When interstellar singer spy Jack Jones has to solve his own murder on The Shakespeare things do not go smoothly.
First his clone body loses thirty years of memories, and then it starts experiencing strange urges and abilities. As he investigates he discovers brigands, space pirates and a secret faster-than-light drive, which could push the galaxy into war.
He would sing a song, solve the mystery, and save he day--if only he could remember how.
excerpt from A Jack By Any Other Name
Lesley L. Smith
"Mr. Jones, we need you to kill a man." The stranger glanced around nervously. A crowded restaurant was no place for such talk, even though people often thought it was. The high noise level only gave limited privacy. And, to be fair, although every table was occupied in this dining establishment, the thick carpeting and tablecloths effectively muted the clink of silverware and hum of conversations.
I shook my head. "You are mistaken, sir. I'm not an assassin. Killing is more of a hobby with me." I was a musician, a singer. And I wasn't even on duty right now. I was home on Earth for some much needed R & R. This guy shouldn't be bothering me while I was on holiday. To give him credit, though, I was an excellent assassin, in addition to being an excellent singer.
"The only thing you should be doing here is eating," I said. "Have you had dinner? Would you like to join my wife and I? We've finished this lovely bottle of wine, but we can order another."
He leaned over the table. "I'm not here to eat." His rumpled twentieth-century-style suit didn't exactly inspire confidence. It was doubtful he had the judgment or the funds to call for a hit.
"Oh, come now," I said. "I insist." He had irked me by interrupting an evening with a delightful damsel--my wife and first officer. He either needed to go away, or calm down and eat with us.
Or maybe I'd have to kill him, after all. It does not do to encourage bad manners; one should retaliate, urbanely but firmly.
Where was the lovely Gina? She'd gone off to the washroom a while ago. She should have returned by now. I stood up to get a better look at the rear of the restaurant. Was she on her way back to our table even now? Sadly, there was no sign of my lady.
As I sat down at the romantic table for two, a small dark spot appeared on the stranger's tie and quickly started leaking red fluid. He looked startled and tried to say something, but only blood came out of his mouth. He collapsed on the floor. It all happened quite quickly.
And then I felt something push me into the table. Pain radiated from my back and coursed throughout my body. That was not part of the plan.
I realized that apparently the rumple-suited stranger wasn't the only one who'd been shot.
What a bother.
"Mr. Jones? Jack?" a woman said.
I opened my eyes. I lay in bed surrounded by white walls, white sheets, beeping equipment and a beautiful woman in a white uniform. "Where am I?" I asked. "What happened?"
"My name is Sophia." She leaned over me a bit, giving me a view of cornflower blue eyes and perfectly even pearly-white teeth. "You're on Earth in a Duplication Center. I'm sorry to say, you were murdered." She added gently, "You were shot."
I jerked back and my body responded sluggishly. "What? Clearly, I'm alive. I'm not murdered. What are you talking about?"
"I don't know many details about the crime." She pushed a blonde curl behind her ear. "I'm a duplication engineer. Your original body was murdered but we cloned it and downloaded your memories. Unfortunately, the last thirty-two years of your memories were lost, deleted." She shook her head. "It's unusual. It very nearly was a true murder."
Murdered. A new body. I couldn't talk for a moment. Finally, I said, "Thirty-two years of memories? What year is it? How old am I?"
"It's twenty ninety-five."
Twenty ninety-five? Bizarre. I remembered it being twenty sixty-three.
"You were fifty years old." She had a great bedside manner, very calm and she seemed truly concerned about me. I felt safe. And it didn't hurt that she was one of the best-looking women I'd ever met.
Wait. "Fifty?" I didn't remember being fifty, or forty, or thirty for that matter. And I didn't feel fifty. I held up my arm and looked at it. I flexed. It looked the way it always looked, didn't it? I stared. It did look kind of flabby and pale.
"Your new body is eighteen years old and you have eighteen years of memories, so you feel eighteen. For all intents and purposes you're eighteen." She smiled at me. She had a nice smile. Dimples. I had no idea what fifty-year-old me would have thought, but I liked dimples. This woman was very hot--all athletic curves and bouncy blonde curls. This me thought he'd like to get to know her better. A lot better.
"Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate…"
She interrupted me with a giggle and then said, "Let's focus on your recovery for now. Can you sit up?"
I tried to sit, but my muscles were still too weak. It was weird to think this was a new body. It seemed like my regular body.
"We'll try again later, Jack," she said.
I searched my memories but they seemed to be all there, my childhood and teen years. Unfortunately, I even remembered my parents' deaths years ago (cancer and cancer). And I'd never had any siblings. I was alone.
I guessed if I had no recollection of my later life I wouldn't know it was missing, right? "I don't understand. I know I recorded my memories regularly--at least for the eighteen years I remember. I assume I kept recording. How could someone get to them? And who cloned me?" Cloning was very expensive. "Am I rich?" Please say yes.
"The Terran Cultural Committee paid," she said. "You must be important to them."
Why was I important to the TCC? The TCC traded Terran culture and technologies for alien culture and technologies, and also kept an eye on Terran citizens and colonies throughout the galaxy.
If they cloned me, presumably, the fifty-year-old me was important. Would the eighteen-year-old me be? What if I wasn't? Did they ever repossess cloned bodies?
I had another disturbing thought: I'd lived a lifetime and I didn't know anything about myself. "Who am I, er, who was I?"
She touched her holo-pad. "The data says Jack Jones was the captain and lead vocalist of the TCC's premiere spaceship, the Shakespeare, before his murder." She glanced at me. "You basically flew around the galaxy and sang."
I did love singing and music, so that part sounded good. Exploring the galaxy sounded good, too. Being the captain also sounded good. Huh. Yay, me.
"Did they catch my murderer? Who was it? Why'd they murder me? What happened to him, her or it?"
"I don't have that information. Sorry." She threw me another glance. "It, ah, also says here you have a wife, Gina Gomez, and she's your first officer."
"A wife? I don't remember any wife." Family! Maybe she could tell me what was going on. Maybe she could comfort me in my time of need. "Please call this Gina woman." I hoped she was hot.
Sophia looked at her pad again. "Uh, actually, the TCC says you're not supposed to contact your wife. When you wake up, we're supposed to contact a Noah Anderson from TCC." She scrunched up her nose; it was adorable. "I already called him. Sorry. He's on his way."
I felt an urge to reassure Sophia. I reached for her hand and massaged it gently with my fingers. "It's okay."
She showed me her dimples again. Beautiful.
Whatever happened, I didn't want to forget her. "Hey, I bet memory recording has advanced a lot in the thirty years I've forgotten."
"You don't happen to have any spare gear lying around, do you?"
She bit her lip. "Well..."
I gazed into her eyes; they were beautiful, the color of a Terran sky right before sunset.
"I guess that would be okay. We do have a lot of tech here. I'll find something for you."
"Thanks." That was one mission accomplished. I wasn't going to lose my memories again if I could help it. I was going to record my memories every day, and hopefully they wouldn't get lost or deleted this time. Hey, I could do it every morning right after I brushed my teeth.
I settled back in the bed. Maybe this Noah guy would have some answers for me.
In the meantime, maybe I could research my murder and my pre-murder life and the TCC and the Shakespeare. "Can I borrow your pad while I wait?"
A seemingly bigger-than-life-sized version of a man stood next to my bed. He looked like a mountain--or a bear, a shaggy gray-haired bear. Did bears get gray fur?
Was this the murderer here to finish the job? I flinched.
"What's wrong?" the man said. "Oh, right, you don't recognize me. I'm Noah." He searched my face.
My face must not have given him the expression he sought.
I shrugged. "Okay."
"I'm here from TCC."
"Good," I said. "Maybe you can tell me what the hell's going on?"
He sat down surprisingly gingerly on the edge of the bed. It creaked. "You got shot, buddy."
"I know that."
He held up his hands. "Okay, okay. Don't get your panties in a bunch."
Panties? Did men wear panties in this era? Or, was this guy an asshole? My fists involuntarily clenched but I didn't have the muscle tone to keep it up. Shit. I deflated.
