(From the "Cyberpunk" Backspace stories)

Chips
Ahoy was beginning to think Microsoft’s new one-touch CTRL/ALT/DEL
key was the single most useful thing they’d ever created –
Windows Utopia be damned – as he pounded his way to another
reboot.

“If
it’s a fatal exception, then why the hell aren’t you dead?”
he screamed in frustration. The run was in twenty minutes and here
he was screwing around with the goddamn op-sys! Even if he got the
base protes working now, he’d barely have time to calibrate
the I/Os in his temples, run the test dampers, and boot up the cerebral
faces. He thought briefly about skipping the virus scan, but the
last thing he needed was to be late and hung over for a week afterwards
– someone had gotten cute with the Three Wise Men and re-coded
it to simulate the buzz from some old twentieth century liqs made
back before they started splicing the pain suppressors and the motor
anti-inhibitors into them, and from what Epiphany had told him,
the ride was sweet but the ticket had one hell of a price the next
morning.

Of
course, none of this mattered if he couldn’t get the system
running at all. This new one was a real piece of work. Half of his
perphs wouldn’t work with it, and the half that did ran slower
than the Trans-Atlantic Surface Shuttle during hurricane season.
It had wiped most of the older versions from the manilas on his
hardy on the pretense of being “better and faster,” and
while Chips could certainly take issue with the first part, he had
to admit it had monked his system faster than any version before
it. He had half a mind to submit a formal complaint – once
this version went public and he could update the copy ‘Trixster
had napstered for him, that is. But that didn’t do him any
good for the run that night.

“You’re
gonna make me run in same-old same-old, aren’t you? You bastard,”
he muttered.

Safe
mode. “Goddamn safe mode” they should have called it.
Most of his friends called it the Schwinn Trans-Jupiter, since they
knew of no finer simulation of the experience of traveling to the
Outer Colonies via bicycle. But with no other options and the run
now less than fifteen minutes away, it looked like it was time to
start pedaling to Io. He clicked the option, gritted his teeth,
and sat back and waited.

Through
his goggles, it looked like blue mud. It took him a couple of seconds
to even find the webspinner to get him onto the network, and the
diags dragged on for ten more before he was ready to fly. His virt-hand
gently plucked one strand of the web, and as the spider rushed to
mend it, he felt that familiar tug, and then he was In.

The
structs weren’t as sharp, and he still felt like he was swimming
in paste, but it would have to do. He saw Epiphany had already arrived,
the winged halo of her con fluttering around the neon Fuji that
was the Chase Osaka datanode. A couple of dollar signs clung to
the halo – apparently she hadn’t been content with just
chewing bandwidth while waiting for the gang to arrive.

“You
sure you want to mess with the Choke?” Chips said as he steered
his con over to Epiphany. It looked like one of those old drawings
of the constellations, with bright points of light at the corners
and ephemeral strands linking them together in the shape of a three-masted
galleon, and where the skull and crossbones should have flown, a
banner bearing the image of a chocolate chip cookie fluttered in
the digital breeze. Chips was particularly proud of that touch –
the code for that alone had taken him two days realtime to get the
wind sims down right.

“I
have an account with ‘em, vaporware,” Epiphany replied.
“Not everything I do in here is the blotter, you know.”

“Coulda
fooled me,” a voice boomed from overhead. Looking up, Chips
saw an enormous green lizard easing a giant leg over the flickering
skyline of New Disney’s node as a darting squadron of black
flying elephants took to the air.

“Daikaiju!”
Chips shouted. “You pissed off the ice fighters again!”
The elephants buzzed around the lizard’s head like angry black
hornets, but he paid them no mind.

“Ah,
they know it’s just me and that I ain’t gonna do nothing,”
Daikaiju said. “But they gotta do the noises and make like
the gorilla or folks’ll think they went all cuddly.” In
fact, the elephants had flitted back down to whatever manila they
had rezzed from. “Now if the Seven Dwarfs show up, then I’m
up for the Hard Reboot.” He glanced around. “Where’s
TimbukLou?”

“Said
he’d be running a little late,” Epiphany said. “Something
about his landy coming up to term some cucarachas in his flat –
he didn’t want to go In and risk the guy napstering half the
stuff in there.”

Chips
scanned quickly for the stylized lion’s head that was TimbukLou’s
con. “He’d better hurry, we’re cutting it close already.”

“Especially
with you running same-old same-old,” Epiphany laughed. “You
were hoping we wouldn’t scan that, weren’t you?”

“Desperate
times, desperate measures, okay? Don’t worry about me, I’ll
keep up.”

“You’d
better,” came a growl from behind Chips. “I didn’t
put this together for it to go vapor on us.”

Chips
turned towards TimbukLou. The lion’s mane billowed gracefully.
“Hey, that’s my wind sim!”

A
toothy grin spread on TimbukLou’s face. “Yeah, ‘Trixster
told me the sec protes on that new op-sys were total parting gift,
man. I had to take a loadsee for myself.”

“That
why you’re pedaling the Schwinn tonight?” Daikaiju asked.

“Look,
I ran my diags. My counts still work. I’m starting gun, let’s
go.”

“Let’s,”
TimbukLou agreed. “Follow me.”

