NOTE: This story originally appeared in alt.cyberpunk.chatsubo, a group whose postings are stories that take place in a virtual dystopia of high tech and street violence in the vein of William Gibson's novel, `Neuromancer'....
[Ed: Honourable Mention in the Original Comedy Awards.]
I had logged myself into the computer-generated bar room as a little, furry, harmless dog. I didn't want trouble. I needed to read the X Windows/Motif 1.1 manual, so I came to the bar and asked Ratz to fix the documentation data in liquid form for me. It made a bitter, painful drink, but it was better than spending days turning pages in realspace.
Ratz put a bucket of liquid in front of me.
"I wanted a glass of docs, Ratz. What the hell is this?" I barked.
"Motif don't fit in a glass anymore," he barked back.
I looked at the liquid. It was totally opaque to me.
Then someone yelled. The surveillance screen had identified an attacker. We had three seconds before it got to the bar. Everyone ducked under the furniture and pulled weapons. Since I was too small a target to register, I just sat back and watched the action.
A Hunter-Killer blew a hole in the wall right next to the doorless doorway. This Killer used spells instead of weapons. The design was humanoid, but oxidation of the copper skin had turned it green. It wore black robes and a cone-shaped, aerodynamic black hat.
It raised its broomstick to let fly some more pyro, but then it was crushed by a farm house that fell from the sky.
Nobody moved. A young girl reluctantly stepped out of the house, her eyes wide. She wasn't in streetware, just a frilly dress and pigtails. Not your typical annihilatrix. As a matter of fact, she was a sweet piece, young and fresh. I decided I might like to cut myself a slice of this action. I jumped off my bar stool, looked cute, trotted over and jumped up into her arms. She caught me and started petting me. She said, "Doggie, it doesn't look like we're dialed into Kansas Public Access Unix anymore."
Then a tall angular woman came out from under cover. She wore battle leathers, chain mail, knee-high boots, and steel blue op-implants. Her fingerknives were just retracting back under her flesh and her back-ratcheting Harley-Bronson chain gun was spinning down.
The new girl obviously hadn't seen a razorgirl before, and she held me tight to her bosom. This was working out well for me.
The razorqueen said, "Christ! You dusted an HK! That was the Hokusai-Sendai Witch of the Far East, their best magic weaver. What're you packin', sister?"
"Who are you?" my girl asked.
"You don't know? I synthesized the geometry for this bar. I'm Liralen Li, the Good Witch of the Pacific Northwest." She shouted to everyone else that it was safe, and the other customers came out from hiding. The visitor was astonished by the many dwarves that had been in hiding. Liralen explained, "They're bonsai ninja, you know, a strain of samurai engineered to grow small like bonsai trees. They're very quiet and can hide anywhere. You're not from around here, are you, sister?"
"No. But a while ago I jacked into the system and now I can't get out. I'm stuck in the cyberspace."
Stuck? That's weird, I thought. I was close enough to her construct that I could follow her connection back to its realspace origin. She had jacked into a simple simulation called `Preparing Your Home for a Natural Disaster', but now she was flatlining. The contents of her mind had been sucked into the matrix. If she got killed in virtual space, there'll be no mind left for real space.
"What are you called?" Liralen asked her. "I don't mean true name, I mean virtual name, battle name."
"Battle name? I don't have one."
"In that case, warrior," Liralen smiled, "We shall call you Ruby."
Why "Ruby," I wondered? A ruby is red like a cherry, so a ruby is a cherry that that will never be broken. Oh no, is my new girl a ruby?
Someone yelled, "Attacker rezzing up!" Tables were again overturned and weapons were ready to spit a hundred mercury-filled copper-jacketed hollowpoints at the cloudy entity taking shape in the center of the room. The cloud congealed into an identical sister of the crushed Killer. Instead of hitting us with bio-lysis vectors, the Killer went straight for the crushed sister. It tried to take some shimmering, polished red shoes off the dead legs. But the shoes disappeared from the crushed witch, which derezzed. The treads appeared on Ruby.
Liralen smirked, "To the victor go the spoils. The new chick becomes owner of the dead hag's functionality, and only owner has `execute' privileges."
