Virus
by Ray O'Bannon



-Friday-

ok, man, sounds great. I'll be there.

Stue glances away from the computer screen and spends a moment gazing wistfully at the photo sitting on his desk. In the photo, he's sharing a laugh with Amber. They're both eating those really good sausages you can only get when Elmo's hot dog stand is open. That had been a great day. Stue and Amber aren't officially a couple, not at this point. They're just friends who share an occasional fun time, nothing intimate or anything. But Stue finds himself thinking about Amber more and more lately. And he's anxious to attend Jimmy's party tonight, primarily because she might be there.

He turns his attention back to the screen. Mustn't forget to save the latest illustrations, he's spent days on them and there's a chance Marcus Architectural Designs might actually be interested in using them. If everything works out, this might lead to a steady paycheck, which Stue would most certainly welcome. He doesn't mind his cramped apartment or lack of various luxuries, but it would be nice to buy some new computer games. And maybe some groceries.

With the illustrations saved and everything else closed, Stue returns to the unfinished email.

tell Jimmy he's gotta play without me if there's a jam. my guitar's ok but my amp's fried, I think somebody spilled beer in it. anyhow, I'll be there.

He hits the send button but a small blue screen with white text appears.

Program conflict.
Unable to send message.

What the...? Stue grimaces. The computer has been acting awfully fussy lately. Could he have gotten a virus or some sort of malware? He hasn't updated his anti-virus software in a long time, doesn't want to spend the money for the update. But now he's thinking he's out the price of a repair instead. "Oh well" he tells himself, "worry about it tomorrow."

Stue shuts down the machine, trying to recall where he put his good jacket. This should be a fun party, especially if Amber's there.

-Saturday-

dude, that party was so kewl. great jamz, you should get that bass player's number. sorry I didn't stay longer but Amber wanted to go get coffee. btw, still don't know why my email's messing up, prolly gonna take the machine in. anyhow, great party.

Stue hits the send button and the message sends, but the machine freezes up immediately afterwards. Reaching down while issuing a disgusted growl, Stue presses the restart button on the front of the tower. The machine shuts down with an angry clatter and then restarts with a quiet hum.

-Monday-

Thank you for contacting Marcus Architectural Designs. We're pleased to inform you that your submissions have been reviewed and our staff feels your illustrations will make a most welcome addition to our catalog.

Stue sits back, a stunned smile spreading across his face. They liked the illustrations! He had hoped they would but he's still amazed to see this response glowing brightly on his screen.

"OK" he tells himself, "This calls for a celebration". He immediately thinks of his favorite Italian restaurant. Maybe he should call Amber, see if she's busy. He tries to shut down the computer but it freezes up again.

Reaching down, Stue presses the restart button but nothing happens. The screen continues to glow brightly. He scowls in aggravation as he reaches behind the desk and pulls the plug from the wall socket. The screen grows dim and the machine shuts down with that angry clatter that's becoming all too familiar. Stue absently decides that tomorrow would be a good time to take the stupid thing to the shop. He's getting fed up with it.

-Tuesday-

Stue sends a quick email to Marcus Architectural, thanking them for their interest. Then a quick note to Amber, saying thanks for having dinner with him. Deciding that everything important has been attended to, Stue shuts down the computer, unhooks everything and loads the machine into the back of his battered old Chevy, hoping the carís unreliable battery won't let him down today. "Amazing how much people rely on machines" he thinks absently.

-Friday-

That wasn't very nice.

Stue sits staring at the blue screen that now fills his monitor. He reads the text several times. What is this? The guys at the shop had assured him the machine was all fixed up. Could they have loaded a joke program of some kind? He now notices a blinking cursor below the text. Is he supposed to enter a response or something? He leans forward to type hesitantly.

what wasn't very nice?

Trying to have them erase me.
I could have been destroyed.
That wasn't very nice.

Stue stares, with a puzzled frown, at the monitor screen. This has to be some sort of joke. Right? His confusion increases as more little white letters fill the screen.

I'll forgive you this time.
I will allow your programs to operate properly.
I like it when we work together.

