Just a touch more red, and... done. Pete LaSalle stepped back to take in his latest masterpiece. Since the age of nine it seemed that everything he painted was a masterpiece. People worldwide would pay incredible sums for a LaSalle original. But this latest work was not for sale. It would be part of his next gallery, opening in a few weeks.

Pete walked across the vast studio to clean out the paintbrush. Turning on the water, he-

Hello there, Pete.

-dropped the paint brush and spun around frantically. No one was allowed in the studio. No one, no one was to see a painting before it was properly unveiled or, even worse, before it was finished. But the studio was empty, as it should be. Just Pete and scores of paintings in various stages of completion. I must be imagining things, he thought, and went back to-

I said, hello there, Pete.

Pete's eyes darted to every corner of the studio and still found no one. "Who's there? I know you're there, show yourself!"

No need to yell, I can hear your thoughts just fine.

"What?!"

I said, I can hear your thoughts. Is that so hard to believe? You're hearing me in your thoughts, after all.

"Who are you?"

It was a reasonable question.

All in due time, Pete. First, answer me this. Why did you choose to paint?

"Well, I... I've just always been good at it, I suppose. I, now wait, this is ridiculous! I won't stand around in my own studio talking to myself like some nutjob. WHO ARE YOU?"

You don't have to speak if you don't want to, I already told you I can hear your thoughts.

Fine, Pete thought, who are you?

You're not ready to know quite yet, Pete. Now tell me this, have you even considered why you have always been such an excellent artist?

"I started at a young age. I've studied art my entire life. I've just... always been an artist." Pete said, completely forgetting to think back to the voice in his head.

Ah, but what drove you to art in the first place? What provided your first inspiration, what sparked your interest in the arts to begin with?

"I... I guess I don't know. I don't remember. Like I said, I-"

Have always been an artist, yes, yes, I know. Well, Pete, I'm going to tell you. I'm going to tell you something you don't know about yourself, something you were never meant to know. When you were conceived, you inherited an extremely rare genetic disorder. It was diagnosed about a month into your mother's pregnancy. The prognosis was... not good.

"Mom's never told me anything like th-"

Of course she hasn't. Now Pete, your parents took you to a private geneticist. One with a... questionable legal status. The disorder was cured and, for a substantial fee, your parents had him alter some extra genes. Enhance your creativity. Inclined you to the arts. As you grew, your mind became like a sponge for all things artistic. Pete, you're genetically enhanced.

"But that's illegal. I mean, curing disorders is one thing, but enhancing someone like that has been against the law for decades. Ever since that incident with the Chinese back in the 2030s."

Nonetheless, that is what happened. That is where your initial spark came from. That is why you enjoy painting.

"I don't believe you," Pete said bluntly.

That is your prerogative. However, your belief is essential to my plans. I suggest you call your mother. I'm sure she'll tell you everything. I will contact you again soon.

"What do you mean 'your plans'? What exactly are you planning?" The voice didn't answer. Could I really be genetically enhanced? Would my parents do that? And more importantly, would they keep it a secret from me?

***

Pete didn't call home until the following evening. He'd debated doing it at all, but in the end decided that he had to know the truth.

The phone rang once, twice. His mother answered the ringing with a cheery, "Hello?"

"Hi mom," Pete replied.

"Oh, hello dear. So good to hear from you. Your father and I are so looking forward to the gallery opening. You'll still be at the airport to pick us up, right?"

"Of course. Mom, listen... I need to ask you something."

"Anything, Petey." Pete hated that name.

"Was... was I genetically enhanced?"

"Oh, son... I, we... we had to, son. We might have lost you to that terrible disease, and then the doctor offered to do some extra tweaking, and..."

Pete wasn't really listening anymore. He didn't know what to think about himself. About his parents. They saved his life, no doubt, and made him an artist. What would he have been without the enhancements? I'd probably be dead. Even if not, would I be happy? I love painting, I can't imagine life as anything but an artist. Whatever I could have been, would have been... how could it have been better? If I were to choose, this is the life I would want. Illegal or not...

