Suddenly, the beeping and ticking sounded familiar. I ran
over, picked it up and tore the package apart while Vampiko
screamed, "Flash, don't! You'll be killed!"
Inside was just what I had figured. I held it up and
yelled, "It's all right folks, it's just my wallet, watch, and
The crowd gave a collective groan and dispersed.
"It sure was nice of them to send your stuff back to you,"
Vampiko said once she got the Undead Volkswagen and its precious
"Yeah," I said, "Nice. Whoever they are."
The air-conditioning soon had my kneecaps feeling like they
were icing up. So cool, man. I felt like I was made of ice, and
melted in the percentage of the diabolical Phoenix sun's rays
that made it through the Undead's tinting. Melted. E. Vap.
Or. Ated . . .
Suddenly, I was in a cavernous climate-controlled
environment. The Krell chip had me running toward the heart of a
humongous computer, like out of some ancient cornball sci-fi
movie. The central memory bank glowed a warm, pink neon. The
chip was so happy and hungry that it chewed its way through my
brain, out of my skull, and zoomed at the information source like
high-tech kamikaze mosquito. It exploded, a scalding,
overwhelming nuclear blast that had my Hiroshima-fried skeleton
disintegrating as it flew back, head over heels, like in an old
Cold War nightmare that my mother told me about, years ago.
Then Vampiko's tongue was cleaning out my ear.
She giggled and said, "You fell asleep, mon cher. Don't
worry. We're home now."
Home. Big Ugly Peach Apartments West. I could feel at
least eight sets of paranoid eyes focused on us. One of them
belonged to an oversized lizard. And there was a saguaro near
our apartment where none was a few days ago. Wonderful.
"You look like you could use a siesta," said Vampiko. "Why
don't you use my coffin?"
I wanted to, but the chip made me check for messages.
"Congratulations," a digitally-distorted voice said when I
hit the play button. "You made it home. Remember, we're
[Big Ugly Peach Apartments West is Mad Magazine-type name of
a place Emily and I got to know better than we wanted back when
we worked for local cleaning service. We'd keep getting called
to clean vacant apartments before the new suckers -- er, I mean
tenants moved in. Talk about high weirdness: We kept finding
refrigerators full of sci-fi fungi, piles of coat hangers and
eviction notices, cockroaches that weren't quite dead yet,
discarded blood-sample lancets, chips of hard candy stuck to the
rugs, and a memorable bathtub full of yellow foam and headless
I almost didn't hear my messages playing:
"Flash, this is Obeah X15, something went wrong with the
Huevos Rancheros Microondas. I think something is happening.
Something mondo hardcore weird, weirder than the reptile
conspiracy. I'm going to scan for televoodoo on Internet. Catch
me one via one mode or other. Bye."
"Burnout here. Flash, there's some stuff going on that you
have to watch out for. We may be on the brink of some kind of
crackdown or breakout or something. The Nigerians are in on it,
so let me know if you have any dealings with them. Don't touch
any computer if animated cockroaches appear on the screen -- it's
a new virus. And have you noticed how saguaros seem to be
walking all over town? I'm going out, but I'm not taking my
pager for security reasons. Don't try to call me -- I'll reach
"Hey, you the kid who delivers stuff on his bike? I know a
lotta people what needs things delivered without a lot of silly
questions. I could get you a lot of jobs, if you just gimme
sixty percent. I don't wanna leave my name or number, but I'll
"There's no answer, I mean, it's a machine. Maybe they got
him. Oh well."
When the machine clicked off, I felt cheated. The chip
didn't like being cut off from an information stream. It gave me
an instant headache.
"I need more," I said.
"What?" asked Vampiko, who was retouching her makeup for
work. "More messages?"
"Information. I need more. Gotta have it."
"Why don't you watch TV or something?" she said, blending
some shadow into her cleavage.
I leaped across the room, grabbed the remote, and had the
tube glowing faster than I ever had before. I didn't look for
anything to watch, just held down the upchannel button and
watched the entire cable system flash by in fast blips. And I
could follow it all. Megabytes of information flowing through my
eyes, ears, and brain into the Krell chip.
It was happy. It jolted my brain into an endorphin dump.
Then I was happy too.
I wanted to sit down, but couldn't. My finger hurt from
holding down the button. I was a prisoner of information.
