Image chasers
Alejandro Madruga
(Translation: Daniel W. Koon)

        It advances cautiously through the streets, scanning each corner: sometimes it ducks down a bit to watch something, nothing important, and then it raises itself up again to get a better look: the streets are deserted. It begins to turn around. Finally it spots a man lying on the ground, it lowers to fix itself on his face: a drunk, nothing interesting. It rises up, maneuvers over the tops of the faceless buildings with closed windows. It spots another sphere in the distance. They exchange protocols: it is a rival network, they break contact and each continues on its own way in search of any sensational news capable of shocking the millions and generating large revenues.
        “I sent another script to FameVideo and they rejected it. What do I have to do for them to accept one?”
        The mother was not listening, her gaze was wandering over the computer screen reviewing the ads for take-out restaurants. She compared the images of the plates. “This one looks tasty.” She typed in her choice and leaned back content, now she only had to wait a few minutes while her order arrived at Reception, where the food manipulator would busy itself preparing the table, appropriate to the restaurant selected of course, which would require the correct ambience and an additional fee. It was like dining out without leaving the house. Which she loved...
        “Mom, you’re not listening.”
        She looked at her son: “My, how you’ve grown, you’re almost a man. How old are you? Let’s see...” She checked the computer’s memory: “Sixteen! I don’t see why you haven’t filled out yet. I’ll ask Sofía whether her son is so skinny, we need to do something to fill you out...”
        “It’s useless to try to talk to you, you don’t listen. You never listen.”
        The boy turned on the wall screen and went right to the program “The naked city”. A telereporter appears on the screen, that sphere so familiar in everyone’s life, and, after rotating several times, it speeds away. The dark streets remain to be discovered, the restless camera moves, it is chasing images: There was the image it was hunting, a man moving among the shadows. The boy leaned back and clung to the arms of his easy chair, it was a werewolf. They called it that because it used two mitts that ended in claws in order to rip apart the neck of its victims.
        “Watching that crap again?”
        The boy didn’t move a muscle, it was his father, nagging as always.
        “How many times do I have to tell you that that’s all make-believe? That nothing like that ever happens? It’s been ages since you could trust their information. Those damn satellites cross the city constantly and since they never find anything sensational, they simply make it up. Only ‘Real Channel’, the official network, transmits anything reliable and even then, it's only for two hours a day. You know why? Because there’s nothing going on on the streets, nothing! What you are watching are staged productions, videos directed by people who don’t care, whose only goal is to keep people glued to their screens all day believing that such things are going on outside. These channels have been faking reality for years, from the first dose of rapes and assaults transmitted live by ‘Real channel’, which fueled even more rapes, murder, robberies... And the worst thing is how they’ve frightened the population.”
        “You’re just repeating what your friend the scientist tells you.”
        “I’m not repeating a thing, and if I am it’s because it’s the truth. Let’s see, how do you suppose that this murderer can travel freely through the streets without the police catching him? Especially when there is a sphere behind him filming everything he does? Isn’t that absurd?”
        “There’s Blue Justice,” the boy screamed excitedly, “that’s the end of the werewolf.”
        “Nonsense, that’s all I needed, a retarded son.” He left in a huff to look for his wife.
       
