Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Tamis woke under the heat of the mid morning sun, the ocean reaching tentative tendrils up the smooth sand to lick at his feet. The last evening was a grey cloud, but he’d evidently passed out on the beach again. Levering up on one elbow, he followed the beach-line unbroken to the horizon, then pushed up into a sitting position and turning, scanned to the horizon on his other side. Nothing to see, apparently nobody up yet.

Last night…

A fragment of a song flitted through his mind, and he latched onto it, pushing at its edges to try and expose the entire tune. There was something familiar, but without context…

The girl breezed by in the periphery of his mind’s eye, but as he reached for the memory it dissolved, like a chalk drawing in the rain.

On the sand he’d absently scratched the crude outline of a heart, and the letter ‘T’.

She must be here somewhere.

Climbing to his feet he began to walk along the shoreline, the waves still reaching for him and he staying just beyond their touch, taunting the massive body of water. ‘You can want me, but you can’t have me.’

The beach gave way on one side to a thick expanse of jungle, trees reaching skyward choked at their bases by vines and bushes peppered with brightly coloured flowers. Birds chattered to each other unseen, and occasionally something big would breach out in the open water. Close to the shore schools of needlefish darted towards the shore and back again, a glittering mass of light-ribbons moving as one just beneath the surface.

He passed an almost familiar Victorian mansion set back in the greenery and covered with plant-life, it’s architect long forgotten and the jungle slowly reclaiming it. The structure filled him with a nagging unease that he could neither shake nor coax out in to the light over the next hour of walking.

From the corner of his eye he saw her again, tanned skin wrapped in red tropical printed silk, but as he turned to look she had disappeared into the green. A fist closed on his heart and his stomach lurched, he had to find her, had to have her again… Again?

In the sand at his feet was the crude outline of a heart, the letter ‘T’ scratched inside.

Had he been walking that long? Was the island that small? He looked again, slowly turning, following the beach to the horizon in both directions.

Not an island. A loop. A construct.

His mind raced as he started walking again, consciously willing his heart-rate to remain neutral, his pace natural. If he was jacked in someone would be monitoring his vitals and he needed to exploit the relative freedom the unpopulated beach afforded him while it lasted.

Venturing closer to the water, he let the cool ocean wash over his feet as he walked, the schools of needlefish parting and swimming past him seemingly unconcerned by his presence, but not oblivious to it.

Stopping, he dropped to his hands and knees in the sand and dug a hole half a meter across, forming a berm with the wet sand around its edges. The hole filled from the water beneath, and once it was complete he busied himself coaxing the slender fish towards him then flipping them out of the ocean and into the pool. Having trapped enough, he sorted the construct’s predictably sized simulacra, small, medium and large, and returned all but three of the largest and half a dozen of the smallest back into the ocean. The remaining fish he pinned gently to the bottom of the pool with one finger, watching his print burn into their scaly skin. He could affect the programming of insignificant things, he’d spent enough time in virtual and coding constructs to do that, but he would need to be very careful. He sequenced them, the short ones one through three, and seven through nine, and the long ones four through six, then busied himself for a while digging a trench from the pool back out to the open water.

When the fish had all escaped, he struck off towards the jungle and the red dressed woman he knew he was expected to find, but must be careful not to. Whatever she was, whatever piece of knowledge she represented, it must remain out of his reach, and thus the reach of his interrogators until his message arrived and a trace negotiated back to him.

The song fragment raised itself again, and he pushed it aside, humming instead a Gaelic tune he’d practiced for such an eventuality.

It was a song he could lose himself in for days.

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