Two sets of three silvery disks, that was all it had taken to ruin Aaron's life. He knew he wasn't free of blame, not entirely. He'd known the risks. He'd needed the money to save his daughter, and the risks hadn't mattered.
Most Joyriders didn't usually do that much damage anyway. They leaped into the body they'd rented for an hour or a day and headed straight for a sexual encounter or their drug of choice. The Joyride let them feed their vices without consequence. Reputations (often vital in the Corporacracy) were undamaged, addiction and subsequent detox were avoided. At worst, Aaron had thought he'd have to kick a new habit or get treatment for an STD. He would be able to afford that, even after getting his daughter the medical attention she needed. Joyriders always paid well to indulge their tastes. But the taste this time was murder, and it had been Aaron's face the witnesses saw, his fingerprints and DNA all over the house.
He didn't even know who the bodybroker had rented him to. The broker never told him, and the afternoon of the Joyride was a blank in his memory. His consciousness was suspended during the Joyride from the moment the silver Consciousness Transferral disks were in place. It was only when he'd seen his own face blazing from one of the huge electronic billboard screens that he knew what his body had done in his absence. There it was, his image two stories high, interrupting the constant flow of advertisements that normally filled the screen. A crawl along the bottom of the screen gave him the details of his crime: murder of Chief Security Officer of Northern Data Systems. Reward offered for information leading to capture.
Aaron stood frozen, gaping at the EBS. This couldn't be real. He'd never heard of anyone dreaming while playing host for a Joyride, but what else could this be but a nightmare?
It was a nightmare. But it was also all too real.
"There he is!" someone shouted as the advertisements resumed. He looked down from the screen to see two burly men pushing through the crowded street to get to him. Shock kept him frozen a moment longer, and then he turned and began fighting through the crowd of pedestrians to get away.
Aaron dove through the first door he came to and raced along the narrow hall of a rundown apartment block. He found the stairs and ran up them three at a time as he heard his pursuers slam their way into the entry. He ran up four stories without slowing. The thudding footsteps of his pursuers fell behind.
The hallway he found himself in could have been the one he entered from the street. The same narrow passage, the same peeling paint and closed doors. He rattled knobs desperately as he searched for a hiding place. Finally, one turned in his hand and he ducked inside an abandoned apartment.
Even now, winded as he was, Aaron didn't stop. He ran across the apartment, threw open a window, and slipped out onto the fire escape. While the men from the street chased up the stairs, Aaron clattered down. The second story apartment was also empty. The window was locked, but it was the work of only a few moments to kick out a pane of glass, reach inside, and release the catch. Then he was inside and safe, at least for the moment.
Panting, Aaron collapsed on the floor. This thing was still unbelievable, but he had accepted that it actually was happening. As he slowly regained his breath, his mind chased round in circles, trying to find a way out. He knew the law wouldn't care that someone else had been looking out through his eyes. They would prosecute the case they could win, and all the evidence would point to him, because it had been his body. There would be nothing to prove that he was the host of a Joyride gone bad.
As he saw it, the only way he could prove his innocence in spite of his body's complicity was to somehow avoid capture and find proof against the actual killer. And the first step would be finding out who took him on the Joyride in the first place. The bodybroker might or might not know, but it was a place to start.
There was no other choice. The hunted would also have to be a hunter.