Claire: Case 0799
Claire reached into her back pocket and pulled out two photos. She had grabbed them from her apartment just before the enforcers broke down her door. Managing to get away was a challenge on its own, but now, she was able to sit completely undisturbed, tucking her body between two dumpsters adjacent to a building at the very edge of Region Two.
With each photo on the ground, Claire meticulously lined up the edges as she did when she was nervous. She looked at each face. Is this the last time we’ll see each other? she thought. She worked through the odds of that being true, holding up Sera’s photo first.
Claire laughed to herself. Sera would have laughed too had she seen her there. Claire sentimentally looking at a paper photo was a rare occurrence when they were together. None of their friends kept paper photos, and very few people her age or younger had taken them. Everything was digital now, but Claire couldn’t rely on digital memories anymore, not with the enforcers after her. It was unsafe to use any personal devices, as they would trace her and take her away.
The paper photo was an act of practicality for Claire, or so she would say if Sera ever found out. Paper was untraceable, at least in the sense that Claire and the photo couldn’t be found by Wit Systems. The truth was, she had always preferred paper photos. She could smell paper. She could touch paper. This was not true with anything digital, including projections. Claire stared at Sera’s wild eyes and began to drift. It was Sera’s wildness that attracted Claire to her in the first place, and had they limited themselves to a friendship, Claire would have felt that she was somehow incomplete.
It was as if Sera understood and shared a secret with Claire that they had buried so deeply within themselves that no other person could possibly unearth it after years of trying. The door between Claire and Sera’s worlds opened for each other, and they could honor that openness with endless conversation, or moments of sacred silence. She thought about this now more than ever. Claire had often anchored Sera when the tides of her life were turbulent, but now Claire needed her more than ever. Should she call her? Could she call her now? What where the chances that the enforcers would trace the call? She calculated the odds in her head, but as she ran through the numbers, reminders of Sera bubbled up in her thoughts like the anomalies in the code she had found that morning.
“There must be a way,” she said to herself. “There is always a way.” She thought first of using the public lines, but that was obviously very risky. Any line connected directly to Wit’s systems would expose her for sure. If she could get into the mainframe of The System, or even in one of the data transfer lines…
She put the photo in her pocket and shook her head.
None of it was worth the risk. Although they rarely explicitly stated it, they loved each other more deeply than they could describe. Claire had now understood how the terrifying nature of distance and time could create an uncrossable void between two people, but now was not the time to think about how she could bridge that gap between here and now, and Sera.
Claire took out the other photo with her right hand while running her left hand through her hair.
She glared at the face from this photo, her eyes half-lit with curiosity, and the rest dimmed by confusion. She turned the photo in what little light there was in the alley. The face stared back – a plain face, with long straightened hair tied back in a bun, and what looked like methodically placed makeup. Her expression was neither happy nor sad to any casual viewer, but to Claire, she recognized it as contentment. The eyes were just like hers, but she hated to admit that. This was her mother at her happiest, staring into a camera at the man she had loved. Claire’s father had taken the photo before leaving them both, three years before her mother disappeared too.
“Where are you now?” she said. She whispered it again to herself, half expecting an answer to come from the air. As she stared at the picture, she thought about the entire morning. Everything had unraveled so quickly. First she found a hole in Wit’s firewall and broke through, then The System reported her. Then the enforcers had come to question her. Claire felt trapped in an urban legend, the kind she heard as a kid: enforcers taking men and woman from their homes and little boys and girls to turn into slaves. She stared at the photo one more time.
“It’s all your fault,” said Claire.