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Authors: Rudy Rucker

Spaceland

BOOK: Spaceland
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For Tom Banchoff, Kee Dewdney,
Martin Gardner, and John Walker
It was the last day of the 1999th year of our era. The pattering of the rain had long ago announced nightfall; and I was sitting in the company of my wife, musing on the events of the past and the prospects of the coming year, the coming century, the coming Millennium.
—Edwin A. Abbott,
Flatland
New Year's Eve
My idea
for handling December 31, 1999, was that Jena and I should fix a nice meal, drink champagne, watch TV, and stay clear of the Y2K bug. I bulldozered over Jena's gently voiced objections. I figured that at midnight the power would go out and the rioting would start. We'd lock the door and light some candles, and Jena would smile at me and kiss me and say I'd been right to make us stay home. In my mind, that's what was going to happen. And, hey, even if I was wrong about the rioting, we'd miss a Millennial traffic jam.
My secret hope was to get Jena in bed
before
midnight so we could be in each other's arms right at the moment of the Big Flip, all those nines rolling over to zeroes and the two of us close as close could be. That was the right way to usher in a new Millennium! Yes! Not that I came out and told this to Jena, as I knew very well that she would have preferred to go somewhere complicated and expensive.
Jena liked sex even more than I did, but she didn't like for me to make assumptions about when we'd do it. It was always supposed to be some kind of surprise. A spontaneously occurring romantic
impulse. A force of Nature, unpredictable as an earthquake or a hurricane. When in fact it was inevitably every one to four days. One of the ways I passed my time at work was to update an Excel spreadsheet tracking our sex frequency. I had a formula in one of the cells to compute what I called the DBS index. A rolling average of the days between sex acts. When the DBS rose above three, it was time to turn on the charm. Buy flowers, talk about Jena's problems, do like that. Not that I always did. To tell the truth, a high DBS was my fault as often as it was Jena's. Even though I talk a good game, I'm not the most highly sexed guy around.
Thanks to a stressful Christmas visit with Jena's mother and stepfather back in Prescott, Arizona, the DBS was up to 4.1. I should have at least planned to take Jena out for dinner on New Year's Eve. Put us both in a romantic mood. But by the time the facts hit my radar, every place was booked and full, as things always were in California. Not that I really and truly looked that hard for someplace to go. I was fixated on my game plan. Hit the sack before midnight and the romance would take care of itself!
Late in the afternoon of New Year's Eve I drove over to the Kencom campus in San Jose to bag this experimental TV set from our lab. In my pinheaded ignorance of what women actually care about, I had the notion that if I brought home some really cool electronics, then Jena would be down with staying home on New Year's Eve. As if.
Spazz Crotty was there in the lab, busy at his giant flat-screen monitor as usual. A tall, skinny guy, late twenties, a few years younger than me. I'm thirty-one. Spazz was wearing baggy, long skater pants, black leather sneakers, and a T-shirt with The Finger on it. He had short, bleached-blonde hair, with the sides of his head shaved. He had a ring in his nose and a big silver stud up on the top of his ear. I kind of admired him. Spazz was cool. He had tattoos. Jena had always wanted me to get a tattoo.
“Yo, Spazz.”
He did a voice recognition thing, answering me without looking up. “Hi boss. Want to watch me write some TRACE statements? Nasty bug in the serialization code.” Even though Ken Wong had hired me on as the product manager for the 3Set development team, I knew next to nothing about programming, and Spazz never let me forget it.
“You shouldn't be working, Spazz. Today's a holiday. The Big Flip.”
“So what're you doing here?” Spazz broke into coughing, having trouble getting his voice started up. He coughed a lot.
“I want to take the 3Set home and test it out. You haven't broken it, have you?”
“It's working,” said Spazz. He had a hoarse, wheezy voice, and he talked very slowly. Every time Spazz spoke, he made it sound like he was letting you in on a big secret. “I was watching the Teletubbies this morning. I was getting really good depth. But then when I went to save and reload the image I got a power-switch crash.”
I felt a surge of annoyance. “We don't need the freaking save and reload. We took it outta the beta spec last week. It's developer gold plating. You were at the meeting. Why are we even talking about this? It's New Year's Eve, dude.”
