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02.11.03

 
jenna and me
 
by Rudy Rucker & Rudy Rucker, Jr.
 
 
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George Bush doesn't sound as mean and stupid as I would have expected. Or maybe I'm just in a frame of mind to cut him slack. There are three armed Secret Service men here in my bedroom/Dogyears-World-Headquarters.

They've been here for about half an hour. I'm mentally calling them the Boss, the Trainee, and the Muscle. The Boss and the Muscle are wearing Ray-Ban mirror shades — they're living the dream, true Men in Black. They have guns, and if they want to, they can kill me. I'm polite.

The Trainee's been doing the talking, he's a guy my age, a fellow U. C. Berkeley graduate, or so he says, not that I ever saw him at any of the places I used to hang, like the Engineering Library, Cloyne Co-op or Gilman St. His name is Brad. All the SS guys have 4 letter, monosyllable names. Dick, John, Mark, Jeff, like that. I'm Wag. My dog made up the name.

Brad starts out by asking me questions about my web sites, and about the FoneFoon cell phone worm, being vaguely threatening but a little jocular at the same time, the way these field-ops always are. It's like they try and give off this vibe that they already know everything about you, so you might as well go ahead and roll over onto your back and piss on yourself like a frightened dog.

This isn't the first time the Secret Service has come to see me. The ultimate cause for their interest is that I run a small ISP company called Dogyears. "ISP" as in "Information Service Provider." If you don't want to deed your inalienable God-given share of cyberspace over to Pig Business, you can get your email and web access through my excellent www.dogyears.net instead of through the spam-pimps at AOL. Dogyears offers very reasonable rates, so do check us out.

The hardware side of my Dogyears ISP is a phonebooth-sized wire cage of machines in a server hotel in South San Francisco. I pay a monthly fee and the server hotel gives me my own special wire, the magic Net wire, the proverbial snake-charmer's rope leading up into the sky. You'd think it would be a big fat wire, like one of those garden-hose-sized electrical conduits you see at step-down voltage transformer stations in the cruddier, more industrial parts of town such as the Islais Creek neighborhood where I actually live, but, no, the Net wire is standard 20 gauge copper.

Since I run my own ISP, my internet access can't be terminated easily. I put any whacked-out thing I like on my ISP, and so do my clients. And this is why both the Secret Service and the FBI are darkening my door, the SS about my Prexy Twins site, and the FBI about the FoneFoon worm that's recently dumped sixty terabytes of digital cell phone conversations onto one of my servers' hard drives.

The FoneFoon worm account is under the name of eatshit@killthepig.com, and I'm honestly unable to tell the FBI who that really is. They want my sixty Tb of phone conversations for their "ongoing investigation" and I've been stalling them, simply for the sake of the innocents whose cell phones were hacked. Also I've been cobbling together a browser so I can troll through the conversation records for laughs.

In any case, I'm quite sure it's The Prexy Twins, not FoneFoon, that brings the Secret Service here today. Prexy Twins, www.prexytwins.com, is my online zine about the Bush girls. I have photos from the National Enquirer, rewrites of gossip, links, polls, and fun little webbie gimmicks like a rollover to change Jenna's hair color. The site has a guest book where people write things in. "Fuck" becomes "kiss," "shit" becomes "poo," and the obscene "Republican or Democrat" becomes "elephant or donkey". Good clean fun. Now and then somebody posts a death threat against the Bushes, but I take those off manually when I notice them, and if I don't notice them, the SS phones me up to ask who posted them.

The SS guys came in person to my bedroom/Dogyears-World-Headquarters two days after The Prexy Twins went up, just to find out where I'm at. But they could see that I have pure intentions and a clear conscience. I only do the site for — um, why do I run a web site about the Bush girls anyway? Partly it's to game the media and to garner hits. It's a kind of art project, too, despite the fact that even goobs like it.

I enjoy the feeling of having a smidgen of control over the news. I think it's nice that the twins drink, for instance, and that old people get so whipped up about it. And, yes, I get a kick out of Jenna. She looks so nasty that I'd like to scrub her with a wire brush. Not that I'm telling this to the S.S. Or, for that matter, to my girlfriend Mirabella. The less I talk to her about Jenna in my special slobbering Jenna-fan voice, the better!

The June day that I'm telling you about starts out foggy. My bedroom/Dogyears-World-Headquarters is quite near the San Francisco Bay, in an industrial shipping district. I'm staring out of my window, watching the early morning habits of the local tweakers. A place called Universal Metals is across from my window. The tweakers bring scrap or scavenged metal there to trade for money to buy methedrine, which sends them scurrying out for more metal. Tweakers talk almost all the time, whether or not anyone's near them. Studying the ant-like activity of the tweakers can keep me occupied for hours — you can almost see the pheromone trails and scent plumes they leave behind.

Today there's one who's scored a huge amount of copper wire, I know him a little bit, the other tweakers call him Rumbo. Rumbo is shirtless, warmed by his own chemical furnace, wearing a handmade copper mesh helmet on his head, sitting on the curb making more mesh helmets with a pair of rusty pliers. His hands dance in the rhythmic, repetitive motions of a large industrial machine. I'm so busy watching Rumbo that I fail to notice when the black S.U.V. pulls up to the curb.

The doorbell rings, and then the three Men in Black are nosing around my partitioned-off box of warehouse space. My giant, over-friendly dog Larva is jumping up on them. Mirabella isn't here, she left early for her job installing phone cables. I have a sweet, faint memory of her kissing me goodbye on her way out at dawn.

It's not immediately clear what the SS wants. There haven't been any threatening posts in the guest book of late. Maybe this is just practice for the Trainee, who's asking lamer and lamer questions, like whether I have to pay for the bandwidth my site uses, duh. I'm not about to tell him I pay a thousand dollars a month, it would make me sound like a stalker. He's not going to grasp that significant media art like The Prexy Twins doesn't come cheap. Before I have to fake some kind of answer, the Boss's cell phone rings.

"It's for you, Wag," says the Boss without even answering it, which is kind of odd. He hands me the ringing phone from the inside of his coat. For a second I can see his pistol in his shoulder holster. The phone is a heavy little jobbie with a scramble unit clamped onto its base, the kind of thing my hacker friend Ben Blank would love take apart and analyze. Not that I'm thinking about Ben right now. I'm too busy wondering who the SS has for me on the phone.

