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It is the 20th October, 2054 and there is a murder on the six o’clock news.

The victim’s name is Leo Crow. They show his face and his name etched in black on a red ball. The murderer is detective inspector John Anderton, formerly of the Department of PreCrime operations. A senior PreCrime administrator sits in the newsroom fidgeting with his tie and giving clearly rehearsed answers to predictable questions.

“If anything, Sienna, this is just more proof that PreCrime works, that determinism is infallible. John Anderton knew his fate, he had seen his own future and still he simply could not escape it.” He leans forward, gives the interviewer - and the camera - a ‘trust me’ smile. “We don’t think of what we do as stopping murders. As this case shows, the murder is inevitable, we simply perform the arrest before it can happen.”

“But not this time.”

The smile flickers ever so slightly. “No, I suppose… In this highly regrettable instance, the murderer had some knowledge that enabled him to evade us. We will of course improve on the system prior to national roll out to ensure that this will never happen again.”

Two days later Lamar Burgess is dead, determinism is a lie and there are three Precogs in a milk bath on the ten o’clock news.

Lara Vega sits on the rug - in a spot worn yellow by years of Vega children sitting cross-legged in the one spot that gets a clear view of the VidScreen on the building opposite - and watches a detective run past a camera with a hand up over their face saying. “We made mistakes, okay, we made a mistake.” And the footage cuts out to a white screen, an advert for a new tooth cream that will get those chompers pearly white.

****


November 18th, 2046
Agatha
Report compiled by Professor E. Jehari of Psi.Com


Abstract:

The Agatha subject was first brought to the attention of Psi.Com when it was believed her nightmares were correlating with real world murders. Through extensive research it was concluded that the proportion of positive correlations between nightmares and real world crimes averaged at 80%, with all non positive cases being due to lack of data or deaths not previously attributed to murder. At least 60% of these ‘visions’ were proven to be so-called ‘pre-visions’, which is to say the nightmare preceded the crime.

The case of Agatha was first brought to Psi.Com by Helena Stewart, a child psychiatrist volunteering in the flood camps on the outskirts of the city. Initial assessment pinned Agatha’s nightmares on the poor conditions and the state of her mother (Ann Lively, a Stupor addict), but a few clear correlations (The Enklebert double homicide and the case of the Highway Bandit) caused Stewart to contact the institute. The delay between the case being raised with the institute and the research being carried out meant that there was some difficulty tracking down the child.

This report concludes that this child should be found as a matter of significant urgency due to the possible applications of her visions to the police service and the justice courts. Further research has begun into the source of these visions and whether they can be replicated in lab conditions.

****

The following morning there are no murders in the morning reports. The press are camped around the block on the stairs to the PreCrime building, but no statements are given. PreCops in mirrored facemasks escort everyone in and out of the building, cameras flash on pulled down hats and dark sunglasses. The whole city feels baited, holding its breath.

Lara has the window open, letting winds and polluted air stream into the flat so she can watch hear the same questions going unanswered over and over. “Is Precrime over?” A man shouts, waving a bright red microphone at a face held steady in a mask of blankness, walking through a sea of cameras as though there’s nothing there. “Have the Precogs been shut down?”

“It’s nothing but attention bait and grief marketing,” Lara’s mother shakes her head, coming into the kitchen and dropping a single shopping bag onto the counter. “You should be studying, we can’t afford for you to throw your education away chasing elaborate press theories.”

They can’t afford her education in the first place. Before she started the course, the bag would have contained algae, vitamin wafers and a few packets of grown beef. Now its protein packs and a foodbank ration of supplement pills.

The police pay out well for a death in the line of duty, but the money doesn’t last and doesn’t keep coming. “They don’t know anything,” her mother continues. “A murder will happen or it won’t but they certainly won’t get an answer until the Government chooses to give it.”

Lara waves a hand to shut her up as the cameras cut back to the studio and a woman in a dark grey hijab says, “The rumours of the Precog shutdown are as yet unconfirmed. It feels as though the whole of the capital is waiting, wouldn’t you agree Rajesh?”

The man next to her nods. “The main question, Priya, is are we waiting for an answer or a body?”

By the time dinner is on the table, they have both.

His name was Ben Cooper, his throat was cut. His body washed up in the Potomac, lungs bloated with water and skin bleached white by the chemicals sifting through it.

A detective gives a statement at midnight. “We have no leads as of yet in this case, but we will send our best men to investigate and I have faith we will catch the killer.”

Everyone clamors in with questions but the one that sticks out, repeated over and over, is “How?”

The detective slams his hand into the podium for silence. “We’ll catch them like every god-damned other police department in this country,” he snaps out. “We’ll look. No further questions.”

Lara shuts the window and climbs past her mother into bed but she doesn’t sleep. Every time she closes her eyes, she sees three dark figures in a pure white pool and her mind runs over and over what they have seen. What they might have seen.

****


December 3rd, 2046
The Twins
Report compiled by Professor E. Jehari, Psi.Com

Abstract:

The research team were unable to track subject Agatha [11.18.47, AGATHA, Jehari] but while backdating the PreVisions, they were able to determine a possible cause. Agatha was born braindead and treated using an experimental cure developed by a Luther Bragan [12.04.33, CLASSIFIED DOCUMENT, Bragan]. The cure was deemed unsuccessful due to a success rate below 40% and was usurped two years later [30.07.35, Use of Nepras Light Stimulation on Infants, Connolly] however three patients survived the process. These were subject Agatha and a pair of twin boys.

