Clingdog had always been viewed as the weakest link in the VirusHunters(TM) team. Actually he hadn’t, but that’d always been his perception. Now the last-but-one remaining member of the team, he was determined to prove his dead comrades wrong. Luckily, he did have an ace up his sleeve, kind of.
The keycard that the tiny bald hotelier had issued to them nestled in the left pocket of his grimy Chinos. In his right pocket, he fumbled absentmindedly with a miniature smartcard reader/writer: something that he always carried around on his person, just in case.
Crouching in the doorway to the roof steps, he pulled his smartphone out of his back pocket. It contained a Java app that he’d written while toying around with the incredibly cool Java Micro Edition (JME) support in NetBeans late one night, during a lull in the normally incessant stream of killer viruses flooding the world. Just like anyone else trying out the incredibly cool JME support in NetBeans, he hadn’t seriously considered using this in a production app; but he’d never suspected that his toy midlet would one day save his life.
All he needed to make this work was the reality-warping dongle currently plugged into Analie's Zaurus – ah, crap, he thought, staring up at the empty sky where the bucking helicopter had so recently been. His master plan had failed before he'd even started. Oh, well, just one thing for it then...
He bounded down the stairwell, and, letting out a high-pitched battle scream, charged headlong into the trio of Hash Street kids who were waiting in ambush at the foot of the stairs. The Kidz were so surprised by his full-on assault that they fell over backwards; and by the time they thought to raise their high-tech weapons, Clingdog had disappeared.
He sprinted down the street, pausing at the corner to gulp down air, nearly dead from oxygen starvation. Then he headed off again in roughly the direction that the helicopter had headed, towards lower Manhattan. Around him, the early morning city was starting to come to life. Just one thing was going through his mind: with the gaggle of virus writers that he'd plunged past in the hotel stairwell, Chester hadn't been among them: so he must be out there right now, zeroing in on Analie's location just as Clingdog currently was.
He trotted, panting like an arctic fox escaping from an impoverished polar bear, past street pedlars setting up their warez stalls backing onto side alleys, past chrome-lined breakfast diners and tobacco stores, until eventually he burst out of the disturbing 1950s timewarp that he'd inadvertently slipped into – barely noticing in his dazed “morning after the night before” state – and found himself near the lower end of Hudson Street. He'd caught sight of Rez's copter a few times, reassuring him that he was heading in the right direction. Then, he found himself directly beneath the whomping bird, which thumped around in the sky above the dizzying row of gleaming skyscrapers. As he stared, he realised (without quite believing what he was seeing) that Analie had somehow fallen from the helicopter and landed on a narrow ledge, an improbable distance above street level.
“How the hell...” Clingdog muttered, but the expression stuck in his throat. Across the street from Analie, he could see Chester, calmly piecing together an evil-looking contraption (an M-160 rocket launcher, Clingdog would later learn).
The sound of cheap plastic shattering brought Clingdog quickly back to street-level: Analie's i-Jams had just crashed into the pavement a few feet away, transforming the sleek glasses into a small pile of black and silver dust.
“Shit,” he said helplessly, wracking his brains. As he looked up, something else – another cheap plastic-wrapped device – was falling his way. Ever the Orisinal fan, he toyed with the idea of tossing up an umbrella so the device could float down safely. Instead, he held out his hands, eyes squeezed tightly closed; and miraculously, he caught Analie's Zaurus palmtop. He clutched the intact device to his chest, panting from the shock.
“I may not be able to throw,” he said to himself, “but I sure as hell can catch.” Without pausing to think, he whipped out his pocket smartcard reader/writer and the hotel keycard, yanked the matter transmogrification dongle out the back of the Zaurus, plugged the matter transmogrification dongle into the smartcard reader/writer, and slotted in the hotel keycard.
Then he paused to actually think about what he was doing, and reversed the process: unplugged the smartcard reader/writer from the matter transmogrification dongle, rejoined the Zaurus and the dongle, and finally plugged the smartcard reader/writer into a spare port on the Zaurus. Then he switched it all on, and executed the little JME midlet that he'd written using the incredibly cool NetBeans JME module.
There was a crack and a fizz, and the matter transmogrification dongle spat a sniper rifle into existence. Squeaking with joy at this unexpected success, Clingdog leapt over and grabbed the rifle. This was all proving rather too easy.
Of course, that was the point when life got tricky again, dammit. There was another crack and fizz, and the sniper rifle shrank in Clingdog's hands. He looked around with shock, and saw his boss, Hank the burly Texan, brandishing a nasty-looking weapon. It reminded Clingdog of the shrinkalizer gun from Duke Nukem 3D; of course, staring down at the tiny sniper rifle that now wobbled uselessly on his upturned palm like a little plastic Action Man accessory, he'd had a fairly major clue.
