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Clever, brash, hardworking, lightweight: There's much to admire here, even if the tales don't always engage the emotions.
ONE NIGHT IN TELEVISION CITY
I'm frictionless, molars, so don't point those flashlights at me. I ain't going nowhere, you can see that clear as hubble. Just like superwire, I got no resistance, so why doncha all just gimme some slack?
What'd you say, molar? Your lifter's got a noisy fan—it's interferring with your signal. How'd I get up here? That's an easy one. I just climbed. But I got a better one for you.
Now that I ain't no Dudley Dendrite anymore, how the fuck am I gonna get down?
* * *
Just a few short hours ago it was six o'clock on a Saturday night like any other, and I was sitting in a metamilk bar called the Slak Shak, feeling sorry for myself for a number of good and sufficient reasons. I was down so low there wasn't an angstrom's worth of difference between me and a microbe. You see, I had no sleeve, I had no set, I had no eft. Chances were I wasn't gonna get any of 'em anytime soon, either. The prospect was enough to make me wanna float away on whatever latest toxic corewipe the Shak was offering.
I asked the table for the barlist. It was all the usual bugjuice and horsesweat, except for a new item called Needlestrength-Nine. I ordered a dose, and it came in a cup of cold frothy milk sprinkled with cinnamon. I downed it all in two gulps, the whole nasty mess of transporter proteins and neurotropins, a stew of long-chain molecules that were some konky biobrujo's idea of blister-packed heaven.
All it did was make me feel like I had a cavity behind my eyes filled with shuttle-fuel. My personal sitspecs still looked as lousy as a rat's shaved ass.
That's the trouble with the tropes and strobers you can buy in the metamilk bars: they're all kid's stuff, G-rated holobytes. If you want a real slick kick, some black meds, then you got to belong to a set, preferably one with a smash watson boasting a clean labkit. A Fermenta, or Wellcome, or Cetus rig, say. Even an Ortho'll do.
But as I said, I had no set, nor any prospect of being invited into one. Not that I'd leap at an invite to just any old one, you latch. Some of the sets were too toxic for me.
So there I sat with a skull full of liquid oxygen, feeling just like the Challenger before liftoff, more bummed than before I had zero-balanced my eft on the useless drink. I was licking the cinammon off the rim of the glass when who should slope in but my one buddy, Casio.
Casio was a little younger 'n me, about fifteen. He was skinny and white and had more acne than a worker in a dioxin factory. He coulda had skin as clear as anyone else's, but he was always forgetting to use his epicream. He wore a few strands of grafted fiberoptics in his brown hair, an imipolex vest that bubbled constantly like some kinda slime mold, a pair of parchment pants, and a dozen jelly-bracelets on his left forearm.
"Hey, Dez," said Casio, rapping knuckles with me, "how's it climbing?"
Casio didn't have no set neither, but it didn't seem to bother him like it bothered me. He was always up, always smiling and happy. Maybe it had to do with his music, which was his whole life. It seemed to give him something he could always fall back on. I had never seen him really down. Sometimes it made me wanna choke the shit outa him.
"Not so good, molar. Life looks emptier'n the belly of a Taiwanese baby with the z-virus craps."
Casio pulled up a seat. "Ain't things working out with Chuckie?"
I groaned. Why I had ever fantasized aloud to Casio about Chuckie and me, I couldn't now say. I musta really been in microgravity that day. "Just forget about Charlotte and me, will you do me that large fave? There's nothing between us, nothing, you latch?"
Casio looked puzzled. "Nothing? Whadda ya mean? The way you talked, I thought she was your best sleeve."
"No, you got it all wrong, molar, we was both wasted, remember? ..."
Casio's vest extruded a long wavy stalk that bulged into a ball at its tip before being resorbed. "Gee, Dez, I wish I had known all this before. I been talking you two up as a hot item all around TeeVeeCee."
