Nutrunner: The Parody
Fiction by Pierre Savoie
Chapter 4: The Unbearable Lightness of Weefling
Shapes. Colors. Sounds. This was Netspace, a riotous explosion of the shared representations of telecom junctions, public-access memory, BBSes and large corporate systems. Each entity, whether corp or individual weeflerunner, got to choose exactly how to depict itself to others in the advanced Virtual Reality Markup Language.
As things looked to Nutty, he was starting up in a relatively depressed, computer-illiterate neighborhood. The basic telecom grid (appearing as a widely spaced mesh glowing neon-red under his virtual feet) was bare in sections, showing no computer hook-ups, and the static flowing through them indicated that the rabble were only using it for cable vid.
Further off, he hit denser 'space, a gentrified neighborhood teeming with individual computers, looking like orchards of inert cubes tethered to the grid because they had no means of virtual access from the outside. Nutty floated away from Yuppie Forest until he approached The Clot: the downtown core which was choked with the skyscrapers and shapes representing major corporate systems and smaller companies. Moving through this area was like exploring the jungles of the Congo, because distance visibility was low. The telecom grid extended into the skyscrapers, tracing their shapes in the same red neon, but even compared to the night-time view of the real skyline the virtual-reality skyscrapers were lurid and foreboding. Huge multi-colored geometric shapes sprouted from the skyscrapers, representing corporate logos. Sometimes an enormous pyramid or other shape floated where normally a skyscraper would be; these were the megacorporations, with skyscraper grids totally given over to them.
And yet, off in the residential areas of town were icons almost as respectably sized as the big corporate logos. There were the network servers of talented runners, watering-holes where runners could meet and trade tips: the Undocumented Features BBS; the Electric Onion BBS; the Flaunting Runner BBS; the Tally-Ho BBS; The Dead Files Society; The ICEpix. There were even the servers for street-gangs and low-life, for pirate media, fixer havens, even the vague, shadowy icon for a Nomad BBS: The Road Rash, which accepted traffic mainly from cellular phones and packet-radio from a sprawling distance for hundreds of miles around Nut City.
"Buy a paper, mister?"
Nutty wheeled around, but it was only Paperboy. No one knew who Paperboy was, but the telco offered a large reward for his identity. That had to do with Paperboy publishing The Vector Voice, a newsletter for runners -- and virussing it every Friday night onto the telco's own grid.
"Sure, why not," shot Nutty, and opened a line to his bank to debit one euro. Paperboy likewise accessed an account to receive it, held out his hand, and for a moment the virtual euro appeared as a glowing gold coin between their palms. Paperboy then gave Nutty a glowing blue tetrahedron, and both the tetrahedron and Paperboy slowly disappeared into the telecom grid. Nutty suddenly found he could access a "newspaper" hovering off to his side. Paperboy had a good thing going; the "paper" could not be read off- line, you had to be in Netspace in the local grid to read it, and since the paper was virussed into the grid's visual appearance itself, you could not copy it to give to anyone who hadn't paid their euro.
Nutty thumbed the paper, but there was no spectacular news. A few more fried runners mentioned in the Obituary, a few partial maps of the outer layers of ICE for some corp or other, a few classifieds with fixers promising the "ultimate" programs in veiled language and even more veiled contact coordinates.
He returned to the task at hand, and came to the Sosumi pyramid, right between Mellowtech and Network News 54. The Ionic columns at the entrance were carved with Sosumi's Samurai Tiger-Shrimp logo, dating back to their beginnings as peddlers of fancy kitchen gimmicks. Nutty walked right into the main entrance, unusual for him. All the while he could feel the programs within his icon squirming, and the Artificial Stupidity chip often extended its dodo-head out of his shoulder to get a good look.
"For openers, nothing fancy." He intended to do very minor probes in the more public accesses of Sosumi, to give his Artificial Stupidity a good look around.
No system is perfectly maintained. Humans being what they are, files are not often placed in the right file-directories, or security passwords are not set up on files accessed very frequently, or people don't bother hiding sensitive files deeper behind Data Walls than the mundane public files.
Nutty wandered around and soon found himself alone in one of the many public corridors, inspecting the data on the walls. He thumbed the virtual catalogue: Orange-Juice Moosher, Apple Squoosher, Toaster-ovens, but every page felt resilient, with no tell-tale breaks or interruptions. Just smooth Data Wall.
