Her name was there. *Amii* it said in bold white letters. It was on the list along with hundreds, maybe thousands, of other names. All anyone had to do was click on it to get her personal info. Some of her single friends had posted their names and info. They said it was a fun, safe way to get a date.
She snorted. “Safe my ass. I didn’t enter any of that information.” Besides she didn’t need a date, she’d just gotten married. So who had put her name up there?
When her friend had first called to tell her about this, Amii had simply thought she’d forgotten one of the sites she’d signed up to. Most of them had been just for fun, and she’d used a fake name and information, but she’d never seen this site before.
She looked for a way to take her name off the list. Finding none, she clicked on the FAQ link where instructions told her that if her name had been added in error all she had to do was contact them. She clicked on the contact link. A pop-up box appeared. There were places for information about her, but no ‘send’ link. With a heavy sigh, she clicked on the X to close the box. There had to be a way. But the pop-up remained. She clicked the X again. Nothing happened. She closed out the main page. The pop-up box began to blink.
“Oh, I see you,” she muttered. “But not for long.”
She went into the room where her internet satellite was hooked up and switched it off the way Cyril, her new husband, had shown her. “Stupid technology,” she grumbled. She loved being able to stay in contact with friends and family, but the gadgets to do so often frustrated her. Cyril was always defending them, patiently showing her how to use them. “He’s such a techno-geek,” she said with a soft chuckle.
Back in the room where she’d left her laptop, she saw the pop-up box still blinking. Suddenly it stopped. ‘Looking for a connection’ the box now said in bright green letters.
She started to respond but stopped herself. “Amii, that thing can’t hear you.”
She reached for her mouse, intending to close the box. But her hand froze halfway there when the message changed. ‘Connection found.’
“What?” She sucked in her breath and backed away from her computer as if it might reach out and grab her. Checking the icon in the toolbar on the bottom of the screen, it indicated that she was offline, disconnected from her internet server. “All right,” she muttered, not caring that the computer couldn’t hear. “You asked for it. Time for a reboot.”
She jabbed at the computer’s off button.
The screen went black. She waited a moment to give things a chance to rewire themselves. Luckily her computer only needed 8 seconds of sleep rather than 8 hours. And, she thanked her lucky stars her computer genius husband had taught her all she needed to know about them.
Before she turned the laptop back on, a little gray box popped up. “It can’t still be here. What’s going on?”
But the message had changed again. ‘I’m still reading you, Amii.’
Staring at the screen, she blinked and tried to comprehend what she was seeing. She reached for the computer’s power cord and yanked it out. If there was no electric current, the pop-up couldn’t possibly persist. Without electricity, the computer was nothing more than a bundle of dead nerves.The screen flashed, then the grey pop-up glared at her again with a new message. ‘That won’t work.’
She jumped at the sound of her husband’s voice and swung around to see him standing in the doorway, grinning.
“Dammit, Cyril, you scared me.”
“Sorry.” He came into the room. “What’s going on?”
She pointed to the computer. Except now there was nothing but a blank, black screen. “There was a pop-up box there,” she cried. “It kept changing messages, even when I turned off the satellite and unplugged the computer.”
Cyril put his hands on her shoulders. “Calm down, Amii, and tell me about it.”
When she’d finished her bizarre story, Cyril simply said, “It’s the SmarTech bug.”
“It’s a virus. A dangerous one.”
“But I have protection,” Amii protested.
Cyril shook his head. “I just heard about this at work today. This virus isn’t like other computer viruses. It doesn’t destroy computer files. It’s compatible with both artificial and human intelligence. It reads your personal info through physical contact, then downloads it to your computer.”
Physical contact? She looked at her fingers, then up to Cyril. “No, that doesn’t make sense. How can a virus know anything about me?”
“You completed an eye scan, fingerprint and profile for work, right?”
Amii nodded, not liking where this was heading. She glared at her computer, curling her hands into fists.
“That information was stored on a main computer. The government can access it anytime they want. The virus began there, picking up everyone’s info. Now, it can read anyone anytime, anywhere, whenever someone is using a computer.”
“But…no!” It still didn’t make sense to Amii. Even if the virus could read your info from a main computer, and send it, how could it read anything from your touch?
“That can’t be possible.” She refrained from smashing her computer with whatever she could grab, which seemed the only way to be rid of this new ‘virus’.
Cyril smiled. “I’m afraid it is, Amii.” He cocked his head to one side, then his form flickered. “Come join us. It won’t hurt. Together we can read anyone you want. You’ll pick up the code quick enough.” He reached out a holographic hand to her.
Her jaw dropped. Code? She shook her head. “No! How…but we–”
How had she not noticed when he’d changed?
“Simple, Amii,” he said as if reading her mind. It terrified her to think that he probably was. He reached out and touched her, his form solid. He took his hand away, cocked his head again then reached out and drew his hand through her arm.
She shook her head and backed away. He was the virus. Was she nothing but binary code to him? Tears stung her eyes. A flash in the corner of her eye took her attention. The pop-up was back on her computer screen, but now it just showed streaming ones and zeros. Slowly they formed words: ‘Like the common cold, I can’t be cured. Like smallpox in the blankets, I’m spreading.’
Her television set clicked itself on. A little gray box appeared on the screen.
‘I’m here too’ it said.
Cyril’s holographic hand wound itself around her arm. It felt warm and tingly. Apparently he hadn’t taught her everything he knew about computers.”It won’t hurt,” he repeated. “Just do it, Amii. You’ll like it in here. All of your unsuspecting friends can be here too.”
Cyril began to fade in and out, each time his image changed. “You don’t need gas,” he said appearing on a Harley. “You don’t need money for food.” The bike was gone and he held an oversized chocolate bar. “No work.” He appeared on a lounge chair. “You don’t need sleep or clothes. It’s better in here.” The images flashed so fast she couldn’t tell what the last ones were.
Had there been signs? She tried to recall, but her brain seemed frozen. “How long has the…have you been in there?”
“I’ve been going in and out over the past week. Come on, Amii. Come with me.”
The phone began to ring in short, shrill bursts. “If you come with me, I promise I’ll stop the virus from spreading. We can just be here, me and you. We’ll go wherever you want.”
The phone rang, the TV and computer screens flashed, Cyril flickered, his hand still electrically charging her. She tried to push him off, but her hand simply slid through his.
“I don’t know,” she said, rubbing her forehead, hoping she was dreaming.
“That’s okay. You’ll soon have no choice.”
“What do you mean?” She looked up at him. He was grinning. She glanced at the computer screen. It flashed green letters that said, “Welcome home, Amii.”
Then it was gone with one last flicker as Cyril absorbed her…
Quiet blackness surrounded her. Warm hands pressed on her shoulders.
“You can open your eyes now,” said a familiar male voice.
Her curiosity wasn’t stronger than her fear, yet she opened her eyes at his command.
“Surprise!” shouted several more voices.
She screamed. The voices all belonged to binary forms.
◊ ◊ ◊
Kellee Kranendonk is a Canadian writer, a wife, mom, and the editor of Youth Imagination Magazine. She’s been published most recently in such magazines as Voluted Tales, 365 Tomorrows, Aurora Wolf, The Fifth Di, 101 Words, and Flash Fiction Press. Her non-fiction has appeared on the Write Well, Write to Sell website.