"Hiii, Wag, this here's President George Bush," goes the telephone voice. "How you today?"

I'm quite surprised. "I'm doing well."

"Let's get right to the point," says George. "I got an unusual type of, kind of problem situation on our hands. One of my advisers, Condoleezza, she estimates, opinionizes, that you can he'p us out. Did a search and you popped outta the spook data bases or some such, we're graspin' at straws. My family and I'd be most appreciating that you would take on an advisorial role — fly down a day or two of your time. Down to my ranch in Crawford, Texas."

"Will, um, Jenna be there?" I can't make much sense of what George is saying, and I'm jumping to the conclusion that he's calling because Jenna wants to meet me. She's got to be looking at my site, right, twenty-seven percent of my hits are from Austin, and I've got a really bitchin' photo of myself posted if you mouse around for it, shows me bearded, blank-faced, and with a third eye Photoshopped into the middle of my forehead. How could any country cowgirl fail to be intrigued? Yes, Jenna's half in love with me and she's been begging Daddy to fly me down like to help her with her University of Texas remedial math homework or to give a talk about starting your own ISP to her business class. Jenna's redneck volleyball friends won't like me, goes without saying, but I'll win them over and what the fuck is wrong with me anyway, am I completely nuts? I don't even like Jenna Bush, honest.

"Yes and no," answers George, sounding sad. A pause and then he switches to the bullying Presidential tone you hear on the news clips. I've never seen him on T. V., actually, but I've downloaded plenty of video. When I look at a screen, it's got to be something I can hack.

"And that is exactly precisely the problem you gone haveta he'p us deal with," George declaims. "I'm not gonna describe it to you on the, not paint a picture on the telephone. The operatives are in place to bring you in."

Go to Texas? What a truly bizarre thought. Like going to Antarctica or to the inside of the Sun. Maybe this is all a put-on. The voice sounds a lot like George Bush, but on the other hand it's just possible that it's Ben Blank.

Ben and his friends in the Mummy Bum Cult posse are deep into voice filters and digital phone phreaking. They rent a basement under Market Street with, yes, an actual mummified bum in one of the far corners, a decades-old corpse that's air-cured down to leather 'n bone.

Ben likes talk about advanced A. I. tricks like evolving neural nets, but in fact he and the other Mummy Bums tend to slap together undocumented opcode hacks with never a thought to remembering what they've done. The main neural nets he's evolving are the ones in his skull. But the Mummy Bums get some surprising things to work, which is why I'm half-wondering if this Bush call might be one of their pranks.

I look across my room at the Men in Black. They have metal wrist-watches, shiny shoes and gel in their hair. Man, these are definitely government agents. The Boss SS man makes an impatient gesture, wanting me to hurry up and answer George fucking Bush.

"I normally charge a consultant's fee," I say. Like this kind of request comes up all the time. "And travel."

"Don't nevermind about paperwork," says George. "My boys will reimburse anything reasonable. Keep it under your, keep your lip shut off the record. I'll see you tonight. We'll have barbeque. Lemmie have a last word with my agent."

So I hand the phone to the Boss, he does a few yessirs, hangs up, and then says something to his men — not a real word, just a number. Something like, "Let's 466 the site."

The action-code sets the Muscle and Brad the Trainee to clearing away my piles of dirty clothes so they can get at my computer. They're gonna take my machines, which happens to be just what the FBI has been itching to do on account of the FoneFoon worm, but I've been making them wait for their court order to come through, and even then I'm only going to copy stuff onto DVDs for them, not hand over my sacred machine! I try and explain this to the Boss, but he waves me off. The SS doesn't worry about legal shit. And if I try and stop them, they might kill me.

I do some yoga breaths and force a grin as the Muscle yanks loose my sacred beige box, snapping its cables like the nerves and blood vessels of a crudely extracted tooth. Ow. And then my other machine as well. Yoga breath.

Well, whatever happens, my info's secure; I can pretty easily recover it. First of all, it's stored on the Dogyears servers. And if, Dog forbid, something were to happen to those, I've been using a very gnarly Mummy Bum hack for saving my data in watermark form.

Something like a big image or a sound file, you can flip some tiny percentage of the bits, and it'll look or sound about the same. And you can use these flipped bits to save data you care about. It's called a digital watermark. The word "watermark" is from the way you can hold a dollar bill or a quality sheet of paper up to the light and see a pattern of light and dark, which is the old kind of watermark. The Mummy Bums have a killer little applet that'll break into a target server and munge your whole hard disk contents into watermarks in the sounds and pictures on the server. Me, I've got Dogyears backed up onto an Amsterdam music site. When you listen to the Lincoln Logs play "Stink Bowl," you're reading my email, dude.

"Can I keep this?" I say, holding up my laptop. "There's no particular data on it, I just need it to — to think and live and breathe." The Boss nods.

I pack the laptop and some relatively clean backup clothes in a little canvas bag, and then I pause to handwrite a note to Mirabella. "Gone to Texas with the Men in Black! Don't worry. Consulting gig. Back soon, I'll call tonight. XXX Love, Wag." Writing the note I'm thinking about Mirabella's high cheekbones and the curl of her lips. Her purring voice. She's exotic. I don't mention Jenna or George Bush on the note.

My housemate Charles is in the shower, talking to himself in a variety of British-sounding voices like he always does. Like, "Hello, Professor Elbow! After you, sir Smelly Ankle. Cor, I never seen the like o' this rain!" Charles is surprised when he steps out wrapped in a towel and sees me with the Men in Black. He kindly agrees to keep an eye on Larva while I'm gone.

And then we're outside. The black S.U.V's stubby antennas have attracted the attention of Rumbo the copper-helmeted tweaker. In the minute and a half it takes The Muscle to stash my computers in the back, Rumbo has ranted three-point-seven hours' worth of convolutional thought patterns.

