Sit down with the usual gut warp strength black coffee - only thing that's going to keep my eyes open all night really- and settle down to watch. I can't help smiling at it all, all those individual juddering images spread out in front of me, like an artificial compact eye watching the city. A hundred small screens surrounding the single, higher resolution monitor, all for me. So much information fed right back to me in my warm, dark skull of a control room.
I can't help but enjoy it. Too much to pour over. So many minute human dramas played out over the night shift as though just for me, all of them oblivious. All so used now to the all seeing eye, that ever present observer above that hums and tracks them, benevolent and protective. Never look up, never acknowledge, but I don't mind. It's more interesting when they forget they're being watched.
Feet up on the desk, coffee held in both hands - nice and hot through the thick insulated layers of plastic and metal - I know I've picked a good one. She's not bad looking I realise now she's up on the big screen, good tits and a face that reminds me of my sister-in-law. Lovely expression too as he fumbles under that little top she's wearing, you can tell she's really getting into it.
Should probably let the Bobs know, public indecency and all that, but kids deserve a little fun. Big night out, few drinks and a dance then a quick one somewhere quiet where they figure they won't get caught. Like I said, always more interesting when they forget they're being watched.
I almost spit my coffee as he pops her tit out, big fat plump young udder like I've not seen in years, lowering to suckle as she holds him by the back of his head, moaning. Not that I'd know, no sound for me, but watching I can imagine the heated groan and grunt as she ruts against him. One hand goes down and I watch as she opens her legs eagerly for him, fingers slipping under her barely-there pants. Nice of a lad his age to warm her up I think to myself, shifting slightly to readjust before it all gets a bit too tight.
Pulling his hand back, obviously keen to get to the main event, I watch her go right for his belt. Not known that kind of eagerness in my life since I got married. Pair fumbling, me wide eyed and almost as impatient as them, none of us notice the little shit in the black hoody.
She's knickerless and he's got pants round his ankles, just getting ready for the old pork stab, when she screams. I watch her mouth go wide and eyes startled and wonder if perhaps the lad's tried mining for chocolate. Seeing him turn, body still leaning into her against the soggy brick, I follow his line of sight.
No wonder I didn't see the fucker, snuck up from out of shot and perving in the shadows behind one of those massive industrial bins getting an eyeful. I'm pissed as the lad pulls up his jeans and steps over to the little bastard, yelling some nonsense. Girl clearly sobers up over all this and quickly dresses, knickers back up and tits away. I of course make sure to get a final look, stashing that one away for later, before checking back on the lad.
Standing a good head over the perv he gives him a fair old shove but it barely moves him. I'm expecting violence at this point and lean forward, coffee down and zoom in on the control board, one eye giving a quick check to the radio so I can get the call in quick if I need to.
Wait a minute, paying close attention to the two lads now, mind back on the job. All seems to have quietened though, the big lad just staring at the smaller. Can't see either of their faces, the little one all in dark under the hood and the big one facing the wrong way for the camera, but the body language doesn't say violence. No more pushing and after not too long the big one just steps back, walking backwards for a bit watching the little lad before turning and leaving quick sharp with the girl. I'd not have been that restrained at his age.
Figure at that point those two are probably too sober to go looking for somewhere else and know it's a little too late to go looking for any other action. Obviously I was looking forward to the show so I'm pissed at the little fucker. I keep my eye on him, watching him as he watches them go and decide I'm going to make sure he's not going to have any fun tonight.
Fingers on the control board I sip at the still warm coffee as I wait for him to move. I've got until morning so no rush and not like anything else to watch now, not at this time in the morning.
Not too long waiting, he's looking round as though aware he's being watched but not up, they never look up, my eyes are so commonplace now they're no longer noticed. Finally decides that he's alone and he seems to relax, stepping off out of the shadows and away. Waggling my little stick I follow panning the feed until he's round the corner.
No problem for me though, already got the next camera on standby. One click and he's back up on the main monitor again with the image responding to my nudges. He's in no hurry and I don't mind, gives me time to think. He doesn't seem to be up to anything interesting so I'll need to be creative.
