Maddy woke up.
She got up, took off her XL band shirt and put on a bra and jeans. There was plenty of time before work but she liked to get ready so she could run out at the last minute.
Out of the corner of her eye she saw a black strand trailing from her elbow. Great, she was shedding. When she lifted her arm to pull it off, she realized it was wire, not hair. It looked like a charging cable without the plastic covering, only thinner.
She tugged, and felt it sliding under her forearm. She could see it moving under the top layer of skin like a vein. Pulling it out felt oddly satisfying. Like popping a zit. On the end that had been outside her body was a USB plug.
“What the f**k?” She did the obvious thing, sat down and plugged the USB into her laptop. New device detected. Open files? Yes, she would like to open files.
There were thousands of pictures on the strange storage device. Dozens of videos. She started flipping through the gallery. She thought they would be from her eyes, but instead they were in arbitrary positions around her, behind or off to one side of where she had been looking. It was creepy, but fascinating. Next level stalking technology. But why her?
As she flipped through the photos, she noticed they had one thing in common. There was someone, often deep in the background, looking directly at the eye of the camera. She clicked to move to the next photo and flinched. The shot had been taken from eyes-in-the-back-of-her-head perspective, and the watcher was standing right behind her. The expression was blank, except for their eyes. They were full of fear.
The watchers were different people every time, probably why she had never noticed them. She moved on to the videos. They had an odd, staticky quality, and the only audio was her voice and the breathing of the watchers. She wasn’t talking about anything important, nothing worth following her around to discover. Then, when she reached the last ten videos, by now fast-forwarding, the watchers started talking.
“Oh god, no.”
“She is next.”
“Please, she seems nice. Don’t do this!”
“We need bodies.”
The protester sounded human, the other flat monotone. The monotone was the same voice, even as the watchers switched off. She clicked the last video, and could tell it was something different.
This one was shot from a distance and very short. A blond boy, about ten years old, bumped into her. He had been a watcher. The video zoomed in to show his hand tapping her elbow. He said sorry, and kept walking. “Sorry” was the only audio.
It was the same elbow the wire had come out of that morning. She lifted her arm to doublecheck, and realized she had been watching videos too long. She was all stiff, and probably going to be late for work. Then her second realization. She wasn’t stiff. She couldn’t move her arm. She couldn’t move at all.
Black wires began budding from her fingernails, small shoots, a few on each finger. They retracted after a few seconds. She blinked a few times, almost thinking she had imagined them.
Her legs got up. She didn’t decide to get up. Her legs just moved. Her hands started flipping through her phone. Again, by themselves. She looked around. She could still control her eyes. Her hands stopped on a particular photo, a cute guy who was a regular in her store.
“Next,” her voice spoke, monotone.