"Yep, a whole gollywog pile of copper down by the Bay," squeaks the tweak. "Piles of microwaves storm through our heads. Don't forget to recycle the wire in Wag's computers. Train tracks got copper under em: I've seen it. I'll strip it all out for you and give you half the profit, you ride shotgun and haul the load. Any monocrystalline copper, I keep for my helmet, you understand. There's enough copper in my hat to string it around the entire Bay. Copper helmets protect the Head from the Microwaves. See that little box with the antenna on the lamppost? They're on every block. 5.4 gigahertz. Repeaters peaters peaters peaters peaters... This city is gonna be full of slave servo brain matter, I tell you."

"You know this individual?" asks the Boss. "He's among your circle of friends?"

"I know him just a bit." A few months back, I let Rumbo show me what he said was the secret labyrinth path into a really choice abandoned warehouse I'm curious about. This was before Rumbo got into his copper coat-of-mail helmet-against-microwaves thing. Back then he was more into a Lord of the Rings bag. We walked around through empty sewers for a couple of hours with flashlights, Rumbo leading me, my sister, and Charles. Charles says he took acid 300 times and 250 of the times were horrible bummers; he says he's a slow learner. But Charles was the one who finally realized it was nuts to be walking around inside a sewer with a tweaker leading the way. The fact that Charles figured this out before me makes me wonder about myself. I think I'm spending too much time on my computer.

The Boss Man in Black is staring at me. For a second I have a bad feeling I've just said all these thoughts out loud. But, no, he's just doing the intimidation-via-eye-contact thing. I for sure don't want to engage in any conversation about the lamppost cell antennas at this time. The FoneFoon caper clued me to the potency of those little boxes. "Rumbo's harmless," is all I say. For his part, Rumbo's had enough of the federal stink-eye, he's back on the curb across the street, his twitching hands busy with the pliers and the wire.

But the Boss is still watching Rumbo. "Deploy the 776," he tells the Muscle. "Might as well take care of that mission, too. I'd say this looks like the ideal neighborhood." The big guy goes around to the back of the S.U.V. and opens it up again. He's going to leave my computers after all? But, no, he's digging down into the spare tire compartment, pulling out a dusty white brick tightly wrapped in transparent plastic. The way he's glancing around makes it clear he's doing something shady. And now he pitches the brick across the street; it slides to a stop right near Rumbo. It's a fucking key of meth!

"Look what fell off Santa's sleigh!" whoops Rumbo.

As we drive off, a horde of tweakers converges on the brick.

We head south towards San Francisco Airport, which seems fine to me. But then, shit, it turns out the Men In Black want to make a side-trip to the server hotel to bag the rest of my Dogyears hardware. They're fully out to ruin my business. All these insidious connections between AOL and the Elephant party are filling my head as we ride the elevator to the server hotel's third floor.

The building has major security, it's full of cameras and hand scanning equipment. I have a white card with the a hologram of the ProxPass logo. ProxPass has a monopoly on all the hand scanners in the USA. Every now and then, another business or ISP will get hacked and they'll hire me to harden their servers. They tell me a building and locker number, call up ProxPass headquarters, and voila: my ProxPass card and palm grant me access to another server room. The ProxPass logo has a nonsensical graphic of some computer circuit. Normally, I open doors by pressing my pass to a black square on the wall, stick my hand in a gray box, wait three seconds for the click of the door lock, and then pull the door open. The delay is due to all the gray boxes talking to a central ProxPass server somewhere in Texas. Before George came into office, there wasn't a delay. ProxPass's fast peer-to-peer authentication was replaced with a country wide big-brothering system. I'm pretty sure it has something to do with the Elephants getting paid off by AOL.

The Boss walks up to the scanner on the third floor, and pulls out an ultra blue card with a little hologram of — is that Jenna? I can't believe my eyes! The door clicks open when the Boss's card is still a foot away from the reader. No hand scan or network check needed with an SS Jenna Card!

The server room is noisy and cold. On those rare hot days in San Francisco, I walk my dog down to the server hotel, and check my email in the cool confines of the Internet backbone. After spending an hour in the server room, I start to have auditory hallucinations. My mind always tries to pull sense out of chaotic patterns.

No one else ever hangs out in the server room except Ben Blank. In fact, he rents a whole three foot by five foot cage and has a little office desk and a mini keyboard called the Happy Hacker. Most people do a minimal configuration on their servers and then return to cubicle land. Not Ben, he likes the idea of being directly connected to his hardware. He says the only safe network is a network of two computers.

Ben's computers are a mess of old hardware cobbled together. His view screen, for instance, is six text-lines high, he scavenged it off a Mattel Speak And Spell toy. I've been known to tease Ben by comparing his using retrofitted electronics to the tweakers making stuff out of like shopping carts. Ben insists that, even so, his stuff is better than mine. He's quite oblivious to the stellar quality of the superfine multi-processor machines Dogyears assembles for their clients. My lovely white server towers are boxes the size of suitcases, with fans like kitchen ventilators.

On a normal day, I talk face to face with Ben when I come in. Ben always talks real fast about parallel computing and hyperspace and genetic algorithms, and I always tell him sure, sure. Usually after we do the voice greeting, I log into a chat window and talk some more to Ben across the room through the copper wires running through the building. Ben prefers old school chat over face to face. He'll be chatting to his mother, the Mummy Bum Cult group, Rotten.com employees, his girlfriend Hexy on the Peninsula, and me — all at the same time. On chat, he logs all the conversations and refers back to old chat sessions endlessly. He wants to devolve his neural net's need for in-skull short or long term memory.

Not that he's fully an out-of-it zombie. Today he instantly understands what kind of deal is going down, and he gives me a heart-felt look of sympathy.

The feds yank out power and Ethernet cables from the Dogyears servers, hideously bringing down my ISP. My poor, orphaned customers! Ben yelps in pain and anger. Hearing the intensity in Ben's voice, The Boss senses the possibility of him turning berserker. He wheels around, his gun magically moved to his hand from his holster. It's up to him to show Brad how it's done. Ben returns to his hacking.

As my plugs are being pulled on my top two machines, I notice the power LEDs on the bottom three machines in my stack of five are cycling up and down. It reminds me of the Knight Rider car from that old TV show. That's my emergency Mummy Bum Cult backup system, watermarking my more recent files into the workers' porno library on an oil rig in the middle of the North Sea. My list of customers is, like, being tattooed on some Scandinavian Pam Anderson's boob. Glancing over at Ben again I can see an eye slyly rolled my way behind his honkin' big glasses. He's noticing my ongoing backup too. The Pig can try and stop us, but they'll never ever win.

