User Error hobbles along through the main tunnel of his town, toward home, leaning into his good leg to get to his bike quicker. He can move better on his bike. On his bike, he can’t smell the gangrene rot of the underground, and all the lights streak by like he imagines they’d streak by inside the Inner Net, where people say you used to be able to talk to anyone and see anything you wanted. He’s got an old PC, bland-gray, chunky monitor, industrial keyboard, with moss covering it, and the backside’s exposed so you can see all the machine’s inner workings. Wires extend from the old computer and snake up to the top of the tunnel like vines, where User Error is trying to make his own Inner Net.
It took him 6 months to get the PC working, assembled from parts and pieces he could scavenge, carrying a stick with him because the parts and pieces were very valuable and you never knew who might come out of the darkness to jack your shit.
User Error had a regular name once, but his parents died when he was really little, and no one in town knew what the name was. No one took him in, so he just sort of wandered around his whole childhood, collecting what food he could and scavenging parts to make things. He doesn’t talk about what gave him the limp.
He rehabilitates MIDI files, cuts and splices till transformations happen and he can hear the inner workings of his soul out there in the music, echoing through the tunnels, with the darkness and sounds of condensed droplets falling from the ceiling onto the calcified tunnel floor.
User Error’s hair is matted, the scalp underneath scarred, and no matter how many times he cuts the hair off, it comes in the same way all over again.
He’s soldering wires now, trying not to start a fire, and he’s got a bucket of leakwater next to him in case he does. Sanford Brisket comes up from behind him and gives him a scare. User Error says Ha Ha, and Sanford sits down next to him to see what he’s doing.
“You got it on the Inner Net yet?”
“Not yet. I’m working on it.”
Sanford scratches a louse out of his long, tangled blond hair. He flicks it at User Error and laughs.
“What are you gonna do when you get it running and no one’s there?”
“Someone will be there.”
“Yeah. Above ground.”
“Nothing above ground but skulls and gross shit. I’m trying to tell you.”
“So what do you want me to do? Give up and be like everyone else?”
“Nah, man. Let’s have some fun. This is the dumbest time to be alive! Let’s celebrate!”
Sanford Brisket laughs, then coughs up mucus. He wipes it on his sleeve and points at the screen, where there are lines of green text glowing on a black screen.
“What’s all that mean? Is that how you build the Inner Net?”
“Yeah. It’s code. Like how you and I are made up of code, and the world isn’t real except in a giant computer somewhere, and we’re all living lives we’ve already lived, only we’re somewhere else, somewhere above ground, maybe even in outer space, and we’re trying to sort out a past life so we can know something new about the future, which is the present then. It’s like that, but we’re the ones with the computer.”
Sanford looked genuinely impressed.
“Okay. Okay. So you’re making a universe, then?”
“Kind of. Maybe. I don’t know. We’ll see, I guess.”
“Then what are we gonna do?”
“We’ll go inside our Inner Net and see if we can find the bigger, main Inner Net. We just have to find a way to convert ourselves.”
“Yeah. Like I’d be usererror.jpeg and you’d be sanfordbrisket.jpeg. We’d just have to change it over to whatever’s compatible in the main Inner Net, and then we’ll be golden.”
“You know this sounds fucking crazy, right?”
“Yeah, well so does living in a town underground while everything above is dead and gone. Everything’s tunnels, Sanford. We live in our tunnels, and the Inner Net has its own tunnels. We just need to find a way to sneak in.”
Sanford looks over his shoulder and points at a long tunnel that stretches out beyond the darkness.
“Shit, man, why don’t we explore those tunnels? You’ve got your bike, I’ve got my rollerblades. We’ll pack weapons and provisions in our fanny packs. What’s stopping us?”
User Error looks at Sanford Brisket. He tries to hide a smile, but can’t.
“Well, I have been needing a new processor. You know, to speed up Deep Thought.”
“It’s a computer name. I read it in a book once.”
Sanford hikes up his fanny pack and tightens it around his waist.
“So what do you say, glob goblin? Are we doing this?”
User Error laughs.
“We’re doing this.”
User Error pulls his bike out from where it’s hidden under moss and dirt. He wipes off the seat and climbs on while Sanford straps on his rollerblades. They get moving, and Sanford looks at User Error.
“Do the thing! Do the thing!”
User Error looks embarrassed, but he does it anyway:
“Hi-ho Silver, away!”
They speed off down the tunnel, lights a blur, wind blowing their matted, tangled hair, and they’re going so fast that they could be in another time, another place.