The witch screeched, "Give me those slippers." She reached for the girl's legs but Liralen had slapped a serious non-intrusion field on them that fried the witch's fingers. The witch retreated. While scanning herself out of the bar, she screamed, "The ruby slippers will be mine. I'll get you, my pretty. And your little dog, too!"
Suck broomstick, bullet head.
Ruby asked Liralen how she could get out of the matrix. She didn't know, but she knew the shoes were powerful enough to provide an answer. "The rubies refract the optical data so that it's accessible holographically, and it operates at exactly one wavelength so that with simple harmonics the signal is maintained by constructive interference. But I can't figure out how they're modulated externally...." She assured us that the witch couldn't use their power while Ruby wore them. She had heard of an expert on cyberspace, an entity called the Guru of News, who resided at the terminating node of YelloNet. People claimed he was the greatest computer mind imaginable....
I went with the babe along YelloNet. If I helped her, maybe she'd give up some of the goodies. She seemed attracted to me. It helps to be hairy like a foreign guy.
I led the way. She was clueless, which is just how I like them. An old-fashioned girl. You don't see many like her on the network. Most of the chicks I see, with their razornails, retracting fangs, and strychnine-tipped barbed pubic wire, they're just so... independent.
For some reason, Ruby decided to make friends with every skin job and genetic fuckup on YelloNet. First, we met an herbanoid, a genetic experiment that involved a vegetative covering over a human head and bodily armature, creating a warrior who could survive on nothing but sunlight and water. He told Ruby how badly he needed a brain augmentation. Like who doesn't. But my chick thought the Guru of News could help him, so he joined us. I wondered if barley dick was making a play for my woman, but it was okay. This chummer wasn't too bright, and he had mega problems with his locomotor mechanicals.
The three of us came upon a guy with the sorriest prosthetic body armor job I've ever seen. He was a total makeover; only the brain was original equipment. He didn't even have a synthflesh covering, just plain uncontoured titanium-beryllium. He told the chick he desperately wanted emotion implants, and she invited him along. I had metal head take the point, since he'd made us a radar hot spot.
The four of us encountered a lion who was in an advanced stage of chemical intellect enhancement. He walked upright and could speak. He had the hyper-wants for fear blockers to be included in the hormone treatments so he'd be bad enough to head-honch his burgh. The lion needed the disinhibitors, and some hype wouldn't hurt either; he wasn't the type who would cover your back in a face-off with a bunch of BronxSprawl hyenaboys. Naturally, my chick suggested he go with us to the Guru of News.
We finally got to the YelloNet terminus, where there was serious graphics, including a huge gleaming green tower and walls enclosing an entire city. Everything was green; I wondered if that meant the cyberjock behind it had access to EPA computer banks, or maybe Federal Reserve computers....
There was a phasic defense layer. The ruby slippers cracked it in a second, but I didn't know how.
We were welcomed into their system. The chick was impressed by some horse with real-time setcolor. Big deal. The happy natives enhanced our visuals, and we went to the big interface.
We entered a huge vaulted cathedral. At the front was an altar, a construct of the Guru of News. From the haze emerged two glowering hollow eyes suspended above an angry mouth. He had cyberspace abilities ultra deluxe, and the attitude to match. I tried to get close enough to trace his connection back, but flames shot up from the altar and booming aurals pushed us away.
We told him what we needed. We offered to pay him, but he said he did not take money. No money? His chariot was definitely pulled by Federal Reserve horses. The Guru said that he would magically appear and give us what we wanted as soon as we snagged the source of the witch's power, her broomstick. If I'd had a humanoid construct, I would've asked him if he was outa his fuckin' mind. But, like I said, I didn't want trouble.
We left the emerald construct and wandered the matrix, more clueless than ever. Everyone was frightened of what virtual beasts they may encounter. Did they think about what it would be like to jack out and find that the witch had nulled your credit chip? How about if the witch fingered you as a compatible neuron donor to be used for spare parts in the brain rejuvenation of an impossibly rich German technomogul?
We soon found something to agree on fearing. I recognized the witch's armada of chimpanzees, soggy with evolution accelerators and operating implanted wings with control taps in the spinal cord. It was FTP, the Flying Transportation Primates. They swooped down and picked us off the ground, and in seconds all our data had been transferred into the witch's camp.
