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Crusoe.com by Matt Whyman

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Short Story In a bid to raise our brows slightly The Reg has decided to bring a bit of literature into your life.

The New English Library book of Internet Stories has just been published and it seemed a good idea to give you a taster. Next week we're running a competition to give away a few copies.

Amongst the writers included in the short story collection are Val McDermid, Toby Litt, Stella Duffy and China Mieville.

Matt Thorne is also in it. We used his name to test Amazon security back in August. Amazon wasn't happy.

And in a nice nepotistic touch, my brother Nicholas Blincoe has a story in the collection. I detailed the abuse his books were getting on Amazon here.

The story we're publishing is Crusoe.com by Matt Whyman. He's the agony uncle for Bliss magazine, and AOL UK. His first novel, Man or Mouse, is out now. ®



Crusoe.com
by Matt Whyman


She went down like my stock shares. Fast and without warning. One minute I'm schmoozing on the sun deck, slopping my spritzer on some powerful shoes. The next I'm clinging to the guard rail with Gates himself wrapped around my ankle and the stern of the ship sliding into the sea.

Who knows what caused us to founder? It was calm. It was clement. The only icebergs were clinking in our drinks. But then we were in uncharted waters, and in retrospect the vessel may not have been designed to hold such a weighty convention.

Indeed, this meeting of minds from the virtual world had only been afloat for a short time. Most of us had barely found our feet. Such was the desire to get out there and network that we hadn't properly unpacked our bags. Choosing instead to home in on the investors in our number. Those venture capitalists who had been so keen to come on board. In the water, however, we all looked alike. Shrieking and spluttering. Stricken by panic. Fighting among ourselves for driftwood. Any purchase to keep us afloat. Every entreprenerd for himself.

I lost sight of Gates when the sharks circled in. Though I believe it was his glasses that washed up with me.

So there I am, on the island. Standing on the shoreline of this forested outcrop of rock, waiting for the choppers to spring up on the horizon. I figured I'd be rescued within the hour at most. Not a day. Or a week. A month. Then a year. At least that's how long it seemed to me. Long enough to comb the beach for treasured things, and make myself at home. I even discovered a humble cave, blasted into the scarp overlooking the sea. One that appeared to have been inhabited by some age-old lost soul, going by the hammock and the diary turned to dust beside it.

Gates's glasses also proved invaluable to me. Such was the intense focus commanded by his lenses, I was able to light fires in the weakest light and roast fish speared from the shallows. In that time I went right back to basics. Grew a beard God himself couldn't better, and aimed to survive on the bare necessities of life. Food. Shelter. Laptop computer.

The PC I salvaged from the suitcase. It had drifted ashore soon after me. There above the tide line, I sprung the lock with a rock and found the hardware to be in factory condition. Within seconds, in fact, I had booted it up and set my sights on home. Frantically bashing out that critical email. My message in a virtual bottle. A signal of distress addressed to Lara, my PA back at base.

"I'm alive," I began, reading as I wrote. "Stranded on island. Middle of nowhere. Please send help. Also Nasdaq position and price."

I hit SEND, my forefinger trembling, only to be faced by an error message. A warning that also served to alert me to the fact that all was not well with my head:

The modem has reported no dial tone.
Please check all connections and try again.

Any further attempt would be futile, I knew that. Still, it didn't stop me following instructions. On numerous occasions. Mostly at sundown when I felt the most isolated. Each time I hoped with all my heart that by some miracle I might connect, but always I would shut down in defeat.

Flopping back into the sand to watch the stars emerge. Servers in their own right. Stepping stones to other worlds. It was a perspective that made my solitude seem bearable somehow. Until the suspicion slowly dawned on me that I was not alone, here on this retreat of mine, and my fragile take on fate was lost to outright alarm.

First the footprints in the sand at low tide. Then the abrupt bursts of hammering that caused the birds to spring from the trees. This unseen devil conspired to haunt me, even in my dreams, until one morning I sat bolt upright in a sweat to see a man there. Peering in from the mouth of my cave. No horns or cloven feet as I had feared. Just a ragged short sleeved shirt and slacks. Battered attaché case in one hand. Miniature screwdrivers aligned in his breast pocket like a military decoration.

He cleared his throat, as if preparing to speak for the first time in an age. "Salut," he croaked, and drew breath sharply when his eyes fell upon my computer. "Tiens!"

This was no island devil, I realised with relief, but a survivor from the shipwreck. Judging by the passion with which he reacted to my laptop, I figured he had been confined below deck for the duration of the conference cruise. There to keep us in contact with our respective empires. Along with the rest of the system support staff.

"You speak English?"

He shrugged, glanced back at me. I told him my name. Motioned for the man to do likewise.

He consulted the dateline on his watch: "C'est Vendredi."

Conscious of the pantomime threatened by our language difference, I simply motioned for him to stand back. Bringing the PC out into the sunshine, I then mimicked a broken gesture.

"No connection." I pointed to his attache case. "Can you fix it?"

I had lost my wallet to the deep, but implored him to consider the fact that we shared a mutual goal. A desire to get home somehow, which seemed one step closer when Vendredi encouraged me to pick up my computer and follow him around the promontory.

Next Page

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