*Features adult language and themes.*
The Star Wars alarm clock went off. It started gently with Darth Vader’s heavy breathing, and ended with the noise of a frenetic lightsabre battle.
Urrrghhhh. What’s that? Charlie flapped his arm across the bed and turned it off. Better.
Five minutes later it went off again.
What the fuck? I must have hit snooze. That breathing thing is actually pretty creepy to wake up to. He reached back over and looked at the time. 8am? Why the hell would I set my alarm for 8? He silenced it again. Then his phone vibrated, rattling on the bedside table. Arrghhhh. Who’s that? Nobody ever texts me.
The message read: ‘Charlie you set this reminder to go off after the 2nd alarm. Hopefully that got your attention. You need to get up to go to Uni.’ But it’s so nice and warm here. It’s going to be cold out there.
He hadn’t been to Uni for months. The week before he’d received a letter requesting his attendance at a tutorial for the start of the new semester.
Charlie rarely got up before 10am. He had no real reason to. Usually he stayed up late oblivious of the time. He hadn’t got to bed until 3am. Some stupid newb tried to troll everyone on a message-board he admin’d so he’d spent all night hacking the idiot’s computer and setting up pranks.
Once he’d tracked the troll down and found his IP address he started to break into the computer. It didn’t pose any sort of challenge. The guy was completely clueless. There were hundreds of open ports in the firewall and the software posed no issues at all. The guy deserves everything he gets. Lucky I’m nice. I could have caused some major problems.
Instead, Charlie set up a few tricks that would make the troll’s computer unpleasant to use for a while.
* * *
Prank 1: Blue screen of death.
This one hardly constituted a prank, it might work for a few seconds tops, but it was worth the minimal effort if it caught the user out.
Simply, install a static image of the Windows ‘Blue screen of Death’ on the system and set it as the screensaver. With any luck it will trick the user into thinking their system has crashed if they leave the machine idle.
Prank 2: Dirty/Faulty Mouse.
A prank that will cause minimal but sustained annoyance. This is a little bit of software that will make the mouse cursor unresponsive in a random way, simulating a faulty or dirty mouse sensor.
The joy of this trick is that it isn’t a constant problem, the code makes the effects come and go.
Prank 3: Flasher.
This sets up a subliminal message. Choose an image that will annoy the user (in this case a picture of a troll pencil topper). The software will flash the chosen image on the screen periodically, you can set the time between flashes. The image and the software is hidden in the system.
Prank 4: Open/Close CD drive.
A small bit of code that sets one of the desktop icons to open the CD drive tray when it is clicked. Every time the user clicks to open a program they will open and close the CD drive.
Prank 5: Time traveller.
Make the time display skip around at random points in the day every 30 seconds. Simple but annoying.
Prank 5: Net Send.
A utility in the windows command line called Net Send. Using this will make a very official looking warning dialog box pop up displaying any message you want.
Prank 6: Remote control.
VNC is a computer remote control protocol. By installing this on the victims computer you can control their computer while they watch on in bemusement.
* * *
Charlie figured he’d let the annoying little tricks work their magic for a few days, then start with insulting pop up messages for a while. The final act will be taking over the troll’s computer and writing a few choice messages to him while he watches.
It was a late night but it was well worth the effort, and totally justified. Trolls need to learn their place.
With extreme effort Charlie flipped the duvet over letting the cold air get to his skin. His flat was always temperate, but it was extra warm under the sheets. He got washed and dressed in a daze. He didn’t take much care over his appearance. He didn’t care who saw him today. It would only be a few hours then he could retreat back to his flat and shut them all out again.
Charlie wasn’t frightened of going outside, he simply didn’t like it. He had almost everything he needed in his flat, and what he didn’t have could be delivered. He ordered his groceries online and had them delivered. All of his business was done online and over the phone, he never had to meet customers in person. Any computers he built were sent away by courier, he never let the client collect. Most of his leisure activities were computer based. Social networking, message boards, his blog, online gaming, streaming movies and music. The possibilities were endless. The only reason I have for leaving this flat is to have real, physical, human interactions and for that you need willing real, physical humans.
He collected his things, put his ear buds in to shut out the world and left the building. Instead of going directly to the University he headed in the opposite direction in search of some breakfast. The morning was overcast and dreary. The remains of a heavy frost clung to the pavement. Charlie made his way to the marina and his favourite coffee shop; joining the queue.
