Tasha Farmer swooped her view in to where her quarry mingled deep in a crowd. She had found him on the seventeenth floor of Bauerdel Building A, a mecca for destination shoppers. He didn’t seem to be shopping himself, just mingling, enjoying the crowd looking through AR models of fancy suits and dresses and listening to a fax Rat Pack sing two-hundred-year-old easy music. He frequented places where he could do things like that, according to the information Tasha had gotten on him so far.
He did an alright job with his personal security. Not great.
Markwith Planter, a clone from the ruggedly handsome Paul Derwent line, had nine years of pre-paid premium citizenship with the small Zelick Company, which had only recently obtained sovereign status from the Commons. His Zelick citizenship protected him from clone scalpers, so Tasha had to assume that wasn’t why her client wanted him. Not that it was her place to speculate, though anything could be a handle by which to grab and bring him in.
Tasha turned over to lay on her side, though her shoulder and hips barely had room to squeeze past the bunk above her. Her eyes automatically drew out the bunks opposite her in the hall, and the walls beyond them, so that she could look out on the French skyline. There was the slightest hint of pink at the horizon where the sun would rise in half an hour or so. Once it did she would have to give her bunk up, because her lease only gave it to her at night. During the day it belonged to a Kelso citizen named Jean-Paul. If this new job panned out, maybe she could challenge him for his lease.
She folded her hands under her head and turned the opacity of Planter and his environs up all the way. Her footage was coming from an array of polysensors around the store. She moved sinuously around in it as an undetectable point of awareness, studied the clone’s face and listened archived the conversations happening around him. The ones who mentioned him turned red in her view, brighter each time they said his name.
Two women inspecting each other wearing a virtual coat were the only bright red people in the room. Tasha listened in to them, scrolled through everything either of them had said in the last two days. Nothing seemed relevant; they were impressed with how much money Planter was spending, and wondered how a clone got access to that. One of them thought it was a good sign that that clone liberation was coming for real soon, the other thought that was stupid but was polite enough not to say so. They smelled strongly of perfume. Real perfume, not just an AR scent.
Planter kept his hands in his pockets the entire time. There was nothing in them, not that the thousands of audio-video, chemical, infrared, seismic, and other sensors in Building A could detect. He chatted with a small group, telling stories from the office where he coordinated specialist engineering labor for some small but wealthy Zelick subsidiary. Keywords Tasha’s software thought she should be aware of included patching, sewage, reconstruction, and Africa.
On a hunch, Tasha disabled all the AR surrounding Planter. The store disappeared, and the band and the clothes. Most of the shoppers’ makeup. Planter’s own voice had a pronounced lisp, like the original Paul Derwent but only about half of his duplicates, that he usually kept masked. The crowd stood in a white concrete rectangle, most in plain shirts and pants. There wasn’t even a divider between the store and the staff offices.
And Planter did not have his hands in his pockets. His hands looked empty, but in odd positions. When Tasha tasked a battery of bots with breaking through whatever was masking his possessions in all the local sensor feeds, they uncovered a butterfly knife in his right hand and a plastic electronics case in the other.
He wasn’t actually talking either, but scowling and glancing around him. Apparently, his conversation and posture were both synthesized. He shouldn’t have had that kind of access, he was no executive, however small his sovereign corporation may be. Tasha zoomed in on his case, but she couldn’t get inside it. She identified its make and model, but it was generic. When she rewound the model of him that was drawn to her corneas, it was still invisible. She put her bots on reconstructing the sensory samples that he was apparently altering, but she didn’t have time to oversee their work right now.
She got up a few minutes before sunrise and took an elevator down to get some coffee. She’d hoped to have apprehended Markwith Planter by now so she could go for a swim, but she had to settle for taking a seat on the roof of the megastructure upon which her compartment tower was built, look out over the Channel while her coffee cooled. She tucked her shirt in and tied her hair back. Pulled up a browser window – at low opacity so she did not lose sight of her target in the Bauerdel building – and scrolled through a virtual rack of tops to replace her current one, since it was getting old. The one she selected would be brought to her within fifteen minutes.
Shopping. She should have guessed right away that Planter was up to something. Destination shopping, going somewhere to buy your goods, was as bourgeois as it got, and every clone Tasha had ever met had some strain of salt-of-the-earth in them. Even those of the George Kaye Higgs model.
“Thank you,” her client said directly to her tympana. “I’m dismissing your service.”
“I haven’t brought him in yet,” she subvocalized.
“I have someone else on the way. You’re in France, after all.”
What about it? She was also right there next to the target in Sao Paolo. She could usher him into a car, get him anywhere in the world.
The Derwent raised his eyebrows then, locked on to someone he saw across the room. Tasha zoomed out to see who it was, and did not recognize the man who was approaching, or see anything significant in the immediate data she could get on him. The newcomer pushed his way through the throng and said something to Planter. The clone proffered the plastic case, but withdrew it right before the other could take it from him. His face had become suspicious. Then it became worried, and he flipped the knife out with his other hand and tried to back away. The other easily shoved Planter’s hand back so that the knife plunged deep into his own chest, puncturing a lung. He fell, and the case went with the silent attacker.
No one reacted. In AR, a model of the dying clone still chatted amiably, as fax as Dino on the stage. And the other man had a different face, that of whomever Planter had expected to meet.
“What was that?” Tasha asked her client.
“Unfortunate, is what it was. But not very.”
She received an alert that she had received the second half of her commission, one hundred thousand dollars.
“You already had someone there,” she said.
“I did, but I couldn’t be sure that he was the one who had me.”
The client had already disconnected. Tasha slumped in her seat. She had been working for an EIC, an Electronically Intelligent Citizen. They were supposed to announce themselves. But at least it had paid.
She drank her coffee. It was stale, like the air and the earth and everything in the Western European Sprawl. She looked through a list of potential clients looking for missing persons, flagged a few to come back to later. To keep her bunk she had to resolve at least one more case today, but she might have time for a swim after all.