Adjudication

Conclusion of the Netcromancer by M.J.Miello

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There was silence as I climbed the stairs of the Fleetfoot. I expected to find the place empty, but they were there. Zee. Alanna. Billy. All of them. Even members I had never met. Nicholas knocked an empty mug against the wood of the table. So there would be no small talk.

“Attention members of the collective, Christopher Salvatore comes before us.  Christopher, have you fulfilled your duties?”

“I have.” This was true. I accepted that I would be banished but I saw no reason to make this easy for them.

“Have you mastered the art of the code?”

“I have.”

“Have you learned the principles of the collective?”

“I have.”

“And to you my brothers and sister I ask now, has Christopher demonstrated the requisite hatred for inelegance?”

There was a pause.

“He has,” Zee said.

“Shall we consider Christopher for the exalted rank of Magnus?”

“We shall,” several of the Magi said tentatively, but this only opened the debate. “What is the consensus of the collective. Has Christopher served the Order or the Chaos?” Again there was silence.

“The Chaos,” Billy said.

“The Chaos,” others agreed.

No one had ever been said to serve the Chaos. The BAC as an organization was meant to serve the Order. We never called ourselves hackers. We were not black hats. We were computer scientists, servants to Zee’s vision of the future. I had broken the rules. I had created, and unleashed a virus. This, I knew, was immoral. It was forbidden.

“He should never be one of the Magi,” Nicholas said. This drew protests. Some were not happy about this proposal. Alanna’s eyes were fixed on me as if she was waiting for me to say something. Did she think I would defend myself?

“So be it,” Zee said, interrupting the debate. “Christopher is not to be a Magnus. His powers are greater than that. He has gone further than others have dared. And who is to say that the Order shall not benefit from his labors.”

“Benefit?” Billy asked, “He made a damned virus!”

“I finished his virus,” I said more to give credit where it was due than to defend myself.

“It was like he was back,” one of the graduate students said from the back of the room. “He was always tricking us into playing that damn song he wrote.”

“If you left your computer open for a second,” someone else added, “He would get into whatever you were working on and write a poem right in the middle of your code.”

“Now we know what he was working on at the end,” a recent graduate who I had never interacted with before said. I looked at him, he was African American and he wore a familiar earring and black hat. I recognized him. He, more than anyone else was in Christopher’s photographs.

“I thought,” he went on, “I thought his mind was gone and he was just filling his last hours with an empty task. He couldn’t speak in the last few months. And then yesterday he was there. His words were there. He called me his beloved noob again.” A tear fell down the man’s face. “I felt like you brought him back from the dead.”

“He did. He brought our brother back from the dead!” The sentiment echoed around the room.

Zee banged his mug on the wood table and lifted it out to me. “Then let it be known that henceforth Christopher is a master. He is adeptus. He is a re-worker. He is a worker of Chaos but a servant of the Great Order nonetheless. He is…”

“The Necromancer,” Alanna said, referring to the dark wizards that haunt the corners of fantasy novels—the ones with the power to summon the dead.

“Whoa!” several members yelled in approval. Others protested loudly, one decreeing that an undergraduate, of any skill, was unworthy of such a badass name.

“More like the Net-cromancer,” Billy said, earning something of a reluctant laugh. And this name, perhaps because it was sufficiently ridiculous, was acceptable.

“To the Netcromancer,” Zee said. They raised their cups and drank.

END

 

Hey there kindly reading person! Thank you so much for taking the time to read this story!

Special thanks to my awesome “beta readers” BWWB, FPM2 (AG?), and LMM/LMB!

 I am an aspiring author so at this stage every little bit of support and encouragement means a lot! Please share this site with anyone you think would like this story.  If you want to read more about Christopher Salvatore you are in luck!  Check out the stories on VanishingPlaces.com

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No 1995 Windows-based computers were harmed in the making of this story. 

 

7h15 p463 h45 b33n h4ck3d by chr1570ph3r c4rp3n713r1.

m3m3n70 m0r1. 

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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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Where to Plant Your Lever

Part 17 of 22 of the Netcromancer by M.J.Miello

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In the days that followed, I did what I promised. I stayed out of Billy’s way. It was easy. I had someone else to spend time with—Christopher Carpentieri.

I was soaking in his music. Surrounded by his poetry. Steeping in his code. Every night I spent hours on the Memento Mori programs.  His style was by now familiar. I understood all of his tiny little flourishes, unique as fingerprints. Even his programming seemed poetic to me. But after months of this, I was still like the proverbial blind man holding the elephant’s tail—trying to understand the nature of this thing before me.

I wondered if Billy was right. Maybe this was unhealthy. Perhaps that’s why I stopped telling people (even Alanna) what I was working on. Maybe I was the only one who could understand it. Maybe he and I shared some unique essence that would let me glimpse his purpose and complete his work. Yes, that was what I was trying to do—complete his work. I can’t tell you what a relief it was when I realized that.  Before that it seemed that I needed to understand him. But how would I ever know that I understood…enough? That goal was a vortex that could swallow me forever. But, complete it—yes, I could complete it. And when it worked–when I ran the program at it did what it was designed to do—then I would know that I had not failed him.