Coffee and breakfast smells made his stomach churn in anticipation. Charlie never ate anything for breakfast. Usually it was the afternoon before he was active enough to feel hungry. He’d never been much of an eater. He would have been happy to take a pill each day as long as it had all of the required nutrition to keep him alive. Coffee was a different matter.
There was only one person in front of him in the queue. He looked at the time on his phone. He didn’t have to be at Uni for a while. The woman ahead of him looked restless. She had flawless black skin, stood taller than Charlie and was dressed smartly in an androgynous business suit covered by a trench-coat. She kept tapping he hand against her thigh and looking over the counter at a clock. It was obvious she had to be somewhere. Finally her turn came.
“Morning, what can I get you?” Said the barista.
“Can I have a skinny, decaf, latte, extra foam, extra hot, to go?”
“No problem.” The barista passed the order along to someone else to deal with while she took payment. The business woman moved along the counter and Charlie shuffled forward, took one of his earphones out and mumbled his order.
“Sorry I didn’t catch that.”
“Large black coffee, please,” said Charlie looking down at the counter, refusing to risk making eye contact. The barista had piercing clear eyes that made him feel uncomfortable. She was smiling at him a lot too. Charlie never knew if it was genuine or not. He picked most of this up from the reflection in the shiny counter, he tried to decipher the name on the girl’s name badge to occupy his mind. He’d worked out that it started with ‘B’ before his concentration was broken.
Next to him the business woman was getting agitated. She was mumbling to herself, but loud enough for the baristas to hear. “How long does it take to make a cup of coffee?”
Soon after her coffee was placed on the counter in front of her. “That’s a skinny latte, extra foam, extra hot, to go,” said the barista.
“Is that decaf?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Was that supposed to be decaf?”
The business woman sighed angrily. “Yes, it is supposed to be decaf.”
“Sorry, I’ll make you another one.”
“Don’t bother, it’s obviously too challenging. I have to be somewhere,” she shouted, turned and stormed out.
It made Charlie feel uncomfortable. He didn’t like raised voices.
The baristas looked at each other and smiled.
Putting his earphones back in, Charlie turned the music up louder, collected his coffee, mumbled his thanks and left.
He walked the 200 yards along the marina to the University building. It looked like a big oval cylinder that had been sliced through at an angle, it was clad in a checkerboard pattern of light and dark grey panels and the windows were tinted in a variety of bright colours. He walked across the large paved area in front of the building past a large sculpture of a question mark that had been laid on its back.. There were rows of stone seats. People stood and sat in little groups, smoking and talking. A few of them were shouting at each other and acting boisterously. Charlie kept his head down and walked past them all. With the music blaring in his ears he couldn’t hear what the people were saying, but their body language looked threatening to him. He didn’t want to catch anyone’s eye or attention. He had one rule when he was out in the world: Try to blend in.
He entered the main reception of the Uni building. It was a wide open plan space that was occasionally used to display art. He walked straight through to the stairs ignoring a glance and smile from the receptionist.
Charlie found the classroom after checking that it was the one stated on his letter. It was empty.
Early as planned.
He went over to the furthest corner of the room and took a seat. He liked having the wall at his back, he’d be able to keep the entire room in view and nobody could sit behind him. He pulled his laptop out of his bag and began spreading some books and papers across the table taking up as much space as possible. Then he moved the chairs next to him to other tables.
With any luck nobody will sit near me.
He sipped his coffee while waiting for his laptop to boot up. The music was shutting out any other noise, he felt secluded and comfortable.
To kill time he decided to re-read the Kurt Sampson article. He’d read it the day it was published after his depressing New Year’s celebration but hadn’t made any effort to complete the exercises.
He felt uncomfortable buying into the whole ‘self-help thing.’ He’d always thought of it as the cheapest form of quackery. It was only in his weaker moments that he opened the page and read through the article. At one point he felt so bad he’d even downloaded a factsheet relating to the exercises. A low point.
He opened up the factsheet file. There was a list of ‘life blocks’ for him to assign a status to. He skipped this part. He had no idea how to assess them. At the bottom of the page was a section to write a happy/unhappy list.
I’ll try to think positive and do the happy list first.
He was about to begin typing when the door opened and a group of five students filed in. They were chatting casually but stopped when they saw that there was already someone in the room. Charlie tried his best to ignore them, making out that he was engrossed in some work and his music. It seemed to do the trick as the group sat around the table furthest away from him. They settled back into their conversation with an occasional glance in his direction.
