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Published by: paranormap on Jan 18, 2011
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EYECATCHERby Frank Roger1All at once the burning man vanished, as if he had neverbeen there. As a matter of fact that was probably very much thecase, Cynthia thought. She let her gaze roam about the glimmeringcityscape. Most of it didn't seem real. Much of it wasn't real.None of it felt real.All around her the city sprawled. It extended to the horizonand beyond, a vast, amorphous expanse of concrete and stone andmetal. It was teeming with life, although at times it lookeddeceivingly empty and quiet. As the gigantic megalopolis grew, itextended its fingers and pushed its limits further and further,greedily gobbling up other cities and incorporating them withinits boundaries. After some time it proved no longer useful torefer to them as mere cities. They were now labeled Urban Areas,as opposed to Desert Areas and Woodland Areas. As more and morepeople fled the south and flocked towards the Urban Areas, theirgrowth continued unabated.Not all was well in the Urban Areas, though. Only the happyfew lived in the rich City Center. Around it was a series ofconcentric rings. In the one closest to the Center, the "rimarea", there was still a semblance of wealth and a spark of hope.Further down things grew bleaker and poorer. The inhabitants ofthese slums had dubbed their part of town Nowhere City, probablybecause it bore a striking resemblance to the slums around allother Urban Areas. Nowhere City could be anywhere. As long as youweren't in the city center, it didn't make a difference in whichparticular Nowhere City you happened to be. They were probablyall exact lookalikes. And feelalikes, she added grimly. If youlived here, there was a fat chance your life was going nowheretoo.Despite all it had meant to her in its better days, nowsadly gone by, she was glad she had been offered a chance toleave this neighborhood and move into the Real World, as she sawit. The endless stream of holograms and all sorts of visualeffects had never been able to fascinate her, but now she hadreally grown sick and tired of their unrelenting presence.A few minutes ago a hooded mugger had darted from behind aportico, had rushed towards her only to pass straight throughher. It had been a hologram, obviously, in all probability notmore than a warning sign. Some inhabitant had constructed it towarn all passers©by that his dwelling©place was best left alone.The thing was that you were never quite sure what was real andwhat was a hologram.Some of the cyberpets, as all sorts of mechanical andcomputerized watchdogs were affectionately labeled, who wereroaming this neighborhood were quite real, for instance. Theycould inflict genuine injuries which caused real pain. Some ofthe cyberpets were quite smart, others were dumb machines, somewere malfunctioning. Of the latter you could only expect theunexpected. A few moments ago she had seen a limping wolflikepet crash into a wall, crushing its skull in the process. Itslegs had kept on thrashing and twitching, as if in unbelief. Soboth the creature and the wall had been real © unless the wholescene had been a holographic projection.
She had no idea what the burning man might have been.Another warning device? A malfunctioning piece of art? Anelaborate joke? Solid proof of someone's bad taste? Actually, itdidn't really matter. As long as you survived you didn't ask toomany questions in Nowhere City. You simply had to accept the factthat the streetscape was mostly fake and that you weren't likelyto figure out what was real until it was too late. Some livingexperience here did help, though.Cynthia took a sharp intake of breath and set off again,carefully picking her way through the debris and obstaclesscattered all over the place. Even if it wasn't real, it wasbetter not to take anything for granted. Some of this socialtwilight zone's inhabitants she passed by, both human andotherwise, were quite real. Lots of street vendors were peddlingtheir wares, a great variety of stuff, most of it probably eitherillegal or stolen. There was quite a bit of hardware and allsorts of high©tech equipment. Stacks of disks and computerªrelated stuff. Loads of edible and drinkable material, dependingon your definition of those terms, and not all of it good foryour health © or your survival, for that matter. The sales rapsweren't the only sounds to rupture the silence.You often came across street bands playing live music inthis part of town. Most bands enhanced their high©energy act withholo setups, and solicited audience participation. She was underthe impression that she hadn't seen all that many bands struttingtheir stuff in recent times. That was a bad sign. Had they becomevictims of the recession? Or had they drifted off to other partsof town, or other Urban Areas where there was still room forstreet musicians? That was hard to imagine. This place was asgood as any © or as bad, to put it more correctly. Maybe they hadjust