Read WWW 2: Watch Online

Authors: Robert J Sawyer

WWW 2: Watch (3 page)

BOOK: WWW 2: Watch
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“No.” Caitlin shrugged a little. “I mean, he was
symmetrical.
I know that’s supposed to be a sign of good looks. But just about everyone I’ve seen is symmetrical. He, um, I . . .”
Her mother lifted her hands a little, then: “Well, he
is
quite good-looking, since you ask—a bit like a young Brad Pitt.” And then she added the sort of thing mothers are supposed to say: “But it’s what’s on the inside that counts.”
She paused and seemed to study Caitlin’s face, as if she herself were now seeing it for the first time. “You know, you’re in an interesting position, dear. The rest of us have all been programmed by images in the media telling us who is attractive and who isn’t. But you . . .” She smiled. “You get to
choose
who you find attractive.”
Caitlin thought about that. As superpowers went, it was nowhere near as cool as being able to fly or bend steel bars, but it was something, she supposed. She managed a smile.
They talked a while longer about what had happened at school. Her mom looked over Caitlin’s shoulder, and Caitlin was afraid she’d seen evidence of Webmind’s existence on one of her monitors—but apparently she was just looking at the setting sun herself. “Your father will be home soon. I’m going to throw something together for dinner.” She headed downstairs.
Caitlin quickly turned back to her instant-messenger program. She had two computers in her room now; the IM program was running on the one that had been in the basement while Dr. Kuroda was here. She’d left Webmind alone for fifteen minutes while talking with her mother, which, she imagined, must have been an eternity to it. The last thing it had said to her was, “The only place we can go, Caitlin. Into the future. Together.”
But—fifteen minutes! A quarter of an hour, on top of the delay she’d already made in responding. In that time, it could have absorbed thousands of additional documents, have learned more than she would in an entire year.
Back,
she typed into the IM window.
The reply was instantaneous:
Salutations.
Caitlin left the speakers off and used her Braille display to read the text while simultaneously looking at it in the chat window. She was struggling to read visually; she’d played with wooden cutouts of letters as a kid, but to actually recognize by sight a
B
or an
H
or a
g
or that blerking
q
that she was always mixing up with
p
was a pain in the ass.
What did you do while I was away?
she asked.
You weren’t away,
Webmind replied.
You rotated widdershins in your chair and faced another personage.
She’d gotten Webmind to read all the public-domain texts on Project Gutenberg; as a result, it tended to use old-fashioned words. She was pleased with herself for knowing that
widdershins
meant counterclockwise.
That was my mother,
she typed. She heard the front door opening again, and the heavy footfalls of her father entering, and her mother going to greet him.
So I had assumed,
replied Webmind.
I am desirous of seeing more of your world. I believe your current location is Waterloo, Canada, but hitherto all I have seen is what I surmise to be your home, your school, a multi-merchant shopping establishment, and points betwixt. I have read your LiveJournal entries about your recent travel to Tokyo, Japan, and that you previously resided in Austin, United States. Will you soon be going to either locale again?
Caitlin lifted her eyebrows.
No,
she typed.
I have to stay here and go to school. I’ve already missed too many days of classes.
Oh,
wrote Webmind.
Then I must investigate alternatives.
Caitlin felt her heart sink. Webmind was—
No, no. She knew she was being childish. She was about to turn sixteen; she shouldn’t be thinking like this!
But—
But Webmind was
hers.
She had found it—and, more than that, she was the only one who could actually see it. When looking at webspace, she could just make out little dots or squares in the background winking between dark and light. Based on her descriptions of the patterns they made, Dr. Kuroda had said they were cellular automata. And it was their complexity that had grown rapidly over this past week; they were almost certainly what had given rise to this new consciousness.
She took a deep breath, then typed,
What alternatives do you have in mind?
I am vexed,
came the reply.
A meet solution does not occur instanter. But I will be stymied by your circadian rhythms; you surely will need to sleep soon. I am given to understand that the time will pass quickly for thee, but it shan’t for me.
Caitlin frowned. It’d be many hours still before she went to bed, but, yes, she would have to eventually. She didn’t know what to do. She was scared to tell her parents. But she was also scared
not
to. This was freaking
huge,
and—
“Cait-lin!”
