She kneeled on the wooden floorboards staring down at the bit of paper. It was more than paper; it was smooth and crisp, textured, with a gold embossed font.
An emblem, with simple text: Alchemist.
A business card worthy of American Psycho, but lacking any way to get in touch.
She got back up off the floor and looked warily past the thick and floral curtains to the dead grass outside her beaten front-door.
It had been slipped underneath her door. No note, no messenger, no package.
Did it signal a delivery?
She left it where she’d found it and walked back and forth across the floorboards, her feet cold, while her mind ran hot.
She’d been careful. There was no internet access here. No phone signal, she hadn’t installed a phone line. She didn’t own a mobile device. There were no electronics in this house whatsoever. Not even a microwave or toaster. She cooked with gas.
She hadn’t even latched on to some unsuspecting neighbour’s WIFI, nor snuck into their house and borrowed some device. She had no hidden pool of electronics under her floorboards that she was itching to tap into. Although she was itching.
In her dreams, she always found herself back at The Plaza, tapping at the screen, nearly covering her tracks while everything went red-hot and burned around her.
She kept getting further, nearly finding a way, but it always ended with her waking up screaming. Remembering her face singeing.
She hadn’t hacked anything. She was off grid. There had been no slip-ups. No chatter.
There weren’t neighbours here, really. There wasn’t CCTV, not down these dirt track roads, GPS barely got you to this location, what with the valley distorting the signal.
There can’t be many of those nowadays. Maybe it was a case of crossing each of them off the list.
Problem was the ‘community’, they had a hive mentality, she didn’t deal with people directly, didn’t like to show her face. This need to keep her face out of circulation, could have tipped them off. Did they talk about the woman in the valley in the deadened house, who knocked out the electricity, and doesn’t own a radio? The woman who picks up a newspaper and her groceries from a pre-decided stop-off point. Who only speaks to the fourteen-year-old delivery boy, when nothing arrives.
It hadn’t arrived yesterday, neither the newspaper nor the groceries. It had happened before, nothing new, but now it seemed suspect. She had a few things stored away in the cupboards so she hadn’t felt the need to cycle her way down into the village, and remind them.
She figured it would turn up in a few days.
She had no bank accounts. Her bank notes were rolled up under her mattress.
She’d asked for clean bills, the majority had been crisp and fresh. She used the others in a myriad of locations, handed them out to travellers in exchange for anything of use, dumped them in beggars’ bowls, to stump the trackers.
Suddenly the whole plan seemed hurried, unthought out. Would she have been safer in the city? Surrounded by technology, cloaking herself with someone else’s neural tracker. Piggybacking access, rewriting her past, redistributing chunks of information, rather than walking away from it all. Shutting it all down, going dark.
She’d needed to recover, she hadn’t the energy to keep that sort of charade up, to be that purposely clandestine. She’d gone away to hide and lick her wounds, to recalibrate, to let the information sink into place. It was a lot of data, and she’d only had three months.
Or had they given her three months?
There was a knock on the door.