Content warning: This story contains stalking, dehumanization/deliberate misgendering, gun violence, and police confrontation.
“Alright, kid. That was a good takedown today. Clean, by-the-numbers, no fuss, no witnesses. You keep that up, you’ll move from trainee to full operative in no time.
“And you bought me a round. I don’t need to touch your hand to see what’s going on in that head of yours. You want to hear about the big game. You want to know how to catch a psychic. Get comfy, this is a long one.
“I had just made full operative myself, don’t ask how long ago, when I got my first psychic case. It was a Nisei, mark two. Ordinarily, those are kept under lock and key at facilities, but this one had been in transit to New Angeles, when it slipped away from maximum security. We’re talking twenty-four-seven prisec guards, GPS monitors grown into its bone structure, and heavily sedated, all the bells and whistles. They just opened up the cage one day, and it was gone.
“It was a big snafu, let me tell you. Some pretty big heads rolled that day. Anyways, that’s where we come in. Case like that, it probably escaped some time after landing, got out of New Angeles into Ecuador and from there across either Peru or Colombia into Brazil. That’s where we come in. It couldn’t have had much on it, so a journey like that would probably take several months, between the mountains and jungle. We got the BOLO from head office the day it got out, so we were ready for it.
“Now, we get notices like that all the time. We pin their faces on the holoboard, but 60% of the time, runaways like this don’t survive the journey to the border in the first place. There’s a lot in the jungle that’ll getcha. They think they’re home free once they reach Brazil, but they don’t know about us.
“We didn’t have high hopes of seeing this case, all things considered. But then, about twenty-eight months after that disappearing act, we get a hit on a facial recognition scanner. It takes a little camera work, but we confirm, with 99.7% accuracy, our target’s in town. And right here in Rio-São.
“Okay, so here’s the thing about hunting psychics: you gotta cast a real wide net and close it slowly and gently, so that one day they try and see their future and every avenue is a dead end. See, being psychic, it’s like cracking a passcode. Take us for example. Five minutes from now, not much is going to change, right? It’s just a question of whether we’re going to be finished with our caninhas, and that’s a fifty-fifty. So consider that like a password of one digit, not too hard to crack, yeah? But read out a little further, one hour say, and you’ve got a lot more variables. Will we have ordered another couple rounds? Will you be puking up your guts in the bathroom or pissing in an alleyway? Or will you just be safe at home, sleeping your way to another bright sunny day? For a psychic, that’s like cracking a regular seven-digit password. That’s a bunch of choices, and a psychic has to read down each possibility. The more choices, the harder and harder it gets. It’s logarithmic. Now, you wanna know where you’re going to be in a week from now? A lot can happen in a week. You could be dead in the favelas somewhere. Hell, we’re talking passwords nonillions of digits long.
“Luckily for us, Niseis, the best of the best, they’re only able to crack about a million digits. That’s about a day, maybe two. We assume they’re checking the future daily—I would if I were them, so we gotta cast a net wide enough that we can catch them, even if they have a couple days’ head start. That means, we figure out everyone in their life, past and present, that they could possibly run to, and we put units there. Then, day of the hunt, we send a unit to their place. They’ll see that coming, but they’ll have nowhere to turn to, all the threads lead back to us. Basically, we do the same work they do, exploring each possible future of where they run to, except we have to do it the old-fashioned way. I can only read minds, not the future. What takes us weeks they can do in an hour.
“Now, the other way to catch a psychic is to hit them way out of left field. Here’s what I mean, guess where I’m going to put this saltshaker on the table, write it on your napkin. Go on. Ready?
“Ha! Didn’t expect me to do that, did ya? Right, cause you were operating in the framework of me putting the salt on the table. Psychics do that too, they simplify the framework they’re working with to reduce strain. And hell, I mean, they’re right for the most part. Every day is the same shit over and over. You don’t have to look down the thread of ‘will the Challenger Planetoid fall out of orbit and kill us all?’ everyday because that thing is safe as silicon. The psychics don’t check those threads, so if we can find a thread like that, a really out-there approach, well, even they won’t see it coming.
“Back to this runaway. Turns out, it was working in a bar near the edge of Vila Bela. So, first we just post long-range surveillance on it, get an idea of its hours, when it’s at work, what’s its schedule, who it meets with. It’s mostly just pulling files from local surveillance, but sometimes we send out the drones. Gotta be careful with those, cause fugitives will spook if they sense a drone tail. We also pull from the social Net, for whatever that’s worth. In this case, it wasn’t much, just a couple of bare-bones accounts to keep in contact with friends, no posts, no real presence. Altogether, it makes a profile: it worked flexible hours, changing week by week; it’d go out with friends drinking or clubbing most nights, between a dozen different places; and it had a boyfriend it’d crash with some nights. Pretty basic life. I guess it was still lying low.
“So that’s the present accounted for, now for the past. I go to the bar owner. Not the manager who makes the shifts, mind you. Ya can’t directly interact with anyone in the target’s life. They can, if they touch something, they can feel the history of it. I talk to the manager—the clone reads them, and I’m made. So, I go to the building owner and pose like I wanna buy the establishment. She’s what you expect, a seedy little tyrant in a cheap suit tryna’ milk her property for as much as she can. I don’t come on too strong, but I hint that I’m willing to part with a serious sum of money. Once the owner takes the bait, I ask for the business records, including the employees’ resumes, to assess my purchase. She’s reluctant to give me that kind of access, but she thinks she can smell money on me. A little grease here, a little psychic suggestion, and now, I’ve got a list of past employers. It doesn’t go too far back, cause it’s only been in the country about a year, but that’s okay.
