The Resignation

Part 21 of 22 of the Netcromancer by M.J.Miello

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My awareness of the outside world was limited to the possibility that it might have still been Spring Break. “Ruiner” by Nine Inch Nails had been playing on repeat for so long that I could no longer perceive it. My head ached, but the old welding goggles above my eyes seemed to put just the right amount of pressure on my forehead. It had been at least 24 hours since I had had any kind of sleep. In that time, I had delved into the depths of the internet to find the final answers, going places where the faint of heart do not tread.
Pulling back the curtains, I was surprised to find that it was a pleasant morning. I paced my floor, flipping my coin, searching for clarity. None came. I had not eaten in a long time. I walked down to Forest Avenue, amazed at the calm in the air. At the Bright Spot, a tiny breakfast counter, I order eggs and coffee. The proprietor stared at the imprint the goggles had left on my forehead while she took my order. Conversation filled the space around me, but I tuned it all out. I had a decision to make.

When I got back I found the draft email still waiting for me. I knew the ramifications of my choice would be far reaching. I might just be throwing away everything I had worked for over the past three years. I didn’t care. I may never have met him, but Christopher Carpentieri was still my friend, and death had taken him too early. This was his due.
I clicked ‘send’.

Anxiety surged within me—the kind of alarm that accompanied an action that once done could never be undone. And now my emails were racing through networks, being sliced up into digital packets and reassembled at their destinations. They were manifesting in the inboxes of the BAC. Many would have already seen the subject line, “My Resignation.” It was unheard of. No one had ever resigned from the BAC. They would find my vague statements in the body of the e-mail completely insufficient to understand my motives.

That is when they would open the attachment. Some would, wisely, scan it for security. That wouldn’t matter. Nothing resembling the Memento Mori Virus had ever existed before.

At that moment, it was already working its way deep into their systems while simultaneously sending out hundreds of e-mails to every recipient it could scour from their address books. Some of these would read, “Remembering Christopher Carpentieri.” Others would contain the subject lines, “An interesting thought,” or “A poem I wrote for you.” Christopher’s words, his images, his thoughts—his will—had escaped into the digital wild. He was multiplying, expanding, and invading. It was a quiet revolution. But soon, thousands of people would have the chance to know him. To curse him. To hate him. To love him.

***

I walked into the lab at 9:40 AM Sunday morning, the day before the first day back.
There was a sign on the door. “Lab Closed.”

I entered. All of the computers were turned on. I could hear the cacophony of several of them playing Christopher Carpentieri’s electronica. His face looked out from several of them, fading into a slide show of his favorite images. Some of them had his poetry slowly scrolling up the screen. They had all been infected. Every single one.

These were only the most obvious manifestations of the Memento Mori. For the user, it would be as if they had shared their computer with a friend who had moved away. Every so often, you would stumble onto some hint that he had been there—a random photo of him in a folder you rarely check, or a poem written into one of your documents. Or, it would send you an encouraging alert or e-mail. It was a virus that would never be vanquished because a small minority of those infected by it would welcome it, would support it, and would, ultimately, improve it.

But that morning standing in the lab, I felt a chill of fear for what I had done. And I was beaming with pride.

As the lab workers looked at me. I couldn’t read their faces.

“We’re going to have to take this thing off of them you know.”
I nodded.

“Any idea how we do that?”

“You might not need to get rid of it.”

“Why not?”

“He’s just showing off,” I said looking at my watch. “He’ll quiet down…just about…now.”
And all at once the computers rebooted themselves.

“They said that, if you showed up, to tell you to go to the Fleetfoot.”

I nodded. I had expected as much. It was time to present myself for excommunication.

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The Purgatory of Tardy Islanders

Part 20 of 22 of the Netcromancer by M.J.Miello

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Never had Staten Island seemed so bitterly distant from Manhattan. The sluggish train seemed to be sliding backward in time. In such circumstances, all rules of subway decorum were nullified and I shared panic-stricken gazes with the other Island-bound passengers.

When the doors finally opened the sprint began.  I darted around the slow moving pedestrians and took the stairs three at a time.  I could hear the sneakers slapping behind me. I squeezed around the woman pulling the baby carriage up the stairs and nearly collided with a young man who had stopped to tie his shoe. The cool air flooded over me as I escaped the subterranean realm and closed the breach between the subway and the ferry terminal. From the top of the stairs, I could see the doors close in the distance.

