The amount of dust in the air made Matt think for a moment that he was back ini a broken future, but he realised seconds later that he was standing in the middle of a construction zone on a hot but windy day. He inwardly cursed Connor before turning in a slow circle to get a better feel for his surroundings. The site itself seemed to have been fortunately abandoned for the evening, but the amount of construction vehicles left behind suggested that the workers would be back in the morning. It didn't matter; Mat would be long gone by then and the anomaly already was.
"Oi! You can't be in there!" Someone yelled at him from the street, "Out before I call a copper!"
Matt quickly ducked through a narrow gap in the steel rental fence surrounding the site and approached the other man. "Sorry," he apologized, "Just looking. Do you mind telling me where I am?"
The man eyed him warily, as if trying to determine whether or not Matt was causing trouble, but finally he shrugged and pointed to a large wooden street sign, "Whatcom Street."
"And the city?"
The man sighed and gave him a look of disgust and Matt knew he was thinking Matt'd had a few too many to drink, but he did reply, "Aylesbury."
"Right, thanks," Matt responded. He didn't actually have the foggiest where Aylesbury was, but the man had a British accent so at least that was a good sign and he knew better than to ask any more questions so he excused himself and set off to find a convenience store where he could hopefully purchase a map and a cup of coffee. His goal was to get to London and start looking for Jess at the universities, though for all he knew she could be living in Aylesbury. He sighed.
It took almost six hours for Matt for find an open corner shop. Apparently the word convenience had a different meaning in Aylesbury, he mused. When he did finally find an all-nighter, they didn't officially sell maps, but the owner had his own crinkled one in his car that he was willing to part with for twice the price it was worth new. Mat took it, along with a not-so-fresh cup of Joe, and got the shop owner to ring him a cab. Then he went outside to wait in the hot summer's night air.
The ride into London took about an hour and a half and Matt spent most of that time studying the map. He located, as best he could, where the train crash might have happened twelve years prior to the time he was now in, and began circling the universities and numbering them in order of which ones he thought Jess would be most likely to attend, if she were in London at all. By the time they reached the city, the early morning sun was just starting to rise. Matt had the driver drop him off at a hotel near the first university to that he could catch forty winks before starting his search.
By the time Matt had awoken, showered, and bought some breakfast-to-go, it was half eleven. He headed to the university, not quite sure what he was expecting. He tried the easy route first, and was not at all surprised when the secretary told him in no uncertain terms that it broke all sorts of privacy laws for her to tell him if certain people attended the school or not, let alone give him their contact information. Matt wished he had Jess with him to hack into the school's computer system, but, then again, if he had Jess with him, he wouldn't need to. He tried asking a bunch of students and none of them had heard of a Jessica Parker, but it was a big school and even if she attended he figured they'd be unlikely to know her if they didn't have any classes with her. He persisted until a faculty member threatened to call the cops on him, and then headed back to the hotel, deciding he'd have to try a different approach. He switched on the hotel's telly and logged into the internet, looking up the class schedules for each university's high level computer classes. He'd stand outside each one if he had to, if only there weren't so many at the same time as each other. He slammed his fist against the wooden desk in frustration and began pacing the room.
It took an hour of frustrated pacing for Matt to realise that doing nothing would get him nowhere, so he took his list and tried phoning a few of the universities. At first he just asked if she attended the school and was met with the same resistance he had when he'd shown up in person. Then he tried acting like he knew she attended that school and was in class at that time, and he had to get a hold of her because there was an emergency. He was met with less resistance and more confusion. While the person on the other line was willing to put him on hold and check for him, they always came back saying she wasn't there at the moment. When he inquired further if she attended the school at all or not, just in case he had the wrong one, he was given the much too familiar line again that they couldn't release that information.
Eventually he exhausted his list of schools in the area, and so he started again at the top. It had taken three hours to get through the long list the first time, having been put on hold over and over, and so he hoped that if she hadn't had classes earlier in the day, she might now.
Only the secretaries weren't as friendly to him the second time around and the majority of them told him to call her mobile and not phone back. And so Matt gave up for the night, ordered some dinner and went to bed early. In the morning he'd have to resort to searching the campuses again, though he was starting to feel as if the task were impossible, and he didn't even know if she attended a London university.
Four days and fourteen universities later, Matt finally realised that he'd been doing things the hard way all along. It was actually an overheard conversation between two students studying out in the hallway that made the light bulb turn on and he rushed back to the hotel to find Jess the modern way: Facebook.
There were exactly two hundred and thirty-four people living in Great Britain with the names Jessica Parker, Jess Parker, Jessica P. and Jess P. combined. At least, that was the total that had Facebook accounts in their proper names. He focused on the ones that just said Jess first. Only about a dozen had privacy settings low enough to let him see the profile pictures, and none of them were the girl he was looking for. He thought for a long time and then sent off a private message to the rest:
Jess, My name is Matt and you may or may not be the person I am looking for, but if you remember a flickering light and a tragic train crash, I need your help.
Good enough, he thought to himself. Now he just had to sit back and wait for the reply.