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!

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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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On The Late Boat

Part 15 of the Netcromancer by M.J.Miello

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That night I felt incredibly confused. Seeing both the women in my life together left me very unsettled.  Rally was the prize of my past, and Alanna was the beacon of my future. It seemed to defy the laws of physics that the two of them could be in the same place at the same time, let alone leave with a promise of meeting again.

Rally and I had parted with a kiss. I couldn’t tell how much she had guessed about Alanna. If she was angry at me, she hid it well. But she hadn’t invited me back to her dorm room either. And so I made the journey back to Staten Island, thankfully arriving at Whitehall station just before the 1:30 AM boat.

I made my way with the crowd through the overly-familiar corridor that led to the Ferry. I mulled the problem over in my head as my feet mindlessly shuffled.  I could still sense Rally’s fingers tracing over my arm as she sat next to me. I could still smell her perfume, and feel the static of her kiss.

I took a seat in the outdoor section of the upper deck and gazed out at the mirk beyond the pylons. I promised myself I would make a decision before I got off this boat about what I was going to do.  Someone obstructed my view. I slid my bag closer to me, thinking perhaps another passenger was waiting for me to make room.  But the person held fast. I looked up to find Billy Penchant glowering at me.

“Billy? What the fuck are you doing here?” Billy had an apartment on the Upper East Side.  Taking the ferry was an incredibly inconvenient thing for him to do.

“I have to talk to you.” There was no joy in his eyes. That little smirk that made it seem like the world was laughably droll to him was gone. “I can never talk to you lately. You’re with her every moment she is available. And you’re constantly blocking my access to her.”

“How exactly am I doing that?” I asked crossing my legs and interlocking my fingers, ready to listen to him attempt to spin some absurd narrative where he was the victim.

He provided one—and a convincing one at that. He described, in the meticulous detail that only a programmer could, how I had specifically engineered conversations to exclude him, ridicule him, and humiliate him. Listening to him, I realized he was right. Every time he tried to draw her attention to one of his accomplishments I somehow found a way to make a joke out of it.

“She’s not yours! You can’t monopolize her you arrogant asshole.” He was stiff. I felt a chill climb up my spine and the hair on my arms rise.  I stood up but he didn’t move back.  We were inches apart.  I felt a sudden urge to punch him in his self-righteous face.

“Why don’t you guys calm down,” someone said.

“Well, if I monopolize her it’s because she lets me. She’s a big girl. If she wanted to grant you more access she would.”

“She won’t as long as you’re pursuing her. Admit it. You are pursuing her.” My anger swelled and I had an image of Billy swimming back to shore.

“Of course I’m fucking pursuing her. The whole goddamn BAC is pursuing her!”

“No! Not like you are. And there was your girlfriend tonight. Beautiful and glowing. Does she know you are pursuing Alanna? Cause, you know, to  me it didn’t look like you had any intentions of ending things with Rally.”

“Why is that any of your business?”

“You can’t monopolize access to Alanna and keep your girlfriend. It’s immoral. It’s not fair. And I’m not going to let you do it.”

“And just how are you going to stop me?” I half expected him to punch me. I think I wanted him to punch me.

“I love her.”

I just stared at him.

“Chris, I think she might like me. There are signs. Nothing convincing, but enough that it needs to be investigated. Give me a chance. Move out of the damn way. Either that or break up with Rally and put me out of my misery.”

I tried to utter the words, “Maybe I will.” But even that was beyond me in that moment. Seeing Rally had had the usual effect on me. It was like when I saw her I was under a spell, and it took several hours for the spell to wear off.

“I’m not leaving without an answer, Chris. Either you agree to back off, or you call Rally tonight and break up with her. One or the other.”

I sat down. My fingers unconsciously finding the gold cross that hung around my neck. I knew I was beaten.

“I’ll give you a week,” I said. I won’t interfere. I won’t block you. I’ll make sure you have time to talk to her. But you need to get a definitive yes or no—you need her to agree to go on a date with you alone. If you can get that, I won’t interfere.” I hated myself for saying all of this. But I comforted myself with the thought that I estimated his chances to be nil.

“If she turns me down, I’ll ask her if it’s because she wants to be with you. Maybe if you hear that, you would be able to decide what you want to do.”

“Deal.”

I held out my hand and he shook it.