Sweat poured from my face as I fought to catch my breath. There was no fate crueler than missing the 1:30 AM boat.

My pain was echoed in the curses of the other runners coming to the same sad realization. An entire hour of our lives gone, offered up in sacrifice to this purgatory for tardy Islanders. Why tonight of all nights? I could sense the tormenting thoughts gathering ominously at the edges of my mind.

I moved reluctantly towards the paltry seating area. The drunks seemed unconcerned that they had missed the boat.  One kid my age, seated at the end of a bench, was unabashedly crying. Someone nearby was screaming into a payphone. I felt utterly defeated. Maybe I deserved this. No. That was not true. This was far more rejection than I could possibly deserve.

In one fell swoop, I had lost everything. It was checkmate. I had lost Rally—how could I ever trust her again? I had lost Alanna. But those were losses I had prepared for. After all, I had been willing to part with Rally just hours before, and Alanna was never a certainty. But Zee? I worshiped him. He was everything I hoped to be. He was the center of the BAC and by extension of my whole world. I was trying desperately not to imagine what he and Alanna were doing at this very moment. For years, the existential dread that came with being a college student had been dulled.  Zee would shepherd me into my future. But how would that work if the very thought of him made me want to beat myself senseless with the receiver of a pay phone?

“Isn’t he fucking married?” I said aloud.

‘Even if he’s not,’ the moral voice responded, ‘She’s his student.’  I could craft a fairly damning case against him.  No sooner than he lets a woman into his kingdom than he takes her for his prize. How could he do this? How could he endanger his career—and by extension the whole existence of the BAC?

As righteous as my anger was, I knew that wasn’t the true source of my distress. I was the one who created this with my cowardice—my need to ensure that Alanna would be my safe harbor if I broke up with Rally.

When it seemed an hour had passed I looked at the clock and it was only 1:47 AM. I walked out of the terminal to the ramp beside it. It was a cold March night. I leaned against the barricade and looked out over the Manhattan scene before me. The lights of two police cars were spinning on State Street.  I watched a girl with blue hair roller-blading under the street lamps of Battery Park.

Back inside, I looked around hoping to see anyone I knew—desperate to pass the time. But no familiar faces appeared.

But there was someone. I pulled a folded stack of paper from the inside of my coat. It was Christopher Carpentieri’s poetry. These were recent discoveries. One of his programs could access an encrypted on-line database. There, even more resources were waiting: poems, songs, and images. I had printed all the new poems and stowed them in my coat’s inner pocket. Now they seemed a godsend. I leaned against a bare patch of wall and unfolded them.

Christopher Carpentieri was walking down Arthur Avenue, his favorite songs alive in his step. He was shaking the familiar hands of his neighborhood. He was happy, and well, and looking forward to a bright future.

His words held my splintering pieces together as the hour waned. They kept me sane as the floating orange dump truck carried me across the harbor. His words were with me as I waited in line for the bus. He sat next to me as the S48 rattled up Victory Boulevard.

As I walked up City Boulevard I was never so grateful to have known anyone as I was to have known Christopher Carpentieri.

“But you’ve never even met him.”

What did that matter? If I had his words, his notes in my calendar, his music in my ears, and his face on my screen, he was alive. Yes.

And then I understood what he had been trying to do.

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A Date With Destiny

Part 19 of 22 of the Netcromancer by M.J.Miello

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My nervousness surged as I walked into the crowded restaurant.  I had spent the previous 24 hours second-guessing myself. But I knew that I had to break up with Rally. I couldn’t go on with this charade anymore. I was fond of Rally. I was certainly attracted to her. I was proud of myself for “winning” her—whatever that meant. But now that I had seen that love could be a union of two minds with a common purpose, that all seemed so shallow.

Rally had said to meet her at the restaurant’s bar so I walked into the crowded space. And then, as the well-dressed people shifted around me, she came into view.

Alanna? Why was she here? Was this a coincidence? An accident? Certainly not—I was all the way uptown. It made no sense. But there she was, and she looked beautiful. She wore a green dress. Sparkling stones hung around her neck. Her hair was straightened and fell luxuriously over her shoulders. Rich brown leather boots had taken the place of old sneakers. Our eyes met and she smiled at me.

The fingerprints of Rally were on this. Alanna even looked like she had been dressed by Rally—was that Rally’s green dress she was wearing? That’s when it occurred to me—Rally knew. Of course, she knew. She knew me so well. She had seen the way I looked at Alanna. When they spoke on the phone, Rally must have realized that we were perfect for each other. Was this her way of ending things with me? Had she set me up on a date with Alanna as her way of stepping aside? That seemed insane. But was it?

