“Albert! We know it’s you in there. Open the door!”
Albert didn’t hear the knocking. He was too busy climbing out of his kitchen window, down into the alley behind his apartment complex.The had seen the couple at his door through the video feed and he was certain they were cops. Their clothes, their casual way of walking, their oversized coats. Cops from Central. No doubt.
Why did they always find him? Why did he always had to be running away?
He slipped off when he heard the cops break in through the door. He fell ten feet off the ground heads first. He heard a crack when his nose hit the ground. Voices above were calling his name. He took off running towards the main street. Once there he slowed down to avoid calling any attention to him. He put a hand to his nose. It was bleeding.
An empty police car was parked in the corner of his block. They would be after him soon. He had to get away. He walked towards the closest metro entrance. He waved his hand at the gate. Instead of a green circle, the holo-display in front of him, showed a big red X.
“> 345G743. DEACTIVATED.”
The metro system had revoked his access.
He heard a cough behind him. A woman with an impatient look on her face, was waiting for him to get through the gate.
He had to move on. Albert walked away from the incriminating display. He run into the street to try to catch a cab. He stopped the first empty car that passed. He waved his hand in front of the door but it didn’t open. Instead, he watched once again the accusatory red X on the window display.
“> 345G743. DEACTIVATED.”
Albert felt the blood drain from his face. Impossible. He had enough kübar credits in his account.
Only a total freeze of his identity could cause something like that. Not only they had found his apartment. They also had his personal ID code.
Albert felt a panic come over him. Without a valid ID he could no access any building, he could not use any public transportation, he could not contract private services of any kind. He couldn’t purchase food or drink. He wouldn’t be able to access his own apartment complex. Without his ID he was locked out of every digital and physical service.
Albert kept trying to stop car after car. All of them denying him access. People on the street were now looking at him. A crowd was forming on the sidewalk. A drone camera floated next to a man in a red hoodie.
Albert heard a loud hissing sound. And then the drone exploded in mid air. A gunshot. People on the street ducked down. Some screamed. Everybody scattered around running. The cops had arrived.
Albert crouched behind a car and run as fast as he could in the opposite direction. He raced down the commercial street. Every banner he passed flashed red and displayed his ID card photo. He was wearing a his leather jacket and had a stupid smile. Under his face was his name and ID code.
“> ALBERT NORIEGA. 345G743. DEACTIVATED.”
He took a sharp turn and hid in a dark side street without street lights. He crouched in the dark. A few minutes later he watched the police cops pass by. Once the sound of the sirens was far enough he remembered to breath again.
He pulled out of his pocket the burner phone he used for black/private/unmonitored calls. He had 3 kübars left. Enough for one last call. He dialed and waited for somebody to pickup.
“I told you not to call me,” said the voice on the other side of the line.
“I’m in trouble.”
“Don’t. I’ll send a car for you. Stay where you are.”
After his call was over he smashed the phone on the ground. Albert waited in a the alley. There were no bright displays or neon ads this side of the street. A giant video screen on a sports bar window across the street displayed a ticker of news. And endless scroll of crime, disasters, events, legislations, entertainment, gossip, celebrities. And now his face had joined the rest of the celebrities in the lowest level possible of stardom: delinquency. Albert was officially a wanted criminal/fugitive.
A large black car stopped at the entrance to the alley. The side door opened. Albert got up, run towards the car, jumped in, and closed the door after him. As soon as he was inside, the car took off. In the back of the spacious car there were two leather seats facing each other. Lena sat across from him, legs crossed, and a display in her hand. She looked visibly annoyed.
“Is your nose bleeding?” the woman asked.
Albert touched his nose. There was dry but he looked down at his shirt. It was covered in blood. He cleaned the dry blood from his face with his sleeve.
“I can see you’ve been busy.” Lena waved a hand and long list of notifications came up on the video feed. Police department notification, public alerts, neighborhood warnings, and one drone witness camera. “You are everywhere. Once again, Albert, you’ve screwed up. And big time for the looks of it.”