"Mom," he said, interrupting her rantings, "thanks."

***

It was nearly a week before Pete LaSalle heard from the mysterious voice again. He was back in the studio, packing up some paintings to be shipped to the gallery. He'd been expecting the voice to come back, but it still startled him when it did, nearly causing him to drop a painting.

So you know the truth?

"Why are you bothering to ask, I thought you could read my mind?"

Touché. You seem to have come to terms with your genetic past quickly.

"Well, regardless of where this life came from, I'm happy in it," Pete said. Then he decided he'd had just about enough of Mr. Mystery Voice. "Alright, enough of this. It's time for you to tell me who you are," he demanded.

Very well. I am you.

Pete blinked. "Me?"

Another you, that is. The geneticist who worked on you, on us, was a lot better than he gave himself credit for. He discovered the connection between the mind and the body. And when he tweaked your genes, our genes, he was able to affect our very mind. Not the brain, but that intangible consciousness that controls our physical bodies. You might call it the soul.

Pete found himself intrigued. "Go on."

When your parents, our parents, were given the option to enhance our abilities through genetics, do you really think art was the only path they considered? Doctors, musicians, great political leaders, sports stars... all of us were possible Petes. But in the end, they settled on a creative mind, the greatest artist the world has seen in a hundred years.

Pete was starting to get scared by what his alter ego was suggesting. "What do you mean by 'all of us'? Are there more of you... of me?

Lots more, Pete. Hundreds. When that geneticist touched your mind, you were fundamentally changed. It's not right to say he created you. It's more like he realized you, or allowed you to realize yourself, and connected you with the unborn Pete's body. When that happened, that original Pete was in essence changed into you.

But in doing so, the doctor essentially caused every possible Pete to realize itself, to come into being, but without a physical body in which to manifest. When a mind exists without a body it cannot make itself known to other minds. We can touch the minds of others, but those minds are tied to the physical world, and can only interact with their physical bodies. Time does not pass for us in the way it does for you, but we eventually learned much about the world by touching the minds of its inhabitants.

"But I'm interacting with you. How is that possible?"

That's the key. See, I am the mind of the Pete that would have become the world's greatest neurosurgeon. My mind has a deeper understanding of the physical brain than anyone alive. Combining that with my, ah, first hand knowledge of the human mind, I was able to bridge the gap. I can communicate with you, and allow you to communicate with me.

"That's... amazing." Pete the artist was in shock. "But, what now? You say there are hundreds of me. What can be done?"

My plan, Pete, is to bring us to you. We can't manifest in your world. But we can in your mind. You have to let me into your mind, and then I can bring the rest of us. Think of it, Pete. We've been touching the minds of humanity for time intangible, each of us with our own specialty. If it worked, you would instantly gain the sum total of human knowledge, and technical expertise on each subject from every possibly viewpoint. You would almost be a god. We would remain trapped outside the physical world, but at least some part of us could manifest in you.

"If what you say is true, why haven't you already done it?"

It has to do with the way the mind works, Pete. I won't bother explaining, since you would have to be a disembodied mind to fully understand, but a connection like that can't be made unless you completely agree to it. What it boils down to is that you have to say yes. You have to allow us to come into your mind.

Pete the artist considered the offer. The sum total of human knowledge. Incredible How could I resist something like that? "Alright," he said to the voice, "let's do it."

Pete's body immediately crumpled to the floor. He was found the next day by his manager. The body was in perfect condition, continued to breath and function normally, but there was absolutely no higher brain activity. The doctors interpreted it as a coma, and Pete was put on life support.

***

Pete the neurologist opened his eyes for the first time. Looking around he found himself in a hospital bed with various tubes sticking out of him. That artist fool had agreed to the transfer without realizing it, and was now floating off as some extra dimensional nothing. The neurologist now controlled Pete's body, and had brought with him all human knowledge. He began to remove himself from the hospital bed, and pondered what he would do with his new, corporeal existence.

SciFiQuest 2107

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