Fucking Billy.

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The Elf Queen of Manhattan

Part 10 of the Netcromancer by M.J.Miello

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By the end of my sophomore year, I had just about completed my tenure as an Ap and was looking forward to being named a Lv1 (a third-year member).  The night before the end-of-the-year party I had slept over at my girlfriend’s Columbia dorm room. After a pleasant morning and a very late breakfast, I wandered downtown a bit earlier than I needed to and found myself with a healthy amount of time to kill. It was just dawning on me that once again I was free from all of my academic requirements.

After a few hours of exploring, I walked to a nearby park (really just some benches and bushes in between two merging avenues) and sat.  I looked across to a woman about my age, seated on a bench.  Her legs were stretched out before her. A flip flop dangled from her toe. My eyes were pulled to the green tattoo on her ankle, a swirling arrangements of leaves, grapes, and thorns, gave rise to a vine that traveled up her long cream-colored leg and disappeared under her acid-washed jean shorts, only to emerge again out of her green tank top, slipping over her shoulder and down her slender arm. The final bloom adorned her grateful hand, the fingers of which held a book.

It was the Silmarillion by J.R.R.Tolkien.

My heart beat erratically. She looked up from the book—her blue eyes sparkling luminously through her chunky eyeglasses. Her hair was a flame of orange, radiant in the sunlight.  It was a disordered mess of tight spirals, pulled back.  Her ears which protruded slightly were pierced with what seemed like a dozen small silver rings. She had a purple backpack that looked filthy. It was covered with small buttons.  I saw one that read, “We must be the change we would see in the world. -Mahatma Gandhi.”  Another read, “Frodo Lives.”

I felt a sudden urge to plant my knees into the concrete and kneel before her. I wanted to know everything about her—to hear the stories behind each of those buttons on her bag. I wanted my fingers to get lost in the curls of her hair. I wanted to climb her beanstalk.

She looked at her Swatch wristwatch.  I realized she might jump up at any minute and go on with her life before I had time to fully integrate kissing her into my daily routine.

‘You’re not going to kiss her,’ some pedantic part of me corrected.

Dozens of haphazard instructions burst into my mind. I had very little experience at spontaneously communicating with women. In fact, I was usually only able to do so with the aid of a week’s worth of strategizing sessions or with the help of meddling best friends.

‘Will you get a hold of yourself man! You already have a girlfriend!’ my conscious was now screaming.

I reached for my backpack and pulled my own copy of the Silmarillion out of it.  I held it up like it was a piece of the sun that would send a shaft of light toward her. But her eyes had already resumed their reading and I was left holding the book aloft, looking like an idiot.

‘Rally,’ the annoying inner voice was persisting, ‘Your girlfriend’s name is Rally. Do you remember her? Naked? On top of you? About six hours ago?’ 

I began to panic, realizing that I had no choice but to verbally communicate with the Elf Queen of Manhattan.  I had to say something incredibly witty— something that would show her how sophisticated, intellectual, and eloquent I was.

“Oh my god you are so cool!” The words spilled out of me.

She lifted her eyebrow above the frame of her glasses.

“The Silmarillion.  I have never seen anyone reading that…let alone a girl.”

She laughed at this.  More likely she was laughing at me.

“Most people stop at the Hobbit,” she said.

“I know! I love that book.  I have read it so many times.

“This is my fifth time reading it.  I love elves.” The world seemed to only be a series of spinning lights swirling around her.

“Me too!” I said after a period of awe.

We launched into a conversation about elves in their many iterations—about our disdain for Christmas elves or our hatred for any blurring of the line between elves and fairies.  She had played Dungeon’s and Dragons and knew all the games I played with my friends.”

I wondered how quickly I could enlist her as my girlfriend.

‘Shit head you already have a girlfriend.’

“I’ve seen you in the lab haven’t I?” she said.

“You have?” How had this majestic woman who would be fair among the firstborn of the Eldar ever passed through my domain without my noticing her?

‘Probably because you were thinking about your girlfriend.’

“You wouldn’t know anything about this would you?” she said, unfolding a piece of paper. My mouth dropped open. It was a printed email asking her if she was “r34dy f0r 7h3 n3x7 l3v3l?”