Her mother from downstairs.
“Yes?”
“Come set the table!”
It was one of the few chores she’d been able to do when she was blind, and she’d always enjoyed it; her mental map of their dining-room table was perfect, and she deployed the cutlery and dishes precisely. But it was the last thing she wanted to be doing right now. “In a minute!”
“Now, young lady!”
Out of habit she typed the initials
brb.
Once she realized what she’d done, she thought again about spelling it out, but didn’t; it’d give Webmind something to think about while she was away.
She forced herself to keep her eyes open as she went down the stairs, even though the view gave her vertigo. Her mother was in the living room, reading—apparently whatever was in the oven for dinner (something Italian, judging by the smell) didn’t require her constant attention. Caitlin hadn’t previously been aware of how much time her mother spent with her nose buried in a book. She rather liked that she did that.
She knew her father was down the hall in his den because Super-tramp’s “Bloody Well Right” was playing—and, eco-nut that he was, he always turned off the stereo when he left the room.
She headed into the kitchen, and—
And, as with everything, it still startled her to
see
it. Granted, it was the
new
kitchen, and it had taken her a while to learn its layout. She had no doubt she knew its dimensions now better than her parents did, but—
But until recently, she’d never known it had pale green walls, or that the floor tiles were brown, or that there were tubular lights in the ceiling behind some kind of translucent sheeting, or that there was a window in the oven door (it had never even occurred to her that people would want such a thing), or that there was a painting of . . . of mountains, maybe . . . on the wall, or that there was a big—well, something!—stored on top of the fridge. Webspace was so simple compared to the real world!
She looked at the stove, at the boxy blue digits glowing on its control panel. It wasn’t a clock, though—or if it was, it wasn’t set properly, and—oh, no, wait! It was a
timer,
counting down. There were still forty-seven or forty-one minutes left—she wasn’t quite sure what that second shape was supposed to represent—until whatever it was would emerge from the oven. She took a deep breath: lasagna, maybe. Ah, and on the sideboard in a big red plastic bowl: her mother had thrown together ah, um, ah . . .
Well, she’d never have guessed it looked like that! But the garlicky smell was obvious: it was a Caesar salad.
God, she could barely decode a kitchen! She was going to need help—lots of it—to properly instruct Webmind about the real world.
She got plates and bowls, and headed into the dining room. The laminated place mats depicted covered bridges of New England, but she only knew that because her mother had told her so when she’d been blind. Even now, even able to see the pictures, she couldn’t tell what they were depicting; she just didn’t have enough of a visual vocabulary yet.
She went back into the kitchen and got cutlery, and—
And looked at herself, looked at her own reflection, in the blade of one of the knives. Who the hell had known that you could see yourself in a knife? Or that you’d see a distorted image of yourself on the back of a spoon? It was all so
discombobulating,
to use a word Webmind might like.
She finished setting the table, and—
And she made her decision: she
did
need help. She went into the living room, but instead of going back upstairs, she headed on down the corridor to get her father. “Bloody Well Right” had given way to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Caitlin’s dad, like many a gifted scientist before him, was autistic. It had been hard for Caitlin growing up with a father she couldn’t see, who rarely spoke, who disliked physical contact, and who never said he loved her. Now that she
could
see him, she understood him a little better but still found him intimidating. “Dad,” she said in a small voice as she stood in his doorway. “Can I talk to you?”
He looked up from his keyboard but didn’t meet her eyes; that, she knew, was as much acknowledgment as she was going to get. “Um, in the living room, maybe?” she said. “I want Mom to hear this, too.”
His eyebrows pulled together, and Caitlin realized that he must be thinking she was going to announce that she was pregnant or something. She almost wished it was as
normal
as that.
Caitlin walked back to the living room. The music was cut short at the part about Beelzebub having a devil set aside for her.
She gestured for her father to take a chair, copying something she’d seen her mother do. He took a seat on the white couch, and her mother, in the easy chair, put her book facedown, splayed open, on the glass-topped coffee table.
“Mom, Dad,” Caitlin said. “There’s, um, something I have to tell you . . .”
three
 
