Part 16 of the Netcromancer by M.J.Miello
Rather than leaving Billy to make the return trip, I offered to let him crash at my place. I was feeling strangely close to him and more than a little guilty for my behavior. I tried to let myself feel relief. Maybe I would just continue dating Rally. But when I tried to open myself to the possibility of not having Alanna as my next girlfriend, I felt queasy.
“Sorry about the stairs,” I said as we climbed the third flight to my attic apartment.
“I have to walk up six flights to live with three other dudes. This is huge. You have this all to yourself?”
I looked around the two-room apartment, trying to see it as spacious.
Billy looked over my belongings, complimenting my PC and stereo arrangement.
“You play?” he asked excitedly. For many years I kept a bass guitar in the corner of my room. But it had been a long time since I entertained any intention of playing it. As far as I have ever been able to tell, I have zero musical talent. Billy immediately began plucking the strings and tuning it. “No amp?” he frowned.
“Sorry. You can have that thing if you want it.”
“Yeah?” He slapped the bass strings eagerly. “Thanks!”
He continued to wander around my room, commenting on my stuff.
“You have a lot of games,” he said looking over my collection of role playing materials. “You really like Lord of the Rings, huh?” he asked after inspecting my James Cauty poster. “Never read that.”
“And you were giving me shit for not knowing about the Star Trek Bong people?”
“The Borg. They’re the Borg.”
“You better get fucking reading now if you plan to date Alanna. She’s practically an actual elf.”
He found a framed picture of Rally and stared at it. “What on earth leaves you wanting more than this?”
“Hard to say. In some ways, I don’t want anything more than her. I’m not sure there could ever be ‘more’ than her. But sometimes I wonder if she really gets me.”
“Seems like a bright girl.”
“Oh, she has the capacity to understand me. And maybe she does. But whether she does or doesn’t, I’m not sure she wants to.”
“How did you meet her?”
“Her best friend set us up,” I said, drastically simplifying the story.
“Haven’t had a girlfriend since high school. I dated a few girls here and there. Wasted years devoted to someone who didn’t really love me back. She always seemed to be on the verge of leaving her boyfriend. But she never did.”
“You must have liked her a lot,” I said after a moment’s silence. He shrugged.
I realized he was trying to say that, for him, this situation held some painful parallels. He had been the one waiting in the wings before.
“Hey, let me show you something.” I called him over to my IBM.
“Why do you have those there?” he asked, looking at the grainy pictures of Christopher Carpentieri that I had taped up around my work station, along with several of his poems.
“I’m trying to figure the kid out. I have some of his programs and I am trying to piece together what he was trying to do.”
I showed him some the Memento Mori code, particularly the bits I couldn’t understand at all. “What do you think he was up to?”
“Hell if I know. That looks like some high-level kung fu. Do you want my advice Chris?”
“Stop. Stop this whole thing. Nothing good can come of it. I know he was a good coder and a BAC superstar, but he’s gone. That’s really sad. But you have your own life—your own mind. Write your own damn programs. He probably wasn’t in his right mind at the end. This might all be gibberish—the output of a very sick mind descending into some final madness, and now you’re going to follow him down into it.”
“I don’t think it’s like that. I think this was all meant to do something. Maybe something important.”
“Coders are prone to obsessiveness. You know that.”
“I do. But you just talked me into giving up my other obsession for a week. So this one is all I have left.”
I offered Billy my bed, but he insisted on staying on sleeping on the floor.
“Are you sure?” But in an instant he was asleep.
I sat down at my desk, put my headphones on. I opened up Windows Media Player and began to play the three songs I had gotten from Christopher Carpentieri’s computer. The electronica music was not my style, but there was something almost hypnotic about them.
“You’re still working on that?” he asked me.
“Huh?” I took off my headphones.
I looked at Billy. His face looked strange in the brightness of the early morning.
“Did you not sleep?” he asked.
“I slept.” I think I slept. I seemed to remember stepping over him at some point to get to the bed.
He looked at me strangely. “How much sleep did you get?”
“A few hours. I don’t sleep much these days.”
“Wow. You’re absolutely obsessed aren’t you?”
[NOTE: The awesome J. Cauty LOTR Poster is still available! http://www.allposters.com/-st/J-Cauty-Posters_c23206_.htm ]