"Who are you? Who shot me and why? Did they catch him? Why did TCC bring me back? What happened to my memory recordings?"
He shifted and the bed rocked. "We're not getting off on the right foot, here. I'm Noah. I'm your best friend. I'm sorry you got shot. I'm sorry your recordings were lost. We're still trying to figure out what happened. We don't know who or what shot you. We don't know if it was some kind of anti-TCC plot or if it was personal or both. We're investigating."
"Anti-TCC plot? That doesn't make sense. Neither does personal. I thought I was a singer. Who hates singers?"
He leaned towards me and whispered, "The Shakespeare doesn't just spread Earth's culture around the galaxy. Really, the TCC is a bunch of spies. And you, of all the spies on a ship chock-full of spies, you were the biggest spy of them all."
Wow. "Really?" A spy? That didn't sound right. I didn't feel spy-y.
"Jack?" Noah asked. "Did you hear me? You were a spy."
"I heard you," I said slowly. "Am I still a spy?"
"That's a good question." He rubbed his chin.
"New topic," I said. "You've had a month to find my killer." I'd read the news reports about my murder. "Did you get him? If not, any leads? And most importantly, am I still in danger?"
"We didn't get him." He shook his head. "We're not even sure the murderer was a 'him.' We haven't made progress on your murder or the mystery man who died after accosting you in the restaurant."
"No progress?" That seemed hard to believe. Was it possible they didn't want to solve my murder? That wasn't right. I shook my head. "Why not? Crimes should be easier to solve on Earth, not harder."
"Our best operative was out of commission, for one thing."
"Meaning what?" I asked.
He gave me an odd look.
Huh. "I'm the best operative?"
"Yeah," he said.
That was at least a little gratifying. On the other hand, how good could I be if I got murdered?
He paused for a moment, looking around the room. "At least you were."
"What am I now?"
"That's the question, isn't it? Since we haven't solved the murder, we don't know if you're still in danger or not. My gut tells me you are. What do you think?"
I surveyed my gut. It did not feel good. "My gut tells me I'm screwed."
"You always did have a good gut." He smiled a grim smile that didn't reach his eyes. Frankly, it was a bit scary. This guy was my best friend? He seemed like he could break somebody in two if they looked at him wrong.
"We'd really like you to go back on the Shakespeare and try to draw out the killers," he said. "What do you think?"
"What? 'Draw out'?" I'm embarrassed to say my voice squeaked. "You want me to be bait?"
"I keep forgetting you're not the old Jack." Noah grabbed my arm and then dropped it.
It flopped down on the bed.
"But you're definitely not him. You're not in very good shape. Your cloning was kind of a rush job."
Rush job? What did that mean?
He continued. "The Shakespeare's leaving in a couple weeks."
I tried to control the squeakiness in my voice. "I understand you all have made a large investment in me and I really want to find my murderer or murderers." I took a deep breath. "I'm willing to go on the ship. But can't I go incognito or something?" I didn't want people shooting at me right off the bat.
He considered. "That's actually a good idea. But..."
"But what?" Squeak. Damn.
"Your singing voice is pretty distinctive."
I really, really didn't want to be a singing sitting duck. "Uh, what about if I'm Jack's son? I could have inherited his voice, right?"
Noah tilted his head. "Yeah. Not a bad idea, not bad at all. That could work."
Over the next two weeks I was a good boy and did my physical therapy and my voice training. TCC brought in several brutal therapists and kept me busy morning, noon, and night.
I did record my memories every day right around toothbrush time.
In the wee hours I researched my old life and the Shakespeare.
Everything ached, but I was getting my muscle tone back and I could sing pretty well. The squeakiness went away, at least.
Nurse Sophia, excuse me, dupe engineer Sophia, seemed dazzled by my voice. She somehow managed to be hanging around every time I worked with my vocal coach. What was it about women and singers? Whatever it was, I liked it.
Her friendly, delighted smile always brightened my day.
