His desktop was the color of a monochrome bitmap, displaying the output of a pseudorandom generator.
“It’s not like I’m addicted to pornography,” Case read, as he wedged his cursor through the crowded Reddit comment thread. “It’s just that my ctrl, shift, and delete keys wear out at a comparatively higher rate.” It was a Reddit pseudonym and a Reddit joke. The Reddit was a website for professional procrastinators; you could surf for weeks and never see two slides of PowerPoint. Ratz was acting mod, his prosthetic scripts monotonously banning trolls, recording their IP addresses in case of further trouble. He saw Case’s IP, smiled, his emoticon a byzantine web-work of inelegantly jury-rigged alphanumerics.
Case found the thread he needed, between a Bill Gates-as-Darth Vader meme and a horribly-chauvinistic stick cartoon, “Wan3 posted here earlier,” Ratz wrote, replying to a comment on a different thread. “Maybe some business with you, Case?”
Case LOLed hollowly. The troll below him shrieked, ALL CAPS, and was downvoted into oblivion.
“Aspirin,” posted DrunkenAustralian33, “Aspirin and ice. That’ll bloody fix carpel tunnel any day. Fix you right, mate...”
“Now that,” wrote Case, actuating his keyboard at glacial, painful pace, “that is so much bullshit.”
Case was twenty-four. At twenty-two, he’d been an open source hacker, one of the best on the web. He’d been trained by the best, by Eric S. Raymond and Richy Stallman, legends in the biz. He’d operated on an almost permanent redbull high, jacked into a custom distro. A hacker, he’d worked with other, more-respected hackers. Then he’d made the classic mistake, the one he’d sworn he’d never make. He tried to obfuscate his code, keep it proprietary; he kept something for himself and tried to monetize it, maybe even get a venture capitalist interested.
He still wasn’t sure how he’d been discovered, not that it mattered now. He’d expected to die, then, but Stallman and Raymond only smiled. Of course he was welcome, they told him, welcome to his proprietary code. And he was going to need it. Because—still smiling— they were going to make sure he never coded again. Stallman tied Case to a swivel chair with thick strands of greasy auburn hair as Raymond bit at Case's knuckles, his mustache waxed with a Russian wartime micotoxin, each well-trimmed whisker brushing the poison into freshly torn skin.
Strapped to his generic office chair, his talent burning out micron by micron, he hallucinated for thirty hours. The damage was minute, subtle, and utterly effective. For Case, who’d lived for high-speed QWERTY action, it was the Fall. In the forums he’d frequented as a hacker hotshot, the elite stance involved a certain contempt for slow typists. Case fell into the prison of his own flesh. When his hands finally healed, his typing speed was reduced to a near-useless 5 wpm, forcing him to use a GUI, forcing him to embrace Gate’s most-hated progeny.
A year in Vista and he still dreamed of the Linux, hope fading nightly. All the proprietary shit he downloaded, all money he spent on voice recognition software, all the GUIs he accepted, and still he saw the command line in his sleep, bright lattices of semantic logic unfolding across that colorless void... Vista was a long strange way from home, and he was no coder now, no opensorce hacker. Just another end-user, trapped in a GUI, a restraining interface of mediated abstractions. But the dreams came on in his afternoon naps like live wire voodoo and he’d cry for it, cry in his sleep, and wake alone in the dark, curled up in his swivel chair, his swollen hands clawing his keyboard, trying to execute a daemon that wasn’t there…