Caught on Tape

The newsgathering industry has been as dead as Bela Lugosi for a long time. Decades. It just didn’t realize it was among the walking dead until the bitter end.

I’m a vid operator. Sort of a cross between the paparazzi of old and the video journalists of even older. Vids are digital; they are available through any device that is capable of showing a moving image. My grandfather remembers YouTube but that was the difference between the Wright Brothers plane and the moon rocket. The one on Virgin Spaceways.

Cameras are everywhere. Privacy is a thing of the past; you are constantly recorded either on security cameras, traffic cameras, personal cameras or vids. People dress better now than they used to and they take better care of themselves. After all, you never know when you’re going to be on the Brother – remember when they used to call it the Internet? – now it’s called Big Brother. After some obscure book from like 100 years ago. Nobody really knows. Nobody really cares.

Everything must be documented. Everything. It’s, like, the law. To make sure everyone obeys the law tiny eye-cams are implanted in our blinkers at birth. Receptors are planted in our brains, giving us instant and complete access to all the knowledge in the world. That means there are no more stupid people, you cog? No crime either – only a Gary would be crazy enough to attempt one when everything is recorded.

There are the professionals like me, out looking for things to record. We have state-of-the-art equipment, much better resolution and less graininess than the older model eye-cams. Because everything is uploaded instantly, events unfold from around the globe and into the off-planet colonies with only minor delays. Government censors review the footage of everything to make sure there isn’t anything sensitive. If an airship crashes, nobody wants to see some kid smashed into a million pieces. Just the hero who saved half the flight with his quick thinking. Nobody wants to be reminded about the other half of the flight.

I seek stories people might want to tune into. Brother doesn’t only watch, you cog? Brother shows truth. Brother has raw footage but nobody’s allowed to see it. Only the censors see the raw-raw. And the vid ops who filmed it of course, but we’re licensed employees of the gov. We violate the agreement we all sign, we disappear. For good, like. You can trust a vid op to toe the line baby.

Most of what vid ops get is celebrity shit. Actors at parties. Sports stars at restaurant openings. Politicians at community events. Criminal executions although those are mostly for sedition. Nobody, like steals anything. Why bother when you can get whatever you want with a thought – taking what isn’t yours, that’s a Gary thing.

Not everything is roses and rainbows. There is an underground anti-gov movement that periodically has demonstrations and basically pisses everybody off because traffic gets, like wrecked when they do anything. Still, it isn’t technically treason to say there’s room for improvement. It’s just not a good idea. Mostly, people just disappear. Some come back though. What’s left of them.

It was a riot that I was covering. It was supposed to be a demonstration. Peaceful. Lots of granolaheads making the happy-happy talk about peace, love and Justin Bieber. Hey, I know who he is – I listen to classical music too!  Anyway, some granolahead took exception to one of the copbots getting too close and there I can’t blame them. Copbots are always going ballistic and unleashing Chryon lasers and  mini-nukes on the wrong people. Best to stay well clear of the things.

Well, apparently someone didn’t and he smashed it with a trash can. Must have been some trash can because within ten minutes Epping Square was filled with amateur Vid Ops all keeping their eyes on the granolaheads and the copbots fighting it out for control of the square. Brilliant fucking strategy but what would you expect of a Granolahead? They’re all severely whacked out on drugs and alcohol. They all smoke that wacky weed.

Of course, I don’t buy that last part. Hell even I go wrong sometimes. Occasionally I smoke a roller packed with my favorite variety, Rain Forest Red, with hints of Macintosh apples in the blend. Officially it’s illegal but it’s one of those things the gov turns a blind eye to. Smokers are generally more relaxed and happy. The gov used to burn down weed farms but their everywhere now and the gov collects taxes on the stuff. It’s not technically legal but it’s legal enough. The gov gets paid, the copbots leave the supply alone and everyone’s happy-happy.

Well, someone’s nipple got twisted and suddenly copbots were being smashed into paces and people were shouting and pumping their fists in the air. “We rule the streets!” one granolahead screamed, oblivious to the ten thousand copbots that were entering the streets right then. The bots in blue quickly emptied out the square of GeeCees (good citizens, you cog?) and a few granolaheads were cracked in the nog with…oh, I mean the noggin – I love your oldspeak, it’s so quaint.