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[Thanks for reading!  If you like what you’ve seen so far please let my know my commenting or liking. I am definitely eager for any feedback or questions.  I have to say I am very relieved to finally have a female character in this story!]

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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When the Master is Ready, the Student Appears

Part 8 of the Netcromancer by M.J.Miello

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As the night unfolded I realized that this was not, in fact, a gathering to sell me on the BAC. It was a party for their entertainment—I was supposed to be grateful to be included. And for the most part I was. The beer was cold and pleasantly bitter. The conversations were lively. I enjoyed being the subject of curiosity and speculation.

It felt like a long time since I had been asked about my high school experiences, my favorite video games, and what role-playing games I had played. But wherever I could, I turned the conversation to the BAC itself. The Brown Ale Collective was apparently named in honor of the beverage I was at that moment liberally consuming. It was a small, local, secret society—a totally unauthorized organization that existed within the computer science community of the university.

The privileges alluded to were, in fact, many.  I would be given a job in the computer lab, preferential standing among computer science majors, first choice in getting seats in Dr. Z’s classes, and, in all likelihood, an eventual officer position in the Computer Science Club and internship placement.  If I continued in computer science as a graduate student, I would be granted a teaching assistantship and the associated tuition remission and stipend. Eventually, I could expect a job, assuming that their alumni had anything to say about it. All of these things would coalesce into a prosperous and rewarding career if only I would consent to be an electron orbiting the mighty nucleus that was Dr. Z.

Oh, and there was one more “benefit”—an unheard of boon to any college student—a tab.  Every weekday I could eat and drink whatever I wanted between 10 AM and Noon (when there was a convenient dearth of comp-sci classes offered).  The source of this fabulous bounty was not made clear, except for the fact that it was definitely, certainly, absolutely not originating from our professor, who would never debase himself by providing impressionable students with alcohol.  Nevertheless, most weekday mornings Dr. Z could be found right here imparting his real teachings to his inner circle. While the well-oiled machine of the BAC did most of his busy work for him, Zee was instructing his flock in the dark arts of manipulating computer systems.

I came to see the that my first impressions of Zee were all entirely wrong.  I thought he was lazy. I was wrong. He worked nearly all of his waking hours. I thought he was a drunk. But he was a tactical drinker who imbibed according to an algorithm of his own design which dictated when and how much he drank in order to maintain a perpetual blood alcohol content (that other BAC) of .05. This was the level precision he sought in all things: Maximize productivity while not neglecting a hedonistic preference.

Zee was a renegade in his college world for other reasons as well. He published in the as-of-yet barely respectable area of artificial intelligence. But his pedigree was impressive. He had studied under Marvin Minsky’s artificial intelligence laboratory at MIT, and fully subscribed to his theory of the “society of mind” which held that intelligence, and by extrapolation consciousness, could arise out of the working of non-intelligent components—that is, if our programs could mimic all the little things that happened in the brain, consciousness (the big thing) would just naturally follow.  But more than that, he believed it was humanity’s  destiny to create—no not just to create, but to become—artificial intelligence.

“Do you think it will happen in my lifetime?” I asked him one day.

“You’re lifetime? I have no idea. But it will happen in mine.”

“What makes you so sure?” I laughed.

“Because I am going to make it happen.”

In that moment, I believed him. I knew he would make it so.

“Well, I’ll just have to stick around and watch you do that.”

“Fuck that. If you’re going to standing around you better fucking help.”

“Deal.” I held out my hand to him. He shook it.

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Initiation by Ale

Part 7 of the Netcromancer by M.J.Miello

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The day after finals, with my curiosity fully engaged, I presented to the address provided, finding myself at a bar named, “The Fleetfoot.”

Inside, many mustachioed men with gold chains were waiting. I immediately assumed that this was some kind of prank. Had they sent me to a gay bar? But then I realized that the TV screens were broadcasting a soccer game in Spanish. All present were transfixed by the little speck of white that fluttered between the players’ feet. They were all oblivious to everything around them, all except for…

Billy Penchant was standing, awkwardly in the middle of the room, seemingly lost.  His face wore his usual expression of bemused detachment.

“You got the emails too huh?” I asked him.

“Yeah. I didn’t know if we were supposed to talk about it or not.”

“It said upstairs.” I reminded him.

Behind the sign that read, “Private Party” there was a stairway. We could hear the raucous laughter as we climbed.

