A droid caught my eye as I crossed the road. I stopped walking. The droid was watching me. I jumped as the lev I had forced to stop sounded its buzzer, and I quickly got off the road. The lev hovered off idly.
I approached the droid, who continued to watch me.
"Can I help you?" I asked.
The droid stared at me for a moment, its synthetic eyes blank of expression. Then it walked off.
"Excuse me!" I called after it, following it down the street. "Why were you watching me?
But the droid had disappeared. I assumed it had the new teleport facility that Nantek had been developing built in. Whatever had happened, it was not in this street.
I shrugged and turned the other way. It was getting dark and the humidity level was rising, I could see it on the PI strapped to my wrist. I shook a bead of sweat off my forehead. Time to find a smoothie bar.
I found the place without too much trouble. Sandra's Smoothies. I hadn't been in here on my own for ages, not since Dad died. I'd needed the company.
A blank-faced Vendroid served me a chilled strawberry smoothie. I took it without looking at the droid, who hovered away, unconcerned. I sat at a table, milling over the prospect of revisiting Origin Alpha after six years.
And Resonance. The guy interested me. Most of my friends would probably laugh if I told them I'd actually met him. The elite fourteen-year-old (who was now 20) who had as good as controlled the construction of Senta from the ground up.
As I put down the empty glass I spotted them.
Two men in black suits. Standing on the other side of the road. They had shades on, but I could tell they were looking through the window at me.
A mute droid came over to collect my glass. I ignored it.
The two men saw me looking, and quickly turned towards each other in some pathetic pretence of a conversation. Did they take me for an idiot?
I slammed a half sovereign onto the table and stalked out of the bar, attracting the disdainful look from some fat girl with an upturned nose sitting in the corner. There was definitely something funny going on here.
But as soon as I'd crossed the road, halting another five or six levs in the process, all I could see of the men were their retreating backs.
I turned on my heel and headed straight for a taxi stop. I'd been told about this situation all the time at school, but never thought it would happen to me. I remember my old middle school teacher drumming it into us, hundreds of times.
If you ever feel like you're being Watched, get somewhere safe quickly. And stay there.
But then again, if the Watchers were after you, there wasn't a lot you could do. Even so, I quickened my pace.
As I walked, I remembered my misgivings after leaving the Senta booth. The Watchers were a criminal organisation, masters of secrecy. Even the Federal Government hadn't been able to infiltrate them. They were masters of disguise, dressing as anyone and everyone, hacking into CCTV systems to watch whatever they wanted, sending out droids to spy on people. Kidnapping them. Interrogating them. Impersonating them. Companies had spent billions on biometric systems of the highest quality, as proof of identity for their employees. Some even had them at the front doors of their houses. There was now hardly a door in Dogon that could not be opened without a retina scan or a handprint plate.
And yet I was surprised. Everyone had said that if you were being Watched you would never have a clue about it. But they obviously didn't think I was intelligent enough to realise the signs.
And that was their first mistake. Underestimating me.
Arriving at the stop, I flagged down a taxilev at the nearest stop and got inside. I put my hood up to hide my face.
"Junction 64-D, please," I said, into the microphone.
Without speaking, the computer in the taxilev shut the door automatically.
Levs were a marvel of engineering. The full name was 'maglev', which in turn was short for 'magnetic levitation'. Magnets in the road and in the base of the vehicle worked together to keep the lev suspended a few inches above the road, and propel it forwards and backwards.
I had seen pictures of the Ancients driving round in what they called cars, vehicles which actually touched the floor. You could actually feel the lumps and bumps in the road beneath you. Whereas levs were virtually silent, and never ran out of juice - they were powered by ion chargers in the road. How much technology had advanced in the last 50 years!
I got out on the side of the train station, which was at the top of three flights of steps. The track itself was twenty feet above the levways below, a specially designed maglev road capable of larger loads and greater speeds. It ran in a massive loop around the city that passed through the centre of high-rise buildings and formed the roof of the low ones.
This was not my ordinary route home. I was doing what my mother had always told me to do, if ever I felt like I was being Watched. Behave unpredictably. Don't go home the usual way. Even better, go somewhere else. To someone you can trust.
As I got onto the train I realised that one thing was certain.
I was not going to visit Origin Alpha. If the Watchers had control of Senta, that would be the worst place to go. And Resonance ... well, I had my doubts. But I was not trusting anyone anymore.