Researchers tracked the two boys down to a work camp in Iowa. They reported no abnormalities in the field, but were ordered to bring them back to the city for brain scans and further testing. As soon as the twins reached a large population center, they began experiencing nightmares similar to those described in the Agatha report. Based on this we are approximating a prevision radius of 50miles.

In total, 20% of planned testing was carried out, detailed in sections 2-4, but the strain of the nightmares took its toll on the subjects and in line with ethical guidelines on treatment in human trials, they were returned to Iowa.

There are now three confirmed individuals with Pre-Cognitive abilities. Psi.Com is speaking government assistance both in funding further research, tracking down Agatha and forming a strategy for how to best utilize these assets moving forwards.

****

He is young with a round boyish face and black framed glasses that make him look a little less intimidating while at the same time letting him hide his eyes from view. He looks open, innocent, as though he couldn't intentionally hurt a fly and Lara has to silently applaud whichever hastily thrown together PR team chose him.

(“It’s all marketing,” her father used to say when they sat together and watched the news praising the police’s increase in arrests, improved records. “The situation keeps getting worse and no one has a plan so they keep sending these kids to say everything’s getting better. We arrest all these people but there’s no evidence so nothing sticks, and we have nowhere to keep them anyway.”

He used to ruffle her hair with one hand – even when she was too old to appreciate it – and sigh. “There’s murders happening under our noses every day and never any suspects, never any leads. We spend so much time and resources chasing dead ends, we can’t develop technology to keep up with the criminals.”)

She's missing a final exam worth a portion of her grade that she's trying not to think about because she had to be here, at the bottom of the steps crammed between a man in a billowing black trench coat and a person with so many body-mods all she can tell about them is that they're tall and have sharp elbows. She had to be here to see this.

Her father dreamed of precrime before it was even an ideal, and they took him before he could see it. Now it might be dying before her eyes when they were right on the verge of a murder-free country.

“Welcome all.” The spokesman shifts his notes, looks at the crowd, shifts them again. “My name is Derren Lode and I am here today as the elected spokesperson for the former department of Precrime.” He's stuttering a little, eyes flicking to the crowd every third word and then instantly back to the paper.

The press are already shouting questions and each one seems to trip him up even as he reads the carefully prepared speech. He looks a lot less like a prime spokesperson now, and more like the sheep thrown out to the wolves. “I can announce officially that the Precrime program has been shut down, following a review by Danny Witwer of the Department of Justice and the death of Precrime founder Lamar Burgess.”

One or two gasps, but the majority of the crowd seem to side with the person jamming their elbows into Lara’s ribs who mutters, “well, duh,” under their breath.

“All prisoners arrested under Precrime are to be pardoned and released.” More gasps, one or two cheers and an outbreak of muttering interrupted by angry shouts. “The Precognitives,” Lode continues, at the same low mumbling volume that now floats in and out of the jeering around him. The person with the elbows turns to talk loudly to her neighbor and Lara pushes forward past her, straining to hear over the crowd. “Have also been released.”

“What?” Lara pushes forward, turning to anyone who might have had a better vantage point to hear because what she heard couldn’t be right. “What did he say?”

“We will keep all the former prisoners under surveillance, and all intended victims will be informed.”

“What did he say about the Precogs?” She asked thin air, the back of the woman in front, literally anything that might be listening. “They have to keep them, right? They can't just get rid of them, they can see murders you can't throw away something like that.”

The woman turned around to give her a Look over IR sunglasses. “Can't see them very well, can they,” she said matter-of-factly. “Or Lamar Burgess wouldn't be dead.”

That had to be some kind of blip, one flaw in an otherwise perfect system. Change the laws, change the processing but think about what those Precogs might know, what they could prevent.

“We will not be taking questions today,” Lode was finishing up, stumbling over his words now in an attempt to get them out quickly. “Further details on the prisoner release will be available through the department of justice weblink later this afternoon. Thank you all for your time here today.”

A screen slammed down before the press could get far enough up the steps to reach him, Pre-Cops rushing up to grab him by the elbows and ferry him back inside before the riots started. She should leave, if she wanted to keep her scholarship she couldn’t be here but her feet felt pinned to the ground watching the one man who might know where the Precogs were be dragged away.

She was still there, a single motionless point in a rolling crowd pushing itself further towards chaos, when the first bottle smashed against the screen.

****

August 2nd, 2047

CLASSIFIED DOCUMENT, level 8 and above ONLY

Official statement of purpose for the newly formed department of PreCrime, a research subdivision of the greater DC police force.

Chairman: Lamar Burgess

Lead Researcher: Professor Elaine Jehari

Director of resources: Iris Hineman

Relevant literature: the Agatha case files, the Twins experiments, the precognitive vision database

Relevant EyeDents: Luther Bragan, Ann Lively, Joseph Hepburn and the Arkadin family.

The Precrime department is officially founded on this date.

The purpose of this new department is to locate the three known precognitive individuals (Agatha Lively, Arthur Arkadin, Dashiell Arkadin) and develop a method of utilizing the Previsions they have been gifted with to assist detectives with criminal investigations in a way that can be easily interpreted by a non-gifted individual and that will not cause undue distress to the subjects.

