When I started this book, the whole idea of the cyberspace deck was a standard trope of cyberpunk fiction, well-established by the founding authors of the genre, most especially William Gibson. You couldn't be a "console cowboy" without your console! And there was no question what the nature of that piece of hardware was like, as traditional as a six-shooter and a ten-gallon hat is to a western. It was about the size of a 90s laptop, sleek and elegant as it swung from a strap thrown over its owner's shoulder. The hacker would connect it to his own nervous system via a slender cable plugged into a discrete socket surgically implanted at the base of the skull. Once jacked in, man and machine became as one, and could now launch into whatever adventures were waiting them on the global InfoMatrix.
But now, that just seems so... so nineties. The future is wireless, technology is smaller and imbedded more intimately into people and the elements that make up the internet of things are hidden in nearly every device around us. In that context, especially extrapolated out into a future that will continue to move even further in that direction, the cyberspace deck felt archaic, a relic of a simpler, less evolved time.
I decided to run with that. Decks are no more, replaced by miniature trancievers surgically implanted directly into the user's skull and nano-wired right into the meatware. No troublesome sockets prone to infection, no cumbersome cables to manage (imagine accidentally yanking on a cord plugged right into your brain!), no decks.
Well, there is one...
Spider still has his deck at the beginning of the story, and he wears it like a badge of honor, tangible proof of how long he's been in the game. Sure, the kids may not appreciate it's full value and razz him a bit for carrying around the cultural equivilent of a gramophone, but it's a deeply-rooted part of his identity, and he refuses to give it up until he absolutely has to.
What follows are a selection of scenes that became obsolete the moment the deck did. There's still some nice business here, but you know what they say about killing your darlings...
When he stepped out into the lobby, Dr. K and Terry, the receptionist, were waiting for him. They chatted quietly as Spider signed the release form, then turned to face them. “Thank you so much, I don’t know if you really understand how much this means to me.”
“I think I do.” Dr. K was beaming. “And I have another surprise for you...”
Terry brought a bag out from behind the counter and handed it to Dr. K, who took it with both hands and held it out to Spider.
A bit confused, Spider sheepishly took the offered package. It had a fair amount of weight to it, and familiar dimensions. “You didn’t…” He slowly opened the bag and gently lifted out its contents.
It was a deck. It was prosumer-grade, the kind used by businessmen to conduct encrypted communications or handle large financial transactions. It looked like it has seen a lot of use, but it was a deck.
“I know it’s not what you’re used to,” Dr. K said apologetically. “I got it used and it was a really good deal. I figured you could use it until you were able to get something... more professional.”
“It’s perfect.” He said, fighting back tears. “And I think it’s the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me. Thank you. I mean it, Thanks.” He slung the strap over his shoulder and slid the deck around until it rested in the small of his back. For the first time since his accident, he didn’t feel naked. He hugged Dr. K tightly, then Terry, then wiped the corner of his eye with a knuckle.
“Now,” Dr. K began sternly, “You have to promise me to go easy at first. Your nervous system has been bruised pretty severely, and that’s on top of your previous injuries. Try to keep it to no more than a half-hour at a time, and rest at least two hours between sessions. And drink lots of electrolytes, as much as you can, until you are pissing green. Do you understand?”
“I do, and I promise.”
“Alright, get out of here. Call me if you experience anything that feels wrong.”
That’s a high bar with me, he thought, but let it go unsaid.
Spider walked into Grounds for Divorce and the smell of coffee and fresh bread wrapped around him like a warm steamy blanket. He waited in line, bought a latte – using his splice, like a real live boy! – and took a seat against the back wall. Several others were already online, leaning back against the wall, eyes either closed or staring blankly into the distance. Grounds was known for being friendly to hacker types, and for a small fee were happy to keep an eye on your meatsuit while you were elsewhere. Spider sipped some foam off the still too-hot-to-drink latte, settled in, and connected himself to the new deck.
When he slapped the activation bar, a ridiculously elaborate animated transition played, and he found himself standing in a reasonably realistic depiction of a corporate executive’s office. It had a vintage, “Mad Men” vibe to it, with a gigantic oak desk, wood paneled walls, and a 100th floor view of a world-class city that no longer existed. Spider walked around the office, examining the framed oil paintings, the well-stocked bar cart, and the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves that were stuffed with what appeared to be law books.
