Walking down a bustling city sidewalk, Max unintentionally caught herself humming the melody of a repetitious pop song that had recently hit the top of the charts. If she hadn’t been so focused, she might have wondered if the record companies had finally found a way to subliminally broadcast into people’s minds.

Regardless of the cause, her thoughts circled around a single thing, quietly but constantly pulling on a fiber inside her head.

She passed a long row of displays that would have normally been filled with personally tailored advertisements; instead, they all read “18:12:39”.

She rounded a corner and stopped in front of a large blue building with a mirror-like sheen to the exterior. It was tall, so much so that when she leaned back and looked up, she was hit by a spell of dizziness. Max then looked at the double doors in front of her and with a touch of hesitation, stepped through.

“Hello Maxine,” a formally dressed woman greeted her as she approached a reception desk.

“Hey,” responded Max.

“How can I help you today?”

She found it difficult to look the woman in the eyes and gazed slightly past her. “I’m umm… I’m looking for a friend of mine.”

“I understand. I’d be happy to assist you with this issue, Maxine. Are you familiar with Parallel’s updated user search? You can connect with your friends based on a wide range of-”

“No no,” interrupted Max, “none of us have seen him this week. His name is Pace – he’s an AI. Can’t you… locate him or something?”

The attendant smiled. “Well,” she began, “due to INIA privacy regulations, personal information of that nature is confidential, unless released by the user, or in the event of certain emergency situations.”

Max’s expression grew heavy, weighed down by frustration. “What if something has happened to him?”

“I understand your concern and will do what I can with the tools at my disposal.”

This wasn’t the first time she had heard a line like this.

“In some cases, users decide to take a break from their online lives, just as one might go on vacation. However, if you have reason to be concerned for the safety of your friend, I would recommend you contact your local law enforcement agency.”

“Yeah,” said Max. She let out a sigh and turned abruptly. “I will.”