That night, Carter dreamed of shadows.
And through it all, there was the river. The muddy and sometimes stinking river. The Thames which only seemed to generate affection that one might call ‘grudging’ when she thought of it. When she had first moved to London, it had been one of her best guides - the Thames was always vaguely downhill.
She strode aimlessly along the south bank of the Thames. The constant renovation of the area had led to not just a single revival, but countless smaller revivals, as buildings were torn down and raised back up, plots of land chopped into smaller portions, buildings growing higher, never quite managing to match. She passed towers, squat pubs, architecture new and old, but mostly new. She passed people and crowds, buskers and food carts. She walked beneath bridges, along railings, past tour boats gliding silently along the surface of the water.
And she passed shadows.
The shadows were like the people of the crowds, a little taller perhaps, but still like the people. It was as though someone had cut a person-shaped hole out of space and blurred the edges so as to make it indistinct.
It wasn’t particularly through prolonged observation, she just suddenly seemed to be aware of the fact that the shadows were all behaving in the same way. They were always following one of the people walking along the bank of the Thames with her. Always just one person, never changing, never looking around at anyone else. No one else seemed to see or notice these shadows except her.
She started tailing one of the shadowy figures, as unobtrusively as possible. It was following a young black woman pushing a stroller, another young child walking at her side, with his hand curled loosely in the fabric of her pants, keeping her constantly in touch.
Carter felt as though she was struggling to keep up — the harder she tried to keep up with the young mother, the slower she seemed to go. She tried to call out, but her voice came out only as a whisper. The shadow reached out it’s hand. The shadow’s fingers slid through the woman’s hair reaching for the base of her scalp.
Carter screamed, inaudible.
The memory of the dream dogged Carter throughout her morning routine and into her commute. She kept thinking, if she’d just been able to keep quiet, maybe it would’ve been worthwhile to wait and see what would’ve happened when that young black woman was touched by the shadow. Was that some sort of metaphor for getting lost? Or was her sleeping mind just carrying too much work-burden along with it into the night?
She was only able to dispel the lingering sense of too much meaning, heady and intoxicating, when she got into work and check her email for news. There had been no additional cases added to the research load. The dream had only just been that.
After checking her mail on the screen, not bothering to dive in for something so simple, Carter stood and stretched, making her way blearily to the coffee machine in the corner of the room. She was one of the first to show up that morning, other than Avery and a few other early risers. Thankfully, Avery was the type to leave the coffee pot full rather than empty.
She doctored her coffee to her usual specifications and ambled back to her desk, setting the mug down on the smooth surface and scrolling aimlessly through her mail list. She didn’t dive in just yet, despite the workload that she knew waited for her. The fog of the dream had been burned away, but there were still too many thoughts in her head that needed organizing to go through the process of setting up her workspace and ordering stacks of cards.
No, she corrected herself. She was wary of diving in.
She had things she needed to do in the sim. She had things that the sim would help her do quickly, whether she wanted to or not. She wanted to start a stack for this Sasha that Johansson had brought up, to find a way to start making and notating all of those connections.
Working in sim was part of her job, and she had gone into this research project knowing that it was only in sims that people got Lost. It had never bothered her before. And yet here she was, waffling about whether or not she felt safe going in to do her work.
With an annoyed sigh, she shook her head and set her hands in the cradles and rested her head down against he head rest. Nothing for it.
Once she was within her sparse, black space again, Carter prowled through the stacks she had started with regards to this little side project. She saw that someone had already created a card in the stack for patient 0224ebe8 — whom she now knew to be RJ — with some details from the tabloid article they had found about em, such as eir affiliation with the Theatre.
Invisible to others, she created a private stack within the delineated area, next to the pendant “Possible acquaintances” card, These private cards showed up with a subtle blue tinge to her, and would only fully appear on her view of the workspace. On the first cards in the stack, she transferred over some of the notes she had taken with Johansson during their brief meeting in the pub. That done, she started another card simply labeled “Sasha?” and added it to the stack.
The whole private stack was looped up to RJ’s card with a piece of cotton string. Others would be able to see that she had created the stack by virtue of how the sim was set up: they would see the string trailing off to a faint outline of a stack, or a grayed out pack of cards, or however their view of the sim chose to represent the data.
Strictly speaking, this wasn’t the use for such things. They were intended to be for short notes to oneself about what one was working on, not for actual investigative work. This was something new.
As Carter stepped back to look at the whole cordoned off section of data, she frowned. Was she even supposed to be doing investigative work? She was supposed to be utilizing the data that the hospitals and the university provided her with, not running out into the field and talking with acquaintances of the Lost over pints after a show. She was sure Sanders would have a fit if he knew what she was up to.
Even with that in mind, she wasn’t quite sure what it was that drove her to make the stack private. Some hunch. Some shadow lurking behind her. She needed to be more subtle about this than she had been.