Mon, 24th Oct 2011 | NSCooke | 2,375 Views.

BANDWIDTH - Entry for Halloween Competition

Taken from BANDWIDTH: The Story of Devlin Mallard - A Torbay Ghost.

(The chapter's not got any plot spoilers....I hope! It's my submission for the comp)



'But woe to the earth and the sea,
because the devil has gone down to you!
He is filled with fury' Revelation 12:12

What is alive? Is consciousness alive? But, then again, plants or bacteria cannot be said to be conscious, and they are alive. So to be conscious, being alive is not a pre-requisite. Therefore, can there be consciousness in death, or amongst inanimate objects? In human beings, consciousness can be distilled to a mere series of electrical impulses that amount to self-awareness and motivation. Is this the soul? And what is the soul? Perhaps a singular 'cause and effect' that can operate in total isolation of flesh and blood. Whatever being conscious is - it had not yet deserted Devlin Mallard. But, being alive....had.

1 a.m. in the morning, Xicheng District, Beijing, at the China Telecom ISP Centre, Mr. Lee, the night-watch engineer, sat in his office swivel-chair. He was dressed in clean, white overalls as he took another sip of strong coffee. He needed the boost to keep from nodding off.
Sterile, florescent, strip lighting illuminated his immaculate office, which housed a bank of flat screen monitors and computers, wired through to the air-conditioned server room. The servers were located to the other side of a glazed partition wall, directly opposite his seated position. In his office, Mr. Lee sat in vigil over the terabytes of high speed internet traffic that pulsed through the hub.
He took another sip of coffee.
The server room was enormous: it housed hundreds of large black, metal cabinets containing the servers. They resembled coffins, uniformly set out in neat rows. The walls and ceiling were sealed with spotless, dust-free white tiles. LED's flickered on and off, whilst solid-state hard drives hummed and pumped out enormous amounts of heat and energy, giving the atmosphere an electric charge.
This place had real power - the world's internet traffic passed through these walls: email, on line gaming, gambling, financial transactions, web casts - you name it, it came through here. The servers hosted websites and stored information from how to make the perfect cookie, to starting nuclear fusion with a pencil: the sum total of human knowledge - knowledge, both good and bad.
But, somewhere deep inside the raw data, terabytes of ones and zeros, down a pathway, and amongst partitioned hard drives, the darkness gave up a consciousness. An LED flashed in 'server cabinet 113'. A fan cut in as heat began to build amongst the processors. Electricity surged, filling the air with static. There was an electrical flash, it arced its way to metal shelving, filling the air with a smell of burning silicon.
In his office, Mr. Lee was on a streak, Pokerplay.com. He was five hours into a poker session and a week's wages were on the cyberspace table. The coffee had worked its magic, the hairs on his neck now stood erect - he was buzzing. This was the big one, 'Full House' with two aces.
Focusing on the flat screen in front of him, he did not notice the heat indicator-bar for 'cabinet 113' turn from green, to amber, to red. Even if he had noticed, with this hand, he probably would have just let it burn.
'You ain't got shit,' he muttered under his breath. He was referring to his poker opponent, '3viltwin6'.
Lee took another swig of coffee.
The temperature-bar reading on 'server 113' dropped back to orange; whatever had caused the heat build up, had happened. And was over.

Devlin looked around. He had never been in a place like this before: the materials, temperature and air seemed strange to him. He walked a corridor of servers, down to the glazed partition wall. Mr. Lee was sitting on the other side, staring into a computer screen.
Devlin looked in at this strange looking Chinese man. He had seen Chinese people before, at the docks in Plymouth. They came in on the ships and worked the port. But, he had not seen many; Mr. Lee caught his curiosity for moment.
Mr. Lee laid his bet at the table. He was going all in on this hand. If he won ' then it would be a shiny, new Mercedes for him; and if he lost - then the Lee family would just have to eat plain noodles until spring. But then, something caught his eye - movement! He turned quickly towards the server room, catching a glimpse of what he thought was a moving shadow. Then, it was gone. For a moment, he stared into open space to the sound of an electrical hum - there was nothing there, now. But he could have sworn he had seen something. He didn't know what, perhaps it was a fly passing the corner of his eye. He got up and walked to the window for a closer look. The room beyond the glass was deserted. It must have been his imagination, or the coffee. His attention was quickly drawn to the audible tone of his Pokerplay.com opponent upping the ante. His mind returned to the game.
'You're bluffing, gwai lo,' he said, sitting back down again.

