The Signal and the Noise 

Part 12 of the Netcromancer by M.J.Miello

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“So when am I going to meet her?” Alanna asked.

“Meet who?”

“Your girlfriend. Billy said she’s gorgeous.”

Fucking Billy. What a mistake I had made ever bringing him out to meet my friends and Rally. Of course, this was before the coming of Alanna.

“I don’t know. She is very busy. She makes me book our dates three weeks in advance.”

“Oh, she does not. You see her all the time. So how did you meet her?”

The very last thing I wanted in all the world was to talk about Rally with Alanna. When I was with Alanna I wished I never met Rally. I had been keeping a quarter in my pocket to remind me that all it would take would be one phone call—one message on her dorm-room answering machine, and I could end my relationship with Rally.

‘You might want to stop sleeping with her too then.’ the moral voice reminded me, but I was getting very good at ignoring this distraction.

“We met at a pool hall. She had hustled a bunch of men and taken all their money. They were going to kill her. I stepped in and put a stop to it. She told me I was her hero and that we should go on a date. But then she stole my wallet. I’ve really just been trying to get my driver’s license back this whole time.”

“So she is a hustler and a thief.”

“Absolutely. A con-artist. The only reason I keep seeing her is that she knows where my family lives. Oh, did I mention she likes to start fires?” This, of course, was not entirely true. Well, the part about the pool hall was true. The rest was an utter fabrication.

Alanna laughed at this. Laughter was in no short supply when she and I worked the lab together—which, thanks to a bit of bribery, occurred much more often than it should have.

“Why do you have such terrible taste in women?”

“I don’t! I have excellent taste in women! I’m just stuck in a relationship with a car thief.”

“She steals cars now?”

“Only Lexuses. She sells them for drugs.”

“Now I have to meet her!”

“Ok.”

“Ok?”

“Sure. Let’s set it up. We’ll get dinner—just the three of us. How’s Saturday night? I’ll make a reservation. Do you like Italian?”

She smiled at me. Shaking her head slightly.

“Why do I have the feeling she is not going to show up?”

“She’ll come if I invite her.”

“MMm-hmm.”

“Well, I can’t absolutely guarantee that she’ll come. Sometimes she has trouble traveling—I mean there is a warrant out for her arrest and all.”

“You have a very strange way of asking a girl out.”

“Hey, this was your idea!”

“Oh and now you want to back out of it!”

“I never said that!”

“Billy!” She all but cheered when she saw him walk into the lab.

“Hello-hello!” Billy said with a mechanical wave.

“Christopher invited me out to dinner to meet his girlfriend.”

“Did he now?” Billy’s eyebrows knitted together as if he was trying to decipher what this meant. Billy was every bit as enamored with Alanna as I was. Probably more so since he otherwise seemed to be hopelessly frustrated in love.

“Hey, Billy, why don’t you come too?”

Great now it’s a double date. Fucking Billy.

“OK!” Billy agreed, his pale face starting to glow with excitement.

“Yeah. That’s a great idea!” I said. “You know what? We should invite the whole BAC. Let’s all go to dinner!” Then I yelled invitations to two nearby members. Billy’s smile flickered out like a fluorescent bulb.

The infuriating thing was that she liked me. I know she liked me! I made her laugh. She brightened up when I came into the room. She rejected almost every other guy who flirted with her. But yet, I wasn’t sure. And even though she was, as far as I could tell, the most amazing girl I would ever meet, I couldn’t ask her out. I was waiting for some clear signal—some strong indication that she wanted to date me. Then I would gladly have broken up with Rally. But I was having a hard time distinguishing the signal from the noise. And I certainly wasn’t going to part with Rally and not wind up with Alanna. This was a delicate operation and I needed a level of certainty.

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The Girl in the Nerd Cave

Part 11 of the Netcromancer by M.J.Miello

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I was shocked.  I had been so engrossed in my own work that it never occurred to me that there would be new members—and if it had, would I have wondered if one would be a woman? The BAC, as it existed when I joined, was clearly, thoroughly, shamefully, the exclusive province of the male gender. Was that based on some policy of exclusion? Was it because of the small proportion of women in the computer science classes to begin with? I don’t know. The truth is, I was so uncertain of my own standing that I didn’t even ask. But whatever the cause, Alanna had come to put an end to it.

“As a matter of fact, I do know something about that.” I held my hand out for the e-mail and she let me look it over. “I received a very similar e-mail last year around this time.”

“What’s it all about?”

“Oh, I don’t think I can tell you that. You’ve come so far on your own. You certainly don’t need a hint now.”

“I’m supposed to go into that bar in a few minutes.”

“And what are you expecting to find there?”

“I have no idea. I don’t even know why I’m doing this. I didn’t understand half of the stuff in those e-mails—all that about Master Woz and the promised land…”

“Did you try to figure out who wrote them?”

“Well I looked up—Wait—are you Christopher?”

“Yes,” I said reflexively.

“So you designed all those encryption challenges?”

“Oh,” I realized my error, “No. I’m not that Christopher. I’m Christopher Salvatore. What’s your name?”

“Alanna.”

I shook her hand. Her skin was so smooth it seemed to be composed only of air.

“Christopher Carpentieri wrote the original emails. But I can’t tell you much about him other than he was a student like us, and he died last year. If you are interested, maybe you could help me learn more about him.”

She agreed, and just like that, Alanna Bray was in my life and sharing my quest. Machinations and designs were already forming around her in the back of my—no, they were in the forefront of my mind. I intended to weave her so deeply into the fabric of my days that she would never be able to be untangled from me. I sensed that she and I had a great work to do together, but I didn’t know yet what that was. Marriage? Children? Co-domination of the globe? It all seemed possible. Next to the alliance I envisioned for us, my relationship with Rally seemed a small matter.

These thoughts struck me without irony or humility. It wasn’t that I was presuming that this would be an easy quest—I knew winning her love would be a great challenge. But even so, I was not prepared for the moment when I ushered her up to the second floor of the Fleetfoot and found 22 men looking at her like they had never seen a woman before in their life.

‘And unlike you,’  my ever-so-moral voice reminded me, “most of them are single.’

In time, Alanna would be counted among the greatest of us. She had been programming since she was a 9-year-old with a Commodore 64. She wrote her first game in Basic when she was 11. Before she got out of high school she had taught herself C+, Paradox, and Pascal. Her coder credentials put mine to shame. As if that wasn’t enough, she was a gamer as well. She played every single installment of Bard’s Tale, Might and Magic, and Ultima. And she had read just about every fantasy book that I had ever heard of.

She lived with her parents in their brownstone in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Her father was a math teacher and her mother a medieval literature professor. They raised her to believe she could do whatever she put her mind to—and that was pretty much what she did.  She was the least pretentious genius I had ever met. She had a way of making everyone around her feel entirely comfortable.  She was the kind of person who could make you feel like your trip to New Jersey was fascinating when she had just got back from Africa.

But at that moment at the top of the stairs, nobody knew anything about her other than that she was a beautiful woman who had stumbled into our nerd cave. She stood before the smoldering eyes—an exquisite specimen. A prize to be won. Not since Fëarnor forged the Silmarils or Deagol fished the One Ring out of the riverbed, had such a prize carried such risk of inciting bitter rivalry. And she was standing at my side. A half-smile crept across my face as I mentally prepared for the contest that was to come.

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[Thanks for Reading!  I spent the weekend writing several pieces ahead–so I should be able to get the next few pieces out easily.  What do you think of Alanna?  Let me know! ]