[Huevos Rancheros Microondas translates to "microwave ranch-
style eggs," for you members of this hemishpere's Anglo minority.
Just scramble some eggs in a microwave-safe bowl, zap 'em until
they appear have come to life and are crawling out of the bowl,
plop a mess of salsa on top (even stuff made in Nueva York will
do). Yum-yum! That and couple cups of strong, black coffee get
me going in the morning.
[Remind me to tell you about zen and the art of microwave
[I just love living in the Salsa Age!]
"Flash, you've taken channel surfing to a new dimension."
she said, then gave me a tonsil-tickler kiss -- and I couldn't
take my eyes off the screen. "Well, the least you could do is
I tried. After a while I managed to make my knees wobble.
"Are you mad at me?" she asked.
With great effort, I could say, "Naw. Can't move."
"Oh dear," she said, helping me onto the couch, "you must be
really hurt under those bandages. Sacre-bleu! I wish I could
stay, but the sun is going down, and it's time for my shift at
Global Delights." She kissed me again, I responded a little.
"Oh goody," she said, "you should be all right. Tah-tah!"
The blood drained from my button finger, I fell asleep, or
into a sort of trance. The chip didn't need my attention to suck
up the information. Deep down inside, I was screaming.
Then a crudely animated cockroach -- like the ones on the
library computer -- walked across the screen.
The chip then reminded me that in the last twenty minutes
four news stories had flashed before my eyes about the Kafka
virus -- first it fills a computer with electronic cockroaches,
then all memory blanks. There's also a rumor that one user who
turned his computer off before the cockroaches could do their
thing somehow was transformed into a giant cockroach. A sound
byte of a hysterical little girl describing her encounter with
the giant insect was offered as proof.
Suddenly, a strange buzzing filled my head. I popped up off
the couch, dropped the remote without bothering to turn the set
off, and headed out the door. Something was calling the chip,
and it was using my body as a vehicle. I was lucky that I got
the door open before crashing through it.
The spectacular Phoenix sun blinded me as I stumbled my way
through the maze of the Big Ugly Peach Apartments West complex.
Nobody noticed me except for a lizard the size of a pit-bull and
a saguaro that made a quick call on its cellular phone and
I was weaving through the ring of parking lots when an
ancient primer-gray Chevy van came to a screeching halt within
splitting distance of me. Two guys leaped out, and began working
me over with a stun gun and a cattle prod.
[The way I figure it, if Franz Kafka were alive today (this
writing: 7 March 1995) he'd be writing computer viruses instead
of fiction. Then maybe his fiction is viral. Excuse me, I'm
having trouble with my sucking/penetrating mouth-parts . . .
[No, I don't have a sick hang-up about tittie bars. Women's
breasts, yes -- but tittie bars, no. There are a lot of them in
Phoenix, and not the sort like in California, where you get a
bone-dry, perfumed vagina wiggled almost (as Howard Cosell said,
"It is a game of inches") in your face by mercenary brain for
your neatly folded bills, but tacky temples where implant
princesses are worshipped by dysfunctional guys who can't get a
woman to give them permission to touch. Sad. Even though the
population has doubled in the last year (this writing: 21
February 1995), there are still a lot of lonely people here.
[Emily and I used to live in a neighborhood where there was
joint that for a while was painted shocking pink with the word
TOPLESS in four-foot tall black letters across the front. That
and the tower of toilets next door just brimmed over with
Southwestern charm. Both places, unfortunately are now history.
[The times, the really are a-changing.]
There was something familiar about these two thugs. One was
either a failed Hemingway or a Phil Dick lookalike (depending on
how old you are) even though the earring and the slightly
effeminate manner spoiled the effect. The other looked like a
serious young, bespectacled African American scholar, until you
noticed that at the points of his cheekbones there were tiny "x"-
shaped scars ("Scarification, man," he explains, "the brothers in
Dallas are really getting into it"). They were Doc Burnout, and
Obeah X15, two sorta-friends of mine.
As they tossed me into the back of the van, I found that I
"Hey, I though you guys couldn't stand each other."
"Shit happens," Doc said as he got behind the wheel and
started the engine.
"And this is really big," said Obie, sitting down next to
me, stun gun in hand.
Suddenly, the chip had me trying to get up and leap out of
the rear porthole. Obie stopped me with a quick zap.
