The fox inheritance, p.1
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       The Fox Inheritance, p.1

           Mary E. Pearson
 
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The Fox Inheritance


  To the many friends who have intersected my life and changed me forever

  Contents

  Title page

  Dedication

  Part I

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Part II

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Chapter 35

  Chapter 36

  Chapter 37

  Part III

  Chapter 38

  Chapter 39

  Chapter 40

  Chapter 41

  Chapter 42

  Chapter 43

  Chapter 44

  Chapter 45

  Chapter 46

  Chapter 47

  Chapter 48

  Chapter 49

  Chapter 50

  Chapter 51

  Chapter 52

  Chapter 53

  Chapter 54

  Chapter 55

  Chapter 56

  Chapter 57

  Chapter 58

  Chapter 59

  Chapter 60

  Chapter 61

  Chapter 62

  Chapter 63

  Chapter 64

  Chapter 65

  Chapter 66

  Chapter 67

  Chapter 68

  Chapter 69

  Chapter 70

  Chapter 71

  Chapter 72

  Chapter 73

  Chapter 74

  Chapter 75

  Chapter 76

  Chapter 77

  Acknowledgments

  Author bio

  Ad Card

  Praise for The Adoration of Jenna Fox

  Copyright

  PART I

  THE ESTATE

  Chapter 1

  My hands close around the heavy drape, twisting it into a thick cord.

  About the same thickness as a neck.

  I drop my hands to my sides and wipe them on my trousers like someone might see my thoughts on my palms. Someone like Dr. Gatsbro. I wonder just how much he really knows about me.

  I look out the window. From the second floor, Dr. Gatsbro is a speck on the lawn. The girl I'm supposed to know stands a few yards away from him. I watch him talking to her. She ignores him like he is nothing more than vapor. I don't know if it's deliberate, or if her mind is trapped, like mine often is, in another dark lifetime that won't let me go. There's a lot I don't understand about her, at least the way she is now, and though I'm a head taller and at least fifty pounds heavier than she is, I'm afraid of her. What is it? Something in her eyes? But I'm not sure I can trust my own eyes yet. Even my hands frighten me. Does Dr. Gatsbro know this too? He seems to know everything.

  I turn away, looking at a wall of ancient bound books, and another wall covered with artifacts that reach back to some primordial age. Dr. Gatsbro is a collector. Are we part of his collection? Like stolen paintings that can't be shown to anyone? Only for private viewing? His estate is miles from anywhere, and we have never been beyond its gates.

  He has spent the last year teaching us, helping us, explaining to us, testing us. But some things in this world are unexplainable. Maybe that's where he made his mistake, especially with us. Three months ago, he stopped being teacher and became prey. At least for her. I fear for him. I fear for me.

  I return to the window to see if they're coming. It's time for our morning appointment. They're closer to the house now, but Dr. Gatsbro is still yards from her. I try to read his lips, a skill I never had before, but his hand cups his chin and blocks my view.

  Her back is to me. Her head tilts in one direction, and then slowly in the other, like she's weighing a thought. She suddenly whirls and looks straight up at the window. At me. She smiles, her eyes as cold as ice. Her lips purse together in a kiss, and I feel their frost on my cheek.

  I cannot turn away, though I know that would be the safest thing to do. I cannot turn away because she has an advantage over me. I cannot turn away for a reason she knows too well.

  Because I love her.

  She is all I have left.

  I force my legs to move. To step away from the window. One step. Another. The last thing I see is her head toss back as she laughs. I fall backward into Dr. Gatsbro's chair, running my hands over the arms, listening to the quiet rasp of skin on leather, listening to his antique clock tick, listening to the squeak of the chair as I rock, and finally, listening to their footsteps on the stairs--his, heavy and shuffling; hers, like a cat, following stealthily behind.

  "Locke, you're here. Good." Dr. Gatsbro crosses the room, and I relinquish his seat to him. He sits down, and I listen to the whoosh of air that leaves the chair under his weight, like the breath has been snuffed from it. "Sorry if we kept you waiting. We lost track of time out in the garden. Isn't that right, Kara?"

  She looks at me, her eyes narrowing to slits, her hair a shiny black curtain barely sweeping her shoulders. Her lips are perfect, red as they have always been, red as I remember, but the smile behind them is not the same.

  "That's right, Doc," she answers. "Time got away from us."

  "Shall we begin, then?" Dr. Gatsbro asks.

  I think she already has.

  Chapter 2

  They're not coming, son. No one is coming. They're all gone.

  It was a year ago that we woke up. The first thing I did was gasp for breath. One breath after another until I was choking, spitting, struggling for another breath and another, the red-hot pain searing my chest, but still I battled for air, like I had finally surfaced from a deep, dark pool. I passed out.

  Later when I opened my eyes again, Dr. Gatsbro was there in a room of color and light. I closed my eyes and refused to open them, too afraid that this was yet another torture unleashed on me, maybe a torture I had unleashed on myself, a trick to make me think it was all over.