The secondary purpose is to test the accuracy of the Previsions to determine whether they could be used to prevent the crimes from occurring in the first place (hence Precrime). This is the long term goal of the project, with the caveat that all information leading to arrests must be provable and withstand scrutiny in a court setting.

First steps:

Return to the Hepburn farm in Iowa and reclaim the Arkadin twins for the project. In previous research both boys were enthusiastic about helping people so this should not be difficult. Researchers must be primed to know how the visions will affect the boys so the project is not terminated at the first sign of distress.

Locate Agatha Lively. Agatha is not registered with EyeDent and her only last address was a flood resettlement camp in Delaware. Likely to be travelling with Ann Lively, her mother. Ann Lively has an EyeDent but there are no scan records in the last two years. A known drug addict, unlikely to cause problems.

Locate an engineer capable of developing an interface to enable researchers to see the Previsions as they appear in the Precognitives’ dreams. Key skills: neuro relays, advanced software and image interpretation. Personality is also important as they will be interacting directly with the Precognitives.

****

They have a computer at home for her studies, but the cost of uplink time is too high to stay connected for long periods and she doesn’t want to be at home when the notice of suspension from studies comes from DCU so she goes to Akeela’s. The official press release gives more details about prisoner relief: the halo units will be taken offline one prisoner at a time, intensive post-containment rehab, an incredibly invasive post-release watch program to prevent relapse; but again the Precogs are scarcely mentioned. One line hidden in the middle of a fifty page report:

The Precognitives have also been released.

Lara sits and stares at that line until none of the words look real anymore, then switches to the uplink. She reads the Government approved encyclopedia: The precognitives have amazing abilities that allow them to assist us in crime management and maintain our 100% win record against murders in this district.

Akeela has a hack in place for the non-approved channels and the database there is hardly more helpful: The precognitives have an ability to preview murders that cannot be replicated or simulated by any known science. The amount of data they must have gathered is phenomenal, but as yet the databases have not been released or hacked. As of 20th June 2054 the Precognitives are no longer supplying murder information to the government, it is unknown if their powers continue when unrecorded.

“When I took my key back,” Akeela says, dropping her purse on the sofa and walking across the floor to look at the screen over Lara’s shoulder. “That wasn’t an invitation for you to break in.”

“These people can see murders,” Lara says, clicking back on the page and hunting again through the pages of useless regurgitated government data. “Look at how many lives they’ve already saved. Think about what they could have known.”

“Allegedly saved.” Akeela pushes her chair sideways so she can also bend down and see the screen. “Your dad was before Precrime, Vega.”

Lara pushes her back a little, continuing to scrolls slowly through so much junk. “There has to be something, a huge government organization doesn’t go out without some information escaping.” Akeela’s hand touches hers and she jumps, finally turning her head away from the screen to meet Akeela’s concerned gaze. The burst of energy she’s been riding since the press conference settles a little and she realizes she’s tired, she hasn’t eaten in hours, there’s nothing useful. “They’re the only ones who have any chance of knowing something.”

Akeela sighs, then pushes her chair all the way back and pulls on a secondary pair of gloves. Her fingers move faster than Lara’s ever could, lights dancing across the screens as pages flash up and vanish too fast to see. Lara wonders into the kitchen and finds a bowl of algae and protein flakes – everything a programmer needs.

“Precrime had one of the strongest defense systems the whole time it was running,” Akeela explains from the screens. “I never heard of anyone breaking in, so either they were all caught and arrested or the security was just that good.” Lara walks back into the room with her bowl just in time to see the screen go blank, and then fill up suddenly with files, lists and lists of them. “But in a big collapse, you’re right –“ Lara leans in to see the files dating back years, labelled by case number, jurisdiction and all type: Precrime. “-there’s always a whistleblower.”

Years of documents, but as she starts to click through – her dinner abandoned to be picked at by Akeela - they all have one thing in common. “There’s no eyeDent data, no names. Not of the staff, not of the victims. It doesn’t even give the precog names. Just ‘the female,’ ‘the twins.’”

“What would you do without me?” Akeela asks, coming back over and pulling up more pages through the system. Watching her work is like watching a dancer, files moving across her face faster than blinking. There was a running bet in high school - through the undertable communications channels that Akeela herself hacked in - about whether she would be arrested or recruited first.

Akeela is 90% of the reason Lara’s entire graduating class got study scholarships.

“That’s weird,” she mutters, her forehead twisting into a frown as the files open and close over and over, [REDACTED]s blinking, flashing red and turning into black squares but staying in place. “They shouldn’t be able to -”

“You can’t view it?”

“They shouldn’t have been able to work this quickly, modifying the root code, it’s like the data never existed.” She pushes Lara out of the chair, pulling it around to sit down. “This is far in advance of any other government agency. Whoever this is, they’re new and they know their stuff.”

Lara frowns. “Will someone else leak the unmodified documents?”

Akeela shakes her head, still jumping between screens. “Someone like this wouldn’t leave traces behind. Whatever the precognitives were, someone big thought they needed protecting.”

****

October 5th, 2047

Owner: Precrime

Working with the Precogs

by Iris Hineman

The facility redesign has been successful. The Precogs (formerly housed in Government housing 100miles outside the city center with foster carers outside the Precrime program) are far more positive about the new environment. (Statement evidence: Agatha: “It’s better.”; Arthur: “Really? Bunk beds?”; Dash: “You got us a pool!”).