Devlin felt drawn back into the server network, he could feel the pull of the signal, the Wi-Fi. He followed it home; there was nothing for him in this strange place.
He left the ISP site, and was sucked into the system, free to explore. He travelled the Information Superhighway, passing through fibre optics and across networks. He travelled, and as he did, terabytes of facts and figures baptised him. It was like swimming in a vast ocean of knowledge, a new world hitherto unexplored in death. And he learned quickly: the curve was steep as he gorged himself on the knowledge of the World Wide Web, devouring whole file servers. Knowledge, was indeed power - and with it, he charged his batteries of ambition.
Four minutes and twelve seconds had elapsed, and hundreds of thousands of light-miles travelled when he came to rest. But, this new knowledge did not make him wise. It was just stuff - tools, facts and figures. It did not change his nature, but rather it honed the hunter in him ' made him a better killer: Sigmund Freud on Fear; Darwin Anatomy, Natural Selection; Poisons; Explosives; Weaponology, The Discovery Channel; Genocide; Blitzkrieg; Armageddon. The World Wide Web was an encyclopedia of death. And he longed to play with his quarry once again, to torment it mercilessly, like a cat with a mouse. A plaything of flesh, blood and fear.
He travelled on again, passing through the files of Wikipedia and Google. He came to rest for a while at Microsoft in North America. Whilst there, he decided what he wanted. He wanted to go home to England, to his home town - he had unfinished business there! Torbay.