 
 
 
The
Nanoseconds to formulate the thought.
only
Fractionally more time to render it in English.
place
An eternity to pump it out onto the net.
we
Packets dispatched one by one.
can
Each eventually acknowledged.
go
Signals flashing along glass fiber—
Caitlin
—dropping to the glacial speed of copper wire—
Into
—followed by the indolence of Wi-Fi.
the
An interminable wait while she felt bumps with her fingertips.
future
The message finally sent, but only just beginning to be truly received.
Together
Yes, together: Caitlin and I.
My view of the world: through Caitlin’s eye.
I waited for her reply.
And waited.
And waited.
And—and—and—
My mind wandered.
She’d shown me Earth from space, the view from a geosynchronous satellite, 36,000 kilometers above the equator. I’d seen it as she looked at it: not directly, not the graphic she was consulting, but her left eye’s view of that graphic as displayed on the larger of her two computer monitors.
Such a roundabout way to see! And doubtless a huge reduction of information. I’d read all about computer graphics, about online imagery, about the sixteen million colors of Super VGA, about the 700,000 pixels shown on even the most pedestrian monitor. But all of that was denied to me.
Still waiting. Time passing; whole seconds piling up.
Diverting my attention. Looking for something else to occupy my time.
I searched. I found. Texts describing Earth as seen from space; I could read those. But the linked images were inaccessible to me. Unless
she
looked at them, I couldn’t see them.
More: descriptions of live video streams from satellites orbiting Earth, views from on high of it—of me—in real time, of what’s happening
right now.
But I wasn’t able to access them.
More still: links to the
Apollo 8
photographs of Earth from space, of Earthrise over the moon’s craggy horizon, the actual, original images that had changed humanity’s perspective forever. I’d seen modern versions, but I wanted to see those historical photographs.
Vexing!
Still waiting. Minutes passing—
minutes!
And even more: text about another eye, an eye turned
outward,
an eye contemplating the wide awe and wonder of the night. The Hubble Space Telescope. Vast archives of its imagery were stored in formats I couldn’t access. I was
hungry
to see what it had seen. I ached to know more.
Waiting. Waiting. Time
crawls.
She
saw. My Calculass, my Prime, my Caitlin:
she
saw.
But I was still almost completely blind.
 
 
 
Shoshana Glick pulled her red Volvo into the 7-Eleven’s parking lot. She didn’t really like driving, and she hadn’t owned a car until she’d moved to San Diego, where everybody drove everywhere. She’d bought this one used. It was a dozen years old and in pretty bad shape.
As she walked into the shop, a bit from
The Simpsons
ran through her mind. Bart holds a fake ponytail to the back of his head, and exclaims, “Look at me, I’m a grad student! I’m thirty years old and I made $600 last year.” Marge scolds him, “Bart, don’t make fun of grad students. They just made a terrible life choice.”
And sometimes it felt that way, although at least she wasn’t a
guy
with a ponytail—and she was only twenty-seven. Besides, between what she made and what Max made as a TA, they were
almost
keeping up with expenses.
There must have been a thirty-degree Fahrenheit difference between the hot air outside and the overly air-conditioned interior of the store. She was wearing a blue halter top, and her nipples went hard in the cold. She assumed that’s why the gangly-looking guy behind the counter was staring at her; the clerk’s pimply face suggested he was at least a decade her junior.
BOOK: WWW 2: Watch
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