“Before the bar, it worked at this courier company, getting paid under the table. Big company, so I go to the shift supervisor. I dress down, falsify a couple documents, and play the concerned brother, give ’em the sob story about ‘oh my sister is missing, and I haven’t been able to contact her in months. Can I get her contact information from you?’ Now, they obviously haven’t heard from it in months either, but he’s a real nice guy and just feels so bad for me and is happy to give me the last address they have on file. Of course it helps that I put my hand on his shoulder, and give him a little psychic nudge.
“From there, we look up the landlord of the old address. It’s a shabby, run-down apartment block owned by this octogenarian who lives in the place. So, I switch outfits and dress up like a cop. Old people who own property? They love cops. Me and my partner, we go to the landlord, and she’s lovely, invites us in, sits us down, offers us some biscoito amenteigado. I can get an impression of her mind off the teacup she hands me, and that’s enough of an in to tell me how to work her. We tell her we got an arrest warrant for an old tenant of hers, drug charges, vandalism, maybe some break and enter. The goal here is just to scare the broad, but not make her think that this person is dangerous. She might zip up if she’s afraid that snitching will put herself in harm’s way. The old lady eats it up. She tells us how she always knew that one was ‘no good’. They were always out late, partying, dressing in wild fashion, and generally not paying rent on time. She’s able to name a couple more friends and a girlfriend at the time. She also remembers speaking with the target and finding out it was squatting in the favelas before moving to her place. We thank her for her for doing her civic duty and go on our way.
“Now, that’s a couple more leads. Old friends and partners are good. We’re able to locate them pretty easily and assign operatives to watch and wait. The favelas are trickier. It’s really hostile territory, and there’s obviously no fixed place to keep a unit at. But if it was safe squatting in those hellholes once, there’s a good chance it’ll run into one when it gets spooked. So what we do instead, is place agents on the five quickest routes to the favelas from its work and home addresses and hope that we catch it before losing it in the slums.
“Finally, a month later, we’re ready for the op. Anywhere it runs to, we’ve got agents waiting for it, everything is covered. We’ve got visual confirmation from a spycam we set up across the street from its apartment that it went home that night. At 3 a.m., we issue the go command. We’ve got two teams of heavily armed prisec surrounding the building and a third goes up with two of our agents, Rodriguez and Carvalho, to bag the target. Usually we don’t find anything; it’ll probably have sensed our op and run. But instead, when the breach team kicks the door down, the place erupts in a massive explosion. Ten good operatives, dead. Before anyone knows what the fuck is going on, the target comes out of the ground floor, guns blazing. I don’t know how, but this clone somehow amassed a small armoury in under a year while waiting for us. Worst part is, we can’t retaliate with anything lethal because no one wants to be the one to explain to big J who destroyed its billion-credit property. All we can use are synap pistols and glop grenades and it’s using an armour-piercing, full-auto Gauss rifle. It’s not a fair fight.
“Smaller bombs go off on the roofs with the snipers. They’re not injured, but they spook and get out of the building, so they’re useless while the target blitzes through the prisec covering the front exit. It grabs a hopperbike from across the street—we had tagged all the vehicles in the parking of the apartment, but who knows how long that getaway bike had been stationed there. I was observing the op from a distance, thank goodness, because the prisec are in shambles, and they’re useless anyways. What good’s a hired gun if you can’t fire it? So when it blazes out of there on the bike, I’m the only one in pursuit. I call in all the other teams from their positions, but they’re scattered all over the city waiting for it at possible spots to run to. It’s just me and the psychic.
“At first, I didn’t understand its gameplan. I figured it’d just try and blitz past our units at the entrances to the favelas, but it’s going parallel to the border, like it’s looking for the right window. Then, local law enforcement finally gets on its ass for speeding and a dozen other flight traffic violations. But that means they’re on my ass too, and we can’t let the government know we’re here. We can pay our way out of small infractions, but this is getting too public. It switches to autopilot, whips around and sprays me and the cop hoppers with bullet fire. The cop backs off, probably calling in for heavy backup. I’ve got to make a move and make it now.
“Now, you don’t get access to any really big firepower until you’ve shed that rookie status. But in my hopper, I’ve got a maser rifle that’ll microwave you from the inside out. It’ll also fry the hell out of that bike it’s on.
“So I pull out my sidearm first, a tidy little hand cannon. Packs a hell of a punch and makes a lot of noise, but I’m aiming high, forcing it down to only a couple meters off the ground. Then I whip out the maser, takes a sweet minute to charge while I get in close, and then one shot, very short burst, I don’t wanna kill it, and the bike drops from the sky like a brick, and the target goes rolling in the dust. I drop out of my hopper with my zip-ties, ready to book this thing, but I get five metres from it and—Bang!—it had kept a second gun on it all this time. It’s only a Skorpios Stinger, but the bullet lodges deep in my shoulder, and I get a psychic impression off the bullet, even as my body’s screaming in agony, and it’s nothing but pure malice. That clone would kill me, and everyone behind me, for five more minutes of freedom. They are dangerous animals, these free clones. Never forget that, kid. When you think you’ve got them cornered, that’s when they’re the most deadly.
“Nothing for it. It’s got me dead to rights in the sight of that Stinger. I close my eyes, waiting for that last loud shot I’ll ever hear, and it’s just silence. After about a minute, I open my eyes again, and it’s long gone. I skedaddle before I have to answer some very awkward questions with the PRF, and that was the last I ever saw of it.
“We assume it ducked deeper into the favela and then laid low there for a while before switching cities. Maybe it changed faces, too. It’s still out there, somewhere. Our file for it remains open, and we’re constantly scanning surveillance networks for any trace of it, but so far—nada.
“All I know is that it was one hell of a hunt.”