Snippets of natural scenes flashed across Alistair’s window: a babbling brook; a still desert; a flowing waterfall. Alistair threw each aside with a flick of his finger. This was the nice thing about the computerized windows; anything he could imagine, he could see. Nothing suited his fancy that evening, however, and he decided to just shut the window down. He flicked the switch on the corner of one of the windowsills, and in an instant the babbling brook faded away into a pitch black screen. Alistair hit another switch, and the shades across all of the room's windows slowly sank over them in unison.
He clapped once, and his fireplace was aglow with the purple flame of a newborn fire. Alistair’s pristine white living room was blanketed with the fire’s heat, and the thin plastic glinted in the newfound light. He walked to the wall’s kitchen compartment and pressed the beverage button. His favorite Earl Grey Tea appeared in the cup underneath, and with it in tow; he walked to the computer desk.
Alistair sat at the desk and placed his tea on it.
“Computer, awake.” Alistair announced, and the computer turned on.
The computer’s screen faded from black into a bright white. Slowly, a face appeared on the screen with the white as a backdrop. The eyes of the face opened, and a smile formed over it.
“Good evening, Mr. Knight.” it replied. “What can I do for you?”
“Log on to the Home World, please.”
“Of course, sir.”
The white screen morphed into the familiar computer cyberspace system, a dark screen with strings of green code floating around like bubbles in a fish tank. Alistair watched as fragments of various website code flew past as the computer searched for the Home World, a simulated utopian township where internet users gathered as avatars to socialize, work and play. Basically, living a life without ever living it.
Rushing past the fragmented code, Alistair took a long sip of his warm Earl Grey and settled back into the chair. He felt at peace.
Suddenly, the searching, along with the pieces of code, screeched to a halt. The green code changed into red code, and a slight siren noise rang out into the silence of Alistair’s living room.
“Sir, there has been an unauthorized user logged on to your account.”
Alistair’s eyes opened with frustration. He sighed, put his cup down and asked the computer for the user’s address.
“Unlisted? Computer, check again.”
“I’m sorry, Alistair, still unlisted.”
Unlisted? Who would have been unlisted in this day and age? Everyone was logged on to the Home World, everyone knew who everyone was.
“Sir, there is unrestricted activity on your Home Page avatar.”
“What is it? What is it doing?” Alistair asked, manually bringing up the desk’s keyboard. With a finger swipe, it rose from the desk in a flurry of clicking and whirring.
“The avatar is speaking to other avatars in the Home World.” the computer said.
“How? I’m not even logged in yet!”
“I do not know, Mr. Knight.”
“Can we see what it’s saying to the other users?” he asked.
“Yes, sir. In fact, I am receiving transcripts of the conversation now.”
“Well for god sakes, read them!” Alistair said, running a hand through his combed silver hair.
“Yes, sir.” the computer replied. “Alistair Knight to Gretchen Bennett: ‘You look very good in that dress’. Gretchen Bennett to Alistair Knight: ‘Uh, thank you’. Alistair Knight to Gretchen Bennett: ‘I bet you would look even better not in that dress’. Gretchen Bennett to Alistair Knight: ‘Excuse me? I’m seventeen, dude. Your profile says you’re, like sixty. Fuck off creeper’. Alistair Knight to Gretchen Bennett: ‘Did you know I am the CEO of HomeCorp? I built this world. I can see you not only within this virtual plane, but register your shapes outside, in the real world. You really are quite beautiful, Ms. Bennett’.”
Alistair’s brain began to race as he searched for a reason for the unauthorized activity. What had he done? Who could have been doing this? Was someone trying to ruin HomeCorp? Was someone trying to ruin him? He began typing frantically, trying to manually identify the hacker.
“Computer, set up the security wall.” he commanded.
A conversation bubble popped up on the top left of the screen and began flashing.
“Mr. Knight, Mr. Harrison is requesting a conversation.”
“Put him on.” Alistair commanded, still typing in the identification code.
The computer obliged, and the face of Tom Harrison, the executive vice-president of HomeCorp, appeared on the screen. He looked pale, and to Alistair’s eyes, somewhat sickly. His hair was ruffled and stuck to his face in various places by sweat. A slight stubble was on his face.
