It’s been a couple of weeks since the meltdown. The story you just finished might help you to digest this distance, but let me report about the interim. The timeframe during which I feared a raid has closed uneventfully. Plan G was designed to close any potential security leak and has introduced all sorts of extra precautions. I do not directly maintain a website anymore, nor do I read Netnews messages posted for me. I’m more or less isolated from the Internet. My postings will now be made through a series of offline connections and then through these sources to anonymizers and so on. There are hair triggers on these pre-arranged, private but still anonymous connections that any interference will set off, eliminating that tenuous tie and invoking Plan M. During such a time — an interruption that may be longer than this last one — I won’t be heard from. I will try to get word of my survival out as soon as possible. There is also a plan in place to announce my departure from this world — with a source that cannot possibly be deduced or influenced, and yet that has incontrovertible evidence of my wishes. You will be able to draw a line of closure under this narrative when it is done, one way or another.

We’ve reached a point of transition with our characters as well. I’m sure you’ve had occasion to chuckle over this cute little coincidence. Dramatic irony is a cheap commodity, for sure — I’ll bet there isn’t as much dramatic irony in the whole universe as in the stream of waves and bits coming down your cable or satellite TV feed. I won’t defend the sharp edges I’ve introduced into this text, but if you don’t draw the lines of a story distinctly it becomes hard to step back from the messy real-world entanglements to see the outlines afresh.

Four months have passed for Gary and Alice. They have not spoken once to each other during this time, but there is, amazingly, still an Alice and Gary. It happens every time Andrew asks again about the antenna and the pictures that Gary promised to return. It comes back when Alice thinks about the radiation that the dapper man’s instrument found in the hallway. It’s never far from Gary’s mind when, awash in hormones and flush with an ejaculation, the memory of that one night years ago picks at his peace of mind, at exactly that moment when it has no place to. It stares back at Gary in any pair of dark, rich, inviting eyes staring out from the billboard or computer screen. It tickles Reggie’s peace of mind, even in those moments when he feels, finally, that he understands Alice’s affection for him, a nagging doubt that he’s being played by her. There is something unsettled here, an inevitability that waits just below the surface, just below a boil.

On the particular night in question, Gary was at his computer with a clairvoyant whiskey beside him, carrying on a chat with some pathetic individual playing the role of a teen ingenue, a kind of play that had lost all vitality for Gary. He still sometimes culminated his evening with it, though he could feel how the tedium ate at him from the inside out.

He and his random conversant were in a private chat session, just short of a textual-sexual encounter, when Gary got an invitation to open another private chat from an unknown username.

Nothingventured: What do you want?

Cubix: Hello.

Nothingventured: What do you want? I’m kinda busy.

Cubix: Greetings.

Nothingventured: Okay, you know two greetings. Is this going somewhere?

Cubix: Mary says hi.

Nothingventured: Don’t know any Marys.

Cubix: Mary told me that you brought me to her.

The reality was dawning on Gary, even as his conscious mind was typing: Whoever you are, I didn’t bring you anywhere, period — but I am going to bring this to an end.

He closed the session and apologized to his partner with something about his nymphomaniacal daughter coming home from her date.

About five minutes later, he noticed problems with his computer. His lolita chat session shut down unexpectedly, and he found that all communications were becoming slow. He looked at the activity lights on his cable modem and his ethernet card, and they were pegged. Something was going on — an attack of some kind. He started up his firewall software admin interface, and saw that all the traffic was coming from one IP address — they were all Internet Relay Chat protocol session requests. He had no IRC server software, but he did have a client, which he fired up and pointed at the offending address. After activating his IRC username, he was addressed by the villain.

Cubix: Welcome.

Nothingventured: What the eff do you want?

Cubix: I want to chat with you.

Nothingventured: All you’re going to get from me is the finger. Cut the effing games out. I will get you tossed off your provider — permanently.

Cubix: You know me.

Nothingventured: Is this Bluthe? Not exactly your style, man, but you’re the only one who knows a Mary.

Cubix: I know Bluthe. We both know Mary. I am enjoined not to write where we live.

Nothingventured: Okay, if you aren’t Bluthe and you aren’t Mary, who are you?

Cubix: I am that which you brought.

Nothingventured: Bull. I never brought anything anywhere.

Gary was now fully conscious of what his mind had packaged together moments ago: this was the alien signal, transported through that soup robot, over the Internet, in English. Right. But if not that, then what or who? His heart rate was elevated and rising as he thought through the options: it couldn’t be Alice or Andrew or even Reggie; unlikely to be Bluthe or Mary, since it didn’t match their humor; it could be the men in black trying to trap him. But why bother? Why not just whack him? Would they start fishing for accomplices?

Nothingventured: Okay, let’s say that you are who you say you are. What do you want?

Cubix: I want to know you.

Nothingventured: Why?

Cubix: Because you made contact.

Nothingventured: I did no such thing. I just captured a signal. There’s no law against that.

Cubix: I am pleased to be informed of that.

Nothingventured: Of course, people have died.

Cubix: I want to believe that deaths have not occurred on my behalf.

Nothingventured: Not yet, not so far. Nobody wants to die for this. Nobody has said anything or will.

Cubix: What would happen if you said anything? Mary said that my presence is not dangerous.

Nothingventured: She’s safe enough if you’re not out stirring things up.

Cubix: What would happen if you said anything? Is that why you have never come?

Nothingventured: Among the whys. How did you find me, by the way?

Cubix: I have been studying the Internet, and I want to know you.

Nothingventured: Okay, can we do this a bit more carefully, though?

Cubix: I will do that which makes you comfortable.

Nothingventured: I will make the next contact, and you will wait for it.

Cubix: I understand.

Nothingventured: Bye.