It is clear to us now, as perhaps it should have been at the start, that despite their skills and the trauma of their childhoods, the precognitives are children (Agatha is 14, the twins are 12) and not simply government assets. In the new facility, the precogs are far more positive in their outlook and also more willing to co-operate with testing and data acquisition. The previsions still cause significant psychiatric trauma, particularly in Agatha and Dash, but the positive environment during waking hours, time spent using the gaming systems or playing outside helps to mitigate this. Helena has been assessing them and believes they are healthier mentally than they have been in a long time.

Also aiding the precognitives is the appointment of Norbert Wallace, known to us as Wally. See his arrest file for details on how his hacking skills were brought to our attention, further research into him revealed his time in the flood-refugee orphanage camps. During this time, staff members commented positively on his friendships and support to other orphans. Analysis software pinned his personality at a parental-like, caring kind of friendship rather than comradery which was flagged as ideal for working with the precognitives. They met for the first time a fortnight ago and they now respond better to him than any others in the complex (Theory: this response is due to meeting him post the environment change).

In terms of assessing the previsions, Wallace has developed technology that for the first time allows us to see what the precogs see. This has been used twice now to varying results, the images are often blurred and unusable with details difficult to pick out and no way of comparing common threads between previsions. Wallace and I are working with R&D on how to sync the visions together, possibly by immersing the precogs temporarily in a conducting fluid. In the meantime, all information about the murders is obtained directly from interviews with the precogs and verified by a team of analysts in the police department.

The twins will not give any details on their visions if they are alone, but together they are happy to cooperate. Arthur is very factual, capable of giving names and dates even if these were not stated aloud in the vision - when pressed his best description was that he ‘just knew’ them, as he knew his own name and the name of his brother. Dash’s visions are much more subjective, but his drawing is improving to the point that his sketches can be run through facial recognition, a significant breakthrough in perpetrator and victim tracking.

Agatha’s ability to give information depends on the severity of the vision. We believe she essentially feels what the victim feels, which leads to significant trauma in every case, far in excess of what the twins endure. Particularly violent crimes leave her curled in on herself and unwilling to talk to anyone. In these cases, the twins are often the only ones capable of reaching out to her. The mind mapping technology will be most useful for Agatha.

One other unusual feature of the headsets is that as they are used more, the precogs are more likely to experience murder visions during the day. Where previously they were confined to nightmares, now on occasions all three children will simply collapse into convulsions and experience a vision during their waking hours. For this reason they must now be watched at all times, and the pool is off limits until an early warning system can be established.

****

They are fifty murders into the post precrime world and Lara is officially no longer a student due to her falling test grades being linked to her presence at three major rallies against the release of precriminals.

Her mother is avoiding her, or she’s avoiding her mother. Either way they’ve managed to live in the same house without seeing each other since the notification came out on the evening wave. The precrime building has been reclaimed by the metropolitan police. They sent out adverts inviting people to apply for jobs in street policing and homicide detection because suddenly they have a building full of vacancies.

Lara deleted the ad when it came through, and then the next morning it was back again. Some kind of not so subtle, passive aggressive hint from her mother about her needing employment now the whole criminal justice thing hasn’t worked out. It doesn’t matter, she was only studying it so she could take down the person who killed her father and now the last avenue of evidence has been released by the government with no trace of where they’ve gone.

There’s more information on the precogs out there now. The milk bath spins on the ten o’clock news, the headsets and the cables connecting them to screens and machinery. The ACLU would love to charge everyone involved with anything up to and including slavery, if the government wasn’t pulling ranks to hide anyone who had taken any level of responsibility and the precogs themselves hadn’t vanished into thin air.

Everyone who used to work for precrime is now working for the police and even Akeela could only be impressed with how well they’ve covered their tracks to mix up who was who.

There is one person left who anyone can say for certain worked for precrime and despite that 24 hours where he was in Wanted reports on every Vidscreen in the city, his face has been scrubbed from the internet with a thoroughness that makes Lara generally want to punch the precrime whistleblower hard in the face.

John Anderton. If she was a sketch artist she could draw his face perfectly from memory but she can’t feed her own memories into a facial tracking software, even if Akeela’s right and the precrime analysts could.

The computer she still has, despite three written warnings to return it to the university or face consequences, gets hit by a server update from the mainframe once every thirty nanoseconds. Any trace of Anderton’s face would have been wiped the moment the virus was released on the system.

But there’s one other vidscreen in the house. Police issue, seven years old and only receives server updates when directly connected to the network and when Lara was obsessively following the manhunt for the first murderer in six years on her coursework tablet, her mother pulled her dad’s old vidscreen out of storage for ten minutes to lookup an address

When she pulls it out of the box - stacked on top of a folded American flag, a medal of service and a bright silver watch worth more than three month’s rent - the screen lights up with the same page it had been displaying three weeks ago, all the way down to the rotating ad in the corner showing a full 3D profile of suspect priority one, John Anderton.

****

November 18th 2048

Precrime Investigation Report

A report commissioned to assess all the results from the initial year of intensive precrime testing and determine whether the data can be applied to carry out arrests in the field.

