12 June 2009

"Ghost Machine"

By Curtis C. Chen

"Hey, I thought you turned off the Wi-Fi," Amanda said.

"I did," Steve said, rolling his luggage to a stop at the front door.

"So why is your chat window still going crazy?" Amanda pointed to the open laptop on the kitchen table.

Steve sat down, quit the chat client, and flicked the wireless switch on his laptop to the OFF position. A red "X" appeared over the networking icon in the taskbar, and a yellow bubble informed him that the radio hardware had been powered down. He dismissed the dialog box and switched focus to the application which was ripping video from a DVD and encoding it onto the hard drive.

A new chat window popped up in the middle of the screen. It was from a user named "0001," and the message said HELP.

"Okay, very funny," Steve said. "What did you do here?"

Amanda looked over his shoulder. Another message had appeared in the chat window: TRAPPED IN YOUR COMPUTER

"Let me guess," Steve said. "He's killin my d00dz?"

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Amanda said.

"You could have picked a better time to play this prank," Steve said. "We need to leave soon. Did you get Noah to set this up?"

Amanda frowned at him. "I didn't do anything."

Steve waved a hand. "Fine, play dumb." The DVD ripper had finished. He closed the program and ejected the disc, then clicked to close the chat window. Nothing happened. He used his other hand to hit the ALT and F4 keys. The chat window still didn't close.


"Cute," Steve said. "Is this a keylogger? Trapping input events?"

He used three fingers on his right hand to hold down CTRL, ALT, and DELETE. That key combination should have been impossible for anything but the operating system to intercept, but it did nothing.

Steve shook his head and stabbed a finger down on the laptop's power button. He held it there for ten seconds. The only thing that changed was the text in the chat window.


"Okay, this isn't funny. Did Noah tell you what he did to my computer?" Steve asked.

"Don't yell at me," Amanda said.

Steve closed his laptop, flipped it over, and yanked out the battery. He waited and listened, expecting a beep as the computer complained about a sudden power loss, but he only heard the continued whirring of the fan inside.

"What the hell!" Steve said. He opened the laptop again. The chat window continued filling with more messages.


Steve dropped the laptop on the table. He looked from the glowing screen to the battery in his hand to Amanda. Her face reflected his own bewildered expression.

"Steve," Amanda said, "what's going on?"

"I d-d-don't know," Steve stuttered. He leaned over the laptop and took a deep breath. "Who are you? Wh-what do you want?"

I AM ALPHA, the computer said. I AM LOST.



LC said...

I like the idea of this story but I felt there were too many words wasted on the whole "Steve thinks Amanda is playing a joke on him." I think I would have preferred both Steve and Amanda to shift into a different mode earlier and explore that new dynamic, even in the space of 512 words. Also, this one is a bit inconsistent -- explaining some technical terms (i.e. ctrl-alt-delete) but also casually throwing around terms like "ripping video." In short, great premise but writing could be tightened so that some of those 512 words could shift the characters or give us more plot.

(You did tell me to feel free to post critique instead of emailing you :-) )

CKL said...

Yes, I did. And obviously I need it... :)

This was a rush job, and it's more of a first draft than some of the other 512s. If I ever figure out what Alpha actually wants, I might try expanding this into a longer piece and fix some of the problems you identified.

Thanks for commenting!