Red Bull Gives You Broken Wings

@ernie

It’s not like you don’t know any better. I mean, you installed the SMN client on your computer. You don’t install a social networking program unless you intend to network, right? Right. So don’t get your panties in a knot when someone new drops by.

That’s what’s going through my mind as I materialize in amber268’s bedroom, as she looks at me and screams, drops her hair brush. I’ve brought a box of SnackWell’s with me as a gift, but she doesn’t seem to care as she backs away from her computer and stands holding her towel around herself.

It seems I’ve caught her just out of the shower.

“Hello, darling,” I say, trying not to stare at her legs.

She points at her computer. “Fuck off!”

“That’s no way to treat a fellow SMN user.”

“I don’t care! Get lost!”

“Really, now. My feelings are hurt.”

“Ugh! Little boy, didn’t your parents ever teach you to knock?”

I shrug. “My parents are dead. And besides, this is the Internet. There are no doors. Here…” I open the cookie box. “Have one.”

Amber blinks, looks the slightest bit sorry. I’m imagining what she looks like without the towel. “Is that true?”

“What, the doors thing or my parents being dead?”

“Your parents.”

“Yeah, it’s true. They died when I was little. Black Friday stampede.”

“That’s so sad!”

“Yeah,” I say. Most people react like that when I tell them about my parents. If my timing had been better, Amber might have let me snuggle up against her bosom and “talk” about it. “I’m still dealing with the trauma. My shrink says it’s important to work on my intimacy, supplement what I haven’t been getting from my parents.”

Amber cocks her head, fathoming—but, as I mentioned, my timing is off. She’s still pissed that I’m here, and it only takes a moment for her to recover her attitude.

Pointing again at her computer, she says, “Go away.”

“Fine.” Go back to shaving the barnacle from between your legs, or whatever it was you were doing before I got here.

I upload back home, sit at my desk, the SnackWell’s box propped on my knees.

It’s almost midnight.

Click.

I should probably finish my homework—but instead I pop the tab to another Red Bull.

Click-click.

I swallow another dose of caffeine.

I move on down the list in a state of denial, a part of me screaming bloody murder because I’ve very nearly visited every one of my 213 “buddies” and I haven’t anything to show for it (Theo, Eva, and Jan don’t count—they’re the defaults). I figured there’d be more of a sensation to the whole SMN thing. So far, no one gives a rat’s ass about fat little Ernest Goodale. No one cool, anyway. No one old enough to drink or buy porno. It’s like having a MySpace full of people you never talk to, and it’s annoying the hell out of me.

Even more annoying: the fact that the SuperMegaNet “Make Friends” interface is so surprisingly simple. Simple, but not easy. It’s really just a table of thumbnailed, real-time video feeds. There are users logged in from all over the world, some talking, others typing, writing, eating, drinking, singing, playing guitar, performing acrobatics, kissing, having sex—anything goes, it seems (the sex displays never last long, though, which leads me to believe there’s some sort of moderation system in place). My favorites are the college girls. I’ve filtered my search results to include only females, ages eighteen to twenty-two…and I’m realizing with each rejection that online women are exactly like offline women: the prettier you are, the more likely it is that you’re a bitch. Still, you’re my yummy favorites, and, like a fool, I keep trying.

I discover the SMN skins feature on accident. I should know better, I should recognize the warning signs—I should have read the help page before trying to make friends with all my buddies. It’s hard. From my perspective, I’m about to visit an enthusiastic brunette with humongous boobs and an empty dorm room.

“Sure, c’mon over,” she says after we’ve exchanged pleasantries. She beckons to me via the video chat window. “My roommates are out for the night, and I’m so bored.”

Jackpot! screams my libido.

Too easy! Danger, danger! screams my conscience.

Shut up, I tell them both. My virginity salutes me, says it’s been an honor serving me, and prepares to bail out. As soon as I finish downloading, however, I know I’ve been had. My busty brunette turns out to be an overweight oaf of a man wearing the most horrific mullet I’ve ever seen. He says that his name’s Brian and that he’s having a sucker party.

“pwned!” his friends shout, pronouncing the “p” with gusto. They snap my photo, point, laugh. They begin to chant: “Fat kid gonna get some! Fat kid gonna get some!”

Now I’m really pissed. I want to punch everyone in the face. I want to overturn the furniture. I want to rip the mullet from Brian’s scalp and banish it back to the horrific dimension from which it was conjured.

While all this is going through my head, Brian sends me home. It takes a full five minutes for me to notice the change in scenery. Afterward, sitting at my computer and angrily clicking here and there, it’s another five minutes before I realize I can’t seem to remove the bastard from my buddy list.

I open the SMN help file, which looks like it was thrown together at the last minute. Typos abound, and some pages are missing altogether. There is no mention of adding / removing buddies. Skins are briefly described:

Skins are a beta feature of SuperMegaNet. Using the Skins add-on, you can alter your digitized appearance, including hair style, eye and skin color, height, weight, build, and more. Currently, this only works in video chat, but with version 1.0 you can expect skins to function throughout your SMN experience. Finally, you can be who you always wanted to be!

I hold my head in my hands.

Fuck Brian and his gay posse. Fuck SuperMegaNet.

I’m so deep in self-pity that I don’t hear her materialize—not that I would, even if I’d been paying attention. This isn’t Star Trek; there’s no chiming or ringing or cheesy flickering lights, only the something-from-nothing sound of clothes rustling behind me, a muffled greeting:

“Um…hi.”

I swivel around in my chair, inadvertently knocking an empty soda can onto the floor. It rolls across the carpet and stops at the sneakered feet of a girl who’s just downloaded herself into my room. She’s carrying a grocery bag.

I want to tell her off, but am too exasperated to give her more than, “Who are you?”

The girl is slow to respond. It looks like she’s having a hard time getting the words out. It’s probably her first time downloading. “I’m Becky. I, um, saw what happened to you, and…I felt so bad I…I thought you could use a friend.”

Yeah, yeah. Rub it in. “I haven’t had the best of luck with this SuperMegaNet bullshit just yet.”

“Tell me about it,” Becky laughs, nervously. “The whole thing is a popularity contest, just like at school.”

I study her. She’s fat, like me, freckled, and has a pig nose—and her laugh sounds like chocolate frosting. Th
ick and gooey. I don’t know how else to describe it. She must eat a lot of dairy. However, she does have several things going for her: she’s my age, she’s actually come to me in search of friendship—

—and she’s brought snacks.

“Ginger snaps are my favorite,” she says as she sits cross-legged on the floor with me. She empties her bag; the space between us becomes cluttered with junk food. “The fruit bars are good, too.”

I’m speechless. I grab a ginger snap. And a fruit bar. And more.

I totally forget about pretty college girls.

This must be what it feels like to fall in love.

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jesse

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