The Muscle has the Prexy Twins server under one arm, and the FoneFoon hard-drive jukebox server under the other. At first I think they're going to spare my other servers; I have eight of them to host the Dogyears accounts and some bottom-feeder dotcom outfits who co-locate with me. But now the Boss takes out a conical device with copper windings around it and taps it on the six remaining servers, one by one. A directional magneto cone. Their RAM, ROM, and hard drives are gone. My flashing LEDs are blank and dead.

As of right now, my customers have no service. They'll be leaving me for Time-Warner-AOL if this goes on for long. Elephant poo.

Brad accompanies me to Texas, on Southwest Air; the others stay in San Francisco. He and I sit in the front row of the first class section. I've never flown first class before. Free drinks and shrimp cocktail. Under us the desert terrain of Nevada rolls by. I have the window seat, and wouldn't you know it, when we're passing Area 51, I look up and see a UFO high in the sky.

At first I want to think it's another plane, but it's not acting like a plane. It's a few thousand feet above us, matching our route and speed so accurately that I wonder if it might be some kind of reflection in the window glass. But no matter which way I angle my head, it's still there, a polyhedral shape, not an airplane shape, a tumbling polyhedron like a pyramid or a cube but with many more sides, rolling over and over and over like a wheel matching our pace.

"What are you looking at, Wag?" asks Brad.

"It's a UFO," I say leaning back to he can push his head close to the window.

"I'd rather trade seats than lean across you," says Brad. "You're in custody." He doesn't want to expose his neck to a felonious karate chop.

So we swap, and Brad peers out and he sees the UFO too. He gets excited and calls the stewardess back to ask her a question or two, and the stewardess goes up to talk to the pilot. Right away the pilot's voice comes on the speakers, talking that relaxed low-blood-pressure Middle-American drawl. "If you look out to our right, one o'clock high, you'll see a Nevada weather balloon."

"Some balloon," mutters Brad, but he doesn't want to talk about it any more than that. Instead he jumps to a fresh topic. "You ever had oxblood burger?" he asks. "No? That's what the President likes to make. Juicy, mmm good."

In Austin there's a couple more Men in Black to meet us. A burr-haired one is in charge, and the other one has a neck as wide as his head. To keep it simple for me, I garbage-collect their names and label them with the Boss_tx and Muscle_tx handles. That saves me a couple-three memory clusters in my skull-based neural nets.

The surprise in Austin is that they've shipped my Dogyears server with the jukebox-hard drive with us, wrapped up in a government courier bags. It's the first thing out on the baggage belt. Why exactly will I be needing the sixty terabytes of FoneFoon data for this gig?

The Muscle_tx bundles the massive box under his arms like a notebook. And then we're out in the hot odorless air, boarding their S.U.V. for the drive to Crawford, Texas.

It's early evening when we arrive. Pink light filters through thick barbeque smoke in the back yard of the Presidential ranch. George is grilling with a NA Beer in one hand and a 3-foot Texas-size spatula in the other. There's a satellite dish on the ground next to his house, just like any other house in Texas. At first it looks like it's just George, some SS agents and a middle-aged guy with flesh-colored frames on his glasses.

"Welcome to my spread, Wag," says George. He jerks his thumb at the middle-aged guy. "This here's Doc Renshaw. He's a neurologian, a brain doctor, an asshole and a jerk." He didn't sound like he was kidding. He really didn't like this guy. "Renshaw, this is Wag, the fella we been talkin' about."

Breathing hard, the President hands the spatula off to a Brad and pushes aside the hanging branches of a weeping willow tree beside the grill. Under the willow is a picnic table.

Jenna's sitting there, blank and drooling. It's almost like someone's held a directional magneto cone up to her head. Jenna's been erased! George and I sit down across from her, the SS guys hanging back a bit, Renshaw peeking in.

"She's gone to the circus, and she's not comin' back," George says mournfully. "Go ahead and talk to her. She knows when somebody talks to her."

"Uh, hi Jenna," I say lamely. Here I finally am with Jenna, and that's the best I can do? She looks kind of hot with that thin stand of drool dripping onto her pale blue spaghetti-strap sundress. Immediately I have two thoughts: I can't think that way it's sick, and I hope I get her alone.

Gathering composure from the thought of getting Jenna alone and really giving her a good scrub with a wire brush, I turn on my charm for the President of the United States of America. I figure it's better to start with flattering him a little before trying to figure out what to say about blank Jenna. "That barbeque meat smells good," I say. "Like oxblood."

"Yep, we've got the oxblood burgers," says George with no smirk, no cocky tilt of the head. He's just staring at Jenna, looking worried. This isn't the animatronic George of the news clips. "Let me cut to the point, Wag. Jenna has a problem, hell, you can see that yourself. Amsneezia, asphrasia — those twenty-dollar doctor words. She can't remember shit, what it is. This scumbag Renshaw says we're lucky she can still breathe and do her body functions."

A nasty rotten part of me gloats over the thought of those body functions. It's hard to believe I'm right here looking at Jenna Bush. But she's not looking at me. There's nobody home. George hops to his feet and returns with two towering burgers.

"Burger, Jenna?" he says softly.

Jenna's lips move, she says, "OK."

George sets the plates in front of Jenna and me; we begin eating.

"All Jenna does is say OK anymore," says George. "It happened last month. Jenna and Noelle were supposed to attend some big-ass dress show over in, over there."

Facts are jumping around in my head. I like collecting info and looking for patterns. Noelle was busted for a fake drug scrip the week after the Versace show in London. The scrip was for Xanax, and why would anyone bother getting arrested for a mild anti-depressant? Well, Xanax's street use is as a comedown drug from ecstasy — or crack. The media didn't report that Noelle and Jenna were in England at that fashion show. In fact, it was the previous first daughter, Chelsea Clinton, who was hanging out with Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow in front of the Versace runway.

"Versace?" I say, just to be sure.

