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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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 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! ]

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!]

Fairwell to Oliver Twist  

Part 3 of the Netcromancer by M.J.Miello

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When the tests were handed back in the following class, mine was nowhere to be found.

“Was there a problem with my test?” I asked Nicholas after class.

“With your test? No. But you are in the wrong class.”

“I am?”

“You’re going to waste a whole semester here.  Zee is putting you in his second level class.  He’s already worked out the schedule for you.  You may have to change your literature class though.”

“He can do that?”

“You can refuse. But why would you?  Zee thinks you have potential.”

“How does he even know who I am? He never actually teaches this class.”

“Don’t let that fool you.  Zee is a great professor and he can do a lot for you—if you are willing to play by his rules.”

“I bought all the books for that Dickens class. I already read 200 pages of Oliver Twist.”

“Return the books and watch the movie if you want to know how it ends. Zee already asked Dr. Kendic to over-tally you into her ancient literature class so that you can take his 2nd level comp-sci class.”

“Do I get a say in this?”

“Of course you do. You’re welcomed to stay in this intro class and spend the rest of the semester learning what you just demonstrated that you already know.” He threw my test down in front of me. “140” was written across the top followed by the letters, “BAC?”

“What’s BAC?”

“That is not something you get to learn in an intro class.”

So I did it.

“You’re behind,” Dr. Zee told me my first day of the second level class as if this were my fault.

“Do the programs you missed and tell me when you are two weeks ahead of where the class is. Preferably you will tell me this next class.” I laughed at this and then I realized he was serious.

I slightly resented this. I mean why did I have to work harder than everyone else?  It wasn’t like I didn’t have other classes. But I was intrigued to see just where this could go. I liked having a challenge to live up to. So I spent that weekend in the computer lab.

“I’m two weeks ahead,” I told him at the start of the next class.

“Good. Keep it that way.”

As the class started I was very confused. Everyone around me was beginning to write the assigned programs—the ones I had already written. What the hell was I supposed to do during the class time? I reached into my bag and pulled out the copy of J.R.R.Tolkein’s Silmarillion I always kept handy.

After 15 minutes Zee appeared behind me.

“Christopher since you obviously have a moment to spare would you do me a favor?” He led me over to another student’s work station. “Mr. Prescott here is having some difficulty. Would you give him a hand?”

I looked over the kid’s program and gave him some pointers. As soon as I finished Zee asked me to help someone else. Then the kid next to that student asked me to help him figure out what they had done wrong. At one point I looked up to see Zee sitting with his feet up on the desk in the front of the class, reading the New York Times.

From then on, I never had a relaxed moment in one of Zee’s classes. I didn’t realize it yet, but I was already working for the BAC.  My days of being a regular computer science major, brief as they were, were over.

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