"ARE YOU OKAY?"
"Did you see her?"
I fell into the cab's seat, still stunned from everything, unsure of what I had known positively only a few seconds before.
"Her," was all I could manage, and a look back up at the woman atop the museum steps. Then I noticed the cab wasn't moving, the meter ticking along in hold mode. "Why aren't we—?"
I looked at Jen and found myself silenced by her transformation.
She smiled. "Like the dress?"
I know now that it was ankle length and scarlet, lacy and billowing, old-fashioned and extraordinary. But at that moment I hadn't noticed it yet.
She scratched her head. "Yeah, I've been meaning to do this. Summer, you know."
Her hair was almost gone, cut down to a half inch.
"Makes me look different, doesn't it?"
I managed to nod.
"Jeez, Hunter." She scratched again. "Haven't you ever seen a buzz cut before?"
"Uh, sure." I smiled, shaking my head. 'You don't mess around on the disguise front, do you?"
She laughed. "I walked up to our bald friend and asked him where the bathroom was. He didn't bat an eye."
Remembering him and realizing the cab still hadn't moved, I looked back up at the museum entrance. The woman was still up there, gliding across the stairs, effortlessly switching from forward to backward on the slick wet stone.
"Did you see her?" I said. "With the sunglasses…"
"Yeah. I took a picture. Of all four of them."
"Oh." That brilliant idea hadn't crossed my mind, although I had accidentally gotten a close-up of Future Woman. "Shouldn't we be leaving now?"
"There's something I wanted you to see before we get out of range." She pulled out one of the Poo-Sham cameras.
"Ah!" I said, squinting. "I know all about those."
"You think you do. But watch this." She covered the flash" with one hand and took a picture. The red glimmer through her fingers reinforced my headache.
Then Jen held up one hand in front of my face. Her Wi-Fi bracelet was flickering wildly. The little diodes sputtered insanely for a few seconds, then calmed down to a normal level.
"I don't get it," I said.
"The cameras are networked. They're wireless."
"We can go now," Jen called to the driver, then settled back as the cab pulled away. I stared through the back window for a moment, but the woman on the marble steps had disappeared. A few smokers huddled out of the rain.
"These cameras have Wi-Fi cards in them," Jen said. "When you take a picture, they transmit it to a hub somewhere near here. Whoever was in control of that party was collecting every picture taken."
I rubbed my temples. "As far as I could tell, no one was in control. It was chaos."
"Very carefully organized chaos. The free rum, the camera flashes."
"The Poo-Sham ad."
I told her about the advertisement running in the planetarium, the weird pseudo-feel of it, the flashing screen at the end.
"Interesting," she said, still studying the camera. "We need to do some research on how this thing works. Maybe a Google search on 'mind control with party favors'?"
"That would be a start. Or maybe 'visually induced… uh, some-thing-phasia. " I rubbed my temples. For some reason, I couldn't remember the word for not being able to remember words. "My head hurts."
"Yeah, mine too." She ran her hands across the planes of her shorn head again, and I couldn't resist reaching across to touch her. The newly buzzed hair was soft beneath my fingers.
"That feels nice," she said, her eyes closed. "I'm beat. One more flashing light and I'm going into a coma."
I remembered the urban legend.
"Jen, have you ever heard that old story about a TV show that caused seizures? It was a Japanese cartoon or something."
"You're kidding. Sounds like that stupid movie, where the videotape kills you?"
"Yeah, but it was based on an urban legend. And like most legends, that was based on something real."
She shrugged. "We can Google it."
"Actually, I've got a friend who knows more than Google, at least when it comes to Japanese pop culture." I pulled out my phone, checking the time. "If she's awake."
I started to dial, but Jen pulled at my wrist, eyes still closed. "Just chill out until we get back downtown, okay?" She pulled herself closer, the dress rustling as her legs curled up under its yards of scarlet. Passing neon and streetlights swept across her as the cab descended Broadway. With her long hair Jen had been pretty, cute, attractive.
Buzzed, she was beautiful.
"No problem," I said, my heart fluttering pleasantly.
She held my hand. "We did good tonight. I feel like we actually learned something about the anti-client."
"Too bad none of it makes any sense."
"It will." Her eyes opened, her face close enough that I smelled Noble Savage on her breath. "I have to ask two very important questions, Hunter."
I swallowed. "Sure."
"One: Why are your hands purple?"
"Oh, that." I looked at them. "In addition to not being shampoo, Poo-Sham happens to be a very persistent skin dye."
"Ah. That's nasty of them." Her fingertips trailed across my open palm, sending a shudder through me.
"What was the other question?" I said softly.
"Well, uh." She bit her lip, and I found my gaze stuck on her mouth. "Did you know…?"
"Did you know you ripped your jacket?"
I was paralyzed for a second, then followed Jen's gaze to my shoulder, where the sleeve had become disconnected in a long, uneven tear. I remembered Future Woman grabbing my arm on the stairs as I pulled violently away. My stomach sank.
"Well" — she sat up and checked me over carefully—"at least everything else looks okay."
"This jacket was a thousand bucks!"
"Yeah, ouch. Still… your bow tie looks really sharp. Did you tie it yourself?"