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Icy You…Juicy Me – page 4

by Pat Cadigan

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by Pat Cadigan

The words seemed to hang in the air around her. Like on the old Groucho Marx show she'd seen tapes of. You
Bet Your Life. That funny bird that came down: Say the secret word and win an extra hundred dollars. Well, you just said it. It's a whole bunch of words, but call it an adjustment for inflation.

The calm voice had no reply to make, probably because it had nothing to tell her she didn't already know. If there was something you didn't know, then what you had to do was ask someone who did. Like asking The Spook about hardware and cams. She could check her email and see if he'd answered yet. She could do that. That would get her back across the room to the computer, have her using it in the normal, unremarkable fashion. If she did that, she just might find that it responded in the normal, unremarkable fashion, no crazy guys holding up signs for her to read in mirrors or telling her to pay attention.

If there was no crazy guy on the monitor, she thought, she would call that doctor and consent to resume medication. When in doubt, keep taking the tablets. Even if they did make her drowsy and fat.

And if there was a crazy guy, she'd bite the bullet and call 212-669-6718, and ask him what the hell was going on.

But first, she would check her email. First she would do the normal thing. Her calm voice would have approved, she thought, if it could have made itself heard. Always do the normal thing first, and then go crazy, it would say wisely. She wondered if the crazy guy knew that rule, and whether he had broken it, or it just hadn't worked for him.

She made herself get up and walk over to the desk. He was waiting there on the monitor, hands in his pockets, or behind his back, his dirty, stubbly face turned up to the camera as usual. Pointedly ignoring him, she opened her email program over him. It chimed immediately; the Spook's reply was already in her mailbox. If he was this prompt, maybe she should ask him about the webcam at 45th and Broadway itself, if there was anything odd about it or-
Dear Friends, just to let you know I'm off for two weeks on the beach in Florida. Not taking my laptop for a change but there is a webcam. I'll be waving hello at 11 a.m. eastern time every morning, so point your browser at the following URL and give me a wave back-

Revolted, Darcy stabbed the delete button and shut the email program without bothering to look at any of the other messages. The crazy guy was waiting underneath, the tilt of his head suggesting he was amused. The image jumped; he was looking over his shoulder at the phone. Jump; he was looking back at the cam.

Her telephone was right next to her computer on the desk. She put her hand on the receiver and just held it for a long moment before picking it up. It took another little while before she could bring herself to push the buttons on the handset, and she did it very slowly. But she did it.

There was a short delay between the time the ringing tone began in the receiver and the crazy guy signifying that he could hear the payphone ringing. It might have been the cam image lag, or it might have been that the speed of sound being slower than the speed of light. Maybe she should take notes, she thought; she might learn something of actual scientific substance.

He took his time getting to the phone, walking backwards to it as slowly as possible. Foot traffic blasted by him, men and women, in pairs, in groups, all alone, obscuring him and then vanishing, showing him untouched and the same.

It took three frames for his hand to make it from his pocket to the receiver. Before the frame changed again, the ringing cut off and she heard the relentless roar of 45th and Broadway. She waited, but that was all she heard.

And then her own voice was large in her head, in her ears, in the room: "I see you."
He turned away for a moment to stare at the phone before turning back to the cam. "Juicy me?"

He didn't sound crazy. He just sounded like a guy, any guy. The guy you got when you called a catalog to order something; the guy who answered queries about your electric bill. The guy who was stuck on the technical support hotline at 4 a.m., when only the most desperate of the desperate were awake and obsessing about some glitch in some far, dark corner of a program they only ran when they couldn't sleep. The guy at the clinic who arranged the telephone appointments with the shrink. Just a guy.

"Yeah, I see you. Do you see me?"
He giggled. The sound annoyed her.
"How do you see me?"

He was in profile on the monitor now, leaning on the phone box. In spite of the people popping in and out and the lousy resolution, she could see the big, goofy grin on his face.

"How do you see me?" she demanded. "Is there a monitor? One, more than one? Is it that anyone who accesses that cam can be seen by-by-" Passersby kept appearing and vanishing in front of him, around him, making her flustered, making her flounder. "How do you see me? Dammit, who is under surveillance here?"

As she watched, he turned toward the cam again, made a deep, formal bow, held up the receiver and dropped it. Not into the cradle to hang it up, just dropped it so that it dangled, off the hook, still connected to her.
The frame jumped and he was gone.

Darcy sat with her own telephone in one hand, waiting for him to reappear and do something else. Traffic noise drifted out of the earpiece. The complete virtual experience, you are there, webcam and direct phone line.

Surely someone would hang up the phone. Surely someone would.
Surely...if anyone had noticed. The dangling phone receiver seemed to go completely unnoticed.

Alarmed, remembering who had called whom, she slammed down the phone and counted to thirty before picking it up again.
The traffic noise at 45th and Broadway was undiminished. If anything, it seemed to be louder and clearer.

She put the phone down again and counted to sixty. Jiggled the switch-hook, pressed all the buttons. Unplugged the connection and plugged it back in again.
OK, said the calm voice. You know what you have to do.
"Right," she growled. "Visit the phone company website and report a faulty line."
Maybe it would have worked, except the trouble-reporting area of the website refused to take any input.
"Email someone and ask them to call the phone company on my behalf," she said, and sent a message to everyone in her address book.

And meanwhile, the traffic noise in her telephone went on and on and on, not terribly mismatched to the webcam frame on her screen. Sometimes the dangling receiver would swing in the wind; sometimes it was still.
Occasionally, someone used the telephone next to it and she shouted as loud as she could, but no one heard her desperate request to hang up the receiver.
OK, said the calm voice. You know what you have to do.
"I'll wait," she muttered. "I'll wait and see if anything else works. I'll wait and see if he comes back-"

But she knew he wasn't coming back. There were a million cameras in the naked city; this was only one of them. Besides, maybe he wasn't crazy any more. Maybe he'd managed to be cured, just by getting someone to admit he was visible, he'd been seen.

You know what you have to do.
"No," she said, but faintly, so weakly.
You're going to have to hang that phone up yourself.
"No."
And get someone to admit they can see you.
"No-"
And then you don't have to be afraid any more.

She looked at her purse, still waiting on the sideboard for her. Pretty big errand; not the sort of thing she'd have thought of starting out with.
So what was wrong with being afraid, anyway? It didn't hurt anybody.

But that wasn't the point anyway, she realized, staring at the monitor. It didn't matter whether she was afraid or not afraid. What mattered was the cam. She had been watching, and now it was her turn to be watched. Nothing was going to be right until she took her turn. Only then would everything go back into balance. Not to mention her regular phone service being restored.
She took a deep breath. All right...but...now?

Plane reservations would be easy. Accommodations could be arranged via the same website. What was the big deal about going out? If you could bring it all in and put it on a computer screen-complete with traffic noise-then you were already out. The rest was just a technicality. Agoraphobia? Wiped out in our lifetime. Now it's claustrophobia.

In her hurry, she nearly forgot her purse.

THE END

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