My heart swelled up big as the bicep on a metasteroid freak and whooshed up into my throat. "No, molar, say it ain't so...."
"Gee, Dez, I'm sorry...."
I was in deep gurry now all right. I could see it clear as M31 in the hubblescope. Fish entrails up to the nose.
Chuckie was Turbo's sleeve. Turbo was headman of the Body Artists. The Body Artists were the prime set in Televison City. I was as the dirt between their perpetually bare toes.
I pushed back my seat. The Slak Shak was too hot now. Everbody knew I floated there.
"Casio, I feel like a walk. Wanna come?"
T Street—the big north-south boulevard wide as old Park Ave that was Television City's main crawl (it ran from 59th all the way to 72nd)—was packed with citizens and greenies, morphs and gullas, all looking for the heart of Saturday night, just like the old song by that growly chigger has it. The sparkle and glitter was all turned up to eleven, but TeeVeeCee looked kinda old to me that night, underneath its amber-red-green-blue neo-neon maquillage. The whole mini-city on the banks of the Hudson was thirty years old now, after all, and though that was nothing compared to the rest of Nuevo York, it was starting to get on. I tried to imagine being nearly twice as old as I was now and figured I'd be kinda creaky myself by then.
All the scrawls laid down by the sets on any and every blank surface didn't help the city's looks any either. Fast as the cleanup crews sprayed the paint-eating bugs on the graffiti, the sets nozzled more. These were just a few that Casio and I passed:
PUT A CRICK IN YOUR DICK. STROBE YOUR LOBES. BOOT IT OR SHOOT IT. HOLLOW? SWALLOW. FOLLOW. SIN, ASP! SAID THE SYNAPSE. MATCH IT, BATCH IT, LATCH IT. BEAT THE BARRIER! SNAP THE GAP! AXE YOUR AXONS. KEEP YOUR RECEPTORS FILLED.
"Where we going, Dez?" asked Casio, snapping off one of his jelly-bracelets for me to munch on.
"Oh, noplace special," I said around a mouthful of sweat-metabolizing symbiote that tasted like strawberries. "We'll just wander around a bit and see what we can see."
All the time I was wondering if I even dared to go home to my scat, if I'd find Turbo and his set waiting there for me, with a word or two to say about me talking so big about his sleeve.
Well, we soon came upon a guy with his car pulled over to the curb with the hood up. He was poking at the ceramic fuel-cell with a screwdriver, like he hoped to fix it that way.
"That's a hundred-thirty-two horsepower Malaysian model, ain't it?" asked Casio.
"Yeah," the guy said morosely.
"I heard they're all worth bugshit."
The guy got mad then and started waving the screwdriver at us. "Get the hell out of here, you nosey punks!"
Casio slid a gold jelly-bracelet off his arm, tossed it at the guy, and said, "Run!"
Around a corner, we stopped, panting.
"What was it?" I said.
"Nothing too nasty. Just rotten eggs and superstik."
We fell down laughing.
When we were walking again, we tried following a couple of gullas. We could tell by their government-issue suits that they were fresh out of one of the floating midocean relocation camps, and we were hoping to diddle them for some eft. But they talked so funny that we didn't even know how to scam them.
"We go jeepney now up favela way?"
"No, mon, first me wan' some ramen."
"And be zeks? Don' vex me, dumgulla. You talkin' like a manga now, mon."
After that we tailed a fattie for a while. We couldn't make up our minds if it was a male or female or what. It was dressed in enough billowing silk to outfit a parachute club and walked with an asexual waddle. It went into the fancy helmsley at 65th, to meet its client no doubt.
"I hate those fatties," said Casio. "Why would anyone want to weigh more than what's healthy, if they don't have to?"
"Why would anyone keep his stupid zits if he didn't have to?"
Casio looked hurt. "That's different, Dez. You know I just forget my cream. It's not like I wanna."
I felt bad for hurtin' Casio then. Here he was, my only proxy, keeping me company while I tried to straighten out in my head how I was gonna get trump with Turbo and his set, and I had to go and insult him.