One night near the end of my stay at the dupe-facility she approached me. "You know, you were the most famous singer of your generation. Sentient species all over the galaxy sing your praises." She grinned and looked at me expectantly. "Pun intended."
I grinned back at her. I was tired of being treated like a piece of meat to be therapied into submission. It was nice to be appreciated and she was awfully hot. I wanted to be treated like an actual person. I wanted Sophia to treat me like a man.
"You like me," I said. "Your beautiful smile was one of the first things I saw when I woke up."
"I thought you were cute." She pointed at me playfully. Another beautiful smile lit her face as she turned away to attend to her other duties.
"Maybe you could show me some of Jack's old performances?" I called after her as she walked away. I'd seen a lot of them already but I figured it'd be extra fun watching them with her.
The better I felt, the more pissed about my situation I was. You couldn't just kill me and get away with it. The only bright spot was Sophia.
Once I was mostly recovered, in preparation for our new mission, the TCC booked me and my crew at a place in North America called Red Rocks. Our manager claimed I was still too weak to participate in any theater or dancing, so I was to do musical interludes--whatever they were. I insisted my dupe engineer accompany me--for my health, of course.
It turned out the venue was beautiful, a natural amphitheater made of red sandstone. We were to perform out in the open under the stars. I was psyched.
Noah had told me I had singing skills and spy skills, but I had a strong feeling enticing women with my voice was my greatest skill. I was about to find out.
Sophia waited with me backstage before the show. I had high hopes for our after-show festivities.
In the meantime, I was going to meet Old-Jack's wife Gina in person for the first time, so I was a little nervous. What did you say to a wife you'd never met? She might not even know I'd been cloned. Awkward.
She showed up, very curvaceous, arm in arm with another crew member, a Carter Nillion, at the last possible moment. Carter was a good-looking guy as well, maybe not as good-looking as me, but not bad. They were both very attractive for old people. What were they--forty? The way they hung off each other, I assumed they were together.
"Greetings, Gina, Carter," I said with a flourish. "The course of true love never did run smooth." Getting murdered definitely interfered with love's course.
I'd been in a lot of shows as a teenager and had been known for quoting the bard. When I studied the old version of me, he'd kept it up. Yay, Jack.
This version of me didn't know Gina and Carter, but if I had, I'd be guessing they were nauseated from the expressions on their faces.
"Who are you?" Carter asked.
"Yeah, who the hell are you?" She leaned towards me and glowered.
I stepped back and Sophia squeezed my hand. I glanced at her and she showed me those delectable dimples and nodded encouragingly.
Gina was intimidating. I was married to this? "I'm, uh, a new member of the troupe, Jack Jones Junior, at your service." I bowed with a flourish. I was good at flourishes.
Carter's mouth fell open.
Gina's skin seemed to pale under its chocolatey hue. "Jack didn't have a son."
"Yes, he did," I said.
"No," she said. "Who's the mother? No. I would've known."
"Uh, he didn't know about me." I just thought of that. Brilliant. It would explain why I didn't know much about the last thirty years of Old-Jack.
Of course, it probably made me less bait-y. But as far as I was concerned, that was a good thing.
Gina narrowed her eyes at me. "Did Jack tell you about what we did in the mud springs of planet Geryon 876 d?"
I didn't react. I had no idea what they did in the mud springs. I knew what I hoped they'd, we'd, done in the mud springs...
"With those three native girls?" she added.
Maybe Gina wasn't as bad as she seemed. I smiled. "Sounds fun, but sorry. Never met him. But I do look forward to working with you and becoming friends." My smile grew. "And hearing your stories about the mud springs on Geryon 876 d, of course."
It was big of me to befriend my ex-wife who clearly had hooked up with another guy, but, then, I was big. Even murder couldn't keep me down!
Yeah, I was a little amped up about the show.
Gina and Carter exchanged a look.
"We're not working together," Gina said. "I'm the captain. I approve all the crew. I didn't approve you."
"I work for TCC." I waved my arm around backstage. They'd set all this up, after all. "I'm in this show and I'm in the crew."
"But..." Gina looked around backstage. The crew was treating me like I was supposed to be here. Because I was. I was practically the star of the show. Hadn't they put this whole thing together for me?