"Hello! What's this?"
Nutty had sampled the visuals displayed along the wall: datascreens full of Sosumi infomercial programs which were invading the cable universe. Up to 15 or 20 channels a night succumbed to this infestation. But the audio on some of them was flickering, echoing very slightly. Nutty tweaked his Smartass program momentarily, and deeper behind the memory playing back those TV programs, there was a very faint echo, a secondary audio track as if the shows were dubbed into some Slavic language.
Nutty grinned, and with a thought, his dodo leapt from his body and laid an egg at the precise "spot" of the audio imperfection. Soon, nobody else would notice it. Nutty raised his arms and leaned against the wall, opening his trench-coat to hide the Battering Ram. The ram was milling in front of Nutty's legs, and Nutty coaxed it into breaking down the visual screen right in front of him, which it easily did. The dodo laid yet another egg into the local virtual reality generator; soon the appearance of the visual screen would heal. But Nutty moved inside it...
...and entered a small room. Nutty felt like he had moved through the looking-glass: the same infomercial program was going on but he had crossed the screen, which now had inverted images and prices behind him. The language had changed too, and Nutty thought he recognized Serbo-Croat, which was confirmed by reversed lettering on the screen, flashing in both Latin and Cyrillic. The screen memory file appeared to be tied by an electric cable leading to an area deeper in the solid wall.
In quick succession, Nutty tripped his Smartass and Battering Ram once again -- and soon found files past more mundane Data Walls. He knew he was on to a corporate agenda. Obviously, Sosumi was preparing to expand the infomercial campaign to the Yugomarket Consortium, the corporations which enjoyed free-trade and peddled common media all over the 23 tiny countries of the "former Yugoslavia", from Slovenia to Kosovo, even as the political leaders kept on with their chest-pounding and saber-rattling against each other. It seemed like a nickel-and-dime market, and the information probably wouldn't be worth much to a competitor. He held the glowing files in his hand, and tried to read some details...
Suddenly, the files assumed the shape of an old-style alarm-clock, and started ringing loudly, the clapper beating back and forth on two bells up top.
"FRACK!" Nutty yelped, and instinctively hid the alarm under his trench- coat, but the noise didn't appreciably decrease. Just his luck: he had hit upon a Buzzing Encryption Scheme. He belatedly tried to find the shutoff code, and set his Lizard's Book against the alarm-clock. The iguana hissed and flicked its head at the alarm-clock, and started circling the clock, almost chasing its tail. After what seemed like an uncomfortable number of seconds, the files fell silent, and the iguana stopped, glared at Nutty for an instant and sunk back into the design of the leather book-cover of the Lizard's Book.
In the dead silence, Nutty wondered if he had attracted the attention of corporate 'runners. Pausing only to allow the dodo to lay another egg, he gathered up the now-dead corporate files, and poked his head through the datascreen again. Luckily, again nobody was in the corridor, so he moved his massive Nutty Professor bulk out into the corridor and slowly made his way out the public entrance gate.
And so it went all week: minor weefle-runs for data of little value. He peddled it through various fixers and fronts, but was often forced to give them a hefty commission, often up to 50 per cent, as their minumum "make". The AS dodo was also learning quickly, and the various eggs hatched into viruses which helped to conceal his movements in the public accesses and the nearby layers of wall.
The only big snag was one time, in another Sosumi public access area, when he tried to use his Smartass to peek beyond a Data Wall. All of a sudden the Smartass donkey stood stock-still and brayed, "We now bow our heads for 10 seconds in honor of the gods of shareware..."
Again Nutty was taken by surprise, and tried to force the donkey to continue. "Come ON, you stupid jackass!" he yelled, and kicked at the icon. But the donkey was still reverently standing with head bowed and eyes closed, and at the end of 10 seconds it said, "Please consider registering this program..." and an order-form popped up, floating next to the Smartass.
Nutty interrupted the run and jacked out, red-faced. He never expected that; who ever registers their shareware? Maybe he would have to take out a loan and do it, to avoid such surprises at the wrong moment.
After many more runs like this, Nutty gained more and more confidence, subverted more and more of the Sosumi imager-systems, and started setting his eye on a serious run on Sosumi once again...