The bodies came to life and there was nothing he could do to stop them. They moved awkwardly, their movements unnatural and robotic.
They were not inhabited, Lucas knew, they were just being controlled. Steered, like a vehicle, from what he presumed would be a remote location. He had gone too far down the rabbit hole, and someone had noticed him snooping around.
She had come to his office last Tuesday. A job. A simple one, she said, but Lucas knew no job was ever as simple as it seemed. Her husband had disappeared and emptied out their joint bank account, and she was sure that it had something to do with his far younger secretary Elissa. He had asked for all the information he felt she could provide and she had been about half as forthcoming as he would have wanted.
No job was ever as easy as it seemed, he told himself yet again.
He had followed up on what little information she had been willing to provide about Elissa. She had an apartment downtown, but her doorman and neighbors hadn't seen her in a week. That was when the husband had disappeared too. So far the wife's story seemed to check out.
Getting into her apartment had taken some coin, some persuading and some swindling, but the coin would be invoiced to the wife and the rest he was naturally good at. He'd become a private investigator for that exact reason. His natural talents were ill-fitted for the high-tech world out there. But there would always be personal and relational drama to be solved. Coin to be made. Whisky to be purchased and then consumed without the proper amount of reverence.
Lucas turned and ran. If they were being controlled from elsewhere, and he was sure that they were, there was no reasoning to be done. Without a mind actually governing the bodies, he also knew that fighting them would be impossible. There would be no survival instinct, just combat until they fell apart. And there were 7 of them, and only one of him, and he knew he couldn't afford a new body at this point. Not one that could do this job, anyway.
While running he also tried to remember when his last backup had been, and he honestly couldn't remember. That meant that dying here and now was definitely something he wanted to avoid. These past months had had enough memories he didn't want to lose just by being too stubborn or proud to run.
So he ran.
He went through a double door and tried to lock it from the outside, but nothing he could find would keep it shut. He lost precious time before realizing that the shambling bodies wouldn't be able to keep up with him if he just kept running until he couldn't any longer.
Elissa's apartment had been pretty bare. Not empty or unfurnished, just minimalist. He found some messages from the husband on her computer system, and they confirmed something had indeed been going on between the two. But there was no information at all about what had happened recently. Nothing to point towards the reason of their disappearance. The last message from the husband was from a few days before their disappearances, and it had been about a date that night. Lucas knew for a fact both of them had been spotted after that night, so he was no closer to figuring out the truth.
He had sent out inquiries to his regular little birds, the idiots on the streets, the hackers on the mesh. And one of them pinged him back. The husband had been seen in an old warehouse just hours before he disappeared, together with Elissa and some other, unidentified people.
The exact warehouse Lucas was now in.
He had gone through the offices and had found nothing out of the ordinary. The upper levels were clear, the ground floor was clear. Just an abandoned warehouse with nothing recent going on. But then he'd found a heavily secured door to what seemed to be a basement level.
He had patched his persona -- a virtual intelligence loaded up on his wrist communicator -- into the digital lock and it scanned it as thoroughly as it could. But his persona wasn't skilled in hacking at all, and notified Lucas he needed to get in touch with someone else to get past it.
Lucas put an old file cabinet in front of the double door and hoped it would slow the shambling bodies just that little bit more. Then he started running again.
He had contacted Shep -- short for Victor, for some unknown and perpetually unexplained reason -- a hacker he had done some real-world work for a few months ago, and asked him to help with the lock. It had taken a few minutes, but eventually Shep was able to use Lucas' persona's uplink to hack into and through the lock.
"You owe me," Shep said.
"You still haven't paid my additional expenses, though," Lucas countered.
"Oh, so, we good now, then?"
"We good," Lucas said.
Behind the door he had found a staircase that led down, with bare lighting offering some visual aid, but not a lot. He went down the stairs carefully and once he got down, he saw something he honestly had no interest in seeing.
The husband's body, naked, hooked up to a life support port. Elissa's body, in the same position. And a bunch of others he didn't know, in the exact same situation.
The work of body jackers. Bodies were expensive, especially life-like ones. Lucas himself was on his third body, but he had to admit to himself that the quality had gone downhill since his first, original, body. He could have gotten a body from the black market, where they're far cheaper, but you're almost guaranteed to then be wearing the body of someone who was body-jacked.
Their minds ripped from their bodies and spun out into the maelstrom of nothing. The bodies left as a shell, ready to be inhabited by someone else.
Some might be original bodies, in which case they might need alterations to be able to receive a new mind. Elissa was an original body, but he could see she had had a mind port installed, through which she was being kept alive by the life support system. Well, she, Lucas thought, it's not really Elissa anymore. Just her physical representation, without any content.
And then a light had started blinking in the distance and they had woken up. Or, more accurately, been enabled.
As he ran up the stairs and out of the warehouse, he knew he'd been seen. He knew he'd be seeing someone -- or someone's former self -- show up at his door at some point. To either reason with him -- which he doubted -- or attempt to kill him.
But he also had to tell the wife that not only was she right about her husband cheating on her, that both him and his lover were irrevocably dead.
Unless she had a backup from before it all started, of course.