In a not-so distant future, a group of scattered souls grapple with their place in the world, and soon discover that their time may be running short...

Content warning: Please note that the following work of fiction contains references to sex and violence.

Walking down a bustling city sidewalk, Max caught herself inadvertently 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 broadcast directly into people’s minds.

She passed a long row of displays that would have normally been filled with personally tailored advertisements; instead, they all read “18:12:39.” Then “18:12:38.” “18:12:37.”

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

“Hello Makenzie,” 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. 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 specific emergency situations.”

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

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

This wasn’t the first time she had heard a line like this from a customer support agent.

“In many situations like this, users are just taking a break from their online lives. 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 think I will.”