Short Story Here's The Reg's third stab at bringing culture and literature into our readers lives. We're giving you yet another exclusive tale from The New English Library Book of Internet Stories.
Our author this time is Pat Cadigan. She's been described by The Guardian as the "The Queen of Cyberpunk", and X-files' Gillian Anderson once called her "The Queen of Science Fiction."
Her novels Synners and Fools both won the Arthur C Clarke Award for best science fiction novel published in the UK, and you can click here to visit her homepage. There's a Reg interview with Pat here.
Icy You...Juicy Me
by Pat Cadigan
The crazy man was dancing around the public telephones on the northeast corner of 45th and Broadway in Times Square. Across the street, by contrast, everything was uneventful. Yellow cabs appeared and disappeared; people materialized in the crosswalk and then vanished, which meant they were walking awfully fast. Darcy wondered where they had to go in such a hurry at 5:38 in the morning. Maybe they were just trying to get out of the vicinity of the crazy man performing his ritual morning boogie. He was a pretty talented dancer for a crazy guy. Some of the people crossing at the opposite corner seemed to be watching him, or at least taking a look as they hurried to work or wherever. It was hard to tell exactly what was going on sometimes, with the choppiness of the image progression. Even weather conditions could be hard to determine. Rain or snow was easy, but it wasn't always easy to see if it was cold or not, not even by the way the crazy guy was dressed. Especially that. Even the frequency of his appearances wasn't necessarily a key-being crazy, he wouldn't always make the logical decision to stay inside when it was cold. Darcy didn't even know if he had any place to be inside. There wasn't a shopping cart full of worldly goods and chattels, but maybe he always parked it off-camera, or stashed it somewhere.
Darcy smiled to herself. Keeping tabs on a crazy guy-yeah, just another day in the life of the forty-year-old agoraphobe. The thing was, he was obviously aware of the camera; you could tell the way he performed. He always faced the camera straight on, even though the camera itself was placed at an angle meant to give the longest view down the street. You could see all the way down to the south island in Times Square with all the big screens on it, just like you could see all the way in the other direction to the north island on the other camera. Good morning, midtown Manhattan.
Darcy leaned closer to the screen, watching people flash in and out of the crosswalk, lone pedestrians giving way to groups of three, sometimes four, buses moving in and out of the frame, and, in the other window, the crazy guy still dancing around the payphones while pedestrians gave him a wide berth. She tried to imagine herself in the crosswalk, caught on camera, looking nonchalant and unaware in a dark blue parka or ski jacket or-what did they call them now? Anoraks, that was it. Herself in a dark blue anorak and white scarf, knit hat pulled down over her lank, colorless hair, hands stuffed in her pockets. On her way to...well, somewhere. All those people outside had some place they were on their way to. Even the crazy guy.
She wondered what he would have thought if he'd known she was watching him and thinking of him as the crazy guy. He would probably think that was a heavy case of the pot calling the kettle a very dark color. Depending, of course, on how crazy he was.
But the problem was that she wasn't crazy...technically. Agoraphobia was not a true psychosis. It did not qualify as R.D. Laing's sane response to an insane world. It was simply an unreasoning fear, specifically of the marketplace, in this instance.
But if the marketplace in question was Times Square at 45th and Broadway, then the diagnosis was a bit faulty. She had been watching this little piece of the world on Live Earthcam from her North London flat for, well, she wasn't sure how long. But what she was sure of was that she had absolutely no fear, unreasoning or otherwise, of Times Square, or at least what was visible of it going north and south from 45th and Broadway.
It was everything else between her and it that had her petrified.
She left the crazy guy and his phone booth dance on the monitor and swapped the other view of Times Square for BourboCam in New Orleans, even though she knew it would be a disappointment. The only thing you got at this time of the morning at the corner of Bourbon and St. Peter were frat boys giving up and going home after a long night of drinking. They all looked like frat boys, anyway. Plus, BourboCam didn't give you a continuous onscreen image-every twenty seconds, the frame went black while the scene reloaded. She moved on.
O Street in Lincoln, Nebraska was still dark, although the view over Lincoln looking east showed her that dawn was not far away. GeekCam was dark. Badgrrl's Office took forever to load, but it was too early to see anything. Weirdcam wasn't online yet. The kitchen on KitchenCam was tidy, except for a small scattering of beer cans on some white thing with the mysterious legend odwalla large on the side. It was also empty. Other than that, California was cluttered up, as usual, with Nerdman, and she just wasn't interested in Nerdman today. The LivingRoomCam, which she didn't care for in the first place, played one of those awful midi tunes.
It was raining on Lower Gardiner Street in Dublin. Cloudy in Tokyo-
She was about to click on New Zealand when the Times Square frame found its way to the top of the accumulated windows on her monitor. The crazy guy was standing directly in front of the camera with his hands on his hips; the only word Darcy could think of for his expression was provoked.
Someone using his telephones? No one there behind him now, but most likely that hadn't been the problem anyway. If someone ever actually dared to approach the telephones during the performance of the dance ritual, the crazy guy would simply take his dancing into overdrive and that would settle the matter.
Darcy watched, fascinated, as he stood perfectly still, staring directly into the cam. It was daylight now and she could see him more clearly than she ever had. He was just a guy, only one guy of millions of guys, fifteen or fifty in a dark watch-cap, guy-shaped in a dark jacket-anorak-and jeans. Either his face was dirty or he needed a shave. Or both. She leaned closer, wishing for better resolution.
For no particular reason, she decided that underneath the dirt, his beard was a paler shade of tomcat ginger. It would suit him, she thought; all those dark colors, the dirt. He needed some brightening up.
Her gaze started to wander to the list of webcam links on the right side of her screen when he reached up and knocked on whatever glass separated him from the web cam. The knocking gesture was exaggerated, like an overenthusiastic mime in slow motion.
To accommodate the choppiness of the image progression, she realized. He was adapting his movements to the frequency of the image reloading, so they would look smoother. No denying it now, he definitely knew that cam was there, and what it was doing, and how.
Still moving in that exaggerated way, he raised his index finger and shook it at the camera in a silent scold before pointing both thumbs at himself. Then, as if to make sure, he pointed both index fingers at the camera, and then both thumbs at himself again.
No mistake; he most certainly did know about the webcam. And he knew that somewhere, someone was watching.
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