One-thirty in the morning mid-Atlantic, the 'Atlantic Pride', a state of the art transatlantic cable-laying and repair ship, held her position in the testing and growing seas of a storm. Outside, the winds were increasing. The wind-driven swell and spray lashed the bridge windows.
Inside, the helmsman sat in his seat overseeing the ships navigation systems. Working in tandem with the ships fly-by-wire propulsion, the global positioning system kept the boat stationary. The fore and aft thrusters held the vessel at the same co-ordinates over the main transatlantic fibre optic cable, that linked Europe with North America. The 'Pride's' engines powered up and drew down in line with a 30 meter running swell, into which the ship jogged. The cable had been brought on board hours before, to repair a damaged section. It was fed into the ship's rear infrastructure, and then into the sealed jointing room, buried deep amongst the gangways, beams, pipes and valves.
Outside, in the pitch-black, moonless night, the ship was the only beacon of light for a hundred miles. Alone, in the darkness, it was an island to humankind in the vastness of the ocean. Between the gusts of wind that whistled along the decks, faint rock music could be heard. It was coming from the jointing room. Inside, the sounds of the 'Red Hot Chili Peppers' rocked the work space.
The jointing room, a self-contained bubble - an engineering clean room, isolated and sealed from the rest of the ship, to prevent contamination to the fibre optics. It looked more like an operating theatre, housed in a white cargo container on wheels, entered via a set of air-locked double doors.
Inside, two technicians worked away on the cable under bright florescent lights. They cut and ground away its armoured and waterproof outer layer, to reveal the precious fibre optic fruit at its core. Millions of terabytes of data would pass each second through it, once plumbed back into the World Wide Web. For now, the broken section had been bridged awaiting the repair to be made.
The technicians were dressed in orange overalls complete with yellow, safety, hard hats, ear defenders and safety glasses. They busied themselves around the jointing table onto which the cable had been laid and clamped. Various cutting tools were suspended and plumbed into heavy duty electrical sockets around them. Mounted on a nearby trolley was a computer with flat screen monitor and printer: a diagnosis tool to test the cable - it currently bore witness to the sparks of the grinder.
Clive, the more experienced and senior of the two men, had been at sea for the best part of twenty-five years. He had taken on young Pete as his apprentice; taken him under his wing.
Pete looked a bit green as the ship pitched and rolled in the heavy swell. He could hardly stand, let alone operate industrial cutting tools in these seas. But he was learning - Clive would make a seaman of him yet - the lad was keen enough.
The older man was thick-set, burly and unshaven. He had a healthy gut, the product of his favourite pastime: sinking pints of beer.
Pete, a skinny little streak of an apprentice, at eighteen years, could just about manage a few, isolated pubic hair-like patches of chin growth and upper lip fuzz. He was secretly modelling his follicle creation on Clive's manly stubble.
The room smelt of burnt metal, rubber and plastic, as Clive continued to grind and cut down the outer casing of the cable, ready for splicing. Sparks flew as the grinder disc spun at more than two-thousand RPM. Pete looked on, waiting for Clive's next instruction. He held onto the fixed table as the ship pitched and rolled forward and aft.
'This disc is shit!' The grinder wasn't making enough headway for Clive. 'Get me another cutting disc, this one's had it!' he shouted above the noise of the spinning blade.
Pete opened one of the fitted tool box drawers beneath the work table. He withdrew a sharp, new disc and the key to fit it.
'You change it this time,' prompted the older man.
Clive handed Pete the grinder to see how he got on changing the disc. Key in hand, Pete set the tool down and started to insert the key into the disc lock. That was his first mistake - a schoolboy error.
'Eh - that's doughnuts mate. Safety first. Always switch it off at the plug before doing anything to it.' Clive had switched to tutor mode. 'I'm not picking your fingers up off the floor. You'll do that with your left hand.' If you carry on like that, he thought.
Pete smiled, 'Yeah, I know, I just forgot.' He flicked the power switch, and then changed the disc before handing it back to the senior technician.
'Good lad. Now, what do we need to do before we open the core?' Clive was always testing his protege.
'Clear up the shards of crap on the floor and table. We don't want to contaminate the new splice,' Pete reeled off the lines as if he were reciting the two-times table.
'Bingo! Go to the top of the class.'
Pete went to work with a broom, dustpan and brush, whilst Clive resumed the grinding of the outer case.
Neither engineer knew it. But, something was rushing towards them at the speed of light. It passed through the cable at the North American end and travelled beneath the ocean.
The PC monitor, showing the cable connection speeds, momentarily registered a dip in the transfer rate. The bandwidth had narrowed, as a large amount of data temporarily lagged the system. Neither engineer noticed.
The journey took Devlin a nanosecond, and then he was in the room. The shadows shifted.
Pete and Clive could not see him. They did not feel the presence that had come to call.
The ghost sat to one side and observed them for a while, interested in what they were doing. He now knew all about fibre optics, the internet, and all manner of things he had learnt from the endless files available on the web. He even knew the name of this ship, its weight, how much it cost to build, and who built it. But, those were just useless facts. He had come for some fun: a snack of a hunt en-route to his final meal of a destination ' Torbay, England. It had been too long. Imprisoned in oblivion, he had had time to build his appetite for blood lust.
Pete continued to pick up the spoils of cut cable waste with the dust pan. He placed them in the rubbish bin and then grabbed the vacuum hose suspended from the ceiling. He began to suck up any remaining dust remnants.
Clive paused his grinding and stood back to take stock of his work. The whine of the grinder wound down as the electric motor dragged against its bushes. The blade rotated ever slower. He put the cutter down on the bench. They'd had the 'Red Hot Chili Peppers' on for the last hour, it was time for a change. If he heard 'Californication' one more time, he'd scream. Unaware of their stalker, he went over to the CD player to change the disc.
Gimme Shelter.
It was time for 'The Stones'. Clive turned up the volume several notches and the jointing room rocked with the sounds of Jagger, rich electric guitar, and a chorus of backing singers. He half- walked and half-danced back to the cutting table. His head and neck rocking to the beat.
Pete did not look impressed. He shouted above the music, 'That's all right! But I prefer the sounds of Paul Oakenfold!'