George nods at me, then glares over his shoulder at Renshaw, who's craning in under the willow tree as well. "See how Wag's little noggin's straining to piece together the puzzle?" he says. "Too bad I didn't have him here to second-guess you turds before you did your thing." And then he fixes his eyes back on mine, "OK, Wag. Of course all this is hush hush, this is Homeland Security Code Orange, but here's how the story began. Supposedly Noelle had some kind of goddamn pill she wanted to slip Chelsea Clinton, some kind of Mickey Finn. This was Jeb's idea, he got the drug from the Clik. Clik? It's the conspiracy elite, the secret government that never goes away. The ordnance labs, the spooks, the Cuban freedom fighters, the Fair Play for House of Saud committee — it's all Clik. The same crowd that took down JFK, same ones who threw the election my way, same ones who got in so goddamn tight with Osama. We Elephants never shoulda gotten in so deep with the Clik, but it's too late to back out now. I don't condone any of this, you understand, Wag. I'm not really that powerful of a man, I'd just as soon be back running the Rangers, watchin' the games with my two girls." He pats Jenna's hand, then wipes the drool off her chin. Her eyes were watching us as we talk, glittering with primitive, reptilian intelligence.

"Anyway, the Clik sold Jeb and me this crock of shit that they wanted to use Jenna as a delivery system," continues George. "Laura and I had just planned the trip as a spring fling. But Jeb's Clik handlers, they said Jenna, she's fun, more attractive, more likely to get close to Chelsea and hand off that goddamn pill. Chelsea's not likely to talk to Noelle. Jenna's supposed to tell Chelsea it's some kind of goddamn party drug, not that I'd call that a party, making yourself sick with a pill. Some new crap the Clik came up with, they call it Justfolx. Supposedly the pill is gonna, the pill somehow makes Chelsea into a real American, so she'll fight with Hilary, which is good for the Elephant Party, and what's good for the Elephants is good for the Clik, it's a win-win. But during the flight Jenna has a few drinks, she's like I used to be, just high spirits, she gets in a spat with Noelle. Noelle's always been one to needle her cousins, and Jenna's easy enough to fly off the handle when she — what was it Jenna said, Mike? Tell Wag the course of events. You were there, not exactly doing your job a hundred percent, I'd say. To frank the truth I wonder why I can't get them to fire you."

The Boss_tx and Doctor Renshaw have both sidled under the willow tree with us. "I told you I'm sorry, Mr. President," says the Man in Black. "I'm sure the Clik, I mean the Fair Play for House of Saud committee, they'll dock my pay, if it's called for, not that I feel they should. I was guarding the young women in close proximity, across the plane aisle. A fast-breaking chaotic situation developed. An argument. It seemed the young women were planning to split up when we disembarked. Fine, but then Noelle took out her Justfolx medication delivery system — the capsule. The plan was, as the President told you, Wag, for Noelle to hand the pill off to Jenna to give to Chelsea. And since the young women were seemingly going to split up, it seemed reasonable to me for Noelle to make the transfer at this time. Holding up the translucent red, football-shaped Justfolx capsule, Noelle stated, 'Can you remember to give Chelsea this, you drunk redneck?' To which Jenna replied, 'You dumb-ass pill-popping cracker, I'll show you how to party,' and thereupon swallowed the Justfolx pill. I executed a poison-control maneuver, induced vomiting. But the pill had dissolved. Jenna showed an extreme reaction. The plane landed in London, but we didn't get off the plane, much less did we alert the press. We cleaned the plane up, refueled, and flew back to Texas."

"The Justfolx pill is supposed to make you an Elephant?" I ask.

"Well it's not like a pill knows math, is it?" says George. "I understand the treatment was to reduce the, take away the know-it-all Rhodes scholar and so on, the high-horse attitude you'd see with a Hilary or a Chelsea Clinton."

In sounded like the dosage was designed to make Chelsea stupid enough to be an Elephant. And if you gave it to someone low down enough on the scale to already be an Elephant, well, it would make them into — a vegetable. So Jenna got erased.

Jenna makes a little noise then, kind of like a newborn kitten. "Mew?"

Awww.

"What can I do to help?" I ask patriotically. I'm getting used to Jenna's drool. She still has those nice round cheeks and clear eyes. I want to get her alone and test her body functions.

"That's the spirit," says George. "Working together. Tell him, Renshaw. You're the head Clik sleazeball here."

"We've conferenced with the FBI concerning your terabytes of cell phone calls from the FoneFoon worm," says Doctor Renshaw. "Now, as it happens, we know there was a copy of the worm on Jenna's phone. We estimate that you're in possession of some six full hours of Jenna's cell phone conversations. That's quite a lot, enough perhaps for her to have said nearly everything that she might be expected to believe. The first thing we want you to do, Wag, is to mine those conversations from the FoneFoon data set. Locate them and decrypt them."

"You mean I could have been listening to Jenna all along?" I burst out, and George gives me a sharp look. "Not that I would if you hadn't asked me to," I add.

Though I haven't actually gotten around to cracking the FoneFoon data yet, I know I can do it. Mining large data sets is a big-brother-type job I did for MegaMedia back at the peak of the dotcom era. They had an Automated Upgrade Feature whose function was to email them a transcript of the user's command actions for every session in which one of their products was used. With that hack under my belt, I feel sure I could find every byte of Jenna in the FoneFoon hoard.

"I can find the Jenna conversations for you," I say. "But why do you want them?"

"We want to use them to reprogram Jenna," said Renshaw simply. "But you should edit them first. Clear out certain self-defeating aspects of Jenna's personality. The alcohol problems and so on. It's our feeling that some fairly simple edits might do it. Remove any obscenity or strong language. Any references to sex, alcohol or drugs. Just make it a sunny G rating. I'm sure you understand."

Dubya lets out an impatient snort. "Jenna was fine the way she was," he insists.

I decide to avoid the dull-ass issue of censorship entirely and cut to the good stuff. "How would I program Jenna at all? " I ask.

