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BE RIGHT BACK


Also by Huckleberry Hax: AFK My Avatars and I

by Huckleberry H. Hax: The Day is Full of Birds

https://sites.google.com/site/huckleberryhax http://stores.lulu.com/store.php?fAcctID=1606163


BE RIGHT BACK

by HUCKLEBERRY HAX


Copyright Š 2008, 2009 by Huckleberry Hax All rights reserved This paperback edition published in 2010 (Version 2, incorporating 'Be Right Back' and 'Just so that you know') Huckleberry Hax is hereby identified as author of this work in accordance with Section 77 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 Published by www.lulu.com Cover design by Huckleberry Hax 'Just so that you know' was written for National Novel Writing Month 2008. See what you can achieve in 50,000 words and 30 days at www.nanowrimo.org 'Be Right Back' and 'Just so that you know'' were written using Open Office, the free office suite. Download your copy from www.openoffice.org The terms 'Second Life,' and 'Linden' are copyright Š Linden Research Inc. https://sites.google.com/site/huckleberryhax


For my two best friends in Second Life: Dizi and medi.


We are never deceived; we deceive ourselves. Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe


I

Be Right Back


Wednesday, 1 October

Some days, it astonishes me how much text we can generate between us in half an hour. Stop Stare: We had a team day today. Henry Hard: Oh yes? Did they provide you with lunch? William Shing: I hate team days. Stop Stare: Yes, they bought in finger food. Stop Stare: It was too salty. Texter Triste nods. William Shing: I hate training days. Soma Supercollider: So you just said, Billiam. Stop Stare: Really? I kind of like them. William Shing: It's bad enough you have to work without someone trying to make you like the people you have to work with. Texter Triste: Since, as we all know, *that* would be a terrible thing. Stop Stare: lol Tear Stained: Awwww, Bill :( Henry Hard: Actually, I'm with you on this, Bill. Soma Supercollider: You're an idiot, Shing. William Shing: Just let me *choose* my friends, ok? William Shing: Thank you, Henry. Tear Stained: Running around in woods training day or flipchart and motivational speaker training day? Stop Stare: Flipchart and motivational speaker. William Shing howls. Even worse! Stop Stare: This is how he opens... this is what we had to discuss in pairs...

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William Shing: Wait! Let me guess... William Shing: You had to pair up with someone you didn't know very well? Yes? Stop Stare: Yes! Stop Stare: I got the security guy lol Texter Triste: You got the security guy? Stop Stare: Old Terry himself! Texter Triste: So who was doing security? Stop Stare: They got a temp in, I think. Texter Triste: A *temp*? Texter Triste: A *temp* to do *security*? Texter Triste: Do you trust a temp with that kind of stuff? Stop Stare: It's not like we've got the crown jewels stashed away in there, you know. Stop Stare: It was a proper security guy... just he was temporary. Stop Stare: What's so bad about getting temporary staff in? William Shing: You do get temporary doctors, after all. Texter Triste: Temporary *doctors* aren't expected to stand in the line of fire for you. Stop Stare: You're anticipating some sort of terrorist assault? Texter Triste: All I'm saying is their allegiances wouldn't be the same. Stop Stare: You seem to think Terry's some sort of coiled spring waiting to dive into the path of a bullet... Stop Stare: Texter, he sits there reading the *Argos catalogue*. William Shing: You could do a lot of damage with an Argos catalogue.

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Soma Supercollider: Enough of your incessant wittering, rabbits; I want to hear what the speaker asked Stop to discuss. Henry Hard: Speaking of Argos, did I tell you I got chucked out of there a few weeks back? Soma Supercollider: Shut up, Henry. Soma Supercollider: No-one's interested in your dirty little stories x Stop Stare: Ok, so we had to imagine meeting a genie, who will grant you one wish... Henry Hard takes Soma's glass and puts it in the washer before she's had a chance to finish it. Stop Stare: ...the genie tells you you're allowed to wish for whatever you want, but whatever it is it's got to be for you and you alone... Soma Supercollider: You're a fool, Hard. Soma Supercollider: As if I would consume any sort of beverage prepared in this grubby little hole. Stop Stare: ...nobody else must benefit. William Shing: Now that's my kind of genie. William Shing: No guilt trip for not wishing for world peace. Texter Triste: You'd feel obliged to wish for world peace? Tear Stained: You *wouldn't,* Texter? Texter Triste: Not necessarily. William Shing: Because, if you didn't wish for world peace, you just know it'd come out one day. Texter Triste: Really? How exactly would it 'come out'? William Shing: I don't know... the Inland Revenue would audit the genie or something... William Shing: There'd be a leak of some kind... A

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USB stick would get lost; a laptop would get left on a train... Trust me - it *would* happen. William Shing: You'd spend the rest of your life getting hate mail. Tear Stained: So what the hell is wrong with world peace, Texter? Texter Triste: Did I say there was anything wrong with it? Tear Stained: You said you wouldn't wish for it. Texter Triste: I said I wouldn't *necessarily* wish for it. Tear Stained: Because...? William Shing: See? This is *exactly* what I'm talking about. Henry Hard nods. Texter Triste: Because I don't think necessarily it would be a good thing. Tear Stained is incredulous. Tear Stained: You don't think world peace would be a good thing? Texter Triste: I didn't say that... Texter Triste: I said I don't think *wishing* for world peace would be a good thing. Tear Stained: What the hell's the difference? Texter Triste: You don't think there's a difference between *achieving* world peace and just wishing for it to suddenly occur? Stop Stare giggles. Texter Triste: I mean how would that look? One minute there's war and corruption and oppression everywhere you look; next minute - bam! - everyone just loves each other? Texter Triste: Do they just forget everything they were getting up to before?

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Tear Stained: Ok Tex, very good. Texter Triste: Seeing as actions are based upon beliefs, can we take it that all of a sudden they stop believing the stuff they used to and - just like that - start believing new things instead? Tear Stained: I get it! Texter Triste: What is the basis for this sudden change in schema? Is it ok to take a view on something when you have no reason for taking it? Do we have to know why we believe in anything at all? Soma Supercollider: Enough, Texter! Can't you see she's dead already? Texter Triste: I believe my point is made. William Shing: So what did Terry wish for? Stop Stare: You want to know what *Terry* wished for? William Shing: That's not where we're going with this? Stop Stare: No! Texter Triste: I must admit, *I'm* curious. William Shing: He wanted super powers, right? Stop Stare: No, he didn't. As a matter of fact, he wished for money. Texter Triste: Money! Of course! It's so obvious now! Wiliam Shing: How much did he go for? Stop Stare: He didn't say. Wiliam Shing: What do you mean, he didn't say? He must have a figure. Everyone's got a figure! Texter Triste: Indeed. Texter Triste: Mine's ten million. Texter Triste: Although I'm a little uncertain as to how I'd get it into my bank account without anybody noticing. Texter Triste: I had considered some sort of ebay/PayPal combination.

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Wlliam Shing: Good idea. Stop Stare: You have a *plan* for this? William Shing: For the genie question? Of course! William Shing: Who doesn't? Henry Hard: You never know when you might get asked. William Shing: Exactly! William Shing: Imagine a genie popping up unexpected and you mess up your wish because you're unprepared. William Shing: You don't want to make a stupid wish you end up regretting later. Texter Triste: You could be drunk and end up wishing by accident for fried chicken! Stop Stare: So what would your wish be, Henry? Texter Triste: Now yours has *got* to be a super powers wish. Henry Hard: Yeah, actually, it is; but I've got myself a privacy clause in there. Texter Triste: eh? Stop Stare: A what? Henry Hard: You see, I don't especially want to wear a mask. Henry Hard: They don't go into this in the comics, but when you think about it, what's a mask going to do except screw up your peripheral vision? Texter Triste: How true. How true. Henry Hard: The way I see it is, if you're getting your powers via a genie then why not just build anonymity into the wish? William Shing: So, in addition to wishing for your powers, you also wish that no-one will recognise you in your costume?

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William Shing: Brilliant! Texter Triste: Now that's what I call out-of-the-box thinking. Soma Supercollider: Are the boys still talking English? They seem to have stopped making any form of sense? Texter Triste: So Stop, about the wish thing... about the 'only you benefit' clause... Texter Triste: Is that meant to be some sort of trick question? Stop Stare smiles knowingly. William Shing: What? How do you mean? Texter Triste: Well... Texter Triste: Say I wish for a million pounds and the first thing I do is book a holiday... Texter Triste: I'm going to want someone to go with, right? Texter Triste: But if I invite someone along and pay for them then technically they're benefiting from my wish. William Shing: So don't invite anyone along. William Shing: Or invite them but don't pay for them. William Shing: Seriously, you have a problem with that? Texter Triste: What if I want to buy someone a meal? Or a drink, even? Texter Triste: Am I never allowed to spend any money on anyone ever again? Texter Triste: What am I supposed to do at Christmas? How can I get gifts for people? William Shing: I don't understand. You buy presents like normal. Just nothing fancy. Texter Triste: The money's still coming from the same pot though, isn't it.

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William Shing: The same *pot*? Texter Triste: The genie money pot! William Shing: Then buy them with some other money! Texter Triste: Some other money? *What* other money? Texter Triste: Isn't the whole point of wishing for money in the first place that I don't need to spend time getting other money? William Shing: So put the genie money in the bank and use the interest payments to buy people things with. Soma Supercollider: You're a fool, Billiam x William Shing: So get a job! Texter Triste: I don't *want* to get a job! That's why I wished for money! William Shing: What's the point of this? Is this really such a big deal? William Shing: Then stop getting people stuff! Texter Triste: This isn't just scheduled acts of obligatory generosity we're talking about here... Soma Supercollider: 'obligatory' hahaha silly Texter. Texter Triste: I bet you'd be surprised at how often even the Shing Wallet gets opened on other people's behalf... Tear Stained doesn't have high expectations on that issue... Texter Triste: Think about it... How are you going to achieve female companionship of an evening if you're never allowed to buy anyone dinner ever again? William Shing: My God... My single most effective strategy would be dead in the water! Texter Triste: You see? Tear Stained: Let's face it – that was never actually a free lunch in the first place.

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William Shing: No no no... this can't be right. William Shing: There has to be a way around this! Henry Hard: waaaaaiiiiitaminute..... Stop Stare: Yes, Henry? Henry Hard: It's even worse, isn't it? William Shing: How do you mean? Stop Stare listens, eagerly. Tear Stained sees pain etched across Bill's sad little face. Soma Supercollider: Oh do get a move on, Hard. Henry Hard: Nevermind other people... If I buy something only for myself then the *shopkeeper* benefits! Stop Stare: Yay! William Shing: You've got to be kidding. Texter Triste: Ahhhhhh.... Texter Triste: I seeeeeeeee.... Texter Triste: This was one of those 'greed is good' motivational speakers. Stop Stare: lol Texter Triste: The moment you do anything with the money in your pocket, someone, somewhere has to benefit. William Shing: Oh come on... that's just ridiculous. Soma Supercollider: Yes, he's not a proper genie at all x Henry Hard: Basic economics, Bill; money's a circulatory system - you've got to keep it flowing. Henry Hard: You buy something from Tom... Tom uses the money to buy something from Dick... Dick uses the money to buy something from Harry... Henry Hard: Off it all flies, into the ether, mixing in with all the other money out there, squeezing through the tax filter every other transaction until finally enough has been scraped off to pay your doctor's salary.

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Texter Triste: That's a whole lot of scraping. Soma Supercollider: hahaha William Shing: So what are we saying here? That it's impossible to wish selfishly? William Shing: What if I was to ask for a car? Who is that going to benefit other than me? Texter Triste: You wouldn't be able to give anyone a lift. William Shing: Fine! Henry Hard: Uh-uh. It ain't gonna work. Henry Hard: You want that car to go anywhere, you're going to have to buy petrol for it. That benefits the oil companies. William Shing: I'd be buying petrol for my car *anyway*! Henry Hard: Yeah, but I bet you've got a gas guzzler in mind. William Shing: Ok, fine! I'll wish for a car that doesn't need petrol. Henry Hard: Well that wouldn't work at all. William Shing: WHY?! Henry Hard: Think of the benefit to the environment. Texter Triste: Ok. So what if I wish for a car that runs on petrol but never runs out? Henry Hard: You realise you'll never be able to sell this car? Texter Triste: Whatever. Henry Hard: Or give it away. Texter Triste: Why would I want to get rid of it? I'll keep hold of *this* car until I die. Henry Hard: And what will happen to it then? Texter Triste: I'll leave instructions for the car to be destroyed.

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Henry Hard: Wills can be contested. Texter Triste: So make it so it only works whilst I'm alive then. You can do that, right? Tear Stained: Is Henry a genie now? Henry Hard: I could, but it still won't work. Texter Triste: Why? Henry Hard: Your car could get stolen. Texter Triste: Would it help if I moved to a different post code? Henry Hard: And what about the kid down the road who siphons off a gallon from your fuel tank each Sunday evening? Texter Triste: The Robinson boy? I *knew* there was something fishy about my consumption! Soma Supercollider: hahaha silly rabbit x Henry Hard: I've got to be honest, I can't see this idea working. Texter Triste: Ok... Make it so it only works when it's me in the car. Henry Hard: When it's you driving the car or just when you're in the car? Texter Triste: Whatever. Henry Hard: The problem is the knock-on... Henry Hard: Perpetual petrol means more money in your pocket... Henry Hard: Others could end up benefiting from that. Henry Hard: Plus you're going to want to look after that car, aren't you? That might end up making you a safer driver. William Shing: *could* *might* William Shing: Is it just being assumed that we'll break the conditions because it's possible to? Tear Stained: Maybe the genie looks into the future.

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William Shing: Of course it doesn't!! Tear Stained: What, you think that would be hard for a genie? William Shing: When did you ever hear of a genie looking into the future? Tear Stained: They don't mention that in the genie guide? Texter Triste: A genie could in theory grant *someone else* the power of seeing into the future, right? William Shing: So? *So*? William Shing: If genies could see into the future then why would they ask what your wish was in the first place? Wouldn't they already know? Tear Stained: It's more sociable that way. William Shing: Sociable? What the hell does sociable have to do with it? Tear Stained: You don’t think that genies have a need for social contact, being cooped up in those lamps all that time? Soma Supercollider: So what did you wish for, Stop? Stop Stare: Finally, someone asks me! :p Texter Triste was just about to ask that, honest. Stop Stare: I wished for super powers. William Shing: Ok! Now we're getting somewhere! William Shing: What did you go for? Texter Triste bets it's something girly. Stop Stare: I wished for the ability to eat as much chocolate as I like and it only makes me slimmer. William Shing: *What*? Texter Triste nods. Told you. Soma Supercollider: hahaha. Nice one, Stop x William Shing: That's not a *superpower*.

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Stop Stare: Of course it is, Bill. William Shing: Chocolate! She wastes her wish on chocolate! Soma Supercollider: Oh, that's no wasted wish, Billiam. Hard Luck: Interesting. Although having this ability would of course cause you to buy more chocolate... Stop Stare: Uh-uh – my other power is to be able to make any type of chocolate I want out of air. Stop Stare: No chocolate manufacturer benefits from me! William Shing: Your *other* power? Stop Stare: Yes Bill? William Shing: Well excuse me for being a pedant, but I *thought* the scenario involved only one wish. Stop Stare: One wish, sweetie; two powers. William Shing: You can't do that! Stop Stare: If I was to wish for the powers of Superman, that'd be one wish, right? Stop Stare: But Superman's got super strength *and* he can fly. Stop Stare: So Chocolate Girl can both make chocolate and eat it! Texter Triste resists the urge to point out all Superman's *other* powers. William Shing: *Chocolate Girl*?! Texter Triste: Does she change into a superhero outfit whenever she has to eat chocolate? William Shing: You can't compare Superman to someone you just made up! Stop Stare: Why not? William Shing: How is the genie supposed to know things about 'Chocolate Girl'?

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Texter Triste: Does Chocolate Girl ever team up with Biscuit Boy? Stop Stare: The genie reads my mind, *obviously*. William Shing: Genies don't read minds!! Stop Stare: What, you think that would be hard for a genie? Soma Supercollider: hahaha William Shing: Genies *don’t* read minds and they *don’t* look into the future! Stop Stare: Goddammit, Shing; my genie will do whatever the hell I tell it to do! Tear Stained: Ok stop! STOP! Tear Stained: NO MORE TALK ABOUT GENIES! Tear Stained belts you all round the ear. Stop Stare looks down at her feet. Texter Triste whispers, 'she started it'. William Shing fumes, silently. Soma Supercollider giggles Tear Stained: That's better. Henry Hard: You do realise you won't be able to share any of your chocolate, don't you? Texter Triste: What if it’s too hot and the chocolate melts? Is heat like Kryptonite for Chocolate Girl? * I hate October. I just don't get why some people seem to love it so much. So the leaves fall. So the wind begins to bite. October speaks to me: it says, 'summer is gone, and what did you do with it?' Golden leaves taunt me with memories of the sun I failed to sit under enough. Red leaves are the wine I never got around to drinking.

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It is true that October makes me think of the return of Sunday roasts and the kitchen window steamed up from green vegetables boiling. I do admit that sometimes I can get taken back at this time of year to all manner of nostalgic TV moments, witnessed lying on my stomach with my chin in my hands and my feet in the air. The Two Ronnies. Are You Being Served? Movies where cars have big, brown steering wheels and some kind of stick at the side that I think has something to do with gear changes. Columbo. A flashing cursor that prints up football results. And pipe smoke hanging in the air above me whilst I watched all these things. I have no idea why I associate them only with October. I suppose I'm thankful for their recollection, but I try not to get too distracted by their sweetness. Nostalgia has a lot to answer for. Perhaps it's more that summer is a time designed for new experiences; that September, then, is the lingering on of summer excitement – the fading of the sunburn – and October is the inevitable step back into the comfort zone. The relentless return of all the old rituals: Halloween, Guy Fawkes, Thanksgiving, Christmas... There's something about this period which seems designed to inhibit any type of newness. You just do stuff that you've done before, year after year. Perhaps that's why October triggers the thinking of the old. I hate October. I hate autumn. I hate looking at the crass glare of commercialism reflected in wet streets. I hate being hot in overcrowded shops, smelling other people's sweat and feeling my own trickling down the small of my back. Oh yes; I hate walking through leaves. Most days. Thank God for the Internet. Thank God for Second Life. It's only been a few weeks, but already I'm beginning

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to wonder how I'll manage without it. * Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, today compared his company to David and Google to Golliath. In search. In advertising. "Do I wish we'd started the investment in search a few years earlier?" he said. "Yes." Apparently, then, Microsoft is an underdog. Exactly when did that happen? He also called upon the American politicians to "make smart choices to help the US economy." In other words, the $700bn economic rescue plan/Wall Street bail-out, which the Senate vote on later this evening. I think I see what's going on here. We're being encouraged to feel sorry for the big boys.

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Thursday, 2 October

Today I turned 36. I'm now closer to my forties than I am to my twenties. I'm over half way to being 70. I hate October. The event was marked at work with the obligatory card. This time last year my card had funny jokes from Claire, from Ada, from Lenny. From Frank. I still have it pinned to my partition. It has a black and white photo on the front of a man in a suit hanging from a parachute; the caption underneath reads, 'The Eject key on Phil's keyboard turned out to be real'. This year, people I don't know have scattered variations on 'Have A Great Day!' over the white interior of a card about lager. One guy – I think he must have heard me talking about the space shuttle last week – has drawn a picture of R2D2 next to my name. At least he tried. It was warm. I drove back down to Tintagel this afternoon. It wasn't an impulse thing – it's been in my diary for the last two weeks – but I don't know what I thought I was going to achieve there. I went to speak to the waitress at the café again, but she was on leave. I ate sandwiches on the bench before the dip into the Rocky Valley. They tasted like shit. It occurs to me that that place is ruined for me now. If I'd just walked a little further I'd have been able to see Norah's place, up there on the Boscastle road, overlooking the sea. I spent several minutes looking at the path I could have taken, picturing the place in my mind. The old stone, yellowed with lichen. The moss in the cracks between the slate. It was sunny at that moment, which made it all the more tempting; Norah's house belongs in sunshine. I remember how the light from outside that place used to find its way into the darkness in thin, dusty shafts. I remember

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the way sound inside the building dissolved into nothing, but sound from outside always managed to trickle in somehow. Those were magical holidays, with Norah herself a figure in a corner always, sitting with her legs wrapped one around the other, watching, laughing; asking us what we thought about stuff. There's something about Tintagel. There's something about the cliffs there, there's something about the lay of the land. There's something about the beaches and the grass in the fields. I can't quite put my finger on it. Nobody I've met who understands this – and I've met quite a few of them – is able to place it either. Perhaps it is just the memories I have of the place; perhaps it's nothing more than that. Then again, perhaps all the Arthurian stuff has found its way under my skin, just as it's designed to. Whatever. I don't feel it now. I made the mistake today of thinking that more exposure to those favourite places might bring back that sense of special to me. I was wrong, and I realised just in time. So I didn't walk up to where I could have seen Norah's house. The memory of it – and her – is intact, unviolated, and that's how I intend for it to remain. I logged in as soon as I got back; materialised in my usual spot, in Redclaw. It was just me and Henry and a guy on the mop spot for a while, and then Stop came inworld, and then a guy called Trumpet, who I've never seen before. And then Bigboy. And then Candlewax, who some of us call Candle and some of us call Wax (and who Bigboy calls Ear). And then Frankiesay. Bill came on at 8pm exactly, as usual. Tear came back to the café shortly after that. Soma at 8:20. By 8:30 there were three more people I didn't recognise, making it the most crowded I'd ever seen the station – and they were all there in the café. There was a sudden crackle; the white

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dots above everyone's heads spewed green momentarily. And then they all shouted, “Happy birthday Texter!” Except Soma, of course. It was a good attempt at synchronisation, but the inevitable half-second delay here and there induced hysterics. It was the first time we'd done mass voice in the café, and a good minute of this was pure laughter. It completely made up for the rubbish card. Completely. * Texter Triste: How did you guys know it was my birthday? Tear Stained: It was Bill. Tear Stained: He looked it up on some Star Trek website. Texter Triste: What? William Shing: Oh, you remember – the Trek group I got you to sign up for. William Shing: The one that you've not actually bothered to attend yet? William Shing: You had to put your date of birth in the application form. Texter Triste: That stuff goes on a website? William Shing: It's the group's discussion forum. You have to have a profile. Tear Stained: You never go anywhere, Texter; why don't you let us take you out some place to celebrate? I think you're old enough now, you know. Texter Triste: You know I like it best here, Tear. Henry Hard: Hey! Stop trying to remove my best customer. Soma Supercollider: Yes. Why *do* you insist on spending all your time in this filthy little hole, Texter?

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Bigboy Anderson: All those in favour of an evening at the Bella Luna say Aye! Tear Stained: Aye! Texter Triste shudders at the thought. Bigboy Anderson: Don't knock it until you've tried it, Tex. Tear Stained: I could do a private dance for you if you wanted ;) William Shing: Aren't we supposed to be *encouraging* him? Tear Stained: William! Henry Hard: lol Soma Supercollider: Don't listen to them, Texter; they only want to corrupt you. Bigboy Anderson: For god's sake, Tex, that's a newbie Tshirt you're still wearing there. Bigboy Anderson: You have to leave here *sometime*. Tear Stained: Never mind the T-shirt... Tear Stained: DO SOMETHING ABOUT THE HAIR! Texter Triste marvels at how completely the atmosphere has moved on from warmth and love. Soma Supercollider: Hahaha. * The number one hit single on the day of my birth was How can I be Sure? By David Cassidy. I looked it up today on a site that will also list the number ones on each and every subsequent birthday. I looked at the list and tried to see if there was a secret message in there to me from the universe. There doesn't appear to be, but then again, maybe I need to be thinking anagrams...

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I'm annoyed I put my date of birth on that notecard. I don't know what I was thinking. The Senate passed the bill last night. They threw in some extra tax cuts. Now it goes back in front of the House of Representatives, the guys who rejected it on Monday. Tonight, Sarah Palin and the guy Obama's chosen as his running mate go head to head in televised debate. I'd watch it if it was on earlier. I stayed up to watch the first of the Presidential debates last week, but that was on a Friday. It was dull, but at the same time I couldn't tear myself away. McCain came across as an emotional old man from an era that should, by rights, have ended. He did the whole voice wobble thing on emotive subjects, especially on the topic of war veterans. He told the watching world he'd “take care of the vets”; in fact, he said that twice. And he told us he'd looked into the eyes of Vladimir Putin (he looked into the camera as he said this, looking into our eyes) and seen three letters: KGB (“Kay! Gee! Bee!”). I suppose he thought it some sort of poetry to say something like that. Or warrior speak. Or leader talk. I'd put money on him having practised the delivery of that trio of consonants in front of more than a couple of hotel mirrors. It chilled me to the core. I'll never understand how politicians imagine that derogatory comments about another nation's leader in front of an audience of millions will in any way improve things. Isn't it obvious this is the equivalent of calling an unpopular kid names in order to get more popular with your mates? Am I the only one who sees these things? They say we can't possibly go back into another cold war. And, naturally, what we say to and about each other couldn't possibly have a bearing on that kind of thing. Big old Russia. Nasty old big Russia. Nasty old big and now rich

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Russia, with its weapons and military and stuff. I suppose they'll tell us soon we're like David and Russia is Goliath. Well, we can say that, right? Why not? It's only words. Words can't do anything, can they? * William Shing: Are you ever going to attend that Trek group, Texter? Bigboy Anderson: Star Trek. Now here's a thing... Bigboy Anderson: You never get to see what the toilets look like on those spaceships. William Shing: Toilets? Tear Stained: Oh don't get him started, Big. Bigboy Anderson: Well, they've got to have toilets, haven't they? William Shing: Why? Texter Triste: Are you telling us the future's invented a cure for bodily functions? William Shing: Ever heard of teleporters, my friend? Bigboy Anderson: Teleporters? What have they got to do with it? William Shing: Ah the limited vision of within box thinking. William Shing: You think the transporters can only be used to teleport a whole person, don't you? Texter Triste digests this. Texter Triste: Are you suggesting they use transporters to teleport the *crap* out of people? William Shing: Well, why not?! Texter Triste: Because that's the most ridiculous thing I ever heard.

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Bigboy Anderson: Beam my shit up, Scotty! William Shing: Only because you never thought of it before. William Shing: When you think about it, it makes complete sense. Texter Triste: It makes complete sense to replace perfectly good plumbing with quantum mechanics? William Shing: The plumbing wouldn't work in zero G anyway! Bigboy Anderson: Even I know they have artificial gravity. William Shing: So you're suggesting there is no potential in a totally wireless, pipeless system? William Shing: You'd rather have tubing running all over the ship? William Shing: Blockages. William Shing: Flooding. William Shing: Sewage, spilling out all over the warp core. William Shing: You're telling me that's the way it should be in the 24th Century? Tear Stained sighs. Texter Triste: Well... When you put it that way... William Shing: Thankyou. Bigboy Anderson: I bet the Klingons don't use them. * Oh yes, Sir Ian resigned. He fell out with Boris Johnson. “At a meeting yesterday, the new Mayor made clear [to me], in a very pleasant but determined way, that he wished there to be a change of leadership at the Met.�

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Friday, 3 October

I logged in to Sarah's account today, just for a few minutes, because Classing's on a long weekend in Wales in places where there is no internet (so he claims). It has to be done at least a couple of times a week or messages left for her will start getting capped. Of course, we've unticked all of the friends in her list, so no-one can see when she/we come online. And we've unchecked the 'show in search' box. She has/had a skybox that's set to home, way up at the threshold at 700m. I'm always worried when I have to do the login that I'm going to find someone camped out up there, waiting for me. But so far it's been ok. It's like entering a house. I don't mean going in the skybox is like entering a house (it's a fairly basic affair – a couch, a bed and some snapshot pictures on the wall); it's the access to her inventory which gives that sense of intrusion, of trespass. For example, she was partnered twice, and for each partner there's a folder full of pictures and notecards and the stuff that they played with together. And clothes bought by him. Or with him. Or for him. Neither partnership lasted for very long. One managed to hold from September last year until Christmas (the it's-not-you-it's-me notecard he sent her on Christmas Day is in the folder along with all the rest of his stuff), the other lasted for six or seven weeks I think over April-May (she split up with her RL boyfriend during that period). The folders are like cardboard boxes full of memories, taped up and stored in the attic for safe keeping. Or maybe under the stairs. Of course, the inventory's all been examined in detail – all 15,000-odd items of it – especially the pictures she took

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in the last few weeks. And, obviously, all this stuff has been cross-referenced with the logs from her computer's hard drive. And they say there's nothing to be found in any of it. Nothing. The current theory is she must have used voice for this guy. I find that hard to believe. You'd think there would be a reference of some sort, somewhere in the logs that they were talking in voice (eg, “Let's talk in voice�!), but they say there isn't. Maybe there is, and they've missed it. This isn't like a normal investigation, where you encourage people to remember what they said to who, and when, and where they were and what they were doing when they said it; as far as the text communication is concerned, everything you've ever said and had said to you is recorded, just so long as you keep logs. There is masses and masses and masses of text to wade through. They could have missed it. Masses and masses and masses of text to wade through which, incidentally, could in theory have been tampered with. Although they say her keyboard has only her prints on it. But there's still remote access to rule out. Anyway. The job is to pick up messages, just in case there's someone significant out there who she didn't keep on her friends list who decides to get in touch. It's doubtful now that we're going to discover anyone new, but part of being thorough means being thorough and we'll keep on checking until we have a reason not to. The messages are from an ever dwindling group of friends we already know about. Fond, anxious, sometimes tearful messages, sometimes desperate messages. I feel helpless when I read them. Perhaps there will come a time when we can tell them what has happened to her. They deserve to know. If it were down to me, in fact, I'd tell them right now. I've

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asked Oxford several times why it is we're playing it this way when it's public knowledge what happened to her in real (especially given the press coverage). His replies vary. Some days he tells me if Sarah had wanted her SL friends to know her RL identity then she'd have told them – and I do respect that. Sometimes he asserts that there are key strategic advantages to keeping things quiet, and I guess I can see that point in theory although I really don't expect any advantage to be gleaned in this case. Not really. Especially not with Classing on the case. Some days, however, he just reminds me that it's not my decision to make. My guess is that it's all and it's none of these things. My guess is that the nub of it is complete confusion. After all, there is no rule book for this sort of case. There is no policy. There are no helpful guidelines. This is entirely unexplored territory. I wish it were the case that I could just log on and leave things as they were, but I can't even do that. A couple of Sarah's friends have now started leaving notecards for her instead of messages. I accept them, of course; I need to see what they've written. I make sure the sender isn't online first. When they log in next, they'll see Erica Levelbest accepted your inventory offer. So my actions are making things worse. And today, the consequence arrived: Sarah's first angry message. Erica. If you don't want to spend time with us any more then fine. I don't know what it is we're supposed to have done. It would have been nice if you could have taken the time to resolve this with us, but clearly you just don't give a damn.

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If only they knew. * William Shing: What do you mean, you prefer VHS? Have you any idea what you're saying? Tear Stained: I'm just saying it's more convenient. William Shing: How can videotape be more convenient than DVD? How?! Texter Triste: I think she has a point. Tear Stained: You stick a video in the machine and you don't have to wade through all the copyright stuff, right? Tear Stained: How dare they make me wait a mandatory 30 seconds to read a copyright notice *and then* *another* 30 seconds to watch the video of the guy nicking stuff from market stalls. Texter Triste: hahaha William Shing: So that's, like 60 seconds in total, right? William Shing: I'm willing to *bet* you spend at least that amount of time rewinding the videotape at the start of your viewing session. Tear Stained: Nope. I rewind at the end. William Shing: So that's at least 60 seconds at the *end* of your viewing session. William Shing: It's still your precious time, right? Tear Stained: Doesn't bother me. I'm off doing other things by then. I'm cleaning my teeth. William Shing: So, for the sake one *one minute* of your time, you tolerate vastly inferior picture and sound quality? Tear Stained: 'Tolerate' it? I don't 'tolerate' it. Tear Stained: I watch it for the story, for the acting. Tear Stained: Video delivers everything I need.

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Tear Stained: And actually... Tear Stained: that 'one minute' happens to be a minute that belongs to me; I'll not have you depreciating it's value, thankyouverymuch. Tear Stained: Why should I have to sit through a minute of messages aimed at people who *don't* buy the DVD's when I *do*? Texter Triste: So how do you get hold of films on VHS in this day and age? Tear Stained: My mate copies his DVD's onto tape for me. Texter Triste: hahaha Texter Triste: Anti-piracy creates piracy. Tear Stained: Well, of course it does. William Shing: Whatever. By the way, it's DVDs, not DVD's. Tear Stained: Eh? William Shing: You don't need an apostrophe. Tear Stained: Of course you do, silly; it's an abbreviation! William Shing: What? *What*? Texter Triste backs quietly towards the door. * Sarah Palin and Joe Biden debated last night without any major incident. I note that Palin managed to get parents watching their kid's soccer game into the discussion before the third minute was up. Good for her. The Home Secretary is pissed off with Boris Johhnson for getting rid of Sir Ian and the Chief Constable of West Yorkshire has said 'noooo thankyouverymuch' to the suggestion he'll take over as MetCom. Understandable. A car bomb in South Ossetia

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killed seven Russian soldiers: Georgia has claimed that Russia was behind it to give them an excuse to delay withdrawing its troops; Russia has claimed that Georgia, was behind it to undermine the ceasefire agreement. The US launched a missile strike on a Pakistani village near the Afghan border, killing nine people, “including suspected foreign militantsâ€?. And Peter Mandelson returned to the Labour party inner circle to take up the position of Business Secretary. The House of Representatives passed the bail-out bill earlier today. The Amercian government is taking on all the bad debt of its nation. Apparently this could be the beginning of the end of the credit crunch. By which they mean they reckon all the banks will start lending money again. I don't understand why the media aren't able to explain any of this in a manner that actually makes sense. They just talk about the government 'buying up bad debts' and assume we all understand what that means. Why do they do that? Over breakfast, the same programme that sweeps through the whole Bush-Congress-Senate-Bill-Representatives-McCainObama-Creditcrunch-Recession thing in about three sentences then asks, for its phone-in competition, Which well known American actor is famous for films such as 'Dirty Harry' and 'Unforgiven'? A) Clint Westwood B) Clint Eastwood or C) Clint Southward (Calls will be charged at ÂŁ1 per minute from a land line; Mobile rates will vary; please ask permission from the bill payer, etc). What type of person is it they imagine is watching? Could it be the case that they don't actually understand these things themselves? Or is it just that actually explaining it properly will take up so much time they won't have time to run the phone-in

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competition? This is how I understand it. I'm a bank, I take money that people have given me to look after and I lend it to other people. The interest I charge the people I lend to is more than the interest I pay the people who gave me their money to look after and I pocket the difference. So I lend ÂŁ100 to Tommy, but Tommy's not able to keep up his repayments. Meanwhile, loads of the other people I lent money to also can't pay it back to me and the pot of cash I take from to lend to people is starting to run low. So I borrow money from another bank to top it up, thinking that eventually Tommy and all the others will be able to pay me back. The problem is, it's not just me that Tommy's been borrowing from and now he's gone and got himself into a bit of a state: over the last few years, in fact, buying things on credit has become a bit of a habit for him and pretty much the rest of the nation's population. So now me and the rest of the banks are thinking, oh fuckety fuckety fuck, now we're in the shit. Quick, check how much cash we've got left and, for Christ's sake, don't give any more of it away. If our savers start turning up wanting to withdraw their money and find out we haven't got it any more we'll be well and truly bolloxed. Meanwhile, people stop buying things, because they can't afford it any more because they can't get loans to line their pockets with. Profits start to fall... workers get made redundant... people have even less money to spend because now they have no loan *and* no salary... Profits fall even further... So, to stop this all from happening, the government decides it will *buy* the debts off the banks. They come to me and say, That hundred quid that Tommy owes you - we'll give you ÂŁ90 for that. So I don't get my ÂŁ100 back, but I do get something. And now I've got cash in my pot to lend out

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again... And to buy up all these debts will apparently cost the US Government $700bn. Ok. Fine. I get why they're doing it, but there's just one thing I don't understand: where do they get the $700bn from? Is it just lying around? Is it some sort of emergency fund? Are they going to borrow it from someone - and if so, who, given that apparently nobody is lending money any more? Are they going to have to make massive cutbacks, and – if so – is this going to be the curse of the next administration (and the next one, and the next one...)? I get that it's going to cost the tax payer, but when – and how – will the money be extracted? I don't understand it, and I don't understand why people who do understand it don't try to explain it. And I don't understand why more people like me aren't demanding that they do this. * I just sit at my space at the counter. And I talk and I watch. And I talk. And I watch. They're right to start asking questions, I guess. I am here a lot. I'm some kind of SL bar bum. But that's ok, because people do do that. And it's not like I'm here all the time. In SL, that is. There's a Redclaw group, but I haven't yet joined it. I don't think it's active any more in any case. I think it might have been started up by the previous owner. There are four stools at the counter and one at the end. Sort of leather finish, I suppose. In real life, let's face it, it'd be some sort of fake leatherette. Probably split in at least a couple of places, with yellowed foam peeking out. Perhaps some silver duck tape covering one of the splits on the

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edges, or a big cross of it over the cushion in the middle, where successive arses have worn it down until it split. It's funny: that's how I think of Redclaw most times, when I'm outworld and wondering what I'm missing – not as the collection of painted prims it is, but as the place I imagine it to be based on. I imagine cigarette smoke in the air, mixed with the smell of frying fat. I imagine a locomotive rumble spilling in from the platforms every time a door gets opened. We *do* have bottles of brown sauce on the counter, but I like to imagine their tips are caked with congealed sauce, and that the bottles leave your fingers slightly sticky. Henry, when he's here, stands on the other side of the counter, usually in some sort of bar tending animation. Sometimes he cleans glasses, sometimes he wipes the counter, sometimes he mops the floor. He's usually wearing something becoming of his place back there – he has a blue apron that goes over most of his outfits when he's serving – but every now and again he'll turn up in some other outfit or rez a novelty costume to get a few laughs. Last week, he put on a chicken outfit for half an hour, which was a good 25 minutes longer than it was actually funny for. The counter is this sort of Formica affair, a pale yellow when you look at it from a distance, a delicate yellow-onwhite criss-cross lattice when you look close up. I'm certain I've seen that exact surface on counters in real life many times before. It's a beautiful texture, by which I mean it's a very well-made texture, not that I'm claiming retro Formica is any kind of treat on the eye. It's a beautiful texture because it's perfectly seamless. It looks like it's been sourced from the real thing somewhere, but how the original photographer did that I just don't know. To get something that intricate to tile that well, s/he must have been some

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distance away with a good zoom – and that will either have involved mounting a piece of the original surface on a wall somewhere and standing a distance off with a tripod or it would have involved cutting a hole in the ceiling and taking the picture from the next floor up! And then there's light. And then there's reflection. And then there's those tiny imperfections you hardly notice when you're looking at just the one tile, but which look like a chessboard the moment you zoom out on a tiled prim. Indoor textures are a nightmare to produce. But the formica on the counter at Redclaw is perfect. And that's interesting, because I still imagine it, nonetheless, as having the occasional tea stain on it and granules of sugar scattered here and there. If there were actual flaws, I would think of those, I'm sure, but their absence makes me conjure up imagined ones. Bill sits on an extra stool at the end of the counter, if it's free. If it's not, he usually stands right next to whoever it is that's sitting there (usually a newbie, unless it's one of us intentionally winding him up); he doesn't say anything, of course, but the glower is there, and all over him. The pose ball on that stool has him reading an imaginary newspaper and Bill has repeatedly asked Henry to either get a newspaper for it or to change the animation. Henry says it did come with a broadsheet you could rez but it looked all wrong because the paper wasn't floppy enough. He keeps on saying he'll look into it and everyone knows he never will. I guess it's a greasy spoon so far, and yet I just don't think of it that way. On the other side of the painted metal doors (I think of the paint as flaking), the platform is long and gloomy and... grimy. The asphalt is spotted with discarded gum and luggage trolleys loiter here and there. One with an

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old suitcase standing upright, with a label that says 'Le Havre'. A single train – with a European electric locomotive, French I think – stands empty and waiting. You can board it and walk through four carriages before the parcel runs out. Sometimes people go there for privacy, sit at a seats in the far carriage, where a pair of pose balls enable you to sit looking eagerly at your partner, your fingers locked together on the table between you. I understand that a different type of interactive animation entirely was once to be found on a pair of pose balls in the guard's van, between the luggage sacks... So this is a station café. In theory, people pass through it on their way to other places. It makes me think of Nighthawks, in that respect – that sense of people on business, passing through; stopping for coffee, for late night discussion, or just for a place to prop their elbows and stare at themselves in a distant mirror awhile. I love that painting. I read on Wikipedia that it's meant to portray loneliness, yet somehow I've always found it uplifting to look at. And Redclaw reminds me of travel, of distant places waiting to receive me. Yes, I suppose travel can be lonely. But it's a different sort of loneliness. I say that, but do I really stop to appreciate how narrow my experience is? Have I ever had to wave goodbye to someone at a railway station, like a son going to fight in a war? Have I ever watched a train pulling away and had to fix a face through a dirty window in my mind, just in case I never see it again? There are a couple of camping spots at Redclaw. A mopping animation between the tables – the one that Tear originally thought I was in Redclaw to use – pays two Lindens per twenty minutes, whilst the ticket office post

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looking onto the platform – a knitting animation there, believe it or not – pays three (because it's more solitary). Interestingly, the mop spot is nearly always taken, whilst the better paying ticket booth is regularly vacant. All but two of the tables in the café have their chairs upside down on them, and the mopping animee wanders around their bases in a lazy circle (and I sometimes imagine him to be whistling). Perhaps that's another reason why the diner reminds me of Nighthawks – it looks like it's night time there, even when it's day. It looks like it's nearly empty, even when it's full. A few of the regulars have set their home point to here. Those who don't have homes of their own, that is. Which includes me; as it happens, I do quite like the idea of having my own place one day, but of course it would be disadvantageous for me to do so at the moment. Bill always rezzes into his spot just outside the platform door, because he likes to “actually enter through the entrance.” He stays most evenings for an hour or so and then heads off for his Star Fleet role play. I'm pretty certain that Tear has this place set as home also; she's on my friends list and she always appears here – in her could of pink, swirling particles – whenever I see her come online. Then there's Armstrong, who always appears on top of a table in the far corner at precisely 7pm SLT and always leaves at precisely 8pm. Most nights I'm in bed by seven, but not always; if it's ten or fifteen minutes short of three in the morning and I'm still online, I'll usually try and stay the extra time so that I can see him. Soma adores him, but she's UK as well so they don't get to spar together all that often. It's spectacular when it happens though. Soma Supercollider: Talking of nothing to say...

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Soma Supercollider: do you remember this guy Solihull? Armstrong Seventy: hmmmmm Armstrong Seventy: Is this someone I met? Soma Supercollider: Solihull Laptop. Soma Supercollider: We met him though Wax, I'm sure. Texter Triste: I think I heard that name; he's a builder, right? Soma Supercollider: Yes. Armstrong Seventy: Ok, well I never heard of him before. Armstrong Seventy: What about him? Soma Supercollider: Well, I couldn't sleep this morning... Soma Supercollider: so I came on early... Soma Supercollider: to find Solihull all over me. Armstrong Seventy: Really? Is this someone you know well? Soma Supercollider: He tries to get me to dance with him and then do unspeakable things. Armstrong Seventy looks this guy up. Armstrong Seventy: Oh wait, I think I do recall something about this guy... I recognise the picture of the sunflower on his picks. Soma Supercollider: Yes! Armstrong Seventy: Was he drunk and randy? Soma Supercollider: Yes, very fucking randy indeed. Soma Supercollider: I had to deflect his advances by talking quite obsessively about biscuits. Armstrong Seventy: hahaha Soma Supercollider: I've found the topic to be like a bucket of cold water. Armstrong Seventy: lol Soma Supercollider: My gfs and I are biscuit fanatics, actually.

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Armstrong Seventy: Biscuits are strictly no-go for me, I'm afraid. Soma Supercollider: Really? Wheat intolerance? Armstrong Seventy: No. Armstrong Seventy: Crumbs are an issue where I work. Soma Supercollider: Riiight Armstrong Seventy: Also, addictive qualities, I guess... Armstrong Seventy: eat one; eat twenty... Armstrong Seventy: In fact, I consider party-rings to be just a notch away from classification as a Class A narcotic. Soma Supercollider: I'm blessed with the ability to eat as much as I want and still maintain the lithe, tight figure of a young dolphin. Armstrong Seventy: You sicken me. Soma Supercollider: I know... it's all too perfect. Soma Supercollider: By 'party rings'... Soma Supercollider: I assume you mean those very thin, dry ring-like biscuits with the acid pink, ultra-hard, synthetic tasting icing. Armstrong Seventy starts to salivate. Soma Supercollider: They're an abomination, Seventy. Armstrong Seventy initiates his self-help mantra. Soma Supercollider: That biscuit says a lot about you... Soma Supercollider: Biscuits are like shoes... they are the mirror of the soul. Soma Supercollider: I can tell anything about a person by the type of biscuits they favour. Armstrong Seventy: There are lots of biscuits I favour... Armstrong Seventy: but party rings.... Armstrong Seventy goes back into his self-help mantra. Soma Supercollider: It's like reading tea leaves. Armstrong Seventy: So what is your preferred biscuit?

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Soma Supercollider: Oh, 70... don't play the ignorant... Soma Supercollider: What do you THINK it is? Armstrong Seventy: Am I supposed to know this one? Soma Supercollider: Have a guess... Armstrong Seventy: right right Armstrong Seventy: Ok. Armstrong Seventy: Biscuit. Armstrong Seventy: Soma. Soma Supercollider: You get 3 goes. Armstrong Seventy: Roger that. Soma Supercollider: You guess right, you get a slow dance... Soma Supercollider: guess wrong and it's strictly ballroom. Armstrong Seventy: Gotcha Soma Supercollider: I'm sure this is a hustle, because it should be blazingly obvious. Armstrong Seventy: This *is* a biscuit I'm actually going to have heard of, right? It's not some fucking Marks and Spencer brand or something, is it? Soma Supercollider: It's the only biscuit to have won my heart. Soma Supercollider: That's all you need to know. Armstrong Seventy: Ok. Armstrong Seventy: 3 guesses, you say? Soma Supercollider: Yes. Armstrong Seventy: Ok. Soma Supercollider: Don't make a drama of it. Armstrong Seventy: Number one... Armstrong Seventy: pink wafers Soma Supercollider: hahahaha Soma Supercollider: VERY good. but not correct.

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Soma Supercollider: VERY good. Armstrong Seventy: Damn! Soma Supercollider: They're actually my second favourite. Armstrong Seventy: And you have the audacity to criticise me for party rings?! Soma Supercollider: Let's not get into this... Armstrong Seventy: Ok Armstrong Seventy: Number two... Armstrong Seventy: hmmmmmmmmm Armstrong Seventy studies Soma.... Armstrong Seventy: Garibaldi Soma Supercollider: LOL Soma Supercollider: Those little shitters? Soma Supercollider: Forget it. Armstrong Seventy: damn damn damn Soma Supercollider: One last stab, 70. Make it count. Armstrong Seventy: Not even close that time? Soma Supercollider: No, your early promise came to naught. Armstrong Seventy: Ok Armstrong Seventy: Ok Armstrong Seventy: Final go... Armstrong Seventy: hmmmmmm... Armstrong Seventy thinks, 'if Soma were a biscuit, what would she be?' Armstrong Seventy has a flash of inspiration Armstrong Seventy: I know it! Armstrong Seventy: By God, this *has* to be it!!! Armstrong Seventy: Are you ready for this? Soma Supercollider: Yes, hit me. Armstrong Seventy: Number three.....

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Armstrong Seventy: Gingerbread man! Soma Supercollider: Fool! Armstrong Seventy: DAMN! Armstrong Seventy: I was *so* sure! Soma Supercollider: That's not a biscuit, Seventy, it's a confectionery. Armstrong Seventy: Oh come on. Soma Supercollider: Fortunately for you, my boy... Soma Supercollider: that nulls that particular round, and you now have another stab. Armstrong Seventy: Ah right, ok. Armstrong Seventy: I won't argue the semantics of the biscuit/confectionery distinction in that case Soma Supercollider: Well, you don't need to... Soma Supercollider: because it's confectionery. Armstrong Seventy: You know what made me think of gingerbread man? the smarties buttons... Soma Supercollider: You're overthinking it, 70. Armstrong Seventy: Actually, I suppose that does rather play into your confectionery argument. Soma Supercollider: Simplify, Seventy. Soma Supercollider: What does your heart tell you? Soma Supercollider: BE the biscuit. Armstrong Seventy taps his fingers on his laptop, studying Soma... Armstrong Seventy: Ok Armstrong Seventy: Final go. Armstrong Seventy: I'm going to go with... Armstrong Seventy: Custard cream. Soma Supercollider: Oh Seventy... Soma Supercollider: what an awful disappointment. Armstrong Seventy: Not custard cream?

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Soma Supercollider: No, of course not. Soma Supercollider: It's chocolate hob-nob. Armstrong Seventy: Good God in heaven, Soma, what in blazes do you want to have doing with those dreadful things?! Armstrong Seventy: That would never have even *occurred* to me Soma Supercollider: Leave it, 70. Armstrong Seventy wishes he could buy a packet tomorrow... Armstrong Seventy: ...and sling them under a bus. Soma Supercollider: hahahaha Soma Supercollider: If you don't like them, you are a fucking heathen. Armstrong Seventy: lmao Soma Supercollider: You turn your back on probably THE only great British biscuits, in favour of... Soma Supercollider: those little SLUTS... Armstrong Seventy: LMAO Soma Supercollider: Those little fucking pink whores. Armstrong Seventy: I actually have tears in my eyes here Soma Supercollider: Seventy, this is a huge let-down Soma Supercollider: I didn't think in a million years you wouldn't get it Armstrong Seventy takes deep breaths. Texter Triste: You two are fucking bonkers. * The others seem to come and go. It's difficult to predict when it will be busy here and when it will just be the two or three or four of us. There are never any 'events' at Redclaw

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Station; it's just a place that just is. I suppose this little cafĂŠ isn't all that different from the RL backdrop it depicts: a junction for travellers on their way to or from other things, a passing point, a place to pause in. It's all arbitrary, of course; a via in Second Life can be any place of your choosing and in the vast, vast majority of cases I can't imagine any of us have the faintest idea of the distance in miles from any SL A to any SL B or from any SL B to any SL C. An RL equivalent would be to travel from London to Glasgow and stop off at Dallas on the way. A real station cafĂŠ wouldn't have 'regulars', I suppose. Perhaps the loneliest guy in one of those would be the one behind the counter, surrounded every day by people he'll never see again. Here at Redclaw there are familiar faces every day; yet still there is this sense of satellite, of distance, of exclusion from all the other stuff going on, that I am not a part of. Am I the guy with his back to the viewer in the painting? As this little room spills its light across the platform outside, is mine the shadow that everyone is now accustomed to seeing?

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Saturday, 4 October

Things in Second Life you wouldn't imagine working, but which do #8: Dancing. I danced 'Slow Dance version 4' with Stop this morning. It was most unexpected. I was camming around the station and found her in the far corner, facing the wall and out of her animation overrider. The isolated location, her position, the absence of the normal hand-onhips pose made her look unhappy. I opened up an IM box to ask her if she was ok, then decided to walk over before initiating. It seemed a more caring thing to do. Which is interesting. The more we try to mimic RL ways of doing things in SL, the more we seem to respond to them as though they are RL occurrences. Sending an IM from an out-of-sight location feels akin to texting, to emailing, to phoning somebody at best. Walking up to someone and typing in public chat is a bit like normal conversation, I suppose. But walking up close to someone and then entering into IM is a different level of intimacy altogether. Like talking softly to someone, like whispering, like murmuring things into their ear. At my PC, I click a button and then press a few arrow keys, and the result is I communicate interest in a far more tender manner. It's a hard thing for me to get my head around, yet it appears very much worth the investment. Such as it is. Stop was staring at a blank piece of wall, in front of which were a couple of benches. I wondered if she was deep in IM or AFK. I asked her if everything was ok and, for a minute or so, I got no reply. Then she said, “I'm fine, Texter. I'm just a little drained.” “I hope I'm not intruding, then,” I typed.

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“If you had come over here and launched into typical Redclaw conversation,” she answered, “then you would have been intruding. But you didn't.” “Is it anything you'd like to talk about?” “Not really. But thanks for asking.” Things are hard enough to express in words at the best of times, nearly impossible at the worst. We try desperately to compensate through words for the unavailability of physical touch in Second Life: done well, it makes my skin tingle to read. Done badly, and what you're left with is soap opera dialogue: angry, aggressive declarations of love (make her sad and be certain you will be very, very sorry); verse that would make a newsletter poet blush and cringe with embarrassment. In RL, a hug would be probably all that's needed. Seasoned Second Lifers can look down on the use of pose balls to communicate affection or attention, but it's all about the quality and the timing really. So I rezzed a couple of dance balls right there in front of the benches and said, “Come dance with me, Stop.” And she did. Without hesitation. Slow Dance v4 is a work of kinaesthetic beauty. I love its emotional intimacy. We sway together. We lock fingers. We look at each other; we gaze. We embrace. We bury our heads in each other's shoulders. And we hold each other there. It is romantic, but also it's not. It communicates closeness. Which is something I've noticed about SL at its most intimate: through distance, through anonymity, it enables closeness. * Things in Second Life you wouldn't imagine working, and

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which really don't #4: Drinking. Few things look more daft than the full glass of beer being held horizontally when you jump off the drinking animation. By rights, my dry cleaning bill should be horrendous, and I should stink of stale beer. Don't accept beverages. * William Shing: So I went in the ladies toilets today by mistake. Tear Stained: No! Bigboy Anderson: Go Bill! Texter Triste: Ahh, the richness of conversation in SL. William Shing: Look, I could never talk about this sort of stuff with my RL friends. Tear Stained: You *have* RL friends? Texter Triste: So how did you achieve this act of astonishing stupidity? William Shing: I just didn't look properly. William Shing: My stomach was churning... I was practically sprinting! Tear Stained: TMI! William Shing: You expect me to read door signs in that state? William Shing: And you know what? There is nothing in those lavatories that indicates gender. Nothing! Tear Stained: What exactly were you expecting? William Shing: A few pink tiles around the wash basins? William Shing: Some flowers, perhaps? William Shing: A little pot pourri? William Shing: I don't know - something! Tear Stained: I've always found the absence of urinals to

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be a good enough clue for me. William Shing: I was in a hurry! Texter Triste: Wait a minute... you *went* in the ladies toilets today? William Shing: That's what I just said. Texter Triste: So we're not talking in, whoops and out again? William Shing: Did I mention that my stomach was churning? Tear Stained: I think I'm going to be sick. Wiliam Shing: Go ahead, laugh. Tear Staind: I'm really, *really* not laughing. Tear Stained resolves to get some pot pourri or something pink for the Redclaw ladies toilets. Texter Triste: So when *did* you realise what you'd done? William Shing: There were women waiting for a cubical when I came out. Bigboy Anderson pisses himself laughing. Tear Stained: OMG! What did you say? William Shing: What did I say? I made conversation. William Shing: What could I say? Texter Triste: You made *conversation*? Texter Triste: You stuck around to *chat*? William Shing: Only while I washed my hands. Texter Triste: You hung around to *wash* *your* *hands*?! William Shing: What? You want me to leave the room with germs on my hands? Texter Triste: What the hell's the matter with you? Texter Triste: You make a mistake like that you eject! Eject!! EJECT!!!

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Texter Triste: Have you no sense of dignity man? Tear Stained: LMAO William Shing: Have I taught you nothing?! William Shing: Adherence to civilized routine is the only chance we have of dignity in situations such as this. William Shing: If I'd left without washing my hands it would've been the first thing they'd have commented on once the door had swung shut. Texter Triste: ...Eject! William Shing: Why do we have to have separate men's and women's toilets in shopping centres anyway? William Shing: What's the big deal with that? Tear Stained: Once again, I feel compelled to mention urinals. William Shing: If we're in someone's house as a guest, does it bother us that the toilet might have been used recently by someone of the opposite sex? Tear Stained: It's an auditory issue. Tear Stained: You don't have people waiting outside the bathroom listening to your noises when you go in someone's house. William Shing: And it makes a difference the sex of the person listening? Tear Stained: Yes! William Shing: Is genuinely interested. Really? Texter Triste: It's true. Women actually continue conversations in adjacent cubicles. William Shing: Really??!! Tear Stained: What – men don't continue conversations? William Shing: Well... not in cubicles, you don't. William Shing: Mens' room conversations all depends on where in the toilets you are.

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Texter Triste: Absolutely. Texter Triste: Urinal etiquette and cubical etiquette are two different things completely. Tear Stained: They are? Texter Triste: Oh yes. Texter Triste: You can yap away all you want at a urinal. Texter Triste: In fact, not talking at a urinal would be considered quite irregular. William Shing: Well... it *is* different if you're joined by strangers mid-stream... Then the pressure to strike up a conversation is substantially reduced. Texter Triste: Good point. Tear Stained: Wait a minute – you talk to *strangers*? Texter Triste: You don't understand: the urinal experience is custom made for talking to strangers. Tear Stained: How? How? William Shing: Standing side by side with another man and passing water together is a great leveller, my female friend. William Shing: In that moment, it doesn't matter who you are or what you've got. William Shing: You're two men, and that's all that matters. William Shing: You could be standing next to the King of Spain and holding a conversation, and there would be nothing - nothing - untoward about that. Tear Stained: I never realised. William Shing: Oh yes. Texter Triste: Just as soon as you walk out of the toilets, of course, the levelling must stop. William Shing: Naturally. Trying to extend urinal privileges is a big social mistake.

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Tear Stained: Astonishing. Texter Triste: Now, cubical procedure is another matter altogether. William Shing: Wholly a different process. Texter Triste: Totally different. Texter Triste: If verbal communication is the focal point of urinal interaction, then it's non-verbal communication that takes precedence in the cubical. William Shing: Cubical behaviour can be likened, if you will, to the tracking behaviours of hunter killer submarines. Texter Triste: Yes! Bigboy Anderson nods. Tear Stained: I don't understand. Texter Triste: It's all about detection and counterdetection. Texter Triste: Ideally, you should be able to go through the whole process without making a single audible sound. William Shing: Other than the flush. Texter Triste: Other than the flush, naturally. Tear Stained: But that's impossible! Texter Triste: Not if you're skilled enough. Tear Stained: 'Skilled enough'? William Shing: It's all to do with timing and calculation. Texter Triste: Indeed. The hand drier, for instance, is a highly efficient sound masker. Tear Stained: You wait for people to dry their hands before making any noise? Texter Triste: Or a flush. William Shing: A flush has more bass. If you can get a flush it's better. Texter Triste: Except that flushes are generally less common than the hand drier and last for less time.

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William Shing: So you have to prepare for flushes; your timing has to be good. Tear Stained: Prepare? Texter Triste: Be ready. Texter Triste: The moment that chain gets pulled you should be... well, dropping. Tear Stained: Eeeeeeeeewwwwwww. William Shing: The cue I go by is the belt buckle tinkle as the trousers get pulled up. Texter Triste: I think most people use that as their sign. Bigboy Anderson: Yep. me too. Tear Stained: But what if there's just two of you in there in the cubicles - both playing by the same rules? Tear Stained: What if there's nobody outside to make covering noises. Then what? William Shing: Then you have a stand-off situation. Texter Triste: Ah yes. Bigboy Anderson nods. William Shing: And then it's all about who will crack first. Texter Triste: The stand-off is a sport in its own right. Texter Triste: Highly complex. Texter Triste: The variables are endless. Tear Stained: Variables? Texter Triste: Well, firstly there's the time limiting variables that restrict the actual amount of time you can wait in there, such as appointments due or parking tickets running out. Texter Triste: Then there are urgency variables, such as how badly you need to go. Texter Triste: And finally there are the psychological variables, such as how long you personally are prepared to

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wait in a cubicle for someone else to come in and start making some noise. William Shing: Or for the other guy to go first. Texter Triste: The single most skillfull outcome you can achieve in a stand-off is to convince the other player that you're not actually there at all. William Shing: Ah yes, the Silent Gambit. Bigboy Anderson: Yes! Tear Stained is incredulous. The *Silent Gambit*?! Texter Triste: Good name. William Shing: Thanks! Texter Triste: You know a 'Silent Gambit' is in progress when you hear your opponent start pinging. Tear Stained: Pinging? William Shing: Ah yes, I know exactly what you mean. William Shing: Small noises designed to elicit an echoed response, such as a clearing of the throat or a jangling of keys, right? Texter Triste: Exactly. William Shing: Effectively your opponent is saying, "is anybody out there?" Texter Triste: But, of course, you *do not* answer. Texter Triste: If you successfully manage to suppress your natural ping response over several repetitions, your opponent will then go into passive mode... Texter Triste: ...a period of intense listening, during which he tries to detect the slightest sound betraying your presence. Tear Stained: Why not just look under the dividers for tell-tale feet? William Shing: Oh dear Lord... Texter Triste: So innocent, so na誰ve. William Shing: Try to spot the dignity in all of this.

