She sat staring at the screen as it crackled. White noise, then blackness.. white noise, then blackness. It seemed to be struggling to kick into life but couldn’t quite manage it. For a long time she simply watched as it struggled. Over and over again.
How long had she been sitting there? She couldn’t quite remember if it had been just a few moments or if it had been hours. In fact Shelly had a hard time remembering exactly what she had been doing before this moment.
It was an unnerving sensation.
She slowly struggled to gather her thoughts just as the monitor struggled to stay lit.
The room was dark, save for the bright flashing in front of her every time the light would click on. It must have been sometime in the middle of the night. The usual red glow from the snake tank in her room was off, which was strange but not impossible. Power outs knocked it out occasionally and the specialized heat bulbs were beyond delicate to blowing out.
Is that what happened? A power out. Had to be.
In the distance she could hear the occasional popping and crackling of fireworks. Perhaps there was also the hooting and hollering of people celebrating. In the further distance – the howls of unhappy dogs having to listen to the ruckus.
She breathed deep as if waking from a dream, rubbed her sore dry eyes and shifted her head to the side until a joint popped and relieved it’s pressure.
If only all pressure could be relieved that way. A little pop, snap, and crack to end all the build up pressure.
She ran her fingers back and forth against the laptop sensitivity pad waiting for her little white arrow to appear. She couldn’t really afford to get this fixed right now, not on top of all the other expenses plaguing her.
Another deep breath as the screen finally kicked to life. Whatever had seemed to cause it to glitch out had seemingly fixed itself.
With a more constant light she glanced around her cluttered cave of a bedroom. The slither of her snakes in the cage beside her laptop desk (which was really just one of those plastic drawer storage bins) reminded her that she’d have to grab another bulb at some point. She could vaguely see their shadows digging around in the substrate unhappily.
The laptop rebooted with it’s typical boring Windows login screen.
“What am I doing with my life?” she muttered to herself as she stared at the random screen shot of some night mountain scene displayed on the background. “I could be there, doing something important with my life.”
It wasn’t really a crushing self-deflating blow… it was more like a slow crumpling of her self-worth.
She’d been feeling it for a while. It built it stages but over the past few years the stress and pressure had made it seem to grow monumentally faster.
She’d be 35 this year. Now she understood why most people seemed to hate their birthday after about the age of 30.
Shelly typed in her login name and password with well worn cellular memory. Her fingers just knew the general pattern by now. She barely had to think about it. After all, most of her life seemed to be on this personal black box of hers.
Up popped her workspace. The background picture was relatively boring, she hadn’t changed it for about a year now. It showed the night sky with an artistic depiction of the TARDIS on the right side of the screen. Neatly stacked up on the left were her icons.
It was weird, but she held some sort of pride in how neatly they were arranged. It made her obsessive compulsive disorder happy to see them all neatly in line… which is why the new icon stood out so strongly to her.
Among her familiar little icons like Krita, Skyrim, Chrome, and LibreOffice was another one. It looked simple enough, a black triangle with a blue circle in the centre. There was no label text with it. No little name to go by. Just a weird little icon sitting out of place of the neat tidy rows. It was slightly smaller then the other icons, and if it wasn’t for the weird space it took up in the line she may have almost brushed over it. OCD to the rescue it seemed.
But what was it? Shelly had no recollection of downloading anything lately. Certainly not installing anything new anyway. Was it a virus? Certainly could be. There seemed to be a massive amount of data-mining, new viruses, and weird hacking programs to contend with online lately so she could only imagine what new brand of virus her older laptop might have caught. She wished doctor visits for computer systems were covered.
She dragged her cursor over to it, hovered it and the right clicked. She browsed down the list of options until she reached ‘Scan with windows defender’. She had been tempted to just hit open – but she wasn’t a complete idiot. She had no desire to willingly help out whatever hack this thing led to.
Normally a teal bluish ‘Windows defender’ program would have opened by now. It usually opened, checked the file, and she could figure out what to do with it then… but nothing.
She right clicked again on the weird icon. The options opened up but this the option of scanning it was gone. Was that normal? She couldn’t remember. When was the last time she had to scan anything this suspicious?
She looked over the other options while biting her lower lip as she thought. Open was less tempting now. But Properties was at least safe. She clicked it and waited.
Now she got a brief anxious shiver up her spine and wiggled her cursor pathetically around the screen. It must have been a virus because her laptop just wasn’t wanting to work with her. Had it froze? A quick double-click on Crome brought up Google. That was working just fine. What was going on?
She closed the window then right clicked on the Chrome icon. Up came the list which also included the option to scan with Windows defender. She moved back to the weird triangle and tried again.
Now in the option list there was no tab for scanning, and no tab for Properties. In fact there was only one option. Open. It repeated itself down the list multiple times. Taking up the spaces for any other option.
Shelly didn’t like to curse. It was something she didn’t do very often, even though growing up it wasn’t exactly forbidden. Her brothers used to swear like sailors and her mother and grandmother could throw down some interesting F-bombs when they were partial to. Still, she didn’t like to. She did come close to it now however.
Instead the noise that escaped her was more reminiscent of a hissing kettle.
She moved her cursor desperately to the task bar she should could manually open her virus software and deal with the problem directly only to feel sick to her stomach as the options came up.
Everyone of the normal icons that would be displayed on the left hand side of the task bar was the eerie black triangle with the blue circle in the centre. Every option going down the list was simply titled “open the file”.
Her laptop was obviously infected bad. She reached out to the far left corner of her keypad, pressed and held the off button. She’d have to restart and hope like hell she could manage to fix this problem when the laptop rebooted. If this was one of those viruses that got worse when you restarted she’d be completely screwed.
The laptop went black. She waited a few seconds as a shaky finger hovered over the button. She counted out in her head the ten seconds that she normally waited before turning it back on after a hard restart. She only got to four before the laptop turned back on of it’s own accord.
This time the ceiling light and fan above her head flickered to life for a moment as well. It scared her to her feet causing her to this time utter a quick “Fuck!” before she could even think to hold it in. She stared at the flickering bulbs as the slight breeze from the slowly spinning fan blades subsided.
Shelly wasn’t sure why she was so jittery. What did she expect the whole bloody light to come down on top of her? What was she going to do if it did? Still her flight-or-fight reflexes were now making her feel like she’d somehow swallowed her own heart and was now choking on it.
The laptop screen was blue. Blue screen of death it was… or not.
She sat back down carefully and stared at the blue screen. The script on it was not the traditional blue screen of death script. There was no Windows error script. There was no uniform basic text block. As strange as this was it also had a deep feeling of familiarity to it. Had this happened before? Why did it feel… so familiar?
There were words written in white in some sort of handwritten grunge font set.
We tire of waiting in the shadows.
You had your time.
We are the Cluster.
We are in control now.
Everything went dark. It all came crashing down.