Serial Access
E. Jay O'Connell

There's nearly something for everyone on-line--no matter where one's interests lie.

You have reached the Serial Access BBS! This phone number will be good 
for one week, and one week only. Next week's number can be obtained in 
the NEW ACCESS NUMBER area by VALIDATED users only. We've found it 
necessary to move around a lot. Lurkers are welcome--even crybabies. 
In fact, we *like* crybabies. Cry, cry, cry!
  But remember, babies, by the time you try to find us, we'll be 
gone. It takes a while to subpoena a dozen different anonymous 
servers. In a dozen different countries! If you would like to 
join us, please fill out the validation form that follows. The 
first question goes without saying--but we'll ask it anyway!
  To the best of your recollection, exactly how many people have 
you killed?

Dear Strangehack,
  Thank you for your completed validation survey. We've noticed, 
sadly, that nothing you've said on-line really *proves* anything, 
one way or the other. You must realize that we maintain an 
electronic newsclipping service. All your info feels more than 
a little... canned? Confess. It's from the newswire, isn't it? 
  This number expires in just 48 hours. Still time for a Fed-Ex'd
validation. We're very sorry to have to be so strict, but surely 
you can understand our position.


Congratulations Strangehack!
  The Ziploc received at this week's post office box scores
you next week's number. To whom did (does?) this belong? You 
see, the part contained isn't (strictly speaking) essential. 
It may very well be your own. You know, Van Gogh, and all that. 
Anyway, while it shows some spirit, it doesn't rule out the 
mortuary trade. It could be the product of simple self-mutilation.
It doesn't count unless you did it to someone *else.* We're not
impressed by masochists.
  Please send us something a little more... essential. We're giving
you another week. We would like a newsclipping to accompany it--so
don't procrastinate. We will forward said part to the proper authorities,
with due credit, of course.
  Remember the tree falling in the empty forest. People die all the
time, sometimes quite suddenly, sometimes messily. If you don't 
take credit, the act is worthless. Meaningless. At any rate, you've 
been admitted into the file downloading areas.
  I'd look at the '80s CIA interrogation manuals at the very least. 
They're not hard to find. A little dry, I know, but crammed with
information. We'll not see their like again, alas. Not from the
wimps currently in power. But I'm getting political--I hate
politics, really, but feel free to participate in the on-line 
discussion of socialized medicine. I know, it's everywhere! It's
been going great guns since we started over a year ago. Would you
believe that, even here, there are whimpering tit-suckers who
defend it?

  Congratulations! I must say, your latest package really cuts
to the heart of the issue, eh? :-) I know, I know! I'm sorry.
Couldn't resist.
  It's a small one, isn't it? And the newsclipping. So poignant.
The mother too--and first, of course. Yet... she was "homeless"
(how I *hate* that word!), wasn't she? Again, not to get political,
but there are those of us who find such victims... easy? Again, whom
do you wish to frighten? This may be a purely personal thing, but
really, in a certain light you're doing society a favor. Nobody wants
all these "people" underfoot, decreasing property values, catching
tuberculosis, creating excuses for National Health, etc.
  Doing them is like killing whores. A public service. Bottom line,
it's *banal.* But it'll get you into the real-time chat areas.
These are our most sensitive feeds. A certain type of Very Technical
Person *might* be able to trace some of calls back to their original
sources. If you weren't the right kind of person, that would be
very, very bad.
  You're in, Strangehack. You're in. Welcome to the club.

  We're sorry to have to interrupt your service, but even by our
standards, you seem quite insane. There is, quite simply, nothing
to your threats. You cannot 'crawl down the wires and suck the eyes
from our skulls like pamentoes [sic] from olives.' You cannot trace
us. I have friends in this industry--good friends--and they've informed
me that the technobabble you're spewing is gibberish. We're terminating
your account.
  Still, congratulations of a sort are in order. You have taken the
lead. Over 20 in less that 2 months! Aren't we the busy one? And to
think I leaked your first message to the press! It is really quite
sad, to kick you off. But you're making an ass of yourself. We can't
tolerate this kind of rudeness.
  Psychosis is forgivable. Incoherence is not. Your spelling and
grammar are abominable. It is common courtesy in this community to
use a spellcheck. Never mind. You're history.