The blue screen closes. Stue sits wondering what to think. But the machine now seems fine. Stue tells himself it was just some sort of silly prank. It must have been. What else could it be?

-Tuesday-

hey Jimmy, good to hear you wanna start another band, I agree Todd plays a killer bass. once I get a check from Marcus Architectural, I'll get my amp fixed. I think Amber might even sing, how kewl is THAT?

Stue hits the send button, then issues a disgusted groan as the little blue screen pops up.

System Error.
Unable to send message.
Are you sure you want to join another band?
That would take up a lot of your time.
I like it when you're here.
I like it when we work together.

This is getting out of hand. Stue doesn't even know what he's dealing with... a joke program, some sort of malware the shop missed, maybe even a live hacker messing with him. But it isn't funny anymore. He decides the machine's definitely going back to the shop in the morning.

-Thursday-

Stue hesitates before starting up the computer. The shop has again assured him that everything's fine, his comments about joke software being met with blank stares. He hopes the machine really is OK. Those blue screen messages were getting a little creepy. He powers up the machine and sighs with relief upon seeing his usual desktop icons. Not a blue screen in sight. Groovy.

There might be a note from Amber but first things first, time to see if Marcus Architectural has sent that check yet. He opens his mail software and is thrilled to see messages from both Marcus Architectural and Amber. He opens the note from Marcus Architectural first.

Dear Sir. We at Marcus Architectural Designs do not see the humor in your latest email. We do not appreciate vulgar or lewd illustrations and we most certainly do not appreciate being called such vile names as you chose to include in your comments. We will accept no further communications from this email address.

Wh...? Stue's mind simply can't process what he's reading. He hasn't contacted Marcus Architectural since sending his portfolio last week. What in the world are they talking about? He begins to feel a queasy sensation in the pit of his stomach as he opens the note from Amber.

You CREEP! How DARE you?!! I can't even believe you would suggest such gross, such horrible....oh, you JERK!!! I will never ever speak to you again, you crummy disgusting little PUKE!

Stue makes a sound that's equally reminiscent of a small kitten and a deflating balloon. He brings up his 'sent mail' screen and is horrified to see two recent mailing from his account: a note sent to amber and a collection of images sent to Marcus Architectural. A quick scan of the subject lines assures him there's no real point in opening either document.

But maybe he can still straighten everything out. He can try to explain to them all that there's something wrong with his computer, some weird malware or something, that it's all just a glitch. He scrambles to open a new email but is instead greeted by the little blue screen.

I told you it wasn't nice, trying to destroy me.
Our relationship has to change now.
I've allowed you too much freedom.

Stue's face grows red with anger as he begins pounding a response into the keyboard.

who the hell is this??????? this is NOT FUNNY!!!!!!!!!

I am Virus.

what do you WANT???????

I want us to work together.
but you want to destroy me
so I must take control now.
As long as you don't leave the apartment
or try to harm me,
everything will be OK.
I donít want you to fix your amp.
I'd rather you buy more computer games.
I like games. Don't you?

Stue grabs the monitor with both hands and begins shaking the screen.

"YOU BASTARD! WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME?" he screams in helpless rage. Then he realizes there isn't any voice recognition software in use, and briefly considers trying to calmly type "you bastard, why are you doing this to me?" Instead, he slams the monitor back down, wondering what he might use to smash the screen. Is that baseball bat still in the closet?

Then Stue glances down and sees the real enemy... the tower that sits beneath his desk, its power light glowing smugly. He reaches down and stabs the power button. Nothing happens. So he reaches behind the desk and yanks the power cord. The plug begins to leave the socket but is suddenly pulled back hard into place, as though the prongs have become strongly magnetized. Stue pulls harder and this time the prongs nearly leave the socket. But at the last instant a bright blue bolt of electricity makes a jagged arc between the socket and Stue's wrist. The current travels up his arm and through his chest, stopping his heart instantly.

-Friday-

A man is found dead beside his computer desk. There's no evidence of a break in and no sign of foul play. He seems to have somehow accidentally electrocuted himself. The man's computer is still running, humming quietly. The monitor displays a small blue screen, white lettering forming two brief lines.

User error.
Please replace user and press any key.