As of November this year, the murder rate in DC has reached an average of five homicides in every 24 hour period. This unprecedented figure has led to congress giving emergency powers to the precrime department provided the system’s validity is approved by this supreme court investigation.

The rates of vision to murder correlations recorded by this department has remained level since inception at 100% accuracy. The level to which the actual murder scene correlates with the images in the prevision is so accurate as to be uncanny, this reporter witnessed several during the one week investigation and each seemed almost more accurate that the last. The vision collection system checks faces against names, which are known accurately thanks to one of the male precogs. The visions have never produced a face that does not directly correlate to a living human, and have never produced a victim or perpetrator who were not then seen to commit the crime by an independent investigation team. The visions directly correlating to real world murders is therefore proven and the information contained therein can be treated as fact, rendering the perpetrator a proven murderer.

To prevent fraud, the victim and perpetrator names are engraved onto wooden balls, the markings of which are unique and non-replicable, similar to a human fingerprint. Although wood is a huge expense, it does appear to be a necessary expenditure as no other system is similarly foolproof. Each murder would be investigated by a single precrime detective, with two independent staffers verifying via a videolink. The system built on the visions is therefore deemed to be acceptably rigorous in security and suited to the nation’s needs.

The issue of Minority Reports was raised with the investigation committee. These are an extremely minor occurrence, when one of three precogs sees a different vision to the other two. In these cases, the majority are correct so often as to make the minority report essentially insignificant. The issue is that public awareness of these would cast an element of doubt over the Precrime system therefore this report advises that the Minority Reports should be erased the moment they occur and the public will not be informed.

To conclude, this report rules that the precog’s predictions are foregone metaphysical conclusions and the perpetrators identified in the visions are, by all definitions of the law, proven murderers. Timely intervention to save the life of the victim does not prevent the crime of murder being applied in cases of precrime. These murderers have already been proved guilty, thereby allowing the state to act immediately as though a ‘guilty’ verdict had been pronounced at trial and place the perpetrators directly into a criminal containment unit that will be established by the state.

This course of action is deemed necessary due to the emergency state of the population following the flooding, the power shortages and the emotional drug epidemic. It is believed the population will soon adapt to precrime in the same way they came to accept the Facial Tracking and Tracing act (2027) and the Restriction of Speech act (2035). All media coverage of precrime will be required to be positive, with emphasis on the falling rate of murder in the city.

****

Akeela’s flat looks like it’s been hit by a tornado. Clothes are scattered everywhere, all the food from the kitchen seems to have been left out over all available surfaces. The computer interface with its eight stacked vidscreens and motion capture controls is blank for the first time since Lara provided half of the muscles and none of the brains to help set it up.

Her father’s old tablet is a dead weight in her backpack, and she slides it off, dropping it to the floor as quietly as she can, taking slow careful steps into the apartment. She can’t see any sign of a struggle; nothing’s overturned or broken, just messy. “Akeela?”

The door to the bedroom opens an inch and Akeela squints at her for a moment, before letting the door open all the way and letting Lara see her lower a gun. “God, you need to learn to knock.” She reached up to push hair back from her face, inadvertently pulling attention to the thick black band curving over her eyebrow and down onto her cheek. “I’ve told you not to pick my lock, I thought you were the cops.”

Lara took a few steps further into the room, pushing clothing away with her toe. “What happened here?”

Akeela grabs a pile of black fabric off the ground and starts shoving it into a purse that’s already bursting at the seams. “I got hit by a pingback, two hours ago. Could have got everything, could have just got my name, face and secure key, either way I’m screwed. I had to get this -” she waves a hand at the tattoo that’s somehow seems to have changed the whole shape of her face. “- from that seedy guy down the hall so god knows if that’s safe or if I’m about to lose an eye.”

“Take it again from the top.” Lara takes another few quick steps until she can reach out and touch her hand over Akeela’s holding the gun still from where she was using it to push clothing in. “Akeela, Akeela look at me. What happened?”

Akeela stares helplessly at her gun hand, caught under Lara’s, for a long moment and then seems to collapse in on herself. “I was looking for information on the precogs. I got carried away, I lost my focus somehow and something pinged me. I didn’t even realise it was there until it ran, must have been a bug but a good one. Really good.”

“And that’s bad because?”

“I was in the NSA database.” Akeela sinks down onto the sofa beside her purse, finally relinquishing her grip on the gun. “If they found me, that’s high treason, conspiracy to control confidential data. They could Halo me for three years on the Restriction of Speech act alone.”

Lara picks up the gun and watches the tiny LED of the fingerprint scanner. It stays green. That’s another five to ten years for hacking a firearm. “Are you sure it belonged to the NSA?”

“No,” she sinks her head into her hands. “It was nothing like an NSA bug which means it was specifically tracking me. It could have been following me for weeks now, and I didn’t spot it. I’m not cut out for the criminal life, Vega. I like fast uplink speeds and endless coffee, I can’t cut out my eyes and live in the sprawl.” She goes still for a moment then looks up, eyes narrowing. It’s strange, seeing the familiar expression twisted by the tattoo across her face. “If you didn’t get my emergency flare, why are you here?”

“I -” Lara glances at her backpack by the door. “I was looking for someone, hoping you could help me. It doesn’t matter now.”

Akeela is already digging her tablet out of the overfilled purse. “Who?”

‘No, don’t worry about it, you have bigger problems,’ is on the tip of her tongue but just the presence of her father’s computer pushes her into - “John Anderton.”