  "Come now, Locke. You're safe. Look. Look at the world. Open your eyes."

  That was when I heard Kara scream. A true scream that I heard through my ears, not through my mind. My eyes shot open, and I tried to get up, but something held me back. Yes, another trick. You still can't help her.

  "Your friend is fine. Trust me. You can relax, boy. Relax."

  "Jenna!" I yelled. "What about Jenna? Where's Jenna?" I didn't hear her. Not even a moan. Time had no beginning or ending for me anymore, but I knew that somewhere in the blackness, I had once heard Jenna too.

  A short time later, Dr. Gatsbro explained to me where I was and what had happened. That was when I understood Kara's scream.

  Our families weren't coming. No one was coming. They were all dead.

  No one we knew was still alive.

  We had been gone for 260 years.

  By the next day, I was taking a few steps, and by the next, I was allowed to see Kara. I cried. Six feet three and two hundred pounds, falling to my knees, sobbing like a lost child. Kara didn't cry. Her face was blank, but she came to me and held me and whispered in my ear the way she always had.

  "I'm here,
Locke. I will always be here for you."

  But afterward, when we were alone, she slapped me and told me to never, ever allow Dr. Gatsbro to see my weakness again. My face stung for the rest of the afternoon.

  The appointments with Dr. Gatsbro began the next day. There was a lot we still needed to know.

  Chapter 3

  "Do you know what today is?" Dr. Gatsbro asks.

  I look at Kara. In a microsecond, rage flashes past her eyes, but then it carefully becomes the smile the doctor expects to see.

  "One year since we woke," I say. Time is not a subject that we like to be reminded of, but better I answer than Kara.

  "That's right!" Dr. Gatsbro says happily, like he is acknowledging a birthday. "And it--"

  "It's about time we venture out into the world, right, Doc?"

  "Kara, dear, we talked about this in the garden. In good time. When I feel you're ready."

  Which will be never, you pompous asshole.

  Kara's thoughts, not mine. I still hear them occasionally, even when I don't want to.

  "But I do have something special to mark the occasion. A visitor."

  He studies our faces to see our reactions. Kara hesitates for only a moment and then smiles, good girl that she is. Whatever he sees on my face, he doesn't like. Or maybe I have lapsed again, losing track of time and space as I often do, drifting to before, sucked back into my dark thoughts.

  "Does a visitor disturb you, Locke?"

  I'm quick to recover. "No. It's a surprise, is all. A good one. It will be very nice to meet someone new."

  "Tired of my company?"

  "No." I sit up straighter and smile, at the same time angry with him for making me afraid. I feel like I've been afraid forever, conscious of every step I take, and for the briefest moment, I imagine my hands as enormous and strong and his skull as small and fragile as an egg.

  Kara giggles. Do it.

  I shoot her a startled glance. Dr. Gatsbro has been nothing but good to us. He's our savior. I remember that. He's the only friend we have now, besides the hired help at the estate. There is Miesha, who is our attendant by day; Cole, who is there for us at night; Hari, who monitors our health and creates activities for us; and Greta, who prepares our meals. As Dr. Gatsbro puts it, we live a life of privilege.

  "Who's coming?" I ask, leaning forward, trying to meet his eagerness halfway. I raise my brows and pull back one corner of my mouth in a grin. I know he responds to that facial expression.

  He leans back, satisfied, tapping his fingertips together. "First, a little review. I want to make sure you're prepared for our visitor. And, Locke," he says, leaning forward, "I want you to work especially hard on your lapses. Focus. Our visitor might not understand. It's essential that he see how truly exceptional you both are."

  Essential?

  "Of course," I answer. My lapses are fewer now, but when your mind has grown accustomed to wallowing down endless black corridors for decades, it can't be retrained overnight to move from one present thought to another. Drifting was my default mode and the one I used to survive. I still use it. Lapse is not a dirty word for me. When I lapse, I fall into silence and blank stares, remembering all the befores of my life, the bad and the good, before today, before the darkness, before the accident. Before. The life I once had.

  Our review begins. I hope he skips the part about Jenna. It cost him a stitch on his forehead the last time. He took it surprisingly well, was almost pleased, in fact, saying it proved we were still our own persons. I doubt Kara will be so impulsive again. As she gains knowledge, she gains control. I'm always one step behind her, and that's not a safe place to be. I look at her now, as beautiful as ever, and I want to hold her and protect her. If I love her enough, maybe I can make up for everything else.

  Chapter 4

  I had asked to see them. I needed to know. Dr. Gatsbro brought them from his lab in Manchester. He thought it was good that I asked. He called it closure. It didn't close anything.

  "Alone," I told him.

  "They're in the box. I'll be in the library." And he left.

  I sat in a chair, staring at the box but not ready to look inside. The whole afternoon I stared, remembering,

  opening instead of closing,

  walking down the dark hallways,

  feeling for walls that disappeared,

  for ceilings that didn't exist.

