Part 18 of 22 of the Netcromancer by M.J.Miello
10:00 AM Friday morning I was drinking my brown ale and eating Scotch eggs at the Fleetfoot. There was an impressive number of members present.
“Hey Stranger,” Alanna said as she sat next to me. It was the last day of my agreement. The deadline seemed fast approaching. Again I felt the disorienting pull towards her. She was just inches away. There was nothing but vapors between her lips and mine.
“How are you?” I asked.
“I am so beat. I couldn’t sleep last night so I stayed up playing Menzoberranzan. It’s not even that good of a game.” She went on with her critique and her ideas about what made a game good or not. I laughed and smiled at the appropriate times, but I couldn’t focus on anything but the way her pink lips moved when she spoke.
“We should make a game sometime,” she said to me.
“A game?” This captured my attention.
“Yeah. I bet you are a kick ass dungeon master. Why not combine our interest in fantasy with our programming skills? Can you imagine what games will be like in the future—when games start to actually be intelligent?”
It took all of my will power not to kiss her right then and there. But my curiosity was squirming inside me. Had Billy asked her out yet? How had he approached his task? I needed to know.
“So is anything else new?” I asked.
“Not much. I have a history test later. That’s what I should have been studying for last night.”
“Hey, where is Billy?” I asked, fishing for some hint about him. “He is usually here by now.”
“I don’t know.” I should have known that she was far too polite to tell me about any private conversation that they may or may not have had.
“Attention members of the collective.” Nicholas, now on the verge of defending his dissertation, called a formal meeting to order by knocking his mug against the wood of the table. We all rose and held out our glasses. A minute went by as our arms tired.
“Matthew step forward.” Matthew “Gleeok” Millich was a year ahead of me. He rose.
“Matt, have you fulfilled your duties?”
“Have you mastered the art of the code?”
“Have you learned the principles of the collective?”
“And to you my brothers I ask now, has Matt demonstrated the requisite hatred for inelegance?”
“He has,” many said in unison.
“Shall we consider Matthew for the exalted rank of Magi?”
We cheered boisterously in the affirmative.
“What is the consensus of the collective. Has Matt served the Order or the Chaos.”
“The Order!” we screamed.
“Then let it be known that henceforth Matt is a master. He is an Adeptus. He is a re-worker. He is a servant of the Great Order. He is Magi.”
They handed Matt a small felt bag. Inside was the customary token, two keys ripped off of a keyboard. The keys varied, but they were commonly a “Shift” and a “Ctrl” key, references to what a good programmer could do—promote and control change. This part of the ceremony was referred to as earning your “keys,” “your beans,” or more frequently, “your sack.”
I liked these little rites. We were not yet so old that they had codified into anything formal. They could still be customized to suit our personalities.
We took turns making toasts to Matt (really it was a sort of informal roast). I didn’t leave Alanna’s side the whole time. But I kept looking to the stairs, expecting to have to cede the ground if Billy showed up. He never came.
Afterwards, as I walked to campus, Billy appeared next to me.
“She’s all yours.”
“What happened?” I asked. The pained look in his eyes told me all I needed to know. There was no celebration in my heart. Part of me (a very small part) was really rooting for him.
“She said no. There’s someone else. She wouldn’t say who it was. But she said she has been thinking about someone for a long time. Someone who has been hesitant to ask her out because of complications.”
“I’m sorry Billy.”
“No, you’re not.”
“I…” He walked away. “Billy!” I called after him. I wanted to comfort him. But I knew he didn’t want my comfort. I had no choice but to let him go.
My stomach churned. I had as close to an answer as I was ever going to get.
Later I walked through the hall, peering into the level three class through an open door. Zee was working intently on a laptop while Alanna stood over a student, instructing. I paused overlong watching her. She seemed so graceful and natural.
“Forgetting about something are we?”
I wasn’t forgetting. I had made up my mind. It was time to end things with Rally.
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