Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Arway sat down gently at the desk. Dust was already starting to gather, defying the environment scrubber’s valiant attempts to keep the air spotless.

Two weeks, maybe three.

Careful not to disturb anything, he leaned as close as he dared to the desk’s surface and breathed in slowly, deeply. Hundreds of particles raced through his sinus, and he unconsciously rubbed his tongue against the roof of his mouth as they were identified, cross referenced and catalogued.

Without realizing, he’d closed his eyes as he took in the recent history of the space. He opened them quickly, hoping no one had noticed. Turning slowly, first left, then right, the entire gestalt of the working space was absorbed. Conventional writing instruments, ink dried on their rollerball tips. A collection of sticky notes, brief and cryptic impressions left behind from notes long taken and discarded. A transceiver for the holodeck pickup that he’d stepped over at the door. The contents of the machine it had last interfaced with was already downloaded, its information being indexed against the new data as Arway absorbed it. As he worked, patterns flared up in his line of sight, connections drawn in faint light-lines between objects in the real space around him; hyperlinked notes, tags associating items with each other and her file. There was a nearly infinite number of rabbit holes, each ranked as to their relevance by the intensity of their colour signature.

Arway stood up, and stepped back into the middle of the room.

Two uniformed officers and a plain clothes detective stood by the door, murmuring to each other in hushed tones. Their conversations were also logged, but their words were just so much static to Arway. He was used to their discomfort and resentment.

When he spoke, the three other men stopped talking and listened.

“She was here. She disconnected from virtual sixteen days ago, but stayed here for two days unplugged before leaving. There’s no evidence of electronic funds transfer anywhere near her.”

While he spoke, he stood staring blankly at the desk, not looking at the men behind him.

“She was living off soup and bread, but not it eating here. Probably visiting a food line nearby. She was bringing coffee back, dark roast – mostly Sumatra. That’s not food line coffee, she had to be buying that though there’s no evidence of hard currency. No paper dust, no ink scent, no trace. Whatever she’s spending she’s keeping it vacuum sealed for safety. We won’t be able to trace where her money’s coming from until she slips.” She wasn’t going to slip.

He flexed his shoulders underneath the heavy trenchcoat before continuing. The cramping muscles would soon bring on a headache if he didn’t work them out.

“She was alone. Her clothes are not laundered. No soap, lots of body residue. Dermis samples are present but no hair. She’s either shaving outside or inhibiting. Wherever she is, if she’s not laying down, she’s not leaving much of a footprint. While she was online she logged on average eighteen and one half hours of activity per day. Targets encrypted, currently decoding, information to follow.”

The detective interrupted from the doorway. “Targets? Multiple?”

Arway turned to look at him, the milky sheen of his implants catching the detective off guard as he tried to keep eye contact, forcing him to look away.

“Targets. Multiple.”

It was one of the uniforms that broke the silence that followed.

“Looks like your partner’s gone right off the reservation, eh Arway?”

The comment he filed away with the static, too immersed in the data of her presence to care what they thought.

They expected him to hunt her. He just wanted to understand.

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