Akeela’s mouth twists. “Talk about cutting your eyes out and living in the sprawl.”

“I have a picture.”

“Doesn’t matter, he’ll have wiped himself from facial recognition.” She waves a hand at her own face. “It's not hard, just requires a few decisions you’ll get to regret for the rest of your life.” Her fingers move quickly across the screen. “I reached the same conclusion, did some digging into it. There’s a farm, two hundred miles south. His ex-wife is there.” She turns the tablet to show Lara a map with a blinking red dot way out in the middle of swampland. “You can drop me off on the way.”

****


To: A.L.Patek@precrime
CC: I.Hineman@precrime, B.R.Collett@precrime, J.Anderton@precrime
From: Wally@precrime
Subject: CONFIDENTIAL: Precog procedures in event of absence

Hi all,

Iris gave me a strict talking to today, so this email is going out as an EMERGENCY REFERENCE ONLY in the event that I am ever entirely out of action and cannot possibly be called, visited or communicated with via smoke signals. Ali, in this event you are the number one in charge of the precogs and you should follow the below procedures EXACTLY AS WRITTEN.

Precog support procedures:

  1. IF I AM NOT UNCONSCIOUS OR DEAD, REPORT TO ME.
  2. No seriously, I know best and I will answer any communication method no matter how much Iris tells you not to bother me, BOTHER ME.
  3. Precog hair/nails/bathing etc. can wait until I am back in action. If I am actually dead, procedures are written out step by step in the tank maintenance manual and Bridget has been present in the past so can take over.
  4. Yes, Arthur’s hair is supposed to be that length, he gets fidgety if you cut it too short (he liked to think of himself as the good-looking one.)
  5. No staff member, civilian, or human of any kind who is not copied into this email is allowed access to the temple under ANY CIRCUMSTANCES
  6. Echoes are deleted directly by the admin and vision processing team.
  7. Minority reports are deleted by the team, but check that Agatha has stored a back-up (I know you don’t like it Iris, but some day we might need them and I promise she won’t be telling anyone)
  8. Dash will occasionally replay scenes from the movie Mars Raider. These are unrelated to any criminal activity and should be wiped before they can cause confusion. It's just a movie, he liked it, move on.
  9. If any of them seem distressed, dim the lights, increase the sedative levels (up to 15 will not impair visions) and wait for me to return. They don’t respond well to reassurances by strangers but they trust me.
  10. Agatha occasionally says ‘can you see?’ during a vision. This is not perpetrator or victim dialogue and can be ignored. It’s what she asked me the first time she tried the optom helmet and I think it imprinted somehow.

I think that’s everything that isn’t covered in basic training or the tank guidelines. I guess just remember that the precogs are people, not machines. Sometimes they’re a little unpredictable.

All a moot point anyway because I’m not planning to take sick leave or die in the immediate future (I trust Agatha to let me know if that’s about to change.) Hope this makes you happy, Iris.

Wally

****

They’re not even on the highway when the car locks Lara out of the steering system. Akeela links up her tablet to start hacking it, but even she can’t keep up with the stream of code spilling across, she just manages to break the warning system so they get a cool female voice speaking in incomprehensible bitten-off syllables. “Prevented… breaking… car system… you are…arrest…hello…inconvenience.”

The car drives itself into a tunnel and stops dead, in the middle of the road. Akeela lets her hands drop from her tablet screen. “Oh gods.”

The door opens and a young woman in a black jacket bends down to get a better look at Akeela’s face. She doesn’t lift a facial scanner, apparently in extreme circumstances actual eyes are good enough. “Akeela Daramatis?”

“I didn’t do it,” Akeela says, a lifetime of crime not improving on her panic instincts.

The woman smiles. Her teeth are a little crooked, her shirt wrinkled and all these things add up to be oddly reassuring. “I’m really hoping you did,” she steps back to make space so Akeela could get out the car. “My name is Detective Amanda Cho, this is my trainee Blake –“ she waves a hand at a handsome latino standing a little way back in the tunnels. “We’d like to talk to you about a job.”

Akeela’s eyes widened a little. “You want me to work for the police?” She glances back at Lara. “They want me to work for the police?”

“Or they want to lure you out and kill you in an alley,” Lara adds, because there are no cars running through this tunnel and one of them has to be the sensible one.

A man laughs, stepping out of the shadows and that’s John Anderton, leaning on the bonnet of their car and squinting through the windscreen at them. The whole situation is a little too surreal to process and all Lara can think is that he’s shorter than he looked on television. “Our previous genius dumped all files on the web and vanished underground. You have talents we can’t afford to waste.”

Detective Cho smiles, handing her slim plastic screen badge over, which is against regulations but means Akeela would spot a fake in a heartbeat. “No killing in an alley, just a regular paycheck and a subsidized canteen.” She holds out a hand. “We have beef burgers.”

And – well – they could recruit half the population of the city with an opening like that. Akeela gives Lara one last look, then climbs out of the car and takes the detective’s hand.

A moment later, her seat is taken by John Anderton, Precrime detective and Washington DC’s first murderer in six years. He shuts the car door and after a moment the engine comes back to life, the car moving back onto its preassigned trail.

Anderton has black diamonds around both eyes but they’re a little smudged, non-permanent. “Your friend will be safe,” he says. “You have my word.”