That wasn’t even the good part, or the bad part if you prefer. While vidding a bunch of dumbass Granolaheads some enthusiastic muncher, high on something, went careening through the crowd like a pinball. I didn’t see him coming – usually I have a sense about these things – and he crashed into me and down we both went.

He got up and ran off, giggling maniacally. I was a little moofed at first; I’d hit my nog hard on the pavement. But when the rot cleared, I saw to my horror my camera was toast. These things are as you might expect expensive. I would probably be charged for this one. Shit, how was I going to make a living? I had the party downtown to cover, the technogeek one. Without a pro-cam, I’m just like everybody else – and I’m not getting into the party. My boss would fucking kill me. No really – that’s legal now. Employers have the right to summarily execute their employees for gross negligence of duty. This would qualify.

I knew a guy though. Sten Ten. No, we don’t have stupid ass names like that like they have in old sci-fi books. We’re not  idiots. Sten Ten is short for Austen Tennenbaum. Good Jewish boy. Great with tech. Absolutely the best at getting black market equipment for reasonable rates. I helped him by sending him shutdown codes for localized sec-cams. He in turn gave me discounts on shit I needed – and I’d never needed shit like his before.

I was in a hysterical fit when I got to his flat. “I need a pro-cam Sten. I have to have it today or I’ll be in violation. I can’t afford one from the company store.” I was babbling. Sten let me ramble on before holding up his hands. “Chill mighty Tark.” Now my name isn’t Tark either, it’s Terrence Clark. We do a lot o that kind of thing with our names. We’re the clever generation.

Sten was smiling that laconic, easygoing grin that was both annoying but in this particular instance, the face that launched a thousand hydro-transports. OR something like that. “We just happened to get in a pro-cam this morning. Pris con.” I must have looked at him funny. “Pristine condition, man. What are you, a thousand years old?”

The relief was tinged with suspicion. Like everyone who worked for a living, Sten wasn’t above stretching the truth a bit to get an edge. I didn’t blame him but I didn’t trust him either. “Show me the merch baby” I said with a bit more confidence than I felt. Entering into negotiations with an expert obtainer of rare things as Sten was could be the worst kind of ego check. Fortunately, Sten owed me a few so I could reasonably expect a courtesy discount. Maybe.

He went into the back of his flat and brought out a cam that was certainly in much better shape than mine. I looked at it critically and didn’t recognize the model. Sten shrugged. “It works. It vids. It uploads. What do you want from me?” I knew the playing dumb thing was a ploy. I knew how much I had to spend. I didn’t dare give him that figure. I’d be leaving without a pro-cam and I had to have one. “Two hundred.” I said, which was about half what I had to spend. Most brand new pro-cams run about eight grand.

He looked at me quizzically then came back with “Four fifty.” I shook my head, frowning. It was all an act, asking my desperation. He scowled as I replied “Two twenty five.” I heard him mutter “No black mozzie’s gonna make a chump out o’ me.” The paparazzi were sometimes referred to as Black Mosquitoes both for their black leather jackets and the sounds their cameras made. Plus, I suppose due to the annoying nature of their jobs.

He frowned again.  He said “You do know that’s less than I paid for it.” I was getting desperate. “Half now, half later?” Sten looked at me and frowned. Sten’s a tall, skinny guy  with a curly mop of hair. A hundred years ago he might have worn glasses. He’s no threat; if anything, I could kick his ass up once side of the room and down the other but that would be the end of my preferred customer status and I needed his acquisitional skills from time to time.

However as I was weighing my options I had no doubt that Sten was as well. He knew full well that I could out-physical him. With my gov connections I gave him access to material and clients he couldn’t get ordinarily and besides, I used him a good deal to get upgrades for my system that helped give me an edge on the competition. He made the decision. “Four fifty; half now, half in 30 days?” I nodded that was reasonable. He picked up the pro-cam and handed it to me.

I was surprised at how light it was, even though it looked to be about the same size as my old one. I checked the features menu and saw that it was pretty standard, although it had a couple of effects buttons that I was unfamiliar with. I took a little test footage and was please at the clarity and depth o the image. All in all, a nice upgrade.

I went to the party that night, confident that my vids would be better than ever and so they were. There were plenty of celebs at the do and I got some pretty intense pictures. My bosses were pleased with what they got, so much so that I got a pretty hefty raise and promotion. I also got a couple of calls from publicists who told me their clients were thrilled at how they’d been captured.