Albert held his head between his hands.
“This is you, Albert. This is always you.” She was watching police footage of Albert falling from his kitchen window. “How many times do I have to save your ass? And you keep getting me involved. Do you know how much it cost me to find you that studio? You only had to stay put a few months.”
Albert looked at the woman in the eyes. His face red. “I need to disappear. I need a new ID.”
Lena looked out the window with a look of concern in her face. Albert realized then that their car was not moving. All traffic outside had stopped as well. A police block.
Lena turned away from the window. “I’m gonna help you,” she said. “But this will be the last time.”
“Don’t.” Lena handed over a small paper display she had been holding in her hands. “You need a new identity? You will get it.”
Albert grabbed the display. It had a geo-location address on it. He stepped out the car onto the sidewalk.
“There are cameras everywhere,” said Lena through the car window. “Keep your head down.”
“I won’t cause you more trouble,” he said. “You won’t hear from me after this.”
“Oh, I know I won’t,” she said with a cold expression on her face. “Believe me, I know.”
Albert looked down the street. He could see the flash of police lights getting closer.
“You better get out of here,” Lena said.
Albert pulled up the collar of his jacket, and headed out away from the police. He looked at the display in his hand. The address was 30 minutes away walking. As soon as he had left the main street, he took off running.
The robot who welcomed him at the door was 7-feet tall and dressed in white robes. It looked like a she to Albert. She invited him in and lead him through the apartment.
It looked like a psychedelic drug den. The walls were decorated with geometric neon shapes, illuminated with black light. Artificial dragonflies flew around the halls. The light bounced around like water. Arturo couldn’t figure out where it came from.
“You have quite the place here,” said Albert.
The robot turned her head to look at Albert. “> THANK YOU,” she said.
They finally arrived at a bit open space covered in oriental carpets and big cushions. In the middle of the room a man dressed in black clothes with a sleep mask laid back in a large cushion.
The robot stopped at the doorframe and stood waiting. “> HE IS MEDITATING,” she said rolling her eyes.
“I can still hear you,” said the man behind the mask. He pulled it off and faced Albert. He had a thin black mustache and slicked back hair. The robot sat besides him putting her leg over his. He was dressed like a shaman.
“I understand that you have a problem of identity, Mr Noriega. Correct?”
“Yes,” said Arturo without blinking.
“Yes. Losing your identity can be a great inconvenience.”
“Lena said you could give me a new ID card. A new identity.”
“Yes. Lena. She has told me about your problems. Your tendency to get in trouble that is. You are a magnet for disaster, if I may say so, Mr. Noriega.”
“Do you traffic with ID cards?” Albert looked around noticing for the first time a total lack of any kind of computer equipment.
“ID cards are not the problem, Albert. We print them all the time.” He gave a nod to the robot. She opened a drawer and pulled out a stack of cards. She handed them to the man. He held one up. “Random numbers. As good as blanks. I do more than that.” He offered the card to Albert.
Albert picked up the ID card.
“Anybody can create new cards. ID numbers prove nothing. They are just identifiers. Labels. A collection of all the things that define who you are: your face, your voice, the way you walk, the way you cross the street, the way you wait for the light to change… The frequency of your blinking, even! That and many more things that you couldn’t image. All of that is what identifies you uniquely. Not your ID number.”
“The only way to trick the system is to become a different person. Difference face, different race, different sex, and… different personality. In other words, somebody who is not you, Albert.”
“A different body?”
“Not just a new body, Albert. A new identity.” The man grinned rubbing the leg of the robot next to him. “I can change who you are. From the inside out. Nobody will know it’s you. You might say I can access the source code of the soul.”
Albert rubbed his nose. It had stopped bleeding long ago, but he could feel the broken bone inside. “I like who I am.”
“Do you? How long have you been Albert, Albert?”
He paused for a moment considering. “Ever since I can remember.”
“Maybe it’s time that you change that.”