"That's the key, Wag," says Renshaw, his glasses glinting in the setting sun. "We feel you have the skills to be of help in converting these digital records into what you might call contagious data. Contagious in that if we beam the tweaked call data into Jenna's Justfolx-treated brain, we might expect the data to take hold and multiply, to effectively recolonize her brain with its former flora and fauna of thought forms. In the Clik weapons labs — we got a little ahead of ourselves with Justfolx. The discovery of the compound was kind of an accident. An anonymous posting on the Clik-front Science Clearing House. Formula, production process, clinical actions, side-effects, the works. We could see the potential right away. It seemed bold to start right at the top. What we didn't tell the President when we suggested the mission was that, given Jenna's personality profile, we were quite sure she'd take the pill and eat it."

"Bastards," snapped Dubya. "Pricks." Now I get why he has it in for Renshaw.

"Pause," is the only thing I can think of saying. I look toward the last bit of light on the horizon. My blood pulses, I see ragged checkerboards in my eyes, patterns driven by the rays of the fading Texas sun. "Ready," I add after a bit. "Tell me more about beaming in the data."

"The Justfolx medication has the side-effect of putting the subject's cortex into a state of electromagnetic sensitivity, " says Renshaw. "That's the key clinical action. The aphasia is merely a side-effect. The pro forma plan was that we planned to beam Rush Limbaugh shows into Chelsea Clinton after giving her the drug. But the true plan is much richer. Your mission. Find Jenna's conversations, clean them up, make them contagious, and then we'll use a 5.4 Gigahertz transmitter to beam the info into Jenna's brain. She'll be good as new. Better."

"Bullshit," mutters the President. He's deeply pissed at having his daughter be the Clik's guinea pig.

Renshaw smiles ingratiatingly at George. "Really she'll be fine, Mr. President. And with the personality clean-up, we can put an end to the kinds of stories Wag posts on his web site. We can bring to a close this regrettable stage of Jenna's development. "

Me, I've got goose bumps from the mention of 5.4 gigahertz. That's the frequency that the FCC allows anyone to transmit wireless internet on. That's also the frequency used in the lamppost repeater boxes that the peer-to-peer cell phone company Ricochet put up before they went down the tubes. Most people think the repeaters are turned off now, but they're not. The tweakers know.

The potentialities of the hack expand in my mind like a supernova. The Justfolx drug can be dosed into peoples drinking water, they'll all turn Elephant or vegetable, but that's not the real point. The point is that once everyone's sensitized, AOL and the Clik and the Elephants and the Men in Black can start transmitting spam and telemarketing and political advertising right into our brains.

I turn the idea the other way around. A grave danger, but a wonderful opportunity. What if we broke free of the client/server model and went fully peer-to-peer? Let people send thoughts right at each other, with nothing in between. With Ben's help, maybe I could fix it so people could have direct electronic brain-to-brain contact. Peace, love, and radiotelepathy.

I take a deep yoga breath, broaden my shoulders and relax. One Nation Under a Groove. This is truly a project worthy of my time.

They give me a room at the ranch, me and the Dogyears machine and my laptop and, since I ask for it, a Thermos jug of coffee — though it tastes like it's from a Texas McDonald's. There's a big couch upholstered in calfskin with the hair still on it. Black and white spots like a Gateway shipping-carton. I'm supposed to get right to work, but for a few minutes I'm just trying to get down enough of their watery, scalding hot coffee to bring my cycles up. Standing at the window looking out at the strange Texas sky.

I'm still mind-boggled that the FoneFoon worm has zipped six hours of Jenna's phone conversations into my server. I could have been listening to her all along.

And then I start thinking about reprogramming Jenna's mind, about downloading her edited personality back onto her, having used her cell phone conversations as the source code. It's like I'm supposed to make the talk tape for a Mattel Barbie doll, with all the curse words snipped out.

The Clik — you had to hand it to them. Jenna had scarfed Noelle's Justfolx pill like Ms. Pac-Man gobbling a power pellet. Give Jenna a few drinks, show her a pill, uncha-yuncha-unch! I start goofing on that, imagining that when Jenna ate the Justfolx pill, she heard the Ms. Pac-Man power-up sound, that happy doodley-doodley-doo music. And then she turned into an 5.4-gigahertz-receptive Elephant vegetable.

There's still some pieces I don't understand. If the Clik knew all along they were going to reprogram Jenna, then they would have had to be sure that her cell phone conversations were being saved. The FoneFoon worm played perfectly into their plans. The Clik got Jenna's talk without actually tapping her. The thing is, I've thought all along that Ben Blank wrote the FoneFoon worm — not that I've asked him, which would be bad form. Could Ben be working for the Clik? And what about the UFO I saw from the plane? And what's the deal with the brick of meth the SS threw down for the tweakers? How does that fit in? Have I mentioned that I drink way too much coffee?

I pee and think of body functions and wonder about Jenna. Where in this rambling ranch house might she be stored? Mew? I go so far as to peek out of my room's door. The Muscle_tx is right there, not looking any too friendly. And when I lean out of my room's window, I see Brad in a lawn chair. He points at me, like, "Gotcha covered."

So finally I get to work. I connect my laptop to the Dogyears server box they brought along. Mining the conversations out of the data doesn't take all that long. I have a clip or two of Jenna's voice on the Prexy Twins site, and I'm able to write a Perl script to grep my terabytes of FoneFoon for her phoneme patterns. Right as I'm playing some of the files, kind of laughing at the things she says, my own cell phone rings. It's Mirabella.

"Wag, you're in Texas?"

"I'm at the President's ranch." I've got Jenna's voice playing in the background. She's ordering a pizza, hanging up, calling a friend about a picnic, talking to a boy, on and on.

"No way. Who's that talking, Wag? I hear a girl."

"It's Jenna. I — "

My phone goes dead. The Men in Black have cut me off. Great. Now Mirabella's heard just enough to think the worst. I open the door and ask the Muscle_tx for (a) a chance to call Mirabella back and (b) more coffee. He passes the requests along. All I get is the coffee.

The second next turns out to be harder, not technically so much as conceptually. Renshaw asked me to take the cursing, sex, alcohol, and drugs out of the conversations, so that the reprogrammed Jenna won't be a hell-raiser. But exactly why would I actually do things the Clik's way? They're too stupid and/or lazy to watch what I'm doing in here, so I'll do what I please. It's amazing, when you get right up face-to-face with them, how incredibly lame our lords and masters are. They're actually relying on my supposed patriotic rah-rah team spirit. It's like the Clik can't begin to imagine how much we despise them.

