Today is another double feature of posts. If you’re looking for Part One.19. of Soul Cages, scroll down the home page because it was posted first. Next up in this post is King of All He Surveyed. Seventh grader Winston Sawyer MacDonald knows he can code circles around his classmates and the school admins. This time he tops his past exploits: he learns how to hack mindcoms. But what he finds in the mind of another during a quest for revenge might change not only his victim, but himself as well.
King of All He Surveyed
Second edition copyright © 2014 by Lynn Kilmore
Copyright © 2013 by L. M. May
Published by Osuna Publishing
This story is a work of fiction. The characters, names, incidents, dialogue, and locales are either drawn from the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, and locales is entirely coincidental.
He was Winston Sawyer MacDonald, seventh grader, hackmaster … and he would be king of all he surveyed.
Of course, what he surveyed—as he chewed his rubber-like slice of pizza—was an Illinois middle school cafeteria at lunchtime, that stank of soured milk and over-boiled spaghetti, but one had to start somewhere to flex one’s newest secret power.
He watched (through his eyescreens) the citizens of his soon-to-be kingdom. Sitting around him were his hack-buds; they were the masters of the net systems of the school. He and his buds might not be popular with the in-crowd, but they were feared once word got out that he’d taught them how to crack the school’s systems.
His best-bud Franz poked him with an elbow. Bud, Franz sent by mindcom on the hack-buds’ private channel, there’s Connelly.
Connelly and his bully-buds had made the mistake back in September of jumping Winston’s hack-bud Jahnu, and since then Winston and his crew had made school life miserable for the attackers with lost datafiles, broken net connections, and embarrassing netaura screwups.
Yup. There was Connelly, coming out of the serving line with his tray of spaghetti.
Buds, Winston sent, the spaghetti looks like ripped-out bloody intestines today.
His buds laughed. Genuine laughs. Not that fake crap Connelly got from his crew when that loser told a crummy joke.
Eww, Cho sent as she wrinkled her nose at Winston. That’s a gross thought. She nudged away her tray of half-eaten spaghetti, and he wondered if he ought to have kept the joke to himself.
Are you going to do the pink bunnies trick to his netaura again? Franz asked. That was so frigging funny.
No, Winston sent. Not unless he messes with my buds.
Today Connelly had skull and crossbones images floating in his private netaura for everyone—except the teachers and admins and cafeteria employees—to see with their eyescreens (the grown-ups only saw boring blankspace). The winter-break-is-almost-here ruckus in the cafeteria made it impossible for Winston to hear with his own ears what that jerkface might be saying to his bully-buds.
But he could find out—without even linking in to the cafeteria’s monitoring systems—with his new hacktool abilities.
He kept his hands hidden underneath the cafeteria table as he typed out with his fingertip compchips the command to boot his brand-spanking new mindcom program that would make him the one man who could see in this blind kingdom.
“—and then she said, ‘Get the friggin’ hell away from him!'” Connelly laughed, and his bully-buds gave each other high fives at whatever story the jerkface had told about terrorizing some helpless goober.
Winston was pleased to find he had succeeded in hooking himself into the eyescreens and mindcom feed of Connelly himself. He couldn’t taste the spaghetti that Connelly was eating, nor could he smell its rancid meat-stink, nor feel it wriggle in his mouth like boiled worms, but he could darn well hear Connelly’s slurping sounds, and see the oily red crap the cafeteria called ‘sauce.’
The pasta really did look like boiled alien worms up close.
Then Alyson, dressed in a white sweater and denim jeans, came out of the serving line (with the rubbery pizza instead of the spaghetti gunk) and it felt like his heart would balloon out of his chest and float away.
He would be king, but she would be his queen.
She just didn’t know it yet.
He’d figure out some way to win her. He just had to get to know her better, find out what she loved, what she hated, what she dreamed about.
Winston slipped out of Connelly’s mindcom, and hooked on in to hers.
Her best-buds had just come out as well: all with the pizza. He’d noticed how they always chose what Alyson chose for lunch—and his heart did odd excited thump-a-THUMP pounds in his chest as he listened in on their private best-buds’ channel.
Melissa sent, Alyson, I think that lipgloss looks great on yo—
The flood of messages on the cafeteria’s open mindlink channel was so heavy that Winston could almost see the linklines with his eyescreens.