The
lion head drifted out over Silicode Valley, with Chips and Epiphany
floating close behind. Daikaiju held back. “Hey, gimme a mic!
They don’t know I’m not gonna Tokyo that place.”
The giant lizard shimmered briefly, then was replaced by a great
flapping pterodactyl. “That’s better!”

“You
could have logged that con in the first place, you know,” Epiphany
said.

“Yeah,”
Daikaiju said as he drifted in behind the group, “but then
how was I supposed to show off?”

“Ha
ha, real brick wall,” TimbukLou said. “Come on, we hover
the Valley too long they might think we’re watergating them.”

They
soared out into the digital night. Past the FoxBS Nebulae glaring
at them with its one great eye, over the Orinoco-Cola River with
its tributaries running almost everywhere, and through the driving
rain of Hurricane Bill. The cons were out in force tonight –
Chips saw Sid Licorice with his whips wrapped around a fat MitsuSony
node, Binary Queen was holding court over near the gambling structs,
the Bit Baron gunned his circuit-board tri-plane after some of the
General’s ice fighters, even ‘Trixster and his dancing
brooms were out and about. Back Out, of course, most of them were
logged in cluttered one-room flats in London or New Yorksey or the
Big Smoke or any one of the other plexes, anonymous little zeligs
no one would give a second hit to. In, they were total final answer.

The
stars winked out.

“What
the hell?” TimbukLou growled. “Epiphany, what you got?”

“Nothing,”
she replied in confusion. “I got no yellow-reds, no b’sods,
nothing.”

“Daikaiju?
Chips?”

Daikaiju
shrugged about as well as a glowing pterodactyl could. Chips was
quiet.

“Chips?
Form of a question, man, what you got?”

“Same-old
same-old,” he replied weakly.

Above
them, the sky had gone a flat gray, with a rectangular grid covering
a large portion of it. A yellow smiley looked down at the expectantly.

“MINESWEEPER?”
Daikaiju roared in shock. “Dude, what op-sys did you def back
to?”

The
sails on Chips’s galleon sagged, their wind completely gone.
“I don’t know. That new op-sys monked most of the other
versions. I just went back to the oldest working one.”

Epiphany
was fluttering back down to them. “I can’t get over, under,
or around it.”

“Somebody
want to tell me what the crash is going on?”

They
turned. ‘Trixster stood behind them shaking in anger, his brooms
with their buckets poised and ready. “I’m all ready to
clip the Eagle and all of a sudden I’m in some goddamn card
game!”

TimbukLou
glared at Chips. “He’s got his abacus running the Schwinn
Trans-Jupiter.”

“Schwinn
my ass, he’s back pre-wheel on that thing. He’s tortoising
the whole damn network! Bit Baron is covered in paint from some
drawing program he flew through and Iron Megan can’t move until
someone lays a three of diamonds on her! What am I supposed to do
now, watch television? I mean, goddamn it!” He turned and stomped
off, his brooms following sulkily behind.

“This
is padded room, guys,” Epiphany said. “I’m getting
bits from all over In, whatever you did Chips, you did it number
one with a bullet.”

From
high above, Daikaiju shouted down, “Hey guys, you gotta see
this!”

They
sped upward. In the distance, the pulsing spires of Silicode Valley
were winking out, replaced by stack upon stack of C:’s balanced
precariously on the slanted backslashes and bowed C’s. The
whole thing looked ready to San Andreas any second.

“Jobs
H. Christ, Chips!” TimbukLou shouted. “You DOS-ed them!
What the hell are you still doing with DOS in your box?”

“Uh,
guys?” Epiphany said slowly. Her wings had gone wire-frame,
and even that was breaking down as they watched, the once-graceful
lines bulking up into a series of boxes. Glancing around, Chips
saw the same thing happening to TimbukLou and Daikaiju, and to the
lines of his galleon.

“Pixels?”
Daikaiju groaned. “Freaking pixels? Aw the hell with this,
I’ll catch you guys later.” The pterodactyl winked out.

“Thanks
a lot, Chips,” Epiphany said, now little more than a crude
circle with a pair of stick wings tacked on. “Maybe next time
we can just sit around and do square roots all night.” She
vanished.

TimbukLou’s
lion head had lost all its ferocious bearing. Now it was simply
a brown smiley with a darker brown crescent slapped on top of it.
“Do us all a favor. Wipe your hardy. Start over.” His
voice rose hysterically. “I am not going 2-D, you hear me?”
He calmed himself. “I’m gone before some kid pops a quarter
to play me.”

And
Chips was alone. Cons were de-rezzing all around him, pelted by
a series of 1’s and 0’s from a rapidly diminishing Hurricane
Bill. Blinking cursors were everywhere, with random directories
scrolling up into the sky.

“Crap,”
he muttered, and went back Out.

The
world leapt back into his eyes. A cursor waited expectantly at the
top of his screen. With a sigh, he reached for the CTRL/ALT/DEL
key and punched up another reboot.

The
cursor still waited.

In
fact, it stayed on the monitor right until the system finished its
flight from the 82nd floor to the pavement below.



When not haunting the CHUD Message Boards, Richard Dickson toils in the
belly of the tourism beast in Orlando, Florida. His writing interests
include sketch comedy, short stories, and three really great
screenplays that will be absolutely super — once he actually finishes
them. Honest, they really will. Really.





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