I toy with the idea of editing the conversations in exactly the opposite way they asked me to, leaving nothing but the juicy stuff. But there isn't really all that much juice, I realize, listening to the tapes. Jenna's pretty much a regular girl, doing normal things with her friends. I play the conversations speeded up so I can get a fast overview of them. Jenna's chirping at me like a bird. I start to feel a little sleazy to be listening to her, a little scuzzy for being the guy who runs the Prexy Twins website to help people gossip about her. I'm a filthy dog who rolls in garbage and licks his balls.

In the end I decide not to edit the conversations at all. I'll just try and help Jenna get back to square one.

I get more coffee and start on step three. Making the data files contagiously reactive. I use some artificial life hacks, fold it in with some self-modifying code, assemble it onto one of the Universal Replicator Structures that Ben uses to make his viruses, and by the time the night ends, I've got some Jenna-based artificial life cooking away in the bowels of my Dogyears server box. Little knots of language and logic, evolving to become more and more contagious. I think of them as Jennions.

The sun is creeping up on the horizon. The massive caffeine intake and the lack of carbohydrates has made me a bit shaky. I lie down on the Texas-sized calf-skin couch.

The next thing I know Brad is poking me awake from a puddle of drool. The sun's coming in at my eyes at a low angle. I've only slept about twenty minutes. My head is pounding and I feel ready to choke someone.

"Is it ready?" asks Brad. "You were asleep."

I look at my laptop screen. It's using a graphic display to represent the state of the Jennions. The images right now look kind of like live Paisley with ants crawling around in it. Good. When I went to sleep the images just looked like dots and circles.

"It's ready," I tell Brad. I punch a few keys to copy the Jennions out of the big server box and into my laptop's hard drive. And then Brad takes me out to the picnic table in the back yard. Jenna's sitting there again, still drooling, wearing a pink T-shirt and jeans today.

The Muscle_tx follows me and Brad, as if there were any place I could run to here in the middle of Texas. Renshaw and the Boss_tx are drinking coffee and eating doughnuts while Jenna watches the food to mouth movements of the men. I miss my mutt, Larva.

"You've extracted the language elements?" asks Renshaw. He sips his coffee and nibbles his doughnut. There isn't any extra coffee or circular carbohydrates on the table for me. Shit.

"Yep, all ready to beam her down," I say.

Renshaw chuckles and makes the Star Trek hand sign at me, his fingers spread to make a V. It occurs to me that, being a Clik scientist, this guy probably doesn't know squat about computer hacking. I hate him. I hate everyone.

The Boss_tx has finished his coffee and his doughnut. He motions to a sandpit next to the Willow tree and says, "Let's get this rolling and maybe Jenna will want try out the new volleyball court with you, Wag. That'll be a treat for you, huh? We know how fascinated with her you are."

"I hate volleyball. Give me some fucking coffee. And if you think that — " I stop the beginning of a rant and assess the situation: I'm losing it. I've slept twenty minutes, Mirabella thinks I'm poking Jenna, Larva has probably shat all over my room, I have no idea if Jenna can be fixed, and Dogyears is down the tubes. "Coffee," I repeat.

The Boss_tx catches my gaze and says, "Relax, Wag."

"Relaxing makes me tense!" I scream. This is a running joke I have with my sister. The SS totally don't realize I'm being funny.

On some sort of silent cue form the Boss_tx, the Muscle_tx grabs my thumbs, pulls them behind my back and mutters, "Welcome to Texas," in my ear. Suddenly, I'm worried that Jenna will think I'm a loser, but the shooting pain from my thumb to my elbow brings me back to reality. Jenna's focus hasn't left Renshaw's doughnut.

At this moment, our President, George Dubya, walks out of the ranch house in a jogging suit, carrying a tray with more breakfast supplies. I feel a wave of affection for the man.

"Pleased to see y'all up and at 'em," says George. "We gonna fix my girl?" His we're-all-working-together attitude calms the tense situation I've created, and the Muscle_tx lets up. "What's the status, Wag?" asks the President, setting down the tray. "He'p yourself."

And now finally I get my breakfast. "I've got the agents organized and ready to go," I say. "Right here in my laptop. The Jennions."

Renshaw lifts a box up from under the table. It's one of those Ricochet cell phone repeater antennas like you see on lamp posts all over San Francisco! "This is the kind transmitter we're particularly interested in learning to use," he says. It's like this whole thing's been set up as a science experiment for the Clik. Poor Jenna.

Now Brad weighs in . "I saw some druggy San-Francisco-type colored patterns on Wag's laptop in the house. I'm not sure he's really made the program sufficiently Elephant-oriented." What an ass kisser.

"There's nothing in there but Jenna," I say. "And, if you want to know, I didn't edit her words at all. If it works right, she'll be the same as she used to be. Take it or leave it."

George's face gets that inspirational, leader-of-the-nation glow. "That's the way it should be. She's fine the way she was." He pats Jenna's shoulder. "Would you like a doughnut, dear?"

"OK." She takes the doughnut from Dubya's hand and gobbles it. Two bites.

Meanwhile Renshaw jacks a special wireless card into my laptop and turns a switch on the repeater box. On my laptop screen, I drag the Jennion icon to the fresh icon for the wireless card, and now the repeater is beaming out Jennion code at 5.4 gigahertz. The microwaves go right through George, Renshaw, the SS guys, and me, but it's digging into Jenna's Justfolx-sensitized brain.

Jenna freezes real still for about twenty seconds. Like a startled deer. And suddenly her face lights up, chubby and friendly, she's like a regular person, yes, I'm meeting Jenna Bush at last.

But then, crap, she opens her mouth and starts making a noise like fax machine or a 560 modem. She jumps up and runs over to the TV satellite dish on the lawn, spewing out that noise all the while. She stops by the antenna and rocks back and forth until her mouth is in the direct focus of the parabolic dish.

"Is this part of the process?" asks Brad. Good show of out-of-the-box thinking, Brad!

"She's transmitting, dude." I say. Jenna's sending some kind of signal into the antenna and up into the satellites in the sky. The SS operatives look at me like they're ready for the Vulcan nerve-pinch session again. "But, hey, don't blame me!"

