The red-haired woman pressed the Enter key with a red-nailed finger and sat back from the computer with a satisfied smile on her perfectly-made-up red lips. Within the hour, the message board she had just posted to would be in uproar, and all she had to do was ten minutes of typing. She had crafted her flame well. Who would have known that a simple discussion of some kid's book series could spark such extreme rage in so many people?
The formerly peaceful internet café she was sitting in was going a similar way. A young man accidentally spilled his coffee on his girlfriend's brand new dress, causing her to yell at him (partly in rage, and partly in pain as the coffee had been very hot). Two small children began a fist fight, and their mother shouted at them, trying to prise them apart. The woman innocently sipped her cappucino, smirking proudly as she put down the cup.
"Red, is that you?" asked a voice from behind her. She turned in her seat to see a pale youth dressed entirely in grubby white. Pieces of litter and muddy footprints formed a trail behind him. She noticed the litter bin had mysteriously vanished.
"Well, well. Long time no see. Pull up a chair."
"So, how have you been keeping yourself occupied?" asked Pollution, sitting down next to her. The metal legs of his chair immediately began to rust. War shrugged.
"Oh, the usual. Travelling a lot, mostly in the Middle East. Street fight here, suicide bombing there. Right now I'm playing about with the Internet. It's amazing what you can do with it."
"I know," Pollution said with a grin. "I spend at least two hours a day sending spam now - polluting cyberspace. Famine helped me with a set advertising diet pills. It's amazing how many people actually buy them. What are you using it for?" War looked faintly embarrassed.
"Well, my original plan was to hack into the Pentagon's system, but I sort of got sidetracked on a Harry Potter message board." Pollution gave her a funny look. "Starting flamewars is nearly as much fun as the real thing, even if there aren't any deaths." She pointed a neatly manicured finger at the screen. "I just told a bunch of teenage Potter fangirls that I hope Snape dies in the next book because I hate him and he's evil and ugly. I don't really hate him, but of course they don't know that. They're already dividing into two factions – the ones who agree with me and the ones who like Snape." She clicked the Refresh button. When the page reloaded, Pollution saw several new messages. All the titles were written entirely in capitals and ended in varying numbers of exclamation marks. "See? And the beauty of it is, I can come back later on a different username and violently disagree with the post I just made, thus stoking the flames even more."
"Ah, I see," Pollution said admiringly. "Ingenious." War smirked delicately.
"Mortals do come up with some amazing things, don't they?"
Meanwhile, another red-haired woman was reading the same message board and sighing at the sheer immaturity of the posters. She had once been like them, flaming at the slightest thing, and it hadn't been that long ago either. She liked to think she knew better now, though anyone badmouthing the Weasleys where she could see it would still quickly be toast. Speaking of which . . . Pepper made a mental note to yell at Brian for grinding crumbs into her carpet again. Yes, college students were expected to be untidy, but there were limits.
She remembered she still had an assignment to do. Adam and Wensley had probably already finished theirs, and under normal circumstances so would she, but she had lately been distracted by the discovery of Livejournal. Of course Brian would leave it to the last minute and probably demand help from her. Unorganised idiot, she thought with annoyed affection, he hasn't changed a bit. Oh well, time to get back to work. But first her email needed to be checked.
Her inbox was full of the usual junk. Porn, chain letter, more porn, "Dr Black's Weight Loss Pills", an actual email from her friend from the Potter Sue of the Day, yet more porn. . .
Suddenly there was a knock at the door.
"Come in," Pepper called, busy deleting spam. The door creaked open and Wensleydale entered.
"Hi Pep," he said. He sounded worried. Pepper turned round.
"What? Don't tell me you need help with your homework! It's not that hard."
"Um. No," he mumbled, fiddling with his watch. "It's just . . . Brian was playing about on the web and he's found something really weird."
"Weird as in what? If it's crop circles or something it can wait till I've done my work."
"No, it's sort of . . . well, you'd better come and see it."
Curious, Pepper stood up and followed Wensleydale.