(page 3 of 7)
“You know this is—” you start, then just open the code up in a sidebar, so William can see for himself: the image is flat, is faking what depth it has. On a better screen, you probably wouldn’t even need the sidebar to tell. It’d just look like what it is: animation.
And then you see what William’s probably embarrassed about, here: a girl, jogging. Fully clothed. The only sweatsuit on this server, probably. In this whole godforsaken sink.
Like all the ani-girls, she sees whatever’s running at her too late, does the standard scared-girl shriek—a wave signature you could copy and search and find in a thousand other clips, probably—and then is under the teeth, diving headfirst into the foodchain.
When it’s over, you look up to William.
“Jasmine,” he says, like the punchline to some joke that’s sick only to him.
You narrow your eyes, automatically scanning the code for the name. It’s not there. You almost ask, but then decide you don’t really want to know, either. Some of the the freaks, if you talk to them, their disease just gushes out all over you, and you end up just standing there, nodding.
Just business, then.
“Why would they hide a game all the way over here?” you ask.
His one-shoulder shrug is half a breath too late. Slowly he checks back into the bathroom, this transaction.
You try not to smile, have to look away to explain: this wolf-thing or whatever it is, it’s obviously just some routine lifted from a shooter game, grafted onto some other closed course.
“Shooter . . . ” William says, tasting it. “There’s no gun, though.”
“Teeth, guns—it’s a genre, yeah?”
He nods, and it’s a lie.
“It’s not the—the game I’m interested in,” he finally says.
“Hey man, that was the directory you told me to—”
He shakes his head no.
“The girl, then,” you say, your fingers finding the keys again. It’s not an impossible job, finding the girl who supplied the original body mechanics, even the girl who’s voice is on that track. But it’s not a short job, either. Or a cheap one.
“It’s just—I recognize the camera work, I mean.”
Now you can’t help but smile.
“Listen, I told you, there’s not a real camera, it’s all just bits and bytes, that image is as flat—”
“The programmer, I mean. Coder, whatever. Like you.”
You shrug it off.
“You can find him?” William says.
“Not if he’s like me,” you say, “no.”
William smiles, looks to the screen again.
“It’s a. . . I don’t know if you would understand. Jasmine. He was what you might call a disciplinary case. I treated him too harsly once. As a result, we’ve lost contact over the years. This—these, they’re all I have.”
“And you know it’s him,” you say.
William tongues his lower lip out, smiles with his eyes.
“I know his work,” he says back, then holds your eyes in his long enough that you go back to the screen. It’s still the recording—animation, you correct. Because, why would somebody flatten a real visual feed, make it look fake?
The thing, whatever it was running through the woods, is swallowing the girl down in great lumps, moaning with pleasure.
“It’s got good sound,” you say. “I’ll give your friend that much.”
“To nab the whole directory?”
“And a street address.”
You stare at the inner parts of the ani-girl’s torso.
“You are a tracer, right?” William says. “Isn’t this what you do?”
The pants you’ve just ruined cost eight-five, used.
William unrolls enough bills for ten pairs of them.
To do it right, you have to take your rig out to the parking lot, let William stand guard over you so you can tunnel in. Your fingers know more code than you do, but it burns you up too, giving yourself over to instinct like that. Letting the expressions and strings and recursions just flow through you. What you feel like, plugged in, is a pipe that thousands and thousands of gallons of slush are slamming down, from some impossible height. And it all comes out the tips of your fingers, so long as you keep them moving.