"Thanks," I said. "Now what is this all about?"
"Can't talk here," Doc said, pointing to a funky electronic
display that was where a radio, cassette, or CD-player would have
been in a sane person's van, "we're being monitored."
Could someone operate sophisticated electronic equipment
while wearing a saguaro suit? My mind boggled. The chip buzzed.
"We have to find a safe zone," said Obie.
The chip took hold of me again, but luckily Obie got me with
the stun gun before I could climb out the porthole.
Then the van's electronics has a seizure. Out of the
porthole I saw what looked like a miniature Cruise missile
decorated with the World War Two Flying Tigers' shark eyes and
mouth. It looked mean and was catching up with us.
"We're being targeted," screamed Doc Burnout.
[There are a lot of Hemingway/Dick lookalikes wandering
around the streets of Phoenix. A lot of one-armed men, too.
More Phoenician mysteries.
[There's an ethnic bias in cyberpunk, both literary and
lifestyle: They are predominately white, are absolutely queer
for things Asian, though most mentioning of Hispanic, African,
other stuff tends to come off like they did their research by
watching TV cop shows. There's more to human race than kids
whose parents can afford to buy them expensive toys -- a lot more.
[The byte about scarification came from a phone conversation
with gonzo journalist and paleontology fanatic Paul T. Riddell.
His book Squashed Armadillocon is an underground sensation, and
has illustrations by yours truly.
[My father used to work for Flying Tiger Airlines. Vehicles
decorated with shark faces always seem like family to me.]
Doc Burnout went into some serious evasive maneuvers that
sent me, Obie, and the stun gun tumbling into the van's
electronic inner coating. From the way the gadgets were
complaining, it hurt them as much as it did us. The only thing
in the vehicle that was having any fun was the Krell chip.
"It must be targeting the electronic activity -- shut
everything down!" said Obie, who had lost his glasses, but had
gotten a grip on the passenger seat.
Meanwhile, the chip had me climbing the rear hatch, and
focusing my eyes out the portholes when the missile appeared in them.
"It could damage the system," Doc whined.
"Would you rather die?" said Obie, recovering the stun gun,
zapping a test spark.
"Life is so cruel," Doc said, flipping the cover off a big,
red button, and pressing it with a shaky thumb.
All the van's electronics went dead in a slow flickering
fade-out. Tears intermingled with sweat on Doc's quivering face.
Obie said a quick prayer to Papa Legba.
Of course, I couldn't help but keep focusing my eyeballs on
the missile's painted face as if it were a potential lover. It
was too skinny and didn't have large enough breasts for me, but
the Krell chip thought it was just wonderful. Too bad they'd
have to go through not only the van, but my skull and brain to
"Is it gone?" Doc asked, barely managing to keep the van
from sliding offroad.
I couldn't say anything.
Obie looked out both portholes, and looked grim. "Naw," he
said. "It's slowed down, but it's still locked on our ass. Are
you sure you shut down all the electronics on this tank?"
"Yes," Doc said, "It was built back in the seventies for
"Then why the hell?" Obie said.
I managed to point a finger at my bandaged cranium, and
croak out, "In here, it's after the chip," just before the damned
thing had me kick open the rear hatch and jump out at the missile.
[Papa Legba is a Haitian loa, as those of you who read
Gibson's Count Zero know. Being the Lord of the Crossroads, he
is the god of communications. He's also the loa you must evoke
first before calling any of the others, like an operating system
for the unconscious mind. It is he who open the gate, and
creates opportunities. He is coming into prominence in the
[You must always remember to feed the loas, neglecting them
can be disastrous. Sometimes I wonder why the CIA is so obsessed
with Haiti and mind-control technology . . . Don't forget to
feed the loas!
[For further reading check out Ishmael Reed's Mumbo Jumbo
and Zora Neale Hurston's Tell My Horse.
[By this time, Reddog and BF were accessible thru the
Internet -- we had jumped media, again!
[And remember, the loas must be fed!]
The shark-faced mini-Cruise missile penetrated the van's
cargo area, the rocket engine shut down, then, with the firing
some cherry-bomb-like retrorockets that made Obie scream,
"Driveby!" it settled in like shuttlecraft returning to the
mothership. For a few grotesquely elongated seconds, we all
wondered if it was going to explode. Then there was tooth-
Doc's closed-eyes driving had us up on a well-manicured lawn.