I had, by this point, mastered all the commands and concepts that he was using. I had learned much from him, techniques that I might never have thought useful had I not seen how he employed them. Slowly, pieces of the pattern began to emerge. I found clues to how some of the programs were supposed to link together. These formed larger islands in a sea of separate fragments. It could access. It could look up. It could insert. It was a kind of a repository of his poetry and his thoughts. It could display images. It could even create documents. And so much more. But why? To what end? Why would anyone need all of these programs that replicated what the user could do anyway? It reminded me of one of those comical machines that employed belts and tracks, electric fans, pool cues, and rolling balls all to accomplish a simple task, like making toast. An interesting spectacle perhaps, but ever so inefficient.

“So are you free?” Rally’s voice rang in my ear. I realized I was holding the phone against my shoulder.

“For what?”

“For dinner silly. It’s important. We haven’t seen each other all week. I need to see you. We need to talk.”

“Of course. When?”

“Saturday,” she sighed. Obviously she had already said this.

“Let me check.” I opened up my desktop calendar. There was an item listed for Saturday. I looked at it. It said, “Memento Mori et Carpe Diem.” I flipped rapidly through the days and found that every so often there was an event in my calendar that I had not put there.

“Today,” one read, “remember that you are the product of billions of years of evolution. Try to fucking act like it!”

“Holy shit,” I said.

“What?” Rally asked concerned.

“Christopher is writing in my calendar.”

“Are you talking about yourself in the third person again?”

“No. Not me—long story. I’ll tell you about it later. But, yes. I’m free.”

She provided me with the time and place of our date.  And then the dial tone was poking me in the ear.  I wondered if I had said a proper goodbye. Then I felt a stab of anxiety. I could, if I chose, use this meeting to  break up with her. But I didn’t care about that now. I had stumbled onto something more important.

I was going through my calendar looking for more notes. There weren’t many but they were there. When I had run one of his programs it wrote the notes in my calendar.

“Today, my beloved Christopher” another note read, “You are going to have some difficulties. That is to be expected. Life is rarely kind. But rather than wilt and wander, focus on what you do have control over—what you can change. That is where you need to direct your attention. That is where you need to plant your lever and exert your will. Invadoria.”

I looked up Invadoria.  It meant ‘invade’.

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The Order and the Chaos

Part 9 of the Netcromancer by M.J.Miello

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But I am getting ahead of myself. Declaring my intention to help Zee create an AI was still two years into the future. But something else happened that first night at the Fleetfoot. After the throng had died down, I noticed that there was an undercurrent of sadness woven into this event. Small, quiet conversations broke off from larger tangents. Shared memories brought on laughter of the kind that covered up deep pain.
I realized that these men were still smarting from their loss. Christopher Carpentieri was still very much here. I could sense the fleeting references to the ubiquitous “he” that inhabited their stories. I tried to join the conversations, hoping to learn more about him. But his specter kept dancing away from every group that I joined, with some other topic rising to take its place.
The conversations I could join were all about some obscure bits of hacker trivia, comparisons of the different programming languages, or a theory about what was going to happen on X-files. Sometimes there was some speculation about Zee and his history. There were questions about where his money came from, rumors of his rivalry with the department chair, and reports that the reason he wore a wedding ring was that he had a wife that he left behind in Greece. It was all interesting enough, but I couldn’t help but feel excluded from the reminiscences of Christopher Carpentieri. Inwardly I scolded myself for this morbid fascination. To them, he was a lost brother, to me he was a curiosity. My interest was voyeuristic and base. I tried to push him out of my mind.
“This is all really weird,” Billy said, still holding his nearly full mug of beer. “Isn’t it?”
“Nah,” I said, holding my fifth empty mug, “This is the most normal thing that has ever happened to me.”

***

Over the following year, the BAC was everything I could have hoped it to be. I was put to work in the computer lab that first summer (no more tearing down drywall with my uncle every weekend!). In the Fall, I resumed taking classes and continued to spend most of my class-time “helping out.” I also graded projects and tests. It all felt like I was just hanging out with friends, laughing, making jokes, creating ridiculous acronyms, writing the most absurd programs we could think of, and, in general, making a sport out of trying to master our sacred machines.

But by far, the best part of those years took place at the Fleetfoot. I was fascinated with every word Zee said. The view of the world that unfolded through his lectures was a far broader vista than any academic discipline had ever provided me before. The whole world was an acceptable pallet for cognitive science—as if society was one massive program. Through studying its ebbs and flows we could understand why the world functioned or misfunctioned. We could learn how to see the world—fix the world—make the world over.

Once, Zee had forced us to analyze the functioning of a traffic signal outside the Fleetfoot and propose how we could improve upon it. Then he mercilessly pointed out the flaws in all of our solutions.

“Why does this matter?” Billy asked in frustration. “What could this possibly have to do with anything?”

“These are programmed devices. Stupid as they are, they are following a logic dictated by circuits. They and their kind are affecting millions of lives every day. Who can say what such small inefficiencies can do over billions of repetitions? How many lives needlessly end? Whose fortunes are lost? What fates are swayed? And all determined by these accursedly stupid contraptions—made by men like us. And men like us have the ability to make them better.

“Soon, all human matters will be mediated through the workings of programs. Computers will be involved in all of our interactions from the bank to the bedroom. And therefore it will be the programmers who will ultimately be responsible for the outcome. Men such as you will wield vast power and have profound responsibilities. You will crush human traditions that have endured for millennia and create new ways of living. You will shape the law. Shape the flow of information. Shape the sweep of commerce. Will you be part of the chaos that tears our society apart? Or you will be part of the order that holds it together?”

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