I put an arm around his shoulders. "Sorry, molar. Listen, just wipe it like I never said it, and let's have us a good time. You got any eft?"
"A little ..."
"Well, let's spend it! The fluid eft gathers no taxes, es verdad? Should we hit Club GaAs?"
Casio brightened. "Yeah! The Nerveless are playing tonight. Maybe Ginko'll let me sit in."
"Sounds trump. Let's go."
Overhead the wetworkers—both private and government dirty-harrys—cruised by on their lifters, the jetfans blowing hot on our necks, even from their high altitude. Standing in the center of their flying cages, gloved mitts gripping their joystix, with their owleyes on, they roved TeeVeeCee, alert for signs of rumble, bumble, or stumble, whereupon they would swoop down and chill the heat with tingly shockers or even flashlights, should the sitspecs dictate.
Club GaAs occupied a fraction of the million square feet of empty building that had once housed one of the old television networks that had given TeeVeeCee its name. Ever since the free networks had been absorbed into the metamedium, the building had gone begging for tenants. Technically speaking, it was still tenantless, since Club GaAs was squatting there illegally.
At the door we paid the cover to a surly anabolic hulkster and went inside.
Club GaAs had imipolex walls that writhed just like Casio's vest, dancing in random biomorphic ripples and tendrils. On the stage the Nerveless were just setting up, it being still early, only around eight. I had only met Ginko once, but I recognized him from his green skin and leafy hair. Casio went onstage to talk to him, and I sat down at a table near one wall and ordered a cheer-beer.
Casio rejoined me. "Ginko says I can handle the megabops."
The cheer-beer had me relaxing so I had almost forgotten my problems. "That's trump, proxy. Listen, have a cheer-beer—it's your eft."
Casio sat and we talked a while about the good old days, when we were still kids in highschool, taking our daily rations of mnemotropins like good little drudges.
"You remember at graduation, when somebody spiked the refreshments with funky-monkey?"
"Yeah. I never seen so many adults acting like apes before or since. Miz Spencer up on the girders—!"
"Boy, we were so young then."
"I was even younger than you, Dez. I was eleven and you were already twelve, remember?"
"Yeah, but them days are wiped now, Casio. We're adults ourselves now, with big adult probs." All my troubles flooded back to me like ocean waves on the Big-One-revised California shoreline as I said this konky bit of wisdom.
Casio was sympathetic, I could fax that much, but he didn't have the answers to my probs any more than I did. So he just stood and said, "Well, Dez, I got to go play now." He took a few steps away from the table and then was snapped back to his seat like he had a rubber band strung to his ass.
"Hold on a millie," I said. "The wall has fused with your vest." I took out my little utility flashlight and lasered the wall pseudopod that had mated with Casio's clothing.
"Thanks, proxy," he said, and then was off.
I sat there nursing the dregs of my cheer-beer while the Nerveless tuned up. When the rickracks were spinning fast and the megabops were humming and everyone had their percussion suits on, they jumped into an original comp, "Efferent Ellie."
Forty-five minutes later, after two more cheer-beers thoughtfully provided by the management to the grateful friend of the band, I was really on the downlink with Casio and the Nerveless. I felt their music surging through me like some sonic trope. Tapping my foot, wangle-dangling my head like some myelin-stripped spaz, I was so totally downloading that I didn't even see Turbo and his set slope on into Club GaAs and surround me.
When the current song ended and I looked up, there they all were: Turbo and his main sleeve, Chuckie, who had her arm around his waist; Jeeter, Hake, Pablo, Mona, Val, Ziggy, Pepper, Gates, Zane, and a bunch of others I didn't know.
"Hah-hah-hah-how's it climbing, molars?" I said.
They were all as quiet and stone-faced as the holo of a cheap Turing Level One AI with its mimesis-circuits out of whack. As for me, I could do nothing but stare.
