Walkabout, 2

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Helene was in a cyber cafe in Tokyo. It was early morning there and she was probably still up from the night before. From the familiar motions and sounds, the expressions her face sometimes took on that was at odds with our conversation, she was obviously downing energy shots and chain-smoking. The cafe was the one she took me after that awkward rave, it was her regular watering hole, the spot where she fought hangovers and worked.

Shells are a convenient way to sample some aspects of a world that’s too damn far from you. Some place that you’d like to see, but can’t be bothered to actually fly there. Like Mexico City over lunch. It’s a lovely place, and I enjoy perceiving it in small snippets through my glasses while munching on a pork bahn-mi in Seattle, TPS reports forgotten for forty-five minutes.

Once I logged into this shell and started walking around the museum grounds, some of my friends and followers were notified. I noticed some familiar names in the list of the nearby Mexico City remotes, but decided to keep this a quieter encounter, so I didn’t contact anyone.

Helene was at Mercado de San Juan. Her shell was walking the aisles in search of obscure and dilapidated tech from the last century. She saw my arrival in the city and decided to ping me.

We shared our shells and continued exploring. I observed the Mercado through Helene’s shell, the bot granting me temporary control to turn the shell’s eyes this way and that when they weren’t actively being used by Helene; they allowed me to walk and use its arms when those instructions did not interfere with Helene. My bot did the same for Helene. It was a bit of vertigo when she turned my shell the first time, but it always is. That strange sensation when the body moves on its own. They’ve been studying it for a while, but no one has a good way to suppress that surprise.

I continued to explore the museum, as Helene searched the stalls of the market, and we talked about what’s going on in our lives, the unlikely origin of the murals my shell was looking at, after which I would ask Helene about the strange device she was playing with. That was the first minute.

It was a good lunch.

It was approaching 2pm and I needed to get back to work. It was almost 7am in Tokyo and Helene had to meet a friend. Right about now we’d usually point our shells toward the nearest charge station and logout, but that’s not what happened.

I heard voices coming over Helene’s mic. This was unusual, because the facemask rig she used typically cut external sounds dead. It meant she took off her mask while still remoting into the shell. Maybe someone in the real world needed her attention? If so, they were loud.

A gunshot rang out through my headphones and I yanked them off instantly, the pain to my ears debilitating. I could already feel a migraine coming on.

Once the headphones and glasses were off, the remote session showed up on my mobile. I grabbed it and asked, “Helene, are you OK?”

There was no answer, and after a few seconds the call terminated.

I dialed the number for the Tokyo police – got that one memorized by heart – and started looking up the address of the cyber cafe Helene was in. The company Steeple ran a series of these, and Helene was calling me from one nicknamed Joy Shack.

The police were on the scene in minutes. The kid behind the counter called them seconds after hearing the gunshot, then he hit the deck and kept his head down.

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