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Tear Stained: Oh I'm trying. Texter Triste: You don't understand, Tear... Texter Triste: At no point during any of this should you ever, under any circumstances, make it obvious that you are monitoring. Tear Stained: So let me get this straight – standing in an open plan area with your genitals in your hands is nothing to get self-conscious about... Tear stained: ...whereas sitting in a locked cubical you become obsessed with every aspect of your auditory presence. Texter Triste: Yep, that's pretty much how it works. William Shing: Sounds about right to me. Texter Triste: Well summarised. William Shing: Unless, of course, you're a cubical guy. Texter Triste: Oh yeah, those guys have their own set of rules. William Shing: You know something I just don't get? William Shing: What's the deal with the double door system on the ladies? Tear Stained: The 'double doors'? William Shing: You know – the whole airlock arrangement. William Shing: Why is it necessary? William Shing: I mean, I understand why it's necessary for the gents – there's men wandering around in there with penises in their hands... William Shing: But why do women need it? William Shing: What are you all doing in there that we're not supposed to see? William Shing: Are you worried we might see you washing you hands or something?

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Texter Triste: You know what annoys me on those airlocks? The slow closers. William Shing: Oh yeah, I know what you mean. Texter Triste: You get a couple of those and a badly positioned mirror and you might just as well have the urinals right out there in the open. Texter Triste: Why the hell can't people reliably make a door that closes in a reasonable time? Tear Stained: Since, as we know, most women hang around outside of mens' toilets hoping to catch a glimpse of a guy urinating. Texter Triste: These are programmed responses, Tear. Texter Triste: Guys have been doing this since huntergatherer times. William Shing: You know, all this talk... Texter Triste: Yeah, me too, actually... Tear Stained: Oh for crying out loud. William Shing: Back in five... make it ten. Texter Triste: brb

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Sunday, 5 October

Things in Second Life you wouldn't imagine working, but which do #9: Grouping. Actually, that doesn't really surprise me at all. Of course it doesn't. As you know, grouping is a fundamental human behaviour and we're pre-programmed to do it. But when I mention the whole grouping thing to outworlders, they seem to be surprised. I suppose they imagine that we're all just playing some sort of computer game, like the shoot-'em-ups you're always seeing advertised on TV for the Xbox or PlayStation. It's the whole graphics thing, I think. If it's on the computer and it has graphics then it must be a game. People seem to 'get' the social nature of instant messaging software and chat rooms and internet forums more easily. No graphics. Adults know that teenagers like to chat with their friends in MSN (they know this because they're terrified that the 13 year old lad who wants to meet up with their son in real life is actually a 57 year old guy somewhere). And they've worked out that Yahoo! enables them to speak with distant relatives somewhere. But Second Life, they assume, is just another sort of game. You guide your character around a landscape. You have to use the 'arrow keys'. The social layers – perhaps 'dimensions' is a better word – that the 3D environment adds in are quite substantial. We're always trying to add in layers where our communication is restricted. In text, we add emoticons – little sideways faces of colons and parenthesis construction – to add a very thin non-verbal layer that would be obvious if we were communicating in speech. “You are an idiot :)” is quite

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different from just “You are an idiot”. We use capital letters when we REALLY want to make a point or to SHOUT AT SOMEONE. Or we asterisk emphasis words: “What are you *really* trying to say?” and so on. We use LOL and LMAO and ROFL and ROFLMAO to indicate our degree of at-the-keyboard amusement. And when we leave the keyboard for a few moments we say 'be right back' – or brb – because we don't want our friends to feel like they're being ignored if they type something to us and then don't get a reply for a while. We put ourselves in our respondents' shoes. We try to anticipate their needs as best we can. We try to work around the restrictions of text. Of course, some are more skilled than others. So Second Life adds extra social layers. It fills in more blanks. It makes more contexts possible. If I'm too shy to contribute in a chat room or discussion forum, nobody will even know that I am there; in SL, however, my avatar is there, visible, hovering on the periphery for all to see. People can ask me if I need help. People can invite me to join in. People can ask me to take a seat. It sounds bizarre to the uninitiated, I realise that, but think about it: being asked to take a seat in real life is often an informal way of saying to somebody, “why don't you stay awhile?” For the visitor, it's a way of judging how welcome you are. There is no equivalent to this in text chat. People could say it, I suppose, but there would then be no method for determining whether the visitor does actually sit or not. After all, refusing a seat carries its own non-verbal message! Let's have this discussion in the office. You move from one SL location to another and it of course changes nothing. A conversation in IM is just as confidential if it's held in a

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crowded room as it is if it's held in a 'private' area. But the context changes. It communicates that the nature of the conversation is more formal, and that you now have the undivided attention of the person you're talking to. And it communicates an unspoken message to onlookers: it tells them 'Do not disturb'. Every now and again a couple of the 'customers' step outside of the café at Redclaw and stand together for a while on the platform. It's a universally understood signal that privacy is needed (and also a universally understood starting gun for the gossip machine to swing into action). The audience effect. And people can act in numbers. People can sit and listen to a performance – live music, a poetry recital, stand-up comedy; some might say you only get the same experience as you might do listening to something live on the radio, but that's not true. On the radio, do you get to IM other listeners? Some might say you could arrange to listen to something at the same time as an MSN buddy and talk about it that way, which is fine; but could you ever meet new friends doing it that way? And, on the radio, do you get to talk to the performer afterwards? So Second Life adds extra social layers. The things we do in the social world are that much easier to do in SL, and one of the most important things we do in the social world – perhaps the most important thing, as far as our evolved design is concerned – is group. * I'm looking forward to logging on later. I wonder if Stop will be on. Thinking about her makes me feel odd – happy, peaceful, but impatient to see her again. I have no idea what

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I'll say to her. Or why I want to say anything at all. Our dance has changed the way I think of her, but I'm unable to describe how. It's very strange. Sort of disconcerting. I wonder if she feels differently about me too? I remember once walking past a colleague at work and feeling like just that. If I recall correctly, she was crouching down, getting something out of the bottom of a cupboard. I walked past her... and somehow I experienced her in a completely different way than I was used to. It was something about her body that struck me, but it was nothing to do with her figure or her pose. There was no exposed flesh or exclusive viewpoints. She was reaching into a far corner and twisted as I passed to give me more room. She might have said something, but nothing out of the ordinary. I didn't touch her as I walked by – there was no brushing – and neither did I sense any scent that I had never smelled before. Even so, for the next month or so she was a changed person to me. I'd spend the entire weekend looking forward to seeing her at her desk, and when I was at work I'd dream up as many excuses as possible to drop by, until I was embarrassed that it was becoming too obvious. And then, just as suddenly as it had started, it stopped. Completely. It is a mystery, how we experience one another sometimes. * The German government announced today a £40bn bail-out for one of the country's biggest banks, Hypo Real Estate. In France, BNP Paribas is going to take over the Fortis bank, which is also in trouble. This comes about a week after the nationalisation of the Bradford & Bingley's mortgage arm here in the UK (at a cost

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of £14bn), three weeks after the merger of Halifax Bank of Scotland with Lloyds TSB after HBOS's share price plummeted suddenly – a merger which created the UK's biggest bank and which would ordinarily be opposed by government for reasons of competition (but Gordon Brown gave it all his blessing). Like Halifax, Bradford & Bingley, if I recall correctly, used to be a building society. Quick check. Yes. De-mutualised in 2000, after the members took a vote. I remember that period. The de-mutualisation of all those building societies back then had everyone flush with cash from the windfall payments they got. I actually voted no back then when the Nationwide Building Society put its members to the vote, and I think everyone was surprised when the motion failed. I'm very glad that it did. Nationwide is now the UK's biggest building society and, from what I can gather, has acted responsibly in its lending all the way through the lending debarcle which has brought us to the mess we are in at the moment. So it's exposure to all this is minimal. My savings should be safe. But wait. Now I've come across an article from last week which states that the interest on the £14bn the government has stumped up will have to be paid by “all firms that take savers' money, including the 59 building societies.” What?! The Treasury estimates that the interest will add up to £450m during 2009, £81m of which will be for the building societies to pay. What?! The director general of the building societies' trade association said, “It is galling that those institutions that behaved prudently in the housing market upswing are now being called upon to pay some of the bills of those institutions that were far less prudent.” Yes. Just a little. I'm stunned. And I don't understand it. And I don't understand why people who do understand it don't try to

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explain it. * Fuck. Second Life is down. Logins are failing and the website has the Second Life Offline for Database Maintenance or Update message. No blog page or anything to say what the problem is or when they hope it'll be resolved. What was it someone was saying the other day? Apparently, the Lindens used to be much better at keeping people informed about stuff, but then they moved all the information about the grid status into a separate blog from the one they used to make announcements about SL events and new features. It was Henry, I think, who told me that the status entries in the original blog used to get locked down for comments so that residents couldn't flame, but when they did this the residents just flamed the announcements entries instead. So they moved the status stuff onto the SL Grid website, where they were effectively harder to locate. And still kept them locked, of course. But ever since, the entries on the main blog seem to have become fewer and fewer still. For the last few days, whenever I've checked, it's been the same blog entry from last Monday at the top where some new Linden guy talks about all the fantastic things that have been achieved in his four months at Linden. One entry for almost a whole week. Apparently, there used to be stuff up almost every day. Apparently, there was some guy called Torley who used to make fantastic videos every week and release them there. Then again, apparently Second Life used to fall over a lot more than it does now. I'd rather have the grid back on than blog entries any day. So what do I do now? Is this going to

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be a few minutes or has my whole evening been taken out? I feel restless. I feel agitated. I feel... angry. I can't remember the last time I spent an evening outside of SL, although it can't have been more than a few weeks ago. We're talking August, right? What did I used to do on a Sunday evening? Dear God, am I going to have to watch TV? More than anything, I keep on thinking about how I was hoping to see Stop again this evening. I feel cheated. Which is ridiculous. But I wonder if she feels cheated too?

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Monday, 6 October

Today was 'Meltdown Monday'. Shares plummeted across the world. In a single day, £93.4bn was wiped off the value of UK shares alone, making this our biggest point slide since the stock market crash of 1987. According to one web page on the BBC website, that is. “London's key UK share index lost 7.85% - its biggest percentage fall since 1987” is what it says there. On another page, however, on the same website it says, “The FTSE 100, which was launched in 1984, fell 391.1 points, or 7.85%, to close at 4,589.2. [...] In terms of points, Monday's fall was bigger than the slides seen in the wake of the September 11 attacks on the US and the 1987 stock market crash.” So one page says the fall was not as serious as Black Monday, another says it was worse. The same website. I emailed the BBC about it. Why don't people try to explain this stuff properly? Why? In Paris, the Cac-40 suffered its largest fall on record. The situation was so bad in Iceland, trading in the country's three largest banks – Kaupthing, Landsbanki and Glitnir – was actually suspended so that emergency legislation could be drafted in an attempt to avoid national bankruptcy. In an effort to boost confidence and present unity, every European Union leader has signed the following statement: "All the leaders of the European Union make clear that each of them will take whatever measures are necessary to maintain the stability of the financial system - whether through liquidity support through central banks, action to deal with individual banks or enhanced depositor protection schemes. While no depositors in our countries' banks have lost any money, we

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will continue to take the necessary measures to protect both the system and individual depositors. In taking these measures, European leaders acknowledge the need for close coordination and cooperation." Why are they so scared? I read somewhere it's all about averting 'capitulation' – the point at which investors will do anything to get rid of their stock and sell it at any price. A point of no return. A genuine meltdown. * At Redclaw, there was no sign of Stop this evening. That doesn't mean she wasn't on, of course. Since she's not on my friends list, it's not possible to tell without firing off a longdistance IM. And you only do LDIMs for people you know well. It's just good manners. Texter Triste: Is there a protocol for friending? Tear Stained: A protocol? Bigboy Anderson: A *protocol*? Texter Triste: Why do people repeat stuff in SL like that when all they have to do is re-read what I already wrote? Tear Stained: What do you mean, a protocol? Texter Triste: A protocol! Texter Triste: A process! Texter Triste: An accepted manner in which something is done. Bigboy Anderson: No protocol, buddy. Bigboy Anderson: Except I never ask for friendship. Bigboy Anderson: I accept or reject, never ask. Tear Stained sighs. Tear Stained: You are *such* a bullshitter, Big.

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Tear Stained: There's no protocol, Texter. Tear Stained: If you want friendship, just ask :) Texter Triste: So people don't get funny about it? Tear Stained: Why would people get funny about it? Texter Triste: I dunno. Texter Triste: Because they don't want to be friends with you? Tear Stained: Well it's not like an open door invitation, if that's what you mean. Tear Stained: And make sure it is actually someone you know. Tear Stained: Friending on first contact is *very* poor decorum. Texter Triste: See? Texter Triste: That's what I'm talking about! Texter Triste: Protocol! Tear Stained: Yeah, but that's just common sense. Texter Triste: Doesn't it get hard to keep track of whether your *real* friends are online or not if you have a screen full of stuff going on about your distance friends? Tear Stained: lol Tear Stained: You're over-thinking. Texter Triste: Am I? Texter Triste: *Am I*? Tear Stained: In my case, it's not just so that I can see whether they're online or not, but so that they can see whether *I'm* online or not. Texter Triste: Oh yes, of course. Texter Triste: But doesn't that mean you just get bombarded with IMs all the time? Tear Stained: Kinda. Tear Stained: I close them down straight away when I'm

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not working, though. Texter Triste: Right, right. Tear Stained: Well, most of them :) Bigboy Anderson keeps meaning to ask you for a notecard. Tear Stained: Fuck off. Tear Stained: So who do you want to friend? Do we know her? Texter Triste: Oh please. Tear Stained: hahaha Texter Triste: Mind you, I guess it does sort of feel like I'm opening myself up to a formal rejection. Tear Stained: Whoever it is, they won't say no. Tear Stained: If they really don't want you on their list, they'll say yes and delete you once you've gone offline. Bigboy Anderson nods. Texter Triste: Thanks, that's so reassuring. Tear Stained: Oh, you have that many friends do you, Big? Tear Stained doubts Big even has a scroll bar on his friends list. Bigboy Anderson *so* has a scroll bar. Texter Triste doesn't have a scroll bar :( Tear Stained: Yeah, but you're still new, sweetie. Tear Stained: Big and me have been around for ages. Tear Stained: Relatively speaking. Tear Stained: Hey Candle :) Bigboy Anderson: Ear! Candlewax Merciful: Hey guys. Texter Triste: Hey Wax. Tear Stained: You ok, sweetie? Candlewax Merciful: Not really.

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Candlewax Merciful: I lost my job today. So Wax was in banking. Bigboy and I didn't get to hear any of the wheres or whos; she and Tear went out onto the platform to have the discussion in IM that Wax told us she wasn't yet ready to have with anyone she knew in real life. Distance brings closeness. They stood there for a while whilst Bigboy and I pretended to be busy in our own IMs in order to avoid having to talk to each other. After about thirty minutes, Tear disappeared in her swirl of particles, and Wax went seconds later.

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Tuesday, 7 October

I use three categories for Redclaw visitors: 'Regulars', 'Occasionals' and 'One timers'. I think they speak for themselves. It's the Occasionals I'm most interested in, but I'm not ruling out any of the regulars and I'm particularly interested in establishing just how recent a regular they actually are. A week in Second Life can be a very long time. Oxford asked me to update him on my progress today. I read through some of the notes I have on each of the occasionals. I could sense his disdain. And his helplessness. And he doesn't like that this has become a personal time thing for me either. But Oxford has a whole ton of unwanted pressure on him for results in this case, which will encourage him to tolerate unconventional practice a little longer. It would be bad enough if it was only the Met. He said something like, “Look, I need to know that this is going somewhere. It's been over a month, now. You and Classing are generating all facts and no theory.” I meet with Edward Classing at least twice a week. We got together at eleven this morning; he gave me an efficient, five minute account of his trip to Wales and wrote down the name of his hotel for me on a post-it. I looked at the square of yellow paper and thought about the three roaches. Edward is both more enthusiastic and less enthusiastic than I am about our work in Second Life. On the one hand, he looks down on everyone he meets there. On the other hand, he says he sees great career potential for both of us coming out of this case. “Think about it, Spence,” he said last week, “me and you are going to be specialists once this thing's over. We could head up a unit.”

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I keep telling him we can't be the only people doing the sort of thing that we're doing. He tells me I'm missing his point, which I sort of am. Not that he would admit this, but Edward's getting nowhere with the circle of friends of Erica Levelbest. This comes as no surprise to me whatsoever. He's spent practically no time inworld establishing himself. I see him when he comes on and off, and the most time I think that he's been online so far in any one go is about thirty-five minutes. It annoys me intensely that Oxford considers my work alongside his. He'll say stuff like, “So I've made initial contacts with twenty of the associates so far.” I dread to think how he presents himself; I have a – completely unsubstantiated – belief that he probably opens up a new LDIM each evening with the next one on the list, asks them 'some routine questions' and then shuts the PC down for the night when he's done. For this reason, I refuse to meet with him inworld. I don't want to be seen with him. I'm certain he'll blow my cover! Erica wasn't known to anyone at Redclaw, at least from what I can make out. There's no-one on her friends list that I recognise from the people I see regularly at Redclaw. And none of the Redclaw regulars that I know have ever been seen by Classing in any of the places that Erica's friends hang out in. We each have a special HUD I found, incidentally, where you enter key avatar names and it keeps a look out for those people specifically, to see if they come within 96 metres of you. Neither of our HUDs has registered a single hit so far. Erica didn't even have the Redclaw landmark in her inventory. So there you go: the connection we all thought

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would be the easy part just isn't there. “From what I can make out,” said Classing, pointing at a name on a list he'd just printed out, “this person here was also a best friend.” “Which people told you that?” I asked him. “Oh, that was just what she told me herself. I'll start the cross-referencing soon.” “But that's at least five people by my count who consider themselves to have been Erica's best friend.” “So what does that tell you, Spence? That she was popular.” “You need to spend more time with them,” I said. “Find out who the real best friends were. And then become their best friend.” “All they seem to do is hang around and talk.” “So hang around and talk with them.” Classing sighed. I could see him inhibit a response he wanted to give. We talked about the logs analysis for a bit. I told him I thought the analysts were missing stuff. We looked over the data. Erica was 'born' in November 2006; her chat log alone is over three million words in length – loaded into Microsoft Word it creates a document over 5,000 A4 pages long. In addition, there are over 600 instant message logs to go through, varying in size from a couple of lines here to over 500,000 words there. We compared Classing's list of five 'best friends' to a printout ranking each of the six hundred logs in order of size. Four of them were there in the logs collection, and they were the top four on the list. One was noticeably larger than the others, and I suggested to Classing that that person might have been Erica's actual best friend. And that he should get to know her. Quickly.

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“Look at this,” he said, “there's a substantial log file here for someone who isn't on her friends list any more.” “Someone she fell out with, I expect,” I replied. “They used to be friends, but then one of them unfriended the other. Check it out, but I bet the log will have an argument of some description at the end of it.” It did. “This is more interesting to me,” I said. “the fifth friend on your list isn't here in the logs at all – not anywhere. How do you account for that?” “They never spoke in IM?” Classing suggested. I supposed that was possible, in theory. “Or this friend is lying. But it seems unlikely there would be nothing in her IM logs. So maybe,” I said, “Sarah deleted the file from her logs for some reason.” That made Classing pay attention. After all, it had been assumed of Sarah that she didn't fiddle, that she probably didn't know such technical stuff as where the logs on her computer were kept. I think the IT guys had a hand in that hypothesis, using their well-established nobody-understands-computersexcept-us model of human-computer interaction. So, if Sarah knew about and had deleted that log, what was there to suggest that she hadn't deleted other logs too? Edward phoned down straight away to ask IT if they'd recovered any deleted files from the hard disk. They told him they would have to do a 'deep level scan' for that, but would get the results to him as soon as possible. “Just tell them to look in the recycle bin for now,” I urged him when he told me this, his hand over the mouthpiece. IT guys talk such guff; they never seem to realise you can have IT knowledge and not work in a tech department. The volume of the squawks coming out of the earpiece increased significantly when Classing suggested that, but we did then

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get a printout of the recycle bin with us within the hour. As it happens, Sarah was better at routine PC maintenance than I had given her credit for – there were only 12 files in her recycle bin, instead of the hundreds, possibly thousands I had been expecting. The deleted log file was not one of them, so a file recovery process will have to be initiated to look for that (whether it will need to be 'deep level' or not I really have no idea). We will also need to recover the contents of a deleted folder in the list of twelve items that has the name eliza_tabletop. It's the name of an alt, of course. We both sat bolt upright the moment we saw it. Our most important discovery of the day and it was right in front of us all along. Sarah Cassidy was using a secret alt. * Barack Obama and John McCain will go live before their nation for their second presidential debate later tonight. The campaign got a little nastier over the weekend, with Sarah Palin accusing Obama of associating with terrorists (apparently, he once served on a charity board with a member of a militant group which had violently opposed the Vietnam War in the 60s). Obama responded yesterday by accusing the Republicans of running a smear campaign when they should be focused on fixing the economy. He also highlighted McCain's role in a financial scandal back in the 1980s which he ended up being investigated for by a Senate ethics panel. * Still no sign of Stop. I sent her a LDIM today, expressing

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hope that she's ok. I hesitated in doing it, but then decided that waiting another day – my first thought was to do just that – might only loose me my moment. I got the user not online message. So maybe tomorrow.

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Wednesday, 8 October

The UK government today announced its master plan to save our economy. Abbey, Barclays, HBOS, HSBC, Lloyds TSB, Nationwide Building Society, Royal Bank of Scotland and Standard Chartered are each going to be given a slice of £50bn in return for government shares in those institutions. I'm curious to know if, as a member of Nationwide, I'll be consulted on this. Also today, the Bank of England lowered its base interest rate by a full half per cent, an unprecedented move that was matched by the US Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank, and the central banks of Canada, Sweden and Switzerland. It was met with a lukewarm response from the markets, apparently. On the one hand, such things are bold interventions, on the other hand their very boldness – the fact that they're considered necessary in the first place – increases the fear they are meant to abate. Schools have been given today new advice on how to prevent pupils becoming drawn to violent extremism and terrorism. Is it possible to do this in a school? Yes. Should schools be doing this? Is it their responsibility? Yes, of course they should, if they can. How would this be possible? By developing a sense of belonging, by developing children and young people's social and emotional skills so that they form more, and more positive relationships with other people; so that they choose not to discriminate against others and don't end up being discriminated against. I downloaded the advice. It's actually not at all bad, it touches on all of this stuff. But I don't appreciate how the politicians have announced it today. "Our goal must be to empower our young people to come together to expose violent extremists

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and reject cruelty and violence in whatever form it takes," Schools Secretary Ed Balls said. It conjures up Hardy Boys images for me; schoolboys gathered together, peeking out of the the crack in the stationary cupboard door, hoping to catch a glimpse of a top secret terrorist meeting. How does one belong in a place where everyone is looking for outsiders? And Vladimir Putin released a DVD today called 'Let's Learn Judo with Vladimir Putin'. Yes. * Texter Triste's guide to SL terminology #4: Mirth and merriment. These are the terms you will encounter, and this is what they mean: ROFLMAO (Rolling On Floor Laughing My Ass Off). The ultimate laughter term. Note 'ass' as in 'arse' and not 'donkey' (not that that in any way makes it make more sense). The only possible response to a humourous event that could stand above this would presumably involve dying from laughing too much. DFL – Dead From Laughter. I just invented that. Remember where you read it first. ROFL (Rolling On Floor Laughing). ie, as above, but with your ass intact. I'm not entirely clear how it is that the loss of one's anus has come to be associated with extreme hilarity. Further research is required. LMAO (Laughing My Ass Off). This is where the hierarchy gets a little confusing: does LMAO come before ROFL or after? Does one laugh one's ass off and then, if the humour level increases further, re-affix the ass in order to roll on the floor a bit? Or should we assume that rolling on the floor happens first, followed by the loss of ass and then followed by a resumption of rolling (ie, with the ass still

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missing)? Whatever. LMAO = Very funny. lmao = quite funny, but not *very* funny. LOL (Laughing Out Loud). Funny. No-one really takes LOL to actually mean a real life burst of laughter. When offered in response to something said, it means 'yes, that was indeed amusing'; when tagged to the end of a sentence it means 'please don't take that seriously' (eg, 'I'm so bad at this lol' = 'Agree with me at your peril'). hahaha: More funny than LOL, less funny than LMAO. haha: About the same as LOL, but everso slightly funnier, because you've gone to the trouble of typing an extra letter. heehee: Gleeful laughter. Usually follows a tease of some description. hehe: Used for a range of subdued responses, such as, 'mildly amusing, I suppose' or 'I can see how some people might find that funny'. hehe acknowledges that you understand the comment offered was a joke of some description, but in no way should be interpreted as evidence that you agree it was funny. heh: As for hehe, but less funny because you couldn't be bothered to type the extra e. If you get a run of hehes or hehs in an IM, know that it's time to do the dignified thing and bail out, for both your sakes. * Still the same post at the top of the Linden blog. That's a week and three days it's been there now. Is it usual for things to go this long without anything new? Why aren’t they updating? How insulated are companies like Linden from the

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financial crisis? Could share price falls be felt by them? I wouldn't have thought so. But what if they need to borrow money? Is their model profitable right now? Could they be in trouble? I’ve only been ‘doing’ SL now for about six weeks, and already I’m starting to become concerned about my growing dependency on the metaverse. What would happen if it disappeared tomorrow? Bill seems to think that every SL resident harbours this fear secretly. How would we cope if Linden went suddenly bankrupt? What would our response be to a metaverse catastrophe? It is, after all, just a company. Whatever that means. If you’re a banking company it seems there’s a government safety net, a weave of taxpayers’ cash waiting to catch you if things go badly. I somehow doubt there’ll be any government bail-out if Linden should fail. And yet, society will then be awash suddenly with several million citizens who have just had the virtual rug pulled out from under their feet. To draw a comparison, how would society be if TV got turned off? How would society be if football got cancelled? How would society be if pop music was no more? How lucky, these people who are serviced by an entire industry instead of a single company. I've heard about the whole open source thing. I’m aware there are other virtual worlds out there based on the Second Life code; distant, detached servers with modded code, where bog standard avatars hobble over empty, sandy hills. Bill visited one once, when the grid went down for a whole twelve hours last year. The sense of excitement abated within the first minute, he told me. They are there, they exist, there are people working on them to make them better; for the moment at least, basic does not even begin to

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describe them, however. “No shops, no events, very few buildings and only a handful of sims. A playground for the code enthusiast only.” Maybe, if the main grid collapses, it will be to little desert islands like this that we flee, if they can take us. It will only satisfy our need to be somewhere virtual, but my guess is that’ll be better than nothing. What about our friends? What about voice? What about having your own place and building and shopping? What about the events we’ve become accustomed to attending? I know my own existence online is pretty limited, compared to what it could be, but I am aware there’s a whole world of stuff out there – musical, literary, educational, entertainment. I intend to experience it all, once my self-imposed exile is over. I intend to immerse myself. I wonder how I shall do that? Will I continue with Texter? Or shall I start all over in a different avatar? I would like to keep the friends I have. Once they've been eliminated, naturally. Those who don’t know about any of this cannot imagine the way in which our free time has been changed by SL. One-way viewing just doesn't cut the mustard any more. Not even remotely. I have about as much interest in watching television now as I do looking at a patch of wall, and I'm only on the periphery of what's happening. And what about those who have SL relationships? And what about those who come here for friendship because they can't find what they're looking for in the real world? The more I write, the more panicked I feel myself becoming. I need to calm down. I really think it would be a quite unprecedented occurrence if SL was to collapse. I really think that nobody quite understands the profound effect it would have on us all. It's an invisible addiction,

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worming its way into our lives; will we only wake up to its power when millions of us have to go through withdrawal all at once and the rest of society looks at us in astonishment and cries, “what the fuck is going on with these people?!” No, I really can't see the open source worlds plugging the gap. Not for very long, anyway. So then there's Google Lively. When was it that was launched? A month ago? Two? I seem to recall people talking about it as something recent when I arrived inworld myself. Could that become our new virtual destination? It's completely different from SL, of course, but it would at least have capacity. I've visited it twice – once to establish that I hated it and the second time just to double check (I was right the first time). In fairness to Google, I only disliked it because it's different. It could grow on me, I guess. I suppose it might have to. Bill has a gmail account under his avatar's name, not to mention MSN and Yahoo! accounts. And something he refers to as his 'Jooce' desktop. Someone else he knows has all these things plus a blog under their avatar name. Complete virtual identities and lives. What is the extent to which one could live within a virtual identity? I wonder if it might be possible to set up a Paypal account under my avatar name? Didn't I see once something about a payment card of some description you can link to your Paypal funds? I wonder how Paypal will be affected by the financial crisis? Ten days without a blog update. Could this be it? Should I be searching the discussion forums to see if I'm the only one thinking these things? They can't be in trouble. They can't! The ongoing existence of the grid is proof enough of that, right? Things as big and complicated as Second Life don't just carry on in the background whilst the directors have emergency meetings or the bailiffs move all

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the furniture out; things as big and complicated as Second Life require people to do stuff to keep them running. I'm worrying about nothing here, I must be. Or perhaps the thing I'm worried about most of all is my dependency, my addiction and my fear.

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Thursday, 9 October

Councils in the UK are shitting themselves today, as it emerges that nearly 100 authorities had money invested in the now crumbling Icelandic banks – over £720m in total. Apparently, the government of Iceland hasn't guaranteed this money, so in theory it could be lost. So Gordon Brown has threatened to sue them. And the British government has frozen the UK assets of Icelandic bank Landsbanki, using laws created to combat terrorism. The Prime Minister of Iceland has described the use of anti-terror laws against his country as "not very pleasant". Have I missed something? Weren't there assurances made when all of this anti-terror legislation got pushed through, in the Blair old days? Can we just assume that promises made – no matter how assertively – will always have a shelf life linked to their convenience and the premier of the day? * Tear Stained: Man I feel gooky today. Texter Triste: Gooky? Tear Stained: Yeah. Texter Triste: *Gooky*? That's not a word. Tear Stained: You never heard 'gooky' before? Texter Triste: Essentially because it never existed. Tear Stained: The gaps in your knowledge astonish me sometimes. Texter Triste: I mean I heard of 'goofy'. I heard of 'geeky'. Texter Triste: Has some sort of midpoint been

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discovered? Are we talking overlap here? Texter Triste: Frankly I don't care for either term; I never thought a sliding scale was involved. William Shing: A continuum. Texter Triste: A what? William Shing: A continuum. It's what we call a 'sliding scale'. William Shing: And the overlap thing - that's called comorbidity. Texter Triste: She's got medical disorders now? Tear Stained: I never said geeky or goofy. I said gooky. Texter Triste: Define 'gooky'. Tear Stained: Define it? Texter Triste: Define it. William Shing: If someone's 'geeky' we consider them lacking in social skills, right? Texter Triste: Not necessarily, Doctor Deficit. Texter Triste: First and foremost I would say it means they're very skilled at something technical. Tear Stained: How can you define 'gooky'? Texter Triste: I'd advise you to look it up in the dictionary - except, of course, for it not being there. William Shing: No no no. Technically skilled is technically skilled. William Shing: 'Geeky' is technically skilled - yes - but at the same time not socially skilled. Texter Triste: So you're suggesting, therefore, that 'geekiness' refers to a 'comorbidity' of high technical skill and low social skill? William Shing: Don't be ridiculous. You can't treat a 'high degree of skill' like it's a medical condition. Texter Triste: But a low degree of skill you can?

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William Shing: Not a condition, no! William Shing: But a *low* degree of skill could be a *symptom* of a condition. Texter Triste: What if it's the other way round? Texter Triste: What if the patient is low on technical skills but high on social skills? Texter Triste: What sort of disorder might that symptomatic of? Tear Stained: Peeky! Texter Triste: What? Tear Stained: Gooky is like Peeky. But with more mucus. Texter Triste: ewww William Shing: So what is this viewpoint here? Is this your 'social constructionism'? Texter Triste: Society places high value on interpersonal skills, so anyone lacking them is considered to have something wrong with them. Texter Triste: Society doesn't place such a high value on technical skills so someone lacking *them* is considered perfectly normal. Texter Triste: What's dysfunctional? Society decides. Socially constructed syndromes. Social constructivism. William Shing: You don't think it's right that society places a high value on interpersonal skills? Texter Triste: Try to be dispassionate, Doctor. Texter Triste: Nobody's saying there aren't reasons for our value systems. Texter Triste: But societies change. Texter Triste: Look, if you drive a car into the sea and it sinks, does it mean there's something wrong with the car or does it just mean the car's not suited to that environment? Tear Stained: There's definitely something wrong with the

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driver. Stop Stare: hahaha Yes. Stop had turned up. I won't say I'd completely forgotten about her, but yesterday evening a sort of realisation came over me as to how much I was reading into something so small. It was almost a release, of sorts. I luxuriated in feeling just a little foolish, and with no harm done. Even so, when I saw her name there on the screen, I felt my heart speed up a bit. I straightened a little in my chair. I took a deep breath. I wondered what to say to her and felt my mind start to go foggy. And then I thought, Hey! Why didn't she reply to that message I sent her? An acknowledgement of sorts would have been nice. Was she that busy she didn't have the time to send a simple thank you? Or did she receive so many IMs she'd completely missed my humble little sentence? Had I been just background noise to her? Or had my message caused anger? Had she hoped our moment of closeness together a discreet encounter which we would not speak of again, even to each other? Or was it that a reply like, “Thank you, I feel better now� would have been a lie, and saying nothing was preferable? Or had all her messages been capped whilst she was offline? Was it just that she hadn't received it in the first place? This, incidentally, is another reason why long distance IMs are often a bad idea. When you don't get a reply it can drive you nuts trying to work out why. I opened an IM window, saw my unanswered message sitting there in grey, tagged to the end of Saturday's

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conversation. I wrote 'Hey :)' in the text box, hesitated, deleted it, paused, wrote it out again, deleted it again, closed the IM window, opened it again, swore at the monitor, sat back in my chair and looked at Second Life suspiciously. Tear Stained: Texter? Tear Stained: Texter? Tear Stained: Hellooooooooo? Texter? William Shing: I think he went afk. Tear Stained: Really? You don't say? I closed down the IM window again. I started to feel angry about the whole thing. I counted to ten. I poured myself a drink. I went back into chat and blamed my absence on the telephone. We talked some more about gookiness and comorbidity and social constructivism, and all the while Stop's silence as she stood there bore into me.

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Friday, 10 October

Analysis of Sarah's deleted files has recovered a lot on the activity of her newly discovered alt, Eliza Tabletop. By the look of things, she was so concerned about Eliza being discovered inadvertently she deleted the entire log folder after every single logout. Classing scratched his head over that one and asked why anyone would enabled logging for the account in the first place, if the only thing they did was then delete the files created? He doesn't understand Second Life, how it touches you. He doesn't understand that sometimes the smallest of snippets of text could be something you might want to hold on to forever. You never know when someone's going to say something beautiful to you: better to log and then delete than not to log at all and risk loosing it. “Why not just copy it out of the chat or IM window before you close your session?” he persisted. “You might crash before you get a chance to do that,” I replied. A man with interest only in getting everything done efficiently, he has no concept of fail-safe when it comes to this sort of stuff. I expect he probably views positive relationships as something of a luxury. Classing has also been in touch with Linden about the name and the account's been opened up for us to poke around in. He took a look in her inventory yesterday and found it to be a fairly empty receptacle. There were a handful of casual outfits, and a collection of notecards and land marks of the variety given out by automated greeters. A good third of the total number of items, however, was sex stuff of some description or another: outfits, scripted

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genitalia, strap-ons, animations, photographs and copiable, transfer enabled cocks for the man who came unprepared. Yes, Eliza was a sex toy. The recovered log files were an anthology of nervous experimentation and breathless, sex room encounters. Classing's nose wrinkled a little as he read through some of the transcripts. Silently, I saluted her. “Jesus Christ,” he said, skimming the pages without looking at them properly. “Didn't she have a boyfriend?” “You know she did,” I said. “That's someone's privacy you're dismissing there. Have a little respect. No-one was meant to see any of this.” “Even so... She wasn't unattractive... she could have found herself another guy, surely?” “That's not the point.” “It isn't?” Classing looked genuinely confused. “Geez, there are some things I just don't understand.” “Oh come on, Edward,” I said. He hates being called Edward. He likes being called Ed. “Not everyone gets to fall into perfect relationships.” I wasn't satisfied with those words, because it wasn't even that that was the point. It was much more complicated than that, and yet much simpler. “You didn't... you know...? Do anything,” Classing said suddenly, looking at me with nervous anticipation on his face. “Did you?” “No,” I said. Which was true. I wasn't ruling it out for the the future, though; not for a single moment. I didn't tell him that. “Right. Me neither, of course. Frankly, I struggle to see how it's even possible.” “After all, I never leave Redclaw,” I said, just to sow a seed. “So you haven't seen any of these places?”

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“The sex halls? No. Only through the descriptions of my friends.” “Jesus, they're something else.” Classing scratched his head. “I don't understand why somebody doesn't try to ban them. That's my opinion.” I found myself thinking, Poor Sarah. But then I stopped that thought. Why 'poor'? What about her behaviours was pitiable? In fact, how dare I look down on her like that? She'd had a need, and she'd taken steps to get it met. Bravo Sarah. Except look at where it had ended. But the eventual outcome didn't negate neither the need nor necessarily the behaviour. You can't say of a child who was snatched from his garden that he shouldn't have been playing there or that he was wrong to want to play there in the first place. I took a look at some of the transcripts. Eliza Tabletop stretches herself back across the table, waiting to receive you, her back arched, the skin across her ribs stretched tight. Inch Sideways moves towards you, commando-style, pulling herself up to and upon you, devouring your opening instantly. Inch Sideways: No teasing tonight, my darling. Eliza Tabletop: Oh my goddddddddddd “She was bisexual in SL?” I asked. “Inch isn't a guy's name?” asked Classing. “That question probably reveals more about you than you would care for people to know,” I replied. Astonishingly, he actually chuckled at that. He flicked through some of the other printouts. “Well this one's a guy, for sure. Guy. Guy. Oh yes – woman. Guy. Woman. Guy.

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Guy. Woman.” “Is Eliza paid up? Does she have a place?” “She has free membership. But I think she rented a place.” We started to put the encounters in order. Integrating the resulting chronology with that of Erica will be a job for next week. Classing made notes. Pretty quickly it emerged that Thursday evenings were Eliza's night out, with a few extra outings here and there. “Why didn't we notice that Erica wasn't on on Thursdays before?” I asked. “She was on on Thursdays,” Edward told me, “right up to 11pm our time. See? All of these encounters took place late at night.” “Of course,” I said. “Because she didn't have work to go to on Fridays. I'd forgotten that.” Classing nodded. The printouts we needed for spatial work – arranging the transcripts over the floor to get an idea of sequence, for example. I can't flick through electronic documents as well as I can paper ones. But of course we had electronic copies as well, so we could perform key word searches and text analysis. The first word I searched on was 'Redclaw'. But I didn't get back a single hit. “That doesn't mean she never went there,” Classing said. “Just that she never said it.” “Or had it said to her.” Of course, before we did any of these things we pulled out the final conversations she'd had. Just like we did with Erica's logs, only then we found nothing; it was only the SL similarity with Melanie Druppe in NYC that persuaded Oxford that SL was a factor worth sticking with. This time, we got exactly what we were looking for.

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Eliza Tabletop: So I'll see you tomorrow then! Eliza Tabletop can't quite believe she just said that :) Tsyin Tii: Yes, my love. Tsyin Tii: In a few more than 24 hours, we shall be together. Eliza Tabletop: Night night, my love. And those were the last four words that Sarah Cassidy ever typed into Second Life. Classing got right onto the forms for access to Tsyin's account. I went inworld – logged on as Texter – so that I could look at his profile. He was born four months ago in June. His Second Life box has a picture of one of those pieceof-meat avatars: big, muscles, tattoos, long hair, shades. The text says, “Tsyin was here”. That's it. His first life box has a picture of a hand on it. It might be his hand. It might not. His picks has one entry: “Eliza”. It says, “I gobbled her all up.” * On Monday, the FTSE 100 index fell 7.85%; today it fell 8.85%. Monday got nicknamed 'Meltdown Monday'. From what I can tell, however, no-one has proposed any catchy, alliterative nickname for today. May I propose 'Fuck fuck fuck fuck Friday'? The second highest drop in FTSE history. Incidentally, the BBC website today actually published the percentage drop the index fell by in 1987, following Black Monday, so

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the issue of is-this-week-better-or-worse-than-that-weekwas? is now resolved: on that day it fell 12.22% and across the whole week it fell 28.23 per cent; across this week the index fell 21%. So there you go: 1987 is still the king of crashes. It was a turbulent day of trading around the world. The US Dow Jones ended up losing just 1.5% (though it looked like it was going to be worse earlier in the day). France closed down 7.7% and Germany 8.4%. The cause of the losses is panic selling in response to these two words: imminent recession. Investors are terrified their shares are about to plummet in value and are selling as fast as they can... resulting in the shares plummeting in value...

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Saturday, 11 October

Sarah Palin has been found guilty of abusing her power as Alaska's Governor by a state legislature probe, which announced its conclusion last night. As I understand it, Palin fired a senior state official because he refused to sack a state trooper who was in a custody battle with her sister. Palin, however, says she fired the state official because of a budgetary dispute. The Republicans claim this is a politically motivated attempt to discredit Palin, in fact they tried to get the investigation halted not so long ago. Given that the investigation was started some time before Palin's surprise selection as John McCain's running mate in August, however, does the theory that it's a Democrat plot hold water? * Important economy update. I understand that yesterday has now been nicknamed 'Freefall Friday'. I, of course, prefer my name. * William Shing: I was ordering at the cafĂŠ in our shopping centre today... Tear Stained: CafĂŠ Treize? William Shing: I told you it's called that? Tear Stained: Sure you did. William Shing: Good memory. Tear Stained: I only remember it because every tale you

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recount from there seems to involve bad luck. Stop Stare: hahaha Stop Stare: Poor Bill. William Shing doesn't know what you're talking about. William Shing: I don't have bad luck in there. William Shing: It's just that sometimes I have to assert myself with respect to the other people in there. Tear Stained: Yeah, it was the luck of the other people I was actually thinking of. Soma Supercollider: hahaha Stop Stare: LOL Soma Supercollider: I would so be your worst nightmare if you ever encountered me in a queue, Shing. Soma Supercollider: The deliberations I can get myself into over condiments can be quite spectacular. William Shing: Ok, so there was no-one in front of me and there was one free table... Texter Triste: Oh I know where you're going with this. William Shing: But do you? Texter Triste: Happens to me all the time: a couple come in behind you and one of them takes the table whilst the other joins the queue. Texter Triste: It's like a tax on being by yourself, but what can you do? Soma Supercollider: awwww Tex :( William Shing: Actually, that's not what happened at all; but, to answer your question at the end there, you can collect your coffee and sit at your table. Texter Triste: The table they've taken? William Shing: Absolutely. Texter Triste: I can do without that kind of conflict over my latte.

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William Shing: It's your table! You got there first! Tear Stained: You tell 'em, Bill! Texter Triste: You start a confrontation like that, you never know where it's going to end. William Shing: It'll never end anywhere if you don't start it in the first place, that's for damned certain. Texter Triste: I mean, there's children to think about. Tear Stained: Oh yes, that's true. I do hate it when adults have public confrontations in front of children. William Shing: Nine times out of ten they don't say anything, because they can't believe you've actually had the balls to stand up to them. Stop Stare: You do this often? William Shing: All the time! Texter Triste: So what happened that was different today? William Shing: Ok. So I was ordering at the till, and in came this woman. Texter Triste: What sort of a woman? William Shing: Does it matter? Texter Triste: Well, if it was a pensioner... William Shing: It wasn't a pensioner. Texter Triste: Ok. Continue. William Shing: It was like I could see everything she was looking at... William Shing: First the full tables, then the one empty table, then me. William Shing: She went straight to the empty table and sat there. Texter Triste: By herself? Tear Stained: By herself? Stop Stare: By herself? William Shing: By herself.

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Texter Triste: Without ordering? William Shing: Without ordering. And she put her shopping on the other seat. Tear Stained: So you went up to her? William Shing: I was going to, but the situation intrigued me... William Shing: On the one hand, I thought, she could have been waiting for a companion; in which case, this was just a variant on the standard Two Person Table-snatch. William Shing: But also, I sensed the possibility that this could be something genuinely new. Soma Supercollider: lol Soma Supercollider: You're talking as though you found some new species. Texter Triste: A Table Snatch, but not as we know it. William Shing: Exactly. William Shing: So I took my coffee to the sugar stand and set up there with my paper. William Shing: She watched me. Soma Supercollider: You stood at the sugar stand? How perfectly dreadful. William Shing: Indeed. William Shing: Abandoned stirring sticks, chocolate powder, grains of demerara all over the place... William Shing: Lord knows *how* they manage to spill it - you'd think the modern sugar tube had eradicated all remaining possibility of aiming error, but still it happens! Soma Supercollider nods. William Shing: So I pretended not to notice her watching me. William Shing: She waited a few more seconds, took a shifty look around her to make certain there weren't any new

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players making an entrance... Tear Stained: Oh, she's good! William Shing: Then she took off her coat and put it in on the chair she was sitting on - remember, her bags were on the other chair Soma Supercollider: Oh do skip the detail, Shing; we're waiting for the blood. William Shing: And then she went to the counter to order. Texter Triste: So there wasn't anyone else involved? At all? William Shing: Nope. Just her. William Shing: She came in, took my table, waited for me to shoe-horn myself into a dirty little corner before going anywhere near the counter. William Shing: What a piece of work. William Shing: That's people for you. Right there. Tear Stained: So did you confront her? William Shing: Damned right I did. William Shing: I took my coffee straight over there and turfed out her shopping from the extra chair. Texter Triste: You *relocated*? William Shing: Yep. Texter Triste: Mid-latte? William Shing: Technically, no; at that stage I hadn't yet taken a sip. Texter Triste: Even so; you pick your spot, you stick with it... William Shing: She fired the opening shot, Texter; after that it's Rules of Engagement. Tear Stained: So what did she do? William Shing: Oh, it was beautiful. William Shing: She came marching straight over - and

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lost her place in the queue in so doing. William Shing: "Excuse me," she said, "I think you'll find that seat is taken." William Shing: I was almost giggling with pleasure. William Shing: "Madam," I said, "Would you like me to show you the video I made on my phone of you snatching the table before or after we talk about whether chairs should be used for bags when there are people without a seat?" Tear Stained: You said that?! William Shing: Those very words. Soma Supercollider: hahaha Tear Stained: LMAO Texter Triste: I would never be able to put something together as articulate as that in a confrontation situation. Texter Triste: I'd be out of breath and tripping all over my syllables. Stop Stare: Yeah, me too. William Shing: You've got to like confrontation. You've got to relish it. Tear Stained: And you really had the video? William Shing: Of course I didn't! Stop Stare: It was a bluff? William Shing: Oh yes. Tear Stained: Did she call it? William Shing: Of course she didn't! William Shing: She used The Getout. Texter Triste: The Getout? William Shing: Oh yeah: The Emergency Exit. Tear Stained: The Emergency Exit? William Shing: She told me she took offence at my tone. William Shing: Classic move. William Shing: Distract your opponent with a different

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issue. Texter Triste nods. William Shing: Of course, I was ready for her. Tear Stained: Of course you were! William Shing: You see, the typical Tone-of-Voice accusation anticipates denial. William Shing: And then, due to the subjective nature of what constitutes an aggressive/arrogant/ill-mannered tone of voice, the debate as to whether this tone was or was not in evidence can potentially continue indefinitely... William Shing: ...leaving the original issue completely side-stepped. You attempt to deny you used the alleged tone of voice, you effectively loose the argument, there and then! Texter Triste: I never realised you were such an expert at all this. William Shing: I've had plenty of practice with my mother. Tear Stained: So you accepted the Tone of Voice allegation? William Shing: Absolutely. William Shing: "I don't particularly like the tone of voice you're taking with me," she said. And I replied, "You're not supposed to. It's not an especially pleasant one. I reserve it for behaviours just like yours." Tear Stained: LOL Soma Supercollider: You're my hero tonight, Billiam. Texter Triste: You even separated the behaviour from the person. I'm in awe. William Shing: She was utterly speechless. Texter Triste: Well, I wouldn't know what to say to that. William Shing: Gathered up her stuff and walked out without so much as a backward glance.

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Texter Triste: You captured the table. William Shing: I *re*captured the table. Shing is a doctor; that much he's open about. Even before we started looking into him and had the facts start coming in, I'd been pretty certain he was a GP – his hours are regular and every time he talks about a patient he 'saw today' it's a different type of problem he describes. He's married. He's been doing Second Life now for nearly two years and he spends about half of his inworld time at his Star Trek group. Tear Stained lives in Manchester. She has an amazing voice, which she puts to use answering telephones at a law company in the city centre. She usually comes online as soon as she gets in; sometimes she leaves it on voice and shouts across her bedroom at us whilst she changes. Texter Triste: Just out of interest, would you have been prepared to share the table? William Shing: With her? Sure. As long as she didn't try to talk to me. Texter Triste: You don't like the talkers? William Shing: I do not. Texter Triste: I can never get my head around what you're supposed to do with a *non*talker when they finish and go. Texter Triste: Should you say something in those circumstances? William Shing: I usually just nod. Texter Triste: I mean a talker you just say goodbye to. Simple. But a non-talker? Texter Triste: Technically, they've opened a temporary verbal relationship by asking if the extra seat's taken Texter Triste: I can never decide whether that's a

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relationship that requires verbal closure or not. William Shing: A nod; that's all you need. Texter Triste: What if they don't notice it? William Shing: What *if* they don't notice it? William Shing: Are you supposing that a wordless departure will haunt them for the rest of the day? Texter Triste: I suppose... William Shing: As long as they're not talkers, it really doesn't matter. Texter Triste: You know, I wouldn't mind the talkers so much, except they always end up so negative. Texter Triste: They lure you in by joking about the weather; they end up complaining about asylum seekers and the disintegration of the criminal justice system. Tear Stained: Oh yes, I know exactly what you mean! Texter Triste: All of a sudden I'm in moral angst over whether to challenge their views or not. William Shing: Just tell them you disagree. Texter Triste: But then I have to justify everything. William Shing: Why? You didn't ask for them to spout forth their views. Texter Triste: It's inviting conflict. William Shing: Good. William Shing: Invite it! William Shing: Bring it on! William Shing: No change without conflict, my friends; no change without conflict. Tear Stained: Oh Bill, I really hope I never have to meet you in real life. William Shing: How do you know you didn't meet me already? Texter Triste: You know what? I have a feeling she'd

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know. Tear Stained was just about to say the same thing lol.

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Sunday, 12 October

22 days until the US election. I was moved by something I watched last night on the web, a video clip of John McCain at a rally of some sort. Quick check. It was in Minnesota on Friday. A 'town hall meeting'. McCain was forced to defend Barack Obama against the jeers and taunts of the gathered supporters when they called him a 'terrorist', an 'Arab' and a 'traitor'. McCain said, “I want to be President of the United States and obviously I do not want Senator Obama to be; but I have to tell you... I have to tell you... he is a decent person, and a person that you do not have to be scared as President of the United States.” The supporters booed this. One stood up and spoke into McCain's microphone, a big woman in a red “McCain – Palin” top, who we only saw from behind in the clip. She spoke with passion. “I can't trust Obama. I have read about him and he's not... he's not... he's an Arab.” And McCain shook his head and reached for his microphone back. “No m'am, no m'am,” he said. “He's a decent, family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that's what this campaign is all about.” I was actually outworld at the time – it does still happen – eating curry at David and Pams'. David said he reckoned it was all a set-up, a publicity stunt. I guess it's not out of the question that it might have been. But I honestly don't think that it was. McCain's face was encouraging and expectant as he waited for her to speak; he nodded, he smiled, right up to her delivery of the word 'Arab'... And then there was that moment's worth of hesitation as he tried to process this, as he tried to work out how best to disagree with her. After all,

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'Arab' is not a derogatory term, but that was how she was using it. If he was to say, “No – Obama's not an Arab, he's a good man,” would that be taken as him making a prejudiced comment about Arabs? I'd lay money on that being at least a part of his second's worth of hesitation, and that's the kind of look and timing you can't fake. Not unless you're an exceptional actor, and nothing McCain has said or done so far would suggest to me that he is. I don't know why it is that moments like that move me as much as they do, but they do. They move me a great deal. Any sort of moment where commonality is acknowledged by opposing forces/nations/people/groups – in a genuine manner – just seems to fill me up with something. Perhaps it taps my desperation for people to get along with each other a little better. 'Desperation' is probably not the right sort of word, I suppose. It's not like that's what's in my head at all times, like if I was desperate for food or warmth. But sometimes, I just can't understand why we spend so much of our time orientated around difference rather than commonality. No, even that's not right: because I do understand it, I understand it perfectly. It's something we're wired for; I get that. It helps us to survive. Or rather, it helped us to survive, once. When we lived in tribes and competed for food. But isn't it the objective of civilised humans to overcome all that? Shouldn't that be what we're all aiming for? Isn't identifying the weaknesses of our design and learning to move beyond these what it's all about? Isn't that 'the meaning of life'? Perhaps that's why these moments move me. Perhaps it's because I experience emotion at the sight of humans doing what humans are supposed ultimately to do: transcend their limitations.

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The clip has also made me think about my own prejudices, how I've become polarised in my opinions. Not just regarding the election, but also how I think about America and Americans, and how other people think of them. People I know in RL. People around the world. How we stereotype America. How we reduce it to a set of policies and a few right-wing opinions. Actually, I love America and I love Americans. America at its best is the very best that humanity has to offer. But how much do I collude with the great American myth that we, the non-Americans of the planet, are somehow factory-set to be more knowledgeable, more cultured, more open-minded than Yankie Joe? AntiAmericanism is on the rise, yet can all people who would so readily dismiss the States really say there is nothing from this great nation, nothing at all, which has not enhanced or enriched or extended their lives? I watch this election closely because I, as a non-American, know that its outcome will have a profound effect on me, perhaps more so than the next UK general election (in fact, I'm pretty certain of that): to say that I think US foreign policy over the last two terms in particular has been catastrophic would be an understatement. But I refuse to be blinded to a nation's beauty, just because of its blemishes. So fair play to John McCain. He's managed to cause me to revise my opinion of him. I hope you find these musings interesting. By the time you read this – if, indeed, you ever do read it, this whole election will be long over, a couple of minutes' worth of commentary in a documentary, a paragraph of writing in a newspaper column. The lead-up to big events always seems to be missed in historical reflection, but it is important to

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know that important decisions made were at least not made flippantly. * Oh yes, North Korea was removed yesterday from the US terror list – the 'Axis of Evil' – following a deal allowing inspectors access to restricted areas to verify the disablement of its nuclear facilities. Congratulations North Korea on your promotion and all that, but I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this whole nuclear non-proliferation thing. It's hardly like I want more countries to have the bomb – I really, really don't, you know – but is the prevention of this technology reaching these hands in the long term really possible? Is it? Aren't we just delaying the inevitable and, at the same time, just reinforcing the image of the west as this bully which won't let others have the nice things it does? It must be so easy for the leaders of countries like Iran to (a) gain support from their people for their nuclear power programmes and (b) rally their people in hatred against the west when we keep banging on about it being the only solution to our energy problems and at the same time tell other countries they can't have it because we don't trust them not to make nuclear bombs with it secretly. Perhaps what's required as a first step is for us to be honest and say that what we want nuclear power for is actually about making bombs, so that's how it is we know they're talking bollocks when they make out that bombs are the last thing on their minds. I remember asking my physics teacher at sixth form college why it was we were using nuclear power when the deposits of uranium on the planet were estimated to last a fraction of the time that the coal remaining would. He gave

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me this 'silly boy' look and reminded me that the stuff you use to fuel a nuclear power station with can't be used to make nuclear bombs, whereas one of the waste products you get at the end of the process – plutonium – you can. “Nuclear power stations,” he told me, “are plutonium factories, first and foremost.” Perhaps we should all own up about that. Just a thought. * I noticed someone in Redclaw this morning who seemed to me to be a little... odd. And then I remembered I've seen him a couple of times over the last week or so. He just sits in the corner of the café, and the most that he does is occasionally laugh at a joke made. I need to pay more attention to these characters, the ones who put in ten minute appearances here and there. It's wrong that I allow myself to get as drawn in to conversations as I do, and then miss little things like strangers passing through. I need to create a list of everyone I see in here. And I need some sort of HUD tool that will store these names and keep a tally for me. Better still, a script I can drop into a prim here that'll record whilst I'm away and report to me when I get back on. Something I could slide into the counter, perhaps, where no-one will see it. And maybe a listening script as well? This will create some work. I need to find myself a good scripter. Texter Triste: Hey Huckleberry. Huckleberry Hax: Hey Texter :) Texter Triste: Are you ok over there? Is there anything I can do for you? Huckleberry Hax: I'm fine, thanks.

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Huckleberry Hax: Just responding to some IMs. Huckleberry Hax: This is a nice place to sit in. Texter Triste: Yes it is. Texter Triste: I'll let you get back to your IMs. How can you tell if a guy is telling the truth when he says he's receiving IMs? Then again, what difference does it make whether he is or whether he isn't? Hax could have been lying, but so what if he was? There's no law against hanging out in an SL railway station and reading people's profiles or examining the furniture or even listening in on the conversation if you want to. We do all know how to open up an IM window if we want to keep things private. I made a note of Hax's name in a new notecard and added a couple of details from his profile. I wondered what I should be looking for there. How long do I imagine the guy behind Tsyin Tii has been in Second Life? A year? Two? Five? Incidentally, there's no point in hoping that Linden will turn up information linking Tsyin to his alts, if he has any (and I know – I just know – that he has). Or his RL self. He'll have been far too clever for that. My guess is he moves around, at least when he's accessing the metaverse. A public library for this account, an internet café for that one. Maybe he uses his home computer for his reconnaissance alts, because they're not going to get into trouble. But how does he fund his hunters? Do they have a source of money or do they just get by on freebies found by the recon alts? Unlikely. They must have cash to splash. But he wouldn't upload funds directly, since that would require a credit or debit card that could be traced. And he wouldn't transfer money direct from his clean alts, since that would provide a link we could follow back to them. I wonder if he's using

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some sort of drop system. Or maybe he gets work. A thought has suddenly occurred to me – Tsyin could pass as a male or a female name: maybe he got work as a female escort, taking down the dude picture from his profile whenever he needed some money and replacing it with one of a dudette. We need to get into that guy's account and take a look at his inventory, even if it's only to take a look at his landmarks. I saved the notecard. Then I had to make a phonecall in RL. When I came back to the monitor, Hax was gone. * Still the same post at the top of the Linden blog. It'll be two weeks tomorrow that there hasn't been any update. Am I the only one to have noticed this? I've been reading a couple of articles in Micro Mart about the big names in software who have been and gone. Whatever happened to Friends Reunited? To Excite? To Geocities? Whatever happened to Lotus 1-2-3? To Word Perfect? To ICQ? To Netscape Navigator? Oh I know they're all still out there somewhere, wedged into digital nooks and crannies. But is this the eventual fate which awaits Second Life? Is there a product out there plotting, planning, waiting to jump upon the stage and steal us all away? Will future analysts look back upon the demotion of Second Life to a electronic corner and chalk it up to some factor which, in hindsight, will be easy to spot? They stopped talking. They stopped listening. They didn't deliver through a web browser. They didn't stabilise the platform sufficiently. And so on. Or will Second Life prevail? And if it does prevail, will

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some sort of radical change be necessary along the way? Will we all hate what it becomes? Will they take things away like the right to build? Will they put a tax on prims? Will they put a toll on flying?