Surrounded by the witch's armed minions, we were marched back to the bar room where we started. As the mindless guards marched, they chanted in hex, " ...Oh Eee Oh, Oh One..."
We came to bar room's defense surveillance screen. The guards stayed behind while the witch walked us five prisoners into the bar room.
When we entered the room, there was no sign of life except for the laser sights wandering like 2D lightning bugs over the witch's robes.
The witch shouted, "Liralen Li, I've come to make a deal. Take your force field off the ruby slippers and change their protection so that both you and I have group access. Then both of us can learn the powers of the slippers. Otherwise the white girl is toast."
From her hiding place, Liralen muttered, "If she kills the flatlining chick, it's real death, not just virtual. I'm feeling a pang of compassion; I thought I had all that removed surgically. Besides, the ruby slippers are complex; by the time the witch learns how they work, maybe I'll have learned to use them too." She came out from her cover. "Ok, hag, I'll do biz. As of now, we both have access to the treads. Now free the girl and go get a nose job."
But the witch did not leave. Red laser light spread from the shoes throughout the room. It heated all metal objects until they glowed. Leather and skin seared, and guns, arrows, shinjuki, razorfrisbees, shields, and darts hit the floor.
The light subsided, giving way to the witch's rasping cackle.
Liralen growled, "The bitch already knows how to use the slippers!" She lunged toward the slippers, but the witch's new defense screen bounced her back.
"Careful, Liralen," the witch smarmed, "I wouldn't want you to hurt yourself before I can torture you. The ruby slippers have several forms of torture, accessible via a simple interface involving the clicking of the heels." The witch lectured while the rest of us prayed to virtual gods, who sent down virtual answers. "For instance, a single heel click would turn your face inside-out and then splash you with aftershave. A double click would fill each neuron cell body with Drano. On the other hand, three clicks forces a jack out to realspace. This is intriguing, as it would allow me to jack my mind into your realspace body, overwriting your mind...."
Liralen cowered on the floor, powerless. "I gave her the ruby slippers on a silver platter," she muttered. "I'm a cyberputz...."
Ruby was clicking her heels together, but nothing happened. The witch shook her head in pity. "It appears you don't have access to the interface, my pretty."
The girl squealed thinly, "You're a terrible, horrible person." She picked up my bucket of Motif documentation liquid and threw it on the witch.
Obviously, this didn't do anything.
The witch was omnipotent, she'd had terminal PMS even before she was soaked with my bucket, and I was a small defenseless dog. Perfect. Just perfect.
The witch screeched to the girl, "That was foolish. I'm inclined to move the floorboards under your feet and perform a single heel click." The purple of rage was showing through the green skin. "You know what one click could do to your cute little dog's head? Huh? In a text widget with default translations, one click would grab the keyboard focus and begin appending characters to the inter-client clipboard's primary selection buffer. That's what it would do!"
The bonsai ninja looked at each other quizzically. The witch's brow furrowed for a moment, but then was rejuvenated with rage. "Forget one heel click. Let me remind you of the exquisite agony of two heel clicks? Two clicks in the command history list of a command widget would remove the first item from the history list if it has XmNhistoryMaxItems items, append the selected list item to the history buffer, and clear the command edit what the fuck'm I talking about?"
Liralen murmured, "It's Motif. She's confusing her interface with a Motif interface - "
"Quiet! I am still omnipotent!" the witch cried. "You are nothing. You are all but subwidgets in a composite container whose logical tab group I have registered the traversal order of. I can merely point at you and your popup dialogue will be unmapped unless XmNautoUnmanage is False."
She collapsed to her knees. "Help me. I'm becoming a Motif dweeb." She begged, "Couldn't you have just poured something on me that would have melted me to an agonizing death...?"
It was such a pitiful sight that we would have helped her if we could. But it was too late. The complexity, the obscurity, the pettiness, the fact that XmNcolumns and XmNnumColumns do the same thing but they're different but there's no message if you use the wrong one, they had already claimed her.
Ruby picked up the witch's broomstick. Immediately the far wall of the room gave way to enormous, flaming, gleaming, boundless, angry visage of the Guru of News. The room was zonked out on awe.
