“Theo!” Eva calls from her SMN window. “Psst! Theo! I need your help!”
It’s the tail-end of a dreamless night, about half an hour before I usually wake up for school. I sit up in my sleeping bag, rub my eyes, glance at my computer screen. It doesn’t occur to me that I can actually see Eva’s face clearly until I fumble for my glasses, stick them on my face, and blink in momentary confusion as everything goes blurry. At first I’m thinking I’ve got a major case of eye snot—then I remember the New Eyes, the nanobots swimming in my eyeballs, molding them to spec. I take my glasses off and look around the room. Everything is crystal clear. Even my floaters are gone!
Eva calls me again. I get up, walk over to my computer, delighting in the crisp details of the mouse pad, the keyboard, the neatly-stacked volumes of Megatokyo resting beside my bamboo pencil holder. “What’s going on?” I murmur.
“You know your tech, right?” Eva asks.
“Sure. I built my own rig, Core 2 Duo, four gigs of RAM—”
“Good. Listen, I’m having some trouble with my PC. Do you think you could come over for a sec and take a look?”
The sound of heavy breathing and loud smacking noises fills the air. I glance over my shoulder, down at my sleeping bag. Mini-Theo is making out with a pillow and gasping, “Did you hear that? A girl wants us to download into her bedroom!”
I ignore him…though I admit the concept of visiting Eva’s room is undeniably tantalizing. “Sure. Um, right now?”
Eva nods. “If it’s not too much trouble.”
“No, not at all. Hang on a sec.”
I click the “Visit” button.
Mini-Theo, as I start to upload: “You’re not taking me with you?”
“Nope,” I reply, frowning, wondering again just where I got a plush doll of myself (and a talking plush doll, at that). Mini-Theo looks annoyed as he and the Zen of my room blink away. In their place: shag carpeting, trophy-lined walls—and a troop of life-sized The Nightmare Before Christmas dolls.
“Good morning,” I say to Eva. (I try not to notice how Jack Skellington is smiling down at me in happy morbidity.)
Eva rises from her desk. She blinks at me. “Oh.”
I blink back. “Oh, what?”
“You forgot your glasses.”
“No, I didn’t.” I touch my face instinctively. “I have New Eyes.”
“New Eyes?” Eva scowls. “You mean those eye drop things? I thought they were illegal.”
“Really?” I swallow hard.
“Yeah. Something about the high occurrence of optical nerve rot. Geez, Theo, tell me your parents did their homework before they took you down to Chinatown—or wherever it was you got those things.”
“I…I…” I’m going to be sick. “Beta gave them to me.”
“I thought you were going to kick him out,” Eva says, pertly.
“I was, but then we got to talking and—”
“Theo, he sweet-talked you.”
“Oh, I don’t think so. He’s just an ordinary guy going through some hard times.”
“Mm-hm.” Eva folds her arms. “An ordinary guy—living in a laptop in your bedroom. Perfectly normal.”
I can appreciate her sarcasm. But right now I’m more concerned about my eyes. What in God’s name is optical nerve rot? Are my New Eyes starting to itch at the back? Is that excess fluid I feel applying pressure to my lower eyelids? Is that—
—I cut myself off, force myself to think about other things. CBT. “You said you’re having trouble with your computer?”
Eva nods. “I need to uninstall SuperMegaNet.”
Eva starts to answer, but stops short when someone knocks on her door.
“Quick!” she hisses, her bug eyes bulging something terrible. She shoves me into the heart of the Nightmare troop. “Keep perfectly still!”
I do my best puppet impression, and I wonder what it is about me nearly getting caught every time I download into someone’s room.
Eva goes over to the door, opens it, pretends she’s just risen from bed as Mrs. Taylor steps slightly inside.
“Good morning, dear,” she says. “Breakfast in five. Is all your homework done?”
“Of course it is,” Eva says.
Mrs. Taylor nods approvingly. “Just to let you know, I’ve got some errands to run later, so your dad will be picking you up from practice today…is that a new doll?”
“The little boy in the sweats and T-shirt—”
Eva rolls her eyes. “I’ve had him forever, mom. You never pay attention.”
Mrs. Taylor studies me for the longest moment, during which I’m convinced the jig is up. Nevertheless, I continue to take shallow breaths, I continue to force myself not to blink, I continue to wait. And wait. And…just when I’m ready to burst Mrs. Taylor shrugs, reminds Eva about breakfast, and leaves the room.
“See?” Eva says once she’s closed the door. “This is why I need to stop using SMN. I always feel like I’m getting caught.”
I become animated again, shaking out my arms and legs. “Maybe if you just told your parents, explained to them what the program is and how you use it.”
“You’d be surprised. Not all parents are stodgy Stone Agers.”
Eva looks at me amusedly. “Have you told your parents about SuperMegaNet?”
“Well, no,” I say. “But that’s because I haven’t had time.”
“Mm-hm.” Eva shakes her head. “Ernie, fat and dumb as he is, was right when he had us make that pact. But I don’t want to do it anymore. You shouldn’t, either.”
“Come on, Theo. You’re very impressionable. People give you something or tell you to do something and you take or do it without question. Today it’s New Eyes, tomorrow it’s cigarettes.”
“I’m not impressionable.” Really, I’m not. I wanted to install SMN, I wanted to try the New Eyes—and not just because I was running with the pack at the time. Even though I only interact with three people on my buddy list, SuperMegaNet makes me feel connected. My New Eyes let me see.
Eva sighs, walks over to her desk. “I have to get ready for school. Are you going to help me or not?”
“Yeah,” I say, following. “I guess this means we won’t be talking much from now on.”
“We live in the same town,” Eva says. “I’m sure there are other ways to see each other besides the Internet.”
Possibly. “Okay. I’ll show you what to do—just don’t do it until after I’ve uploaded back home.”
I take Eva’s mouse and start poking around the Start menu. The SuperMegaNet entry has no uninstall option. “Did you try going into the Control Panel and removing it from there?”
“Yeah. I tried killing it from the task manager, too, and it wouldn’t die. I even went a step further. Watch this.” Getting down on all fours, Eva crawls behind her desk, fiddles with something, crawls back out. She stands beside me with her hands on her hips. “There. See?”
“What did you do?” I ask, glancing at the computer, at the screen.
“I unplugged the computer.”
“No, you didn’t. It’s still on.”
“Exactly. I unplugged it, and it’s still on. How is that possible?”
I narrow my eyes at Eva. “You’re joking.”
“I’m not. Check for yourself.”
Not to be a jerk or anything, but I do—and she’s right. The computer’s unplugged.
“Do you have a screwdriver handy?” I call out.
“Yeah, hang on,” Eva replies, and rummages through one of her drawers. She hands me a Phillips.
I take off the side panel, poke my head inside. Though highly unlikely, there should be a huge battery or something. Not so. This thing is chugging right along without any power.
I crawl back out from under the desk; I sit on my haunches with a bewildered look on my face. “I don’t get it.”
“This is another reason I don’t like SuperMegaNet,” Eva sighs. “You can’t get rid of it.”