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Monday, 13 October

'Momentous Monday!' Today the banks Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), Lloyds TSB and Halifax Bank of Scotland (HBOS) effectively got nationalised, the government's £37bn bail-out being exchanged for a 60% share in RBS and a 40% stake in the newly merged Lloyds – HBOS superbank. On the day that the BBC have called “perhaps the most extraordinary day in British banking history,” the taxpayer took up his position in the boardroom, declared an end to cash bonuses for executives and demanded that loaning be returned to its 2007 levels. RBS's chief executive quit with immediate effect, and without a severance pay-off. And its chairman will retire. HBOS's chief executive and chairman will also stand down, once the merger with Lloyds TSB is complete. They will also not take any extra payments with them. Meanwhile, Barclays Bank plans to raise additional funds without making use of the capital available from the UK government (the 2008 £2bn dividend payout to shareholders is to be scrapped and it hopes to raise a further £6.5bn from private investors). And HSBC – the largest listed bank in the UK – is apparently in an “amazingly strong position,” according to analysts. * More on the red-topped lady at the McCain meeting last Friday. The 75 year old – now dubbed 'Mrs Arab' by the media, apparently – said, in an interview conducted by cell phone (and now doing the rounds on the web), that she was

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acting on information she read in a pamphlet distributed by the McCain campaign. The hunt is now on for a copy of this leaflet. This incident has occurred against a backdrop of reporting focusing on the hatred expressed publicly by many McCain supporters for Obama. As Justin web puts it, “some Republicans despise Obama in a way few Democrats despise McCain”. * Tsyin's inventory has been stripped. Completely. He's cleared the lot out. All except for one notecard, titled, 'To those who seek Tsyin.' You will not find him, it reads, but it's very, very likely that he will find you. Linden had nothing of use to us, except a transaction history and an IP address that resolved to an Internet café in Le Havre. France. Even though I know it probably means nothing at all, having a physical place tied in that I can point to on a map makes me feel like we're getting somewhere. I got on the phone to first Washington and then to the Police in Le Havre to get the sharing process kick-started. Predictably, they directed me to Interpol. It'll be a while before any actual information starts to change hands, but the process is started. * William Shing: Congratulations! Texter Triste: ...are in order because...? William Shing: You are now the proud owner of several large banking companies. Texter Triste: Oh, right. That.

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William Shing: Assuming, of course, you are a tax payer. Texter Triste: I am. William Shing: I thought as much. Texter Triste: You know what I think? I think we should all be allocated a bank. William Shing: eh? Texter Triste: Rather than each being told, 'oh, you own a bit of some banks now', you get given a specific name... Texter Triste: ...so *you* might get told your tax dollars went into HBOS, whereas I might get told mine's in Lloyds. Texter Triste: Encourage brand loyalty, sort of thing. Texter Triste: Maybe we get a little Christmas card or something from our allocated bank, once a year. William Shing: Okaaaaaay..... Henry Hard: What if you don't like the bank you get allocated? William Shing: Don't like? What's not to like? William Shing: A bank's a bank. Henry Hard: 'What's not to like'? Plenty! Henry Hard: Maybe you don't like their advertising slogan. Henry Hard: Maybe you don't like the colour of the carpet in their foyer. Texter Triste: And there was me thinking you meant their ethical investment policy. Henry Hard: And that. William Shing: So send it back, if you don't like it. Texter Triste: Send it back?! Texter Triste: You can't just return a bank like you would cold soup. William Shing: So that's more far fetched than being 'allocated' a bank in a first place?

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Henry Hard: Makes sense to me that you could send them back. Henry Hard: Ideally, there should be a cool off period. Texter Triste: A cool off period? Henry Hard: Say a month or so? Henry Hard: I mean, you might accept the Halifax and then find out all the cool guys have taken a piece of the Bradford & Bingley. Henry Hard: At least if you had a cool off you'd have time to change your mind. Texter Triste: 'All the cool guys'....? Texter Triste: How would you know what bank other people were affiliated to anyway? Henry Hard: I don't know. Maybe a T-shirt? Henry Hard: A baseball cap? Texter Triste: You want people to *advertise* their bank affiliation? Henry Hard: You were the one who said about brand loyalty. Texter Triste: I didn't mean to use it as the basis for a new gang culture. Henry Hard: I'm just saying sometimes it's good to know who your buddies are. Henry Hard: Maybe one day you're in a restaurant trying to get a table and they're telling you everything's booked... Henry Hard: So you put on your B&B cap as though you're about to head off... Henry Hard: And *that's* when they discover they have an extra table in the corner. William Shing: You're completely mad; you realise that, right? Texter Triste: Mind you, he is right in one respect...

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Texter Triste: People will group around the most arbitrary of factors. William Shing: Again with the psychobabble. Texter Triste laughs (but adds a mark to the tally he's keeping for each time Shing says that). William Shing: Why would people group without a reason to group? Complete nonsense. Texter Triste: Good point, Mr Star Wars. William Shing: IT'S STAR *TREK* GODAMMIT! STAR *TREK* Texter Triste: Well that didn't prove my point at all. Stop Stare: hahaha Texter Triste: Oh, hi Stop :) I've decided not to be hung-up about Stop, because it's just plain stupid. Even re-reading that sentence makes me feel uncomfortable. It embarrasses me that I consider that anything remotely hung-upable ever occurred between us. Of course it didn't. Stop Stare: Hey Texter :) William Shing: Stop. Stop Stare: Shing. Henry Hard: Hey there, Mrs Stare. Stop Stare: I'm not a Mrs, Hard. Henry Hard: Ms doesn't scan as well though. Stop Stare: Too bad. William Shing: Are we done with the greetings? William Shing: We have a serious debate to discuss here. Texter Triste sighs. William Shing: The preference for one science fiction over another constitutes aesthetic choice, not arbitrary

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allocation. Texter Triste: Ok fine. Henry Hard: Let me ask you something, Doc. William Shing: What? What? Henry Hard: Which computer is best? The Commodore 64 or the ZX Spectrum? William Shing: Oh no you don't. Texter Triste: Just answer the question, Bill. Stop Stare: hahaha Stop Stare has no idea what you're talking about. William Shing: You are *not* getting me onto this again. Texter Triste: Answer the question, Bill. William Shing: You know the answer anyway! William Shing: It has nothing to do with this discussion! Nothing! Texter Triste: *Answer* the *God* *dammed* *question*, Bill. William Shing: Alright! William Shing: I've said it before and I'll say it again... William Shing: The Spectrum was a souped up calculator compared to the C64! Texter Triste: You are so, so wrong. Henry Hard: So is that an aesthetic choice? William Shing: No. Yes. What the hell has this to do with anything, anyway? And, just at that moment, I got an IM from Stop. IM: Stop Stare: Hey Texter. IM: Stop Stare: Thanks for being with me the other day. IM: Stop Stare: It helped. A lot, actually. IM: Texter Triste: I'm glad :)

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IM: Stop Stare: Say, do you fancy going anywhere? IM: Stop Stare: I fancy going for a dance. I stared at the screen, my hands in the air. Yes. Yes. Yes. But... I'm running out of excuses as to why I spend all my time at Redclaw. I'm not even sure I understand it myself any more. Maybe if I got that listening script sorted out and placed in here I could afford the odd trip out every now and then without feeling guilty. Is this false economy, in any case? Could I not have learned far more from Stop about this place in a cosy IM on a dance floor somewhere? I used talking in main chat as a cover to buy me some time. All I could come up with as an excuse in the end was that I was waiting for someone. IM: Stop Stare: Does it matter where you are when they come online? IM: Texter Triste: No no... I'm waiting for someone in RL. IM: Stop Stare: ...and the reason that makes a difference is...? IM: Texter Triste: They might not understand what they see. IM: Stop Stare: And what will that be? IM: Texter Triste: Um. Me. Dancing with you. Long pause. I had no idea what I would type next if she asked something like “why don't you just turn off SL before you open the front door?� It's stupid. The more I think about it now, the more ridiculous the whole don't-leave-Redclaw rule sounds. I

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guess that's why doing this sort if thing – keeping this blog – is so useful. Didn't think of it at the time, though. I waited for her reply, and each second seemed to fall like lead as I counted them off, not conscious even of Bill's increasingly frustrated attempts to get my attention in chat. IM: Stop Stare: Ahhhhhhh IM: Stop Stare: Sorry. IM: Stop Stare: Me not reading between the lines again. I flopped back into my chair, sighed loudly with relief. Then I jumped back into chat to calm Shing with the flippant dismissal of his argument he was clearly angling for. And the next thing I did this evening was to get search up and start looking for a decent scripter. * At last! An update! According to the blog, Second Life is coming soon in ten different languages. Fantastic! Good news about the languages thing too. Naturally.

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Tuesday, 14 October

I logged on from work in the morning. I took the scripter guy I wanted to hire out onto the platform at Redclaw. IM: Sonny Collection: So is this place yours? IM: Texter Triste: No. IM: Texter Triste: I manage it for the owner. He'll never check. IM: Sonny Collection: Does that pay well? IM: Texter Triste: Not really. IM: Sonny Collection: Yeah well, what does? IM: Texter Triste: Very little. IM: Sonny Collection: yeah. IM: Sonny Collection: So tell me again what you want this device to do. IM: Texter Triste: I want it to monitor the entire station. IM: Texter Triste: If someone comes within range, I want it to record their name. IM: Texter Triste: And I also want it to record all local chat. IM: Texter Triste: So when I come on I want to be able to give it a command and in response it sends me a notecard with all of this stuff on it. IM: Texter Triste: Is that doable? IM: Sonny Collection: Doable, yes. IM: Sonny Collection: But that could end up becoming a mighty large notecard if you forget to check it. IM: Sonny Collection: That's going to place quite a drain

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on the asset server. IM: Sonny Collection: Could give you lag problems. I'm just warning you. IM: Texter Triste: Thank you. I understand. IM: Texter Triste: I'll make sure I check it regularly. IM: Texter Triste: One other thing... I need this done by yesterday. IM: Sonny Collection: lol IM: Sonny Collection: For the fee you're paying me, I think I might even be able to get it to you a little earlier than that :) IM: Texter Triste: haha. Good man. IM: Sonny Collection: I think we'll need to hide the device in the locomotive. IM: Sonny Collection: That's as close to the centre of the station as we're going to get. IM: Texter Triste: Is that within chat range of the cafĂŠ? IM: Sonny Collection: That's where most visitors hang out? IM: Texter Triste: Yes. IM: Sonny Collection: Ah. Ok. It'll need to be closer, then. IM: Texter Triste: What about this luggage trolley? IM: Sonny Collection: Yes, that might work. IM: Sonny Collection: Let's measure it, just to be certain. Sonny gave me a cube to rez over the trolley. There was a brief flurry of green particles from his fingertips to this object and then he went back into the cafĂŠ to stand at the furthermost point, which was just behind Bill's stool in the far corner. I was uneasy about the cube suspended in the air like this and started growing nervous about someone coming

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along and seeing it there. It was one thing to be in the station with a visitor, it was quite another to be standing over vanilla prims where I had no right to be rezzing them. So far as the other regulars are concerned, at least. Standing out there alone on the platform made me want to keep checking over my virtual shoulder. When it became clear Sonny wasn't coming straight back, I sunk the cube into the asphalt, just to be on the safe side. IM: Sonny Collection: Sorry, are you worried this will be seen? IM: Texter Triste: A little, yeah. IM: Sonny Collection: I'm nearly done here. IM: Sonny Collection: This spot where I am isn't covered, but only this corner. IM: Sonny Collection: We could always move the trolley forward by a metre. That concerned me. The change of a metre isn't the sort of thing I would notice in a hundred years, but it would only take one person with great visual memory skills to see it and then raise the issue in public chat with the regulars to completely scupper everything. IM: Texter Triste: Can't we just sink the prim into the platform and move it closer by itself? IM: Sonny Collection: You can if you want. IM: Sonny Collection: It'll be easier to spot that way though, if someone's camming around and slips underground by accident. IM: Texter Triste: Can't we make it invisible? IM: Sonny Collection: Sure can.

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IM: Sonny Collection: Don't forget Ctrl-Alt-T shows up all the local invisibles, though. IM: Sonny Collection: All depends on how concerned you are that someone's going to go looking for this thing. IM: Texter Triste: Are there ways in which people can find listening devices? IM: Texter Triste: I mean, like sweeping the room for bugs, sort of thing? IM: Sonny Collection: They do have things called bug scanners, but they just scan the area for scripted objects. IM: Sonny Collection: A scanner will pick up our bug, yes – because it's scripted – but there's no actual way the user will be able to tell for certain it actually is a bug and not, say, an open door script. IM: Sonny Collection: Also, the scanners don't tell you the most important thing of all – where they are. IM: Texter Triste: So how will hiding our bug in the trolley make it less conspicuous than sinking it under the floor? IM: Sonny Collection: In the trolley, it will look more like a component part. IM: Texter Triste: Of course. Then why don't we hide it in something in the café and get complete coverage? IM: Sonny Collection: Can do if you want. IM: Sonny Collection: But if you do that the radar won't cover to the end of the platform. IM: Texter Triste: Right. I hadn't thought of that. IM: Sonny Collection: All depends on what's more important to you – catching all the chat or catching all the movement. IM: Texter Triste: It's just that far corner in the café you can't cover from here?

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IM: Sonny Collection: Just the far corner, yes. IM: Texter Triste: Ok. Let's put it here there. IM: Sonny Collection: In the trolley? IM: Texter Triste: In the trolley, yes. IM: Texter Triste: Oh one more thing. IM: Sonny Collection: Yes? IM: Texter Triste: In addition to the notecard thing, can you get it to IM me anything it hears? IM: Texter Triste: So I can monitor it in real time if I'm not here? IM: Sonny Collection: Yes, of course. IM: Sonny Collection: The IMs will appear in your main chat window though, not in a separate window. IM: Sonny Collection: ie, not like how it is if you're receiving IMs from a *person*. IM: Texter Triste: Understood. IM: Sonny Collection: Ok. Anything else? IM: Texter Triste: Don't think so. IM: Sonny Collection: So what's your problem, then? IM: Sonny Collection: Some sort of griefer? IM: Texter Triste: Yes. IM: Texter Triste: Something like that. * The American government today did a carbon copy of the UK government's strategy and announced its intention to buy large stakes in a number of its banks. $250bn of the $700bn approved by Congress a couple of weeks ago will be used for this move, which will effectively nationalise these companies. As it is in the UK, it's all about forcing the banks to start lending again. Without loans, businesses don't

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expand and the economy goes into recession. At least, I think that's how the argument goes. And people can't buy houses. Apparently, the number of people buying houses in the UK has hit a 30 year low – less than one house is being sold per estate agent per week at the moment. Gordon Brown has come out of this looking rather good, it has to be said. All of a sudden the MPs – Tory and Labour – who were calling for his blood just a few weeks ago have become mysteriously silent. For a guy whose competence has been lambasted with no small degree of fury from across the despatch boxes recently, he certainly appears to know what he's doing. David Cameron said recently something like, “Well of course Gordon Brown has done the only thing he could do and what anyone else would do if in his position.” Except it sort of looks like he's the one doing it first, with other countries following. Interesting... * I kept checking my gmail during the day, impatient to learn of Sonny's progress. At about 4pm (GMT) I got a message saying the bug had been delivered. I went inworld, there and then, ignoring the disproving looks of colleagues nearby (who have been briefed in on my case, actually, but really don't understand what's been going on on my monitor screen in the corner). There was only a guy in the mop spot at Redclaw when I logged in, a newbie with two days of Second Life existence. I debated installing the device with him there, and within chat range too. Newbies are like newborn babies; if something's out of sight it might just as well not exist. I rezzed the bug, activated it with the command Sonny had given me, and sank it into the luggage

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trolley we'd agreed on; it took just a couple of seconds. I tested it: Texter Triste: Hey there Guy89. IM: Redclaw listener: Texter Triste: Hey there Guy89. Dutifully, Guy89 Bottletop carried on with his cleaning, probably afk, probably blissfully unaware of my greeting. The repetition of my hello hung around in green text for a while at the bottom of my screen before finally dissolving. I can see that this is going to make for a cluttered screen once things become crowded, but I'll just have to put up with that. On the plus side, I no longer have to be here to know who is visiting Redclaw. I wish I'd sorted something out like this weeks ago. Never mind. I didn't know you could do stuff like this back then. The point is, I can now leave the station.

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Wednesday, 15 October

So I ended up staying all night at Redclaw anyway. Nobody invited me to go anywhere with them, and the prospect of going anywhere by myself was, for some reason, unthinkable. I did look on search at the events happening, and wondered about attending a class of some description. I also consulted the list of 'popular destinations': in all honesty I don't think I could possibly go to any of those places, without being specifically and forcibly invited there by someone (so that later I'd be able to claim with credibility that I'd only gone there under duress). So I sat in Redclaw and chatted with Bill and Tear, and then Soma when she came on, and then Armstrong, although he was a bit tetchy and spent most of his hour complaining about some computer games guy he had visiting him. On a number of occasions I contemplated saying something like, “hey – why don't we all go somewhere together tonight?!� But I knew that that would just draw attention to me. If Stop had come on I think I might well have plucked up the courage to ask her in IM for that dance I'd missed out on previously, but I saw no sign of her all evening. She might have been online, of course, but just not at Redclaw. I was annoyed at myself for not having at least offered friendship the previous evening. I contemplated sending a LDIM, just in case she was on, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. I'm so British. I'm cursed. So I sat and talked some more of the usual bollocks. For the first time, I found myself becoming properly bored with Shing's company, and I realised just how much boredom is to do with the perception of choice. I logged off at gone two in the morning, angry at the time I'd

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wasted on the anti-climax. I sat in bed, wide awake, reading the Paul Auster novel that Soma told me to buy and wondering where the plot was going, and at the same time wondering where my life was going. Just one of those things. I should know better by now than to believe things denied to me will make the difference I imagine they will if ever I should manage to snatch them. At least, in the first instance. There is yet time. I'm judging too quickly, as usual. It is the hardest thing to do sometimes, just getting up, out of bed in the morning. When this happens, I lie there, cursing the lateness of the time I entered, feeling pinned to the bed by everything that just happened to be passing, like it was someone's sudden idea to sit on me and hold me there, a kind of joke. Sometimes, when I get up to piss in the middle of the night, it occurs to me halfway down the stairs that there, in that moment, after two or three or possibly four hours' worth of sleep, I am more awake then, or more fluid, or more easily able to move, at least, than I am when I try to get out of bed in the morning, when the alarm goes and the sunlight seeps its way in through the curtains. Sunlight should be a restorative, it should wash over you, it should do stuff like caress and invigorate you; it should come bouncing in through the windows like water trickling from leaf to leaf in the rain; it should come with a pleasant breeze. I crawled out of bed late, but not too late. A half hour or so. My alarm had failed. It was flashing twelves. I went through about ten minutes of the whole rush-panic thing and then decided I couldn't be bothered. Good God, the tax payer gets his money's worth out of me, and then some. I rang in and told them I was running late. I put the radio on and made some coffee, listened to Chris Moyles

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talking about the Ringo Starr video. I sat by myself in the kitchen. I wrote this. I feel suddenly tired with the whole investigation. I feel suddenly tired with everything.

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Thursday, 16 October

Last night, the presidential candidates debated for the final time on live TV. I didn't stay up. I went to bed early, in fact, and I watched the debate summary on the Internet this morning. I didn't go on Second Life at all yesterday. I feel guilty about that now. I've looked at the PC three times so far this morning, enjoying its dead, black screens. When I turn the screen on, light will spill out of it in the form of words that I'll have to read. Lots and lots and lots of words. Backlog. But. The sleep has done me good. Early nights do work, you know: remember that. Your body needs sleep: if it doesn't get it through the normal routines it'll find a way of shutting you down, one way or another. And, some days, if you're not careful when you open doors, unpleasant things can come tumbling through then. I wonder if you're sick of hearing me say this sort of stuff by now. I wonder if you're reading that and silently mouthing the words and silently wagging your finger at the monitor, mimicking the numerous lectures I've given you. I wonder if those have become my catchphrases. * I sorted out the InterPol paperwork today, most of which is already done because of the FBI inter-agency work. I copied and pasted. Oxford said I might have to go to Le Harve if there are tapes to look at. He told me that I'll interpret the CCTV footage that much better if I've actually been to the place and sat in the seats that we're looking at. Actually, he

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just wants me to interview the café owners. It's all politics. Going through the electronic forms took me back to that day in August, to that spot on the cliffs in Tintagel, to the bench, to the three roaches; to the question I keep on coming back to in my mind. Why did Tsyin Tii write down 'Redclaw'? I brought up the photographs again on my PC, the three tiny bits of cardboard pushed together for the camera, the single word scrawled across them. He or somebody else wrote that word across the inside of a pack of cigarette papers. Why? a) He wrote it down for somebody else – they were meant to take it with them. This would suggest that he's familiar with Redclaw already, perhaps that he's been there at least once and it was memorable for him. Why would it have stuck in his memory? What is there about Redclaw that might cause him to recommend it to somebody? There are no events there and nothing to buy (apparently, Henry keeps talking about renting stalls on the platform, but it's yet to happen – probably because he knows the traffic just isn't high enough, not yet). What's unique about it there? It's a railway station. It has a ticket office. It has a shiny locomotive. It has carriages you can sit in. It's not a particularly attractive setting, although the build quality is good. The textures, in fact, are especially good. Beautiful. I particularly like the Formica. Henry should forget about renting stalls and just sell his textures. Is that why Tsyin Tii recommended it? Did someone ask him where to get a good Formica texture from? Is it as simple and benign as that? Or is there something else about Redclaw that I haven't discovered yet? Does something happen there that I don't know about? Does something happen there that Henry

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doesn't know about? Does Redclaw hold some sort of a secret that those who know about keep quiet about? b) Somebody told him about it and he wrote it down so he wouldn't forget. This would suggest that he's not familiar with Redclaw – or, at least, he wasn't at the time. He may or may not have visited since. For what purpose would Redclaw have been recommended? c) A variation on that might be Somebody told him about it and he wrote it down so it looked like he was interested in what they were saying. This would suggest that he's not familiar with Redclaw and doesn't intend to be. This would make the whole Redclaw thing a complete red herring, a total waste of time. It makes me feel sick in the stomach to think about this – to contemplate even for a moment that all the time I've spent in the station has been for nothing – but is it really so far-fetched to suggest it? We know he was good at lying. How else would he have got to Sarah in the first place? Perhaps she was the one who recommended it. d) He or somebody else wrote it down, but 'Redclaw' refers to something else entirely, maybe something that has nothing to do with Second Life. Like the crayfish. About which there is plenty on the Internet. Redclaw station, on the other hand, has just one entry on Google – a Second Life blogger once visited it, apparently, and wrote a sentence about the experience. When we first saw the word written down, we didn't imagine it to be a Second Life reference; once the Second Life connection between the two girls was made, however, seeing that one entry on the Google page was like a light bulb moment. But maybe we were wrong. e) Somebody else wrote it down for somebody else, like when Tsyin Tii was at a pub, or something, and went for a piss, and someone sitting with him needed to write

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something down, and that was the only thing handy. I mean, it's not like writing stuff on the inside of a packet of papers is in any way odd – I used to do it myself quite often when I smoked. f) Tsyin Tii wrote it down in full knowledge that we would find it. It's an intentional diversion. I guess it's fair to say that (f) makes me feel pretty sick also. More and more and more sick each time I think it, because each time I think it yet more time has elapsed and still I have learned nothing from my time inworld. * I logged on as soon as I got back from work, ready to deal with the barrage of IMs sent to me from the listening device over the last two days, nearly. Second Life: Too many instant messages. Delivery capped. Why does SL cap messages? Why? You have a literally limitless storage space in your inventory for as many photos and textures and textured objects as you can think of, but plain text messages they limit. I just don't get it. A single 512 x 512 image is a little under 800 kilobytes in size; a text file that size could contain as much as 150,000 words! You're allowed to store as many images as you want, but after you exceed a few lines of text they cut you off. I just don't get it. A thought has just popped into my head: I wonder if Linden will ever start charging for inventory space. It doesn't matter about the missed IMs. The device

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records onto a notecard also. There was no-one around when I logged on, so I went straight to the trolley on the platform, retrieved my notecards and reset it. Two notecards: one with local chat on it; one with radar reports. The radar notecard updates every minute, listing all avatars within a 96 metre radius and how far they are from the device. It's not perfect, because it only gives the distance away that they are, not their direction. Two avatars that it reports to both be 50 metres away, for example, could each be 50 metres away in the opposite direction from the device, therefore 100 metres from each other. Both of the cards time and date stamp every single line of text. I tried to look at the two cards side by side on the screen together but it made my head swim. Cross referencing is going to be an utter nightmare. I started copying and pasting the chat report stuff into the relevant bits of the radar report, and gave up after about 10 minutes. I typed out an IM to send to Sonny to ask if he could rewrite the scripting so that the two files got integrated into just the one notecard. I wanted it effectively to do automatically what I'd just been trying to do manually. Then I hesitated before sending it, thought for a moment about what else I might want it to do. I looked at the radar report again. It was enormous: nearly 3,000 entries, although a large number of these just said, No avatar in range. Of course, where there are people in range, their names get repeated every minute that they're there. Like this: 10/15/2008 [12:34] Rained Heavily (19m), William Shing (18m), Tear Stained (9m), Bigboy Anderson (7m) 10/15/2008 [12:35] Rained Heavily (19m), William Shing (18m), Tear Stained (9m), Bigboy Anderson (7m)

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10/15/2008 [12:36] Rained Heavily (19m), William Shing (18m), Tear Stained (9m), Bigboy Anderson (7m) It's horrendous. I'm never going to spot a damned thing in it. I need a simple list of all the avatars that have been in Redclaw, one for each day; one list of names with no repetition, perhaps with the times that they were there for after their names. Like this: Bigboy Anderson (11:58 – 12:41), (13:59 – 14:05) Tear Stained (10:03 – 10:28), (12:02 – 13:38) William Shing (12:10 – 13:38) That sort of thing. And it would help if the times could be converted to GMT also, to save me from having to do it in my head. Or put both formats. I wrote down all these requirements carefully. I deleted what I'd written already to Sonny and put the whole lot down into a notecard, just in case his IMs were being capped. I sent it. He was offline, but he came on within the hour and told me he'd have the revised scripts ready by the morning. Which is fine. I can wait.

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Friday, 17 October

Some days, it astonishes me how much we natter like we've known each other for years and years and years, and I sit there grinning at the screen like a Cheshire cat, and sometimes my face starts to ache from grinning so much. Stop Stare: So my neighbour has my copy of Annie Hall and he's holding it to ransom. William Shing: You have a DVD hostage situation? Stop Stare: It's a videotape, actually; but yes. William Shing sighs and shakes his head. Tear Stained: Don't start on that again. William Shing: Well I hope you're not thinking of paying him. Stop Stare: Do you *know* how difficult it is to find Woody Allen on the High Street? William Shing: No no no! That's quite irrelevant! William Shing: You do *not* negotiate! Texter Triste: What's the big deal? Just buy another copy online. William Shing: Stop, you do realise that if you pay up you're never going to see that tape again, don't you? Soma Supercollider: hahaha Texter Triste: So what's he asking for? Texter Triste: Is this a video exchange situation? Tear Stained: A 'video exchange situation'? Texter Triste: He's asking for something back that he loaned you, right? Texter Triste: Something you forgot about? Something

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you lost? Texter Triste: Something you loaned out to someone else and now *they* don't seem to have it any more? Texter Triste: Or maybe he's confusing you with someone else and you never actually had it in the first place? Stop Stare: No, no, no and no. William Shing: Might not necessarily be a video title he's after. William Shing: Borrowed gardening equipment often seems to get pulled into loaned video negotiations, in my experience. Soma Supercollider: hahaha Texter Triste: Very true. Very true. Soma Supercollider: You boys tickle my funny spot. Texter Triste: Now that you mention it, I'm pretty certain I still have the hedge strimmer I borrowed from the guy across the road last year. Texter Triste: And broke. Texter Triste: And he still has my copy of Groundhog Day. Stop Stare: Well you're still wrong. He doesn't want anything returned. Stop Stare: He wants money. William Shing: Money?! Texter Triste: How much money? Stop Stare: Five pounds. Tear Stained: Five pounds?! Is that all? Texter Triste senses a principle at stake. Stop Stare: Well... Stop Stare: It's sponsorship money I said I'd pay him. Texter Triste: You rescinded on a sponsorship deal? Texter Triste: Oh Stop, how *could* you?

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Stop Stare: Just let me explain... Tear Stained: You mean like he did a race or something? For a charity? Stop Stare: Yes. Stop Stare: Well... Stop Stare: That was the agreement... Stop Stare: Except he never actually ended up running the race. Stop Stare: I'd agreed to sponsor him an overall amount rather than an amount per mile, so he thinks I still owe him. Stop Stare: This is what he said to me, “Zero miles or a hundred miles: it makes no difference; that's the risk you take when you go for economy sponsoring.� Stop Stare: That's a direct quote, I memorised it. William Shing: 'Economy Sponsoring'?! Who does he think he's kidding? William Shing: Does anyone go for the pay-per-mile option these days? Tear Stained: So you didn't pay him? Stop Stare: What's to pay for? Stop Stare: He didn't run a yard. William Shing nods his approval at Stop's stand. William Shing: Condone that sort of behaviour and you're at the top of an exceptionally slippery slope. Tear Stained: Still, not to pay a penny... Tear Stained: What was the cause? What was the run in aid of? William Shing: Don't answer that! William Shing: Do not answer! William Shing: The cause is irrelevant. Tear Stained: The cause is *irrelevant*? William Shing: You can't judge this according to the

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cause. William Shing: That'd be like saying bad behaviour is acceptable so long as it's hiding behind a worthy enough cause. William Shing: There's enough confusion on this planet over what constitutes good behaviour without obfuscating it any further with charity. Texter Triste: For once, I agree with you there, doctor. Tear Stained: Hold on hold on... Tear Stained: Are you saying it's 'bad' to just give to charity without someone doing something. William Shing: It is good to give to charity. William Shing: It is bad to take money for a non-existent product. William Shing: That's all I'm saying. Tear Stained: I hardly think that running in a race constitutes a 'product'. Stop Stare: And yet, the prospect of seeing my dear neighbour at the point of heart failure is something I would genuinely pay money for. Tear Stained: You went to the race to watch him? Stop Stare: Nope. Stop Stare: It's just something I like to picture :) Tear Stained doesn't understand. William Shing understands completely. William Shing: It's the transaction that's important. Tear Stained: The transaction? William Shing: For five pounds you get an assurance that he will put himself in a state of misery, and feel obliged by his debt to you to do so. William Shing: Oh yes. William Shing: Money can't buy that sort of thing,

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ordinarily. Texter Triste: And the fact that it's for charity means he has to do it. Texter Triste: That's the beauty of sponsorship events. William Shing: Exactly. Stop Stare: Well, ordinarily. Tear Stained: So how did you find out he didn't take part? Stop Stare: A friend of mine spotted him going into the cinema. Tear Stained: No! Stop Stare: Oh yes. He thought he'd be safe in there. Stop Stare: I suppose he reckoned anyone who went to the race to watch him would just think they'd missed him in the crowd. Texter Triste: Despicable. Unforgivable. And yet... William Shing: I know. I was just thinking the same thing: William Shing: You can't help but admire his technique. Soma Supercollider: lol Soma Supercollider: You boys should be ashamed of yourselves x Tear Stained despairs of the both of you. Stop Stare: I should have known you would have to say something like that: Tear Stained: So he knows you know he wasn't at the race? Stop Stare: Oh yes. Stop Stare: At first, he tried to make out he'd been there and I hadn't seen him. Stop Stare: Then, when I told him he'd been spotted, do you know what he had the cheek to tell me? Stop Stare: That he'd been feeling ill and it's his

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philosophy of life that laughter is the best medicine. William Shing: Brilliant. Psychoneuroimunology has a new advocate. Texter Triste: Actually, I do believe that. Texter Triste: The medical world should really try to quantify that phenomena. Texter Triste: I would like to see the day when I can walk away from my doctor's surgery with a prescription for Benny Hill. Texter Triste: Four episodes to be viewed daily; watch after food. Tear Stained: Not to be taken literally! William Shing: And if you don't like Benny Hill? Texter Triste: You get assessed so they know just what to give you. Texter Triste: It'd all be in your records. Texter Triste: It would say, like, "This man is toilet humour intolerant" or "Not to be given mother-in-law jokes." Texter Triste: I mean, there must be a Sense of Humour Intelligence Test floating around somewhere out there. Soma Supercollider: If there is, it has a distinctive acronym. x Tear Stained: LMAO Texter Triste: hahaha. Stop Stare: lol Soma Texter Triste: You know what all this reminds me of? Texter Triste: I had an old university friend contact me last week. Texter Triste: Haven't heard from him in years. Texter Triste: Out of the blue, he emails me asking me to sponsor him for a charity run he's doing. Teter Triste: Can you believe that?

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Tear Stained: You don't think he'll do the run either? Texter Triste: Oh I'm sure he will. Texter Triste: But don't you think it's wrong to fall out of touch with someone for so long and then email them asking them for money? William Shing: Whose turn was it to email? Texter Triste: Oh, his. For three years it had been his turn. Texter Triste: I'd sent him several emails, which he ignored. Texter Triste: I gave up trying to contact him in the end. William Shing: That's people for you. Right there. Tear Stained: So did you sponsor him? Texter Triste: I haven't decided yet. Texter Triste: And you know what? He's sent me two reminders since! Texter Triste: As though the only possible reason I might have for not doing it would be plain forgetting. Tear Stained: Do you owe him any favours? Texter Triste: I don't think so. William Shing: Favours are irrelevant if he's been out of touch for so long. William Shing: You say you sent him emails he didn't reply to? Texter Triste: Several! William Shing: Right. Favours revoked. Tear Stained: That doesn't count for big favours. Tear Stained: What if Henry owed this guy his life? Texter Triste: I don't owe him my life. William Shing: If there was a big favour on the slate, I think Texter would remember it. Tear Stained: But favour perception is so subjective!

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Tear Stained: There could be something there that Texter forgot about years ago which this guy thinks is a really big deal. Tear Stained: This could be his way of giving the friendship one last chance. Texter Triste: He always did have a good memory for detail... Tear Stained: Are you *sure* there's nothing. William Shing: It doesn't matter if there is. William Shing: He's ignored emails. William Shing: The high ground is yours - plain and simple. Stop Stare: Maybe he didn't get the emails. Stop Stare: Maybe he was sick. Stop Stare: Maybe he changed his email address. Stop Stare: Maybe they got spam-trapped. Stop Stare: Or... Stop Stare: Maybe he was pissed off at you for something. Stop Stare: Maybe ignoring your emails was his way of getting you to think about what you'd done. William Shing: I know these sort of people. William Shing: Always distracted by what they think they're owed. William Shing: Always over-valuing their own side of the transaction, and myopic doesn't even begin to describe their perception of what's been done for them. Tear Stained: What's this guy's name, anyway? Texter Triste: Does it matter? Tear Stained: Just curious. Texter Triste: His name is Ned. William Shing: Ned? Ned? Do people still get called

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Ned? Texter Triste: This one clearly did. Tear Stained: What's that short for? Nederick? Texter Triste: I don't think so. Tear Stained: Is it a reversal of Ted? Texter Triste: Think about that for a minute. Tear Stained: Oh right. Texter Triste: I've got it - I know what it is. I know how he thinks I owe him. Texter Triste: It's the camping trips. Tear Stained: The camping trips? Texter Triste: Yes. Yes. Texter Triste: Three Septembers in a row, it was; the weekend from Hell I learned to dread. Texter Triste: Each year, he'd ask me where I wanted to go. He'd drive. Texter Triste: Each year I'd tell him it was his turn to choose. Texter Triste: But, because he was incapable of generating ideas of his own, he'd insist that I chose. Every year. Texter Triste: And then Texter Triste: he Texter Triste: would Texter Triste: complain Texter Triste: through Texter Triste: every Texter Triste: minute. Texter Triste: Like the site was too muddy, and it made his car dirty. Texter Triste: Or too noisy, and he couldn't sleep. Texter Triste: Or it was too cold there.

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Texter Triste: Or there weren't enough girls. Stop Stare: 'Girls'? Texter Triste: Girls. Texter Triste: Admittedly, the first site we went to *was* underneath the final approach to Heathrow. Tear Stained waits for Texter to get all of this out of his system. Tear Stained: Are you feeling better now, dear? William Shing: Trust me, this is not about the camping holiday. Soma Supercollider: Ned sounds like my sort of man. Soma Supercollider: Leave the decision-making to others and reserve the right to complain like fuck if they should dare to do anything which disturbs your sleep. William Shing: Don't you go paying him, Texter. Nor you, Stop. William Shing: Here's what you're going to do, Stop: William Shing: You're going to set up a new account at Amazon under your SL name... William Shing: You're going to find a copy of Annie Hall and put it on your wish list... William Shing: And then you're going to give me your new Amazon ID so that I can go online and buy it for you. Stop Stare: Awww.... Stop Stare: Thank you, Bill x Tear Stained: William! You *do* understand kindness! Texter Triste: Oh this has nothing to do with kindness. Texter Triste: Think of it more as spite, viewed from a different angle. Soma Supercollider: hahaha yes! Stop Stare: You know, I might just do that too. Texter Triste: Did I mention I have a neighbour who

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won't return my plasma screen TV? Tear Stained: lol Tear Stained: Oh William, my best friend won't give me back the shoes I let her borrow! William Shing: You're all leaches. Stop Stare: hahaha William Shing: But I love you anyway. * I've learned a new adjective, and it's a great one. This week, French author Jean-Marie Gustave le ClĂŠzio won the Nobel Prize for Literature. The American media, it seems, is outraged. Who is this guy? they've been crying. The US hasn't had a winner for this award since 1993 (Toni Morrison) and feel snubbed by the lack of interest in their writers (although the French, in fact, haven't had a winner since Claude Simon in 1985). Apparently. So The Guardian do some research on him and the journalist writing the article ends up describing le ClĂŠzio as 'Google-thin'. Our language adds a new word to its already bulging waistline. I love it.

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Saturday, 18 October

Sonny got back to me yesterday with his revised scripts, just as he said he would. I replaced the prim in the luggage trolley with a new one as soon as I got home from work. I turned off the IM feature – the repeated text was getting on my nerves. I'll check the cards daily and print them off at work. I've just retrieved the cards, although I've yet to go through them. It looks like it's worked perfectly. I've already thought of an improvement: I want an extra notecard with an hour-by-hour breakdown of the avatars that visited. I sent Sonny the request by notecard. I would feel sorry for him, except that each extra job I commission I pay him an additional $L10,000 for. I'm pretty certain he has no complaints. * A minister in the UK government today revealed they they are considering placing restrictions on immigration now that unemployment is on the rise (it rose sharply, earlier in the week). I followed a rather ironic link from this story to an article from earlier in the year about the shit we're going to be in if all the Poles currently working in the UK decide to go home. We have no skilled labour left, it appears. And the Polish currency is strengthening against the pound. Or was. I don't know how it stands today, in the context of the financial crisis. 50,000 Iraqis today staged a mass protest in Baghdad against American occupation. The tone of the articles I read

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felt... troubled. Shouldn't we be celebrating peaceful demonstration in Iraq, though? Just a thought. Russian President Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had his dog fitted with a collar containing satellite positioning equipment, it was announced today, which was really a clever little publicity stunt to advertise the nearing completion of Russia's GLONASS satellite positioning system (as opposed to the US version, which is the one our cars use at the moment). Apparently there are other GPSs planned also: the European Galileo system, for example, is scheduled for completion in 2013 at a cost of €3.4bn, and will offer accuracy that's a little bit better than the American or Russian systems. Why build it, when there are systems that function perfectly well already? In case there's a war, apparently, in which case the Americans or Russians might stop letting us use theirs. And the Chinese are building one too. And Terry Wogan's very public despair in his commentary over the UK's performance – or rather the UK's points awarded... or rather the UK's lack of points awarded – in the 2008 Eurovision Song Contest seems to have galvanised the emergency apparatus of British songwriting into action. Hot on the heels of the announcement a few weeks ago that some sort of judging panel will be re-introduced to the marking system (big difference that's likely to make) comes the news today that Andrew Lloyd Webber, no less, will be writing our 2009 entry. Gosh. I wonder. Do they still do the Eurovision song contest now? Does Terry Wogan still present it?! You probably have no idea who he is, right? Look him up on the Internet. He was a funny guy, one of those men in broadcasting who endured. He was around through my childhood and he's still

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working now (and doing pretty much the same sort of stuff that he did back then too). He's a link to my past, just like Bruce Forsyth and Michael Parkinson (look them up too). He's one of our 'national institutions' which really means that you can have a conversation with virtually anyone in the country about him, and the likelihood is it'll be one of affection. Things like that help us to belong. It's all about belonging, really. * I've left Redclaw! I'm at an event! I'm listening to live music and it's incredible! I'm dancing! I'm drunk! Well, a little. Something red that I found in the cupboard, I think someone gave it to me for my birthday. It's amazing the difference a couple of mouthfuls can make. Stop was with wine at her end of the connection and wanted to toast Redclaw, so it seemed rude to leave her to do that by herself. I had to rummage to find a corkscrew. And then realised it was a screw top. We'd been chatting about Bill's latest Saturday shopping centre mishap (he tried to return something) and then it was time for him to go off to a Star Trek event; I took the plunge and invited myself along. It was like the world stopped turning for a moment; then, once they'd all come to terms with the fact that I was about to leave the station, Stop told everyone that if I was going anywhere I was going with her, since I owed her a dance. And here we are. Some sort of club. Some sort of guitarist. My avatar is doing some sort of dance. And I feel like I have some sort of glow inside me. The public chat is lively, the music is great and Stop and I have just about the right level of flirting going on between us

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in IM. Bizarrely, it feels like I'm there. It feels like I'm really out for my Saturday evening. * And now I've three large glasses of wine inside me and am more than a little drunk and wandering why I have to go three, four, five, six fucking minutes without a reply to my IMs and feeling pretty god-damned stupid. Am I just a ball to be juggled? I'm 'with her' but I'm by myself. I know nobody here. It's like being a fucking undergraduate again, dragged out to some club by my housemates because I “should get out more�. It's not remotely like that because I badly badly wanted this, or so I thought. I'm an idiot to get myself into these situations. So the club's emptied out, bit by bit, and now it's just us and a guy called Marton and a woman called Fret and another woman called Adrianesque. And why would a woman call herself Adrianesque? Is it possible she's really a guy? And another guy called Speaker. Who doesn't say so much. Here we are, jigging our way around the dance floor, the memory of the live music in our heads, and now we have a recording to move to that's playing on stream. Should I take this as a sign that the evening's over? Should I interpret the long pauses after my messages as a signal that it's time for me to make my excuses and leave? That's what I'd do if it was RL, right? I wouldn't just stay here by myself. I must look stupid here, dancing alone and saying nothing. Do they assume me to be in IM with somebody? If anyone says something to me, should I leave it a fashionable time before answering, as though needing time to finish typing my many other messages? As if someone will say anything to me anyway!

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Maybe they're talking about me in IM. Maybe they're asking each other why I'm still here. Maybe they're saying saying stuff like, “Geez, how do you give a guy a hint?” And who is this Triste guy anyway? They've probably skimmed my profile and chalked me up as noob or nearly-noob in any case. I'm too Google-thin for them. I notice how Stop is standing close to Speaker. Does he do all his speaking into the ears of attractive women, I wonder? Are they whispering sweet nothings to each other? Are they waiting for me to go so that they can go to wherever it is they want to move on to? I'm only writing all this out to give me something to do. It makes it more tolerable, somehow. The more I sit and look at the monitor without doing anything, the more I start talking to it, shouting at it. Not really shouting at it, because that's not like me at all – particularly since it's gone two in the morning where I am and I do have neighbours you know (not that they ever seem unduly concerned by the noise they are able to generate) – instead I do this big angry whisper and sort of Italian driver arm gestures like throwing up my hands in despair. You'll know what I mean. This is driving me nuts. Ignore me, then. I wonder how long it will be before you all teleport away from here anyway, thinking me afk probably – or hoping that, at least – and I will sit all by myself even so, and look at the wall, and still pretend to be in IM with all my SL friends, who are asking me what I'm up to and when I can come see them. I'll sit here by myself and become the only guy in the entire sim. And tomorrow you can say to me, “Oh, we thought maybe you'd crashed or something.” Ugh. I should edit this. I promised myself I wouldn't, though. I won't. This is how I am. Things work out well, though; right? I should really go. How should I depart without making it seem awkward? Will I feel bad

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once I've left? Maybe she has another Second Life window open and is wondering around elsewhere in/as an alt, occasionally checking to see if my task bar tab is flashing orange. Do you do Second Life 'in' an alt or 'as' an alt? Or 'using' an alt? She could be on a sunny beach somewhere, relaxing. Well, good for her. That's what I'd do, if I was stuck with me for company. It seems a completely logical thing to do. Maybe I should minimise this window right now, create an alternative account on the Linden website and log in in another window and see if I can find her. Perhaps she'll have an ironic name like Stop Suddenly or Stand Stare. Do I mean ironic? I can say, “Hi, how you doing?” and she'll be like, “actually I have this guy in another window I really regret asking out this evening.” I can make some sort of disparaging remark about guys who carry on dancing way after the music stops and she'll giggle and tell me how insightful I am. It'll be a beautiful evening, we'll engage each other in I think excited conversation and at the same time ignore each other completely. You know I think I liked SL better when I just stayed in the one place. Everything at Redclaw was predictable. Nobody got the chance to be disappointed by me there. I'd go there now except I'll probably be a sarcastic fuck and upset someone. I really shouldn't drink on my own like this. I want some more wine. No I'm out of here I can't stand it any longer. There – I did it. Shit. Shit. I'm a fuck. Ah well.

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Sunday, 19 October

I got up late, went for my run at eleven. The sky was torn in two, split between blue sky and black, heavy, angry clouds. I ran through crunchy leaves towards darkness, bathed from behind in sunlight, waiting for the rain to hit me. And I was lucky; it never came. It alarms me how Second Life is starting to affect me. I think I should take a step back from the socialising I've been doing there. It occurs to me that there is less of a need now in any case, now that my listening device is nearing its working state. I'll get plenty of information from the daily reports it provides me with. Previously, I'd have argued the case for actual interaction very assertively, but what have I actually discovered by doing this? What do I actually know? Or even suspect? Do I think that any of the regulars are Tsyin Tii? No. Do I have any theory as to why Tsyin Tii would in any way be interested in the place? No. Redclaw, increasingly, is looking like a dead end. There's no evidence that either Eliza or Erica or Tsyin Tii ever went there. The clue was either intentionally misleading or something scribbled absently or something completely unrelated to Second Life. I chewed all this over as I ran. Naturally, we had investigated anybody on SL with the first name 'Redclaw' (there are seven of them, by the way). Of course, one of the most obvious possibilities was that 'Redclaw' is a password, so we asked Linden for the details of anyone using this word as their SL login password – which they didn't like one bit, incidentally, and I guess understandably so – but anyway it turns out that no-one is. Yes, we thought to include in the

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search all the 'redclaw29' type variations; anything containing that string of seven letters, basically. And all upper/lower case combinations. Nothing came back. It's not a password. It's not a password on Second Life, at least. It could be a password in any number of other places. It could be an email password, a password for online banking, a password for any one of the millions of websites that ask for a password. The assumption that this word written down has anything whatsoever to do with SL is totally without supporting evidence. It's just a hunch, for all the technological dazzle. Nothing more than an educated itch. I ran for four miles, doing the first two at a punishing speed that left me gasping against a lamp post for five minutes at the halfway mark before turning back. I stood there whilst I recovered and thought about Second Life, how I was both far away from the metaverse in that moment and yet also no further away than if I was back at home, sitting in front of my keyboard. Cyberspace surrounds us. It is everywhere and it is nowhere. And I thought about the ultimate sterility of the made up world, its lack of sensory richness, and how it relies upon our real life memories and experiences in order for the dots to be joined and the phantom limbs to come into existence. It feels real, but it is artificial. But the people and the behaviours are real, the prejudices are real, the immaturity is real... just as my immaturity was real last night. * I created an account at 'Entropia' today and tried to download the client. I thought it might be a good idea to do my socialising in a virtual world other than Second Life. The

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viewer downloaded promptly, but then it told me it needed to update itself and gave me an estimated download time of 150 hours. So much for Entropia, then. * Presidential candidate Barack Obama today received the backing of former Secretary of State to George W Bush, Colin Powell – a man once regarded, incidentally, as the most likely candidate for America's first black president. He described Obama as potentially a 'transformational' president. People are starting to talk about Obama in almost reverential tones, it seems. Commentators write of his astonishing control over his presentation, his self-discipline, his stamina, how natural he makes it all look. They talk of former Democrat candidates who were beginning to wilt at this stage (including Bill Clinton). They talk of Gordon Brown (any excuse for a pop at good old Gordon), who rarely looks comfortable in the company of other people. McCain is now ten points behind Obama and has been for several days. Is a transformation approaching in America?

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Monday, 20 October

And so, October has properly arrived. Grey skies. Wind. Enough rain to spot the windscreen up in under a minute, but not enough that the first sweep of the wiper blades doesn't smear. Leaves being blown from branches in little swarms that fly across the road and patter crisply against the driver's side window. No light outside when the alarm went off this morning. Lights on in the kitchen. I hate October. In the office I tried to wade through some of the paperwork for my many other cases until ten (if only things were like the movies and you could put everything down and concentrate on just the one thing). I had supervision then until eleven – my first session since June, due to the cutbacks, and my first with Michaela. She insisted on the Tsyin Tii case, of course; it was not a good day for me to be justifying my actions, particularly since I'm not entirely certain that they can be justified. In the event, it was probably this very evident indecision which actually warmed her to my way of thinking. I think the surveillance devices organised also helped me to appear convincing in my attempts to extract more information more efficiently. She wanted to see the RL files we're starting to put together on each of the regulars. It makes my skin go prickly whenever I look through these, particularly when I'm showing them to others. It feels like I'm putting my deceit upon display. The files are still in the early stages of development, they're currently taking up a lot of my time during the day. Some of the regulars I have quite a high level of detail on now, but some of them I know nothing yet because they used a false name when they signed up at

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Linden. These are just threads that need to be pulled – check the email address they used to register the account with, etc – in the vast majority of cases it'll only be a matter of time before we follow it through to a name and a date of birth, and when we've got that then the usual mechanisms can commence. “You do realise there might come a time when you have to meet these people in real life? Pull them in for questioning?” Michaela asked me. “That moment could be soon.” “Yes,” I told her. And I do know that only too well. I think about it a lot. I think about how my SL friends will react when they find out just how much I know about their real lives? Will they understand? Will they consider the circumstances mitigating? “Is that going to be a problem?” Michaela asked me. “I don't think it should be me who conducts the questioning,” I told her, honestly. “Because you want to preserve your online relationships?” “If somebody else conducts the questioning I can maintain my covert status.” “Actually,” she said, “I see no reason why you couldn't conduct the questioning and maintain your covert status.” “I might use voice in Second Life,” I said. “And then they might recognise me.” “Have you used voice yet?” she asked. “No.” “Then don't.” She flicked through Shing's file, pausing at the traffic fines. “I could brief in another colleague,” I said. “I'm not saying that wouldn't be preferable,” she replied.

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“But you know how things are at the moment. We might not have that luxury, if it comes to it. Harry's under a lot of pressure. If 'Tsyin Tii' should claim another victim, he might have to pull these people in at a moment's notice to show that we have lines to pursue. There won't be time to brief in others. Use Ed.” I winced. “Make sure you keep him up to date on everything you're doing. You might be glad of his familiarity with your work later on.” I guess she's probably right. * Obama continues to lead McCain by 10 per cent. Today we were introduced to the 'Bradley effect' by the media, a revision of the story of Tom Bradley, an African-American who ran for governor of California in 1982. Bradley had a considerable lead over his republican opponent prior to election. People were saying to the researchers on the street that they would vote for him. On the day itself, however, they just couldn't quite bring themselves to vote for a black man and, in the privacy of the polling booth, they put their X next to the name of the white candidate. Bradley lost the election. Now the speculation has started that the same thing could happened on 4 November.

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Tuesday, 21 October

I had an evening off from Second Life last night. A second evening off, in fact, because I didn't go on on Sunday either. But that was through embarrassment. So I caught up with some TV on the BBC iPlayer, yesterday. Jonathan Ross interviewing Sarah Silverman. Little Britain USA. Stephen Fry in America. Can you spot the theme to my viewing? It's the election, I guess. I managed to get about halfway through an episode of the new series of Heroes, but then I couldn't bear it any longer. I've never been that keen on TV and I don't know why I should have thought it might plug a gap it had been nowhere near in the first place. I sat awhile with Soma's novel and re-read the same paragraph about four times. I looked a lot at the PC. In the end, I reasoned that using the PC would be ok, so long as I avoided Second Life. I thought about Entropia again. I toyed with Lively. I scanned through some posts on some of the old discussion forums I used to look at nightly, habitually, back before SL (only actually a few weeks ago, though), and found them to be dull and stuffed full of their own self-importance. Which they always had been, except I hadn't ever minded quite so much before. I dug out the Nintendo Wii I bought six months ago and played the Tennis game it came with, wondering, whilst I swung the motion-sensitive remote control through wide, exaggerated McEnroe curves, if ever there would come a time when technology like this would be integrated into Second Life. I wondered if I'd ever be able to play tennis like this against Bill Shing, or Tear, or Bigboy, or Stop. I can't see any reason why not.

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I reasoned that using Second Life would be ok, so long as I avoided logging on as Texter. I contemplated bringing Marcus back to life for a brief moment. I visited the Linden web site and looked at the available avatar names. I wondered what I would do if I created an alternative account. The whole reason for doing so would be that Texter's days with his friends were looking numbered. But what would I do, once Texter got retired? Would I set up my new avatar and seek out the same friends as before, take up residence in Redclaw before Texter's seat had had a chance to go cold and hope that nobody recognised me? Would I feel comfortable deceiving them in this way? Would the friendship be real if I did that? But was it any more real right now? We most of us keep our RL details to ourselves in any case; would keeping RL details from others specifically because they would recognise you be any different from just keeping them to yourself because that's the done thing anyway? Would my fear of discovery haunt me? Because, if they did manage to identify me, it was unlikely that the irony of my attempt to remain anonymous in the context of my effectively removing the anonymity of others would go uncommented on. Would they tune in to my mannerisms and recognise me from a phrase or a spelling? Would I worry that they had already recognised me and were discussing it whenever I wasn't there? I've thought about all of these things before, of course. I'm not sure how, but until yesterday I'd managed to box them all away into a sort of cross-that-bridge-when-youcome-to-it kind of way. My meeting with Michaela had made it real, because she had directly articulated the possibility of meeting these people in RL and their discovering my identity, and the consequences of this.

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Oxford had never talked to me directly about this sort of stuff, either because he didn't like to ask that sort of question or because he hadn't tuned in to what I was telling him sufficiently to deduce it as an issue. I wondered if maybe Classing had been right all along. His lack of emotional involvement annoyed me, but what returns had I to show for my own investment? And would he have issues with bringing in for questioning the people he knew in SL? He would not. Was it inevitable that they would find out? Was it conceivable that I could actually bring them in and get away with it? Could I question them and remain anonymous, raise virtual eyebrows when/if I heard about the event later whilst inworld? Would it then be wise to pretend that I myself had also been put through the process? Because they would work out that the station was the connection, and why would I be the exception? Would they then suspect an insider? Would they try and work out who it was? Would I join in with their investigation rather than be singled out as the guy who didn't want to “find the bastard who did this to us�? And would I stand by, quietly, if they identified the wrong person? Would I let them persecute him? Would I add my disgusted comments to theirs? Would I do my bit to lead them to him in the first place? Could I do any of these things? Could I lie to them? Or was it just better to acknowledge that the end of Texter was approaching? That a new avatar should have new friends. That version 2 would have to make his dint elsewhere and forget about these people. The thought depressed me enormously, and I ended up going to bed early. But this morning I got up with an odd sort of resolve. If it's going to end, I might as well end it now. I'm already deceiving them,

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after all. I'll create a new alt tonight. I'll start my Second Life from scratch. * In any case, I had to log on that evening to collect the notecards from the luggage trolley. I didn't do it first thing when I got in. I fixed some diner first. I watched the news. I heard about John McCain's fund raising letter which accidentally got sent to the Russian Ambassador to the United Nations (very funny; very ironic) and about Barack Obama's sick grandmother. I ended up logging on at eight, hoping to be on and off again in a couple of minutes. Stop Stare: Oh hi Texter. Texter Triste: Hey Stop. Stop Stare: You just missed Bill. Stop Stare: He was worried about you. Stop Stare: Well, he didn't *say* as much, but you could tell lol. Texter Triste grins. Texter Triste: Bless him. Stop Stare: haha Stop Stare: You two make the perfect couple lol. Stop Stare: So where you been? Stop Stare: You didn't say goodnight on Saturday. Stop Stare: Was everything ok? Texter Triste: Sure. Texter Triste: I was really tired. Texter Triste: I meant to say goodbye, but I could see you were really busy. Stop Stare: Oh yes, I'm sorry about that.

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Stop Stare: A friend in need. She was very low. Texter Triste: You were helping someone out? Stop Stare: Yes. She just split with her SL boyfriend. Stop Stare: He said some really nasty things to her. Stop Stare: People can be so cruel when they're trying to justify their actions to themselves. Texter Triste: True. Texter Triste: And an interesting way of looking at it. Stop Stare: 'Interesting'? Texter Triste: I guess most people would say, “People can be so cruel� and leave it at that. Stop Stare: But there has to be a reason, don't you think? Texter Triste: Of course. Stop Stare: I mean, who would want to think of themselves as a cruel person? Texter Triste: You mean that people increase their feelings of negativity towards somebody in order to make their bad behaviour appear justifiable to them? Stop Stare: Yes, exactly. Stop Stare: I break up with you because I'm seeing someone else... Stop Stare: ...but, because I don't like to think of myself as unfaithful, I tell myself it was your behaviour which drove me into their arms in the first place. Stop Stare: And to make this more convincing, my feelings of anger towards you increase... Stop Stare: And I *become* more angry, more vitriolic. Texter Triste: You change the way you think about me in order to resolve your dissonance. Stop Stare: Yes, exactly. Texter Triste: So are we really breaking up? I apologise for my behaviour that drove you into another man's arms ;)

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Stop Stare: hahaha Stop Stare: How are you going to make it up to me? I was grinning at the screen. The phone ringing brought me back to reality. Texter Triste: Telephone. Texter Triste: brb Stop Stare: kk I answered the phone. There was silence, I think it was one of those robot telephone sales calls, where the computer dials more numbers than they have sales staff available. Texter Triste: Back. Stop Stare: That was fast! Texter Triste: It was a silent call. Texter Triste: Probably sales. Stop Stare: Oh right, I hate those. Stop Stare: You don't opt out of telephone sales? Texter Triste: Oh right, that opt-out thing. What's that called again? Texter Triste: Telephone preference? Something like that? Stop Stare: That's right. Texter Triste: You use it? Does it work? Stop Stare: I'm on the list, yes. Seems to work pretty well. Texter Triste: I should probably look into that. I remembered I was there for the notecards. I typed in my release command (“/3155 report�, a silent command that

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would be heard by no-one else unless they just happened to be listening specifically to channel 3155). The notecards appeared in my inventory. Stop Stare: You on for a while? I started to type out that this was a flying visit, got about halfway through, then hesitated. I hit delete. Texter Triste: Haven't really decided yet. Stop Stare: hmmmm Stop Stare: You sound tired. Texter Triste: I do? Stop Stare: You do. Texter Triste: How can you tell what I sound like?! Stop Stare: I can tell from your non-verbals, of course. Texter Triste: Non-verbals?! What non-verbals? Texter Triste: What non-verbals do you get in Second Life? Stop Stare: You don't think there are non-verbals in Second Life? Stop Stare: How typically male of you. Texter Triste: lol Texter Triste: Ok, so tell me about them. Stop Stare: Well, there's how close you stand your avatar to the person you're talking to, for starters. Stop Stare: Then there's whether or not you look at them when you're talking to them. Texter Triste: How can you tell whether I'm looking at you or not? Stop Stare: Most animation overriders still point your head in the general direction of your gaze, silly.