"You have completed your task," the voice echoed, "and you shall now be given that for which you have asked. However, I should point out that these gifts are given on an `as is' basis, without warranty of any kind, either expressed or implied, including, but not limited to, the implied warranties of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose...."
I'd had enough of this clown. While he droned on, I traced his connection back and put his realspace facade on the bar's monitor.
He was little dumpy guy with long hair like spanish moss, typing his dialogue feverishly into an Emacs window.
The big eyes of the Guru's construct swung to the monitor. The voice boomed "What? Um. Pay no attention to the man on the monitor. I am the great and powerful Guru. My forces are legion. My privileges are super. My power is limited only by FCC EM requirements. Oh, dear...."
Everybody ignored the flaming altar and turned to the monitor. The imposing face on the altar derezzed.
The Guru appeared as a likeness of himself, in jeans, keds, and a black szechuan-stained Grateful Dead tee-shirt.
Ruby walked up to him. "You're not a mongo network hack at all. You've got no jack, not even a datasuit and sens-phones. And you've got no graphics throw. Why are you the Guru of News?"
"Actually," he said, "I'm the Guru of Gnu's. I write programs, but I don't do much with networks and cyberspace and such. The face you saw is, um, just a semi-colon and a left parenthesis, in a very large font. And my city was all green because I only have enough throughput to render in one color channel."
The girl said, "You can't help us at all! We should strip you, put steak sauce on your balls, and give you to the doberwomen."
Liralen whispered, "The chick learns fast...."
The guru blubbered, "I can give you all what you desire. Just as I promised...."
He slapped his hand on the leafy shoulder of the plant-human hybrid. "My friend, you desire a greater brain. The greatest geniuses have no more brains than you, but they do have one thing you don't have. A Next Machine." The guru placed on the table a black cube with monitor and keyboard. The machine began to play `Pomp and Circumstance'. The hybrid caressed the black cube gently, like he was an ape in 2001. "Now you can pretend to know the Oxford English Dictionary, the works of Shakespeare, and, with Mathematica, you can solve any equation."
The hybrid typed "2 + 2" on the Mathematica command line. The Next Machine ran a multi-grid iterative Jacobian relaxation with accelerated annealing and in minutes printed out the answer "3.9999999999999." The crowd applauded and the hybrid stood proud.
The guru stepped over to the guy with the unmolded titanium skin. "You, sir, seek greater emotion. The deepest and most compassionate people have no more capacity for emotion than you, but they do have something you don't have. A subscription to alt.callahans, the InterNet therapy group."
A tear came to the metallic man's eye. "I haven't even read the first posting, and I'm already so overwhelmed with sincerity and mutual support that I could puke."
The guru addressed the partly-sentient lion. "You desire the courage that will provoke fear in your opponents. Some people are feared by all, and yet they are physically less forbidding than you. Their secret is that they talk only through newsgroups so that they can insult people without getting beat up." The guru moved to the remnants of his emerald altar. "My dear friend, I bequeath to you this altar, which, as you have seen, can create large flames out of nothing at all. If you post these flames frequently on rec.arts.sf-lovers, then news readers will come to fear your wrath and probably leave the group entirely."
The lion touched the altar and a flame jumped up. He turned to the crowd, raised a finger, and said rigidly, "It is intuitively obvious to the most casual observer that my esteemed colleague's idea is absurd both in theory and in practice." The crowd applauded him. He said, "Hey, I insulted an innocent stranger, and I have no idea what I'm talking about. This is great!"
The guru then offered to help Ruby. Since he was jacking out of the matrix, he would take the girl with him. However, the guru really wasn't a slick cyberspace jockey, and he lost the symbolic link to the chick. However, Liralen had back-engineered the interface to the ruby slippers. Chanting the mantra that Liralen suggested, the girl clicked her heels three times and left the matrix cleanly. Her mind was loaded back into her realspace brain, and brainwave activity returned to normal.
The girl, me, and the three mutants would become successful in the children's simul-stimul biz. The girl filled out and was my main squeeze for a while. Then she got into leather, shaved her head, had her eyes pierced, and left me for a hyper-testosterated message bouncer.
I talked to the lion recently. He's permanently lit up on hype, chicks, and credit these days. He said he had a new virtual reality scam involving a witch and a wardrobe. I'm not sure I'm ready for that.