"Open your eyes you fool!" screamed Obie. "You got us offroad!"
Doc opened up his baby blues, twisted the wheel, locked the
brakes and threw the van into a turf-ripping circular skid on
this lawn that was too well-kept up and too big to be anybody's
front yard. Or at least the front yard of anybody who couldn't
afford armed guards and flesh-eating Rotweillers.
I tried to worry about it. The centrifugal force from the
skid wasn't quite enough to dislodge the missile from the van, or
my scorched hands from the missile -- it looked like a spatula
would be required to set me free. Meanwhile, the Krell chip was
singing a high-pitched, high-speed love song to the missile's
onboard software that was pureeing my brain.
And then one of the bandages peeled loose from my head.
When the van finally came to skeleton-rattling halt, the
missile and I shot out like a projectile turd onto mutilated
greenery. There were no barking Rotweillers, or guards clicking
the safety off their assault-rifles. My hands, arms, and legs
burned like terminal hemorrhoids wherever they touched the missile.
A putrid-smelling grey-green smoke issued from the entire
surface of the missile. The painted-on Flying Tiger shark face
peeled off and blew away. I wished the chip would let me let go
of the burning mess so I could run.
"Good thing Papa Legba made you stop in time," Obie told
Doc, "you could have destroyed it!"
"That would have been a shame," said Doc.
The van was inches from a structure that looked like a huge,
mechanoid alien penis.
[In the age of AIDS, more and more people are using a close,
[The Smitty's on Cave Creek is where Emily and I bought most
[The yellow Honda was what Em and I were scooting around in
[At this point, I had no idea where all this was going.
Like Indiana Jones, I was just making up as I went along.]
[A spork is plastic eating utensil that combines the
features of spoon and a fork. It given away free at fast-food
establishments and public school cafeterias. It is sometimes
called a foon.]
[The saguaro is a species of cactus native to Arizona.
You've seen them in the media -- the look like they have arms.
It's pronounced sa-WHAR-o.]
[The culturally literate among you will notice in this
chapter, references to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,
Neuromancer, Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, Forbidden Planet, and
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.]
[The gag about DEA agents disguised as saguaros was an
actually idea that someone proposed in Washington during the last
War on Drugs. A local TV station made fun of it. Saguaro suits
would have to be self-contained, air-conditioned, and
ridiculously expensive. Truth is stranger than fiction.]
[But, then there was a new item a few months back (this
writing: 19 February 1995) about somebody killing saguaros with
point-blank shotgun blasts . . .]
personal relationship with technology as a replacement for sex.
It doesn't work. Sex-substitute addicts tend to be mad-as-hell
most of the time, and often have spontaneous psychotic episodes.
[Dammit, Joycelyn Elders was right: We should give
everybody permission to masturbate more.
[Hey, use condoms. Use your brain. Stop pretending you
don't have a body. The Way of the Fleshless is death, just ask
[Besides, it gives you a chance for a mondo look at the
behind the scenes of BPF, like:
of our groceries during the writing of BF, and the attached
restaurant is one of the places where the original plans for The
Red Dog Journal were brutally knocked around.]
at the time. It has since died a horrible death, and it was all our fault. Then we sold it to a little Mayan wizard, who with the help of his brother-in-law resurrected it and drove it away.]
[The Smitty's on Cave Creek is where Emily and I bought most
[The yellow Honda was what Em and I were scooting around in
[At this point, I had no idea where all this was going. Like Indiana Jones, I was just making up as I went along.]
[A spork is plastic eating utensil that combines the features of spoon and a fork. It given away free at fast-food establishments and public school cafeterias. It is sometimes called a foon.]
[The saguaro is a species of cactus native to Arizona. You've seen them in the media -- the look like they have arms. It's pronounced sa-WHAR-o.]
[The culturally literate among you will notice in this chapter, references to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Neuromancer, Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, Forbidden Planet, and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.]
[The gag about DEA agents disguised as saguaros was an actually idea that someone proposed in Washington during the last War on Drugs. A local TV station made fun of it. Saguaro suits would have to be self-contained, air-conditioned, and ridiculously expensive. Truth is stranger than fiction.]
[But, then there was a new item a few months back (this writing: 19 February 1995) about somebody killing saguaros with point-blank shotgun blasts . . .]