Hazy from the sleepless night on the chair and not knowing where Ari went, An awakes late in the afternoon and tries to ready herself for the long, first shift. Her legs are asleep from hanging over the armrests. As she places the first leg to transfer her weight, it buckles and she sits right back down again. She waits, rubs her face, and then her calves as the tingling numbness subsides.
From the chair, she looks around on the surfaces for a note. She notices the cooled housing in its cast. The plastic has turned translucent. It breaks the light and has metamorphosed into a custom piece of jewelry. It is no longer hexagonal but is now in the shape of a long, cuff bracelet. And at either end there are four fingers that should neatly wrap around the two Ocult UlteriorM6 headsets. Perfect.
‘I have to put that away,’ she says to herself drowsily. She punches her calf but still does not feel much. ‘Legs,’ she mumbles and pushes herself into the back of the library chair. She looks over at the false concrete door. It has been lifted and left ajar. ‘What?’ She teeters over to the hiding spot, kneels and feels around inside the space. ‘Why would he take it?’ Her mind is racing. ’Did he steal it? And the motherboard?’ She says out loud to the empty COR housing unit, fixes the lid back in place, then sits back down as the realization sinks in.
There is a knock at the door that opens it a crack. Relief envelopes her as she gets up. Dust rises from the leather in the light. She opens the door to see three burly, COR police officers. Not who she thought or hoped.
‘Can… can I help you?’
‘Are you An, COR employee number 384723847?’ The baldest and smallest of the three troglodytes commands.
‘Yes I am. Are you cave men looking for a …’ She is snatched by the elbow and twirled around, over the sofa. They ziptie her wrists. The plastic is a little too tight on purpose. It hurts to bend her hands.
‘This is a search warrant for your residence.’
‘The finger food is all gone if that’s what you’re looking for. Sorry my fridge is cleaned out.’
‘Get a sample from the bathroom,’ the short one says to the chest of his better fed clone who holds what looks like a ziplock, toiletry bag. The other large guard has already set out the laser-grid on the floor for the industrial, metal detector.
‘Am I under arrest?’
He takes out a small card from his shirt pocket and reads. ‘Under COR penal code 234, an officer has the right to detain a COR employee while in the vicinity of a property solely owned by COR. And in a case where an officer has a search warrant, an officer has the right to protect his or herself from personal injury.’
‘Good to know, but you didn’t answer my question,’ An’s face is turning red, protruding the imprinted patterns of the crochet afghan across her cheeks. The plastic tie cuts into the skin of her wrists.
The officer in the bathroom comes back. ‘There’s not much there. It’s clean, sir.’
‘Clean? How could it be clean? We just need a sample. Anything. Toothbrush, comb, lift up the toilet seat.’
‘I did. Looks like she uses those natural stick toothbrushes… miswak it’s called… and it looks like she just sprayed down the entire area with disinfectant… it smells fresh anyway.’
‘Are you kidding me? Alright what were those coordinates? Maybe there is something there. But take pictures first before you move anything.’
A map displays on his red, COR spherelet. ‘Sir. Let’s see… 49°.907998N, -119.449223873026W… I’ll look outside.’ He disappears while taking out a thin, pen-like camera from the array of tools on his belt. A few moments later he says, ‘Got it. Behind a brick.’
‘Remember to take photos FIRST,’ the higher ranking COR cop yells back, ‘Then bag it,’ he finishes. ‘How about you? Anything?’ he asks the other officer who now has the vacuum like device on the ceiling.
‘Nothing so far,’ he says as he starts running the machine down the far wall, approaching the print of an ancient, Dutch master—Rembrandt’s Night Watch. (random24)
‘Be careful with that,’ An says as the painting falls to the floor.
The three bodies take up most of the available space in the unit. ‘They don’t make these housing units for much company, do they?’ the leader feigns a sarcastic smile.
The officer who was outside comes back with An’s sphere in the ziplock bag, hands it to the one giving orders, and then starts searching by hand in and around the books on the bookshelf.
‘Be careful with those. Watcha looking for anyway?’
‘I think you know lady. What’s this for?’ Male pattern balding holds the elliptical mold into the light and directly in front of her face.
‘Not sure,’ she says.
‘Looks techy. Did you buy it?’
‘I must have, if I have it now… don’t you think?’ she beams her good eye through him.
‘Could be. Maybe off a friend. Can’t really remember to tell the truth.’
‘It looks new.’
‘Look, what do you want? I’m not under arrest. I don’t have to answer your preposterous questions. Just get…’
He grabs her hair and pulls her head back. Her neck is exposed to his spittle-infused tirade.
