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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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  ]

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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Crossing the Harbor

Part 1 of the Netcromancer by M.J.Miello

They say you don’t truly find yourself until you’re in college.  Somewhere between the beer pong, the impulsive hook-ups, and the frat parties, you’re supposed to learn something essential about who you are.  It’s like your adult identity is hidden there, tangled in your dorm sheets with a bunch of Dorito crumbs, marijuana stems, and condom wrappers just waiting for your moment of epiphany.

Well, my college experience wasn’t like that at all. I don’t do much of anything the traditional way. I can’t even fuck things up the way I am supposed to. I had been told a hundred times to go away to school and experience the metamorphic rebirth of dorm life. But I’m an Italian kid from Staten Island. We’re not really raised to fly free of the nest. I was programmed to return to base weekly for carbohydrate-overload and emotional ventilation.

That’s why I was so proud of myself after high school when I was able, with considerable effort, to move out of the parental house and into an attic apartment over the two-family building my uncle owned. This meant I could give up the dangerous past-time of sneaking into my girlfriend’s house when her parents were asleep. It also meant that I was, most mornings, standing at the front of the Staten Island ferry, watching Manhattan rise into the sky before me.

If you were standing right there, you might not have even noticed me—just another lanky malcontent with a black hood over his headphones.  A closer look might have revealed the way my hair twisted angrily around my eyes, or perhaps that my arm was encased in plaster. You probably wouldn’t take notice of the flannel shirt, the Doc Martin boots, or the chain wallet, all of which were standard issue in September 1993. I probably looked like a lost soul drowning in my own apathy, but nothing could have been further from the truth. I had an ax to grind with the world. My chosen field of conquest: academia.

A month before, I had never left the island without my parents. But now I had the subway map memorized and was busily exploring my new environment. It felt like I had reached the next stage in the greatest video game ever created. And then there was college itself—a very different kind of game.  I was enthralled with the never ending discussions, reading, and synthesis. I loved sitting down among a random selection of bright students from all over the world, whether outside Bobst library or in a humanities elective.

No topic was obscure enough. Quantum mechanics, game theory, queer theory, classical economics—I wanted to know, argue and be able to dismantle and rebuild all of them. I particularly enjoyed the inevitable discussion of cultural relativism—all too eager to take on the role of representative white-boy from the suburbs who was enlightened enough to admit his privilege. I lived for the debate—for that moment when the clumsy, impractical words sufficed to surmount the crux of an argument. It was all just another game to me.  But it wasn’t only about winning. I would happily surrender just to feel the fractions of divergent thought come together into a recognizable whole—the group giving rise to a hard-won consensus. For me, that was the highest form of art.

I double-majored in philosophy and computer science and almost fit in a minor in psychology. I wanted to understand the world at the deepest level and master its most essential truths. And then I wanted to break it all down into what could be measured, cataloged, diagramed, and, ultimately, programmed. I wasn’t really there to appreciate the poetry of life. I was there to create an Artificial Intelligence—so that one day the AI could appreciate the poetry of life.

I knew that this was a childish dream—hell, it was my childish dream—just a fancier version of the second-grade assignment in which I wrote that I wanted to build an R2D2 so that “I would always have a friend.”  I suspected that this would not be the identity I found for myself in college. It would just be what I daydreamed about while I worked on something much less interesting. At best, it would be a side project that I kept hidden in the shadows. As it turns out, however, the shadowlands of academia are a bustling place. There is a lot going on just out of view. All you need is someone to teach you how to see in the dark. And, nearly as soon as I showed up, I found just that. They called themselves the Brown Ale Collective.

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