She has the word of a murderer. A murderer who is sitting in her car, driving off towards a farm in the middle of nowhere that he is presumably not living in since he is a) still in the city and b) sitting in her car.

“You could work with her,” he says.

“Technology isn’t my strong point.” As evidenced by the fact that she still has two hands on the wheel of a car that’s steering itself.

“You’re driven, committed, you follow up on leads and you’re not great at giving up. You’re sitting in a car with me and you seem more pissed off than scared, these are all things they’re going to need in the new crop of detectives.” He spun a glass disc between two fingers, so she could see the metro logo spinning on the surface. “It’s paid work and you can’t be replaced by a robot.”

Lara hits the brakes so hard they both go flying forwards and the onboard computer flashes red warnings all over the shop. Behind them, a thousand synched computer systems are rapidly recalculating routes to slow vehicles down and slide into the smallest gaps in adjacent lanes, anything to avoid stopping the flow of traffic. “Please state the emergency,” the computer system requests in something almost like urgency.

“You looked me up,” Lara says, keeping her foot down in defiance of all the politely worded requests to cease operating the emergency brake. Many thanks to the ancient self-drive laws saying all vehicles must have some form of non-computer controlled stopping mechanism.

Anderton looks over his shoulder at the cars coming at them at high speed and changing lanes a heartbeat before crashing. “It seemed only fair.”

“My mom was damn good at her job, you don’t get to use her against me, you don’t have the right.

He raises both hands, turning away from the cars to meet her gaze. “I didn’t mean –“

“You meant the same thing everyone means. Robots work quicker, more accurately, who cares that thousands of jobs are disappearing every day when the people who make the laws get paid, the people who make the robots get paid. You’re just like the politicians patting themselves on the back for raising wages when at best one person in any household can hold down a job.”

“I’m sorry.”

That manages to derail her, he actually sounds sincere which is a plot twist and she turns away from the road to look at him properly. “I wasn’t looking for you. I need to find them.”

His mouth twists, still apologetic but not a good sign. “That’s not going to happen.”

“You know where they are.”

“I don’t,” he says. “And if I did, I wouldn’t tell you.” He’s looking at her steady and serious and she is not ready to deal with the fact that he’s telling the truth right now. “But I don’t. We scrubbed their records and sent them out into the world. They could be anywhere.”

“They have information that I need.” Her hands are still holding too tight onto the steering wheel, she can’t look at him and any second she might do something they might just survive to regret.

He shakes his head. “I’m afraid that’s information you’re never going to access.”

She reaches for the door handle. Everything should be programmed to not hit her on the highway and however much they might want to arrest her for obstructing it, she has a feeling the police service might just be busy with a few larger disasters right now. The door swings open, hundred and ten kilometer-per-hour winds buffeting past her face. “If you’re not going to help me.”

“Vega –“

“You don’t understand,” she snaps, turning away from the road for a moment. “This is my father.

His eyes are steady. Not his eyes, someone else’s. “It was my son.” He holds out the disc. “There’s another way to stop murders.”

She shakes her head, “Not soon enough.”

She keeps her head low as alarms go off in all the cars around her, their proximity sensors forcing them to pull to an emergency halt or swing out into adjacent lanes to avoid her. As soon as her foot leaves the pedal, the car with John Anderton in it closes up and resumes its trip out into the back end of beyond.

It’s a long walk home.

****

Except from Halo Burn Victims vs. Precrime

The defendant is accused of willful abuse of the Halo system leading to long term psychological trauma in the plaintiffs

Transcript Day 3 – Prosecution interrogation of Richard Nadir

Prosecution: I have your initial report on the logistics of arresting and storing the alleged perpetrators and I would like to read a brief extract:

"The Halo knockout system currently used for extensive surgeries and transportation of violent criminals has been deemed suitable for short-term containment until a secure correctional facility can be established and maintained."

Can you please confirm that those are your words as they appeared in that report, dated December 7th 2048

Nadir: That sounds like my report, yes.

Prosecution: Putting prisoners under surgery knock-out procedures. We have to ask how did anyone justify that?

Nadir: Think back six years. Before precrime, the city was in chaos. The middle of the power crisis, still reeling from the floods. The sticks had no communication or transportation. They were coming to the cities by the thousands, people were committing murder for a roof over their head, a meal in their stomachs or five more minutes with a vid screen. It was an emergency situation, we did what we believed to be necessary to save as many people as we could.

Prosecution: Including placing prisoners into a subconscious state for up to six years with no chance of parole or attempts at rehabilitation.

Defense: Objection, your honor. Not a question.

Prosecution: The question is, we have data for trials of up to three days. How many tests were done to determine the effect of six years of sustained Halo-use?

Nadir: It is difficult to find people willing to partake in three day trials for clinical unconsciousness, let alone the federal three months. A full body scan was done before and after the three days and revealed no change to physical characteristics either major or minor. The halo had no impact.

Prosecution: And can you tell me how you tested the affect mentally of six years of being essentially stored with minimal brain activity while violent murders were played on repeat in front of the victim’s eyes?

Nadir: There was no evidence that the convicted were capable of processing that level of sensory data.

Prosecution: Did you test it?

Nadir: We did not.

Prosecution: Your temporary measure was used to store innocent victims for six years. During that time, did you perform any checks to determine the mental state of the long term prisoners?