Upstairs, I saw a host of familiar and unfamiliar faces: The lab techs, the TAs, and a number of graduate students—all men. They were talking, laughing, and drinking beer.  In the midst of it all was Zee himself. For a moment the two of us stood at the top of the stairs waiting to be noticed.

“Doctors!” they called out and cheered.  There were handshakes for us and slaps on the shoulder. It felt like we had won some kind of award.  They poured us each a beer.

“Um. I’m not twenty one…” Billy attempted (and failed) to wave the beer away.

“Drink!” ten voices commanded.

“And listen. And learn,” Nicholas said. “Gentlemen of the BAC. I present to you Drs. Penchant and Salvatore. They have both made it through their first year. Both of them, without having any idea why, have agreed to go above and beyond the duty of a student. They have, almost singlehandedly, instructed four classes between them.”

“Then what the fuck are they paying me for?” Zee asked, earning uproarious laughter.

“They have written their own decoding software,” Nicholas continued,  “and, most importantly, avoided pissing us off for an entire year.”

“To well-behaved noobs!” someone yelled. They cheered loudest for this last point.

“So doctors,” Nicholas was undeterred, “this is your graduation party!  This semester was your last as a mere sniveling, groveling, lowly college student.  If you accept, and you will accept if you are not complete idiots, you will be members of the Brown Ale Collective.”

Again they cheered.

“Is that what BAC stands for?” Billy asked.

I had, by this time, gathered that the BAC was some kind of secret club, and I even realized that I was being primed for membership. But I had no idea that there were so many of them.

“What does joining you entail?” Billy asked, sounding like he was on the phone with a telemarketer. Several people laughed at his directness. But I was glad that he had asked.

“If you join us, you will continue on as you have been doing.  You will go to classes—staying ahead. You will teach when called upon. You will grade projects. You will mark tests. You will design assignments and worksheets. You will, in short, do all the work of college professors other than to set the curriculum and assign final grades. And when the time comes you will do the real work.  You will never tell anyone else about this. In exchange—you will have privileges.

“Privileges?” Billy asked, “What kind of privileges?”

“That, you will be told, when you are ready.”

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Thanks for reading!!  New posts come out on Mondays and Fridays.  There are 25 sections in all.

A Quiver Full of Programs

Part 6 of The NetCromancer by M.J.Miello

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I asked every upperclassman I knew about Christopher Carpentieri. No one was eager to talk about him. The lab techs especially resented my asking. It was like I was reopening their wounds. But I did find out that he was an Italian kid from the Bronx. He was a poet and a programmer.

A lucky guess led me to his work in the school’s literary magazine. I hadn’t read much poetry before—but I loved what I read. Collectively the pieces were a love song, not for a person, but for a life— for his life.

Through his words, I could see the Bronx. It was his obsession. He was taken with it. Its soul. Its food. Its strife. Its churches. Its street names. Its history. One poem was seven sections of adoration for an indoor market on Arthur Avenue. His descriptions of the bread, the pastry, the balsamic vinegar, and the smell of freshly rolled cigars were almost erotic. His words were infectious, chaotically arranged. Manic in their devotion.
In my childhood, the Bronx seemed only a frightful wasteland that surrounded Yankee stadium like a moat. But he made me wish I knew the Bronx better. He seemed passionate in a way I had seldom had the occasion to feel.

I wanted to know more about this person who lost his life at such a young age. Each time one of the email’s came I felt as if the decoded message was intended for me alone. I felt a strange kinship for this other Christopher from the outer boroughs as if he was some newly discovered cousin or another version of myself from a parallel universe.

Then one day when I again needed to use my special lab privileges, I was seated behind the help desk. There, thumbtacked to a cork-board was a photograph of several students in the lab. Two were currently lab techs, but there, in the front, smiling widely was a face I instantly knew was Christopher Carpentieri. His dark hair was long. He wore a narrow mustache and goatee. He had multiple piercings in each ear. His fingers were held out in a sideways peace sign. His wide eyes were alight with a laugh frozen in time, a moment of reckless enthusiasm.

Through out that semester, the emails continued about one every two weeks. Each one required a more complex transformation, and each message could only be decrypted by passing it through each of the subsequent programs. With each challenge, his personal messages also grew in length, becoming more encouraging and more bizarre.

