On the third try, the doorframe finally gave, splintering around the lock. Conchita gave it a final kick and it swung weakly open.

“James?” she said. “Where are you?” Behind her, Reg dropped the battering ram on the concrete floor and followed.

The interior rooms had been gutted, with furniture and most of the non loadbearing walls replaced with racks of servers and off-the shelf components modified to work like servers. There was even a liquid cooling system installed–maybe drawing from the city sewers?–but even so the temperature inside was easily in the nineties.

“James?” Conchita called again. “I know you’re in here. No more hiding.”

She made a careful circuit of the first floor, while Reg went to look upstairs. There was just more and more computer equipment; the bathroom had no water pressure and was streaked with rust stains and the refrigerator was unplugged and empty aside from a few moldy bread heels. Nothing to suggest that anything other than pay the water and electricity bills had been done in a long time.

“Hey, up here!” It was Reg from upstairs. Conchita took the steps two at a time.

He’d found what looked like the computer system’s central terminal–a mosaic of screens around an elaborate set of keyboards and joysticks. A thick layer of dust covered everything, and the chair looked like it had been partially torn apart by rats.

The monitors, covered by heavy dust, were running speech synthesis programs, image editing software, and a popular web-based voice and video chat.

There was no sign that James, or anyone else, had been at the terminal in months.

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