gone out of business, had grown discouraged, and were nowwaiting for the right time to reappear on the scene. Who knewwhat these guys would be forced to do in the meantime. Itreminded her very much of her own situation, and the sullen fateshe had been given the chance to escape.I've been lucky, she thought. I shouldn't complain. Just asthe going was getting tough she had been discovered by an Iªcatcher, a talent scout, of Eyescape Inc., who had been quiteimpressed with her artistic endeavors. This had to be her chanceto strike it big, and she had grabbed the opportunity with bothhands.Times were getting lean and mean as the War grew bigger andharsher. A recession had become inevitable, and the inhabitantsof Nowhere City were among the first to suffer from the ensuingcrisis © and among the most fiercely stricken. She had been aprofessional visual artist all her life, but recently hershoestring budget had dwindled away into a no©budget. Life wasbecoming impossible ; she would have had to look for another job,horrifying as that prospect was to her, if the offer fromEyescape Inc. hadn't arrived, as if heaven sent.The megabuck bio©business was prospering as never before.Eyescape Inc., the I©catcher had proudly informed her, was theleader in that particular field and was expanding at anastounding rate. They were hiring new forces all the time © andshe had been singled out especially. Eyescape Inc. could usecreative artists for a variety of purposes, the man hadexplained her. We need people with a vivid imagination, peoplewho had a fresh outlook on things, people who came up with newinsights and approached projects from unusual angles. He used alot of words like "bold" and "daring" and "startling". He had
sounded so very convincing.Of course she had accepted the offer. She realized it washer only way out of the mess her life threatened to become. And,at least she hoped, she would still be an artist. A commercialone perhaps, but an artist all the same. The life she left behindwas a shambles. She had severed the links with her relatives longago. She just didn't fit in with that crowd, and had preferredquitting rather than being rejected. Her artistic ambitions hadalways been frowned upon by her parents. "It's a tough world outthere," they used to say, "and you better get hold of a decentjob instead of whittling your life away with so©called art." Noone among her family had any artistic talent. No one accepted thefact that she had. Her parents had fought a lifelong struggle towork their way up in society © the wealthy City Center with itsawe©inspiring business district was at the core of their dreamsand hopes. Only hard and serious work could get you there. Artdidn't lead that way. Art was part of life's seedier side, andthe brand of art she was into flourished too much in the squalidstreets of Nowhere City. So her choice had been a simple one :drop her artistic endeavors © or drop her family. It had takenher some time to make that decision © a time filled with frictionand conflict © but she had never regretted her decision. It hadchanged her outlook, however, on "normal" work and the struggleuphill in the real world it supposedly made possible. If she evermade it "up there", it would be on her own terms, through herart, otherwise she would rather stay down where she was. At thetime this had seemed to be solid thinking.The world she would now leave behind was one of crime,unstability, loneliness and fake surroundings. She hoped that oneday she would never have to set foot in Nowhere City again. Shedetested its garishness, its hopelessness, its emptiness.She cast furtive glances all around her as she went along.She had passed through here on many occasions, and each time ithad changed beyond recognition. Nothing lasted long in NowhereCity. Or maybe they changed the holograms a lot. This was a worldwhere continuous change was the only constant. And she was gladto move on.She was supposed to present herself at The I©Site, theheadquarters of Eyescape Inc. She had been provided with specialpasses, for one didn't simply stroll from Nowhere City into theprivileged City Center. A face to face in©depth talk with a highªlevel executive hadbeen scheduled, she had been told. Be thereat 1100 on Monday morning. And so here she was, on her waytowards bigger and better things. Well, she presumed they surelycouldn't be much worse than what crisis©ridden Nowhere City hadin store for her. At the very least it would feel more real.Holograms and other eye©deceivers were frowned upon in the RealWorld. That was one thing she would be glad never to run intoagain.Slowly, carefully, methodically, Cynthia Raythan kept goingon her way out of glimmering, ever©changing Nowhere City, intoher future.2"So," Sergeant Scrimshaw said, "you've all made a very wisedecision. There should be more people like you. If we are tosurvive at all, we will have to make a statement. A very eloquentstatement at that. It will be up to people like you to go and

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