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Stop Stare: And if you turn on 'Look At' you can see exactly where someone's looking by following their cross hair. Texter Triste: I never knew that. Stop Stare: Well now you do. Texter Triste: And the other non-verbals? Stop Stare: Hesitation. Texter Triste: You mean in typing? Stop Stare: Of course. Stop Stare: And deleting. Texter Triste: How do you know if someone's been deleting? Stop Stare: It's easy. Stop Stare: You see the 'Texter Triste is typing' message for a while, and you wait... Stop Stare: Then it disappears for a couple of seconds – that's hesitation, btw – Stop Stare: Then you get it back again, but only briefly... Stop Stare: Finally, you get your message, but it's much shorter than the message you should have received, given the length of time you saw that they were typing. In other words... Stop Stare: Long typing time + short message = deletion taking place. Texter Triste laughs. Texter Triste: Clever. Stop Stare: Not really. Stop Stare: It's easy. Stop Stare: The more time you spend interacting in here, the more natural picking up on this stuff becomes. Stop Stare: In the end, it's no different from reading someone's body language or intonation.

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Texter Triste: If you say so. Stop Stare: I know what your problem is. Texter Triste: You do? Stop Stare: Sure I do. Texter Triste: What's my problem? Stop Stare: You're suffering from SLF. Second Life Fatigue. Texter Triste laughs. Texter Triste: Isn't it interesting... Texter Triste: I've never heard that phrase before... Texter Triste: And yet, instinctively, I know exactly what it means. Stop Stare grins. Stop Stare: Most people do. Texter Triste: Well, you're very intuitive. Stop Stare: Thanks. I am, yes :) Stop Stare: So where are you at in your thinking? Stop Stare: You got to the quitting SL stage yet? Or have you moved beyond that? Texter Triste: Is my distress really so ubiquitous? Stop Stare: I'm afraid so. Texter Triste: Is this your way of telling me I'll be back? I looked at that question on the screen, thinking all of a sudden that it represented a sort of landmark statement, a line drawn in the sand and crossed. It almost sounded like a precursor to a goodbye. Of course, I wasn't leaving Second Life; as far as the Redclaw regulars were concerned, however, I supposed I pretty much was. The SLF explanation would make perfect sense and it seemed crazy not to use it, now that it was 'out there'. Stop's 'intuitions' were like a gift, in that respect. It was almost as though it

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made it look like my leaving had all been her idea. And yet it all seemed so sudden. I'd made the decision earlier, but I hadn't expected for it to become something 'concrete' quite so quickly. I suppose I'd hoped to just not be around any more, rather than announcing or otherwise making it known my intention to leave. I didn't want the fuss of any of that. In fact, in a very real way, Texter was leaving Second Life. Whatever sequel/successor/new version I came up with would not be qualitatively the same as he had been. The new Spencer SL presence would be a function of the interaction between me and my avatar and whatever place I rezzed it in. Between the two of us, we created new life. Stop Stare: Awwww Stop Stare: Don't go, Texter. I reminded myself that I would still have to come here each day or at least every couple of days to pick up the notecards. There was something about Stop. I wished suddenly that I could hear what she sounded like. I suppose she must have shouted Happy Birthday over voice along with everyone else on the 2nd, but of course there was no way that any single voice could have been picked out then. It's odd, how just hearing a voice can suddenly be thought of as such a treat. We hear voices all the time; you would think that there's nothing special about hearing another, yet when text is the only way you have ever known someone – and someone you are suddenly and increasingly attracted to, at that – the prospect of hearing their voice is more exciting than you could possibly have previously imagined. Of course, I couldn't invite Stop to a voice conversation, since that's something I just mustn't do now. It could make me

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recognisable. Then another thought struck me. Perhaps soon I might be hearing Stop's voice over an interview table. That slap from reality brought me back to my senses a little. Texter Triste: I'd like to say I'll stay... Texter Triste: The truth is, I don't have time any more. And I'm tired. Texter Triste: Maybe I'll feel differently after a few days off. Stop Stare comes to stand next to you and strokes your hand gently. Stop Stare: Ok. Whatever you need to do, sweetie. My chest felt suddenly hollow. I took a few deep breaths and wondered what to write in reply. I noticed, all over my forearms, goosebumps rising. Texter Triste: You're a good person, Stop. Texter Triste: I think you're right; I think I will be back soon. Texter Triste: How will I be able to keep myself away from you? I had meant to write 'from all of you,' but a kind of recklessness overcame me at the last moment. I stabbed the sentence out and hit return before giving myself a chance to think about it. Stop Stare smiles. Stop Stare: Awww Stop Stare looks at you a little coyly. Stop Stare: Texter, can I ask you a personal question?

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Texter Triste: Sure, go ahead. Stop Stare: Did you make love in Second Life yet? I tried to ignore the fact that my heart had started suddenly to thud mercilessly inside my chest. I stumbled my way through a weak disclaimer, immensely glad in that moment that actual, physical speech was not required of me. Texter Triste: I, um, haven't. No. Texter Triste: Isn't it all just words? I thought about the listening device, decided this was not a conversation I especially wanted Classing or Oxford or Michaela casting their eyes over. IM: Texter Triste: I don't really 'get' the whole cybersex thing. IM: Stop Stare: Oh Texter. IM: Stop Stare: You have so much to learn. IM: Stop Stare smiles at you kindly. IM: Texter Triste feels a little uncomfortable. IM: Stop Stare: It's ok. IM: Stop Stare: We all feel like that to begin with. IM: Stop Stare: Let me tell you why cyber love is amazing. IM: Stop Stare: It's not the kind of thing people intuitively understand. Not at first. IM: Stop Stare: Some never get it at all. IM: Stop Stare: Because we still most of us relate to sex, first and foremost, as a physical process. IM: Stop Stare: Rather than, first and foremost, as a human interaction.

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IM: Stop Stare: And the reason for that, I think... IM: Stop Stare: Is that, for many people, physical sex is a sort of mutual masturbation. IM: Stop Stare: You run against me; I rub against you. IM: Stop Stare: People don't talk to each other during sex. IM: Stop Stare: People don't tell each other what they want. IM: Stop Stare: People don't experiment, people don't fantasise aloud. IM: Stop Stare: People don't let each other into their heads. IM: Stop Stare: It's just two bodies which just happen to be really close to each other; the minds are elsewhere entirely. IM: Stop Stare: Not *all* people are like this, you understand. IM: Stop Stare: But many. IM: Stop Stare: Maybe most. IM: Texter Triste: Yes, I understand what you're saying. IM: Stop Stare: So there's physical sex and then there's mental sex. Now don't get me wrong... IM: Stop Stare: If you can get both together, then of course that's the best. IM: Stop Stare: But if it were one or the other I had to choose between... IM: Stop Stare: Mental sex would win every time. Hands down. IM: Texter Triste: Really? IM: Stop Stare: Oh yes. IM: Stop Stare edges a little closer to you so her arm presses lightly against yours. IM: Texter Triste isn't quite sure what to do.

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IM: Stop Stare noted lots of hesitation just then. IM: Texter Triste: lol yes IM: Stop Stare reaches out to hold your hand, interlocks her fingers with yours. IM: Stop Stare stands for a few moments like this alongside you, then starts to walk slowly towards the locomotive, pulling you along behind her. IM: Texter Triste follows, a little nervously. IM: Stop Stare: No need to be nervous. IM: Stop Stare pulls you over to the big, noisy engine, turns to face you when she reaches it, leans back against the polished, vibrating metal; pulls you gently towards her. IM: Stop Stare lets go of your hand, grabs your belt buckle instead and tugs you urgently over. IM: Texter Triste looses his balance, falls towards you, puts out his hand to stop himself. IM: Stop Stare: That's right, yes. You're getting the idea. IM: Stop Stare grins up at you, our noses nearly meeting. Your hand is inches from her head, it slapped there against the metal when you lost your balance. “Oops,” she says. “How clumsy I am.” IM: Texter Triste hovers over you, uncertain what to do next. IM: Stop Stare: Why uncertain? What inhibits you? IM: Texter Triste: Anxiety. IM: Stop Stare: What are you anxious about? IM: Texter Triste: That I will presume too much? That I will upset or offend you? That I will be unskilled? That I will look foolish? IM: Stop Stare: Why, Texter... IM: Stop Stare: Those all sound like the sorts of worries people might experience in a real life situation...

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IM: Stop Stare: I thought you said all of this was just words. IM: Texter Triste: True. IM: Stop Stare: I want you to clear your mind. IM: Stop Stare: I want you to think about the thing you would most like to do to me, right now, standing here, my back against the train, you leaning over me. IM: Stop Stare: Think about what your move would be... IM: Stop Stare: Think about how it makes your body feel, to think thoughts like that. IM: Stop Stare: And then type it out, quickly; don't stop to think about what you're writing. IM: Stop Stare: And then hit enter. Send me your thought. IM: Stop Stare: And then see how your body feels *then*. IM: Texter Triste: Ok... I imagined us there, together like that. I imagined the throb of the locomotive, its brute power drowning out all other sounds, making a silence of sorts between us. I imagined movement all around us: blurry, out of focus passengers walking up and down platforms with baggage; distant doors opening and slamming shut; birds, up in the roof, flying from one metal beam to another; white on black letters flipping over on the departures board. I imagined hot air washing over us, the smell of machinery working, Stop's scent, the aroma of distant coffee. I imagined Stop before me, close. I imagined being aware of closeness things, like seeing a mole I'd never noticed before or some bobbles on her pullover. I imagined us tired, weary, but longing to be inside each other.

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IM: Texter Triste moves towards you, minutely, hesitates for a split second when he sees you raise your chin towards him... IM: Stop Stare: Good, yes. I raise my lips towards yours. IM: Texter Triste parts his lips slightly as he meets your mouth, making our first kiss light, almost a brushing of skin against skin. IM: Stop Stare reaches up to hold the back of your head, her fingers push through your thick hair, ready to pull you to her more quickly if you spend too much time on hesitation. Her eyes close, as if drifting into sleep. IM: Texter Triste opens his lips wider, tilts his head to one side a little, returns to take your mouth more fully into him, leans closer into you, moving from just his hand to his whole forearm resting against the warm metal. Our bodies touch. IM: Stop Stare: mmmmm yes... IM: Stop Stare: Do you feel it? IM: Stop Stare: Is your skin awakening? IM: Stop Stare: Are you restless in your seat? IM: Stop Stare: Are you leaning forward towards your screen, as though the next message will get to you quicker that way? IM: Stop Stare: Or are you sitting back already? Are you sinking into the bubble of lust? It'll consume you if you let it. IM: Stop Stare: Let it, Texter. IM: Texter Triste: Where does this go? IM: Stop Stare: Where do you want it to go? IM: Stop Stare: Let me ask you something, do you still want to leave Second Life? IM: Texter Triste: No... IM: Stop Stare places her other hand palm flat against

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your chest as we kiss, slides it upwards, up the side of your neck, over your cheek, into your hair. Now both of her hands are tangled in your hair. She pulls you to her, presses her body into you. I was sinking into the bubble of lust, alright. But then, all of a sudden... William Shing: Texter! William Shing: You're alive! William Shing: I was beginning to think you'd died and gone to Second Heaven! Stop and I were not standing against a train. We were not kissing. We were not feeling each other through clothes, through words, through thoughts... We were, of course, standing on the platform still, next to the bugged luggage trolley. And Bill was in the cafĂŠ behind us, and shouting like he was banging on the window and waving. Texter Triste: Hey Bill. IM: Texter Triste: Talk about bad timing. IM: Stop Stare: lol IM: Stop Stare: Actually, I half expected it. IM: Stop Stare: He would be here at this time ordinarily. IM: Stop Stare: The important question is, does this leave you wanting more? IM: Texter Triste: It leaves me wanting more, yes... IM: Texter Triste: It leaves me wanting a *lot* more. William Shing: What are you two doing out there? You look like you just saw someone off. IM: Stop Stare: Good.

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IM: Stop Stare: Then my work here is done... for now :) IM: Texter Triste: Can't we find somewhere to continue this? IM: Stop Stare: Go take a cold shower, Texter. IM: Stop Stare: We'll find a time and a place sometime soon; don't worry. IM: Texter Triste: You're a cruel woman, Stop. IM: Stop Stare: You have no idea, my darling x William Shing: Hello? Hellooooo? * So what do I do now? Do I do anything? Do I do anything different from what I was planning to do, that is? Is this something or nothing? Should I care? One of my problems is I think ahead too much. One of the things I think about is the potential significance of the thing I've just done or not just done. I look for decision points. I look for branches. I look for the moments where my destiny might have changed. Do I retire Texter and let Stop slip quietly into that category of things which might have been? What significance could she have had? Might she be a one-time virtual fumble or might she be the love of my life? I mean, might she be your mother? And if she's not, but could have been, then who might have been reading this now instead of you and what do you think they might have been like? Say hello to your non-existent siblings for me, will you? In another universe, I expect they're saying hi to you too.

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Wednesday, 22 October

I noticed that there was something different about Classing today from the moment he came into the room we'd booked. He looked distracted as he blue-tacked up the occupied sign on the exterior of the door and then he swore when one of his belt loops got caught on the door handle when he tried to come back in to the room. He got yanked back, like he was trying to go somewhere and forgot he was on a leash. I tried not to laugh, but he caught sight of my smirk and told me to fuck off. Very unlike Edward. I asked him if everything was ok and he told me of course it was. My guess is he's had a row with his wife. He spent the first half hour of our meeting projecting his anger onto the various residents of Second Life he was “becoming sick and tired of.� I told him about my discussion with Michaela. He said, fine let's just bring them in and get this thing over with; that's the best news I heard all week; this is the most amateurish piece of casework we've ever been involved in. And why the fuck is it taking so long for the anonymous user data to come through? Or maybe he's pissed because I get to go to Le Harve next week? I doubt that that's it. And yet. Classing's an uninspired guy. Perhaps a couple of evenings leave of absence here and there from his marriage is the sort of thing that gets him through from one month to the next. I know very little about him, really. I know he has satellite TV and pays for the sports channels. He's often talking about football with male colleagues if I ever see him in the staff room. It's his ticket into that group and fair play to him. I know he plays squash every Tuesday evening, because I

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played him once and we came out at three games to him and two to me. He was shocked by how close he had come to losing. He told me I should seriously think about playing more often, but didn't offer to be the guy that I played. I know that he thinks his son's last teacher was “gorgeous, the type of woman you'd never believe could possibly be a teacher” and he thinks his son's current teacher is “an idiot.” I know that when he was a boy he wanted to be in the Royal Air Force. I know he hopes his son will manage to achieve this one day, where he was unable to. Classing doesn't talk much about his passion for aircraft and I wish he would, because when he starts going on about stuff like all the different types of Spitfires they used to make in the war, his voice starts to sound boyish and excited, like someone who really wants to infect you with their enthusiasm. I love passion. It doesn't matter what the subject is. But Classing understands that non-mainstream topics can be risky subjects for conversation. In public areas it's strictly football or political commentary of the Daily Mail variety. Classing plays things safe. He lives a dull, semi-detached, fixed rate mortgage life. He drinks lager from small green bottles and barbecues chicken in the summer. I guess the attractiveness of a couple of nights alone in a French city – even if it is Le Havre – isn't all that hard to spot when set against that backdrop. Even so, I still don't think it's that. * IM: Stop Stare: Your favourite movie. IM: Texter Triste: Really? We're doing the favourites thing? IM: Stop Stare: Of course!

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IM: Texter Triste: Already? IM: Stop Stare: Is this too big a step for you? IM: Texter Triste: You don't think we're taking things too quickly? IM: Stop Stare: lol IM: Stop Stare: You'd rather we skipped straight to the sex? IM: Texter Triste: Sex is so impersonal these days. IM: Texter Triste: Movie talk, on the other hand, reveals stuff. IM: Texter Triste: I never talk favourite movies until I've slept with someone at *least* twice. IM: Stop Stare: hahaha IM: Stop Stare: Nice try. IM: Texter Triste: But not successful? IM: Stop Stare: Not a chance. IM: Texter Triste: I could always lie, you know. IM: Texter Triste: How will you know I'm telling you the truth? IM: Stop Stare: Easy. By the consistency of your answers. IM: Stop Stare: I don't want to know your single favourite. IM: Stop Stare: I want your top five. IM: Texter Triste: I couldn't give you a *single* favourite in any case. IM: Stop Stare: Good. IM: Texter Triste: After all, Ghostbusters had a sequel. IM: Stop Stare sighs. IM: Stop Stare: I can see this is going to be difficult. IM: Texter Triste grins at you playfully. IM: Texter Triste: If you should now name Dirty Dancing

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as your top favourite, your right to that scorn of yours is revoked. IM: Stop Stare: On the one hand: lol IM: Stop Stare: On the other, I hardly think Dirty Dancing can be categorised as a Ghostbusters equivalent! IM: Texter Triste: You don't? IM: Texter Triste: Seems a fair comparison to me. IM: Texter Triste: What *does* Dirty Dancing equate to then? IM: Stop Stare: Are you quite sure you're not confusing Dirty Dancing with Ghost? IM: Texter Triste: Quite sure. IM: Stop Stare: Really? That's a shame, because the Ghostbusters-Ghost pairing works for me. IM: Texter Triste: That's a bit superficial, don't you think? IM: Stop Stare: lol IM: Stop Stare: You are so asking for a slap! IM: Texter Triste shrugs. IM: Texter Triste makes a note: “Ghostbusters-Ghost”, being careful to secure this shotgun marriage of words in a good, strong pair of speech marks. IM: Stop Stare: hahaha IM: Stop Stare: I never thought of speech marks as being like hand cuffs before. IM: Texter Triste: Oh yes. IM: Texter Triste: When people do that air quotes thing, it's to make sure that the word or phrase contained doesn't get out and do any damage. IM: Texter Triste: It's sort of like when the 1970s police guy pushes the cuffed hoodlum into the station in front of him and says, 'Hey Sarge, look who I just found “chilling” half a block from the liquor store that got done over last

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night. IM: Stop Stare giggles IRL. IM: Texter Triste: The hoodlum protests his innocence, naturally. IM: Stop Stare: I'm guessing he's black. IM: Texter Triste: Oh of course. IM: Texter Triste: The police guy leans into him and half whispers, half shouts into his ear, “thought you could fool me with those fancy new clothes, did you?” IM: Texter Triste: Well that's what we're saying to these phrases when we use air quotes. IM: Texter Triste: We're half whispering, half shouting in its ears, “thought you could fool me with your fancy new words, did you?” IM: Stop Stare laughs. IM: Stop Stare: Do we then add, “Well did you, punk?” IM: Texter Triste: No. IM: Texter Triste: Now you're just being silly. IM: Stop Stare: hahaha IM: Stop Stare kicks you playfully, but hard enough to hurt. IM: Texter Triste: Ow! IM: Texter Triste: That was uncalled for! IM: Stop Stare: I see you've managed to avoid completely actually answering my question. IM: Texter Triste: As, in fact, have you. IM: Stop Stare: What?! IM: Texter Triste sighs and rolls his eyes. IM: Texter Triste: I asked you, if Dirty Dancing doesn't equate to Ghostbusters, what *does* it equate to? IM: Stop Stare: You did? IM: Stop Stare scrolls up and checks.

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IM: Texter Triste waits, impatiently. IM: Stop Stare: Oh yes. IM: Stop Stare: So you did. IM: Texter Triste: And? IM: Stop Stare: Hmmmm.... IM: Stop Stare: I would have to say... IM: Stop Stare: Top Gun. IM: Texter Triste: Hmmmm.... IM: Texter Triste: Dirty Dancing-Top Gun. Actually, that's pretty good. IM: Texter Triste: Yes, I can see that. IM: Stop Stare: Well thank the lord for that. IM: Texter Triste: Remind me: was Dirty Dancing one of your top five? IM: Stop Stare: No! IM: Stop Stare: I don't think I even sat through that film all the way yet? IM: Texter Triste: *Really*? IM: Texter Triste warms to you instantly. IM: Stop Stare: You don't like it? IM: Texter Triste: I have no idea. IM: Texter Triste: Never watched it. IM: Texter Triste: Just fed up with women always going on about it. IM: Stop Stare: Eh? What? IM: Stop Stare: How has this become a guys versus girls thing? IM: Texter Triste: Oh come now, Stop. IM: Texter Triste: The favourite movies discussion *always* becomes a guys versus girls thing. IM: Stop Stare: I suppose that is true, now that I think about it.

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IM: Stop Stare: True, but sad. IM: Texter Triste: Well, prove me wrong. IM: Texter Triste: Give me your top five; I guarantee you there'll be a chick verses guys factor in your list verses mine. Somewhere. IM: Stop Stare: 'Chick'? IM: Texter Triste: You're wasting time. IM: Stop Stare: You have totally hijacked this conversation. IM: Texter Triste: Enough with the procrastination. IM: Stop Stare: And if I *do* prove you wrong? IM: Stop Stare: What will you do for me? IM: Texter Triste: Stop, it's not going to happen. IM: Stop Stare: lol IM: Stop Stare: Humour me. IM: Texter Triste: Fine, fine. I'll wear an outfit of your choice for 24 hours. IM: Stop Stare: In real life? IM: Texter Triste: Of course not in real life!! IM: Stop Stare: Just checking. IM: Stop Stare: You don't ask, you don't get, right? IM: Texter Triste: You're pushing your luck. IM: Stop Stare: I should warn you, it *will* be humiliating. IM: Texter Triste: Just so that we're clear, by 'outfit' I mean 'outfit' and not genitalia. IM: Stop Stare: Awwwww :( IM: Stop Stare: You're no fun at all. IM: Texter Triste: Especially freakishly enlarged genitalia. IM: Stop Stare: They should make a film about that. IM: Texter Triste: You mean like, 'Honey, I blew up the

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penis'? IM: Stop Stare chokes on her tea IRL. IM: Stop Stare: LOL IM: Texter Triste: You're drinking tea now? Thanks for offering. IM: Stop Stare: hahaha sorry. IM: Texter Triste: Ok, I'm still waiting. IM: Texter Triste: Top five films: go. IM: Stop Stare: Ok. IM: Stop Stare: These are in no particular order, right? IM: Texter Triste: Sure. Whatever. IM: Stop Stare: Ok. IM: Stop Stare: For the first I choose 'Groundhog Day'. IM: Texter Triste: Interesting. IM: Texter Triste: And your reason for that choice? IM: Stop Stare: It reminds me that no matter how bad you think a day is going to be, you can always make it turn out better. IM: Texter Triste nods. IM: Texter Triste: So nothing to do with the Bill Murray Ghostbusters connection, then? IM: Stop Stare: No! IM: Texter Triste: Good, because too many association links like that would be taken as evidence of off-the-top-ofyour-head thinking, which is banned. IM: Stop Stare: It isn't like I go around with a list in my pocket, you know. IM: Texter Triste: Even so. IM: Stop Stare: Can I take it this means you approve of my choice? IM: Texter Triste: Maybe. IM: Texter Triste: Don't get carried away, now.

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IM: Texter Triste: You still have four choices. IM: Stop Stare: Ok, number two is The Trueman show. IM: Texter Triste: Really? IM: Stop Stare: Yup. IM: Stop Stare: You don't like it? IM: Texter Triste: Actually, I *love* it. IM: Texter Triste: So what's your reason for that one? IM: Stop Stare: It reminds me that there's a whole world outside the bubble of my existence, where things might not work in a manner that I understand. IM: Texter Triste has to admit that he's impressed. IM: Texter Triste: Three more to go though. IM: Stop Stare: Ok. IM: Stop Stare: Number three... IM: Stop Stare: Saving Private Ryan. IM: Texter Triste: And the reason? IM: Stop Stare: For the first fifteen minutes I was totally taken away from my life and thrown into someone else's. IM: Texter Triste: So all your choices are to do with the world outside your perception of it? IM: Stop Stare: Now you're summarising me? IM: Texter Triste: Just an observation. IM: Stop Stare: You're annoyed, aren't you? IM: Stop Stare: You're annoyed I haven't chosen a girly film and proved your sordid little theory. IM: Texter Triste: We're not finished yet. IM: Texter Triste: And FYI it wouldn't *prove* anything. IM: Texter Triste: A girly film in your list would constitute 'supporting evidence', not definitive proof. IM: Stop Stare: You're starting to sound like Shing. IM: Texter Triste: Two more films, I believe. IM: Stop Stare: Number four...

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IM: Stop Stare: This is hard, because now it feels like I've hardly got any choices left and I'm thinking of all those films I've rejected. IM: Texter Triste: Now you're trying to evaluate your selection. IM: Texter Triste: That's banned too. IM: Texter Triste: Don't think about it. IM: Texter Triste: Just say. IM: Stop Stare: Number four is The Matrix. IM: Texter Triste: Reason? IM: Stop Stare: It reminds me that everything I see and think is real might not be. IM: Texter Triste nods. IM: Texter Triste: Come on, come on. We're nearly there. Last film. IM: Stop Stare: Last film. Right. IM: Stop Stare: Ok. IM: Stop Stare: My last film would beeeeeee.... IM: Stop Stare: Oh this is a tough one... IM: Texter Triste: You're *not supposed* to be making this up as you're going along! IM: Stop Stare: lol IM: Stop Stare: It's ok. I have it. IM: Stop Stare: Pulp Fiction. IM: Texter Triste: Really? Pulp Fiction? How interesting! IM: Texter Triste: What's your reason for that then? IM: Stop Stare: It's kind of hard to explain. IM: Stop Stare: It's that moment when John Travolta comes out of the bog and gets gunned down. IM: Stop Stare: In that scene he's just a bystander in the wrong place at the wrong time, just like the bystanders you

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always see getting gunned down in any number of violent movies... IM: Stop Stare: People whose story you don't know and never will, so you hardly notice that they've died... IM: Stop Stare: But in other scenes in the movie this guy's the lead character, not a bystander at all... IM: Stop Stare: So you see him in scenes after he's been killed, knowing now that these are events which happened *before* and that he'll go on to die a completely meaningless death, even when he strolls out of the diner at the end. IM: Stop Stare: It's that juxtaposition of strong guy and bystander, of a person being both, depending on what you know about them, depending on what you know will happen in the future. IM: Stop Stare: Does that make sense? IM: Texter Triste: I think so, yes. IM: Texter Triste: Once again, your reason for the choice is to do with perception – the way something is looked at or considered. IM: Stop Stare: So it is. IM: Stop Stare: I like things that make me question my perception. IM: Stop Stare: I like things that make me see something I know in a whole different way. IM: Stop Stare: Anyway. Your turn. IM: Texter Triste: Ok. Number one – Superman The Movie. IM: Stop Stare: What?! Why?! IM: Texter Triste: Because it made me believe a man could fly. IM: Stop Stare looks at you. IM: Texter Triste: What?

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IM: Texter Triste: It *did*! IM: Stop Stare looks for something to throw at you. IM: Texter Triste backs away from Stop. IM: Stop Stare advances on you, slowly. IM: Texter Triste backs away more quickly. IM: Stop Stare advances on you, with increasing speed. IM: Texter Triste finds himself with his back to the wall. IM: Stop Stare: Yes, I have you cornered. IM: Stop Stare: Now it is time to make you pay... IM: Texter Triste whimpers... * Things in Second Life you wouldn't imagine working, but which do #10: Sex. Oh my.

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Thursday, 23 October

Wow. The bill for Sarah Palin's wardrobe upgrade since she was introduced to the world two, months ago, comes to nearly $150,000. So far. The figure was revealed today and it was quickly remarked upon that all this spending – more than twice the average American household's annual income – took place against the backdrop of global financial meltdown. Senator McCain has also been criticised for the $500 price tag for his Italian shoes. So I want to know what the 'campaign accessories' cost is in the Obama camp. He has, after all, broken all the records for fundraising; what's all the money being spent on? Apparently, the New York Post ran a story recently saying Michelle Obama ordered lobster, caviar and champagne on room service. They then retracted the story, however, admitting it was completely false. It would have been one thing if it was just the food order that was fabricated, but apparently she wasn't even staying at the hotel they cited... * IM: Stop Stare: Married? IM: Texter Triste: Nope. IM: Stop Stare: Kids? IM: Texter Triste: Not yet. IM: Stop Stare: So that's a future yes? IM: Texter Triste: I'd like to think so. IM: Stop Stare: Really? Why? IM: Texter Triste: Why do I want kids? IM: Stop Stare: Yes.

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IM: Texter Triste: Interesting. I've always figured *not* wanting them would be the harder thing to justify. IM: Stop Stare: You're kidding me, right? IM: Stop Stare: In this day and age? IM: Texter Triste: You don't think this day and age is a good one for children? IM: Stop Stare: You do? IM: Texter Triste: I think it can be. IM: Stop Stare: Ok. Fair enough. IM: Texter Triste: I'm sensing disagreement. IM: Stop Stare: No disagreement. IM: Stop Stare: I would be scared for any children I had. IM: Stop Stare: I'd want to protect them from everything that's out there and I know that isn't possible. IM: Texter Triste: No. It isn't. IM: Texter Triste: Which is one reason to have them. IM: Stop Stare: Explain. IM: Texter Triste: Having children humbles you. IM: Stop Stare: Yes of course; I do get all the helicopter view stuff. IM: Stop Stare: You might find this surprising, but societal level arguments rarely persuade me when it comes to making a personal decisions. IM: Texter Triste: I'm sorry. Did that sound condescending? IM: Stop Stare: lol IM: Stop Stare: You're very sweet. I'll let you off. IM: Texter Triste: Phew! IM: Stop Stare: On this one occasion :) IM: Texter Triste: I don't want to have kids for helicopter reasons, jstyk. IM: Stop Stare: jstyk?

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IM: Texter Triste: That isn't an acronym? IM: Stop Stare: *What* isn't an acronym? IM: Texter Triste: jstyk – 'just so that you know' IM: Stop Stare: You just made that up. IM: Texter Triste: What are you talking about? You never heard the phrase 'just so that you know' before? IM: Stop Stare: Of course I heard *the phrase* before... IM: Texter Triste: And you're telling me no-one's ever acronymised it in text until now? IM: Stop Stare: I'm not saying *no-one's* used it... IM: Stop Stare: And btw... 'acronymised'? IM: Texter Triste: You're asking, but admit it – you knew exactly what I meant. IM: Stop Stare: lol IM: Stop Stare: You're angling for a slap. IM: Stop Stare: Why jstyk? What's wrong with fyi? IM: Texter Triste: fyi? Ugh IM: Texter Triste: Far too confrontational. IM: Stop Stare: It is? IM: Texter Triste: You don't think so? IM: Texter Triste: Doesn't fyi have to be done with that whole head waggle thing? IM: Stop Stare: Head waggle?! IM: Stop Stare: What *are* you talking about? IM: Texter Triste: You *know*! IM: Texter Triste: The head waggle! IM: Texter Triste: You move your head from right to left and left to right with each syllable. FYI: right-left-right. IM: Stop Stare: You're a nutter. IM: Texter Triste: I can't believe you don't know these things. IM: Stop Stare: FYI I haven't been around English people

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for several years now. IM: Texter Triste: You just did the head waggle in front of your monitor, didn't you? IM: Stop Stare: Fuck, I did as well. IM: Texter Triste: hahahahaha IM: Texter Triste laughs evily. IM: Stop Stare pouts. IM: Texter Triste: But you are British, right? IM: Stop Stare: Yes. IM: Stop Stare: Just not in Britain atm. IM: Texter Triste: Work took you abroad? IM: Stop Stare: Pretty much, yeah. IM: Texter Triste bets you're somewhere nice. IM: Stop Stare: Yes! IM: Stop Stare: I still have to pinch myself each day! IM: Texter Triste groans, jealous of you. IM: Texter Triste: Presumably it's somewhere in Europe, since we see to be on roughly the same time. IM: Stop Stare: You might hate it here, for all you know! IM: Stop Stare nods. IM: Texter Triste: Paris? Venice? Rome? IM: Stop Stare: The first one! IM: Texter Triste: Paris? You lucky girl! IM: Stop Stare: I *know*! IM: Texter Triste: And you spend your evenings on SL?! IM: Stop Stare: I know, I'm terrible, aren't I? IM: Stop Stare: Well, not *all* of my evenings, and certainly not *every* evening. IM: Stop Stare: Last Thursday I had a fantastic time at a new restaurant near the Louvre. That snippet of RL information – nothing more than a chink,

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a glimpse – instantly depressed me. She has a life, and I'm not in it – not really. As quickly as it hit, I fought back. I actually got quite angry with myself at the way my emotions had reacted. I thought thoughts like, Well what did you expect? Did you imagine she would cancel her entire RL just because of a couple of nights of SL fancy? You idiot. Where do you think the right to such arrogance comes from? I tried to distract myself from the heaviness of my heart as it sat there in my chest, thudding its usual beat of loneliness, but suddenly seeming to weigh more. How I talk to myself sometimes is like how sometimes you hear adults screaming at their kids: they shout and shout and the more the kid seems to whimper the more they shout. I guess shouting louder will drown out the whimper so you can't hear it. Well that's how it works for me: shout, shout and keep on shouting and eventually the lonely whimper will give up and go away. It was one of those moments when I had to tear my gaze from the monitor to look around my room, just to bring me back to the fact for a moment that I was a flesh and blood man – not an avatar – in a room in a building. A room with carpet that needed hoovering, and furniture, and curtains, and a door leading to the kitchen where real food that I ate resided. I sighed, as I always sigh. But things got better as the evening wore on, and soon I forgot all about the intrusion of real places and people, and lost myself once again in the urgency of Stop's love and passion. Yesterday we'd gone back to her place, but this evening we stayed where we were and did the whole thing in text. No poseballs, no nudity required. To anyone passing, we were just a couple sitting on a swing in silence; in our world of words, however, we were clawing at each other,

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kissing, wrapping legs around legs, grabbing fistfuls of bed sheets and gasping... * IM: Stop Stare: So, do you have any names in mind? IM: Texter Triste leans across and brushes a strand of hair from your face. IM: Texter Triste: mmmm? IM: Stop Stare: For your children. IM: Texter Triste: Names? No. IM: Texter Triste: Not important to me. IM: Texter Triste: I talk to them, you know. IM: Stop Stare: Eh? IM: Texter Triste: I talk to my future children. Quite a bit, actually. IM: Stop Stare: You know, I was just beginning to think how *not* weird you are... IM: Stop Stare: ...and then you have to go and say a thing like that. IM: Texter Triste: hahaha IM: Texter Triste: Fair point. IM: Texter Triste: But you have nothing to fear. IM: Texter Triste: I consider it a healthy thing to do. IM: Stop Stare: Isn't that what a nutcase *would* say? IM: Texter Triste: lol. Maybe. IM: Stop Stare: So what do you say to them? IM: Texter Triste: Just stuff about what I'm doing and what I'm thinking. IM: Texter Triste: I keep a private blog. I write in it every day. I write it for them so that one day they might get to know me a little better.

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IM: Stop Stare: Actually, that's pretty cool. IM: Stop Stare: A private blog? Isn't the whole point of a blog that it's public? IM: Texter Triste: Not at all. IM: Texter Triste: The whole point of a blog – of a *diary* really – is to help you reflect on and process the things going on in your life. It's a therapeutic process. IM: Texter Triste: It's a coping mechanism. IM: Stop Stare: Really? I never thought of it in that way. IM: Stop Stare: So how long have you been writing to them for? IM: Texter Triste: About the last two years or so now, I think. IM: Texter Triste: I started it a few months after my father died. IM: Stop Stare: Really? What was the significance of that? IM: Texter Triste: Losing him shocked me in so many ways... IM: Texter Triste: Just not having him there was bad enough... IM: Texter Triste: But that there seemed to be *nothing left* of him was perhaps even harder to deal with. IM: Texter Triste: All those thoughts... all those memories... all those stories he could have told... IM: Texter Triste: For all of that to be gone seemed just... unacceptable. IM: Stop Stare kisses you. IM: Texter Triste: It actually made me very cross with him. IM: Stop Stare: So you resolved not to repeat the mistake. IM: Texter Triste: Yes. Exactly.

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IM: Texter Triste: It's become quite a habit. IM: Texter Triste: I have to do at least something every day now. If I don't, my day feels wrong somehow. IM: Texter Triste: Actually, I cut and paste SL conversations into it, sometimes. IM: Texter Triste: Perhaps I should put this bit in there tonight, after I log off. IM: Stop Stare: Oh yes! You should! IM: Texter Triste: Ok IM: Texter Triste: So say hi to my kids, then. IM: Stop Stare: Hi kids :) IM: Stop Stare winks at you.

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Friday, 24 October

What would be the consequence of Barack Obama now losing the US election? How would America deal with the message communicated by a ten per cent lead turned into failure? Would there be an attempt of some sort to rationalise it? Would there be claims fabricated about last minute changes in opinion based on this or that said, or that way he looked, or that tone of his voice? Would there be accusations of complacency? Would comparisons be made with Neil Kinnock before the 1992 UK election? Would there be a newspaper article blamed? If Obama wins today, will the last person to leave America please turn out the lights? Would McCain argue that voters saw the wisdom of his words at the last moment? Would he make out that the verdict demonstrated the intelligence, the sense of the American people? Was the McCain we saw correcting the woman in the red top a one-off? An exception? Will we see no more of this humble man if the prejudices he so quickly corrected that day ultimately deliver him into the seat of power? One day we hear this, the next we hear that. One day we hear that Obama is now unassailable, that he can't possibly lose if you look at how well he's doing against the context of previous election statistics, the next we hear of the many hidden prejudices, waiting in the bushes for him to pass, preparing the ambush that will destroy his chances. Today I read of the American Democrats who this year will vote McCain in order to avoid delivering a black man to the White House. Today I read of the woman who assumes he

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was born in Africa and of the voter who thinks that Obama is really Osama Bin Laden in disguise. The bottom line is – and I really doubt anyone knowledgeable would disagree with this – no-one actually seems to know what to expect. No-one knows if any of the rules based on previous elections apply any more. No-one really has a clue. If Obama doesn't win now, one thing will be certain. The rest of the world will look in upon America and see a nation riddled with hidden racism. America's credibility will disintegrate, whether the victors choose to identify honestly the cause of their fortune or not. In that respect, more rides on this election than ever before. Depending on the outcome, it could represent either the greatest triumph or the greatest failure of the American people. * Yesterday, the markets plummeted. Today they continued falling. Also today it was revealed that the UK economy 'shrunk' between July and September, making us now 'officially' on the 'brink' of recession. I like this term: 'Officially on the brink'. When I think of something being on the brink I imagine it teetering. I like the idea that something can be officially teetering, rather than just teetering. Is there a particular quality to a teeter which has to be in place before it becomes official? Should something have been teetering for a certain amount of time? * And now it's nearly midnight and I haven't seen Stop at all

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today. I wonder why. I don't want to wonder why, of course: what right have I to wonder? It would be ok, it would be absolutely fine if Stop spent two days, three days, a week away from SL; there is no commitment to honour. And yet. She's probably out with whoever took her to that new restaurant last week. Who can blame her? She's in Paris, for fuck's sake! At least it's Friday. If I had a day at work to face tomorrow I would probably feel quite depressed. I got through today by spending moments here and there reminding myself that I'd see her in the evening. Now I feel deflated. Perhaps if she'd told me in advance she wouldn't be here I wouldn't feel quite so short changed right now. Listen to me. 'Short changed'. That's a dreadful way to look at it, when you think about it. I am a pig. A deflated pig. A deflated pig who has no right to feel deflated, not really. I rezzed into Redclaw but I didn't want to stay there. I reckoned that if I was there I might run into Shing or Tear and if I got talking to them it might be harder to get away to be with Stop when she came on. I haven't really been there for a while, now. Not yesterday, most of which I spent with Stop sitting on a swing in the botanical gardens. Not Wednesday, which started off at the Greenies sim (Stop wanted to show it to me, she said it was for ages one of her very favourite SL places; once we'd got there and had a few laughs at the expense of the little green alien sitting on the vibrator, however, we pretty much stopped looking at the stuff there and lost ourselves in IM) and ended up in Stop's skybox. Tuesday I was there in body, but it was only my conversation with Stop that mattered until Shing stumbled in on us, and after that I spent I suppose about ten minutes chatting to him before logging off, not wanting the little glow I had to fade, which it would have done if I'd stayed

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any length of time. And I wasn't there on Monday. And I wasn't there on Sunday. Saturday I started off in Redclaw and that was a pretty normal evening I suppose until I took my first brave steps beyond the parcel boundary and out into the big wide Second World. And got drunk there. Saturday, then; that was the last time I was 'properly' at Redclaw Station. Not even a week ago, yet somehow it feels like ages. I TPed away from Redclaw straight away this evening, worried that each second spent there made it more likely that someone might appear and steal my time away. I went to my original 'home' location, in fact, that hobo infohub in Calleta It was somewhere to stand by myself where I wasn't known, where people wouldn't chat to me. I wondered around for a bit, looking at some of the items I completely missed when I first rezzed into existence because I was in such a hurry to get to Redclaw. Cardboard boxes to sleep in. Breeze block seating around a cable spool table. Oil drums. Bits of steam punk paraphernalia. Old sofas arranged around a blazing fire of abandoned fruit machines. I say I looked at them, but it wasn't like I was actually all that interested. I filled my SL time there, waiting for the IM that would whisk me away from it all. Nothing came. As time wore on I started to grow impatient. I walked to the end of the railroad pier, looked out over the dock at the rusty ship, at the crane, at the locomotive sinking into the trash pile at the side of the shore, all abandoned to entropy. Beyond the heaped garbage I saw there was a railway station. I flew over and walked up and down its platforms for a while, mentally comparing it to Redclaw. There were more trains there, and their exterior textures were beautiful, but there was no interior to the trains that you could sit in. No seating. No tables to sit at with

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your partner, nowhere to intertwine your fingers and your eyes and your thoughts. And no cafe; just a large booking hall/waiting area. Coloured pink. That said, they do have one thing there that Redclaw doesn't: a railroad, and one which that stretches well beyond its boundaries. I decided to fly along it, tracked it back to its termination in Cecropia first of all and then followed the line forwards, back into and across Calleta. Into Oculea. Into Neumoegen where it rose up a gradual hill and passed another, smaller station with a ramshackle building of wood and corrugated iron. Into Imperial, where it crossed a small river waterfall that sent a fine particle spray into a clump of Eric Linden's Plumerias. I followed the track across the south-west corner of Didugua and into Achemon, nipped the north-east corner of Vine and then moved into Obscure. I passed a brutalist station there, and a plantation of sunflowers which made me think of a friend of mine who died some years ago. The lag was bad. Each time I crossed a sim boundary, the scene in my viewer froze for several seconds. Then, Texter would be ten, twenty, thirty metres from where he should have been, and I had to backtrack to find the railroad again. But it was always there. I was always able to resume my course. Onwards I pushed, through Horisme, Rivata, Epirrhoe, Jodis. At Epirrhoe, the track followed the floor of a short valley and emerged to pass yet another station, this one looking like it had been made entirely from green plastic, and it had a wind turbine on the top of it as well. I marvelled at the extent and variety of the imagination that I passed. Into Aplasta. Into Ribeta. Into Idia. Finally, the line terminated at a ruined station in Jublata. Feeling slightly cheated, I flew across the next sim, Sinica, following the path that the line would have taken had

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it still been there. In Torva, I saw not that far away what could only be a railway viaduct and experienced a little burst of pleasure at the re-emergence of what I now thought of as 'my' railroad. I resumed my journey, flying through a delightful little station at the Spini border where a tiled roof actually covers a section of the track. Into Athetis, along another, smaller viaduct and past a station where ivy creeps over the ironwork. Across the corner of Deltote. Across Parva. Across Euclidia and Lota and Lunalis. Across the corner of Fucosa. Into Concinna, where the track passed a derelict motel and thick, wavy wheat had managed nature's reclaim. Through Plebeja and into Lapara, where a set of steps led up to the grand gateway of an enormous walled estate and mist crawled around a selection of coffins and pumpkins on the ground for Halloween. Into Arches. Past another small station in Foxglove. None of these stops were anything approaching the size or scope of the station which had caught my eye in Calleta – or, for that matter, of Redclaw, which I now thought of as something grim and gothic and gloomy compared to these cheerful little halts. But Redclaw wasn't really a station in the same sense that these were. There was no rail-road that you could follow out of it that led to anywhere. It was a pretend station in a way that these pretend stations somehow weren't. I found myself surprised at the annoyance I suddenly felt towards it, my home for all these weeks, viewed suddenly in a new light. I thought, absently, of the theme that ran through Stop's top five movie choices. As I pushed on through the sims – Sagittata (a rather empty and desolate region at the foothills of steep mountains that shot up through the cloud line), Taeniatum (a rail yard of some description to the left of the track; a pretty little mill

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house below and to the right), Perizoma (a long, zig-zagged fence came up to meet the track), Immidae – I found myself wishing that an actual train might steam by below me. It seemed wrong that I was able to defy the purpose for which the track had been created in the first place through my flight. That single factor was why all the stations I had passed, of course, were empty. No-one actually needed them. They served no function. Their only purpose was to beautify the scenery for passing explorers like myself. At least that was one thing you could say about Redclaw: there were plenty of people who went there. And yet this did not warm me back to Redclaw; instead it got me thinking that somehow flight itself is wrong. It makes things too easy. It actually reduces the degree to which we could become immersed in this environment. Even with the lag problems I was experiencing, it was still only taking me seconds to fly from one border to the next; mile after mile of virtual land was passing me by below and I was sparing it only the most momentary of inspections. I thought about that and decided that it was probably actually a lag thing in and of itself: a vehicle crossing borders could have been quite a messy affair, especially if the textures were detailed. Nolidae. Sabre. Clearwing. The terrain got less green and more yellow. A station of four platforms straddled the Clearwing-Paranthrene border; my line ended on the Clearwing side but another began in Paranthrene. In Crenulate, the track was joined by another track that came down from the middle of Paranthrene. I stood for a while outside of Crenulate station, wondering whether to continue my current route or whether to track the new line back. I looked on the map and saw another branch in the northern half of Paranthrene, which also came down into Crenulate:

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so there were actually three lines entering my current sim and two exiting it – mine into Burnet, the other into Hooktip. They both crossed Leafroller, Lappet and Pini, but then the line that I was following went south to Agirus and the other went east into Pawpaw (where it split again, one line heading north to Maia, Owlet and Tussock, one line heading southeast into Tersa, Anilis, Nerice, Gluphisia and beyond). I decided to stick with my line, walked into Burnet, my head reeling with the complexity and structure and sheer size of the system that I was trying to follow. In Leafroller, I got caught in a lag bubble that sailed me right through the sim completely, almost as though I'd been picked up by strange forces that didn't want me there and deposited on the far boundary (it out-spooked all the Halloween bits and pieces I'd seen on my way by a quite considerable margin). In Lappet, a train for sale – the Flossberg Express – detected my passing and started chirping away in chat about it being the “cutest personal train in SL!” That got me thinking again about the absence of actual trains and it occurred to me that there was nothing stopping me from buying a train vehicle and driving it up and down the lines myself. Lag issues aside, it still didn't appeal to me: for a train to be authentic it needed to be scheduled! And then late. That also got me thinking. I wondered why rail enthusiasts hadn't discovered SL yet and started scheduling services for the hell of it. I wondered if that was why Linden had laid the track in the first place (hoping someone like that might come across it). I wondered if rail enthusiasts had discovered SL but dismissed it on a point of technical detail. I wondered if there was another part of Second Life somewhere where they all congregated, where they had built their own railroad 'properly'. Or something. I tried to think if there were any

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rail enthusiasts I knew in RL so that I could ask them. Pini, Agirus, Aglia; I kept checking to see if I'd received a message from Stop that I'd missed somehow, and each time I checked and saw that I hadn't I started to feel a little grumpy again. The journey – now a pilgrimage, of sorts, that I wanted to see through to the end – helped to distract me. I stopped in Aglia to look at a beautiful halt made from triangles of glass and wood. I crossed Nessus, Celerio, Velox. In Tenera, a three-eyed Iron giant stooped as though to lift a little oval shaped station from the ground. In Crumbi, another line joined mine again, and when I checked the map to see where this had come from I felt an odd delight to see that this was actually the line I'd previously tracked as far as Gluphisia. Past another Flossberg Express vehicle, downhill into Mocis and another border lag bubble managed to sink me below the track, where my avatar walked on the spot until I extracted it by TPing to a position a few metres away. Past a small halt in Zale in front of an amphitheatre and across the south-east corner of Fishii (I rather fancied something smelled funny there). Finally, in Bhaga, the line came to an end, and there was no suggestion of any resumption further on, where the land met the sea in a cluster of islands and small land masses. I stood in Bhaga station, an odd sort of construction, coloured brown (but not in a nice way); I thought about the number of sims I'd crossed and then flicked back to map view and zoomed slowly out. The map window started to fill with shrinking squares, each one a sim; by the time the entire area of my journey filled the screen the squares were too small for the sim names to display. I continued to zoom out – slowly, so that the detail got a chance to rez. Then the continent filled the window, then that got smaller and smaller still. Then

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other continents crowded for room and they shrank. Still I zoomed out. Still there was more to look down upon. Finally I reached the full extent of the zoom and still there was yet more: I clicked the map and held down the left mouse key, grabbed the map, moved everything in view to the right, revealed more, and then more still, and then more still. And that's how big Second Life is.

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Saturday, 25 October

I went with Stop to a reading event this evening at the Autumn Writers' Exhibition in Cookie. The first guy read a horror story and Stop and I sent each other silly IMs about holding each other's hands in fear. Then there was a poetry reading by someone with an amazing accent. Finally some guy called Hax – I'm sure I've seen him somewhere before, and recently – read stories about being a detective in SL. That got me thinking. I wondered how one went about becoming such a thing. I wondered if it paid well. The event was calm and peaceful, the hosts laid back and relaxed. They seemed very genuine. They laughed together, bouncing comments off each other like old friends. The atmosphere was one of enjoyment and pleasure at the accomplishments of others. I liked being there very much. We sat on a simple stand of tiered seating facing a basic stage; the whole set-up, including the cushions to sit on, can't have cost much more than 40 or 50 prims. It made Redclaw seem distant, somehow; unimportant. For a moment, I wondered what Shing was up to. But I didn't think about that for long. Then we went to a club, to dance. We half chatted, half flirted in IM as we moved from side to side beneath a wondering spotlight. The music on stream was big band tunes, and soft, crooning lullabies and gentle swing melodies. Occasionally, my camera would get caught on the spotlight beam and the room would start to circle as I followed the invisible shaft on its path. Dancers would flash in front of me. Big, bulbous gowns, sequins, short frocks and naked backs, understated and overstated jewellery, high

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heels, tuxedos, quicksteps, dips, little black dresses and shiny shoes and footsteps everywhere doing doppler shifts around me as those without a partner walked up and down in search of the spot where someone would notice them. We talked about ballroom dancing and why it was that in SL we choose this, when in real we wouldn't even know where the nearest ballroom was. I remember being at school with someone who knew how to ballroom dance. We all thought it was a dreadfully dull thing for someone to do. We used to call him square. Now it's a high demand activity in SL and has the number one TV slot on both weekend evenings; how he must laugh at us now. When I look at the projections of what is to come for the virtual world – things like the leaked footage of LivePlace a couple of months ago, for example – I see dazzling graphics; I see environments where light is actually light and not a physical cone made transparent but for a glowing base. I see halls with floors so polished they really do reflect like a mirror, rather than the shiny dance floor Stop and I spun circles on where all the furnishings above were flipped and repeated below to give the illusion of reflection. All these workarounds of today will be laughed at in ten years time, I'm certain. We will gaze upon the visuals and ask ourselves how we could possibly have immersed ourselves as we did. As we do. I imagine you will be one of those who will consider it quite astonishing. You couldn't view the web inside the metaverse? You had to come out of the virtual world to use applications? You could only belong to how many groups??!! lol. But will you still have the control then that we have now? Will you still be able to create the things that you want to, or will the aesthetics be more tightly controlled? Will you have to get a special license to be able

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to create objects, a fee payable to the metaverse owners for every object sold? A bit like the fees that game writers have to pay today to Sony for all Playstation games sold, to Microsoft for all X-Box games sold, and so on. But will you actually care? When I was growing up, the computers we had gave you a blank screen when you turned them on and a flashing cursor like the little vertical line you get in text boxes: you had to type in commands in order to get the computers to do anything. The graphics you got out of them might have been laughable compared even to today's standard, but the control you had in theory was incredible. When the games consoles started to appear towards the end of the eighties, computer enthusiasts the world over lamented the control that was being taken away from them, but did the new generation of gamers appear to care? They did not. It matters not to children today that they can only play games on their Nintendo DS rather than play and write them. Similarly, I doubt that it will matter much to the residents of future online worlds they that can only buy clothes and houses and furniture, rather than all this plus making their own. Who makes furniture in the real world in any case? And we – us old bastards – will gather in our little 'retro' groups and lament the passing of the golden age, when things were made out of sticky tape and card, but at least you were given scissors to cut with. After an hour or so dancing we went back to Stop's place and flirted playfully for a whole extra hour before finally pulling off each other's clothes and diving onto poseballs. The textual intercourse was amazing, as it always is, but towards the end I found myself longing to hear her in my head. I looked at my headset, hanging on its hook by the desk; I thought about what it would be like to hear her gasp

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as she came. The logical me – what was present of the logical me in that moment, and we are not talking large percentages here – repeated over and over a simple message that I could not ignore: she will recognise you ... she will recognise you ... she will recognise you. I also had no idea how to broach a subject like that, whether it was something she would enjoy too or something that she might be horrified by – was it even right for me to assume that plenty of people did this in SL any way? The doubt about how to put it to her and the worry about the possible future consequences won through in the end. It was still good though. Later, as we lay still together, I wondered about the validity of my assumption that if I used voice with these people in SL they would automatically recognise me if they encountered me in real life. A search on Google for “voice changing software” yielded nearly 75,000 results. Lots of products, and trial versions too. I have some downloading to do.

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Sunday, 26 October

The clocks went back last night, although not in America, which is weird. They have another week to go. So, for seven days only, I'm now one hour closer to Armstrong and Bigboy. For transatlantic SL lovers, I'm sure that must be quite a gift. I'd never thought about it that way before. I wonder if there's a name for this week amongst folk finding themselves in that category? I wonder if they circle it in red on their calendars, months in advance? I see now that the same effect is repeated in the spring – American clocks go forward before ours do, bringing us an hour closer then too. Except that then the time gap is narrowed for three weeks instead of one. Bonanza! I ran for ten kilometres through drizzle, through wet leaves which I kicked up whenever I could so that I could smell them. I ran through puddles and the water soaked its way through my trainers, seeped through my socks so that my feet were cold and wet. I thought about Stop. I thought about what it meant to be falling for someone I’d never actually seen or heard or talked to. I asked myself where I thought it was that any of this could possibly go. Were relationships like this sustainable in the long term? Was it possible to love somebody from afar and never actually meet them in the flesh? Could Stop and I grow old together like this? Could we still be whispering fantasies to each other in five years time? In ten? In twenty? In fifty? Was it the assumption that online relationships had to be resolved in real life or did people really imagine that virtual was good enough, and indefinitely? Was it? Is it? Or is it the whole point that you don’t expect an online relationship to last for

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any length of time? Is it the unspoken rule that you let these things burn as brightly as you can whilst the fuel is there and then, when they’ve fizzled out – as they inevitably will – you kiss, wish each other well and move on? It’s a lovely image, in many ways; I almost wish that it was the case. But it can’t be, not for everyone. I know people far too well to believe in something like that. We can say what we like when we’re happy, but it’s different when you’re in love and the person you’re in love with isn’t. Relationships don’t fizzle out 5050. Relationships die lop-sided. I know nothing about Stop. She’s one of the Redclaw regulars who signed up to SL using a false name. And by the way – just in case you’ve become the judgemental type – no that doesn’t mean she necessarily has anything sinister to hide: people like anonymity for a whole variety of reasons. Eventually our IT guys will get the information on her that we’re after, because putting together a false alias doesn’t make you a top hacker. The delays we're going through are purely bureaucracy; any day now the file will land on my desk and I'll be staring at it, wondering what's inside and really not wanting to find out. What if I should discover she’s married? What if I should discover she’s 50 years old? What if I should discover she has a physical disability and that actually a RL relationship really couldn’t ever happen? Am I right to worry about these things? Do I have a right to these fears? Would it make a difference? Should it make a difference? If I can fall in love with a person by their words and thoughts – really fall in love with them – then does the physical reality actually have the power to change that? Am I too cynical if I think that it can? Am I too naïve if I think that it can’t? It’s not as though this is completely new and unexplored.

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People have fallen in love over the internet before. People have fallen in love over letters before. I saw a documentary on the television last year about some couples that met in SL. Two got together in RL and it all worked out beautifully – it really was everything they had dreamed it could be. Another two did the same and discovered that all their feelings for each other simply evaporated once they were in each other’s actual company. I thought at the time it was very sad, never imagining for a moment that I could ever find myself in a comparable situation. I thought it was sad because, by meeting, they had effectively destroyed a perfectly good relationship. Something which had worked for both of them was now gone forever, and only because they’d not been content with what they had and wanted more. It never occurred to me to consider the drive, the urgency, the inevitability of an RL encounter, that they each knew the risks they were taking and took them anyway because they just had to, because there really was no alternative. It seemed to me that the sense of loss for them must have been unbearable. I wondered, when they parted, what they each felt about returning to a virtual life without each other? Or did they imagine that they might be able to rekindle what they’d had before, once real was taken away again? Could that be done? Could you love someone’s virtual self knowing that you’re not able to love them in real life? Would that make the virtual person a completely different entity than the ‘real’ person? Which one, actually, is the real person? Who is behind whom? What is behind what? And what of fidelity? Is it possible to have a real life partner and an internet lover and for the one never to influence the other? Tear seems to think so. She has both,

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but then so do both her RL and her SL partners. What if one half of an SL partnership has a RL partner and the other doesn’t: can it last? What if one does and one doesn’t, and then the one who doesn’t then does meet someone in RL… Is it a given that the SL partner gets dumped as the new relationship takes off (and, if so, does s/he have a right to sorrow?) or is assumed that the new RL partner will be expected to take on board the SL partner as part of the deal? I'm wrong to think there is only one rule, of course, that everyone knows and follows; I'd be wrong if the metaverse was fifty years old, let alone in its infancy, as it is today. I don't imagine for a moment that rules like this exist, but I do have to ask myself what people imagine they are getting themselves into when they approach these things. The only conclusion I can come to is that they have no idea whatsoever, but that they do it all anyway: because it's new, because it's unknown, because they can, because it's liberating in a way they've never known before. Because their mind is out of their head for perhaps the first time ever, and the new place it's inhabiting is infinite and limitless and never-ending.

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Monday, 27 October

We all went down to Tintagel again to film a reconstruction, which will be shown on television tomorrow night. The weather was miserable, so I don't know that it's going to jog anyone's summer memories. Although in fact, most of it was indoors filming. A lot of possible glimpses of Sarah by various shopkeepers, but nobody's really certain. They filmed them all, just in case. Elaine Rigger was working that day in Merlin's Mini-Mall. She reports seeing a woman matching Sarah's description entering the shop some time between twelve and one o'clock. She was by herself in the shop, but on a couple of occasions took out her mobile phone and appeared to check it for messages. Were you in Tintagel at this time? Did you see someone matching Sarah's description checking her mobile phone? Jeremy Locke was working in the Camelot Amusement Arcade when he saw someone matching Sarah's description sitting by herself on the wall outside. “It was getting close to the end of the lunch hour. There was a bunch of lads hanging around the front and I was keeping my eye on them. At first I thought she was with them and wondered how that was to be. Ten minutes later they'd pushed off and I saw her still there, sitting by herself. Stayed there maybe for another five minutes making phone calls, then next time I looked out she was gone.� Were you in Tintagel on Thursday 21 August? Specifically were you in the village centre between 11am and 2pm? Did you see someone matching Sarah's description? Did you see anyone with her? Call the incident line now if there is anything you think you can tell us about what happened that day. They might mix in the videotape we've

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been sent by the French police in Le Havre, though no final decision's been made on that yet. The quality is shocking – it's not even colour; I'd challenge anyone to recognise even their own offspring on that footage. Showing it would also alert Tsyin Tii to the fact that we're onto his login location, although the fact that he's not logged in under that ID since 22 August (I gobbled her all up) is, I would say, a pretty good indicator that he's assumed we'll achieve that knowledge. Still, it wouldn't hurt for him to believe we'd failed to meet his expectations. Despite the rubbish image resolution, despite the fact that it's black and white, despite the fact that it's only one frame per second and despite the fact that the fucking CCTV system only actually got turned on for about one day in every three, we do now actually have some pictures of the guy, obtained using the times from Eliza's IMs. He always has a hood on. He always keeps his back to the camera and he never looks at the lens, of course. But we do have some pictures. I have now seen him. I leave for Le Havre on Wednesday. I take the overnight ferry from Portsmouth. On Thursday morning, I'm briefing in detectives and in the afternoon I visit the cybercafe and talk to the staff there. Loose ends on Friday morning. My return ferry would have been Friday afternoon, but I've extended it to Sunday and paid the extra on the hotel. It'll be nice to spend a weekend somewhere different. And sometimes it helps me to go back to a place after I've been away from it and had time to think. I might want to go back to the cybercafe. I might think of extra things to ask them. And... A tiny idea, in the back of my mind. I almost don't want to think about it. My stomach churns, whenever I do.

