Author’s Notes: This is the same excerpt of the story that was on my NaNo profile, but there’s extra context at the beginning and end so that there’s new stuff to read even for those of you who’ve already read it. I chose it for my profile excerpt because I think it’s a good representative of the story content, plot and style. There’s a mixture of narrative and online chat (and I admit, I’m not sure how accurate my descriptions of BBS chat are, but I based them on the information I have available), a bit of late 80s technology, some familiar names from the Peter Pan canon, an interesting revelation or two and hints towards the larger plot. I wanted to give people a flavour of how the characters will be depicted in this universe, and give them a sense of the setting. By and large, I used the same criteria when I picked the first excerpt to post in this blog.
On with the show!
The building was dark, but not deserted at this time of night. There were a couple of guys sitting at terminals who looked up and nodded as Wendy came in, then went back to what they’d been doing. Wendy sat down and dialled in the number for the CompuChat BBS, which by now she knew off by heart. It felt like forever since she’d last accessed the board at home.
By now, Wendy’s reply to the secretive user ‘Tiger Lily’ had disappeared off the board, and in the week or so since she’d made the post, nothing had come of it. Wendy was relieved and disappointed in equal measure. Her search for ‘The Neverland’ had already hit a dead end and she wasn’t sure where to go from here.
At almost the exact second she thought this, her screen split in two and a chat opened up on the right-hand half of the screen, headed by the words,
TIGER LILY WANTS TO CHAT
Wendy sat bolt upright in her chair, accidentally banging her knee on the underside of the table. A hundred questions whirled through her mind, but before she could begin typing any of them, Tiger Lily was already talking.
I’ve been waiting to run into you again.
Well, that doesn’t sound ominous, Wendy thought.
You should stop trying to look for The Neverland. You don’t know what you’re involving yourself in.
And nor does that. Wendy frowned as she read over Tiger Lily’s second message. She was looking for The Neverland, but Tiger Lily couldn’t know about the notes that she’d scribbled onto a pad of paper or the board histories she’d read through trying to find a mention of the place. The only thing that Tiger Lily had to go on was the post that Wendy had made on CompuChat a week ago, but all she’d done was make an observation. To then assume on that basis that she was actively searching for The Neverland seemed like a bit of a leap of logic. Tiger Lily was pretty obviously paranoid – but why?
Wendy realised that she should say something in reply. It was clear that Tiger Lily had some vested interest in The Neverland; maybe they were a hacker. This could be the lead that Wendy had been looking for. With her heart in her mouth, she began to type.
You’ve obviously got some connection to The Neverland. Are you a hacker?
The reply was almost immediate.
That’s none of your business.
Wendy’s eyes narrowed. How could Tiger Lily say that when they were the one who had been forcibly involving themselves in what Wendy was doing on-line?
It’s none of your business whether I’m looking for The Neverland or not, but you’re interfering anyway. What’s so bad about looking for a BBS? Non-specific ominous declarations won’t get you anywhere unless you elaborate.
The problem with BBS chat systems was that the text appeared in real time on the other person’s screen as you typed, and if you changed your mind about the wording of something and deleted it, they could see what you were doing. Wendy slightly regretted the rudeness of what she’d just written to Tiger Lily, but there was no taking it back. She waited to see how the other user would react.
The message she received took her by surprise.
Are you female?
The user name ‘Wendybird’ was fairly obviously feminine, but Wendy refrained from a sarcastic response.
Yes. Are you?
Wendy felt strangely as if she’d just made a connection with the other girl. In spite of her annoyance towards Tiger Lily, they’d found common ground. Women were rare enough on BBSes that there was always a sense of solidarity when you encountered another woman. Female System Operators – and female hackers – were rarer still.
Perhaps prompted by this, Tiger Lily began to open up a little to Wendy. Wendy read with interest as her typing appeared on the screen.
I’ll be honest with you. Until quite recently, I was involved with The Neverland and
There was a pause in Tiger Lily’s typing; Wendy imagined the girl at the other end (though she had no idea what she might look like) hesitating with her hands poised over the keyboard.
with the System Operator. That’s finished now, but I’m still quite protective of that board. It’s hard for me to disassociate myself completely.
Wendy had not expected that one. She was dying to question Tiger Lily about this history and euphemistic “involvement” with Neverland’s SysOp, but she felt like it would be too forward. Instead she asked,
Why did you say that I don’t know what I’m involving myself in?
There was a long pause, and a few times words appeared on the screen and then were deleted as Tiger Lily changed her mind about what she wanted to say. Either she was trying to find the best way to express herself, or she was withholding some information. Or both.
The Neverland isn’t just an ordinary hackers’ hangout where illicit users gather to download warez and exchange trade secrets. It’s nothing so pedestrian as that.
Which was all very well, but Wendy didn’t really want to know what The Neverland wasn’t, she wanted to know what it was.
Then what is it like?
It’s hard for me to summarise. The Neverland is a closed community made up of elite hackers. They can do things with computers that developers haven’t even thought of yet. What’s more, the SysOp
But before Tiger Lily could finish her sentence, something strange happened. The screen blinked, quickly, and the text when it reappeared was altered somehow. There were odd symbols dispersed throughout the chat history. Then a message appeared below what Tiger Lily had been writing.
TIɴKƎRBƎLL H∆S ƎɴTƎRƎD THƎ CH∆T
Wendy stared in disbelief. It wasn’t possible for three users to converse in chat at once. Sure, the idea had been thought of and there was a possibility of it developing somewhere down the line, but as of the moment no BBS on BITNET or ARPANET could support three-way chat. What was going on? The modem began to whir and gutter even harder, as if struggling to cope with the presence of this intruder.
I thɨnk you’vɛ saɨd ɛnough now, Tɨgɛr Liɬy.
The strange font appeared instantly in a line on the screen, with no laborious letter-by-letter assembly. In the next instant, Tiger Lily disappeared from the chat.
TIGƎR LILY H∆S LøGGƎD øUT
Wendy sat stunned, with no idea how to react to what she had just witnessed. She tried to type something, to communicate with this ‘Tinkerbell’, but the computer only beeped at her in response. Then, abruptly, the screen went black.
“What?!” Wendy exclaimed out loud. “No, no, what just happened?!”
“Someone must’ve tripped a wire,” said a voice, and Wendy jumped as she remembered that she wasn’t, in fact, alone in the room. One of the guys from earlier was still sitting at his terminal; he gave her a sympathetic smile. “It happens at times, but the system will be back on-line soon. Were you working on something important?”
Wendy blushed slightly. She must have looked like a real madwoman, shouting at the computer screen. “No, I just thought I’d caused an error or something. My screen was doing these weird things…” She trailed off, unsure as to whether it was a good idea to tell anyone about what had just happened.
“What number terminal are you at? I’ll have someone take a look at it,” the guy offered.
“Don’t worry, I think it was just a bug in the BBS,” Wendy said quickly. She didn’t want the university technicians to start investigating an error which Wendy was sure had nothing to do with the hardware. She stood up. “I should get back to my dorm now, it’s quite late…”
“All right,” said the guy, smiling at her. “See you later.”