(Based on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Rappaccinni’s Daughter”)

My Dear Thompson,

Allow me to convey to you some unpleasant news. The corridors which I inhabit have lately become overrun and damaged as a result of a corrupting incident, one that you prophetically foresaw and one of which you warned me… a warning I sorrowfully neglected, and I now am the sole possessor of the guilt. This will undoubtably be my last correspondence with you.

You perhaps remember that in my purview I oversee the high security computer lab where certain task-workers labor in my service. They bend all their time toward soiled code… corroded and twisted content, containing within it the awful depths to which mankind is capable of reaching. These servants endeavor all day and every day to scour social apertures of degraded constructs. It is not-to-be-helped that these jobs leave them deeply, sometimes permanently, scarred.

Fortune would have it that an advanced purifying machine was installed in the chained inner vestibule of my security quarter. The inner chamber can only be accessed with one card. The device possessed a cleansing structure several quantitative degrees higher than its weaker brothers.

This machine is sanctioned to be used by only one authorized with a higher flight of clearance… the one who has the card. This sanctioned worker in my quarter is Miss Bea. She was biologically the closest match to the original code. This was crucial because the system is designed to sync with its user and use a portion of the operator’s brain-width.

For many months Miss Bea delved deeply into the blasted hallways and revealed deeper and deeper net-acres to be overturned and culled. What happened to her next left me amazed. Where others may have fallen after encountering what she witnessed, her gradual descent into those depths allowed her to incrementally acquire an increasingly greater degree of packet immunity. It was soon clear that she could spend all hours of every day at the lowest reaches without succumbing to the attacks from what the mainframe had recently cataloged as roving horizons, for whom the blackest darkness is reserved forever. The sparks and flashes which emanated from Miss Bea’s screencast were horrifying. It is difficult for me to imagine the raw and ragged substance which she must have encountered. I was resolutely glad that only she possessed the card.

Two weeks ago we received a notification. Miss Bea’s inner sequencing system was bolstered with the a new overlay. The Overlay had been in discussion for many previous months. It granted a purer reach and sequestered admittance to the deepest flowered gardens of the net… areas where tendrils drip with secretions. It was clear that Miss Bea was the only possible choice to take administrative point. She proceeded. All was well for perhaps a fortnight. But then Miss Bea became unable (perhaps unwilling) to leave her secure chamber. She was unresponsive to any pings.

Mr. James, one of my trusted workers, had been monitoring her cognitive waves. He began to electronically petition Miss Bea to programmatically disentangle herself from the harrowed depths. Through their correspondence Mr. James was able to confirm the degree of Miss Bea’s mortifying enmeshment.

The most dismaying moment happened just a few mornings ago when Miss Bea opened her chamber long enough to admit Mr. James to the sanctum. He had lingered at her door too long. She opened her chamber, and he was drawn in. Within moments spent at her screen he became harnessed to the wailing stream.

Even though his biology did not enjoy the luxury of her gradiated exposure, she was somehow able to impart to him her rare invulnerability through a direct bypass download. By granting him access to her portal she was able to briefly share with him her analog amplitoxins. The nectar was therefore now fatally housed in them both. I saw the transformation happen with my own eyes. It was a humanitary violation.

They stayed in this way, both deeply wedded to one another and completely succumbed to the darkest strands within the web. They responded to no outside stimulus. I was obliged to reach for emergency assistance from the 3rd Floor.

Management suggested help in the form of a single serving of cured code. The amount had to be administered during the morning screen refresh which briefly provided us outside control of Miss Bea’s and Mr. James’ portal. We uploaded the dose yesterday at 8AM, and they interfaced with it at 8:01.

Both fell to the ground. The outer door immediately unlocked, as the protocol designed it to do. The medical staff rushed in. Within moments Mr. James had responded favorably to the dose. Miss Bea, however, could not cohere to it in any successful way. There was shaking and foam. She was dead by 8:05.

My office has been sequestered. The authorities came and requisitioned all the wares. Miss Bea, I have learned, had no family of her own. Her body has been interred in the company tomb.

My good Thompson, the last thing I did before the shutdown was to take Miss Bea’s card. I hold it in my hand as I write to you these words. Only you know this. When I touched it I believe I felt it move. I immediately locked it in my safe, but the sensation will not leave my hand. And now

After authorizing this e-post I intend to enter the inner chamber myself. There is no telling what remains of Miss Bea’s digital shoring and maintenance, but without an operator it cannot hold. The barotrauma I will encounter will be rigorous and unyielding.

After I fall, which is certain, there will be a sum of perhaps 7 days before the social and societal outbreak. Take necessary steps.

Your trusted friend,
Adam Goodbody

Zary Fekete

Zary Fekete has worked as a teacher in Hungary, Moldova, Romania, China, and Cambodia. She currently lives and works as a writer in Minnesota. Some places she has been published are Goats Milk Mag, JMWW Journal, Bethlehem Writers Roundtable, and Zoetic Press. She enjoys reading, podcasts, and long, slow films. Twitter: @ZaryFekete