“Hi!” Alanna said when she reached me. “Thank you so much for coming! Oh my god I am so nervous.” She was fanning herself with the small purse in her hand (also Rally’s).

“Me too,” I said.

“Rally is amazing. You have no idea. She is just…just fucking amazing!”

“She is,” I said, trying to hide my confusion. I felt a sickness in my stomach and a quiver at the base of my neck.

“I still don’t believe this is going to happen! I was shocked when she told me you thought of this. There is just no way it’s going to work. Do you think it’s going to work?”

“I…” It was too good to be true I realized. I felt Rally’s arm slide around my arm.

“Of course it’s going to work. Hi love,” Rally said to me and gave me a kiss.

“What’s going to…” I asked.

“He’s here!” Alanna said.

I turned and saw him coming through the door. His hair was down. His blue eyes were radiant. He looked young. Strong. Invincible. He was Odysseus emerging from the Trojan horse.

It was Zee.

I was falling. Falling deeper and deeper into myself. It was like I had built a great scaffolding around my life. And it was collapsing. The beams and girders were splintering as they fell. I was being buried—shattered beneath the rubble of my former self.

And yet, when the dust had settled, I was alive. My feet moved. My face smiled. Words were interpreted. Responses formulated. Drinks were ordered. Sips were taken. Ice felt cold against my lips. I wished for all the world that Billy was here. Or Nicholas. Or anyone. Literally anyone else. But no. It was Zee. I could sense fires burning in the depths of my mind. I feared I would be losing far more than a romantic contest. I was losing everything I had spent the last three years building.

My face was hurting from the forced laughter. The entrees had not even come yet. I didn’t know how much longer I could take this. I searched deep in my pockets. Beneath the wallet and the keys, there was something hidden. All I needed to do was touch it and I would remember who I was—and what I had wanted. The pain of remembering overcame me as the coin slid between my fingers. I knew I had been beaten. The pain was real. And in-between the cascade of false pleasantries, the defeat seared at my heart. It burned, but at least it was real.

“Thank you so much for a fabulous evening!” Rally said.

“Oh, this was really very entertaining. We should get together like this again,” Zee said. “Say, are you going downtown?”

“I am,” Alanna said.

“Not me. I live a few blocks over and I think Christopher’s coming back to my dorm with me.”

“Yes,” I said realizing that even these moves had already been put in place.

“Why don’t the two of you share a cab?” Rally said.

“Good idea, I’ll get one,” Zee said as he stepped away.

“Thank you both so much. I love you guys!” Alanna whispered.

When the cab door slammed shut I felt unsteady.

There was a moment of silence as Rally and I watched the cab sink into the collage of light and color.

Slowly I turned my head to look at her.

“Well, I’m glad that worked out.” She smiled slightly.

I said nothing; My face was a mask of blank expression.

“Oh, come now,” she said, “You didn’t really think I would let you break up with me for that girl. Did you see her shoes?”

“You can be so…” It was a whisper.

“Heartless? Yes, I am heartless not to let you have another girl.”

My head hurt. I had no idea if I was right or wrong. I felt guilt and rage. I had been caught, scolded, and punished.

“Come on,” she said and held her hand out to me.

“Come where?”

“Back to my dorm.”

“I think I’ll just go home.”

“Christopher I want you to come with me.”

“Why?”

“I just put a lot of work into saving our relationship. You might thank me you know.”

“What if I don’t want this relationship anymore?”

“We both know you aren’t going to do that. You had two semesters to break up with me for her and you didn’t. Why not?”

I let the question linger there for a moment. Why had I not?

“Because you always do what you are supposed to do. Whatever else you are, Christopher, you are a man of your word. You promised me that you would be my boyfriend and that we would love each other. So that is what we are doing. Now I need you to come back to my dorm and fuck me.”

She took me by the hand. At her touch, the tension in my muscles evaporated. We walked side-by-side.

I realized in that moment, that Rally, too, was a kind of programmer. She wrote no code. She obeyed no syntax. But all of her softly spoken words and gestures always added up the exact outcome she desired. She had edited my social life with ease, shifting people into places so that the exact outcome she desired would manifest. And here I was again, playing out exactly the part she had prepared for me.

My hand slipped from hers as I turned and walked away.  The silence behind me was strange and frightening. But I didn’t look back.

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