.

  “It’s been kind of a weird fall,” she said, sad and mad at the same time—as early as three months ago, she could have told Stacy anything.

  Those days were done. Thanks tons, United States government.

  “Well, are you free?”

  “According to some,” she said gloomily, “no.”

  “Uh-huh. Let’s go grab some sushi.”

  “A fine plan,” she agreed.

  Stacy laughed as Caitlyn hopped off the barstool. “You still slay me, girlfriend. I love the way you talk. You were totally the brains behind Tau Delta Nu.”

  “A heroic achievement.”

  Stacy cracked up again. “And don’t even pretend like I don’t know you’re slamming me, Jimmy. Because you totally are.”

  “Don’t call me Jimmy, you evil whore. They have sake at this sushi place?” she asked, linking arms with Stacy. “Because I could use a couple.”

  “Or ten!”

  “An even dozen,” she agreed, and they laughed and left.

  “The thing about sushi,” Caitlyn sighed, walking Stacy to her car, “is that it’s so completely delicious while you’re eating it, but then when you’re full—“

  “You’re like, ewww, I just ate a ton of raw fish!”

  “And seaweed!”

  “Exactly. I could barf right now. In fact…” Stacy looked anxiously over my shoulder. “Does my butt look fat in suede? Maybe I’ll barf anyway.”

  “Don’t you dare. Bulimia is so twentieth century.” Caitlyn rolled her eyes. Stacy was one of those marvelous idiots who had no idea how fabulous they looked. She was five foot seven, just about the perfect height for everything except professional basketball, with out-of-control black hair and skin the color of cafe au lait. She wore green contacts, truly striking in her high-cheekboned face. Caitlyn usually felt like the village frump when she was out with her. “Plus, we just dropped two hundred bucks on all that fish. Don’t waste it.”

  “I suppose. I’m doing an extra half hour on the treadmill tomorrow though. What about you?”

  I can’t. I’ve burned out the last three treadmills I tried. Apparentiy, I can move faster than a Ford Mustang when I set my mind to it. “um… I’ve been lifting weights lately.”

  “Well, you look awesomely buff.”


  “Seriously, Jimmy, what’s up? You’re not like yourself at all. I know the accident was a horror show, but you seem totally fine now. I guess we both lucked out.” Stacy looked her over critically. “Better than fine, actually. I don’t think you’ve ever looked awesomer.”

  Caitlyn chose her words carefully. “Physically, there isn’t anything wrong with me.”

  “Then, what’s up? I haven’t seen you at a party since the crash. The girls were talking about having, like, a reunion party, now that Shelly’s off her crutches and all—“

  “It’s a miracle we weren’t all killed,” she muttered. “Fucking miracle.”

  “Yup. Although it was tough work shaving my legs when I got home—what is it with those hospital razors? You’d think a hospital would have, like, sharp things. You shoulda seen my legs by the time I was done. Total gross-out.”

  “What happened to you in the crash?”

  Stacy smacked the top of her head. “Concussion, whiplash. The usual. Nothing you could see from the outside, and I had to wear this massively bogus neck brace for eight weeks, but I’m a lot better now. We all are, and like I said, we wanted to have, like, a reunion party, but we haven’t been able to reach you and, like I said, there were all those totally lame rumors about you being dead.”

  “I’ve just been really busy with work.” A lie. “I miss you guys though.” The truth.

  “Target acquired.”


  “I didn’t say anything.”

  “Alpha team, move in. Extreme caution.”

  “Are you okay, Caitlyn? You look kind of weird.”

  “Copy that.”

  “Can’t you hear that?” Caitlyn asked, then realized instantly, of course Stacy couldn’t hear it. She wasn’t really hearing it either… it was like the mop-up team was talking in her head. That chip. That damn chip must be able to pick up their frequencies. And then broadcast it—uck!—into her brain.

  Caitlyn felt a moment of panic. Sure, she was faster and stronger than regular people now, but she didn’t have any training. Except in giving highlights and manicures. Unless the guys on the prowl needed haircuts, she was in deep shit.

  She was simultaneously shocked and unsurprised. She’d been blowing off psychoboy for weeks and n
ow it was time to dance. Those assfaces at O.S.F. had sent a whole team after her!

  Talk about not taking no for an answer! She knew the unemployment rate was high for the state, but this was ridiculous.

  She could hear them coming, moving quickly and quietly—but not quietly enough, ha!—and wondered if it was better to just give up than risk getting some teeth knocked out. After suffering through junior high with braces, she wasn’t about to risk the integrity of her mouth, thank you very—

  Targets: 45° 72" 33°

  Armed: .38 Beretta, full clip, none in the chamber

  Armed: Mini UZI SMG, full clip, safety on

  Armed: Semi-automatic Jericho pistol, full load, holstered.



  “What the hell?” she said out loud. This had happened to her so infrequently, she had succeeded in forgetting about it. Tough to do at the moment, since there were things in her left eye again. Not really in her eye… more like reading a page from a book… except the page was being projected inside her head. It was like those Terminator movies, when the audience could see through Arnold’s eyes, kind of weird and cool at the same time, but how was she supposed to—

  Targets: closing in. Engage. Engage. Engage.

  “All right, all right. Don’t nag.” She kicked Stacy’s feet out from under her, ignoring the woman’s surprised squawk, and turned. She crossed the fourteen feet six inches between herself and Goon #1 in two point two seconds—

  You can stop doing that now, computer chip. I’m on it.

  Alas, stuck in her brain where it was, the thing wouldn’t shut up.

  It was good for one thing anyway. They weren’t here to take her hard. Just take her.