Icy You…Juicy Me – page 2

by Pat Cadigan

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by Pat Cadigan

Well, of course he knew. The camera was probably in plain sight, like any other camera among the multitude of cameras in New York City. Every large city had them for traffic or police surveillance, and now, finally, for the entertainment of web surfers. Kremlin Cam-beautiful view, but too distant for Darcy's taste, too impersonal. Likewise ParisCam, and the skyline of Lincoln, Nebraska, and a good many others. What could you watch from a panorama cam but a shifting pattern of grubby dots or out-of-focus lights? Sometimes not even that.

On the other hand, people's personal cams were just a bit too up-close for her. She had no desire to become closely acquainted with someone else's room, though she'd watch an office for a while if nothing else of interest was happening anywhere.

In the end, however, she always found herself returning to the Times Square street level cams and, thus, to the crazy guy who did his best to make sure she had something to watch.

If she had a better monitor and a better graphics card, she wondered, watching him as he stood in front of the camera, arms folded now, his head tilted down so that he glowered into the lens from under his eyebrows, would she be able to see him a whole lot better, enough to make it worth the expense? Or would she find out that the camera, never meant to produce a continuous, flowing motion picture, was little better than the surveillance cams they showed footage from on America's Dumbest Criminals, pixels the size of chiclets?

Making sure the crazy guy stayed visible on her desktop, she emailed The Spook.

The Spook was not what he called himself but how he was known universally among his online acquaintances, or at least the ones Darcy knew of. He might have been a real spook at some time, or maybe he was just one of those people who always seemed to find out things that escaped other people. He ran a quirky search engine called JuicyThis? dedicated to what he called I-ways less traveled. He also answered questions, but only if he thought the questions were geeky enough. This, she thought, would satisfy his urge to neep-neep-neep. Even better, there was a very good chance that she would be able to understand the answer. Hardware was something she seemed to comprehend better than software.

Hello, Roky: taken up webcamming in a big way. If I invest in better graphics and resolution, can I get better cam video?

She sent the email and then went into the kitchen to heat up some soup for an early lunch. As she left the room, she imagined that she could feel the crazy guy's stare on her back, which was very silly. Possibly even crazy.
When she returned to her desk with a large mug of cream of mushroom soup, the crazy guy was waiting for her with a tall skinny guy wearing a black trench coat and carrying a briefcase. The crazy guy was pointing at the cam; the skinny guy was squinting up at it thoughtfully while the crazy guy told him something. The briefcase flashed from the skinny guy's right hand to his left and back again. Behind them, a fleet of yellow cabs went by, heading downtown.

"Hey, pal, if you want a cab, you better get one now, instead of talking with some crazy guy on the street," Darcy said, giggling a little as she spooned up some soup. Who says agoraphobia's no fun?

As if in response to what she had said, the skinny guy turned around and then ran for the curb, waving at the cabs. The crazy guy looked after him for a moment before he turned back to look accusingly into the lens again.

Maybe he thought it was a police surveillance camera, or private security. Could he have any idea that it was a webcam? Did he have any idea about the web? Were crazy guys aware of the Internet?

Were crazy guys aware of the Internet. She had to laugh at herself. Crazy guys had invented the Internet, conceptually, anyway. It had just taken a while for the reality to catch up with the theory. This guy had probably been performing for cameras for years. Chances were, he'd get bored eventually and move on to some other camera somewhere else. Then what would she do for entertainment? Hope for another crazy guy to come along, she supposed; otherwise, she might actually have to turn on the television again.

Maybe, she thought, she should try to find some other crazy guys, just to make sure she wasn't driven to anything too desperate. New York was full of webcams and crazy guys-surely the two had connected up in other locations besides 45th and Broadway. But as she went to choose another link from the list on the right side of her desktop, the crazy guy began jumping up and down in a frenzy, which was not much in the way of frenzy but did look very bizarre, considering. He squatted and made large no motions with both arms like a baseball umpire. The message was clear: don't touch that dial. Which was completely ridiculous, of course. Maybe she had an unreasoning fear of the marketplace, and maybe she hadn't left her flat in something like two years, and maybe she just now thought webcams were the height of entertainment, but she wasn't so far gone that she believed any of the people caught in the webcam's gaze had any awareness of who was watching them. That was just plain crazy.

Of course it was...and he was a crazy guy, right?

Frowning, she pushed back from her desk and got up to take her empty mug back into the kitchen. She would use the time to wash the mug and the spoon as a screen break. Clean as you go was the unbreakable rule for the housebound. Let the washing-up accumulate in the sink, allow the clutter to get out of hand and you might end up as one of those pathetic minor headlines on the inside pages of the newspaper: Local recluse found dead amid twenty years of old magazines and pizza boxes. Being an agoraphobe was a lot more complicated than just never leaving the house, something most people couldn't begin to appreciate, Darcy thought, running the water in the sink.

And what about her crazy-guy friend on the webcam-what might he be able to appreciate? Even if she wasn't technically crazy, would her little problem give them some sort of common ground for relating to each other?

So, you say you can't leave the house, eh? Bummer.
Well, not really. I never get caught in the rain, for one thing.
I always do. No choice.
Yeah, that makes sense. So what is it with you, a compulsion?

She stood at the sink in a trance, waiting for the next line in the imaginary conversation while she rinsed the mug over and over, but it wouldn't come. She simply couldn't imagine why he danced around payphones and played to surveillance cameras. Finally, she shut the water off and placed the cup in the dishrag, but she lingered at the counter, wiping her hands on a dishtowel and trying to think. If she couldn't even theorize why the crazy guy did those few unremarkable irrational things, she certainly wouldn't be able to figure out how it was he seemed to be aware of the reactions of an observer-

Well, how else, stupid? Because somehow, he can see you.

Slowly, she turned around to look through the doorway of the kitchen into the living room. The monitor sat in profile to where she was now. She had placed it that way so that she could look up and quick-check whether she had left the oven on, or forgotten something on top of the stove. (Cooker, she nagged herself; how many more years will you live here before you remember they call it a cooker?)

The doorway to the bedroom, however, was behind where she sat at the desk. Had she ever walked around nude in front of the monitor when she'd been online? She came up blank, which made her pretty sure she must have done it a million times. And if he could see her-


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