For now, he reopened the piece he had been working on. It was for a fantasy novel about a world where dragons desired to replace humanity by breeding with them. He found it to be an odd — even off-putting — concept, but he wasn’t paid for his opinions. The writer had sought him out through their agents specifically because he had liked Adrick’s style. That was good. Adrick couldn’t ask for a better complement to his work, especially since the publishing company had already given him a nice advance. He had used part of it to purchase his haptic feedback gloves, and most of the rest to pay his rent for the next two months.
The afternoon passed by without another incident. Time seemed to crawl slowly toward noon, by the angle of the light as seen through Adrick’s lens. Even though he knew this was because of the way he had programmed it, he had never fully adjusted to the difference. When he found himself at a good place to stop, as he felt hungry again, he checked the time, and was surprised to find that the day had progressed well into evening.
He swept his work out of the way, storing it out of sight until tomorrow morning, when he would come back to it again. His stomach grumbled. His may have felt like it was lunch time, but his stomach knew it was time for a larger meal. He called up the menu that personalized the lighting in his home and hit a customized button that signaled to his system that he was done working for the day. It would gradually shift the lighting he perceived in the loft toward the natural darkness of night. He preferred the slow change, as it was less jarring.
In the kitchen, Adrick accessed the service that he used to plan out his dinners. He’d been struggling with his weight and his nutrition intake over the last year, so he’d purchased a meal planning program that laid out nutritional breakfasts and dinners for him, both so that he didn’t have to think about what to cook and so that he could start getting a better handle on the healthfulness and quantity of his food.
It also automatically ordered his food for him at no extra charge, though he had to pay for the food itself, and for the delivery. Every two days, it asked him whether what it had planned was acceptable. Occasionally, he made edits to the meals, generally informing it that he still had some of the food it suggested he buy, if it hadn’t tracked it properly. Usually he just added supplies for simple lunches, the planning for which he’d opted out of since he usually tried to eat a very short, quick lunch.
The service displayed a list of the ingredients for him, and even circled them for him as he opened the fridge and the cabinets, helping him to locate them faster. The thermal imaging camera on his lens, which he hadn’t even been aware before he’d starting using the meal service, fed information to the service, telling it how hot his pan was and whether he needed to decrease the heat. The service also suggested the best way to cut the meat and vegetables, laying lines across them to show him where to place the knife.
All in all, he had to put very little thought into cooking. He’d always felt a great deal of stress when preparing meals, but the food service alleviated that almost entirely. It gave him all of the prompts so that he didn’t need to worry about overcooking the vegetables or undercooking the salmon. He had even turned on a feature that prompted him to clean up the space and the dishes while things cooked and even after he had finished eating, which was helping him alleviate a problem he had with letting dirty dishes stack up until cleaning them was too intimidating to get done.
Adrick placed his plate on the table. The nutrition app reminded him to drink a glass of water with his meal. He turned back toward the kitchen, and, in the midst of his turn, he froze. His breath caught in his throat. There, in the doorway leading to the bathroom, stood the shadowed figure of another person.
This time, Adrick forced himself to remain — well, not calm, but as close to it as he could come. He took the chance to actually look at the person. It was not moving. The lens was no longer portraying the ambient light coming in through the windows, but instead, had lit the kitchen and the dining room with false overhead lights. This left the bathroom in darkness.
Still, the figure in the doorway seemed darker than it should have. The bathroom was dark, but because of where it stood, the lens should have been rendering some light upon it. The figure was a dark as though it stood outside at midnight under a clouded sky.
Hesitant, lest he startle the figure away again, Adrick raised his hands. He opened the system controls that would turn on the real light in the bathroom, not simulated ones provided by the lens. Lenses, especially the older generations, had occasional trouble in falsifying lighting in extremely dark conditions or on objects they hadn’t seen before. Adrick’s lens was not that old, but he told himself it was still a possibility.
The bathroom light flicked on. In a blur, the figure slid backward behind the bathroom door, out of Adricks view. Stepping quickly, but refusing to let himself run, Adrick moved toward the bathroom. On the way, he grabbed a knife from the kitchen counter.
Adrick’s breath came quickly. His lens flashed a warning about his elevated heart rate and highlighted the knife in his hand in red light. It asked him if he wanted to call the police. He shook his head no — if he was going crazy, he didn’t want other people to know. The action dismissed the question for now, but it would come back again if his condition persisted.
Knife in hand, Adrick pushed open the bathroom door. The lights over the mirror bathed the space in a golden-white light. His feet stuck to the cold white tiles as he stepped inside. Adrick shivered. The curtain was still drawn back. The shower was empty. He hesitated, his hand still on the door. He was loathe to shift it away from the wall, less someone hiding behind it slam it closed, but he did it anyway.
Nothing. Nothing and nobody. The bathroom was empty.
Adrick threw his hands up in frustration. This time, he knew he’d seen something. This time, he’d been awake, focused, and intent upon whoever or whatever he’d seen. This time, he knew he’d been of sound mind.
Or had he? He was beginning to question that fact. Quickly, he called up the recording of the past few minutes. Once again, whether showing only plain reality or the altered reality projected by the lens, the recording showed only him and his behavior. He had reacted, so far as the lens was concerned, to nothing.
It was late enough that, by the promise he’d made himself earlier, he should go to bed. He did not feel tired. He felt anxious and worried. He wanted to do something about the “person” he kept seeing in his house, but he didn’t know what to do.
He sat down at his dining table while he thought. If what he kept seeing was not real, and all the proof to which he had access indicated it was not, then there was something very wrong with him, something for which he should seek medical treatment. He could do that, he supposed, but he really didn’t want to live with the stigma of such a mental defect. It would make it difficult to continue freelancing.
If what he was seeing was real — and he wanted to consider that a possibility, because the alternative seemed worse to him — he still had no idea what it was. Logic told him it had something to do with his lens. His visitor had left no physical evidence of their presence, and he’d never seen it without his lens on. The external cameras on the lens also hadn’t recorded it, which should have been impossible, though he had to admit that he didn’t know enough about technology to say for sure.
He also didn’t know if it was possible for someone to hack his lens and insert an image it wouldn’t play back later. He had to assume it was, though the makers of the lens assured their consumers that their product had never been hacked. That sounded impossible to him, even with as little as he knew about technology. If technology or anything else had the audacity to exist, people would find a way to ruin it for others and twist it to their own gains.
Perhaps he was thinking of hacking in too narrow of a sense. It was certainly possible for someone to gain access to his passwords and alter the digital space of his apartment. He was the owner — or, at least, the renter — of the digital space that existed coterminously with the real space of his apartment. He set everything that would be displayed to any lens-wearer who saw this space.
It could be that someone had gotten permission to edit his space and had inserted a simple actor into it, one that hid at the corners of his vision until he noticed it, then fled. Haunted Houses employed basic AR actors just like that. Department stores and other such businesses sometimes used much more complicated AR actors for customer service instead of real people.
Those actors, though, would be recorded by the video function of his system. This one had not, which meant that, although its behavior was simplistic, if it was an actor, it had what he expected was some very complex programming behind it.
If that was the answer, and Adrick strongly hoped that it was, he was going to have to call Benni.
Next: Shadows, Part 3