‘You just do as we say and shut up. You know what you did. We have you now. Azzam is watching this on videofeed as we speak.’ He adjusts his eyepiece. ‘You are a little speck of dirt. You are done for. Do you hear me? DONE FOR.’ He wipes his mouth as he lets go of An’s hair and suddenly looks at the joint of his ring finger. ‘Here we are.’ He pulls a tissue from the box on the counter to lift the hair from his finger and place it in the bag with the sphere.
‘If you’re finished then... I have to get to work,’ An stands and adjusts her shoulders as her hands are still bound. She turns and wiggles her fingers to be released.
‘Good day.’ The leader motions to the other two to cut her tied wrists, one does, and then the last of the three slams the door behind them. Her last sight is him holding the rim of his COR glasses, keeping his gaze steady on her for Azzam to see via videofeed.
An immediately places the oblong housing carefully in the cupboard behind the plates, straightens up in the mirror and then leaves after them, locking the door.
At work, at COR futurehouse, the guards scrutinize her as she begins to move through her security ablutions. She has no sphere to wave in front of the new screen for COR to download all that she has done. The scanner reads, ‘Error. Please try again’ when she tries to move through the metal fingers. That has never happened. Something is up. Then once a guard lets her in, she swipes her employee card through the computer and a red message blinks: ‘Please input your employee number.’ Something is definitely up, but at least the machines haven’t forgotten their manners, she thinks as she prepares herself for the Quick 5.
Most of the associates have already gathered in a circle. The packers and seekers are together today. She sees Ari and opens her hands as if to say, ‘What happened?’ His only response is to shake his head. What is that supposed to mean? Does he know something? Or is he warning her?
‘There she is. Join us An. We’ve been waiting for you,’ Ananke says from the middle of the circle. He motions her to stand in the middle, which usually happens when an associate from the floor leads everyone through the five exercises.
Ananke clears his throat and begins, ‘As everyone I’m sure remembers, there was a felony theft committed on the premises a short time ago. Since that time, we have been analyzing and reanalyzing every frame of chronotape surveillance recorded and every spec of evidence from that day until now. Until now, due to the level of conniving, we had no idea who the felon could be. Until today that is...’
An exhales, ‘oh crap’ under her breath. It would normally be inaudible, but the great expanse of conveyer that runs throughout the oversized futurehouse and the powerful engines that pull it have not yet been started.
‘And here we are,’ grumbles Azzam as he winks at An. The three officers walk in with him and he stands on the opposite side of the circle from Ananke like a pivot. ‘I’ll take over from here.’ He holds up a plastic bag with An’s sphere in it in one hand and another plastic bag in the other hand with the imperceptible, mousy blond hair from her apartment. ‘We found this on MATT. Now we have the confirmed trace recognition evidence to prosecute An for the felony theft from COR futurehouse 145. An, you will now be taken to the COR court where they will hear your case.’ He moves beside her and bends over to whisper in her ear. ‘That is unless you can be released by paying the bond. We know you can’t, but if you can that will be just more evidence against you.’ Azzam steps back and again uses his manager’s voice, ‘Take her!’ At that the two guards he entered with seize An by the arms.
An looks desperately around at the associates she knows. Amie has a tear running down her cheek. Ananke has his arms crossed and is shaking his head. Ari steps beside her.
‘Don’t,’ she says.
Ari slips a small piece of paper into her hand and smiles at her. ‘We need someone on the outside,’ he whispers.
An kisses his ear and says, ‘I don’t know where you went but you are the only one I can trust. The key to the lock is underplate’.
Azzam has moved in to try to hear what is said, but he only picks up the two words ‘lock’ and ‘under’.
An saw him coming nearer so she had no choice but to speak the riddle to Ari. As she is taken away, she hopes he can decipher it.
‘Expect me back tomorrow,’ she yells up into the roof as she is now being physically dragged by the two officers. ‘That is false evidence. Mark my words, you will all join me my friends.’ Her words trail off as Ananke presses the green button and the machines start up.
Azzam says to everyone remaining, ‘There will be no exercises after this meeting today. Let that be a lesson to anyone who tries to game the algos.’ One laugh, more of a humf, is released from his thorax. With this signal, the circle disperses.
An is dragged to security. The two guards have at least not rebound her sore wrists, perhaps because together they both have total control over her. That and the immobilizer set on low voltage pulsating through her ribs. It ticks away slowly and is barely audible. Another guard near security uses the metal detector wand on her. It beeps at the immobilizer wires. Then all three walk through the manager’s entrance, not having to pass through the metal detectors and emotion scanner.
Once outside in the parking lot, the officer on her left opens the door of the car as the other bends her head when she steps in, sits, and is released from the dull, paralyzing pain. She waits until they both are seated in the front seats and then looks down at the paper she has pulled out of her pocket. It reads:
THe ApAriTION of THESE FACES IN The CROWD
PeTALS to A WET BLACK BOUgh (random25)