Obsessions and Confessions

Part 16 of the Netcromancer by M.J.Miello

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Rather than leaving Billy to make the return trip, I offered to let him crash at my place. I was feeling strangely close to him and more than a little guilty for my behavior. I tried to let myself feel relief.  Maybe I would just continue dating Rally. But when I tried to open myself to the possibility of not having Alanna as my next girlfriend, I felt queasy.

“Sorry about the stairs,” I said as we climbed the third flight to my attic apartment.

“I have to walk up six flights to live with three other dudes. This is huge. You have this all to yourself?”

I looked around the two-room apartment, trying to see it as spacious.

Billy looked over my belongings, complimenting my PC and stereo arrangement.

“You play?” he asked excitedly. For many years I kept a bass guitar in the corner of my room. But it had been a long time since I entertained any intention of playing it. As far as I have ever been able to tell, I have zero musical talent. Billy immediately began plucking the strings and tuning it.  “No amp?” he frowned.

“Sorry. You can have that thing if you want it.”

“Yeah?” He slapped the bass strings eagerly. “Thanks!”

He continued to wander around my room, commenting on my stuff.

“You have a lot of games,” he said looking over my collection of role playing materials. “You really like Lord of the Rings, huh?” he asked after inspecting my James Cauty poster. “Never read that.”

“And you were giving me shit for not knowing about the Star Trek Bong people?”

“The Borg. They’re the Borg.”

“You better get fucking reading now if you plan to date Alanna.  She’s practically an actual elf.”

He found a framed picture of Rally and stared at it.  “What on earth leaves you wanting more than this?”

“Hard to say. In some ways, I don’t want anything more than her. I’m not sure there could ever be ‘more’ than her. But sometimes I wonder if she really gets me.”

“Seems like a bright girl.”

“Oh, she has the capacity to understand me. And maybe she does. But whether she does or doesn’t, I’m not sure she wants to.”

“How did you meet her?”

“Her best friend set us up,” I said, drastically simplifying the story.

“Haven’t had a girlfriend since high school. I dated a few girls here and there.  Wasted years devoted to someone who didn’t really love me back. She always seemed to be on the verge of leaving her boyfriend. But she never did.”

“You must have liked her a lot,” I said after a moment’s silence. He shrugged.

I realized he was trying to say that, for him, this situation held some painful parallels. He had been the one waiting in the wings before.

“Hey, let me show you something.” I called him over to my IBM.

“Why do you have those there?” he asked, looking at the grainy pictures of Christopher Carpentieri that I had taped up around my work station, along with several of his poems.

“I’m trying to figure the kid out. I have some of his programs and I am trying to piece together what he was trying to do.”

I showed him some the Memento Mori code, particularly the bits I couldn’t understand at all. “What do you think he was up to?”

“Hell if I know. That looks like some high-level kung fu. Do you want my advice Chris?”

“Yes.”

“Stop.”

“Stop?”

“Stop. Stop this whole thing. Nothing good can come of it. I know he was a good coder and a BAC superstar, but he’s gone. That’s really sad. But you have your own life—your own mind. Write your own damn programs. He probably wasn’t in his right mind at the end. This might all be gibberish—the output of a very sick mind descending into some final madness, and now you’re going to follow him down into it.”

“I don’t think it’s like that. I think this was all meant to do something. Maybe something important.”

“Coders are prone to obsessiveness. You know that.”

“I do. But you just talked me into giving up my other obsession for a week. So this one is all I have left.”

He laughed.

I offered Billy my bed, but he insisted on staying on sleeping on the floor.

“Are you sure?” But in an instant he was asleep.

I sat down at my desk, put my headphones on. I opened up Windows Media Player and began to play the three songs I had gotten from Christopher Carpentieri’s computer. The electronica music was not my style, but there was something almost hypnotic about them.

“You’re still working on that?” he asked me.

“Huh?” I took off my headphones.

I looked at Billy. His face looked strange in the brightness of the early morning.

“Did you not sleep?” he asked.

“I slept.” I think I slept. I seemed to remember stepping over him at some point to get to the bed.

He looked at me strangely. “How much sleep did you get?”

“A few hours. I don’t sleep much these days.”

“Wow. You’re absolutely obsessed aren’t you?”

“Maybe.”

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[NOTE: The awesome J. Cauty LOTR Poster is still available!  http://www.allposters.com/-st/J-Cauty-Posters_c23206_.htm  ]

The Shoe Shopper’s Infiltration 

Part 14 of the Netcromancer by M.J.Miello

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In the weeks that followed, BAC social outings (organized by Alanna) became a regular occurrence. We were a veritable social club. I can’t say I minded. I liked suddenly having a second social life. And then, to everyone’s excitement, Zee began to make an occasional appearance at our gatherings.

