Byte Me

@ernie

Oh, my God. Look at those absolutely perfect titties.

Click.

And that absolutely flat tummy, those gently flared thighs.

Click.

And that absolutely munchable—

“Hi, Ernest.”

Fuck!

Theo’s head and shoulders pop up on my screen, obscuring my view of busty_bare_bimbos_gallery_2.html. “It’s Theo, from school. Are you up for Mrs. Thrailkill’s assignment?”

Thrailkill! Who does that carcinogenic bitch think she is, anyway? Telling me who to collaborate with! “I know who you are, Theo.” I wipe my brow, readjust my pants before turning on my webcam.

“Oh, sorry,” Theo says, looking apologetic as soon as he sees me. “Did you just get out of the shower?”

Jesus, am I sweating that profusely? “Yeah. No big deal.”

I wait, alt-tabbing between Theo’s window and the Bimbos gallery. He’s saying something about how he’s looking forward to working with me and the others, but I’m not really listening. I try to nod at regular intervals, though, give him the impression that I’m not being an asshole. When Eva joins, I arrange her and Theo on the periphery of my screen, allowing my Web browser prime real-estate in the center. They talk to each other for a few minutes, and a balance is struck between me, my bimbos, and my study buddies. Jan ruins this, however, by popping up right where my favorite college cheerleader’s snatch is peeking out from under her miniskirt. Needless to say, my mojo is lost. Trampled. Wilting in my pants. I close my browser window—but not before bookmarking the Bimbos site.

Sorry ladies, but I have to make friends tonight.

“All right,” I say, grabbing pen and paper. “How do we start this thing?”

“I’ll go first,” Theo offers.

“Wait,” says Eva. “Do we, like, have each of us offer five things about herself, and everyone carbon-copies to their list? Or do we each have to learn five different things about each other person?”

“Fuck that,” I say. “That would mean fifteen facts per person. I don’t think any of us is that interesting.”

“Speak for yourself,” I hear Eva grumble, though by the time I look at her screen she’s smiling that way girls do after they’ve dispensed with something “witty.”

“I don’t think Mrs. Thrailkill really meant for us to do hardcore research,” says Theo. “It’s probably just something she has students like us do—an exercise. Busywork.”

I agree. Thrailkill must die. “Right. I say we treat this like a book report: first and last paragraph are genuine, middle three are filler.”

Eva rolls her eyes. “Geez, aren’t you three lazy.”

Jan looks like he wants to defend himself, but is too shy to speak up.

I decide to break the ice. “So, Jan, what’s with the girl’s name?”

“My name’s pronounced Yawn,” he corrects. “The J sounds like a Y.”

“Oh. You Lithuanian or something?”

“Czech.”

“I thought you said you were from Brno.”

“I am. I moved to the United States two years ago.”

“But Brno’s the capital of Switzerland, isn’t it?”

“You’re thinking of Bern,” Theo says. I can tell he wants to add “stupid,” but catches himself in time.

“Can we get started?” asks Eva, looking anxious. “I don’t want to spend my entire evening sitting in front of the computer.”

Girls. The more flat-chested, the more annoying. “Fine. Take it away, Theo.”

Theo clears his throat, adjusts his glasses, and looks thoughtful for a moment. “Um…my name’s Theo Smole. I’m twelve years old. I like to read mangas, and my favorite band is, um, Asia. My mom’s ‭an aromatherapist and homeopathic doctor who works out of our house.”

There’s a surprise, I think to myself, noting Theo’s porcelain-smooth skin. Not a single blemish, thanks to his witch-doctor mommy. I’m not jealous, though. Not much. “And you, Eva?”

“I’m twelve years old. My last name is Taylor. I like to make video scrapbooks in my spare time. My dad’s in construction. My mom runs a flower shop. I’m also on the wrestling team.”

“You can’t wrestle!” I blurt, innocently enough. “You’re a girl!”

Eva scowls at me. “I could take you down.”

Theo chuckles.

Jan smirks.

I glare at him. “Okay, your turn, Czech.”

I scrutinize his screen as he starts talking—I realize for the first time how choppy the video is. Five frames per second, max.

“Wait, wait,” I say, interrupting.

Jan stops, stares.

“Dude, I can not look at your messenger window. It’s giving me headaches.”

“What’s wrong with my window?” Jan asks.

“It’s the equivalent of a slide show.”

“Are you on dial-up?” asks Theo.

“DSL,” Jan responds.

“Who’s your provider?”

“Um…DXL Pro, I think.”

“Ugh,” I mutter. I’ve heard of DXL, and they suck ass. “You need to upgrade to cable.”

Jan snorts. “Why? Are you paying?”

“Why? Are you poor?”

Eva looks like she just shit herself. “How mean—”

Theo, evidently trying to be helpful, cuts in: “We could try different conferencing software. Maybe something with better compression.”

I nod, opening my browser and clicking the Bimbos bookmark. “Good idea, Theo. You look for a new video chat program, and when you find it, give us a holler.”

“Let’s all look,” Eva sighs, “and whoever finds something that looks suitable, send everyone else the URL. Okay?”