I can’t blame them for being curious. I doubt they’ve seen me before. It’s a little odd to see a new face two thirds of the way through the course.
Charlie slumped down trying to hide his face behind the screen and block the rest of the room out. People came into the room in ones and twos as he compiled his lists.
* * *
1. I’m comfortable in my own company. I don’t need to be surrounded by others to feel good.
2. I make a living doing something I am interested in and enjoy.
3. Learning new things all the time.
4. The internet.
5. Music/coffee. I know it’s cheating, but that one’s a tie.
2. No perceptible love life.
3. Other people, in the real world, that make me feel awkward.
5. The prequel Star Wars trilogy (I know it’s been a while but it still hurts) & comic book movies (All of them, possibly excepting Hellboy, depending on my mood.)
* * *
When he looked up, the room was nearly full. Nobody sat next to him, but there were a few others on the same table as him. By the looks of it they were the other loners in the class.
The tutor walked into the room holding a stack of papers and a cup of coffee. He dumped everything on a table at the front and stood expectantly waiting for everyone to settle. “Morning everyone, I hope you all had a pleasant break. Today is a tutorial day, so I’ll be chatting with each of you in turn. I hope you all have your work completed from last semester to hand in to me.” He passed a stack of papers to the person closest to him. “This sheet is an outline of the syllabus for this semester. I want you to give it a good read through while I take the tutorials and we’ll get together this afternoon to discuss it all.” The papers circulated as everyone took a copy and passed the stack on. They eventually arrived at Charlie’s table. The guy opposite him took the stack and dumped them in the middle of the table for everyone to help themselves. Charlie didn’t bother to pick one up.
“Right, I need to make a start. While I’m going through the list keep yourselves busy, you still have plenty to be getting on with, I’m sure.” He looked up and scanned the room. He stopped when he spotted Charlie at the back of the room. “Ah, Mr Sharpe. I’m glad you could make it. I think I’ll start with you. I’ve been wanting to have a chat. Let’s go next door.” There was a hum of murmuring from the rest of the class, as his identity was confirmed.
Charlie felt as though everyone was looking at him, he began to get flustered. He quickly began to gather his belongings together. In his haste he knocked a pile of papers to the floor. Everyone laughed. Charlie’s stomach sank down to his balls making him feel sick. He stuffed everything into his bag and walked to the front of the classroom. Never thought I’d have to walk through everyone. I’ll have to rethink my seating plan, next time. Maybe there won’t be a next time. He heard a few murmured comments and questions as he went by.
“It’s the bloke that never shows up.”
“He thinks he knows it all, already.”
Charlie was relieved when he escaped out into the corridor. The tutor was waiting for him holding the door open to the interview room. Charlie walked past him and sat down. The tutor followed. It was a shady little room, no windows, no decoration and a dull colour scheme. The sort of room where you wouldn’t want to spend a lot of time.
There was a folder in front of the tutors seat, he opened it and began to leaf through it.
“Mr Sharpe. I can’t remember the last time I saw you?”
Charlie was slumped in his seat, head down staring intently at the wood grain of the table in front of him. “It was the first day of last semester. The end of September.”
“So it was, so it was. Do you see that as a problem at all?”
“I’ve been in contact with the faculty administrator as and when I need information. I’ve got the syllabus for the whole year and I’m working my way through it.”
“You’re working your way through it?”
Does this guy only speak in questions? “Yes.”
“You think you can do all of the required work unsupervised?”
Another question. “Yes.” Charlie reached into his bag and placed two discs on the table between them. “That’s all of the work for last semester and this semester.”
“You expect me to believe you’re three months ahead of everyone else in the class?
“Yes.” Charlie snatched a furtive glance up to the tutors face. He was a small bald man with fashion specs. He didn’t look impressed. “I would have got the whole year done, but I’ve been pretty busy.”
“Do you realise you have to keep a good attendance record to qualify?
“I did read that in the course introduction, but I’ve taken that up with the head of faculty. He didn’t seem to think it’d be a problem.”
“Right. Can you bear with me a moment?” The tutor leaned over, picked up the discs and left.
After 10 minutes of waiting Charlie reached for his laptop.
* * *
CHLO-BO13: Hi Charles. You’re about early. Did you crap the bed?