He settled into the oversized chair behind the desk, impressed with the feel and squeak of leather as it conformed to his weight. The desk felt like you could park a car on it, and it was tastefully arranged with family photos (presumably that of the deck’s previous owner, but who could say), a telephone, pens, a blotter, and an antique intercom “squawk box” with a single button on it. Spider leaned forward and pressed the button.
After a moment, the door to the office swung open, and a woman entered and said “Yes, Mr. Douglas?”
Spider laughed. The secretary was straight out of a porn sim, blonde, fake lips, gigantic tits that were immune to gravity, disproportionately long legs. He knew exactly what her function was.
“Oh, Mr. Douglas, you sad little man…” Spider said to the office.
“I beg your pardon?” The secretary purred in a whispery, child-like voice. “Did you (suggestive pause, pouting lips) need something, sir?”
Spider shook his head, then waved at the door. “No, that will be all, thank you.”
She nodded and swiveled on her fetish heels, ass swaying back and forth, and pulled the office door closed behind her, but not before pausing in the doorway for a quick sly smile and a wink.
Spider howled with laughter. He swept the desk with his arm, sending everything on it cascading to the floor. “How much bandwidth does all this shit take, Douglas?” he shouted to the room. “Gotta be half the capacity of the deck.” He stood up, pushing the chair back behind him and looked around again. “And for this! What a tragic lack of imagination! Even your fantasy life is a cliché! How disappointing.”
He pinched the space in front of him to open a menu, and dragged down to administrative tools, then brought up a set of load meters for the deck’s memory and processors. They were nearly maxed out.
“Everything must go!” He shouted, then deleted every object in the room, first the small stuff, then the desk and chair, then the world outside, and finally the office itself, leaving him floating in a black void. Next, he attacked the installed programs, beginning with one named Hot Trixie. “Bye, Trixie!” If he wanted porn, he knew where to get something more his style. He checked the load meters again, and he’d killed nearly half the processes. “Much better, but I was hoping for more.” He ran defraggers, optimizers, shut down any function that wasn’t strictly necessary, wiped any partition that contained files left by Mr. Douglas. The meters were showing 25% of all resources in use. Spider nodded, satisfied.
Spider was a regular at The RAM’s Lair, a specialty computer shop on Market St. that was the only place in the city to go if you wanted professional work done with no questions asked and little concern to the legality of a component or program. Spider briefly wondered how much money he’d spent there over the years. Probably enough for a mundane to retire on comfortably.
His boot heels clopped loudly on the unfinished hardwood floor, and the old heavy door swung closed behind him. No other place smelled like the Lair, a mix of ancient wood, weed, new plastic, and hot solder, state of the art electronics living comfortably in an old Victorian building.
The lobby of the shop was empty, but before Spider could even reach the counter, a young bespectacled nerd wearing a red bowtie and short sleeved white dress shirt stepped out from behind the curtains that hid the back room where they did the real work.
Spider nodded a greeting. “Hey. Is Connor here?”
“I’m afraid not,” the nerd said, adjusting his black wire-rimmed glasses. “He got busted.”
“Busted? What do you mean?”
He shrugged. “I mean the spuds came in, cuffed him and hauled him off. Can’t tell you much more than that. Dude was pretty sketch if you ask me. But if you’re here for hardware or software, I can take care of it for you.”
Spider scowled. Connor had been his go-to guy for a long time, but if the State Police were involved, he probably wasn’t going to be available for a long time. He looked over the baby-faced square skeptically. “What’s your name?”
“Spike. Yours?” He held out his hand, and Spider shook it.
“Ah! Like the Spider King. I’m told he used to come in here a lot before he licked the electric fence.”
Spider smiled. “Is that so? Well, then I guess you guys know your shit.” He put the old deck up on the counter, and Spike immediately began looking it over dubiously.
“Wow, that’s a classic. Not super high-end, but dependable. What do you need done?”
“I want to make some upgrades to, well, pretty much everything. I want faster processors, more ram, more storage, a faster wi-fi transponder, and stronger surge protection, strong enough to stand up to a direct SpliceFire attack.”
