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The Stalker

#1 User is offline   Gehn, lord of ages 

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Posted 19 February 2011 - 02:53 PM

The Stalker


“Yes?” She tilts her head slightly to the side. Intrigued - perhaps interested? I glance down at the notes I am hiding on my sleeve.

“Well, I was wondering if perhaps you might want to go out with me, say Friday?”

“Uh, no thank you.” A dismissive frown forms. Rejection.

Again.

I swear and, before she can even look shocked at my outburst, switch the program off.

-

The gate opens again; first the click of the lock, then the slow whine as the wrought iron edifice slides open. The mail truck lurches forward impatiently, and through the lens of my binoculars I can see the security guards reacting warily, motioning for it to stop. The boxes in the back of the truck slide and rattle, putting the guards to a full alert. Perfect. “Now” I whisper, and Leah nods recognition, shrugging off her backpack. The fanciful dolphin motif of the fence provides plenty of footholds, and I quickly get into the neatly gardened open area around the compound. Though the guards are still occupied with the mail, I crouch behind the rose bush. Not the best of ideas. Leah tosses the pack over the fence, but it snags on the upper branches of the bush. It hurts like I’ve put my hand into a hell made of thorns, but when I get the pack out, I see only a couple thorn pricks. I find that I am swearing nonstop, fortunately in a whisper. The blood will be a problem if we are noticed. Leah looks panicked. “It’s fine. Don’t worry.” I hiss. We won’t be caught. I have another distraction ready for my escape.

I smile again as I rip open the backpack. Non-intrusive human brain scanners are hard to come by and - well, the FBI usually wants to know what you’re doing with one. Leah’s assistance in the mission would be cheap at any price. Actually, it is cheap at this price too, but only because she believes I know other researchers in the field who would be willing to help out if I thought she was too expensive. I don’t, but it’s a lie that saves me quite a bit of money. More money to go towards the rental fees for this gated compound in my future - though maybe I’d use it to buy some better security guards.

The sounds of the present crop of guards returning to their posts quickly jerk me back into the real world. I am wearing as much camouflage as won’t get me suspicious looks when walking through Newport Beach at 6 AM, but I still am worried as some glance toward my hiding spot. They quickly look away, keeping their focus on the perimeter of the compound, however. I am free to breathe and move again.

I let the scanner warm up, looking cautiously around until I see Caroline. She’s still gorgeous. I stare for almost too long, ducking behind the bush again just as she turns my way. The scanner is still not ready, and my eyes keep drifting up to the angel in maroon jogging pants in front of me. The scanner beeps and I curse under my breath, hitting the mute toggle hurriedly. Although nobody seemed to notice the sound, my hands are shaking as I raise the scanner and point toward Caroline.

Target Out of Range. I am quickly exhausting my repertoire of swear words.

-

“Yes?” That maddeningly hopeful tilt of the head. That moment of attraction. Is she interested? If so, what can I say that doesn’t throw away my chance again?

I feel my fists clench, and I see her gaze move to this odd display of my body language. The moment passes, before I can even open my mouth.

I flip some switches, first shutting down the program and then the lights to the room. Leah looks up as I walk out. “I’m too tired.” I mutter. “I’ll get some rest and try some more rounds in the morning.”

“We’re not getting enough tests done each day.”

“I know. By the time I figure out the perfect sequence, Caroline will already be a centenarian.” I note dryly.

“There are-”

“I know there are technologies for that. I just don’t like them. I’m a traditionalist in some senses, Leah.” She cocks an eyebrow at me, amused. “Look,” I plead, “Just don’t argue with me when I’m tired, okay?”

“Whatever you say, Chase.”

-

It took all of five minutes, but I am carefully positioned behind a topiary right on the side of the path Caroline is jogging through. Fortunately, she does not own a dog, or it would smell me. I hear the footsteps passing by and raise the scanner. As Caroline passes by, the screen flashes green and I give a sigh of relief. The data is streamed out to Leah in the van outside, where our improvised supercomputer unit can begin to process the data. After a couple minutes, Leah’s voice whispers through the speaker in my ear. “The readings suggest the target indicated identifies as Caroline Elden Singel.” Perfect yet again.

-

I strut into the room - or strut as best I can, given the confines of the virtual room we set up for the projection - with slicked back hair and stick on sunglasses. I personally don’t like the outfit, but if Caroline finds it attractive than it is negligible a cost. I look at the screen where a facsimile of my love stares back.