Carter finally said, "Nice to meet you, I guess. Your dad was a good man, a good friend." And yet Carter hooked up with his wife so soon? It had only been about a month since I'd been shot. I'd have to keep an eye on this guy.
He poked Gina with his elbow. So far, he wasn't looking too nefarious.
"Yes," Gina said. "Nice to meet you."
"So, gosh, Jack hasn't had a chance to introduce me, yet," Sophia said. "I'm Sophia Olsson. It's so nice to meet you."
Gina and Carter introduced themselves to her politely.
"And what's your relationship with Jack Junior here?" Gina asked.
"Nurse?" Carter smirked.
"Oh, we're lovers," Sophia said. We hadn't actually done it yet, but that boded even better for our after-show festivities. "He's wonderful." She leaned up and planted a juicy kiss right on my lips.
My eighteen-year-old body responded enthusiastically. The kiss must be a promise of coming attractions. I really liked Sophia. She was my favorite homo sapien. Of course, she was one of the only homo sapiens I knew, but still...
"How old are you, young lady?" Gina asked.
Sophia smiled at her. "Twenty-five."
Carter coughed. "Standard Terran years? Wow. You're practically a baby."
"Thank you," Sophia said, and then, I could swear, she batted her eyelashes.
My former first and second officers didn't look happy. Ha. Yay, Sophia.
One of the stagehands came up to us. "There you are. We need to do sound checks. And Costume has been looking all over for you guys. You two go over there." He pointed Gina and Carter towards Costumes and they followed his directions.
"You--" he pointed at me "--come onstage."
"Can I come?" Sophia asked.
"Whatever," he said.
As we walked onstage, Sophia said, "I'm proud of you, Jack. Was it difficult seeing Gina with Carter? How long were you together?"
I'd been investigating myself. "Decades." But she didn't want to hear about that. Buck up, Jack. I tried to smile. "Well, the play's the thing..."
"Why do you keep talking like that?"
I blew out a breath. "I'm trying to fit in. That's how Old-Jack acted."
She smiled at me. She had an adorable smile. "That sounds like a lot of work. Seems to me that being murdered is a good excuse to let Old-Jack go."
She made a good point, and I was still feeling that kiss. "Your wish is my command. So, Sophia, I appreciate all your help. I appreciate you. What do you say, after the show, you come back to my hotel room?"
"I thought you'd never ask." Hello, dimples. "But forget the hotel. You're coming home to stay with me."
The sound check and the costume fitting passed in a blur.
~ ~ ~
For more info, see Lesley's web page: www.lesleylsmith.com
I felt excited but nervous, too. According to the biography of Jack Jones, he'd, or rather I'd, given hundreds of concerts over the years. So, why was I nervous? Maybe there was something wrong with this body?
If it hadn't been for Sophia at my side, I would have been a wreck. But she kept smiling at me, flashing her dimples, nodding, holding my hand or rubbing my arm.
After what seemed like forever, it was finally time for me to go on.
"I'll just sit here," Sophia said, planting herself delicately on a stool in the wings.
As I walked onstage, I looked out into the crowd and it was packed, people--mostly homo sapiens--sitting shoulder to shoulder on the sandstone benches under the stars. Clouds scudded by, alternately hiding and revealing the moon. The breeze was warm and lovely, not unlike Sophia. I glanced at her.
She waved charmingly.
When the music started, the sound was so amazing I turned around to check if an orchestra had snuck in when I wasn't paying attention.
Where did they come from? There must have been thirty musicians dressed all in black, sitting in folding chairs, reading music from black stands. They sounded wonderful. I loved live music; the human energy was exhilarating.
The lead violin gave me a look like 'quit staring.'
"Ready, Jack?" the guy talking in my ear bud asked. "There's sheet music on the stand, there."
I nodded. I needed the music. Supposedly Old-Jack never needed the music.
As I listened to the notes melding together, I lost myself. The only thing that mattered was the melodies, the chords, and the harmonies. The soul-transporting beauty.
My part started in the next measure. I breathed in deeply.