Things were all up from there. I got plum assignments, got some amazing vids and soon was in demand for a number of vid vendors. My bank account soared and my prospects looked endless. I was even getting laid regularly. I had everything I’d always dreamed of. It never occurred to me that there was a price to be paid.

It was a year to the day and I was covering a major art gallery opening at the Goog – the Guggenheim, you cog? I was taking vid of the rich and shameless in New York lording it over the masses – you know, another Wednesday night in Manhattan. I was taking a vid of an installation, a kind of white window-looking thing on the floor when I noticed a similar looking green window on the wall behind it. I hadn’t noticed it there before and the green was shimmering, as if underwater.

I don’t do this often but for some reason I pulled away from the viewfinder and was started. The wall behind was blank. But when I looked through the viewfinder again, there was that green underwater window. And there were things coming through it.

I fell backwards in shock. What was that? How could it possibly be there? And what were those things coming through? One of the security guards saw me fall and came over, looking concerned. “Are you all right sir?” he said with the practiced obsequiousness of someone trained in the art of pretending to care. “I’m fine,” I said somewhat warily. I looked through the viewfinder again – and everything was gone. Just the art that had been there all along. I rewound. Still nothing.

I finished the shoot and went home, very disturbed. Had I imagined everything? I’d rewound the footage but saw nothing. I couldn’t understand it. I knew it had been there. I’d seen those things – I’d only gotten a glimpse of them but they were like nightmares; faces like the creature of the black lagoon, tentacles for arms, dorsal fins on the back of their necks, hideous and deformed.  They had mottled skin and webbed feet. They were horrors straight out of Lovecraft.

I chalked it up to an overeager imagination and too many free cocktails. I went home and didn’t think about it until I saw the news the next morning that the Chairman of the Guggenheim, one Bao Ling, had passed away unexpectedly. Chairman Bao was only 54 and had died taking a shower.  A heart attack where was no previous heart condition.

People don’t just die for no reason in the 22nd century.  There’s always a cause but when someone that high-profile pushes up daisies like that questions get asked. Especially when your vid is the last thing the victim watched before croaking

So I got a call from the copbots, ya cog? And they weren’t all that polite. It was three hours in the hole with the ‘bots but there was nothing even remotely suggesting that the cause of death was my vid. Death by vid! *snort* Right. I suppose killer underwear might be their next theory. I know having copbots is better than having humans in law enforcement because they can’t be bought but death by vid?

I went home in a silly mood and decided to shoot some man in the street vid outside my high rise. I pulled aside an elderly gentleman for an interview named Camden LaShame.  I asked the usual assortment of fluff questions about celebrities and current events. He was a good sport, giving a lot of joke answers but also some thought-provoking ones. It turned out he had been a paranormal scientist, a scientific discipline that had been the rage in the late 21st century when certain phenomenon were studied scientifically. He really was the kind of man on the street vid ops lived for.

I was wrapping things up but on the spur of the moment I was suddenly struck by the memory of that strange green window and asked on kind of the spur of the moment if he believed in extra-dimensional windows. The jovial man’s expression changed. Hardened a bit. Then he told me a very strange tale.

Apparently LaShame had been working for Pennsylvania Tech University in Pittsburgh, which at one time had been called Miskatonic University. They had been working on a kind of camera that could capture extra-dimensional windows and hold them open so that probes might be sent in to explore.

They couldn’t get the technology to work but had built several prototypes, one of which had been retro-converted into a pro-cam. And that’s when the dots were connected and my knees went week.

For directly in the back of LaShame I could see one of those creatures hovering in the air, a vicious grin on its face. And I knew what happened and what became of the vid op who’d owned it before. I hit stop play and tried to stop the footage from being released but it was no go. It was all over Big Brother before I could even dial the number.

Billions of people with instant access saw the footage and every one of them died in an instant. Worse still, it turned out that the creatures in the footage found ways to migrate to other vids as well. Within 16 hours 90% of the human population was dead.

Big Brother was shut down. People went back to being stupid again. Nobody knew how to do anything because all our knowledge was on Big Brother. The books had all been scanned in and stored somewhere, forgotten. We still haven’t found them. We’re having to rebuild civilization on our own without any help. We’re fucking doomed.

So be careful what you watch. That window that was opened to my knowledge has never been closed. Who knows, these things could make it to the printed page. Wouldn’t that take the cake me lovelies?

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