Spazz turned and stared at me for a minute, fingering the hoop in the side of his nose. And then he smiled, suddenly happy as a kid let out of school. “Thanks for reminding me. What time is it? I'm supposed to meet Tulip at home.” He glanced back at his screen. “Jesus, it's almost six. I'll ifdef out the serialization code, do a rebuild, and close it down.” He hit a few keys and the build messages began scrolling down the bottom of his screen. No warnings, no errors. We were almost ready for production. “You're taking the 3Set?” said Spazz. “Does Ken know?”
“I might have mentioned it to him,” I said. Though of course I hadn't. No way would Ken want the 3Set leaving the lab. It was so secret that even his venture capitalists didn't really know what it was. Not to mention the fact that the 3Set was, theoretically at least, dangerous enough to be a liability risk.
Spazz grinned. “You're the boss, Joe.” He copied the fresh build of the 3Set driver software to a Zip disk for me, shut down his computer, put on his leather jacket, and held the doors for me while I carried the 3Set out to my leased silver Explorer SUV, a premium model with the full Eddie Bauer trim package. The 3Set was a heavy mofo, with a thing like a fish tank instead of a picture tube. A true 3D display. The chips in it had a way of combining successive TV images to build up a 3D image inside the tank. It was pretty neat, when it was working. The risk aspect had to do with the fact that there was a hard vacuum inside the tank, and it could conceivably implode. But I was cool with that. I set it onto my back seat and fastened the seat belt around it.
Spazz's red Japanese motorcycle was next to my car; he took out his keys and unfastened his helmet from it. “We're outta here, huh Joe?” said Spazz. It was getting dark. There was a Wells Fargo bank right across the lot, with people lined up to get money out of the cash machine. I'd already gotten mine.
“What are you doing tonight, man?” I asked Spazz.
“Riding up to San Francisco with Tulip.”
“Was it hard to get reservations?”
Spazz gave me a pitying look. “The taquerias on Mission Street don't take reservations. You're so uptight, Joe. It's like you're middle-aged. I bet you're planning to stay home and watch TV. On the 3Set, right?”
“You're gonna wish you were with me when all the lights go out,” I said. “The roads'll he gridlocked. It'll be straight outta
Mad Max.”
“I have to admit I'm just a little bit worried, too,” said Spazz earnestly, using his slowest, hoarsest voice. “I have this mental image of the Earth as being like one of those chocolate oranges, pre-cut into time-zone-sized segments. And when the Millennium hits, the segment with Tonga works its way free and tumbles off alone into black space, the sun glinting on the curved sector of its rind, with Tonga's part of the South Pacific all sloshing off the segment's edges. It's probably already happened, dude, but they're covering it up. And presumably the rest of the South Pacific is pouring down into the huge, wedge-shaped gap that Tonga's segment left, it's a thousands-of-mile-high waterfall that vaporizes into steam or even into plasma when it hits the molten nickel of the Earth's exposed core. It's gonna drain the Pacific dry. And more and more of the segments are falling out, needless to say. I wonder how soon the drop in the water level will be noticeable in the San Francisco Bay.” Spazz broke off in a fit of coughing, bending nearly double.
I looked at him for a minute. He was putting me on. “Freak.”
“I'm articulating the basic fear,” said Spazz, straightening up and fingering the stud in his ear. “It's atavistic. The Y2K bug is a psychological displacement mechanism. People are terrified of the Millennium, and, ashamed of their fear, they project it onto this specific little computer problem. A niggling factoid to talk about instead of facing their inner Void. Hell, I know some of the hackers who helped hype the bug. It's a hoax on managers, man. A way to take down the industry for a few billion bucks.”
“I hope you're right,” I said, though really I hoped he was wrong. “Look, why don't you and Tulip stop by my place on your way up to the City. We're on your way.” Spazz and Tulip rented a crappy shack in the Santa Cruz mountains even though Tulip was a very well paid process engineer at a chip fab.
“You're really staying home with Jena?” asked Spazz. “Where do you live, anyway?”