It’s a pity the graphics haven’t advanced that much. As much as the mental processing technology, I mean, although admittedly it would work better starting from a full body scan of the target, rather than a couple of grainy photographs I happen to have. Still, with the ability to process just how a mental interface would act and react to situations, surely the scientists involved could spend a little time off to work on better imaging reasoned off from the scan results.

Speaking of graphics, apparently mine aren’t up to par. One of the signal lights placed “behind” Caroline in the fake perspective of the screen lights up to signal her displeasure in the outfit I am sporting. I don’t even need the clue, though, as her beautifully expressive face says it all. Internally, I sigh in relief. I am glad that I don’t have to wear these uncomfortable glasses any more.

-

“Did the test work?” I am pacing outside the door to my living room - what was my living room, and what now is the room where we can set up the projections.

“Come and see.” Leah responds, and I swing open the door.

The speakers - not the final set that is still in transit from the 3D printing shop, but the substitutes we have for testing the system for now - crackle into existence with the words, “Hello there self.” I stare at the uncanny representation of myself on the screen. “Hello.”

“I knew you’d say that.”

“It’s me alright.” I tell Leah. Looks like the scan worked.

“Mostly.” she replies. “I still need to set up the cameras and his visual field. Currently, he can just see us and off white sheets placed all around this room.”

“Clear as crystal,” my virtual self chips in. “Shut up,” Leah retorts, and both me’s cry out in unison “Hey!”.

Leah continues her speech. “To get your Caroline virtual program to react realistically to the settings you want to test her in, we’ll need to calibrate the cameras to the room so that we can integrate in the 3D models. xf3D format will take a couple days. Getting it to mesh in photographs that you took of the other places without the models - it will take a bit longer.”

“I know.”

We turn back to the screen with my virtual self, and Leah flips the switch. I reach over and press the button to delete the file - it’s too disconcerting to have copies of myself around.

-

I’ve changed the setting. It’s “February” now in the virtual room in and the background of the little fiction I’ve plugged into this scenario test. If I remember right from secondary school, it was a time of year she felt especially sentimental. I’m speaking on the phone with her. “...yes, I really think we should meet up now. I think it’s important. Yes, thank you. Bye. I’ll see you there.” I take a couple sips of coffee as the computer tries to fast forward through what she’d be thinking as she drives over to the restaurant. The fans on the processing units whir, the screen goes blank again, and then turns back on suddenly with a video of her walking in and looking around. I wave my hand and stand up. “There you are, Caroline.” I like the sound of that - I think my sentences sound attractive.

She seems to think so too. “Hello there, Chase.” she says, smiling a little. “So what’s so important that we have to talk?”

“Maybe I am so entranced by your beauty that I must speak poems of it.” I reply. It’s a miss - something to tweak in later tests - but she’s still receptive. I hurry on to the next point of the test, pulling out the diamond ring - natural diamond, I bought it for her back in my early college days before the wars in South Africa. “Caroline-” I begin, but the indicator lights are already flashing on the screen behind her visage. Dislike, worry, anxiety, discomfort... I sigh and switch the program off yet again.

-

“There’s a lot of guards.”

“Yep, Leah. Six.” I’ve counted. I can tell each one of them by their face alone, and I checked every single photo I managed to get of the compound to make sure there weren’t any I had missed. “That’s for the gate and roadway area alone.”

“We’ll need a distraction.”

“I’ve already got it.” We walk a couple feet more and I step into the transport pad in front of the complex.

“Where are you going?”

“My storage unit.” I say, which is more or less true. An uncle of mine owns it, officially as an apartment - the unit has water and food supplies easily ordered in through the transporter system. He is always off on some business venture, however, and I am given free reign to the rooms. I plug in the code and let the pad scan me and Leah before liquefying us and pumping our fluids to be reassembled in my rented space. I rarely use the complex - preferring my middle class housing with its traditional lots and sidewalks to being coursed around a pipe through the great industrial minicity - and the reassembly “awakening” still jolts me slightly. Leah looks even worse off.

“You okay?”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine. Woah. What’s this? your plan to get to Caroline’s heart by wasting all your money on postage?”

I pull out one of the boxes from a pile and hand it to her, the weighted balls and chains inside rattling and sliding unpredictably. “It’s a bunch of fitness supplies. I ship them to the compound en masse, with an excuse that it’s an industrial order gone wrong. Carrying all the boxes at once, the mail truck is going to make a helluva noise when it comes through, and under just normal metal scans the boxes will only be more mysterious. I figure it will give us enough time to get into the compound and in cover while the guards are confused.”

“You’re a genius, Chase. What about getting out? A mail truck will only work once.”