RAZ0R5H4RPE: Hi Chloe. No bedroom dramas I’m afraid. I had to get up and go into Uni.
CHLO-BO13: I never knew you went to Uni. What are you studying?
RAZ0R5H4RPE: It’s a computing degree.
CHLO-BO13: Thought you knew all that stuff already?
RAZ0R5H4RPE: Yup, pretty much.
CHLO-BO13: So why are you there?
RAZ0R5H4RPE: A question I’ve been asking myself all morning. I used to think it was good for me to mix with other people. Now I’m not so sure. I’m not that good with people in person.
CHLO-BO13: Really? You seem pretty chatty and personable to me.
RAZ0R5H4RPE: Ah, but I haven’t met you in person have I? I come across much better in text. It’s my stylish typing that does it. 😉
CHLO-BO13: I must admit you have a mean way with an emoticon. 😛
RAZ0R5H4RPE: Emoticons don’t work so well in the real world. 🙂 Makes me look simple. 😉 Makes me look creepy. 😛 makes me look constipated.
CHLO-BO13: Maybe that’s something we should remedy?
RAZ0R5H4RPE: What, my constipation?
CHLO-BO13: 🙂 No. The fact we haven’t met in person. We’ve been chatting for a few months now. Maybe it’s time we actually met?
* * *
The tutor came back into the room and sat down. Charlie hastily lowered the screen of his laptop, making sure he didn’t close it and take himself offline. He felt a rising sense of desperation creep up his chest, it was the worst possible place to leave the conversation.
“Well, Charlie. Can I call you Charlie?”
“It seems like you’re quite the prodigy. I’ve had a chat with the faculty head and taken a quick scan over the work you submitted. Sorry I’ve been so long. You didn’t mind did you?”
Charlie shook his head.
Seriously, can this guy finish a statement without a question? Get on with it, I’m in the middle of something…
“To be blunt. I don’t know what you’re doing here. I barely understood parts of the work you submitted. It’s way beyond what’s outlined in the syllabus. I understand from the faculty head that you have a successful group of computer related businesses including writing software, building hardware and creating networks. Is that correct.”
“This course is child’s play for someone with your knowledge. Why are you here?”
Charlie looked up past the tutor to the wall behind him, refusing to make eye contact. “I’ve started it now. I want to finish. Get the bit of paper, you know. My mum doesn’t really understand what I do but she gets the whole cap and gown, scroll of parchment, graduation thing. I guess I’m doing it so she gets a nice photo in a few years time.”
“I guess there’s not much else to say then is there?”
Charlie shook his head
“It’d be nice to see you a bit more often though. Would you be interested in coming in now and again? Perhaps you could show the others a thing or two?”
Charlie began collecting his belongings. He was careful to keep his laptop open. I need to reply to Chloe, she must be going ballistic. “No offence, but if you don’t understand what I’m on about, what chance do the others have?”
The tutor stood up. “I guess you’re right. Take care, won’t you?” He offered his hand for a parting shake.
Charlie looked down at the hand. It was a fine enough hand, but he really didn’t want to touch it. “Again, no offence, but do you mind if I don’t. It’s nothing personal. I’m just a bit odd.”
The tutor snapped his arm back. “Of course, no worries?”
That one wasn’t even a question, but he still put the inflection on it.
Charlie left the room, dumped his bag and promptly sat down on the corridor floor; hoping against hope that Chloe was still online.
* * *
RAZ0R5H4RPE: I’m really sorry about that Chloe. The tutor came back in the room just as you sent the last message. Honest I wasn’t ignoring you.
RAZ0R5H4RPE: Are you still there? Please. I’m so sorry. 🙁
* * *
Well, that’s it then. I’ve managed to repel a woman over the internet. That’s a new sort of skill. I don’t even have to be in close proximity to fuck it all up. The internet has amplified my relationship inadequacies worldwide. I may as well just give up now. Become a monk. No. A hermit. From time to time I hear of a kooky National Trust estate that wants to hire a Hermit to live in a cave somewhere for tourists to look at. I can live in a cave, grow my hair and shout at tourists with my cock hanging out.
How would I get broadband in a cave?
* * *
CHLO-BO13: Sorry Charles, I just popped to the loo. I figured something had come up.
CHLO-BO13: So, what do think about meeting up? 🙂
Many thanks for reading. If you have any feedback or thoughts, feel free to comment below.