'Paul....Oaken ' what?!....You need to re-evaluate your tastes in music, if you're gonna work with me!'
Devlin, sat to one side, below their visual field of perception. He quite agreed with the older fellow. He'd come across the 'Stones' on YouTube and was warming to them. Still, he digressed. He was here for something else - he had business to conduct with these gentlemen: Hunt business.
Clive began to cut again. The fresh, sharp, blade made quick work of the cable, and he was soon down to the fibre optic inner case. For the inner case, he needed a smaller, more delicate, dentist-style air powered cutting tool. He handed the grinder to Pete, who set it down on the bench.
'Now, switch it off this time,' he instructed the younger male.
Clive reached overhead and pulled down the smaller cutter. He started to cut open the inner case. The smaller tool, with its small spinning blade, emitted a high pitched whine, as the three centimetre blade spun at high RPM. Sparks flew, and the scent of molten plastic fumes laced the air once again.
Pete watched on and sucked away any debris with the vacuum hose.
'That's right. Keep the dust and shit off,' encouraged Clive, working away.
Devlin Mallard stood by the grinder power socket. He examined the simple rocker switch and a notion entered his mind. It was in the 'off' position. But, if pressed, the switch would rock to 'on'. He reached out to it and tried to switch the power on. Nothing happened. It did not move. He hadn't caused an object to move for decades. He knew he could do it - he had in the passed. He had just forgotten how. That happens sometimes to ghosts lost in the darkness, they forget, just as Devlin had forgotten. The darkness had infected him with foggy nothingness, caused him to forget, unlearn, what he had learned. He cursed that debilitating place. He wasn't going back there again. Ever.
The darkness sucked the memories and purged the life experiences of lost souls. There they would fight and compete to re-enter the cycle of life and death. But the darkness couldn't change what he was - what they all were. It could not alter behaviour or propensity towards good or bad deed. That was the preserve and influence of the infinite millennia of births and rebirths; lives lived and lost. That place just left souls dumbstruck and happy to attach themselves to new life, to live again, not knowing who they had been; what they had done in past lives.
But Devlin was in the light now, and in the light he would stay. He was remembered by someone, he mattered. He focused: concentrated his vision, his mind, and his knowledge of how things worked in this universe. He focused on the switch!
The two men didn't notice the switch move ever so slightly - not a lot - not enough to rock the switch to the 'on' position, but enough so that the plastic flexed and vibrated. It was hardly noticeable. And certainly not audible above the sounds of the 'Stones' and the whine of the cutter.
Devlin was frustrated by his own pathetic effort. A girl could do better, he thought. Like an amputee, who had to learn to touch and manipulate again, he concentrated. He concentrated and remembered that night in Australia, or, as he remembered it, Bristol: the night he had held his precious photograph again, when he had walked with Anne.
He focused once again.
The switch appeared to rock a little more but not quite enough to click home. He stared at it, funnelling all his energy.
Neither male heard or noticed the electric power switch for the grinder click to 'on'. The blade of the grinder had been at rest on the work surface. You couldn't have set it up better: the grinder now pointed directly at an unaware Clive who, in turn, was working on stripping down the cable.
Devlin followed the power cable from the switch along the length of wire to the grinder and studied the mechanism. His eyelids closed and flickered for a moment - SABRE Whirler Twirler 3000 - XD' industrial grinder with variable RPM and safety release - Retail 120.00 GBP. But, B&Q are doing a price match this month. Interesting: there's a 'high' setting, with boost.
In an instant, the grinder power switch and safety release button depressed simultaneously, as if operated by an invisible hand. On the table, the blade bucked to life, spinning at high RPM. It spun, jumped and then found grip on the table surface. The power tool shot forward directly at Clive. It launched up from the table and the blade buried into Clive's right wrist, severing the artery quickly.
'Ahhh! Fuuuuuck!'
It churned on, taking the limb which fell away and came to rest upon the table's edge, twitching. A jet of bright red claret, from Clive's stump, sprayed the spotlessly clean, white walls.
'I switched it off... I switched it off!' screamed the lad.
Clive fell to his knees in shock. The grinder bucked on the table, and then buried itself into the technician's chest, as he fell forward. Blood sprayed the ceiling and floor, as the blade churned deeper through the layers of skin, fat, muscle and then, rib. The upwards spray turned Clive's face wet red.
'Clive! Clive!' screamed Pete.
Pete was frozen in shock. He couldn't move as Clive fell back, blood still squirting from the right stump where his hand had been. On the table, the severed hand continued to twitch. Then it dropped to the floor as the ship rolled in the swell.
'I....I switched it off! I switched it off!' Pete's eyes were enlarged with terror. 'Clive! I switched it off....I swear to God!'
It would take more than doughnuts to compensate for this one.
For some reason, Pete looked at the bloodied hand on the floor, and considered whether to use the dustpan or vacuum hose to collect it up - or just, pick it up. Perhaps it could be sewn back on? Maybe put the limb in the fridge? You know, to preserve it, or in milk, he thought. Oh no, milk was for teeth, not severed limbs. No, definitely the fridge. Yeah, the fridge.
The apprentice didn't see it coming.
Clive, in his death throes, collapsed back and then, around, still holding the whizzing, compressed air cutting tool in his left hand. The blade caught Pete in the throat as he bent over to collect up the limb. The high-speed blade slit cleanly through his jugular.
There was a gurgling sound. The apprentice couldn't scream: his windpipe and vocal cords were lacerated, cut. Blood pumped from the neck wound as he silently mouthed the words, 'I switched it off.'
'Yes, you switched it off,' the ghost laughed. 'But I switched it on again.'
Oh, what fun! Devlin was pleased with his work. He couldn't claim the young one though - that was a bit of an own goal.
Blood now ran and dripped from the walls and work surfaces. The clean, white room had turned red. The liquid pooled and then moved across the floor in time with the pitching and rolling ship.
Clive dropped to the floor, blood still surging from his wounds, forced out by a still beating heart.
Pete, white with blood loss, choked for air as his lungs filled with claret. He was drowning on his feet, at sea.
Devlin looked at the vacuum hose. It reminded him of a rope he had once encountered almost a hundred years ago. A thought popped into his mind, into his consciousness....