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A crazy idea. An idea that couldn't possibly work out well. Could it? Am I risking everything by even considering it? Am I risking everything by not considering it? If I ask her, and she says yes, it still won't be as simple as that. I'll have to tell her everything, because probably she'll end up knowing anyway. When, though? I won't tell her before... but I will before we part. * IM: Texter Triste: Listen, there's something I want to ask you... IM: Texter Triste: This might freak you out a little. IM: Stop Stare: Go on. I'm listening. IM: Stop Stare: You're not about to tell me you're a woman, are you? IM: Texter Triste: No lol. IM: Texter Triste: Look, I want you to know that if you don't want to do this, that is absolutely 100% totally fine. IM: Stop Stare: If I don't want to do what? IM: Texter Triste: I actually feel sick at the thought of what I'm risking here, but another opportunity like this might not come along for ages. IM: Stop Stare: If I don't want to do *what*?! IM: Texter Triste: Sorry. IM: Texter Triste: Ok. IM: Texter Triste: It's this... IM: Texter Triste: I'm coming to Le Havre on Thursday, to do with my job... IM: Texter Triste: I'll be staying there over the weekend... IM: Texter Triste: Would you IM: Texter Triste: care to

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IM: Texter Triste: join me?

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Tuesday, 28 October

Two Americans are being held over a plot to kill Barack Obama. Their intention was to start their day (not today, some other day, I gather) by shooting 88 black people and then decapitating a further 14. They then intended to drive towards Obama, shooting at him from the window. An amateurish plan; the last bit in particular it's said they probably wouldn't have succeeded at. But no-one doubts their conviction, it would seem. Both men have been described as 'neo-Nazis'. Apparently, the numbers 88 and 14 are symbolic in the white supremacist community. I could look that up, I guess, except I really can't be bothered. Again, I'm struck by the image of America as a nation approaching a milestone. Election day is a week from today, and it seems like we've been forever moving towards this moment, forever waiting for the direction our planet is destined to take to be revealed to us. Perhaps the momentous wait will be worth it, perhaps the pain of the last eight years will show itself finally to have been leading to something. For better or for worse, the world will be a different place in just over a week's time. * Linden are in trouble with the residents again. Some sort of economy sim package they introduced earlier in the year – the 'OpenSpace' sims, which run four to a server CPU rather having their own dedicated processor – has proved more popular than they anticipated. Apparently, these sims were only ever designed for light use; a blog entry made yesterday

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pleaded understanding that the price of these is now going to have to be jacked up a massive 67% as a result of residents using them as though they are normal sims. “Openspaces are being used about twice as much as we expected, in other words being loaded with double the content/avatar load than we’d expect for a region that is supposed to be light use.” I think I see what's going on here. We're being encouraged to feel sorry for the big boys. But are they really big boys? Are they really? Why would Linden make what it must know will be a staggeringly unpopular move? Do they actually understand how unpopular it will be? They must do. They must! Are they that desperate for cash? It's making me feel all itchy and nervous again. * Stop and I made love in a cloud. This time, role play text got interspersed with bracketed comments about real life sensations. My last night in the UK before I see her. We cybered what we hope we will have done to each other before the first hour is over.

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Wednesday, 29 October

I'm sitting at a service station, en route to Portsmouth, hunched around an offensively overpriced and oversized cappuccino (how is it that we've come to accept expensive if it means we get bigger quantities than we actually need?). I'm watching people coming and going and it's like I'm sitting at my spot at the Formica counter back in Redclaw, it's like I'm the single guy in Nighthawks again, even though it's not yet night time. I read on Wikipedia that that painting's meant to portray loneliness, and all of a sudden I feel oddly, ridiculously lonely. I suppose that's travel for you. I always thought it was a different sort of loneliness. I guess I was wrong. I say 'back' in Redclaw, as though my travel today away from home somehow puts distance between me and the virtual world also. In fact, I see they have wireless here, so I could log on at any time. I could go there now. I could sit at my counter as I perch here and gaze at the travellers who pass through this spot. Wouldn't it be good if they made a physical sim one day, a real world twin to a metaverse island, a place where you could clip something to your belt that tracks your movement and then you log in and take your AV to the SL sim, and wherever you go in the real sim your avatar goes in the virtual one? Or something. That's a shit idea. I need people to tell me just how shit it is. I wonder where Bill is, and what he's up to? I miss him today. Am I travelling away from the virtual world or am I travelling towards it? Le Havre hangs there in the distance, a real destination where Stop and I will tear ourselves out of the digital, brush the pixels from our clothes and look into

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physical eyes. Le Havre hangs there in the distance, a pretend place where the metaverse will expand its bubble into the real for a few brief hours. When we touch, will we close our eyes to the real faces and think of the avatars behind them? Who is behind whom? What is behind what? What is real? What is imagined? What is fake? Can we learn to look upon our physical bodies in 'real life' as just the avatars we use to move about in in this universe? Are our SL bodies any less real, just because we mould and control them better? How completely could the virtual world in theory become intertwined with the real one? How will it be in five, ten, fifteen years time when graphics make the SL of today look like it’s made out of building blocks, when internet speeds smash the download limitations which currently cripple us? How will it be when superfast, multi-core processors render graphics server-side, so that all we actually receive at our computer is a stream of visual data not dissimilar to watching a film online? How will it be when flat screen technology goes super-thin and ultra high definition? Will the large screen on our living room wall be a window into our virtual living room? Will exquisitely detailed avatars come up to our window and peer in on us in real life? Will they knock on the virtual glass and wave at us as we go about our flesh-and-blood lives? * And now I'm on the boat. It's 11:30pm. The Norman Courage is pushing its way out through Portsmouth Harbour, past the HMS Victory, past the Spinnaker Tower that glows in rotating colours, past numerous warships of various

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descriptions and I have no idea which is which and what means what. We passed a ship of some description a few minutes ago, and at the back there was a huge hanger open in front of a large space. I think maybe the space was for a helicopter to land on and the hanger a place to store it in, but I might be wrong. It might not be a hanger at all. Green light spilled out onto the deck and a man sat in a chair right in the middle of the entrance. He must have been freezing, but he looked like he was falling asleep. The temperature's really dropped these past couple of days – parts of the country have actually experienced snow, in fact. I took a walk out on deck just as soon as I'd parked up on the car deck – about ten minutes was all I could manage out there. The Cotton Club is almost empty. I have a leather sofa to myself, not to mention a bored barkeep, not to mention a wireless internet connection. I have a sleeper bed reserved for later. And Ryde slips away on the right hand side and the ship heads solidly, quietly, massively into the lane between the two concrete sea forts. There is no noise except for the low rumble of engines below, the gentle tinkling of glasses rattling on their shelves, the distant slamming of weighted deck doors, a conversation in a far corner of the lounge about Jonathan Ross. I doze... * 1:00am. 6pm SLT (this week only). The lounge shuts in half an hour. I can't resist logging on, just for the hell of it. But nobody is at Redclaw to greet me tonight, except for the guy on the mop spot. I hang around for ten minutes, but the novelty wears off pretty quick. None of my friends are online and, when I say hi to Guy89 Bottletop, he ignores me

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completely. All he cares about is mopping his wet circles on the floor. Time for bed.

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Thursday, 30 October

I slept well. The seats on this boat fold right back into beds. They're all lined up in pairs. When I fell into mine last night the one next to it was empty. It was empty when I woke this morning too. But I dreamt I was sleeping next to someone who smelled of vanilla. I ate a light breakfast, went out on deck in the thin light to watch the city approach. At about a half mile out from the breakwater a Gazelle helicopter came out to us, hovered over the aft deck and lowered the Harbour Pilot onto the ship. People pointed and took photographs. The boat started to rotate. We reversed into the harbour. The last twenty minutes were spent inching towards the receiving drive-over, which was first of all lowered several feet into frothing water. * Le Havre is all right angles. I drove a big circle – or rather, a big rectangle – to my hotel on Rue de Paris, a large, concrete, post-war construction with a marble entranceway and grand, wooden doors. I could see the ferry clearly from the window in my room. I like the way they maintain things in France, they don't try too much to cover up the original design with MDF and plasterboard like we do. They don't seem obsessed by refit rape; they just keep things looking clean and functional. In the foyer, when I came back down there was a police guy waiting for me. We shook hands. He took me up to the municipal station, about five minutes walk away. We sat

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down in a small room at the back and drank coffee from tiny cups, and talked about the credit crisis and the US elections until his Capitaine joined us at ten. Gaudet brought a laptop with him, carrying it underarm like a file. He dropped it on the table in the same fashion, opened it up, plugged in a mouse he was carrying in his pocket. “There is a difficulty, Monsieur,” he said, after pleasantries had been exchanged. “The internet café you've come to look at has just been closed down.” “What?” I asked, not understanding what he meant. “Bankruptcy. The owner did not mention this to us when we were talking to him last week.” “You're kidding!” “As it always is, they deny their difficulty even to themselves until it is right upon them, blocking the door. He expected to get a loan. He should have paid more attention to the news. I'm sorry.” “I can still talk to him though, right?” “He appears to have gone away somewhere. It looks like he owes people money. We've left messages for him on his voicemail, but...” Gaudet shrugged. “I can only apologise.” “Employees?” “Two. One has only been working with the café for three weeks, so she will be of no use to you.” “What about her predecessor?” “He is no longer in Le Havre. He left no new address, but he has used his credit card several times recently in Caen. We're working on it.” Gaudet typed something into his laptop whilst he spoke, hitting each of the keys like he was punching them. “Tell me about your efforts in Second Life,” he said. “You have

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learned something about this man?” “We've learned fuck all,” I said, bitterly. “This was the best lead that we had. What about the other employee?” Gaudet nodded towards the door. “He is in an interview room right now.” “That's something, at least. Have you learned anything from him?” “Only that he never looked at the customers.” “What?!” Gaudet punched his keyboard some more and then spun the laptop around to face me. On the screen I saw a young man in portrait and profile; notes down the side gave details of four minor convictions. “Aleron Chabot,” he told me, “young, technically gifted and autistic.” “I don't fucking believe this.” “You can see him on some of the footage we managed to get out of their system.” Gaudet Alt-tabbed to one of the clips I'd already seen of Tsyin Tii entering, putting down his money, waiting a moment at the desk and then moving to his favoured seat at the back of the room. Chabot sat at his place behind the desk, looking at his own screen, and didn't appear to move. A single frame caught his arm reaching across the desk, either taking money or returning change. Even so, Chabot continued to look at his monitor. I felt defeated. Crushed. “So he's told you nothing?” “Nothing so far.” I told him about Redclaw. I told him about Erica and Eliza, and about the logs we had retrieved. I told him about the filmed reconstruction. At twelve we had lunch in a seafood restaurant near the beach. Gaudet made his way through a

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pot of steaming moules, licking his fingers clean at the end of it. I played it safe and had gallette. We walked from there to the cybercafé, a stroll that took nearly twenty minutes and by the time we got there I was starting to wish I'd brought a thicker coat. I peered in through the window whilst Gaudet fished for the key that he'd obtained just that morning. The interior was darkened and dead. A piece of A4 squared paper had been ripped from an exercise book and taped to the inside of the window: fermé jusqu'à nouvel ordre. Gaudet swore and took out his phone. “I left the key at the station,” he told me, “I'll get someone to bring it out to us.” “Tell them to bring Aleron,” I said. “Why?” “Because I want him to be here.” Sometimes I have no idea why I want the things I want. I wanted to see Chabot in his place behind the desk, but first I wanted him to switch the place back on again, to bring the café back to life for just a few final minutes. And then I wanted to sit in the seat that Tsyin Tii favoured. And turn on his computer. And log on to Second Life. In Tsyin Tii's seat, I flicked back through hard copies of the logs we'd recovered. Chabot sat at his desk, using his computer, looking up stuff on the Internet and 'monitoring the network'. He'd been distressed until we'd let him turn it on. In fact, he'd had to go through the routine of turning everything on, exactly as it would have been had the place been actually open. Every PC got turned on, except the ones which were awaiting repair. The radio got turned on, tuned to the correct frequency and returned to a particular corner of

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the service desk. The A-board got put out with its coffee prices. The coffee machine got turned on. Gaudet sat at one of the dead terminals – to the clear irritation of Chabot – and looked faintly bemused. On 26 June: IM: IM: IM: IM: IM: IM:

Tsyin Tii: 'Eliza Tabletop'. Tsyin Tii: What an interesting pairing of words. Eliza Tabletop: lol Eliza Tabletop: *Someone* had to use that surname. Tsyin Tii: For some reason... Tsyin Tii: I'm enormously glad that you did :)

I logged in to Second Life using Tsyin Tii's ID and password. His avatar appeared, tall and muscular, dark haired, tattooed. He wore sunglasses, thick boots, weaponry. I kept the volume turned up, so all the little bops and chirps and ticks could be heard. I rezzed into an infohub. Red brick, everywhere. The sound of other people speaking on voice nearby filtered through the speakers. On 8 July: IM: IM: IM: IM: IM: IM:

Tsyin Tii: Let me ask you something... Tsyin Tii: Are you married RL? Eliza Tabletop smiles Eliza Tabletop: No. Tsyin Tii: Do you have a boyfriend? Eliza Tabletop: lol no. Not any more.

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IM: Tsyin Tii: Do you have a girlfriend? IM: Eliza Tabletop: No, I don't have one of those either :) “Hey Tsyin,” someone said to me on voice. I located the talker, looked at his friends list. Tsyin Tii wasn't on it. Maybe just someone being friendly, then. I looked over at Chabot. He clicked on something. On 23 July: IM: Tsyin Tii: We should do voice. IM: Tsyin Tii: There's something I'd like you to hear. IM: Tsyin Tii: Do you have a headset? IM: Eliza Tabletop: Yes! IM: Eliza Tabletop: Oh gosh! First time on voice!! How exciting! IM: Tsyin Tii: Promise me something. IM: Eliza Tabletop: Of course. IM: Tsyin Tii: Don't hang up on me. Hear me out. Ok? IM: Eliza Tabletop: Of course. IM: Tsyin Tii: Ok. I'm ringing now. IM: Eliza Tabletop's heart races! And then nothing for a week. And then the IMs continue. What did he tell her? Did one of them have to go away? I looked around the PC for its headset, found it on a hook on the wall behind, lifted it off. “Sucre,” Chabot mumbled. “What did he say?” I asked. Gaudet went over to him. They whispered to each other. “He says she smelled of sugar,” Gaudet said, finally. “She?”

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“Oui, monsieur. She.� * I wonder if all of this is new to you. I wonder if you're reading it all for the first time. Maybe you've heard this story so many times now you're sick of it. If that is the case then you, the reader, know just how this is going to end, whereas I, the writer, have no idea at all. Am I heading for a successful outcome? Am I heading for failure? Does more tragedy await us along the way? Does someone else come along and work it all out? And, by the way, am I happy in the future? Are you? Is your mother still with me? And did the world recover from the credit crash? Oh yes, and did Barack Obama win?

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Friday, 31 October

William Shing: You're *where*? Texter Triste: Le Havre. Texter Triste: Le Havre railway station, to be exact. William Shing: They have wireless on a *railway station*? Texter Triste: It would appear that they do. William Shing: You have to hand it to the French. Texter Triste nods. Henry Hard: They have some nice trains there too, you know. Texter Triste: I didn't. William Shing: You're in a cafĂŠ? Like here? Or on the platform? Texter Triste: On the platform. Tear Stained: Oh! We should all go stand on the platform! Tear Stained: That way, Texter will be on the platform in both RL and SL! William Shing: Does it really matter? Tear Stained: It does if I say it does, Shing. William Shing moves onto the platform. Texter Triste: lol Texter Triste: I've missed you guys! William Shing: You're expecting some sort of sympathy? William Shing: Where have you *been* these last few days? Tear Stained: Poor William's been like a little boy without his calculator! William Shing: A little boy without his calculator? What

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the hell is that supposed to mean? William Shing: When these days do you see little boys *with* calculators? Soma Supercollider: Hahaha. Silly rabbit you are x Texter Triste: Am I supposed to be the calculator? William Shing: So what are you doing on the platform of Le Havre railway station? Texter Triste: Just waiting for a friend. Texter Triste: Here on business for the weekend. Stop Stare: 'Just waiting for a friend'? Texter Triste: Hey Stop :) Tear Stained: Stop! Sweetie! I haven't seen you for ages! Tear Stained: I thought you'd abandoned me forever to the company of these nasty little boys. Stop Stare: lol IM: Stop Stare: Can I tell them? IM: Texter Triste: Of course! IM: Texter Triste: I didn't say anything because I was worried you might object. IM: Stop Stare: I don't object :) IM: Texter Triste: How are you doing this? Don't tell me they have internet on the train too... IM: Stop Stare: Of course they do! IM: Texter Triste: You have to hand it to the French. Stop Stare: In fact, he's waiting for me... Stop Stare: Aren't you Texter? Texter Triste: I am. And you're getting closer by the minute. William Shing: Eh? Tear Stained: What??!! William Shing: That's a joke, right? Texter Triste: Nope.

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Stop Stare: I'm about ten minutes out from Le Havre. Tear Stained: OMFG!!!! Tear Stained: This is big this is big this is big Stop Stare: hahaha Tear Stained: You *guys*! Tear Stained: How long has this been going on for? William Shing: They have wireless on a *train*? Stop Stare: Not long. Not long at all. Texter Triste: It would appear so. William Shing: You have to hand it to the French. Stop Stare: Only a couple of weeks, right Texter? Texter Triste: Ten days. Texter Triste: Not that I'm counting, or anything. IM: William Shing: Is this wise? IM: William Shing: Are you sure you know what you're doing? IM: Texter Triste: It's not wise and I have no idea what I'm doing. IM: William Shing: Ah. Ok. IM: William Shing: Just so that we're clear on that. Tear Stained: And you're actually going to meet up in real? OMFG!! Tear Stained: I so can't believe this! Soma Supercollider: Just for the record, you're both fools, the pair of you x Bigboy Anderson: Why is everyone stood out here? Tear Stained: Big! Tear Stained: Texter and Stop are about to meet up IN REAL LIFE! Bigboy Anderson: Really? Cool! Bigboy Anderson: I've met three SL girlfriends IRL, you know...

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Bigboy Anderson: The first turned up with her elderly mother. Bigboy Anderson: The second turned up with her middleaged son. Tear Stained sighs. Tear Stained: And what of the third, Bigboy? Who did she turn up with? Bigboy Anderson: Oh no, he came by himself. Texter Triste: hahaha William Shing: lol Henry Hard: Nice one, Bigboy. Stop Stare: lmao Soma Supercollider: You're an idiot, Bigboy. An idiot. x * And so it is that I am sitting here, half in the metaverse, half out of it. Together and yet separated. Waiting. Alone on a bench in a railway station. Standing on the platform and surrounded by all my friends. The announcement has just been made. I'll wait a minute longer. I'll wait until I can see the distant glint and hear the rails start to vibrate. Then I'll stand and go to her. In two more minutes, it will be done. Be right back.

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II

Just so that you know


Thursday, 21 August

GCSE results are due out today. It occurred to me this morning ago that I should write about exams in here, since this – or something broadly the equivalent of this – will one day be a major life event for you, I imagine. As it was for me, once upon a time, although I actually can't remember a single thing about the day when I got my GCSE results. In fact, I didn't get GCSE results, I got 'O'-level results (the O is for 'Ordinary'), which is sort of what I mean by the 'broadly equivalent' thing. I was the last year to sit the old 'O'-levels, actually. There's a lot of snobbery about old qualifications being better than new ones. Don't believe what you hear. Perhaps, by the time you take your exams, you'll be sick of people going on about 'proper GCSEs' in 'the good old days'. I remember nothing about the day I got my 'O'-level results. I can't remember where I was or what I was doing. I imagine I would have been on holiday, somewhere – probably Cornwall, possibly France. I know I was on holiday in Cornwall two years later when I got my 'A'-level results. Now that day I can remember quite a bit about. We were at a campsite near St Ives and my grandparents were looking after our house so we didn't have to put the cat into a cattery. So I had to ring them up and get them to read my results down the phone. I needed points equivalent of three Cs to get into Hatfield. My grandmother opened up the envelope and told me I had a C for computer science, a D for maths and a B for physics. I punched the air in victory, being careful not to touch the sides of the telephone box because it stank. And then I heard my grandfather from over her shoulder saying, “That's not a B! That's an E!” And so it

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was that university dropped off of my autumn agenda that year. I remember the walk back to the tent, testing out various wordings in my head and wondering whether to go for humour in my announcement. So that day I remember because I didn't get what I needed. But it all worked out ok in the end. I remember nothing about the day that I got my 'O'-level results, but I do remember taking the actual exams (conversely, I remember very little about sitting my 'A'levels). Being the fifth year at our school (we didn't call it Year 11 in those days), we had special privileges which included access to an upstairs room to hang out in. I can't remember what we called it, but officially it was known as the community room. It had a a proper bar that was shut down during the day, of course, but you could look through the roll-down grill and see beer pumps and spirits optics and boxes of salt and vinegar crisps. For a sixteen year old back then, a fully functioning bar – whether or not it was actually open at that particular moment in time – seemed like some sort of chemical opposite to school. We used to hang out there at lunch times playing Black Queen and talking about The Smiths. There were easy chairs that you could relax back into or perch yourself on the edge of. There were paintings on the wall of a local quarry. There was a tabletop Space Invaders machine that nobody could ever get to work. Everything was brown and beige in there; the wall was breeze blocks painted white. The whatever-we-called-it room was also where we went before exams, because the exam room was right next door. I remember that walking from our room to the next one – a long, brightly lit, green carpeted room, with exam desks in regimental rows and ranks – always seemed to feel a bit like

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leaving Narnia via the wardrobe. I remember that one of the teachers had a squeaky shoe that we all used to talk about. The first time he wore it it was just plain annoying, but by the second exam it had become so much a part of our cohort culture that the effort became all about not giggling when the squeak got close to you. One boy worked out that he could make a very similar sounding squeak by leaning on a particular corner of his desk with his forearms; when 'The Squeak' was walking he'd sometimes time his own squeak to exactly coincide with the 'official' one, as though it was an echo. You avoided eye contact at all costs. Once I looked at my neighbour whilst the whole double squeak thing was going on and saw that he'd stuffed nearly the entire of his pencil case into his mouth to try to stop himself from laughing. I nearly wet myself. I decided before my English literature exam that there was absolutely no point in trying to learn anything last minute and sat through the preceding lunch hour in the whatever-it-was-we-called-it room reading Life, the Universe and Everything by Douglas Adams. Not long before we were told to get the stuff together we wanted to take with us into the exam I reached the bit about Agrajag, the entity who always ended being killed by Arthur Dent in every re-incarnation. I laughed so much I farted, and the teacher supervising us asked me to step outside of Narnia for a moment, just to check that everything was ok. He thought I was having a hysteria attack. I remember nothing about the day I got my 'O'-level results. Isn't it strange that a day which will have meant so much to me back then is now gone from my recollection completely? When I woke up that day – in whatever bed it was that I woke up in – it would probably have been the very

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first thing I thought of. I would have eaten my breakfast thinking of it and, knowing me, I would probably have been unable to think of anything positive about the day ahead with that issue looming there, unresolved. I used to let things hang much more in those days than I do now – a high pressure job soon teaches you not to worry about things which are more than twenty-four hours away – so I'm certain it wouldn't have just been that day that saw me in that nervous, apprehensive state. Probably the entire week I'd have been thinking about it. And yet, it's gone now: the whole day; the whole week. I pretty much can't remember anything about that entire summer off the top of my head, in fact. Shameful, perhaps, but there you go. I wonder what my back-then-me would say if he could read this? Would he be appalled to know his angst is now forgotten? Would he consider it akin to dying? (If I should get copied and my copy then take my place after I die, should that be any consolation to me? If all this brain back-up stuff that they're talking about should ever come to pass, for example, should it be of any actual consequence to me – to me – that a computer somewhere will be able to mimic my responses after I'm dead? It won't actually be me, after all – my consciousness won't transfer from my dying brain to the program at the last minute; if the program is conscious it'll be a separate consciousness, one that doesn't belong to me – just like my back-then-me would have no access to the consciousness of my modern-day-me if he was standing next to me today. I'll be dead, just the same as always, electronic copy of my brain or no electronic copy of my brain. I suppose it would make other people happy, perhaps. In the unlikely event that anyone might mourn my departure from the mortal coil, I suppose it would be some

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comfort that they could talk to something that would give me-like responses. I wonder how that would work. Would my digital brain live on a hard drive somewhere? Would it live in 'the cloud' alongside illegal MP3s and JPG holiday snapshots? Perhaps it would get hooked up to one of these virtual worlds like 'Second Life' so that your brain could wonder around in a digital body and interact with other avatars, living and dead – that way, it really would be a second life! Well, perhaps you already know all about these things. Perhaps you're already accustomed to discussing issues with a digital me. Am I less of a nag in digital form? Do I give you less lectures on eating properly and getting your assignments done on time? What if I got my brain copied and then didn't die? Would I be able to keep the backup running anyway and delegate dull tasks to it like my tax return? Would I be able to get it go to work for me on days when I only have paperwork to do? I wonder if we would necessarily agree on stuff, or if we'd start to drift apart over time? Would my backup be able to absorb information from the internet more quickly than me on account of him being binary; would he start getting annoyed with me for not knowing as much as he does and start sneaking put-downs into our conversations? Would we end up arguing? Would I end up telling you I'm sick and tired of hearing you tell me “Digital dad lets us stay up late on a week day!”) Would my back-then-me be offended that he figures so little in my modern persona? Or would he actually be secretly pleased that stressful days like exam results day are no longer a part of my accessible memory? Would he assume it had been pushed out to make way for something much more interesting that he can now sit back and look forward to?

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I'm trying to remember the point of this post. Oh yes. I remember nothing about the day I got my 'O'-level results. And you will probably remember nothing about the day you got yours. Unless you fail to get the grades you need. And even then, the memory will probably only end up becoming an anecdote you tell your children.

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Friday, 22 August

A new case. A body was found this morning in Tintagel. I've spent my entire day there and I'll be back tomorrow, first thing. I'm shattered. It was a young woman in her early thirties. The most horrific thing I ever saw. I see the BBC has reported her as being found “with injuries to her head”, which is one way of putting it. The tabloid headlines planned for tomorrow put it a little more succinctly: “Her head was drilled”. But even that doesn't get to the worst of it. It's the degrading nature of it which is so shocking. From what we can make out, the killer didn't actually kill Sarah Cassidy at all. What he or she did was to give her just enough brain damage that she ended up killing herself. By walking off the edge of a cliff.

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Saturday, 23 August

Sarah Cassidy was a business manager at the district office of a large building society. She line managed two separate teams, each of about ten people. On Monday, she all of a sudden arranged to take a week's leave, starting Wednesday. She drove down to Cornwall that day and stayed in a hotel in Bossiney. She had her breakfast Thursday morning and was seen leaving at around 10:00am. She – or someone like her – was seen in a handful of places around the village: at a souvenir shop, sitting on the wall outside of an amusement arcade, having coffee in a café at the castle end of the main street. And then nothing; nothing until the next day at 7:00am, when a morning walker saw blonde hair floating on the high tide below. Up on the cliff top, where the walker was, a trail of blood spots traced back fifty yards or so to a bench at the top of the Rocky Valley. All around the bench was blood and... fragments of bone swarf and brain tissue. Somehow or another, the killer had managed to administer a local anaesthetic. Sarah won't have *felt* anything, but the preliminary report from the pathologist assures us that her ability to experience terror at what was happening will not have been similarly numbed... at first. “He knew exactly where to drill,” she told us, and then listed measurements and parts of the brain and their function. The time of death has been estimated as around midnight. Who did this to Sarah? Was it someone she ran into by chance that day? Or was it someone she'd arranged to meet in Tintagel? The sightings at the souvenir shop and the amusement arcade are both a little suggestive of her waiting

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for someone: in the former location, she was seen to be checking her mobile phone; in the latter, she was seen sitting on the wall by herself for over fifteen minutes. The colleagues we've spoken to so far tell us Sarah was thought to be single. Until a few weeks ago, however, she was in a relationship with someone she'd met at some party of a friend's friend. We haven't managed to interview him yet. Perhaps ordinarily he would be the main suspect – particularly in view of the fact that it was Sarah who called of the relationship, not him – however we've been informed by his next door neighbour that he is, in fact, currently in Italy.

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Monday, 25 August

Sarah's ex-boyfriend arrived back in the UK this morning. He was met at Heathrow and taken straight into questioning, along with his new girlfriend. He knew nothing. About five minutes into the interview, at the point where he got told about the manner of Sarah's death, he threw up violently all over the interviewer and then proceeded to sob uncontrollably for the next thirty minutes. I gather it was her who broke up with him, and on the grounds that he tried to control too much in her life; one of the comments he kept wailing over and over was, “I shouldn't have let her break up with me!� I shouldn't laugh. Actually, I'm not laughing at all, just pointing out an irony, and a frequently observed one at that. Where negative things result from brute force, we tend to look back and reflect that we should have used more force to stop it from happening. Oxford got a call after lunch from the New York City Police department. The guy there wanted to know more details about this case. Where in the head had Sarah been drilled? What type of drill? What diameter? How many holes? What type of anaesthetic? Then he told him about Melanie Druppe, an unsolved homicide from January, murdered in exactly the same way. Melanie had fallen to her death from a thirty-two story building in Manhatten. On the roof they'd found blood, bone fragments and brain tissue, and the stubs of three roll-up cigarettes. In fact, we found three cigarette stubs also, but I didn't think to mention it yesterday; we thought they belonged to someone else. They're going to send us through a complete copy of the case

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file. Our hunt for a murderer has just become a hunt for a serial killer.

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Wednesday, 27 August

Do people still smoke in your time? I'm guessing yes, but you never know. I used to smoke. I gave up several years ago when your Uncle Harry had his first son and I got named as godfather. It's a small thing, I suppose, but when it happened it all of a sudden made me think more carefully – more strategically, if you will – about my future. I planned a stop date and stuck to it, spending my last two weeks of smoking trying to convince myself each time I took a drag that I hated the experience at the back of my throat, that I hated the smell on my fingers and on my clothes. It made giving up much easier. For the first six hours, at least. I beat it in the end with sheer willpower; I haven't had a fag for years now and I'm not worried about my resolve weakening any more. Even so, if I were to learn today that the world was going to end tomorrow, my first thought pretty much would be to calculate the number of cigarettes I could consume in the hours of life remaining. I smoked roll-ups. It's a habit I started at university as a result of having no money whatsoever and then continued into adult life out of sheer bloody mindedness whilst my peers either switched to tailors or (even worse) gave up. I don't know why boxed cigarettes are referred to as 'tailors', surely they're completely the opposite: calling something tailor-made implies it's been made for a specific person as opposed to production-line manufacture, and the cigarette equivalent of that – I would have thought – is roll-ups. No? I digress. I smoked roll-ups. And your basic roll-up is just some tobacco along the fold of a cigarette paper that is then, well, rolled up. But roll-up smokers vary in their personal

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preferences. Some like to add filters – which you can buy by the hundred in separate boxes – and make them more like 'tailors'. And some like to add a roach – a tiny tube of cardboard – to stop the cigarette from losing its shape where it gets held between the lips. Without a roach, the sucked end of a roll-up can become flattened very quickly, making inhaling harder. It doesn't have to be the entire length of the cigarette, a half centimetre or so is usually more then sufficient. Roll-up smokers who use roaches often tear them out of their cigarette papers packet, little tiny strips which they then curl into tubes to place at the end of the open paper. That's one thing that smokers use their papers packet for. The other thing is they write stuff down on the inside of it as an aide memoir. The three cigarette stubs found at the bench where Sarah Cassidy received her head injuries contained roaches. And there is something written down on them. The forensic team sent me a photograph of the three roaches pushed together. It reads 'Redclaw st'.

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Tuesday, 2 September

So I created a Second Life account today. Actually, I created two. First of all I created the identity 'Marcus Foible', but that was kind of done in haste. I spent about a minute on the decision. I thought, 'What the hell does it matter what I call myself in this place?' And then I was standing around in this place where they send you when you're new, looking at all the names above the heads of others, and I thought, 'Marcus? Marcus? Why the hell did I call myself Marcus?' One of the first things I heard was the sound of some guy laughing in the distance, and I was worried he was laughing about my name. I told myself I was being ridiculous, put myself through all the tasks they give you so you know how to walk and talk and stuff, found myself getting increasingly angry with my choice of name. What had I been thinking? By the time I was done and ready to proceed to the 'mainland' I was checking the terms and conditions to see if I could start over. Apparently, additional avatars are called 'alts'. So I got myself an alt. I called him 'Texter Triste'. And then I had to go through the whole induction thing all over again. People talk primarily in text here. I must admit, I had assumed it was all done by voice these days. Apparently, voice does exist, it's just that text is sort of the default. Isn't that interesting? I like it when my expectations are overturned like that. I wonder why people would prefer texting when they can just walk around and speak to each other like in real life? That said, I can't say I'm exactly keen on doing the voice thing. In fact, I had planned on spending at least my first day in here claiming my microphone was broken so that I had the chance to get familiar with

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everything before having to do any actual speaking myself. Speaking is so difficult, when you're in new places. Hmmm. I think I might have just answered my own question there. I spent about an hour bumping around and trying to talk to people about how to do stuff before deciding it was time to find the station. Everything is so slow. You go some place new and everything is grey at first, even the people. After a fashion, the grey bits get replaced by blurry pictures, and after still more time they begin to sharpen and become things like brickwork or denim trousers. It seems to take a good five or ten minutes before the whole place around you is complete. I was thinking you would just stroll into a place and, well, there it would be. I spoke to someone about that, a woman (I think) dressed up like some sort of a cat. I told her I'd seen games you can play online before where the world around you didn't have to materialise first before you could move in it. She told me that's because in those games the environment is loaded onto your PC from the hard disk, which is lightening quick; it doesn't work like that in Second Life, apparently, because (a) it's too big and (b) everything is changeable. In other words, even if you had a hard disk capable of holding the whole world on it you'd have to update it every hour of every day. Something like that. She assured me that people being able to change things was one of the things that makes Second Life special. It is a Good Thing. I'll take her word for it. I bet virtual worlds in your time are instant. You'd probably take one look at this place and tell me how rubbish it is. Although it took rather a long time to 'rez' (this is apparently the word used to describe something materialising in Second Life), I've decided that the station

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looks like a very well-made place. I found it by using the built-in search facility. It's a pretend railway station with four platforms and a booking office and a cafĂŠ. I landed next to a luggage trolley and saw that there were a few people gathered in the cafĂŠ. I spent time at the glass door. It took me a couple of moments to work out you had to left click on it to open it. Inside, there was a conversation going on about the new Star Trek movie. Well, I can show you. William Shing: They can't use new people in those roles. They just can't. It's sacrilege. Henry Hard: They've done it with all the major superheroes, buddy. And don't forget James Bond. Tear Stained: James Bond's not a superhero? William Shing: What? William Shing: Did you really just ask that? Tear Stained: Sorry. Stop Stare: lol Stop Stare: Poor William. William Shing: It tears up continuity with *everything* they've done so far! William Shing: This isn't just a couple of movies we're talking about here, this is 726 TV episodes and *ten* motion pictures. William Shing: You can't just write all that off. Bigboy Anderson: So you won't be going to see it, huh? William Shing: Don't be so ridiculous. William Shing: Of course I'll be going to see it. Oxford will be asking me how this went tomorrow. Despite the fact that he would have no idea whatsoever about how to

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go about any of this, he will nonetheless expect some sort of 'progress' report. Although it was late, I decided I had to make contact in some way. People group. You're sick of hearing me say that, right? Well they do. It's the single most important thing to understand about human behaviour. People group in an instant. If you're not a member of the group then that makes you an outgroup member, and outgroup members don't get the same privileges as ingroup members – not by a very long way. I need to become an ingroup member here if anybody is going to trust me. I wasn't sure how established as a group this bunch of people were. They could have only met for the first time this evening, for all I know. But assuming them to be long-term buddies is rarely a risky strategy, so I decided to take that approach. One way of breaching a group is to build a common-ground relationship with one or two members and use them as your passport. My Star Trek knowledge isn't all bad. So I sidled up to Shing, who was sitting on a stool at the end of a long counter. Texter Triste: I'm with you, William. Texter Triste: They should leave The Original Series well alone. Tear Stained: A newcomer speaks! Soma Supercollider: Oh! And he capitalised! He *must* know what he's talking about! William Shing: Pull up a stool and sit down, Texter. William Shing: Any friend of regulation nomenclature is a friend of William Shing. Tear Stained: Are you looking for the mop spot, Texter? It's over by the window.

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Texter Triste: 'Mop spot'? William Shing: She thinks, because you're new, you must be here to clean the floor. Texter Triste: Really? Is that some sort of initiation ritual? Tear Stained: William! No! William Shing: She has slaves in real life. Soma Supercollider: hahaha Tear Stained: Stop it! Tear Stained: It's a camping spot, Texter. Tear Stained: I though you were here to camp, is all. Texter Triste: You thought I was here to camp? As in tent camp? Tear Stained: nooooooo William Shing: That's right: that's where all the servants get to sleep. Stop Stare: lol Soma Supercollider: You do realise there's a difference between having slaves and having servants, don't you William? William Shing: meh William Shing: Potaito potahto. Tear Stained: It's a Second Life expression, Texter. Tear Stained: Camping is when you get paid to stay in a particular spot for a long time. Tear Stained: People pay other people to camp because it makes their place look popular on the map. Tear Stained: Newbies often do it to make Lindens. Tear Stained: And you are a newbie. Tear Stained: There. Is that clear now? Texter Triste: Why is it only newbies that do it? William Shing: Because, my friend, it pays dick.

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William Shing: And because the activity of camping is so closely associated with the removal of all human dignity that, as soon as you have any semblance of identity here in the metaverse, you avoid it at all costs, just in case anyone you know should ever see you doing it. Texter Triste: Ah. Ok. Texter Triste: Is that why none of you are doing it? Tear Stained laughs. Tear Stained: Escorting pays so much better. Texter Triste: Escorting? Soma Supercollider: Oh bless him x William Shing: Prostitution. Tear Stained: Actually, No. *Not* prostitution. William Shing: meh William Shing: Potaito potahto. Soma Supercollider: You're starting to push your luck with those potatoes, William. Texter Triste: But, I mean, if it's just there... and if you're all staying here to talk anyway... why not use it and make some money? William Shing takes Texter under his wing. William Shing: Let me ask you something, Texter: if you saw a two pence piece – which country are you from? Texter Triste: UK. William Shing: Good. If you saw a two pence piece shitting on a dog turd, Texter, would you stoop so low as to pick it up? Tear Stained: Ewwwwwww. Soma Supercollider: You have a squalid mind, Shing. William Shing: You see, Texter, the moment you stop scrabbling around in the shit for the odd Linden here and there is the moment you stop being a newbie.

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Henry Hard: Hey! I thought you guys didn't use the camping spots because you wanted to encourage more new people here. Tear Stained: Oh yeah, that too. Tear Stained whispers, “This place belongs to Henry” to Texter. Soma Supercollider: Poor Henry x Stop Stare: Be careful who you associate with in here, Texter; William will have you joining his Star Trek group soon. Texter Triste: There's a Star Trek group in here? Nice! William Shing: I think you and I are going to get along juuuuuuust fine, Texter. * Things in Second Life you wouldn't imagine working, but which do #1: Clothes. Everyone here seems to take such a pride in their virtual appearance. It's most odd. Apparently, I am immediately identifiable as a 'newbie' by my clothes and looks. I gather I need to get some money and go clothes shopping at clothes shops. Apparently, you can get just about anything – from designer suits to outfits which make you look like Bart Simpson. I'm going to stick with my newbie look for a while, I think. The longer I appear new, the longer it'll be accepted that this is the only place I want to hang out in: Redclaw Station, the place Sarah's murderer wrote down on the inside of a packet of cigarette papers; in Second Life, which – we now know – was the principle evening activity of both Sarah Cassidy and Melanie Druppe.

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Saturday, 1 November

Back. There's so much to go over, and yet so little. It all boils down to one thing. Stop didn't show. Stop disappeared. Stop seems now to be gone from my life. I wonder what she saw that scared her off. Oh well. The train arrived, bang on time. Up until the final minute, she and I were talking on the platform at Redclaw. Then she told me, 'brb'. I thought it wonderfully ironic. I was just about to make a note of it in here, but then I heard the rails start to hum. I stood up. The train rolled into the station and terminated. People got off. I looked for someone who looked like she was looking for someone. People moved around me, like water in a river moves around a stone. Busy, but generally happy looking people. Hell, it was Friday evening, after all: people arriving home for the weekend. I saw lots of men in suits. I saw women in all kinds of outfits. At one point, a woman with red, curly hair appeared to be walking straight towards me and my body stiffened in anticipation. But she walked past. After a minute or so I wondered if I needed to make it more obvious, then realised that the open laptop in my hand was a pretty large giveaway. I glanced at the screen, my window into Second Life, to Redclaw station, where I stood with my friends on the platform. The group including Stop: her avatar stood there amongst us, her arms folded, her right foot absently tapping. I skim-read quickly the text chat elapsed. Tear Stained: What's going on?

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Tear Stained: Have you guys met yet? Tear Stained: Will somebody give me an update?! Tear Stained: This is driving me nuts! Bigboy Anderson: Calm yourself, Tear. Tear Stained: 'Calm myself'? Tear Stained: I'll calm you in a minute... Tear Stained: Permanently. Henry Hard: You know what would have been good? Henry Hard: We should have got them to wear headsets and use voice. Henry Hard: Then we could have listened to it all. Tear Stained: OMG yes! Tear Stained: Why didn't anyone think of that? William Shing: We should have 'got' them to wear headsets? William Shing: I honestly doubt they feel they need a stage manager, Henry. My eyes flicked between the virtual world and the real one. Still the people moved past. Now it was the passengers who wouldn't have been quite so fast to exit. A mother with two boys. An elderly couple. Some teenagers who purposefully bumped into each other as they walked beside the train whilst they examined their iPods. Two, three, four couples. Five couples. Fingers interlocked, chatting; a slow amble towards the exit which didn't need to be rushed. Back to the screen. Back to the people. Back to the screen. Back to the people. It occurred to me that Henry's idea wasn't such a bad one at all. I reached into my laptop's shoulder bag, pulled out my headset, tried to disentangle the cable with one hand (and of course failed – I put it on tangled, knowing it would look ridiculous but starting to worry) and plugged it in.

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Then I thought about why it was I didn't use voice with these guys. I swore. If they heard me now, might they recognise me if they met me in real life? If I had to bring them in for questioning – which seemed increasingly likely – would my voice now be one which they remembered? There was background noise here – station announcements, passing chatter, the rumble hum of the locomotive – also, I was out of breath with my anxiety. Back to the screen. Back to the people. The flow was starting to thin. Tear Stained paces up and down irl. Tear Stained: Message to Texter and Stop: if you two should even *think* about just going offline and fucking each other without so much as a word to us here first I will personally hunt you down in real life and gut you like fish. Soma Supercollider: hahaha Soma Supercollider: They're too busy snogging! I decided to take the risk. Holding my laptop in the crook of my left arm, I clicked on the microphone icon. “Can you hear me? Can you hear me?” On the screen my avatar's mouth started to open and shut; green radio waves burst out of the little white dot above my head. Tear Stained: Listen! OMG! He's talking to us! Tear Stained: Turn your speakers up! “I can't see Stop!” I shouted. “Loads of people have disembarked, but there's no-one here who looks like she's looking for someone.” There was a crackle in my ear. A female voice cried, “Texter! What's happening?” On the screen, Tear's mouth

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was moving. “I can't see her!” I repeated. I went back to the bench I'd been sitting on and stood on it to get a better view. “You can't see her?” Another crackle. “Bill here, Texter. Good to hear you.” “Um... you too, Bill.” There was something quite surreal about this. “You can't see Stop?” Shing asked. Of course, we none of us had any idea what to say to each other; I must admit, I often use the repeat-back-what's-just-been-said-to-you tactic when I find myself in similar predicaments in RL. “No!” “She's still online, according to my friends list,” said Tear. “Maybe she's still on the train,” suggested Bill. “Oh really, do you think?” snapped Tear. “It's possible she might have got off and not seen him!” “I'm standing here on a bench with an open laptop in my hands,” I told them. “I think the chances of her not spotting me are pretty slim.” Another crackle. An American voice cut in. “Hey dudes. Bigboy here. Um, are any of us going to acknowledge the elephant?” “Oh Bigboy, you're such a shit,” said Tear. “It's only been a few minutes. Her luggage could be stuck, or something.” My red flush at Bigboy's remark was wiped aside by Tear's very practical point. I was at the front of the train in any case, so I got down off my bench and went over to the locomotive, started walking up the platform, started peering in at the lit interior. “I'm walking alongside the train,” I told them, “I'm looking through the windows.” “She's still here with us in SL,” said Tear. “Not saying

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anything though. Stop! Stooooooop! Where are you, Stop? What are you doing?” “You do realise,” said Shing, “if she hasn't got her headphones on she'll have no idea we're actually having this conversation.” “Good point, I'll IM her,” replied Tear. I heard the sound of someone typing furiously. I walked quickly up the carriages, which were now mostly empty. Periodically, I looked behind to check I hadn't somehow missed her getting off. By the time I'd reached the far carriage, the flow of people getting off the train had pretty much ceased. “Nope. Nothing,” I said. I didn't know what to do. “You got to the end?” “Yep.” There was an awkward silence in my head. “I think you should wait a bit longer,” Tear said finally. “This could be an anxiety issue.” “What?” said Shing and Bigboy together. “For fuck's sake, Bill; aren't you supposed to be a doctor? You do know how the digestive system works in times of anxiety, right?” “Oh right,” said Shing. “Yes, of course. Good point.” “What?” said Bigboy. I started walking back down the side of the train. After a couple of carriages, I stepped on board, checked the toilets, jogged down the aisle to the next join. I shouted out, “Stop!” in every coach. I stepped out at each join to check the platform again. “Stop!” The last few departing passengers turned to look at me. “Il veut nous faire arrêter?” I stepped back on board. “Stop! Stop!” I opened all the toilet doors, looking for one that was locked. None were,

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they all opened. Back onto the platform. Back onto the train. Down the next coach, checking all the seats now, checking the footspace in case she'd fallen somehow. Back onto the platform. “Stop! Stop!” A guard was looking in my direction, a passenger was standing next to him, pointing at me. Back onto the train. Down the next coach. “Stop! Stop!” And so on. All the way back to the front of the train. And there was nothing. It was empty now, completely deserted. Back onto the platform. “Stop! Stop!” I jogged through the glass doors to the entrance hall where the ticket machines were, waved the guard away. “Stop!” Through the main entrance, out onto the street. “Stop! Stop! STOP!” People looked towards me, but no-one raised an arm or smiled or shouted back, “Texter! Hey! Over here!” No-one. People nearby moved away. The guard came to the main entrance and stood there, watching me carefully, his thumbs hooked in his belt loops. A few taxi drivers looked at me warily. “Texter!” I suddenly realised the voice in my ear had been repeating with increasing urgency. “Texter, stop!” Tear sounded distressed. “This isn't making things better!” I looked back up and down the street one more time. There was nothing more to be done. I went back into the station, patting the guard at the door on his upper arm in that universal gesture of reassurance. It seemed to ameliorate things. He appeared to understand. I went into the station café, sat down at the counter, ordered coffee. “Oh Texter, I'm so sorry.” “Nothing to be sorry for,” I said to the headset. The guy preparing my coffee looked to see if I'd been speaking to him. I pointed to the microphone. “Is her avatar still there?” “No. She disappeared whilst you were searching the

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train. She went offline.” “Probably for the best.” I looked at myself in the mirror behind the counter. Of course, I knew what they'd be thinking. What must he look like? They were imagining that Stop had taken one look at me and walked straight on by. Well, she probably had, but was it really because of my looks? I mean, I keep myself in good shape; I have good personal hygiene; I'm only a couple of inches short of six foot... “I don't know what to say,” said Tear, softly. I looked at the laptop screen, open in front of me on the counter, realised suddenly just how awkward this all was, decided it was time to put them all out of their misery. “Guys, I should, um... leave you be. The battery's running low anyway. I'll see you all later, ok?” “I'll worry about you.” “These things happen, Tear. Today's heartbreak is tomorrow's anecdote. I'll be fine. Thank you for holding my hand. You can insert a sideways smiley face at the end of that sentence.” “Ok sweetie. Have a lol in return. Take care.” I logged off. I drank my coffee. I hung around for another hour or so, thinking I'd prefer to know in the future that I'd stuck around just in case she'd had second thoughts and come back looking for me. I watched the staff serving. They were busy. They moved this way, that way; over here to this bottle, over there to that box. It was like they were dancing around each other, at times. Mentally, I tried setting them to music. A tall girl who looked like she was German was the most focused of all of them; she had her sleeves rolled up and for a whole minute I just sat and watched her bare forearms, how they moved as her body worked. It was

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like watching a gymnast Back at my hotel, I set myself up in the bar and drank lager until two in the morning, and thought about all the faces of all the arrivals, and asked myself why I hadn't even seen the flick of eyes quickly averted. * Oh yes, and today I pretty much stayed in bed. And wrote this.

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Sunday, 2 November

It's funny. Writing these things really does seem to help me. Looking back on some of my October entries on the whole Stop business I do sort of feel a little foolish. After all, it's over now. I was tempted earlier on to delete them, but then that would defy the point of doing this whole blog thing. The whole blog thing is for you, of course. You do understand that, don't you? It's all for you. Well that's how it started, anyway. I do get that now it's for me as well. It's been for me as well for quite some time, of course. I suppose reflection heals. If healing is the right word for it. Actually, I don't think that it is. I'm not a 'healed' person. But neither am I a massively wounded person. It's not about cuts being sewn up and scars fading with time. I'm just me, no more. I get by. I cope. I used to suffer the delusion that someone out there cares – or could care, at least. It took me years to figure it out that no-one really cares; not really. Not in our society, at least. We want to care, of course we do; that's the way we think of ourselves. No-one wants to believe they're cold and heartless; no-one wants to believe it's just about them and theirs and to hell with everyone and everything else. We have our images to live up to. We have the great, grand Disney myth to paint upon our faces, the sort of smile that looks up into the stars whilst our arms are round the shoulders of brothers in arms. To piss upon the starry smile is to piss upon innocence and faeries and Santa and Jesus Christ and the Easter Bunny. Don't expect any empathy if ever you should come across the realisation that the starry smile is made from plastic that would melt beneath an eight

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watt bulb. And yet, I'm an idiot. Because every now and then I manage to fall for the whole fucking thing all over again. The little voice in my logic centre squeaks away about the bollocks filters being busted yet again and I just swat him like the annoying little shit-eater that he is. I fall for it. I start thinking that maybe there's something to all of this love and friendship business. I start to like people and imagine that I'm liked in return. Like Lenny and Ada. Like Claire. Like Frank. I start to believe that sometimes the group can actually come to mean more than the individuals within it. That the things we say to each other might actually have some truth to them. But it never lasts. The details will change from group to group, but let me tell you that one day, just when things look like they're kind of going nicely, you're going to realise you have an angry Frank. And angry Frank's gonna get Ada and Lenny and Claire all fired up because they've come to think themselves hard done by by the establishment. And I'm not saying that they're wrong, ok? But the establishment is there to get the job done, at the end of the day, and not to listen to this and that and the other complaint that you might have any more than it absolutely has to. That's the way it works, and will always work. And no, that's not an excuse for bullying, either: there are things that are acceptable and there are things which aren't. Acceptable. There's a difference between a legitimate grudge and perfervid outrage. Save your outrage for when you really need it. So Frank gets all outraged over legitimate grudges A, B and C. And you like Frank a lot, and Claire, and Lenny, and especially Ada. You think that what you have is special. But everyone starts joining in with Frank and getting outraged at

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legitimate grudges A, B and C. You think to yourself, well yeah, for sure it's shitty, but isn't it good this togetherness thing we have going? Not so fast, my little one(s). What happens next is the resentment starts to grow. A, B and C become eclipsed by D, E and F. You see, it would be one thing if Frank and the others aired these views a little more publicly, but they don't. Oh no. These are the conversations that happen in the privacy of the copier room or late at night in the office when it's only the 'real workers' left. Single sentences spoken once, taken out of context and grown in their importance until they reach almost legendary significance. Things twisted. Things exaggerated. You know what? Frank says to Ada one day, You're wasted here. Your skills go to waste. There's a job coming up in Kingston, I heard. You should totally apply for it. That'll fucking learn them. And Ada glows in the compliment, but only you can see that its function was never to actually praise her at all. But you say nothing, because you know you're powerless, and anyway, the little voice in the logic centre's back on his feet and telling you what a na誰ve little prick you are. You watch Ada slip quietly distant, take her sideways step away from you. And then Lenny leaves as well. And then Frank. And then Claire decides she wants to leave the profession, because things just aren't the same any more (a coded message that you by yourself are not enough for her to want to stay). And finally it's just you by yourself and a bunch of new recruits that have come along to fill Frank, Claire, Lenny and Ada's spaces. It's all gone; it's all disintegrated. All those guys who told you not so long ago how great you are and how good it is that we all support

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each other are gone, and once more you are alone.1 No-one really cares; not really. It's all about proving stuff to people and proving stuff to yourself and rationalising what you did by the subsequent consequences and finding all the little bits of evidence which you cite, which you can say is proof that you are right. Parents care. Most parents care. But parents have a way of caring that can be singularly unhelpful. They can care desperately for your physical health and of course they'll say to everyone that their only concern is your happiness... It's a shame that they're the ones who often end up being the guys who manage to slip the most put-downs into their conversations with you, therefore. They can't help themselves, of course: their one wish when you were born was that you would in some way achieve something that they couldn't; it's quite a shock to them that you actually manage this well before your tenth birthday. No-one really cares. Somebody, when you are/were at school, will probably tell you/have told you all about how important it is to find someone to talk to if you ever feel down in the dumps. It's a lovely image, this idea that there are all these people out there, waiting for someone to listen to. Don't believe it, my dears; it's just another lie that everyone here for some reason buys into. Telling people about your feelings is the greatest conversation stopper there ever was. Watches get looked at. Windows get looked out of. The pauses between IMs gets longer and longer. No-one wants to listen to your whining. No-one. No-one really cares and no-one really wants to listen.

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Thanks, Frank, by the way. Thanks a fucking bunch. You know what? I'm sorry I made the mistake of liking you.

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That's where the private blog comes in. It's not about healing, you see; it's about feeling listened to, it's about making sense of stuff. Even though there's no-one reading it, you write it like there is. You pretend you're being listened to. Having to explain stuff to a non-existent reader means you have to understand it first yourself, so writing your diary helps you to understand you. And that, somehow, makes things easier. And that's why this blog is now for me as well as it is for you. It makes things just a little bit easier. I did feel a bit foolish about all that stuff I wrote about Stop and I did seriously think about deleting it all, but apart from anything else the little voice in the logic centre wants it to stay there as a permanent record as to just how stupid I can be. The shit-eater. * The ferry departs at five. It's now four thirty. I'm currently back at my spot in The Cotton Club and a lager is on its way over to my table. I can see my hotel room from here. Gaudet met me there at lunch time and took me out for a meal. He said he hoped I wasn't too disappointed by my trip. I wondered for a moment if that remark was his way of saying, Oh yes, we've seen the CCTV footage from the station on Friday evening; is there anything you'd like to tell us? Hmm? I dropped a random pleasantry about Le Havre and that seemed to keep him happy. We agreed that they would notify me of all future interviews and that I could be present by video link. That, by itself, makes the trip worthwhile.

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* And now this next bit, I must be honest, is written retrospectively. I had no desire to write about these things which follow on the night that they happened. Or the night after that. Or the night after that. In fact, it's now nearly a week since I wrote the words of the last paragraph. I think it's fair to say that the world has changed a great deal in those few days. So, for the first time in nearly two years, I've let the diary lapse. Well, I wouldn't have known what to write. I still don't, really – I just don't have the words for stuff like this – but I do know that if I don't start it up again now there's the danger that the habit will fall to one side completely. I've debated making this one long entry under today's date – the 8th – but, for the sake of continuity I'm going to try to put things down under their respective dates. There's a lot to cover. I'll try to be concise. Back to The Cotton Club. The ship was twenty minutes into its journey. I decided it was time to face the music and log back into Second Life. I guess I wasn't looking forward all that much to seeing the Redclaw regulars – especially Bill and Tear, in front of whom I felt now I'd acted in a rather undignified manner – but even more I was worried that Stop might be on and we'd have to have 'a talk'. Aside from just not wanting a conversation like that, I simply had no idea how it would go in SL. Such interactions are hardly pleasant at the best of times, but at least in RL they're avoidable. You can put the phone onto answering machine if you just can't face 'the talk', you can unplug it altogether if necessary. Hell, you can turn out the lights and take an early night, if things are really bad, or go stay at a mate's. Or get rat-arsed. Not in SL. Well, not quite... Not if they're on your friends

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list, at least. Well, not quite... You can make yourself invisible to certain friends, but to do that – to actually change the setting – you first of all have to be online. And if you go online then you're visible – not just 'if they check to see if you're on they see that you're on' visible, but 'big blue fucking box announcing your arrival in the bottom right quadrant' visible. Linden should really let you manage your friends list from the website as well as inworld. But anyway. So I did think about logging on, going straight to my friends list and unchecking the box that says whether so-and-so can see if you're online or not: sort of a high speed, precision kind of SAS-style 'in and out' operation: all well and good if she was offline at that moment, but if she wasn't, there would be that big blue box, and then a second blue box to announce that I was no longer in the metaverse. Which would either look like exactly what it was – a coward going into hiding – or like I'd come on, seen she was on and then legged it back off again; in neither scenario did I come out well. There was always the possibility that she might not be looking at her computer screen at the moment of the blue boxes, but friends' entrances and exits also get recorded in chat, which can be scrolled back through. I thought about the times of day when I might be least likely to run into her online. Late night was a good possibility. Commute time looked good too. And I prepared myself for foreseeable distractions, such as a Dear John notecard popping up the moment I came on. Deal with online visibility first, check out notecards and IMs after. But finally I got to thinking that I just couldn't do the uncheck thing if she was on. It just looked way too bad. And then I got to thinking that doing the uncheck thing if I got lucky and she was offline when I came on also looked

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bad, and just because there wasn't anyone there to actually look at it shouldn't make it the easier thing to do. And after I thought that it also occurred to me that even if I went online and saw that she was offline it could be that actually she was online but actually she had unchecked the box next to my name... And I was glad I thought those two things in that order, because it made me feel like I'd made the morally right decision before discovering the practical flaw to the morally wrong plan that rendered it useless anyway... I also wondered if, when I got on, I would actually have a box to uncheck. Stop could have come on and deleted me from her friends list. That was possible too. Christ, I feel like a shit for writing this, in light of what I now know has happened; which is fucking terrible, fucking awful. I am a total bastard. But where would be the point in lying about it retrospectively? Who would I be lying to? That was what I felt like at the time. That was what I was thinking. So I stopped thinking about how I would avoid her and started thinking about how I would confront this issue head on. Eventually it occurred to me that logging on from a departing vessel would make it all marginally easier because it did at least rule out any possibility of me initiating 'the talk' as being misinterpreted as an attempt on my part to 'get a second chance'. I logged in. And, of course, no-one was on. Typical. Just me in my spot at the counter. And Guy89 Bottletop on the mop spot, earning his two Lindens per twenty minutes. I've seen him here now a couple of times. He never answers me when I say hello to him. Texter Triste: Hey Guy.