Keeping him well in view as he wanders aimlessly, switching images as he moves out of range down this alley and that street - I've got pretty much the whole city centre covered so not like he's going anywhere without me knowing - I get to thinking. Needs to be enough to get the Bobs out but not enough that, once he's been passed through the system, I'll get it in the neck.
Suspicious activity is always good, quick stop, chat and maybe even a search. Normally enough to ruin a lad’s mood and should put him off anything interesting he might or might not have had in mind. I get to smiling as the cogs tick it over. The job has its perks and since he's spoiled one I decide he can fund another.
Tracking him like some invisible hunter I get my familiar thrill. Sense of power as I flick effortlessly from eye to eye, I can't help but wonder, as I usually do, if this is how God feels -guilty, excited, nervous and just a little aroused. Nothing like the intimacy and power that comes from sharing those ordinary, private moments.
I keep my eyes open for a suitable time and place, knowing it needs to be convincing. He stops from time to time. Once to stand motionless halfway down a quiet residential road just staring - almost call the Bobs then, comment about eyeing up houses perhaps for burglary on the tip of my tongue, only to have him start off again too soon - and twice to have a quick check on his phone - hunched over to read the screen, the dim back light not quite enough to show his face under the shadow of his hood. He seems aimless though, just walking and I wonder just what he's doing out this late/early.
Not that I'm worried, just curious as he moves like a lone ghost across empty black and white low resolution streets. Finally he begins wandering into more promising territory. Away from the residential areas and toward empty industrial out of way estates. Much more solid ground for accusation and I crack a smirk.
I wonder if maybe I'm even right to be stalking the little fucker. Sure I'm neglecting the still buzzing drinking miles, nothing more than a quick glance every now and then to make sure I'm not missing anything serious, but the longer I watch the more he begins to raise genuine suspicions.
Where he'd been calm and all too normal to start, maybe out for a late night walk or on his way home after work -albeit making a slight detour to interrupt my late night entertainment - he was now proper jumpy. Walking just a little too quickly, glancing over his shoulder every now and then like he could feel my eyes stalking him, I felt perhaps I was onto a winner after all.
Clicking over to a new camera as he wormed his way out to the superstore car parks - too much like graveyards at this hour, only the odd abandoned car left like corpses on a battle field breaking the tarmac expanse - I day dream. Amused by images of his startled face, amazed at the Bobs apparent omniscience, I follow him idly.
Moving cautiously I can see him looking around and behind like he's paranoid and on his guard. Breaking into something close to one of those ridiculous speed walks - he's clearly trying to get somewhere quickly or just away from where he is - I watch him looking quickly around and behind as he goes, looks spooked.
Darting quickly off again, aiming initially for the dark row of tatty shops in the centre of the eye’s vision before changing his mind, he vanishes off the edge of monitor. No problem, I flick a switch to go over to the next eye, already lined up and ready in the back of my mind.
Only he's gone.
I twist my line of sight back to the image still feeding from the other eye to check. He's still not there. Looking back to the new live feed on the main screen I see he's not there. The images line up almost perfect, he should have stepped from one to the other. Yet he's vanished.
I twist the camera as round as far as it can go, crossing the field of view between the two images. Still nothing. There's nowhere to hide - no alleyway, no doorways, no open windows - just a quiet, dark side street. Empty.
I'm worried now, maybe I've let slip some major nut case. The net's wide though, eyes all over the city, easily enough to catch the little fucker again. I start looking, scanning the hundreds of images that flicker and shift for sign of him. I know them and work my way out from where I'd last seen him, scanning over the streets with systematic precision.
He's not getting away from me that easily. I tick off the cameras one by one wondering how on earth he's disappeared. It's not right and something about his behaviour just before I lost him is sticking. I'm remembering his behaviour, that jittery nervous energy he was giving off. Can't help wondering if he saw something I missed, something to spook him and give him reason to pull the disappearing act.
Flipping back to the still dead street I'd last seen him on I pour over the scene. Jumping between eyes I'm looking for something, anything that might suggest where or why. There's nothing - no traffic, no cats, foxes or late night pedestrians. Almost like a photo.