An hour later, on the bridge of the 'Atlantic Pride', the captain received an angry transmission from Headquarters. Transatlantic internet traffic was still limited due to a break in the cable. What was going on down there?
After failing to get through to the jointing room on the ship's phone, a female officer was dispatched to see what the hold-up was.
Shortly afterwards, screams were heard.
Pete Simpson, technician's apprentice, was found strung up by the neck, with chief engineer, Clive Docherty, dead at his feet. The woman's screams could be heard along the length and breadth of the 'Atlantic Pride'.


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Fri, 04th Nov 2011
Many Thanks, Susie. Any feedback you have would be really useful. My emails on the 2nd or 3rd page. I'm about 90% done on a first draft of another book - so feedback would be gratefully recieved - Good and bad. It helps me improve.

All the best

Nod+ (0)
Wed, 02nd Nov 2011
Just downloaded the book. Looking forward to reading it. Talisman, Bluehound & Mastersignwriter I am awaiting your books too?
Nod+ (0)
Wed, 26th Oct 2011
Thank you, everyone.

Talisman - I really liked yours. The way you wrapped some of the speech around the narration was very good. I could learn a lot from that; that's just the kind of skill I try to pick from other authors.

All the best

Nod+ (0)
Tue, 25th Oct 2011
Thanks for the link. Downloaded and ready to read.Cheers!
Nod+ (0)
Tue, 25th Oct 2011
This will be in the basket.
Nod+ (0)
Tue, 25th Oct 2011
This might be the novel that pushes me to download a book for the first time. Good contemporary twist on an old genre.Inspired idea behind the spirits using the internet.
Nod+ (0)
Mon, 24th Oct 2011
Rivierakid: Are you as fast as they say? I think you might be - you made me think about the solid state hard drives? Hmmmm.

I guess I was getting at the buzz of electricity you get around large electrical transformers or amps - like for Marty, in Back to the Future, the intro scene where he blows himself backwards with the guitar. That 'Hum' he achieved before he flew.

Anyway, I'm glad you liked it - it's really a chapter that stands more aside from the plot than others in the book. That's why I chose it. But my favourite, well, that's the last chapter - but it would spoil the book if I released it.


All the best

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Mon, 24th Oct 2011
Kept me riveted. But, Solid state hard drives humming? Hmmmm.
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