April 5, 2011 § Leave a comment
Just a passerby, sidewalk chalk dust washed away by automatic lawn sprinklers.
“Have you seen Susanna?”
They laughed, gathered in a dark circle around a car battery, sucking luminescent pacifiers under Circle X neon – red, red, red.
“Baby left you, huh?” One of them leaned back and stretched to her feet. Slight girl with long, transparent hair, couldn’t have been more than 14.
“Have you seen her?”
“Do you pick up strays?” Walked over to where I was standing, reaching with glow-in-the-dark hands. “I’m a little lost kitten, can I cuddle with you?”
“Have you?” My left arm was starting to shake in the shadow.
“Don’t you want to take me home?” Had on a Dust Lag shirt, the one I designed.
“Where is she?” Above – red, red, red. Her hair shimmered pink black brown.
“Don’t you want me?” All the e’s were cracking up as they watched, and I couldn’t move as she slinked right in front of me, her pixel-glazed eyes staring into mine.
“Where?” My legs wouldn’t listen.
“Shhhhh.” Placed her palm on my chest, and I felt her power even through my jacket. “You’re mine now.” Her breath was Freezie sweet, and as she moved her hand up and curled it around my neck, I wanted to run yet my feet were hers.
“Don’t” Pulled my head downwards, her eyes flickering like the space between channels.
“Do.” She parted my lips with shining thumbs, and kissed me a secret.
“It’s over. Over.”
I only ran with the Circle X witches for a week, but without them I don’t think I’d be alive today.
“Susanna doesn’t have time for your shit right now,” she said, pulling out her thumbs. Inside my mouth she left a black key cap labeled “esc”.
That’s Amy, the leader of the technocoven, and after she took me under her wing I started to recover from the shock of losing the net. Before we met up I wandered the streets for weeks, trying to contact Susanna with a junky transmitter. No go. And the shaking was worse.
“I don’t know why the fuck we have to, but A-Bell ordered us to watch you.” She reached in a sliver mylar anti-static bag hanging around her neck and pulled out a handful of loose key caps, which she then threw to the ground like dice.
Fairview was Amy’s zone and she had advanced warning that A-Bell was coming back to raise the dead OSes, to bring the collective bodyweb online no matter what, and the witches were there to watch her back.
“But, since Tomoe vouches for you, I guess we’ll stop fucking around.” Bent down on all fours and examined the pattern of letters and numbers on the pavement, mumbling to herself all the while.
Tomoe, the shiny girl who saved me when I crashed, was also part of the coven, but she was elsewhere then, recruited by A-Bell and her e-punks for a secret project. She pointed me in the witches’ direction the last time we spoke, knowing they would take care of me while she was gone.
“Shit. Keyboard says we have to leave now. The CXNU daemons are back.” Picked up the keys in heaping handfuls and motioned over to the rest of the coven. The other two girls quickly unhooked themselves from the car battery and ran down the street into shadow.
Amy reads the near future of the net by throwing her keyboard – some e in Russia came up with the script and she modified it to sniff through encrypted packets.
“Come on Phone,” she whispered in my ear, taking my hand by the control nodes. “We have some business to attend to.” With that she walked around the car battery circle, and led me into the darkened Circle X with a key card swipe.
The witches – Amy, Sarah, Mavi and Tomoe – first formed their coven a few years ago, when A-Bell’s partner Amber recruited them due to a simple video game console hack.
Amy was only 12 but had learned 3-D modeling from her big brother who worked for a living making the lip sync for talking dog and cat food commercials. She quickly cobbled together a game engine with Tomoe, her best friend who was creating her own open source OS and wanted to adapt the kernel so it would support a dead console she bought at a flea market for a few bucks.
Once they were successful they started making kits and selling them over the internet – a few extra wires, more RAM and spare modem was all you needed for deathmatch action. Amber heard about the kit and contacted them to see if they were interested in adapting it as a WOF client – the markup language the collective was using to make the bodyweb. They agreed, but first recruited two members of their deathmatch clan: Mavi for the GUI and Sarah for the textures.
Mavi’s 18 and already retired after holding a particularly choice domain name hostage until some IPO-fodder coughed up blood. She also is deadly with Phonecom 500 hour-free CD-ROMs; she could embed one in a telephone pole from 50 feet away. Sarah is a little older, not sure how much, and has wicked virtual scrollbars down her arms and legs, which she says are good for gaming and foreplay, but I can’t vouch for either. She’s also into cannibalizing portable inkjet printers for use on sidewalks and storefronts, and I bought one from her just in case I start tagging again.
After making the WOF box the coven became an official cell of the collective, and Amy was elected the leader only because she beat the others at capture the flag. Which was probably good for everyone’s sake, because when A-Bell came back the coven was put in charge of offering up a large diversion, and Amy was a born drama queen.
“We have 5 minutes, tops.” As soon as we entered the Circle X she waved on the lights and then hopped the counter, attaching a wire from the WOF client at her waist (that year’s model was as small as a beeper) to a card she then swiped through the POS reader. Punched in her PIN and smiled as a receipt popped out, which she tore off with a flourish. “Got it.”
I wasn’t sure then just what she had, thought maybe she was after some extra e-cash, but I caught on quickly once she hopped the counter again and ran past the freezers, toward the store room door. Took out her key card, swiped it, and punched in a number off the receipt. The door opened with a click and she waved me in behind her.
“All I need is 3 minutes to get what we came for,” she whispered, headed for a computer in the corner. “Be a dear and graze the shelves for snacks, you know, chocolate and bubble gum, maybe some sugar cereal. Oh, and make me a cherry Freezie for the road.” I had no reason not to do what she said, so I turned back around, grabbed a plastic bag from behind the counter, and went shopping. Even snagged a 2 liter of soda before she ran out of the back and quickly exited through the front door, carrying a hard drive in one hand, and what looked like a small container of propane in the other. I followed, trying not to spill her Freezie.
