“Look, if it were as easy as going to a search engine, I wouldn’t have come to you,” she said.
“Wrong Jeeves,” said I. “So... shall we keep walking, then? Or do you want to wait for Mr. Drill Sergeant?”
“That’s ‘Major,’ and he’s already here. He’s right behind you...”
That’s when I turned around and saw a man so hideous I could’ve sworn it was Janet Reno. He was big, burly, hairy, and his skin-tight outfit told me he was proud of it. He greeted me with a comment that contained within it all the intelligence and eloquence of a President:
I looked back at Aeris, but I didn’t know what to say. She was smiling, but she wasn’t looking at me; instead, she was looking at the time on her cell phone.
“Y’know what,” she said. “There’s somewhere I have to be right now... So I guess you’re partially off the hook, Johnny... I’ll just have to let you do what you think is necessary to get the hack. I feel a little better, though, knowing my friend here will be accompanying you on your search.”
“Curious,” I said. “Where do you get ‘friends’ like this?”
“Liberated laboratories of evil organizations... Major here was a test subject. Now he’s a pet of mine, so to speak.”
“Look, all you need to know about him is: don’t ever bend over. I have to run now... Bye!”
I would have protested, but she faded before my eyes.
The streets of cyberspace may have digital lightning and rain, but I had never before felt any change in wind or temperature... At that moment, though, a chill ran through my spine. I was stiff as a witch’s teat and shivering at the thought of the comparison alone. I felt... an unprecedented yet decisive urge to run... quickly...
“Mrrrrrrrrr...” A hand touched my shoulder from behind. Then something else touched me from behind.
There’s no point in being clever with simile this time: I ran like a motherfucker.
(Still online, different place. Leo, humanoid form, leans against a wall and whistles the Megaman theme to himself. Aeris appears in front of him.)
Leo: Running late?
Aeris: (rolls up her sleeves) None of your business.
Leo: Are ya just afraid you’re gonna lose? (grin) Again?
Aeris: Don’t get cocky, Leo. Let’s just setup the game and get going so I can beat you quickly and without too much suffering.
Leo: Alright... Remember: first to fifty wins takes the tournament. Tournament record thus far is, Leo: twenty-three, Aeris: zero.
Aeris: (gritted teeth) Believe me, I know.
Leo: Very well...
(Leo snaps his fingers, and a chessboard appears. Leo is on the far side with the black pieces, and Aeris is on the near side with white.)
Leo: Go ahead! Your turn first.
Aeris: (teeth still gritted) With pleasure...
(Some time later, the two cats are atop the kitchen counter in the real world. They are back to their four-legged forms. Despite not having opposable thumbs, Leo is handling a coffee pot and is about to himself some. Aeris, dejected, lies down and rests her head atop her forepaws.)
Aeris: How... Just... HOW...
Leo: Oh, it was a good game, to be sure...
Aeris: But you WON... AGAIN. How...
Leo: Don’t feel so bad. I was doing some pretty sophisticated stuff, y’know. Yeah, I pulled an Icelandic gambit on ya, which, just about any pro will tell you, either pays off at the very end of the game or not at all. It was a risky move, but I’m trying to expand my repertoire.
Aeris: (mumble) How could I lose to you?
Leo: Pardon, but perhaps you underestimate my clear advantage in intellectual expertise and gaming prowess, and furthermore, by the very virtue of the fact that you have beaten me in other games, you perchance take me as being somewhat less talented than I actually am. Oh, woe to you, Aeris, woe to you. For you doth not know the strength of the mind with which you doth mess.
Aeris: You’re pouring hot coffee on your paw.
(Leo looks at his paw, realizes he’s in pain, but keeps pouring anyway.)
Leo: See? And I bet you think that’s pretty stupid... And indeed, I must admit, it’s unintended... Clearly this is because even I cannot understand the sheer genius of my own tactics to lull opponents into a false sense of security...
(Aeris gets up and jumps off the counter before the coffee puddle can reach her.)
Aeris: Whatever. Just be ready for a rematch tomorrow. I’m sure I’ll find some way to win...
Leo: (cringes and pours the rest of the coffee pot) Very... painful... sheer genius... (whimper)
I think I lost the Major somewhere in the gay porn district... I’m sketchy on the details, because I wasn’t exactly looking back a lot, but I think he saw a Man-Faye bend over and decided I wasn’t worth the effort anymore.
I reached Jeeves’s office a few minutes later, knocked on the door...
“Gimme the code.”
I made sure no one was within earshot. “Up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, A, B, Select, Start.”
“You got it.”
Jeeves opened the door. If you don’t know Jeeves--and few people do--then you’re most likely the better for it. Underground piracy ringleaders keep an even lower profile than I do. Most of ’em are ugly and shabby and speak in a Brooklyn mafia tone, though I guess those aren’t such bad quirks given certain other freak shows online.
Jeeves was round, unshaven, wore a tattered old pinstripe suit, and just in general was the perfect evil step-twin of the more legitimate “Jeeves” we all know on the mainstream search engine circuit.
“What brings ya here, Johnny?” He drew me in and closed the door.
“Got a client who needs a gaming hack. All I got is a file name.”
“Well, dat’s all I need, really. So whut’zis file you gotta find?”
I put a hand on the far wall and leaned but did not take a seat; this would be a quick meeting, I thought.
“Ey, ey, Johnny. I don’t swing dat way, alright?”
“Though believe me, I understand the initial error.”
“Hm...” Jeeves walked over to his giant leather chair and set his weight on its cushion like an anvil on a marshmallow. “What game’zit for?”
Nod. “Gimme a minute.”
Jeeves looked like he sat in thought. Indeed, that was the case, but not in the typical sense. In real life, he was probably running a back-door search of several hack depositories and leaving the online figure to rest. I still, though, couldn’t get over the sight of him; he looked like he was carrying quadruplets in there.
“Got it,” said Jeeves when he came back into animation. “It’za pretty obscure little hack, Johnny...” A small paper bag appeared in his hands. “And odd dat someone would want it. But I don’t think it has a virus, so you lucked out dere.”
The bottom of the bag suddenly started to turn brown as if rotting from what was inside it.
“Are you sure?” Even if there is no evidence of a virus, it is generally a very bad idea to take a pirate at their word on this one.
“Sure? Of course I’m sure! I--”
The black had reached his hands. His eyes opened wider than Madonna’s legs on a Saturday, and he looked down at the bag. Then he screamed the most piercing, girlish scream a four-hundred-pound sim could manage, dropped the bag, and ran in panic for the bathroom. The black rot, meanwhile, started to spread across the floor.
Being a man of action, I ran the hell out of there. What? Don’t look at me like that. Running away is an action.
I grabbed an extinguisher from another room’s closet where I knew Jeeves kept his antivirus suite. Then I ran back and sprayed the growing black pool on the floor. It took a good third of the container, but eventually the rot did stop.
I remembered Jeeves, kicked open the bathroom door, and started spraying... But for him, it was too late. By the time I was able to stop the virus, it had eaten his sim all the way through--and that’s saying a lot. I dropped the extinguisher, then used a towel from the sink to wash my IP prints off it, and then I made to get out of there... Trust me: when a piracy server suffers a major glitch, the best place to be is, well, anywhere but there. If the wrong type of person comes along, sees the downed server, and wants an explanation as to what happened, the last thing anyone wants to be is the person who has to do the explaining.
On my way out, I looked at the bag. It was all black by now, but yes, the virus was stopped. I kicked the bag over, and out fell a little chess piece: a white queen.
“Queen me indeed,” I said out loud. I put on my gloves, picked it up and pocketed it. Then I walked out.