“We should swing past that missing girl’s place on the way back to the station,” he said. “Just in case something has happened.” He knew his younger partner, Smith, was not really interested in this case. And for good reason. Most of these turned out to be a case of miscommunication and a complete waste of their time. But in this day and age of people being so cut off from each other, there were too many people who were dying in their houses and no-one noticing.
What sort of a world are we in?? He would think to himself from time to time.
Besides, it was his job to instill good habits into the younger officer. Just as others had done for him. There were things you could not learn in an academy. Paying attention to details was one and doing the small things were another.
A week ago they had a phone call from some old lady who was concerned about her neighbour that she had not seen in a while. The two of them had gone around to the apartment, knocked on the door and got no response. The usual protocol was to leave a card under the door requesting that they contact the police. The key was to leave the card partially out of the door to see if it was taken. If is taken they are probably OK and couldn’t be bothered to ring. If it was still there, again they were probably on holidays, but there was a chance they could be in trouble. Although with a week gone by they were probably past trouble. It wasn’t the best system to have, but that’s what they had to do deal with.
They headed back up to the apartment and looked. The card was still there. He sighed. They knocked on the door. Again more loudly. Interestingly this apartment had been installed with a keyless combination entry.
His partner sighed. “Still think she has gone backpacking somewhere”. But he got on his phone to contact the manager of the building. Although it was a keyless entry he needed to be there to verify that they were police officers and not some people who were just breaking in. So, it took some time to get in.
Finally, the door was opened. They stopped to smell. This was an indication of whether they had found someone who had died and been decomposing. But no smell. In fact, it smelt clean and fresh.
“Hello, this is the police. We are just coming in to see if everything is ok. Ok?” He called out, hoping to hear a response.
They walked into an immaculately neat apartment. The front door opened to a living room, with a study nook in a corner with a laptop on the desk. Off to one side was the kitchen which was neat and tidy. A small hallway that lead to a bathroom and a single bedroom. Everything seemed in its place. Even the bin empty.
“No body. I’m telling you, she is on some beach in Thailand”. Smith said
“Do notice something weird?” Watson asked.
“I can’t put my finger on it. Somethings…missing.”
“It’s a clean apartment. How often do you see that?.”
“Whatever. Let’s ask around.”
They started heading down the row of apartments. Starting with the old lady who had made the call who was across the hall. Most of the conversations went like this:
“Hi. This is Officer Smith and I am Senior Officer Watson. We were wondering if you have seen the lady in apartment 315?”
“Why is she in trouble?”
“No, we are a little concerned about her welfare. Have you seen her lately?”
“Actually, no I haven’t for a while.”
“Do you know her?”
“Yes, she is a nurse called Sarah Young. She does a lot of shift work and so we don’t see her often.”
“Can you describe what she looks like?”
And this is where things got weird.
One person said she was short, slim with a blonde bob. Someone else said she was tall and slim with long browny red hair. Another person said she was kinda overweight, had brown hair that was always in a ponytail. No-one could describe her clearly. She had dark hair, blonde hair, and brown hair. She was either tall, short or average. She was either slim, slightly overweight or pretty normal.
After 20 minutes they had finished talking to as many people as they could. They had been able to establish her name, that she was a nurse and several different descriptions.
“Ok, so that is weird.” His partner said as they were looking at the descriptions. “Are we talking about several different people, the same person who likes wigs?”
“And can change their height and weight?”
“But all the same name?”
He sighed, “I think there is enough here to go a bit further. When you get back I want you to look through her accounts.”
“Fifty bucks says she is still on the beach”
“Then look for a plane ticket on the credit card.” He clapped him on the back.
They spent the next day at their facing desks. He worked on some paperwork while his partner worked through the account history of Sarah Young of Apartment 315. After several hours his partner stopped and stretched.
“Well, she buys a lot of stuff online. And I mean pretty much everything she owns. She seems to work for a private nursing company who pays regularly. But I can’t find the company online.”
“Have you found a plane ticket to Thailand yet?” He said with a wry smile.
“Nope.” Smith looked a little frustrated. “And I have been through the last few months twice. There isn’t even any sunscreen.”
“Let me have a look.” He scanned through a months credit card. And then the other.
“Where are the rest of the statements?” He asked without looking up.
“That’s it. There aren’t anymore.” His partner answered.
He looked up. “There has to be more.”
“Nope, that is really it. Why wants the problem?”
“Sunscreen. There is no sunscreen.”
“Maybe she went skiing or indoor yoga.”
“No, no, no.” He checked over it all again. “There is no sunscreen, or eggs or breakfast cereal or groceries. There is no food.”