I point at the kite hanging in the bathroom doorway. “Self flying kite. Lots of kids like to fly them toward the coast, then run out of battery life or signal range before they get there. You’ll pilot it in, crash it on the fence. It can’t be tracked back to us, and it’s harmless. It’ll distract them, but then they won’t think twice about it after we’re gone.”

-

Another setting change. Then another.

“Are you an angel? Because you look like one.”

“Hey Caroline, I’m a famous movie star now.”

“I really like you as a friend, Caroline.”

“Why don’t we go on a date? Just one? Please?”

Setting tweaks. Clothing tweaks. Tanning supplement pills. Stomach aches from the pills. The tan doesn’t even impress her. Another setting change.

“I remember our love from secondary school.”

“Caroline... I don’t know how to say this...”

“I can show you the world.”

“I think you’re beautiful, Caroline.”

“Maybe we could go out some time, see what it’s like?” Caroline stares back at me from the screen, slowly considering before shaking her head. “I don’t really think we’d work together.” she says as I switch the program off again.

-

It’s late at night and I’m tired. I cannot sleep. I have found the formula, but there are still contingencies to plan out. The testing schedule has really messed with my sleep schedule. Even if I would be normally awake, though, the excitement would keep me up. Pacing around my bedroom proves tedious - it’s two o’clock, so I’ve been telling myself that I was going to sleep “in just a bit” for five hours. It’s hopeless.

I head back down to the projection room. Maybe I can run another test, or just talk with the Caroline of the computer. Oddly, there are sounds. I step quietly into the hallway and listen nervously. Have the FBI come?

“So you’ve gotten the right formula? That’s brilliant, Chase.” Even in eavesdropping, I feel a bit of pride. If I was talking to... is that Leah’s voice?... in person, I’d probably be trying to pretend humility.

“Oh, it’s nothing. All your work, Leah. I just got lucky.” I clap my hands over my mouth before I realize that my voice isn’t coming from me, but from the projection room.

“Well, she’d be a lucky girl to get someone who can as lucky’ as you are.” The computer whirs for a long time, fast forwarding through some scenario.

“Missed it again!” I - or rather, my projection - shouts. “Can I really take another month of figuring out new contingencies?”

“Well, what’s the problem with that?”

“I don’t know... I guess it’s just that the projection is... irritating. The first few formulas... she was perfect. Then as it went on... there’s so many annoying elements. Maybe if I hadn’t messed up the first scenarios - the wrong restaurant reservation wasn’t really my fault, though.”

“I’m so sorry, Chase-”

“No, I’m not complaining... - I wouldn’t have noticed how she was just from the first scenarios, but as I keep going... I’m not really sure I love Caroline any more.”

“That’s just what I wanted to hear.” There’s triumph in Leah’s voice, and that’s all I need to hear.

-

“Let me in.” Leah pleads to me again. “Why won’t you authorize me to transport into your storage unit? Why are you just staying there? Is this part of your plan?”

“No, this is part of your plan, Leah.” I watch as her face begins to get a glimmer of the right suspicion. “Listen to this carefully, because after this I will never communicate with you again. You will have far too much time to run through the perfect scenarios with me. You’ll find any files I could find are destroyed - but I’m sure you have more copies. From now on, I am living here. I don’t need anything from you and the outside world - except for food and other supplies, which I can just get delivered to me, of course. You will never be allowed to transport here, to call me, or to communicate to me in any way. The game is up, and I’m not letting you win.”

I smash the speaker into the wall, a dramatic ending gesture that I will probably regret later. It feels good for it to be over, though. The week of preparation, avoiding Leah’s suspicions while ending any contacts I needed with the outside world, were a nightmare. “Now she’s out of the equation. Can’t have such a manipulative b... person... stalking me like that. It’s just so terrible!”

“Yeah, it really is.” Caroline replies, the signal lights flashing indignation and acceptance behind her.

It’s a pity the graphics haven’t advanced that much.
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#2 User is offline   Lostthyme 

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Posted 19 February 2011 - 02:54 PM

They're both so creepy. Posted Image
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#3 User is offline   Allatwan 

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Posted 19 February 2011 - 03:17 PM

Disturbing and yet excellently written, if I may say so.
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#4 User is offline   Zenoc2 

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Posted 19 February 2011 - 07:42 PM

Delightfully creepy! It's a good thing that computers can't simulate people that well... yet.

You did an excellent job of using the story to explain the premise, without actually, y'know, explaining it. That's a skill I still need to work on.
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