A.I.
Chapter 10

The first thing I did after I retrieved my backpack was destroy my old ID and credit cards. I'd held onto them out of some vague sense that in contemporary America it was better to be somebody than nobody, even if the somebody was a wanted terrorist. And I'd had the morbid thought that if some overzealous cop did spot me and shoot me dead, at least Lisa would know.

But now John Joseph Heyward had to go. Destroying these things isn't easy, they make them sturdy. But I'd picked up a small pair of scissors the day before and I used them to cut the cards into as many small pieces as I could and stuffed the pieces into my pocket. As I biked back along the nature trail I'd go a couple of hundred yards and take a few pieces out and throw them as far away as I could. I expect I spread them over two or three miles.

And at the end of those miles I was officially another person.

Jackson Edward Carstairs. The new me.

Spook had fixed it so I could still be "Jack" without suspicion, but everything else except the photo—my real one, not the doctored version Ashley had—was altered. I was a couple of years younger, and my birthday was now June 16. My Social Security number was different, too; I didn't have an actual card, but lots of people lose theirs and Spook had said it would check out if anybody took the trouble.

So would everything else. The driver's license was real, and these were real credit cards; they, too, would check out. It was nice to have a friend who was a computer, especially one linked to so many other computers.

The only thing that wouldn't quite check out was the street address on the license. But I was fairly well covered there, too. A coastal town in Texas had recently been pretty much wiped out by a hurricane, and Spook had picked one from a neighborhood that was now nothing but rubble. Since I didn't plan to go anywhere near Texas that seemed safe enough, and I'd soon get a real address where I was going and could safely apply, this time regularly, for a new license there.

Because I had to get out of town, well out. I'd lived in the D.C. area since I was seven, gone to school there, worked there, too many people knew me. Sooner or later I'd run into one on the street, and then all the fake ID and modified photos and fingerprints in the world wouldn't protect me. Spook could control systems but not people.

Meantime, my legs were aching again and I was thoroughly sick of biking. I decided I was ready to rejoin civilization.

At one point the trail passed right by a big Interstate exit. I got off, gave the bike a farewell pat, and leaned it up against a nearby tree, this time without the lock attached—though I left it, too, plus the keys. I hoped some lucky hiker would find it and take it for his own, though more likely it would a wigged-out thief who'd sell it for peanuts to feed his drug habit.

I never did find out which, of course; bikes are anonymous.

But I wasn't any more. Jackson Edward Carstairs walked over to the best-looking motel around and checked right in. They took his plastic deferentially and gave him the room at the end of the corridor that he requested. And the one next door, for his "friend" who'd never arrive; I wanted privacy. They also directed him to the restaurant, where he sat down to his first decent meal—not great, of course, but acceptable—since that dinner in Rockville two days before when he was somebody else.

By the time I got back to the room I was feeling expansive. It was in that mood that I called Lisa.

"Jackie, I'm so glad!" she said as she picked up. "Darling, are you still OK?" It was the first time she'd ever called me "darling."

"I'm good, Lee," I said easily. I had to be careful, Ashley or his people were still listening and I couldn't overdo it. Not yet. "I can't say much else right now, but I'm good. And I love you."

"Me, too, Jack," she said. "But I'm still worried about you."

Lee had a level head, it was one of her biggest attractions for me. "Quit worrying, love," I told her. "I'm starting to see my way clear out of this box." Careful, Jack, don't get too confi­dent, but I had to take as much pressure off her as I could.

"You're coming back, Jack?" she asked anxiously. "Turning yourself in? I know it's hard—"

"Not quite yet," I cautioned her. "But maybe soon. We'll see each other again soon, honey, and get our lives back. OK?"

"Thank God!" she exclaimed. "This has been awful, Jack. A lot of my friends know you're my guy, and with the newspapers and the TV it's been horrible! Some of them have been acting like I'm some bimbo or whatever. Janet"—one of her best friends, though I'd never liked her much—"even said to me, 'you wearing a bomb today, Lisa?' She was sort of joking, but maybe sort of not too, you know?"

"Next time tell her you are and it's going off in thirty seconds and see what she does," I said, also only half-joking. Janet was a bitch.

"Not so funny, Jack," she said. "I'm really getting a lot of looks."

"Look back, sugar, and stand tall," I told her. "Honey, I'm not out of the woods yet but I'm starting to see daylight. More later, OK? I need to go find the rest of that daylight. I love you, sweetie, hold that thought tight as you go to bed tonight."

We exchanged a couple more I-love-yous before I clicked off.

Again I waited briefly, but again no call-back. It was time, though; Ashley would be pretty badly on edge by now. I pulled the paper out of my wallet and read the number to Spook.

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Story tagged with:
Ma/Fa / Consensual / Heterosexual / Science Fiction / Slow /