Theo is quick to agree. I can tell he’s already got a hard-on for Eva. The poor bastard, he doesn’t realize she’s way out of his league, one of those well-to-do girls who, despite her bug eyes, becomes a football player’s squeeze the very instant she turns sixteen. I know the score. Girls our age don’t want boys; they want men. Period. That leaves us junior guys with two options: Debra Lafave, or Internet porn.

I want to tell everyone I have better things to do (which I do), and not only because I get ornery when I don’t keep to my usual Internet schedule…but I can take one for the team if it’ll get Thrill-Kill off my case. And, truthfully, it’s not so bad having some new peeps to add to the ol’ buddy list. I mean, I have friends from middle school, too many, if you ask me (you don’t believe me? Fuck you, then!), but it’s convenient to have skipped over the preliminary socializing process at Boca Linda—even if it’s resulted in a nerd-jock-fatso-gurl combo.

(Hey, I’m a realist.)

I click over to softpedia.com, do a search, skim the results. At first, the candidates aren’t promising—

—then I see it.

“Hey, everyone,” I say. “I found a program! Sending the link right now.”

Theo scowls when he sees the name. “SuperMegaNet?”

“Hellz yeah! It’s both super and mega!”

“It’s still in beta, though.”

“Yeah, but look at the features. ‘Real-time, real-world conversation—no virtualization; automat
ic bandwidth optimization; superior transmission technology—you’re in the same room with your friends! SuperMegaNet: Ultimate Collaboration!’”

“Those are all vague terms. It sounds like vaporware.”

“Vaporware?” asks Jan.

“Yeah,” says Theo. “A work-in-progress that’s mediocre, or even shitty. The developers announce it way ahead of time to drum up buzz. They make false promises and use all these vague or confusing terms to make their product sound alluring…”

Theo’s voice turns to white noise in my head as I double-click the SuperMegaNet installer. That’s Theo’s problem, see? He thinks too much, whereas I use my thinking as a garnish on my actions. Keeps things moving. Theo is probably one of those kids who holds up the cafeteria line while trying to decide between chicken nuggets and chicken-fried steak. He’d never get anywhere in life without someone like me pushing him along.

“Okay, everyone have their shit installed?” I ask once the InstallShield wizard has completed.

“Yeah,” chime Jan and Eva in unison.

“Good…so what’s this ‘visitor’ and ‘host’ jargon?”

Theo looks disgruntled, but gives in to mob rule, installing the SuperMegaNet program and reading the instructions. “It says one of us has to serve as ‘host’ to everyone else—one of us will be the host, and the rest will be the visitors. Like, a server/client sort of thing.”

I laugh, skimming over the README file that’s appeared on my screen. “It says the host has to have enough room for all his guests, so don’t invite like thirty people if you don’t think they’ll fit in your board room, office, living room, bedroom, or whatever.”

“That’s dumb-speak,” says Theo. “It probably has to do with RAM and bandwidth and all that. If you have too many people in the same chat room the connection gets sluggish. We should be fine, though.”

“I don’t know about Jan,” I say, forgetting to pronounce the J as a Y. “His connection really sucks.”

“I get it,” Jan says. He rolls his eyes.

Theo holds up his hands, mediator-style. “Let’s just try this SuperMegaNet thing. Who wants to be host?”

“Why don’t you be the host?” asks Eva. “Your video looks the smoothest.”

“Okay, then.” Theo does some clicking. He nods. “Up and running. My room is called #theos_place.”

How original, I think. “I’ll go first, ’kay?”

Theo and Eva nod; Jan shrugs. I look at my shiny new messenger window, which is pretty fucking mediocre. There’s an input field and a button; above, there’s a pull-down menu labeled, “Transmission Quality.” I choose “high quality / broadband.” I enter Theo’s room name and click “Visit.”

Nothing happens.

After a moment, a message window pops up: “Error: You must be standing upright before transfer can begin.”

“Fuck.” I knew there’d be some troubleshooting involved sooner or later—there always is.

“What’s the matter?” asks Eva.

“Nothing,” I reply, clicking the visit button again…and again. Both times the program reminds me to stand up, as well as to make sure my webcam is pointed directly at me. I get to my feet, start to say something about shitware—

—and then it happens. I start to feel all tingly, head to toe. My vision blurs, everything becoming pixelated; for a moment I feel like cotton candy being pulled apart by a dozen eager hands (which is weird, because I’ve never been cotton candy before—but I’m absolutely sure this is what it feels like). Next: a frizzy sweater being knitted at light-speed by a grandmother on acid just before she runs out of thread and tosses me onto the floor in a fit of rage—

—Theo is standing over me. His eyes are boggling.

“How the hell did you get into my bedroom…?” I begin, but trail off when I realize I’m the one trespassing in his room.

His room!

I get to my feet, shaking all over. I glance here and there, see Asia posters, CD racks, book cases, some kind of bonsai plant in the corner, a Chinese lantern, everything too neat and clean—

“No…fucking…way…” I breathe. I’m not a Trekkie; I think science fiction is bullshit (well, it is), but I swear to God I’m telling the truth when I say I’ve somehow transported into Theo’s bedroom!

Theo doesn’t look too sure.

In fact, I think he’s just pissed himself.

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jesse

Book designer and formatter based in southern California. Supreme overlord of the SuperMegaNet pseudoverse.