        He found her in the living room, but it was as if she weren’t there: she was wearing that mask with those damned gloves. She moved her gloved hand as if she were grabbing something, then she seemed to examine it slowly, then she placed it back, grabbed another one and examined it and gently passed her hand down over it.
        “Now it is impossible to talk with her, she must be in some clothing store making her virtual purchases.”
        He was about to leave when he heard a groan, saw his wife lift her gloved hands, her body shaking feverishly.
        “Hey! What’s happening to you?”
        But she could not hear him.
        “What’s happening?” he shouted again.
        She fell on the floor as if pushed by someone, and she lay face up with her hands on her neck. He ran to the computer and disconnected it, then he approached his wife and removed her mirrored goggles, her blue eyes darting endlessly in all directions, then he stripped off the gloves. She hugged him, trembling.
        “What happened to you?”
        “Some thieves broke into the store with guns and fired a shot over the guard’s head and...”
        “Even you believe these things. They pulled the wool over your eyes, the thing you saw was just an altered program, probably due to viruses introduced into your virtual environment, and it’s no more than virtual delinquents or cyber murderers...”
        “Ah, so that’s what cyber murders are like.”
        “Well, yes,... but in reality they are no more than programs written by some hacker hoping to make a buck by creating his own little market niche. For example, there are now cyberpolice whose only job is to prevent delinquents from breaking into these systems. Of course, you’d better report this so that they don’t install themselves in your computer.”
        “You think so?”
        “Of course, I’d advise you to call as soon as possible, so you don’t suffer another scare.”
       
        The boy was bored and went to watch some of his videos, morphs he had made with AutoVIDEO software back when he was a child. There he was as Tarzan leaping from tree to tree. Although it was his own face, when he was only ten, it was by no means his body. Back then he had used a morphing program which took his current biotype and converted it into an adult’s. Of course his body was too sickly, so he turned to another program, Samson, which, after analyzing his bone structure and his muscles, coached him through an intense program of exercises, finally converting him into an athletic teen. Now all that was left was to substitute his own computerized image for this film hero.
        After that he was Tarzan, Superman, Batman... But all that was part of his childhood, they were boyhood fantasies. Now he wanted something more real. He considered his image on the screen and admired the bulk which he had never been able to achieve however many exercises he did. Although it is only fair to admit that he would never stick to a systematic plan of exercise, he would always lack the will to dedicate himself to anything seriously.
       
        “Look Patricio, the cameras are filming our neighborhood, come look at what’s going on live on our streets. Look, it’s raining.”
        Raining? The murderer always comes out when it rains,” the boy said as he got to his feet and raced into the living room.
        “Good thing it’s not a downpour, you know what they say about downpours... The rain is pressing in, you can hear the thunder. Yep, there we go, a huge downpour.”
        Even the father ran in to where they all were.
        “They finally slipped up, the observatory said it wouldn’t rain today. They’re a bunch of phonies.”
        A figure in a black raincoat moved through the streets.
        “There he is,” yelled the boy.
        “It’s... the murderer in the rain,” the mother said, infinitely impressed.
        “Don’t be idiots. This is all crap, it can’t be raining.”
        “How can you be so sure?” the mother asked.
        “Come with me and I’ll show you that this is all a lie. We’ll go to the downstairs window, the one that faces the street.”
        They both followed behind him, the boy shot one last glance at the screen: the murderer had stopped, sunk both his hands in the raincoat and begun to whistle that little ditty...
        The father pressed a button and an oval window appeared. He couldn’t help but jump back in fright: thick raindrops assaulted the glass.
        “It can’t be...”
        The boy ran toward the living room, the mother following. She let out a cry of horror. The murderer was walking in the front yard of the house.
        “This rain is a lie,” the father yelled, furious.
        “Then why don’t you open the door and walk on the street and make sure?” the boy said in a defiant tone. “Look there he is, if you leave you can see him. Go, leave! He is right outside!”
        The water ran in buckets over his hat, soaked to his eyebrows. His enormous inexpressive eyes opened wide and a schizophrenic brilliance lit his face and his lips yielded in a big smile, that enigmatic smile which froze the souls of the viewers: he already had a plan, pulled his hand from his pocket, a metallic object sparkling in his left hand. He began to walk with a determined stride. The door of the house was just a few steps away from him.
        “Come here,” the mother screamed, and she hugged her son.
        “This is a very sick joke,” I’m going to call the police.
        The telephone did not work.
        “Look at him there, he’s going to kill us,” screamed the mother, hanging onto her son.
        “But.... All right, that is enough. What are you trying to do, scare us? Tomorrow I’m going to complain to the police. Tomorrow we will see...”
        Outside, someone knocked at the door.
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