The High Cost of Paranoia

“So, are you interested in classical music?” The voice was soft and feminine, an amount of trepidation apparent in the strange and seemingly unrelated question. Bach was brought out of his introspection, staring at a note that had “Bach” written on it in mysterious handwriting. He had been comparing the signature to a list taken from only one thousand corporations in the area. He had to start somewhere, and his comlink had the right programs to do a simple scan while he tried to remember as best he could.

The woman in front of him was one of the coffee shop waitresses. Thin, attractive, with long hair that shifted color as the light hit it at different angles; a shampoo, he remembered seeing, that promised to make hair colorful for twenty-four hours. As she looked at him, her head tilted and her hair waved dark green, orange, and yellow. She waited patiently, looking at him curiously. Bach blinked slowly as reality flooded back into his eyes; he had jacked out of Sim unexpectedly. Immediately, he wondered who she was and started running a soft image recognition program, the results filtering onto his cybernetic eyes in the form of a translucent grid.

“Uh. No, not really.” Bach’s voice was thick and pointless. He frowned. So did she. “Oh. So, is that your name?” The waitress asked, leaning against the table and almost presenting her body as she did so. What’s going on? Bach thought. Why does she even care?

“Yes.” Bach paused as the waitress looked disappointed. Quickly, he realized she was hoping he might say something more. “Um. What’s your name?” Cheerily, the waitress responded “Larissa Donovan.” Bach began searching for a Larissa Donovan in the local databanks. Initial reports were empty, which made him suspicious.

“So, Mr. Bach, what DO you do? Are you an artist? Cause you kinda look like an artist to me.” Interrogation? Inspection? Perhaps she works for someone looking for me… The concept seemed ridiculous, but somehow he began to believe it was true. She leaned in close to him, her perfume enveloping his senses (it was lavender perfume) and Bach inadvertently looked down her blouse. On the screen of his eyes, no Larissa Donovan matching her description could be found. Magenta and turquoise hair dangled in front of his face.

“I like artists.” Larissa was close enough for Bach to lean forward and kiss, if he wanted. She was attractive. But something held him back. Why can’t I find her on the grid? Explanations were required for everything. People didn’t do things without plans, didn’t make plans without support, and didn’t have support without knowing the outcome first. Was she wildly insane, he wondered? He thought about asking, but all around him he felt danger. The brightly lit shop, the easy access to police and other unknown characters. He felt an inexplicable need to escape, and without a word, he stood and walked out.

Out on the streets Bach felt better. Something about Larissa bothered him, but he couldn’t bring himself to say anything. Why? It was as dark a night as the streets get, lights and neon signs brightening every corner on the main street. It made him feel exposed. Maybe that’s why he couldn’t confront Larissa; it was too public, too dangerous if he was right. She wasn’t who she said she was, that much was obvious. But telling a person you know they are lying can cause more trouble than it was worth. Bach walked down a dark alleyway, feeling comforted by invisibility.

A door opened in the alleyway and Larissa walked out, looking upset and determined as she glanced both directions. “Hey!” she shouted at Bach, who froze in place, recognizing the voice behind him. Instinctively he wanted to run. This wasn’t a good place for danger; too narrow a path, not enough escape ways. His eyes plotted possibly escape routes, looked for doorways and structural weaknesses. There weren’t enough.

Bach turned and saw Larissa walking up to him, fuming and holding a bag. On the surface of his eyes, a grid of the bag demonstrated how a gun might be concealed. He felt trapped. “How could you just walk away? Don’t you think I’m attractive? Wasn’t it obvious I was into you?” Larissa’s hair shifted between oranges and purples in the back-lit alley. He couldn’t help but find her even more attractive.

“I know Larissa isn’t your name.” Larissa stopped, panic grabbing her face. “How do you?” Bach shook his head, walking towards her so that she had to turn and put her back to a wall. He still wanted to run, but he had to know the truth. Could it be possible? Does she work for them?

“I searched the area for a Larissa Donovan. You aren’t her. Who are you?” Larissa tried to run, but Bach stopped her. A need to run? She must work for them! “Do you work for the people that did this to me?”

“What? No! I… I don’t even know you!” Larissa screamed, and Bach lost his temper. She had to know; it was the only thing that made sense. “Tell me the truth damnit!”

“Fine! Just don’t!” Larissa quickly reached into her bag as she spoke. Bach didn’t even think. Smartlink activated and matched her movements, locating her heart and locking on. He drew his firearm with the smooth motion of years of practice, long forgotten. The gun fired.

Larissa’s body slammed back from the impact of so close a shot. Her back hit the wall, then her head, her hair whipping in front of her face violently and covering her upper torso. As she slid down the wall, purple, orange, and teal colors fluttered before her face, except where her hair touched her heart, which filled with a dark red. As her body hit the ground Bach saw, in between teal and orange, her light-less eyes. They asked a thousand questions for which he wanted answers. By her limp, open hand was a comlink, turning on. He tapped into it.

It held letters from friends and work, nothing conspicuous. Normal nightlife phrases. There were two folders he found. One was a personal journal, the last entry reading; “I’m finally going to ask that man out. I’ve seen him in the streets and he lives pretty close to me, and now he’s even in my shop! He looks like an artist, or maybe a writer. Hopefully it goes well!” Bach closed his eyes before opening a folder entitled “Untitled”

He didn’t have a lot of time to read, but it was a confession detailing her past. She was dating a man who turned out to be a drug lord, found out and stole his money. She left the city and came to Seattle to start a new life, with a new name. If she was found dead, she indicated that her ex-boyfriend’s men had probably finally found and killed her. Bach turned off the comlink. Dead end.

He walked back into the street, knowing that soon the police would arrive. His best defense would be remaining calm, so he walked slowly and steadied his breathing. Police would assume the assailant was part of the drug ring, and maybe some jackass drug dealer would even get thrown in jail. Who knew. All Bach knew is that Larissa didn’t work for anyone he was looking for.

He’d hate himself later.

The High Cost of Paranoia

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