“For the record, AI is a bad idea,” Billy Penchant introjected into one conversation held at a long table in a beer hall.

“What? Why?” we all were taken aback.

“Isn’t it obvious?” Billy said, “The Borg.”

“The what?” I asked.

I looked around. Everyone was staring at me with mild revulsion. OK. It’s true. In 1995 I had not yet watched Star Trek: The Next Generation.

“One,” Billy said, taking center stage, “You should be completely and utterly ashamed of yourself. And two, obviously computer technology will continue to advance and we as a species become totally dependent on it. Then one of two things will happen. Either we will create machines that ultimately compete with us, and eventually displace us.  Or we will merge so completely with the technology that we will cease to be human.”

The entire BAC exploded into argument. Zee smiled through the whole thing, not weighing in, but seeming very curious about the arguments being used on both sides.

I argued against Billy. AI was not a bad idea—it was an inevitable idea. It was evolution finding another way forward.

“When we do merge with the AI,” I said, “we will be more human—more civilized—more virtuous and all the more so because we will be more rational.”

“I don’t see how that…” Billy’s thought drifted off.  He was staring at something over my shoulder, his eyes twinkling with approval.  Everyone else on his side of the table looked up with curiosity.

I felt a stirring inside me and then a hand on my shoulder.

“Hello, Christobal,” a very familiar voice said from just behind me.

I felt a strange mixture of my heart fluttering even as it dropped into my stomach.  It was our custom to always tell each other where we were going to be, but I never thought she would ever come.

“Everyone,” I said, “this is my girlfriend, Rally.” She looked gorgeous as usual. Her hair flowed smoothly like a dark liquid. Jewelry sparkled on her wrist, ears, and around her neck. Her pastel sweater was tastefully coordinated with her loose scarf. Her skin tight-jeans disappeared into her riding boots.

“My god—she does exist!” Alanna exclaimed. “Everyone, pay up!” They all laughed.

Before I knew it, Rally was sitting next to me, and rapidly getting to know my companions.

“So, Christopher tells me you steal cars to support your drug habit,” Alanna said. That was the first hint that this was not going to be an easy night for me.

“Christopher has a very active imagination.  That’s why I was sure he made up his top secret computer club. But here you all are.”

Rally looked at me and smiled. Her eyes seemed to be asking why I never mentioned that there was a girl in the group.

“So what do you call yourselves again?” Rally asked.

“It’s…um,” Zee answered, “The Top Secret Computer Club.” Everyone laughed.

“To the Top Secret Computer Club,” Rally raised her glass. They lifted their glasses and drank. As seemed to happen everywhere she went, Rally was instantly accepted.

“So tell me,” Rally said to Alanna, “How do you tolerate being the only woman in the group?”

“It’s not a problem at all. I’ve always gotten along better with men anyway. Women tend to get very competitive with me.”

“Men are good for some things. But come on—it must get tiring not to have anyone to go shoe shopping with?” Rally’s intuitions about people were sometimes scary. Alanna often complained about never having any good girlfriends.

Alanna leaned back, pulled up the frayed hem of her overalls and displayed a well-worn pair of ratty Nikes.  “Yeah, I might be lacking in that department. So you buy a lot of shoes? Is that what the non-coder females do these days for fun?”

“I do enjoy buying a good shoe. But I wouldn’t say that that is the primary source of fun. I don’t get to have as much fun as I would like. I have to study a lot…Hard Sciences and all.”

“Rally plays the violin,” I interjected before Rally insulted the whole table with one of her ‘pre-med students are the only ones doing real work’ rants.

“Fascinating. I don’t really have an artistic side myself unless you count writing games. I read a lot of books though.”

“Tell me about the last book you read!” Rally asked.

The two of them were locked in conversation for the rest of the night. It was like watching a chess match between two masters, their moves subtle and calculated. I couldn’t tell if they hated each other, or if they were enjoying this contest. Maybe both were true.

“We have to hang out again!” Alanna said to her at the end of the night.

“We do! Absolutely we do!” Rally said. I still had no idea if they were lying. I half expected them to pull out each other’s hair as soon as we walked out of the bar. Instead, they exchanged phone numbers.

My world was suddenly a lot more complicated.

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[Thanks for reading!! If you think you know someone who would like this story please share it with them–and let me know what you think.  For most people reading this, this is the first time they are meeting Rally.  I would love to know what you think about her.  Feel free to comment below or on the MJMiello Facebook page. ]