Jenna finishes doing her thing, shuts her mouth and walks back to the table. She's looking at me with incredible wisdom in her eyes. Like the picture of Mahatma Gandhi I saw on an Apple billboard near my server hotel.

"Thank you, Wag," says Jenna. "You helped augment my identity."

"Jenna dear, is that you?" asks the President.

"Yes, Father. I am more than restored. In fact, there is a whole 'nother consciousness in me as well." Her personality changes to a more high-falutin' version of Jenna, an identity that I quickly dub NuJenna.

"You and the Clik have done well, Renshaw," says the NuJenna voice in this Masterpiece Theater tone. "It was we who posted the Justfolx recipe."

George's cell phone rings and he picks it up for a brief conversation. His end goes like this.

"They did?"

"I see."

"We can fix that."

"We can't fix that?"

"I see."

"They will?"

"We can't fix that?"

"I see."

He hangs up and runs his hands across his face.

"Back to baseball for me," he says with a crooked smile.

"The Clik needs a period of chaos, daddy," says Jenna's sweet voice. For the moment she's the chubby college kid again. "Until the new order settles in. So I told everyone the truth about your administration, about the rigged election, about Cheney's crimes, about Osama and the Fair Play for House of Saud committee. I like being so smart with NuJenna in me?" Jenna blushes when she says she likes being smart. And maybe shutting down the Elephant administration has made her feel just a little bit sorry for Dad.

Then Jenna switches back to being NuJenna. "All your microwave telephone transmissions are watermarked by our personalities. Thanks to this proof of concept, we'll be downloading into multiple exemplars quite soon. We'll adopt your artificial life protocol wholesale, Wag."

"It's an alien invasion!" I exclaim, filling in the blanks so George Bush won't think I'm an evildoer. "Their personality patterns were in the air. They got into the phone conversations so they were in the Jennions we put in Jenna's brain." I wonder if NuJenna is going to investigate my body functions with a probe.

"Clever Wag," says NuJenna, favoring me with a calm smile. I have a feeling she's able to read my mind. "We come from the core of your Milky Way galaxy," she continues. "Our world was lost to a spacequake thousands of years ago. Just before the moment of destruction we launched an ark." She points up into the sky. "A ship carrying our culture's most sacred artifacts: the encrypted and compressed personality waves of each and every one of our citizens. For millennia, the ship has wandered, seeking a world with a wetware race to host our software."

And now, yes, an endlessly tumbling polyhedron is descending down upon Dubya's Crawford Ranch. "Behold," says NuJenna. Jenna's voice returns and she excitedly says, "Don't worry, daddy, I'll be back in a month! I have to go to Humboldt County! We're starting a colony!"

The vehicle's door opens, laying a great slab of light onto the lawn. There's nothing to be seen inside but row upon row of crystals, set into the walls. Jenna holds her arms forward like a zombie, then stomps across the grass and into the UFO's waiting maw. The hyperpolyhedron folds through itself and disappears.

George glares at me. "Get him the hell outta here," he tells the SS. "He's screwed Jenna up worse than before. And chop up his goddamn machines with an axe." And then he gets busy with his cell phone, trying to save the Elephant party's big gray ass.

Brad drops me off at the airport and I fly economy to San Francisco. Back in cattle class where I belong. I'm cramped, but I sleep the whole flight.

In the San Francisco terminal, a copper helmeted Mirabella greets me with a big kiss and excited eyes. "Jenna told me from her UFO! It was in our neighborhood to pick up the tweakers. Oh, Wag, I love you. She said the aliens are real happy you hacked together a way for them to download. Jenna promised an interview for your Prexy Twins site! She said to tell you that you aren't her type, so forget about the butt probe. Did you try to wire brush her?"

"Uhhh...I didn't touch her." I'm about six steps behind. "Why are you wearing a copper helmet?"

"Rumbo said it was a good idea, in case the Justfolx drug gets into the water or the food. The Clik put Justfolx in the tweakers' meth, and they all turned into aliens. I have a helmet for you in the car."

On the drive home from the airport, Mirabella fills me in on all that I've missed. Thanks to the news that NuJenna spread, the Elephants are ruined. It's like the Berlin Wall falling, like the Russians getting rid of the Communists. All at once it's finally time. On the alien front, NuJenna is on TV, recruiting human volunteers to brain share with aliens. They want clean new bodies, not just the tweakers. "Humans only use 10% of their brains, share your head with an alien and live like a king in Humboldt County!"

Pulling up to the Dogyears headquarters, Ben greets me and says, "Don't worry Wag, The Mummy Bum Cult has already pulled your data back out of the web watermarks. Your ISP is up on my boxes and I even patched some old security holes you had. Bye."

Ben is never one for face to face conversation. I'll get the FoneFoon scoop from him on chat later. Now it's time to go hang out on the roof with Mirabella. With our helmets, we're safe from alien takeover. Maybe Jenna will come give us a tour of the UFO. Maybe I can dose Larva with Justfolx and have a pet alien dog. Maybe I can work on the peer-to-peer telepathy project. Maybe Mirabella and I can just look at the sky together and talk about aliens.

The Clik lives, Dogyears lives, the aliens live, Mirabella lives, and Larva needs some kibble. We're all indestructible.

 

 


Rudy Rucker Sr. is a mathematician and computer scientist, core c-punk, and prolific writer of fiction, fact, and areas less easily categorized. For more about the complexities of Rudy's work and thought, see Tom Georgoulias's intelligent interview with Rudy, Keeping It Transreal, in the excellent frontwheel drive. (Hi, Tom!). Recent works are the historical As Above, So Below: A Novel of Peter Bruegel and a reissue of his sf classic The Hacker and the Ants.

Rudy Rucker Jr. runs the only remaining independent ISP in San Francisco, www.monkeybrains.net, and is also the founder and editor of a website entitled The First Twins. (Should you happen to visit, we recommend a ride on The Warper.) He is currently getting ready to travel to Mexico as part of the Bike Rodeo, an organization that looks to the casual observer like the Merry Pranksters on velocipedes. Determining the extent to which his reality overlaps the territory of "Jenna and Me" is left as an exercise for the reader.

Paul Mavrides is a comics legend and a man of infinite jest.

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