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Stories from the Verse
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Chapter 51: Beam 72
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Sophia was calling him, and it must be trouble, because she only called him ‘James’ when there was something wrong. He wondered whether it was serious enough to constitute an emergency, or whether he could finish his cigarette and his drink before he answered. He decided that she probably couldn’t distinguish an emergency from a minor problem, at least not always, so he’d better find out what was wrong before it became more serious.
“Yes, wifey?” He hoped the pet name might defuse any trouble that might be directed at him.
“Um--I have a problem, I think you should come look.”
He rose. She was actually in the next room, the living room; he was in the kitchen at the table. As he entered he saw her staring at the computer monitor. She had learned a little bit about how to use computers, thanks to the menu screens at various restaurants, but she generally didn’t touch them at home.
Well, nothing was on fire, nothing was flooding, no one was lying on the floor. Whatever the problem was, it wasn’t an obvious emergency. “What’s the problem?” he asked.
“Look,” she said, pointing at the screen.
“What am I looking at?” he asked as he walked toward it. It soon became apparent that the screen was showing a living room similar to their own but different.
“Well, I think it’s one of the apartments in the group across the hall,” she explained. “At least, I cast the clairvoyance spell to try to see into that place, and suddenly the screen lit up and showed me this.”
Suddenly Beam felt a bit stupid. Of course all the computer terminals had cameras. If he could access them, he could systematically explore all the apartments probably in the entire world. Why didn’t he think of that?
Of course, the reason he didn’t think of that is that the system undoubtedly had security precautions--you couldn’t ordinarily access the cameras in someone else’s home, or at least they hoped you couldn’t, and you similarly hoped that they couldn’t access yours. (That wasn’t always the case, he realized, as people would connect their security cameras to their insecure Wi-Fi systems and give the rest of the world a view into their private bedrooms, but that was a matter of poor computer security knowledge which should not have been a problem here.)
So why was Sophia able to get past the security and activate the cameras in the other apartment--and now that it had been done, could he move the viewpoint to other cameras?
The obvious first answer was that she had used magic, and as she and Bron had both reported, magic was wonky in this world and seemed to try to use technological results for magical efforts. She had cast a spell that would ordinarily enable her to see inside the rooms across the hall, and it did, but it did it by giving her access to the camera system.
He sat down and started playing with the controls. He could zoom in and out--it must be a digital zoom, not an optical one, he reasoned, because he could pick any part of the image as the target for enlarging. Then with a bit of effort he moved to the monitor by the door, and having figured out how to do that he managed to get to the other rooms.
At the bottom was a string of letters and numbers, and he recognized the pattern: it was the address code of the apartment. He had been making notes on the addresses posted outside the various doors, so he typed in another--only the last digits were different--and found his viewpoint in the main room of another complex.
He realized Sophia was still standing there, apparently worried that she had done something wrong.
“This is good, Soph,” he said. “We have, for the moment, eyes into the other apartments without having to risk opening doors. Any idea how long it will last?”
This last was an afterthought.
“Um--well, the magic varies, although usually when I stop focusing on it it ends, but sometimes it ends while I’m still using it. I don’t know whether that’s because I just get tired and it crashes, or whether it only lasts so long and I have to cast it again.”
Beam nodded. From what he knew of magic, mostly from playing games, that made sense.
“Well, for the moment stay here and keep your focus, while I plug in the addresses of all the rooms immediately around us and see whether we have neighbors hiding somewhere.”
They kept at it for about an hour, getting through three apartment complexes fairly thoroughly, as Beam improved his ability to find the next camera. Then abruptly his screen said Access Denied. Since he wasn’t trying to see something unusual, he figured the spell had lapsed, but just in case he entered the location of a place they had already seen and, getting the same denial, figured his guess was correct. He could have asked Sophie to cast the spell again, but they were both getting a bit tired of this, and part of him wanted to find a way to hack the system to give him camera access without the use of her magic.
Meanwhile, it was back to the kitchen to find some lunch.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with five other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #370: Characters Confront. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: