Safe Mode


This one came about as part of a cyberpunk assignment for CHUDStories waaaaaay back in 2005.  At this point, I can’t tell you what half the jargon is actually supposed to mean, but it made sense at the time.

Chips Ahoy was beginning to think Microsoft’s new one-touch CTRL/ALT/DEL key was the single most useful thing they’d ever created – Windows Utopia be damned – as he pounded his way to another reboot.

“If it’s a fatal exception, why the hell aren’t you dead?” he screamed in frustration. The run was in twenty minutes and here he was screwing around with the goddamn op-sys! Even if he got the base protes working now, he’d barely have time to calibrate the I/Os in his temples, run the test dampers, and boot up the cerebral faces. He thought briefly about skipping the virus scan, but the last thing he needed was to be late and hung over for a week afterwards – someone had gotten cute with the Three Wise Men and re-coded it to simulate the buzz from some old twentieth century liqs made back before they started splicing the pain suppressors and the motor anti-inhibitors into them, and from what Epiphany had told him, the ride was sweet but the ticket had one hell of a price the next morning.

Of course, none of this mattered if he couldn’t get the system running at all. This new one was a real piece of work. Half of his perphs wouldn’t work with it, and the half that did ran slower than the Trans-Atlantic Surface Shuttle during hurricane season. It had wiped most of the older versions from the manilas on his hardy on the pretense of being “better and faster,” and while Chips could certainly take issue with the first part, he had to admit it had monked his system faster than any version before it. He had half a mind to submit a formal complaint – once this version went public and he could update the copy ‘Trixster had napstered for him, that is. But that didn’t do him any good for the run that night.

“You’re gonna make me run in same-old same-old, aren’t you? You bastard,” he muttered.

Safe mode. “Goddamn safe mode” they should have called it. Most of his friends called it the Schwinn Trans-Jupiter, since they knew of no finer simulation of the experience of traveling to the Outer Colonies via bicycle. But with no other options and the run now less than fifteen minutes away, it looked like it was time to start pedaling to Io. He clicked the option, gritted his teeth, and sat back and waited.

Through his goggles, it looked like blue mud. It took him a couple of seconds to even find the webspinner to get him onto the network, and the diags dragged on for ten more before he was ready to fly. His virt-hand gently plucked one strand of the web, and as the spider rushed to mend it, he felt that familiar tug, and then he was In.

The structs weren’t as sharp, and he still felt like he was swimming in paste, but it would have to do. He saw Epiphany had already arrived, the winged halo of her con fluttering around the neon Fuji that was the Chase Osaka datanode. A couple of dollar signs clung to the halo – apparently she hadn’t been content with just chewing bandwidth while waiting for the gang to arrive.

“You sure you want to mess with the Choke?” Chips said as he steered his con over to Epiphany. It looked like one of those old drawings of the constellations, with bright points of light at the corners and ephemeral strands linking them together in the shape of a three-masted galleon, and where the skull and crossbones should have flown, a banner bearing the image of a chocolate chip cookie fluttered in the digital breeze. Chips was particularly proud of that touch – the code for that alone had taken him two days realtime to get the wind sims down right.

“I have an account with ‘em, vaporware,” Epiphany replied. “Not everything I do in here is the blotter, you know.”

“Coulda fooled me,” a voice boomed from overhead. Looking up, Chips saw an enormous green lizard easing a giant leg over the flickering skyline of New Disney’s node as a darting squadron of black flying elephants took to the air.

“Daikaiju!” Chips shouted. “You pissed off the ice fighters again!” The elephants buzzed around the lizard’s head like angry black hornets, but he paid them no mind.

“Ah, they know it’s just me and that I ain’t gonna do nothing,” Daikaiju said. “But they gotta do the noises and make like the gorilla or folks’ll think they went all cuddly.” In fact, the elephants had flitted back down to whatever manila they had rezzed from. “Now if the Seven Dwarfs show up, then I’m up for the Hard Reboot.” He glanced around. “Where’s TimbukLou?”

“Said he’d be running a little late,” Epiphany said. “Something about his landy coming up to term some cucarachas in his flat – he didn’t want to go In and risk the guy napstering half the stuff in there.”

Chips scanned quickly for the stylized lion’s head that was TimbukLou’s con. “He’d better hurry, we’re cutting it close already.”

“Especially with you running same-old same-old,” Epiphany laughed. “You were hoping we wouldn’t scan that, weren’t you?”

“Desperate times, desperate measures, okay? Don’t worry about me, I’ll keep up.”

“You’d better,” came a growl from behind Chips. “I didn’t put this together for it to go vapor on us.”

Chips turned towards TimbukLou. The lion’s mane billowed gracefully. “Hey, that’s my wind sim!”

A toothy grin spread on TimbukLou’s face. “Yeah, ‘Trixster told me the sec protes on that new op-sys were total parting gift, man. I had to take a loadsee for myself.”

“That why you’re pedaling the Schwinn tonight?” Daikaiju asked.

“Look, I ran my diags. My counts still work. I’m starting gun, let’s go.”

“Let’s,” TimbukLou agreed. “Follow me.”

The lion head drifted out over Silicode Valley, with Chips and Epiphany floating close behind. Daikaiju held back. “Hey, gimme a mic! They don’t know I’m not gonna Tokyo that place.” The giant lizard shimmered briefly, then was replaced by a great flapping pterodactyl. “That’s better!”

“You could have logged that con in the first place, you know,” Epiphany said.

“Yeah,” Daikaiju said as he drifted in behind the group, “but then how was I supposed to show off?”

“Ha ha, real brick wall,” TimbukLou said. “Come on, we hover the Valley too long they might think we’re watergating them.”

They soared out into the digital night. Past the FoxBS Nebulae glaring at them with its one great eye, over the Orinoco-Cola River with its tributaries running almost everywhere, and through the driving rain of Hurricane Bill. The cons were out in force tonight – Chips saw Sid Licorice with his whips wrapped around a fat MitsuSony node; Binary Queen held court over near the gambling structs; the Bit Baron gunned his circuit-board tri-plane after some of the General’s ice fighters; even ‘Trixster and his dancing brooms were out and about. Back Out, of course, most of them were logged in cluttered one-room flats in New Yorksey or the Big Smoke or any one of the other plexes, anonymous little zeligs no one would give a second hit to. In, they were total final answer.

The stars winked out.

“What the hell?” TimbukLou growled. “Epiphany, what you got?”

“Nothing,” she replied in confusion. “I got no yellow-reds, no b’sods, nothing.”

“Daikaiju? Chips?”

Daikaiju shrugged about as well as a glowing pterodactyl could. Chips was quiet.

“Chips? Form of a question, man, what you got?”

“Same-old same-old,” he replied weakly.

Above them, the sky had gone a flat gray, with a rectangular grid covering a large portion of it. A yellow smiley looked down at the expectantly.

“MINESWEEPER?” Daikaiju roared in shock. “Dude, what op-sys did you def back to?”

The sails on Chips’s galleon sagged, their wind completely gone. “I don’t know. That new op-sys monked most of the other versions. I just went back to the oldest working one.”

Epiphany fluttered back down to them. “I can’t get over, under, or around it.”

“Somebody want to tell me what the crash is going on?”

They turned. ‘Trixster stood behind them shaking in anger, his brooms with their buckets poised and ready. “I’m all ready to clip the Eagle and all of a sudden I’m in some goddamn card game!”

TimbukLou glared at Chips. “He’s got his abacus running the Schwinn Trans-Jupiter.”

“Schwinn my ass, he’s back pre-wheel on that thing. He’s tortoising the whole damn network! Bit Baron is covered in paint from some drawing program he flew through and Iron Megan can’t move until someone lays a three of diamonds on her! What am I supposed to do now, watch television? I mean, goddamn it!” He turned and stomped off, his brooms following sulkily behind.

“This is padded room, guys,” Epiphany said. “I’m getting bits from all over In, whatever you did Chips, you did it number one with a bullet.”

From high above, Daikaiju shouted down, “Hey guys, you gotta see this!”

They sped upward. In the distance, the pulsing spires of Silicode Valley were winking out, replaced by stack upon stack of C:\’s balanced precariously on the slanted backslashes and bowed C’s. The whole thing looked ready to San Andreas any second.

“Jobs H. Christ, Chips!” TimbukLou shouted. “You DOS-ed them! What the hell are you still doing with DOS in your box?”

“Uh, guys?” Epiphany said slowly. Her wings had gone wire-frame, and even that was breaking down as they watched, the once-graceful lines bulking up into a series of boxes. Glancing around, Chips saw the same thing happening to TimbukLou and Daikaiju, and to the lines of his galleon.

“Pixels?” Daikaiju groaned. “Freaking pixels? Aw the hell with this, I’ll catch you guys later.” The pterodactyl winked out.

“Thanks a lot, Chips,” Epiphany said, now little more than a crude circle with a pair of stick wings tacked on. “Maybe next time we can just sit around and do square roots all night.” She vanished.

TimbukLou’s lion head had lost all its ferocious bearing. Now it was simply a brown smiley with a darker brown crescent slapped on top of it. “Do us all a favor. Wipe your hardy. Start over.” His voice rose hysterically. “I am not going 2-D, you hear me?” He calmed himself. “I’m gone before some kid pops a quarter to play me.”

And Chips was alone. Cons were de-rezzing all around him, pelted by a series of 1’s and 0’s from a rapidly diminishing Hurricane Bill. Blinking cursors were everywhere, with random directories scrolling up into the sky.

“Crap,” he muttered, and went back Out.

The world leapt back into his eyes. A cursor waited expectantly at the top of his screen. With a sigh, he reached for the CTRL/ALT/DEL key and punched up another reboot.

The cursor still waited.

In fact, it stayed on the monitor right until the system finished its flight from the 82nd floor to the pavement below.

Copyright © 2005 by Richard F. Dickson.  All rights reserved.

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