A few days later, I found myself sitting in an office chair in the living room of James’s high-rise apartment. A metal bowl was suspended over my head, wires connecting it to a circuit board that was in turn connected to a computer whose guts were spilled across a table. James was running back and forth between keyboards and monitors that didn’t seem to be connected to anything in particular but were instead simply wired into the whole mess.
“I’m not going to lie, James. I feel like you’re playing some kind of a joke on me.”
He paused for just a moment, turning to look at me over his shoulder. There was confusion and hurt on his face. “Is it the colander helmet? It’s the colander helmet, isn’t it?
He held my eyes for a few moments, his lip trembling ever so slightly, and then he burst into laughter. I couldn’t help it. I laughed, too.
He turned his attention back to the keyboard and the screen. “It can’t really be helped, you know. My guy basically had to assemble all of this from scratch. It’s not hard to pick up the signals your implants broadcast, but actually capturing them and decoding them into something we can understand… Well, no one’s ever really tried to do that before. Or at least no one’s ever talked about it.”
I looked at all the equipment scattered around us. “Was this stuff expensive? It looks expensive.”
I frowned. “Is it worth it?”
James turned to look at me, a single eyebrow arched. “We both live and die by this technology. Don’t you want to know everything about how it works?”
I shrugged. “Not really. It’s just a job. I don’t build the stuff; I just use it.”
James said nothing. He shrugged too and turned his attention back to the screen. “Okay, this thing is as good as it’s going to get. Whenever you’re ready, send the files and we’ll see if it intercepts them.”
I thought about the whole reason we were doing this, how we were going to pick and choose what to keep for ourselves and what to send along to the company. “What if it doesn’t work?”
“It’ll work,” he said, and that was all. I sighed, took a deep breath, and closed my eyes. After a moment, the interface came up. I sent the files.
“Perfect,” James said. “Don’t move. Treat it just like you would if you were contacting the company.” So I sat still and I watched the little progress bar fill up and when it beeped at me and flashed ALL FILES SENT, I pulled the helmet off.
A wall covered in images of debauchery greeted me. Celebrities who were drunk, who were high, who were at their weakest and most unsuspecting and most vulnerable.
They were better than anything I’d ever taken before. If I’d sent them to the company, I’d be rich.
“Look at all of this,” James said. His back was to me, his arms crossed as he regarded all the images projected onto the wall. “Look. What do you see?”
My stomach clenched. I’d never seen my pictures laid out like this. There were so many of them. “Spoiled children. Sick adults. Frightened and confused animals.” I let my eyes wander over the images, taking them in as if I were seeing them for the first time, even though I had been the one to capture them. “Humans. People.”
“Do you know what I see?” he asked. But I didn’t respond, and he didn’t seem to care.
* * *
I passed some of the pictures along to the company. I got more money from that delivery than from any other one I’d ever sent, and they weren’t even the worst of the lot. I probably got more from that delivery than from any two or three previous deliveries combined. I couldn’t believe it. I was ecstatic.
And then I woke up one morning to the news that Kiev Bachmann had jumped from the balcony of his eighth-story apartment and splattered himself on the corner of Hope and Grand.