Darn it, Piggy had exited the serving line with a tray of spaghetti, and Alyson and her buds had stopped chatting on their private mindcom line to stare at the girl.
Winston couldn’t remember what Piggy’s real name was, but she was the embodiment of all that was ugly in the world. Her eyescreens were the old clunky type that looked like goggles, and instead of having a neat clean 0.7 cm wide mindcom implant at the base of her skull, her mindcom looked like an old-timer device that had been excavated out of the information stone age.
The sight of that old 5 cm wide box at the base of her skull was enough to make Winston shudder with disgust. Not to mention her compchip gloves with the wires sticking out of them.
Her crappy old hacktools bothered him a lot more than her seemingly endless rolls of fat that spilled down her front and sides and back. With the way the goggles bulged out over her eyes, it made her look even more piglike.
Connelly made loud oinking noises and his bully-buds joined in.
Piggy paused, as if to soak up all the insults hurled at her by the mindcom links and by the old-fashioned meat way of making noises and gestures.
Then she got that mean look that had scared the beezejus out of Franz. (One of these days, he’d sent after she’d given him what he called her ‘wild boar glare,’ she’s going to skewer someone with her tusks.)
Alyson and her best-buds stood there, frozen, watching the ruckus over Piggy.
Winston saw Piggy up-close through Alyson’s eyescreens … could see the tiny beads of sweat on Piggy’s upper lip. See the narrowed eyes as they flicked back and forth behind the goggles.
Piggy charged straight at Alyson, and dumped her plastic plate of spaghetti all over Alyson’s chest.
“Aaaugh!” Alyson shouted, and Winston’s own hands flicked in sympathy to try to wipe the smears of oily spaghetti off her sweater.
Oh, man, Franz sent, I told you Piggy’d lose it and gore those around her.
The way the spaghetti sauce had smeared across Alyson’s sweater, it did make her look like she’d been gored.
Connelly and his crew noticed, and sent off by the cafeteria’s mindlink channel, Look at Alyson’s barf!
Many students in the cafeteria began to laugh.
Winston jumped out of his chair to go to Alyson. Piggy had fled the cafeteria, which was good, ’cause otherwise he would have pounded her into the ground with his fists—
(he could see through Alyson’s eyescreens as well as his own, see Connelly LAUGHING at her)
—as Alyson’s best-buds took her tray away from her to help her go to their table, but Alyson was frozen to the spot, shocked, and the laughter around the cafeteria was getting louder, those morons were laughing at her—
(he could hear Alyson breathe in gasps that hitched into near sobs)
—and Winston dropped out of her mindcom so that he wouldn’t get confused by seeing himself as he reached her. Before her best-buds could stop him, he’d gently escorted her to her table.
The laughter died out, replaced with a nervous watchful silence.
He would have savored such a moment, but Alyson was near tears, and he knew, and she knew, that it was important not to cry in front of these losers, or they’d tease her about it.
He helped her sit down by first pulling out a chair for her, then holding her arm to lower her into it as if she were breakable glass. He ignored the way her best-buds frowned at him.
Instead he sat down next to her.
Alyson’s breaths no longer had a hitch to them. He tried not to get drunk on her perfume, which smelled like a warm moonlit summer night to him.
It felt as if it were just the two of them in the cafeteria, that no one else mattered.
Hey bud, Franz sent, and Winston unlinked out of the hack-bud channel so those goobers wouldn’t bother him during the most important moment of his life.
Alyson put a trembling hand on his wrist. Let’s talk on a private channel, she sent.
This request pissed off her best-buds, and they gave him looks of disgust as he linked up a quiet private channel between his mindcom and Alyson’s.
However, he also linked back into her best-buds’ private channel.
Why are you wasting time on this loser? Melissa sent.
He can help me, Alyson sent. I’m going to pay Piggy back for humiliating me like this.
Winston pretended to still be working on hacking open a private channel, so that he could listen in a little longer.
You don’t need this guy to do that, Melissa sent. We’re your buds. We’ll corner her in the bathroom and—
No, Alyson sent. I want something special done. She’s humiliated me in front of EVERYONE, and I’m going to pay her back in kind.
Connelly and his bully-buds had their heads together, and wild hyena-like laughter could be heard.