Behind the thick glasses, Spike’s eyes were the size of dinner plates. “Whoa! I don’t know what you’re into, but I’ve got no interest in keeping Connor company in a cell.”
Spider leaned in, conspiratorially. “Relax, kid. I’m not looking for anything illegal, I just want to max this thing out.”
Spike tilted his head forward and regarded Spider over his glasses. “OK, I’m gonna be honest with you here. We won’t be able to salvage much beyond the shell. You’d have to scrap everything from the motherboard on up. I don’t even think we could use the existing power supply. For that kind of money you could just buy a new top-of-the-line deck off the shelf.”
“I understand.” Spider nodded and looked Spike in the eye. “But this deck was a gift. It’s got a lot of sentimental value, and I don’t want to hurt the feelings of the person that gave it to me. You understand?”
“Not really, but you know what? I don’t have to. You want an A-plus deck shoved into your old C-minus chassis? It’s your money, we can do that. Hell, the newest components are half the size of the ones in there, so you’ll have room to spare. I just want to make sure you know what your options are.”
Spider smiled. “Thanks.”
“Allrighty then.” Spike was far too chipper for Spider’s taste, but he seemed to know his business. “Let’s talk about parts, and then I’ll put together an estimate for you. You’ll have to leave the deck overnight, but I should be able to slap it together by, say, noon tomorrow. That sound good?”
“Sure, that works.” Spider pushed the deck across the counter as Spike began stacking catalogues* on the glass. “Oh, one other thing…” He pulled out the cell phone Alex had given him and sat it on the counter. “What can you give me for this?”
Spike raised one eyebrow incredulously and tapped his temple. “Hmmm. Sorry, I’ve already got a calculator.
*(A "catalogue?" What the hell is that? --Beej)
When Spider picked up his upgraded deck, they’d wrapped it in white paper like a Christmas present. Connor had never done that. Though he kept his cool externally, he was surprised at the level of anticipation and glee he felt as he tore the wrapping off and handed it to Spike, who stood behind the counter smiling with pride. “I did the work myself, I think you’ll be pleased. As expected, there was room left over in the case, so I took the liberty of installing a self-rewinding cable spool in the back, no extra charge.”
Impressed, Spider extended the cable. It released easily, pulled out smoothly and stayed when he let it go. A quick tug released the spool and it gently coiled back inside, practically invisible. He looked up at Spike and nodded, satisfied. Again he withdrew the cable and this time plugged it in to his splice port. He touched the power button, and the shop faded tastefully into darkness like the beginning of a play, and an array of diagnostics spread out neatly like cards dealt on black velvet. The deck booted nearly instantly, displayed its processor speed and onboard memory, its connection speed to the net, and defensive measures available. He reflexively reached out to arrange the displays to a more comfortable layout – then stopped, because they didn’t need it.
“It’s Spike, right?”
“Yes sir,” came the reply from beyond the darkness.
“Yeah, OK. Spike, you know what you’re doing.”
“Thank you, I do try.
Spider felt for the exit bar and tapped it, and the house lights came back up. “This looks good. I’ll run it through some stress tests later, see how much she can take.”
Spike didn’t seem worried. “Of course. I moved everything that was on the old hard drive to the new one, though some of the applications may not be compatible.” He reached into his vest pocket and pulled out a small rectangle. “Here is your old drive. I’m guessing you’d prefer to dispose of it yourself.”
“If anything seems amiss, bring it back and I’ll tune it however you like. That’s included, naturally.”
“Naturally.” Spider took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Which brings us to the painful part.”
Spike nodded and made a slight finger gesture. A detailed invoice opened in Spider’s AR space, showing all the work done, the components used, and the prices of each, all flowing down into the total price. “Ouch.” He tapped the button to accept and pay the amount, watched his bank account take a major blow right in the face.
“Thank you, sir.” Spike bowed formally, smiling slyly. “It’s been a privilege. I don’t often get the chance to do work for a legend, much less a dead one. I’ve done my best to build you an instrument worthy of your talents.”
Spider smiled. “I appreciate that, as well as your discretion.”
“Always. Until next time?”
“Yeah, see you around.”