You can hear me read this story on episode #60 of R.B. Wood’s Word Count Podcast. The story prompt this time was “charming, key, computer”.
My inspiration came mostly from remembering the first computer I ever used: a big, boxy thing that I did indeed play Space Invaders on.
As usual, HUGE thanks to R.B. Wood’s for having me on the podcast: it’s so much fun to write for this show and hopefully, one day when I grow up, my reading voice will be all smooth and awesome, too…
I got my first computer in 1984. Dad bought it for me: a beige, boxy thing that barely fit on my desk.
That first day, I played Space Invaders on it for hours, trying to defeat the aliens that moved inexorably down the screen. I kept banging on the keyboard to launch the missiles needed to repel them, but in the end, the aliens always won. As I reached out to turn off the computer, the screen went black and a message appeared:
Don’t give up, Amanda.
The pixelated letters glowed white and silent on the black background.
After that, I kept the computer on all the time, though dad made me turn off the monitor at night. He said it wasn’t good to leave it on so much, and he was probably right, but I didn’t care. I needed to hear that hum, feel that heat, see that glow. I needed to be ready if it spoke to me again.
The first time that computer saved my life was one year later when it told me not to go to school.
Stay home today, the screen implored me one morning.
I did. That day, my three best friends were run over by a drunk driver. All three died. I would have been walking with them.
“How did you know?” I typed into the computer. It did not reply.
I got a new computer in 1987. One night, it woke me up with a loud beeping noise. The screen said:
FIRE. Get out.
I got out. My parents didn’t.
The first thing I bought afterwards was a new computer. Every day after that, for more years than I care to remember, a new message would appear in a text file, and each one said the same thing:
Don’t give up, Amanda.
There were times when that saved my life. Dark nights with nothing but booze and pills and a razor blade. Darker nights with a stack of shotgun shells and the metal pressing into the roof of my mouth. The darkest night of all when I had stopped hurting myself and found someone else to do it instead, when I lay on the floor and only knew I was alive when the sunlight pierced my bleeding eyelids.
I had a laptop then, and the message was there in a word file that morning. I just sat there, looking at the letters with an icepack on my face, the taste of blood in my mouth.
Two minutes later, I grabbed the car key, packed my bags, and left while he was still at work. I drove to the bus station and got so far away that no one knew who I was anymore. I hardly even knew myself. Ten years later, I saw in the newspaper that he had shot and killed his girlfriend.
I’ve tried to live more wisely after that. Not sure I’ve succeeded.
It’s been a long time now since a computer sent me messages. These days, my phone speaks to me instead.
Don’t give up, Amanda, it tells me tonight as it does every night before I fall asleep, its soft, familiar voice soothing and comforting through the earbuds.
I’m here in the hospital waiting for my implant. Soon, I won’t need a phone or computer anymore. Instead, I’ll be able to interface directly with the web. That’s what they tell me. I’m one of the first to volunteer for this procedure, but I’m not afraid.
“It might affect your memory and cognitive abilities,” the doctors cautioned me.
I have few enough things that I want to remember that this doesn’t seem very perilous to me. What good is this old brain of mine, anyway? Let them burn it out if they want.
“Will I be able to kill people with my brain once it’s done?” I ask as they prep me for surgery.
But the doctors are too young to have watched Joss Whedon’s “Firefly”, so all I get are charming, blank stares.
When I open my eyes, there’s a slight but painful tremble inside my skull, like the reverberating echo of a thousand screams, or the aftershock of an earthquake, then it’s gone. The doctors told me I might experience sensory issues when the nano-circuitry melded with my neurons and connected to the network. I wiggle my fingers to activate the interface, and…
The room is dimly lit. There is the quiet whir of a robo-nurse gliding up beside my bed. Other than that, it’s empty.
The voice is not outside of me. It’s inside my head. I like that. It’s good to know that it’s still there, that I can still hear it.
Go outside, Amanda.
I do. I pull the IV out of my arm to the robo-nurse’s consternation, and head outside in nothing but my hospital robe. The care-robots in the corridors whir and hum, advising me to go back to bed. I ignore them.
Outside there is a small greenspace next to the street. I sit down on a bench. It’s nighttime and there are no cars, no people. The world seems silent and empty and strange, as though I am all alone on an alien planet. Abandoned. Stranded.
I’ve been alone for so long. You’d think I’d be used to it by now.
I touch the stitch-less seam on my shaved skull where the doctors inserted the nano circuits, and wiggle my fingers again to call up the promised virtual reality interface, but there is nothing in my head except the voice:
I sit beneath the sky and wait. The sky is clear. Have I ever seen a sky so clear before? I don’t think so. The stars are pinpricks of light, but some of them are getting bigger.
“Don’t give up, Amanda,” the voice whispers from far away and close beside me at the same time. “We’re coming for you, now.”
© Maria Haskins 2016.
Note: The cover-art for this was made by me using CANVA, and a bit of the graphics from the old Space Invaders game.