by Zoe Harding

(Part 1 of a serialised prose fiction endeavour.)

Download the attachment, click the link and whoah hang the fuck on here.

It’s not easy to properly rip a headset off your head. They tend to tangle on your ears, or else there’s a cable somewhere that gets in your hair and insta-knots itself until it might as well be glued there. When I had long hair it was even worse, but even my current slightly-longer-than-a-buzz-cut approach still manages to trap the occasional stray wire in its velcro-like hooks.

Still, I manage it, because when you’re the sort of person that I am, you develop a pretty impressive set of reflexes for certain situations. Part of that is down to the still-can’t-quite-believe-that-happened bullshit that was the Meme Wars leaving its scar on our collective psyche. Some of the shit the Russians worked out how to do with flashing lights and the Mark 1 Eyeball remains impossible to describe, both due to of its design and because of the gag limitations of the human stomach. But it’s also partly down to my own situation which is sadly far from unique but also far from common.

I feel the sort of revulsion you get when you accidentally stick your hand into something dead. In the first few hyperventilating seconds after I rip off the headset, it dawns on me that what I’ve just witnessed indicates that that, metaphorically, is pretty much what’s just happened.

– What the fuck was that?

– What was what?

– Mate please read my fucking profile it says no DeepGrey. Not fucking ever.

He starts typing something else, but I’m already clicking ‘block’ and starting the process of sanitising the profiles in contact with him. Who knows how long ago he got infected, but if there’s a chain of infectious logic running through his posts, I sure as fuck don’t need it worming its way into my brain. I’ve done this before, I’m actually getting quite good at it – people much bigger and nastier than him have tried, after all.

Fucking DeepGrey. I suppose it’s better than the Nazis, but that’s not a high bar to clear.

Soon enough his social media feed is nothing more than a string of discreet grey squares left behind by my nuclear death-squad adblocker killing the targeted ads my various feeds run instead of blocked posts. One has got through, firing a hangover ad from the extremely delicate erotica Cait and I shared on Monday night, and I enjoy a little moment of satisfaction as I flick the adblocker’s interface on and drag a targeting box around it. Whichever clever little shit thought that up is going to be staring down the barrels of North Atlantic GreySec’s finest DDoS cannons shortly, and good fucking luck spamming people when any server you touch immediately goes white-hot from the strain of a billion zombie fridges nagging it across the airwaves.

But killing a marketing agency by siccing adblocker PDSCs on them isn’t enough to make me forget the loss of another promising fellow traveller on this increasingly abstract road we all walk. I’ve just been brushed by the tendrils of a carnivorous LinkedIn god, and I need a break.

I leave the headset where it is, spilling toxic spreadsheet garbage out onto the cheap student-proof carpet, and go to the kitchen for a drink. I briefly consider the pack of better-not-to-ask beer in the bottom drawer (they’ve stopped labelling the imports with country of origin; present wild speculation suggests it’s Ukrainian this week), but decide to go the techno-monk route a little longer and just drink water. I scrape out the kettle and boil some.

Well, fuck. I should have seen it coming, with hindsight. Certain kinds of people have the hooks in their heads, plain and simple. Either they heed the advice to stay the hell away from the internet until they’ve worked through their shit (nigh-impossible in the modern world, but doable, if you know the right monks) or they give in to that horrible human impulse to look. They can’t be blamed. It’s a deep, but utterly un-hackable human instinct, and one which some focus-testing bunch of drones damn near doomed humanity with by first discovering and then opting to exploit. Then they’re rapidly recycled into another increasingly useless component of the new global meta-mind, all individuality scooped out and replaced with case management software.

My doomed friend back there certainly had the right kind of dysfunction; uncertainty, a bit of parental angst, and that weird little thing in your head that makes you not just follow the herd but tut at the dissidents. I’d hoped he was working past them, and then the bastard sends me a blog post that oozes DeepGrey from every single mindless, overly-matey optimised word.

The kettle pings, mercifully free of ransomware ever since Jenny’s boyfriend did something warranty-violating to it with a screwdriver, and installed a bicycle bell to let us know when it had boiled (the previous method, uploading a DM to a social media account of your choice, is both hooked up to long-abandoned trash fire accounts and currently at the mercy of a man in Kuala Lumpur who wants the unbelievable sum of $12,000 in bitcoin). I tip the water out through a filter and study it for a moment before deciding to take my chances. It still tastes of tin.

I pop back into the other room, remembering too late that I forgot to switch the screen to safe mode. A pair of alts have sent a couple of plaintive messages – the distributed business hivemind behind them evidently now realising in its dumb way that it’s losing me – but I don’t open their attachments and their words are pleasingly free of DeepGrey memes for the time being. I delete and block with extreme prejudice, and check my honeypot Twitter account through the internet equivalent of a six-inch blast door with a machine gun port in it.

The new DeepGrey drone’s DMs are buried in a tide of Nazi memes and misguided solicitations. Not a problem: the Nazis are still having 90% of their images replaced by gifs of some nameless Antifa punching some equally nameless Nazi in his spongy fascist face during a speech, (which I still find funny) and the dick pics remain a testament to the truly woeful endowment situation of the average gentleman-about-town.

I pull up a chair to the ancient laptop balanced on a stack of loose clothes on my windowsill, and tap in the passcode, picking at the tape covering the fingerprint reader and webcam. Time to add the poor bastard to the memorial.

Featured image CC BY-SA 2.0 Torley


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