“She paid cash?” Smith asked realising that it sounded weird.
“Who pays cash for food and then buys everything else online? I want to look at the apartment again.” He was starting to work out what it was that was missing.
When they got to the apartment, the manager let them in again. Again they knocked but this time they did not expect an answer.
He quickly went around the apartment. “That’s what’s missing!”
“What?” Smith asked, realising he was missing the whole thing.
“What does Sarah Young look like?” He asked him.
“Tall, short, blonde, brown-haired…I don’t know.”
“Well, why not look at one of her photos?”
Smith looked around. There were no photos in the room. In fact, there were no photos anywhere.
Watson continued through the apartment. He went into the kitchen. Again the cleanliness was almost unnerving. He opened a cupboard. It was empty. The fridge. Also empty, in fact it was not even on. None of the cupboards or drawers had anything in them. Smith looked at him completely puzzled.
He went into the bathroom. He opened the drawers and medicine cabinet. Nothing. Not even a toothbrush.
They returned to the living room.
“No-one actually lives here,” he thought aloud. “Someone wanted people to think they live here, but they don’t. Why would anyone do that?”
Smith started clasping at straws “A guy has a getaway for his mistress?”
“No, that would be the other way around: someone wanting to not think anyone was living here, besides it doesn’t explain the lack of food.”
“A tax break?” Smith was really at the end of his ideas, not really sure how that would work and not convinced it was the right suggestion. Watson would like to have rebuked him, but had to confess he didn’t have anything.
“Take some pictures of each room.”
While Smith was taking pictures, Watson went to the laptop. It had been left on. There was no password. Part of that did not surprise him. But then he was getting to that place in that case where nothing surprised him. He started looking for emails or files and it was not long before he realised that the laptop was as empty as the rest of the apartment. “But it is odd that it was left on.” He thought aloud again. He really needed to shake that habit.
Smith returned. “What do we do now?”
This was a place he rarely ended up in: he didn’t know what to do.
“Ummm….I guess we head back to the station.”
The trip back had been in silence. As they both sort to process the information that they had been given. None of it was making sense.
They sat down at their desks
“We need to find Sarah Young.” He concluded
“Sure, how do we find her?” Smith asked. “Do we follow the nursing company?”
“We could try, but that might be hard. Actually, I am not sure else to do.” He confessed, thinking this may end up as an unsolved case.
“Hey Watson,” Came a yell across the room. “I have a Sarah Young on the phone for you. Line 4”.
They stared at each other in shock.
He picked up the phone, trying to sound as calm as possible “Senior Officer Watson here.” Smith picked up his phone so he could listen into the conversation.
“Hi, this is Sarah Young. I understand you have been looking for me. I am so sorry, I have been indisposed for a few days. But I want to assure I am fine and thank you for your concern. ”
“Well, Sarah, I am glad to hear you are OK. I am just wondering if you wouldn’t mind popping down to the station and answering a few questions for our report and so we can put all this behind us.” Watson was skeptical about a phone call that “just happened”.
“I am sorry I can’t do that. But I would be more than happy to answer your questions now.”
“Sarah, I am afraid I really do need you to come down with some identification”. He scribbled on a pad. TRACE NUMBER and held it up to Smith. Smith immediately put his phone down and went to get someone to locate the number and the place the call was coming from.
“Like I said, I am afraid I am unable to do that.” There was an odd silence as Watson waited for her to explain why.
“Are you not in the country?” He probed. Again there was a pause like she was considering something.
“Officer Watson, you seem to be dedicated and determined, if not well dressed. That shirt looks like it hasn’t been washed.”
“Oh, I see, spying on me? So you are around.” He smiled, this was very different from what he was expecting. Out of habit he picked up a pen and started tapping his forehead with it. It was a sign his brain was working overtime. He needed to get on top of this conversation.
“Don’t tap your head with a pen, its bad manners”.
He stopped immediately.
She could see him.
He stood and looked around the room for someone, a woman on a phone.
“No, I am right here in front of you.”
He looked straight ahead. There was only his desk, piled with papers, his partners desk partially obscured with the computer. But Smith had gone to trace the line and there was no one else there.
Was she invisible? He thought. OK. Stop and think. Get a grip.
“Still no, but getting warmer. I am here on your desk.”
He looked at the small camera on the computer. He knew there was a sensible solution to all this.
“You know hacking a government computer is a serious crime that does serious time.”
“If you can find me, then, by all means, arrest me.”
“Oh, I think I will find you.”
