Analie clung to the ledge, her eyes watering as the wind whipped up around her. Fifty storeys down, the Sim City cars dotted their way through tiny gaps; like merciless soldier ants, hazy through the August smog, blurred like a cheap DirectX effect. She imagined her head hitting the asphalt, accelerated from this height. Her hand was slipping.
She felt as out-of-place as a middle-aged teacher creating a “with-it” page on MySpace to win over the groovy kids that he was frankly scared shitless of. She cursed the designers of these skyscrapers for not even pausing to consider that sometime, somebody might be trapped out on one of these slippery, sloping ledges. Given the cost of these leviathan monstrosities, a coupla fuckin’ handles on each window ledge wouldn’t exactly have broken the bank, she thought bitterly.
Daring to move her head, she glanced over the expanse of the street. From the other side, Chester was calmly piecing together his M-160 rocket launcher, a Christmas gift from his Daddy. He had the viewfinder in place, but seemed to be struggling with the trigger section. He didn’t seem perturbed though; he knew that Analie wasn’t going anywhere soon. Except down, perhaps: her one immediate option.
Quite how she’d ended up out here, she couldn’t quite remember. The details were as hazy as the blurred street, but she suspected that the course of events was almost as contrived as the movie plot that had led an unsuspecting Neo to edge out onto a window-ledge and drop his Product Placement-o-Matic Nokia cellphone.
At least he’d had the good sense to climb back in though, she reminded herself derisively.
She hid her face for a moment, hoping that this wasn’t really reality – that it was some stupid, messed-up hallucinogenic dreamworld from which she would awake at any moment, to discover that she was safe and sound in Papua New Guinea with her newfound indigent friends, just in time for dinner. She looked around again, but no such comforting scene change took place. She’d never even been to Papua New Guinea anyway, so she hadn’t held out much hope. This is crazy, she thought: I’m a computer programmer, for chrissakes! I write software to detect viruses. I do not spend my time clinging to the outside of tall buildings, dodging frickin’ rockets for a living.
The VirusHunters(TM) chopper circled overhead, just adding to the noise and to the wind that threatened to tear her from her precipitous perch. From the chopper, Analie could plainly make out Rez’s expression. His eyes were redder than the LED on his bulky iMate JasJar – he looked terrified, in fact. He was the only man she knew who could answer an incoming call on the JasJar one-handed, and pilot his helicopter with the other hand. But up there, right now, he was powerless: couldn’t get the chopper down to her level, and wouldn’t be able to do anything even if he could. It didn’t help that the copter was in such a bad state. Thick black smoke billowed out of a bullet wound in its engine, and the whole contraption threatened to BSOD even bluer than the hazy afternoon sky, and come crashing down any moment.
Shit, she told herself helpfully. How the hell am I going to get out of this? Desperately, aware that vital nanoseconds were ticking away, she dredged up some clues from her best source of urban warfare survival knowledge: sticky situations in US TV/movie sci-fi.
“What would Kirk have done?” she whispered to herself. Aside from get teleported away, obviously. Throw rocks at guys in rubber suits? Use the double-fisted overhead punch (the pinnacle of 23rd Century unarmed combat)? Not much help really. How about any character in B5? No good, she thought, they always seemed to just give up and die. Great for series integrity, but a terrible source of real-life survival tips. LoTR? When the heroes fling themselves off precipices, they invariably get scooped up by a giant flying owl, or land on a balrog, or whatever. Or they make sure they land in water, she thought with a jolt. It worked for Viggo Mortensen. She risked a hasty glance over the edge. It had rained during the night; through the haze, she swore she could make out a couple of small puddles on the sidewalk.
Dammit, she needed a TNG-style plot device: a technological marvel that would neutralise the situation, and that had been given to her at least three scenes earlier. Then, affirming her personal reality of a geeky universe, she remembered that she absolutely did possess the perfect plot device: and it was in her backpack.
Turning awkwardly, she pulled her girlie rucksack down off her shoulders – carefully, still painfully aware that she was sliding, atom by atom, off the sill. Balancing the rucksack on the tip of the ledge, she unfastened the little buckles, rummaged around desperately for the implausible device, the one thing that could possibly save her now. She found her Creative iPod knockoff, swore at Chester for making her do this, and let it go. No time for sentimentality when you’re a mile up on a tiny, sloping ledge with a teenage geek pointing a rocket launcher at you from across the street.
She glanced sideways, saw that her nemesis had finally managed to figure out the clipping mechanism that joined the trigger section to the main chassis. He was now attempting to balance the thing on his shoulder. Idiot, thought Analie: if he holds it like that when he fires, his head’ll probably get knocked clean off his weedy little torso. Her precious i-JAMS – an ageing sunglasses/stereo headphones combo, in her mind the pinnacle of convergence – fell out of the rucksack next, and plummeted, end over end, finally smashing into a thousand little plasticky bits on the sidewalk below. Now she was seriously pissed.
Then, her perfect plot device – a plastic contraption described to her as a “Rainbow Gun” by the half-crazed woman who had handed it to her on a secret island, at least three scenes earlier – fell out of the neck of her bag along with her lovely Linux PDA. She caught the Rainbow Gun with her fingertips, heart pounding, and drew it precariously back onto the ledge, scraping the edge of the device against the concrete. The Zaurus, much to her latent fury, plummeted out of sight.
Analie hadn’t been sure what the scary old woman had meant when she described the Rainbow Gun as a “plot device”. Now she understood: it was a space-time plotting device. Just seconds to go… propping herself onto one elbow, she raised the gun, pointed it across the street. Her hand on the flimsy plastic trigger, she felt about as protected as a EULA protects a software publisher from, well, from anything. Meanwhile, Chester had his rocket launcher poised daintily, like a UML stick man packing a Napoleonic cannon.