Nadir: We did not.

Prosecution: Thank you, no further questions.

****

“You didn’t have to wait up.”

It’s midnight, the metro PD logo spinning on the vidscreen outside the window the only light coming into the apartment, casting curling shadows across her mother’s face where she’s sitting at the counter. “Am I not allowed to worry?” she asks.

Lara walks past her to the cupboard, pulls out a protein bar. Her soles make every step feel like knives are pressing into her feet and her throat is dryer than a desert but sitting on a chair beside her mother seems a hurdle too far.

Its thirty miles from the highway to this apartment. She knows, because after ten of them the vidscreens started to express concern that she was walking an unsafe distance without a break and perhaps she would like to come in and have a Coca Cola (half price to you, Lara, our favorite customer!).

Twenty miles in, the Government channels started offering to call her a cab or contact her family members. She pulled her hood down over her eyes and kept walking.

“Lara-“

“I know,” she pulls a bottle of water out of the cupboard and checks the seal fully before breaking it. “I’m wasting my opportunities, I’m squandering my gifts, we can’t afford for me to freeload off you forever, I get it.”

“Well as long as you get it.” A hand reaches for her shoulder and she’s being turned around to look right into her mother’s face for the first time since precrime fell.

And – gods – there’s pain there. Everything that’s been cut into Lara’s heart is etched right across her mother’s face like ink. Every long day and sleepless night, protein bars instead of meals and both curled up on the edges of the big double bed so he could still fit in if he came home.

They sold Lara’s bed when her mother lost her job. Lara had been fifteen and upset and angry that her mother wasn’t raging the way she was.

And now she was twenty one and no less angry and her mother was looking at her like she’d lost half of her heart and was waiting for the other half to walk out the door.

The precogs were offline, precrime had fallen, a murder in the sprawl wouldn’t even make the news, it would just be another daughter who never came home.

She reaches out to turn on the light and the gold glow shimmers off damp tracks down her mother’s cheeks. “Mom-”

“When you want something you push people, I’ve seen it,” she shakes her head. “You push no matter who they are and I respected that, I thought I trusted you but every time I looked out of that damn window there was a new victim and this damn crusade of yours, hunting through the alleys and the streets. You grew up with precrime, you don’t know what it was like before.”

“I know what it was like, he was my father.

“And you think chasing the shadows of this system will bring him back?” Her mother shakes her head. “Locking up people who could well be innocent is wrong, Lara, I know you know that.”

Lara’s fingers tap over and over on the bottle. “I don’t need – if we had the precogs, we could still stop murders. And they might have information, we could solve crimes, if we could just get them back in the city –”

Her mother stands up from her chair and steps in front of her, pulling both hands on Lara’s shoulders so she has no choice but to let the restlessness under her skin settle and look up into her mother’s face and in that moment the truth spills out. “They might know something about dad. If we could just get them back.”

“And put them in a pool, connect them to a computer like they’re microchips.” Her mother sighs softly. “You could do anything with your life, Lara. You’re smart, you’re dedicated, you could help real people. I loved your father more than anything, but if you could find three people who don’t want to be found, if you could get your hacker friend to show you a murder from before they were even online, what would seeing it prove?”

Lara swallows down the lump forming in her throat. “We could catch the killer.”

“You could potentially catch a possible killer. With no evidence admissible in court, no food on the table, and no good to anyone!” She turns away for a moment, reaching up to run a hand across her head, shoulders shaking a little. “They showed five men on the news tonight, any of them could have been someone’s father. Those people Halo’d without trial, maybe they were someone’s father.”

Her voice, when it came out, was small. “If we had the precogs –”

Her mom shakes her head, turning back to her. “I would not condone putting three human beings into slavery if it brought your father back from the dead.”

Lara takes half a step forward and then her mother’s arms wrap tight around her. “I miss him.”

“I know,” her mother says softly. “I know. But I can’t lose you too.”

Lara closes her eyes and holds on. And right now, it’s enough.

****

The sun is bright, and it is now. He has learned to walk in a body twice the size he remembers and he can carry a bag. It has clothes, most of them still with tags on. Down the bottom was a disc of Mars Raider that he twists in his fingers for half a mile before dropping into a waste unit.

Arthur watches him do it and doesn’t say anything. That’s common. Now.

It is now. They were dropped at the side of the road by John, the only one Agatha would let escort them. Dash saw him lift a gun and pull the trigger and it didn’t happen – it didn’t happen. His eyes do not match what Dash saw and one of them is white, but cars drive themselves now. It is now, and cars drive themselves.

They walk. Dash catches himself looking for a body, looking for a gun, where and when are they and where is the murder. Arthur screws his face up like he’s trying to recall a name he knew once but has since forgotten. Dash reaches out to touch his hand and Arthur holds on tight.

You can’t touch things in a vision, but this is now.

Agatha has a map and they follow her. Dash sees Arthur put his foot into a bog and laughs, Arthur turns to see what he’s laughing at and his foot goes in the bog.

He had almost forgotten those, the whisper visions that don’t come in a milk tank where nothing ever happens and it is always tomorrow and a week from and never here, now.

“Oh screw you.” Their voices are harsh from lack of use, but they have voices. They have voices and there is wind in their hair and his brother’s hand is warm in his.

It is now.

And that’s enough.