“Jesus, Tom. What happened?” Alistair asked.
Tom looked back in the screen with dead eyes.
“They’re coming for me, Alistair.” Tom said, in a voice as dead as his eyes.
“Who is, Tom? What’s going on? Have you noticed a hacker in the code of Home World? Someone has logged into my account and is forcing my avatar to talk to underage women and…”.
Alistair paused as Tom slowly raised a pistol to the camera.
“Someone hacked me too, sir.” Tom said dreamily, rubbing the pistol against his temple. “Made my avatar confess to a embezzling scheme from two years ago, at Ark Technology”.
“What? Tom, that’s insane. You were working for me then…” Alistair continued.
“No, sir. I did it. I really did it. I worked with one of their guys. Thought I could make some more money, ‘cause I wasn’t making enough back at my old job. Then you hired me, and I forgot about it. I must have stolen millions from thousands of people. Never thought I would be caught.”
The lights in Tom’s apartment flickered as Alistair heard a rumble from his end.
“Tom? What was that?” Alistair asked.
“Them. The people. They’re messing with my power, that’s the first thing they’ll do; try and force you out of your ivory fortress. The information was sent out to the public a few hours ago, sir…nobody was happy to find out that one of our nation’s virtual leaders was involved in such a scandal, stealing all of their money...taking money from the poorest Americans to cater to his own interests. They want to kill me, sir.” Tom said. He got quiet for a moment.
He chuckled as the lights dimmed and Alistair heard faint screaming behind him; behind the sealed door of his pristine white apartment.
“It’s funny, sir.” Tom said, still smiling in the dreamy way.
“Tom? Tom, answer me, god dammit!”
“HomeCorp is more important to this country than its actual leaders. We’re more popular than the president is.” Tom whispered, and suddenly a old automatic gun, one from before the Technology Renaissance of the last twenty years, appeared from the bottom of Alistair's screen. Tom raised it to his temple.
“Tom? Tom!” Alistair begged. “Computer, send an emergency response team to Whitechapel Complex, Room #447…”, but the lights went out.
Alistair heard the voices of the people outside get louder as the pounding started on the door. Then, he saw the flash of and heard the sound of the gun firing. The conversation bubble went black. A window popped up, telling Alistair that its user was offline.
“Sir, shall I send that response unit?” the computer asked.
Alistair put his head in his hands.
“No, no.” he replied.
“Then I believe you should see this.”
Alistair raised his head as the computer brought a video to the screen. It was of a newscaster in front of…good lord; it looked like Alistair’s building. A huge crowd of people stood around and behind her, waving guns and knives and god knew what else.
“I’m standing here in front of Knight Tower, the offices and home of Alistair Knight, the CEO of HomeCorp, and the largest virtual world of our time.” she said.
Alistair leaned in closer to the screen.
“In the wake of the recent embezzlement scandal of Thomas Harrison, the executive vice-president of HomeCorp, comes a new development in the fate of the globally recognized and important company. Several young women, all under the age of eighteen years old, have come forward to police claiming that Alistair Knight assaulted them in succession over the course of ten years, and then settled out of court with their families in exchange for their silence. The crowd behind me is exhilarating, as the public demands to know the reason for such a heinous act.” the newscaster continued.
She strode to one of the angry crowd members, a man with a shaved head, tattoo sleeves and a white tank top on.
“Sir, what do you think the police should do to Mr. Knight in the wake of these startling accusations?” she asked him.
“I think they should let us have him; throw him to the god damn hounds!” he screamed, waving a bowie knife wildly. His drunken buddies laughed and shot a few rounds into the sky. Alistair heard their echo just outside his window. “We’ll take care of that child molester!”
Alistair shut the video down just as he saw the crowd begin to rush into his building, ignited by the gunshots. The newscaster and her cameraman struggled to get out of the way in time.
He sat back in his chair in the silence as his world began to crumble around him.
“Shall I send a call to the police sir, for your protection?” his computer asked.
“No, no. It’s fine. Shut down, computer.”
“Yes sir, as you wish…”, it struggled to reply as it flickered and began to die out.
The lights in Alistair Knight’s apartment, his “ivory fortress” flickered once, then twice and finally went out, plunging him into darkness.
He sipped his tea and awaited the hounds.