“Praise the almighty Woz! Wake Master Gates from his cybernetic sleep! The programmer has come that will lead the wayward flock out of the desert and into the electric promised land! Yes. Yes. Yes! You feel this glory, don’t you? It’s lingering just beneath the keys. Let it pass through your fingertips and slip silently into your blood. Remember that! Remember that with each line of code you write, you take an idea out of the mind of God and make it manifest on earth. The enemies are coming for us. They will swell before the wall. But every program you write is an arrow in your quiver. With them you will keep stagnation and mediocrity at bay. Remember that oh writers of the sacred glowing text! Think on this well when you craft your final challenge.”

One week later the last email came. This one was not forwarded from CCarpent but only from the M461@BAC address. There were no words of Christopher Carpentieri to congratulate me. This email promised something very different.

“4r3 y0u r34dy f0r 7h3 n3x7 l3v3l?”

This was followed by a date, a time and an address as well as the word, “up5741r5.” It was signed, “M461.” There were no more programs to write for CCarpent. Instead, it was an invitation. I was being summoned to meet the BAC.

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Thanks for reading!!  New posts come out on Mondays and Fridays.  There are 25 sections in all.

 

 

Email for the Beloved Noob

Part 5 of the Netcromancer by M.J.Miello

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Shortly after I met Billy, the emails started showing up in my inbox. They were forwarded to me from M461@BAC—clearly one of the senior lab techs or someone else associated with Dr. Zee. But the interesting thing was that the emails originated from a student account: “CCarpent.” This was not a name I knew. But the date of the original email was four years earlier, so he or she was likely to have graduated anyway. The email started out with the greeting:

My b3l0v3d n00b,
50 y0u w@n7 t0 b3 l33t?
l37’5 533 wh47 y0u 607?

This was my first encounter with the whimsical form of communication known as Leet or, more properly, l33t. But I didn’t know what it was called at the time. Thankfully the word “b3l0v3d” clued me into the idea that all that was required was for the numbers to be swapped with the letters that (sort-of) resembled them.
After this was a challenge to write a program that served a very specific purpose. The program needed to read a large array of letters and numbers and apply several rules, transforming the data into a different array of letters and numbers—most likely decoding it.
I was not happy about this. The challenge was, essentially, homework—homework that wasn’t for any class—as if I had nothing better to do than cryptic assignments. So, of course, I did it. Mostly, I think, I just wanted to see if I could.

Finishing the challenge was anti-climactic. There was no one to show it to. No way to have it graded. I didn’t even have a dataset to use it with. So I sent the file back to both the M461@BAC email address and to CCarpent—whoever the hell that was.
CCarpent, however, no longer had a valid student email address and that email bounced back. A week later M461 forwarded another CCarpent email. This one consisted simply of a long string of letters and numbers.

“What the hell are we supposed to do with this?” Billy said from a nearby workstation. I gathered that he was receiving the same set of instructions, but I decided that if I was going to play this game it was not going to be as a team. I fed the array into the program that the first email had instructed me to write.
The resulting message provided the parameters for a new, even more complicated, program for me to write. I realized that this sort of thing could go on forever. It could eat up hours and hours of my life that would be better spent doing something else. I knew myself well enough to know that there was a risk that I would become hopelessly obsessed with an ever-more complicated set of problems. The best thing I could probably do was to close down the window and delete the email.
I wrote the second program anyway.

“w0w. y0u k1ck 455!” The rest of the message, (translated from the L337) read “If you are reading this you have the makings of an amazing programmer. Keep going. It will be worth it. I promise. You will take your place among the BAC and together we will take our art form to the next level. And there is always another level.”

“Who the hell is C. Carpent?” I asked Nicholas in the lab one day. He didn’t reply. Instead, he kept typing. I stood behind him for a moment feeling quite foolish. I was about to leave when he responded.

“Christopher Carpentieri.” His voice was uncharacteristically monotone.

“Does he go to school here?”

“He’s, ah, no longer with us.” He just kept typing. I knew he didn’t want to answer my questions but I didn’t care.

“Did he graduate?”

“Brilliant kid. One of the first Magi. Mad skills. Unstoppable. Almost unstoppable anyway. He died last summer. Brain tumor. Fucked up shit.”

<<GOTO PRIOR POST   GOTO NEXT>>