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Guy89 Bottletop: Hey Texter. Texter Triste: Hey! You learned to talk! Guy89 Bottletop: Yes, I suppose I did :) Texter Triste: That's great! And are you enjoying your Second Life? Guy89 Bottletop: Oh yes, Texter. Guy89 Bottletop: It's all going very well indeed. Texter Triste: I have to hand it to you... every time I see you, you're here camping... that's dedication for you... you must have earned, like, ten Linden dollars by now! Guy89 Bottletop: Yes, very humourous, haha. I did my usual thing of camming around whilst everything coloured in from grey, making sure there wasn't someone in the far corner of the station, like that time when I saw Stop out there, facing a blank bit of wall. I never did find out what she was upset about that day. I guess I never will. Guy89 Bottletop: Tell me something, why are you leaving? I assumed at first he was talking to someone else in IM and had accidentally typed it into chat. Texter Triste: Eh? Which I always type in such situations, even though I'm not actually confused at all. It's more of a feedback thing. Guy89 Bottletop: Why are you leaving, Texter? Texter Triste: Why am I leaving? Texter Triste: I don't understand. I'm not going anywhere,

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Guy. Guy89 Bottletop: Why are you leaving Le Havre? I felt a sudden, sickening thud take place in my chest. Texter Triste: What? Guy89 Bottletop: It's a simple question. Guy89 Bottletop: Why are you leaving Le Havre? The possibility crossed my mind that Guy89 had been at Redclaw during my little public broadcast on Friday evening, or even that he'd heard talk about that incident from the regulars gossiping since. Instinctively, however, I just knew that this was not what was happening here. I hadn't told anyone the date and time of my departure, not even Stop (although I imagine that she could probably have had a good stab at working it out). My fingertips were suddenly cold and clammy. They slid around on the keyboard and I had to keep correcting typing errors. They betrayed my emotional state. Texter Triste: Who are you? Texter Triste: How do youknow whre I am? Guy89 Bottletop: Awwww... Guy89 Bottletop: Texter... Guy89 Bottletop: You looked so lost on Friday... Guy89 Bottletop: Your little face, so full of hope, so dashed, so quickly... A blue box dropped from the top-right quandrant. Guy89 Bottletop has given you a texture named 'Texter looking for his girlfriend'. I clicked on 'Keep'. The picture took a few

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seconds to rez properly, but I knew what it was, instantly. It was a photograph of me on Le Harve station, standing on a bench with my laptop in the crook of my arm. Looking for Stop. It had been taken from inside of the train. My mouth went dry, looking at it. Texter Triste: Who are you? Guy89 Bottletop: Texter Texter Texter Guy89 Bottletop: Let me put it this way.. Guy89 Bottletop: If I tell you that I drilled your sweet little Stop good and proper, can I take it you understand I don't mean I fucked her? Ten seconds later I was out on deck, vomiting into the sea. * Ten minutes later I was on the phone to Gaudet, thankful that at least The Norman Courage hadn't yet sailed out of cell range. I made the call on deck, where the wind drowned my voice from anything over two feet away. Le Havre was a distant line of lights. “And what else did he say?” “He? I thought we'd established it was a she!” I pride myself on my attention to non-urgent detail in times of urgency. “She didn't say anything else. She logged off.” “Chabot could have been mistaken,” Gaudet said, making sure he got his comment in on the first bit of what I'd said. “You are telling me, then, that someone has been murdered in the city?” “Yes!” “We have no suspicious deaths under investigation,

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Spencer. Not from the last two days, that is.” “Robert, just get this boat turned around and we'll talk about it then.” “You want to return? Yes, I suppose you should. But already The Seven Sisters is docking in the terminal your ship has vacated.” “There isn't some other place this thing can dock?” I yelled, knowing it was probably like asking if you could land a commercial jet on a motorway or something. “I will radio the Pilot,” Gaudet told me. “You will have to arrange for someone to collect your car.” The Pilot. I remembered his arrival on the ship on Thursday morning. I started to feel sick all over again. “You have to be fucking joking, Robert! I can't go up on that thing.” “Try not to think about it too much,” Gaudet advised me. “Let me get this sorted out.” And he hung up. * Twenty minutes later I was on the top deck, standing aft. Two crewmen nearby were temporarily removing the ship's tricolore. The announcement had come out for me over the ship's speakers ten minutes earlier. I'd gone in to the information desk as requested and the two crewmen had escorted me up. I'd been trying to get through to Oxford on his home number, but only got voicemail. I don't have his mobile number. So I tried Classing instead, and he picked up after three rings. I tried to explain things to him, but he kept complaining about the signal. I managed to get across the bit about my car needing picking up by repeating it about ten times. He told me he'd see if he could get hold of

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someone in Hampshire Constabulary. I could hear the resentment in his voice. He mentioned the time of the day and the time of the week. Twice. As the clatter of rotor blades approached, it became harder and harder to hear him. Just before I snapped my phone shut I heard him growl at someone on his end, “Yeah, I thought I was going to watch the fucking Grand Prix and all!” It almost made me want to smile. Almost. And then, with surprising speed, the Gazelle was upon us, hovering aft off the port bow. A few people out on the public decks below shouted at others and pointed. I imagined a slow, gentle nudging from there to the spot above me that would take perhaps five minutes at least; actually, the helicopter lolled over to us with almost casual disregard for the extreme danger I fancied such an operation entailed. It was literally no more than a minute since I'd snapped my phone shut and the hoist was already being lowered. I looked up at the underbelly of the aircraft and decided that the situation warranted a sequence of the most foul obscenities I could think off. The crewmen grinned and secured the ring around me, and clipped me in. And then I was up, swinging through an arc of probably no more than five or ten degrees, but it felt like gravity was going to reach up and slide me out of that harness and pull me back down to the deck or the sea below just as fast as it knew how. I gripped the rope above me and worried that I might destabilise the helicopter if I swung too much. It seemed like an endless climb. The ring was wet from sea spray and I felt my jacket sticking to the damp rubber and my body moving – sliding – against the dry surface of the inside; in my anxiety, I imagined I was about to slide out of my coat. My grip on the rope intensified; I tried to pull myself up to

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compensate for the imagined slippage and felt my muscles start to tremble with the completely unnecessary exertion. I started to panic as I realised I wouldn't be able to maintain this hold all the way up. I shouted out, “I can't hold on!” but of course my voice was tiny now – nothing at all – against the roar of the rotor blades. The downdraft, which was immense, seemed to be pushing me back down to the end of the rope also. I cried out, hysterically. For some reason, I started to waggle my legs furiously. And then there were hands reaching out, taking hold of my arms, pulling me into the aircraft. I felt blessed metal beneath my feet. I tried to stand, but my legs buckled and I half fell into a seat. My harness got unclipped. The door got slid shut and instantly the noise and cold and wet got all muffled. We banked to the left. I gasped. I tried to get my breathing back under control and wiped the tears from my face. * And, back in Le Havre, I had to tell Gaudet the story of Stop. He recorded the whole thing, listened intently, impassionately. About an hour in, a young Gardien knocked and entered with photographs in a file. Gaudet stopped the recorder and spent a couple of minutes reading through a file note and flicking through the pictures. He looked at me for a moment, appeared to reach a decision and threw the photos across the table. “Early Saturday morning,” he said. “As you can see, there was not much of her left. The driver reports that she just walked onto the track in front of him. He hit her at...” he squinted at the handwriting on the note, “...one hundred and twenty kilometres per hour. The

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pathologist would have found these drill holes in his examination tomorrow. They were not spotted by our officers in their initial assessment. Our priority at the moment was to find out who she is.” I removed myself from the room to be sick again. After a couple of minutes, Gaudet came into the mens room and washed his hands at one of the sinks. “Don't ask me to explain it,” I said, from my cubicle. “I can't. I really can't.” “It is not so complicated that it requires any particular explanation,” Gaudet replied. “You want to know why, though.” “Why?” he repeated. “Does there have to be a why? Must we always assume there is something pushing us rather than something that is holding us back?” That was the exact phrase he used. I remember running it over and over in my head, trying to work out what it meant. It meant, why should one have to justify something like meeting someone off a train and spending time together? “There were no plans,” I said, after another couple of moments had passed. “We just wanted a weekend, that was all.” “I am sorry for your loss,” said Gaudet. “Tomorrow, we will need to think some more about Tsyin Tii, and how he came to know your plans so well. We will also know by then where he was when he sent you his message this evening. I have people working on this. For now, there is nothing more that you can do. You need to rest.” “I want to look at the CCTV footage for the station,” I said. “Maybe it shows something. I think I can work out which coach that picture was taken from.” “I have people retrieving that also. We will review it

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Tomorrow.� * I got to my new hotel room at about 9:30. I threw my hand luggage down on the bed. My clothes and toiletries were all in my suitcase, which was currently in the boot of my car, now sailing around the Isle of Wight and into Portsmouth. I stank of sweat and sea spray and fear. My breath smelled of vomit. I rang down for a toiletries pack. When it came I stripped off and hung my clothes up wherever I could to give everything the best airing possible. I went into the bathroom and stood under scalding hot water for as long as I could, soaped myself thoroughly, washed my hair, felt my resolve slipping away with all the grime. I sat down in the shower tray and let the water pummel me from above. I sobbed like a baby. I emerged feeling better, but completely drained. I had been planning on calling down for some sandwiches, but as I towelled myself dry, all I could think about was not being conscious for any longer than was absolutely necessary. I craved sleep. I hunted around in the toiletries bag for some deodorant and found a miniature Lynx can. Africa. I sprayed it under my arms and the coldness woke me up a little. I wrinkled my nose. Vanilla. Like sugar. It was all I could do to climb into the bath robe and walk through to the bed, which drew me to it, like I was being pulled in on a rope. I fell onto the duvet and was instantly asleep, but straight away my mind got thrown into a bizarre, drunken dreamstate. I dreamt that I was actually asleep on the ferry, which was where I should have been. I smelled vanilla: the deodorant spray, of course. I smelled someone

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who smelled of vanilla next to me, behind me, sliding her arm around my midriff. Vanilla; like sugar. She smelled of sugar, Chabot had told us. Tsyin Tii, that is. I watched the blurry figure in the surveillance video who smelled of sugar. I was asleep on the ferry, where I was supposed to be. Tsyin Tii put her arms around me, smelling of sugar. “Why are you leaving, Texter?” I sat up suddenly. I lunged across the bed to my mobile and searched desperately for Gaudet's number. “Yes?” he said. “Is everything ok, Spencer?” “She's on the ship, Robert! She's on the fucking ship! You've got to stop the ship! You've got to stop it now!”

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Monday, 3 November

Naturally, we were too late. I gather the message got through to the captain just as the last car rolled off. In the end, then, I went to bed at midnight, more tired I think than I've ever felt before. Literally, too tired to grieve. When I woke up, a bright Autumn sun was shining in through the windows of my room and I felt warm and rested and comfortable. It was nearly ten o'clock and my phone was ringing. The moment I looked at it, I remembered everything and instantly the light became more cold and grey and hard. It was Oxford, wanting to know what the hell was going on. I managed to give my report in a detached and dispassionate manner. I could tell he was writing things down whilst I spoke. Ordinarily, my heart would have gone into double-thump and my face would have shone bright red at being made to explain myself like this; neither of these things happened, however: I felt too numb to care what the big guy thought of me in that moment. “Do you have things to work on over there?” he asked me, finally. “Yes,” I replied. “There's CCTV footage to examine, plus we need to confirm it was The Norman Courage Tsyin Tii messaged me from.” “Do what you need to, then get yourself back here. I'll prepare a statement. You are not to speak to the press. Do you understand?” “Understood.” *

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Linden supplied us with the IP addresses used to log on to Guy89 Bottletop's account, the last two of which resolved to the service used by the Norman Courage for its wireless internet access. Not only was Tsyin Tii with me on the boat back to the UK, she was also on the boat to Le Havre. The SL account of Guy89 Bottletop was created at the beginning of October. Logins were mostly from Internet cafes in the South-West of England. Tii has been watching me. Linden also gave us details of Stop's logins. Most of her IPs resolved to a French anonymising proxy. Well, we already knew that she was protective of her privacy. The hope was that her computer, when we got our hands on it, would give us some information... The body remains found at the site of Saturday morning's rail accident were finally identified as those of Abigail Maybush, a trader working for one of the large French banks, and facing redundancy. Abigail has family back in Cheshire, which she moved away from in 2006. Her mother died four years ago of cancer. Her father remarried in April. Her brother works in Social Services in Child protection. Abigail had not been seen at work for several days. She had phoned in sick on Monday 27 October and colleagues had assumed it was partly stress at having to plan for her redundancy. Police forced entry to Abigail's apartment at 13:30. The items they removed included her computer. At three we got a call from Paris to let us know that the PC's hard disk was missing. “Tii could have travelled there on Saturday and removed it then,� Gaudet said. No, I replied, that would have been too risky. You guys might have identified the body earlier than you did. She wouldn't have assumed you

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wouldn't have; the police might have ended up walking in on her or her on them. More likely that she was there on Friday before Sto- before Abigail left. Perhaps she broke in after she left for the train, removed the hard drive and then raced to get to the station on time. Perhaps it was earlier in the day, whilst she was still at work. “But she wasn't at work.” Or shopping. “Or perhaps she broke in whilst she was still there,” Gaudet suggested. “Is it possible Abigail was with Tii on the train? Could she have been under duress when she was online and chatting to you?” She certainly didn't sound like she was, I said. “But you said you were communicating in text, no?” Sorry. It's a figure of speech. I suppose it's possible. Hell, when you put it like that how do we actually know that Abigail was even on the train in the first place? If she was being forced to lie about one thing, why not another? “But we have the picture Tii sent you.” That only tells us that someone took a picture of me from the train. We don't know for certain that it was Tii, or even that whoever it was that took it came into the station on the train. They could have boarded the train as soon as it arrived, took the picture and then got off again. “We need to look at that CCTV footage,” said Gaudet. I agreed. We do. * We got ushered into a small office off of one of the platforms. The station staff had set up a workstation for us. An operator showed us how to switch between cameras, how to pause playback on all of them at once, how to advance a frame at a time, how to go backwards, how to fast forward. The video was good quality – far better than the system installed in the internet cafe we'd sat in on Thursday with

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Chabot. The time stamp on my chat logs gave us the reference we needed. We moved the slider backwards until the moment just before the train came in. There were cameras installed in all four corners of the covered platform area, which meant that Platforms 1 and 4 were covered well, but two and three could be obstructed if trains were in. The Paris train on Friday evening had come in on 4. There were also a number of cameras in the main foyer: one pointed at the ticket sales desk, one inside the ticket sales desk looking out, one in the waiting room, one in the cafe. The final foyer camera pointed at the big, glass doors leading out to the platform, where the ticket inspector sometimes stood. 18:52. I was visible sitting on a bench, my laptop open. There were a few others standing on the platform, waiting for the train to arrive. I was typing something; presently I saw myself get up, looking out of the station at something. The others moved a little closer to the platform. The camera closest to the platform entrance on the right hand side caught the distant movement first. Slowly, the train snaked in. 18:53. The train came to a halt. The doors slid open. The passengers started to disembark. I watched me standing there, moving from foot to foot slightly; looking, searching. It felt a bit like watching my avatar in Second Life. 18:54 to 18:56. Texter looked for Stop. He started fiddling with his laptop bag and tried to disentangle his headphones. He put the headphones on, plugged them in. He stood on the bench to get a better view. “This is the moment that the picture gets taken,” I reminded Gaudet. “I have not seen anybody getting on the train so far.,” he said. “Have you?”

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“No.” “Show me the picture again.” I'd logged into Second Life briefly in the morning, taken a screenshot of the texture Tii had sent me and printed it off. The quality wasn't great, but it was good enough. It was taken from straight on. I passed the printout to Robert. “It is a wonder you did not see her,” he remarked, studying it for a moment. “I was looking at people off the train, not on it,” I replied, but actually I shared his disbelief. “Well, there is no ambiguity, it has to be this carriage here,” he said, pointing at the first coach after the locomotive. The far camera was too distant to provide a good quality image of the interior of that carriage. The entrance end camera was much closer, but the angle was too acute to see right the way across the inside. We both squinted at the little patches of light that were the relevant windows. 18:57 came and went. We saw nothing; not even a shadow. Texter got down onto the platform and walked over to the carriage. “This is where I started searching the interior from the outside,” I said. “I would have looked directly into the carriage at this point.” “And you saw nothing?” “I saw nothing.” “But look how little time there is! A minute! How can there have been no-one inside by the time you looked?” “I don't know.” “And yet there is nothing to see on this footage either. It is as though the coach was empty.” Gaudet stabbed the frozen image, the liquid crystal rippled beneath his finger. “Obviously, that's not possible,” I said. “We know she's

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there. She must have taken the picture from the far side of the inside of the carriage, which is out of view.” I pointed to the end of the carriage – the locomotive end, closest to the camera. “Maybe she hid at the join here when she saw me coming across. I wouldn't have thought to look there.” “Then we will watch the rest of the recording and see if someone emerges from there.” So we watched. It was half an hour before the train finally left on its return journey. Noone came out of the carriage – at either end. No-one appeared to traverse it, either. At the end of the carriage furthest from the camera the complete aisle was visible. The only way someone could have got there without us seeing them would have been if they'd got down onto the floor and commando crawled along. “Maybe she got out on the track side,” I suggested. We rewound. We focused on the images from the cameras on the other side of the station. A train on Platform 2 obscured our view of that platform – and most of Platform 3 – but the actual doors of that side of our train were clearly visible. If a train had come in on 3 we would have been stuffed, however. I became convinced that that was exactly what would happen, in fact; it was the only explanation I could think of that made sense. Tii could have waited for the train to come in beside her and then slipped out of the track side door, hidden from view by the new train. But no new train came into the station. We stared at the screen, stumped. “Maybe she didn't get off the train at all,” I said, finally. “Maybe she stayed on there and went back out with it.” “Don't forget, Spencer, we're looking for two people, not one,” Gaudet replied. “And one of them being held against their will. See here at 19:19 where the guard checks all the carriages – how would he have missed such a thing as that?”

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“We don't know for certain that Abigail was on the train, remember?” “How would Tii have coerced her if not?” “Maybe she threatened her family? Maybe she had Abilgail locked away somewhere and she told her she'd only free her if she played along? Or what about this...” A new idea popped into my head. “What if it wasn't Abigail I was talking with in SL on the platform at all? What if that was actually Tii logged in on Stop's account? What if she'd got Abigail's password from her and used it to impersonate her?” Gaudet sighed. “The possibilities are too numerous,” he murmured. “If she managed to fool you then, why not before also? How do you know it was actually Abigail you set the meeting up with?” “That's like trying to think too many moves ahead in chess,” I said, “it's just too abstract.” I felt secretly appalled by the idea. “Ok. So the only concrete thing we actually know is this: someone took this photograph of you at 18:57 from the train.” “Yes.” “And yet, nobody appears to be in the spot from which it was taken.” “That's not a verifiable fact,” I objected. “We can't see all the way into the train at the place where she could have taken it. I think she took the picture from here, out of our sight.” I tapped a point on the screen. “I think she then moved to the locomotive end of the carriage when I started walking over and stayed there until I left the station. Then she took one of these seats here that we can't see, pretended to be a waiting passenger for when the guard came through – maybe she actually had a ticket – and left with the train when

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it departed. I don't think Abigail is here.” Gaudet rubbed his chin. “The theory makes sense, I see that,” he said, “but I do not like it. It fits, but it does not fit well. Little details itch me, like why the guard does not appear to pause at all when he walks through the carriage – see how his speed continues without hesitation as he moves down, you can see his shadow here when he moves out of our field of view and it shows he does not falter. He strides down to the end – just far enough to see that all is clean and tidy and well – and then he instantly turns and strides back up. That is the movement of a man who is by himself. If there had been someone sat there there would be something – something – in his movement reflecting it. “And big details itch me, like the absence of Abigail. If she was never there, then the picture changes completely. We are treating it as a small point, but it is an enormous one. “And finally, we must take into account the awareness that Tii herself has of the process we are following in this moment, which is evident from the way in which she has expertly avoided being seen by all of the platform cameras. She must have known we would check these feeds and surmise that Abigail was not here. So on the one hand she feeds us version A of the events – that she intercepted Abigail at the last moment on the train and overpowered her in some manner – but on the other hand she feeds us version B – that Abigail was never there in the first place.” “We've still not investigated the third person theory,” I said. “That the photographer was someone else?” “Yes. We might yet spot Abigail and Tii in the passengers getting off the train. The photograph has diverted our attention from them. Maybe that's why she sent it to me.

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Maybe she wanted for us to get tied up in knots exactly like this so that we wouldn't notice something significant.” “I like that theory more,” Gaudet said. “Or perhaps it was Tii that took the photograph and the third person intercepted Abigail.” “Could it not be that both people are Tii?” said Gaudet suddenly. “We are assuming that one person resides behind one avatar... but if one person can operate more than one avatar, could not the reverse also be true? Could not more than one person operate just one avatar?” Despite everything, I grinned at Gaudet. “You are so much better at grasping this stuff than my colleagues are in the UK,” I said. He grunted. “People are people.” We went for coffee in the station café. Gaudet munched his way through a large pain aux raisan. “People are people,” he repeated after a fashion. “They seek to have their view of the world affirmed by others. We do not like to be at odds with our community, so we find communities where we fit. Take paedophiles. It is extraordinary to think that you could commit such acts and then talk about them with others, no? I'm not talking about moral astonishment, Spencer; I don't mean that it is shocking that someone could do these things and then exist in any sort of emotional state other than shame and self-loathing, as true as that might be. I mean the practicalities. You commit a crime like that and instantly you enter one of the most hated categories of human beings in existence. Ask a hundred people whether they would prefer to be stuck in a lift for a hour with a terrorist or a paedophile and what do you think they would say? It is a label which, if it should become public, effectively ends your freedom and anonymity for ever. Why why why would you risk such consequences by

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taking about your acts with others who you do not really know? The notion of a paedophile ring should be an absurdity, it should be a logical impossibility, and yet it exists.” “People are programmed to want to belong to groups,” I said. “It's a fundamental human drive.” “Correct,” said Gaudet. “And thank God. Without that drive, most police work would be so much harder.” “Are you suggesting that there is some sort of a ring behind Tsyin Tii?” I asked. “It is only one of so many possibilities. But it is a possibility. If paedophiles should seek acceptance from likeminded companions, then why not serial killers?” The suggestion made me shiver. “It is a basic instinct. From what I understand of Second Life as you have described it to me, grouping is a commonly occurring behaviour in any case, yes?” “Yes.” “Then maybe you have all been fooled by this into thinking that grouping only happens in the virtual world in the manner decreed by the Linden company.” “Would this be a real life group though? People who know each other outside of Second Life?” “Just because they know each other outside of Second Life, that is not to say that they know each other in real life,” Gaudet pointed out. “There are plenty of other online methods for making someone's acquaintance.” “That's true,” I conceded. “If the third person theory is correct, we cannot assume that the two had met each other in real life prior to last Friday. Or indeed that they have met subsequently. The instruction to take the photograph could have been received

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electronically-” “And the picture itself could have been sent electronically,” I finished. “Exactly. They might each have no idea what the other one looks like. It would certainly be safer that way.” “Then the likelihood is that a group sharing an avatar must have some additional medium for communication other than Second Life?” “Well why would a group such as this restrict itself to only the one method of electronic operation? “One thing is certain,” he said to me as we walked back to our room full of monitors, “Tsyin Tii plays a game with us; she plays a game with you. Where has her interest in you come from, do you think?” “I don't know,” I replied, wondering whether to think of Tii now as a single she or some sort of collective. Plus I had become distracted by the notion that it was not Stop with whom I had arranged our liaison in the first place. This unnerved me a great deal, in fact. If that were possible, how could my judgement be replied upon to locate the moment when it was Tii I was speaking to and not Abigail? Abigail. Even now, I catch myself rolling the word around in my mouth, saying it silently for the way it feels on my lips and tongue. The word has such a completeness to it. So does her face. So does her body. I have pictures of her from a year ago, loving pictures supplied by her grieving family, where she is smiling and laughing in sunlight. Perfect in every way. It is somehow inconceivable that this flawless creation can have been destroyed, and so utterly. “Her information about you must come from careful observation. It might be helpful to assume now that we are being watched at all times.”

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“Even though we know she is in the UK now?” “We do not know that,” Gaudet said. “Even if it is only one person that we hunt, there exists the possibility that she returned to Le Havre on the next ferry back. Don't start looking around you like that. Hmm... it might be interesting to put a tail on you later to watch for observers.” But first we had to look for Abigail. Back in our little room we returned all the feeds once more to 18:53. Once more the passengers disembarked. This time we scrutinised their faces, Gaudet taking one half of the screen and me the other. After the first pass we rewound and started again. Once again the passengers disembarked. And again. And again. We had pictures of Abigail either side of the computer as references, but it was like looking for Wally through dirty polythene. We slowed the video down to half speed and started again. That actually seemed to make it worse somehow. We started again. “I can't do this any more,” Gaudet said, after our fourteenth or fifteenth attempt. “If she is here then I am not able to spot her. It is ridiculous, what this technology asks of us. If I spot someone I know from a distance it is her movement by which I identify her, not her face. We need video of this girl – not still pictures – if we are to have any hope of answering with confidence the question of her presence on this platform.” I felt the same way. Several of the people I had been watching could have been Abigail, but these were only matches by general height and shape; the facial features picked up by the camera were just not clear enough. I knew I had no chance of actually recognising Abigail like this. I was looking instead for some sort of clue

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in body language, something that hinted at distress or movement against her will. An arm too tightly around a waist, for example; a hand in the small of a back or someone whispering (threatening things) into the ear of another. Or a wandering gaze that might have been trying to send silently mouthed messages to others at the station. Or to us: I looked for anyone who might be looking for or at our camera. And I saw none of these things. None. We switched our attention to the foyer cameras, hoping for more luck there. The lighting levels were much better and the area covered by the camera much smaller. As the glass doors onto the platform slid open and people began to spill in, our hopes were momentarily raised: faces here were bigger and more brightly lit and more detailed. But still, it wasn't enough. “She could have cut her hair or dyed it; she could have lost weight or put it on,” Gaudet said, after the fifth viewing. “This is hopeless. We are useless investigators, no?” He chuckled. “Do think these images are good enough for face recognition software, though?” I asked him. By reply, he hit the pause button and pointed to the faces. Paused, they became blurred. He advanced the video a full two seconds forward, one frame at a time; each successive frame was just as blurred as the last. “They are all in motion, see?” he said. “Break the video into static images and what you get is a collection of images in motion blur. When it is running again, our brains see through the blur and perceive solid features moving. Our brains extract. They fill in the missing pieces. Computers can't do that. I will ask for them to try it with the face recognition software, but don't get your hopes up, Spencer. There is nothing here for them to work on.”

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It was starting to get late. We decided to watch the foyer feed one more time and then call it a day. But first we took a short break. We went out onto the platform and breathed fresh air. We walked up and down for a bit, stretching our legs. Gaudet strolled up the middle 'prong' of the station that formed Platforms 2 and 3. I stood at the bench I had waited on and tried to find my memory of excited anticipation. I think we both needed some thinking space. My regard for Gaudet was growing considerably – as was my appreciation of his company – but I was in no state of mind for forming friendships and the day spent with him (when all I really wanted to do was sit by myself and do nothing) had drained me. A train was approaching Platform 4. Suddenly, Gaudet called out to me from Platform 3. “Spencer! Stand on the bench! Stand on your bench! Stand on the bench and stay there.” He was halfway down the platform, walking briskly back towards the foyer doors; people stood back warily, gave the raucous man space. I stood on 'my' bench, feeling faintly foolish, but not caring really. The train came in and halted, cutting off my view of Robert. Doors hissed upon. Passengers disembarked. I waited for him to appear around the front of the locomotive, but he didn't come. Another minute passed and I started to get impatient. Finally, my phone rang and it was his name flashing on the screen. “Can I get down now?” I asked him. “You cannot see me?” said Gaudet. He sounded like he was running.” “No. Where are you?” I looked up and down my platform, wondering if he had somehow managed to find a way onto it without me noticing. “But I am right in front of you! I am jumping up and

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down, in fact, and waving at you!” “What?” I looked on the train, but the carriage was empty. “Look through the train, Spencer. Look through it!” I looked through both windows of the carriage. And there was Gaudet, jumping up and down, and waving. Right in front of me. We ran back into the video room. We returned all the feeds to 18:57. Immediately, we found what we were looking for. “There!” roared Gaudet, stabbing the monitor with his finger so hard the whole screen flickered. It was just a bump, just a tiny bump, but it was a bump in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. The train standing at Platform 2 obscured our view of most of Platform 3 from the far entrance-end camera, but an adult standing in about the middle – where Gaudet had been standing just a couple of minutes earlier – would have been visible from about their neck up. A bump: a head. Someone was standing immediately opposite me, but with the train at Platform 4 between us. And then our luck improved still further. My gaze had wondered back to the foyer feed, where once again the passengers were filing in from the platform, into the brightly lit room which they would walk across and then exit at the front. The camera was centred on the glass doors onto the platforms, facing Platforms 2 and 3, and they were open... “Look!” I grabbed Gaudet's arm and pointed. Above all the faces we'd been so hopelessly scrutinising earlier, the top part of the open doors gave a clear view onto the exact spot we were looking at. And there, in full – albeit distant – view, was a single figure, crouched very slightly, with what could

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only be an SLR camera held to their face. Gaudet slammed his hand down onto the table in triumph. “How we are blinded when we know not where to look!” he cried. “And see here – this has to be our woman. The clue is in the camera: she uses one with manual settings because an automatic would have focused on the glass instead of on you.” And then it got even better still. Her photographs taken, the figure immediately turned and started walking towards our camera, slipping easily into the crowd leaving the platform. We must have looked straight at her before and seen nothing, but this time we knew what it was we were looking at. She walked confidently past the camera (it was actually quite difficult to say at first for certain whether it was male or female, but that was how I thought of this person now), not appearing to notice it at all. She wore a hooded top and the hood obscured her face just as it had in the Internet Café, but she made no attempt to turn her face away as she had done there, I even caught a flash of pale skin. That's when I realised I was considering her the same person I'd seen in that blurred, black and white footage that Gaudet and I had been looking at last Thursday. It wasn't just the hood which had triggered the recognition, it was something about the way she held herself. “That's who we-” “-saw in the café, yes,” Gaudet completed. “There can be no doubt about it. It is her movement which betrays her. Ah! Think how close we came to abandoning this task! So expertly she avoided all the other cameras, but this one she failed to account for completely. I cannot believe that she never saw it there. I'll tell you what it is, Spencer: she failed to realise that the camera could look beyond that which it is

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pointed at. She made exactly the same mistake that she was counting on us making! It is almost poetry! “Rewind it back to the moment when she moves out of view and pause it.” Gaudet's face was completely washed free of the fatigue of ten minutes ago now. He leaned forward enthusiastically. “Let us see if we can pick her up on one of the other feeds. Try the camera facing out of the ticket office. Now unpause it. Let's see if our lady appears...” And she appeared, her hooded top identifying her to us immediately. She walked across the foyer towards the main station exit, then paused, appeared to change her mind about something, then headed into the station café. We switched to the café camera and watched her enter, take a seat by the window. She put her shoulder bag on the table and pulled something black and rectangular out of it, which she opened up. “A laptop,” Gaudet whispered. I nodded, feeling a knot forming in my stomach. I looked back to the platform cameras and saw myself moving in and out of the train. Back onto the platform. Back onto the train. Down the next coach, checking all the seats now, checking the footspace in case she'd fallen somehow. Back onto the platform. “Stop! Stop!” A guard looking in my direction, a passenger standing next to him, pointing at me. Back onto the train. Down the next coach. “Stop! Stop!” And so on. Tsyin Tii shut the laptop and put it back into her bag. She disappeared whilst you were searching the train, Tear had told me, referring to Stop's avatar. She went offline. So that was that then. It hadn't been Abigail I'd been talking to on the platform. It had been Tii. She looked at her camera for a minute or so – perhaps reviewing her pictures – and then she put it into her bag and

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got up to go. Several people in the café turned suddenly to look into the entrance hall. On the ticket office camera I saw myself jogging through, shouting Stop's name. Tii sat down again, put her bag back on the table. I moved over to the station exit, walked out through the big double doors to the street beyond and the waiting taxis. Tii turned to look through the window at me. Texter, stop! This isn't making things better! I remembered taking a last look up and down the street, deciding to come back into the station, to the café where I could sit and adjust to how things now had become. I reappeared on the ticket booth camera. I entered, touching the arm of the guard at the door. I made straight for the café entrance. Tii swivelled back in her seat and took her bag off the table. “She's nervous,” Gaudet whispered, he was as transfixed as I was by the screen. “Her body gives her away. She hasn't planned for this. Now she doesn't know what to do.” “I can't believe I didn't see her,” I said. “Your mind was on other things.” On the screen I entered, sat at the counter. You could just see my head at the bottom of the picture, the headset band across my hair. My back was to Tsyin Tii. But I remember at least part of the wall behind the counter had been mirrored. I would have been able to see her behind me... if, that is, I had been looking. Tii did the easiest thing she could to ensure I wouldn't recognise her from the internet café: she pulled her hood down. “Ah!” cried Gaudet. Of course she was too far from the camera for any small detail to be visible, but now at least we knew one big thing: Tsyin Tii was a redhead. She got up, left her seat, walked swiftly towards then past

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me, out and into the entrance hall, then out onto the street. The approach from behind gave us our best visual yet. A pale, narrow face looked briefly into the back of my head, but it didn't stay there; perhaps she knew about the camera above me and realised a prolonged glare from a complete stranger just might look a tiny bit suspicious. Gaudet rewound, paused at the clearest frame, then sent the image to a colour printer in the corner of the room. He made several copies. He took a USB drive from his pocket and saved the file onto that as well. I yawned. “Stifle that yawn!” said Gaudet. “We're not finished yet!” He forward wound back to the point at which Tii left the station. He pointed to the sliver of street that could be seen from the ticket office camera. Tii had left the building, but now she was standing still outside it, we could just see her legs. “What do you suppose she is doing there?” Robert asked me. “Getting a taxi?” I suggested. Gaudet grabbed the printouts from the printer and then practically ran outside, onto the platform, into and through the entrance hall. Onto the street, where the taxis waited. He started handing out the printouts to all the drivers. They came over to him, stood in a circle discussing the female in the picture. One called out to a driver across the street, just coming out of a tabac; he came back over, took a look at the picture and started to nod vigorously. Gaudet waved me over. “This man took her,” he told me. “He remembers her hair.” “Can he remember where he took her?” I asked. “He's going to take us there now,” Gaudet replied, following the man to his cab. We got in. The driver said something into his radio, which whistled and crackled

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something back at him. He made a big display about turning out his light and Gaudet shouted at the man to put it back on. We moved out, into the wet night.

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Tuesday, 4 November

It was a drive that lasted five or ten minutes, I suppose. At some point between getting in and getting out the clock flipped over to midnight and it was Tuesday. The news came on on the radio. The driver made a comment to us about Barack Obama. I remembered it was election day and made a mental note to try to revisit that world at some point. As we drove through the mostly empty streets, we lapsed into silence for a couple of minutes. The car's warmth and motion, and the normality of the streets outside had some sort of calming, almost narcotic effect. Gaudet sat back and stretched, rubbed his hands over his face. I wondered what on Earth he was doing with me here at this time of night. I realised I knew nothing about his personal life and supposed this told me something. I became aware of the comfort the seat offered. The warmth started to make me feel drowsy. I wound down my window a little and let the cold air revive me. I forced my tired brain to refocus on the business at hand. “Would there be any point,” I said to Gaudet, “in reviewing the closed circuit footage of the station in Paris?” “To look for Abigail? None at all. Not at the moment, at least. Think how many hours that would entail. We no longer have any idea when she left to come here. She phoned in sick on Monday, but she could have made that call from here, for all we know. The last time she was actually seen there was last Friday. That makes seven days of footage to examine. Think how long it has taken us today to examine just 30 minutes. But if our trail grows cold then that is exactly what we will have to do, yes. If this becomes

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a long-term case then we will have no choice.” “I only asked her to come on Monday evening,” I said. “We don't know for certain that that was Abigail that you were talking to,” he reminded me. I rubbed my eyes. “Surely we have to assume some things,” I said. “Are you really able to juggle this number of possibilities?” “You mentioned before it's like looking ahead so many moves in chess,” he said absently, peering out of my window at something we passed. He smiled at me. “I happen to be particularly good at chess.” But if Abigail were already in Le Havre before I asked her to come, that would mean that Tsyin Tii both knew that I was coming and also that I was likely to ask Stop.” “Don't always assume that the enemy's plan is so perfectly laid out; theirs will change just as ours might. But of course she must have known there was the possibility you would come. As soon as you discovered the Second Life identity of Sarah's killer it was inevitable, no?” “True.” “She even left you a note, yes?” “Yes; yes he did.” To those who seek Tsyin, it had read, You will not find him, but it's very, very likely that he will find you. And it looked like s/he had. “We should check out Guy89's account,” I said. “Maybe she left us a note this time too.” Gaudet nodded. “She did,” he said. “You will not like it. I will show it to you tomorrow.” We were driving out of the city on Boulevard Winston Churchill, skipping the intersections using the narrow little tunnels that dip under and then up again. After passing under Boulevard de Graville the road turns into Boulevard

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de Leningrad. We drove for a couple more minutes then took a turn off to the right. The road was old and lumpy, what looked like allotments lay on our right and there was rough land to the left. Another minute and we drew up alongside a football pitch, floodlit in the four corners. The taxi driver stopped and turned around, started talking to Gaudet. “He says she walked towards the pitch when he dropped her. Perhaps one of these huts here is where she was keeping Abigail.” We got out. Gaudet told the driver to wait for us. The bright lights of the nearby pitch threw everything else into complete darkness. I could see nothing to the right of the road. I was just about to wonder aloud what the attraction was for this location when I heard a metallic vibration start up from the darkness to my right. It grew and grew in volume, and then a light appeared in the distance, coming towards and fast. I took a step towards the car for safety; the train tore past us at an alarming speed, its brakes applied for the last few miles of its journey. Lit windows flashed by; I turned and saw Gaudet standing and watching. He looked suddenly drained. “Abigail was found about a half mile further east from here,” he told me. “Come. We do not need to search these buildings now. I will radio for a car to come and seal off the area. We will start our search tomorrow. It seemed like an unexpectedly abrupt ending to the day. I realised on the way back that this was a disappointment for Gaudet, that'd been hoping for a house or apartment or hotel room that he could search, not a few small huts where the likelihood was we would only find blood, bone swarth and brain residue. *

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I slept badly. I got up at seven and went straight out for a run beside water. It was dark. A fine drizzle soaked me. I love France, but I didn't see what more could be achieved by staying there any longer. When I got back to the hotel I made phone calls, booked a ticket home for the five o'clock ferry. * Gaudet told me when I got into the station at nine that he approved of my decision to leave. It was his way of telling me a number of things: firstly, that things I did he knew about; secondly, that technically I could still be considered a suspect and it wasn't really my decision whether I left or not; thirdly, that he was satisfied that I was innocent and he would permit me to leave. Finally, he was telling me to get the hell away from this case for a while. But first I had to read the note to me from Tsyin Tii. Gaudet had a printout of it waiting for me. It was the only thing left in Guy89 Bottletop's inventory, he told me. The file was titled, 'To Texter'. Oh Texter, you had to run and I had a few of my own odds and ends to attend to, and I never got to tell you just how good it was with Stop. I must confess, this hasn't been an especially good piece of work on my part. It would have been so much better if you could have seen her first. She had such a tight little body. Such a perfect little smile. You know, those clothes of hers hugged her figure like they were stuck to her. She reminds me of someone I used to work with, actually;

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a gorgeous *gorgeous* blonde called Helena; a very important person in my life, as it happens. She wore tight fitting clothes too, but smart. Businesslike. She had a wonderfully low cut top that was just tight enough to get that perfect amount of squeeze from her breasts. Those breasts were quite extraordinary, Texter; it was all I could do not to stare at them continuously, and I'm certainly not one to stare if I can avoid it. But, you see, they were only on display so that you knew what it was you weren't allowed to touch. Helena might have been perfection, but she wasn't available perfection and she wanted you to know it. Her body was perfect, her face was perfect, her blonde hair was pushed back off her face by a narrow band and the overall effect it gave was one of precision engineering. Her demeanour was one of attentiveness and exactitude. She did not chat. She did not laugh. Her voice was soft, but clinical. She listened to everything you said and if there was anything within that which didn't check out she would spot it straight away. If you were to build a perfect robot female, Texter, it probably would not be all that different to how Helena was. She was at once both utterly desirable and completely unobtainable. Clothes play such an important role to sexual attraction. They cover up that which we want to see, but some clothes cover these things more than others. Low cut tops like Helena's can drive men wild because of the glimpses they afford of the naked girl they would like to fuck. Myself, I relish any glimpse I get of a finely toned stomach or an exposed eye of skin at the lower back when something is picked up from the ground. Mmmmmm... You know what our problem is, Texter? I'll tell you what our problem is, it's our obsession with skin. I used to think to myself sometimes, when I was looking at Helena, “If you

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were completely naked right now you would actually be less desirable than you are in these 'not for sale' clothes.� And then, one day, I had the most extraordinary experience that was to change my life forever. This is why Helena is so important to me. She was running a piece of staff training for us that morning, talking to PowerPoint slides from a very basic table of four metal legs. Ordinarily, Helena would sit with statuesque composure, but on this occasion her legs were moving. From my position immediately opposite I could see everything, how her calf muscles tensed and untensed whilst she spoke, how she lifted her heels up and down, how her legs would move a little apart, then back together, then around each other, then apart once more. The movement was tiny and slow, but it was unmistakable once you'd spotted it. Helena was nervous. Helena was anxious. You would never have thought it from her waist-up demeanour, but below the table was where she was bleeding it all off, not realising that we could see it because she hadn't thought past what she could see with her eyes right there and then. Watching the involuntary movement of those legs made me feel horny for her in a way I had never ever felt horny for anyone before. I realised that I was seeing something which had previously always been covered up carefully. Just like those perfect breasts. She was more naked to me in that moment than I had ever seen her. Her vulnerability was leaking out in front of me and all I wanted to do was to lick it up, right there and then. In that moment I knew that that was the kind of nudity worth hankering for. It's what I've been searching for ever since. Just so that you know, Stop was one of those precision types also. All about beauty and brains, all about coolness and control. Now don't you go getting me wrong, this isn't

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some sort of political statement; I'm not saying I don't like that sort of demeanour, I'm saying to you that I *love* it! Seeing all that slip away from a person is the best strip tease there ever was. Poor little stop was swaying like a drunkard when that freight train hit her; all that control was gone. She pretty much burst apart, you know. Bits of Stop all over the place. She would have been appalled at the mess she made. You do realise that's what makes Second Life special, don't you Texter? Not the idiots with the huge cocks, not the novelty avatars, not the little cliques and clubs and groupings, but the cool controllers there privately to let it slip, just a little, just to see what having it slip just a little feels like. You like to be in control, don't you Texter? There's so much up in that head of yours that you keep from general consumption. Perhaps it would be fun to see that composure slip a bit more... I did enjoy watching your legs waggling when you got lifted into that helicopter...

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Wednesday, 5 November

By the time the ferry had left the dock in Le Havre, my lack of sleep had caught up with me. I ended up sleeping the entire crossing. We docked in Portsmouth at 9:30pm and I managed to find and pick up my car by eleven. I stopped for coffee at the Rownhams service station, just half an hour out of the city, then got going again at midnight. It took me five hours to get home, which included a longer stop at the half way mark when I realised I was ravenously hungry (having eaten almost nothing for three days). I immersed myself the whole way in loquacious radio commentary as results started to come in from across America. By the time I got back, Barack Obama was President Elect and the United States, once again, had changed the world forever.

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Thursday, 6 November

On Thursday, the Bank of England slashed interest rates by a massive 1.5 per cent. It's the largest rate cut I've ever known, and not just by a small degree. There was surprise earlier on in the year when rates got cut by a whole half a per cent; the reaction to Thursday's news from the financial folk was complete and utter astonishment. On the one hand, cheaper loans and all that, which is good of course – I got stopped at my door to talk about it by my house-owning neighbour and her pavonine grin gave me a headache for the next two hours – on the other hand, doesn't something as drastic as this imply that the situation is really, really bad? * I went in to work. Oxford spent almost the whole day interviewing me. At one point, Michaela came in to talk to me too. The process was meant to look like genuine investigation, but their grasp of everything was so poor they inevitably ended up dwelling on the personal detail which added little to their understanding but everything to my discomfort. It was an IQ test of interviews: IQ tests don't tell you so much what the nature of your intelligence is as tell you how much it differs from the 'norm'; that interview, it felt to me at the time, could not possibly have helped them to understand anything about the nature of what it was we were up against, but it did reveal very nicely just how much I had deviated from procedure. In their eyes, at least. But then Oxford surprised me at the end. It's one thing to lack understanding and know it, it's quite another to lack

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understanding and have no knowledge of this at all. With a single statement he moved himself squarely into the former – and most honourable – of the two categories ('conscious incompetence', I think I heard it called once): “Make no mistake, Texter: I would dearly love to put you through a disciplinary process for all this; clearly, however, you're the only man we have that actually understands any of this and I'm not about to shoot this case in the foot. “In fact,” he went on, “I would suspend you now without pay for at least a week, but we need to push ahead with this and we need to push ahead hard.” And then he told me something I'd been waiting for and dreading: all the British regulars from Redclaw Station had been contacted, had been asked to present themselves at their local police stations on Monday morning. They were to be interviewed via video link regarding the murders of Sarah Cassidy and Abigail Maybush. And I would be the one doing the interviewing.

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Friday, 7 November

We're up to yesterday, now: a good day for Gordon Brown thanks to a by-election victory in Glenrothes that nobody expected him to win – least of all his own politicians. A month ago a Labour by-election success was practically unthinkable, but then along came the credit crash. Into the chaos strode Gordon, and he told everybody what to do. For a few moments, at least, the guy we all used to think of as The Iron Chancellor was back, and meaning business. The by-election was timed so that its inevitable outcome would be eclipsed in the headlines by the US elections. And yet, all of a sudden, Labour actually have a victory on their hands. Any attempt to project any sort of fortune ahead for Labour from this one event would seem tantamount to giving wing measurements in feet for a sparrow, but few would have thought it possible that Mr Brown could ever have moments like this again. The future's a funny old thing: it just won't stop changing. * I briefed in Classing on everything that had happened over my weekend. He looked sort of like he was only half listening, to begin with. He half looked at documents, half looked over my shoulder at nondescript places. He nodded and hmmed in all the wrong places. A couple of times he said, “that's terrible, yes” in a way that almost suggested he was trying to move the conversation along. Sort of what you might say at the photocopier, when someone's spent the last five minutes moaning about the new policy on paper towels

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in the toilets and you have pressing work to do. I wondered what it was he was so impatient to get to. And then, all of a sudden he started asking me a whole load of questions about how I'd met Stop and what things we'd done together before arranging to meet up in real life. His lack of interest in her death was quite astonishing, it amazed me that he could ask these things in such a tactless manner and not be selfconscious of this. But it became very clear very quickly that his interest in all of this was in some way personal. I very rarely become angered by other people's lack of social skills, but when he finally asked me if I had fucked her, the image of her body remains flashed through my mind and I snapped. We were sitting at the corner of a large table in the large meeting room; Classing raised his half full coffee mug to his lips – his method of soaking up time following an awkward comment or question, I've seen him use it many times before – and I swiped it out of his hands. Most of the coffee got spilled down his shirt and he looked at me in complete incomprehension. “Have some god-damned respect,” I snarled at him. There are probably a thousand other phrases that might have fit the moment better, but I'm not one to dwell on wisheyeds. In any case, the power comes not so much from what you say as how you follow it up: most people get so worked up by having to confront someone that they exit as soon as it's done. Personally, I generally avoid the whole confrontation thing at all costs, and if I do have to do it my mind often goes as blank as the next person's; but if I smack someone's coffee out of their hand I stay to see what their response will be. I sat and glared at Classing. I wasn't going anywhere. Edward Classing blinked. Then he went to get his mug, picked up some paper towels from the table at the window

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and started patting his shirt to absorb the coffee. “I fucked someone,” he said. “In SL.” I looked at him and he studiously avoided eye contact with me. He took more paper towels and applied them to the carpet where his mug had fallen. “When?” I asked. “A couple of weeks ago. But that was only the first time.” “I thought you were all for the sex halls being shut down.” “I was bored. Sandra was asleep. I created an alt. I bought $25 worth of Lindens. I went to one of the escort clubs, but just to see what it was like. I watched a dancer there. I paid her some tips and we started to chat in IM. She took off her clothes, bit by bit. She started describing stuff to me. I... paid her to tell me more things. It wasn't much money, really; but...” I sighed. “So you had cybersex, Ed. What's the big deal? It's only typing, right? Did it scare you somehow? I mean, did you enjoy it more than you thought you would? Are you becoming addicted or something?” “It was different than I thought it would be.” Poor Edward. His mind had glimpsed something bigger than he was used to looking at, and it had shaken him. He wanted to tell me how it had moved him, but I could see that he just didn't have the words. I went and got some paper towels and joined him on the floor. “And that was only the first time?” I asked. “I can't work out for the life of me whether I've been unfaithful or not,” Classing said. “I mean, if I talked about sex with a friend, that wouldn't be infidelity, right? If I told him what stuff I like doing; that might make me bastard, but it wouldn't make me a cheat. Right? If it was a female

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friend, would that be any different? I'm not saying that wives would necessarily approve of this, but... Say I do a play and I'm acting and I have to pretend I'm in love with someone: that's not infidelity, is it? What the fuck is 'cybersex' anyway? If I watch a sex scene on a film and it turns me on, is that being unfaithful? If I dream about having sex with someone, is that being unfaithful? If it's someone I know that I dream of, does that make it worse than dreaming of fucking a movie star? I mean, if I cum in my sleep, then in my mind I've actually fucked her, yes? But no-one would seriously divorce a husband on those grounds, would they?” Classing looked at me, and his features went cold and hard and angry. I realised there was something more to this. “Yes, Spencer; that was only the first time. I wanted more. I wanted more from her. I logged back on the next night and watched her some more and tipped her some more and fucked her some more. The night after that, I rented a hut with a bed and some poseballs and bought myself an attachable dick and we fucked there naked at $L500 per half hour. The night after that I tried someone else, and she was good, but not as good. So I found her again the next day and we made it nice and slow, like it was a date; it cost me more, but it was better somehow. And then I got to thinking just how good it would be if I could hear her voice – even if it was just the once, just to know what she sounded like. But she told me she didn't have a headset, and when I offered to buy her one she told me she didn't want to do voice anyway...” “Oh,” I said. “I think I can see where this is going.” “Do you though, Spencer? Can that throwaway sentence really be tuned into my direction that well?” “You didn't think beforehand it could be a guy?”

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Classing glared at me, stood, dumped his towels in the waste bin by the door. “Is there some sort of cybersex hand book that I'm not aware of?” he snapped at me. “Is there some sort of wisdom on this subject that everyone else has except for me?” “Surely it's just a matter of putting together what you already know about people in a different context?” For a moment, he almost looked like he was going to cry. He stared at me, resolutely, just as I had stared at him a moment earlier. “I ought to bust that bastard,” he said finally, grabbed his empty mug and walked out. I sighed once more, put a paper towel over the ring his mug had left on the table and stayed a while longer to think about Edward's predicament. Just suppose he'd ended up concluding he had been unfaithful: how did then finding out that the woman he'd been unfaithful with was actually a man change all that?

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Saturday, 8 November

Which brings me to today. Which I've spent writing, and worrying about my recollection of the detail. It really is quite amazing what you can recall in a quiet room if you have time to sit and think. I think I've got it mostly right, but you just know that the bits you gloss over someone will be pedantic about, one day. I'm going to go to bed now, because I'm exhausted and I still feel a little numb. Tomorrow I will face the other thing I haven't done yet since last Sunday: tomorrow I will log in to Second Life.

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Sunday, 9 November

I went for a run first thing. I thought it would be a good opportunity to prepare mentally the sort of thing I was going to say to people, once I got back inworld. Instead, I spent some time thinking about Gaudet. I decided I missed his insight into things. I decided I missed him. Eventually, all of that dissolved away and I ended up thinking about pretty much nothing at all. That's why running is essential for me. It's not about the physical exercise, it's about the way it empties my mind. I thought about SL again in the shower. It had been over a week since I'd last spoken to the Redclaw regulars, and that could hardly be considered a 'normal' evening there. The last time I'd had one of those was... I couldn't work it out. And I can't work it out now either without looking back, and I can't be bothered to do that. What is it now? Two weeks? Three? I remember thinking about this before, about the whole business of leaving Redclaw behind me. I remember thinking 'meh' about it, because then I'd moved on to other things. And I remember before that thinking about retiring Texter completely; of course, it was Stop who talked me out of doing that. I wanted to retire Texter in case I had to meet the regulars in RL to interview them. Back then, it was only a possibility and I couldn't bear the thought of it; now that it's a certainty, however – it will be happening, of course, tomorrow – getting rid of Texter is the suddenly the last thing I want to do. I miss those guys. Perhaps I'll feel differently after actually spending some time with them again. Perhaps then I'll worry about the deceit once more. But I wasn't worried then. I wondered how I'd be

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welcomed back, and it actually made me smile for a moment. It wasn't like I was expecting exultation, but I hoped it would be a good moment. * I loaded up the viewer, checked it was set to home and entered my password. I took a deep breath and hit the enter key. I rezzed into a wide, open, green area of rolling hills and nothing else. I waited for things to rez in around me, but nothing appeared. I checked the sim name at the top of the viewer, just to make sure I hadn't been moved 'to a nearby location'. I had not. I was exactly where I wanted to be. I was at Redclaw Station, at my spot by the counter in the cafĂŠ. Only I wasn't. I waited for a whole five minutes for nonexistent prims to rez. Actually, the truth hit me long before then, but I wasn't prepared to accept it. And, somehow, waiting five minutes was the statutory amount of time I had to let pass before allowing myself to panic. The five minutes came and went, and still I stood alone in empty hills, the ocean lapping at straight edges in all directions. Redclaw was gone.

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Monday, 10 November

It was just gone midnight. I'd been logging in each hour to see if there was any change at the empty space where Redclaw should have been or, failing that, someone I could talk to about it. I couldn't believe that the station was gone. I decided it had to be some sort of Second Life glitch. In between logins I'd been keeping an eye on the SL blog, on the Grid Status page, on the unofficial blogs and discussion forums, anywhere that might carry news which would explain this. We're working on it, folks. I found none. Soma Supercollider: Hello Triste. Soma was sitting on the ground, her candy colours made it look like she was stuck to the grass. It made me want to watch out for ants and wasps and stuff. Texter Triste: Soma! Texter Triste: What the hell's going on here? Texter Triste: Where has Redclaw gone? Soma Supercollider: Oh Texter, do try to keep up. Soma Supercollider: Redclaw is history. Soma Supercollider: Henry had to let it go. Texter Triste: He did? Why?! Soma Supercollider: This place is one of these regions they're going to start charging more money for. Soma Supercollider: The land owner told Hard the price had to go up in January. Soma Supercollider: So he decided – in the space of 30 minutes, I believe – to jack the whole thing in.

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Soma Supercollider: Silly rabbit that he is. Soma Supercollider: We had a little Farewell Redclaw party last night. You were missed. x I stood there for a full minute, stunned. I couldn't think of a thing to say. Soma Supercollider: Aren't you going to ask me, in which case, what on Earth I'm doing here? Texter Triste: Oh yes! Texter Triste: In which case... Texter Triste: ...what on Earth are you doing here? Just like that, Redclaw was over? I couldn't believe it. I couldn't. Soma Supercollider: hmmmm.... Soma Supercollider: I'm not sure I want to tell you now. Soma Supercollider: If you're going to use such sarcasm in your voice. Texter Triste laughs. Soma Supercollider: Insolent boy. Texter Triste hangs his head. Soma Supercollider: As well you might. But then, just as things got built more quickly in SL, so too, I supposed, did they get torn down. Texter Triste: *Please* tell me! Texter Triste: I’ll be your friend for ever. Soma Supercollider: Promises promises. Soma Supercollider: Empty promises.

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Texter Triste: Are you waiting for Armstrong? Soma Supercollider: hahaha Soma Supercollider: Am I so transparent? Texter Triste: But surely it’s another three hours before he comes one? Soma Supercollider: Apparently not, today. Soma Supercollider: His routines are all out of kilter this week. Soma Supercollider: Something to do with getting ready for a big delivery at the weekend. Soma Supercollider: Who knows what that means? He could be a ballerina, for all I know. I smiled, because, as it happens, I do know. Armstrong is definitely not a ballerina. Soma Supercollider: Texter… Soma Supercollider: Let me ask you something. Texter Triste: Yes? Soma Supercollider: I want a truthful reply now… Soma Supercollider: I will know if you are lying to me. Texter Triste: Go on… Soma Supercollider: Hmmm… Soma Supercollider: Maybe I shouldn’t ask this. Texter Triste: Soma! Soma Supercollider: Yes, Texter? Texter Triste: Ask your question! Soma Supercollider: Very well… Soma Supercollider: My question is this… Soma Supercollider: Are you very upset that Stop did not come to meet you?

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I took a deep breath. Well, I had known it would be asked. It was not a difficult question to answer truthfully. The problem was, I couldn’t answer truthfully. Texter Triste: I am upset, yes. Soma Supercollider: I though as much. Soma Supercollider: I’m sorry you are sad. Soma Supercollider: But you are a very silly boy, you know; you should never have arranged it in the first place. Texter Triste: You’re probably right. Soma Supercollider: There’s no ‘probably’ about it. Texter Triste: Have you seen her since? Has she said anything? Soma Supercollider: No-one’s seen sight of her or you or Candlewax for ages. Texter Triste: Candlewax? What’s up with her? Soma Supercollider: She just stopped coming online. Soma Supercollider: Maybe she’s on holiday. Soma Supercollider: Maybe she’s ill. Or worse. Soma Supercollider: Maybe she started over. Who knows? * ‘Starting over’, of course, means beginning Second Life again – from scratch – with a new avatar and everything. Sort of. It’s not *entirely* starting from scratch. Any items you have in your inventory which are transfer enabled you can, of course, send to your new you, but transfer enabled items are few and far between. You know, I don’t really understand that. I do understand that if something was transfer enabled and copy enabled then that would mean you

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could make copies of purchased items and give them away freely to people or even sell them on at less than you paid for the original. That bit I understand. What I don’t understand is why people who make and sell stuff don’t make everything available as either copy and no transfer or transfer and no copy. Sure – some people like to be able to copy an item so they can mix and match tops and bottoms to make new outfits – they have a copy of an item in this outfit’s folder, a copy in that item’s folder and so on. But some people don’t. Or some people only want to buy an item so they can give it to someone else as a gift. Anyway. Transferring stuff only works for a few of your bits and pieces. New avatars are mostly back at square one. There is so much free stuff available now, of course. You don't have to buy things. The problem is that most free stuff seems to be stuff that was originally designed to be sold and which no-one ever bought. Although I guess it all depends on what you want to use SL for, because if it's just for chatting then you don't really need to worry too much about what your avatar looks like, and the free stuff will do just fine. Which reminds me, I must upload some cash soon and set about buying Texter some looks (and I'd better do it sooner rather than later, judging by how the pound is performing at the moment). Currently, he only has his newbie threads, a few freebies that various people have given him and an outfit that Stop bought him a couple of days before I left for Le Havre. I haven't ruled out starting from scratch myself just yet, but now is not the moment. * Texter Triste: Tell me something, Soma…

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Soma Supercollider: I might, Texter. Soma Supercollider: Don’t go thinking I owe you any honest answers, or something. Texter Triste: Do you tell people in RL that you do SL? Soma Supercollider: No, of course not. Soma Supercollider: They would think I had taken leave of my senses. Texter Triste: None of them do SL? Soma Supercollider: How can I possibly know that Soma Supercollider: when I've just told you I do SL secretly? Texter Triste: True. Texter Triste: But they've never mentioned SL before? Soma Supercollider: MUST you ask all these QUESTIONS? Texter Triste: lol Sorry. Soma Supercollider: I can't possibly furnish every idle thought that spills carelessly from your mind with an answer... Texter Triste: hahaha Soma Supercollider: Silly rabbit x Texter Triste: Well anyway, sorry to distract you from your waiting around on the grass. Soma Supercollider: This isn't the only thing that I'm doing, foolish boy. Texter Triste: Oh? Soma Supercollider: I'm also in an IM conversation with someone in which I'm trying to come across as distant and aloof. Soma Supercollider: Actually, you're helping enormously. Texter Triste is always happy to help! Soma Supercollider: The problem is...