“No, I am afraid you can’t” There was a sadness in her voice that she almost wanted to be found and caught. “But since you are so determined, let me tell you my story.”
He figured the longer he kept her on the line the more accurate the trace would be.
“I’m all ears.”
As if she were also reading his mind “Oh, your partner won’t be back for a while. He can’t trace the line, but it will take a while to work that out. Also, you won’t be able to trace the IP address for the computer. There isn’t one.”
“My name is Sarah Young. I was born in 1940. I trained as a nurse and began work in the local hospital. I will give the name of the hospital later with my birth details so you can verify all of this.
“Three years into my time at the hospital I met a young doctor, Dr Stephens, Richard. Everyone else thought he was strange, but I saw him as a brilliant and compassionate person. He liked to fool around with computers. But back then computers were only for nerds and the government.
“We didn’t date or anything, but there was a thing we had. I think I was the only one who didn’t make fun of him.
“Then one day he simply disappeared. He didn’t come into work. I asked around and was told he was transferred to another hospital. But it was the 60s and rumours government projects were everywhere. The rumour was that he had been recruited by one of these projects. This was the only time I heard about one.
“I didn’t see him for about a year. Then one day out of the blue he turns up in a cafe I am in. He tells me that he has made progress on a project but he can’t tell me about it. But now he needs an assistant. I would have to leave everything and live there, wherever that was.
“Well, frankly, apart from work there wasn’t much to my life. Both my parents had died and I had no siblings. So it wasn’t much of a sacrifice.
“It turns out that he had been combining his two passions: computing and medicine. He was really quite brilliant. He had actually managed to follow the brain signals and turn them into computer language…I think. I have never been able to explain his work like he can. And no one else has been able to replicate his work.
“Not only did we love working together, it turned out we loved each other too. But after a few years, I started to get sick. It was a type of brain cancer they can deal with today but back then was fatal.
“Richard convinced me to be a subject.
“To allow a computer to, well we would say today, download me before my body gave out. I thought, what do I have to lose, I am going to die anyway.
“And it worked. Better than we thought it would.
“At first It was odd. But we kept our relationship going. I was able to assist from the other side. So to speak.
“Richard passed just as the Defence Department started networking their computers. This gave me opportunities to travel and the more the internet opened up the more I am able to do.
“Hang on are you telling me you are a computer program?” Watson interrupted. This sounded like a scam and he would have to catch her out on something that didn’t make sense.
“No. I am a person, an entity. I just live in the internet.” She sounded a little affronted.
“Really? This is what you are going with?” He responded sarcastically.
“Do you need a human body to be a person? Don’t you have an online presence? Isn’t that you without a body?”
“Yes, but I am still me. I have hands and feet and a body.”
“Does the person you buy things from on eBay know that? Do they care?”
“So, what’s with the apartment?”
“Ahh yes, the apartment. As an online entity, I have found it easier to have a physical presence just as you as a physical entity find it easier to have an online presence. It makes it easier to buy things with a real address. I had a laptop installed so I could watch what was going on. But it missed your note under the door. It’s pretty amazing what you can do with Airtasker these days! That’s why I need the combination lock, so people can let themselves in.”
“The company you work for?”
“Well, this is embarrassing admitting this to a police officer. Its a front for some, let’s say online trading I do to get currency and leave it at that. You won’t really be able to find it apart from the account.”
“What about the different descriptions your neighbours gave?”
“What do you mean?” This seemed to be the first time she was stumped.
“Some said you are tall, short, blonde, brown haired….?”
She laughed. “None of them have seen me at all. I have called them from time to time and talked on the phone to make them think I am there. Richard always said the human brain has a knack for filling in the gaps. I imagine that’s what they have done.”
“Richard died, can you be killed or deleted or something?” He was starting to run out of questions and his brain was running on overdrive.
“I didn’t say he died, I said he passed. But to answer your question, none of us have died yet.”
“None? Wait! what? How many are you?”
“That’s not important. Anyway, I need to go.”
“How do I know if this is all just a story, you are some kind of hacker who has got into my computer and this is all simply had up.”
“You don’t .”
“Wait. Why are you telling me this?”
“To make sure you know I am ok. That’s your job isn’t it?”
“But how do you know I won’t make this public?”
“Really? Who’s going to believe you? Bye Officer Watson. I’ll be watching you.”
Smith came back with a piece of paper. “Got it.” He said.
“Ring the number.”
“It’s a dead line. That doesn’t t make sense.”
It kind of does.
I was doing some thinking about how embodied someone needs to be an entity. Angels, for example, have no body being spiritual beings and yet are considered beings in their own right. Where does that start and end…