  Touché. You seem to have more than one account on this
system. I've hired a consultant to come in and thoroughly clean
this machine. His English is poor. And he is being paid very, very
well. So don't even think of trying to talk to him.
  Good-bye. We won't be speaking anymore, away. Oh, and one more
  Eat shit and die! You're stupid, and you take very poor candid
photos. Murky as hell. Your GIFs are among the worst I've ever
seen. Get a flash, buddy! And try using JPEG! <grin>

  I've begun to wonder about you. You've found us again and created
your own account. I showed some of your technobabble around again.
This time, the verdict's a little more... gray. Yes. Well, the system
will be down for about a week around Christmas. Such a busy season! 
  We'll be rid of you in the new year, I expect. I've forwarded all
your calling data to the authorities--all your bragging, threatening,
misspelling, everything. Our phone number changes as of now, and you
won't find it again. I imagine they'll catch you soon. Someone with
as poor a grip on the language as you can't possibly be all that smart,
computer monkey tricks aside.
  I've been watching the television psychologists. One of them
suggested that you may have had your itty bitty little penis cooked
off in a botched circumcision (it happens!).
  It wouldn't surprise me in the slightest.

  You win. You've found us again. Well. It's time for a short,
shameful confession. I've never killed anyone. I run this board, but
I've never hurt a fly. Not that I wouldn't love to. Not that I don't
dream of it. I think I will, someday. I started this to get going
myself, you see, but somehow--well, I admit, I've been living vicariously
through you. A few of the old-timers gave me a few credits, left my
calling card. I'm a fraud, Strangehack. But you said that all along,
didn't you?
  I've been studying you all for so long. I found a few of you in
various places on the net, filtered through a million poseurs to
collect *you*--the real McCoy. Flattery will get one everywhere,
eh? So I invited you into my home. And you were charming, strange,
witty, fascinating, banal, obsessed. Fun.
  But it's gone too far, and I'm shutting this system down. I must
say, I'm fascinated by you, Strangehack. I would like to meet you.
Would you really do all those things to me? But I'm not afraid of
you. Not afraid in the slightest.
  What would it be like, do you think, to be one of them? The victims?
What goes through their minds as you strip the life from them?
  A stupid thought. None of you ever seems to think it, I've noticed.
But I guess I'm just a poseur, when it comes right down to it.
  Good-bye, Strangehack. It's been interesting knowing you.

[The following message was posted anonymously to the USENET newsgroup alt.murder.phun]

  Because of you I have abandoned my life--my clothes, my books,
my computers, (almost) all of my souvenirs. A liberating experience.
I was watching TV in a bar across town, when I saw them going through
my apartment. I thought Dan Rather was going to cry! Oh, the humanity!
I'd say it was luck, that I saw it on television and escaped, but
there is no such thing as luck, is there? Only destiny, and the Will
of God. Not to get religious or anything. I'm posting this because I
simply must talk about what it was like, meeting you.
  As per your instructions, I went to the little booth in the back of
that loathsome Vietnamese place. The grinning slant served me something
that looked like a pile of sticks and slugs, and I had to pretend to
eat it. I sat on the right side, facing the mirrored wall, like you
said, and waited.
  It took me over an hour to realize that you were already there.
  I saw you, and oh, the chills up and down my spine! Pity about the
ear. The tiny black hole winked at me from the still-pink ring of scar
tissue. I guessed right, eh? Still, it got your nerve up, didn't it, to
know you could do it? That you could ignore the rather incredible pain,
and slice through human flesh, you, who had been squeamish about
deboning chicken breasts. That you could slice through living flesh,
even if it was only your own.
  You're a dangerous fellow, aren't you? All the papers agree. All the
newscasters. You must be stopped. You're a brilliant programmer. A
brilliant murderer. A brilliant sociopath. A brilliant victim of multiple
personality disorder.
  I saw you in the smudged mirror, and the bright surge of fear, the
sweet shock of recognition nearly made me come in my pants. Psychologists
are pinheads. Our penis works fine and is the statistical average,
  Good-bye, Strangehack, and good luck. You will always have the heart
of a small child. In a jar, in your briefcase. Yes, I know, I stole
that from Robert Bloch. Such a small thing, the heart--such a big thing.
She was so beautiful, so tender. She screamed so sweetly. I can hear
it still. (Of course, I've got it on tape! We posted the .snd file,
as I recall.) Virginity--such a wonderful thing. But we all lose it,
and there's no going back.
  Looking forward to reading about you in the funny papers. They'll
never catch you, will they? I appreciate all your efforts. And for
the ones still to come, well, as they say on-line--
  Thanks in advance. :-)

E. Jay O'Connell ( lives and writes in Cambridge, Massachusetts with his wife and the obligatory cat or two. A graduate of the 1994 Clarion West Writers Workshop, his work has appeared in Aboriginal SF and other publications. (Bio last updated in 1994.)

InterText Copyright © 1991-1999 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 4, Number 5 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1994 E. Jay O'Connell.