Part 13 of the Netcromancer by M.J.Miello
For better or worse, we did have the largest social gathering outside the Fleetfoot that any of us remembered. It was not the romantic evening that either Billy or I was hoping for. It did not advance my cause. In fact, it made things worse. Alanna’s fan club grew, and I lost the ability to monopolize all the shifts in the lab that she was working.
As my junior year progressed, it felt like I was stuck in a painful stalemate. I spent at least a few wonderful minutes with her every day, in the full knowledge that in my absence she was having heart-to-heart talks with other members.
As a result, I was particularly broody one November day in 1995 when I was relegated to working alone in one of the smaller satellite labs, blocks away from where Alanna was. The students were all busy at work, leaving me alone with my thoughts. Eventually, I forced myself to read to make use of the time.
“Can I ask you a question?” a student asked. “I don’t get how you can just sit there. There aren’t enough computers. You see us waiting for seats. Yet that computer in the corner has been out of order all semester. Aren’t you guys supposed to fix it? Or replace it?”
“Well, that’s a different team,” I said, “but I’ll take a look.”
I walked over to it and sat down. The window behind afforded a lovely view of a Manhattan corner. Windblown pedestrians beneath. Remembering my purpose, I noted down the tower’s number. A yellowed and crinkled piece of looseleaf was taped to the front of the monitor. “Out of Order,” it read. In the corner of a sheet was the tiniest sketch of a hamster with massive headphones on. It really did look like the computer could have been like this for months. Then I checked the work orders. There was no ticket entered for it. In fact, the computer wasn’t even on the master list. Weird.
I turned it on, watching the green light pulse as the fan whirled and the hard drive chattered away. But the login screen never appeared. Someone had reconfigured the AUTOEXEC.BAT file. I only made it so far before I was prompted for a system administrator’s password. I had one of those, but it was rejected. Instead, I tried a few of the passwords that the BAC typically used. After a few tries, I was in. I wondered why one of us would have done this. Then I saw that the desktop was filled with documents, music, and pictures. Someone had made themselves quite comfortable here.
I clicked through one of the photos and Christopher Carpentieri’s face appeared before me. He was smiling, holding a fat hamster in his hands, his black baseball hat on crooked, a tattoo of a star adorned the side of his neck.
This was his computer. He had rigged it so the BAC could get into it. Did he want to hide these files? That made no sense. He could have locked these files away where no one would have ever been able to access them. Did he want these files to be found or did he just not realize that he wasn’t coming back for them? I wondered if any of the senior members knew this was here. There were still many people active in the BAC who would have known him. Did they leave this computer in a state of perpetual malfunction as a kind of monument to him? Or was it that they couldn’t bring themselves to clear off his files?
Well, I wasn’t going to leave it untouched. I made copies of every file on the desktop. And then I found something on the C drive—a folder entitled, “Memento Mori.” It was enormous, taking up a full third of the available space. The next day I came prepared and copied everything onto four zip drive discs. That night, as I took the ferry back to Staten Island, I cradled the discs in my hands. I felt like I was the bearer of something sacred.
When I got home I scanned the files for viruses and installed them.
“What a mess!” I said to the empty room. There were hundreds of files. School papers. Poetry. Logs of AOL instant messenger conversations. And programs—lots of programs! I tried to run them—eager to see what they would do. But they didn’t do very much. Many of them required the program to access another program—but the references all pointed to incorrect locations. Some of the programming was extremely complex stuff—more advanced than anything I had ever worked with. It irritated me how sloppy it all was. I don’t know what I was expecting—some great work of genius perhaps. But what I found was like a jigsaw puzzle, and I had no idea what the completed image was supposed to be.
“What were you trying to do Christopher? I don’t understand this!”
I had been nervously twisting the railroad spike I kept on my desk in anticipation. But the more of the files I read, the more confused I became. Sometime in the early morning, I thought to check the dates. Many of the files were created at the end of the Spring semester of 1993—just before the summer he died.
“Fuck!” I screamed. I threw the railroad spike across the room. It gouged a chunk of plaster out of the wall. The programs didn’t make any sense because his brain was failing him when he wrote them. Whatever he was trying to do…he had run out of time.
I leaped out of my seat, frustrated that I had wasted a whole night on what seemed a lost cause. I paced the room, unable to even try to sleep.
I opened up WebCrawler and searched for ‘Memento Mori’. Very quickly I found its meaning: “Remember—you are going to die.”