Chapter 3: There's No Place Like Home-Key

Nutrunner: The Parody
Fiction by Pierre Savoie

Chapter 3: There's No Place Like Home-Key

Nutty walked up the dingy stairway of his apartment building, with the sour smell of synthetofu and the sound of a wailing infant from the floor below. He opened the door of his flat and flicked the switch -- and the synthetofu smell increased. In the far end of the cramped flat was his unmade futon, low on the ground, which looked like somebody had just given birth on it. Oily cartons of Chinese and Greek take-out food were scattered across the sheets and onto the thin carpeting, almost but never quite soiling Nutty's precious piles of papers and books. 
To the right a small kitchenette had two filthy gas-stove rings and a pile of chipped china in the sink. The walls were ugly brownish plastic paneling, which glinted in the glare from the bare lightbulb on a cord above. Everything was in disarray but, not surprisingly, Nutty kept the place as dust-free as he could; two Stat-i-Cleans were blowing softly in the corners of the room. 
To the left was a small thrift-shop desk with a rickety wooden chair, above which was his computer-science degree, which seemed like it was from another age, boldly emblazoned with the name ADAM CHANG in Gothic lettering. Sitting on top of the desk was a late-model deck bristling with peripherals and connections. Off to the side of the desk, incongruously, was a large, comfortable recliner, brand-new. 
Nutty ignored the room's mess, as usual, went straight for the deck, inserted the purchased chip in a socket and plugged in his 'trodes. He pressed power-buttons on each component, straightened out his extension cord, and sat down in the recliner. 
After a brief delay his vision started to shimmer, some numbers and software credits flashed in his mind, and his crummy flat dissolved into the clean lines of his local 'space, done up as a university professor's office. In the corner of his vision, a small "Nutty Professor" icon rotated slowly, looking like the morphy face of the well-known Eddie Murphy role, turning, turning, alternating between fat and thin, standing by to be assumed. Nutty held out his disembodied hand, representing his Will, and started to run it along the bookshelf, representing his Startup Menu. 
All of a sudden his hand icon fuzzed and split into eerie color ghosts, red, green and blue. With a practiced motion, Nutty's body reanimated his right foot and kicked at the tower-case on the floor next to the recliner. The ghosts instantly re-formed into the complete hand. "Fracking virtual imager module! I gotta get it replaced," he thought. 
He thought of using the phone on the "desk" to call Squid, but he thought he could remember their past discussion about this chip, and went for his programs instead. If the Fuzzbucket Artificial Stupidity chip had as steep a learning-curve as Squid said, Nutty would have to play "get acquainted" between the chip and Nutty's existing programs for quite a while. 
He activated the chip's socket. Immediately his vision was tiled with a choice of icons to represent the Fuzzbucket, all slowly rotating in unison: clown, monkey in suit, dodo-bird, dunce-cap, Alfred E. Newman, Mr. Bean, Kramer, 48 icons in all. Nutty chose the dodo, flicking a finger of his "hand" over it. The tile zoomed larger and rezzed, and the view returned to his "office", with a big dodo standing on the Persian rug, a dopey expression on its large-beaked face, and a ridiculous little tuft of feathers springing from its tail. It cocked its head left, then right, in quick, birdlike motions, staring at him. 
"Hang on a minute," Nutty intoned, then rezzed his active breaker suite: Tinferret, Dripp, I Spew, Lizard's Book, Battering Ram, Smartass, and his pride and joy, a custom Succubus. He had gumped (*) it to look like the oldie female singer Bjork, with a pixie haircut, all dressed in petite black robes, and renamed it a Sugarcubus. The Sugarcubus hummed softly to itself as she and the other icons all stared at the Fuzzbucket dodo, circling around it, and the dodo glared at them. 
Taken out of their usage-context, the icons looked bizarre: the dodo stared at the sewer grate hovering in mid-air representing a Dripp escape- hatch program, then turned its attention to the Battering Ram wall/sentry- attacking sheep, the Tinferret ferret casting a false image in a two-way mirror, the Sugarcubus, the porcelain god representing the I Spew locator virus, the donkey representing the detection program Smartass, until it came to the Lizard's Book iguana wriggling and writhing on a book meant to represent a Code-Gate solver, softly hissing, "Passsssword? How about thisssss one? No? Thisssss one?" 
After a while the dodo lost interest and started pecking at the rug with its thick beak. Good, thought Nutty, it's categorized the functions of each program and is standing ready to exploit any area of weakness the programs come against in the course of a run, to lay its own "eggs", virussing them into the ICE's structure. Those eggs would grow and hatch into miniature virtual realities, and would cause various parts of Sosumi's ICE to start "seeing things." If the Fuzzbucket learned enough, Nutty could ultimately walk around as he pleased and the ICE would not think anybody was there. 
Nutty was smirking at the prospect of Artificially Stupid Sosumi ICE or, even better, a subverted AI he could manipulate to do things. But he knew it would take a lot of probing runs before the Fuzzbucket AS would learn enough to do it. 
"Time to do a little weefling, troops!" Nutty yelled out, and assumed his Nutty Professor icon. Immediately the programs leaped into this icon and disappeared, the Sugarcubus first absorbing the Battering Ram, Tinferret and Lizard's Book, compressing them down into a space-saving format. 
The grossly overweight man opened the door of the sedate virtual office and stepped out into the harshly-colored cubism of Netspace...

(*)GUMP: (v.) [from the movie FORREST GUMP] To add elements of a false image into a true image, creating an imperceptibly merged image (of photorealistic icon quality or better) in the final result. (n.) 1) The resulting image. 2) The act of passing off such an image as real. See also PHOTOCON, VIDEOCON, MORPHRAUD.

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