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Soma Supercollider: I'm now going to have to start an IM conversation with someone else, so that I can appear distant and aloof from you. Texter Triste: lol Texter Triste: These troubles never end, do they? Soma Supercollider: It's a fucking minefield, I'm telling you. Texter Triste: So do I now need to find someone to start an IM conversation with so that I can appear distant and aloof in response to your own distance and aloofness? Soma Supercollider: You can't have TWO people who want to appear distant and aloof to each other. that's just silly. Texter Triste: So many people I know in RL would benefit from understanding that. Soma Supercollider: hahaha Soma Supercollider: I'm wise like that. Texter Triste: So who is this guy you're trying to appear distant and aloof to? Do I know him? Soma Supercollider: Just some young upstart who had the insufferable nerve earlier on to wish me a 'Merry Christmas'. Texter Triste: Oh no! It's barely November! Soma Supercollider: Indeed. Soma Supercollider: He was dressed as an elf. Texter Triste: You can get elf costumes in SL? Texter Triste: I was just thinking to myself that it's time to get me some new clothes. Texter Triste wonders if he could pull off an elf. Texter Triste: Jesus that did *not* come out the way I intended it. Soma Supercollider: LOLOL Soma Supercollider: Texter!

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Texter Triste laughs. Soma Supercollider: hahaha Soma Supercollider: Oh, the tear-stained little faces of the little children... Soma Supercollider: The shame, the shame. Soma Supercollider: 'Daddy, daddy... what's that man doing to that poor elf...?' Texter Triste: lmao Texter Triste: Talking of tear-stained, where are all the others? Texter Triste: And where's everyone going to hang out now? Soma Supercollider: Poor Texter... Soma Supercollider: Don't assume there will be a substitute Redclaw... that's not the way it works in SL, you know... Soma Supercollider: Things finish quickly here. Soma Supercollider: You have to get used to moving on. I found a patch of land on a sandbox and rezzed my Redclaw listening device, the scripted prim that Sonny Collection put together for me and; it had been returned to my 'Lost and Found' folder when Henry had pulled everything down (I wondered if he'd come across it or if he'd just done a blanket return-all-items before starting his demolition). I instructed it to send me the notecards it had been compiling and it obliged. The chat log was enormous. I copied and pasted each card into text files and saved them onto my computer. I sent an IM to Henry, but he was offline. Getting hold of him will now be my top priority. There can be none of this drifting away that Soma appears to assume will happen. We haven't even looked at the data properly yet. For the time

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being, at least, Redclaw must continue. * The guy behind William Shing was Dr Peter Etlar. He was a small, but potent looking man with a way of sitting that seemed to say either ‘I am relaxed’ or ‘I am tense’ depending on how you looked at him. It was like one of those visual illusions which was perceived either one way or another, but never both at the same time. I decided that in this case, however, that it really was both things. Shing/Etlar was relaxed, but his state of relaxation was one of tightness and precision. Even though I had seen pictures of him previously, I’d imagined someone far more clumsy in both movement and demeanour than this. Shing was more in control of himself than I had thought he would be. It was yet another reminder to me that online presentation should never be taken as proof of real life personality. I remember once there was a guy who would contribute regularly to a discussion forum I used to frequent. He was really articulate in his posts, assertive, funny; sometimes a little full of himself, but we all tolerated that. One day, he told us he'd been interviewed on his local radio station about something to do with his job and he posted the link to an online recording so we could all have a listen. I've always admired him for giving that link, actually, for allowing the little man behind the curtain to be viewed in so frank and naked a manner. The interview was one of the most excruciating pieces of audio I've ever had to sit through; that the interviewer stuck with it for as long as he did says a lot for either his perseverance or his lack of alternative material. The poor guy stuttered and stumbled through almost fifteen

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minutes of discussion about something to do with renewable energy. I wanted badly to shut it down, but I stuck it through to the end so that I could then post a knowledgeable comment. Everyone on the forum was stunned. And after that, I started noticing more generally the difference in the communication style of our tech support guys at work between their telephone and their email manner. Some guy who I'd just been trying to get more than three words in a row out of on the blower became quite surprisingly polite and affable in text. It's the extra thinking time that text gives you – it enables you to spend more time deciding what you want to say and how you're going to say it, not to mention the time to process also what someone else has just said to you. But Shing/Etlar is sort of the opposite of this – he's somehow managed to make his online self appear less competent than he is in the flesh. I've reflected quite a bit on this since the interview, on why he's done this and what it could mean. As far as I can see, it can only be one of two things. It could be that he uses SL as a place in which he can drop his guard a little, allow out for an airing some of the insecurities and weaknesses he keeps ordinarily on a very tight leash. Or it could mean that he's intentionally engineered a particular personality, perhaps because reducing people's expectations of him in this way will one day give him an edge of some sort. Classing conducted the interview. We were given a room to use which had a one-way mirror, so that I could observe. It was a three hour drive to Etlar’s local station, where he had been asked to report. The original plan had been for the two of us to share a car; when I got to the office at seven thirty as agreed, however, I was told that Classing had rung

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in to say he’d make his own way there. So I drove up by myself and listened to Chris Moyles celebrate Dominic Byrne's birthday. Classing entered the interview room with a file of information and sat down opposite Etlar. He started the recorder; stated date, time (two-thirty), location and persons present for the record. “Are you comfortable, Dr Etlar?” he asked. “Is there anything I can get you? Would you like a drink?” “You need to record my answer to that?” Etlar replied. Guys like him always try to get a caustic remark in early. “Try not to think too much about the recorder, Dr Etlar.” Classing started looking through the file in front of Etlar, but Etlar did a good job of pretending not to be bothered by it. Classing did his looking suddenly up thing. “Is that a 'no' then?” “Actually, a glass of water would be nice, thank you.” A good recovery from Etlar; he recognised that the sarcasm had to be dropped. Classing got up and stuck his head out of the door, got Etlar his water sorted out. He came back in and waited until the glass arrived. You see, Classing always does this at the beginning of an interview. It's his way of showing his interviewee that he has a high silence threshold. Silence in the presence of another human being makes us feel uncomfortable; we feel the need to fill it. One of the first things you learn when you're being trained in interview technique is never to fill your interviewee's silences. “Dr Etlar, I'd like to ask you, first of all, if you know of or have met in any capacity this person.” Classing took a photograph out of a second file and placed it in front of Etlar. “Her name was Sarah Cassidy.” Etlar's features stiffened, ever so slightly, as he took in the

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name and face. A realisation of how serious this was. It was as though he'd been thinking up until now that the interview had to be about a speeding fine or a parking ticket he'd forgotten to pay. “This is the woman who was murdered in Tintagel, right?” he said. “What on Earth has this got to do with me?” “I'd like you to think back to the summer for me,” said Classing, using his reassuring tone (though not actually doing any reassuring). “I'd like you to think back to the twenty-first of August. This is just for the record, you understand. Can you tell me where you were that day? Can you tell me what you were doing?” “Is that the day that she was murdered? Are you asking me for my whereabouts at the time of her murder?” “Yes, Dr Etlar; I am,” Classing replied. “Only in order to get that question out of the way. You're not being interviewed as a suspect.” “Well... I need my diary.” Etlar looked put out more than flustered; he looked a little embarrassed that he didn't know the answer off the top of his head. “It's in my coat pocket. Can I...?” “Of course,” Classing said and waited the half second before Etlar stood up to go. “No no, Dr Etlar,” he said quickly, “I'll get someone to bring it through to you.” Manoeuvres like this are used to increase in the interviewee their sense of uncertainty: the interjection could be out of concern for your comfort, but it could also be because you're not actually allowed to leave. Naturally, Etlar was allowed to leave; he was here entirely by choice at this stage. Classing would never have tried to convince him otherwise: modern intimidation is achieved through much more subtle technique. I could see that Edward was intent on cracking

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Etlar's cool and wondered if this was chiefly because he knew that the doctor was – unbeknownst to the doctor, of course – a friend of mine. But Etlar was not easily intimidated by the likes of Classing; the tiniest of smiles actually flickered across the corners of his mouth at the attempt to wrong foot him. He sat down again. “That's very kind of you,” he said. Classing went to the door and called for the diary – not the coat – to be brought in. They established that the twenty-first had been a surgery day. “I thought it would have been,” Etlar said, “but I did do a couple of one day courses during the summer.” Would it be possible to obtain a list of the patients he had seen that day? Classing asked, whilst he made a file note, avoiding eye contact as he said this. Just in case they needed to verify this? “Of course,” Etlar replied. “But it wasn't just my patients that saw me that day. You could ask the other staff at the surgery too. In fact, you could check our CCTV footage.” “I shouldn't imagine that will be necessary,” Classing said to that, as though checking a bit of video was in some way more of an effort than going to the trouble of home-visiting patients. “In answer to your original question,” said Etlar, “No, I didn't know Sarah Cassidy.” “You might not have known her as Sarah,” said Classing, absently. He paused again whilst he made notes about something, letting that statement hang in the air. He was approaching his first bombshell. I saw Etlar frown, slightly. Perhaps he was just confused by that statement, but it also looked like he'd realised that there was something big about to hit him, that Classing was

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holding something back in that you-really-don't-know-whatI'm-about-to-tell-you? sort of way. “I'm not very good with faces,” he murmured, looking again at the picture, but this time more closely. “Are you saying she used some sort of alias?” “Not exactly, Dr Etlar,” Classing said. Etlar frowned again, then seemd to pause. He straightened out his face and sat back in his chair. He would not wriggle on Classing's hook. He waited patiently for Edward to complete his imaginary notes. This was his way of demonstrating that he had a high silence threshold too. I smiled. Finally, Classing finished and put down his pen. “I'll come straight to the point, Dr Etlar,” he said. “Sarah Classing was a regular user of 'Second Life'.” He said it in a manner that made certain the air quotes were there, if not actually indicated. “So are several hundred thousand other people,” said Etlar, keeping his voice level. But I could see that his eyes had narrowed fractionally. “Do you play Second Life, Dr Etlar?” Classing asked, emphasising this time the word 'play'. I would have predicted Etlar at this point to return to the caustic: something like Clearly you know I do and that's the reason that I'm here. In fact, the doctor played it cheerful. “I do!” he said. “Very regularly, in fact. Do you?” Classing hesitated slightly, he hadn't expected that reply and had nothing lined up for it. If he went for an avoidance answer such as “I'll ask the questions, Dr Etlar” it would be an acknowledgement of the power in the room that so far he'd avoided nodding at in order to amplify discomfort and uncertainty. If he went for a “no” answer then that would involve a deception which he might need later to be

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consistent with. “I'm familiar with the product,” he said eventually. “We've been briefed in very thoroughly.” It was a good answer, but the pause was out there now and couldn't be clawed back, and Etlar had noticed it. “Yes, I suppose there must be a great deal that goes on in there that would be of interest to the police,” he said cheerfully, pressing ahead with his momentary advantage. “So do you have your own avatar?” But this time, Classing was ready for him; in fact, little did Etlar realise this, but he had just played straight into Edward's hands. “Dr Etlar,” he said coolly, “you must understand that there are limitations to the freedom I have when it comes to discussing police operations.” The word covert hovered silently over the sentence. I saw Etlar stiffen. That was when he realised. That was when he knew. I felt a knot form in my stomach. I imagined him mentally going through the names of everyone he knew in SL, specifically those he had met since 21 August. And he still didn't know about the Redclaw connection; not yet. That would be the second bombshell. “So what has this got to do with me?” asked Etlar, the new resignation in his voice a sign that he now realised he was likely to be here for some time. “We have reason to suppose that Miss Cassidy met her killer in Second Life,” said Classing. “And we have evidence suggesting that the killer visited at least once a place in Second Life called 'Redclaw Station'.” Now, Etlar's mouth set in a firm, grim line. “Would I be correct in thinking that this is a location you visit regularly in Second Life.” “As it happens,” said Etlar quietly, “Redclaw was pulled down on Sunday morning, so I won't be going there any

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more. But yes, I did go there. More or less every day, in fact. Usually for at least an hour.” “Good,” said Classing, and he said it in a way that said to Etlar Good that you have chosen not to lie to us about that. “Then I think you will be very helpful to us, Dr Etlar. There is a great deal we need to understand about that place.” I settled back and tried to make myself comfortable. I could see it was going to be a long afternoon.

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Tuesday, 11 November

We stayed overnight in a hotel that had red carpets and wood panelling and squeaky floor boards. Classing went straight to bed after our meal. We talked about Etlar quite a bit, but achieved nothing of any great importance. The doctor had told us nothing about Redclaw that we didn't know already. Classing told me he thought Etlar was holding out on us, keeping something secret. I actually think he might be right about that, but I don't think it has anything to do with the Cassidy-Maybush case. Of course, Classing had had to tell Etlar the truth about Stop in the course of the interview. It was his final bombshell and he'd kept it hidden until the moment of maximum devastation. “I still don't see that there is anything concrete linking what happened to Sarah Cassidy with Redclaw,” Etlar had said, allowing exasperation to creep into his voice. That had been about two hours into the interview. Classing had sat looking at him with his fingers steepled at that point, then he'd taken another picture from his file and tossed it across the desk at Etlar. Abigail Maybush. “You've heard about Miss Maybush, I take it,” he said. “Killed just over a week ago in the same manner as Miss Cassidy was. You might not have known Miss Cassidy, Dr Etlar, but we know for a fact that you knew Miss Maybush. You knew her as 'Stop Stare'.” Up until that moment, Etlar had been becoming increasingly distant in my mind from the man I held in my thoughts as William Shing. I had heard him speak on SL before – very briefly – whilst I'd been running about in Le Havre station, and the voice of this man before me was

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vaguely similar to that, I supposed; other than this, however, there was practically nothing about this man that made me think of Shing. If I had met him in any other manner, I would never have guessed this to be the man I had hung out with at the counter in the station café. Never. But now the Etlar reserve cracked, just a little. It wasn't William Shing that I saw peeking out from inside the shell, but perhaps it was the human being behind both Shing and Etlar. He stared at Classing, aghast. His lower lip started to tremble and immediately he put his left hand up to cover it, at the same time turned his head to the break eye contact. “So that's why she disappeared,” he whispered. Yes, Classing had replied. * I managed to get hold of Henry Hard this morning. I tried last night also, several times, but with no luck (the hotel had wireless internet). Typical Henry: he expressed no surprise whatsoever at seeing me after all this time. In fact, the first thing he told me when I got hold of him was that he was just about to go offline and didn't have time to talk. I told him I needed to speak to him urgently about Redclaw. What he doesn't realise, of course, is that I'll be seeing him anyway – in the flesh – on Thursday. If needs be, I'll make my proposition to him then. * Today we drove to Manchester to speak to Tear Stained. It was a long drive, and as it happens we got caught up in the most God forsaken traffic jam. We ended up getting there several hours late and Classing only had time to do the initial

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hour or so of the interview. We could have asked her to stay late, but neither of us were particularly keen on the idea. A woman of considerable pulchritude, it was distressing for both of us to see the fear she quite clearly felt at being interviewed in this manner. Classing become visibly softer. He spent most of his hour reassuring. We'll continue it tomorrow.

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Wednesday, 12 November

Watching Tear Stained – aka Louise Taylor – take the news of Stop's death was one of the most devastating things I've ever had to look upon. The issue of Sarah Cassidy having been a resident she took on board calmly, The Redclaw connection seemed to shake her, but she dealt with it; the news of Stop, however, seemed to take her apart. Just like with Etlar, Taylor was questioning the link with Redclaw when Classing broke the news. He told her slowly, gradually; I think we both knew somehow the reaction we were likely to get. “What?” she said at first. Just that. It was as though all the molecules in the room had stopped dancing and turned to look at Classing in surprise. Her word was hoarse, yet confused. She seemed to loose all power in front of us. Her next words were a whisper. “What did you say?” “I'm really very sorry,” Classing said. He started to repeat his previous sentence, but those four words were enough to confirm to Taylor that she had indeed heard the statement that she thought she'd heard. “She's dead? Stop is dead? Stop is *dead*? By that *psycho*? He killed Stop? No! No!” And then she started to shake. And then tears pricked at the edges of her eyes and Classing did what he'd been trained to and pushed a box of tissues two inches towards her. Stop picked up the box and threw them at him. “NO!” And then she grabbed his files and threw them across the room, threw her plastic glass of water with them and then she swivelled on her seat ninety degrees to the left and sat with her head in her hands and rocked and sobbed. Classing had pushed himself back a couple of feet from the desk when

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she'd thrown the tissues, put his hands towards her, palms out, thinking the anger was specifically directed at him. He sat there like that for a couple more seconds, then seemed to realise what an idiot he looked. He got up, hesitantly, went around to her, crouched down in front of her – just out of her reach, I noted – cleared his throat, mumbled something that i couldn't hear that included the words 'time' and 'female'. “I'm ok I'm ok I'm ok,” Taylor gasped, and then she started to wail. Classing stood and looked at me helplessly. I stood, rooted to the spot for a moment, not knowing what to do. Why hadn't we thought to organise a PC? Could I go in? Would she recognise me? Then common sense won over. I ran out into the corridor and back into the neighbouring room. I pulled a chair in front of her, sat on it, put my arms around her shoulders and pulled Tear close to me. Without looking up she buried her head in my jacket and sobbed. And that's how we stayed for the next five minutes. And finally she looked up – her face literally tear stained – and said, “You're not the man who was here before.” And then she added, “You're crying too.” I wiped away my own tears; I hadn't even realised that I was weeping, I hadn't thought for a moment about what might happen if I were to grieve so publicly with her. “I... felt your pain,” I muttered, uselessly. But it seemed to be enough. “You sound familiar,” she said. My heart stopped, but only for a moment. “Have you been on the radio or something?” she asked. We were in the eye of some sort of storm, that much I could tell. This wasn't a recovery, just a pause. Just a moment. I let it play. “I don't think so,” I said. “You don't know,” she said, “how it can be when you love

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someone in Second Life.” Her voice was barely a whisper; I doubted that the recorder would pick any of it up. “You see their mind. You see their soul.” “I'm so sorry,” I said. “I wish I knew what that felt like.” I knew exactly what it felt like. “It sounds... wonderful.” “It is.” Her eyes went suddenly wide. “Texter!” she cried. “Is he-” “Texter's fine,” said Classing from behind me. The bastard had been sitting there all along. “We're going to be speaking with him very shortly, in fact.” “Is he... here?” “Would you like to meet him?” I turned and glared at Classing. “Not like this, no,” she said. She looked back at me. “Thank you,” she said. She put her arms around me and hugged me, and I felt her start to sob gently again. It was ok. It was right that we were together like this. I held on to her as she cried. Once more, I wept with her. * It's hard now not to be wistful for the times which once were at Redclaw. I realise that things have changed completely now, that we can never go back to how things were once more. Of course I knew that anyway at the level of logic. Stop, after all, is dead. I think somehow I was hoping that getting back to Redclaw might in some small way bring her back to me. It was a residual effect of some description, I guess. Well, it's gone now. I know that Redclaw is over. Even so, it has to finish properly. If nothing else, it needs to be there for just a little while longer so that we can grieve

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there together, as people should do; because it is right for friends to be together in their grief, and it is right that someone who has died should be remembered by many in one place at the same time. And Redclaw needs to be resurrected for other, more practical, more clinical reasons. I met up with Henry earlier this evening. It was a simple agreement we came to. I transferred the first payment of Lindens into his account there and then. Redclaw will relaunch on Saturday.

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Thursday, 13 November

I really hope that one day you might have a relationship like the one I had with Stop, however brief it ultimately was. At the time I was so caught up in it all – the thrill, the excitement… and then the grief – that I never really took the time to stand back and appreciate what it was that was happening to me. Now I sit and reflect on her and what we had a great deal. I miss her dreadfully – of course I do – but more than anything else I feel such wonderful gratitude for the door that she opened for me. I never had a relationship like that in RL ever before. Despite the fact that we never touched, that we never even laid eyes on each other or heard the sound of each other’s voices, it was the most intimate I think I have ever been with another human being. We achieved a mental closeness that I never even imagined could be possible. Everything before Stop was about looks, about smell, about touch; everything before was about planning the evening out and putting on a mask that would get me where I wanted to be. I think to myself that I’m a nice guy… but I wonder now just how much of what I do in RL dating is about deception or ritual. Of course deception plays a role in SL dating also – a massive role, really; but in a sense it’s a kind of shared deception at the best of times – SL can be no different from RL in that there will be the bad and the ugly as well as the good; there will be wicked deception there, just as there can be in RL. It’s a bit like forming an agreement with each other: if this is what we actually looked like, if this is where we actually were, if this is what we actually said then this is what I would want to do to you and that is what I would want you to do to me.

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Whether we actually do look like that or do go to those places or do make such wonderfully crafted utterances is neither here nor there: those who want to get the most out of these experiences will chose to immerse themselves in the shared image – to let it wash over their minds like warm, scented water – rather than worry about its authenticity. Sharing fantasy like this with another person is such a arousing thing… you are naked when you do this in a way that you can never be by just taking your clothes off. Why can’t we have relationships like this in RL? Somehow, it just isn’t safe to. I think it must be the anonymity which SL provides that helps us to plunge deeper into mental desire and exposure. I’ve just realised that I haven’t dated anyone since I started coming into Second Life, and it actually doesn’t bother me a bit. In fact, the very thought of having to go through all that hassle is a total turn off right now. It’s not that I don’t want ever to experience physical love ever again – of course it isn’t. It’s much more I think that mental closeness is the thing which people should really try to get right first. In RL, our obsession with that which is easily seen blinds us to that which hides behind the curtain; we seem to think it’s ok to discover all of that in due course, or even that it’s not something worth discovering at all. The excitement that I experienced with Stop did of course lead to me wanting to meet with her in RL and experience physical love with her, but it was the prospect of loving someone who I knew so well mentally which excited me most of all. Perhaps it says more abut me than it does people in general, but all too often the physical pleasures seem to involve fucking a pretty container, the contents of which I have little or no access to. If it’s more exciting for me this way, I have to wonder if this would be a truth that

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everyone could stumble upon. If it is, could it be that RL relationships in the future come to be formed far more commonly on the back of virtual ones? Could it become the norm that you start things safely in virtual worlds and then test out the best relationships in RL? The whole thing is so open to abuse, of course, it’s an utterly horrifying concept for a parent to have to contemplate for their child. But, since you’re not born yet, I can still contemplate this with the degree of detachment I might not be so lucky to have once you’ve come into existence. Perhaps then I’ll turn against all of this and encourage you to find a nice safe partner/partners. But for now I’ll enjoy the idea that this is something everyone should experience, and who better could I wish it upon therefore than you? * Henry Hard – as I somehow knew he would – took the news of Stop's death in a relatively nonplussed manner. “Really? She's dead? Stop?” His face twitched. “That's terrible. I liked her. I liked her a lot. She was nice to me. I really hope you get that guy. Are you close to finding him?” “Why did you you buy Redclaw Station, Mr White?” Classing asked him. He seemed to approve of the manner in which this news had been taken. “I part owned the build already,” said Henry, making the transition to the new topic flawlessly. “I was one of the original design team. Part of my payment was I got to get an all permissions copy of the final build. The guy who commissioned us set it up on the sim because he thought it would attract more people. He had some sort of crazy pyramid plan to make money; he was convinced that it was

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just a question of getting the right amount of visitors in and that once you hit the magic number the whole thing would just perpetuate itself. We tried to tell him that the numbers he wanted simply weren't possible in an OpenSpace sim, but he didn't listen. He asked us how we imagined he could possibly afford the price of a dedicated sim. The others said he was a sanctimonious idiot. “We only have a couple of camping spots now, but when he launched the place it was absolutely heaving with campers. That was half of the challenge – to cram the place with campers but make it look like they weren't there to camp. We had a guy behind the counter in the café, where I often stand when I'm there now. We had a guy in the locomotive – the spot that the driver would take; he'd stand there looking at his instruments, checking everything was good to go. We had a guard actually in one of the carriages, standing in the aisle like he was looking at a ticket someone just gave him. We had another guard on the platform. We had a sweep on the platform. We had another mop spot in the entrance foyer between the café and the ticket booth. We had a couple of guys down on the track, inspecting it, like they were checking the line for fractures. We had a whole bunch of spots on the benches for people waiting for the train. We had-” “I see that there were lots of campers,” said Classing, a little hurriedly. “But why did you buy it, Mr White? What was your motivation?” “Well you see Harver – that was the guy who set the whole thing up – he went out of business. Even though he had high numbers. He was certain that x per cent of all the visitors would do such-and-such, but of course they didn't. Campers are campers. They're not there to *spend* money.

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When he realised he wasn't going to make the Lindens he'd thought he was going to make he started to panic. His first reaction was to blame it on the crossposters – got really angry with a number of groups, ended up being kicked out of a couple, in fact.” “Blame it on the crossposters?” Classing said. “What do you mean by that?” “He realised pretty quick – give him his dues, I suppose – that people needed more incentive to stay than just money. So he started organising events – he booked some SL performers to do concerts out on the platform, for example. Redclaw got renamed 'The Station' when there was one of those going on. I went to a few of them. The first was some guy on a keyboard, he really didn't know how to play. You could hear he was using automatic accompaniment. Harver was all 'This is really great! This is really cool!' in public chat, but I happen to know for a fact that he was IMing people he knew to tell them how shit he thought it was. So then he started to find some better acts – a guitarist more skilled than anyone I've ever heard in RL, an amazing pianist who could just play and play and play and never run out of things to perform. There was one woman who played guitar and sang at the same time; she sounded like Kate Bush, I could have listened to her forever. At the same time he was doing this, Harver started reducing the amount of money he was giving out to the campers; once he dipped below the minimum that other camp managers were giving out, the newbies just stopped coming. You understand, of course, that more campers equals more green dots on the map; more green dots on the map equals more people coming to have look at what's going down. Right? You send out your announcement with its landmark attached – 'Come listen to

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so-and-so, performing now!' – and people either shut it down or they open up the landmark and have a look to see how many people are there. That's when you want your campers in place. “So Harver increased the amount of money he paid out to campers, but made it so that payments were made to campers at random, like in a draw. So one camper might stay for an hour and get nothing, but one might stay for five minutes and get as much as a hundred Lindens. Still, the numbers were lower than he wanted. And the lag caused by the campers pissed off the few people that did turn up, so that they usually only stayed for a half hour or so before they left. Harver realised it was his events that were his best bet for pulling in the people who actually might have money to spend, and he needed to focus his efforts on promotion. So he set up a group for station events and tried to get people to join it, but the speed at which they were signing up was nowhere near fast enough for him. Generally, you see, people would only sign up if they'd been to an event they enjoyed, but to be at an event they enjoyed they had to first of all know about it, and to know about it they really needed to be in a group.” White paused to take a sip of water. I could see that Classing's eyes were beginning to mist over, but that he wasn't quite certain yet that this was the red herring he strongly suspected it to be. “Go on,” he said, wearily. “The group would have grown in time, of course, but Harver's money was running out. So he started forming affiliations with other groups so that he could post announcements about upcoming events to their members and draw more people in. All well and good, to begin with. But then he started to get pissed off with the other group

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members who also posted stuff across all the groups he was posting in. 'These crossposters are killing me,' he would say. 'Who wants to know about their shitty little singsongs?' He didn't mind people making announcements so much as when they called out for attendees in group chat. This was his gripe, you see: Harver reckoned that people shut down group chat windows when they weren't interested in their contents because they interfered with their ability to keep track of IMs they were interested in. You know how it works, right? Each conversation gets its own tab, but then the tabs start to stack up and they disappear off the edge of the IM window, so to keep track of them you have to keep moving left and right using the little arrows. Or tear each one off so that you have a whole bunch of separate IM windows all over the viewer screen. It's a liability. The more tabs you have, you see, the greater the likelihood of fatal crosspost.” “Fatal crosspost?” said Classing. “Fatal crosspost,” explained White, “is when you accidentally type a message meant for person A into person B's IM conversation. Benign, of course, if you're just talking about the weather, but crossposts never seem to happen like that. It's Sod's Law, I suppose. You type into person B's box something like 'That person B is a total wanker' sort of thing. Fatal crosspost. You only have to do it once, and after that I guarantee it'll become the number one thing you want to avoid ever doing again in Second Life. So step number one is to get into the habit of closing down any superfluous IM boxes: less boxes equals less chance of making a mistake like that. “When you close down an IM from an individual, your link to that conversation is not severed. The moment they type a new comment into their side of the window it pops up

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on your screen again. But with group IM chat it's different. Once you shut down a group IM chat window, that's it until your next login: your link to the discussion is cut. Other people in the group can write away in it to their heart's content and you won't see a damned word of it. This is why Harver got so angry. If anyone posted in group chat about their events before Harver got to post in there about his, his reckoning was that no-one would get to see his posts because by then all the members would have shut down their group IM windows. So if I was to post one day in IM chat for groups A, B and C something like, 'Hey everyone, we're having a party!', Harver reckoned that most people in groups A, B and C would then shut down those windows; so when he then subsequently announced in A, B and C, 'Come to my place for a fantastic concert' no-one would see his message because they would have severed their link to the discussion. He got incensed about it. First of all it was just sounding off to people locally; he'd say stuff like, 'Yeah, like we're really interested in a fucking barbecue' in public chat, like he was muttering to himself. Next was he was responding in group chat with statements like, 'Please use announcements for low priority events, not group chat, thank you.' You see, announcements – those blue boxes that drop from the topright corner telling you about stuff – they don't work in the same way as group chat. At first, people just ignored him; I think they probably though he was an administrator or something. But then the actual group administrators got wind of this and started giving him grief for it. You see, Harver was perfectly happy to announce his events in group chat. His view was that, since he needed to make money back, his announcements were higher priority than everyone else's. Once people had realised this was Harver's view, he

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fell out of favour fast – and I mean fast. But Harver wasn't the sort of guy to realise he'd over-stepped the mark and supply the necessary apology. He dug his heels in. Boy did that guy know how to flame. Within a couple of days he'd been kicked out of two of the groups, and it looked like others were going to follow. Harver put this big announcement up on his profile that he was being bullied on SL by the members of all the other groups, urged the members of his group and also anyone who'd ever camped at Redclaw to stage a mass stand up protest at the meeting sim of one of the groups he'd been chucked out of. I remember him telling me a couple of hours before that that he reckoned he'd got nearly a hundred people signed up, which would bring the sim to its knees when they turned up. Want to know how many people actually turned up? It was four. The very next day, Harver sold off all his SL assets, logged of and was never seen in the metaverse again. He became SL MIA, but I reckon he got straight back in on an alt account.” “Mr White,” said Classing. “Let me ask you one last time. Why did you buy Redclaw?” “Oh well. I like trains,” said Henry Hard.

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Friday, 14 November

Classing drove back to the office today; he took the interview recordings with him for transcribing. We're hoping they'll get done over the weekend. I got up early to attend a conference not far from here, which I've actually had in my diary since July. Bullying. It was an interesting event. The organisers involved children in its delivery, and in a quite shocking manner. This thing that everyone who attended will talk about in years to come happened at the end of the day. Everyone was still full from the food at lunchtime and the sun, washing in over us, seemed to slow everything right down. We were told that the children wanted to present. I must admit, my attention at that point was pretty perfunctory. The lights went down. Children shuffled onto the performance area. They got into three huddles and they started to whisper and laugh. The audience was silent, watching. Periodically, one of the children from one of the groups would look at us, point at one of us, laugh at our stupidity and return to the huddle. Two minutes passed like this. Then three. Then four. The laughter was scarily real; at first, I wondered what they'd been told to think about in order for them to snigger in such an authentic manner. Whatever they'd been told, it was good instruction. As the minutes passed, however, I started to feel unnerved by the apparent validity of their laughter. I started to feel like I was being pointed at more times than other audience members around me. It seemed like the laughter would rise whenever the finger was upon me and dip when it went elsewhere. Five minutes. Six minutes. I saw the guy that introduced

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the speakers looking at his watch, uncomfortably, looking across at the drama guy, who sat on the opposite side with his head bowed and his eyes shut. I tried to look away from the children, I moved slightly so that the large guy in front of me blocked my view of two of the groups. But then I noticed that the sound of laughter had started to spread: from behind me, from both sides, from outside of the conference room; new groups of children had slid quietly into place. They giggled, they pointed, they looked at each other with wide eyes and open mouths, as if astonished and delighted by my stupidity, my idiocy, my worthlessness. Seven minutes passed. Eight minutes passed. The sound of the laughter got fed into the speaker system, and someone, somewhere turned the volume up slowly, until it was everywhere, until it pervaded everything, until there was no escape from the eyes. And now I noticed that the children weren't huddled any more, they were standing in a line, in a big circle that surrounded the audience, facing us, pointing into us, each child pointing at someone and staring at them, glaring at them, laughing hysterically. I started to feel the panic rising. I looked for escape. I shut my eyes. Some sort of visual countdown must have been given to the children; suddenly, as one, they all stopped. At the same time, they dropped to the floor, out of sight, and the lights went back on. I opened my eyes and it was as though I had been teleported to another place. I looked around me and saw other audience members who had lasted less time than, me blinking in the light. I felt my heart start to slow down again. I took a deep breath. Projected onto the screen at the front of the room were the words, “Ten minutes of laughter you will never forget�.

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* I thought about the presentation on the long drive home. The laughter seemed to be stuck inside my head at one point and I ended up turning on the radio, turning the volume up to try and drown it out. But even the joyous thump thump thump of The Official Start To The Weekend was not enough to mask it. Something about that moment had hit me, and somewhere deep, and somewhere where I didn't realise I was vulnerable. Or somewhere where I didn't realise I was vulnerable any more. I decided not to fight it, turned off the radio, let the sound of the laughter in my head trigger whatever memories it was it needed to trigger. I thought about school. I thought about the streets when I was younger, and the groups of teenagers that hung around in the parks. I thought about jeered remarks called out from kids on bikes, leaning against the swings. Of course I hadn't liked it, but it was hardly something I had lost sleep over. Bullying isn't a chance remark called out when you pass a particular person at a particular moment: bullying is being made a repeated target. I was bullied at school once by a kid called Lang, but it stopped when I stood up one day and punched him in the face in front of our classmates, laying him out across the table in the cookery room. He could have punched me back, but then the teacher appeared and did him for lying on the table. The other kids laughed at him, just like the children today. He whispered in my ear that he would fucking kill me, but he never laid another finger on me after that. Bullying is all about the audience. Bullying is all about the group you want to belong to or the group you don't want to get kicked out of. Thinking about the kids on bicycles, thinking about Lang,

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thinking about all those nervous moments of youth did nothing to the sound of laughter in my head. Whatever it was that the noise had fastened itself to, it was something else, something more recent, something... bigger. I wondered if the other delegates from the conference were going through this too. I wondered if they were trying also to look away from the thought that was pecking at me, insistently, relentlessly. Someone is laughing at you, at your stupidity. Someone is laughing at you right now.

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Saturday, 15 November

Henry sent the announcement out and, one by one, we assembled. I logged in at six o'clock. Seeing Redclaw colouring in around me again was like being sent back in time at first. But once the text started scrolling upwards it was hard to feel like I had ever actually been distant from this place. I rezzed into my place at the counter, where Henry was working his polishing animation. All was there. All was right. Henry Hard: Hey Texter. Texter Triste: Hey Henry. Nice job. Henry Hard: Thanks. I remembered how all the pieces fit together. Texter Triste: And remember – strictly mum about our agreement, ok? Henry Hard: Don't worry. I won't tell anyone. By seven, the mop spot had been taken. A newbie of six days. I looked at his profile, his picks, his first life info; it was all left blank, of course. I was suspicious, all the same. After all, how the hell do newbies sniff individual camping spots like this one out? Texter Triste: Hey Chesney :) Texter Triste: Are you enjoying Second Life? Chesney Chewmine: Fuck off you faggot. Texter Triste: ?? Chesney Chewmine: Don't talk to me, bitch. Henry Hard: Hey! You watch your mouth, sonny.

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Chesney Chewmine: Up yours, hardon. Chesney Chewmine: Go fuck yourselves. Chesney Chewmine: Go suck each others' cocks. I've seen people like this on in SL before; the 'SL Yobs', the 'Trolls', the 'flamers'; their raison d'etre seems to be to get themselves noticed by as many people as possible by being as offensive as they know how. I remember in particular during that couple of weeks or so last month when Stop and I were going places together seeing several of these people. One guy attached a giant penis to himself, textured from a real life photograph, and walked around bumping into people with it. Get that thing out of my face, they said to him. You want to fuck me though, don't you, he'd reply. Don't you, bitch? Don't pretend that you don't. Suck on me, you know you want to. Suck on this, if you can. You can dream of sucking me off for real whilst you do. Do you get enough cock in real life, or is that what you come in here for? What are you staring at, faggot? Why are you staring at my cock? Are you hoping I'm going to ram it into your dirty little arsehole? You want me to pack your fudge? I ain't packing nobody's fudge, faggot. This cock's for pussy only. Yeah, that's right; suck me baby. Don't speak like that with your mouth full. Sluts like you should try to learn some fucking manners. Well I can't fuck myself if I'm fucking you, can I? Although this sort of thing's certainly not unique to SL. I've seen it on discussion forums many, many, many times before: guys joining the forum just so that they can tell everyone to suck their mothers. I find it all so terribly sad, not to mention frightening. They have such anger. They seem to have given up completely on the whole idea of belonging to society, of being with others, and peacefully; of

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being the social creatures they are meant to be. They exist only to fulfil their day-by-day needs; in RL they're probably used to keeping their mouths shut as they shuffle resentfully through whatever it is they need to do to keep themselves in candy. Places like SL, I suppose, become their outlet, where they feel safe to tell the whole world what a shitty place they think it is, where they're able to vent their fury at not being part of anything at all, where they can hold each and every bystander responsible for all the ills done against them. And when the people they abuse turn around and give as good as they get, the trolls only interpret this as evidence of their views being correct in the first place. The whole thing perpetuates itself. In many ways, these are the people we should be most concerned about. These are the people who have turned their backs on one of the most fundamental human needs. These are the the guys who end up hanging themselves or throwing themselves off motorway bridges. Some of us are sorry about things like that; some of us say things like, “Do whatever the fuck it is you think you need to do, just don't end up making a mess that we have to clean up.� But also, these are the guys who might decide to take a few of us with them: these are the guys who turn up at school one day with an AK47 in their bag, who tear up young and beloved flesh as their final message to the rest of us: I don't want to belong to your club, anyway. We love to hate the trolls. We love to stand and point and shout, and become better friends with other troll-haters by making our pointing more sharp and our shouting more brutal. But trolls don't care about pointing and shouting, it's the pointing and shouting they're angling for. Perhaps they did care at one stage – they were once little boys and little

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girls just like the rest of us, after all – but somewhere along the line they've had that sensitivity removed. They don't give a damn now what verdict their victim comes to hold, because nothing their victim says can possibly be of any relevance to them. They seek only to undermine, to spoil, to sour, to take the sheen off the gloss of life they're so sick of. Perhaps they think of themselves as sound sort of social world antimatter. The sad and extremely ironic thing is that they actually do serve a social purpose: they make very easy targets of themselves; in so doing, they end up strengthening the very substrate they detest and despise so much. Troll X attacks Group Y and members A, B, C and D get to have a good old bitch about X and others like him; it might have been the case that member D was starting to get on the nerves of members A, B and C before, but D now gets the chance to show he's every bit the X hater (and every bit the X victim) that they all are, and all of a sudden everybody finds that they're friends again. It's almost like nature designed people like this in order to make groups stay more cohesive in the long term. The problem is, what worked well when we lived in hunter gather tribes doesn't necessarily continue to work in the 21 st century. Now the easy targets get to blow your kid's head off before they bid farewell to the soil beneath their feet. And there are other possibilities also. When one angry outcast somehow manages to find another angry outcast then you're potentially two angry outcasts short of a terrorist cell. Today's easy target takes out twenty kids at high school; tomorrow's nukes a whole city. We love to hate the trolls. But is there not a mini troll within each of us? Do we not all secretly yearn for the opportunity to shout and scream at the people who infuriate

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us, and for there to be no consequences? Can we not empathise at least a little with their anger, even if scares us to witness it when we are there and it is pushed into our faces? Do you not agree? Would you rather these people were just identified as early as possible and locked up for the remainder of their lives? Or shot? But consider this: trolls were once little boys and little girls just like the rest of us. Where do you think things went wrong? What things happened that a potential contributor to our society got turned into someone who only wants to sneer and stab and rip, and laugh at the tears which they have caused? What turns a child into underclass? Is it just their upbringing? Is it just their parents? So what was it that happened to their parents that caused them to bring up a child in that way? What was it that happened to their parents' parents? If all the world's a stage and all the people the actors, who do we hold responsible for the scenery? The behaviour of human beings happens in contexts which they rarely had a say in. I didn't create society, a troll might say, but I'll sure as hell do my bit to help bring it down. The problem is that people who think there's something wrong with society rarely seem to have the insight to actually know what it is that's wrong. It's partly due to the sheer complexity of social problems: the endless, endless number of factors. How do you separate out violence on the television, junk food, capitalism, pornography, brand loyalty, child labour, the price of petrol, the sexualisation of youth, processed food, long working hours and corporate takeover from any of the others on the neverending list of intervening variables? It's all very well talking about evidence-based practice, but just what does something have to look like before it can be considered as 'evidence'?

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And it's also to do with blame culture, because actually we're not really evidence-based at all; actually, what most of us do is go by what we think about the world and to hell with any 'evidence' that dares to tell us otherwise. And so people avoid identifying something as being wrong or faulty at all costs, just in case it makes them a target in some way. Something has to be immediately and directly responsible for someone actually dying before anyone will actually admit to it being wrong in some way. And even then, the things which are actually to blame are often missed in order to identify something that's more easily changed. Dr Harold Shipman murdered at least 15 of his patients and possibly as many as 250; as a result of his actions, general practitioners have had imposed on them a more stringent system of checks on their training and competence, even though Shipman is actually regarded as having been a highly skilled GP. When mistakes are made, lessons have to be learned – and fast. Sometimes the truths uncovered are inconvenient, sometimes they're too complex, sometimes they're not even glimpsed at all because something else gets in the way; the point is that something has to be seen to be happening. The trolls all see that something is wrong; they might even have their theories about it, but so what? Listening to one drone on about the latest Jewish conspiracy theory is almost as bad as being told to suck on their monster sized cock. I wondered what to do about Chesney Chewmine. I would have ordinarily preferred not to behave in the manner he was so clearly inviting; I would have ordinarily wanted to avoid doing anything that would only end up reinforcing his broken view of the world, to be one of the few who actually stood against the tide and challenged the distorted lens. But Tear Stained would be coming soon, and Bill, and maybe

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Soma, and maybe Bigboy, and maybe even Candlewax, and when they were all here there would be nothing I could effectively do to promote the inclusion of one guy who didn't want to be included. So I did what always happens to guys like Chesney, because we never have the time or patience to sort things out for them: I kicked him out of the sim and banned him so that I could concentrate on the others when they got here. * Bill turned up at about eight, closely followed by Tear. For some time we did the avatar equivalent of standing around awkwardly, trying to sustain a conversation past three or four sentences. You meet someone like this in RL and you can hug and cry and stroke the back of the loved one you are comforting. Like me and Tear on Wednesday. Typing all that into chat in SL would just feel like a whole load of unnecessary drama. I'd assumed that we would know how to grieve together in SL once we got there. Instead, we stood and made light conversation punctuated by imaginary phone calls we had to take and kettles that needed to be boiled and people we said were knocking at the door. Nobody mentioned Stop. Nobody mentioned the police interviews. I realised all of a sudden that an attempt to articulate such difficult things in text from nothing would be almost like trying to write some sort of a speech or report. None of us had the desire or the energy or the confidence to attempt it. In the end, it was Shing who saved us. Thinking about it now, I suppose I might have predicted that if I'd been thinking about it properly. Peter Etlar, after all, would have been unhappy with any situation he was unable to bring

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under his control. Tear told us she was eating cream crackers and spilling the crumbs on her keyboard, and Shing saw this as the opportunity he needed. William Shing: Talking of cream crackers... William Shing: Jacob's cream crackers are the best, and I'll tell you why... William Shing: The packets are easier to open. Texter Triste: You're kidding me. Texter Triste: You make your cracker choice based on packaging? William Shing: Damned right I do. Tear Stained: You do realise Jacobs make more then one type of cracker, right? Tear Stained: I mean, you make it sound like the choice is over once you've decided on brand. Tear Stained: I do know what I'm talking about here, btw. Tear Stained: Don't you even contemplate taking me on on this one. William Shing: I try not to bother myself with all these modern variants. William Shing: If your taste buds are so attention deficit that the classic version isn't enough for you, then I suppose you might want to fiddle with other bastardisations available. Tear Stained prepares to show Shing exactly what he can do with one of his bastardised cream crackers... And so it was that talk about crackers turned into talk about cheese, and talk about cheese turned into talk about French bread, and French wine, and restaurants in France, and camping in France, and camping in Scotland, and childhood holidays looking for the Loch Ness Monster, and Ben Nevis,

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and looking down on the world from a peak above the cloud base, and Kilimanjaro, and life-long ambitions which simply must be held on to, because without them the sparkle we need life to have risks fading away. And life. And living. And dying. And Stop.

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Sunday, 16 November

I got up late, went for my run at eleven. I thought about Tsyin Tii and it made me angry. I ran a little faster. I held out my hand to brush the dead tips of the roadside bushes; a few remaining brown leaves came off in my hand and I held them, I closed my fingers around them and enjoyed their cold wetness. I reminded myself of how good it is to feel things through our fingers, just like it was when we were two years old and our hands were the way we found out about the things our eyes were looking at. It helped, but only a little. The fact of the matter is, we're no closer to catching her than we were before I went to France, despite a great deal of work and analysis, much of which I haven't gone into here because I don't have the time to write it and I doubt you'll have the interest to read it. And now, because we're nowhere, we need to make a decision about whether to publish the picture that we have of Tii. If we do, we might just get information from people who know her or have seen her recently. We might. But we'll also lose the one tiny strategic advantage in our possession at the moment: Tsyin Tii doesn't know that we have seen her face, so she has no reason to change her appearance at the moment. If we hold back, if we keep that two second video clip to ourselves and another person dies; if it should emerge that we had the image and never published it then the public and the press will absolutely crucify us. For that reason, Oxford will probably want to publish, and soon. Better that we fail transparently than take any sort of gamble, especially where the PR could suffer. Well, it is his decision. Perhaps if I were in his shoes I might incline in that direction also. By

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'in his shoes' I'm not referring to his rank, incidentally; I mean that he has a wife and two kids and a mortgage to pay off (and probably negative equity to fear now also, come to think of it). It's not like he has anything great and grand to play for: no newspaper will thank us if we should actually catch her. It annoys me the defeatist words with which I write this. 'If we should catch her'. I don't know why I've slipped into this way of thinking about it all. She killed someone I cared deeply about, maybe even loved; of course we'll fucking catch her. No-one takes the risks that she does repeatedly and manages to avoid making mistakes indefinitely. That's how serial killers get caught. She has already made one mistake – she got caught on camera – and she will make another. And eventually, she'll make enough for us to find her with; like iron filings around a magnet, they'll show us the intersection we're looking for. But how many will have to die before our triangulation is good enough? And then there's that extra possibility that Gaudet warned me of before I left Le Havre. “Don't assume that you know anything at all, Spencer,” he told me, whilst we drank coffee in the plastic ferry terminal, whilst I waited to board the Norman Courage. “Tsyin Tii is very clever. It is not inconceivable that what we think is a mistake that she has made is actually something she has planned for us all along.” “You mean,” I replied, “that she did know we would find her? You mean that she knew about the camera facing the platform door and how it would cover the spot she stood in?” Gaudet had nodded. “And that we would follow her out into the foyer and into the café, and that we would see her lower her hood and get a glimpse of that red bob that she wears her hair in. Yes, Spencer. It could all have been planned, just so.

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Perhaps Tsyin Tii does not have red hair, or a bob. Perhaps she tricks us also with her height. Perhaps – consider this – that was not Tsyin Tii at all. Perhaps she tricks us into looking for someone you will never find.” I thought about this and said, “But pulling her hood down was something she did in response to me coming into the café – something she couldn't have predicted. She looked nervous in there – well, you said so yourself – I hardly think her actions appeared those of a woman working according to plan.” Gaudet had chuckled. “Unless, of course, looking nervous was part of the plan,” he told me. “I do not say that this is the theory I favour, just that it cannot be ruled out, not yet. You know, she could have been planning on removing that hood in any case, whether you were there or not; perhaps, in fact, that was the source of her nervousness: should I take off my hood, now that he is here? Should I still go ahead with the original plan?” I find myself thinking, where is she? For some reason, I had supposed I would be seeing more of her. To those who seek Tsyin. You will not find him, but it's very, very likely that he – that she – will find you. And she found me. But now she does nothing. It's true that I fear her. I just don't know what her pernicious mind has planned for me – and I'm convinced that there is something. But her absence taunts me, all the same. It's the absence which causes me to wonder if this will ever be resolved. This case has been at the centre of my world now for nearly three months, and it's starting to feel like this will be with me forever. I suppose it's possible that she will never strike again, that she's achieved everything she set out to achieve. I suppose it's even possible that circumstance has intervened on our behalf and placed our target in the path of a bus one day or given

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her a three day flu. We are such slaves to the laws of averages in the assumptions that we make. And yet I know she's out there, and probably watching me from her hiding place as well. Perhaps she was Chesney Chewmine last night. Perhaps the curtain twitching across the street when I set out for my run was her watching out for my departure. Perhaps one of the runners I have passed going in the opposite direction was Tsyin Tii playing her game; but no – were she to do something like that she would want to be wearing a vanilla scent. I know that she would do that. I just know it. Her absence taunts me. I was nearly home when I realised the one thing which annoys me most of all about her not being in communication: so far, I haven't had the chance to answer her back. I think that somehow I had expected her to want more from me, to desire an interaction of sorts, maybe even regularly. She has that sort of mind that needs to be beneath your skin, that can't help seeking a private audience, that's desperate to tell you all the whys; and yet she isn't here. And that annoys me, because I do want to talk to her. Because it's through interaction that I determine people's weaknesses. It's what I do for a living. I wonder if that's why it is that she won't speak to me. Or maybe she just sits in silence because she knows how much it angers me. Or maybe she's too busy planning.

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Monday, 17 November

We hung out at Redclaw again last night. Shing brought up the subject of the interviews. “Is there anything I should be doing about this?” Tear asked him. “Should I be getting a lawyer, or something?” It interested me that she'd chosen him to put this question to. It made me wonder for a moment if other people do actually see the shrewdness which is there, but which was hidden to me in SL. Was Etlar more apparent to others than he was to me. Momentarily, an alternate hypothesis flicked across my mind: perhaps the two had met in real life. Or perhaps Etlar had already discussed with Tear his interview on the evening that it had occurred, or soon thereafter; perhaps she had seen a new side to him through that conversation. “Do you think we should do a real life meet to talk about this properly?” Shing had asked. Because I'd just been wondering if he and Tear had met, the timing of that comment made me sit up and pay close attention. A thought slipped across my mind about the say we have sometimes in preventing things from happening. Perhaps a real life meet was in some way predestined. “No,” Soma had replied, without hesitation. No great surprise there. “We must never, ever do that,” she added. “Under any circumstances.” “How do you think that would help us, Bill?” I had asked, genuinely curious to know what his answer to that would be. “I don't know. Help us to get our stories straight?” I could tell the comment had been meant as a joke, but it made me hesitate all the same. Not a joke, that's not the right word. A joke would have been tasteless. Shing had been

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trying to sound practical. Tear Stained: hehe Tear Stained: How do you suppose they knew we come here in the first place? Tear Stained: Is it recorded somewhere by Linden the places we've been to? William Shing: Maybe they put someone in. Tear Stained: 'Put someone in'? Tear Stained: What do you mean by that? I had hurried at that point to make some sort of response, keen not to appear the silent one in the room, the guy in the movies who edges towards the door whilst the others try to work out who the traitor is. Texter Triste: You mean like a spy? William Shing: Well, someone here. Someone checking out the place. Soma Supercollider: Oh! Can I be the spy? Can I?! Texter Triste: You're not meant to *want* to be the spy, soma. Tear Stained: omg, really? You really think they might have done something like that? William Shing: Why on Earth not? William Shing: They had a lead to go on. They had to follow it, right? Henry Hard: The question is, is it someone we know? Henry Hard: We should check the profile of everyone who comes here regularly, see when their rez day was. Texter Triste: And how would that mean anything? Soma Supercollider: Yes, Mr rezzed-in-early-September-

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and-wouldn't-leave-Redclaw-for-over-a-month! My heart had seemed to stop beating. I froze. My fingers just sat in mid-air above the keyboard, not knowing what to type. That was it, then. I'd been discovered. Just like that. And out of nowhere, too; in the space of – what? – a couple of minutes? I didn't know whether to stay and try to give some sort of explanation or whether to just quit, there and then – log out and never return. But then, all of a sudden, the world just resumed its rotation and no-body appeared to have noticed that it had stopped. Sometimes, the obvious can walk right in front of you and wave it's hands in front of your face and still you never notice it. William Shing: It doesn't have to be someone we know; it could easily have been one of the guys on the mop spot. William Shing: Do we ever notice them? They hardly ever join in with the conversation. Tear Stained: Why *do* you keep those camping things going, Henry? Tear Stained: I mean, it's not like you're trying to make money by selling stuff here. What is the point? Tear Stained: You might just as well post our conversations on the internet. Henry Hard: I thought it made the place look more interesting. Henry Hard: And I hadn't dismissed the idea completely that one day I might bring events back to the station. Henry Hard: I wanted to keep people coming here. Tear Stained: Thanks a bunch for thinking about your friends. Texter Triste: Whoa. Calm down, folks.

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Texter Triste: This is Henry's place, he can do with it as he pleases. Texter Triste: It's not like he could possibly have known the camping spots could be misused. Henry Hard: Hey, if you want I'll get rid of them. Right now. Tear Stained: Yes, actually. I want. Tear Stained: Get rid of them. Henry Hard: Fine. Fine. They're out of here. Texter Triste: Folks! Folks! Take it easy! Texter Triste: No-one's getting rid of anything. Dieppe Donovan: Umm. Excuse me. Dieppe Donovan: I don't want to give the impression that I am listening to your conversation, but... Dieppe Donovan: Do you think you could get rid of them in seven minutes rather than right now? Dieppe Donovan: I only have seven more minutes to go and then I get my payout. Dieppe Donovan: I am saving for a head of hair which will move when I turn to look at something. For a few moments, there had been nothing further to read. Nobody had known what to say. I checked out Dieppe. Two weeks old. In his pictureless profile, he had written, “Looking for the friends I have always wanted to have.� I guess probably everyone else was doing the same at that moment. Tear Stained sighs. Tear Stained: I'm sorry, Henry. And I'm sorry, Dieppe. Tear Stained: Just ignore me. I'm being an idiot.

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And so the conversation had continued, and I could breathe again, and I wondered just how much Soma's comment actually had been made in jest. (She's not a suspect, by the way, and no we won't be interviewing her. We just can't.) And presently, because we were all still feeling a little morbid, the topic had turned to the whereabouts of Candlewax, who hadn't been seen now for several weeks. And we wondered where she was and whether she was well. Tear Stained: I hate this. Tear Stained: There's no way of knowing. None. Tear Stained: She could be dead for all we know. Tear Stained: Or she just might have got fed up with SL. Tear Stained: I can't bear not knowing. Tear Stained: How would we know if something happened to any of us? How? Tear Stained: The only thing we can do is swap RL information. We should do so. Right now. Soma Supercollider: No. Let's not do that. William Shing: Actually, I have a death buddy. Texter Triste: A what? William Shing: A death buddy. Someone who'll come on here if I should die and let people know. Tear Stained: Really? You thought about that already? William Shing: Well, you know, being a doctor and everything... Tear Stained: Oh right. Yes of course. Tear Stained: I suppose you would think about stuff like that, wouldn't you? Texter Triste: This is someone you know who has an SL account? William Shing: Yes.

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Texter Triste: Doesn't that mean they know your SL identity then? William Shing: No, not at all. William Shing: He's under instructions only to come here and let either Henry or Tear or you know that 'Bill' has died. William Shing: There must be countless Bills in SL. Soma Supercollider: Billiam! Soma Supercollider: Exactly *why* am *I* not on that list? William Shing: I thought it would be too much RL information for you. Soma Supercollider: Hmmmm Soma Supercollider: I *think* I would want to know about *that*! Tear Stained: Awww Soma :) * And that was that. I logged back in briefly this morning before work and saw that Dieppe Donovan was still there where I left him last night, still mopping the floor in big circles. Texter Triste: Still at it, Dieppe? IM: Dieppe Donovan: You should really look into the disappearance of Candlewax, Spencer. IM: Dieppe Donovan: Contact Linden. IM: Dieppe Donovan: I have a bad feeling about it. My heart froze. Spencer. I stared at the newbie avatar, felt prickles all over the back of my neck. She had done it to me again.

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IM: Texter Triste: What have you done to her? IM: Dieppe Donovan: What? IM: Dieppe Donovan: Oh I see. IM: Dieppe Donovan: No, Spencer; I am not Tsyin Tii. IM: Dieppe Donovan: I am Gaudet. IM: Dieppe Donovan: I thought it was time I took a look around in here.

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Tuesday, 18 November

Tear was waiting for me when I logged on last night. The instant the grey world appeared I heard the beep of an IM arriving. Tear Stained: Texter, I need to talk to you. Texter Triste: Oh hey Tear :) Texter Triste: That sounds serious. Texter Triste: Just give me a moment for things to rez. Tear Stained: It is serious, yes. Tear Stained: I want to talk to you away from here, though, where we won't be disturbed. Tear Stained: I have a place in mind. Tear Stained: I'll send you a TP. I started to type in a cheerful 'okie dokie', but before I'd got to the second word she was gone, little points of light swirling briefly around the spot she'd been standing in in my freshly painted world. It's interesting how I always verge towards the uber cheerful when grave announcements are imminent. I wonder if it's my way of promoting myself as innocent. The TP came and I took it. I rezzed into the top floor of what looked like some sort of antiquarian bookshop. I was surprised. For some reason, I'd been expecting trees and grass and hills and running streams and stepping stones and butterflies and lilly pads you could sit on. That sort of tranquillity. Instead, I was surrounded by wooden shelves and dark corners and creased spines and cobwebs and faded squares of carpet laid on ancient wooden floorboards. And a

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grandfather clock somewhere was ticking deeply. I cammed outside, briefly. The bookshop was not quite a skybox. It was indeed at a very high altitude, however it was steadfastly fixed to the ground by the enormous skyscraper it sat on. The mix of postwar brutalism and Victorian charm at once delighted me. I right-clicked on the building at made a note of the builder's name, and resolved to seek out more work of his in the future. Tear was sitting in an armchair nearby. A second armchair opposed her, and there was a low table between them with books scattered across it. I sat down in the empty chair and waited for her to begin. I was worried, now. The thought had occurred to me on the way over that Louise Taylor might have suddenly realised how the voice of the guy who had comforted her in the police station was familiar. Tear Stained: This is hard for me, but I feel I have to tell you this. Texter Triste: It's ok, Tear. Take your time. Tear Stained: Oh Texter, you must miss her so. I know that you loved her. Tear Stained: But it's not for you that I need to tell you this; it's for me. Tear Stained: You see, if I don't share this then I think I shall explode. Tear Stained: There is no-one I can share this with. Noone in my RL knows of the things I do here. Tear Stained: No-one in RL could possibly fathom the emotional commitment I've made to this place. Tear Stained: It would be beyond their comprehension. Tear Stained: I mean... you sit here in front of a monitor

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and you type some stuff... the actions your body goes through are no different than a typist thirty years ago. Where is the mental effort? Where are the emotions in that? Tear Stained: Nobody understands. There is nobody I can talk to. Tear Stained: And there is nobody who knew her, not like you did. Texter Triste: I understand. Tear Stained: No, my sweet Texter; I'm afraid you don't: you don't understand at all. Tear Stained: And I'm sorry if what I'm about to say shatters the beautiful memories that you have of her. Tear Stained: I really am. Tear Stained: And please please please don't interpret *any* of what I'm about to tell you as suggestive that she didn't love you because I know that she did, Texter. Tear Stained: She loved you very much. Tear Stained: And I was so pleased when I heard that you were getting together IRL – I was genuinely excited for both of you. All of a sudden, I realised where this was going. Tear Stained: But, you see, I loved her too, Texter. Tear Stained: I loved her very much. Texter Triste: Oh Tear. Texter Triste: You must be hurting so much. I waited for some time before her next remark came. I knew that Louise Taylor was crying at the distant end of our connection. After a couple of minutes, her response finally appeared.