“No,” she said out loud, beginning to understand. This wasn’t the right way… she still had time… to readjust – take aim… She rolled onto her back, her left side pressed firmly up against the billowing triple-glazed window, and pointed the Rainbow Gun up at the VirusHunters(TM) chopper flopping around above the skyscraper. She saw the reddish whites of Rez’s eyes; but there was no time to mouth an apology. She held her finger over the plastic trigger, counted to three...
Chester fired. Just as Analie had predicted, the overgrown pop-gun took his head clean off his shoulders. The projectile snaked its way towards her, but – moments before it would have skewered her like a rat on a harpoon – it seemed to get confused. A shimmering translucent rainbow had diverted the projectile’s attention, sent it scooting up one side of its multihued arch, round the rainbow loop and down the other side, back into Chester’s hotel room. If his head hadn’t already left his body, the explosion that hurled his torso clean out of the building and sent him plummeting to street-level probably would have done the job of killing him equally well.
“-1 Flamebait, mother-fucker,” she whispered, her shoulders slumping. A chapter of FUD in her eventful life had just been closed. Luckily, reality bounced back quickly and she remembered exactly where she was.
Peering through the acrid smoke, she searched desperately upwards for signs of Rez and his big chopper. The explosion had temporarily deafened her, so she couldn’t be sure if she could hear the copter fluttering away or not. Then the smoke cleared, and the great clanking machine – now miraculously repaired, and as a special bonus now shaped and coloured exactly like TC’s helicopter from Magnum, P.I. – bounced around happily in the primary blue-yellow-red sky. Rez, looking ecstatic though somewhat shaken up, gave her the thumbs-up. He then pointed at the rainbow which was still wedged between the two buildings. He was gesticulating wildly, urging her to use it as her escape route before it disappeared into the midday haze.
She nodded, took a deep breath, crouched unsteadily on the balls of her feet, and – her rucksack with its Rainbow Gun cargo dangling from one hand – leapt precipitously into the void. Beguiling hues swirled through her head, and her feet sloshed into a snaking red carpet, extending away from her like a giant whale’s tongue. She slid helter-skelter down the red slide, orange and yellow butterflies flitting around her head. Although the rainbow’s surface both held her and gave way as she slid down its side, she was having trouble keeping her balance. Feet are just not designed to be used as a surfboard.
Ahead of her, a line of giant, pulsating strawberries beckoned. She dived at them, laughing with wonder, collected them all. Unlike in neat, clinical videogames where the fruit would disappear as she picked it up, these strawberries splattered and smothered her with their fruity goo. Effervescent gunk streaming down her face, she wiped her eyes and collapsed headlong, no longer able to keep her balance. By a miracle she landed on a tiny hoverboard, which swept her away on her stomach. Gasping, she clambered up, placed her feet on her new friend, and fought for balance as the hoverboard whisked her onwards through teeming MSN(TM)-style butterflies and translucent floating multicoloured mushrooms.
Unlike in most platform videogames, she wasn’t the only protagonist. A war was going on around her, hampered by the almost linear nature of this slippy-slidy rainbow world. The MSN(TM)-style butterflies were flitting around the heads of a row of tiny but menacing little penguins. The Tux-a-likes were grabbing jewels from where they hovered in neatly arranged little rows – rubies on rails – and hurling them into the air like extravagant hand-grenades. The rubies exploded in the vicinity of the butterflies, scattering them like dust clouds which quickly came back together once each mini-shockwave had dissipated.
Reality lurched; the rainbow was starting to fade. Whatever it was, wherever it had come from, it had spent enough time in our mundane world and was about to flipflop back to Some Other Place. Raising her right hand and grabbing a stream of mushrooms that hovered just above her head, Analie urged the little hoverboard to go faster – she was still at least twenty storeys above street level.
Ahead, a small clump of the greenest trees she’d ever seen outside an Atari 2600 videogame blocked her way. A small ramp in front of the trees indicated fairly obviously what she needed to do. But next to the ramp, a curious five-legged creature, grinning from one edge of its body to the other, brandished what at first appeared to be a large egg-shaped ball. Very quickly she realised that the creature was preparing to throw Chester’s head at her. His eyes were little crosses and his mouth hung open in a grotesque leer. Smoke from the rocket explosion had blackened his spotty face, and his once-curvy ears were now shaped like an expensive variety of square-cut potato-skin chips.
She had one shot at this. Chester’s head spun through the rainbow haze at her. She ducked down, realizing that this might actually turn out to be quite easy – a training-level manoeuvre. Then Chester’s head lurched erratically in midair and changed course. Unrealistic physics: or he’d bounced off of an invisible boundary. Either way... The singed head walloped into her, his toasted, flaky lips planting one square on her mouth. Gagging, she fell backwards off the little hoverboard, spitting flecks of lip-toast. She tumbled sprawling into a pile of glowing mushrooms, glaring up at the triumphant five-legged creature. “That was unfair!” she spat. The rainbow chose that moment to disappear entirely, and – still eighteen or nineteen stories above the sidewalk – Analie realized that this was almost certainly the end. How arse-wipingly unfair, she thought. She’d done what she was meant to do: dispatched the villain. Wasn’t she supposed to survive? How the hell were they going to do a sequel? Fucking resurrect her? She’d be all flattened from the impact with the sidewalk.
Gravity returned from its coffee-break, and she fell, plummeted, towards the ground.
IN THE NEXT EPISODE:Virus Hunters hide out in an abandoned subway station (with hilarious results).