He looked slightly interested. Spazz had met Jena at the Christmas parry and they'd hit it off. Jena was a real live wire in social situations. As a marketing manager for a web tool company called MetaTool, face-to-face interactions were her thing.
“In Los Perros,” I answered. “We bought a townhouse next to Route 85. It's at 1234 Silva View Crescent. Just a starter place till Kencom goes IPO.”
Ah, the IPO, more eagerly awaited than the second coming. Until Kencom went public, our shares of founder's stock were toilet paper. The thing was, Kencom still hadn't come up with the killer product that would galvanize the market. For a dot-commer, Ken Wong was kind of old school. We knew we wanted something to do with communication, fine, but Ken had this obsession with making our new product from wires and plastic and chips—instead of from Java and press releases. Frankly, the 3Set looked like a bit of a dog. I mean, a full-grown man could barely even carry the thing. Where was that at, in this day and age?
I wrote my home address on the back of a Kencom business card and handed it to Spazz. “Stop by around nine.”
“Maybe I will,” said Spazz with a wheezy laugh. “Jena's hot.” What a thing to say. Sometimes it was like techs didn't realize that I actually had a mind. Like I was an ape, or a robot.
On the way home I picked up a fresh loaf of sourdough, a couple of Dungeness crabs, a bottle of Dom Perignon, and some roses.
Jena was just getting out of the shower, wet and gorgeous. She was half Yavapi, and she had that classic Native American face with a strong, perfect nose and high cheekbones. Her eyes were narrow, as if designed for seeing across great distances, their color a clear shade of hazel. On her mother's side Jena was Norwegian. She had a good figure, pink skin and hair light colored enough to dye to regulation-issue California blonde. Did I mention that she had
cutely bowed lips? She was the kind of woman that guys turned around to stare after in the street.
Jena was happy with the roses I'd brought; she laid them on the built-in dressing table while she started drying her hair in front of the mirror, standing there naked. I sat on the bed watching her, drinking her in, the curves and colors of her body. Jena always enjoyed being the focus of my attention.
“I got champagne and two Dungeness crabs,” I told her.
“That sounds festive.” She gave me a warm smile in the mirror. I walked over and kissed her. Held her in my arms. She made a soft noise and leaned back against me. I should have put a move on her right then and there, but I was kind of into getting the 3Set installed. And it seemed better to save the sex for midnight.
So I went out in the living room and got to work. I had to plug the 3Set into the wall, hook it to the cable TV line, run a USB cable from the 3Set to my computer, plug a Zip drive with the 3Set software into my computer's parallel port, and jack a Playstation controller into the game port for changing the viewpoint on the 3Set. The more tech we get, the more wires we need. It's like a law of nature. N times N or something. I had to get down on all four under my composition board OfficeMax desk to figure out the wires, which is something I hate. Rooting around in the dust bunnies knowing you're probably getting it wrong.
“What are you doing?”
“Jena!” I scraped the side of my head getting back out. Jena was wearing a parry outfit, a shiny little red dress. She had her makeup thing happening, and her dyed blonde hair was piled up in this slutty heap with plastic clips holding it in place. I loved it when she did her hair like that. “You look so sexy. I'm lucky you married me.” We'd lived together for three years before tying the knot. We were working day jobs and taking night courses at University of
Colorado in Boulder. Right at the end of our courtship Jena had actually been close to leaving me. Marriage had seemed like the best way to solve our problems.
“You'll do,” said Jena, laughing a little. She liked it when I flattered her. “What's that tank thing on your desk? Another video game?”
“That's the 3Set I'm always talking about. From Kencom. It takes network TV and makes it look three-dimensional. I brought it home for watching the Millennium shows. Let me shower off real quick and put on a clean shirt. You want a glass of wine? Or should we start with the champagne?”
“I'm not going to drink that much, so let's have the good stuff, first. We can wait till you're done with your shower.” She started looking through the CDs. “I'll put some music on.”
I showered, shaved and put on some clean khakis, a tight white T-shirt and a dark brown silk shirt. Jena had her techno house music on the speakers and was doing a little dance. We'd made it to a few raves and she liked them a lot—not the drugs so much, but the scene itself. The dancing and the way people looked. The house music was really filling the place up. Party time! I danced with her for a little while.
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