Chapter 0. Put
The wrong man padded along a smoky hall, gripping his .45 with both hands like they do in the movies. He wore a patterned shirt, a combat vest, and he had been shot at least twice.
Shafts of light stabbed through the smoke amid sounds of a running fight. Shouts, cries of anguish—and laughter—echoed with sizzling twangs, cracks, and bangs as if a time warp had merged sci-fi battles, a gangster war, and a gunfight at the OK corral.
From behind came a muted, gritty crunch. He whirled, raising his weapon.
A security guard faced him—hand on holstered Taser but with no vest or laser gun.
The man raised his hands to surrender, then gave the common signal for silence by crossing pursed lips with the barrel of his plastic .45.
The guard said, “Hi, Neil.”
They exchanged smiles.
Striding past, the guard whispered, “Watch your back.”
The mistake was to think about it. By the time he turned to look, he had been shot again.
He shifted his gamer’s vest to a less irritating position.
Hurrying to the Atrium, his face betrayed surprise and fear as The Machine materialized through the haze. It rolled toward him, staring with its tablet screen face, and raising a plasma weapon.
He jerked his .45 to aim, but the machine’s blaster winked, and the shooter bleated, “Trust your feelings, Neil.”
The man fired. His weapon gave a hollow click instead of the sick but reassuring blam. He ducked past, heading toward the next stairwell as his .45 re-armed. A peek behind showed the machine backing away, its blaster pointed at him for another shot. This time he managed to dodge, but as the machine swiveled around the corner, someone else shot him. He dashed up the stairs.
At the top he studied a security camera aimed at the wrong door, then disappeared into its usual field of vision.
Not much more than a minute later he slipped away, switching his blaster to his other hand, and stuffing an edge of shirttail under his belt.
The right man looked up from his desk in the shipping department. The hall door had banged open and shut.
“What the…?” he said as the wrong man dashed past.
“Hey, you!” Neil called as the man disappeared out the Receiving door. He looked at his own shirt.
As he sat thinking about what to do, a company security team barged in. One officer planted himself between Neil and the Receiving door. The other demanded, “Where were you?”
“I don’t understand. I’ve been here.”
“Not all the time, though.”
“No, I did hit the head.” 
“Yeah, we checked,” said a third guard, coming in. “Nothing good in the restrooms, Sarge.”
The sergeant demanded, “Where is your gaming equipment?”
“What equipment? I didn’t play.” Neil smiled nervously.
“Don’t give me that. You were in the hall, dressed as a gamer. We have video.”
“But I didn’t play.” Then he remembered. “I did see someone run past that might have looked like me. He had a shirt like mine. And a gym bag.”
The first guard showed his cell phone and whispered, “Sarge, this is Neil. The guy I saw earlier had to be an impostor. His teeth were all the same.”
The sergeant ordered the outside door secured, then suggested strongly to Neil that he talk with The Man and The Machine. “I’ll show you the way.”
“The way” included a half-hour wait at the company’s security desk while Doctor Little digested his AI machine’s report of the laser tag game. It was lively reading although Doc was the only human to read it.
“Dr. Little? TM2?” the sergeant said, depositing the worried clerk in the boss’s office. TM2 rolled to a better spot and scanned Neil’s face with obvious care.
“I’ll be brief,” said the Doctor as he watched his employee’s face without appearing to be careful about it. “But I’ll need you to be open with me. Okay?”
Sweat glistened on Neil’s forehead as he agreed.
“How could the intruder have known what clothes you were going to wear?”
“What?” The clerk got flustered but did not appear to be inventing a story. “I don’t know… unless…”
The Man and his machine waited for the rest of it, which Neil appeared embarrassed to admit. “Well,” he mumbled, “I don’t have a big wardrobe…”
“Do we buy any of that, TM?” Doc asked when they had run out of questions, and Neil had gone.
“Yes,” said the machine. “I have examined my Data Matrix and scanned security videos. He wears the same sorts of things every day and probably has duplicates of some shirts and slacks. Anyone familiar with his routine could assemble a matching collection. It is possible that he wears different things in the evenings and on weekends. Shall I check?”
“No. It’s too late. ...Nothing stolen?” Little said, fingering the machine’s report. “Hard to believe.”
“An inventory of prototypes and other sensitive materials shows correct, Doctor, and no sensitive files were accessed during the game.”
“I’ll bet they got something,” said Little. “Whatever it was, it was small. Does IMINT show what it could have been? Archive all records of this day. We need to check it in detail.”
“If they did not get anything, Doctor, there is the other possibility. I shall check that as well. But it takes more time.”
Although Dr. Little didn’t make the sneaker’s intrusion public, word got around. Gossip was hard to avoid after people swore they had shot Neil. He denied playing the game but said he’d caught sight of someone, dressed as himself, sprinting out the Receiving door.
Later that day, TM2 interviewed Neil again.
“You and the intruder looked alike. Why are you not sure whether the intruder looked like you? Tell to me the truth, please. I will not report what you say unless you agree, or the law requires it.”
Neil shrugged. “What I saw of the face looked like the one I see in the mirror every day, but I have to say he never opened his mouth.”
“Did he wear a laser tag vest? Did his shirt look odd in any way?”
“Why did you not warn TLC security that you would be away from your area?”
“I can’t watch the dock and door all the time. I have other duties. I thought the cameras would watch. They always do. Is that how he got in? Leaving to use the restroom has never been a problem before.”
“Why did you help Mr. Tim play his practical joke on me?”
“Is the question not plain enough?”
“Yes. Well… no,” Neil stammered. “That was over a month ago.”
“Answer the question, please.”
“I just thought you were… I thought it would be fun.”
“The word’s meaning is plain enough, isn’t it?”
The machine was surprised. “So, you were not testing me then?”
“Of course not. Well, maybe Tim was.”
TM thought a bit, and then asked, “Was it? Was it fun?”
Neil didn’t smile a lot. But he smiled broadly now, showing that one of his teeth was noticeably whiter than the others. “Oh, yeah,”
 “Hit the head”: military slang for visiting the restroom, the loo, the W.C., etc.
 IMINT: Military jargon for Image Intelligence, i.e., the analysis of images for clues.