The Body Artists were all naked save for spandex thongs, he's and she's alike, the better to insure proper extero- and interoceptor input. Their skins were maculated with a blotchy tan giraffe pattern. The definition of every muscle on their trim bods was like Gray's Anatomy come to life.
Now, to me, there were no two ways about it: the Body Artists were simply the most trump set in TeeVeeCee. The swiftest, nastiest, downloadingest pack of lobe-strobers ever to walk a wire or scale a pole. Who else were you gonna compare 'em to? The Vectors? A bunch of wussies dreaming their days away in mathspace. (I didn't buy their propaganda about being able to disappear along the fourth dimension either.) The Hardz 'n' Wetz? Nothing but crazy meat-grinders, the negative image of their rivals, the Eunuchs. The Less Than Zeroes? I don't call pissing your pants satori, like they do. The Thumb suckers? Who wants to be a baby forever? The Boardmen? I can't see cutting yourself up and headbanging just to prove you feel no pain. The Annies? A horde of walking skeletons. The Naked Apes? After seeing our whole faculty under the influence of funky-monkey that day, I had never latched onto that trip. The Young Jungs? Who wants to spend his whole life diving into the racemind?
No, the only ones who might just give the Body Artists a run for their eft were the Adonises or the Sapphos, but they had some obvious kinks that blocked my receptors.
So you'll understand how I could feel—even as the center of their threatening stares—a kind of thrill at being in the presence of the assembled Body Artists. If only they had come to ask me to join them, instead of, as was so apparent, being here with the clear intention of wanting to cut my nuts off—
The Nerveless started another song. Casio was too busy to see what was happening with me. Not that he coulda done much anyhow. Turbo sat liquidly down across from me, pulling Chuckie down onto his lap.
"So, Dez," he said, cool as superwire, "I hear you are Chuckie's secret mojoman now."
"No, no way, Turbo, the parity bits got switched on that message all right. There ain't not truth to it, no sir, no way."
"Oh, I see, molar," said Turbo, deliberately twisting things around tighter'n a double-helix. "My sleeve Chuckie ain't trump enough for a molar who's as needlestrength as you."
I raised my eyes and caught Chuckie sizing me up with high indifference. Her looks made me feel like I was trying to swallow an avocado pit.
Charlotte Thach was a supertrump Cambodian-Hawaiian chica whose folks had emigrated to TeeVeeCee when the Japs kicked everyone outa the ex-state in the process of forming the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperative. Her eyes were green as diskdrive lights, her sweet little tits had nipples the color of strong tea.
After she was done sizing me up, she held out one beautiful hand as if to admire her nails or something. Then, without moving a single muscle that I could see, she audibly popped each joint in her fingers in sequence. I could hear it clear above the music.
I gulped down that slimy pit and spoke. "No, Turbo, she's trump enough for anyone."
Turbo leaned closer across Chuckie. "Ah, but that's the prob, molar, Chuckie don't do it with just anyone. In fact, none of the Artists do. Why, if you were to try to ride her, she'd likely snap your cock off. It's Body to Body only, you latch?"
"Yeah, sure, I latch."
Turbo straightened up. "Now, the question is, what we gonna do with someone whose head got so big he thought he could tell everyone he was bumpin' pubes with a Body Artist?"
"No disinfo, Turbo, I didn't mean nothin' by it."
"Shut up, I got to think."
While he was thinking, Turbo made all the muscles in his torso move around like snakes under his skin.
After letting me sweat toxins for a while, Turbo said, "I suppose it would satisfy the set's honor if we were to bring you up to the top of the George Washington Bridge and toss you off—"
Excerpted from Ribofunk by Paul Di Filippo. Copyright © 1996 Paul Di Filippo. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
|One Night in Television City||1|
|The Bad Splice||143|
|Up the Lazy River||255|
Posted February 3, 2014
Posted December 30, 2009
No text was provided for this review.