“Shit, do you have any matches?” she asked, turning on the propane with a hiss. I shook my head no so she pointed me back inside. “Get some by the cash register, and one of those crossword puzzle books, too.”
I did, and decided to snag some extra peanuts for the road, because I hadn’t eaten all day. She met me by the door, kick-rolled the propane down an aisle, and grabbed the matches and puzzle book. “You like running?” She lit the book on fire and threw it at a stack of newspapers. “I like running, it’s like sex only with heavy breathing at the end instead of the beginning.” With that, she took the Freezie out of my hand, turned around, and jumped over the car battery, sprinting down the street in the same direction the rest of the coven did.
Sarah and Mavi were waiting for us a few blocks down, their bikes already unlocked. Amy waived me over to a small dirt bike and jumped on the handlebars. “Let’s go already, and if you make me spill this,” she took a long drag on the Freezie, “I’ll kill you.”
Surprisingly, the Circle X didn’t explode until we made it all the way down the hill.
The next day Sarah was nice enough to update my body marks so I would be compliant with the new WOF standard, and she even convinced Amy to give me an extra client box.
In exchange I helped Sarah with some new skins for the next WOF browser – it seems that the Dust Lag shirt originally was hers, and she was a fan of my art since she was in elementary school. Amy had already decrypted the drive she had stolen, and sent the needed data to Tomoe, who attached a little message for me with her reply.
“Hey baby, I hope the witches are taking care of you. I told them all about San and Izzy and after they stopped laughing they decided to cut you some slack. After the shakes are all gone, rebuild your OS and meet me at the Treehouse.”
It had been ages since I last visited the club – not since San left – and it wasn’t like I was looking forward to it. But I trusted Tomoe, even missed her some, so I did what she said and let the coven help me get back into shape.
Besides, the witches were a blast to be around. Mavi used her stock options to buy up a small arcade, and the back room was converted into their base of operations. When she wasn’t trying to beat her high score on Major Havoc, she maintained the cell’s bodyweb node, usually while baking cookies – chocolate chip was her favorite.
Sarah was a bicycle messenger before the net fell, so she not only had hardcore legs but knew every shortcut around town and then some. Because of this, she was in charge of collecting WOF data for Fairview and the surrounding cities, and usually did so during her runs. I think she had a thing for me, because she let me crash on her bedroom floor and was always on me to sign her album covers.
Not that she wasn’t cute, especially with glasses on. She was perhaps the most intricately marked e-punk I had ever met, almost entirely self etched with body circuits that were both functional and artistic. She couldn’t stand to look at my street etch though, so when she did the WOF update she also added some extra flourish, taking her time on my hands and face.
I guess that was her way of flirting, but she had nothing on Amy, who continued to make me as uncomfortably aroused as she could until I had to wiggle away. She was with Tomoe but didn’t let that stop her from using every available opportunity to throw weird scripts at me that would cause uncontrollable orgasms or make me faint dead away. When I’d wake up, she’d be fussing around with my hair, whispering sick shit in my ear before she bit it. It was all one big power trip, because she knew my reputation and wanted to see how far she could take it before I snapped. She knew I still had San on my mind and heart, and wanted to see just how committed I was.
Amy wasn’t all that bad though, because she let me become an unofficial member of her coven, with a ceremony that involved sucking on lit birthday candles, making fingernail clipping collages and having to memorize their FAQ. After that we broke into a bowling alley, watered the lanes and slid down them naked, which was as fun as it sounded.
Anyway, the new OS kicked in and so I stopped shaking soon enough, and then I had to hit the road for the Treehouse, which was off on the industrial side of town. I borrowed one of Sarah’s bikes, and before I left Amy pulled me aside, threw a paralyzing script and stuck a key cap into my mouth with her tongue. “Give that to Tomoe for me, OK?” With that she gave my body back to me and patted me on the butt. “Now scoot.”
It took about an hour to ride to the Treehouse since I had to avoid downtown – it had been a total police state since the night everything went to hell. The power was back on, and stores were starting to open again, but the streets were scarred with the half-faded footfalls of revolution, and even the street cleaners couldn’t blast away all of the broken glass, blood and spray paint.
Things over by 3rd street looked just as trashed, but honestly it had been that way for the past decade. The Treehouse was now flanked on either side by some live-work lofts and you could just imagine a burrito shop and some cafes fitting in perfectly to the newly gentrified neighborhood. Somehow the pre-punks that used to beg Ariel to get into the back door grew up to be lawyers and community activists that lobbied the city council to keep the club open, and won.
As I rolled up to the front door and took out my old set of keys, I could even see some of the ancient concert posters I designed peeking out behind the new ones. I ran my fingers past fliers for Intruder Alert! and Fire Escape, but before I could skip down memory lane any further, I saw Tomoe inside on a couch by the tetherball pole, her arms around A-Bell and someone else I didn’t recognize at first.
“Glad you could make it,” Tomoe said, giving me the finger. “Come on over and join us for root beer and conspiracy.”
After I propped the bike against a wall, A-Bell stood up and walked over to me, and put her hands on my shoulders. “Things are not what they seem, Phone.” With that, she stuck out her tongue and changed with a shimmer into Isabel.
“You’ve got that right dear.” The other girl stood up from the couch, and I immediately recognized her as Jenny antizine. She walked over next to Isabel and kissed her on the cheek.
Then she touched her wrist and changed into someone else. I couldn’t believe it. Sasha.
“Fuck Traffic baby,” she smiled, pinching my cheek. “Are you with me?”
Amy was wrong.
It’s not over at all, not by a long shot.