“Can’t let you use that, son,” Hank barked, stepping in front of him and pointing the Duke Shrinkem gun in his general direction. “You see... Chester’s really my son. And... well dang, I’m gonna have to kill you now so I may as well tell y’all the truth... Virus Hunters has always just been part of a greater scheme: an unwitting pr0n in a grand plot to extort money from the biggest corporations and the richest countries I could find on Wikipedia. See, the Hash Street Kids were on my payroll too. It was yin and yang, the perfect balance. Create a demand and then supply the solution. At a premium rate, of course.”
“Holy fuckaroonees,” said Clingdog, “I really didn’t see that coming. If you’d just said ‘Soylent Green is people’ to me, I would’ve been less surprised.”
Hank held the Shrinkalizer ready; it made a humming noise, powering up ready to fire again.
Frantically, Clingdog fiddled with the tiny sniper rifle. The rifle butt was barely large enough to hold between his fingertips, but – ever hopeful – he pointed it towards his boss. The trigger was too tiny to pull, of course: shit, never a pair of tweezers when you need them, he thought furiously.
Above them, a shimmering rainbow had cast a curious haze between the buildings on opposite sides of the street. Effervescent mushrooms were exploding as Analie surfed through them. Chester was already dead; a strange monster thing was preparing to bowl the virus writer's singed head at Analie. Back at street level, Hank's Shrinkalizer pinged, all powered up and ready to fire. He leveled the gun at Clingdog's ajna chakra.
Just then, dead Chester's head landed square on Hank's head, the flaky burnt skin fusing onto Hank's marine-buzz cut like Velcro. Screaming like a telefragged zombie caught in a stasis field at just the wrong moment, Hank fought with both hands to rip away the head of his deceased son, whirling around on the pavement, the Shrinkalizer gun dropped in his moment of panic and revulsion.
Quick as a travelling spirit pinging hurriedly back to its corporeal body after it ventured a little too far and realised with a shock the truly alien nature of our universe, Clingdog scooped up the gun and fired it at Hank. There was a crack and a fizzle.
Clingdog watched Hank shrivel to the size of a walnut, then stomped on him. Chester's head rolled away unnoticed. “Get thee into my SpamAssassin killfile, mother-fucker,” he quipped at his corpuscular ex-boss, mainly just so that he would have something interesting to tell Analie later. Then, with a thud, he remembered Analie’s predicament.
He stared up at the dissolving rainbow, heart in throat. Luckily, not literally. Analie had grabbed the little hoverboard and was scooting groundwards, eyes rolling and mouth zigzagged with intent focus. Clingdog ripped the smartcard reader/writer out of the Zaurus, and – barely remembering the nano-script that Analie had executed on the bald guy in the pharmacy while Clingdog was in his pain-blackened, one-handed state – fumbled for the Ruby script and launched it.
In the ostensibly hacker-proof power grid beneath the Manhattan sidewalk, an army of nanobots marched: much faster than they had in the pharmacy, as the plot now called for a more or less instant result if it was all going to hang together. Then, instantly, the ground began to shimmer, losing its traction as it regressed into wet cement.
The rainbow disappeared, and Analie fell, plummeted towards the ground. She hit the sidewalk but didn't immediately stop falling. Instead, the ground appeared to swallow her up, as if she'd fallen into a giant marshmallow; then she bounced back into the air, just like that scene in The Matrix, and splatted into a crumpled heap in the sloppy cement (unlike that scene). She was bruised and rather bewildered, but alive.
Clingdog ran up to her, careful not to fall with her into the mushy quicksand that moments earlier had been the sidewalk.
“I had to kill Hank,” he said apologetically as he pulled Analie out of the grey goo. “I used a brilliant dispatch line. You should have heard me! I said –”
“There are easier ways to quit than killing your boss,” she admonished, too grateful that he’d just saved her life – and validated the usefulness of her Ruby script in a mission-critical situation – to really lay into him over something like that.
“No, you don’t understand,” he said hastily, as they fell into a desperate sort of embrace. “He was Chester’s father all along. And he knew that Chester was a virus writer. All that time, Hank had been feeding both us and the Hash Kids, playing us off against each other. It was all for the money: create a threat to big businesses, then magically appear with a complicated, high-risk solution, and charge them megabucks for the privilege.”
They kissed. Despite the lack of a romantic build-up, it seemed like the right thing to do. Naturally, Analie gagged uncontrollably, as Clingdog hadn’t brushed his teeth for over a week. But the good intentions were there.
“So what now?” she asked, holding him around his slightly rank waist. “Get a job for a real software company? Suit and tie? Writing payroll applications for corporates?”
“I hear Kaspersky are hiring,” he replied, half-ironically. “I doubt their enemies go chasing after their programmers with rocket launchers.”
“As long as their boss doesn’t live on an island!” she quipped, and they both belly-laughed, doing their cheesy Scooby-Doo ending thing as the screen faded out.
IN THE NEXT EPISODE: There isn't one, that's it.