Everyone hates her, Melissa sent. Everyone will be after Piggy for what she did to you.
No, they WON’T. Tears could be seen forming behind Alyson’s eyescreens. They all thought it was funny! She sent to Winston, her lips pursed, impatient, Done yet?
All set, he sent.
They linked into the private channel, and he blocked with his mindcom the hacks others tried to do in order to tap into their conversation.
You saw what Piggy did to me, Alyson sent.
I want you to get her back. Alyson sniffled.
What is it that you want me to do?
I want you to make her cry, here, in the cafeteria. The tears were beginning to dry behind Alyson’s eyescreens, he could barely make them out. You embarrassed Connelly by putting those pink bunnies in his netaura. No one has ever made Piggy cry, but I bet YOU could.
It would serve Piggy right if he punished her for what she’d done to Alyson. With his new hacktool skills, he’d be able to figure out how to get under Piggy’s skin.
I’ll do it, he sent.
Alyson sighed, then blinked a few times. She sent, Next month, there’s a dance. Maybe …
She let the thought hang there between them. He wanted to shout in triumph and do a victory dance on the cafeteria tables.
Alyson Kenyon had made it clear that she wanted him to ask her out.
Winston needed to be careful. Too many people, too many school admins, knew about how he and his hack-buds had paid Connelly and his bully-buds back for Jahnu’s beating. The admins had turned a blind eye to what Winston’d done (he hadn’t even been called in to meet with a counselor), but then, they’d had no conclusive proof to act on. He’d made sure of that.
He decided that at school he’d stay away from Piggy’s mindcom entirely.
His hack-buds had figured out what was going on between him and Alyson, and for the rest of that Tuesday they made jokes about him having a crush on her. He’d moved too fast and too uncool-like in going to her rescue.
Franz was the worst. So, you gonna fight Piggy to the death with forks for Alyson’s honor?
He got so angry with his best-bud at those sent thoughts that he decided to unlink himself from his hack-buds for the rest of the school day.
Then Franz whispered in mock-drama to Cho while they all three sat together in English class, “He’s under her spell.”
Cho hadn’t been amused by Franz’s joke. Nor did she seem to approve that Winston had gone to Alyson’s rescue.
Winston secretly hopped into Franz’s mindcom, and overheard his best-bud send to their hack-buds, Winston will get over this. He’ll be bored with Alyson in less than a month, I guarantee it.
Rage made him unable to see through Franz’s eyescreeens, and he unlinked himself before he lost control and beat up his best-bud for dissing his girl.
For the rest of the afternoon at school, Winston bounced in and out of everyone’s private mindcom channels in order to keep track of Piggy, and soon found himself fed up with the endless insults his classmates either spoke or sent to her. Absolutely worthless predictable trash talk, and he found himself forced to admit that Piggy was hard core, for none of it made her even blink an eyelash.
As for the private mindcom chatter of his classmates and teachers, most of it was so deadly dull it made him want to pound his forehead against the nearest locker as he listened in.
Well, it could be worse.
An involuntary shudder ran up his spine. He’d made the mistake of first testing out his new hacktool skills on his parents, and dang, he was so sorry he had, ’cause he’d stumbled into a few seconds of horror he never wanted to experience again in his lifetime: his parents kissing.
He shuddered again at the memory. Mindwipes couldn’t be invented soon enough as far as he was concerned, ’cause he wanted those few seconds of his folks smooching gone from his memory. He’d rather pretend he’d been generated in a test tube.
So he wasn’t looking forward to hooking in to Piggy’s mindcom, ’cause he didn’t know what gross-out he might experience.
After dinner at home, Winston messed around in his bedroom with checking his hacktools for software bugs for the fourth time, even though that made him a goober for being so chicken about linking up with Piggy’s mindcom.
He knew he was stalling.
He knew everything was green for go.
Except for him.
Her mindcom equipment sucks so bad, he thought, it’s going to be a gross-fest just ’cause of that. But I gotta do this for Alyson’s sake.
He leaned back in his cushioned backchair. “For Alyson,” he whispered to himself, and linked into the net channel that would bring him to the apartment where Piggy lived. …
********** End of King of All He Surveyed – Excerpt **********
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Until next time, L.M.