Unusual Images on a Laptop

As Carson was coming back from the toilet he spotted his chance. The table where the fat lecturer had been sitting was now only occupied by his two sports-jacket-wearing companions. Algernon was sitting with his back to the toilets and hadn't yet spotted him so Carson made a break for it out the door. Only to be confronted by the fat man, standing outside to take a call on his mobile. The fat man spotted Carson immediately.
“I'll call you back,” he said into his phone and catching Carson's eye, “I've got one of our keen student's here. He wants to show me his sketchbook.”
Carson could here laughing on the other end of the line. This was obviously something that the the bald old lecturer did often. It didn't look like he was going to get out of going up to the studio with the guy. So if he was going to be able to come up with a couple of month's sketchbook work at a moments notice he was going to have to go to plan B.



“These are fantastic pictures.”
The words were said by a figure bent over the screen of a laptop placed on a desk in the well-to-do study of an Edwardian house. He pointed out a few features of the picture.
“This is a live feed from one of our best guys,” he went on. He thought of himself as a scientist, although he was designated as a simple receiver operator. He was addressing superior, standing behind him, showing her how much he knew about the technology, how indispensable he was to the project. But of course it didn't hurt to flatter the boss, “It can't have been easy finding a talent like this guy.”
“It wasn't.” answered a slightly Russian-accented female voice from behind him. “Don't waste him.”
Although the answer was curt, the receiver operator could here that he had earned a brownie point with his toadying and decided to quit while he was ahead and shut up. He concentrated on keeping the images on the monitor as perfect as possible for as long as his boss was in the room. The images being relayed to his receiver were everyday stuff from the concourse of a shopping centre. But from his point of view the most important thing was that they were showing none of the stuttering gaps that had been plaguing the equipment as recently as last week.
He could see the local branch of Starbucks, crammed with the town's students, each student with a laptop open in front of them. The cynical thought that they were probably using the Starbucks broadband to download pirate movies occurred to the operator, before quickly being discarded. The local university only attracted the most committed and academic students. Students with no time for anything but work.
The view moved on down the mall, passing WH Smiths, Borders, Burger King and all the usual units to be found in any mall across the whole of the country. Then the view passed through the door of a shop, the likes of which could be found in any other student town, an esoteric shop, a head shop in the old hippy parlance that the operator could still remember from his far off 70s youth.
The view on the screen lingered on the shelves of Tarot cards, bongs, dream catchers, books about Buddhism and jewellery.
The view stayed in the shop for quite some time until a young woman came into the shop. A serious looking young woman dressed in casual clothes, but with a few accessories that showed she might be a regular visitor to the shop. She had a metal pendant in the shape of some eastern symbol around her neck on a leather thong, and her hair was bound with a colourful felt band. She looked through the books for a while. When she had chosen one, a thin but expensive little book, she went over to chat to the guy behind the counter. They were completely relaxed and unselfconscious, even though at times the camera sweeping around the room hovered just inches from their faces. Even if the camera had been the size of a hose fly it would have earned a swat by now. The conversation was a little indistinct though, just a few words could be heard here and there.
See if you can get better sound,” the operator's boss instructed, and he called up a software control panel that partially covered the image on the screen. He fiddled with the sliders a little, sometimes resulting in a deterioration inn the image, sometimes an improvement, until the conversation could be made out.
He was just in time to hear the guy behind the counter say, “See ya later Rachel,” to the departing girl.
As the girl left her eyes lingered on a reflection in the shop window. Her reflected face seemed to be staring into the camera, making direct eye contact with the operator. It was an unnerving effect because the technology was supposed to be undetectable. He was always trying to avoid saying stupid things in front of his boss, but sometimes he couldn't help it.
“Can she see us?” he found himself asking. It just popped out, he couldn't help it, but he new it was a mistake as soon as he said it.
“That's impossible,” his boss said, “don't get spooked. Just do your job.”
The brownie point he had earned earlier evaporated in an instant and the young woman on the monitor seemed to shake herself out of a daze and hurry out of the shop as if she had suddenly remembered an appointment. The view on the laptop monitor followed her for a couple of steps before dissolving into static and random images of different locations in the mall.
“You do realise we are going to need to be able to keep the technology going for more than twenty minutes when it comes time to present it,” the scorn in the words directed at him sent shivers down the operators spine.

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