I get images of old spy movies then, still shot over the camera lens but know I'm being ridiculous. I can see the odd static in the feed and I know it's live, the view pans and magnifies/shrinks in response to my controls. I'm just on edge, paranoid. People don't just vanish from under my nose.
Up, down, left and right I'm flicking between the two cameras covering every angle yet nothing. Leaning in closer, as though my electronic eyes are missing something my biological optics could easily detect, I'm almost nose to nose with the screen when I think I see something.
Zooming in, camera aimed on the small, oddly shaped shadow cowering in against a wall in shallow doorway, I wonder what I'm looking at. Camera stops its slow expansion of the image suddenly, that's as good as I'm getting. I squint and tilt my head at it, not sure what I'm seeing.
Too small to be the lad and blurred - outline smudged like the resolution is breaking down as it struggles to focus on whatever it is - it's like it's shifting under water. I watch the stationary ill defined thing, wondering if this is what spooked him, feeling an odd chill run down my spine as I stare at it. Some creeping chill emanating from it transfers even through the glass and wires over the distance between us.
Hypnotised as I try and identify the hollow shadow, I feel cold even in my dark, heated little eyrie. I jump as it twitches, the movement unquantifiable yet very real. I can feel it and I know it's looking out, watching, aware of my intrusion. Shivering, I'm trying to look away, move the camera or drag my vision off the thing, but I can't. At least I can't until it moves first.
Too quick to be seen it's only it absence from the screen in front of me that informs me of its escape. I'm not even going to try to find this one. Just glad it's gone.
Heart racing I lean back from the screen, hands off the controls as I listen to my frantic breath in the quiet dark, when the screen changes. The large centre monitor is suddenly filled with it, its face peering through the circuits and cables and lenses to see me.
Zoom on full it looms massive but I'm thankful. Most of the face is off screen. All I see is those two massive black eyes studying me - pitch pits of void that reek emptiness, burned into its face, sucking at my will - as they blink rapid pulse over the narrow slits. I can see only a little of its skin, the blotchy membrane spread tight over its hideous skull.
I know it's seen me, it knows I was watching and it's not happy. Tilting its face back I watch in horror as it brings its single orifice up to the eye. Mouth/nose - a maw filled with rotten, broken teeth that jut like tombstones from its gums - open wide, I see it taste/smell. The long, prehensile tongue lapping at the camera, thick saliva running rivulets down the glass, it shifts back to eye me once, quickly, before it vanishes again.
I know it's found its way. Whatever deformed sense it used I know it has me memorised. I interrupted it, saw and prodded where I shouldn't. Down miles of wire and flowing current it found me.
I'm scanning the screens, almost absent minded, looking to see if I can spot it. I can see the whole city shifting slowly towards dawn, the streets solemn and still with nothing moving except the odd cab driving home a straggling drunk. I see shadows flit across the feeds, nothing but a momentary flicker across the screens.
I know how they fit, and as I start to move from screen to screen, waiting for the shadow before skipping to the next I know it's moving inwards. One after the other, I already know its route as it heads toward me.
I'm freezing; it's like a fridge in here as I jump ahead. There's only the one screen left, the last eye before it's here. Flick the screen over so it's spread over the central high res monitor. The image large and crisp, there's nothing, just an empty street lined with cars.
I'm patient with nervous energy and as I wait - I know how fast it was moving, it should be here by now - I wonder if I imagined it. It's late and I've had far too much caffeine. That little fucker had me spooked, I was seeing things. That's it. Just shadows and leaky dreams, no monsters stalking the streets in hoods and lurking in shadows.
It's when the scratching at the door starts that I remember. The camera never lies.
K. A. Dean is a working scientist who bakes, brews and watches far too many movies. He attempts to squeeze all of this in between periods of writing, an addiction he is apparently unable to kick. He lives in the south east of England with two cats and a human. Sometimes there is coffee; sometimes there is tea.
Mari Mitchell lives in the high deserts of California. She has been married for over ten years, has two sons, two pet rats (who are actively plotting to take over the nearby space port,) and one very round, very loved cat (who is passively-aggressively taking over the couch and computer.)