  I sat there, losing track of time, just the way I did then. Wandering for hours, centuries--maybe only seconds--there was no way of knowing. I couldn't even measure time with my breaths. There were none. No tongue. No fingers. No touch. No sound. Nothing. Only the tick of thoughts.

  Tick

  Tick

  Tick

  The darkness I had wandered in became something else, spreading, reaching, becoming more than I thought darkness could be. It was molten metal filling imagined lungs, ears, crevices, and pores. Darkness everywhere, until it had oozed in so deeply it was a part of me and I wondered if there would be room for anything else inside me ever again.

  When Jenna disappeared, the only thing that gave me hope was Kara's voice. It was the only light I had. The only air. Even when she screamed. Even when she accused. At least I knew I wasn't alone. And when there were no screams, her thoughts reached into mine, and mine into hers.

  Are you there?

  Here. Always here. For you.

  Are you there?

  Locke, I'm here, here, here....

  Just a thought that can do nothing. Only know. Whatever hell it was, I knew we had gone there together. I told myself that someday, some way, I would get us both out. That's what I hoped for. But the darkness creeps in there too, until hope is as black as every thought within you.

  "Locke, it's getting late," Miesha had said through the door.

  "Coming," I called. Her footsteps receded down the hallway, and I walked to the table where the box sat and lifted the lid.

  Closure.

  In the bottom were two small black cubes no bigger than six inches across. Plain, not impressive, not as endless or frightening as the world inside them. Environments, is what Dr. Gatsbro called them. They were the so-called groundbreaking technology that Matthew Fox abandoned, at least as far as Kara and I were concerned. How could this six-inch cube be called an environment? How could an entire mind be uploaded into it? How could anything survive inside for 260 years?

  This is where we were. This is where our minds were uploaded and kept spinning when the rest of the world thought we were dead. I had picked up the one labeled with my name first and held it in both of my hands. I felt sick, angry, and afraid all at once when I touched it, and then, unexpectedly, protective. If I could so easily disappear from this world once, could it happen again?

  Then I lifted the other cube from the box and held them side by side, just as they had always been when they were on a forgotten shelf in a warehouse. I stared at the six-inch cube that had contained Kara.

  Tick

  Tick

  Tick

  Every bit. Every dark corner. Did they get it all?

  That's when Kara walked in, telling me it was time for dinner. She hadn't wanted to see them. She didn't need closure like I did, she told Dr. Gatsbro. Two steps through the door and she spotted them in my hands. She shrugged her shoulders and said, "That's it?" like it was nothing, but I saw her eyes frozen on the black cubes and her chest rising in shallow breaths.

  "That's it," I said.

  She nudged a few feet closer. Her steps were calculated and cautious.

  "There were ten lifetimes in these," I said. "Even if they're empty now, it seems like they deserve more than a box in another storeroom."

  "It wasn't lifetimes, Locke. Never fool yourself that it was."

  She took the cubes from my hands, looked at them, turning them at different angles, then stepped to the side of Dr. Gatsbro's desk and dropped them in the trash. She looked at me and then, as an afterthought, swept some papers from the desk into the can. "There. Now, that's a p
roper burial. That's what they deserve."

  Closure.

  Maybe there's no such thing.

  Chapter 5

  "Kara, why don't you begin? Tell us about the Fox Inheritance."

  Kara slouches back and yawns. "Zip. Snip. Here we are."

  Dr. Gatsbro sighs. "Perhaps only Locke should meet our visitor today? Unless you would like to try again with a bit more eloquence and flourish? I think our visitor deserves that much."

  Kara sits up straight. A visitor is a curiosity she doesn't want to miss. "Which version?"

  "There is only one, my dear. The one I've told you."

  And the one Cole told us late one night when Kara and I discovered him in Dr. Gatsbro's study, dipping into the liquor cabinet.

  "Right. Only one." She stands, and giving Dr. Gatsbro the flourish and eloquence he wants, she begins, carefully pausing, smiling, modulating her voice and moving her hands for effect in all the right places. "Locke and I were in a most unfortunate accident. Technically, Locke died two weeks later, and I was removed from life support three weeks after the accident."

  I think about Cole's description. It had much more detail and color.

  The medical records said you were in a gruesome wreck. Way beyond saving, but your families wouldn't let go right away. Finally the doctors convinced them it was for the best, and legally, they had no choice. The law said you were beyond saving too. Your parents never even knew about the project. What Fox BioSystems did with you back then was illegal. Still is.

  "Luckily, Dr. Ash, a researcher at Fox BioSystems who had incredible foresight, managed to scan and upload our minds into a special environment using some untested but promising new technology. When others abandoned the project because of setbacks, he made his own copies of our minds and forged ahead, determined to save us."

  Matthew Fox, the head of Fox BioSystems, abandoned the project when your parents had your bodies cremated before he could collect any tissue. It's assumed that Fox destroyed the original mind uploads. But Dr. Ash was a colleague of his and secretly continued the project without the knowledge of Fox BioSystems. He made copies of your mind uploads--backups--and hid them away.

 
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