Wednesday, 5 May 2010

At the end of the hall…

There's a monster at the end of our hall.

He lives in a room that was supposed to be occupied by another student. We were told he had come from overseas and so moved in before the semester began. We were told that he’d started his research early, that he’d already made good progress, that he could teach us a great many things.

Then we were told the room was empty. He’d quit the course and moved away. In the week we had been there not one of us had once seen or heard him.

We continued with our studies, much of which took place in our individual rooms with the clunky old PCs the university had provided us with; the best the under funded department could supply. But the interfaces were brand new, built to their unique specifications. There were rumours of investment from multinational corporations interested in the end product. For all their shininess they looked like over-sized electric pencil sharpeners; a large box with a hole through which the user could connect to the machine by way of a finger.

A student in Japan had played a game of Pong using a similar device, moving the 2D paddle with a thought. We were working at an even more basic level, repositioning a cursor on a screen then making notes from the code. It was hard to reconcile what we were learning in our advanced computing lectures with the frustrating limitations we faced in testing the device.

Then the noises started. Bumps, shufflings and occasional beeps from the supposedly unoccupied room at the end of the hall. We reported this to the university accommodation office, to our resident tutors, to our lecturers - they all promised to look into it. When they didn’t we decided to look into it ourselves. We stole a key from the cleaner and one afternoon, after a seminar on nanotechnology, we opened the door.

Sitting in the room, in the dark, was a student. He was at his desk, plugged into his machine as all of us were used to doing by now. But on closer inspection it seemed that the machine was perhaps plugged into him, wires running into his flesh. We tried to get his attention but he was unresponsive, staring at the endless stream of text flashing across his monitor. Except he couldn’t have been staring. He didn’t have any eyes.

I have since decided to ignore the monster at the end of the hall. I’m doing better than the others. I’ve realised that the key to using the device isn't in the code, but in meeting the machine halfway. Thinking like the machine.

There’s a commotion outside. They've decided to disconnect him. I can hear him screaming, like a 56K modem failing to connect. I ignore it, plugging myself in.

I can feel one of my eyes coming loose in its socket. This is okay. I won't need them soon.