The Shoe Shopper’s Infiltration 

Part 14 of the Netcromancer by M.J.Miello

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In the weeks that followed, BAC social outings (organized by Alanna) became a regular occurrence. We were a veritable social club. I can’t say I minded. I liked suddenly having a second social life. And then, to everyone’s excitement, Zee began to make an occasional appearance at our gatherings.

“For the record, AI is a bad idea,” Billy Penchant introjected into one conversation held at a long table in a beer hall.

“What? Why?” we all were taken aback.

“Isn’t it obvious?” Billy said, “The Borg.”

“The what?” I asked.

I looked around. Everyone was staring at me with mild revulsion. OK. It’s true. In 1995 I had not yet watched Star Trek: The Next Generation.

“One,” Billy said, taking center stage, “You should be completely and utterly ashamed of yourself. And two, obviously computer technology will continue to advance and we as a species become totally dependent on it. Then one of two things will happen. Either we will create machines that ultimately compete with us, and eventually displace us.  Or we will merge so completely with the technology that we will cease to be human.”

The entire BAC exploded into argument. Zee smiled through the whole thing, not weighing in, but seeming very curious about the arguments being used on both sides.

I argued against Billy. AI was not a bad idea—it was an inevitable idea. It was evolution finding another way forward.

“When we do merge with the AI,” I said, “we will be more human—more civilized—more virtuous and all the more so because we will be more rational.”

“I don’t see how that…” Billy’s thought drifted off.  He was staring at something over my shoulder, his eyes twinkling with approval.  Everyone else on his side of the table looked up with curiosity.

I felt a stirring inside me and then a hand on my shoulder.

“Hello, Christobal,” a very familiar voice said from just behind me.

I felt a strange mixture of my heart fluttering even as it dropped into my stomach.  It was our custom to always tell each other where we were going to be, but I never thought she would ever come.

“Everyone,” I said, “this is my girlfriend, Rally.” She looked gorgeous as usual. Her hair flowed smoothly like a dark liquid. Jewelry sparkled on her wrist, ears, and around her neck. Her pastel sweater was tastefully coordinated with her loose scarf. Her skin tight-jeans disappeared into her riding boots.

“My god—she does exist!” Alanna exclaimed. “Everyone, pay up!” They all laughed.

Before I knew it, Rally was sitting next to me, and rapidly getting to know my companions.

“So, Christopher tells me you steal cars to support your drug habit,” Alanna said. That was the first hint that this was not going to be an easy night for me.

“Christopher has a very active imagination.  That’s why I was sure he made up his top secret computer club. But here you all are.”

Rally looked at me and smiled. Her eyes seemed to be asking why I never mentioned that there was a girl in the group.

“So what do you call yourselves again?” Rally asked.

“It’s…um,” Zee answered, “The Top Secret Computer Club.” Everyone laughed.

“To the Top Secret Computer Club,” Rally raised her glass. They lifted their glasses and drank. As seemed to happen everywhere she went, Rally was instantly accepted.

“So tell me,” Rally said to Alanna, “How do you tolerate being the only woman in the group?”

“It’s not a problem at all. I’ve always gotten along better with men anyway. Women tend to get very competitive with me.”

“Men are good for some things. But come on—it must get tiring not to have anyone to go shoe shopping with?” Rally’s intuitions about people were sometimes scary. Alanna often complained about never having any good girlfriends.

Alanna leaned back, pulled up the frayed hem of her overalls and displayed a well-worn pair of ratty Nikes.  “Yeah, I might be lacking in that department. So you buy a lot of shoes? Is that what the non-coder females do these days for fun?”

“I do enjoy buying a good shoe. But I wouldn’t say that that is the primary source of fun. I don’t get to have as much fun as I would like. I have to study a lot…Hard Sciences and all.”

“Rally plays the violin,” I interjected before Rally insulted the whole table with one of her ‘pre-med students are the only ones doing real work’ rants.

“Fascinating. I don’t really have an artistic side myself unless you count writing games. I read a lot of books though.”

“Tell me about the last book you read!” Rally asked.

The two of them were locked in conversation for the rest of the night. It was like watching a chess match between two masters, their moves subtle and calculated. I couldn’t tell if they hated each other, or if they were enjoying this contest. Maybe both were true.

“We have to hang out again!” Alanna said to her at the end of the night.

“We do! Absolutely we do!” Rally said. I still had no idea if they were lying. I half expected them to pull out each other’s hair as soon as we walked out of the bar. Instead, they exchanged phone numbers.

My world was suddenly a lot more complicated.

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[Thanks for reading!! If you think you know someone who would like this story please share it with them–and let me know what you think.  For most people reading this, this is the first time they are meeting Rally.  I would love to know what you think about her.  Feel free to comment below or on the MJMiello Facebook page. ]

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