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Tear Stained: So badly, Texter; so badly. Texter Triste: I'm not upset, Tear; but there is one question I have to ask. Texter Triste: You do understand, don't you? Tear Stained nods. Tear Stained: I understand. Tear Stained: And the answer is yes. Tear Stained: We loved each other several times. Tear Stained: And yes, at the same time as the pair of you were seeing each other also. Tear Stained: She talked a lot about you. Tear Stained: I knew you were seeing each other. Tear Stained: I know I made out I was surprised when you were at the station in France, but I was pretending. Tear Stained: Although I really didn't know anything about the real life meet. Tear Stained: I could have lied to you about that, Texter. But I want you to know everything. Tear Stained: I want you to know just *how* much she meant to me. Tear Stained: I'm not bisexual in real life, you see. Tear Stained: My relationship with Stop was... experimental. Tear Stained: It was the same for her with me. Tear Stained: But, I mean, it's not like I've never typed the words before... Tear Stained: I've typed them many times, in fact. Tear Stained: And people had typed them back, but not like her. Tear Stained: Not like Stop did.

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I was waiting for a chance to speak, and then I realised what she was doing. Tear was filling up time with extra sentences, trying to give me the space she thought I needed to absorb the information just imparted. She was reducing the pressure on me to come up with some sort of a response. She was trying the lessen the likelihood that I would respond without thinking, say something stereotypical, damage our relationship. Oddly, I felt under no pressure at all. I felt no anger. I felt no sadness. It actually seemed to help, some how. I wasn't sure why, though, and I'm still not sure now; I need to reflect on it some more. I waited some more, watched sentences appear about the love they had shared and where they had shared it. Finally, Tear ran out of filler. Tear Stained: Please say something, Texter. Texter Triste: Oh, I'm sorry Tear. It felt like you needed to write and for me to listen. Tear Stained: You're not upset? Texter Triste: I'm not upset. Texter Triste: We never had any sort of agreement, we hadn't been going out that long. Texter Triste: In truth, I think I would probably have been a bit jealous of you at the time, had I known. But I would have got used to it. Texter Triste: And now, it actually enriches the feelings I have about her. Tear Stained smiles at you. Tear Stained: You're a good man, Texter. Tear Stained: I didn't tell the police any of this. I think I probably should. Tear Stained: I'm scared it will make me a suspect, Texter.

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Texter Triste: Yes, you should. Texter Triste: I suppose it will make them more interested in you, but no more than they are in me. Tear Stained: I didn't tell them because I thought it might come out – that my family might find out about what I've been doing in SL. Tear Stained: And then it occurred to me that, if Stop logged her conversations, the police would already know about my relationship with her from examining her computer. Tear Stained: I've been so stupid. Tear Stained: They probably think I've been lying to them. I thought about Abigail Maybush's computer, it's hard disk probably at the bottom of the Seine somewhere. Texter Triste: I really think they'd have told you if they knew that. Texter Triste: Perhaps they wouldn't have at first, but they wouldn't have let you leave without raising the issue. Tear Stained: Do you really think so? Texter Triste: I know someone who works in the Police. Texter Triste: I'm certain that's what he'd say. We stayed in the bookshop and talked until past midnight. When I logged off I knew that my relationship with Tear had now changed completely, and by far for the better. * And now for the next bombshell. When I got into work this morning, there was a message waiting for me from Linden.

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They had got back to me about Candlewax. But rather than leaving the RL name on the tape I was asked to phone them as soon as possible. I made the call straight away, but it was past midnight there; the duty staff member I spoke to didn't have the authorisation, but she promised to get hold of someone straight away. An hour later, a sleepy Linden phoned me from his bed. “Spencer?” he said, “I tried to ring you with this earlier, but I only got your voicemail. The name you asked me for details on - Candlewax Merciful? It's Abigail Maybush, Spencer. Candlewax Merciful and Stop Stare must have been alts operated by the same person.”

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Wednesday, 19 November

Barack Obama appears to have riled al-Qaeda. Ayman alZawahiri, the al-Qaeda deputy has accused the US Presidentelect of betraying his Muslim roots. "You were born to a Muslim father, but you chose to stand in the ranks of the enemies of the Muslims, and pray the prayer of the Jews, although you claim to be Christian, in order to climb the rungs of leadership in America," he said. The eleven minute audio message is being seen as an attempt to rally antiAmericanism in the face of the sudden popularity around the world of the US in the wake of the election two weeks ago. How will history judge Barack Obama? I Suppose that's something you might know. Was he the 'transformational president' that we all hoped he could be? And how does history remember George W Bush? And how does history remember Tony Blair? Is Gordon Brown of any note, or the guy that got forgotten? Did David Cameron ever make it to the other side of the despatch boxes? All of a sudden, his honeymoon appears to be over. But can Gordon Brown's new moment last? Obama has pledged to get rid of Guantanamo Bay. He wants to withdraw troops from Iraq. Good. But what if there's a major attack within the first few months of his administration? What kind of pressures will the new leader of the free world come under then? What decisions will he make? What directions will he turn to face in? Will he learn from Tony Blair that he will never have the luxury of being able to change his mind about something? Ten years ago, the first ever section of the International Space Station, Zarya module, blasted off from Baikonur in

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Kazakhstan. (Armstrong talked us through the details last night. We sat at one of the tables in Redclaw Café and bathed in his enthusiasm. Soma declared she loved his geeky passion for topics such as this, but warned him she was turning a ten minute egg timer over next to her laptop and the topic had better be over by the time the grains ran out.) The module's launch vehicle, a Russian Proton-K rocket, was originally designed in the 60s as a 'super' Intercontinental Ballistic Missile system capable of delivering a ten megaton warhead (over six hundred times the destructive power of the 'Little Boy' atomic weapon dropped on Hiroshima in 1945) a distance of 13,000 kilometres. Zarya launched during that brief period of international optimism that was the 1990s: the Cold War was behind us, the War On Terror was yet to come. A new spirit of East-West unity in space exploration, forged in the missions of the Space Shuttle to the Russian Mir space station in the five years preceding Zarya's launch, embodied the bold hope that the two great nations of Russia and The United States of America might come to realise just how much it was that they had in common and put aside what differences they had. Speaking after the launch, the then Head of NASA, Dan Goldin, said, “Within a few years, the brightest star ever will appear in the sky. It'll be a sign of hope, because all these nations are coming together to utilise technology; not to blow up humanity, but to make this place a better world.” It felt like a brave new world we were entering into. People have subsequently asked, “What is the point of the International Space Station?” “How does what goes on up there affect what goes on down here?” The disintegration of the Soviet Union gave the west a false sense of security (I wonder what might have happened if someone had

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assassinated Gorbachev and the Cold War had never ended?), a false belief that things could not possibly go back to the way they had been before. Things like the ISS were viewed as expensive luxuries which we couldn't afford. How astonishingly naïve we were to think that capitalist forces alone would stop the world from ever looking back over its shoulder. I wonder if, when the lens of the media turns to look back upon this year as we approach the moment of its completion, there will be an appreciation as to just how momentous a year it has been. If the relationship we have with Russia continues to deteriorate under Obama then my guess is that 2008 will come to be seen as the end of the end of the Cold War, the moment when the new world became suddenly no more than just a pause for breath. And the events of the past two months – the credit crisis and the reverberations which continue to be felt; the nationalisation of banks; the birth of the first recession of the twenty-first century – have blown away in an instant any beliefs we might have had that capitalism is irreversible, that state ownership is a mechanism of the past. In the midst of these two shocking events – Russian anger renewed and financial institutions demolished, shocking in that they crossed lines we thought were now uncrossable, shocking in that they incurred sharp intakes of breath from around the world – came Barack Obama and John McCain. Now, more than ever, I am convinced that the two biggest factors in McCain's defeat were his links with the George W Bush administration (on account of him being a Republican) and his anti-Russian rhetoric. Sarah Palin's effect was just to hold a magnifying glass over each of these issues: with McCain they were issues of opinion, but with Palin they became issues of competence. Were the context any different – were it not for

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the two shocking events of the year – her Hockey Mom persona might well have carried her and her boss into a third Republican administration. Obama's victory had nothing to do with his colour. For the vast majority of thinking people it was McCain and the end of the brave new world or Obama and a possible way out of what was beginning to look like a downward spiral into chaos. Perhaps history will disagree with me. I think that history's mind will be made up by whatever it is that happens next. We might take the ISS for granted now, but as long as it is up there we can at least take comfort in there being still the one link – the one bridge – between East and West in the place where technology sharpens. Will those who questioned its right to existence, I wonder, feel quite so glad if ever the day should come where co-operation gets withdrawn and the project is brought to an end? Obama's victory is no guarantee of anything, whatever our dreams might be. I wonder what will happen if ever that day should come? Will they broker some sort of a deal where one side gets to keep the station? Or will they abandon it? Or will they distrust each other to even do that, and shift the thing into a low orbit where it gets broken up into a billion glowing fragments. What will it be like to stand upon the Earth and watch the pieces of the Brave New World burn up and die? I'm asking myself these things, of course. You, of course, already know the answers. * Other shocking news: John Sergeant has withdrawn from Strictly Come Dancing. The public are outraged. Jeremy Paxman has called Sergeant a coward. Yes. A frisson of

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excitement in the 2008 competition.

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Thursday, 20 November

Google announced today they're going to pull the plug on 'Lively' at the end of the year. Ultimately, I think that's a shame, because the competition might have benefited Second Life residents. Not that there is no longer any competition. But a big name like Google entering the fray must have been a wake-up call for Linden when it happened. That they're now leaving – and after so little time (Lively only started up in July) – is a powerful message. They came, they saw, they turned on their heels and left it well alone. Interesting. Of course, it was never really a viable alternative to SL, insofar as its ability to tempt SL residents over is concerned – far too limiting. But it might have been a competitor when it came to attracting people completely new to online worlds. Oh well. Not any more. * Oil prices have tumbled. They're now at just below fifty dollars a barrel, having been at $147 a barrel in July. It's the lowest they've been since 2005. The looming recession means there will less stuff being transported and therefore less demand for fuel. Meanwhile, spending on the high street is down. Marks and Spencer held a 20 per cent off pre-Christmas sale today in an effort to get shoppers shopping. Debenhams are doing something similar over three days with up to 25 per cent off. I suppose the way the next few weeks turn out will be key to the mood that retailers take with them into 2009. I care so little for the commercial fuss around Christmas, and it irks

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me a great deal than no-one seems to even question it any more. Those dreadful, sweaty shops and shopping centres; those awful places of so called 'festive' ambulation; the only improvement to the whole affair in recent years is that at least you can now buy gifts online. Perhaps when you come along I'll feel differently towards the season. I do hope so, actually. It would be nice to be able to smell mince pies and experience excitement again.

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Friday, 21 November

America's National Intelligence Council has published a report which predicts that America's influence and power in the world is set to diminish, whilst the reach of countries such as China and India will grow. The world in twenty years' time will have more power centres, less stability, more potential for conflict. Food and water will become more scarce. Nuclear weapons will be used more, as more countries develop the technology required for them. A depressing prospect. It makes me think more about you. Will you thank me for bringing you into this world? Will there be enough in your time to make it all worthwhile? It has to make a difference, having a guy like Obama in charge, right? Does history bear me out on that? Does it celebrate the man who led us through a changing world or does it curse the election of a guy who ultimately knew how to talk but not how to deliver. Things feel quiet now that the election is over. Instead of seeing Obama on the news each day we see him just every once in a while. It's bits and pieces. We hear about him considering offering Hillary Clinton a job in his administration (Secretary of State, apparently). We hear about meeting and laughing with John McCain. We hear about his first visit to the White House as President-elect and being given a tour by the Bushes. We hear about the first of his weekly podcasts. We hear about the dog he wants to buy. The world still loves Barack Obama, but there's the inescapable feel of anti-climax – just a whiff of it. The biggest election of our time has been and gone, and still the world is unchanged. It's not his fault, of course: he has to wait for three months before he gets to even

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start to make his mark. In the meantime, journalists ask him what he thinks about such-and-such and so-and-so, like he has power or influence already, and he doesn't. I wonder what things are being said in his ear right now, whilst he waits? I wonder how he's being prepared. I wonder how he's being groomed. Will that slow smile of power revealed inch its way across his face? Will his eyes converge on that distant point, where corruption becomes God and God becomes becomes a gilded button? Or will Barack Obama draw the lines he thinks should be drawn just as soon as he realises what sort of a conversation he's having, be the bumptious young upstart that turns the shadows into the places where the old order hides and plots for his downfall? Will they search there for a Monica Lewinsky? Or will he do the smart thing and sit and listen to the whole speech, so that he knows just how it goes, right up to the final word?

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Saturday, 22 November

I met up with Tear last night. What she didn't realise was that three days of discussions and planning had gone in to what I wanted to tell her. The short version is that I thought going back to Manchester to interview Louise Taylor in real life again was the way to communicate to her that Candlewax and Stop were apparently one and the same person. Oxford wanted it done inworld. Of course, Oxford won. The things that we know were confusing. Stop Stare used a complex system of proxy servers and false emails in order to create an anonymous identity – we still hadn't actually tied her account in any manner to Abigail Maybush. Candlewax, on the other hand, was an entirely straightforward account. Abigail had opened it using her real life name and email, and when she was using the account she made no attempts whatsoever to hide herself from any logs or registers. If Stop had been for Abigail the sex toy that Eliza Tabletop had been for Sarah Cassidy then that would at least have explained why there was this extraordinary discrepancy in the privacy measures employed between the two accounts of the same person, but nothing that we know about Stop appears to suggest that her behaviours were in any way more daring or non-daring than those of Candlewax. That was not to say, of course, that there weren't extra things that Stop got up to that we didn't know about. And then there was also the issue of Stop and Candlewax having been spotted online at the same time and together. Technically possible, of course – Torley Linden himself published the secret to to running two viewers side-by-side in one of his video tutorials – but

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why go to such lengths for one and not for the other, and then take both avatars to the very same location? It didn't make sense. IM: Texter Triste: Hey Tear. IM: Tear Stained: Hey Texter :) IM: Tear Stained: You ok? IM: Texter Triste: Well, no; not really. IM: Tear Stained: Oh? What's up sweetie? IM: Texter Triste: I had to go speak to the police again. IM: Tear Stained: Oh? IM: Texter Triste: They've found something new out... IM: Texter Triste: The guy who interviewed me said they'd found Abigail's computer. IM: Texter Triste: I gather it went missing. IM: Tear Stained: Oh? IM: Tear Stained: I'm shitting myself here, by the way. IM: Tear Stained: Are you about to tell me they know about me and Stop? IM: Texter Triste: Oh I think you're ok – from what they told me, I'm pretty certain she didn't keep logs. IM: Texter Triste: Did you not speak to the police about that yet? IM: Tear Stained: No. IM: Texter Triste: You really should. IM: Tear Stained: I'm working up to it. IM: Texter Triste: Work faster. IM: Tear Stained: Whatever. IM: Tear Stained: So what *did* they find? IM: Texter Triste: This is going to upset you, Tear. IM: Texter Triste: A lot. IM: Tear Stained: Ok. Just tell me. Get it over with.

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IM: Texter Triste: Although there were no chat logs, the PC still had details on it about her accounts. IM: Tear Stained: Accounts plural? IM: Texter Triste: Yes. IM: Texter Triste: It turns out she had two accounts. IM: Texter Triste: One was Stop. And the other was Candlewax. There was a pause, but not a long one. IM: Tear Stained: You're saying Stop was Candle? IM: Texter Triste: Apparently so. IM: Tear Stained: No. No that can't be right. IM: Texter Triste: Well that's what it said on her computer. IM: Texter Triste: I mean, that's what the police told me they found on her computer. IM: Tear Stained: Then I don't understand. I don't understand at all. IM: Tear Stained: I spent time with both Candlewax and Stop... IM: Tear Stained: ...and those two were completely different people. IM: Tear Stained: Completely different. IM: Tear Stained: I would have known if they were the same. IM: Tear Stained: Really, I would. IM: Tear Stained: The police are either wrong or they're telling you a deliberate lie.

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Sunday, 23 November

I met up with Gaudet in SL. We sat on the benches on the platform at Redclaw. IM: Texter Triste: Tear is convinced that Abigail can't have been both Candlewax *and* Stop. IM: Dieppe Donovan: Well, perhaps she is right. IM: Texter Triste: How can that be? Linden link Candlewax to Maybush's PC. IM: Dieppe Donovan: Then you know that Candlewax was Abigail. But how do you know that Stop was Abigail also? IM: Dieppe Donovan: What actual evidence do you have? IM: Dieppe Donovan: Tsyin Tii told you she had killed Stop and we found Abigail's body... but we found nothing to suggest actually that Abigail is Stop... That was our assumption, that was a factor of circumstance. IM: Texter Triste: I know you're right, but... IM: Texter Triste: What does it mean then if she wasn't? IM: Dieppe Donovan: It means that Tsyin Tii wanted you to believe that Stop was Abigail. That is easy. And that must be her reason for removing the hard disk from Abigail's computer. It would have told us who, in Second Life, Abigail actually was. The hard bit is working out why. IM: Texter Triste: Why the hell didn't we check with Linden on Abigail's activities instead of just assuming what we thought we knew was correct? IM: Dieppe Donovan: You are right that everything about this case concerns challenging what we think we know. But there is no point in lamenting this particular oversight now.

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IM: Texter Triste: So what are the possibilities that we face now? IM: Dieppe Donovan: At a very basic level, there are two. IM: Dieppe Donovan: The first is that the person behind Stop is still alive. IM: Dieppe Donovan: The second is that she is dead, and perhaps in some other way than Abgail. IM: Dieppe Donovan: It is, of course, possible that she was killed in the same way as Abigail, but that we have not found her yet. IM: Texter Triste: If she were still alive then why would she not have contacted me? IM: Dieppe Donovan: Just because she's alive that does not mean necessarily that she is free. IM: Texter Triste: Ok. Good point. IM: Dieppe Donovan: But supposing she is alive and choosing not to contact you, that would suggest that she is for some reason colluding or collaborating with Tsyin Tii. IM: Texter Triste: Perhaps under coercion. IM: Dieppe Donovan: Perhaps, yes. IM: Dieppe Donovan: But don't be blind to the possibility also that she has collaborated under her own free will. IM: Dieppe Donovan: The possibility, you understand. IM: Texter Triste nods. IM: Dieppe Donovan: I am sorry, Texter. I understand that this is very hard for you. IM: Texter Triste: I don't know what to think. IM: Dieppe Donovan: I know. IM: Texter Triste sighs. IM: Dieppe Donovan: How do you do that? Get rid of the colon? IM: Texter Triste: Oh you just type '/me' followed by

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whatever it is you want to do. IM: Dieppe Donovan tests it. IM: Dieppe Donovan: Aha! IM: Texter Triste: See? Easy :) IM: Dieppe Donovan: This method of communication intrigues me. IM: Dieppe Donovan: What interests me most I think is how people attempt to work around its limitations. IM: Texter Triste nods again. IM: Texter Triste: But then that has always happened. IM: Texter Triste: I mean, that's what smilies were invented for, right? IM: Dieppe Donovan: Smilies? IM: Texter Triste: Seriously, you don't know what smilies are? IM: Dieppe Donovan: I'm afraid I do not. IM: Texter Triste: Oh, you do. You just don't know that you do. IM: Texter Triste: It's those little sideways faces you make with punctuation marks. IM: Texter Triste: Like this... :-) IM: Dieppe Donovan: Ah yes, of course. IM: Dieppe Donovan: Yes, you are correct, I have indeed seen these. IM: Dieppe Donovan: People are very creative here. IM: Texter Triste: Yes they are. IM: Texter Triste: So, what do we do about Stop? What do we do about Stop? First, I love her. Second, she's dumped me, Third, she's been murdered. Fourth, she was leading a double life, but was still dead. Now she might not be dead.

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IM: Dieppe Donovan: Spencer, there is one additional possibility that I believe you should be mindful of. And also, there's that. At my keyboard, I sighed. I knew what was coming. All the same, I needed Gaudet to say it. This 'additional possibility' had occurred to me about a half hour after logging off yesterday and kept me awake pretty much the whole night. In fact, I convinced myself of it so utterly at one point that I wept inconsolably for nearly half an hour. I long for this to not be true. And I had hoped more then anything that Gaudet wouldn't mention it because I know how analytical he is and if he hadn't talked about it I would have assumed it was because he thought it so unlikely it wasn't worth mentioning. IM: Texter Triste: I think I know. IM: Dieppe Donovan: You do? IM: Texter Triste: Yes. IM: Texter Triste: That Stop was an avatar for Tsyin Tii all along. IM: Dieppe Donovan: Yes. I long for this to not be true. But if it is, it is no mystery to me what Tsyin Tii is doing. If it is, I understand exactly what it is that she wants to create. She gives to me, and then she takes back what she gave me; and then she shows me that, even when I thought I had nothing, I still had something left – and she takes that back from me as well. She tears it from me. For what can be worse than losing somebody you loved, except finding out that they never actually existed in the first place? There is almost a beauty to such savageness;

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there is almost an artistry in its creation. I long for this to not be true, but the action fits so perfectly with the way I believe Tsyin Tii to be that I grow ever more convinced that this is exactly what she has done.

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Monday, 24 November

“What advantage do you have?” Gaudet asked me last night, before I logged off. We had switched to voice to enable us to speak more easily. “What is the one thing you know that she does not know that you know?” “I have seen her face,” I replied. “I know what she looks like.” “Where can you look for this face? Where do you know that she has been?” “Tintagel,” I said. “On 21 August. But she isn't on any of the CCTV footage we looked at.” “You have reviewed the footage personally since your return from Le Havre.” “Bits of it. I'm not the only one to have seen the footage from the café. Others have been made familiar with that clip and searched for her on the CCTV footage taken from shops in Tintagel.” “Other people?” Gaudet asked. “Are others as tuned into her as are you?” “They're more skilled at this sort of thing than I am,” I told him. “If you say so. But all they are going by is visual similarity. They have not thought about her as have you.” I thought about all the footage that would mean me looking through and sighed. “In any case,” I commented, “it makes complete sense that she would avoid going into any shops there. It's not that she was worried about being recognised by us, but that she was worried she might be seen with Sarah Cassidy. Even if she had gone into a shop before formally meeting Sarah – as

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far as we know they didn't swap photographs – it would still have been taking an unnecessary risk. If there was anything that she needed, she'd have made certain that she had it before she came.” “And the theory is that Tsyin Tii came by car to Tintagel?” Gaudet asked. “Yes, of course,” I replied. “She needed her car to carry her... equipment.” “But is it your theory that Tsyin Tii came by car the previous day and stayed overnight, or do you assume that she arrived on that day?” “It could be either. At face value, the evidence suggests the latter.” “How so?” “Sarah was seen waiting for her to turn up at lunchtime,” I explained. Of course, I knew he knew all of this already. “If Tsyin Tii had been staying in the village they could have met up earlier on in the day. “But the reason why it could still be either,” I continued, “is that yes she might have been staying in the village but she organised the meeting for the afternoon in order to give the impression that she'd driven to get there during the morning.” “Maybe so,” Gaudet said. “Maybe so. Now.. how have you come to the conclusion that Sarah was waiting for her?” “She was seen by people checking her mobile phone frequently for messages. She was seen sitting on the wall outside the amusement arcade for a stretch of time.” “What was she doing whilst she was sitting on the wall?” “She was speaking on her mobile.” “To?” “Some friends. Orange have given us all the details.”

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“Who rang who?” Gaudet asked. “She rang them, in both cases.” “You've spoken to these people, of course. What did they say she talked about?” “They tell us she mostly asked about what they were doing. She didn't tell them anything about where she was and what she was doing. Well why would she? It was all a big secret.” “So these two pieces of information – that she was checking her mobile telephone for texts in one location and that she was speaking to friends in another – lead you to assume that she was waiting for someone?” “Well... yes.” “Why? What is the significance of either of these things?” I found myself started to feel a little irritated by the questions. I pushed my annoyance aside. I knew Gaudet would have a good reason for everything he asked. I trust him completely. I wanted to see where this was going. “Ok. The checking the phone for text messages we assume was Sarah checking for messages from Tsyin Tii. We believe she gave Tsyin Tii her mobile number in preparation for the visit. We have no evidence of that in her chat log, but since we know that a lot of the planning was done in voice, it's possible that she gave the number out in voice and assumed Tsyin Tii had written it down. Of course, she would never have phoned Sarah because doing so would have registered her number on the network as having phoned Sarah. We would have her number. Not only that, but we'd also be able to get an approximate fix on her location depending on which cell she was in at the time.” “And the telephone calls to her friends?”

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“She's making calls... I don't know... It looks to me at least like some sort of 'soaking up time' activity. What shall I do whilst I wait? I know, I'll phone Roger – I want to know what he got up to in that trip up to York at the weekend. That sort of thing.” “Soaking up time. I see. I see.” Gaudet paused. He seemed to be processing something intently. I imagined him at the other end of the connection, his eyes screwed shut, his fingers spread out across his forehead and his thumbs just beneath his cheek bones; his elbows on his desk. I remembered noticing him sitting and thinking like this in Le Havre, looking like he was trying to keep the thoughts in his head by pushing them back in. “But go back to checking her text messages. Why do you think it is this that she is doing?” “She's taking out her phone; she's looking at the screen. She's checking to see if Tsyin Tii has sent her a message.” “But why does she think that she might have?” “Perhaps she said that she would.” “Why promise something when you have no intention of doing it?” asked Gaudet. “Breaking this promise could have aroused Sarah's suspicion: why do something like this which would jeopardise your mission?” “Plenty of people don't make good on their telephone promises,” I said. “I really don't think that that's indicative of anything.” “Perhaps then, Spencer, that which I infer from this is what you have assumed all along. I apologise if this is nothing new.” “If what is nothing new?” I asked. “When I consider this information – what we know about Sarah and what she did – the thing which suggests itself to

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me first of all is that she waits, yes – but she waits because Tsyin Tii is late. She checks her messages thinking to herself, 'where are you, Tsyin?' Perhaps her time sitting outside of the arcade could be something else – she might have arrived early, sat, decided to phone friends. But that plus the checking of the phone presents itself as awaiting late arrival. It is just a hunch. Is this something which you assume already?” I tried to see how this was illuminating and failed. “I guess we just thought, 'waiting'.” I said. “Yes, I suppose she could have been late.” Gaudet paused, thought about it a little. “What information did your television appeal provide?” he said presently. “Three additional sightings in the main street by herself,” I told him, recalling my disappointment with the quantity (let alone the quality) of responses received. “She was noticed because she seemed to be pacing up and down over a stretch of the road. The sighters saw her pass them at least twice. There were no sightings of anyone else with her.” “She was pacing?” “From the roundabout down to the bookshop and back again,” I confirmed. “That's a stretch of about a hundred metres or so.” “Was she seen checking her phone during this?” “By one of the sighters, yes.” “I have to ask myself, when I hear this,” mused Gaudet, “'How did they arrange to meet?' How, in a place so crowded were they going to recognise each other?” “What's wrong with, 'I'll be the one in the green and purple sweater?'” “Then why was she not in the place where she had been

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told to look for such a person?” “You mean,” I said, “if she'd been told, 'Meet me outside the old post office', then why didn't she just stay there?” “Yes,” Gaudet replied. “Ok, so maybe she was late then. People tend to drift if they're waiting for someone who is overdue, right? You start to worry that they meant a different meeting place than you understood and you start checking all the nearby nooks and crannies.” “Perhaps that is it. Perhaps that is it, yes.” Gaudet didn't sound convinced of that at all. “In any case,” I said, “why might it be important that Tsyin Tii was late?” “It is only an extra layer, Spencer, but sometimes extra layers help, no? Did you check the traffic reports for that day?” Straight away, I knew what he was getting at. I flushed red with embarrassment in front of my PC monitor for not having spotted this myself. If Tsyin Tii had been late, the most likely cause – especially in Cornwall – would have been traffic. If we could find out if there had been any particular traffic difficulty nearby on that day then that might give us an indication as to the direction Tsyin Tii had been coming from. It wouldn't be much, but it would be something. An additional 'layer'. And every layer helps. If we know something of the route that she took, that gives us extra places to check out for CCTV footage. * So, just as soon as I got in this morning I did a traffic check for 21 August and found out there had been an accident on

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the A39 coming from Waybridge. The tailbacks had been severe. Traffic was affected for a good mile in both directions, but the accident was five miles south of the turn off for Tintagel, at which point the south bound traffic still had four miles to go before it hit the jam. If Tsyin Tii had approached from the north then she would have arrived in the village on time.

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Tuesday, 25 November

And now, I search. I trawl through footage seized from garages and supermarkets and fast food outlets en route, even the traffic cameras that capture a single parking space at the side of the road, a resting point besides an overflowing garbage can. At every roundabout and junction backwards the possible routes multiply, explode. I stick to the main road. I watch black and white images, screens split into four where a guy seeking twenty cigarettes enters bottom right and you get to see the bald patch on his head top left. I watch newspapers being bought and folded. I watch burgers being flipped and packaged and consumed. I watch men getting out and taking a piss at the side of the road. I watch trolleys being docked and undocked and docked and undocked... And now, I search. The more I look, the more places I identify, the more shops I telephone, the more my task rises hopelessly before me, the more determined I become. I will find you, Tsyin Tii. Perhaps this will become my entire life, just watching video from the first few business hours of that dull day in August. Perhaps my mind will end up turning itself inside out over this brief snapshot of life in this little corner of the country. Perhaps I will become expert; historian, not of an event, not of policy, but of a single moment. I will know this moment in its entirety, if I have to. I will look for you everywhere. And now, I search. Second Life is forgotten; I turn it on when I get home, my pockets stuffed with freshly burned DVDs full of footage to watch, but Texter stands limply in his home location whilst I work. The letters 'afk' shine

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above his bowed head and avatars move around him like commuters around a drunk. Whilst the new Coldplay EP plays in the background, whilst Ant and Dec laugh about Robert Kilroy-Silk, I sit frozen in front of a thousand secret windows. And now, I search. Phone calls are ignored. Post lies unopened on the mat. The small hand flips over the top and the air around me grows crisp as the heat drains all out of it. Somehow, the weariness has yet to hit me; oddly, I don't feel surprised about this even slightly. Each hour of the hunt that passes I know with greater confidence that the 'additional possibility' is the only possibility that can be. I need no evidence; I need no proof; I see what you did, and I despise you for it. The numbness has visited me but the clouds have cleared and now I see beyond my pain. Monday ends. Tuesday ends. Tomorrow, I will continue. And the day after that. And the day after that. And the day after that, if necessary. Poor Stop. I did love her. I will find her again, though. I will find what I loved about her in another, and I will have then for real that which you taunted me with. You think you took so much from me that you've reduced me back to nothing; you think my spirit has been emptied through the holes that you've drilled into my head; you think that my soul wonders aimlessly across busy roads, just waiting – just longing – for something to smash into me. But I will not be smashed, Tsyin Tii. I will not be smashed. And I will not relent. And I will find you, Tsyin Tii; I will look for you everywhere. And now, I search.

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Wednesday, 26 November

And now, I search. And, meanwhile, the pages continue to turn and the world continues to change. Gordon Brown – reinvented, it would appear, in angry – vents rage at the banks for not lending the money he's given them to the people who need it to buy Christmas presents with. He's threatening to wholesale nationalise them if they don't fall into line and the press, quite frankly, are stunned by this. It sort of feels like the government is setting up the banks as the guys who the people will hold responsible when the recession really hits (it just so happens that a General Election could be called over the next year or so). Spending is down on the high street and Woolworths, the retail giant 99 years old, has called in the administrators. Shops like Woolworths just don't go under, even if their stock over the past few years has looked increasingly like someone just threw it randomly at the shelves. We're very naïve. It is wrong to assume that a 99 year old will necessarily grow into a Centenarian. Terrorist gunmen have mounted attacks in Mumbai, targeting hotels and restaurants, taking hostages. It's going on as I write; the images are flashing over the TV screen in the corner; update text scrolls continuously right to left across the screen. * I almost didn't hear him. If I'd got up to make tea just a minute earlier I'd have missed the thin voice coming out of my speakers. As it is, I was already out of my seat and

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halfway to the kitchen when I heard it. My speakers were on low, but still I caught my name being shouted from them. “Spencer! Spencer! Come to your computer, Spencer! Spencer! Spencer!” I returned to my desk, brought the Second Life window to the top. Gaudet's avatar was right behind mine, where I had left it on the platform at Redclaw. Texter stood dropped over the edge of the platform, looking like he was either contemplating suicide or interested in the type of track laid below. Dieppe looked like he was sneaking up from behind, about to push him under some wheels. Gaudet was in public voice chat, shouting into his mic at me. “Spencer! Spencer wake up!” I opened up an IM window. “What?” I typed. “And don't call me by my RL name in public voice!” Gaudet set up a private voice call and I pulled my headset off its hook and put it on. He wasted no time on greetings. “Spencer, it came to me today the question I have not asked you,” he said. “What do you mean?” I asked. “You remember how we spoke about how Sarah checked her phone? I asked you how you knew that she was doing this.” “Yes,” I said. “And?” “Why would Sarah Cassidy imagine Tsyin Tii would send her a text message? Clearly she hadn't been given Tii's number. If she had then she would have phoned it, no?” “Is that your question?” I asked. “Why did she keep checking her phone?” Gaudet insisted. “If Tsyin Tii had sent her a text it would have revealed her number. She must have told her. She must have said that she wouldn't reveal herself. 'Give me your number if you

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must, my darling, but I cannot give you mine.' No?” I rubbed my eyes. “So you're saying Tsyin Tii made it plain that she didn't want Sarah to have her number?” I said. “Well can't a girl dream? Just because that's what she was told doesn't mean she's going to stop hoping. Tii was late. Maybe she thought the lateness would force an exception to the rule.” “I think it is something else,” said Gaudet, “but first I have to ask you the question I should have thought of before. What was the complete activity on Sarah Cassidy's mobile phone account that day?” “I already told you that,” I said. “A couple of phone calls to friends. That's it.” “Do you have the record with you there now?” “It's on a disk somewhere here, I think. No wait... I saved it on a stick. You want me to load it up?” “I want you to look for something for me,” Gaudet said. “I will make a prediction for you, and if I am wrong then my theory is wrong and I will leave you in peace.” “Go on.” “The phone is a 'pay as you go' phone, yes?” “Yes.” “I want you to tell me,” Gaudet said, “if Sarah Cassidy topped up her balance that day.” I checked. “Yes, she did,” I said. “At 1:38pm. So?” “If I'm right, it wasn't her who topped it up at all. If I'm right, in fact, that top-up didn't even happen in Tintagel.” “What do you mean?” “That's the message from Tsyin Tii, Spencer!” Gaudet could barely conceal the excitement in his voice. “That's the message Sarah was looking for. It says to her, I am on my way. It says to her, make your way to our rendezvous right

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now.” I started to see what he was getting at. I started to understand. Tsyin Tii could have registered a new swipe card against Sarah's mobile phone number, taken the card to a shop and paid cash to top up Sarah's phone. When Sarah received the message to confirm her top-up she would know that Tii was in the final part of her journey. “Now listen to me, Spencer,” Gaudet said. “Think about it: at what point in her journey would Tsyin Tii have sent her that message?” “When she was nearly there,” I replied. “Yes.” Gaudet said. “When she was nearly there. But you are looking at CCTV footage backwards from the accident, yes?” “Shit!” I said. I realised what he was driving at. The time to send a message that you were nearly there would be after you cleared the traffic jam, not before it. I was looking at the wrong cameras. I was looking in the wrong direction.

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Thursday, 27 November

The garage at Valley Truckle faces the junction between the A39 to Wadebridge and the B3266 to Bodmin. I got up at five to drive down, got there as the guy was taking a delivery of pasties in a plastic crate. I showed him my ID and told him what I was after. He showed me into a tiny back office that was little more than a cupboard. A Formica surface had been fitted wall to wall as a desk, it was covered in papers and receipts and old newspapers. There must have been a dozen mugs scattered around. A yellowing CRT monitor rose out of all this, it was encrusted all around with the remains of old stickers and tape and grimy Blue Tack. There was a spreadsheet displaying on the screen, but I noticed the familiar green hand at the far left of the next blue button along on the task bar. He showed me where the closed circuit disks were kept and told me I was lucky because August would be thrown out come December. I waited for him to go and serve a customer and alt-tabbed over on the filthy keyboard. An avatar stood by itself on a hill at sunset, a prim dog walking around it in lazy figures. It took a moment for me to realise that the viewer had been left in mouselook mode, that the avatar on screen was actually being watched by the avatar whose eyes the viewer looked through. The observed AV had been made to look like an old man. He wore a checked shirt. I couldn't see his face because he stood with his back to me. I became overcome with a desire to look upon the watcher, to step outside the head and see what he or she (or it) looked like. But then I heard the manager returning; I alt-tabbed it back to the spreadsheet. I grabbed the disk for 21 August and asked

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him, as he got to the door, if I could look at it on the computer here. He looked past me at the monitor, hesitated, came to the conclusion I suppose that there was little he could do and shrugged. He mumbled something about needing to save his work and pushed past me. For a moment, he blocked my view of the screen. When he moved away, both the spreadsheet and Second Life were gone. I loaded the disk, waited for the media player to start. Recording started at 3:42am. I fast forwarded to 1:35pm. The shop was empty. At 1:36pm a huge guy came in, picked up a can of motor oil and brought it to the desk. Then I saw the door open behind him, but he blocked the view of the passage from the door to the counter completely. I looked up to top left – the view from above the door – but from there I could only see the newcomer's back. The picture quality was dreadful. And yet. It was definitely female. And there was definitely something about her walk that made her familiar. I thought about the tiny clip from the café in Gare Du Havre, a moment of movement I now knew so well. I saw tiny little things that I recognised, like the length of her stride. Big Guy paid for his oil and a couple of candy bars, then left. She came up to the counter. Now that she was so close to the camera, the peak of her baseball cap overshadowed her face. But it didn't matter; I knew that it was her. Because she handed across to the shop assistant two things that were easy enough to identify at this distance: a mobile phone swipe card and a ten pound note. The assistant took each of these things from her and, a moment later, handed them both back. And Tsyin Tii turned and left the shop. 1:38pm. My heart thudding in my chest, I followed her back out of

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the shop to top-right, the first of two forecourt cameras. It faced the shop, took in pumps 1 and 2. She emerged from the dark interior into sunlight dulled by the day's thick cloud. She paused to put sunglasses on, nonetheless. She walked towards the camera, fishing in her pockets, passed underneath, appeared in the bottom right quadrant of the screen, pulled out a bunch of keys, walked up to Nissan Micra parked next to the air pump. “Oh fuck,� I breathed as she got in. Would the angle be right to get the number plate? The car was sideways on to the camera. The logical thing for her to do would be to reverse back a couple of feet and then turn to drive towards camera, between the pumps. But she didn't, she reversed back all the way out of view, all the way out onto the little side road; she was giving away nothing. But it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter because I know the route she took that day and I know now what sort of car it was she was driving. All I need to do now is get access to the traffic camera recordings for that day. And look for a Nissan Micra. I rewound the recording back to the point where the Micra had rolled onto the forecourt and made a note of the time. 1:34pm. I popped the disk out of the grimy PC and put it in an envelope. I told the guy I'd return his disk once a copy had been made and left the shop, climbed into my car, which was parked, incidentally, in the exact same spot the Micra had been parked in three months earlier. I turned left onto the A39, drove towards Wadebridge, encountered my first camera, a tall, blue sentry, standing at the side of the road two miles away at a particularly acute bend. It had taken me two and a half minutes to get there. So, I'm looking for a Nissan Micra passing this camera at about 1:31pm.

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I drove into Tintagel after that and had breakfast at the cafe where Sarah was spotted. And thought about getting closer. And wrote this. * On the way back, I tried to piece things together in my head. Tsyin Tii had been in Le Havre on 19 August; why had she been approaching from southern Cornwall instead of the north? Had she got lost? Had she crossed the Tamar at Plymouth instead of Launceston? Had she stayed on the A30 too long and missed the turning she should have taken? The crossing would have got in at about 10pm on the 20th, if she'd driven straight over she would have been in Cornwall easily by 3am. What had she done with the extra time? Had she stayed in a hotel in the south of Cornwall? Why? And why was her car right hand drive? Had she hired it in the UK? If that was the case, then this would take us nowhere. * I spoke with Oxford at 2:20pm, got the authorisation I needed within twenty minutes, got access to the recordings, got the streams sorted out and everything by 3:10pm. I found the camera I was after. I entered time and date details. I found the Micra by 3:30pm. It actually took a little longer to locate than I had hoped it would; she had been driving more slowly that I was. The number plate was clearly visible. I picked up the phone, I gave the number. I waited to hear it was registered with a car hire company, knowing if it was it would have

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been paid for with cash on false ID and that that would be it: we'd be right back where we started. But sometimes, you get lucky. By 3:45pm, I had an address in Camborne in my hand and I was running back down the corridor. Oxford is calling a briefing in ten minutes. We're going in tonight.

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Friday, 28 November

It was an old house in an old street, one of a hundred tired looking dwellings; one of an almost continuous row of houses, but for an access road here and an alleyway there. The street led away from a supermarket, an odd sort of beacon of yellow light in this town that looks and feels like it has just run out of all desire to be. It's not often that I find good things to say about supermarkets. Classing and I took up residence in the house opposite at 11pm. The occupants, an elderly couple, had been telephoned ten minutes earlier. The WPO who spoke to them made certain they understood exactly who would be calling and how we would identify ourselves as police officers. We waited in the supermarket car park until the call was over, then got out and walked up the street on the side of the road of the house we were going to. The moon was a sliver and the clouds were thick; but for the streetlamps, the road was in darkness. We entered the front bedroom of the house without turning on the light. Everything in the room was cold and slightly clammy, the couple slept in the back room. Classing moved to the window and pulled slowly the thick curtains open. There was a soft knock at the door; the old lady entered with tea in cups and saucers, and a tin with rich tea biscuits in it. The house opposite was in darkness. We waited. * Classing got a phone call from his wife at 1:31am. I was

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dozing in a chair by the corner. Whilst he took the call I took over the watch. Edward had written nothing on the notepad. I picked up the binoculars and scanned the front of the house. I heard Classing say, “It'll take as long as it takes.” I thought a little about Stop, tried to enjoy the memory of her for a few moments and to blind my mind temporarily to the reality of who she was/is. My mind went back to a conversation we had back in October when she told me that no-one knows JSTYK stands for 'just so that you know'. It actually made me smile, a little, but for no other reason than the conversation at the time had made me smile. I thought about other things in SL that have made me smile. I thought about Bill and Tear and Soma. I'm so looking forward to this all being over. There is so much that I would like to be able to do, there are so many things ahead of me. Classing shut his phone with a snap. Problems? I asked. He ignored me, settled back on the bed, put his feet up. He still had his shoes on, of course. “Go back to sleep,” he said. “Your watch is in 26 minutes.” I shut my eyes. I dreamed briefly of Redclaw station. * “You know,” Classing said, at 2:27am, “you should probably try to make this your specialism. If we get her. And I guess it's looking like we might. It feels like it's taken forever, but who remembers the lead-up? This could take you places. You could even make it to London with this.” He said it flatly, but without sarcasm. Classing seemed to regard London as the place all ambitions should be turned towards. Something now about the way he was saying this suggested he was resigned to the fact that he would not be coming to

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London also on this particular ticket. In fact, I realised, this was basically what he was telling me now. “One day they could be interviewing you on Newsnight about cyber crime,” he added and laughed. An empty chuckle. He sounded exhausted. “I would never want to live in London,” I said. “And I can't think of anything worse than being interviewed on Newsnight. I'd fall to pieces in front of Paxman.” “I'd love to be on Newsnight,” Classing said, his voice had an almost dreamy quality to it. “Paxman doesn't scare me. I'd just imagine I had him down the station.” He'd tear you to pieces, I thought to myself. “In any case,” I said, “why work from London? As a cyber detective, surely I could work from anywhere?” “So where would you work from,” he asked, “if you could live anywhere?” I thought about that one for a bit. Eventually I said, “I think I rather fancy a place in France. There's something about the French I find really appealing. But actually, I suppose what I'd really like would be to be able to move around wherever I wanted to.” “Really?” Classing sounded faintly aghast at the very thought of it. “Oh yes,” I said. “This country here for a month; that country there for a fortnight. Round and round the planet I go. Until I put down roots, I suppose.” “You think one day you'll have kids?” “I hope so.” I looked across the street at the house in darkness and thought of you. Of course, Stop knows all about you. She is I think the only person who does. “I warn you, they cost you an arm and a leg,” said Classing, with some bitterness.

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“Yeah, I heard about that,” I replied. “But you're glad all the same, right?” But Classing said nothing. He leaned his head back against the head rest and let his eyelids shut, chose that as his moment to leave the conversation. * 2:53am. I radioed the guys watching the back of the house, spoke to a guy I know there called Christopher David, which, now that I come to think of it, sounds just like an avatar name. I think I heard he got his name changed via Deed Poll when he was eighteen, some sort of one-fingered salute to his parents. I wonder how many SL players have ever changed their RL name to their avatar name in this way. I wonder what it would be like to actually be called Texter Triste. Chris said they'd seen nothing so far. Tomorrow in the morning, all the imaging equipment will arrive. We'll have to find out if there's a service road of some sort behind this property that we can use. If there isn't, we'll have to use the flower van. * 3:03am. The old man in our house got up, went to the bathroom. I heard his wife hissing at him not to make any noise before he left their bedroom. * 3:12am. I opened up my laptop, found a nearby unsecured

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wireless signal to piggyback. I logged in to Second Life. I kept my eyes on the house opposite as Redclaw rezzed in around Texter. The station was empty. Even the mop spot was vacated. I wondered what new account Tsyin Tii had set up and where she was accessing it from. I wondered if she was inworld right now. Perhaps she was sitting on the Norman Courage right now, chatting up her next victim. Or perhaps she was using a 'clean' account from within the house that I was watching. I wondered what the gods would think if I activated my alt right now and by chance ran into hers, spent the rest of the night dancing and laughing with her, only to excuse myself in the morning when it was time to raid her premises. * 3:25am. I reviewed again the information we had on the woman who lived in the house opposite. Sivian Smith. 31 years old. She worked for a French hotel company that had its headquarters in Le Havre. This was her parents' house. Both her parents had died the previous year in a road accident on the A30. I looked at the photograph from her driving licence, remembered the shiver I had had when first I'd seen it, instantly recognising the features. * 4:04am. Classing's watch woke him at four; it got through just two tiny beeps before he was alert and had it turned off. I reckon he was faking sleeping; no-one wakes that quickly, it's inhuman. I was asleep almost instantly, I'd been fighting the drowsiness for about the past thirty minutes. It's crazy.

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You work towards something for a whole three months of your life, you'd think you would be buzzing with excitement. Quite apart from anything else, we're two men and a couple of elderly people verses a serial killer if Tsyin Tii should decide to look out of her window with a night scope; you would think that that alone would make for easy wakefulness. Not only did I sleep like a baby, however, but I dreamed the Liard dream, and I dreamed it all the way through to the conclusion in the Lodge with the morning light streaming in through the window. What an ironic thing to happen. Dreams are usually long gone from memory by the time we wake up in the morning, but because Classing shook me awake just as the credits were rolling I got to rejoin consciousness with it all fresh and vivid in my mind. He told me, in four times as many words than he needed to, that the last two hours had been uneventful. I didn't listen to him. I blocked out everything he said so that I could enjoy the fading sensations: the faint smell of woodsmoke; the rustle and the warmth; the collapse at the end, feeling hair against my cheek. * 10:23 am. We got the call from Oxford to go in. It was all rather sudden and unexpected. The armed unit arrived and made their presence known. They climbed over hedges, skimming the fronts of houses so they could arrive undetected at the target property. One guy got down on his stomach so that he could crawl beneath the window. Classing and I waited behind the front door in the opposite house, squinting through the post box. The radio squawked go. There was a shout: “Police!� Then the distant crunch of

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the ram on the latch. Three men piled in. Then another three ran up the garden path and into the building behind them. We waited for four or five seconds, no more. “One body, living room,” the radio said. They moved quickly through the rest of the house. “Dining room clear.” “Passageway clear.” “Kitchen clear.” “Bathroom clear.” “Stairway clear.” “Large bedroom clear.” “Small bedroom clear.” They continued the search out into the garden, to the large shed at the far end. There was no-one else to be found. We ran across the road, pushed past gathering onlookers, through the open gate, up the path and through the open doorway, into the dark and musty house. Into the living room, where Sivian Smith lay across the darkened carpet, three small holes drilled into her brain. A note beside her had scrawled on it, “JSTYK, Texter.”

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Saturday, 29 November

I wonder how or if I shall tell you about this story? It might well be the case that I just leave it here for you to discover in your own time – it's hardly a pleasant tale, after all; not the sort of thing one would actively plan to tell one's children. But then, storytelling isn't something we ever plan, not really. And when we do tell our tales we link pieces together in a way they were never actually linked at the time. We put things in order into a sequence which makes sense and we don't worry to much about the oddness that something which didn't make sense at the time still happened, just the same. Oh, the world is such a messy, messy place, Cariad. And to say so is like accusing trees of being tall or water of being wet: we cannot blame things for being that which they have to be. We cannot wish that they were another way; it will not work. This is the world that I will bring you into. And this is the world we will each of us also one day depart. The mistake is to assume that what lies in between is only one story. It is true to say that no story ever truly begins or ends, but it is also true that no-one's life is ever a single story, nor should it be. My life before Second Life is now over; where this new tale will take me I have really no idea, but I am glad that it has me in its grasp and I will go wherever it points me. Meanwhile, the tale of Tsyin Tii continues. There is no way Sivian Smith coud have caused her injuries herself. And then there is the problem of the three roaches; three handrolled cigarette stubs by themselves in the ashtray: the cardboard roaches unrolled and pushed together gives us 'DeeDee's'. The time of death was estimated as between 6pm and

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10pm on Thursday night. An hour before we arrived, give or take. If I hadn't stopped for breakfast in Tintagel we might have got her alive. * I like time by myself. I like to think. I like to sit amongst people, but to be alone. Cafes, bars, benches in railway stations. I need space to think in. It helps me to make sense of things. It helps me to cope. What amazes me more than anything else is just how little I appear to know myself for all this introspection. At one of the workshops at the conference a couple of weeks ago, the talker gave us all three minutes to describe ourselves to a stranger and to find out one thing we had in common. I understand why they do things like this, but I hate it all the same. I turned and spoke to the woman behind me and we did a brief and uninspiring tour of favourite books, films and music. In the end, we discovered we both have strong feelings about Woody Allen: I think he's a genius and she thinks he should be castrated. I thought about that conversation a lot on the way home, how little it had interested me, how much I had wanted for it to be over. First and foremost, it troubled me the extent to which Spencer's social behaviour had become entrenched. But the most intriguing thing of all, I think, is the way in which becoming Texter has enabled me to see this. Somewhere along the line, you see, Texter stopped being Spencer in disguise and became a whole new person in his own right. I have become split. I have become two. I have a whole new platform to stand on, a whole new view of my own behaviour, a whole new direction to head off in when I'm done. And, perhaps,

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this is where Spencer gets left behind and Texter takes over.

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Sunday, 30 November Some days, it astonishes me how much text we can generate between us in half an hour. William Shing: I never saw a public toilet that was exactly right in every way. Texter Triste: ‘Exactly right’? Tear Stained sighs. Tear Stained: Are we on toilets again? William Shing: I genuinely don’t understand why someone, somewhere can’t achieve this. William Shing: Like, I went in this toilet today… Tear Stained: EEWW! Tear Stained: TMI! TMI! Soma Supercollider: My eyes! My eyes! William Shing: No no – ‘went’ as in ‘was in’. William Shing: I *was in* a toilet today… Texter Triste: Although, to be fair, I am assuming that you did ‘went’ all the same… Texter Triste: Why else, after all, would you have been there? William Shing: Quite. Texter Triste: Unless, of course, you have recently become a toilet inspector. William Shing: Well, I might have been looking for someone. William Shing: I might have been hiding from an assassin. William Shing: Or defusing a nuclear device. William Shing: When you get down to it, there are all

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sorts of hypothetical maybes. Texter Triste must admit he hadn't considered the nuclear option. William Shing: Never forget the nuclear option, my friend. Soma Supercollider: Can I look yet? Have those dirty little boys gone? William Shing: Well anyway, this particular example has nothing to do with the actual act of going. William Shing: I’m only concerning myself with the hand wash system here. Tear Stained: Stray from that zone and I swear to God you will regret it, Shing. Soma Supercollider: hahaha Armstrong Seventy: You should see the toilets I have to use where I am… You do *not* want to know! Soma Supercollider: Seventy! Armstrong Seventy: Hey guys :) Tear Stained nudges Texter and nods at Soma going all mushy at Armstrong’s arrival. “Awwww. Isn’t she sweet?” Soma Supercollider: lol Armstrong Seventy: Oh one sec… I have to say goodbye to some people. BRB Tear Stained: Oh no! I scared him off! Texter Triste: Tear, let’s be honest here… Texter Triste: If Soma hasn’t scared him off already, I hardly think you’re likely to. Soma Supercollider: hahaha Soma Supercollider will get Triste for that comment later, when the others aren’t around. Texter Triste: lol Soma Supercollider: I owe you one Chinese burn, Texter.

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Texter Triste: Noted, Soma. William Shing: So anyway, your basic hand wash system consists of three basic elements, yes? Soap, water, drying. Texter Triste: I concur. William Shing: Shing’s first law of public toilets states that the more perfectly any one or two of the hand wash elements works, the more badly the remaining element or elements will function. Texter Triste: You have a *law* for this? Tear Stained: Please tell me you just made that up on the spot and this isn’t some sort of work in progress. William Shing: Oh this is no work in progress… William Shing: This law is complete, baby; you can throw rocks at it. Tear Stained: Oh God, he’s serious. Texter Triste: I must admit, I’m curious about this one and withholding judgement pending additional detail. Explain your thinking further. William Shing: It’s simple. William Shing: If the soap dispenser works well, there will be a problem of some sort with the tap. William Shing: And if there *isn’t* then there will definitely be a *big* problem with the dryer. Texter Triste nods, surprised. Texter Triste: I actually agree with this law. This makes more sense than anything else I heard all week. William Shin: Conversely, if the tap and drier work well, there will have to be something wrong with the soap dispenser. William Shing: And so on. Tear Stained: What can go wrong with a soap dispenser? William Shing: Surely you jest?

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Tear Stained: lol Texter Triste: Worst soap dispenser incident I ever had? When I pulled the lever thing it managed to shoot creamy white liquid soap direct at my crotch. Tear Stained: NO! William Shing actually does laugh out loud. Texter Triste: I kid you not. Soma Supercollider: hahaha Tear Stained: OMG! That’s *terrible*! Texter Triste nods. Texter Triste: Never underestimate the soap dispenser. William Shing: The really annoying thing is that each of these elements individually has actually been perfected. William Shing: The foam dispenser is, for example – in my humble opinion – the perfect soap dispenser. It could be no better. Texter Triste: Again, I agree! William Shing: And then there's the light sensor operated, warm water aerated tap: the perfect temperature, the perfect consistency, minimal splash back, minimal wastage and the added bonus that you don't have to touch anything. Texter Triste: This is incredible. It's like you're describing handwash porn. Tear Stained: Oh for God's sake. Texter Triste: Why is this stuff so surprising for women? Texter Triste: Doesn't it irritate the hell out of you when you get one of those push button taps that (a) delivers water at the speed of some sort of geyser, and (b) ceases the water flow the instant you try to put your hands underneath it? Tear Stained: lol Soma Supercollider: It's just as annoying for us as it is for you Texter, it's just we don't go around mentally redesigning

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the system. Tear Stained: hahaha yes! Texter Triste: And what of drying mechanisms, doctor? Texter Triste: What would be your choice for that category? William Shing: Personally, I have yet to see a device which tops the basic paper towel. Tear Stained: Oh! Tear Stained: So wasteful! Tear Stained: What's wrong with those old-fashioned rotating towel things? That's what I'd like to know. William Shing: What's wrong is that half of the ones that I ever used got stuck. Tear Stained: They weren't stuck, Bill; they just got to the end of the towel. William Shing: And that's meant to persuade me that the system works? Texter Triste: You see, you have to consider every aspect of the system – from the mechanics to the maintenance. William Shing: Precisely. Soma Supercollider: Are you two working up to trying to sell us something? Texter Triste: lol Texter Triste: In fact, I would have agreed with you, Doctor... until recently. Texter Triste: When I encountered the most amazing hand dryer I ever saw. Tear Stained: Oh! He *is* a salesman! Soma Supercollider: This is like watching an infomercial! Tear Stained: hahaha William Shing: Let me guess: you're thinking about the Airblade, aren't you?

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Texter Triste: Yes! Tear Stained: Airblade? William Shing: A new system. I have experienced it. Texter Triste: It literally scrapes your hands dry! In ten seconds! William Shing: Yeah yeah. Personally, I think it takes things just a little too far. William Shing: A method for drying one's hands should never sound like a major new form of propulsion. Texter Triste: hahaha Texter Triste: That's true, it does sound a bit like that. William Shing: It reminds me of the sound Thunderbird 2 makes on take-off. Soma Supercollider: What the kit-and-kaboodle is Thunderbird 2? Armstrong Seventy: lol Armstrong Seventy wouldn't be where he was today if it wasn't for Thunderbird 2. Sigh. Tear Stained: F. A. B. Texter Triste: They have them installed throughout the building at work. I think they must save someone somewhere some money. Soma Supercollider wishes Texter had said 'save someone somewhere some *sum of* money.' Tear Stained: hahaha William Shing: What do you think would happen if they were all activated in the same moment? Would the building take off? Texter Triste: lol Texter Triste: In fact, I think you might just be onto something there, Doctor. Henry Hard: Hey guys.

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Soma Supercollider: Hard! Tear Stained: Hey Henry :) Texter Triste: At long last, Henry! William Shing: Henry. Henry Hard: So, did I miss anything? Texter Triste: We were just hearing about Shing’s first law of public toilets. Henry Hard: Oh really?! Henry Hard: Let's hear it then. Henry Hard: Let's see if it differs from *Henry’s* first law of public toilets. Tear Stained: Oh God... Texter Triste: hahaha Soma Supercollider: You're a fool, Hard x Henry Hard pulls up a chair.

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Monday, 1 December

I found the strip club in a mainland sim, three regions from a welcome point. The joint was next to a skin shop and an animation warehouse. I found an empty seat and sat down, tipped the dancer on the table in front of me twenty Lindens and started camming around the place. After a minute or so s/he sent me a message. “Thank you baby.” I suppose she’d been afk and came back when she heard the kerching! of the payment. “Haven’t seen you here before,” she told me as she wound herself around the pole. Actually, I’ve been here a couple of times, I lied to her in reply. I’ll try not to take it personally that you don’t remember me. She laughed. “I guess that must have been when I wasn’t working, then.” Whatever relieves your guilt, baby. She laughed again. “I can still give you an official welcome, can’t I? This *is* my place and *I’ve* never met you before.” I already knew her name, her RL identity, date of birth, address, occupation, and education and employment details. And more information was on the way. But I let her do her welcome, anyway. Hi there Die Dreaming, I said to her. My name’s Marcus Foible. “And hello to you, Marcus,” she told me. “And welcome to DeeDee’s.”

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Be Right Back  

Tuesday, 2 September. So I created a Second Life account today. Actually, I created two. First of all I created the identity 'Marcus Foible'...

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